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Parliamentary elections – the determining factor for the future of relations between Moldova and European Union

The relations between the Republic of Moldova and the European Union have gone through several stages in the last years, being far from having a linear evolution. The return to the normality of dialogue between the parties in 2016 did not last long because, since the summer of 2017, with the change of the electoral binom by the Socialist Party of Moldova and Democratic Party of Moldova, to the detriment of the recommendations of the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe and OSCE / ODIHR, relations between Chisinau and Brussels began to deteriorate again, writes political analyst Ion Tăbârță.

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The European Union, through its positions and following negotiations with the central authorities, signaled its main objections to the situation in the Republic of Moldova.

Thus, by the end of 2017, the EU published a list of 28 conditionalities for the government in Chişinău in order to provide macro-financial assistance. In addition to the economic and financial criteria, the document contains conditionalities and a political one.

The political analyst mentions that in 2018 the Moldovan-EU dialogue became even more complicated. Assessing the state of relations between the Republic of Moldova and the European Union, 2018 can be divided into two parts.

In the first half of the year, the Republic of Moldova has tried to maintain a dialogue with the EU in the light of technical discussions, abstracted from the subject of changing the electoral system.

In the second half, after the invalidation of elections in Chisinau, the dialogue between the Republic of Moldova and the EU was predominantly focused on the field of politics, being influenced by the degradation of Moldovan democracy. These problems prevailed on the progress and commercial gains achieved by Chisinau following the implementation of DCFTA.

On February 26, 2018, the EU Council, in its conclusions, made a radiograph of the situation in the Republic of Moldova. Thus, the Council points to all the existing issues – from the chronic ones, such as the fight against corruption and the lack of reforms in the judiciary, to more recent ones, such as changing the electoral system.

On 5 April 2018, the European Commission published the joint report of the European Commission and the European External Action Service.

The main conclusions of the report highlight that the Republic of Moldova has managed to stabilize its economic situation and, with the constant but conditional support of the EU and other international partners, has made progress in certain areas, including the consolidation of the free trade area.

However, more efforts are needed, in particular, to combat high-level corruption, a deep reform of the judiciary, recovery of funds diverted by bank fraud and the deportation of justice to those responsible for the crime.

On May 3, 2018, the EU-Moldova Association Council reviewed progress as a result of the implementation of the Association Agreement.

Besides Moldova’s success in certain areas, in particular, the implementation of the provisions related to the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area, the main failures are highlighted – the problems of justice, high-level corruption, and so on. This is why the EU has signaled the existence of regress in areas such as the electoral system, the media and civil society.

On the issue of EU macro-financial assistance, European Commissioner for Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn said that the Republic of Moldova would still need to fulfill two conditions.

The first is the full functionality of the National Integrity Authority, and the second is the adoption of an additional budget for the functioning of anti-corruption institutions.

In the second half of 2018, the political dialogue between the Republic of Moldova and the EU entered a complicated phase after the invalidation of the June elections in Chisinau.

MEPs adopted a resolution on 5 July to suspend the macro-financial assistance for the Republic of Moldova due to the failure to comply with the political preconditions stipulated in the Memorandum of Understanding between the European Union and the Republic of Moldova from the end of 2017.

Head of European diplomacy, Federica Mogherini, declared that the suspension of the assistance was related to how the Moldovan justice system violated the popular will expressed by vote, abusively interpreting the electoral law, and the invalidation of the elections in Chisinau was not a good sign for the upcoming elections Parliament.

The Government of the Republic of Moldova reacted to the European Parliament’s resolution in a press release on 7 July in which it considered the resolution to be incorrect and politicized.

Regarding the invalidation of elections in Chisinau, the Moldovan authorities explained that they can not allow interference in the act of justice, accusing the European Union of the fact that the current state of justice in the Republic of Moldova is also the result of the activity of the European officials who assisted the reform of the Moldovan judicial system.

The European Union reconfirmed its tough stance towards the Republic of Moldova through a new European Parliament resolution issued on 14 November 2018.

The resolution lists the regressions registered by the Republic of Moldova, such as changes in electoral legislation, the invalidation of general local elections in Chisinau, the lack of transparency in the bank fraud case, and changes in the fiscal field, etc.

It also once again specifies that the EU will only release the macro-financial assistance after the parliamentary elections if they are conducted in accordance with the democratic criteria characteristic of an electoral process.

At the end of 2018, the EU officially announced that it was reducing its financial support due to the deterioration of the rule of law and democracy in the Republic of Moldova, expecting the Moldovan authorities to take urgent and immediate action to remedy the situation.

Under these circumstances, the nature of the Moldovan-EU dialogue in 2019, but also its near future and medium-term future, will very much depend on how the Moldovan authorities will organize the next parliamentary elections.

“Will these elections be organized in a credible, inclusive and transparent manner or not? It will all depend on the way in which the parliamentary elections will be organized and the state of Moldova’s dialogue with the European Union, which will carefully monitor the electoral and post-electoral process in the Republic of Moldova,” notes Ion Tăbârţă.

Politics

The report of the Bank Fraud Investigation Commission: “The looting process was coordinated with politicians and state officials.”

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On October 17th, the report on elucidating all circumstances of the banking system looting and investigation of the banking fraud was presented by the Bank Fraud Investigation Commission in the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova.

Alexandru Slusari, the head of Commission declared, during the presentation of the report, that the amount looted from the banking system that appears in the Kroll report is between 900 million and 1 billion dollars. “However, taking into account the information provided by the National Bank of Moldova and the Prosecutor’s Office, there are suspicions that the amount of damage was much larger,” said Slusari.

The head of Commission stated also that, according to the conclusions of the report, the final beneficiaries of the bank robbery were Vladimir Plahotniuc (former chairman of the Democratic Party of Moldova), Ilan Șor (businessman and former Mayor of Orhei) and Vladimir Filat (former Prime Minister of Moldova), as well as some of their trusted people. Also, the National Commission for Financial Markets and the National Bank were involved in the plan regarding the attack against the Savings Bank of Moldova, leaded by Vladimir Plahotniuc and Veaceslav Platon.

As Slusari stated, the General Prosecutor’s Office sabotaged the investigation of the banking system looting between 2015-2019. “In many cases the investigation was deliberately delayed or used selectively for political purposes,” said Alexandru Slusari.

As consequences of the bank fraud, the national currency depreciated by 42.2%, thus triggering a currency crisis between November 2014 and February 2015, while the annual inflation in 2015 constituted 10.2%, double as compared to 2014. Moreover, the report shows that bank fraud led to the degradation of democratic standards and aggravated corruption in the Republic of Moldova.

The commission, therefore, recommended to the Parliament to establish the circumstances that would allow the current deputy governors of the National Bank of Moldova (NBM), Ion Sturzu and Aurel Cincilei, to be dismissed. Also, it advised the Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office to criminally investigate some of the former state officials – Iurie Leancă (former Prime Minister), Dorin Drăguțanu (former Head of the NBM), Andrian Candu (former President of the Parliament), Anatol Arapu (former Minister of Finance) and Emma Tăbârță (former deputy governor of the NBM).

“These persons allowed granting of state guarantees to the involved banks without the immediate introduction of special state administration regime, which had serious consequences for the banking system, as huge amounts of money were withdrawn between November 7-27, 2014.”

At the same time, the Government and the NBM were addressed to examine the publication of all materials related to the looting of the banking system and to initiate agreements with all offshore areas on the exchange of tax information.

The Prosecutor General’s Office was advised to investigate the reasons for the stagnation of the investigation initiated by the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office on the banking system looting, as well as to cooperate with international special services to recover the stolen funds. Additionally, an audit on the legality of the allocation of financial resources granted as emergency loans should be conducted by the Ministry of Finance.

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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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