28 February 2018

Will Moldova – in an Election Year – Lose Its Crown as Pace-Setter in the Eastern Partnership?

'Moldova is the frontrunner in both dimensions of the Eastern Partnership Index 2015-2016, but is closely followed in Linkage by Georgia and in Approximation by Ukraine.' - Eastern Partnership Index 2015-2016, published by the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum

Parliamentary elections are scheduled to take place in Moldova in November 2018, not long after the next Eastern Partnership Index is due to be published. Between now and then, the current tug of war in Moldova is likely to intensify – not just between President Igor Dodon's tilt towards Russia and the stated pro-EU policies of the current government, but also between those who value an active civil society and those who would rather independent civic actors kept out of politics, between those who cherish a diverse and independent media and those who want a media that backs their political and business interests, and between those who want an independent judiciary and prosecution service versus those who would prefer to continue to enrich themselves at the expense of the public purse.

This is not a split based on geopolitical orientation (there is even collusion between the so-called pro-Russia and pro-EU forces, for instance on pushing through the change to a mixed electoral system, strengthening the hands of business interests in the new single-member seats), and the future democratic trajectory depends on new political actors emerging, either to form government or to work intensely with civil society and independent media to hold the government to account.

Sound familiar? Yes, it could be said of other Eastern Partnership countries too (we all know that Ukraine and Georgia have their own problems with the nexus of political power, media, and business).

The latest edition of the Eastern Partnership Index covered the first year of the Association Agreements between three EaP countries (Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine), and saw Moldova retain its leading position, but a more comprehensive picture will be available in the next edition of the Index, due to be published in September/October 2018. Just as Ukraine had a later start with the new trade arrangements (the bilateral Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area agreements with the EU), so the forthcoming index will also reflect the fact that Georgia and Ukraine have caught up with Moldova in securing visa-free travel to the Schengen zone.

After a pause to refine the methodology, not least to reflect the increased importance of sustainable development, human rights, and security in the region, the new Index rests on two dimensions: Approximation and Linkage. What was formerly known as the Eastern Partnership European Integration Index (last edition 2014, published in 2015) has been transformed into the Eastern Partnership Index. The new Eastern Partnership Index (the 2015-2016 edition – Editor in Chief: Jeff Lovitt) is now published and online, events were held in Brussels and Kyiv recently, and more will follow.

The results show that the entry into force of the Association Agreements brought about considerable headway in integration with the EU in the case of Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine within the period covered (the data takes in developments until the end of December 2016, although the narrative shows the full picture until the end of 2017).

Moldova emerged as the frontrunner in the 2015-2016 Index, albeit with only a slight advantage over Georgia in Linkage and over Ukraine in Approximation. Moldova may not maintain that leading position in the Index, due later this year. Indeed, already the 2015-2016 Index shows that Moldova lags behind Ukraine and Georgia when it comes to International Security, Political Dialogue and Co-operation. While Ukraine had by far the most intense political dialogue with the EU, it also enjoyed the highest position in International Security, Political Dialogue and Co-operation, and held the lead in Sectoral Co-operation and Trade Flows.

Moreover, the three Association Agreement signatories are not so far ahead of at least one of the other Eastern Partnership countries. The three were joined by Armenia as the leaders in Approximation to EU standards and international norms, a reflection of the progress that has continued in Armenia in spite of its government’s U-turn from signing an Association Agreement in 2014.

Most tellingly, the Index reflects the need to fight state capture and to strengthen oversight (including by civil society and other independent experts) in Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia. In Belarus and Azerbaijan, the EU must work for a place at the table for civil society, and apply diplomatic efforts to free political prisoners and foster an independent media. In Armenia, civil society has been vocal in its orientation towards the EU, and strengthened support from the side of the EU is key to the country's longer-term direction.

A few other snippets from the results:

  • The three South Caucasus countries and Belarus all have a significantly more favourable business environment than Moldova and Ukraine.
  • Armenia leads in Sustainable Development, and had put in place a sustainable development policy co-ordination structure, although concerns persisted on deforestation, ineffective management of water resources, and weak pollution controls. 
  • Azerbaijan is placed fourth for Sectoral Co-operation and Trade Flows, ahead of Belarus and Armenia, a reflection of Azerbaijan's stronger trade ties with the EU since Azerbaijan is not a member of the Russia-led trading bloc, the Eurasian Economic Union. 
  • Belarus has the worst record among the EaP in Deep and Sustainable Democracy, including sixth place for independent media, and – along with Azerbaijan – for freedom of speech and assembly. Azerbaijan has the worst record in democratic rights and elections, including political  pluralism.
With the new methodology in place, together with the publisher, the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum, and the wealth of experts who work with us on the Index, we are planning the launch of the 2017 Index in September/October 2018. True, by then we will have had presidential elections in Armenia, Azerbaijan, and in October also Georgia, but key parliamentary elections in November in Moldova and parliamentary and presidential elections will follow in 2019 in Ukraine (of course, in either country, the elections might be brought forward).

Eastern Partnership Index 2015-2016. Charting Progress in European Integration, Democratic Reforms, and Sustainable Development 
Editor in Chief: Jeff Lovitt
Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum, December 2017, ISBN 978-2-930970-00-4

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