The debates held in the European Parliament (October 3, 2017) revealed the differences in opinions and in tactics at the European institutions over the macro-financial assistance intended for Moldova. More exactly, the main forces in the European Parliament want the European assistance to be used as leverage for penalizing the Government’s political decision to tailor the electoral system. At the same time, the European Commission and the Council of the EU prefer to engage Chisinau in more structural reforms, broadening the conditionality and financial assistance.
The most robust criticism was leveled by the European People’s Party that practically retransmits the approach of its political allies in Chisinau – the extraparliamentary opposition led by Maia Sandu and Andrei Nastase. Their position remains intact and, namely, that any macro-financial assistance should be provided only after the mixed-member electoral system introduced in the summer of 2017, in the absence of a broad political consensus, is annulled. The European Social-Democrats tried to dilute the criticism about the stabilizing role played by the political partners, Vladimir Plahotniuc’s Democrats, in the economy and resumption of reforms, including using the data of the IMF.
The viewpoint of the European Commission, expressed in the name of Federica Mogherini by Commissioner Christos Stylianides in the same sitting of the European Parliament, was moderate and pragmatic as to the situation in Moldova. Stylianides replaced Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy Johannes Hahn, who was on the way to Libya after his visit to Armenia. Though it was a pragmatic message, Stylianides perpetuated the confusion about the fate of the macro-financial assistance. On the one hand, the Commissioner reiterated the fact that the new electoral legislation didn’t take into account the concerns expressed by the Venice Commission. On the other hand, he suggested that the law hasn’t been yet applied and thus does not affect the multiparty system. Even if the EU avoids making this announcement now, a favorable decision about the disbursement of the first tranche of the macro-financial assistance for Moldova seems inevitable.
What did the European Commission say?
Without condemning directly the government, the representative of the Commission compared the new electoral legislation with a challenge to democracy in Moldova. The risk of the negative influence of the business climate on the integrity of candidates for MPs hasn’t been overlooked. The European Commission attentively repeats the language of the Venice Commission, deliberately bypassing the term of oligarch that is widely used in political speeches by European MPs.
The macro-financial assistance is practically an accomplished fact and derives from the compromise (IPN, June 19, 2017) that was reached by the European Commission, the Council of the EU and European Parliament and that has been in force since September 23, 2017. But what the Commission leaves in question is the effective disbursement of tranches, determined by the fulfillment of the political pre-conditions and the memorandum of understanding that is to be signed soon and that will include a series of conditionality elements. Thus, the Commission will have the difficult mission of assessing the state of democracy in the country and the quality of structural and sector reforms (banking system, anticorruption and justice, energy and others)
The assistance for projects with a direct impact on the welfare of people is a priority reiterated by the Commission. That’s why, in parallel with the macro-financial assistance, the EU will support rural development, infrastructure, empowerment of women, etc. In accordance with this approach, the larger is the number of reforms with practical results for the people, the greater will be the support offered by the EU.
What is Brussels’ tactic in relation to Moldova?
It is clear that the position of the European People’s Party, which the parties of Maia Sandu and Andrei Nastase intend to join, is not shared by the European Commission. Instead of blocking the macro-financial assistance, as the EPP suggests, the Commission is tempted to involve the government of Moldova in a broader and more concrete set of conditionality elements (IPN, October 2, 2017). Thus, besides sector conditionality, there is also political conditions lay by which the EU can justify additionally the suspension or even annulment of its assistance. Even if this broadens the area where the conditionality instrument can be applied, the EU will be more often requested by the opposition and civil society to react to the government’s acts.
The utility of the conditionality instrument, extended in the case of the macro-financial assistance, could fail if proportionality is absent in the implementation process. Thus, the EU should keep the balance in solving the crises produced by a controversial, but permanently inventive government, without damaging the relationship with the increasingly demanding extraparliamentary opposition and civil society.
The approaching of the electoral year 2018 leads to the raising of stakes, making the relations between the government and the extraparliamentary opposition tenser, in parallel with the maximization of the opposition’s expectations of Moldova’s foreign partners. The institutions of the EU, except for the European Parliament, choose to apply a pragmatic approach in relation to the government of Moldova, which, being weakened and discredited, needs minimal approval from outside and at home to survive politically until the legislative elections. In this context, particular reforms can be easier pushed, but this will contribute to improving the image of the Democrats, who will not only increase their electoral potential, but will also cause nervousness in the opposition’s dialogue with the EU.
If the EU offers macro-financial assistance, it should explain this decision more clearly so as not to generate confusion among the Euro-optimistic population. An explained and efficiently communicated decision will also help save the image of the extraparliamentary opposition that insists on the blocking of the macro-financial assistance owing to the adoption of the law on the mixed electoral system.
Instead of conclusion...
The EU’s tactic to multiply the conditionality elements accepted by the government of Moldova seems to have a broader purpose than the isolation of the government. But any positive cooperation between the current government and the EU gradually deprives the extraparliamentary opposition of the argument that the Democrats hamper and prevent the European integration process in the country.
For the EU, it is the high-quality implementation of reforms and their centering on people’s needs that count. The support for some political forces to the detriment of others is what Brussels wants to avoid. The Democrats want to make use of the political neutrality of the Europeans. The same neutrality diminishes the maneuvers of the extraparliamentary opposition whose electoral energy is fueled by the EU’s critical rhetoric towards the (anti)reforms adopted by the Moldovan authorities.
The EU does not relate the macro-financial assistance to the introduction of the mixed electoral system, but rather to the fact if the new electoral legislation can affect the multiparty system or not. This, together with the fulfillment of the political pre-conditions and, respectively, the sector conditionality, can determine a halt in assistance in the future. Until then, it is assumed that the first tranche of the assistance will be yet allocated towards the end of 2017 or the start of 2018.
Areas of interes: European integration, European policies, EU's foreign policy, migration and energy security.
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