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
Foreign multi-vectorialism of President Dodon and post-electoral geopolitical uncertainties, OP-ED
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05:30, 23 Apr 2018
 

 
Unlike the supporters of the Eurasian Union, who are concentrated around a solid nucleus formed by the Socialists and Igor Dodon, the forces associated with the EU are divided owing to the oligarchization of the political power by the Democrats...


 

Dionis Cenuºa
 

Moldova’s rapprochement with the European Union is treated more calmly and steadily by the main pro-Russian forces in Chisinau, first of all by the Head of State. Thus, Igor Dodon’s tone in relation to the EU became more temperate and turned into a clear tendency that was first witnessed in the autumn of 2017. (IPN, November 13, 2017). Together with this, the Moldovan leader abandoned the threats to scarp the Association Agreement with the EU, suggesting instead only its revision. The cause for such temperance resides firstly in the negative effects on the President’s popularity determined by the too intense gravitation to the Kremlin. An exclusive association with the internationally discredited Russia is to the detriment of Igor Dodon’s plans to monopolize the political power for which the Socialists need a victory in the December 2018 parliamentary elections. Also, the revision of Igor Dodon’s previous hostility towards the EU can be explained by the positive commercial effects of the Association Agreement as about 65% of Moldova’s exports are absorbed by the European market. President Dodon loses the argument according to which the EU would unconditionally support the ruling party. On the contrary, the rhetoric of Brussels is more often dominated by the principle of “conditionality” and the critical attitude to the integrity of the reforms presented as progress by the ruling party (IPN, April 10, 2018).

The multiplication of the benefits of the European integration and the EU’s demand to do high-quality reforms, on the one hand, and the political benefits of a close friendship with Vladimir Putin, on the other hand, make President Dodon to adjust his foreign agenda. This determines the return to multi-vectorialism in foreign policy, which was the last time witnessed during the rule of the Party of Communists (2001-2003). The plan of Belarus that has a very selective approach in relation to the EU serves as a model for President Dodon.

In other words, the dialogue with the EU is considered useful for minimalizing the economic and social benefits of the state. According to this strategy, the EU’s intervention should stop there where sensitive subjects concerning the human rights and democratic institutions start, where the states that benefit from European assistance invoke sovereign rights. Even if it is a materialist approach detached from any type of European values, Igor Dodon is tempted to follow it, as Alexandr Lukashenko does in Belarus (Belta, April 18, 2018) or Viktor Orban in Hungary (Agora, April 9, 2018). While Lukashenko wants to enter the EU market to balance the dependence on Russia, Orban insists on the return to the initial, smaller powers of the EU and a bigger role of the national governments.

Igor Dodon’s multi-vectorialism favors the electoral strategy of the Socialists, who need a much larger pool of voters for obtaining at least 51 seats that are needed for ruling alone. At the same time, this multi-victorialism puts Vladimir Plahotniuc’s Democrats in difficulty. Despite the mixed electoral system, these have to compete for voters who intersect with the supporters of the extraparliamentary opposition led by Maia Sandu and Andrei Nastase.

Origins of Igor Dodon’s foreign multi-vectorialism

On the one hand, President Dodon’s multi-vectorialism results from a major fear of loss of popularity. Wishing to restore the official relations with Moscow and to establish a personal dialogue with the Kremlin, Igor Dodon explored any possibility of having direct meetings with Vladimir Putin. Thus, after taking up his duties at the end of 2016, President Dodon managed to have seven meetings with his Russian counterpart, setting practically a political record among the Moldovan politicians by the number of meetings with the Russian leader in the course of a year. But this also fueled the criticism leveled at the President, who is accused of betraying the national interests in favor of Russia.

Among other factors that distanced the public from President Dodon were the introduction of the mixed electoral system that was adopted in concert with the Socialists and the Democrats and the proliferation of the idea that Igor Dodon and Vladimir Plahotniuc make political arrangements. The decline in the President’s popularity was confirmed by the significant reduction of sympathies in polls before the end of his first year in office, by about 15%. (See Table 1). Consequently, the use of multi-vector rhetoric allowed balancing his powerful pro-Russian message and additionally helped to stop the fall in popularity in polls.

 

Table 1. Dynamics of popularity of main political leaders of Moldova in March 2017-Februarie 2018, (%)

Period

Top 8

March 2017

November 2017

February 2018

Igor Dodon

41

26 (-15)

31 (+5)

Maia Sanda

23

15 (-8)

16 (+1)

Andrei Nastase

12

6 (-6)

8 (+2)

Pave Filip/Zinaida Grecheanyi

Zinaida Grecheanyi – 7

Pave Filip - 6

Pave Filip – 6

Zinaida Grecheanyi/ Renato Usatyi

Renato Usatyi - 7

Zinaida Grecheanyi – 5

Zinaida Grecheanyi -6

Vladimir Plahotniuc/ Vladimir Voronin

Vladimir Voronin – 5

Vladimir Plahotniuc - 4

Vladimir Plahotniuc – 4

Vladimir Voronin/Pavel Filip

Pavel Filip – 4

Vladimir Voronin  - 4

Vladimir Voronin  - 4

Renato Usatyi/ Vladimir Plahotniuc

Vladimir Plahotniuc – 2

Renato Usatyi - 2

Renato Usatyi – 2

Source: IRI.org

 

On the other hand, President Dodon’s interest in multi-victorialism derives from his wish to conquer the voters that plead for cohabitation between the orientation to the West and keeping of friendly relations with Russia. This category of voters continues to grow owing to the demographic problems and, respectively, to the aging of voters.

Ultimately, multi-victorialism is attractive because it brings economic benefits in the short-term and diminishes the level of political commitments. In Moldova’s case, this implies the simultaneous extraction of economic benefits from the EU and Russia and, respectively, the acceptance of the European integration, but with a right of veto on the part of Moscow.

Five theses of President Dodon about EU-Moldova relationship

President Dodon’s opinion about the rapprochement with the EU is based on a strictly pragmatic approach that is suspicious of the European intentions regarding security issues and profoundly disinterested in the entry into the EU.

First of all, Igor Dodon regards the dialogue with the EU as a form of maximizing revenues and investments in Moldova. The political reforms are ignored and President Dodon does not hesitate to criticize the EU for the failures in fighting corruption in 2009-2018. This way, it is perpetuated the idea that Moldova should choose only what it likes from the bilateral cooperation with the EU. In practical terms, this means the exclusion of painful reforms, including those that can affect particular political interests.

The economic opportunities offered by the Association Agreement are the second aspect that is often mentioned by the Moldovan leader in relation to the EU. On the one hand, Igor Dodon suggests introducing protectionist measures for the Moldovan agrifood products or even returning to the asymmetric trading regime that was enjoyed by Moldova in 2008-2016. On the other hand, he uses the agreement as a visiting card to attract investments from Belarus and other countries (Belta, April 18, 2018).

The liberalization of visas with the EU is the third aspect that is frequently raised by the President, but never in a negative context. Partially, this is due to the fact that the visa-free regime diminishes the Moldovans’ intention to obtain Romanian passports. Consequently, the liberalization of visas is advantageous to Igor Dodon in his political struggle against the unionist movement.

The Transnistrian conflict is the fourth aspect mentioned by Dodon with reference to the EU. Igor Dodon actively propagates the idea that in the context of the rivalries between the West and Russia, the Transnistrian conflict could be unfrozen. These assertions powerfully contrast with the EU’s efforts to resolve the Transnistrian dispute, including by tolerating the non-observance by the separatist region of the provisions of the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement with the EU. Even if they lack conclusive proofs, Igor Dodon’s messages reveal Russia’s clear intentions to intervene in the conflict on the pretext of protecting the Russian citizens – about 300,000 persons (TASS, April 11, 2018).

Last but not least, the Moldovan leader often reiterates that Moldova will not join the EU. He reminds the Brexit as an argument against the sustainability of the European project, but intentionally overlooks the Western Balkan countries, including Russia’s allies, such as Serbia, which could become part of the EU in 2025 already.

Post-electoral geopolitical uncertainties

The volatility of the population’s geopolitical preferences shows how unstable the country’s European course is and how resistant the Eurasian idea is. Paradoxically, but despite the daily benefits following the offering of EU assistance, many of the Moldovans consider Moldova should join the Eurasian Union that offers nothing. This is mainly due to the overlapping of the image of Russia with that of the Eurasian Union. That’s why every time the pro-Russian forces led by Igor Dodon support Putin’s regime, they simultaneously promote the Eurasian idea in the country.

At the same time, the results of polls show that the European course still suffers because of the association with the government and that the pro-European opposition didn’t yet manage to absorb all the voters that earlier supported the EU. Unlike this, the Socialists, together with the other parties associated with Russia, incorporate practically all the sympathizers of the Eurasian Union in the country. (See Table 3)

 

Table 3. Electoral and geopolitical preferences of citizens, %

 

Associated with European course (West)

 

Incline towards Eurasian integration (East)

Mar.2017

Nov.2017

Feb.2018

Mar.2017

Nov.2017

Feb.2018

Entry into EU

42

49

43

Entry into Eurasian Union

43

38

42

Party “Action and Solidarity”

27

21 (-6%)

20 (-1)

Party of Socialists

33

30 (-3%)

36 (+6)

Democratic Party

4

8 (+4%)

8

Party of Communists

4

4

4

Party “Platform Dignity and Truth”

5

4 (-1%)

4

Our Party

6

2 (-4%)

2

European People’s Party of Moldova

1

2 (+1%)

2

-

-

-

-

Liberal Party

Sub 1

1

2 (+1)

-

-

-

-

Liberal Democratic Party

Sub 1

Sub 1

-

-

-

-

-

Source: IRI.org

 

In such conditions, the country’s foreign course after the December 2018 elections is not at all certain, mainly owing to the mixed electoral system (IPN, March 12, 2018). The forces that promote the European course are in the most difficult situation as namely they face a shortage of consensus and profound animosities caused by the oligarchization of the power by the Democrats led by Vladimir Plahotniuc. The existence of such a rupture could play a crucial role both in the elections and in the post-electoral period during the formation of the future government.

Instead of conclusions…

President Dodon’s attitude to the EU becomes moderate and distances itself from the previous radical positions. Both in order to keep his popularity high and to maximize the electoral chances of the Socialists, President Dodon gives shape to a multi-vector approach to the foreign affairs.

The temperance of Igor Dodon’s rhetoric concerning the EU combines criticisms of the European project and the confrontation with Russia, but also positive assessments of the benefits of the Association Agreement or the liberalized visa regime.

The population’s geopolitical perceptions are volatile, while the European integration cannot yet triumph as a major country orientation course. Unlike the supporters of the Eurasian Union, who are concentrated around a solid nucleus formed by the Socialists and Igor Dodon, the forces associated with the EU are divided owing to the oligarchization of the political power by the Democrats.
 
 
Dionis Cenuºa

 


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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