Moldova: A cautionary tale
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The European Union has at times made big bets in the Eastern Partnership that did not come off. In Moldova, the ‘Alliance for European Integration’ ruling coalition assumed power just when the EU was looking for a success story, in 2009.
The new government achieved many things. But it always contained design flaws, particularly the fact that it involved power-sharing between the country’s two most powerful oligarchic clans. Its ‘European Integration’ label was a brilliant PR move, but too often was a cover for corruption.
The government’s collapse in 2013 was the first warning sign, followed by $1 billion, 15 percent of GDP, being sucked out of the country’s three biggest banks in 2014. EU flags flew at subsequent popular demonstrations, but the government was reconstituted in the wrong direction in 2015, with its leading oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc assuming total power.
- Popular disillusion with the EU allowed the pro-Russian Ihor Dodon to be elected president in 2016, but he was in fact secretly supported by oligarchs.
- EU funding was frozen in 2015, but the International Monetary Fund came back with $179m in 2016 and the EU with an offer of up to €100m in 2017. Even worse, when Plahotniuc toured the West, some bought into the obvious canard that only he could prevent a full-blown Russian revanche.
The EU has conducted several reviews of the EaP since 2008. But during the most important phase for rethinking the policy – after the beginning of the Ukraine crisis in 2014 – there were compelling strategic reasons for accelerating the adoption of the Association Agreements with Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova that were under Russian threat. Moldova’s and Georgia’s agreements were operational by 2016, Ukraine’s by September 2017.
Despite this, the EU has neither pushed the policy decisively forward, nor retrenched. It is true that there have been some adjustments. There is now more ‘consequentialist’ thinking – the EU gives greater consideration to how Russia might react, and to the difficulties that partnership states might face in implementing certain policies.
It has become more proactive about selling the long-term benefit of EaP policies, rather than taking the virtues of the ‘Brussels model’ as a given. And in the “Twenty Deliverables for 2020”, a document first published in December 2016, there is a clear shift of emphasis towards “resilience” as much as “reform”.
There is a whole section on “security cooperation”, albeit without the EU being able to provide hard security guarantees for states under severe threat.
The EaP has added elements of realpolitik, but of a particularly EU kind – a realpolitik that does not abandon values-based policy, but recognises that not everyone may share those values.
In November 2015 a formal review of the broader European Neighbourhood Policy devoted a whole section to the “Security Dimension”, which mentioned “the need to empower and enable partners to prevent and manage crises”.
But the EaP is neither a crisis management policy nor a hard security policy. It is still built around a conflict between wanting to bring EaP states closer to Europe, but not being able to shelter them from the consequences if they do.
There is now more ‘differentiation’ between the six states, although not enough to reflect the actual differences between them. Differentiation has sometimes actually made it harder to push for reform by paying too much attention to the possibility of pro-Russian revanche (Moldova), or wanting to lock in allies around Ukraine (Belarus, Georgia), or just make any headway at all (Armenia).
Despite the adjustments, problems remain. From the very start, partnership countries have varied wildly in their commitment to bringing about reform. Encouraging the reform process in Georgia and Ukraine is a wholly different kettle of fish to pulling along reform laggards like Azerbaijan.
Moreover, the see-saw of reformist strength in countries like Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova has left the EaP struggling to respond. And when security pressures in the form of Russian threats to Belarus’s sovereignty have driven Minsk to diversify its options through the EU, it has made tentative steps towards economic and political reform. But the EaP lacks the instruments to incentivise deeper reforms. The form it takes may have altered since the EaP was established, but the underlying tension remains.