Moldova – our unknown future partner

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© European Union 2023 - Source : EP Moldova – our unknown future partner

© European Union 2023 – Source : EP

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Dorina Baltag, you are researcher at the Institute for Diplomacy and International Governance of Loughborough University, in London. And you speak to us about Moldova today, our future EU partner we know so little about.

Yes, it’s a historic moment for Moldova. Together with Ukraine, it is now taking part in accession negotiations initiated by the European Council just before Christmas. It is not exaggerated to call this a “milestone” in the EU’s enlargement strategy, a decision of geopolitical significance, in a region shadowed by war.

 

Since when exactly does Moldova have a relationship with the EU?

In 2003, Moldova was included in the “ENP”, the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP). This did not result in new contractual relations between Moldova and the EU, but the “ENP Action Plan” of 2005 outlined a roadmap for enhanced relations with a focus on conditionality.

Since 2009, Moldova has been part of the more ambitious “Eastern Partnership”, offering the prospect of an “Association Agreement”. Such an agreement is comparable to the chapters in EU accession negotiations, covers a wide range of issues and sets forth an extensive reform agenda, emphasizing regulatory alignment, political association, and economic integration. This was initialled in 2013.

 

Has Moldova been a motivated candidate?

I think so. In various evaluations of alignment with EU rules and norms, Moldova has demonstrated very good progress in laying down a comprehensive legislative framework.

However, the intermediate assessments also emphasized that adoption of the legislation is not always followed by the development of effective mechanisms. And the Association Agreement was overshadowed by the so-called “Russian Laundromat” scandal in 2014, where large amounts of money were moved from Russia through Moldovan banks for money laundering purposes.

At the same time, this democratic backsliding created a window of opportunity for opposition parties championing justice and anti-corruption measures. Moldova’s first female president Maia Sandu was elected in 2020 on such a platform, with a significant victory with 57.72% in the second round. Subsequently, the commitment to EU reforms gained substantial momentum, moving away from mere window-dressing, and that was recognized for instance in the European Commission Report from last November. The evaluations highlighted Moldova’s notable advancements in areas such as elections, anti-corruption measures, justice reform, de-oligarchisation, and public administration, signifying a tangible alignment with EU standards.

 

What role did the Russian aggression of Ukraine play in this?

It was a catalytic factor! This geopolitical development has inadvertently propelled Moldova’s alignment with EU principles, presenting a strategic advantage for both Moldova and the EU in navigating regional dynamics.

It has even prompted calls for a comprehensive re-evaluation of the entire EU membership pathway, urging a swifter integration approach in several phases for aspiring nations. EU candidate status for Ukraine and its neighbour Moldova was no doubt the only way forward for the EU in order to be up to its own ambitions as “geopolitical Union”.

For Moldova, the process of EU integration holds a significant promise of breaking away from Russia’s sphere of influence. Being selected as the location for the second summit of the European Political Community in 2022 was of high symbolic importance and allowed to convey a message to Russia. It was also a recognition of Moldova‘s unwavering solidarity with Ukraine and resilience against Russian coercion, including energy supply cuts, corruption involving pro-Russian figures, and extensive disinformation campaigns.

 

And what’s the reasonable horizon for full membership?

The progress of accession negotiations is of course contingent upon the pace of reforms and the alignment with EU laws within each participating country.

Moldova has already showed determination in fulfilling six out of nine major conditions, for example reforming the judicial system and the electoral code, bolstering gender equality, and enhancing the involvement of civil society in the decision-making process. Noteworthy efforts have also been made in managing public finances and pursuing de-oligarchisation initiatives.

But enlargement is a two-way street: the EU also needs to undertake reforms! It must enhance its absorption capacity, revise its accession processes as to consider the possibility of a “multi-speed” union characterized by gradual, phased integration while the accession process is ongoing, as part of preparations for potential enlargement by 2030.

It’s history being written before our eyes!

Conclusion

 

Many thanks, Dorina Baltag, for updating us on this future member-state. I recall you are researcher at the Institute for Diplomacy and International Governance of Loughborough University, in London.