Collapse of Moldova’s ‘Pro-Europe’ Coalition Debunks Supposed Eastern Partnership ‘Success Story’

March 7, 2013
James George Jatras
Deputy Director, AIU

Moldova is a “successful story of the Eastern Partnership,” according to a Romanian foreign ministry release earlier this year, feeding expectations that Chișinău would be offered an Association Agreement with the European Union (EU) this autumn. Already highly questionable at the time that observation was made by Romanian Foreign Minister Titus Corlățean, the notion of Moldova as any kind of “successful” model of European integration was rendered unsustainable by the March 5 collapse of the ruling pro-EU coalition amid charges and countercharges of scandal and corruption.

With the fall of the shaky coalition government of Prime Minister Vlad Filat, Moldova seems ready to return to the period of protracted political stalemate it experienced between 2009 and 2012, when a divided parliament was unable even to agree on electing a president. Perhaps worse, with elections now expected to take place in June, there is no reason to believe a more stable political order will form anytime soon.

Even more harmful to Moldova’s European integration prospects than the downfall of the Filat government on a no-confidence vote is the chaotic and acrimonious circumstances behind it. Of the three parties making up the now-defunct “Alliance for European Integration” (AIE) government, one (the Democratic Party of Marian Lupu) voted with the opposition Communists to bring down the government, and another (the Liberal Party of Mihai Ghimpu) abstained from the vote.

The decision of parties in the ruling coalition to help bring down their own government isn’t surprising. Characterized as a “a shotgun ‘menage a trois’,” the AIE coalition already was reeling from the “Huntgate” scandal surrounding the December 2012 shooting death of Sorin Paciu, a 34-year-old businessman, and Filat’s call for the resignation of Prosecutor General Valeriu Zubco (an appointee of Lupu’s Democrats), whom an anti-mafia activist accused of the killing. In what some regarded as retaliation, prosecutors have indicted Finance Minister Veaceslav Negruţă – an appointee of Filat’s Liberal Democratic Party – as well as the Moldova’s Health Minister and the country’s top tax official for unlawfully authorizing a payment of €400,000 to a Liberal Democratic Party colleague.

As observed by Dumitru Minzarari of the Washington-based Jamestown Foundation, which supports Moldova’s “Euro-Atlantic” integration:

  • Moldovan ruling elites are engaged in an uncompromising feud, resembling an Italian vendetta. In fact, what is unraveling today in Moldova greatly resembles the failure several years ago of the pro-Western parties in Ukraine. [ . . . ]
  • The highest risk, however, is not that the destruction of the AIE will impede the EU-integration project of Moldova. In fact, it was doomed from the very moment the EU failed in 2009 to pressure the AIE coalition to support much-needed institutional reforms. The current AIE coalition is plagued by corruption and rent-seeking among all three parties’ governing officials. The prime minister is left effectively at the mercy of coalition parties, which really own the individual ministries through the ministers they appointed. Every AIE-member party leads the ministries they control in a feudalist fashion, through personal loyalty links rather than according to the law. A report by a leading Moldovan think-tank, “Expert Group,” underscored the extremely poor performance of Moldova’s public institutions, emphasizing their lowest economic efficiency since 2008.

Or, to put it more simply, rosy and self-deceptive assessments by EU officials that Moldova was the most qualified among Eastern Partnership countries for an Association Agreement never were based on fact. The noisy downfall of the AIE coalition merely pulled the mask off of its underlying dysfunctionalism and dishonesty.

Even if a stable coalition can be formed after June elections – by no means a sure bet – it is hard to see how Moldova’s eligibility for an Association Agreement can be put back on track. After all, following Ukrainian President Yanukovich’s recent Brussels visit, Kiev was given what amounted to an ultimatum to satisfy EU demands by the end of May. Why should Chișinău expect what would have to be a far more generous timetable?

Finally, underlying Moldova’s lingering and endemic instability is the ongoing unresolved “frozen conflict” with respect to Pridnestrovie. Perhaps one reason why Moldova’s “pro-Europe” coalition was able successfully to pass off as genuine its supposed achievements in the areas of anti-corruption and legal reforms commensurate with EU standards is the unrealistic desire of some European capitals (especially Bucharest) to “reintegrate” Moldova into Romania, along with Pridnestrovie. This is all the more reason why Kiev – both representing Ukraine and as chair of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) – needs to take an active and positive role in the “5+2” negotiations on Pridnestrovie that are crucial to Moldova’s future stability.