By Dionis Cenuşa° – initially published on IPN
° Dionis Cenuşa is a political scientist from Moldova who works as Program Director on Energy Security at the Independent Economic Think-tank “Expert-Group”, based in Chisinau.
The European Union’s attachment to pragmatism becomes a more accentuated constant in its relationship with the Eastern neighborhood. It is yet wrong and risky to compare the pragmatism that is increasingly embraced by the EU with the realpolitik of other large players of the region. Only someone who is insufficiently initiated can deny the fact that the profoundness of the foreign policy, which involves the Eastern neighborhood (Eastern Partnership), depends on the political will of the yet 28 member states. Therefore, the inclination to pragmatism derives from the rationalization of the European integration inside the EU and, respectively, outside it. At foreign level, the actions with concrete results are preferred to the yet unachievable and unreal political offers, such as the entry into the EU. This approach enables to more sincerely reconnect the public opinion with the European policies without which the sustainability of the European project is impossible. At the same time, the tendency to pragmatism derives from a sort of precaution as to the setting of exaggerated objectives that do not serve the immediate necessities of the people or are fully irrelevant for the good functioning of the state entities at its Eastern border.
The initial geopolitical romanticism of the EU towards the Eastern Partnership hindered it from efficiently preventing the conversion of the region into a “fire circle”. The multiple crises in the EaP states that emerged in 2009-2012, but were developed in 2013-2015 by quasi-pro-European corrupt governments, weak resilience of state constructions and interference of the Russian factor were a useful, but painful lesson for the EU. This partially explains why the European officials started to lay greater emphases on concrete facts rather than on statements. Newer, the EU is trying to promote real reforms, denouncing those that are “on paper”. But the superficiality or temporary character of reforms, contrary to the spirit of the reforms required by the Association Agreement signed with the EU, can become the catalyst of the next wave of crises in at least half of the EaP states. Such a scenario would end with profound geopolitical shocks that will discredit the European integration in its Eastern neighborhood. This will seriously impact the EU’s attempts to Europeanize the region.
The propagation of “stabilitocracy” in the Eastern Partnership, which favors corrupt elites and distances the people from the European course, is one of the key challenges for the EU. The qualitative transformation of local realities is what should guide the European interest. For this, the EU should treat objectively and should legalize the justified criticism of the ruling political forces. Such an approach will increase the political support in favor of the European integration and will stimulate an authentic political competition between the forces that claim to be pro-European. In parallel, this will diminish the influence of the Russian propaganda that is aimed at attributing a destructive role to the European factor in the region.
Development and/or European integration?
The penetration of the Eastern neighborhood by the EU generated inconveniencies to the post-Soviet governments and political classes of the region, in particular to Russia. This discomfort was caused by the export of European values (rule of law, good governance and human rights), which are promoted by the EU through the Eastern Partnership and the set of bilateral agreements. When they are functional, these European principles can endanger any political regime that is fueled through political corruption, embezzlement of public funds and weakening of institutions.
If the EU’s contribution for its Eastern neighborhood had consisted only in the export of stability and economic opportunities, neither Russia nor the non-reformist national governments would have initiated open, hidden or hybrid campaigns to boycott, paralyze or suppress the European integration. In other words, the transposition of the European normative framework to the Eastern countries, through which the European principles and values become more accessible, represents the main component that separates the European integration from the classical efforts of the promoters of international development. By nationalizing the European values, the region that has been very non-linear can be gradually and continuously democratized. The accelerators of the democratic processes in the EaP are often absent or are weak or even artificial because they represent an extension of the non-reformist political regimes.
The European integration has more profound implications for the profound transformation of the EaP countries than some international development projects. At the same time, it is more difficult to implement the European integration because it necessitates political will, functional institutions and demanding public opinion. The latter depend, for their part, on the quality of democracy inside political parties, the force and integrity of civil society, the political neutrality of the mass media and their loyalty to the public agenda, but also on the mobility of the civic spirit in society. More often, the EU has to operate in its Eastern neighborhood in the absence of these ingredients that are indispensable for establishing liberal democracy. That’s why there is no guarantee that the changes that take place in the region are irreversible.
Moldova and Europeanization on paper
Through the Association Agreement, Moldova forms part of the group of states with the most advanced relations with the EU in the Eastern neighborhood. This framework offers practically all the instruments needed for the country to integrate into the European market and to align itself to the political decisions adopted in the EU member states.
At the same time, it’s true that the commitments assumed by Moldova exceed not only the real momentary capacities of the country, but also the readiness of the political class to absorb and digest the necessary reforms till the end.
Even if conditionality elements are imposed, the implementation of reforms cannot be facilitated if there is a vacuum of political will. Without the latter, the country’s Europeanization remains on paper only, while the changes can be neither sustainable nor profound.
The involvement of the governments in a vicious circle of reforms envisions liberty and a system of limitations and balances in the functioning of institutions, but most of all predictability of the democratic processes.
The modification of the electoral legislation in the summer of 2017, in the absence of a common political and public consensus, showed that democracy is not at all predictable and is rather dirigible. In the conditions of such a democracy, any reform included in the agenda has a limited impact and this impact is also proportional to the interest of the ruling political forces.
The government’s dependence on European financial assistance is practically the only leverage by which reforms can be yet stimulated. However, for this to be different from international development projects, Brussels should tie the financing conditionality to the establishment of such European values as the rule of law, good governance and human rights. By such logic, the EU should at least delay the allocation of the first tranche from the macro-financial assistance of €100 million. Or the EU will transmit a wrong message to the government, encouraging it to continue to mimic reforms and to spoil the European values. Moreover, the EU will miss the opportunity to strengthen its image in the eyes of the public opinion, which, being unable to penalize the government, expects measures comparable with penalty from the EU and other foreign partners.
Instead of conclusion…
As the European values are perceived as a threat by the corrupt political forces in the Eastern Partnership countries and are the main targets of the Russian propaganda, the EU is obliged to double its efforts to protect and promote them.
The EU should act based on the commitments assumed through the Association Agreement and should focus on its complete implementation by the transposition of the European values, not only of the specialized legislation. The establishing and efficiency of reforms depend on the visibility of independent institutions, which is impossible if the political factor neglects or undermines good governance and other European principles.
The quality of the European integration and the continuous democratization of the region depend a lot on the attention devoted to the way in which the rule of law or the human rights are observed. The ignoring of these aspects can disqualify the European integration process, transforming it into an ordinary intervention with a limited impact, dedicated to the development of the countries in transition.