The situation in Moldova was again included in the European agenda, but in a different way this time. Thus, on February 15, 2016, the representatives of the governments of the European states who came together for a meeting of the Council of the European Union debated the internal problems of Moldova. These discussions are a clear proof of the fact that the EU’s involvement with Moldova increases considerably, mainly as a result of the commitments assumed within the Association Agreement.
The discussions centered on the banking sector affected by cases of fraud that became known in 2015 and other essential aspects, where the reforms stagnate (corruption fighting, dismantling of monopoly in the mass media sector, constitutional reform, etc.). At the end of the discussions, based on the consensus between the 28 EU member states, there was adopted a set of conclusions. Apparently, even if the commitments to do the reforms mentioned in the conclusions were confirmed (by Prime Minister Pavel Filip), the Moldovan authorities didn’t make comments on the harsher remarks form the EU document.
Some experts described the conclusions as the ‘toughest’ statement on Moldova adopted by the EU after the Party of Communists lost political power in 2009. In fact, no conclusions have been adopted so far on Moldova’s case, at least according to the register of documents available on the website of the Council of the EU. In another development, the given conclusions were analyzed strictly through the angle of the critical aspects. Also, some of media outlets mistakenly interpreted the nature of these conclusions.
From tone of recommendation to imperative tone
It’s definite that the severity of the conclusions of February 15, 2016, addressed to the government of Moldova by the EU Council, is due to the difficult situation in Moldova. Besides, the EU’s evidently harsher language than in the past results from the extension of the bilateral dialogue following the signing of the Association Agreement on June 27, 2014. This explains the qualitative change in the EU’s level of involvement with Moldova and the Europeans’ need to be more intransigent.
The document of the Association Agenda adopted in 2014 specifies that both Brussels and Chisinau ‘must’ become involved in doing reforms. However, the EU’s participation does not envision the freeing of Chisinau from the exclusive responsibility of appropriately and swiftly doing the reforms deriving from the accord.
If we follow the language used by the Europeans in relation to Chisinau before and after 2016, we see an essential change of tonality. The problems highlighted by the Europeans are practically identical (corruption fighting, justice sector reform, the banking sector, etc.), but the tone of the rhetoric changes gradually from a recommendation-like to an imperative one. Thus, in the Progress Report on the implementation of the National Plan on the European Neighborhood Policy of 2013, which preceded the Association Agenda, Moldova was ‘invited’ by the EU to do reforms. In a year, in the report for 2014, the EU suggested that the authorities ‘should focus’ on the implementation of reforms. Things change radically in 2016, when, in the conclusions of the EU Council of February 15, 2016, the EU ‘calls’ upon, ‘urges’ and ‘requests” the Moldova side to accelerate the implementation of the reform agenda (justice, anticorruption, banking sector, the mass media, etc.), which is the Association Agenda.
Ignored aspects of 13 conclusions
When analyzing the conclusions of the EU Council, attention was devoted mainly to the critical aspects, the positive ones being practically omitted. It was thus ignored the confirmation of the fact that the Association Agreement was ratified by all the EU member states, which was mentioned in the first point of the conclusions. This means that the national ratification procedures in the EU member states were completed (including in Belgium) and that the Association Agreement can fully take effect. The given aspect didn’t enjoy appropriate attention though it is known that unlike Moldova, other countries face particular problems. Thus, in the case of Ukraine, the Association Agreement is subject to a referendum in the Netherlands, where the number of Euro-skeptical votes is expected to be considerable.
Another important feature of the conclusions is the fact that the EU ‘confirms’ its commitment to strengthen the political association and economic integration with Moldova. Thus, despite the political and other kinds of crises, the EU does not reduce its interest in Moldova and this fact is due to the existence of the Association Agreement.
Also, the conclusions of the EU Council lay emphasis on the role of the constructive dialogue between ‘all political forces’ in identifying solutions, without referring clearly to the protest movement in Chisinau.
For several times, the conclusions make reference to the population. Thus, the European side recommends the Moldovan authorities to takes into account the expectations of the people of the Republic of Moldova when looking for solutions to solve the current difficulties and to do reforms, in particular those related to the liberalization of trade with the EU (DCFTA), saying tangible results on reforms are needed to restore the trust.
The fact that the Council reiterates the EU’s readiness to assist the Republic of Moldova including through technical assistance and project support, such as peer-review missions and high level advisers was also ignored. It is also said that the resumption of budget support disbursements could be envisaged once political, financial and macro-economic conditions are fulfilled. Unlike the previous statements of particular European officials, the conclusions of the EU Council do not tie the unfreezing of the EU’s assistance in budget support to the positive assessments of the IMF missions, the initiation of talks with the IMF or the possible signing of a lending agreement.
Little attention was also devoted to the aspects where the EU welcomes the actions of the Moldovan authorities. These include the invitation by the Government of the Republic of Moldova to the IMF to send a mission as soon as possible, the discussions on constitutional reform in the Republic of Moldova with a view to preventing future political deadlock, the Republic of Moldova’s commitment to handle the Transnistrian settlement process as a key priority and the establishment of a permanent working group for cooperation between the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova and the People’s Assembly of Gagauzia (autonomous territorial administrative unit).
Mistakes made when interpreting conclusions of EU Council
The conclusions of the Council of the European Union were extensively disseminated by the Moldovan media, but mainly in a simplistic manner. Most of the interpretations centered on the critical aspects of the conclusions, some of the voices describing the conclusions as EU’s ‘ultimatum’. Some of the media outlets committed technical mistakes, naming the conclusions ‘resolution’.
The deciphering of the nature of the conclusions of the UE Council allows us to better understand their real importance. Initially, we must underline the fact that the conclusions form part of a broader series of documents that can be adopted by the Council of the EU (legal acts, conclusions, resolutions and statements). Unlike the legal acts, the conclusions do not have legal effects and thus represent a political document. Consequently, as they do not have a legal impact, it’s incorrect to interpret them as ‘ultimatum-like’ in relation to Chisinau.
Furthermore, we must delimit the ‘conclusions’ from ‘resolutions’ that are similar through the fact that they do not envision legal measures. Thus, the conclusions express the political positions of the EU on a non-EU country or appraise particular international events. The resolutions imply subsequent activities, like the invitation of the European Commission to submit a legal act proposal or to adopt concrete sector actions. So, the conclusions of the EU Council represent the EU’s position on the situation in Moldova and should not be mixed up with a resolution, which refers to EU policies and not to the situation in third countries.
Instead of conclusion…
The significance of the conclusions of the Council of the European Union should not be diminished. On the contrary, we must assess them correctly and fully, avoiding fragmentary interpretations, shifts of emphasis, taking of the EU’s position out of context and selective exploitation of the EU’s position. If we do not have recourse to sincerity and impartiality in the process of analyzing the documents issued by the EU institutions, we risk mistakenly understanding the messages transmitted by the Europeans or even allowing making an abusive use of these for political or other purposes. This disadvantages the people of the Republic of Moldova and generates a distorted perception of the EU-Moldova relations.
Dionis Cenușa is a politologist, holding an MA degree in interdisciplinary European studies from the College of Europe.
Areas of interes: European integration, European policies, EU's foreign policy, migration and energy security.
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