EU integration of Moldova: fact or fiction?

By Victoria Onofreiciuc | 26 August 2011

To quote this document: Victoria Onofreiciuc, “EU integration of Moldova: fact or fiction?”, Nouvelle Europe [en ligne], Friday 26 August 2011, http://www.nouvelle-europe.eu/node/1133, displayed on 28 February 2020

The past and present of EU-Moldova relations can be framed between two main periods: February 2005, when the joint ENP Action Plan was launched to trigger the first stage of cooperation; and January 2010, when the EU and Moldova started negotiations on an Association Agreement. In this timeline the European Union has continually increased the volume of assistance provided to Moldova, with numbers reaching about 100 million Euros annually until 2013, according to the data provided by the Moldovan Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration. Nevertheless, the real perspectives of EU integration of Moldova are just as unclear now as they were six years ago. How did these perspectives develop over time and to what extent were the reforms truly implemented in Moldova? And, generally speaking, is the EU integration of the country a feasible idea in the near or far future ?

Moldova: always the bride’s maid, never the bride

Moldova has had its ups and downs in the process of EU integration, however up until now it was not able to secure a clear-cut deal with the “blue partner”.  On the eve of its 20th independence anniversary, Moldova is still a country divided between three main directions: Romania, Russia and the EU. Local mass-media, namely “Publika TV”, has launched a public campaign called “I am Moldova”, where the different Moldovan orientations are clearly shown by dividing the colors of the Moldovan flag (red, blue and yellow) among the three key partners of the country: red for Russia, blue for the EU and yellow for Romania.

The reasons for the delay in the process of EU integration fall under different categories: economic stagnation, political instability and lack of motivation, influence of geo-political actors and lacunas in the legal framework. However “on paper” all these obstacles are being slowly overcome. Or are they really?

“Paper reforms” and their influence on the EU integration process

The 2008 country progress report on the Implementation of the European Neighborhood Policy in Moldova, published on the 23th of April 2009, mentions that during the reported period “Moldova made progress in most areas of the ENP Action Plan”, with an emphasis being placed on the reform of the judicial system, the accomplishment of the conditions for the EU Autonomous Trade Preferences benefits and the settlement of the Transnistrian conflict (one of the last frozen conflicts in Europe).

In order to achieve this, the EU has invested hugely in Moldova. In the briefing paper of DG External Policies on analyzing the assistance provided to Moldova, published in November 2008, it is clearly mentioned that during the period 1991-2006 Moldova received from the EU around 320 million Euros, with  209.7 million Euros being planned for the period 2007-2010. In comparison to other ENP countries, Moldova is one of the top financial recipients per capita with 48 Euros per citizen (against 33 for Armenia, 26 for Georgia, 11 for Azerbaijan and 11 for the Ukraine).

Only a Palestinian receives more euros from the EU than a Moldovan does.

However the efficiency of this investment and the Moldovan progress reported by the EU can be questioned. As mentioned in an article published on the Public Policy Watch website, there were voices expressing their disbelief in the reform process back in 2008, when the actual country progress report was made. Local experts from the Institute for Development and Social Initiative (“IDIS Viitorul”), an independent think-tank, wrote studies in which they said that the government has failed to implement the necessary reforms and expressed their opinion on the need for a “pseudo-government to do the job of the inefficient Moldovan government”.

The ENP Action Plan Implementation Tool Key measures until June 2011 of the Moldovan government mentions, among other priorities, a series of actions that Moldova was supposed to undertake in order to further reinforce the administrative and judicial capacities. It looks like there is a very clear “paper framework” for EU integration of Moldova, but still it seems that there is room for improvement.

A country hard to integrate but easy to bring closer

Moldova looks like an easy country to integrate, following the Romanian’s example. Its territory and population will not raise an issue to the voting system within the EU institutions, and even the problems of corruption and migration could be solved (or forgotten about for a while, as it happened with Moldova’s closest EU neighbor). But will the EU accept to make the same mistake twice?

In the case of Romania and Bulgaria, the initial plan envisaged for the countries to become members of the Schengen area in March 2011 did not happen because of the resistance shown by Germany, France and the Netherlands. This has proven that the EU “can change its mind”.

So why is the EU offering Moldova only a possible perspective of European integration, provided that the latter will be a “good student” and follow all EU requirements, as mentioned in the most recent legal base for EU-Moldova relations, the Association Agreement?

According to a recent speech of the Moldovan minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration, Iurie Leanca the frozen Tranistrian conflict remains to be the main challenge of Moldova on the path to European integration.  Having its roots in the soviet “perestroika” and national tensions, the unrecognized self proclaimed Transnistrian Republic was created on the Moldovan territory in 1990, benefiting to this day from Russian support.

 

 

In his opinion the settlement of this conflict is a joint objective of Moldova and its external partners, with the urgent need of the negotiations in the 5+2 format (which includes 2 parties – Republic of Moldova and Transnistria, 3 mediators - OSCE, the Russian Federation, Ukraine, and 2 observers – the USA and the European Union) to be re-launched.  However one can’t ignore geo-political trends and wonder if EU integration and the solving of the Transnistrian conflict are truly on the agenda of all external partners of Moldova.

Who wants Moldova in the EU and who does not?

Before answering the question “how”, the Moldovan EU integration process needs to answer the question “with whom”. Placed in the middle of strategic geo-political interests, Moldova needs to be allowed to integrate by bigger powers. Russia and Ukraine come into the picture naturally. Having historic and economic ties to the first one, Moldova also needs to keep Ukraine on the happy side. The accentuated pro-Romanian attitudes in recent years seem to trouble its Slavonic neighbors. Experts have been highlighting the attitude of Russian officials towards the development of the western viewpoint in Moldova back in 2009, with president Medvedev expressing his worry “as the Russian language and media is losing ground to the Romanian one”. The same article mentions that Ukraine, on the other side, is concerned by the strengthening of the Transnistrian conflict at its borders because of the pro-Romanian direction in Moldova.

Interestingly, during the same period, the Moldovan Prime Minister Vlad Filat was declaring for Radio Free Europe that Ukraine could become a partner for Moldova on the path to European integration, implementing a “common action” with Kiev in this field.

Thus, a question arises: why cannot Moldova join the EU on its own? Why does it need to be “carried” on the shoulders of Romania or Ukraine?  Especially when it seems that, despite the above mentioned challenges, there are key partners and supporters for the country in this quest.

Hungary and Poland have repeatedly shown their assistance towards the EU goal of Moldova, despite the economic difficulties the union is facing right now and the enlargement not being on its list of priorities for the moment. As mentioned by the Hungarian premier, “Hungary and Poland will further back Moldova and its EU-integration path”.

Moldova is benefiting from international assistance provided under different legal and political frameworks, many of which are not even known to the average citizen, like for example the Söderköping Process, which focuses on experience sharing in issues connected to asylum, protection, migration and border management between EstoniaLatvia, Lithuania, Hungary, the Slovak RepublicPoland and Romania on the one hand and BelarusMoldova and Ukraine on the other.

However due to the instable political situation, the weak economy of the country and the never ending tradition of corruption, the benefits Moldova could gain from the international assistance and expertise provided are hugely diminished.

According to the Centre for Combating Economic Crimes and Corruption of the Republic of Moldova, the annual Index of Corruption Perception calculated by Transparency International shows that both the citizens and the international community perceive Moldova as a country where corruption is highly spread, as in 2010 the level reached 2.9 (on a 0 to 10 scale, with lower levels showing higher perception of corruption).

Moldova in the EU: the clock is ticking

The Alliance for European Integration in Moldova seemed to be the perfect political platform for the implementation of the reforms required by the European Union. Created after the turbulent elections from July 2009 and the so called “Twitter revolution”, the political parties which formed the alliance committed themselves to achieving economic growth, settling the Transnistrian conflict, promoting a consistent policy, and, most importantly, getting the country into the EU.

 However recent events show that there might be some cracks in the foundation of the political bloc, which might cause reason for concern within the EU. The recent visit to Chisinau of the Head of the European Council was scrutinized by local media. In an interview given to Imedia, Nicu Popescu, independent expert, mentioned the urging tone of Mr. Van Rompuy’s declarations in regards to reform implementation in Moldova, as well as the persistent need for the coalition for European Integration to consolidate its actions.

On the other hand, there are some interesting opinions being circulated in local and national media on the future of the EU. The economic crisis and difficulties the union is facing lately diminishes the positive aspect of EU integration and brings out a tricky question: will the union last?

Asked on this issue in a interview for Radio Free Europe, Moldovan minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration Iurie Leanca stresses the general international changes and instabilities shaking our world today, with the EU being another organization which is affected by world events. He said: “I am sure that the EU will exist, will function and will continue to be an attractive pole for Moldova”.

This view is shared by a lot of Moldovan citizens, who see in the EU a hope for a brighter future.

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