Her Majesty’s speech at Elcano Royal Institute in Madrid
Speech of Her Majesty Margareta Custodian of the Romanian Crown at Elcano Royal Institute, Madrid, 25 September 2023
Professor Powell, Your Excellencies, Researchers and Fellows of the Institute, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Prince Radu and I are grateful for your kind invitation to visit Elcano Royal Institute in Madrid, and for the privilege to address you today. Over the past two decades, your Institute has led research on foreign and security matters. And it is, of course, a source of great satisfaction that you have succeeded in providing a fresh and unique perspective on these topics, in a field that otherwise used to be dominated by think-tanks in the English-speaking world. This is one area on which a competition of ideas is not only useful, but necessary. HISTOIRES ROYALES
I also wish to congratulate Spain for her current Presidency of the Council of the European Union. We have yet to reach the half-way mark of this most important exercise, but Spain’s priorities and purpose are already visible, so is an efficient management of European Union affairs, at a time when the continent is still turbulent, and when the dangers facing us are still pressing.
I don’t think there are many people who would disagree with the priorities of the current EU Presidency: security, as well as upholding democratic values and the rule of law, for the benefits of our entire continent. Indeed, our countries are different, and we have different views sometimes, but our diversity is our strength and, indeed, the essence of our Union. The Kremlin never took us seriously, and always assumed that we would be divided and weak. Well, we continued to prove him wrong over the past two years.
Europe is lucky, I think, that the Spanish Presidency followed that of Sweden. From the northern tip of our continent to its southern shores in one year: there can hardly be a better example of our unity. My task today, however, is to draw your attention to the East of our continent, and to ask you to ponder on the potential future dangers of escalation from the current aggression Russia launched against Ukraine. I would like to add to Ukraine another country where Europe must also make a stand if the continent is to be secure: the Republic of Moldova.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I have never agreed with those who argue that the war in Ukraine is a limited affair, concerning just one country. As we all know, the totally unjustified and unprovoked military invasion against Ukraine is the product of an imperialist ideology, an ideology arguing that Russia – already the biggest country on Earth – must get bigger still, and that Russia is entitled to a sphere of influence in Europe. Our nations support Ukraine’s self-defence efforts today not only because this is morally right and legally justified, but because we know that a victory for Ukraine is essential for the security of our entire continent. And Finland and Sweden decided to join NATO because they have understood that what is happening in Ukraine is overturning all our previous assumptions about European defence arrangements.
Yet, well before Russian tanks violated the sovereignty of Ukraine, vulnerable Moldova was already subjected to the sort of Russian aggression and strategies that subsequently became also Ukraine’s fate.
Indeed, Moldova was one of the first former Soviet territories to experience Moscow’s techniques of destabilisation, which are by now familiar to all of us. The so-called “Transnistrian Moldavian Republic” – now better known as Transnistria – was established as far back as 1991, even before the Soviet Union was formally dissolved. No government in the world – not even that of Russia – recognises this so-called republic. But the Russian troops have been there under one guise or another for over three decades.
Moldova was subjected to these pressures and more. It has survived, but it has remained relatively poor and very vulnerable. And just when it elected a pro-Western leader and government determined to eliminate corruption and consolidate democratic institutions, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has placed Moldova in highly dangerous circumstances. The connection between the war in Ukraine and Moldova’s situation is evident for all to see and is continuing.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
My husband and I have shuttled in an out of Moldova countless times, and I can tell you without equivocation that the current leaders in Chisinau are genuinely committed to European integration. However, as President Maia Sandu said in her speech at the UN General Assembly last week, she and her government are battling daily against destabilisation efforts and poverty. We can be sure that, even if the Ukraine war ends soon – and that is not very likely – attempts to destabilise Moldova will, paradoxically, only increase. Ensuring that Moldova remains firmly committed to its European integration policy is an inseparable part of ensuring that Ukraine prevails in its defences; the two are sides of the same coin.
Therefore, the situation in Moldova remains both precarious and perilous. The Chisinau authorities are continuously warning that Russia is determined to destabilise the government of Moldova. And that is because turmoil in Moldova would create a real danger at the rear of Ukraine’s main forces now resisting the Russian invasion.
I sometimes hear arguments that Romania raises the alarm about Moldova because we supposedly have ulterior motives, such as the reunification of Moldova with Romania. Yes, we share the same language and the same history. And, yes, if it wasn’t for that fateful alliance between Hitler and Stalin, the people on both sides of the river Prut, which separates the Republic of Moldova from Romania, would have stayed together. Whenever I go to Moldova I feel at home. And since the Soviet occupation has gone, our joint history, language and traditions are flourishing again, as is the memory of King Ferdinand, my great-grand father, who sealed the creation of united Romania at the end of the First World War.
But the objective I have undertaken with the support of both the Romanian and Moldovan Governments is one of simply ensuring that the Republic of Moldova is not consumed by the tragedy now afflicting Ukraine, that her reformist government is supported in achieving its objective, and that the people of Moldova are allowed to decide their own future, rather than have it decided by others. You, with your deep historic and linguistic links with Latin America, will understand better than others that it is possible to argue passionately in favour of security for countries one feels closer to, without necessarily raising any questions about borders.
I salute the European Union’s decision last year to grant Moldova candidate status. It is also encouraging that, during his speech to the European Parliament earlier this year, President Zelensky singled out Moldova in his appeals. And it is clearly good that President Maia Sandu is received with understanding in most of our continent’s capitals.
Nonetheless, I feel compelled to add that we need a sense of urgency in supporting Moldova. Having identified Moldova as a candidate country, the EU should keep up its determination and focus on the eventual membership of the Republic of Moldova in the EU.
Yes, the wealth gap between Moldova and the EU remains big. And yes, there are serious governance problems in the country. But at the same time, the Moldovans are probably one of Europe’s most ardent supporters. And the population is of a modest size – just slightly bigger than Barcelona, and only two-thirds the size of Madrid – so the process of integration, as well as the price that has to be paid for this, remains modest.
Besides, as the tragic example of Ukraine amply shows, the alternative of not seizing the opportunity of European integration means a much more expensive and desperate integration effort at a later stage. Whenever the Ukraine war ends, Ukraine will need security guarantees and vast economic reconstruction funds, and neither would produce the necessary results unless Moldova is included in the equation.
Moreover, our Eastern borders won’t be peaceful unless these two countries are allowed to live in peace. And, as we have all discovered from our own experience, these nations won’t find peace unless they are part of our family. It is as clear as that.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I know that there are many other priorities facing us today, and all require our attention. I also know how much Spain has done to consolidate European security. Still, at the risk of stating the obvious, we don’t usually get to choose the crises; the crises pick us. Let us, for once, anticipate the next crisis. By doing everything possible to ensure that Moldova remains whole, and free.