EU dilemma: to criticize government or to combat Euro-skeptical propaganda of pro-Russian President?

The European Union is facing new challenges. Brussels has not to only oscillate between parallel dialogues (IPN, January 2017), which are also contradictory, with Chisinau, but to also remain neutral and equally committed in relation to the government and the President of Moldova and to other anti-European forces.

Things become even more difficult when some voices inside civil society and media outlets often treat the EU-Moldova relationship in a simplistic way, strictly through the angle of dilemmas. Thus, the EU is urged to choose between reacting to different anti-reform deviations of the government and reacting to the anti-EU actions of President Igor Dodon. At the same time, the same voices reproach the Europeans for allowing to be manipulated by the Euro-skeptical rhetoric of President Dodon, which is considered a false subject, instead of concentrating on real deficiencies, related to the quality of the current government.

In reality, both the defective governance and the President’s Euro-skeptical initiatives must be treated with seriousness by the EU. Both the government’s attempts to cheat and the anti-European myths generated by the Head of State negatively affected the state of affairs in Moldova. In any of these situations, the public perception of the European integration process and the EU are both affected.

Thus, it is dangerous to consider that the massive misinformation about the Association Agreement with the EU initiated by President Dodon is less important than the government’s regression in doing reforms.

On the contrary, the EU must actively become involved in the counteracting of the Euro-skeptical propaganda launched by President Dodon both in order to do away with the false myths and to exert additional pressure on the government.

The truth and real figures are as unpleasant and painful for those who disseminate untruths (President Dodon, Party of Socialists and others) and for those who report half-truths or are accused of pretending to do reforms (ruling parties led by the Democratic Party of Moldova, the mass media controlled by the government, etc.).

Inexistent, but imposed dilemma…

There are more approaches demanding that the EU should overlook the anti-European propaganda that is aimed directly at it and that supplements the Russian one only because the Democratic Party led by Vladimir Plahotniuc uses it to strengthen his image of pro-European. As a result, the EU is placed in front of a false dilemma – to be critical of the government or to make effort to counteract the anti-EU misinformation.

No way should the critical monitoring and conditionality remain the only objective of the EU in Moldova. The reforms count as much as communication about them and counteracting of untruths do.

As long as the ostensible pro-European governments are defective (corrupt, inefficient, etc.), while the pro-European forces are in an embryo and are poorly prepared for European integration, the EU should be preoccupied with the way in which the Moldovans perceive the EU. These things are complementary and should mandatorily be included in the Europeans’ agenda.

Why is counteracting of Euro-skeptical propaganda important?

Fighting the anti-EU misinformation is as important as the criticism of the deficiencies of reforms and corrupt manifestations of the government, which declares itself pro-European. This thing is imperative for at least three reasons.

Firstly, the EU’s image is at stake as this is affected not only because of the corrupt pro-European forces, but also because of the anti-EU propaganda. Taking care of the own image, by dissipating the myths, the EU actually invests in its legitimacy and this enables it to effectively exert pressure on the government.

Secondly, the anti-EU propaganda used by Igor Dodon became a part of the internal political game. The EU is used both by the pro-EU government and by the pro-Russian opposition, the real information being distorted. Igor Dodon’s victory in the November 2016 presidential elections, based on false data about the EU and the European integration, is a conclusive example. There are also numerous examples showing that the government manipulates using data about the relations with the EU so as to gain popularity. That’s why the EU has to focus on its own capacity, even if it is interested in positively influencing things in Moldova.

Least but not last, the subject of the anti-European propaganda forms part of the information war waged by Russia in the region, in which Igor Dodon takes the Russians’ side by spreading and inventing new anti-EU myths.

The information war used by Russia to discredit the EU and any other political forces – corrupt old or new ones, with pro-European agenda – is not a false subject, but a reality with harsh consequences that are visible especially in Ukraine. For this reason, we also speak about the EU’s responsibility, not only about a pragmatic interest in fighting the anti-European misinformation. This is related not only to the disclosure of truth, but also to something more – survival of the European project and, respectively, peace and security in Europe.

Instead of conclusion…

The keeping by the EU of a severe attitude and “unconditional conditionality” towards the government of Moldova is crucial for advancing reforms. This should be only strengthened by the new Association Agenda with the EU. It is also very important to combat the anti-EU myths, which destructively inference confidence in the EU’s positive goals in relation to Moldova and its people.

Consequently, both civil society and the mass media are to support the EU in these activities. The overlooking of the anti-EU misinformation that is broadly employed by President Dodon at this stage, under the excuse that it is secondary or artificial, can have negative consequences in the medium and long term – the 2018 elections. These fuel Euro-skeptical populism that is now associated with extremist nationalism in Europe, while in Moldova with aggressive Moldovenism and, respectively, with Romanophobia.

The image, credibility and efficiency of the pressure exerted by the EU on the government are in danger as all these cannot exist in a public area that is hostile to the European integration. Moreover, the situation in Ukraine and Russia’s attempts to go further by destabilizing democracies in Germany or France are daily realities from which we should learn the lesson. Ultimately, the EU should be watchful to the pro-Europeans in Chisinau, but also to the pro-Russians to the same extent.

Article published initially by IPN News Agency 

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