27 years of Independence or Quo Vadis Moldova?

Ludmila Nofi. Foreign Policy Association of Moldova (Chisinau, Moldova)

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Moldova failed to recover its image of a credible partner for the strategic development allies as Government and Parliament took many controversial decisions. Nevertheless, the Moldovan ruling coalition claims to be quite committed to implementing the comprehensive agenda in accordance with the European Association Agreement. However, the situation on the ground is different. After 27 years of independence, the Republic of Moldova is the poorest country in Europe, vulnerable and threatened by internal and external challenges.

Domestic policy: 27 years of uncertainty

The recent Moldovan domestic political developments have seriously shifted the pillars of a true democracy, rule of law principle and security perceptions.  

The illegal military exercises in the Transnistrian Security Zone, repeatedly conducted by the paramilitary forces of the Tiraspol separatist regime in partnership with the Operational Group of Russian Forces (stationed without legal grounds on the territory of Moldova), took place shortly after the UN resolution on Moldova regarding the withdrawal of the Russian military contingent. According to the press release of the Russian Ministry of Defense, these drills aimed to assess the “physical state of the servicemen” on the ground.

The actions caused concerns of the OSCE Mission to Moldova. In compliance with the OSCE Mission’s mandate, a team was deployed in the Security Zone, but as earlier, it “was obstructed from fully monitoring these exercises”. The Bureau for Reintegration qualified the military actions as “a repeated challenge which generates new tensions in the Security Zone”.

The former Head of the OSCE Mission to Moldova, Ambassador Michael Scanlan outlined several achievements in the Transnistrian settlement process. Most of the accomplishments are related to social, economic and communication aspects that are crucial for the population from both banks of the Dniester River. However, the political and military issues which refer to the complete and unconditional withdrawal of foreign military forces from the territory of the Republic of Moldova, as well as, the status for the Transnistrian region within Moldova, have not been solved. Even after 27 years of independence and sovereignty, maintaining a status quo in the settlement process seems to be convenient for all the stakeholders.

On August 27, the Republic of Moldova celebrated its independence.  The holiday was shaded by a series of manifestations driven by the invalidation of the mayoral elections in Chisinau and the controversial budgetary and fiscal reform, approved in haste and seriously criticized by the international community. On the eve of the Independence Day, thousands of people headed by the pro-European opposition political leaders Andrei Nastase (Platform Dignity and Truth) and Maia Sandu (Party Action and Solidarity), were protesting against the current government and its controversial European Association agenda. This civic action encouraged the Moldovan diaspora residing in the EU to take a stand and come up with a series of demands including calling for the government’s resignation.

Economy: Step forward or a setback

In August, the attention was focused on the recently adopted new budgetary and fiscal reform, which raised many questions and grave critics both from the civil society and the international development partners. Despite this, the President of the Republic of Moldova, Igor Dodon, apparently a strong opponent of the current government, promulgated the controversial package of tax initiatives. The president disregarded the opinions according to which this particular amendment will increase the regress of the tax system, undermine tax compliance and hinder the money laundering fight. Dodon’s official position is rather peculiar. On one hand, he highlighted the necessity of such decisions assuring that this is the easiest way to track and recover the money from $1 billion theft. This decision was not supported in the Parliament by the Socialist Party, the unofficial leader of which he is considered to be. On the other hand, he confirmed that such hasty decisions will damage the relationship between the Republic of Moldova and Western partners, stating that in this way the West allies will see the true faces of the current ruling elites.

Likewise, the leader of the Democratic Party, Vlad Plahotniuc, pointed out that voluntary tax disclosure is an international practice broadly used by experienced democracies including some European states. By saying that, he declared that “this procedure refers to the overall gain of the non-payment taxes, excluding the money of criminal origin, corruption, trafficking etc.” Backing up the positive effect of this fiscal reform, the Prime-Minister of the Republic of Moldova, Pavel Filip, added that there are exaggerated speculations on this issue, used by some political actors for electoral gains in the view of the Moldovan parliamentary elections on February 24, 2019.

Foreign policy: Excuses and explanations

The current state of the Republic of Moldova’s relations with its strategic partners is obviously affected by the last developments in domestic policy matters. In a very short period of time, the ruling government and political elites were seriously criticized by the European Union, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the United States due to a series of mistrustful political decisions not in line with the commitments assumed under the Association Agenda.

To put things right, on August 2, the speaker of the Parliament, Andrian Candu, and the Prime-Minister, Pavel Filip, summoned the accredited ambassadors to Moldova aiming to inform theme firsthand about the government’s achievements, in particular, the budgetary and fiscal reform. According to the Moldovan high officials, the main purpose of these initiatives was the “economic liberalization of the market and stimulation of fair competition. In spite of the claimed government’s “good intentions” to contribute to country’s development, strengthening the rule of law, democracy and supporting its own citizens, the main partners and donors did not really seem convinced.

Confronted with the need to explain, the leader of the Democratic Party, Vlad Plahotniuc, mentioned in an interview for a local news agency that “…it is important to specify that the relationship between the Democratic Party and European partners has not been damaged”. He assured that the current government has completely fulfilled all the commitments to the European partners for the first tranche of the macro-financial assistance and all actions further will focus on the national European integration strategy.

A representative of the diplomatic community in Moldova, the Romanian Ambassador to Chisinau, Daniel Ionita, stated that the European Union and its member states have now entered a period of “strategic patie

nce” toward Moldova, with reference to the last political crisis in the country. The Romanian diplomat highlighted that the most important task is to move forward and monitor the developments, expressing his belief that the lessons are already learned and there is a need to work together to strengthen the European path of the Republic of Moldova. He reaffirmed that Romania is still one the soundest lawyers of the Republic of Moldova.