Moderation of Euroskepticism of President Dodon, Moldova-EU trade and resuscitation of pro-European sympathies, OP-ED
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05:30, 13 Nov 2017
 

 

Any other crisis caused by the current government in the reform process, harsh reactions on the part of the EU and/or the unjustified failures of the extraparliamentary opposition can anytime affect the yet fragile restoration of the pro-European feelings...


 

Dionis Cenușa
 

The radical rhetoric of the Euroskeptical players in the Republic of Moldova, with President Igor Dodon holding the lead in this regard, shows clear moderation signs. The EU’s criticism becomes less harsh owing to objective reasons related to the statistical reports that confirm the stable commercial relations with the EU and also to the increased demands of Brussels as to the quality of reforms done by the government of Moldova. Also, the kinder voice towards the EU is needed to moderate, at least temporarily, the exaggeratedly pro-Russian positions stated in the recent past. The external inclination mainly to the East or filo-Russian countries with controversial images (Hungary, Belarus etc.), the multiple meetings with Vladimir Putin and other Russian officials, even if these strengthened Dodon’s profile of pro-Russian politician, narrowed the electoral maneuvering space of the pro-Russian forces. Partially, this contributed to a decline in the popular approval rating of Igor Dodon, as some polls show, from 41% in March 2017 to 26% in October 2017 (IRI, October 2017).

All the described reasons make Igor Dodon to at least temporarily use more constructive messages in relation to the EU. Thus, in a meeting with EU Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmstrom (November 7, 2017), he subtly admitted that the Association Agreement with the EU provides a series of benefits, in particular related to the export to the EU. Moreover, the President deemed pro-Russian appreciated an eventual rise in the exports of value added products and services to the EU (Presedinte.md, November 7, 2017). Such proposals run counter to Dodon’s intention to integrate Moldova into the Eurasian Economic Union, which is incompatible with the keeping of the trade preferences enjoyed in the liberalized trade regime with the EU (anti-circumvention mechanism or tariff quotas). At the same time, President Dodon wants the autonomous trade preferences (ATP) to be restored. Launched in 2008, the ATP regime lasted until the coming into force of the Association Agreement. This totally or partially annulled the import duties for about 20 groups of agricultural products, many of which never reached the EU because the sanitary and phytosanitary conditions, as in the case of fresh meat and dairy products for example, could not be met. Thus, contrary to the own suggestions for extending the groups of value added goods supplied to the EU and increasing competitiveness on the EU market owing to the liberalization of trade with the EU, President Dodon aims to abandon the DCFTA. Instead of formulating a clear position on the EU and the DCFTA, the Socialists and President Dodon continue to be evasive, causing suspicions and generating uncertainty as to the sustainability of the European course after the elections of 2018.

Trade with the EU is stable and statistics confirm this

Statistics reveal an upward trend in the commercial relations between the EU and Moldova. This thing cannot be ignored even by President Dodon. Thus, the information published by the Ministry of Economy shows that the supplies to the EU are expected to exceed 65% of the total exports towards the end of 2017. The structure of exports to the EU is diverse, 63% (about US$583m) being industrial products, while 36% (about US$332m) being agricultural products. Of the total number of exporting companies, about 60% (1,360) are interested in selling goods to the EU. This shows that the EU market is attractive and predictable and also that the country has export capacities. The data also show that the Moldovan products are gradually integrated into the European supply networks, especially in Romania, Germany, and Italy, which are among the main destinations.

The rise in the exports of agricultural products served as an argument for requesting the EU to review the tariff quotas (for grapes) and the volume of products included in the anti-circumvention mechanism (wheat, processed grains). A similar approach was made by President Igor Dodon, even if earlier he inculcated the idea that the Moldovan agricultural products enter the EU market with difficulty. The positive developments related to the use of quotas are rather due to the favorable weather conditions than to structural improvements in the agricultural sector. Besides, the food safety and quality constraints hamper the extension of the group of products of animal origin exported to the EU (except for bee honey and caviar). They have spoken about these limitations since 2014, but the progress made in the field is insufficient. The food safety strategy for 2017-2022 was adopted with delay and the first law concerning the general hygiene requirements throughout the food chain is only now proposed for examination in Parliament.

The left side of the Nistru also benefits from liberalized trade with the EU. About 56% of Transnistrian’s exports go to the EU, but trade with Russia is kept at the same level. The extension of the DCFTA all over the country’s territory led to the annulment of the autonomous trade preferences for the Transnistrian region as from 2016. To benefit from access to the EU, the Transnistrian administration agreed with Chisinau to implement a series of technical measures (elimination of import duties on products from EU, application of technical regulations, etc.). If the EU assessments show that Tiraspol does not fulfill the made commitments, the EU could introduce export duties for Transnistrian products (NewsMaker, November 7, 2017). However, Brussels will have to ensure a balance between the application of reciprocity in relation to exports from the region, which can result in the reintroduction of tariffs in a negative case, and the positive role assumed in the Transnistrian conflict settlement process.

Polls point to revitalization of pro-European sympathies

Even if the old pro-UE forces are discredited or collapsed and the new ones haven’t yet come into possession of instruments of power, as polls show, the pro-European sympathies recover. Simultaneously with the multiplication of the pro-European disposition, the support for the Eurasian Union decreases.
 

Sympathies for geopolitical courses and voting options for political forces,

 

October 2017

March 2017

October 2016

Pro-EU

49%

42%

40%

Pro-Eurasian Union

38%

43%

43%

Parties that declare themselves pro-EU:

1. Party “Action and Solidarity”

2. Platform “Dignity and Truth”
3. Democratic Party

4. European People’s Party of Moldova

5. Liberal Party

1. 21%

2. 4 %

3. 8%

4. 2%

5. 1%

 

Total: 36%

1. 27%

2. 5 %

3. 4%

4. 1%

 

 

Total: 37%

1. 12%

2. 12 %

3. 11%

4. 3%

5. 1%

 

Total: 39%

Parties that declare themselves pro-Russian:

1. Party of Socialists

2. “Our Party”

1. 30%

2. 2 %

 

Total: 32%

1. 33%

2. 6 %

 

Total: 39%

1. 26%

2. 8 %

 

Total: 34%

Source: IRI.org
 

The polls of October 2016 – October 2017 show a constant rise in the pro-EU feelings. At the same time, the given tendency does not correspond to the support expressed by respondents for parties that present themselves as pro-EU ones. The widest discrepancy was seen in October 2017, when 13% of the respondents separated their pro-EU position from their electoral options for parties associated with the EU. On the one hand, this dissonance shows that many pro-European voters do not associate themselves with political parties that aspire to the EU. On the other hand, this shows that the number of citizens with pro-European views rises faster than the credibility of parties that plead for rapprochement with the EU. The disappointment in parties that ruled in 2009-2017 is an efficient scarecrow for the respondents who look not only for new parties, but also for forces able to replace the current political class in a qualitative way. Moreover, the voters of the Party of Communists are a volatile category of electors who oscillate between the pro-EU option and the pro-Eurasian Union one.

A number of internal and external factors contributed to the revitalization of the European course.

First of all, the EU conditionality turns into an unpleasant leverage for the Moldovan authorities. Furthermore, in Moldova’s case, for the first time in the history of the EU’s relations with third countries, there are used political preconditions in exchange for macro-financial assistance. The fate of this assistance depends on the distortion level of the electoral competition following the introduction of the mixed-member electoral system and on the functioning of democratic institutions in general (rule of law, mass media, human rights) (IPN, October 9, 2017).

Secondly, the events in the EU transmit a positive wave of pro-European emotions, including in the European neighborhood. Thus, a series of acid cases that made the rapprochement with the EU be associated with an unfavorable and even dangerous process were closed. More exactly, the anti-European populism was stopped at least for four years following the elections in France and Germany. The intensity of the crisis of migrants and asylum seekers decreased considerably, while the Brexit initiated by the UK becomes very defective and disadvantageous for the British citizens.

Last but not least, the share of measures to counteract the Russian propaganda that is reused by the pro-Russian forces in Moldova increased in the Republic of Moldova, in the EU and even globally (by involving Facebook, Twitter). Consequently, it is harder to lie about the EU and the credibility of Russia diminishes continuously, the country being unconditionally associated with the main source of anti-West and anti-EU misinformation.

Instead of conclusion...

The pro-Russian forces in Moldova are led by populist reasons. To keep their visibility in polls and strengthen the electoral potential, these accept to moderate their criticism of the EU. The appreciation of the DCFTA and the request to facilitate the value added products’ access to the EU market, made by President Dodon, only confirm this. At the same time, the arguments used by these about the EU-Moldova relationship become more muddled. Attempts are thus made to distort the local arguments and statistics that show that the Moldovan producers and consumers benefit from the Association Agreement.

Polls show the pro-European feelings have been resuscitated. In parallel, a discrepancy is seen between the electoral options of respondents in favor of parties associated with the EU and the public sympathies with the European course. The maintaining of the positive trends in the support for the EU opens up electoral opportunities for all the pro-EU forces. The objective constraints faced by the extraparliamentary opposition (limited access to the mass media, limited financial resources, etc.) and the reduced legitimacy of the Democratic Party are the main obstacles that hamper the maximal utilization of the pro-EU moods in society.

Ultimately, the Eurasian course didn’t disappear and the pro-Russian forces will be tempted to exploit is as long as they maintain close relations and commitments to Russia. That’s why any other crisis caused by the current government in the reform process, harsh reactions on the part of the EU and/or the unjustified failures of the extraparliamentary opposition can anytime affect the yet fragile restoration of the pro-European feelings.

 
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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