European integration and consensus in Constitution, IPN analysis

“The Republic of Moldova does not have the European course enshrined in the Constitution because it does not have will and capacity to reach a consensus inside the political class...”

A number of answers were already formulated to the question why the pro-European parties didn’t reach an agreement as to the insertion of the European course in the Constitution as a country development model? But not all the possible answers were given and the formulated ones also need to be analyzed by their political sincerity level.

A more profound analysis is even more necessary when both of the sides, the promoters and the opponents of the amendment of the Constitution, apparently acted as they acted to the detriment of the own political interests and of the interests of the Republic of Moldova. Is it a kind of reverse consensus based on the country’s interests that the sides claim to be promoting and protecting?

In reality, as a result of the failed vote held in Parliament of October 18, 2018, only the country’s and society’s interests were affected as these would have probably felt better protected from the existing political and geopolitical instability and turmoil if the European course was constitutionalized. As regards the parties’ behavior, there is no contradiction: they acted as they acted in strict compliance with the own political interests, especially the electoral ones. By this vote, both of the sides protected themselves from eventual future losses and even obtained real benefits from the non-voting of the amendment to the Constitution. 

Democratic Party, uninterested initiator

The Democratic Party of Moldova (PDM), which initiated the constitutional amendment proposal, banked from the start on a winning card in any conditions. If the proposal had gathered the necessary number of votes, the PDM would have obtained the status of formal leader of the whole pro-European current in the future election campaign and the other parties would have played the role of second violin with secondary electoral benefits. The PDM would have obtained particular arguments in its favor in the dispute with the European partners that for a period have kept a distance in their relations with the ruling party which they reproach for pronounced departures from the democratic and rule of law principles. 

The PDM also stands to gain from the non-voting of the European course as it now obtained the possibility of blaming the future electoral rivals – the Liberal Democratic Party of Moldova (PLDM) and the Liberal Party (PL) – for torpedoing the European course. This message could persuade a particular number of voters or at least the PDM would have an excuse when it its criticized by Brussels and would be able to say “not only we have problems with the EU and the European integration of Moldova...”.

But most probably the PDM itself didn’t want the European course to be voted in Parliament and such a conclusion derives from at least two serious reasons.

The first: The PDM didn’t look for and didn’t accept a consensus with the potential voting partners  without which this problem couldn’t have been solved. It’s true that not even the PLDM and PL can be suspected of having a very big wish to reach a consensus, but the PDM’s position of initiator and of ruling party and majority party in Parliament implied doing more than it did and asking more from the parties that were invited to support the idea by their votes. On the contrary, the PDM leaders made harsh statements saying “the European idea is not negotiated”. A number of representatives of the PLDM and PL confirmed that no negotiations were held when the initiative was proposed and the week between the debate on the matter in Parliament and its putting to the vote. On the voting day, the PL even left the impression that it was almost ready to vote if the PDM made particular concessions.

The second: The introduction of the European course in the Constitution was planned by the PDM in the context of the preparation and launch of the new “Pro Moldova” strategy that, volens-nolens, means  abandonment of the European integration idea as an electoral slogan, eventually not as political orientation at domestic and foreign levels. The fact that the given strategy, with all its components, had been prepared for a long time and planned for launch “in autumn” was confirmed by the president of the PDM Vlad Plahotniuc in an interview for IPN that was given on the occasion of the Independence Day this year, even if he avoided giving too many details then. In an electoral context and given the animosities in the relations with the EU bodies and the unhidden conflicts with the internal pro-European opposition, the PDM was interested in delimiting “Pro-Moldova” from “Pro-Europe”. And it did it with the ”hands”-votes of the parliamentary pro-European opposition parties.

PLDM and PL conceded the initiative....

Even if the representatives of the parliamentary pro-European opposition parties confirmed, including in public debates at IPN, that the insertion of the European course in the Constitution “wouldn’t have had a negative impact”, their political-electoral interests made them vote against the PDM’s proposal. In this regard, they chose the “lesser evil” even if the vote “against the European integration” further weakened their positions in the eyes of the pro-European voters compared with the period of the previous elections after which they entered Parliament. The PDM, with all its bodies and affiliated media outlets, will surely use the given pretext to further diminish their electoral bases. The “bigger evil” would have been the consolidation, by their own vote, of the leading positions of the PDM on the pro-European segment and attenuation of its ‘sins’ before the Moldovan voters, which were formulated in a series of recent documents by the European institutions and owing to which they suspended the financial assistance until after the parliamentary elections of February 2019.

In the confrontation with the PDM, the PLDM-PL attempted to incline the balance in its favor, imposing as a condition the amendment of the Constitution simultaneously with the change of the name of the official language from “Moldovan” into “Romanians” in the supreme law. The PDM rejected the proposal rather convincingly and this confirms the conclusion about its disinterest in having its own initiative adopted. For example, the leaders of the PDM argued that there is no consensus inside the party and in society on the name of the official language (“50/50”) and this would have further divided society. In reality, the pro-European option is supported by society at a similar percentage (“50/50”), but this didn’t prevent the Democrats from insisting on the inclusion of the European course in the Constitution.

In reality, the subtleties of the political struggle between the two camps over the language and the development course are related to the current electoral interests. Insisting on leadership on the European integration dimension, the PDM aims to ALSO attract as many voters as possible from the weakened and vulnerable pro-European parties. ALSO because the Pro-Moldova strategy shows the PDM’s intention to conquer voters of the parties of the left that are less pro-European. For their part, the parliamentary parties of the right, the PLDM and PL, aimed to engage the PDM in the “linguistic dispute” that would have distanced a part of the existing or potential voters of the PDM, who are less proficient in linguistic and identity matters or are even hostile to the idea of changing the name of the language.

Furthermore, the PLDM and PL didn’t want to assume before the voters responsibility for what they call “compromising of the European course” for which the PDM has blamed them since the government became a one-color one.

In this confrontation of political interests, the PDM was more offensive, more technological and more vocal than its opponents. To a particular extent, this is also due to the big difference in administrative, financial and media resources owned by the sides. Anyway, the PLDM and PL could not go much beyond Parliament in their attempt to promote their message as they didn’t manage to actively engage society and the extraparliamentary pro-European opposition that has now much greater potential in this issue. The PDM uttered widely its position in society and attracted as much and as many as it was possible. 

About consensus in politics and society

Even if sufficient time passed since the announcement of the PDM’s initiative and its (non)voting in Parliament, including the half a year needed for the Constitutional Court to pronounce on the matter, not much is known about the looking for a consensus by the sides for garnering the necessary number of votes. They spoke about a failed attempt in the already mentioned debates held at IPN. Liberal-Democratic MPs Grigore Cobzac referred to the discussion with Speaker of Parliament Andrian Candu, deputy president of the PDM, which was held on the imitative of the Liberal-Democratic parliamentary group. “We wanted to know how the ruling party considers the situation concerning the serious departures from the democratic norms stipulated in the last documents of the European partners can be overcome. If there was place for a compromise before that discussion, after it we understood that we will not have free and fair elections and the judiciary will be very tough on the opposition, while the fight against corruption is only simulated,” he stated, without providing other details about the mentioned discussion, but one does not need a rich imagination to form an opinion about its tone and the general positions of the parties “in the search for a consensus or compromise”.

The consensus in the given problem wasn’t reached because it wasn’t looked for, but it wasn’t looked for because there is no understanding, will and capacity in this regard. Instead, there were political and electoral interests and the Moldovan parties and political leaders fully identify the own invests with the interests of society. In particular, the opposition parties remained firm on their positions on the pro-European opposition segment, not accepting the PDM’s presence here. For its part, the PDM aims to subdue the whole electorate, evidently to the detriment of the European course “partners” from Parliament and of practically all the parties that joined or will yet join the race prior to the 2019 parliamentary elections. This goal is not recent. It was formulated many years ago and according to this the PDM is to become “the most powerful party in the Republic of Moldova”. Evidently, in such conditions there is no place for consensus, either theoretical or practical, including or probably especially on mattes of national interest, such as the country’s development course. In this sense, the fate of the constitutional amendment proposal was decided before it was put to the vote and even before it was presented.

This way, the Republic of Moldova does not have the European course enshrined in the Constitution because it does not have will and capacity to reach a consensus inside the political class. That’s why the obligation to respect a particular degree of consensus in the political relations between the government and the opposition, inside the political class in general, should be probably formalized so that the law sets a limit. For example, a legal provision can be formulated to ban parties from claiming more than 30-35% of the seats distributed in the national constituency so that no party misapprehends the necessity of forming post-electoral majority coalitions and does not mislead society and the voters in this regard. The experience gained by Moldova during the sole governments of the Agrarian Democratic Party and the Party of Communists and during the “golden” periods of the PLDM and newer of the PDM, which are suspected of authoritarianism, evil interests, subduing of state institutions, poverty and other phenomena that do not benefit society, are a conclusive example. Not speaking about the rule of the Soviet Communist Party that was marked by horrors close to genocide of the own people. It’s true that the coalition government was discredited in Moldova, but the experience of developed countries with democratic traditions and high living standards points to namely this path to political and social consensus.

Maybe this is also the path by which we will achieve such accomplishments as more tolerant drivers between them and with pedestrians;  young people who give their seats to elderly people in public transport; greater inclusion for persons with disabilities; greater cleanness at home and in public places; coexisting ethnic groups that know and mutually respect each other’s languages; greater tolerance of the political and geopolitical preferences of each citizen... Maybe...

Valeriu Vasilică, IPN

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