Over the past decade, European integration has become a permanent source either for inflaming false debates, or for spreading exaggerated expectations among the Moldovan public. With the encouragement of the visa-free regime with the EU, the number of Moldovans visiting Europe has increased. Nevertheless, the impact on their understanding of the EU remains insignificant.
The ‘free riders’
Some people simplify the EU by imagining it as an endless source of benefits coming from outside without any price. They perceive Brussels as a donor that can ensure cheap or even free assistance in return for pro-EU sympathies. Such an approach severely weakens the concept of ‘conditionality’ that accompanies the EU’s assistance. And it serves as criticism for those who perceive ‘conditionality’ as a threat to national sovereignty. So far, only a few voices in Moldova have had the courage to remind the people that EU assistance comes from taxes paid by the citizens of 28 European member states. The idea that the help is not coming for free is quite weak. In reality, the benefits that Moldovans can enjoy stem from clear commitments that the government should fulfil.
Currently, there is the perception that the EU is contributing to worsening political governance in Moldova. Certainly, the EU misunderstood the signals coming from Chisinau, misreading the local politics and trusting easily the political amateurs dubbed ‘pro-European’ stakeholders. But this criticism is only partially legitimate. The local media, non-governmental organizations and opposition political party also share responsibility . Many of them were so closely intertwined with the ruling political parties as to be indirectly complicit. But almost no sharp word was addressed to the mass-media and NGOs for being tolerant towards so-called pro-EU political parties. More than that, a big portion of criticism deserves to go to the opposition parties. Being destructive, untrustworthy or deeply demagogical players, they failed to mobilize citizens earlier, thereby anticipating the crises that have devastated Moldovan politics since 2012.
The way it should be
The truth about European integration in Moldova is somewhere in the middle. Indeed, the EU’s interests consist of building a secure, stable, and prosperous neighbourhood, and not to destroy or weaken it. But for this goal, what is needed is a big ‘hora’ (Moldovan traditional dance in which people dance in a circle). This should involve governance, opposition, mass-media, civil society and citizens. Effective and sustainable changes cannot result from pure ‘conditionality’ tools possessed by the EU and other stakeholders. Cross- and intra-sectoral cooperation, dialogue and monitoring must be applied. The total dependence on external ‘conditionality’ should be replaced with large civic participation, professionalized media institutions, and constructive political opposition that aim to serve national and public interests. ‘Conditionality’ can play an important role, but must be in addition to the efforts coming from domestic actors.
What is the price?
Europe is far from being perfect, but it evolves and its aim is to become a better place for European citizens. Moldova is engaged in learning from the European experience, and it has the possibility to follow the best practices, using the expertise and the financial assistance offered by the EU and its member states. Nowhere in the world is the EU as generous as it is in relation to its Eastern neighbourhood, where partner countries can benefit from such significant and multifaceted support. To become a full beneficiary of this support, a reliable government, fully engaged civil society, and constructive opposition are required. It should also include an independent justice system and active citizens who claim fearlessly their civil and political, as well as social and economic rights.
It should be made crystal clear that turning into a European country and society comes with a price. Firstly, Moldovan political parties must learn to work for the people and never for their own short- or long-term gain. The main drivers for political change are the ruling political parties, as the only players who receive the public legitimacy to act on behalf of the majority. Internal democracy, clean and open finances, and smart policies, are the ingredients that parties should embody in order to be accepted into political competition. Secondly, citizens should learn to become picky, meticulous and demanding towards political parties when voting and in between electoral cycles. Non-governmental organizations and media institutions have a moral obligation to contribute to this goal.
Thirdly, a solid business community should be put in place. Being the most dynamic segment of the society, the business community has the potential to push for big changes. By improving the behaviour and thinking of their staff, business can cultivate a conscious and rigorous army of employees, but also of citizens. It is also the case that businesses, especially the smaller ones, play an important role in ensuring democracy and liberal and open economies, and as such are important stakeholders for sustainable change.
It might sound like an idealistic recipe for solving Moldova’s cumulated problems. In reality, these are the inevitable steps that Moldovan society must take to evolve. To come close to European best practices means to change the ‘modus operandi’ of institutions, companies, non-governmental organizations and citizens.
Author: Denis Cenusa, Associate Expert at Think Tank Expert-Group, contributor at Info-Prim News Agency