Stimulation of reforms in Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine: new conditionality vs European perspective



To treat the paralysis of reforms, it is essential to understand the political affairs in Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia, where the political players show multiple signs of disinterest or even phobia about sustainable and effective reforms


Dionis Cenuşa


The reform agenda is a complicated process for the governments associated with corrupt practices, which also shows a “metathesiophobia” (fear of changes) in relation to reforms. Consequently, the real reforms are seen in countries with such governments as something inconvenient that should be delayed, simulated, measured or even obstructed.

Though they form the intimate circle of the European integration within the Eastern Partnership, the current political classes in Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia are powerfully affected by the fear of changes produced by profound and irreversible reforms. This reform-phobia is determined by the essence of the dominant political class whose driving force results mainly from the informal relations built on the flow of immediate or long-term revenues and the competition for obtaining these.

So, the presence of oligarchs in the political systems of Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia is a decisive factor that powerfully diminishes the fluidity, quality and impact of reforms (Expert-Grup, June 2017).  In an attempt to protect their image of “useful oligarchs” (IPN, October 2016), the oligarchic groups that fully or partially control the decision-making processes in these countries tend to look friendly towards reforms. Their tolerance of reforms ends yet there where the personal interests that form the pillars of oligarchic pyramids start.

Starting with 2009 until now, the European integration process has deeper penetrated Eastern Europe through the Eastern Partnership. Since then, the visa liberalization action plans initiated in Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia were the mechanism that most powerfully encouraged sector reforms. Before the signing of Association Agreements, namely the liberalization of visas animated essential changes in the management of borders, migration or personal data, intersecting sensitive areas related to human rights, such as non-discrimination of sexual minorities. The obtaining of the right to travel visa-free in the Schengen area for their citizens was the stake of these changes assumed by the political elites of the three states.

The question arises as to what else the European Union can offer to simulate reforms in the countries with which it signed Association Agreements and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreements. Should additional stimuli be given to them when the reforms themselves represent an imperative for their economies and citizens, while these are supported by the EU, which allocates more assistance to them than to the other Eastern Partnership countries?

Is liberalization of visas a success, temporary or not?

The positive effects of the liberalization of the visa regime with the EU are incontestable, even if their sustainability remains for now uncertain. The visa liberalization process positively influenced different spheres of state policies, improving the state of things.

Moldova met the progress criteria faster than the other two countries, while the geopolitical conjuncture favored the liberalization of visas in 2014 already. Though it initiated the process earlier than Moldova, Ukraine obtained the abolition of the Schengen visas for its people in almost seven years of the initiation of negotiations. The path covered by Georgia and Ukraine coincided with the refugee crisis, which panicked the European public opinion, delayed the liberalization of visas until 2017 and resulted in the modification of the visa waiver suspension mechanism, which can now be started easier and faster (Europunkt, April 2017).



Initiation of dialogue on liberalization of visas, year

Presentation of visa liberalization action plans, year

First report, year

Final report, year

Total number of reports

Coming into force of visa-free regime, year







April 2014







June 2017







March 2017

Source: European Commission

Nevertheless, the situation in a number of areas in Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia (abuse in personal data regulation, selective justice, politicization of prosecution service) has worsened or no major progress has been made in other areas (fighting of grand corruption, non-discrimination). That’s why the results achieved in the dialogue on the liberalization of visas need to be strengthened, while the active monitoring process should be resumed. From this viewpoint, the mechanisms for assessing the progress in the visa liberalization area should regain the previous visibility and should be used as additional assessment instruments.

European perspective – authentic or useless stimulus?

The national parliaments of Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine signed a joint letter whereby they request the European Parliament to adopt a resolution that would stipulate clear EU membership perspectives for the three states. The resolution should invoke the Council of the EU and should be adopted before the Eastern Partnership Summit of Tallinn of November 2017. The given approach was made in a difficult context for Moldova and Georgia, where the ruling parties, which are powerfully associated with oligarchic groups, intend to change the electoral systems in the absence of a political consensus.

Moldova faces a political crisis around the initiative to replace the party-list proportional representation system with the mixed-member electoral system, which is directed by the Democratic Party of Moldova coordinated by oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc and is supported by the Socialists and the pro-Russian President Igor Dodon. As a result of the protests mounted by the opposition and civil society and the active involvement of the European Parliament and the Council of the EU, the electoral system change became a core subject in the allocation of macro-financial assistance (IPN, June 2017). The negative appraisal of the Venice Commission highlighted major risks to the integrity of the future candidates for MP in the proposed mixed-member system (Venice Commission, June 2017). At the same time, the Commission’s opinion became one of the political preconditions imposed by the EU for allocating macro-financial assistance (Council of the EU, June 2017).

In Georgia, the opposition and the representatives of civil society are protesting against the law to amend the Constitution (, July 2017) that was initiated by the parliamentary alliance led by the Georgian Dream Party that is associated with oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili. Ignoring the requests of the opposition and of the President, the Georgian government wants to switch over to the proportional representation system with some elements of the majority system (non-distributed seats go to the winning party), and to ban electoral blocs, which now help small parties to pass the election threshold of 5%. The Venice Commission criticized the lack of dialog and consensus in the process of modifying the supreme law (Venice Commission, June 2017).

The Ukrainian political system is less in the focus of the European institutions compared with the systems of Moldova and Georgia, where the parliamentary alliances are accused of tending to retailor the national electoral systems by ignoring the voice of the opposition and civil society so as to remain in power after the future parliamentary elections (Moldova – in 2018, Georgia – in 2020).

Consequently, to distract attention from the internal political crises (Georgia, Moldova) and to eclipse the absence of progress or, on the contrary, the regression in the reform process, the three countries initiated their request concerning the European perspective (Joint statement to the European Parliament, July 2017).

So, instead of concentrating on the conversion of reforms into concrete results, which depends on the internal political will, the three countries are trying to actually condition the better implementation of reforms by the offering by the EU of a clear European perspective. Such inverse conditionality is, on the one hand, a method of justifying the stagnation or delay in reforms and, on the other hand, is an attempt to obtain new commitments from the EU.

The real utility of the request made by the three national parliaments is doubtful given that the Association Agreements already welcome the pro-European aspirations of Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia and do not exclude the European perspective. Also, it is not clear why the European Parliament should adopt a resolution whereby to recognize the European perspective of the countries that signed Association Agreements, when it already did it in 2015. During the last two years, the state of affairs in the three countries has rather worsened. That’s why a new resolution is senseless if only it criticizes the slow pace of reforms. 

Practical solutions for stimulating reforms

A clearer European perspective than what has been offered until now cannot increase the attachment to reforms inside the mainly reform-phobic political class. At the same time, such a gesture on the part of the European Parliament could improve the spoiled image of the three states, which would thus try to shirk responsibility for the failed reforms. Such a decision could also create confusion among the people as these expect that the EU will have a more principled and critical attitude to the governments in the three states, which are accused of political corruption, politicization of institutions and embezzlement of public funds.

Consequently, real reform stimulation can be ensured not through the European perspective (which was already secured), but by reviewing conditionality and allocating financial assistance in close correlation with the practical progress in doing reforms. The Russian factor should be taken into account, but with the attentive checking of the objectivity of the assessments carried out by the governments, such as that of Moldova, for avoiding the hyperbolization of real risks.

So, reforms can be encouraged through renewed categorized and individualized conditionality. The political preconditions related to the mechanisms of democratic institutions (rule of law, good governance, human rights, multi-party system, etc.) can also be incorporated into the financial assistance of the EU. The inclusion of political preconditions in the conditionality elements for providing macro-financial assistance to Moldova (June 2017), based on the recommendations/appraisal of the Venice Commission concerning the electoral system can serve as a source of inspiration and can be correspondingly replicated in the case of Ukraine and Georgia.

Moreover, the stimulation of reforms depends on the monitoring of their implementation. Emphasis should be placed both on results and on the causes of objective non-achievement - institutional inefficiency, politicization of decisions or lack of financial and human resources. The more detailed and illustrative the monitoring is, the more efficient the reform stimulation and finalization processes will be. These circumstances will maximally reduce the maneuvering field and cheating level of the governments in Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia in relation to the reform agenda. This will also increase the local public opinion’s interest in the reform process.

Instead of conclusion...

To treat the paralysis of reforms, it is essential to understand the political affairs in Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia, where the political players show multiple signs of disinterest or even phobia about sustainable and effective reforms.

Therefore, attention should be focused on the improvement of the already applied conditionality and less on the supplementation of the financial assistance.

Ultimately, the renewal, detailing and individualization of conditionality can more powerfully stimulate reforms rather than, for example, the formalization of a clearer European perspective for the three states.


Dionis Cenuşa


IPN publică în rubrica Op-Ed articole de opinie semnate de autori din afara redacţiei. Opiniile exprimate în aceste materiale nu neapărat coincid cu opiniile redacţiei.

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