This article is part of ECFR's Wider Europe Forum
EU officials are growing worried as Moldovan politicians begin to rebel against the tedious and technical process of implementing reform.
What has happened in Moldova in recent months can be explained by saying that political logic is finally taking revenge on bureaucratic logic. Moldovan politicians have started to rebel against the tedious and technical process of implementing reform. They are no longer inclined to play their long-established role as the Eastern Partnership’s “success story”. This rebellion may not last long – but it has definitely become a matter of concern for European Union diplomats and officials, who did not see this turn of events coming.
Moldovan politicians are no longer inclined to play their long-established role as the Eastern Partnership’s “success story”.
The pro-European Moldovan politicians’ refusal to act in accordance with the “politically correct” rules can be seen in several events. The parliamentary elections, which took place on 30 November 2014, were approved by monitoring bodies, but they were marked by strong interventions by the Central Electoral Commission, the Ministry of the Interior, and the Supreme Court, which led to several dubious arrests of political activists, the exclusion of a promising political party from the race, and toleration of spoilers. In fact, the final electoral result was to some extent manufactured by manipulative interventions, which, sadly, were accepted without comment by European bodies. The result was convenient for Europe because it held out the promise that a pro-European coalition would be formed by the Liberals, the Liberal Democrats, and the Democrats, excluding the pro-Russian Socialists and the troublesome Communists.
In the event, a different, minority coalition was formed by rejecting the Liberal Party and including the Communists, led by the seemingly indestructible Vladimir Voronin. In doing so, the pro-European Moldovan politicians ignored the strong recommendations made by representatives of European parliament parties during the famous “airport meeting” on 20 January. The next step was to get rid of then Prime Minister Iurie Leancă, who was very much respected in the West, and who had been promised a new mandate as prime minister by his own party, the Liberal Democrats. Some pressure was brought to bear by Europe, as was made evident during the visit to Moldova of Angela Merkel’s advisor, Christoph Heusgen. But the Democrats and Liberal Democrats brilliantly fooled both Leancă and the Europeans, using the Communists to enable them to carry out their move. Voronin and his comrades did not vote for the Leancă cabinet, invoking as one of the reasons the presence in the list of ministers of some unacceptable candidates. Ironically, this did not prevent the Communists from voting the next time for the cabinet of the Liberal Democrats’ new candidate, the obscure Kirill Gaburici, even though the same ministers were on the list. As a result of these political manoeuvres, Leancă left the Liberal Democrats and announced his intention to create a new political party. In this way, the strong pro-European tandem of Iurie Leancă and former prime minister and Liberal Democrat leader Vlad Filat was broken.
Alongside these political acrobatics, the ruling parties orchestrated (or tolerated) a large-scale financial speculation, letting the Moldovan currency, the lei, be devalued by 40 percent. This was followed by a rapid revaluation of the currency and a sharp increase in prices. It is generally believed that this was done in order to obtain cash (around 700 million lei) from financial speculations so as to cover the holes in the banking system created before the elections, when as yet unknown people withdrew around 1 billion dollars from three Moldovan banks. Of course, this had a severe impact on the living standards of Moldovan people, while at the same time providing a source of revenue to a few cunning businessmen.
EU officials have been unpleasantly surprised, but are not able to articulate even a word of condemnation.
Moreover, Liberal Democrat leader Vlad Filat suggested that former Prime Minister Leancă was the person responsible for these machinations. Leancă retorted that he had no control over the banking system and asked for thorough investigations. It is easy to see that the threat of indicting Leancă for failing to ensure control of the exchange rate will be a useful tool for the Liberal Democrats in preventing Leancă’s political recovery.
In this difficult situation, EU officials have been unpleasantly surprised, but are not able to articulate even a word of condemnation. EU policy towards Moldova is shattered. The EU wrongly bet on Filat in the initial stage of reforms, considering him to be a “good oligarch”. Subsequently, it was unable to defend Leancă against the rising tide of anti-European revisionism. The EU also failed to encourage the creation of a more or less clean pro-European party led by several gifted diplomats, about which there was some controversy in 2014 (when it was called in a conspiratorial way a “diplomatic junta”). Because of the protracted period of government formation, the Association Agreement has been partly forgotten and the bodies in charge of coordinating it have not yet been created.
Having followed Polish MEP Pawel Kowal’s advice for the EU to make a “pact with the oligarchs”, Brussels is to some extent condemned to continue its cooperation with Moldova despite the country’s regrettable backsliding into pure politics. In fact, the EU continues to do “business as usual” with Moldova – even though it can no longer mask its displeasure. Apparently, the only way to exert influence on Moldova would be to cut financial flows. However, the EU’s level of funding to Moldova is not high, and the regional situation must be also considered. Punishing Moldova now would mean behaving like Russia.
Corneliu Ciurea is a political expert at Moldova’s Institute for Development and Social Initiatives (IDIS) Viitorul.
The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. This commentary, like all publications of the European Council on Foreign Relations, represents only the views of its authors.