Moldova and EU: a dialogue clogged up with old problems and new expectations, OP-ED


The EU will provide the money only if it feels that sufficient concrete results were achieved so as to moderate the accusations that it supports the ruling party in an electoral year and in exchange for partial reforms...


Dionis Cenuşa

The implementation of the reforms initiated earlier, satisfaction of the citizens with palpable results and imposition of strict conditions for providing European assistance are the key aspects of the Council of Europe Conclusions published on February 28, 2018. Even if it points to multiple shortcomings and concerns, the critical tone that dominates the document is controlled and balanced out with several positive assessments that are somehow reserved and inferior in number. The government preferred to highlight the messages of encouragement contained in the EU Conclusions. The extraparliamentary opposition centered on the critical spirit of the document, being described by Maia Sandu as a “harsh warning” addressed to the Democratic Party.

Evidently, the objections prevail in the document. Even if the EU uses a constructive language, this does not avoid emphasizing the weak points of the reforms that focus on justice, corruption fighting, guaranteeing of media pluralism, prosecution and punishment of those to blame for the banking frauds, electoral system and party funding, etc. The document effectively describes the critical areas and, as never before, reiterates that the provision of any assistance, budgetary or macro-financial, will depend on the real progress in doing reforms, in particular as regards their implementation. Also, the EU defends and firmly promotes an active and inclusive role for civil society and its participation in the decision-making process. The fighting of corruption is clearly specified as one of the objectives that should be achieved by the Moldovan authorities while they fulfill the commitments assumed before the EU.

On the other hand, Brussels underlines several important areas where positive results were achieved. First of all, the EU recognizes the progress made in ensuring the macro-financial and financial stability of the country, which enabled to regain the confidence of foreign donors, referring to the relationship with the IMF. The EU avoids yet suggesting that it is about the restoration of Brussels’ confidence in Chisinau. The fulfillment of the criteria for keeping the liberalized visa regime is the second mentioned positive aspect. The adoption of legislation on money laundering and selection of the administration of the anti-corruption institutions (National Anticorruption Authority) are the third aspect. Despite these assessments, the European officials request to continue reforms, to “decisively” fight corruption, to ensure independent justice, to improve the attractiveness of the Moldovan business climate, etc.
Two years after the EU Conclusions of February 2016, which were the first harsh reaction concerning Moldova, it is ascertained that the EU is closer to Moldova than the Moldovan authorities are to Brussels. In other words, the European institutions show that they are better familiarized with the structural deficiencies of the country and are able to formulate positions that are better anchored in local realities. At the same time, despite the traditional commitments as regards the implementation of reforms, the government of Moldova fails to eliminate the EU’s suspicions about the fragmentary, indefinite and volatile character of the reform agenda. For these reasons, even if the Moldovan authorities’ dialogue with the EU is active and constructive, it will take time to regain the Europeans’ confidence and predictable, measurable and durable reforms as well as an interlocutor legitimized as a result of free and fair elections will be needed in this regard.

Old problems and new expectations

Compared with the harsh position stated in February 2016, when the Democratic Party started to become the epicenter of the political power in the state, the EU’s criticism in 2018 became more moderate following particular, even if few positive developments (banking sector, liberalization of visas, etc.). Owing to the full coming into force of the Association Agreement in July 2016 and following the development of the bilateral relations, the assessments carried out by the EU became more tinged and profound and reveal subtleties that were earlier inaccessible or poorly understood.

The comparison of the documents of 2016 and 2018 shows that a lot of old problems remained unsolved, such as the defective government, politicization of institutions and systemic corruption. At the same time, at an interval of two years, the EU reminds how significant the impartiality and independence of justice, media pluralism and the mechanism of democratic institutions, energy security and other issues are (See Table below)


Table. Comparison of EU Conclusions of February 2016 and February 2018


Conclusions of 2016

Conclusions of 2018

Number of points



Areas signaled as problematic

1. Banking and financial sectors/investigation of banking fraud
2. Independence of justice

3. Corruption fighting

4. Business sector

5. Mass media

1. Electoral system
2. Mass media

3. Corruption fighting

4. Money laundering fighting

5. Independence of justice

6. Banking and financial sectors/investigation of banking fraud
7. Local public administration reform

8. Business climate

9. Protection of intellectual property
10. Energy security

Frequency of use

Strict conditionality



Citizens’ welfare



Involvement of civil society






Money laundering



Mass media




The consistency of the document of 2018 shows the EU more efficiently monitors the way in which reforms are implemented de facto, including through the agency of non-state players (civil society) and the information disseminated by independent media outlets.

Europeans’ current expectations of the Moldovan authorities doubled compared with 2016 and cover practically all the state functioning areas. Thus, the number of problems does not decrease, while the pressure on the authorities increases. These must produce high-quality changes at a rapid pace and amid a crisis of credibility that is still felt in the relationship with the EU.

At the same time, the fact that the EU this year returned to the old problems highlighted in 2016 at least 17 times, on the one hand, show the limitations of the leverage available in Brussels for demanding real reforms. On the other hand, this reveals a high level of resistance of the current system to unwanted changes. Consequently, the strict conditions imposed by the EU for offering budget (programs) and macro-financial support are yet to prove their efficiency given the self-management capacity and adaptability of the political system.

Signals concerning macro-financial assistance

The EU Conclusions of 2018 transmit confused messages about the macro-financial assistance. Mentioned for two times, the strict conditionality will play a decisive role in the provision of any European assistance. The EU can activate the disbursement of financial support if the conditions are appropriately met.

To receive the first installment of the €100 million in macro-financial assistance, the Moldovan authorities must fulfill the sector conditions (IPN, February 12, 2018), which are clearly specified in the memorandum of understanding of 2017, and must “respect the political preconditions”.

There are several signals that validate the supposition that the EU could transfer the first installment of the macro-financial assistance in the near future, even if later than it was planned initially - until July 2018.

Primo, even if a series of problematic reforms are described, the EU Conclusions make no allusion to a possible blocking of the first installment. On the contrary, the EU requests to advance the reforms in the ten sectors covered by the first installment (implementation of the law on money laundering fighting, improvement of the business climate, strengthening of anticorruption institutions, etc.).

Secundo, the document makes reference to the monitoring of elections and of the way in which the mixed-member electoral system is implemented. So, the EU does no way demand to restore the proportional representation system for disbursing the first installment of the macro-financial assistance. It is yet certain that other installments will depend on the way in which the mixed system is put into practice.

The final decision concerning the assessment of the conditions for providing assistance could be presented in connection with the meeting of the EU - Moldova Association Council scheduled for this April. Until then, the assessment reports presented by the European institutions should be finalized and mandatory approved of.

Instead of conclusion...

The European Union is not at all satisfied with the pace of most of the reforms that Chisinau undertook by signing the Association Agreement. Therefore, in 2018 Brussels has to return to the old problems signaled in 2016.

The EU Conclusions scan in a balanced way the neuralgic areas of reforms, but uses a critical tone in relation to the quality of reforms, many of which were just initiated and are far from the point when they will start to produce effects. The emphasis placed on the importance of civil society and the mass media confirms the argument that the EU banks on non-state players, whose legitimacy is greater than that of the government, in the acceleration of reforms and investment in democratic institutions.

The provision of the first installment seems possible in the near future despite the unpleasant mixed electoral system that could become an obstacle to the disbursement of the next installment. A favorable decision is not yet guaranteed and depends on the actions that will be taken by the government until April. The EU will provide the money only if it feels that sufficient concrete results were achieved so as to moderate the accusations that it supports the ruling party in an electoral year and in exchange for partial reforms.
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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