The EU’s Declaration on Transnistrian:

A backup for the principle of national sovereignty or just an anti-Russian gesture?

by Giorgos Kentas,

PhD candidate at the Vrije Universiteit Brussels

Research Fellow, Research Center - Intercollege



On September 18, 2006, the Presidency of the European Union issued a Declaration on the “referendum” in the Transnistrian region of the Republic of Moldova to state that it recognizes neither the referendum nor its result. The kernel of that Declaration was that the EU ‘considers that the situation in Transnistrian region does not allow the free expression of popular will’. To make that statement explicit, the EU suggests that the Transnistrian region is a lawless area and a protectorate of Russia and, therefore, the result of the ‘referendum’ expressed some ‘elites’ and the Russian policy, not the will of the region’s population. The Russian-speaking Transnistrian region declared independence from Moldova 15 years ago (1991) with the support of Russian troops, which have stayed on. Moscow’s policy for the Transnistrian region and three other separatist former Soviet Union regions —Nagorno-Karabakh, a disputed area between Armenia and Azerbaijan South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia— is based on the conviction that their future could be decided in plebiscites.


The EU could not ground its Declaration on these explicit reasons but rather on its support of Moldova’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The Declaration stated that ‘the “referendum” contradicts the internationally recognized sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Moldova’. It follows that the EU’s Declaration is susceptible to two readings. A naďve reading would lead to the conclusion that the EU issued that Declaration to express its sensitivity on the principles of national sovereignty and the freedom of expression. Nobody can deny the fact that the EU is a fervent supporter of these principles; however, its policies show that it is very flexible on the interpretation of national sovereignty and freedom of expression. In the case of Kosovo, for instance, the EU’s sensitivity is expressed in quite different way, for it puts ‘the protection of the minority rights’ before ‘the protection of Serbia’s sovereignty’. Furthermore, in the case of Cyprus the EU was eager to conclude that the April 2004 referendum in the ‘north part of the island’ (i.e. in the areas not under the control of the Government of the Republic of Cyprus) expressed the free will of the population there. The EU failed, however, to spot that the free will of the Turkish Cypriot community was vitiated by the participation of the Turkish settlers in the referendum and the presence of some 40.000 Turkish troops there.


A critical reading of the Declaration would lead to the conclusion that the EU hardens its attitudes towards Russia and its policy in the Caucasian region. The EU objects the secession of the Transnistrian region, not because this would not reflect the will of the population there, but because it would vindicate Moscow’s policy and magnify its influence in the region. The EU has undertaken a mission to help Ukraine and Moldova to control their border, including the Transnistrian stretch. Many European nations are concerned with the thriving black market there. Organized crime alone, however, does not justify the EU’s reaction. The influence of Russia and its agenda for the region causes an even bigger headache. Russia may not be interested in absorbing the Transnistrian region –it did not endorse the result of the referendum either. It has an interest, however, in using that region to strengthen its leverage on European politics. A few months ago, the government of Russia protested against the position of the EU on the Transnistrian region. Some leading political figures, such as Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, claimed that the EU should follow a similar policy for the Transnistrian region like the one it follows in the case of the Turkish Cypriot community, viz. ‘to put an end to the isolation of the Transnistrians’. Russia, however, overlooked the fact that the relevant financial aid is provided to the Turkish Cypriot community with the aim of facilitating the re-unification of Cyprus (an EU goal), while any aid to the Transnistrians would amount to the encouragement of the region’s secessionist objectives and the encouragement of Moscow’s manipulations, policies that contradict the EU’s interests.


To sum up, I suggest neither that the September 17, 2006 referendum in the Transnistrian region was valid or fair, nor that the EU objects the projection of minority rights there. It is my argument, however, that the EU employs a double standards policy on issues such as the guarantee of national sovereignty and the protection of the popular will. This practice casts a shadow on the consistency and the credibility of the EU as a regional player which assumes the role of honest broker. Political Realist would contend that the EU is just another organization which reflects the interests of its most powerful member states. I would not disagree with them. Neoliberals and Idealists alike, however, who are among the keen supporters of the EU as an emergent ethical global actor, would find it difficult to justify this practice.


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