Three scenarios concerning fate of EU macro-financial assistance for Moldova

We are witnessing a unique situation in the EU-Moldova dialogue, when representatives of the European Parliament impose themselves more visibly than other European institutions in relation to the political situation in Chisinau. At the initial stage, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe and the European People’s Party committed themselves to persuade other European institutions of the necessity of halting the European assistance if the Democratic Party ruling in Moldova does not abandons the idea of introducing the uninominal voting system. But the political stratagems in Chisinau ramified continuously and this made the MEPs to look for more efficient solutions to constrain the ruling party, which constantly invents new ways of avoiding the European conditionality. In such circumstances, the European Parliament intends to postpone for a month, until June, the approval of the decision about the €100 million in macro-financial assistance (Free Europe, May 2017), intended for Moldova for 2017-2018.

Bifurcation of Moldovan realities

The merger of the bill on the uninominal voting system and the bill on the mixed-member electoral system and their hurried adoption in the first reading confused the national public opinion and a number of European institutions that started to meet with difficulties in correctly anticipating the Democratic Party’s actions. The mutually advantageous cohabitation with the parliamentary opposition enables the government to build more efficient political strategies, defeating the parties that are in real opposition (PLDM, Platform “Dignity and Truth”, PAS). The 74 votes for the mixed-member system highlighted the relationship of synchronization between Vladimir Plahotniuc’s Democrats and the Socialists supported by President Igor Dodon. Despite the distinct geopolitical courses promoted, the government makes full use of the conjecture cooperation with the Socialist opposition, which is used as a useful opposition (IPN, May 2017).

At the same time, the government excelled at implanting or attracting a large number of nongovernmental organizations friendly to the government, which actively defend the mixed-member and uninominal voting systems. The position of the latter clearly differs from the opinion of other representatives of civil society, which are considered credible and whom the foreign partners usually ask to objectively assess the Moldovan reality in the areas of human rights, justice, electoral legislation, etc. The wing of civil society that criticizes the government is usually associated by the pro-governmental media with the extra-parliamentary opposition. By this association, they try to discredit it, fueling the public’s distrust in it and in the real political opposition. The final goal pursued by the government is to neutralize the civil activism among the people.

The increasing artificially of the politicians in Moldova and of the relations between these is a major challenge for the European institutions. Thus, these have to face a duality of positions not only among the opposition, but also among civil society, in general concerning the Moldovan political reality and in particular concerning the replacement of the electoral system.

Demonization of opposition

The interest of the groups of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe and the European People’s Party, which together hold 284 of the 750 seats in the current European Parliament, in the uninominal voting system in Moldova points to an intensification of the dialogue between the Moldovan and European political players.

Also, not only the pro-European opposition in Chisinau has a dialogue with the pan-European parties. This is also true about the government whose “good relations” with the European Social-Democrats offers it particular support in the European legislature. This could explain why the European Social-Democrats didn’t become involved in the official criticism against the change in the electoral system in Moldova.

For now, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe and the European People’s Party are the only political forces in the European legislature that are attentively monitoring the political developments in Moldova. These are ready to directly face the Moldovan government. Avoiding criticizing the European Parliament, the representatives of the government trivialize the intervention of the EPP-ALDE duo, limiting themselves to a unilateral action of the EPP. The opposition leaders (Maia Sandu, Andrei Nastase) are also vehemently criticized for exerting pressure through the European Parliament, insisting on the stopping of European financing.

This situation is suitable for the government, which diverts attention from the mixed-member electoral system to the fate of the European assistance, which is allegedly jeopardized by the opposition (Unimedia, May 2017). Evidently, the negative messages do not bypass the European People’s Party with which the most active representatives of the opposition– PAS, Platform “Dignity and Truth” and PLDM – are associated.

The primary goal of the ruling Democrats is to spoil the image of the extra-parliamentary opposition. If the government manages to diminish the credibility of the opposition, the capacity of this to mobilize the people to mass anti-government protests will be affected.

Three scenarios

The main scenarios according to which the trajectory of the European financial assistance can be estimated depends on the government, the opposition and, respectively, the European partners. For the government, the replacement of the electoral legislation is equal to political survival, keeping of the pyramid of power intact and, surely, immunity in relation to justice. The opposition sees in the maintaining of the current electoral legislation a window of opportunity for beating the Democrats in the 2018 elections. The European partners consider the modification of the legislation is acceptable if it is inclusive, transparent, predictable and aimed at strengthening the multi-party system.

According to the first scenario, the government will modify the electoral legislation by ignoring the criticism of the members of the European Parliament and other European institutions. In this case, the Democrats will improve the bill on the mixed-member system that was already approved in the first reading, based on the recommendations formulated by the Venice Commission. At the same time, the government will remind the European Commission and the Council of the EU of the necessity of implementing the Association Agenda for 2017-2019, which also depends on the allocation of the €100 million in assistance. In the end, despite the delay, the EU will have to unblock the assistance, focusing on conditionality in other sectors. The soonest, the assistance could be resumed in the context of the Eastern Partnership Summit of Brussels of this November.

The second scenario envisions the suspension of the process of amending the electoral legislation until the memorandum on macro-financial assistance between Moldova and the EU is finalized and signed. When the memorandum takes effect and the first tranche is transferred, the Democrats will return in a hurry to the bill on the mixed-member voting system. The major objective of the government is to guarantee the perpetuation of its power after 2018.

According to the third scenario, the bill on the mixed-member electoral system will be definitively withdrawn following mass and long-term protests mounted by the pro-European opposition in Chisinau. The intensity of protests would attract the attention of the Europeans and would powerfully weaken the position of the authorities. Even if the long-term survival has a significant importance for the Democrats, the stability of their governance in the short term is more important. The giving up of the intention to replace the electoral system eliminates the obstacles from the way of the financial assistance promised by the EU, while the government will look for more sophisticated methods to ensure political continuity.

Instead of conclusion…

The pro-European opposition in Chisinau banks a lot on the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe and the European People’s Party. It is yet highly improbable that the delay in the macro-financial assistance will powerfully destabilize the government, which has access to IMF financing.

However, a negative message from the EU related to financing will justify a new wave of criticism on the part of the opposition leaders against the ruling party, causing new sources of irritation in society. In any situation, the EU should remain a neutral player, despite the harsh conditionality imposed on the Moldovan government.

When the checks and balances mechanism is affected by the manifestations of state capture, the authorities can be constrained to take into account the public interest only if there are common efforts on the part of the pro-European opposition, credible civil society, independent mass media and citizens.

Nevertheless, no pressure exerted on the government will bring major results as long as the opposition fails to activate the civic spirit among the citizens. The intensity and length of the eventual protests can essentially influence the behavior of the European partners and, respectively, the tone of their discussion with the Moldovan government.

The article was initially published on IPN News Agency on May 15 2017

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