2 – Moldova. Turning a blind eye
BSSB.BE neweasterneurope.eu 20.05.2016
The EU’s headache
The EU has never been a strictly geopolitical project, which is why it is difficult for Brussels to accept what is taking place in Moldova. In July 2015 the European Commission decided to suspend designated subsidies for Moldovan reforms and European diplomats and bureaucrats have widely criticised the government.
Strong criticism has been repeatedly expressed by the head of the EU delegation in Moldova, Pirkka Tapiola. When in 2016, President Nicolae Timofti attempted to block the appointment of the Plahotniuc-controlled government, it was rumoured that the “European diplomats” had an influence on the president’s moves. If that was the case, Taopiola must have played an important role in this. The European politician has also vocally criticised Moldova’s judiciary in connection with the “Petrenco Group” case and the case of Taraclia’s mayor, Sergey Filipov.
Grigore Petrenco is facing trial for an alleged attack on policemen and endangering state security during a protest he organised, which was attended by a few dozen participants (he was held under arrest longer than it is allowed by law). Petrenco, a pro-Russian politician and a former member of the communist party, is a marginal voice on the political scene. But Moldova’s elite needs the “Petrenco Group” case for propaganda purposes: this is how Chisinau shows that the threat from Russia is real.
The case of Sergey Filippov, a former mayor of Taraclia, a small town in southern Moldova mostly inhabited by Bulgarians, is also symptomatic. Filipov was removed from office with a court decision for alleged illegal tree clearing, but in this case as well, the judgement was most probably politically motivated.
It was believed that Filipov got into conflict with the Democratic Party and Plahotniuc’s clan when he was still a deputy. Topiola called the judgement in Filipov’s case “politically motivated”.
He was criticised for this statement by the Moldova Association of Judges, which accused him in an open letter of intervening in the work of justice and putting pressure on the courts. The Association’s opinion was endorsed by Plahotniuc-controlled media, but Tapiola found critics also within the EU, especially in Romania. This is how the head of the EU delegation became the number one enemy of Plahotniuc’s propaganda machine, a development unthinkable just a few months ago.
To the East? To the West? Forward!
Moldova’s ruling class is no longer afraid to openly criticise European diplomats. They do so by stressing that Moldova’s “sovereignty” is more important than European values. And they find support in Washington, which brings Moldova closer to the autocracies of the Middle East.
- By all means, Moldova will not become a bone of contention between the US and the EU. Nevertheless, its example shows how different the approaches of the two main western players are:
- Washington follows the rules of Realpolitik whereas Brussels is lost. The EU does not have a plan on what to do with a formally pro-western country that is breaking democratic rules, but it is widely understood that a full withdrawal of support for the government in Chișinău could easily lead to the takeover of power by pro-Russian forces.
Tapiola recently stated that no matter if Moldova follows the West or the East, it is important that it moves forward, meaning that the geopolitical choice is not as important as fostering stable institutions and the wellbeing of its citizens.
Rightly so, the role of the EU should be, above all, on the side of the Moldovan society and not the authorities. If Brussels resigns from its democratic principles in favour of geopolitics, it can lose the hearts and minds of many Moldovans. Keeping or even rebuilding the credibility of the EU outside of its borders, even with a loss for its short-term geopolitical interests, is a price worth paying; especially since the quality of relations between Brussels and Chișinău should be Moldova’s primary concern.
A sceptic would say that it is easy for the EU to talk about values, when Washington is securing its geopolitical interests. But isn’t it, perhaps, the strength of the West?
Piotr Oleksy is an associate professor at the Institute of European Culture in Gniezno and a regular contributor to New Eastern Europe.
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