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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.

Politics

A warrant of preventive arrest was issued for Vladimir Plahotniuc

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The magistrates of the Chișinău Court issued a 30-day preventive arrest warrant for the former leader of the Democratic Party of Moldova (DPM) – Vladimir Plahotniuc. According to the court decision, the term of 30 days of preventive arrest will be calculated from the moment of his arrest.

Vladimir Plahotniuc is investigated in two criminal cases for money laundering in very large amounts. He was invited to hearings at the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office earlier this week but did not attend them. The lawyers of the former president of the DPM asked for postponing the hearings for about three weeks.

The head of the Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office, Viorel Morari, explained in a press conference that the prosecutors had to take this measure as Plahotniuc did not respond to the summons to appear at the criminal prosecution body.

According to Viorel Morari, two criminal cases were initiated. In the first case, Plahotniuc is accused that, in the period of 2013-2015, he organised a money laundering scheme through companies he controlled. “Money from three devalued banks – Banca Sociala, Banca de Economii and Unibank were transferred to offshore companies. A total of 18 million dollars and 3.5 million euros were withdrawn this way,” declared Morari.

The second criminal case refers to the payments made to the Plahotniuc’s companies, declared as loans, in a total value of 7.5 million dollars and the transfers made to the account of Plahotniuc’s wife of 1.5 million euro and 1.1 million dollars between 2013 and 2014.

The head of the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office added that the information received from the Swiss authorities also served as the basis for starting the criminal prosecution.

At the same time, Viorel Morari gave assurances that no political or social intervention in the investigation will be admitted.

The former DPM leader fled the country in June 2019, shortly after the regime changed in Chișinău. At the moment, there is no exact information regarding his location.

Photo: Facebook/Vlad Plahotniuc

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Economy

Unaffordable prices for low quality transportation services in Moldova or the apple of discord among carriers and the Government

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The Employers Association of Car Transport Operators from Moldova organised a protest yesterday and today. More than 250 transport units have been brought to the city centre of Chișinău, and about 250 other units are stationed in villages and district centres. That means 586 trips of 124 regular routes were suspended.

The carriers require the adjustment of the tariffs for transportation by doubling them (from 0.48 lei/km to 0.92 lei/km). On the other hand, the Government officials consider that only after providing decent transport conditions for passengers, the request of tariff adjustment can be discussed. In the meantime, people have to wait for hours for public transportation all over the country.

The <<Marshrutka>> phenomenon

The public transportation in Moldova is not expensive at all from an outside perspective. There are few countries on the European continent where one can travel from the airport to the city centre of a city for 0.10 euro. The prices for longer distance travel using mainly the so-called marshrutkas (fixed-route minivans) and sometimes buses may also look more than affordable. Nonetheless, due to low income, these prices seem high for the main client segment – the local population.

Moreover, passengers in Moldova accept and tolerate to travel standing and ‘packed like sardines’ (as local people like to say) sometimes their whole route. Some people still approach the driver to pay, that meaning their ticket money are not officially recorded and paid. The schedule of busses and minivans is sometimes confusing and not accurate, the transport services being provided on old and insecure vehicles.

The protest of transportation companies

According to protesters, the last change of tariffs took place six years ago and they incur losses because of this. Oleg Alexa, the president of the Employers’ Association of Car Transport Operators, explained for Moldova.org that there is a Government decision, approved ten years ago, which provides for the adjustment of tariffs in the transportation area once a year. However, the decision was not respected. The last adjustment of the tariffs was made six years ago, in November 2013, and was obtained by addressing the matter to the court. That time, the tariffs were increased from 0.38 to 0.48 lei/km.

“We are basically all bankrupt and we have a staff shortage of 3,000 employees.”

At the same time, during the negotiations with the representatives of the Ministry of Economy, the carriers have presented a list of proposals that could cause the tariff not to increase so much. That means carriers require partially maintaining the current conditions of passengers’ transportation, namely reusing transport units, transporting passengers standing up to 50 km, combating illicit passenger transport, importing transport units up to a certain age, eliminating abusive tax controls, etc. If the authorities will consider the carriers’ proposals, they would be willing to accept a lower tariff than the one requested during the protest, as Oleg Alexa stated.

At the same time, the Ministry of Economy and Infrastructure declared that the Government is against increasing the tariffs on transport, specifying that the adjustment of the tariffs can only be discussed after the passengers will be provided with civilised travel conditions.

In a press release, the Government disapproved the decision of the carriers to suspend 600 trips, thus blocking the movement of citizens, motivating the strike by the refusal of the Ministry of Economy and Infrastructure to increase the tariffs on national road services.

The experts’ opinion

Economic experts say that the request of the carriers is justified, but the tariffs should be increased gradually, in order to not affect the citizens.

The economic expert Veaceslav Ioniță declared that the carriers have at least 50% higher costs as compared to six years ago. This is mainly due to the basic components of tariffs – employees’ salaries, the cost of spare parts and fuel price, which have all increased.

According to him, the authorities impose more and more stringent requirements on the carriers, which means that the carriers can no longer use old cars, but have to buy well-maintained cars, that implying additional costs.

As for the requested increase of tariffs, the expert claims that it is obvious that the carriers “requested an exaggerated tariff, hoping that they will reach a middle ground at the negotiations.” In the same context, he noted, however, that the current government has a reason to be upset about the carriers. This is because they have not taken such actions in the past, during the six years since the tariffs were maintained.

At the same time, Ioniță warned that tariffs are politicised in Moldova. “They are approved by the authorities. It is not an independent regulation. Because of this, carriers are also vulnerable,” claimed Ioniță.

As it seems, the protests of the carriers will continue and the public transportation problem in the Republic of Moldova will not be so easy to be solved, as several contradicting interests exist. One thing is clear: Moldovan passengers of national and international routes have to suffer in this situation.

Photo: ipn.md

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Politics

After one year and four months, the mayor mandate of Andrei Năstase was validated by the Court of Appeal Chișinău

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In June 2018, Andrei Năstase, one of the candidates who was running for mayor of Chișinău, won the local elections. However, his mandate was invalidated. The stated reason was the electoral agitation he made on the day of pre-election silence through a video posted on social media.

After one year and four months, the Court of Appeal (CA) Chișinău completely overturned the decision of the Chișinău Court, which annulled the mandate of Andrei Năstase after the local elections of 2018.

The appeal against the decision previously taken by the judge Rodica Berdilo at the Chișinău Court was submitted last year, the affected parties requesting the confirmation of the legality of the local elections of the mayor of Chișinău and validation of Năstase’s mandate.

Thus, the CA Chișinău issued a new decision confirming the results of the local elections of 2018 and validating the mayor mandate of Andrei Năstase.

Asked by Ziarul de Gardă, the member of Central Election Commission (CEC) Maxim Lebedinschi declared that, by the decision taken today by magistrates, Andrei Năstase can exercise the position of mayor of Chișinău until the validation of the new mayor mandate, who will be elected on October 20th, 2019.

Even though it might sound like a joke, this is actually happening – Andrei Năstase, the mayor of Chișinău elected in June 2018, has officially just 12 days in the office before his mandate comes to an end.

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