The past year has perpetuated the people’s confusion about the direction the country should take. European partners also remain uncertain about the seriousness of the undertaken reforms. Society is still somewhat divided, although recent polls show a return to the positive situation of November 2013, when 47% of the people were in favor of joining the EU (IPN, December 18, 2017). President Igor Dodon’s pro-Eurasian measures ensured this option remained visible, but did little to boost its popularity. On the contrary, the people’s interest in the Eurasian Economic Union has decreased, even though the pro-European government has repeatedly failed to implement democratic reforms in a correct and definitive way.
All the predictions for 2017 came true (IPN, December 26, 2016). First of all, as feared, we have witnessed a continuous geopolitical conflict between the PDM-controlled pro-European government and Parliament and the pro-Russian president Igor Dodon. Another correct prediction concerned the improvement of the Democrats’ rating, who have used their mass media, institutional and administrative resources in order to rise above the 6% threshold in polls. Meanwhile, non-parliamentary pro-European forces have consolidated, as the parties led by Maia Sandu and Andrei Nastase joined the same pan-European party (the EPP) and agreed to form an electoral bloc for the upcoming elections in 2018. The forecast regarding the dominance of geopolitics in public debates also came true, as the Presidency advanced the dialogue with Russia and the Eurasian Economic Union. The success of Euro-optimistic forces (in France) on one hand and the Russian support for armed separatists in Donbass on the other caused the EU-Russia relationship to stagnate. This was exploited by geopolitical parties in Chisinau.
2018 will be crucial for the current format of European integration that Moldova is a part of. There are favorable conditions for a victory of the pro-Russian forces, but they will have to compete with the Democrats’ efforts to make a coalition with the non-parliamentary opposition, unthinkable as it may seem now. The revitalization of the European project thanks to increased cooperation between Paris and Berlin will be paralleled by the mobilization of Eurosceptic forces in the New Europe. The latter will try to strengthen a joint stance (Hungary, Poland) against the basics of the European project - the rule of law, the solidarity principle - which will be defended by the supranational European institutions.
Top 10 predictions for 2018
1. EU macro-financial assistance
The Democratic Party will do its utmost to finalize some reforms and fulfill some overdue commitments (like the activation of the National Agency for Integrity). The first 10 conditions from the list of 28 will be fulfilled without problems. The governing party will have to convince the European Commission and the European External Action Service that they are respecting the political conditions, which are more vague and allow for more interpretation both by the EU and PDM. If civil society succeeds in proving that democratic institutions aren’t working properly, the EU may refuse to disburse the first installment. However, the Democrats are set on receiving the European money and are unlikely to commit major errors, especially in an electoral year.
2. Conditional financial assistance
The number of external partners who will put some conditions for financial assistance will increase. The EBRD will help the Moldovan authorities build the necessary infrastructure for inter-connection of networks with Romania only if Chisinau carries out some reforms in the energy sector, such as strengthening the regulatory agency or adopting new energy laws.
This might help access the Third Energy Package sooner and reduce the expenses for inter-connection. However, because of the lengthy selection process for the construction company and other issues with the privatization of Vestmoldtransgaz, the gas main Ungheni-Chisinau may not be finished by the end of 2018.
3. Post-electoral division of the pro-European forces
All polls this year suggest that the Socialists will win next year’s elections, but won’t be able to govern alone. This means that pro-European forces together might get enough seats to govern. In order to have a strong position during the post-electoral negotiations, the Democrats target 15-20 seats and the mixed voting system will help them achieve this goal. Together with the PAS-PPDA bloc, the Democrats can get 35-45% of votes. However, both Maia Sandu and Andrei Nastase rejected the possibility of a coalition with PDM. The EU and the US interest in pushing for a pro-European coalition is low, but a Socialist victory might change this. A key element might be separating PDM from Vladimir Plahotniuc, but the latter cannot accept this because he needs the guarantee of immunity. Such a scenario is also unacceptable for PAS-PPDA, who owe their electoral basis to the anti-corruption/oligarchy/Plahotniuc rhetoric. The fate of the post-electoral coalition will be decided by the number of parties that will enter the Parliament, especially if other pro-Russian groups such as the Communists or Our Party join the Socialists. A coalition between PSRM and PDM is even less likely, but not wholly impossible - if PSRM breaks some commitments to Russia and PDM feels threatened by early elections.
4. Strengthening of the Eurasian direction
At the insistence of President Dodon, Moldova will become an observer in the Eurasian Economic Union. Although this allows only for limited participation in the EEU activities, it will still have a strong impact on the pro-Russian voters and can play a decisive role in determining the geopolitical orientation of the next Parliament. Even if pro-European parties manage to form a government coalition, the Eurasian option will be strengthened.
5. Resurgence of traditional values
The electoral period will see PSRM and the Presidency ramp up the promotion of traditional values in order to attract rural voters, for whom the Church still has a strong moral authority. The Family Conference, scheduled to take place in October in Chisinau, will provide a platform to publicly criticize European values that undermine the traditional family. This rhetoric is unavoidable, given that it is a key part of the pro-Eurasian forces’ discourse, which became more active during Dodon’s first year in office.
6. DCFTA implementation in the Transnistrian region
The level of fulfillment of DCFTA principles by the separatist authorities is low, but the EU won’t exclude Transnistrian exporters from the liberalized regime offered to Moldova, in order to avoid destabilizing the situation during the Italian chairmanship of OSCE. Instead, the EU will offer more assistance via EUBAM and joint border control for imports and exports at the Moldovan-Ukrainian border (Cuciurgan-Pervomaisk), in order to increase the application of DCFTA technical rules - the provenience of products, technical and sanitary requirements and so on. The most significant progress would be removing import taxes for European products, but this requires the implementation of the VAT system in the region.
7. New tensions between Chisinau and Comrat
The tension between the central authorities and the Gagauz autonomous region will increase after the Democrats’ measures against Russian propaganda. The EU and the US recommended Moldova to adopt a new Code of the Audiovisual and to ensure mass media pluralism. However, PDM is exploiting the antagonism with Russia for electoral purposes. This is why it banned Russian news and analytical shows. The Gagauz authorities in Comrat will thus be forced to go to the geopolitical barricades, as they are already engaged in political-economical diplomacy with Russia, together with President Dodon.
8. Unstable and unpredictable neighborhood
The political situation in Romania remains difficult because of the protests against the government’s attempts to undermine the institutional and legal positions of the fight against corruption. This might diminish European support for Romania’s entrance in the Schengen zone, even though the technical requirements have already been met. Meanwhile, the EU will get tired with the fake reforms and fight against corruption in Ukraine. Stopping Russia in Donbass and Crimea may remain the last reason for the EU to maintain an interest in Ukraine, unless the Ukrainian politicians curb down their appetite for public money. The stagnation of reforms in Ukraine creates a negative trend for the whole region, being an attractive model for other oligarchic elites, including Moldova.
9. Strengthening of Eurosceptics in Central and Eastern EU
The Eurosceptics in Hungary and Poland will strengthen their positions, exploiting to their advantage the difference with the EU over the interpretation of the rule of law and the solidarity principle. Although the EU can impose penalties against them, this might deepen East-West divisions. The advancement of Brexit in 2018 and the subsequent reduction of the EU budget will fuel arguments that access to structural funds should be proportional to the degree to which member countries respect European values. Any conflict between Brussels and other European capitals will provide more ammo for anti-European rhetoric from outside the EU, including the Eastern neighborhood.
10. Intensification of the Russian actions
Russia’s actions towards Ukraine will intensify after Moscow negotiates a favorable ceasefire to end its operations in Syria. The informational war and discreting the West will remain a priority. Meanwhile, the Kremlin will also have to deal with internal social-economic problems and ensure public order so that Vladimir Putin’s expected victory in the presidential elections next year will seem more legitimate (at least 80% of votes). Because Russia didn’t implement the Minsk II agreement, the EU will maintain its economic sanctions. The US might add more sanctions both against Russia as a country and against specific persons for their meddling in the American presidential elections of 2016.
Instead of conclusion...
The parliamentary elections will dominate the public agenda in 2018 and will influence the behavior of the elites regardless of their geopolitical orientation.
The sustainability of the European course will depend on the politicians’ ability to create a collective impression that European integration is an objective necessity for the transformation of Moldova and not just a geopolitical step against Russia. The election results will test the feasibility of the European course.
Discrediting European values by EU members, growing differences within the EU, Russia’s resurgence in Ukraine will all increase the risks for Moldova, where democratic institutions and the pro-European orientation are very sensitive to regional geopolitical trends.
Areas of interes: European integration, European policies, EU's foreign policy, migration and energy security.
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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.