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The case for a Moldovan MEP

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“Where is Moldova?”- a commonly asked question everywhere East of Bucharest, and also a British board game. Few know about the existence of the Republic of Moldova, an ex-Soviet republic which got its independence in 1991 and is sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine.

If one happens to know where is Moldova, it is for a bad reason. It is currently competing with Ukraine for the position of the poorest country in Europe with a GDP per capita hovering somewhere around $5000 per capita (PPP). It constantly comes up as a top origin country for trafficked persons in the US Department of State reports. Around 1 billion US dollars, or one-eighth of its GDP, were taken out of the country’s three banks during 2013-2014 through high-risk loans with the help of EU-based shell companies. It still illegally hosts around 1400 Russian troops on its territory and has not achieved an effective political deal for more than 27 years with a separatist republic in its East. Moldova is also a country with one of the fastest shrinking population in the world and one of the biggest shares of remittances in the GDP. Other than the Epic Sax Guy, Ozone’s “Dragostea din Tei”, and the recently rediscovered wine culture, Moldova is not recognized for good in Europe.

Its recent political successes in foreign policy are limited to three major developments in the relations with the EU: the visa-free regime for Moldovan citizens, the Association Agreement, and the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA). These developments have not only created a framework of cooperation with the EU in areas ranging from rule of law and democratization to market rules and migration but also allowed Moldovan citizens and companies to explore the European Union. Since 2014, around 1,5 million citizens (in a country of 2,9 million) are reported to have traveled to the EU, and the Moldovan companies increased their exports to the EU by at least 10%. In the meantime, the EU also managed to become Moldova’s most important trade and investment partner, overcoming the CIS market by three times in trade value. It is a reality now that the EU is more engaged politically and economically in Moldova than Russia.

But Moldova’s presence in the EU is visible more often in another form: over 600 thousand Moldovans holding the Romanian citizenship. As a result of Romania’s efforts to reintegrate citizens from former Soviet-occupied Romanian territories, more and more Moldovan citizens, mostly Romanian-speaking ones, have started to obtain (or re-obtain, as officially stated) Romanian citizenship for various reasons. After easily proving family roots in the pre-1945 Romania, Moldovans thus could regain their official status of ethnic Romanians, could visit their lost families in current Romania, and, last but not least, travel and work freely in the EU. It has been argued that the latter has been a major motivation for obtaining a Romanian passport, even for those who don’t necessarily identify themselves as ethnic Romanians. This motivation is occasionally criticized in both Romania and Moldova, but one thing is certain: the actions of the “little man” should not be judged and rather be viewed from a very rational perspective in the poorest of Europe’s regions. Consider this: the lack of interest of Moldovan Romanians in Romania’s public life and Romanian politics does worry many “mainland” Romanians. But this assumption does not hold any longer.

At least 2 Moldova-born legislators were elected in Romania’s bicameral parliament, over 30 thousand Moldovans used the ballot box (in Moldova) in the last Parliamentary and Presidential elections to express their voice in Romania’s politics, tens of thousands of Moldovans live and pay taxes in Romania. Most recently, the political integration of Moldovans in Romania has gone to the next level: the European level. Moldova’s former PM Iurie Leancă (whose premiership witnessed the massive bank frauds) is now the third candidate in the list of Pro România, following ex-PM Victor Ponta and the outgoing Regional Policy Commissioner Corina Crețu. With a failed political career back in Moldova, Leancă has the greatest chance of becoming the first Moldovan MEP in EU’s history, considering Ponta and Crețu’s potential comeback to Romanian domestic politics. Another Moldovan on an EP election list is Daniela Șerban, capital markets professional, but the chances of her getting an MEP seat are quite low, despite Alianța 2020’s potential high score on 26 May.

It has to be said that Moldovan do not vote only for other Moldovans in Romania. People’s Movement led by Ukraine-born Eugen Tomac has maintained appeal amongst Moldovan Romanians due to the policy of reintegration and assistance formerly promoted by ex-President Traian Băsescu in regards to Moldovans and the Republic of Moldova. Băsescu might win his MEP seat largely thanks to the support of Moldovans. Although not able to integrate Moldovan Romanians in their EP election lists, the traditional Social-Democrats and National Liberals are likely to gather support in Moldova only with the help of party links with the governing Democrats and the opposition ACUM bloc in Moldova.

Voter turnout numbers from 26 May will show whether the Moldovan Romanians feel relevant to raise their voice in the second biggest election in the world. More importantly, it will reveal (or reconfirm) a relatively new aspect of the changing EU polity: its permeability for voters who have never lived in the EU but are nevertheless attracted to its norms and prosperity.

On the other side of the “fence”, the EU has to embrace Moldova and Moldovans now more than ever. This deepening of the relations should not happen at the expense of the reform conditionality on EU’s help, nor should it be seen as a geopolitical challenge to Russia. Overlooking the slow progress of reforms has led to the demise of the Eastern Partnership’s “success story” and the democratic backsliding in Moldova’s political system, where the ambiguously “pro-EU” government does not bother cooperating with the “pro-Russian” systemic opposition on the basis of power-sharing.

Overlooking Moldova now would be a mistake the EU could not afford. Overlooking Moldovan Romanians would be something the EU could not avoid. Moldovans might integrate faster into the EU than their own Republic.

Important

EU official: “It’s been a long time we’ve been patient. We will judge the Government’s actions objectively.”

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Director for Russia, Eastern partnership, Central Asia and OSCE, and Deputy Managing Director for Europe and Central Asia at the European External Action Service (EEAS), Luc Pierre Devigne, paid a visit to Chișinău today to participate in the 5th meeting of the EU-Moldova Association Committee.

He addressed a message to the Moldovan government during a press conference, criticising the way the reforms were implemented in the country, especially the way the famous bank fraud from Moldova, called also “the theft of the century” was investigated. Devigne considers inadmissible the fact that, after five years, the persons and companies that were involved in the fraud were not held accountable.

“It is unacceptable that after the theft of the billion was uncovered and deeply investigated by a leading financial investigation team – the Kroll company, whose findings were made publicly available, the investigation was still not finalised on various pretexts. We cannot believe that it is legally not possible to prosecute such a fraud.[…] It is the responsibility of the Government to ensure that justice works in the country. We want to see an open and transparent process that includes not only the Government, but also the consultation of opposition, civil society and the EU institutions recommendations.” said Devigne.

The EU official told the Moldovan politicians: “It’s time for actions. It’s been a long time we’ve been supportive, we’ve been patient. Now, we will judge the Government’s actions objectively.”

“The EU has always supported the Republic of Moldova, but the EU cannot substitute for good governance and the actions that should be taken by the Government. Our support is not unconditional.”

He said that European assistance will depend on how laws and democratic standards will be respected in Moldova. Particularly, Luc Pierre Devigne mentioned that the Republic of Moldova should join the Anticorruption Network for an effective fight against corruption, strengthen independent media and improve the quality of life in the case of the Moldovan citizens.

Luc Pierre Devigne also referred to the subject of the Citizenship by Investment Law, on which the Government applied a moratorium, but only until February 24, 2020. The official was disappointed that people who obtained such kind of citizenship remained anonymous. “We do not see this as compatible with a serious and secure visa liberalisation regime. It’s a security issue.” highlighted Devigne.

One of the central messages of the EU delegation to Moldova concerned the importance of boosting the cooperation between Moldova and the community bloc.

At the same time, the Moldovan authorities reiterated their commitment to comply with the recommendations of international organisations such as the OSCE and the Venice Commission, and to ensure public consultations on major projects.

Photo: cotidianul.md

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Politics

Who is going to pay back the stolen billion? President Dodon proposed a new legislative measure

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A new legislative initiative was announced by the president of state, Igor Dodon. According to him, the burden of the robbed billion from the banking system placed on the shoulders of citizens will be reduced.

In October 2016, the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova voted a bill, called unofficially “the Law of a Billion”, providing for the conversion into state debt of emergency loans of 13.5 billion lei, disbursed by the National Bank of Moldova (NBM) to the bankrupted banks involved in the “Great Moldovan Bank Robbery” that happened in 2014. The state debt, including the interest, was to be returned by the Moldovan citizens out of their paid taxes, over the next 25 years. The first payment of 668 million lei was made in October 2017. In 2018, another 827 million lei were paid. By 2041, a total of 24.5 billion lei will be paid. More details here.

“We promised previously to reduce or exclude the burden put on the shoulders of citizens following the stolen billion. At this stage we found the mechanisms needed to reduce this burden by 5-6 billion lei, so 25% – 30% of it. The project was also discussed with our external partners from the IMF, and is to be approved by the Government in the next few days, as well as submitted to Parliament for approval,” declared Dodon.

The whole mechanism idea is to transfer half of the profit of the National Bank of Moldova to the state budget.

The NBM management declared that the president’s legislative initiative is balanced and that it has been discussed with the experts from the IMF as well. “Such a distribution is possible by amending the Law on the National Bank of Moldova in order to introduce a model of phased and partial distribution of profits to the state budget until the level of 10% of the capital of the NBM is reached. This would be in line with international practices and could ensure the balance between the distribution of profits to the state budget and the gradual capitalisation of the National Bank,” declared the NBM representatives.

The mechanism proposed by President Dodon is not new for the Republic of Moldova. It was previously implemented and afterwards dropped out in 2003. “We already had such a mechanism. After 2003, this practice was stopped, as it was considered that the NBM profit should remain with the NBM in order to strengthen the capacity of the institution, so that it can intervene on the currency or monetary market in case of a crisis,” claimed the economic expert Veaceslav Ioniță.

According to the economic expert, the solution proposed by the head of state could have negative consequences in the event of an economic crisis, when the NBM would have to intervene and the Government would have to cover the NBM’s financial needs. The expert said the president’s solution could raise several questions from the IMF: “I think we will have to provide explanations to the IMF because it was the IMF that said not to take the NBM profit in the state budget, and we are going back to what it was.” 

The Dodon’s initiative was also criticised by the political opposition of the government. “The transfer of some income from one pocket of the state to another does not mean easing the burden placed on citizens. The solution for the Law (of a Billion) is to recover the money from those who stole it. […] The tactic of Igor Dodon is actually removing the money from the National Bank’s reserves to finance the huge expenses of the current government in the election year. The Moldovan Government has never planned to spend so much money, that has uncertain funding sources,” said former Minister of Finance Natalia Gavriliță.

Photo: unknown source

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The Turkish teachers’ expulsion case – is the mystery solved?

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Few days ago, Prosecutor General Alexandru Stoianoglo announced in a press conference that a criminal case, filed against the former director of the Information and Security Service (ISS), Vasile Botnari, for abuse of service in the expulsion under supervision of Turkish teachers from Moldova, was sent to the court.

According to the prosecutor general of Moldova, the entire operation of removal of Turkish citizens from the country was arranged, coordinated and managed directly by Botnari. Other persons earlier figuring in the same criminal prosecution – two former ISS deputy directors and the head of the Bureau of Migration and Asylum (BMA) – were declared as executing the ISS director orders without knowing that they were illegal, as Stoianoglo stated.

The former ISS director was the only one who has admitted his guilt, even though the other parts’ involvement in the case is evident, as a sic.md article pointed out.

The probation office declared that the ISS has taken over the removal actions in the absence of a written request from the BMA or a collaboration agreement in this regard, that is while the BMA is the only institution competent to organise and carry out the necessary activities in order to remove foreign citizens from the country.

“The fact that Vasile Botnari played a key role in the removal of the seven Turkish teachers from Moldova is clear. The moment he admits his entire guilt as some kind of scapegoat is clear. It is hard to believe though that prosecutors are so naive. […] And is ridiculous that absolutely no one else will be held responsible for one of the most shameful and criminal moments in the contemporary history of Moldova,” stated the sic.md article.

The former head of the BMA, Olga Poalelungi, removed from office in September 2019, and accused of expulsion under supervision of Turkish teachers, was reinstated to the former position. That happened despite the fact that her signature stands on the decision of the BMA, according to which the Turkish citizens were declared undesirable on the territory of the Republic of Moldova.

Background

In September 2018, seven Turkish teachers from Orizont Lyceums were arrested in a joint operation conducted by the Moldovan and Turkish secret services. They were taken directly to Chisinau Airport, where a charter plane was waiting for them and immediately took them to Turkey. Their families had no knowledge of their fate for several weeks.

Reputable international media portals, such as Reuters, wrote about the case of the expulsion under supervision of seven Turkish citizens. “The detainees were teachers and officials at a network of schools originally set up by the movement of U.S.-based Muslim cleric, Fethullah Gulen, which Turkish authorities hold responsible for a failed 2016 coup in Turkey,” is mentioned in the Reuters article.

Moldova’s ISS stated, at that moment, that foreign nationals were expelled because they posed a threat to national security. It is worth mentioning that all Turkish citizens who were improperly removed from the territory of the Republic of Moldova were sentenced to prison in Turkey. “The Moldovan authorities didn’t just violate these individuals’ rights once by deporting them – they put them on a fast-track to further human rights violations such as an unfair trial.” said Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia in a statement.

By its decision of June 11, 2019, the ECtHR found a violation of Articles 5.1 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and forced the Government of the Republic of Moldova to pay 25 000 euros for five Turkish citizens, whose rights were violated, the total amount for the compensation of the moral damage being of 125 000 euros.

Igor Dodon and (his) Presidency

On December 31, 2019, during the visit of the President of the Republic of Moldova, Igor Dodon, in Ankara, the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, officially thanked Dodon for the fact that the Moldovan authorities expelled the Turkish teachers from Moldova and brought them to the Turkish authorities.

President Igor Dodon several time denied that expelling citizens at the behest of the Turkish authorities was one of the conditions attached to Ankara’s donation to the renovation of the Moldovan presidential building.

The renovation of the presidential building was carried out by a Turkish construction company called Sonbay, according to an announcement of the Embassy of Turkey in the Republic of Moldova. The Embassy stated that, “the repair of the Presidency building represents a donation offered to the Moldovan people by the Turkish people,” as it was cited by ZdG.

The renovated Presidency building| source: zdg.md

Initially, the construction company announced that a sum of 7 180 000 euros will be used for reconstruction. Shortly after the Moldovan press announced the amount of the investment, the information was deleted from the company’s website.

Children’s hunting

Bușra Zeynep Șen, a teacher of Turkish origin from the International High School of Informatics in Bucharest, who is also Turgay Șen’s daughter – the former president of the Orizont Lyceums from the Republic of Moldova – was detained by police, based on a warrant issued by the Turkish authorities in December 2019.

Turgay Șen was detained at Chisinau Airport in March 2018, then heard for 7 hours at the Prosecutor’s Office for Combating Organised Crime and Special Cases and banned from leaving the country for a period. At that time, Turgay Șen declared that the criminal case against him was filed at the indication of the Moldovan leaders, in the interest of the Turkish authoritarian regime, in response to the donation for the restoration of the Presidency building.

Bușra’s lawyer explained to the Romanian media that the teacher was accused of being part of a terrorist group, while she already was employed as a teacher in Bucharest. Moreover, the Turkish citizen was tried in her absence in Turkey.

Fortunately, the extradition of Bușra Zeynep Șen was rejected. “From studying the warrant, I appreciate that extradition is required for political and social reasons, which violates human rights. The Prosecutor’s Office called for the extradition request to be rejected,” claimed the case prosecutor.

Bușra Zeynep Șen said for Moldova.org that all Turkish citizens living abroad became extremely vigilant after all the Turkish Government’s actions. However, Bușra never thought that the Turkish authorities would go through these procedures for her. “I am a 24-years-person. I lived in Turkey four years only, when I studied at the university. What could I have done to make them work so hard to get me back?” the woman wondered.

**

According to a press release published on the website of the State Information Agency from Moldova, the national mechanisms that regulate the status of foreigners are focused on identifying the reasons for removing the foreigners from the Republic of Moldova, rather than ensuring the necessary protection for them, the legal norms do not offer effective guarantees to the applicants for protection, and the administrative bodies often abuse the assigned prerogatives.

Photo: moldova.europalibera.org

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