Michael Gove’s recent speech—the facts of life say leave: why Britain and Europe will be better off after we vote leave—was a call to arms for the Leave campaign to inject the campaign with optimism. Gove wanted to oppose Project Fear and the idea that leaving the EU would make Britain more uncertain and unstable than status quo. However, Gove’s logic is circular, claims Eleanor Knott. Essentially, he is arguing that the UK should try to be like the very states that are seeking to join the EU.
For example, Gove argued that should the UK leave the EU, the UK would undoubtedly have access to the EU’s free trade zone which goes “from Iceland to Turkey”. He claimed that EU would be unlikely to turn away the UK given that “Bosnia, Serbia, Albania and the Ukraine” are members of the free trade area.
However states with EU free trade agreements, overwhelmingly, see these agreements as a stepping stone to EU membership. Albania and Serbia have been candidate countries to join the EU since 2014 and 2012, respectively. Bosnia has been promised the prospect of joining the EU when it is ready and, in February 2016, submitted its application to be an EU candidate country. Even Turkey has been an EU candidate country since 1999.
The exception of those named by Gove is Ukraine (not the Ukraine, as Gove quoted) which is not yet an EU candidate country. The EU does not yet consider Ukraine as ready to begin negotiations to join the EU. Ukrainian public opinion, however, is growing in support for EU membership. Between 47% and 59%, depending on the poll, support joining the EU in Ukraine. An absolute majority may not, always, support joining the EU, but it is the largest camp in contrast to alternatives, such as status quo or joining the Eurasian Customs Union.
The key difference between states that are signed up to EU agreements, “Bosnia, Serbia, Albania and the Ukraine” and those that do not, like Belarus, is the political willingness and public endorsement of relations with the EU and a desire to join the EU as soon as possible. The stop gap to membership is that the EU wants more reform within candidate countries, in terms of accountability, transparency and corruption, before membership.
First, then, EU free trade agreements are a stepping stone to membership for many signatories. Second, these free trade agreements, such as the Deep and Comprehensive agreement (DCFTA) signed by Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova in 2014, require “legislative approximation”. In other words, to make a free trade agreement with the EU, states have to be willing to adopt EU acquis. In the case of DCFTA states, they adopted approximately 80-90% of EU acquis before signing.
Adopting acquis is an asymmetrical process. The EU determines its own common body of legislation and determines which of these should be adopted by those within the free trade zone. States within the free trade zone, therefore, are encumbered to adopt the acquis without the ability to influence what they are.
The case for leaving the EU is based on a misunderstanding of the relations between the EU and its non-EU neighbours. Free trade agreements offer their signatories, comparatively-speaking, worse deal than they offer EU member-states. The reason so many states have been willing to sign up to agreements and to adopt EU legislation in which they have no say is because of the value of access to a single market. This access is worth the costs of “regulation without representation” and, for many, conceived as a necessary step towards the eventual goal of EU membership, which would require adopting EU acquis anyhow.
Gove’s argument, then, is circular: the UK should leave the EU and aspire to join a free trade area which is comprised by many states that want to join the EU. Why can’t the UK just remain in the EU and influence what EU legislation looks like?
Over the next two weeks, I’ll be presenting two new papers on my ongoing research in Moldova:
1. 4 March, New Europe College, Bucharest – Beyond Identity Politics and Geopolitics: Dirty Politics as an Explanation for the Waning of Support for Europeanization in Moldova (with Dan Brett)
This paper seeks to explain why support for Europeanization has waned since the pro-European parties took office in 2009. We dismiss typical explanations in analyses of Moldovan politics — identity politics and geopolitics — in favour of considering domestic party politics. We argue that party conduct has not reformed since 2009 and, rather, has become more kleptocratic. This has toxified the project of Europeanization in Moldova by its association with rent-seeking elites.
2. 8 March, Princeton: Strategic, Symbolic or Legitimate? Analyzing Engagement with Dual Citizenship from the Bottom-Up
This paper, using the case of Romanian citizenship reacquisition in Moldova, asks why individuals in Moldova acquire Romanian dual citizenship. Using a bottom-up approach, the paper argues for understanding motivations for engagement with kin-state citizenship beyond a strategic-symbolic continuum to consider also a third normative dimension, where kin-state citizenship is constructed as natural and normal and, thus, legitimate. This normative dimension helps to understand engagement with kin-state citizenship, and provides a richer understanding of this engagement than a ‘strategic’ dimension suggest, by demonstrating how ties of legitimacy can bind those to the kin-state irrespective of kin-state identification.
The latest Eastern Partnership summit was held in Riga on 21-22 May. The summit was the first to be held since the Vilnius summit in November 2013 which precipitated the Ukraine crisis. Ellie Knottwrites on the outcome of the summit and what it means for the development of relations between the EU and Eastern Partnership states. She notes that the EU is now faced with a difficult balancing act of convincing Russia that it is not engaged in direct competition for influence over post-Soviet states, while offering enough concessions to those Eastern Partnership countries that would like to pursue deeper EU integration.
The recent Riga summit (21-22 May 2015) was the fourth summit since the Eastern Partnership (EaP) was initiated in 2009. While the Riga Summit may have been a “survival summit” against the backdrop of “war in Ukraine”, it also signalled “a new era of our partnership” between the EU and 6 EaP states, with a new High Representative (Federica Mogherini), EU President (Donald Tusk) and Commissioner for Enlargement (Johannes Hahn).
The interim between the Vilnius (November 2013) and Riga summits saw one of the biggest crises of post-Soviet states. Ukraine experienced both a revolution, and then Russian incursion, first with Crimea’s annexation and then with support for separatism in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, leaving the country somewhere between a civil war and full-scale war with Russia.
This period also saw an acceleration of negotiations between the EU, Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia with the signing of Association (AA) and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreements (DCFTA) in June 2014, and a visa-free regime with Moldova in April 2014. Meanwhile, the three other EaP states, Belarus, Armenia and Azerbaijan, have signed up to a Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). And yet, in the wake of the Ukrainian crisis, even these EaP “laggards” showed renewed interest in intensifying their relations with the EU, as Kadri Liik (ECFR) argues, to “hedge against Russia’s pressure”.
With this new EU administration, so too is the EU’s European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), of which the EaP is a major constituent, under review in a period of ongoing consultation which will not be finalised until autumn 2015. As such, the Riga summit came during a period of uncertain change and increasing tensions between these post-Soviet EaP states, the EU and Russia. In this sense, Riga was more, as Pierre Vimontargues, of a “stock-taking exercise” in the run-up to an uncertain future revision of the ENP.
A “two tier” approach
Although uncertainty remains concerning the future Eastern Partnership approach, two aspects were clear at Riga: the EaP’s emphasis on differentiation and sovereignty. In terms of differentiation, the EU is likely to adopt a two tier approach, continuing more deep engagement with AA/DCFTA states, who are not bound to the Eurasian Economic Union (Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia), while offering a more “tailor-made” engagement to Belarus, Armenia and Azerbaijan. The table below illustrates the current picture among the six EaP states.
Table: Eastern Partnership states
These states cannot sign up to the DCFTA, as members of the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union, of which a constituent part is a customs union. They present, therefore, different challenges to the EU in terms of the types of relations possible, requiring a different model to that of AA and DCFTA Eastern Partnership states. Moreover Belarus poses a problem as a state currently under, and unresponsive to, EU sanctions, including a travel ban and asset freezes on 232 individuals and 25 entities, including the country’s president, Alexander Lukashenko.
The idea of the Eastern Partnership underlining the sovereignty of its partners became a theme at the Vilnius (2013) summit, but was unmentioned at the previous summits in Warsaw (2011) and Prague (2009). At Vilnius, as relations with Russia concerning EaP states became tenser, the EaP outlined the “sovereign right of each partner freely to choose the level of ambition”, to indicate that the EU wanted to resist a coercive Russia deciding how these countries should interact with EU states. At Riga, this discourse of “sovereign choices” was reaffirmed, alongside shoring up the “territorial integrity” and “independence” of allEaP states.
Hence, we can infer a degree of continuity in the EU’s approach towards EaP states, by trying to brand this cooperation as technocratic, endorsing the continued approach of “more for more” (i.e. more access to the EU for more transformation) and endorsing everything short of membership. As Junker outlined at Riga, EaP states “are not ready [for membership], and we are not ready”.
Was the Riga summit a failure?
This sense of continuity is partially responsible for the framing of Riga as “disastrous” and a “failure” for two reasons: namely because the EU is unwilling to advance the membership option and also unwilling to castigate Russia’s coercive approach toward EaP states. However, it should not come as much surprise that the EU is unwilling to extend the membership option, both in light of the fact that the EU sees these states as “not ready”, but also, as Merkel argues, because the EaP was not designed as “an instrument for enlargement” but of “rapprochement”. The problem is that the (pro-EU) political class of Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova view the membership option as a panacea, both to shore up wavering domestic support for EU integration and as a counter to Russian leverage.
Before 2013, the EaP was largely a technocratic project aimed at encouraging the reform of democracy, the rule of law and the economies of partner states, rather than to facilitate a region-building geopolitical project. Hence Russia was not explicitly mentioned in previous joint declarations in Vilnius (2013), Warsaw (2009) or Prague (2009). While Russia might have been mentioned in informal conversations during the Riga summit, in an official context, Russia was mentioned only vis-à-vis the EU’s role in “facilitating gas talks” between Russia and Ukraine.
Implicitly, however, Russia was nevertheless criticised via the Joint Declaration’s condemnation of the “illegal annexation” of Crimea and Sevastopol, calls for de-escalation of the conflict in Donestk and Luhansk, and via the declaration’s emphasis on sovereignty, which can no longer be “taken for granted”. In this sense, EU leaders continue to emphasise that the EaP, and more broadly relations between the EU and these post-Soviet states, is not “directed against Russia” nor part of a competition or “beauty contest” with the country.
The reluctance of the EU to criticise Russia has been seen as a key failing of Riga, with the EU portrayed as cowering to ongoing Russian aggression. However, the EU continues to irritate Russia, with Russia’s Foreign Ministry complaining that “once again [the EU] growled its inadequate position on Crimea”. The refusal of Armenia and Belarus to sign up to the condemnation of Russia’s annexation (in the Joint Declaration) also demonstrates the limits of the EaP in showing a unified front vis-à-vis Russia, given the different perspectives articulated by the six EaP states and, too, within the 28 EU member-states.
What are the challenges going forward?
Looking forward, the EU’s relationship with its Eastern Partners will continue to face significant challenges, both from the more advanced EaP states’ disappointment in not being offered a membership option, the delay to visa-free agreements for Georgia and Ukraine, and the difficulties in navigating relations with EaP laggards, who are more advanced in their relations with Russia. In this sense, the “idea” of the Eastern Partnership may be “even more important than ever”, as Merkel argues, but it is also exposed to more challenges vis-à-vis Russia.
The EU also has to contend with growing apathy toward Europeanisation in EaP states, in particularMoldova and even Georgia. Key to this is the endemic corruption experienced in some states, notably in Moldova which, following the scandal of the “missing billion” of GDP, has increasingly seen antipathy toward the pro-European elite directed at the concept of Europeanisation itself. In this sense, the EU has to be more forceful in its “more for more approach” and this includes requiring domestic EaP elites to implement and respect more wide sweeping reforms to try to win back support for Europeanisation.
Russia too will remain a key challenge for the Eastern Partnership and for European security more generally. Russia’s ability to coerce EaP states relies on territorial weaknesses, such as influence over existing de facto states (Transnistria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia) and new de facto states (the ‘People’s Republics’ in Donetsk and Luhansk), and anti-democratic elites (e.g. in Belarus and Azerbaijan). Hence, the more successful EaP states are, Ukraine in particular, the more likely Russia will try to push back.
Ultimately, the EU finds itself between a rock and a hard place: between convincing Russia it’s not engaging in a competition for influence, and convincing Eastern Partners they’re committed to them. EU leaders want “strategic patience”, in an era when they appear increasingly nervous about relations with Russia. When even Belarus wants to intensify its relations with the EU, to increase its leverage against Russia, this shows the tensions existing in EaP states since Russia’s annexation of Crimea. But really it’s up to the political class of EaP states to commit to more reforms, and for the EU to enforce the implementation of these reforms. Yet, there are paradoxes here, such as in Belarus where chances of reform, to the extent desired by the EU, remain unlikely.
On 27 June, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine signed co-operation agreements with the EU. Ellie Knott assesses what the agreements mean for each state and how they might influence future EU-Russia relations. She writes that while the agreements are largely technical in nature, their real value is symbolic as they represent a final break from each country’s Soviet past. She argues that with tensions already high over the Ukraine crisis, the agreements will also have a significant impact on the wider relationship between the EU and Russia.
Since the Vilnius summit in November 2013, relations between the key Eastern Partnership states (Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia), the EU and Russia have shifted inextricably. The EU has sped up its signing of Association Agreements (AA) and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreements (DCFTA) with Georgia and Moldova, and held on to its commitment to sign these agreements with Ukraine, with the official signing of these agreements with all three states taking place on 27 June.
Meanwhile, Russia’s willingness to challenge Ukraine’s territorial integrity, by seizing Crimea, its tenuous relations with separatists movements in Donetsk and Lugansk and its cessation of gas exports to Ukraine, have drastically changed not just the configuration of the Ukrainian state and society, but have been one of the biggest earthquakes for relations between Russia and the wider post-Soviet region.
The key question remains: why should Russia be concerned with what are essentially 1,000 page technocratic documents between Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and the EU? As Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council, continues to argue, there is “nothing in these agreements, nor in the European Union’s approach, that might harm Russia”. Van Rompuy has been careful to use rhetoric that argues that this is not a “zero-sum game”: Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia are free to have relations with Russia to whatever extent they choose, except becoming members of the Eurasian Customs Union.
To Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, signing such agreements with the EU might not be a zero-sum game, and in fact the biggest challenge will be how to maintain relations with Russia. Yet in the way that the leaders of Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova welcomed the signing of the AA and DCFTA with the EU, it is clear that these leaders do consider the agreements to be decisive in how they situate themselves geopolitically. In an interview with CNN, the new Ukrainian President, Petro Poroshenko, remarked that “this is a civilisation choice. This is the Rubicon – when we crossed the Rubicon to Europe and left in the past our Soviet past”.
The Association Agreements are therefore not just political and economic documents but, as Poroshenko described, a “symbol of faith” and “unbreakable will”. Moreover, these agreements are considered to be the first step in a journey towards, as Iurie Leancă the Moldovan Prime Minister states, their “primordial/essential objective” towards becoming a “full-fledged member of this great family of the European Union”. For Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, their more formalised relationship with the EU, and the hope that this might one day be converted to membership, is more than about technocratic documents, but about being recognised as European, in status, rights and identity, and about no longer being seen as a former Soviet republic.
However the beginning of this journey of closer political and economic association with the EU, and the opening up of the free trade potential, is also the continuation of substantial uncertainty regarding how this will affect their relations with Russia. Russia is a significant trading partner for all three states, and in particular for Ukraine where Russian imports and exports exceed those of the EU. As the Table below shows, Russia is still an important trade partner for Moldova, though less for Georgia. All three states have been exposed to Russian embargos on goods, and Georgia, and more recently Moldova, have learned the importance of diversifying who they trade with.
Note: The Table shows the value of exports and imports between each country and Russia/the EU, and the percentage of total trade which the EU and Russia account for in each case. Figures are from European Commission trade statistics for Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia
All three states have energy requirements which are not just dependent on Russian gas, but also on the cheap price of this gas. In Ukraine, residential customers have paid only about 25 per cent, and industrial consumers only 75 per cent, of what the gas would be worth on the European market. It is unlikely, whatever the outcome of the current Ukrainian-Russian gas crisis, that any deal going forward will lead to significant increases in this price.
This will be augmented by Ukraine’s loss of the Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol. Russia had agreed a lease with Ukraine for the naval base in Sevastopol which was key in negotiations over a reduced gas price and which Ukraine had used to offset the country’s debt to Russia. However, following the annexation of Crimea, Russia tore up the Kharkiv accords, which extended Russia’s lease to 2042, and which Ukraine can no longer use as a way to offset their Russian debt, the payment of which, in addition to Russia’s move to increase the cost of gas, are key to areas of contention in the 2014 crisis. Gazprom, too, has shown itself to be reflective of Russia’s territorial claims, given that the map they showed at their AGM included Crimea within Russian territory.
Russia also has high leverage over Georgia and Moldova’s energy market. In the case of Moldova, their market is dominated by Gazprom and MoldovaGaz, of which Gazprom hold the majority of shares. Even attempts to diversify Moldova’s energy dependency via the construction of the Iasi-Ungheni pipeline are unlikely, even in the best case, to provide more than a third of Moldova’s gas needs, and perhaps only 5-10 per cent.
In the energy sector, there is little the EU can do to assist these states’ dependence on cheap Russian gas. Many EU member-states are themselves dependent on Russian gas and those who receive their gas via pipelines through Ukraine are particularly vulnerable in the current crisis. The EU finds itself also in a tense situation with Russia over its right to reverse the flow of gas via Slovakia to service Ukraine’s lack of energy, which Gazprom’s CEO, Alexei Miller, claims is a “semi-fraudulent mechanism” because “this is Russian gas”.
A second area of contention regards the proposed South Stream pipeline which is designed to “diversify gas export routes and eliminate transit risks” by bypassing Ukraine, running through the Black Sea to Bulgaria, and on to Central and Southeast Europe. The European Commission has warned Bulgaria not to go ahead with the project, which severely destabilised the current Bulgarian administration and will lead to early elections being held in October.
Beyond energy dependence, there is also the ongoing threat of territorial instability. Georgia, Moldova and, now and most prominently, Ukraine all have territorial contentions with Russia. This uncertainty and instability gives Russia leverage from the perspective of knowing that states remain paranoid about future incursions, while Russia knows also that there are limits to how far these states can progress with Europeanisation while these territorial questions remain. Indeed, Moldova and Transnistria still need to resolve whether the latter will be a part of Moldova’s Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement with the EU or not. Poroshenko has argued that Crimea is part of Ukraine’s agreement with the EU and that without the return of Crimea, “normal” relations between Ukraine and Russia will not be possible.
This year will be remembered in Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia as a year in which their relationship with the EU altered dramatically with the formalised signing of the Association Agreements and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreements. In the case of Ukraine, it will be remembered also as the year of “revolution of dignity” which led also to an unfathomable deterioration in Ukraine’s relations with Russia, and as a year in which Ukraine’s right to govern Crimea, and parts of Donetsk and Lugansk, began to face an unprecedented challenge.
These are challenges that Georgia and Moldova have faced since the beginning of the post-Soviet period. The EU must realise that even if it does not pitch itself to be in competition with Russia, this is a naive position which ignores the extent to which Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, at least symbolically, see Europeanisation as reversing ‘Sovietisation’, and as a decoupling of their centre-periphery relations with Russia, in favour of a new centre-periphery relationship with the EU. The question now is how these states’ relationships with the EU and Russia, and their own citizens too, can be managed, and in turn how the EU can manage its relationship with Russia.
This article was originally posted on LSE’s EUROPP blog.
The Eastern Partnership is an initiative aimed at strengthening the EU’s relations with neighbouring states in Eastern Europe. Ahead of the next Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius in November, Ellie Knott assesses the factors influencing Moldova’s relationship with the EU. She notes that although Moldova has been governed by pro-EU governments since 2009, the country has come under significant pressure from Russia. Moldova may also need to resolve its relationship with the disputed territory of Transnistria before it can progress further along the path to EU accession.
After the Alliance for European Integration came to power in 2009, ending eight years of rule by Moldova’s Communist Party (PCRM), the main goal of Moldova’s foreign policy became clear: the desire for European integration. Moldova has been one of the few success stories of the EU’s Eastern Partnership (EaP). The next EaP summit, to be held in Vilnius in November, is highly anticipated as Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia are all hoping that their progress towards European integration will be rewarded with the signing of EU Association Agreements, deep and comprehensive free trade agreements, and progress with visa liberalisation regimes. However there is a need to be realistic about these states’ relations with the EU, given the problems they face internally and externally.
The progress of the Alliance for European Integration has been notable, as it has been able to change the perceptions of Moldova from the “last bastion of Communism in Europe” to the “recognised leader” of the EaP. However Moldova has also had its fair share of political crises, with parliament unable to elect a President between 2009 and 2012. Then in February 2013, the Alliance for European Integration was dissolved following allegations of corruption and tensions within the coalition parties. Parliament removed the Prime Minister, Vlad Filat, and the constitutional court ruled that a new Prime Minister had to be instated. Moldova was therefore left without a government until May 2013 when the Pro-European coalition was formed. These crises have damaged Moldova’s reputation as the EaP leader by demonstrating the fragility of Moldovan politics, and deepened a loss of faith in politics among Moldovan society.
For countries like Moldova, there is huge symbolic importance placed on the signing of an Association Agreement with the EU. From the EU’s perspective, it is a “game changer” because “for the first time we [the EU] will make a quantum leap towards… real transformation in that post soviet space”. Similarly, some political analysts have identified the signing of an Association Agreement as the point at which Moldova will decisively and irrevocably exit from the ‘Russian World’. Many in Moldova are pleased at the prospect of being able to divorce themselves, at least symbolically, from Russia’s influence. However this ignores the problem of Transnistria, the large community of Russian speakers in Moldova, the large migrant Moldovan labour force in Russia, and Moldova’s opposition parties that prefer relations with Russia over the EU.
Beyond the symbolic level, there are material political reasons for seeing Association Agreements with EaP states as a decisive step in the positioning of these states between east and west. The EU has underlined the “lack of compatibility” between Association Agreements and joining a Eurasian Customs Union with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. The EU explains that this is “not about politics or ideology” but reflects the principle that the EU “cannot make legally binding agreements with partners that are not in charge of their external trade policies”, as would be the case with Eurasian Customs Union agreements. While EaP states might like to keep their options open in terms of relations with the EU and Russia, the EU is unequivocal in terms of the mutual exclusivity of agreements.
For Moldova, like other EaP states, the strengthening of relations with the EU will impact upon relations with Russia. Russia is Moldova’s second largest trading partner, after the EU, and the only current provider of Moldova’s gas, although construction of the Iasi-Ungheni pipeline between Romania and Moldova will begin soon. Russia has taken an attitude towards Moldova that verges on bullying. Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s Foreign Minister, and Dimitry Rogozin, one of Russia’s Deputy Prime-Ministers, warned Moldova that EU negotiations would have consequences such as trade sanctions and increasing the price of Russian gas, with Rogozin adding “I hope you won’t freeze”.
As the Economist has argued, this is part of Putin’s policy of “arm-twisting ex-Soviet countries to join his Eurasian Customs Union”. These tactics have just worked on Armenia, whose government announced recently that it would join the Customs Union and no longer pursue EU Association status. Meanwhile, Russia recently banned Moldovan wine exports again, to encourage Moldova to reconsider its path towards closer EU cooperation.
A further complicating factor concerns Transnistria, a separatist region subsidised by Russia. The EU has sent mixed messages to Moldova about whether it has to resolve the Transnistria situation to be eligible for EU accession. In 2012, Barroso said that it was “critical to settle” the issue, but that there was not an “absolute link” between resolution and Moldova’s path towards EU integration. However in 2013 Traian Băsescu, the Romanian President and a significant supporter of Moldova joining the EU, said regarding Transnistria that “the EU will not repeat the error made with Cyprus”; thereby suggesting that Moldova has to resolve the Transnistria issue in order to progress further in its path toward accession.
Rogozin has warned Moldova that progressing further with the EU would mean they “would lose Transnistria”. Besides EU accession, if Moldova signs a deep and comprehensive free trade agreement, this will impact on Transnistria’s trade relationship with the EU, where 50-60 per cent of Transnistria’s products end up, as it will no longer benefit from Moldova’s Autonomous Trade Preferences. Transnistria will be forced to choose between joining the free trade agreement itself and being subject to the highest EU tariffs as an exporter of “goods of non-specific origin”. The EU would prefer that Moldova can convince Transnistria to join the agreement, but this seems both unlikely and wishful thinking given Transnistria and Russia’s stance on Moldovan-EU relations.
Moldova is therefore trapped in a Catch-22 situation amid on-going internal political turmoil. For many, the strengthening of Moldova’s relationship with the EU, such as signing of the deep and comprehensive free trade agreement, is the “only possible game in town”. If Moldova can sign an Association Agreement with the EU in November, this will be a good signal of how much has been achieved in a short period. However it will answer as many questions as it solves, with an Association Agreement promising nothing in terms of Moldova’s long term goal of EU accession. It will also incur severe costs in terms of relations with Russia, as Russia’s threats would impact the daily lives of Moldovans significantly.
This article was originally posted on LSE’s EUROPP blog.
Young people spearheaded the 2009 Twitter Revolution in Moldova but are now deeply disillusioned with electoral politics. The country’s future direction in Europe may depend on whether they can be re-engaged, argues Ellie Knott.
It commonly assumed that young people in Moldova are politically uninterested, inactive and inert. However they were among the most active during the 2009 Twitter Revolution against the re-election of the Communist Party.
Young people also formed a crucial part of the electorate: 18-29 year olds are the base electorate of the two of the three parties in the previous Alliance for European Integration (AIE), and the recently formed Pro-European Coalition, comprising 43% of Liberal Democrat Party’s (PLDM) votes and 41% of the Liberal Party’s (PL) votes. To hold on to power in next year’s parliamentary elections, for at least two of the three parties in the Pro-European coalition, ensuring that young people vote – and that they vote for them – will be fundamental to their continuing success.
Young people often describe the change of government in 2009, which saw the AIE displace the Communists, as a turning point for Moldovan politics. It inspired them and encouraged them to believe that things would be different. Many concede that since the ‘democratic’ parties took power the situation has improved, particularly in terms of personal and media freedom and Moldova’s progress with EU integration. But this initial positivity has been often dampened. Several interviewees described how they had stopped following the political situation in the media of late because as one put it ‘the more I watched news, the sadder I got’. They often spoke of the ‘drama’ and ‘theatrics’ of Moldovan politics, the constant fighting between politicians and how lying and stealing are running rife.
There was a lot of anger that politicians were just ‘hungry wolves’, acting in their personal business interests and rarely in the interests of society. One woman spoke of how Moldovan politics was just about ‘a few people […] dividing everything’; she said that ‘everyone knows’ what is going on but ‘no one speaks about it’. Another interviewee told me how politicians treat political parties as their ‘property’ using them to protect their interests and were unwilling to share power even within their own parties. The ‘democratic’ parties could not now be counted on to be better than the Communists. Politics was just a way for individuals to ‘have some kind of immunity and no one can touch you’ from their corrupt businesses and ‘dirty stuff’ that politicians were involved in.
Many felt voting had no impact. One interviewee explained how he felt his vote could influence who was elected, but you could not then count on those elected to follow through on their electoral promises. Several people I encountered said that they would not be voting in future because they felt let down by the current political environment and by the failure of changes that they had hoped, and campaigned for after 2009 to materialise.
A more alarming aspect of this disenchantment was that some saw a need for authoritarianism in a desperate attempt to achieve the social and economic changes necessary, for example, for EU integration. One conversation along these lines began with a man discussing how he wanted more power to lie with the president because Moldova needed ‘one good, responsible leader’. He continued by saying that a ‘dictatorial system is needed for sometime’ because Moldovans were spoilt by ‘democratic concepts’, ‘too free’ and ‘don’t respect anyone’.
Divisions over integration
Four years after it was formed, for many young people, the leaders and parties of the Alliance for Integration, and now the Pro-European Coalition, have failed to show themselves to be anything other than dirty and corrupt. The coalition is now faced with the difficult task of convincing younger sections of the electorate that it is worth voting for them, and worth participating in a political process where current politicians inspire little hope.
At the same time, if the Pro-European politicians are not able to do this then the Communists (PCRM) may get back into power, alone or in coalition with the Democrats (PDM). Many of those I spoke to did not think this would change the domestic situation in Moldova much. But in terms of foreign policy, the gap between the AIE parties and PCRM is huge. While the AIE is resolute in pursuing EU integration and the Communists support ties with Russia, the CIS and the project of Eurasian Integration. While the electorate overall is split in their preferences for European or Eurasian integration, Moldovan youth are stronger in their support of European integration. The future direction of Moldova may rest on how its post-Soviet generation can be inspired to participate in politics.