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Warning about suspension of visa-free regime for Moldova and synergy of EU criticism, OP-ED

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05:49, 19 Nov 2018

Warning about suspension of visa-free regime for Moldova and synergy of EU criticism, OP-ED

 

 
The conditionality concerning the suspension of the Association Agreement or the visa-free regime   should remain a last resort, but the rules of the democratic game until then should be  reintroduced by eliminating the monopolies of the Democratic Party from politics to the mass media ...


 

Dionis Cenuºa
 

The negative dynamics of the political processes in Moldova make the European institutions step up criticisms up to maximum levels that are unparalleled in the relationship with other associate countries. This way the resolution on the implementation of the Association Agreement in Moldova, which was adopted by the European Parliament on November 14, 2018 (396 votes for, 76 – against, 186 – abstentions), invokes the possibility of suspending the Agreement if the fundamental aspects (democratic principles, human rights) are violated. Also, the resolution connects the fight against corruption and money laundering to the criteria whose accomplishment ensures the functioning of the visa-free regime with the European Union (EU).

After the financial assistance for Moldova was suspended in the summer of 2018 (IPN, September 24, 2018), the EU practically does not have other active instruments to influence the political behavior of the Moldovan government. This makes the European side allude to extremely radical measures, such as the possibility of freezing the bilateral legal framework (Association Agreement) or of revising the decision to abolish the visa requirements of 2014. The activation of these measures would necessitate more serious cases than the invalidation of the Chisinau mayoral elections (IPN, June 25, 2018), while the obtaining of a good electoral score by the Democratic Party and its eventual remaining in power cannot match the given parameters. That’s why not the election outcome, but the way in which the elections are held will matter (IPN, September 18, 2018). This way the government picks ideas from civil society, such as the abolition of the ban on electoral agitation (in polling places and at a distance of 100 meters from them), but refuses to systematically modernize the electoral legislation (Promolex, November 8, 2018) and to renounce the mixed electoral system. The regulation of electoral agitation, on the one hand, prevents the risks of a repeat of the invalidation of elections that is requested by the opposition and the development partners. On the other hand, the liberalization of the terms for electoral agitation offers unlimited conditions for the Democrats and other “rich” parties to campaign on the election day (Expert-Grup, October 19, 2018), as they know the payment of acceptable fines is the only penalty (private individuals  – 300 to 600 MDL; persons holding responsible posts and candidates – 1,200 to 1,500 MDL). Polls show already that the Party of Socialists, the Democratic Party (DPM) and the Shor Party show visibility in relation to the voters (IRI, November 15, 2018).

Meanwhile, the government’s indifference to the internal criticism of the pro-EU forces and the external criticism of the European institutions produced no major impact on the geopolitical preferences of the voters. The suspension of the EU’s macro-financial assistance in July and the European Parliament’s resolution of July 5 left few imprints on public memory. Apparently, the anti-European defamation campaign conducted by the Democratic Party also had minimal consequences (IPN, July 9, 2018). On the contrary, the pro-European sympathies grew by 2% to 48% (IRI, November 15, 2018). The growth is confirmed by the polls commissioned by nongovernmental organizations affiliated to the Democratic Party (IMAS, November 14, 2018).  

At the same time, against the worsening of the relations with the EU, polls show a favorable development for the Democratic Party, whose popularity rose from 3% in June (IRI, July 16,  2018) to 11% in October 2018 ((IRI, November 15, 2018). These results explain the lack of fear on the part of the DPM for the EU’s criticism and the collateral impact of the populist measures adopted by the government during the last few months (rise in salaries in the public sector, pensions etc.). This way, the European Parliament’s warning about the possible suspension of the Association Agreement or the visa-free regime could have no impact on the DPM’s image as this can be neutralized by pre-electoral populism. Moreover, the Moldovan government is aware of the balance of forces inside the European institutions and understands that the European legislature can adopt resolutions that are only recommendatory in character, no matter how critical they are.

Is suspension of visa-free regime possible?

The revision of the visa-free regime for Moldova became a component part of the last resolution adopted by the European Parliament, even if the visa liberalization is covered by the Association Agreement only tangentially (Art. 15, p. 2) as the agreement took effect later than the Moldovans started to travel visa-free in the EU.

The liberalization of visas is administered by a specific framework separately from politics where Moldova is assessed together with five Western Balkan countries and another two countries of the Eastern Partnership – Ukraine and Georgia. The European Commission in December 2017 first ascertained that Moldova continues to implement the criteria for benefitting from a visa-free regime. However, illegal migration, anti-corruption policies and fighting of money laundering were signaled as problems where the Moldovan authorities should demonstrate progress. This thing generates at least two questions.

First of all, the European Parliament includes conditionality elements related to the liberalization of visas in a resolution  on the implementation of the Association Agreement. This can be explained by the intention to incite public debates in Moldova by raising a subject that is sensitive for the citizens who do not yet possess Romanian passports. The issue of the visa-free regime could have been specified in the European Parliament’s resolution of July 5, 2018 concerning the political crisis in Moldova (European Parliament, July 5, 2018) determined by the invalidation of the elections in Chisinau. But this aspect was overlooked in June-July and appeared in the November 14 resolution  (European Parliament, November 14, 2018).

Secondly, it is not clear why the concerns related to the functioning of the visa-free regime are addressed separately. As the European Commission indicated both the inefficiency of the fight against grand corruption and money laundering and the phenomenon of illegal migration among the  problems. It’s true that according to the new visa waver suspension mechanism introduced in 2018, the European Commission can adopt such a decision if the sector provisions from the dialogue on visas with the EU are no longer respected. However, the eventual reintroduction of visas for Moldova to a great extent depends on the state of the technical parameters that follow a negative trend (See Table) and that’s why should be addressed in the same way as the non-functional anti-corruption policies.

 

Table. Main indicators in assessment of implementation of visa-free regime conditions  

 

2014

2015

2016

Refusals of entry into Schengen area

Moldova

1,845

2,725

4,660

Ukraine

15,585

23,795

22,495

Georgia

3,185

1,330

810

Illegal stays

Moldova

2,245

4,050

7,660

Ukraine

16,520

23,480

29,565

Georgia

6,550

5,405

5,240

Readmission/return (% per cases)

Moldova

62.3% of 1,700

67.3 % of 1,810

48.1% of 5,035

Ukraine

74.7% of 12,220

76.4% of 19,200

82.5% of 26,865

Georgia

53.9% din 6.260

45.1% din 6.415

55.9% of 5,635

Asylum applications

Moldova

475

1,850

3,675

Ukraine

14,090

22,100

12,460

Georgia

8,570

8,110

8,700

Source: European Commission’s report of December 2017

 

Even if the reintroduction of visas is  initiated, this will happen gradually and implies the taking of a decision by most of the EU states. Moreover, the compulsoriness of visas will be imposed on specific categories of  citizens, not on the entire population that benefits from the visa-free travel in the EU (IPN, January 15, 2018).

Instead of conclusion …

The EU’s criticism does not seem to have major effects on the behavior of the Moldovan government. Both the warning about the suspension of the Association Agreement, if the democratic principles are violated, and the invoking of the visa-free regime risk having few effects, as the suspension of the macro-financial assistance does. This is due to the fact that the government neutralizes European institutions’ criticism with populist measures  that are easily embraced by the impoverished population.

Even if the speculations concerning the eventuality of the suspension of the visa-free regime  are massively disseminated, this process does not depend only on political indicators and assessments in the fight against corruption, but also on the technical parameters. Even if these follow a negative trend, the maximally acceptable level is not crossed.

The government showed it is indifferent to the suspension of the macro-financial assistance and this should put the EU on the alert. The conditionality concerning the suspension of the Association Agreement or the visa-free regime   should remain a last resort, but the rules of the democratic game until then should be  reintroduced by eliminating the monopolies of the Democratic Party from politics to the mass media.

 
 
Dionis Cenuºa

 


IPN publishes in the Op-Ed rubric opinion pieces submitted by authors not affiliated with our editorial board. The opinions expressed in these articles do not necessarily coincide with the opinions of our editorial board.

05:49, 19 Nov 2018

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