RTA expert Vladimir Rotar sees signs of past mistakes in the current attitude of Brussels to the Sandu government
EU-Moldova: a new approach?
The 2019 in Moldova is marked by liberation from oligarchic rule and restoration of relations with the European Union, which in recent years have been down for the count. However, only Chisinau cannot be blamed for the freezing of bilateral contacts, Brussels bore a certain share of responsibility for the seizure of Moldova by Plahotniuc. After all, the Democrats established unchallenged power in the country under the cover of the fake status of the ‘pacesetters’ of European integration. When the EU tried to win back the situation and disgraced the presumptuous Democratic Party, it was too late.
In June, the Plahotniuc era came to an end. The EU got a second chance to rebuild Moldova in its own way, avoiding previous failures. At first it seemed that all the past mistakes of cooperation with Chisinau were taken into account. The heavy criticism of Moldova abruptly stopped, and Maia Sandu was welcomed in Brussels. But at the same time, the EU did not want to give any more money on Moldova’s honour. European officials at meetings with the new leadership of Moldova articulated a simple principle: reforms in the morning, money in the evening.
However, apparently, the Europeans did not have the firmness to insist on this approach. In the summer, the EU unexpectedly announced the allocation of the first for a long time tranche of macro-financial assistance to Moldova. Recently, it became known about another payment and it should arrive before the end of the year. No one remembers the conditions that Brussels initially set for receiving money (reforms, progress in returning the stolen billion, the fight against corruption, etc.).
The European Union not only gives the country undeserved advances, but actively praises the new authorities. The notorious reform of justice, one of the weakest spots of the whole process of European integration, was commended by the EU. Under the Democrats, despite the allocation of tens of millions of euros, nothing could be done and no one really tried. Restarting the reform was one of the primary tasks of Chisinau. Judging by the reaction of European institutions and individual EU countries, the Sandu government copes with it perfectly. But is everything that well?
Even a quick look at the ongoing processes in the field of justice reveals serious problems. The election idea of ACUM about the appointment of the Prosecutor General from Europe was safely forgotten. The movements around the supervisory and judicial bodies increasingly resemble not transformations, but banal division. The scandal with the Supreme Council of Magistrates (an independent body responsible for the organization and functioning of the judicial system) and the general assembly of judges is indicative. The latter recently dismissed half of the Supreme Council of Magistrates members, prompting a sharp response from Maia Sandu. The Prime Minister hastened to declare this decision illegal, although there were no objections from her before the end of the vote. That is, the assembly became illegal exactly at the moment when it displaced the people needed by ACUM. It is interesting that Igor Dodon indirectly (through his adviser) sided with the judges, thereby again disagreeing with the coalition allies.
In such circumstances, there can be no talk about the success of justice reform. In fact, the situation is more and more reminiscent of Plahotniuc’s time, except that the political forces are changing that take control of the judicial sphere. The real independence of the justice system in Moldova is still a utopia. It is not surprising that last week the Foreign Investors Association in Moldova proposed to introduce 10 years external (US and EU) management of the judicial system: according to the organization, it is “unrealistic” to reform justice by Moldova’s own efforts.
However, the European Union stubbornly ignores the problems. On the contrary, Chisinau is listening to the praises from all sides: individual EU countries, European officials and institutions. The European Commission, for example, recorded “decisive progress” in the field of justice.
Things are no better with the return of the stolen billion. An ad hoc parliamentary commission was building Napoleonic plans, but, judging by the latest statements, the results are much more modest. However, progress in the case of bank theft was also one of the main EU conditions for the resumption of financial assistance.
The same trap
As you can see, the success of the new government in the priority areas for Brussels is questionable, if not worse. But unlike Plahotniuc’s period, no one criticizes Moldova for this. On the contrary, Chisinau is cherished by attention and praise. For the first time in five years, the country was visited by the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini, who also poured out compliments and words of support.
The EU is making a strategic mistake, falling into exactly the same trap as last time. Brussels had a great chance to restart relations with Chisinau, but for some reason it is again in a hurry to create the illusion of success around Moldova. All have perfectly seen how it may end in the case of the last regime. By over-praising Chisinau, giving premature advances and, most importantly, financial assistance, the EU again puts itself in a dependent position on the Moldovan authorities. The situation is complicated by the fact that now there are direct Brussels’ protégés in the government, which further narrows the space for maneuver.
Now, if Chisinau fails again, the European Union will not have many options: either, as in the days of the Democrats, to keep a good front (without any prospects) to the last or to renounce their own proteges and look for new political forces in Moldovan society, which can be relied on in the next elections. Both options are fraught with loss of face and money. Worst of all, Moldova risks losing again the time that could have been spent on real European reforms and transformations.
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