The complete implementation of reforms in a qualitative way is the essence of the message transmitted by Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn, who was in Chisinau on an official visit (September 26, 2016).
Commissioner Hahn’s visit to Chisinau is the second during the last two years, the first being made in November 2014. In the period, both Hahn and other European officials bypassed Moldova. On the one hand, the EU became reticent owing to the frequent and repulsive political crises in the country that was earlier considered a champion in the Eastern Neighborhood. On the other hand, such behavior was influenced by the intention to protect the own interests by minimizing or event avoiding contacts with the discredited government of Moldova, which is suspected of robbing the banking system and if ‘oligarchizing’ the political power. The proper implementation of the priority reform action roadmap and positive decisions within the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are the arguments that determined the EU to discuss with Chisinau at a higher political level, through the visit by Commissioner Hahn.
Though Hahn’s visit has an enormous value for the Moldovan side, for the European side the event has a smaller importance. This can be the explanation for the absence of an official press release on the content and results of Hahn’s visit, especially because it was made after a hiatus of two years. Unlike the official visit to Chisinau, another visit paid by Hahn to Kiev (September 16) had a greater visibility and this confirms the less intense interest in Moldova.
A balanced message
The message transmitted by the European Commissioner in Chisinau was constructive, but also very explicit as regards reforms, which should be done till the end by the current government. Corruption fighting, justice sector reform, improvement of the media sector, rehabilitation of the financial-banking sector and continuous investigation of the banking frauds are at the top of the Moldova – EU agenda.
Emphasis will be yet placed on the quality of reforms, not only on their quantity, and on the implementation of good European and international practices and active involvement of civil society. Based on this formula, the Europeans will draw conclusions about the real progress in doing reforms.
From simulation to tangible results
Johannes Hahn had a generally favorable message for the current government, but he made several remarks that betray the yet skeptical attitude of the Europeans. Thus, immediately after the European official appreciated the results in carrying out the roadmap achieved by the authorities, this asked for maximum concentration on implementation as, for a reform to produce results, this must be done completely and Hahn repetitively invoked this idea.
In this regard, authorities’ attempts to show their performance by the number of adopted laws and actions are not enough for satisfying the EU, which wants tangible results and as soon as possible. Consequently, the simple adoption of legislation is insufficient for guaranteeing full financial assistance on the part of the EU, including after the signing of an agreement with the IMF.
About presidential elections and Transnistrian conflict
The holding of the presidential elections on October 30, 2016 in a proper manner is a subject that is in the EU’s focus of attention. Hahn referred directly to the campaign prior to the presidential elections, calling on the candidates and the mass media not to resort to defamation. According to the European Commissioner, this type of rhetoric does not contribute to the political dialogue that is necessary after elections. The toxic ambiance in the Moldovan political sphere is known in Brussels, including the protest spirit in society. That’s why, for the EU and other development partners it is important for the elections to contribute to political stabilization in the country and concentration on reforms, not vice versa.
Furthermore, Hahn encouraged the young voters to take part in elections. Even if he did it indirectly, the European official called on the people to support the pro-European course. Statistics show that the young people and those with higher education form the nucleus of the pro-EU voters.
The resolution of the Transnistrian conflict was also mentioned by Hahn, who noted that any adopted solution must ensure the country’s territorial integrity. According to him, the territorial integrity of Moldova does not exclude the granting of a special status to the Transnistrian region. However, the number of priority subjects in the relations with Moldova is so large that the Transnistrian issue is devoted less attention by Brussels than this necessitates.
Assistance for de-politicizing LPA by increasing transparency
Hahn’s visit has a major significance for the Moldovan authorities because it shows the EU’s readiness to unlock the direct budget assistance. The agreement on financial support for the public administration reform in Moldova, to the value of €15 million, is a first sign in this regard.
Speaking about the importance of the local public administration, Hahn underlined that the EU wants to see increased quality and transparency in the public services sector. The European Commissioner referred to the future implementation of the electronic public procurement system and the land register as a method by which the local public administration can be modernized. According to him, the transparentization of public services will reduce the level of politicization of the local public authorities.
Hahn’s expectations could yet not correspond to the reality. Evidently, the modernization and transparentization of the local public authorities can and should contribute to the improvement of the procedures for managing public funds. This will enable to diminish local corruption and to protect public property from fixed tender contests or other offenses. For the LPA to be really de-politicized, the political players should change their behavior. The better management of public money and property does not yet diminish the political forces’ thirst for local administrative resources whose exploitation enables them to strengthen their positions at national level.
Political effects of Hahn’s visit
Hahn’s visit took place in a delicate moment for Moldova, which is close to presidential elections and is waiting for the IMF’s decision, being engaged in a broad process of implementing difficult reforms. The question is why Hahn decided to come to Chisinau now and who benefits from this visit? Technically speaking, Hahn had to come before the announcement by the IMF of its final decision, expected at the end of this October, but also before the start of the campaign preceding the October 30 presidential elections.
Regardless of Europeans’ calculations, the government used Hahn’s presence in Chisinau to convince the voters that the EU supports the actions of the government, which managed to stabilize the country. Now ‘stability’ is the main argument used by the government to remain in power and to promote Marian Lupu in the race for the presidency. The Moldovan side chose to lay emphasis on the fact that the EU ‘recognizes’ the efforts and positive results achieved by the current government. This does not yet fully correspond to the message of Hahn, who, even if he was positive, focused on the importance of doing reforms.
Despite the positive assessments regarding governance, the EU remains skeptical of Moldova and powerfully conditioned by the IMF and the pace of reforms in the country. Surely, Johannes Hahn could not deny the facts, namely that the government managed to ‘politically stabilize’ the country, including by implementing the roadmap. But he suggested that the practical and tangible side of reforms remains essential (at the level of laws, political decisions and public political actions, etc.). If Hahn had wanted to praise the government, he would have openly appreciated the government’s efforts in the struggle with oligarchs or those aimed at investigating the banking frauds. He yet preferred to disregard them.
Definitely, Hahn’s visit represents a conscious image contribution to the government, which yet endeavors to offset the deficit of internal legitimacy with approval on the outside. But Commissioner Hahn tried to be reserved and balanced out the positive messages and repeated conditionality (practical implementation of reforms).
Instead of conclusion…
The implementation of the roadmap positively influenced the EU’s position on the government of Moldova, which was in disgrace with the Europeans at the start of 2016. The implementation of the roadmap is yet seen by the EU as a beginning, not yet as the end of the efforts needed to regain foreign partners’ confidence. Thus, the EU’s expectations of the Moldovan authorities have doubled and diversified. That’s why the government must ensure the continuity of reforms.
Within the Eastern Partnership, Ukraine attracts more attention and resources from the EU, first of all due to security reasons. At the same time, the EU is distracted by other problems in the European neighborhood and also by the multiple crises it faces at internal level (Euro crisis, Brexit etc.). That’s why Moldova must promote itself to appear again on the European agenda, following the example of Georgia.
Hahn’s visit was made before the launch of the election campaign. Thus, the EU avoids being accused of wanting to influence the decision of voters, but simultaneously manages to transmit pro-European messages before the elections. The Europeans realize that the pro-Russian candidate (Igor Dodon) is the main aspirant for the office of President. They also see that the government invests massively in the won candidate. That’s why even if Hahn’s presence in Chisinau can be regarded as a positive message in favor of Marian Lupu, the Commissioner keeps a particular dose of reticence towards the government until this does not implement reforms de facto.
Ultimately, conditionality and complete implementation of reforms, not only simulated implementation, represent the key aspects of Hahn’s speech that could serve as electoral arguments for the candidates of the pro-European opposition.
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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