Setback for Berlin

BERLIN/CHISINAU | | moldawien

BERLIN/CHISINAU (Own report) - In its struggle against Russia for influence, Berlin has just suffered a severe setback with the results of Moldova's presidential runoff elections last Sunday. Official German representatives were relying on the liberal conservative candidate Maia Sandu to win the elections in the Republic of Moldova, located between Romania and Ukraine, with its population of 3.5 million. Sandu sought to maintain the country's pro-EU orientation. However, the Socialist Igor Dodon won the elections. He not only has recognized Crimea's joining the Russian Federation, he also wants to terminate Moldova's EU association. Dodon's victory is another sign that Germany and the EU are loosing influence in that country. Most recently, proponents of the country's neutrality formed the government and began putting a distance between their country and NATO. Now even closer ties between the Republic of Moldova and the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union seem conceivable.

A Landmark Election

In last Sunday's presidential runoff elections, Chairman of the Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova (PSRM), Igor Dodon, prevailed over the liberal conservative candidate Maia Sandu, head of the small Action and Solidarity Party (PAS). In the first round of elections, Dodon won 47.9 percent, Sandu 38.7 percent and Dmitry Chubashenko of the pro-Russian Partidul Nostru (Our Party) placed third, with just 6.0 percent. In the runoff election, Dodon received 52 percent of the votes and Sandu around 48 percent. On October 30, just before the first round, Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) met with Maia Sandu - signaling that the leader of PAS can count on Berlin's support.[1] Sandu can also count on the clear political backing from Brussels and Bucharest, according to the government financed Deutsche Welle.[2] Dodon, on the other hand, criticizes that the EU had tacitly accepted its Moldovan allies' massive corruption for geopolitical reasons.[3] In fact, those forces, mainly orienting themselves on Brussels, are heavily involved in scandals. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[4])

Eastward Trend

The victory of the socialist Dodon is not an isolated incident but reflects obviously broader trends in the political mood in the Republic of Moldova. According to a survey in October, 44 percent of Moldova's citizens are in favor of joining the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union, while support for full EU membership has dropped to 31 percent.[5] According to a recent poll concerning the voting intentions in the next parliamentary elections, Dodon's Socialists would clearly win with 39.1 percent. Sandu's pro-EU PAS party would place second, with 13.8 percent, and the Brussels-oriented Dignity and Truth Platform Party (PDA), third. The pro-Russian Partidul Nostru could win seats in parliament with 11.4 percent as well as the currently ruling neutralists from the Democratic Party with 11.5 percent.[6] Currently, not even a quarter of Moldova's electorate has confidence in the pro-EU parties, on which Berlin's foreign policy had been relying for the past decade.

Against EU and NATO

Dodon, the winner of the elections, represents a foreign policy that is diametrically opposed to German interests in the region. Dodon's recognition of Crimea's joining the Russian Federation, has led to disputes with neighboring Ukraine following his victory in the first round of the presidential elections.[7] In addition, Dodon's party has introduced a plan for the federalization of the Republic of Moldova, which potentially could provide a solution for the long-running Transnistria conflict.[8] The PSRM is also committed to terminating Moldova's association with the EU and instead joining the Eurasian Economic Union.[9] Dodon also intends to expel the NATO troops regularly holding maneuvers in the Republic of Moldova.[10] Dodon's election therefore signifies a serious setback to Germany's policy to win influence in Southeast Europe.

Corrupt Allies

The Liberal Democratic Party, on which German foreign policy had been relying on, has little support within the Moldovan population. As early as the 2014 Moldovan parliamentary elections, pro-EU forces including the Liberal Democratic Party have been accused of serious irregularities. The German government has had no problem turning a blind eye to this fact. (German-foreign-policy.com reported.[11]) Shortly after the elections, it was announced that unidentified influential persons had stolen more than US $1 billion from the national treasury, by organizing loans from state banks to dubious credit institutions. These actions led William H. Hill, former OSCE Representative in the Republic of Moldova (1999 - 2001 and 2003 - 2006) to note that local partisans of the EU have not only performed "weakly" but have performed "perversely."[12] In late 2014, Moldova was promptly plunged into a state crisis. Five prime ministers followed one another in rapid succession in the course of 2015.

Neutralists form Government

Following parliamentary elections, an open power struggle began between the oligarch Vladimir Filat, head of the Liberal Democratic Party, and the neutralist, Vladimir Plahotniuc, considered the power broker of the Democratic Party. Plahotniuc, the country's wealthiest oligarch, won the power struggle and could instate a member of his entourage in office as prime minister. Of course, he too was met with massive protests. Demonstrators, sharply criticizing the power of the oligarchs in Moldova, stormed the parliament. Only in the president's official residence could Plahotniuc's prime minister take the oath of office.[13] In any case, the fact that Plahotniuc's neutralists had been able to form the government was the first German policy setback in the region.

Tenor Change in the Media

With the inauguration of the neutralist Prime Minister, Pavel Filip, January 20, 2016, the tenor of reports on the Republic of Moldova changed in the German media. Whereas the country had previously been praised as a model of democratic development in Southeast Europe, negative reports have predominated since. For example, the public service broadcaster reported that Plahotniuc was "on the best road" to "buy up the small dirt-poor Republic Moldova."[14] This trend is undeniable. However, at the latest, this had begun with the 2009 entry of pro-EU forces into the government. Leading German media organs only began to report on this fact, after the country began to show skepticism toward entering the EU. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, for example, discovered that Plahotniuc controlled "directly or indirectly ... 80 percent of the Moldovan media."[15] Most recently, Maia Sandu, defeated in Sunday's runoff elections - with her endorsement of the EU Association - had become the darling of German media. Dodon's foreign policy preferences suggest that, in the future, he too will receive negative reporting.

[1] Alisa Bauchina: Wahlen in Moldau: Zwischen Europa und Russland. heise.de 01.11.2016.
[2] Robert Schwartz: Opinion: Is Moldova's European dream over? dw.com 01.11.2016.
[3] Robert Schwartz: The Republic of Moldova at a crossroads. dw.com 28.10.2016.
[4] See Drohender Rückschlag.
[5] Pro-Russia presidential candidates tipped to win in Bulgaria and Moldova. theguardian.com 13.11.2016.
[6] Doina Salcuțan: BOP 2016: Cinci partide ar accede în Legislativ în cazul unui scrutin parlamentar. unimedia.info 20.10.2016.
[7] Vadim Vasiliu: Ukrainian ambassador summoned to Kiev after Dodon recognized the annexation of Crimea to Russia. deschide.md 01.11.2016.
[8] Moldova's opposition mulling support for Dodon in runoff election. tass.com 02.11.2016.
[9] Pro-Russia presidential candidates tipped to win in Bulgaria and Moldova. theguardian.com 13.11.2016.
[10] Robert Schwartz: The Republic of Moldova at a crossroads. dw.com 28.10.2016.
[11] See Moldawiens europäische Wahl.
[12] Pro-Russia presidential candidates tipped to win in Bulgaria and Moldova. theguardian.com 13.11.2016.
[13] David X. Noack: Tauziehen um Moldau. junge Welt 06.02.2016.
[14] Udo Lielischkies: Ein Mann kauft einen Staat - mit Haut und Haar. tagesschau.de 23.01.2016.
[15] Karl-Peter Schwarz: Ein halbseidener Machtmensch. faz.net 09.02.2016.