The Moldovan authorities insist on the idea that the Europeans supported the government of Moldova within the EU-Moldova Association Council that convened in Brussels on March 14. This assertion is true only partially. Thus, in general, the European side welcomed a number of the actions taken recently by the government. On the other hand, the EU didn’t stop to ask ‘reforms and tangible results’, especially in such problematic sectors as justice, anti-corruption and liberalization of the media market. So, the Europeans approve of the steps taken by the authorities, but this is yet not enough for reducing the skepticism towards the government of Moldova.
Though the result of the Association Council meeting was in general positive for the government of Moldova, this diminished amid the criticism leveled at Prime Minister Pavel Filip and the delegation of Moldovan officials. Both in Brussels and in Chisinau, the confidence in the representatives of the government and of the Democratic Party is at a very low level. Consequently, the Moldovan authorities are exposed to enormous pressure on the part of the political, civil and media opposition in Chisinau and of the political one in the European Parliament. The negative perception can be changed by completing the reforms and involving civil society in the process of monitoring and confirming the made progress. These aspects were emphasized in the meeting of the EU–Moldova Association Council in Brussels.
Importance of EU–Moldova Association Council
Given the political isolation inside the country and outside it too, the government needed the meeting of the Association Council to break the ice in the relations with Brussels. This happened several weeks after the publication of the harsh Conclusions of the Council of the EU of February 15, 2016, in which the Europeans massively criticized the government for lack of reforms or their sluggishness.
In the context of the Association Council, Premier Filip made his first official visit to Brussels. That’s why the Moldovan official was evidently timid and nervous in the meetings with the European officials in Brussels. However, when back to Moldova Pavel Filip centered solely on the positive aspects of the discussions with the Europeans, avoiding saying details about the ‘cold shower’ of questions posed by MEPs. These, unlike the European Commission and the Council of the EU, frontally criticized the political agenda of the government of Moldova, challenging its sincerity given its ties with oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc. Within the European People’s Party, where the Liberal Democratic Party of Moldova has the status of observer, the Moldovan officials were reprimanded by MEPs who represent the European Social-Democrats with which the Democratic Party is politically related owing to its status of associate member within the Party of European Socialists.
Unnoticed particularities of Association Council
The results of the Association Council were widely discussed in the Moldovan public sphere. However, particular important aspects were eclipsed.
Firstly, it should be noted that the meeting of the Council was held for two consecutive years in Brussels. Though it was initially expected that the European officials will visit Chisinau, Brussels was ultimately chosen as a venue. The given decision was agreed by the sides, both the Europeans and the Moldovan officials being advantaged. But the Europeans maintained the distance from the government of Moldova, maximally limiting the transfer of image and, respectively, of legitimacy to the Democratic Party and its political allies. At the same time, the Moldovan officials kept the Europeans far from meetings with the opposition, protesters and representatives of civil society, which would have distorted the impact of the Association Council.
Secondly, we should draw attention to the balanced text of the press release published after the Association Council meeting. Evidently, the text shows the joint position of Brussels and Chisinau, not the separate viewpoint of the Europeans. That’s why the text reveals the combination of positive findings formulated in concert (EU-Moldova) with more critical positions about the mass media pluralism, justice and anticorruption that belong exclusively to the EU. Besides the numerous concerns and objections, the Europeans formulated only one appraisal about the adoption of the Law on the Prosecution Service, asking in the same connection to steadfastly implement it.
Not finally, if we compare the press release of the second Association Council meeting with the text adopted after the first meeting of March 2015, we see that the EU’s disposition towards the Moldovan authorities has deteriorated. In 2016, the EU’s attitude is more objective, more profound and better documented, but also more skeptical towards Chisinau. Also, this year we see stricter demands towards the authorities, references to the role of civil society, well-formulated demands and a powerful accent on the importance of the political dialogue and promotion of people’s interests.
What the press release of the Association Council is silent about
The document made public after the Association Council meeting lacks several important aspects. First of all, the Europeans overlooked the Constitutional Court’s judgment of March 4, which restores the people’s right to choose the Head of State themselves. Surely, this judgment has a major impact on the political stability, but the Court’s politicization generated many suspicions in Moldova and among the Europeans. As a result, the EU preferred to omit this judgment in the text formulated after the Association Council meeting.
Also, the text says nothing about the cases of ex-Premier Vlad Filat and Petrenco’s group. On diverse occasions, the EU Delegation to Moldova and different European officials who visited Chisinau asked that the hearings in these cases should be transparent and correct. The Europeans most probably consider that emphasis should be placed on the reformation of justice as this will lead to the elimination of the irregularities existing now in the system, including those related to Filat and Petrenco.
There are also no promises or concrete conditions as regards the possibility of unlocking the direct budget support provided by the EU, which was earlier linked to the signing of an agreement with the IMF. The Europeans yet promised that they will continue to offer technical assistance (assessment missions and delegating of advisers) and support for thematic projects where the EU monitors directly how the money is spent, and these are their only concrete promises. This context favors the Europeans on condition that they identify ingenious methods to promote the results of the financed projects, restoring thus the image in Moldova.
Instead of conclusion…
The positive steps taken by the government of Moldova, which were recognized by the Europeans in the Association Council meeting, are not enough for restoring the EU’s trust. The authorities are yet motivated to carry out the roadmap with over 60 actions until the end of July 2016.
For now, the government counts on the fact that the reforms promoted within the EU – Moldova Association Council will produce a snowball effect, the Europeans being thus constrained to recompense the government. The tactic employed by the European seems to be thwarting the plans of the Moldovan officials as they want to see results obtained on the implementation of laws, not only their adoption. Usually, the results of particular laws can be seen in 1-2 years. This means that the EU wants results to be delivered as soon as possible or reforms done here and now. Meanwhile, the EU intends to empower civil society, which helps verify the quality of law implementation and exerts additional pressure on the government. These actions limit the maneuvering possibilities of the authorities and these find it increasing difficult to simulate reforms. In this situation, the fate of reforms depends on the following aspects: Where does the limit up to which the EU can apply pressure to the government end? How credible and efficient is civil society? And how much are the current political system and its beneficiaries ready to concede?
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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