European Parliament elections, implications for Moldova. IPN Debate

Elections will be held for the European Parliament in about two weeks. The European Union, which has been sharing a border with Moldova since Romania’s accession in 2007, has faced profound challenges over the past few years, and the upcoming elections have the potential to mitigate or escalate some, and in ways that will imminently affect Moldova in one way or another. This has been discussed by participants in a public debate tilted “European Parliament elections, implications for Moldova”, which is the 110th installment of IPN’s Developing Political Culture Series, held in partnership with Radio Moldova.
Igor Boțan, the Series’s standing expert, began by pointing out how the European Parliament has gained more influence in the EU after the Lisbon Treaty took effect in 2009. With this bigger role, Parliament decides on equal footing with the Council of Ministers how EU funds are spent and what the bloc’s political directions are.   
“These elections are important not only because we share a border with the EU through Romania, but also because about a third of Moldovans have Romanian and, consequently, EU citizenship and have the right to vote in these elections. So, Moldovans can influence the representation of Romania in the European Parliament. We all know that Romania gets to delegate 32 MEPs. Twenty-three political parties and seven independent candidates are competing in Romania in these elections”, said Boțan, pointing to the vast political offer that Moldovans can pick from. 
Each member country is free to decide whether MEPs are elected in one national constituency or more electoral subdivisions. Boțan says it’s important to know that Romanian MEPs are elected in a single constituency based on closed party lists, under a representational system with an electoral threshold of 5%, as introduced in 2018. The fact that Moldova is an associate country also adds significance to these elections, stressed the expert.
Victor Juc, director of the Legal, Political and Sociological Research Institute, said it’s worth noting that the lead candidate of a political group competing in the elections will become president of the European Commission, as opposed to the past practice where picking candidates was the prerogative of the European Council. “Also, these elections are important because, due to migration and Euroscepticism, some populist, far-right political forces are gaining ground”, said Victor Juc.
“I’d also make a parallel with the presidential election in Ukraine, which would have been pretty dull hadn’t it been for the participation of actor Volodimir Zelensky. Similarly, the (European Parliament) elections would be less interesting if it weren’t for this problem of populism and Euroscepticism. Finally, I’d like to emphasize the possibility of a EU reset following the replacement of its informal leader, as Angela Merkel is succeeded in this position by Emmanuel Macron. The French president has made some important proposals, including that manifesto translated into  22 languages that has called for the creation of new institutions and mechanisms, like the European army. All in all, including the Brexit factor, allows us to conclude that these elections outweigh the 2009 ones, for example”, said Victor Juc.
Ion Tăbârță, expert with the think-tank IDIS Viitorul, noted that despite some national differences, the leading political forces and favorites remain more or less unchanged, as polls show that the European People’s Party and the Socialists & Democrats will likely remain the largest groups. However, for the first time in many years, it is also likely that they will lose their combined majority and will have to negotiate with a third political group, perhaps with ALDE.
According to Ion Tăbârță, Eurosceptics and populists are also expected to make some gains. “This is due to this process of ‘skidding’ with which the EU has been struggling for about a decade now – the 2008 economic recession, the migrants, Brexit and so on. Against this background, these populist and Eurosceptic forces have increased in popularity. Which is nothing new, really. What’s more interesting now is to watch the Conservatives & Reformists, who always relied on UK votes in the past. Now it’s still unclear if the European Parliament will be reduced to 705 seats due to Brexit or there will be more MEPs”, said the expert, adding that an “Italo-Polish axis” of right-wing parties is expected to bolster the conservatives’ ranks notwithstanding the departure of UK representatives. 
Mihai Mogîldea, expert at the Institute for European Policy and Reform, said the 2019 elections surely have a greater potential than the 2014 ones. “National electoral outcomes show that sadly populism is continuously on the rise. There have been some examples like Italy demonstrating that the populist wing has some significant support among voters. It’s not that big as a percentage, it’s far from being a majority, but it serves to demonstrate (...) a rupture between the European leaders and establishment, and people in EU member countries. This has been criticized for over two decades now, that citizens don’t have direct mechanisms to directly influence decision-making in the EU”.
Some changes have been made to redress this, especially in 2009, with the introduction of the citizens’ initiative and broader powers for the European Parliament. Mihai Mogîldea says that Parliament’s role is practically this: to ensure indirect communication between citizens and the European Commission, which is the main policy-making body within the EU. Parliament’s powers have also changed over the years to make it a supranational entity, rather than one representing the interests of particular countries. 
Mogîldea added that the European Parliament is an interesting example of how different European political groups manage to communicate and ensure a functional and stable institution. “Groups with different ideologies – the Socialists, the EPP, the Liberals and sometimes even the Conservatives often manage to compromise on major issues. And I think that in the future Parliament the PPE, the Socialists and the Liberal-Democrats will be able to provide this functional majority for subjects of major interest for the EU”.
“European Parliament elections, implications for Moldova” is the 110th installment of the Developing Political Culture through Public Debates Series implemented by IPN, in partnership with Radio Moldova, and with the support of the Hanns Seidel Foundation.
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