Three of Tango: Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia Demand a Clear Integration Perspective from the EU

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Sergey CHEBAN Moldova, like its Eastern Partnership colleagues - Ukraine and Georgia, celebrated this year's anniversary of the Association Agreement with the EU amid disappointing results and even sadder prospects. The "Associated Trio" of these three countries is in many ways a step of despair calling on Brussels to change its Eastern European policy. June 27 marks seven years since the Agreement on Association and the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area between the Republic of Moldova and the European Union was signed, which is crucial for our state. As Maia Sandu noted in her official statement, the agreement became “a key document in relations with the EU, which makes an invaluable contribution to the modernization of state institutions and the economy of Moldova”. In addition, she pointed out that due to the agreement, the European Union accounts for about 67% of all Moldovan exports to date. Moldova's real success in the rapprochement with the European Union may take a long time to dwell on. The results are real, and they are tangible. However, if it were not for the complex internal political upheavals, total corruption of the elites and the constant violation of democratic principles, which ultimately undermined Brussels' trust, there is no doubt that much more could have been done. At least, to bring our country closer to much higher European living standards and well-being of the population, not to mention the prospect of real membership in the Union, which was practically destroyed by Moldovan politicians over the past years. Association Agreements signed with several post-Soviet countries was one of the important achievements of the Eastern Partnership, which is known to have become one of the forms of the European Union's offensive foreign policy. Therefore, despite its lively external design, the Swedish-Polish initiative was still viewed as a pronounced geopolitical project and therefore the conclusion of the agreements triggered a strong response from Moscow and a significant cooling of relations with Chisinau and Kyiv. Back in 2015, the Eastern Partnership summit revealed that the post-Soviet republics are too different and need a differentiated approach from Brussels. The two conditional factions were first outlined exactly at that time  - "Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova" and "Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus". In 2021, the situation is even more impressive after the well-known events in the Transcaucasus, Belarus, as well as the ongoing situation in Donbass and around Ukraine in general. The Eastern Partnership has undergone internal deformation, with only Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia remaining at its core, which prompted the three capitals to take more decisive proactive measures to make their voices be heard in Brussels. The first step to this end was a memorandum on establishing an "Associated Trio" as a format for enhanced cooperation signed on May 17 in Kyiv. Last week, the foreign ministers of the three countries visited Brussels, where they presented the new format of collegial cooperation to the EU High Representative for Foreign Policy Josep Borrell. According to the diplomats, by doing so they confirmed the European aspirations of their states and expressed their readiness to move to the next level of the association process with the EU - namely, obtaining a clear integration perspective. The idea of ​​such a tripartite coalition is, by and large, inevitable, especially given the indecisiveness of the European bureaucracy. It obviously has no clear understanding of what to do next with the Eastern partner project, which has long degraded into a "suitcase without a handle." It is possible that such a largely desperate step on the part of Kyiv, Chisinau and Tbilisi may become their last chance to induce Brussels to reconsider its Eastern European policy and offer a more tangible perspective to these three republics which demonstrate their greatest dedication to developing relations with the EU. However, as the experience of the past decade shows, the joint “European integration move” risks facing both internal and external difficulties. The dynamic internal political rotation of the elites can negatively affect the overall coordination of positions and synchronization of actions, as well as continue to have a negative impact on the democratic transformations which Kyiv, Chisinau and Tbilisi are barely handling. In addition, with a high degree of probability, the Russian Federation as the main oponent of the European integration of the post-Soviet republics will continue to actively use the tools available to it to complicate the process of strengthening the subjectivity of the "Associated Trio" as much as possible. A high level of risks and a low level of dividends may become the main obstacle, due to which Brussels may nevertheless abandon a large-scale revision of the Eastern Partnership project and make only small adjustments to maintain its viability at a minimum level. Oddly enough, but Moldova is the main source of risks for the "Trio". Unlike Ukraine and Georgia, where the ruling class was completely reformatted, the Moldovan political spectrum still contains party formations (also with significant political potential) promoting ideas alternative to the European course, which imply the development of relations not only on the western flank, but also on the eastern - for example, with Moscow and its regional associations, such as the Eurasian Union. One of the main problems and obstacles for the "Associated Trio" on its way towards the European Union is the deep heterogeneity of views and positions among its members, including due to the ongoing transfer of power in Germany. In addition, the recent attempts by the German-French tandem to gently raise the issue of the need to organize an EU-Russia summit have turned into a bad sign for Kyiv, Chisinau and Tbilisi. Despite the fact that at a meeting in Brussels on June 25, the leaders of European countries rejected this idea, we can nevertheless say with confidence that the current trends indicate the intention to gradually normalize relations with Moscow. Therefore, the hopes of the three Eastern Partnership leaders, who have stuck in the process of European transformations and almost lost their chances of joining the Union in the foreseeable future, may run into insurmountable internal contradictions of European states.