A new Moldovan draft law on Non-commercial Organizations was circulated for public consultation in July 2020. While Moldovan CSOs supported the new draft law and pleaded for it to be adopted without delay and without amendments, the ruling socialist party was postponing its dates of coming into force. After the draft law got a public appeal from the Moldovan CSOs and received substantial media coverage from both national and international press, it was finally adopted, with small amendments that were to regulate many aspects of the NGOs’ work and functioning and came into force on 27 August 2020.
However, this story could have ended differently if it weren’t for the Moldovan NGOs’ strong and proactive advocacy for their civic space. More often than not, the prevailing political climate in the country hinders the adoption of progressive and democratic changes related to NGOs in the legislation, which, as a consequence, limits the space for civil society.
How political games hinder the normal evolution processes for civil society actors
The draft law on Non-Commercial Organizations was registered in Parliament on the 3rd of April 2018. It was prepared by a working group, which included civil society representatives, assembled by the Ministry of Justice back in 2016. The draft law passed repeated public consultations, initiated by the Ministry of Justice, and had all the required endorsements. It passed its first reading in Parliament on 3 May 2018. On 28 May 2020, the parliamentary Committee for Legal Matters, Appointments, and Immunities proposed the adoption of the draft law in the final reading.
Earlier, many civil society organizations (CSOs) called on the Parliament to pass the draft law in the final reading, to bar any amendments that could impede non-profits’ work, and to consult CSOs in a transparent and inclusive way regarding any prospective changes in the draft law.
The Moldovan National Platform of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum, which is the most representative platform in the country, having over 90 CSOs member organizations, welcomed the parliamentary Committee’s proposal to adopt the draft law in the final reading.
The new draft law is intended to bring significant improvements to the legal framework of Non-commercial Organizations. In other words, it simplifies the registration procedures for NGOs, eliminates registration fees, and removes the rigid internal organizational structure imposed by the previous laws. The new law also limits the authorities from exerting pressure on NGOs and excludes unjustified limitations for NGOs by persons from certain categories. Most importantly, the new law completely prohibits Non-commercial Organizations from supporting electoral candidates and sets clear limits on the relationship between non-profits and political parties. This was the main reason why the leading Socialist party in Moldova and its allies were not eager to pass it immediately.
The new law also establishes the legal framework concerning the Government’s financial support for CSOs, a field that has been insufficiently regulated by previous laws.
At first, the Socialist party members of the parliamentary Legal Committee proposed, without offering compelling arguments, that the draft law come into force on the 1st of January 2021. This proposal was not carried by the required number of votes.
The member-organizations of the Moldovan National Platform called on the Parliament to pass the draft law on Non-commercial Organizations, as voted by the parliamentary Legal Committee on 28 May 2020, in the second reading without delay. It was important to have the law come into force under the general rule, one month after its publication in the Official Gazette.
However, some changes in the draft law happened before the final reading. Article 6, paragraph 5 was re-written. Here is what it looks like: "(5) Non-commercial organizations may not participate in electoral campaigns, may not support material or provide services to political parties, except under the conditions established by the Electoral Code”. The opposition noted that the phrase "CANNOT MAKE ELECTORAL AGITATION" has disappeared from the originally proposed wording.
The new law is now a reality. It came into force on the 27th of August, which demonstrates that the push from the opposition and the CSOs is much needed and can still bring positive change. Unfortunately, circumstances, when the authorities hinder the adoption of progressive laws, are a lot, which only confirms again the need for an active environment of CSOs, that engage with the authorities and represent the interests of the civil society. Even in the situation of shrinking space for the civil society organizations, their fast and precise response to the rapidly changing realities only reassures the society that CSOs are to be trusted and that the winds of change are starting to blow across the country.
Veronica Jantoan - Executive Secretary, Moldovan National Platform of the EaP Civil Society Forum