Mandate of new Head of EU Delegation to Moldova and first major challenge, OP-ED



To a significant extent, the authority of Ambassador Michalko will result from his principledness towards the government ...


Dionis Cenuşa


The image of the new Head of the EU Delegation to Moldova Peter Michalko is in the process of formation. But this will be yet determined by the way in which the European diplomat manages the crisis situations, which are inevitable in the tumultuous political environment of Moldova. For now, there is a particular dose of uncertainty as to the capacity of the Head of the EU Delegation to be sufficiently firm in the dialogue with the government of Moldova and to remain impartial in any type of domestic political constraints. The given perception could persist until Peter Michalko demonstrates the opposite.

The macro-financial assistance of €100 million promised by the EU, which is longed for by the Democratic Party and, personally, by Vladimir Plahotniuc, will be the first test that will reveal the temperament of the European diplomat. The value of this assistance is first political and then economic in character.

The eventual provision of the assistance and the disbursement of the first tranche will be interpreted by the Democrats as recognition on the part of the EU. This way Brussels will practically admit that the Moldovan government respects the political pre-conditions concerning the mechanism of democratic institutions (multi-party system, rule of law, human rights). The given pre-conditions represent the common arrangement agreed by the European Commission, the Council of the EU and the European Parliament in June 2017 (IPN, June 19, 2017), which should be fulfilled for the  macro-financial assistance to be disbursed.

Also, this will powerfully contrast with the rhetoric of the extraparliamentary opposition of Moldova. The latter sees in Brussels a key ally, if not the only one, in promoting authentic reforms and, respectively, in preventing and stopping the destructive effects on the democratic institutions, which results from the government’s actions.

The first public appearances of the new Head of Delegation combined unclear messages about the fate of the macro-financial assistance. The diplomat invoked the importance of observing the principles of the democratic political system, including correctness in implementing the electoral legislation, in case of the macro-financial assistance of €100 million. The fact that he didn’t use the term ”pre-conditions” and referred only to conditions could mean that the final decision inclines in favor of the provision of assistance. Anyway, the Delegation’s Head expects the announcement to come from Brussels and does not venture to break the ice before time. However, besides the precaution shown already by Peter Michalko, clear, coherent and consistent communion on the macro-financial assistance is also needed and this is for now absent.

Pragmatism and/or optimism

The initial appearances of the new Head of the EU Delegation enable us to see particular similarities with Pirkka Tapiola (IPN, August 21, 2017) and namely, the manifestation of optimism at the start of mandate, even if this is more reserved. Peter Michalko’s optimism is somehow more pragmatic because it comes after a difficult mandate of Tapiola, when Moldova went through numerous political crises, the banking fraud and the suspension of European assistance.

On the one hand, the European diplomat suggested that the reform implementation level will be checked according to particular clear criteria. In other words, the previous conditionality elements of the EU become more specific and diverse. This principle will be applied to all the types of assistance provided to Moldova. On the other hand, pre-conditions concerning the mechanism of democratic institutions, which were defined by Peter Michalko as “political criteria” are added to the conditionality to which the macro-financial assistance is subject. According to the arrangement between the European institutions, the non-observance of the pre-conditions can cause the suspension or even annulment of the whole macro-financial assistance. This crucial aspect of the macro-financial assistance is for now overlooked.

As Tapiola, the new Head of the EU Delegation anchors the EU’s interest in the implementation of reforms in Moldova with the aim of increasing the prosperity of people and strengthening the country’s stability. The focus on the needs of the people is mandatory for taking the weaker Euro-optimism among the Moldovans to the levels witnessed in 2005-2009 (50-75%).

At the same time, Peter Michalko’s pragmatism derives from the existence of an advanced legal framework in the EU-Moldova relationship, which favors the gradual rapprochement with the EU. The Head of Delegation has for now expressed no concern about the numerous promises to review the Association Agreement made by President Igor Dodon. But he understands that the political objective of President Dodon is to make the relationship between the EU and the government to be tense so as to strengthen the pro-Russian or Euro-skeptical sympathies in the society that is divided by geopolitical lines.

Challenge and three scenarios

Until the parliamentary elections of 2018, which are expected to end with the extension of the Socialists in Parliament and doubts about the durability of the European course, the new Head of Delegation should confront the political maneuvers of the Democrats. Also, there will be a painful process of communication with the extraparliamentary opposition, which, even if it expressed its satisfaction with the first conversation with Peter Michalko, will react negatively if the macro-financial assistance is ultimately initiated.

The closest challenge is related to the macro-financial assistance and its political impact on the political narrative in Chisinau. Three main scenarios concerning the macro-financial assistance can be formulated to realize the consequences of this challenge.

According to the first scenario, the EU will provide the assistance, arguing that the government followed particular recommendations of the Venice Commission concerning the mixed-member electoral system, abandoned the reviewed law on noncommercial organizations that could limit foreign financing or other arguments provided by the Democrats. The given scenario is positive for the government, but negative for the extraparliamentary opposition whose criticism against the mixed-member system will be undermined. The pro-reform civil society and mass media will also describe this as a compromise between Brussels and the government. Concomitantly, the EU will become the protagonist of a propagandistic machinery of the government that will be used to acclaim the actions of the PDM and the role of Vladimir Plahotniuc within the government.

The second scenario consists of an attempt by the EU to tie the government to new commitments and the conditionality stipulated in the agreement on the macro-financial assistance. Thus, the first tranche will be disbursed and the Democrats will be attentively checked to see if they violate the political pre-conditions or not. This way the Europeans can use the assistance as leverage for making the Moldovan authorities to ensure the functioning of the democratic institutions in an electoral year - 2018. The EU’s advantage in this situation is that it can suspend or annul the macro-financial assistance, putting the government in a bad light. But the disadvantage is that any freezing of assistance will be exploited by President Dodon and the Socialists to unite their voters.

Under the third scenario, which is the most unlikely, assistance will not be provided for the reason that the multi-party system was affected by the introduction of the mixed electoral system and the competition between political forces in the election process was distorted. The given context favors most the extraparliamentary opposition and the Socialists, who will obtain electoral arguments for 2018 in the political struggle against the Democrats. The EU could become the target of accusations on the part of pro-governmental media outlets for “penalizing” the government and, simultaneously, depriving the country of vital financial assistance. Ultimately, the EU and the extraparliamentary opposition that opposes the provision of this assistance owing to the introduction of the mixed member system could be blamed.

Instead of conclusion

The optimistic pragmatism shown by Peter Michalko will be tested during the first political crisis in Moldova. The centering of reforms on direct benefits for the people is what can help the new Head of Delegation to build a solid basis in his relationship with the local public.

At the same time, to a significant extent, the authority of Ambassador Michalko will result from his principledness towards the government. His ability to make use of any conditionality elements of the EU to extract maximum results from reforms will also be of major importance.

The macro-financial assistance is the first major test for the new Head of the EU Delegation. The objective assessment of the political context and fulfillment of the pre-conditions should be the starting point for supporting or not the allocation of this assistance. The EU and Peter Michalko will have to fully assume the consequences of the adopted decision. To manage the crisis situation that seems to be imminent, regardless of the scenario of events, effective communication about the macro-financial assistance is imperative. Or the EU can lose control of the situation and can become insensible to the government’s maneuvers. This will put the extraparliamentary opposition and civil society, on which the EU counts, in difficulty.

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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