Legitimacy of governments of EaP, survival of European course and Moldova, OP-ED



The difference between the EU and Russia is that the first wants reforms and applies different conditionality elements, while the second wants geopolitical loyally first of all...


Dionis Cenuşa

Moldova’s rapprochement with the European area, at political and economic levels, has always been an assumed choice of the Moldovan governments that was not imposed from outside. The initial governments of the post-Soviet period (1990s), after the regime of the Party of Communists  (2000-2009) and the subsequent so-called pro-European governments (2009-2017), accepted the rapprochement and European integration first of all for pragmatic reasons – economic and then political ones.

The involvement of the political oligarchs transformed the pro-European narrative in an unfavorable way for the forces that want a European model of state functioning in Moldova and the region. More seldom, the political parties are representative and more often they represent a combination of political technologies, manipulation of public opinion and corruption of the state institutions. That’s why the dysfunctionality of democracies in the region is the main threat to the European integration and Russia’s trump card in keeping its influence in the region.

The suspecting of the governments of the Eastern Partnership (EaP) of being accomplices or even authors of particular national or transfrontier offenses (money laundering in Moldova, Azerbaijan, and Ukraine; murder attempts in Moldova, Azerbaijan, and Ukraine, etc.) increases the amount of reticence with which the EU already treats the region owing to the stagnation of the reform process.  But the intensity and profoundness of the EU intervention in the countries of the region cannot exceed the approval level of public opinion or the will of the ruling political parties. Or else, it is impossible to transform a country by the European model if most of the citizens are not sure they want it or oppose. For this reason, the inclusion of the European integration into Moldova’s Constitution, which was proposed by the Democratic Party, can have a negative rather than a positive effect on the strengthening of the European course. In fact, to make such constitutional changes, an inclusive and broad dialogue is needed, as the Head of the EU Delegation Peter Michalko (IPN, November 3, 2017) noted himself. Such a dialogue is something indispensable in a society divided according to geopolitical criteria, such as Moldova.

European integration between pragmatism and geopolitics

The incipient phase of the Moldovan statehood necessitated agreements with as many states and regional organizations as possible as these inevitably strengthened the international recognition of the state. Moldova’s wish to forge the relationship with the EU, and before this with the European Community, was also dictated by high living standards and prosperity accumulated by the EU states. Thus, the switchover from planned economy to market economy and from a totalitarian regime to democracy became more reasonable when there was a progressive and politically stable zone nearby and this gradually extended up to the immediate vicinity of Moldova.

The first governments needed democratic governance instruments and models even if the post-Soviet mentality and mediocre political competition maximally diminished the real appetite for democracy. In fact, before the re-launch of Russia under the regime of Vladimir Putin (after 2000), with which the setting of the Eurasian course is related, the EU was the only center of attraction for all the countries of the region, including Russia.

The connotation of the European project became powerfully geo-politicized with the EU’s large enlargement to the East (2004-2007), before or in parallel with the enlargement of NATO, which is still challenged by Moscow. This wouldn’t have had a tectonic impact either, if Russia hadn’t claimed leadership in the region. The real democratization of the ex-Soviet European space (EaP countries) would have distanced the region from Moscow for political reasons and would have become a major factor for the subsequent democratization, including of Russia. Such a scenario has always been inconceivable for the Russian authorities that centered on geopolitical revenge for the alleged humiliation of the 1990s. That’s why Russia has always been tempted to discourage authentic democracy in the region via pro-Russian political forces close to the essence of the Russian-type democracy, which envisions that the powers in the state are not separated, the institutions serve exclusively the narrow interests of the ruling party, while the election outcome is known beforehand.

In a corrupt regional political context, the EU has no other choice than to have a dialogue with the ruling political forces, which, even if they have a pro-European geopolitical perspective, do not want to give up corrupt practices that are usually attributed to the pro-Russian forces. Therefore, the Russian authorities easily accuse Brussels of hypocrisy. Concomitantly, the political parties of Moldova and other countries of the region adopt distinct geopolitical approaches in order to obtain benefits either from the rapprochement with the EU or from the rapprochement with Russia. Though corruption in the EaP states does not have geopolitical color, the best anti-corruption instruments in the region are for now proposed by the EU and the U.S. For these instruments to work, a new political class is needed. Its appearance is delayed by the monopole held by the corrupt parties. However, the EU is trying to reform what can be reformed in the countries of the region, while Russia uses these efforts as negative examples to discredit the European course in the region, together with the EU.

Furthermore, the attempts to vitiate the EU at the level of European institutors or the member states (political corruption, oligarchization of the political power, weakening of the rule of law, etc.) dissipate the moral authority of this in the dialogue with the countries of the region. This facilitates the Russian information warfare against the European values and strengthens Russia’s narrative on the use of “double standards” by the West (IPN, October 23, 2017).

Legitimacy of pro-European parties – essential factor for hastening reforms

No ruling party will be able to do unpopular reforms if it does not have sufficient legitimacy. Public opinion will not give a vote of confidence if it is not satisfied with the quality of the rulers. The lower are the criteria for assessing governance by the public, the lesser is the integrity, professionalism and efficiency of the government compared with the governments of the EU member states.

On the one hand, in order to increase the toughness of the citizens of the EaP countries, the political arena should be renewed with more transparent and democratic forces, while the rules of the game should be equitable. On the other hand, the national governments of the EU should maintain high democracy standards. If these stop to be models worth being followed for the countries from the Eastern neighborhood, they will turn into examples of countries that are compared with Russia – Hungary or Poland.

The people’s support for the European perspective considerably depends on the legitimacy of the governments that show sympathy with the EU. Polls are among the best instruments for measuring the moods of the people, despite the more often rigging. In the case of Moldova, polls show a constant change in the population’s geopolitical views.

To measure exactly the transformation in time of public opinion about the European course in Moldova, the same type of question should be used. Connecting the poll data to the political realities that influenced public opinion positively or negatively is as important.

Evolution of public opinion on attitude to European course (eventual entry into EU)


Only question about EU, %

Comparative question EU vs. Eurasian Union, %

Most important political events

December 2005


No such a question was formulated

The Party of Communists took over the pro-European narrative in the parliamentary elections held in March 2005. The same year, there was signed the EU-Moldova Action Plan by which the EU openly recognized Moldova’s European aspirations.

November 2007


No such a question was formulated

Communist government implemented EU-Moldova Action Plan.

July 2009


No such a question was formulated

Eastern Partnership was launched in Prague.

November 2010


No such a question was formulated

Early elections were held on November 28  owing to the impossibility of choosing the President of Moldova

April 2013


No such a question was formulated

December 23, 2012 – hiding of details about the death of Sorin Paciu during hunting in the Domneasca Forest, which involved the then prosecutor general Valeriu Zubco, proposed by the Democratic Party. This resulted in the first open conflict between ex-Premier Vlad Filat and Vladimir Plahotniuc. Also, this was the start of the end of the Alliance for Europeans Integration. In the period, the Eurasian option took shape as a foreign policy course.

November 2013


No such a question was formulated

Association Agreement with the EU is initialed at Vilnius summit.

November 2014


37.5 vs. 44.1

In June 2014, the Association Agreement with the EU was signed, while on July 2 Moldova ratified it.

April 2015


32.1 vs. 50

The first information about the robbing of the banking system, which ultimately caused damage of 15% of the GDP, was published in November – December 2014, immediately after the parliamentary elections. There were mounted the first large-scale anti-Democratic Party and anti-Vladimir Plahotniuc protests. In January 2015, the Treaty on the creation of the Eurasian Economic Union took effect.

April 2016


No such a question was formulated

At the end of 2015, the political power was taken over by the Democrats with the assistance of the MPs who defected from the Liberal Democratic Party and the Party of Communists.

April 2017


39.4 vs. 39.9

The Democrats led by Vladimir Plahotniuc had governed for over a year. The victory won by the pro-Russian candidate Igor Dodon in the presidential elections of October-November 2016 was used by the Democrats to exploit the geopolitical card.

Source: Author based on data of Public Opinion Barometer, IPP

Thus, the polls show that the support provided to an eventual entry into the EU in 2007 decreased from 70% to about 45% in 10 years. They also show that the questions where the pro-EU option was compared with the pro-Eurasian Union one started to be put only in November 2014 (according to IPP data). The gradual evolution of the Eurasian Economic Union about which polls started to provide data as of 2012 also leaves imprints on the perception of Moldovans.

In general, it is visible that the perception of the rapprochement with the EU is formulated under the pressure of the defects or failures of the governments that pleaded for joining the EU, from the Party of Communists until the Democratic Party. The latter, together with other pro-European parties that ruled in 2009-2017, “managed” to diminish the pro-EU feelings from about 66% to 39% and to then stimulate them up to 45% in 2017. This volatility shows once again how fragile the legitimacy of the Europeans course in Moldova is.

Instead of conclusion...

Corruption in Moldova and other EaP countries does not have geopolitical color and the best anti-corruption instruments are promoted by the EU. The Europeans’ partners in the region are yet controversial parties with which Russia communicates or would like to communicate. The difference between the EU and Russia is that the first wants reforms and applies different conditionality elements, while the second wants geopolitical loyally first of all.

If the EU wants to achieve maximal results in the implementation of the Association Agreement with Moldova and in the reformation of the EaP countries in general, it should place emphasis on democratization and should not reduce its vigilance for democracies inside the European borders as the citizens from the Eastern vicinity abide by democratic models from the proximity, which immediately become anti-models when they become defect.

The legitimacy of the European course in Moldova is tailored by the behavior of the parties that claim to be pro-European. To remove the parties that simulate the European integration from the game, both the EU and other parties besides the government – the opposition, civil society, and the mass media – should be objective, sincere and coherent when they criticize the government.
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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