By Anton Shvets
In just a few years, Moldova has turned from the vanguard of the Eastern Partnership into the most problematic country on the border of the European Union.
The victory of Volodymyr Zelensky in the presidential elections in Ukraine, which showed that democracy is possible in this country, urges Brussels to reconsider its policy towards the Eastern Partnership countries. General elections to the European Parliament will be held in May. The powers of present members of the European Commission will end, and the bureaucracy of the European Union will surely experience a shake-up. The updated strategy of Brussels in Eastern Europe will be formed in a new environment, more advantageous than could be expected a year ago.
It has recently seemed that the Eastern Partnership has not proven successful. In many ways, this impression was due to the discouraging events in the Republic of Moldova that was once the leader of the entire program. The policy of Brussels suffered the most devastating defeat exactly in Chisinau, which at the time of the Premiership of Vladimir Filat and Iurie Leanca became a showcase of European choice. Moldova was the first to achieve a visa-free regime with the EU countries and entered the European free trade area. Chisinau actively used the funds of the European Union and the assistance of EU-seconded high-level advisers. The Days of Europe became common, and the majority of Moldovan officials studied in the European Union.
By 2014, the ugly features of Moldovan politics formed under the Eastern Partnership umbrella became difficult to ignore. The theft of a billion Euros from the country’s banking system, the seizure of power by an oligarch (most of whose sources of income are illegal), selective justice and violation of minimum democratic standards have made Moldova almost the greatest pain in the neck for the EU. Moldova has become a reference how not to integrate into Europe.
The captured Moldovan state over the years has annoyed the European bureaucracy as living evidence of its own misjudgement. Trying to correct mistakes on the Moldovan track, Brussels every time ‘glued together’ more and more ugly power structures in Chisinau. Invalidation of results of the Chisinau mayor election, which was won by opposition candidate Andrei Nastase, was a real cold shower for the EU bureaucrats, who believed that their opinion means something. Fearing to get stuck in the Moldovan political morass, representatives of the European Union are wary now of helping this or that political force in Moldova to form a ruling coalition.
Revenge of the Eastern Partnership
Despite the Moldovan failure, the situation began to improve in other Eastern Partnership countries, confirming the readiness of the program participants to follow the path of democratization and development in the framework of European values. After the getaway of Mikheil Saakashvili, the things in Georgia have gradually worked out for the best: the last parliamentary and presidential elections were more or less calm, Tbilisi still focuses on Brussels, Washington and NATO.
A real democratic breakthrough took place in Armenia in the spring of 2018, when journalist and oppositionist Nikol Pashinyan came to power riding the wave of peaceful protests. The bloodless revolution and the subsequent confident steps of the new Armenian Prime Minister were a triumph of the very model of democracy promoted by the Eastern Partnership. Armenian protests without geopolitics symbolized Armenia’s maturity in its pursuit of freedom and development.
The second round of presidential elections in Ukraine on April 21 continued and enhanced the overall positive trend. Fatigue from conflicts, corruption and lawlessness, failure of reforms and falling of the standard of living poured out on top of the political pyramid the person who everybody likes – Volodymyr Zelensky. The actor and businessman – that is, a man of the people, in fact – as President was another evidence that the peoples of Eastern Europe aspire to a change and high democratic standards, as well as the fight against corruption and oligarchy. The unexpected choice of Ukrainians confirmed that a peaceful democratic transit of power in the Eastern Partnership is possible.
In this sense, Moldova, which is now the tail-end of the program and has found itself on the periphery of Brussels’ policy, may once again find itself in the epicenter of the renewed European bureaucracy’s attention.
To begin with, it is important for the EU not to allow the formation of a coalition between the Democratic Party and the PSRM through early elections. Gaining time will enable the renewed convocation of the European Commission to pool resources for the decisive battle for the democratic development of Moldova, avoiding the mistakes during the election campaign two months ago. After all, the EU’s foreign policy for many years has been distinguished by its ability to turn even the most painful defeat into a new chance to strengthen strategic positions. The return of Moldova in the current agenda of the European Union is a good sign for the people of Moldova and a black spot for those who usurped power in the country.