Is the European Union Leaving Moldova?

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Anton SHVEС Brussels is disappointed with and tired of an endless power struggle and failed reforms in Moldova and no longer believes in republic’s European future Recent blunders of Moldova’s pro-European opposition indicate a notable decrease in the quality and intensity of EU expert and consulting support. Participation in the Hincesti by-election, predictably ending in defeat and an increased coronavirus incidence in the community, turned out to be a strategic mistake that negatively affected the Maia Sandu party’s image. The situation worsened when MPs from PAS, Pro-Moldova and the “Shore” party, with the participation of the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Moldova, failed the government plan to support business and the public during the pandemic. This allowed the current government to reproach the opposition for irresponsibility and refusal to help citizens in difficult times. Such rash steps by pro-European forces are just symptoms. The diagnosis is very simple: the European Union has stopped dealing actively with Moldova’s affairs. Partly due to more significant internal and external problems (migration crisis, Brexit, pandemic), partly due to the accumulated fatigue from initiatives of the Moldovan political elites, spending the provided resources and support to discredit the European project and lifestyle. The inefficiency of investments has transformed over time into the inefficiency of people employed in the Moldovan direction. Yet, the EU initial involvement in Moldovan processes was favorable. Back in 2004, the Communist Party, which ruled in Moldova, introduced into the program documents provisions on European integration as a foreign policy benchmark for Moldova. The following year, the European Union, in accordance with OSCE proposals, began to participate in activities of the “3+2” format, gaining influence on the Transdniestrian settlement process. After a joint European External Action Service was established in 2008 and the EU delegation to the Republic of Moldova started its functioning under the able leadership of Kalman Mizsei and then Pirkka Tapiola, the influence of Brussels has increased by several times. At the same time, Moldova received a quota right for duty-free exports to EU countries. 11 years ago, the “revolution in social networks” clashed political forces among themselves, openly declaring their pro-European vector. PCRM, speaking from a pro-European position, ceded power to the Alliance for European Integration. De facto, the EU got the opportunity to choose from the palette of its own sympathizers those who it liked to support more, completely managing processes. And other political forces and projects were demoralized and marginalized. Every now and then, there were statements about the irreversibility of the pro-European course, which after providing a visa-free regime for short-term trips to the EU and signing the Association Agreement in 2013 seemed quite justified. Brussels was also active in the Transdniestrian settlement process: it arranged the Europe Days in the left-bank cities, controlled the borders with the help of EUBAM, and in 2015 it was able to draw Tiraspol into the deep free trade area between Moldova and the EU. The superiority of the European model seemed undeniable, and the prospects were very bright. But over time, the Brussels influence went through a diffusion. Powerful political projects appeared that were almost never tied to the European Union organizationally. The Democratic Party, which has long been in power, could rely on the support of certain circles and lobbying structures in the United States, as well as internal corporate financial and media reserves. The Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova, formally supporting the European vector, receives funding and political support exclusively in the east - in the Russian Federation. The rebranding of the pro-European spectrum through nominating the “Action and Solidarity” and “Dignity and Truth” parties has not yet justified itself due to the inability of these political forces to reach a long-term consolidation, as well as endless managerial mistakes. An attempt to return the EU to the game through the “embassy revolution” in June 2019 was actually administered by Washington and Moscow. Brussels turned out to be a driven party, as evidenced by an apathetic reaction to the overthrow of the Maia Sandu government five months later. In the current circumstances, the European Union is not able to offer realistic options for overcoming the crisis in which Moldova has found itself because of the constant struggle for power. The mild statements of the EU delegation no longer convince anyone of anything. The presidency and the government of the Republic of Moldova quite easily allow themselves to criticize Brussels and speculate about the volumes of financial support received earlier. In many ways, the dull image of the European Union in Moldova results from atypically sluggish and cowardly line, built by the current head of the delegation, Peter Michalko, who quickly lost the unique tools that he inherited from Pirkka Tapiola. If the ambassadors of Russia and the United States regularly meet with the leadership of Moldova and its regions, Transdniestria and Gagauzia, then the meetings by the EU official representative are far from being that often and held without a clear public strategy. It must be admitted that the approaches of the European Union in relation to Moldova need to be radically reconsidered towards intensifying activities, including with the official authorities and the third sector. Otherwise, in the very coming years, the country will completely mire in battles for resources and power, and Brussels will lose its last leverage in this region.