EU and limits of “strict conditionality” in relation to Moldova, OP-ED


The local and foreign pro-reform players should maximally profit from the vulnerabilities of the government so as to strengthen the reform process and to impede its reversibility...


Dionis Cenuşa

The increased exigency towards the quality of reforms, concern about the political deficiencies and recognition of the endemic character of corruption form the basis of the EU’s current attitude to Moldova. The report on the implementation of the Association Agreement in Moldova, published in April 2018, is the most recent official document that confirms the absence of enthusiasm in the EU as to the pace, profoundness and amplitude of reforms. The Europeans hide a tone of dissatisfaction behind the technical language applied by the European institutions. This is generated rather by the government’s unwillingness than by its incapacity to fulfill the contractual commitments.

Even the most dynamic reform sector, the financial one, which is used as a “visiting card” by the Moldovan authorities, does not produce a lot of enthusiasm in Brussels. The EU’s reticence is determined by the unjustifiable shortcomings in investigating the offenses committed in the banking sector. At the same time, the areas that witness more consistent progress, like agriculture and education, are few in number and have an isolated impact at the level of sectors.

More than anything, the EU wants progress in the areas that affect the functionality of the state, such as the judicial system, anticorruption policies and the central and local public administration. The stagnation of these sectors immobilizes or seriously diminishes the successive positive effects of the Association Agreement and, respectively, of the European integration on other areas. This way, the benefits of the Agreement cannot be multiplied or extended uniformly to different social categories. In such conditions, the impact of the European integration on the improvement of the living conditions is restrained and limited. As a result, while the EU calls on the Moldovan authorities to consolidate the country, the economically active population tends to profit from the rapprochement with the EU to leave Moldova, which is dysfunctional in many regards.

The EU’s report on the implementation of the Association Agreement, on the one hand, reveals a critical position as regards the quality of reforms. Thus, the implementation component turns into a priority requirement of Brussels. On the other hand, the report points to the fact that progress is made with difficulty or is even partial even if the “strict conditionality” element that now dominates the dialogue between the EU and Moldova is applied. It is evident that the European officials need additional instruments for stimulating reformers rather than for imposing conditions for disbursing the offered financial assistance.

The renewal of the current set of “carrots and sticks” available to the EU should include: (1) consolidation of citizens’ civic movements in critical areas (ecology, rights of women, of patients, etc.), not only of nongovernmental organizations; (2) media and civic connection of the regions to players from Chisinau, including the EU Delegation; and, (3) massive popularization of citizens’ rights and state obligations (quality of public services, interaction with the police, courts of law, etc.) in all the areas covered by the Association Agreement. The pressure from outside produces limited effects if there is no powerful internal demand in favor of tangible reforms.

Crucial elements of EU report

The dense content of the EU’s report (18 pages) reveals a rather reserved attitude to the transformations in Moldova. The major concerns of the EU continue to derive from the political and rule of law areas owing to the disproportionate adjustment of the electrical legislation, reduced efficiency in fighting corruption and the impasse witnessed in the justice sector reform. The report stipulates the word “progress” only seldom. The European side gave positive grades (particular progress, substantial progress, etc.) not even in ten reform cases. On the contrary, the EU ascertains mainly a platitude of done reforms or their stagnation. This makes the radical change of the situation on the spot impossible.

The report reveals several important aspects that, if they are studied better, would enable to overcome the current syncope in the reform agenda.

Firstly, the multiple systemic reforms meet with the inefficiency of anticorruption policies. The existence of a “vertical of corruption”, fueled by central political corruption, has a destructive impact on the integrity of institutions and affects the interaction between the citizens and the public institutions. This problem can be treated inclusively through the new mechanism for assessing the countries that benefit from visa liberalization, among which is Moldova (IPN, January 15, 2018). Besides the capacity of the Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office and complete attribution of “petty corruption” to the National Anticorruption Center, the sources of systemic corruption should be treated appropriately. The elimination of bureaucracy that generates corruption, in parallel with the increase in salaries for public functionaries, is a minimum needed to root out corruption from the public sector.

The second significant aspect refers to the electoral legislation. If the mixed voting system is an irremediable fact, at least until the elections of 2018, and cannot be removed at least by the “strict conditionality”, attention should be devoted to other shortcomings. The activity of local political foundations and the ceiling for donations, quality of financial reporting, donations made by Moldovans from abroad and access to the mass media are only some of the areas where positive results can be achieved, with effects before the elections. The EU should remind the risks related to the mixed electoral system and should also add other dimensions to it, where this can have a visible impact. The mechanism of democratic institutions should become a separate platform for assessing the progress, in which the Civil Society Platform, created in context of the Association Agreement, would play a central role in supervising the implementation of commitments.

Last but not least, the report also shows that Moldova cannot get rid of the “half-done work” practice. This characterizes first of all the cases when the necessary law is adopted in accordance with the EU commitments, but the responsible institution is not functional. Owing to this practice, the full implementation of the legislation was halted in the public procurement area, corruption fighting, money laundering or return of ill-gotten gains. In this connection, the EU should unite with other foreign “partners” in a move to more efficiently exert pro-reform pressure with which it would contribute to the empowerment of institutions, as it happens in the energy sector (Energy Community) or in the financial sector (International Monetary Fund).

Is situation in Moldova worse than in Ukraine or Georgia?

The slow pace and incomplete character of reforms is a usual finding in the case of Moldova, but this is also applicable to Ukraine and also to Georgia, to a lesser extent. Nevertheless, the perception during the past two years has always been more critical of the Moldovan context owing to the following combination of factors.

To begin with, Moldova witnessed a massive decline in the EU’s trust owing to the banking frauds disclosed in 2014. Ukraine and Georgia avoided critical situations during the past four years, securing a more positive image than Moldova. Consequently, neither the influence of the oligarchic interests in Georgia or Ukraine seems to bother the EU as much as in the case of Moldova (IPN, February 26, 2018). Though the reforms in the financial sector are the most appreciated, the credibility of the Moldovan government will remain at a low level at least until the inevitable modification of the Parliament’s composition.

The second factor that dictates an exigent approach to Moldova results from the weak government at internal level. In a bid to transfer image from outside, this assumed a larger number of commitments that it could really honor. Under the pressure of the undone homework and with parallel monitoring on the part of Brussels and local civil society, the maneuvering field of the ruling party decreased drastically. The electoral context and the ruling party’s tendency to keep power after 2018 deactivate the feeling of proportionality in adopting decisions. A distinct situation is seen in the rather balanced EU’s relationship with Ukraine, and, especially, with Georgia, where elections will be held in 2019 only.

Ultimately, another factor that imposes a rigorous attitude to the reform agenda in Moldova is dictated by the political affiliation to Brussels of Moldovan political players. Thus, the European People’s Party (EPP) is the main pan-European political force that imposes the tone in the European Parliament and in the European Commission and deals with Moldova’s cause. Its interest in Moldova intensified in 2016-2017, after the extraparliamentary opposition in Moldova, the Party “Action and Solidarity” and the Platform “Dignity and Truth”, started to gravitate around the EPP, replacing the Liberal Democratic Party that broke up and was abandoned after the jailing of ex-Premier Vlad Filat. The case of Georgia is similar, except for the fact that the Georgian opposition associated with the EPP (United National Movement) is disbanding and is far from the government’s popularity. Simultaneously, the shortcomings of the government in Ukraine seem to be tolerated and protected from the harsh criticism, mainly owing to the affiliation of Petro Poroshenko’s party to the European People’s Party.

Instead of conclusion...

The interest of the European institutions is not to initiate reforms, but to see the results achieved in the end and the direct benefits for the people. Ultimately, the quality of the reforms done in Moldova is directly proportional to the quality and credibility of the government, which are both in accentuated deficit.

The immediate attention should be focused on negative electoral aspects that can be changed easier and can offset the noxiousness of the mixed electoral system that should not way be neglected.

Before the political renewal in Moldova, the EU should find new methods to encourage the reform agenda. The union with other foreign “partners”, the support for sector civic movements or media and civic connection of the regions can increase the efficiency of the set of “carrots and sticks” used by the EU. Ultimately, the local and foreign pro-reform players should maximally profit from the vulnerabilities of the government so as to strengthen the reform process and to impede its reversibility.

Dionis Cenuşa


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.

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