Natalia Gavriliță’s Cabinet, supported by the majority made up of Action and Solidarity Party (PAS) MPs, has in the last year constantly navigated a number of unprecedented crises, a record-high inflation of some 32%, but it also grabbed the biggest victory since 1991 - obtaining EU candidate status.
Multiple crises: the pandemic, natural gas, refugees and inflation
Sworn in on August 6, 2021, the current cabinet has succeeded in maintaining the Republic of Moldova afloat due to the West’s generous assistance. The Republic of Moldova was affected by the pandemic crisis, the energy crisis of last autumn caused by Russia, the refugee crisis triggered by the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24 and by an economic crisis caused by the fallout from the war and the low resilience of the country facing economic turbulence at global level.
Against this backdrop, the government in Chișinău had to dig deep into its pockets in order to maintain relative stability nationwide. International assistance in this respect was also unprecedented. This was also owed to the good international reputation of president Maia Sandu, a reputation that also extended to the government and Parliament, dominated by PAS, the party Maia Sandu founded.
“Last year we set out with the hope of building a Moldova for better times […] We pledged to tell the truth. Last year was one of the hardest years in our country’s history. […] The world today is different than [the one] when we came to power. We have limited means at our disposal. […] The Government has done everything in its power”, Gavriliță told a government meeting on Monday.
Therefore, the Government had to move funds from the investment budget to social welfare. One example, in this respect, are the subsidies the government provided for natural gas deliveries from Gazprom, which stood at €80 million only in five months, over November 2021 – March 2022.
Moreover, the refugee crisis triggered by the Russian invasion of Ukraine has prompted some 500,000 Ukrainians to cross into the Republic of Moldova. The number of those who stayed for over a month varied between 10,000 to some 70,000 at present. By contrast, Romania is today home to some 40,000 Ukrainian refugees.
Apart from the humanitarian crisis and despite its precarious infrastructure, the Republic of Moldova also unloaded and helped transport the EU-bound cargo delivered by Ukrainian freight trucks.
Inflation and living standards soared rampantly against this backdrop. Prices for goods and services went up considerably as fuel prices skyrocketed. During this period, inflation went up constantly to stand at 31.83% in July. The Gavriliță Cabinet increased pensions and salaries, just as it had promised in the election campaign, but it obviously couldn’t offset the economic imbalances caused by repeated price hikes.
2022 was also a rainless year, which caused a new major crisis in agriculture. Here as well, the Government stepped in to subsidize fuel, and Romania helped by delivering Diesel fuel, fuel oil and other types of fuel. Additionally, goods that traditionally addressed the Ukrainian and Russian markets were redirected to the EU by increasing quotas.
Obtaining the EU candidate status – the great achievement of the PAS government
But since any crisis provides its share of opportunities, the Republic of Moldova also achieved a momentous victory, that no one could foresee when the cabinet was sworn in. In nearly three and a half months, the Republic of Moldova was awarded the EU candidate status, something which some countries in the Western Balkans have been aspiring to for nearly 19 years, ever since the EU Summit in Thessaloniki, when the prospect of joining the EU was first presented to them.
As a result, on March 3, 2022, the Republic of Moldova submitted its request to join the European Union, and on June 23 the European Council voted in favor of granting EU candidate status to the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine. Many would say this achievement is circumstantial, but the truth is that the authorities in Chișinău rose to the challenge and played their cards to the best of their ability in order to persuade the West that Moldova deserves the EU candidate status and all the benefits derived from it.
Before the war in Ukraine, the best-case scenario would have the PAS government submit its EU accession bid as late as 2025, towards the end of the current legislature.
Chișinău’s success was also facilitated by Bucharest authorities, which lobbied in Brussels for awarding the Republic of Moldova candidate status. Additionally, Romania provided direct and immediate support to help Moldova navigate the aforementioned crises.
We are here referring to natural gas, humanitarian assistance and financial aid, as well as co-organizing conferences bringing together international donors for the Republic of Moldova, which helped raise some €1.4 billion worth of grants and low-interest loans.
Experts: the lack of government coordination and a plan for Transnistria, among the failures
Experts Veridica has talked to tend to believe the Gavriliță Cabinet has done a good job overall, despite lacking a vast experience in top-level governance. However, it has been less successful in managing a number of issues, as well as in terms of coordinating Cabinet efforts.
“The main achievements have to do with the fact that the government did its job, despite the risks and threats of October-November 2021. The Government remained functional and operational. There were no “blackouts” that could have undermined the services delivered by the state. There have been cases when the Government might have well snapped, despite the extraordinary support from Parliament, where it relies on some 63 seats”, says Igor Munteanu, a political expert with the “Viitorul” Institute for Development and Social Initiatives (IDIS).
Igor Munteanu went on to say that a second great achievement for the PAS government was the way it capitalized on the opportunity presented by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“It was an invitation to persevere towards obtaining EU candidate status. Under normal circumstances, in the absence of this war that caused a serious cataclysm at regional level, I doubt the Republic of Moldova would have had any chance of getting anywhere near this wonderland. Still, the Cabinet rallied its efforts. Within a month it submitted the forms with all the questions forwarded by the European Commission”, Munteanu added.
Nevertheless, the IDIS “Viitorul” expert warns the government lacks good coordination.
“Its decisions are asymmetrical and we can also notice [built-up] discontentment with a number of ministries. I’m referring to the Economy Ministry and the Ministry for Infrastructure and Development. I’m also referring to the Environment Ministry, but also to the Education Ministry. These four ministries are hard to manage since the wave of public disgruntlement could deal a heavy blow to the reputation, prestige and governing capacity of any government in these areas”.
In turn, the president of the Experts for Security and Global Affairs Association (ESGA) think-tank, Angela Grămadă, claims that people in the Republic of Moldova would favor more accelerated reforms.
“The Government of the Republic of Moldova has promised a great many things in terms of reforming the economy and the judiciary. […] The Government is yet to come up to clear-cut proposals and projects”, Angela Grămadă said.
The ESGA president went on to say that the current government has not yet developed a fully-fledged strategy regarding the separatist region of Transnistria. The breakaway region was actually one of the final chapters in the governing program PAS presented in the campaign for the snap parliamentary elections of July 11, 2021.
“Another case in point is the fact that the governing program includes only a couple of paragraphs on Transnistria. It was only mentioned at the end. This means PAS had no strategy or coherent vision, concrete measures that would offer a degree of predictability as to how this dialogue would unfold at various cooperation levels, including in the 5+2 format. This is transparent today, when we can see that Transnistria is dealt with in “fire-fighting” mode, like a fire that needs putting out. Had the government taken action prior to the war in Ukraine, perhaps the situation would be different today and the government would have had some sort of strategy to work with”, Angela Grămadă concluded.