New Government, Old Acquaintances

BERLIN/CHISINAU (Own report) - Germany's Foreign Minster Heiko Maas (SPD) is praising and offering German "assistance" to the new government of the Republic of Moldova, which has come to power following fierce power struggles. Last week, the second constitutional crisis in 5 years has shaken up the small landlocked country located between Romania and Ukraine. Forces, once allied with Germany, who are close to the country's richest oligarch, Vladimir Plahotniuc, had formed a counter-government controlling the police and important government bodies. Initially, the new government that came into office in accordance with the constitution had little power in the country - in spite of rapid international recognition, including Germany's. After the counter-government resigned on Friday, the liberal politician Maia Sandu became the uncontested prime minister. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the European People's Party (EPP) had already supported Sandu during the 2016 presidential election campaign, which she ultimately lost. She promotes Moldova's EU association.

A Surprise Coalition

Political observers where completely surprised, when, on June 7, representatives of the liberal pro–European Union alliance ACUM and of the Socialist Party of Moldova (PSRM) announced their intention to form a coalition government in the Republic of Moldova.[1] Maia Sandu, a former World Bank official, was elected prime minister by a parliamentary majority, even though her ACUM alliance has fewer seats in parliament than the PSRM. By meeting Sandu just prior to the 2016 parliamentary elections, Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) signaled her support for the neo-liberal politician.[2] The European People's Party (EPP), dominated by the CDU, had dispatched members of its staff to support Sandu's election campaign, even though Sandu's party is not a member of the EPP.[3] At the time, Sandu lost the elections to Igor Dodon from the Socialist Party, which promotes joining the Eurasian Economic Union. In the newly formed ACUM-PSRM coalition, the Socialists now hold the offices of president of the parliament, deputy prime minister and defense minister. The remaining posts were filled by the Liberals.

A Counter Coup

In an equally surprising step, the Moldova Constitutional Court deposed the incumbent President Dodon on June 8, just one day after the formation of the coalition. It also invalidated the prime minister's election, paving the way for new elections. According to the Court, former Prime Minister and close confident of the oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc, Pavel Filip, should immediately serve as President. Especially in the years 2012 and 2013, Plahotniuc - considered the richest man in the country and politically very influential - had used his DPM (Democratic Party of Moldova) to bring the Constitutional Court under his control.[4] Three of the six judges are former DPM members and two others had been appointed by the DPM parliamentary majority just prior to the February elections.[5]

Agreement among the Powers

Recently, Plahotniuc's political and economic influence has obviously become a thorn in the side of several otherwise rival powers, including Berlin and the EU. In an unusual step, senior officials of the EU, the USA and Russia visited the Republic of Moldova on the same day - June 3 - and held talks with representatives of the three major political blocs. Shortly thereafter, the Liberals and Socialists approached each other and began coalition talks - apparently on instructions from Brussels, Washington and Moscow. Obviously, the EU, the USA and Russia had finally decided to get rid of Plahotniuc.[6]

The Rise of an Oligarch

Plahotniuc's rise began under the Communist Party government (2001 to 2009). From 2001 to 2003, the government had followed a strict pro-EU course, which it ultimately abandoned. After the western supported "color revolution," a new pro-EU coalition came to power in 2009, which had included Plahotniuc's DPM. Based on an internal agreement between various oligarchs, Plahotniuc could bring major sectors of the judiciary under his control.[7] In last week's crisis, Plahotniuc relied on the influence he had bought, including the factual control of the Constitutional Court.

Hardly Any Criticism from Berlin

In 2014-2015, the Republic of Moldova went through its first constitutional crisis. Through bribery, Plahotniuc had obtained a majority in parliament and ordered the arrest of the oligarch Vlad Filat, who had been his ally just prior and who had held the office of Prime Minister from 2009 to 2013. The German government saw no reason to criticize this remarkable operation and supported Plahotniuc. In 2017, the Bundeswehr dispatched advisors to the country and supported the Moldova military with €300.000.[8] Even when, contrary to the orders of their Commander in Chief, President Dodon, the Moldova armed forces were sent to participate in NATO maneuvers, the German government remained loyal to Plahotniuc, the influential mastermind.[9]

EU Association Actually Defeated

The Moldovan government's persistence in its clearly pro-EU course was one of the reasons for the German government's rather uncritical attitude. However, in 2016, observers had declared the EU's association process with Moldova defeated. Demonstrators took to the streets protesting the corruption of the pro-EU government.[10] The German government sought to play down the criticism and protests declaring that the speed of reforms had merely been retarded in 2015 and 2016.[11] The local head of the CDU-affiliated Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Moldova denounced the protesters as Russian "paid demonstrators," some of whom having even been brought in from the separatist Transnistria region.[12] For a while, the German government maintained its close relations with oligarch Plahotniuc, even after the EU had seen no other recourse, than to halt its financial support for the Moldovan judiciary in 2017, due to a "lack of progress in the judicial sector."[13]

Pro-EU Government in Office

The EU-critical Socialists had won a close victory in the February parliamentary elections. The ACUM party alliance, campaigning for continuing the pro-EU course, ranked third. With the Socialists being the strongest force, a pro-EU government seemed out of the question for a while to come. But when, Maia Sandu was surprisingly elected the new prime minister, Germany was one of the first countries to recognize her government.[14] The Moldovan police declared their loyalty to Plahotniuc's counter-government. The military, which had been supported by Germany with finances and advisors, for many years, declared its strict neutrality.[15] Last Friday, the counter-government's president, Pavel Filip, declared his resignation. His decision came after a Plahotniuc delegation had returned from political talks in the US embassy. Germany's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Heiko Maas twittered that he welcomes the "resignation of Moldova’s old government" and offered Germany's assistance.[16] Maia Sandu, who, ever since 2016, has been publicly supported by Germany, has now won a surprise breakthrough for the forces cooperating with Germany over Berlin's former cooperation partner.


[1] Matei Rosca: Moldova gets surprise new government. 08.06.2019.

[2] See also Setback for Berlin.

[3] David X. Noack: Berlin setzt auf Oligarchen. junge Welt 29.03.2017. Im Dezember 2017 erhielt die ACUM-Partei von Maia Sandu dann Beobachterstatus bei EVP.

[4] Oktawian Milewski: Moldova in the midst of an anti-oligarchic revolt. 20.06.2019.

[5] Dumitru Minzarari: Moldovan Political Crisis Brings Great Opportunities but Also Serious Risks. 10.06.2019.

[6] Oktawian Milewski: Moldova in the midst of an anti-oligarchic revolt. 20.06.2019.

[7] See also Drohender Rückschlag.

[8], [9] David X. Noack: Intransparenz und zwielichtige Partner. Neues Deutschland 27.03.2018.

[10] Vladimir Socor: Romania Bidding for Influence in Moldova (Part Three). 26.04.2016.

[11] David X. Noack: Berlin setzt auf Oligarchen. junge Welt 29.03.2017.

[12] Johanna Siegemund: Oligarchie unter europäischem Deckmantel. 25.01.2016.

[13] David X. Noack: Intransparenz und zwielichtige Partner. Neues Deutschland 27.03.2018.

[14] European nations, Russia back new government in Moldova. 11.06.2019.

[15] Oktawian Milewski: Moldova in the midst of an anti-oligarchic revolt. 20.06.2019.

[16] Entscheidung in Moldaus Machtkampf. 14.06.2019.