The Civil Society and Foreign Policy Priorities. The Options Relevance


At this time, foreign policy processes are not a priority of the governments only. Discussions and tasks, pertaining to foreign policy issues, are shared between various participants to the political life. Civil society is one of the key players involved in these discussions. Often civil society representatives succesfully define different options and opportunities of the foreign policy for their states of origin, which are not included on the official agenda. In this context, civil society should identify tools and means of influencing the policy agenda so that political leaders do not miss opportunities that will harmoniously develop the societies they represent, regardless if these options have an internal or external character.

European Union – vulnerability to political elite and the only hope for civil society

According to the results of the last Public Opinion Barometer (BOP) in Moldova, commissioned by the Institute for Public Policy, published in April 2015, the European Union is now the second most popular with the Moldovan citizens, outruned by the Customs Union. Moreover, she recorded the lowest number of supporters from be begining of BOP (1998). In Ukraine the situation is completely different. The results of a public opinion survey commissioned by the Razumkov Center in Kiev, shows that Ukrainians opinions are clearly in favor of European integration processes. Over 52% of its nationals are opt for the EU and only 12.6% would opt for the Customs Union (1 of 8 Ukrainians). Russian-Ukrainian conflict has greatly influenced the content of foreign policy options for Ukrainians. On the other hand, in regards Moldova, the explanation lies within the domestic political reasons.

The first reason refers to the lack of political will on the part of government authorities to resolve the most pressing issues this country faces: judicial reform, fight against corruption, economic reforms, bureaucracy. The second reason refers to political instability and how the governmental coalition was created. The citizens of Moldova have not found an answer to the question that concerns them for a few months: Who governs them? There is a minority coalition (pro-European) or a extended coalition (which also contains the Communists Party of the Republic of Moldova)? This internal context creates uncertainty and pessimism amongst civil society and can produce social and political instability.

The political elite has managed in a short period of time to compromise the meaning of “European integration” processes. Voters are disappointed and only a few of them managed to feel the benefits of a liberalized visa regime and trade preferences with the EU.

“Moldova needs a Yanukovich to decide in the end to change …”[1]

There are other indicators that Ukraine seems more determined to advance in terms of approaching the European Union. Even postponing the implementation of the Association Agreement and DCFTA’s to January 1, 2016 are not perceived by civil society as an impediment. Rather it is a necessary step for creating institutions and government agencies that will implement various fields as chapters in these documents. These actions take time. Civil society representatives in Ukraine are optimistic and believe that they will manage to find ways to convince the authorities not to derail the European course of their country. As in the case of Moldova, the text of the Association Agreement is the best government program and putting it into practice would create the much-needed systemic transformation for these two countries. For both countries, more political will is needed for these documents to be implemented.

NATO – Moldova’s Achilles heel, Ukraines rescue and Russia’s threat

For Moldova “NATO” is a speculative topic. Accession to NATO is used in election campaigns both as foreign policy objective, and as a threat to the state integrity. Both arguments relate to the Transnistrian conflict. For some, the accession to NATO is a possibility of imposing an external settlement of this conflict, for others the loss of neutrality waives the territorial integrity because it could result in the recognition of Transnistrian independence by the Russian Federation.

In Moldova only one thing is certain regarding NATO: the subject produces fear and media does not pay sufficient attention to this topic, because the matters related to NATO accession do not generate enough audience.

The situation in Ukraine is completely different. The low level of interest expressed towards NATO until 2010 could be explaned by the fact that Russia was not perceived as an actor capable of threatening the national security. Today the public opinion has changed. Public debates are oriented to see NATO as an organization that could contribute to the national security and territorial integrity of Ukraine. More and more common are public discussions about the need to consult with the Ukrainian citizens about NATO accesion and to organize a referendum. President Petro Poroshenko confirmed that the authorities do not intend to oppose such forms of consultation if citizens insist upon it.

In Russia, NATO expansion to the East is one of the greatest threats to foreign policy. Furthermore, NATO is seen as nothing else than a tool to promote US interests, and hence the actions of Russian politicians are supported by citizens. Russian audience, through its position of almost unconditional support for the official discourse towards anything regarding NATO accession processes, confirms that even the existence of this organization is a threat to Russia.

Eurasian Economic Union – a project promoting the interests of a single actor

The adherence to the Eurasian Economic Union is part of the electoral platforms of the opposition parties in Moldova. Moldova’s opposition parties have used the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) in the last election campaign equate EEU and cheap gas without explaining what advantages or disadvantages could bring the membership in this regional organization. The reason for this is that those promoting this project do not know themselves the details of the functioning algorithm.

By contrast, in Ukraine only in Eastern side some supporters can still be found. Civil society representatives and political leaders are reluctant to organize meaningful debates about the Customs Union or Eurasian Economic Union. The support of this project has reached a minimum level after the annexation of Crimeea by the Russian Federation. Moreover, Eurasian Economic Union in Ukrainian public perception is nothing but a supranational institution through which Moscow wants to promote its interests.

For Moscow, the Eurasian Economic Union is a tool to preserve influence in former Soviet space, even if the Russian leaders recognize that it is not an exclusive project for these countries. EEU will continue to exist[2], but for this to happen, the authorities must take into account the size of the project and the resources available for its development. However, this initiative should not be treated as a panacea for Russian foreign policy. It will not decide Russia’s role and place in the system of international relations. It is just a tool for adjusting the national interests of other actors to the national interests of the Russian Federation.

Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) – is not an option

Joining the CSTO is a topic that rarely appears in public debates and only as part of discussions about security options in Moldova. In Ukraine it is not an issue on which civil society could insist to be included in the public agenda. The argument is the same: you can not discuss about CSTO as a security option when the initiator of this project is perceived as an aggressor state.

Instead of conclusions

Foreign policy priorities are different and arise from the national interests of each state. However more, those are related to internal and external factors. Under certain circumstances the civil socienty can appear as an actor capable of promoting different priorities. In addition to this, the representatives of civil society can provide the expertise needed to achieve these goals without causing excessive costs. On the contrary, it can decrease government spending for training specialists because they already have the necessary experience in project implementation. Still, the transfer of expertise that takes place in public institutions should be treated carefully. Civil society development should not be just a formal process. There must be conditions suitable to raise a new elite in civil society, otherwise there is a risk that an empty space will remain in that area. The lack of a civil society means the lack of ideas and alternatives.

Angela Grămadă, president, Experts for Security and Global Affairs Association


The interview scited in this study were conducted between March 16th – April 3th, 2015 in the research project “The role of Russian civil society in Foreign Policy Decision Making. A comparative analysis with Republic of Moldova and Ukraine” implemented by the Association of Experts for Security and Global Affairs, Bucharest, with the support of  the Black Sea Trust for Regional Cooperation, a project of the German Marshall Fund. According to the research methodology of this project, experts will be cited anonymously. Opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of the Black Sea Trust, the German Marshall Fund, or its partners.

[1] Interview with political analyst, Kiev, March, 2015.

[2] Interview with expert in international relations, Moscow, March, 2015.

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