Articles in this rubric are published as part of the "European Integration as a National Idea with a Potential to Consolidate Moldovan Society" Project, financed by the German Foundation Hanns Seidel
Nature of growth of pro-European perception and attempt to “constitutionalize” European course, OP-ED
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05:30, 18 Dec 2017
 

 

No political surveys, even those that reveal an explosion of euro-optimism, should substitute the continuous positive transformations in the daily life of the ordinary people...


 

Dionis Cenușa
 

The end of 2017 is marked by a harsh involvement of the public opinion of Moldova in active debates on the country’s geopolitical course. In the absence of remarkable success in implementing the Association Agreement with the EU, which fully took effect only a year ago (July 2016) and has been implemented provisionally for three years (since September 2014), the Democratic Party (PDM) is determined to enshrine the European course in the country’s Constitution. It is an evident attempt to substitute profound transformations that would objectively and solidly anchor the European course in public conscience. Instead, the Democrats aim to stipulate the yet fragile and oscillating European aspirations in the Constitution.

Even if the attempt to eternize the country’s European integration this way is supported by many sections of society, the goal of this political act derives from the circumstantial political interests of the ruling party. But such a political gesture does not generate cohesion in society. On the contrary. In a realistic way, sustainable cohesion around the European integration could be obtained by concrete results achieved by reforms and, respectively, by qualitatively changing the people’s life. As an instrument for convincing the people about the necessity of the European integration of Moldova, there are used public opinion polls that show an explosion in popular support for the European integration. Polls yet enjoy decreasing credibility. Furthermore, these contain several paradoxes related to the non-correspondence of the electoral options of the people with their geopolitical views.

Reasons for “constitutionalization” of European course

Even if the Constitutional Court’s judgment about the affiliation of the Moldovan constitutional identity to the European system of values was published in October 2014, the Democratic Party decided to return to this in only three years, in October 2017. (See Table 1)
 

Table 1. Initiative to “constitutionalize” European course

9 October 2014

9 October 2017

6 December 2017

11 December 2017

Constitutional Court Judgment on Moldova’s external orientation, which emphasizes that the European system of democratic values is a defining element of the country’s constitutional identity.

Adoption of Parliament Decision on the constitution of a working group for drafting the bill to amend and supplement the Constitution for stipulating the European course

A group of 36 MPs submitted an application to the Constitutional Court, concerning the amendment of the Constitution. 

Constitutional Court approved of the Constitution amendment proposal

 

The given pause can be due to the fact that the Democrats in 2014-2015 were preoccupied with the concentration of the political power and urgent re-setting of the central political arena. Without this, the risk of possible early parliamentary elections wouldn’t have been avoided. Later, the year 2016 was dedicated to the gradual restoration of the PDM’s image, which continued in 2017. After the cementing of its political position, including through the adoption of the mixed electoral system (summer of 2017), the Democrats decided to concentrate their resources on expanding the electoral capital for the 2018 elections already. In such conditions, the European course, on the one hand, and the campaign conducted with the aim of diminishing the pro-Russian influence, on the other hand, will be the main electoral mobilization instruments on which the PDM banks.

The idea of “constitutionalizing” the European course is yet undermined by the weak legitimacy of the authors of the bill and the existence of an incontestable geopolitical division.

The popular approval ratings of the Democrats increased in polls owing to the efficient use of administrative resources and the considerable media monopoly. However, the pro-Russian parliamentary opposition (PSRM) and the extraparliamentary one (PAS, PPPDA) are about four times more popular than the PDM even according to the results of the polls commissioned by the Democrats.

Nevertheless, geopolitical cleavages continue to exist in society. A year ago, the people’s geopolitical options were divided equally. But the most recent polls show a continuous improvement in the situation. Thus, positive data were reported for November 2017, similar to those of November 2013, when the support for the European course reached 47%. Even if the complete picture of the public perception of Moldova’s external orientation shows an upward trend in favor of the EU, this can be easily influenced by circumstantial factors that give it a great dose of volatility. (See Table 2)

 

Table 2. Evolution of public opinion about European course (possible entry into EU)

Period

Only question about EU, %

Common question with response variant: EU vs. Eurasian Union, %

December 2005

64.3

No such a question was formulated

November 2007

76.2

No such a question was formulated

July 2009

66.5

No such a question was formulated

November 2010

62.5

No such a question was formulated

April 2013

50.3

No such a question was formulated

November 2013

47.7

No such a question was formulated

November 2014

43.9

37.5 vs. 44.1

April 2015

39.5

32.1 vs. 50

April 2016

41.3

No such a question was formulated

April 2017

45.5

39.4 vs. 39.9

November 2017

47.2

38.1 vs. 32.6

Source: Findings of author based on data of Public Opinion Barometer, IPP
 

Despite these structural shortcomings, the PDM is determined to test its legislative capacities in order to “Europeanize” the Constitution. First of all, through such an act, the ruling party is trying to come to the forefront of the parties that declare themselves pro-European. If the European course becomes a constitutional provision, the Democrats will shadow the PLDM with which the obtaining of the visa-free regime with the EU is associated.

The second reason that can explain the zeal with which the Democrats promote this initiative is their intention to create positive pressure on Brussels. It is curious that the proposal to constitutionalize the European course coincides with the period when the EU starts to assess the fulfillment by Moldova of the sector (10 of 28 conditions) and political criteria for providing €100 million in macro-financial assistance.

Least but not last, the Democrats use this occasion to step up the geopolitical struggle inside the country. This not only distracts attention from really important issues (reform agenda and regression witnessed in some areas), but also sensitizes the public opinion and radicalizes the public narrative of the political players. Such circumstances can be used by the government to build a constructive image before the parliamentary elections of 2018.

Parallel polls, differing results

In November 2017, there were published two polls whose results confirm the expanding support for the European course. But the proportions of these positive changes differed from poll to poll. Thus, the poll conducted by the Institute of Marketing and Polls IMAS is dominated by unnatural pro-European optimism. Its results are comparable with the level of Euro-optimism witnessed in Moldova in 2010, two years before the hunting scandal in the Domneasca Forest and four years before the disclosure of the banking fraud. There is also a discrepancy between the support for the EU when it is formulated one geopolitical option and, respectively, in the case of two distinct courses. This difference is of about 4% in the case of the IMAS poll and of less than 1% in the Public Opinion Barometer. (See Table 3)

 

Table 3. Evolution of public opinion about European course, November 2017, %

 

IMAS poll

Public Opinion Barometer

 

December 2017

July 2017

December 2017

April 2017

Only question about EU, %

60

51

47.2

45,5

Common question with response variant: EU vs. Eurasian Union, %:

56 vs. 36

43 vs. 45

38.1 vs. 32.6

39.4 vs. 39.9

Source: Findings of author based on data of Public Opinion Barometer, IPP, and of IMAS

 

Both of the polls were carried out practically in the same period of time, November – December 2017, when public attention was caught by the government’s request to the EU for a European perspective, the results of the fifth Eastern Partnership Summit and the signing of the agreement on macro-financial assistance with the EU. However, polls showed doses of Euro-optimism that differ by about 12-17%, the MAS poll commissioned by the PDM being very positive.

Though, even the IMAS poll contains incongruent data that should be thoroughly examined.

For example, the increase in support seen in the separate question about the EU (by 9% this December on this July) does not correspond to the results in the common question with a response variant (by 13% this December on this July). 

Another important aspect is the discrepancy between the electoral and geopolitical options. Thus, the rise in the support for all the parties associated with the European course was of about 5%, compared with the 13% increase in the pro-EU sympathies. Partially, this can be due to the fact that the difference of about 8% is represented by the people with pro-European views who cannot associate themselves with any of the parties that plead for entry into the EU. (See Table 4)

 

Table 4. Electoral and geopolitical options of population, %

 

December 2017

July

2017

Separate question:

  • EU
  • Eurasian Union

 

  • 60
  • 44

 

  • 51
  • 49

Common question with a response variant:

  • EU

or

  • Eurasian Union

 

 

  • 56

 

  • 36

 

 

  • 43

 

  • 45

Parties that declare themselves pro-EU (% of total of respondents):

1. Party “Action and Solidarity”

2. Party “Platform Dignity and Truth

3. Democratic Party

4. European People’s Party of Moldova

5. Liberal Party

6. Liberal Democratic Party

1. 16,3

2. 6.4

3. 12.4

4. 1.8

5. 2

6. 1.5

 

Total: 40.4

1. 15.5

2. 6.1

3. 9.5

4. 1.8

5. 1.8

6. 0.8

 

Total: 35.5

Parties that firmly declare themselves pro-Russia or are associated with Russia (% with option):

1. Party of Socialists

2. Our Party

3. Party of Communists

4. Shor Party

1. 24.7

2. 2,8

3. 5

4. 1.9

 

Total: 34.4

1. 34.2

2. 4.2

3. 5.2

4. 1

 

Total: 44.6

Difference between electoral and geopolitical options:

  • Entry into EU
  • Parties declared pro-EU, total
  • 56
  • 40.4
  • 43
  • 35.5
  • Entry into Eurasian Union  
  • Pro-Russian parties/parties associated with Russia, total
  • 36
  • 34.4
  • 45
  • 44.6

Source: IMAS polls commissioned by Democratic Party

 

The main factors that contributed to the expansion of Euro-optimism reside in the active promotion of the European orientation by the government, articulation of a more pro—active position by the EU and the limited impact of the rapprochement with the Eurasian Union promoted by President Igor Dodon and PSRM.

In other words, after the adoption of the mixed-member electoral system and while preparing to obtain the macro-financial assistance, the PDM abandoned the negative messages oriented (in)directly to the EU or the players associated with this (civil society and, partially, extraparliamentary opposition). Also, the social measures related to the distribution of public money to socially disadvantaged groups (indexation of pensions, rise in pensions and in salaries in public sector, etc.), implemented by the government, had an additional positive effect.

At the same time, the fact that the EU became stricter and inflexible in relation to Chisinau (conditions for disbursing macro-financial assistance) strengthened in parts the conviction that the Europeans also promote people’s interests and less the interests of the political class.

Ultimately, Igor Dodon’s actions aimed at promoting the cooperation with the Eurasian Union and even with Russia used up the initial mobilization potential. There is now an evident crisis of ideas among the pro-European forces, which hampers the expansion of the public support for the Eurasian course.

Instead of conclusion…

Even if the “constitutionalization” of Moldova’s European orientation can contribute to increasing the political capital of the PDM before the elections of 2018, the given initiative can also erode the fissured sociopolitical cohesion, instead of strengthening it. This is not a viable solution for ridding the European course of the influence of the pro-Russian forces, but is a unique circumstance with negative effects on the EU’s image, which is stimulating for the already existing opposition to the Association Agreement.

That’s why the successful implementation of reforms and the country’s modernization at present are the best investments in the irreversibility of the European course.

Finally, no political surveys, even those that reveal an explosion of euro-optimism, should substitute the continuous positive transformations in the daily life of the ordinary people.

 
Dionis Cenușa

 


IPN publishes in the Op-Ed rubric opinion pieces submitted by authors not affiliated with our editorial board. The opinions expressed in these articles do not necessarily coincide with the opinions of our editorial board.


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