EU’s Opinion No Longer Worries Politicians in Chisinau

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Anton SHVETS The events in the Moldovan politics have tightened: news about the next round of the internal political crisis break almost daily. External players do not always keep up with the sudden collapse of the “European success story”, and do ignore most of the key news stories on the Moldovan agenda. The passivity of the Head of the EU delegation in Chisinau is of a particular discourage since he has lost any opportunity to influence the situation development. The 2009 Social Media Revolution staked out Moldova's place under the European Union’s patronage. Reports about inviolability of the course towards integration with the European Union, reforms expectations, democratization and population's living standard improvement determined the political agenda for a long term and ensured a whole range of political parties and social movements emerging, all this focused-on rapprochement with Brussels and / or Bucharest. The Association Agreement signed in 2013 between the EU and the Republic of Moldova, including the Deep Free Trade Area was planned to become a useful tool that would fill parties’ relations with practical meaning and would make the Moldovan policy pragmatic, predictable, and the regulatory environment modern and conducive to economic growth. In order to guarantee its own political investments, Brussels has generously supplemented them with declarations of political support for Moldova and numerous projects of financial assistance, readily adopted by various Moldovan representatives - officials, NGOs, entrepreneurs. However, as practices showed, politicians in Chisinau regarded signing the Agreement, which was being prepared in a hurry (in a race with other countries of the Eastern Partnership in the struggle for the “palm of victory” within European integration), as a kind of efforts crowning to ensure the European path and republic’s prosperity. And as an indulgence that would allow returning to their favorite work - struggling for power and personal enrichment. The European Union missed this key moment (just as the one on the billion theft) or chose not to notice it. The 2015 Royal Hunt, then the Constitutional Court’s seizure and Vladimir Plahotniuc’s coming to power were only accompanied by duty calls from Brussels to carry out reforms and fight corruption. Even within the Embassy Revolution in the summer of 2019, the EU delegation played a rather contemplative role when giving up the main work to the people in the Kremlin and the US Embassy in Chisinau. Coalition destruction, that had been so hard to put together, came as an unpleasant surprise for Brussels since it did not receive high-quality analytics on the spot. The confusion of the European Commission and the diplomatic mission in Chisinau gave Igor Dodon a chance to get at his disposal the main government levers even despite the lack of sufficient popular support. The EU's influence degradation over 10 years is so significant that now Brussels cannot convert Maia Sandu’s confident victory in the popular elections into Igor Dodon’s disqualification, if compared to the 2009 when the EU could wipe out the communists who won the elections and who used to be in the majority and at the peak of power. It means, things that were possible 10 years ago with fewer resources and minimal loyalty of the broad population masses have now become practically inaccessible for Brussels. Peter Michalko's current timid calls to stop attacks on the Moldovan constitution and on Constitutional Court’s independence are clearly late, and no one in Chisinau is anymore embarrassed. Igor Dodon is aware that no practical reaction will follow the EU emissary’s words. In the context of a growing misunderstanding between the European Union and Russia, Brussels is not capable making convincing and decisive steps in the Moldovan direction as it fears an expansion of the pro-Russian forces electoral base in Chisinau. As a result, the socialists and the Shor party coalition feel free for any action aimed at prolonging uncertainty and postponing parliamentary elections. This pause is vital for Igor Dodon to discredit Maia Sandu and mobilize his own electorate. The socialist leader's strategy is bearing fruit, especially when unambiguous signals are sent from Moscow to maintain political support for his protégé, including through COVID-19 vaccine provision. Even the COVID-19 vaccine the European Union provided as humanitarian aid is distributed in a rather specific way - through Romania, which makes its own PR on when supplementing it with careless Ambassador Daniel Ionita’s statements. Another portion of European vaccines are distributed through the COVAX platform. It means, political points gained in the fight against coronavirus spread go to Bucharest, Moscow, even China but not Brussels and that is a totally artificial restraint of EU's influence. Thus, Maia Sandu does not receive and does not count on real support from the EU delegation in Chisinau. At the same time, she is forced adhering to elementary decency’s norms and rules in her desire to ensure early elections holding, so as not to conflict with the notorious European values. Besides the concentrated silence and periodic criticism on social networks, Peter Michalko and the whole corrupt EU advisers’ army cannot help Moldova and do not even try to. Instead, the Head of the EU delegation holds three meetings a day with separatist politicians in Tiraspol. And apparently even there, they are dissatisfied with the EU’s role in the conflict. Transdniestria asks for assistance within restrictions not to be applied in the field of transport and within the Berlin Plus Protocol implementation, however, Peter Michalko demonstrates indifference to these topics. Undoubtedly, the EU delegation’s failure in the Moldovan direction contributes to Russia’s positions strengthening which has a special influence on both, Igor Dodon and the administration of the left bank of the Dniester. 2021 might go down in history as the year of deepest crisis in relations between Moldova and the EU, caused not only by unpleasant circumstances’ coincidence but also by the long-term passivity of Brussels' diplomacy in the Republic of Moldova and the lack of a clear strategy for bilateral relations development.