13th Jul 2020

EU-backed Moldovan government faces democracy 'test'

  • Moldovan PM Filat (l) has the support of EU commissioner Fuele (r) (Photo: European Commission)

A year after coming to power, Moldova's pro-EU government has made progress on economic and democratic reforms which still face an important "sustainability test" this fall, when early parliamentary and presidential elections are set to take place, the EU commission says.

"On the EU agenda, a lot has been achieved so far thanks to considerable efforts that Moldova and EU have deployed," EU enlargement and neighbourhood policy commissioner Stefan Fuele said on Wednesday (9 June) in the European Parliament.

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He was speaking at a hearing with Moldovan Prime Minister Vlad Filat, accompanied by two of his ministers, who gave a round-up of the situation in the EU's poorest eastern neighbour, a year on after the street protests and early elections that ended Communist rule and swept the new liberal-democrat coalition into power.

The EU's multi-million financial assistance, along with the upcoming launch of visa-free negotiations and the arrival of EU experts sent to help the government in pushing through economic, judicial and political reforms "demonstrate the confidence of the EU in Moldova's commitment to the process of European integration and development of its democratic culture," Mr Fuele said.

"On this path, Moldova does not stand alone," he added.

The commission official warned Chisinau that it still faces "a very important test of the sustainability of democratic reforms" later this fall, when the government has planned a referendum on a constitutional change and early presidential and parliamentary elections.

The move is the only solution Mr Filat's team could find to end a political stalemate after twice failing to gather enough support in the Communist Party to elect the country's president. In September, Moldovans will be asked if they support a change in the system so that the president is elected by direct vote instead of a parliamentary procedure.

"The European Commission and myself hope the pro-European and democratic forces will pass this test successfully," Mr Fuele said.

Unlike the Communist Party in its time in power, Mr Filat pledged not to crack down on any of the opposition protests that are likely to take place in the run-up to the elections. "We believe they have the right to rally, just like every other Moldovan citizen, if they have points of view they want to express," Mr Filat said.

Thousands of young people took to the streets of Chisinau in April 2009 to protest against voting fraud. The demonstration turned violent when the crowd attacked official buildings, while a subsequent police crackdown saw three protesters die in suspicious circumstances. A parliamentary inquiry has meanwhile come up with its report and is now awaiting amendments from all parties. In parallel, a criminal case filed with the general prosecutor's office is ongoing, Mr Filat said.

"I am really annoyed it takes so long to reach a verdict and then talk openly about it. We need to find out truth and who was guilty," the Liberal politician explained.

Reshaping the dysfunctional judiciary, getting rid of corrupt judges and clamping down on fraud an organised crime feature prominently on the reformist agenda, the country's justice minister added. Both he and the premier highlighted the difficulties in bringing about a mentality change within the society in such a short time, however.

When a lesbian and gay rights organisation requested to hold a parade in the Moldovan capital, the local administration struck it down, despite the government's stance that no rallies should be banned. Mr Filat said his team was working on an anti-discrimination law which would oblige every level of government to uphold such principles in future.

Opposition from the country's traditionalist Orthodox Church also influences the political process. A former security and defence minister in the Communist government has started up an initiative gathering signatures with the help of the church for the introduction of mandatory Orthodox classes in school.

"Church involvement in politics is unacceptable. There are some initiatives to amend legislation, we think this action has political aims and we'll follow this process and manage it carefully," Mr Filat said.

EU involvement for Transnistria

Mr Filat, who also held talks with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on Wednesday, said his government welcomed the idea launched last week by German chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Dmitry Medevedev to set up a joint EU-Russia security committee. Ms Merkel had mentioned Moldova's breakaway region of Transnistria as one problem for which the committee could find a solution.

The Russian-backed regime in the thin patch of land stretching along Moldova's eastern border is a safe haven for smugglers and human traffickers, with the EU currently having a limited role in mediating the reconciliation process. Some 1,300 Russian 'peacekeeping' troops are still stationed in the Soviet-era-like region.

"We hope the German position will soon become a common EU position," Mr Filat said. "The EU needs to have an increased role in the negotiation process."

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