At the end of February, Chisinau was visited by representatives of the European External Action Service and, respectively, of the European Commission. These came on a working visit to pave the way before the meeting of the EU-Moldova Association Council that was set to take place in Chisinau in the middle of March. In the meeting with Prime Minister Pavel Filip, the European officials were informed about the roadmap approved by the government, which includes the reforms that are to be implemented by the end of July, during the spring session of Parliament. The executive also informed the European side about the reformation process (in the banking system, justice sector, etc.) and about the dialogue with the IMF mission that has been working in Chisinau between February 23 and 29. Though the visit by the European officials was a working one, Premier Filip hastened to describe it as ‘reconfirmation of the EU’s openness and interest’ in Moldova.
Besides meetings with the government, the representatives of the EU institutions had meetings with the protest leaders Igor Dodon, Renato Usatyi and Andrei Nastase and also with Maia Sandu, who became involved less in the antigovernment protests. The discussions with the protest leaders, who enjoy approval in society according to the latest polls, allowed the European officials to better measure the pulse of the political life in Moldova.
Brussels continues to call to dialog, but unsuccessfully
After the meeting with the representatives of the European institutions, both the chairman of the “Our Party” Renato Usatyi and the leader of the Civic Platform “Dignity and Truth” Andrei Nastase made it clear that the Europeans referred to the dialogue that should take place between the protesters and the government.
The idea about a dialog has been present in the Europeans’ message since the radicalization of the antigovernment protests, at the start of 2016. The conclusions of the Council of the European Union of February 15 also underline the necessity of a constructive dialogue between all political forces of the country. However, the representatives of the extra-parliamentary opposition, Usatyi and Nastase, do not pronounce explicitly in favor of a dialogue. Nastase accused the government of profaning the dialogue and of choosing to have a dialogue with NGOs, which it tried to corrupt. For Usatyi, the government’s intention to have a dialogue does not seem credible. In reality, for the protest leaders the dialogue lacks meaning because it runs counter to the main objective - to cause early parliamentary elections. At the same time, the government is not ready to have a sincere and frontal dialogue with the protest leaders. The political animosities that the Europeans are trying to disentangle derive from the Democratic Party’s wish to remain in power and the protest leaders’ zeal to come to power.
The promotion of a constructive dialogue between the political players in Chisinau must continue, even if it does not have chances to be successful. But the EU should establish communication bridges with all the Moldovan political forces, including with the parties that plan to abandon the European course. This thing is essential for increasing the EU’s capacity of political maneuvering, given that the political alternatives with pro-EU views are few and weak or doubtful, while the pro-Russian forces are at the top of the public preferences. Moreover, by more actively engaging in the promotion of the dialogue, the EU can improve its public image. Surely, the goal is not to obtain political reconciliation that is rather improbable, but to use the potential of the protests so as to more efficiently promote the reform agenda in the relations with the government. This involvement can become a method for the EU to prepare for possible extraordinary situations like the deepening of the political crisis in Moldova in connection with the presidential elections and the direction towards early elections, whose risks are widely ignored.
Europeans continue to be lied to?
The protest leaders Igor Dodon, Renato Usatyi and Andrei Nastase in the meeting with the European officials said that the government tells lies and in reality the initiated reforms are simulated so as to obtain European financial assistance. Usatyi alluded to the fact that the government continues to lie to the EU as earlier. Nastase also spoke about the fact that the representatives of the government cheat, noting that the source of the problem cannot become the solution.
The Socialists’ leader Igor Dodon said the discussions about the reforms are rather sterile because the government does not really want reforms, considering them dangerous for keeping the current status-quo. Moreover, Dodon insisted that the EU should not allocate assistance because they would thus support a government that simulates reforms or would support it for geopolitical reasons. These actions, according to Dodon, would result in the reduction of the popularity of the European integration course down to 10%.
In reality, the Government cheats when it adjusts the reforms in order to promote their own interests. But the protest leaders (Usatyi and Dodon) also cheat. They say that the early elections are necessary to eliminate the regime that opposes the reforms, but they are also in favor of the abandonment of the European course, which de facto and de jure will lead to a halt in reforms.
Instead of conclusion…
Even if the EU knows in detail the serious defects of the government that is under the influence of the national oligarchic circles, the Europeans must objectively assess the political situation in Moldova, including the profiles of the protest leaders.
Thus, the Europeans should attentively analyze the assertions of the parliamentary and extra-parliamentary opposition because both the protest leaders and the Democratic Party that actually represents the government are involved in an open struggle for control over the political power. Any political statements coming from Moldova must be treated with appropriate skepticism. At the same time, the EU should remind the government and the protesting opposition that any assistance provided by it is conditional and is not allocated depending on the political color of the rulers. A clear distinction is needed between the strict European procedures for providing external assistance and, respectively, the political sympathies of some of the European players with politicians with pro-European views.
Also, the EU should not allow to be intimidated by warnings that it could lose the people’s support. On the contrary, the EU needs more efficient communication on the assistance provided to Moldova. The EU Delegation to Moldova should be given more powers so that it becomes a more vocal and proactive player. Not finally, the Europeans should deal with the misinformation and anti-European propaganda promoted from outside by Russia, or inside Moldova by such players as Usatyi and Dodon. These measures can contribute to maintaining the pro-EU sympathies and later to restoring the previous popularity. The Moldovans are already among the main beneficiaries of EU external assistance (alongside the Palestinians and others), and this fact should be actively popularized.
Ultimately, the EU should get rid of the older complexes and limitations and have a firmer position in relation to the official Chisinau, especially because this derives from the provisions of the Association Agreement.
Dionis Cenușa is a politologist, holding an MA degree in interdisciplinary European studies from the College of Europe.
Areas of interes: European integration, European policies, EU's foreign policy, migration and energy security.
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