[Translate to English:] Shadows of demonstrating people projected on a wall, on the left side the Moldovan flag
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, Commentary: Moldovan “Groundhog Day”
Pro-European Forces Failing Yet Again?

By Mihai-Razvan Corman 

 

The Moldovan experiment of a coalition across geopolitical lines is over. Only five months after its inauguration, the country’s government, to which many have attached high expectations, collapsed. Similar to the movie “Groundhog Day”, yet another Moldovan government failed to push through a European reform agenda. Moldova continues to be a state captured by vested interests. Concern is warranted regarding the country’s future European orientation.

The unusual alliance between pro-Russian and pro-European political forces, which seemed to herald the beginning of a new era of de-geopoliticisation in the region, has ended. At light speed, an informal coalition of pro-Russians and the so-called Democratic Party elected a new, officially technocratic, yet factually highly political government. Following these evolutions, Moldova continues to be a captured state that has only changed its master. The most recent events raise significant concerns regarding the country’s future commitment towards the rule of law and anti-corruption reforms. 

An unlikely coalition of the pro-Russian PSRM (the Socialists) and the pro-European ACUM (Romanian for “now”) emerged in the midst of the constitutional crisis of June 2019 following the parliamentary elections of 24 February to oust the oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc. Since 2009 Democratic Party chairman Plahotniuc managed to capture the main state institutions. In a rare act of international consensus in the region, the EU, Russia and the United States supported the new government. 

Led by ACUM’s Maia Sandu, this government managed to improve relations with the West significantly. Sandu’s credibility as a reform-minded politician opened doors in Brussels, Washington and major European capitals and led to financial support. After the EU had frozen the macro-financial assistance in 2018 due to the bad political situation, the European Commission relaunched the disbursement as “an expression of support for the implementation of key reforms to improve democratic standards and protect the rule of law”. Also, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved a loan tranche arguing that Moldova had made progress on its reform agenda and achieved macroeconomic stability. 

In the context of the ACUM-dominated government’s top priority to cleanse the country from corruption and establish an independent judiciary, the mechanism for appointing Moldova’s General Prosecutor (GP) became the centerpiece of reform. The General Prosecutor’s Office (GPO) is of overwhelming importance in the Moldovan judicial system. In the past, an entirely obedient GPO had served as Mr Plahotniuc’s spearhead against political opponents and cloak for corruption schemes. According to the Constitution, the GPO contributes “to the administration of justice and to the defense of the rights, freedoms and legitimate interests of the individual, of the society and of the state”. Plahotniuc had misused the largely corrupt GPO as a cue ball of political and personal interests. 

Conclusion

Similar to the movie “Groundhog Day” Moldova seems to be stuck in the endless repetition of the same events. While ACUM, just like the previous reform-minded governments, has failed to carry forward their ambitious reform agenda, the Socialists, just like the previous authoritarian forces, are at the height of their power. After the country’s godfather-in-chief Plahotniuc has relinquished his grip on power five months ago, Moldova remains a captured state that has only changed its master.

In the event that the new government lasts until the 2020 presidential elections and ACUM is not able to deviate from its bogged down position of completely denying negotiations with the Democrats, its chances of coming back from the harsh reality of Moldovan political opposition are slim. ACUM’s poor prospects and the Socialists’ currently strong position are bad news for Moldova’s future path of reform. 

These are optimal conditions for Russia to pursue its geopolitical interests, for the Socialists to pursue their vested interests and for Dodon to establish himself as the “Father of the Nation” by the grace of Russia. However, the die is not yet cast. the Socialists have not yet accomplished consolidating their power and Russia is still in the process of regaining a dominant position in Moldova. 

Under these circumstances, the EU’s foreign policy is crucial in determining Moldova’s future. Rigorous monitoring and a clear stance against the Socialists’ government in cases of rule of law and anti-corruption backsliding as well as lack of reform should be the Commission’s way forward. Such an approach would be in line with the EU’s alleged objective of being a transformative power in the region and the “learnt lessons” from the most recent past. In the long term, it also bears a potential for wresting Moldova from the time loop and finally embarking it on a long-lasting and irreversible path of reform that would establish sustainable democratic standards. 

The article reflects the personal opinion of the author.

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