Alegerile parlamentare din 2021 în Republica Moldova -

Referendum on joining EU

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December 23, 2002
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Vladimir Voronin’s visit to Washington and his appeal to heads of EU states to support Republic of Moldova’s efforts to join EU are undoubtedly the most significant events of the 2002 political year. Both of them may be regarded as follow-ups to the Prague and Copenhagen Summits, where major decisions with regard to NATO and EU extension were adopted. Under those circumstances Moldova becomes a neighborhood country to both structures.

President Voronin visit to Washington on December 17–20 might prove very handy in settling problems that might facilitate joining EU. In this respect, the joint statement of Presidents Bush and Voronin refers specifically to the US support in settling Transdnistrian conflict, assistance in foreign debts settlement, and economic recovery of the Republic of Moldova. Indeed Republic of Moldova could count on US support if it continues economic reforms and observes democratic standards.

As for EU integration, this is a long-term desideratum. Voronin’s message to European officials reads “the idea of EU integration is a unifying and mobilizing factor for the country”. The truth is that EU integration is a mobilizing factor only for the citizens who voted for opposition parties, and they account for 47% of the electorate, according to the last election results. In the very same election the unifying idea for 50% of the voters was joining Russia-Belarus Union and the champion of this ideal was the Communist Party headed by Vladimir Voronin. Several polls conducted in 2002 indicate that the number of people supporting EU integration equals the number of people supporting integration with Community of Independent States (CIS). Consequently it would take considerable efforts to consolidate the society around the ideal of European integration. Indeed, President Vladimir Voronin has the power to influence and convince the party electorate that EU integration opens large perspectives for the Republic of Moldova normal development. However, it would be much more difficult to convince the opposition that authorities are sincere in promoting EU integration. Opposition does not indulge itself in being naive.

One may say President’s message on EU integration was intended rather for the abroad audience. On the other hand, opposition believes there is an authoritarian regime in the country, and that is exactly why they appealed to Council of Europe to closely monitor the country so as to prevent any “slippage from democratic norms”. And most notably, the party headed by the President of the country hasn’t been reformed yet, continuing to operate under Marxist-Leninist principles. All the aforesaid point that there are far too many domestic problems and that Moldova is still too far from meeting the EU standards. An illustration of this is the document made public by TACIS country representative, Jo Declercq, which calmed down Moldovan authorities’ integration fever right at the time Voronin was on official visit in Washington. The aforesaid document is three years old and outlines the conditions to be met by the country in order to initiate talks with EU. The document was probably developed at the time of Sturza Government, which made EU integration one of its top priorities. Now we realize that we have lost three years in vain and are still not in position to initiate negotiations.

Indeed, the President may invite pro-European parties for consultations within the framework of the Social Pact, which he initiated in view of elaborating the Strategy of EU integration. But it seems that the Communist Party and opposition compete in advocating for EU integration. Furthermore, even opposition parties contest among themselves who’s the pioneer in launching EU integration idea. Given the aforesaid Christian-Democrats idea to initiate a referendum so as to consult the citizens seems timely and appropriate. The fact is that only a referendum might turn the idea of European integration from political speculations to a legal issue, as citizens stand for the sovereignty. Furthermore, once referendum is initiated both authorities and leaders of the ruling party would find it difficult to hamper it or to avoid electioneering in favor of European integration. Still if they were to do so, they would have been accused of insincerity and would have put the President in a quite difficult position, as he was the one to issue in September a Decree on establishing a National Commission for European Integration. On the other hand, electioneering for integration would not exactly help Communists to save their face, due to the huge contrast between their political program and EU integration principles. The referendum would force the Communist party to initiate reforms within the party and to adjust its political program to the EU requirements.

This undertaking is an intelligent and tiresome effort. It is a challenge both for the ruling party as well as for the opposition parties. The only solution for the ruling party is to reform itself prior to the referendum, which won’t be easy to achieve due to the shortage of time. Furthermore this undertaking might endanger the Communist party unity.

The opposition parties are also not in the best situation. Although they share similar values Christian-Democratic Peoples’ Party and the rest of opposition parties are in the state of “cold war”. Several years ago, during its “clean hands” campaign Christian-Democrats accused their former coalition partners of corruption, fact that resulted in the ousting of the reformist Ion Sturza Government. The court didn’t find enough evidence to support Christian-Democrats’ allegations, rather those allegations ruined small but promising parties.

The differences between Christian-Democrats and other opposition parties have surfaced this year during the protest rallies initiated by the Christian-Democrats in the form of “meetings with voters”. On these grounds, Christian-Democrats were accused that they “monopolized the microphone” on the Great National Assembly square, where the protest rallies were staged. Once Christian-Democrats launched the idea of a referendum on EU integration, the rest of opposition parties have no excuses to refrain from supporting the initiative. They were the ones to launch the idea of EU integration in 2000 when 20 out of the 25 political parties signed a memorandum in this respect. This year also, political parties participants to the Permanent Round Table reiterated the same idea of signing a memorandum on EU integration, however they lacked the insight to go for a referendum, as did Christian-Democrats.

The way the initiative group was established and the appeals to other parties to join the signature collection process (500,000 signatures instead of 200,000), are illustrative of the fact Christian-Democrats undertook the role of pro-European integration force. There is no doubt that Christian-Democrats could collect the 200,000 signatures on their own, without the support of other political parties. The parties adhering the initiative would have to acknowledge Christian-Democrats superiority, whereas the parties choosing to ignore it, would be accused of not being able to overcome their envy, even for the sake of such an undertaking of strategic importance for the Republic of Moldova.

Authorities and Communist leaders showed no signs of enthusiasm at the Christian-Democrats’ initiative, labeling it as useless due to the fact that there is a consensus on European integration among political parties. However, the truth is that a would-be referendum would narrow Communists’ maneuvering power, and would cut the possibility of withdrawing, namely abandoning the idea of EU integration, as they already did with the Russia-Belarus union. One may not rule out the aforesaid scenario. For instance, under the Basic Treaty signed by Republic of Moldova and Russian Federation, the latter is a guarantor country to the settlement of the Transdnistrian conflict. If Transdnistrian gains an equal status to that of the Republic of Moldova as a result of the federalization, and if it chooses to join CIS rather than EU, than Russia would probably have to ensure this. Further, if on the eve of elections Republic of Moldova would be increasingly pressured by Russia to pay its debts for natural gas supplies, or would have to raise the price on it, there are great chances Communist authorities would revise their pro-European strategy in favor of Eurasia Union. For these reasons, only a referendum might clarify Republic of Moldova’s EU integration intentions.

Metamorphoses Overview of year 2002