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Crises leave Moldova’s EU integration in tatters

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moldova_flag_wallpaper_2-широкОд Мартин Бенкс и Колин Стивенс

Moldova, one of the former Soviet republics, sits at the crossroads between East and West. But many observers now say it is also standing at another, rather more significant crossroads – one that will decide its very future.  

The tiny country with a population of just 3.5 million people and which gained its independence in 1991, is facing a crisis triggered by two recent events. Flashpoint number one came with the arrest of former Moldovan prime minister Vlad Filat who is accused of being directly involved in a scandal that saw 1bn US dollars vanish from three of the country’s bank, a crime dubbed the “robbery of the century.”

Lightning rod number two happened on 29 October with the fall of the short lived, pro-European coalition government following a vote of no confidence in the Moldovan parliament. The result of these two seismic events is an almost inevitable halt to Moldova’s integration with the EU. Since the early 1990s, power has alternated between the Communist Party, which has traditionally sought stronger ties with Russia, and pro-European parties that have staunchly advocated membership in the European Union. For years, Moldova was dominated by the ‘Two Vlads’, rival oligarchic politicians with a pro European political ideology.

In 2009, the pro-Europeans came to power and made progress toward their goal. They signed an association agreement to deepen political ties with Brussels and gradually integrate Moldova into the European common market. Exports increased, the economy grew and, in return for a series of reforms, including improving human rights, Moldovan citizens were granted visa-free travel into E.U. territory. “Yet today,” believes Thorbjorn Jagland, secretary general of the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe, “the picture is far less optimistic.”

He added: “Over the past six years little has been done to open up the country’s economy and its institutions. Corruption remains endemic and the state is still in the hands of oligarchs, while punishingly low incomes have propelled hundreds of thousands of Moldovans to go abroad in search of a better life.”

Evidence implicates Filat in the taking of more than $200 million dollars in bribes and establishes his links to Ilan Shor, the businessman who is the main suspect in  banking scandal. The scandal has come to epitomize the state’s failure to protect  citizens’ interests. The regional picture is also bleak with a deterioration in relations with Transnistria, the breakaway province alongside Moldova’s eastern side.

Маркетинг

Vlad Filat, who denies the charges against him, has been arrested, a criminal investigation has been launched, alleging charges of corruption when he was heading the government. For many, Filat’s arrest is just the tip of an iceberg, concealing a pervasively corrupt political system. Over the past six years Moldova has undergone a sad decline, from being hailed as the “success story” of the Eastern Partnership to being called a “captured state” by Jagland, a former prime minister of Norway.

In April this year the British investigative company Kroll compiled a report – which was soon leaked – on the missing money, commissioned by the heads of the National Bank, the Anticorruption Centre, the Secret Service.

They all claimed they were perfectly aware of the criminal schemes and had already informed the prime minister, the parliament and the president. This put the spotlight on a system where state servants had no independence but merely waited for instructions from their political masters.  What does all this say of the country’s supposed pro-European reforms?  Experts claim they were a mere imitation of reform carried out in order to obtain political and financial support from the EU.

Igor Dodon, the leader of the Socialists party in Moldova, said the disappearance of so much money in the banking scandal showed how the EU had “backed the wrong horse” by backing Moldova’s pro European forces which have held power since 2009.  “The more money Europe gives,” says Dodon, “the more money our oligarchs steal.”  So, what for the future?  Jagland and others say that Moldova’s newly formed government “must act quickly.”  He said “In today’s Europe, a state’s strength and stability depends on its commitment to democracy and the rule of law.”

Moldova, too, must now think of its democratic security.  Alongside the urgent measures needed to fix the banks, Jagland believes “the government must immediately begin purging corrupt officials from public bodies. As a start, the dozens of judges — some very high-profile — who have been accused of egregiously abusing their power should be investigated, say observers.  They say law enforcement agencies must also do everything they can to arrest the individuals responsible for the massive bank fraud.

“In order to give people confidence that justice will be served in these cases,” adds Jagland, “murky political interference must be eliminated from the judicial system. And to prove that no one is above the law, the current blanket immunity from prosecution enjoyed by members of Parliament should be reduced.”

Посуштински, Молдавија, тврди тој, ќе треба да ги спроведе основните проверки на моќта што треба да постојат во секоја демократија. Дарија Гончеарова, поранешна молдавска дипломатка и истражувачка од Брисел за регионот на Источното партнерство, вели дека апсењето на Филат, всушност, може да има позитивно влијание ако удри удар против културата на политичка неказнивост и замолчи за корупција на високо ниво.

More legal cases may follow that will involve officials outside of Filat’s circle and empower law enforcement and anti-corruption officials.  The arrest should also be a signal for the EU that is time to end its policy of pretending that Moldova’s leaders are genuinely committed to pro-European reform and the fight against corruption.

Looking to the future, Jagland says the Council of Europe will seek to help Moldova carry out reforms that meet international standards and are deemed legitimate at home and abroad.  “Whatever their differing hopes for the country’s future,” he stated,”both the European Union and the Russian Federation have an interest in the success of these efforts. Neither will benefit from a weak neighbor that brings with it financial black holes, organized crime, trafficking and uncontrolled migration.”

Амбасадорката на Европската унија во Молдавија, Пирка Тапиола, го изрази стравот што ги зафати локалните жители и странските дипломати. „Немам одговор за вас како е можно да се украдат толку пари од мала земја“, рече тој.

What is certain is that Moldova is currently undergoing a real political earthquake and is at risk of becoming Europe’s next security crisis, with potential consequences far beyond its borders.  The country faces the prospect of the failure of the state if its young democratic system remains in the hands of the oligarchs.  The consensus is that if the authorities fail to do what is needed to restore external support, and quickly, the country will face serious economic turmoil.

Social programmes for the poor and vulnerable will be cut just before the harsh winter months. Was, then, the EU just too quick to rush into signing an Eastern Partnership association agreement with Moldova?  Recent developments would suggest it was and perhaps, as many argue, the time has now come for Brussels to admit that it was completely misled by Moldova’s pro European bid.

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