L’invité D&B: Moldova and position of EaP leader between forced reforms and advantage of regional comparison

By Dionis Cenuşa° – initially published on IPN

dionis_cenusa_thumb° 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.

As long as the European conditionality is unable to generate a transformation in the political elites, the real advancing of democracy and the European project are improbable

The cumulative progress made by Moldova in relation to the European Union in 2015-2016 was sufficient for Moldova to remain on leading positions within the Eastern Partnership (EaP). Partially, Moldova’s lead in the EaP Countries Index (Eastern Partnership Forum, January 2018) is determined by the previous positive evolutions, such as the visa-free regime with the EU. At the same time, the more favorable position of Moldova is substantially due to the fact that a series of results achieved by Georgia and Ukraine became visible later (2016-2017). The speed at which Georgia and Ukraine move generates fertile ground for these to catch up with Moldova or even to outstrip it in the nearest future. The other EaP countries – Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus – are in a limited or selective European integration process. Armenia has bigger chances of coming closer to the EaP nucleus countries after it committed itself to implement the Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement with the EU, which was signed at the EaP Summit of November 2017.

Table 1. General rankings of Eastern Partnership countries

Eastern Partnership Index year

2012-2013

2013-2014

2014-2015

2015-2016

 

 

 

General rankings

1. Moldova

2. Georgia

3. Ukraine

4. Armenia

5. Azerbaijan

6. Belarus

1. Moldova

2. Georgia

3. Ukraine

4. Armenia

5. Azerbaijan

6. Belarus

1. Moldova

2. Georgia

3. Ukraine

4. Armenia

5. Azerbaijan

6. Belarus

1. Moldova

2. Georgia

3. Ukraine

4. Armenia

5. Azerbaijan

6. Belarus

The methodology used to compile the Index takes into account the approximation of the legislation and ties between the EaP countries and the EU. By measuring the approximation, it is deduced how much the six countries came closer to the European and international legislation. In the assessment of ties, emphasis is placed on the intensity of connections at the economic (commercial flows) and social and inter-human (academic mobility of citizens, etc.) levels. For now, this Index is the only instrument for objectively measuring the performance of the six EaP countries, initiated by representatives of civil society. The comparing of the six countries is aimed at stimulating competition in the region, as a result of which the authorities can become more interested in improving performance or, on the contrary, in keeping the previous advantages.

Moldova’s disadvantages on disintegration of data

A more distinct situation is ascertained when attentively examining the performance of countries by sectors. Of six subsectors, Moldova ranks first only in one subsector – citizens in Europe. In democracy and human rights, it shares the first place with Georgia. In the other cases, Moldova ranks second or third, being outrun by Ukraine and even Armenia. (See Table below)

 

Table 2. Sector rankings of Eastern Partnership countries

Eastern Partnership Index year

2015-2016

 

 

 

General rankings

1. Moldova

2. Georgia

3. Ukraine

4. Armenia

5. Azerbaijan

6. Belarus

Democracy and human rights 1. Moldova, Georgia

2. Ukraine

3. Armenia

4. Azerbaijan

5. Belarus

European integration and convergence 1. Ukraine

2. Moldova

3. Georgia, Armenia

4. Azerbaijan

5. Belarus

Sustainable development 1. Armenia

2. Moldova, Azerbaijan

3. Ukraine

4. Georgia

5. Belarus

International security, political dialogue and cooperation 1. Ukraine

2. Georgia

3. Moldova

4. Belarus

5. Armenia

6. Azerbaijan

Sector cooperation and commercial flows 1. Ukraine

2. Moldova

3. Georgia

4. Azerbaijan

5. Armenia

6. Belarus

Citizens in Europe 1. Moldova

2. Georgia

3. Armenia

4. Belarus

5. Ukraine

6. Azerbaijan

Source: Eastern Partnership Index Report

The Report does not yet enable to profoundly assess the transformations that take place following the interaction between the Eastern Partnership countries and the EU. But it manages to assess the situation in the region, where the phenomenon of “state capture” is widespread, while the European integration is stopped, dallied or denatured by institutions that are corrupt and/or subject to oligarchic interests.

Owing to the low quality of governance in the region, with small exceptions in Georgia, the comparison standards of countries are at a rather low level. That’s why amid the amorphous state of democracy, the regression in a country could remain unnoticed, while the positive measures, on the contrary, could have a substantial impact on the rankings. This can explain how Moldova obtained the best position in the period (2015-2016) during which the banking frauds became internationally known, leading to a decline of about 15% in the GDP and the freezing of the EU’s budget support.

Effect of forced reforms and situation in the region

The main drawback of the indicators used to assess the EaP countries resides in the impossibility of performing a profound and qualitative evaluation. On the one hand, this thing spares the assessment from assessors’ subjectivity. On the other hand, the strict following of the measuring criteria can result in the placing of Moldova on the last position.

At the regional level, the Eastern Partnership is divided into at least three groups of states.

The first group includes Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine, which have close relations with the EU owing to the Association Agreements. However, democracies in these countries are undermined by the political forces that pursue narrow goals, being managed by oligarchic groups openly or secretly.

The second group includes Armenia, which tries to combine the rapprochement with the EU and the renewal of relations with the EU. However, the level of rapprochement with the EU will always be partial in the legislative approximation process, which is not at all preferred by Russia in its area of geopolitical influence.

The last group includes Azerbaijani and Belarus, which are governed by the most authoritarian regimes in the EaP. These want nothing else but to enter the EU market and gain access to EU investments. Both of the countries consider the European model is a threat to the durability of their non-democratic regimes. That’s why the approximation there is impossible and the appearance of intolerance of the EU’s pro-democratic interventions is encouraged in the two countries.

Thus, Moldova can be compared only with countries of the first group – Ukraine and Georgia, where the involution is more frequent than the progress. Now that the two countries obtained the visa-free regime (2017), the competition with Moldova for the lead in the general rankings will intensify.

The only stimulus that can push Moldova up is the conditionality that has been applied by the EU in a move visible way after 2015, more than in any other country of the Eastern neighborhood. The maximal use of conditionality forces reforms, which the ruling political forces do not want to implement till the end. This can push Moldova up in the rankings or keep it on the same position.

In reality, the rapprochement between the Eastern European countries and the EU is a difficult and long-lasting process that should definitely involve the building of living standards comparable with the EU’s. This way the rankings could become the authentic reflection of positive transformations in societies in the EU’s neighborhood, which do not yet benefit from clear European perspectives even if they are absorbed in the European integration.

Instead of conclusion…

The EaP rankings assess the countries of the region according to strict criteria, aiming to ensure a more objective evaluation. Even if Moldova remains a leader in the general rankings, it is outdone by Ukraine and Armenia in a number of areas.

Anyway, the mediocre quality of institutions and, respectively, of governance at regional level allows countries like Moldova to become rankings leaders despite multiple deficiencies at state level that affect the European integration process.

By the use of conditionality by the EU, the Moldovan authorities can be made to do different reforms. This can help Moldova remain at the forefront of the EaP. But as long as the European conditionality is unable to generate a transformation in the political elites, the real advancing of democracy and of the European project is improbable.

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