The Eastern Partnership plan, created in Brussels at the end of the 2000s, has been successful – Moldova is steadily moving closer to the EU, despite the oligarchic scandals and failed reforms. In the future, the Eastern Partnership will become an instrument of democratization and liberation of the captured state – but at what price?
Up and down of the Moldovan dream
In May 2009, the Eastern Partnership project was officially approved in Prague. Thus, this program is of the same age as the current political system of Moldova, which emerged after protests on April 7 on the ruins of the longstanding power of the Communist Party of Voronin.
The idea to establish special relations of the European Union with six partner countries in Eastern Europe was presented by Poland in the summer of 2008. Interestingly, the PCRM, which was completely ruling then, made European integration a priority of Moldova four years earlier, when it fixed this course in the party’s program documents. Nevertheless, the authorities of the post-communist era are associated with Euro-integration, which in ten years have turned from the Alliance for European Integration into the oligarchic gang “DPM+”. They are usually associated with the up and down of the Eastern Partnership.
Since 2009 Moldova seemed to be an exemplary partner of the arrogant European bureaucracy and “success story” of European integration. At the first 5-year plan end, in autumn 2013 the Moldovan government signed the Association Agreement and the Free Trade Agreement with the EU in Vilnius. As a reward for exemplary loyalty of the government of Iurie Leanca, Moldova was the first of the six Partnership countries to receive a visa-free regime with the European Union. Prospects for European integration of the country seemed rosy.
In fact, the decisions of 2013-2014 were made by the bureaucratic inertia of Europe. Even then, the Moldovan political system found its specific barbaric features: Judge Gheorghe Cretu accidentally shot businessman Sorin Paciu during the illegal “VIP hunting” in the Padurea Domneasca nature reserve, which more than 30 hunting participants were silent about. In the same period, there was the notorious “theft of the century” – a billion dollars was withdrawn from the Moldovan banking system. A wide audience learned a little later about the theft, after the country received a visa-free regime with the EU. Since then, Moldova bears the nickname “captured state”, but European officials, even knowing about the machinations of the local oligarchy, turned a blind eye to them.
As a result, in ten years, the Eastern Partnership did not lead Moldova to progress in such vital sectors as the development of governing and management institutions, the rule of law, the independence of justice and the judicial system, the expansion of a multiparty system and pluralism. On the contrary, one person has captured most of the institutions of power, the reforms were imitated and were considered by the authorities as a means to extract European money. In the past few years, in the heat of the internecine warfare for power, democracy in the Republic of Moldova was completely crushed by the change in the electoral system and the cancellation of the victory of Andrei Nastase at the Chisinau mayor elections.
It is important to understand – European officials realized that the European integration for the Moldovan authorities serves as a tool for the struggle for power, as it attracts external resources, support and votes of pro-European voters. However, neither the European Commission nor the European Parliament could have expected that democratic norms in the Republic of Moldova would be trampled down so blatantly and regularly as today. The events in Moldova are detrimental to the image of the European Union and call into question the effectiveness of the Eastern Partnership and, in general, the entire foreign policy of the European Union.
For Europe, Moldova becomes a “suitcase without a handle” that gets heavier every day. EU officials are constantly making difficult compromises, but they don’t abandon the suitcase: all because the Eastern Partnership keeps Moldova in the EU orbit and prevents the country from “pro-Russian turn”.
The success that no one renounces
For 10 years Chisinau and Brussels have created countless links, bonds and formats of dialogue at the level of economy, politics, institutions and ordinary citizens. Today it is hardly possible to imagine even a banal repair of roads in Moldova without European funds. As part of the struggle for energy independence, Moldova is implementing the third energy package of the European Union, which will open privileged access to companies from the EU to the gas and energy market of Moldova and reduce the influence of the Russian Gazprom monopoly. The interconnection of the gas transportation capacities of Romania and Moldova through the section of the Iasi-Ungheni gas pipeline will only be an infrastructure addition to the legislative and institutional changes already taking place today.
The Republic of Moldova has implemented and harmonized numerous standards and technical regulations of the European Commission in production, agriculture, quality control, fully opening its own market for EU-originated goods. Moldova has typical EU institutions, and Chisinau actively implements the NATO security standards, holds joint exercises and participates in peacekeeping operations of the Alliance.
The European Union is deeply involved in the Transdniestrian settlement: Brussels is told to be the author of the fundamental principles of agreements on the legalization of Transdniestrian diplomas and the issuance of neutral number plates for the Left Bank cars. Projects are generously sponsored by the United States and Italy, and this year Moldova expects the EU money to repair the Gura-Bicului bridge over the Dniester River. Earlier, Brussels through the EUBAM helped to resume freight railway communication through the territory of Transdniestria and to launch a passenger train from Chisinau to Odessa, continuing to support the project now. In the end, the European Union owns a key project in the Transdniestrian settlement – joint border management at the central section of the Ukrainian-Moldovan border and placement of the Moldovan authorities on its Transdniestrian segment.
Geopolitics is something in which the Eastern partnership has somehow succeeded. Chisinau is almost entirely dependent on European funding, recommendations and political support, and the European Union has achieved an unprecedented impact on the Moldovan economy, politics, social environment, the third sector and the media.
In the long term, this dependence of Moldova on the EU will help to liberate the Moldovan state and its institutions from the oligarchic rule of the Vlad Plahotniuc group and to promote the real democratization of Moldova. Nevertheless, the price that Moldova will have to pay for the mistakes in the European Union’s strategy can become huge – for a decade, Brussels actually indulged the excesses of the authorities and deliberately was blind to the abuse by the new “pro-European” authorities to pursue its geopolitical interests in the region. An attempt by European officials to ignore establishment of a new oligarchic order can be considered strategic shortsightedness, but rather treacherous recklessness. On the ruins of the downthrown Communist Party its former members created the Democratic Party of Moldova that a few years later captured all the state institutions in the country and redirected the financial assistance of the EU in the pockets of a small group of individuals headed by the only true master of Moldova.
With the connivance of the EU, the ruling group over the past years has not just captured, but has taken hostage the population of Moldova, linking financial assistance to the country and political support of the government. Now the European Union risks paying a heavy price for the mistakes made – in 2019 the country is under the threat of bankruptcy and social explosion, as Brussels refuses to support Plahotniuc and send financial assistance to the country until a real democratic government appears in Moldova. The situation is already leading to panic in the government and society: according to some estimates, the macro-financial assistance to the Moldovan state may be delayed for the entire 2019, however, as well as the parliamentary elections.
The unusual severity of European officials indirectly confirms that Brussels has embarked on the destruction of the current power structure and the overthrow of the Plahotniuc’s oligarchic clan.
However, replacing the corrupt regime may cost Brussels and Moldova too much, and the European offices are obviously aware of the price of the mistakes of the Eastern Partnership. The team that will replace the Filip government, according to the EU will have to “reset” the European course of Moldova and return the country to the path of merger with Europe, but the starting conditions for this will be even worse than in April 2009. The results of this year will show whether the Eastern Partnership can be converted into the long-awaited democratic “Anschluss” of Moldova, already postponed for ten years by someone’s negligence.
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