The Fraud of Moldova’s European Integration

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Christian RUSSU
Officials’ approach to implementing the EC’s recommendations can hardly be called serious so far. The authorities are making the same mistakes that have led to the sad end of the first “success story” 
Since the application for the status of candidate country to access the EU and the positive withdrawal of the EC and the EU Council decision in June, the countdown to a new stage of Moldova’s European integration has begun. However, in addition to the authorities’ loud slogans about a “historic achievement” and solidarity on the part of the EU states, admission to the European family implies the fulfillment of a number of obligations to comply with the granted status. The public and experts follow occasionally the efforts made by the country’s leadership in this field. They watch the creation of new institutional bodies responsible for implementing multi-page programs, plans and strategies, approved at the same time in order to demonstrate to European partners our will and ability to defend the allocated credit of trust. And in practice, it often turns out that the cheerful official reports conceal an unflattering reality, and another fraud is being created for Brussels officials. “All Is Well, Madame la Marquise” Since Vladimir Voronin’s proclamation of European integration in 2005, hundreds of different programs, road maps, plans, and strategies have been adopted. All of them were designed to reform the state according to EU standards. One of the traditional sections of such documents was to change the regulatory framework. Over the past two decades, legislation has been changed countless times under this pretext, sometimes in directly opposite directions. Obviously, the consequences of regular adjustments have not always had a positive effect. The constant changing of the rules of the game for business and people, and the need to bring all related documentation into conformity has become a real scourge. We should mention the low executive discipline regularly pointed out to us by European officials. It is one thing to quickly adopt good laws, and quite another to implement them in practice, and still to monitor how they work in the future. Over the past three years, the ruling PAS has repeatedly complained to its predecessors about the quality of earlier European integration reforms, especially in justice and anti-corruption. However, judging by the current situation with the fulfillment of the obligations to the EU, the current authorities will have to hear no small amount of criticism to their address even today. A growing murmur of dissatisfaction can be heard from the expert community about the quality of the work to eliminate the EU remarks, which could jeopardize Moldova’s European perspective in such a responsible period. In April 2022, Maia Sandu created the National Commission for European Integration by decree. It was tasked with coordinating preparations for the achievement of the national goal, including the implementation of reforms carried out “within commitments to the EU”. Sandu personally headed the commission. It included ruling party MPs, the government and the presidential administration representatives. Adrian Lupusor, coordinator of the National Platform of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum represented civil sector. On July 13, three weeks after the approval of Moldova’s application for candidate status, Maia Sandu held a commission meeting, at the end of which she announced the development of a “concrete action plan”, which, if implemented in due time, would allegedly enable the start of negotiations for EU accession. Sandu specified that it’s about particular steps in many areas: the reform of justice and public administration, fighting corruption, the functioning of laws, eliminating the oligarchic influence on the economic and political system and the media, improving election laws, involving civil society in decision-making processes, strengthening human rights protection and combating gender-based violence. A week later the MFAEI announced a public hearing on the document, and on August 4 the plan was approved at a regular meeting of the Commission for European Integration. At the same time, apparently to give more legitimacy to the commission, its composition was expanded to include representatives of Gagauzia and a number of civil structures. Unpleasant Reality The haste in preparing such an important document as Action Plan to Implement the Measures Proposed by the European Commission in its Conclusion on Moldova’s EU Accession Application is most likely due to the desire to formally complete its implementation by the end of this year to mid-2023. That is, in order for our country to appear in such a status in the EU next year’s enlargement report. In addition, the European Commission’s instructions to Moldova were vague. For instance, the de-oligarchization plan only generally recommended “eliminating the excessive influence of vested interests on economic, political, and social life.” This allowed the authorities to formulate tasks in many areas at their discretion, which is why many of the document’s provisions are overtly formal and even propagandistic in nature. In one of his interviews, Nicu Popescu declared that the fourth point of the European Commission’s recommendations “accidentally” got into the conclusion on Moldova and refers primarily to Georgia. However, some civil sector representatives uninvited to work or comment on the plan, left a large sliver of tar on the authorities’ efforts to report quickly on the work done and presented their analysis in a small circle. The plan turned out not to meet the requirements for the development of such policy documents. No analysis of the problems, to which the Action Plan should be directed, was given in the document. It remains completely unclear how the plan implementation is to be evaluated in the future. Besides the form and structure, there are also substantial problems with the content. Thus, out of the 60 measures mentioned, 40 involve amendments to legislative acts. That is, their next mass revision is required, which means changes in the work of public authorities and rules for business and the population. It also implies big corruption risks, while the fight against corruption is also one of the main directions of the Plan. It should be noted that, referring to the commitments within the Association Agreement, Moldova only recently revised the legislation in such important areas as justice and anti-corruption. The main recommendation of the European structures was to implement the changes already adopted and to achieve the functionality of the judiciary and the prosecutor’s office. It goes without saying that no one publicly presented any analysis of the previous reforms’ results. Now, the authorities’ desire to adjust to the changed foreign policy situation has led to another round of reforms without a clear understanding of the consequences. As a rationale for revising certain laws, the Plan cites international organizations’ recommendations (e.g., in justice – from the Venice Commission). However, these references are misleading and do not correspond to the subject matter of the legislative changes proposed in the Plan. At the same time, the document lacks specific measures on issues related to justice and combating corruption, such as the completion of the process of formation and activity of the Superior Council of Magistracy and the Superior Council of Prosecutors, as well as the separation of powers in combating grand corruption. For example, due to the lack of a functioning SCM, currently about 10% of the judges in the country are not approved in their status, which has automatically led to the suspension of many court cases. A provision of the Plan that envisages the allocation of budget financing for the NGOs’ activities in the interests of the state deserves special attention. The fact is that a similar provision was already in effect during the rule of Vlad Plahotniuc, who used the mechanism of NGO funding to cover up his machinations (which was later strongly condemned by his European partners). The icing on the cake was the fact that parliamentarians had already passed a third of the planned legislative changes. That is, the authorities included in the Plan what had already been done. So it is not very clear whether we are talking about deliberately misleading the European structures, to which the results of the Action Plan will then be presented with pomp, or trivial ignorance in its preparation and approval. However, in any case, this level of “work” in the most important direction for them and for Moldova's future can hardly be called serious. In case building on to the fraud instead of real European integration continues, there is a good chance that Moldova will once again go from a loud “success story” to an equally loud “failure story”.