The EU should reevaluate its enlargement policy and appeal in its communication strategy to the whole society, not only to politicians, writes Renate Weber.
Renate Weber, is a Liberal member of the European Parliament from Romania.
In the past few years, Moldova has become one of the geopolitical battlegrounds between East and West, as the tensions around the Eastern Partnership project arose. Last week, the EU and the Western press celebrated the narrow win of the pro-European forces in the national parliamentary elections. The elections showed that the Moldovan society is still plagued by corruption and split between supporting the Association Agreement with the EU or Putin’s Eurasian Union.
Given the results, the EU should evaluate the outcome, learn its lessons, and take future necessary steps.
As the parliamentary elections were expected to mark the popular choice between two competing offers, 30 November was a long-awaited, analysed and somewhat dreaded day for EU-Moldova relations. Following the elections, we are still celebrating the clear results, praising the European future chosen by Moldovan society. Nevertheless, why was the win so narrow and the choice so difficult?
EU-Moldova relations have strengthened remarkably during the past few years, marking solid and visible results, such as the implementation of a visa-free regime, the signature and ratification of the Association Agreement, and the trade measures aimed at counterbalancing the effects of the Russian embargo. Why then did the EU, and local pro-European forces, not capitalise enough on these measures, in order to ensure a detached win for the pro-European coalition? Is this the result of an inefficient communication strategy, or is the problem deeper-rooted and symptomatic of a bigger issue?
The unreachable dream of European integration
The lack of a clear stance or perspective for European integration is deeply discouraging for a society struggling with economic, social and political challenges. The demands from the EU are continuously growing, and the pressure for reforms is expanding, while the finality seems more vague and alienated more than ever.
In their talks with Moldova, former Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule and the former High Representative Catherine Ashton avoided words like ‘integration’, ‘membership’ or ‘candidate country’, replacing them with the vague term ‘perspective’. The current Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker also clearly stated that there will be no new country joining the EU. Although the diplomatic language was carefully picked in order to please some Western chancelleries, it came with a great price – one of sacrificing the aspirations of Eastern partners, eager to receive a long-awaited statement of commitment in reward for their efforts.
As the EU hesitates, an alternative Russian proposal lays on the table – one that is not imposing any reforms or change of mentality – the Eurasian Union. For many Moldovans, the alternative seems better explained and communicated by the pro-Russian side. It appeals to the society because it would be implemented with people sharing a common past and language, while the price to be paid is not much beyond obedience.
Diplomatic coldness is defining the EU’s communication strategy with the East, which boils down to almost exclusively high-level visits and expert meetings. EU discourse is politically correct, pretentious and pedantic. It is difficult for ordinary citizens in remote villages in Moldova to relate to. The people are emotional, and their collective memory is undeniably important. Therefore, while bureaucratic speeches work in Brussels or Berlin, in Chisinau, EU communication strategy should have a human and sensitive touch.
Collective fatigue from corruption
EU leaders are praising the Moldovan government for remarkable reforms, while corruption scandals, money laundering schemes and names involved somehow remain uncovered and unnamed. The context for naming and shaming seems always inconvenient – it is either elections, another embargo or a high-level visit, planned and announced months before. But Moldovan society is tired of endless circle of corruption and lack of accountability.
The EU should have a firm position and a stricter standpoint has to be taken. Just because a party is pro-European it should not be entitled for incontestable support. Reforms have to be implemented, not only adopted in the legislation code. Last, but certainly not the least, control over the media, economy and justice by a political oligarchy should be frowned upon. In the long run, the ‘lesser evil’ approach will do nothing else than alienate and deceive Moldovan citizens, who are still looking with admiration and hope to Brussels. Let’s not send them the cynical message that the ‘lesser evil’ has to be accepted, since integration is only a way-too-far perspective.
The momentum to reevaluate our strategy is better than ever: the elections have passed, and so did the risks of a pro-Russian leadership. Nevertheless, the results are controversial and the EU should analyse its approach and make a clear change if it wants to keep and increase its popular support in Moldova. Another few years of disappointments and citizens will lose all its trust in the West. The EU should act while it still hasthe leverage to make visible and consistent changes.