EU-Moldova dialogue: Is there European integration after Maia Sandu’s government?, Op-Ed




No apocalypse speculated in the context of internal political struggles should alter the clear understanding of local political realities by EU representatives. Exclusion of emotions and drastic evaluation of the performance of the Moldovan authorities will have added value for further European integration of the country...


Dionis Cenuşa

The fall of the government of Maia Sandu is a concern, but at the same time a warning and a lesson to be learned. As much as the idea of ​​reforms would not matter, their realization to the end depends on a considerable amount of political will and cohesion. At the same time, a realistic sense of political risks and an appropriate capacity to incorporate reforms into sustainable political strategies are indispensable.

The short trajectory, of about 5 months, taken by one of the most ambitious governments in the history of the country, shows that in Moldova there is a visible mismatch between the reform appetite and the actual progress. Thus, ACUM began to care about real politics later than about public policies, and the Socialists were efficient in penalizing their political rivals for lack of strategic vision and primary political instincts. In any case, the subject of independent justice becomes the nucleus of the political and public discourse of ACUM bloc, which can help it to remain in the spotlight of the electorate and that of external partners.

After the government's sudden removal, the EU has repeatedly realized that unpredictability and political volatility remain strong in the behavior of Moldovan political actors, from all political barricades. For these reasons, the emphasis of the Europeans will be placed on a strict monitoring of the reforms carried out by the new Prime Minister Ion Chicu - that is, a harsh conditionality. Any manifestations of sympathy, observable during the mandate of Maia Sandu, will disappear.

Lessons to be learned for ACUM

First of all, ACUM has always qualified the coalition with the PSRM as temporary, which can be interrupted at any time. In other words, assuming a short duration of action has weakened the initial positions of the government, putting at risk any ambitious reform plans, usually requiring long-term framework for proper implementation. Without a full mandate and stable governance, any serious reform will be vulnerable and highly fragmented.

At the same time, the governing with the Socialists (PSRM) was also distorted by the position of superiority, more than just moral one, expressed by ACUM even though it was placed in the second place in the coalition and on third one in the parliament. For this reason, the non-corresponding balance of power in the governed institutions with the political reality on the ground - where the Socialists dominate - motivated the latter to increase their attention on a silent expansion over the state structures. At the same time, the political expansion of the Socialists was not prevented at all by the ACUM bloc, which also ignored, for 5 months, the public noise towards the gestures of President Igor Dodon and the Socialists, which resulted in the diminishing of the political independence of the institutions and not vice versa.

ACUM and government's focus has been on designing reforms and less on setting favorable political conditions for them to move, but also avoiding the eventually fulfilled risk of premature fall. In addition to the idealism and ambitions of the government of Maia Sandu, it demonstrated a certain dose of political naivety, because volens nolens helped the Socialists gain legitimacy at home and abroad. Also, the dismantling of the coalition inevitably brings the Socialists and the Democrats closer, with the latter receiving the opportunity to rehabilitate them without doing any internal post-Plahotniuc restructuring. Even tacitly, the cooperation on the PSRM-PDM line will moderate to the maximum the sharp reforms previously planned by the ACUM bloc under the guidance of Maia Sandu.

There is a complicated period for ACUM, which must quickly learn how to play a new role - that of parliamentary opposition. The attacks on the Socialists will be intensified. The main target seems to become the presidency of Igor Dodon and the relationship with Russia. But to advance in the polls, the majority of the electorate will appreciate ACUM’s attention as opposition to the topics related to administration of public resources and the fight against corruption. In parallel, an organizational resuscitation of the center-right wing parties - PAS and the DA Platform - is required, in order to get ready for the future electoral elections - ordinary or exceptional (early) ones.

What should the EU do next?

The European institutions must properly read the signals transmitted by the Moldovan policy. Major reforms can only take place if the efforts of the political parties are combined. Currently, the relations between the main parties are vitiated by deep distrust and antagonisms, which is why the governing coalitions are unpredictable and the institutions can easily become collateral victims.

To keep Moldova on the path to reforms, Brussels needs some essential landmarks.

First, European integration is a political objective assumed by Moldova, not by an individual party. Therefore, ACUM’s departure from power should by no means be equated with the end of the European vector. On the contrary, the EU's vigilance towards the execution of the Moldovan commitments to the Association Agreement, quantified by conditionality, is the primary guarantee for the non-abandonment and further ramifications of major reforms. In order to have an effective influence, the EU must remain an impartial arbiter, but at the same time, totally dedicated to the implementation of the necessary reforms correctly.

Secondly, there is the need to correctly interpret local political realities. Mutual speculation - between power (PSRM and silent allies) and opposition (ACUM), will multiply. This implies from the Europeans discernment and nuanced approach. The neutrality and objective criticism applied at the level of the media and civil society, financed from European sources, will help to create an efficient and credible pressure on the government.

Finally, it is imperative to start a comprehensive analysis and monitoring of the effects of Eurasian integration (IPN, November 5, 2019), promoted by the Socialists, on the parameters of Europeanization. By studying the Moldovan case, the European institutions can understand the intentions and capabilities of overlapping generated by the hybrid affiliation to the Eurasian Union, in which President Igor Dodon attracted Moldova.

Instead of conclusions...

Moldova is at a new political crossroads, but the European focus on domestic and foreign policy cannot be radically changed overnight. Even in the spirit of a balanced foreign policy, the post-Maia Sandu government has ensured that the commitments included in the Association Agreement continue. At the same time, the conglomerate of local actors can complicate any attempts to overturn the European vector.

The sudden movements on the part of the "minority government", created in record time by the so far unofficial alliance between the Socialists and the Democrats, contain political risks. Or, Igor Dodon wants to double his victory in the fight for the country's presidency. This is why he wants to widen the electorate, and assistance and presence around the EU facilitates such an objective.

No apocalypse forecasted in the context of internal political struggles should alter the clear understanding of local political realities by EU representatives. Exclusion of emotions and drastic evaluation of the performance of the Moldovan authorities will have added value for further the European integration of the country.

Dionis Cenuşa
Dionis Cenușa is a political scientist, researcher at the Institute of Political Sciences at Liebig-Justus University in Giessen, Germany, MA degree in Interdisciplinary European Studies from the College of Europe in Warsaw.
Areas of research: European Neighborhood Policy, EU-Moldova relationship, EU's foreign policy and Russia, migration and energy security.
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