Opinion: Moldova Has No Fresh Ideas for Cooperation with the European Union

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Anton Shvets
Relations between Moldova and the EU need new values and ideas that Chisinau, having adopted the position of eight years ago, is not yet willing to offer.
Earlier this week, Natalia Gavrilita went to Brussels for the first time as the Prime Minister. There she met with the head of the European Council, field EU commissioners, visited the European Parliament and gave an extensive TV interview. The familiarization and review type of Natalia Gavrilita’s voyage is confirmed both by the statements made during it and following the results, as well as by the content of the negotiation agenda. The head of government “visited” all European officials with the conventional set of four topics: justice reform and the fight against corruption; the fight against the coronavirus pandemic; Moldova’s economic recovery and job creation; strengthening state institutions and the rule of law. The results of the meetings were largely reminiscent of the reports on the Brussels trips of Iurie Leanca, regardless of his position in the government - Minister of Foreign Affairs, Prime Minister or Deputy Prime Minister for European Integration. The only difference - in the issue of managing the COVID-19 pandemic - is so objective that discussion of this topic is simply inevitable. Especially in terms of the realistic possibility of attracting EU funding, as well as receiving vaccines and medical equipment as humanitarian aid. Otherwise, the content of the relationship has not changed at all since the premiership of Iurie Leanca eight years ago. The rhetoric that existed before the Association agreement and right after its signing is identical to the current one. It is as if the cooperation between Chisinau and Brussels is at a standstill, and the rotation of responsible characters (including the new composition of the European Commission) makes no actual contribution to it. In Brussels, Natalia Gavrilita spoke with the President of the European Council Charles Michel, listing the four previously mentioned topics for interaction and receiving assurances from the official that “the European Union is ready to continue supporting Moldova and its ambitious reforming program”. According to Michel, quoted by the press service of our government, Moldova is an “important and priority partner” for the EU. Succumbing to the mood, the Prime Minister complained to Josep Borrel, the High Representative of the European Union, about the failures and disturbing fragility of Moldovan democracy in recent years, as well as the destructive explosions of corruption, but promised to use the unique opportunity to restore, cleanse and recover in partnership with the EU. The European Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders heard a strong promise to reform the justice sector based on European standards and recommendations of the European Union, the Council of Europe and the Venice Commission. Natalia Gavrilita expressed her willingness to accurately follow the advice of the EU Chief Prosecutor Laura Kovesi. In this case we are obviously no longer talking about empty declarations – the Moldovan government will definitely use the resources of the European Union to deal with the objectionable Prosecutor General Alexandru Stoianoglo. Didier Reynders has already received an invitation to come to Chisinau to work out solutions to this problem together. At a meeting with the European Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement, Oliver Varhelyi, the 36.4 million euros, of the previously announced approximately 600 million euros, were reported to have been allocated directly to the Moldovan budget in the form of loans, subsidies, guarantees and investments to restore the Moldovan economy. The officials discussed investments in job creation, in particular, the development of the food and agricultural industries, regardless the competitiveness of this industry in our pan-European background being scanty. There was no talk about a clear perspective of Moldova’s membership in the EU - and there could not have been such. The Union, tired of enlargement, knocked down by the COVID-19 pandemic and Brexit, without an informal leader in the person of Angela Merkel who is ending her political career, cannot arrive at a common view even on the issue of the Western Balkan states’ future joining the EU. This situation is inherently rather scandalous, given the endless concessions these countries made in the name of a European perspective (starting from the territorial losses of Serbia, continuing with Montenegro’s membership in NATO, and ending with Macedonia’s renunciation of its name). Notably, Oliver Varhelyi didn’t even find it necessary to commend or somehow acknowledge the recent creation of the so-called “Associated trio” of Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine. The ambitious declaration of the Tbilisi summit seems to remain only on paper and has nothing to do with the practical European perspective of the three former Soviet republics. Kadri Simson, the European Commissioner for Energy, was approached with a request for support and advice to ensure Moldova’s energy security and bring its energy policy in line with European standards – because, they say, implementing these tasks without Brussels’ experience is simply impossible. That seems to be the true reality, since the legislation on the application of EU gas and energy directives, adopted back in 2016, has not yet been implemented, and the planned launch of the drawn-out Iasi-Ungheni-Chisinau gas pipeline in the near future will in no way reduce Moldova’s dependence on natural gas supplies of PJSC Gazprom, especially given the current market situation. Besides, organizing competition for the Moldavskaya GRES supplies in the field of electricity production and consumption is possible only artificially, using expressly non-market methods. EU Commissioner for Transport Adina Valean went even further, noting that the construction of high-quality roads in neighboring Romania, which she, by coincidence, represents in the European Commission, in fact, assists Moldova’s development. It’s about the Targu-Mures-Ungheni highway section, which, once launched, will supposedly provide Moldova with direct access to the European transport network. Meanwhile, large and really demanded investments in the transport sector were discussed at this meeting, but so far the issue remains at the level of statements. Natalia Gavrilita also spoke with members of the EU-Moldova parliamentary group, assuring that a closer partnership with the European Union is a guarantee of Moldova’s prosperity. This thesis was repeatedly reiterated (in English, to ensure better understanding) by the Prime Minister during her interview with Euronews, in which she again complained about corruption, politicians robbing the people, and dysfunctional state institutions, which can only be addressed with the EU support. The visit had a predictable outcome - no tangible changes for the population of the country, only amplified conceit and the pro-European illusions of the Moldovan government itself. Our republic is expectedly entering a new cycle of warming relations with the European Union, intimately reminiscent of the “honeymoon” during Iurie Leanca’s premiership. However, the all-forgiving and lofty rhetoric will not solve specific problems, the relations between Chisinau and Brussels need new values and fresh ideas. Right now, one can only see the EU’s readiness to influence the internal policy of Moldova in order to support Maia Sandu and her political project, entrenching its grip on power for as long as possible and pushing away all objectionable figures. This also prompts parallels with the time of Iurie Leanca and the period of signing the Association Agreement which ended in the theft of a billion and the formation of an oligarchic system of government.