The semi-European integration of the Republic of Moldova: between the reforming agenda and kleptocracy

Europe gains political weight and economic substance in the parameters of perceiving Moldovan realities, even if the path is complicated and the progress is usually slow. Anchoring the European Union (EU) rules into the national legislation or connecting to the European production and consumption chain are signs of a mutually beneficial modus operandi, in general. Thus, the legislative process has access to a source of inspiration for modernisation, and economic entities can penetrate into the ‘virtuous circles’ of the EU economy, which is subject to greening measures. In addition to political and economic aspects, the density and intensity of bilateral contacts proliferate more and more common points. However, the resistance of the post-Soviet system of values and habits continues to be constant and works against the sound implementation of good European practices. In other words, the European integration takes place with half units and steps.

The partial approximation to the EU is not caused only by the problematic Moldovan domestic context, but also by the reaction of ‘Eurocrats’ from Brussels to the signs of democratic regression perceived from Moldova. Moreover, the enhanced dialogue between the Republic of Moldova and EU is characterised by the fact that some serious interpretative contradictions were underlined about the rule of law as a vital collective asset or the egocentric political calculations managed in an ad-hoc manner. For this reason, the commitments resulting from the partnership with the EU are currently hampered by the propensity of Chisinau Government to negotiate or force some concessions and/or exceptions. Paradoxically, two major trends seem to co-exist: the interest of the external actors to streamline the Moldovan governance and the resistance of the internal factors against the democratic transformations.

Three barriers to reforms

In practical terms, the reforming agenda proposed by the EU, through the Association Agreement, faces three types of obstacles. First, the reforms inspired by European governance are thoroughly analysed by possessors of political will whose interests coincide with oligarchic interests. Once they passed the oligarchic filter, the transformative actions must go through the second category of barriers existing within the state institutions. Mediocrity, politicization, or absenteeism are just some of the dominant features of public administration that can hinder or delay any reform. Concomitantly, the professionalism and integrity take a step backwards and are less frequently involved as allies in producing quality changes. The third category of barriers is the (voluntary) spread of ignorance or indifference in the society. Therefore, the civic pressure is affected, which, once operational, can effectively subdue the political will and the state institutions to the public interest. Due to all these impediments the EU integration is rather ‘semi-European’ because it has a hybrid character, caused by the influence of pathological political factors from Moldova, among which – kleptocracy.

European integration benefits and shortcomings

The paralyses faced by the Moldova-EU relationship, which are still present in various aspects, do not invalidate, by no means, the positive aspects materialized so far in the context of local circumstances and external constraints. Such circumstances can mark off four significant areas – political, commercial, human and symbolic – where the path of the Republic of Moldova to European Union knows certain improvements.

From a political point of view, the dialogue with the European institutions made some great advances. Even if high level politicians stopped to communicate, European officials communicate with the Moldovan authorities, they monitor the situation in the country and promote pro-reform and pro-democracy political messages. Due to the high automatism ensured by the institutional infrastructure of the Association Agreement, fully in force since the summer of 2016, the bilateral relationship is being renewed, including during political turbulences. The events that took place in 2018: those two hyper-critical resolutions adopted by the European Parliament in 2018 and the decision to stop the financial assistance, only prove that EU interacts with Moldovan politics and intends to improve it by using the external conditionality. 

The intensification of trade links prove that the Moldovan economy has the capacity to benefit from the proximity to the European economic area. The goods as well as their compliance with European technical and quality standards get more sophisticated. Definitively, the share of Moldovan goods delivered to the EU, which reached 70% of total exports, must be analysed alongside the trade deficit, which favors the European side. The liberalisation of trade with the EU is not a static condition, but it requires permanent interventions to maintain the balance aimed to proportionate the benefits and costs of establishing a relationship with an economic superpower.

The human side of the bilateral relations is measured by the multitude of inter-human contacts, the number of which increased due to the liberalisation of visas regime with EU in 2014. By March 2019, about 75% of Moldovan citizens crossed the European border over 6 million times. In addition to economic aspects, such as the development of transport services, the diversification of the tourism industry or the expansion of the Moldovan business environment, visa liberalisation improved the family relationships among Moldovan migrants. The statistical data reported by the EU highlight not only the irregularities in the behaviour of several thousand Moldovans (illegal stays, asylum applications, etc.), who abuse the permeability of the European borders. The uninterrupted abuses, even if they happen less frequently, show that the authorities have a low capacity to encourage the compliance through convincing preventive policies.

Symbolically, the EU-Moldova relationship goes back to normal. The Europe Day is not any more against the (post) Soviet tradition of celebrating the Victory Day, since it’s complimentary. Although the geopolitical divergence favouring the West or the East was overcame, the fact that these two holidays are celebrated in one day proves that people got used to the idea that the external policy has various directions. According to the latter, the Russia’s strategic interests risk to easily prevail over the national interests of Moldova.

Instead of conclusions...

As long as the Moldovan governance won’t get released from the political interest trap, the Moldova-EU relationships are condemned to a semi-European integration. Until then, the reforming agenda put forward by the EU must serve as a minimum assurance against the irrevocable down spiraling of the democratic standards, which have never been definitively in place so far.

Dionis Cenușă is a research assistant at the Institute of Political Sciences at the University of Giessen (Germany), where he is studying PhD. Since 2013, he is part of the Expert-Grup Independent Think-Tank team where he specializes in political economy, European integration and policies for energy security. Since 2015, he has been contributing permanently to IPN News Agency. The main research areas include: European integration in Eastern Europe, the EU-Russia relationship, oligarchic regimes and state resilience.