Collective expert interview: The justice chapter should be a priority, together with the security, political, social and economic issues

Mădălin Necșuțu
2024-01-09 14:55:00
Angela Grămada, directoarea ESGA

For this FES/APE foreign policy newsletter, we have discussed with several experts in different fields to find out what Moldova’s tasks in 2024 should be, after the decision of the European Council of 14 December 2023 to give green light for the opening of accession negotiations with Moldova. The justice reform is by far the biggest challenge, but also a requirement of the EU and of the Moldovan citizens. Last but not least, the security problems generated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine is another matter that must be solved with priority. From here derives the possibilities of attracting foreign investments for development, having ensured security and the rule of law. Read in the following lines what the consulted experts think about what should the priorities of the Republic of Moldova in 2024 be, but also the measures that should be taken in the view of the presidential elections that will take place in the autumn of 2024:

Angela Gramada, director of the Experts for Security and Global Affairs (ESGA)

What are Moldova’s tasks in terms of reforms for 2024? What should it start with and what should its priorities be, now that it has received the green light from the European Council?

First of all, we have to accept the fact that the reforms are being made for a better life in the Republic of Moldova, not for the European Union, and this means accepting the change of mentality, of the paradigm with which we approach this extremely complex process.

Secondly, I think it would be logical to continue with what we have not completed yet – the justice reforms. More specifically, those recommendations that have not been fulfilled yet and for which a deadline has been defined – until spring. Unfortunately, the system is opposing and the representatives of this mechanism do not understand that in the long run everyone loses a multitude of opportunities that they could benefit from more quickly.

Overall, the priorities will not change radically, simply the measures needed to be taken must identify the political will needed to be adopted and implemented. It will be difficult, but not impossible. Postponing reforms means nothing more than postponing your own well-being.

Countering the sabotage of the democratization of Moldova

Republic of Moldova is preparing for presidential elections in 2024. How do you assess the political atmosphere in the country in the perspective of the presidential elections scheduled for 2024?

A complicated period is ahead, especially in the context of the internal emphasis on regaining some positions lost on the political scene by certain political forces. I don't think we will be able to witness an easy electoral campaign for Maia Sandu.

We must pay attention to how her image is used by potential opponents to destroy her image as a leader capable of mobilizing internal and external resources in favour of the Republic of Moldova. In addition, it is presented by those sabotaging the country's democratization as a political actor who exploits the citizens’fears. Another important thing is the attempt to discredit her image by associating her with certain decisions of the Parliament or with failures of some members of the Executive, intentionally omitting to specify the limits of her presidential mandate.

The last thing I would like to emphasize is that we still do not know who the real opponents are for the presidential election campaign and what their resources are: money, internal and external supporters, media resources. It is going to be a tough campaign, which will also have an impact on the parliamentary elections, which means that everyone will be trying to get the maximum to validate themselves for the last part of the electoral cycle in front of the voters.

The justice system reform – who is opposing?

Cristina Ciubotaru, legal expert

How do you see the justice system reforms in 2024? What should take priority and why?

I would like to have genuine policies and not politicization of justice. In general, in Moldova, all processes are politicized, including by the European Union, unfortunately. I would very much like those conditionalities which we have been praised for having completed partially or totally to be truly fulfilled. However, things are different. From my point of view, in the field of justice, but especially in the anti-corruption, the situation is dramatic.

The politicization of judicial, prosecution and anti-corruption processes continues to the detriment of professionalism. I expect professional approaches, because at the moment, we have a lot of amateurism, tolerated by the EU institutions, unfortunately, and this generates disappointment. We need much tougher and more objective evaluations in assessing the fulfilment of conditionalities, because only in this way will the citizens be encouraged regarding the European future of Moldova.

History seems to be repeating itself, because we experienced a disappointment when, after many hopes related to the accession of a pro-European government in 2012, also supported practically unconditionally by the EU, in 2014, one billion dollars was stolen from Moldovan banks. After which, in the next elections, the disappointment of the voters threw us into the arms of pro-Russian parties. It is a pity that the lesson of the dangers of unconditional support of the governments from Chisinau was not learned. I am afraid that we will not experience a similar moment in the next presidential and parliamentary elections, because the undeserved praise from the EU, against the background of internal crises, could make us swing again towards a government with a different foreign policy orientation, and I don't want this. Many supporters of European integration are disappointed that democratic backsliding are not punished and many end up saying: I want Moldova to be part of the EU, but if the EU means that what the government does is good - then I don't want in such an EU.

Only a healthy criticism and insistence on real reforms on the part of the EU, punishing the government's democratic backsliding and abuses can generate support from our pro-European electorate. Supporting European values in the Republic of Moldova is more important than supporting a political party that defies these values and establishes a monopoly on the European course. European integration is the desire of several parties, and the time has come for the EU to treat Moldova more seriously when it comes to its progress, especially in the area of justice and anti-corruption. Only the justice and anti-corruption mechanisms can penalise the abuses of the administration, while the paralyzing reforms in these sectors only encourage the abuses by the government.

The political discourse of the Government is that the system opposes and does not allow the reforms. That there is that kleptocratic system created in the last three decades that opposes reforms. How do you see things?

I think they are cheating and it is more about an opposition to European standards on the part of the reformers than on the part of the justice system. I haven't really heard judges and prosecutors saying they don't support the actual reform. They may disagree with the methods and or the goals of the reform. Moreover, clear reform goals do not exist as long as there is no reform strategy and an understanding of the problems and solutions offered by the reform. The reform in our country mostly consists of “out of the blue” revenge interventions and reactions to the political disturbances of the moment. There is no justification for the brutal political interventions in justice. Honestly, I get the impression that we are in a state where the three powers in the state are: the Parliament, the Government, and the Presidency, because justice is no longer perceived as part of the state.

The judiciary has reached derision, a pariah unable to ensure the balance of power in the state. When justice no longer matters, governance has no limits, the law is no longer the red line whose crossing imposes legal consequences. Because there is no one to impose them. Any decision inconvenient to power automatically leads to the lynching of judges or prosecutors: ”thieves”, “thugs”, and “the system is opposing”. And this is very dangerous. A party's self-proclaimed as “messianic” and infallible is perhaps the most dangerous thing, because it means that no one can contradict it. Parties and governments are represented by also by people, who are also natural to make mistakes, and when they make mistakes, it would be natural to answer.

When the judiciary is reformed to no longer be able to balance the government, to establish absolute control over what the judiciary does, then things get downright serious. The hate speech of politicians against judges who issue decisions that do not suit the power is probably the most eloquent illustration of the “justice reform” and the true intentions of the reformers.

Just recently, the Prime Minister, Dorin Recean, and the President of the Parliament, Igor Grosu, urged the citizens to retain the names of the judges from the panel of the Chisinau Court of Appeal who ordered the annulment of the decision to remove from the electoral race in the local elections a party, allegedly affiliated to Ilan Sor, and urged the so-called independent bodies for the extraordinary evaluation of judges to evaluate the three judges “to the blood”. However, when the judges, including those from the aforementioned panel, issue decisions favourable to the government, citizens are assured that this is true justice and that the reform is bearing fruit. When it suits or doesn't suit them, justice must have the last word, a word that must be treated with respect. Because otherwise, later, the same convenient decisions can be called into question by other politicians.

Let's not forget that everyone has rights. Even those whom the government labels as “thieves” and “thugs”. Today it doesn't seem serious at first sight that the “thief” or “bandit” is deprived of rights, but tomorrow anyone can find that they no longer have rights. The role of the court is to apply the Law impartially and ensure respect for the rights of each person, based on the evidence presented to it. If [Ilan Şor] did something bad, let him be held accountable for it. Statements like “criminal organizations” and “we've all seen the evidence” do not justify the lynching of the judges, and society's reactions were more on the side of the targeted judges, even on the part of those who do not sympathize with Ilan Şor.

I am glad that the prime minister was also charged by the Moldovan Judges' Association, and in the end, even by the Superior Council of Magistrates, especially since the latter is a body created by the current government itself following the pre-vetting process (the extraordinary evaluation ). Even they categorized these statements as an inadmissible political interference in justice.

But this discourse itself is not out of the ordinary for the Republic of Moldova. It is the usual hate speech propagated by the Presidency, the Government and the Parliament, against the background of the narrative that the judicial system opposes, does not want to be reformed, and here my question is: who, in fact, opposes? Is the judicial system opposed to reform or are politicians opposed to embracing genuine European standards?

Maybe the system is against it too. Certainly, the corrupt will always oppose, both those in the judiciary and in politics. I just have big doubts that at this moment corruption is the one who opposes it.

I believe that one of the three powers in the state is simply fighting for existence. And this struggle is far from “the system is fighting back.” This is rather the easiest argument to invoke by the power when it fails to make certain changes or when it simply fails. It's easier to blame the judiciary for any failure.

Special court

Could the election of a new general prosecutor and the establishment of that anti-corruption court promoted by President Maia Sandu be able to boost things in the judiciary next year?

I have always been a fervent supporter of the creation of anti-corruption court. I believed and continue to believe that, if there is a need for specialization at ANI regarding verifying assets or specialization at NAC and AP with regard to criminal prosecution in corruption cases, I do not understand why this specialization is not possible in courts? If special anti-corruption knowledge and skills are needed before the trial, then it is natural that the specialization should exist also in the courts.

The creation of an anti-corruption court would be likely to give speed to all anti-corruption processes. Namely, the procrastination of corruption cases often undermines people's trust in justice. Even if in the end the corrupt defendants end up being convicted, after two, three or more years, when no one follows and no one cares about the fate of those files, the impression of impunity is created.

It may seem surprising to some, but in our country the conviction rate on corruption cases exceeds 80-90%. But because it comes so late, society no longer perceives those condemnations. Enforcement of penalties and forfeitures is a problem. But also the delays, and the problems of enforcement of penalties and confiscations could be solved by creating the anti-corruption court. It depends a lot on how this court or those specialized panels will be created to judge such cases.

If this court will be perceived as belonging to the political factor, just as the extraordinary assessment of judges and prosecutors is currently perceived, this institution may be compromised. I really want it to be a genuine anti-corruption court, which does not bend to the expectations of politicians, but which has the courage to deliver justice and anti-corruption measures.

Mihai Mogîldea, deputy director of the Institute for European Policies and Reforms (IPRE)

What priorities do you see in terms of the necessary reforms in Moldova in 2024?

To a large extent, the priorities must be related to the three steps that our country still has to fulfil from the nine recommendations of the European Commission from June 2022. The three conditionalities relate to completing the process of appointing the heads of key institutions from the justice, but also of the general prosecutor.

At the same time, there is another conditionality related to the strengthening of anti-corruption institutions, and here probably the European Union is expecting a good organization of the development process of the Anti-Corruption Court, as it was conceptualized by the Moldovan authorities.

Another conditionality refers to the oligarchization plan, which includes several steps that need to be completed. So, these are the priority actions until the end of March.

According to the preliminary calendar sent by the European Union, at the beginning of next year, the process of examining the conformity of the national legislation with the European one with regard to several chapters is going to start. It will most likely start with the justice chapters. From the preliminary discussions, the understanding is that there are two other chapters that will be addressed. This is about chapter 8 on competition, and chapter 7 on the intellectual property.

Regarding the above-mentioned chapters, the actual screening process will begin in January. I expect that one of the priorities will be strengthening the institutions and capacities of the authorities in the field of national security. Here, together with the approval of the National Security Strategy, other sectoral documents are to be adopted. I am referring to the new Military Strategy and the sectoral strategies that need to be adapted to the National Security Strategy.

At the same time, we hope that the Center for Combating Disinformation and Strategic Communication will become operational and start producing the results expected by everyone. According to the director of the Center, Ana Revenco, the Center has to become operational towards the end of March. This means that, at the end of next year, we will already be able to draw the first conclusions about what this Center succeeded and failed to do in the context of the presidential elections that should take place in 2024.

Elections under a democratic spectrum

How should the justice system work against those who commit electoral fraud, in the view of the 2024 presidential election?

I expect the Anticorruption Prosecutor's Office and the courts to work much more effectively to identify and hold accountable the persons guilty of electoral corruption, of illegal financing of political parties, because this phenomenon will increase next year and the cases of electoral corruption will be much more widespread among rural communities.

Therefore, all these processes should be put in place, so that the culprits are brought to justice in time and we no longer witness last-minute decisions regarding the exclusion of some political parties from the electoral campaign, as happened this year in the local elections.

Mihai Isac, political and security analyst

Now that the European Council gave green light to Moldova for opening the accession negotiations, what are Moldova’s tasks with regard to the reforms in 2024? What should it start with and what should its priorities be?

Of course, the justice chapter should be a priority, together with chapters related to the security of the economic, social and political life in the Republic of Moldova. The Moldovan authorities should quickly implement these reforms, not for Brussels, but first of all to increase the standards of living of the Moldovan population.

The improvement of human rights legislation and greater involvement of European Union partners in the peaceful resolution of the Transnistrian conflict as well as the elimination of the consequences of the Russian war of aggression against the country in the early 90s should be also priorities for the authorities.

It would also be necessary to improve the legislation in the field of national security, in order to respond better to the hybrid war launched by the Russian Federation against the Republic of Moldova. The rapid adoption of economic legislation that allows the absorption of European pre-accession funds should be an important priority.

The local public administration reform should take place until the next local elections (2027) to facilitate the implementation of structural reforms necessary for the accession to the European Union.

Speeding up the integration process in the energy system of the European Union should be a priority area for the Republic of Moldova, not only on paper, but also through the construction of the necessary infrastructure.

Dirty election campaign

How do you assess the political atmosphere in the Republic of Moldova in the perspective of the presidential elections scheduled for 2024? Do you anticipate a dirty campaign or President Maia Sandu will win a second term rather easily?

We will witness, of course, a dirty campaign, financed by funds from illegal activities or directly from the budget of the Russian Federation. The involvement of fugitive oligarchs in undermining constitutional authorities is obvious, but this could only be done with the direct support of a major state actor, such as the Kremlin. Maia Sandu does not have a popular opponent, but it is expected that the anti-European opposition will use the opportunity of the presidential election campaign to attack her directly, as well as the current government. The main goal is to weaken the confidence of the electorate in president Maia Sandu, but the important involvement of the diaspora guarantees a new mandate for her.

The pro-Russian opposition will try to field more pseudo-pro-European candidates, backed by illegal funds, to force a second round of presidential elections. In this way, they will try to undermine the image of the current head of state, who plays the role of electoral locomotive for the main pro-European political force, PAS, in any electoral exercise.

The biggest stake of these pro-Russian forces is the parliamentary elections of 2025, when they will try to change the composition of the Parliament through elections. The authorities in Chisinau must adopt as quickly as possible legislative measures aimed at limiting the possibility of illegal financing of elections and parties, both inside and outside the Republic of Moldova.

How much will the stability of Moldova depend on the war in Ukraine in 2024?

The developments on the fronts in Ukraine will decisively influence the internal and external political situation of the Republic of Moldova. If the Russian military forces approach the Transnistrian region, the separatist regime will intensify pressure against Chisinau for political and economic concessions. Also, other regions such as Gagauzia and Taraclia will be the scene of unconstitutional actions.

If the Russian army manages to achieve some victories on the front in Ukraine, the anti-constitutional forces, supported by elements of the criminal world, will intensify the street protests directed against the ruling party. Any day won by Ukraine's resistance to the illegal Russian military invasion must be used by Chisinau to win its own war for the reforms necessary for integration into the European Union and the improvement of the quality of life of the Moldovan citizens.

Priorities in the economy

Adrian Lupusor, executive director of Expert-Grup

What should Moldova do in terms of economic reforms in 2024? What should be its priorities?

There are three main priorities. First, let's start with supporting the development of small and medium-sized enterprises by facilitating their access to financial resources and by stimulating the technologisation of companies. Then, supporting them in accessing the European market. There is also a need to support the integration of small and medium-sized companies into value chains and their integration with larger investors.

There is a need to stimulate fair competition in all economic sectors. For this we also need a functioning Competition Council. This is the first block of measures - the development of small and medium enterprises through the lens of strengthening the organizations for the entrepreneurship development and the liberalization of economic sectors.

The second block refers to the state enterprises. Here we need to improve the corporate governance, increase the transparency of companies, professionalize the boards of directors and prepare the state companies that compete with the private sector - either through full or partial privatization or issue of shares. This would also allow for the boosting of the stock market.

The third thing is about the macro-financial stabilization measures. Here I am mainly referring to two problems that must be solved in the coming years. Firstly, we are talking about the budget deficit and secondly, the current account deficit. The government must focus on fiscal consolidation. This is about the increase of the fiscal space through two measures: fighting against tax evasion and informal employment and the second – the uniformity of the fiscal space through the gradual elimination of fiscal facilities. Because we have a problem in the Republic of Moldova related to a rather uneven Fiscal Code as a result of the influence of certain interest and lobby groups.

We should stimulate fiscal consolidation by increasing the fiscal space, and not by increasing the fiscal pressure. Before applying tax increases, we should exhaust the potential of these two mentioned sources.

As for the current account deficit, this is related to a policy of improving the cooperation between the government's economic policy and the monetary and foreign policy of the National Bank of Moldova (NBM), which must be better coordinated. The NBM's interventions must also follow economic growth objectives, when we do not have inflationary risks, and for this the NBM, together with the Government, must communicate better without prejudicing the NBM's independence. We need better cooperation between the economic policy and monetary policy.

The current account deficit must also be solved by increasing the competitiveness of the national economy, as I’ve already mentioned, by developing the SMEs and the export potential of SMEs.

How to attract foreign investors

Can Moldova do something to attract foreign investors in 2024? What would be the most appropriate strategy in this regard?

First of all, we must convince the investors that, in the Republic of Moldova, the economic policy decisions are taken in a disciplined, transparent and long-term way, that the decisions are not taken arbitrarily, depending on limited interests or lobbying interests and depending on the situation.

We need proper economic governance that inspires long-term investor confidence. For this, I don't think we need to invent anything super sophisticated. This is simple – the fiscal policy, the economic and budget policies should observe the standards of good governance, transparency, and inclusion.

In other words, the government should convince the potential investors that, in the Republic of Moldova, the Government follows the public interest and not obscure interests, and the influence of lobby groups is limited. This is what the Government needs to convince the potential investors about.

Secondly, but equally important, we are talking about the quality of the bureaucracy, regulations, laws, but first and foremost, investors must be sure that the government is benevolent and sincerely oriented towards attracting investment for economic development and is not influenced by different lobby groups.

Equally important is the de-monopolization of different market segments. We have many economic sectors where there is a high level of economic concentration. I mean, they are different holdings or companies that are affiliated to a person or groups of close persons and this creates entry barriers for investors. In fact, this is precisely what scares investors, and here I reiterate the importance of a functional Competition Council to convince investors that in the Republic of Moldova such anti-competitive arrangements are reduced to a minimum and we have a functional free market.

Thank you!

The interviews were conducted by Madalin Necsutu

Mădălin Necșuțu
2024-01-09 14:55:00