“The European support is essential in meeting a number of objectives, but this can be ensured if the conditions are met. By setting high expectations, the government hast to demonstrate superior performance to previous governments ... "
The balance of power within the government from Chisinau is undergoing a troubled phase, which so far is not threatening the coalition's survival, but only tests it. On the legislative branch, the ACUM bloc is facing the effects of its own political diversity and internal democracy. Thus, the individual principles of certain deputies coexist, both in agreement and contradiction, with a generalized pragmatism of the bloc. In another corner of the parliamentary majority, there is an acute intolerance of the Socialists towards the criticism resulting from the opinion pluralism derived from ACUM. Therefore, the Socialists have proposed to ACUM to sign a larger "agreement" over longer time and with bigger mission. Thus, the former try to mask the intention to introduce more inflexibility and conformism in the governing coalition. Within the executive branch, there is a huge appetite for reform from the government side. This peculiarity increases its sensitivity to every error of rhetoric and behavior of the parliamentary majority. The other exponent of the executive power - the office of the president - acts on its own and promotes its own set of policies, subsequently voiced in the parliament by the Socialists.
The three characteristics of the Government
In the first two months of government, the parliament, the government and the presidency demonstrated a high level of collaboration, compatibility and proportionality. The responsibility for the act of governance, and the eventual failure, however, seems to be assumed by the government that manifests firm determination to lay the foundations for systemic transformations. The public requests of Prime Minister Maia Sandu project three essential characteristics that she prints volens nolens on the current government:
Government - the "agent of reforms". Theoretically and practically, the full implementation of the reforms depends on the participation from the legislature. However, in the current political equation, the government imposes its voice on the conduct of reforms. At the center of the government's attention is the reform of the entire justice system, from the functioning of the general prosecutor's office to the training and selection of judges, which represents the rule of law. Currently, the main effort is dedicated to creating a robust mechanism for selecting a credible to the government and the public general prosecutor. PM Sandu has stated that the executive will have "a hard word to say" both in the nomination of the future General Prosecutor and in the "cleansing" of justice as a whole (Gov.md, August 8, 2019). Acknowledging the inability of the system to self-cleansing, the government is decided to intervene from the outside. Specifically, it is desired the rapid establishment of a "Bureau for the Fight against Corruption and Justice Reform", directly subordinated to the prime minister and made up of representatives of civil society and international experts. Such an "office" will facilitate the horizontal coordination of justice reform. At the same time, the responsibility for failures will be shared, including with representatives of the civil society.
Government - "moral superiority". PM Sandu expresses openly and frequently a protectionist attitude towards her cabinet of ministers. Such manifestations outline an increasingly visible line of political separation between the government and the other institutions, both on the part of responsibilities and merits. Thus, every time the prime minister emphasizes the "integrity" and "good intentions" of the government, on the one hand, the allusion to a kind of moral superiority propels (Agora, August 8, 2019). On the other hand, such statements overshadow the credibility of the PSRM-ACUM parliamentary majority. In very practical terms, emphasizing the activity of the government makes sense, because it has a potential for a political capitalization larger than the association with the parliamentary majority, where the Socialists appear in the same picture.
Government - "political referee". The criticism of the representatives of the parliamentary majority, recently released by Prime Minister Sandu, gives her a neutral political role. The criticism targeted the MEPs from ACUM for manifesting their "egos", but also the governing partners - the Socialists - for searching "pretexts" that can threaten the political coexistence (Agora, August 8, 2019). Unintentionally, Maia Sandu attributes the role of "political referee" to the whole government and thus prepares the ground for future pressures from the targeted ones from ACUM bloc and the PSRM.
The challenges of governance, and the optimization of the European agenda
The government’s European orientation is the most valuable asset, as it implies access to the European political, technical and financial assistance already provided by the EU (IPN, July 29, 2019). If the government shows convincing results, then the support of European partners will increase and diversify. In order to be different from the previous government, the PSRM-ACUM coalition must face some challenges.
Firstly, the progress achieved by the oligarchic regime, to the same extent as its failures, requires an absolute embracing, in order to harness the former or correct the latter ones. The European integration takes place through gaining results, even if the political enemies contributed to them. The continuity, coherence and complementarity of political decisions help to bring Moldova closer to the EU.
Secondly, the performance of the government of Maia Sandu and the parliamentary majority will be seen in comparison with the performance of the previous government. The report of the implementation of the Action Plan on the Association Agreement for the first 6 months of 2019 indicates that only half (about 49%) of 129 actions were completed (MFA.GOV, August 7, 2019). It is certain that the long post-election negotiations, followed by the political crisis, slowed down the implementation speed. However, the reports for 2017-2018 showed a maximum implementation capacity of 66%. In order to demonstrate their skills and dedication to the European vector, the ACUM bloc will need to significantly exceed the degree of implementation achieved by the Democratic Party in the past.
Last but not least, from a technical and functional point of view, the government has the task of implementing and monitoring an extremely ambitious action plan for the period September 2019-2020. The document elaborated and currently consulted with public combines the governance program, the National Plan for the implementation of the Association Agreement, as well as the conditions of the financing programs with the IMF and the World Bank (Particip.gov.md, Iulie 30, 2019). Such an optimization of the resources available for the implementation of the government's action plan risks, in fact, to abolish the tradition of separate monitoring of the Association Agreement. The institutional optics of the European agenda may undergo certain changes too. Even if the agglomeration of data simplifies the work of the government, it may complicate the understanding of developments strictly related to the commitments arising from the Association Agreement.
European agenda for 2019-2020
The action plan proposed by the Government of Maia Sandu for the years 2019-2020 contains measures from 11 areas, detailed within 146 pages (Particip.gov.md, Iulie 30, 2019).
Apart from the objectives of approximation of the legislation, characteristic for all fields, more specific measures related to the cooperation with the EU are included in chapter 8, dedicated to Foreign Policy. According to this chapter, the Moldovan authorities will deal with the organization of the EU-Moldova Association Council, and by December 2020 it plans to negotiate a new Association Agenda. In both cases, the European partners will come with equal contribution. Other priorities refer to the implementation of the 12 recommendations of the European Commission, formulated in the reports on the visa suspension mechanism of 2018 and 2019. The recommendations include measures to prevent illegal migration, but before all actions to counter corruption and strengthen the national network of anti-corruption bodies. The first deadline is already set for September 2019, which may be insufficient considering that the government of Maia Sandu will be only at its third month of mandate. Also, by June 2020, the Moldovan authorities plan to achieve the relevant priorities from the 2020 objectives of the Eastern Partnership, of which the gas interconnection with Romania is part.
At the same time, the chapter on "Public Finances” indicates six financial assistance agreements with the EU, signed by the previous governments between 2014 and 2016. Based on three agreements, the EU has already disbursed assistance in August 2019 for vocational education, visa-free regime and DCFTA. The rest of the disbursements, for public finances, agriculture and rural development and police reform, are expected by December 2019. The general objective of the government is to restore trust relations with the EU in order to access both budget support and macro-financial assistance. After EU’s final evaluation of the fulfillment of all conditions, the receipt of the macro-financial assistance in three tranches - the first two in September and December 2019, and the third one by March 2020 - is expected.
Instead of conclusions...
The Moldovan government is in a situation of "fireman", and the lack of concentration on the essential issues can affect the delivery of reforms or even destabilize the governing coalition. From this urgency perspective, Prime Minister Sandu discourages attempts to place emphasis on wrong objectives, which come from within the PSRM-ACUM parliamentary majority.
The governance agenda planned for 2019-2020 is voluminous; therefore, it requires fully functional and dedicated governance and government. The European support is essential in meeting a number of objectives, but this can be ensured if the conditions are met. By setting high expectations, the government hast to demonstrate superior performance to previous governments.