The European Union–Moldova association and free trade agreements, to be initialed in Vilnius and signed next year, should enable Moldova’s existing government to win the 2014 elections against the Communist Party and fend off Russian pressures. With that in mind, EU officials and the Moldovan government correlated the association calendar with the electoral calendar.
However, some European officials are already telling the Moldovan government in private discussions that it must do more than simply use the agreements with the EU as election-winning cards. The EU will expect all three branches of government as well as private business increasingly to adhere to European values and norms. Such cautionary notes from European officials are well-founded, as far as they go. But (at least at this point in time) they may underestimate the magnitude of the challenge, and miss the chasm of values separating the Europe-oriented team in this Moldovan government from the corrupt business interests within the same government (see EDM, November 19).
Moldova requires more than yet another round of cosmetic reforms. It needs a comprehensive project for internal reconstruction of the state itself. European institutions can map out such a project together with the pro-Europe components of the current Moldovan government.
This process can start in parallel with the signing and ratification of the EU-Moldova association and free-trade agreements by EU member countries and the European Parliament. A timely start to the mentoring and reconstruction process could strengthen the argument in Europe for undelayed ratification of the agreements with Moldova.
Basic institutions of state need to be overhauled. The political party system was driven to collapse during 2009–2013 by two of the parties from within the tripartite Alliance for European Integration (AEI), as well as by the irreconcilable Communist opposition. During this time, Moldova experienced three inconclusive parliamentary elections, one failed referendum, multiple failed attempts to elect a head of state and a chairman of parliament (resulting in multi-year vacancies in those posts), and serial government crises, including a five-month collapse of government in 2013. During this long crisis, top levels of the law enforcement and judiciary systems (including the Constitutional Court) aggressively backed the country’s richest businessman-politician, Vlad Plahotniuc (see EDM, April 25).
Certain Moldovan courts enabled “raiding” operations against state and private banks by local and Russian interests—an activity that continued in the run-up to the Vilnius summit. And last month, Chisinau International Airport was handed over to a Russian company for 49 years. According to former prime minister Ion Sturza (currently a successful businessman in Europe), Moldova risks losing further assets to Russia in the next round of privatization of state property (Unimedia, November 18).
The privatization round, scheduled for 2014, is planned to include the passenger airline Air Moldova, MoldTelecom, and two electricity distribution networks, among other assets. Air Moldova seems at risk to go where Chisinau Airport has gone. Economy Minister Valeriu Lazar, nominated by billionaire Vlad Plahotniuc’s Democratic Party, is directly handling the government’s privatization program (Kommersant Moldovy, November 8, 12).
Against those adverse internal circumstances, the ministerial team under Vlad Filat and Iurie Leanca has managed to qualify Moldova for this stage of the EU Association Agreement. This team has demonstrated that it forms a sound, effective core of an institutional system where other parts are dysfunctional or broken. Moving forward to the parallel processes of Moldovan institutional reconstruction and EU Association Agreement ratification (see above), European officials will need to adjust their message. A more effective approach would:
• Differentiate between the parties in government, according to how they perform in advancing the EU integration agenda. Without direct involvement in Moldova’s party politics, European officials are well placed to adopt a normative approach, pressing for separation of business interests from government and law enforcement.
• Create and send a EULEX-type (European Union Rule of Law) mission to Moldova to clean up the law enforcement and justice systems. By all evidence, the situation is beyond Moldova’s means to tackle. Unlike the EULEX in Kosovo, however, a mission in Moldova should not operate under the EU’s Common Security and Defense Policy, nor entail any transfer of sovereign prerogatives.
• Show yellow and red cards to any non-transparent privatizations arranged by local or Russian interests and disavow the handover of Chisinau International Airport to Russia—a deal that is not yet irreversible at this point.
• Intensify the monitoring of Moldova’s political institutions by the European Parliament. Earlier ambitions in Chisinau to end that monitoring were premature. The Moldovan government and body politic should not regard an intensified monitoring as a stigma, but as necessary assistance.
• Build on Filat and Leanca’s Liberal Democrat Party as the basis of a viable government to result from the 2014 elections. Do not encourage this party to form a bloc with Plahotniuc’s party in the electoral campaign. Their alliance in the current government has only damaged the Liberal-Democrats’ ratings. The Liberal-Democrats need to demarcate themselves convincingly from this combination in order to grow again as Moldova’s Europe-oriented party.
• Work with the younger, non-corrupt element in the Democratic Party, potentially coagulating around Parliament Chairman Igor Corman.
• Adopt a more sophisticated approach toward the Communist Party, moving from unconditional rejection toward exploring a possible dialogue. Ostracizing one third of Moldova’s electorate has resulted in destabilizing the political system. The Communists’ slow but inevitable decline could be managed more skillfully than it has been (also by the party itself).
• Help to connect the recently formed Liberal Reformer Party (smallest in the governing coalition) with Western Europe’s Liberal parties, ahead of the Moldovan electoral campaign. This party’s continuing presence in parliament would be an asset to the pro-Europe coalition and even to Moldova’s political culture, considering what this party has left behind.