“Chattering Behind the Closed Door”: Results of the Regular Eastern Partnership Summit

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Sergiu CEBAN
Speaking in Brussels, Maia Sandu reiterated the “lack of alternative” to Moldova’s European path. Another thing is that the European Union itself keeps stubbornly ignoring any attempts to “move closer” to it and is not ready to offer anything new to Chisinau or other participants of the project – and the prospect of full membership are not even a question
The sixth Eastern Partnership Summit was held in Brussels in a rather presentable manner. In addition to the Presidents of the European Commission and the European Council, representatives of 27 EU member states participated in it, as well as the leadership of the program states: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. On the eve of the main meeting, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration Nicu Popescu signed a number of agreements with the European Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Oliver Varhelyi on gratuitous financial assistance to our country to solve energy and infrastructure problems. At the same time, Maia Sandu met with EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell and Head of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, presenting a plan for the modernization of the country, reflecting Moldova’s “non-alternative endeavor” for deeper integration with the EU. As a result of the summit, a joint declaration was agreed, including the provisions of the future action plan and an updated Eastern Partnership agenda with an emphasis on recovery, sustainability and reforms. Importantly, the EU supported the initiative of Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia in the form of an Association Trio aimed at the ambitious development of cooperation with the Union. According to the new investment program, Brussels will allocate 2.4 billion euros to five partnership countries - Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova - to support small and medium-sized enterprises, reconstruction of roads, fight against corruption, support of independent media and non-governmental organizations. Despite the high expectations, the summit did not bring any clarity to the prospects of the project participants. The collective EU has again used streamlined language on the recognition of the European choice by the countries that signed the Association agreement, but at the same time, apparently, is not yet ready to take new steps towards at least Chisinau, Kiev and Tbilisi. By the way, this contrasts strongly with the attitude towards the countries of the Western Balkans, which were recently promised again to open the doors to EU membership in the near future. In such a timid position of Brussels, many have noticed the factor of Russia, which, despite all the threatening statements coming from European capitals, apparently, European leaders are still looking back, avoiding creating additional points of tension in relations with Moscow. In addition, the Kremlin has recently begun to more aggressively declare its “historical” territories located in the neighborhood, threatening everyone with military actions if the United States and the European Union do not put an end to the issue of Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova’s non-entry into NATO. Our leadership has been carefully preparing for the Eastern Partnership Summit, broadcasting certain messages towards both Brussels and Moscow. In basically the main interview with Reuters, Maia Sandu voiced key considerations about the prospects for our country’s development. She expressed hope that one day Moldova will become a member of the European Union, and wished other countries to respect the “strategic choice of the Moldovan people”. She also stated concern about the presence of the Russian military near Ukraine, but noted that she did not yet see an increase in the activity of Russian troops on the left bank of the Dniester. The difficulties in the energy sector, which, according to the President, our country is experiencing in relations with Moscow, seem to have resonated with the Head of the European Commission. She noted that the European Union had noticed the Kremlin’s attempts to put pressure on Moldova by limiting gas supplies, and appealed to the member states to protect the community from such a “cynical geopolitical game". According to Ursula von der Leyen, Russia has chosen an “aggressive approach” towards its neighbors, therefore, she called on Moscow to reduce tensions and use diplomatic means to resolve existing contradictions peacefully. Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, as expected, warmly supported Chisinau and advocated Moldova’s accession to the European Union. He also agreed with the position cultivated in our country that some EU partners in the Eastern Partnership are moving faster and are striving to do more, noting that Moldova is just the case. After all, a pro-European administration is in power, which is ready to carry out the necessary reforms and move closer to the European Union at an accelerated pace. Therefore, the Romanian leader addressed a request to Brussels to give those willing an opportunity to do more. The EU, no doubt, will for natural reasons try to develop relations with the countries of the post-Soviet region, while continuing to nominally support the Eastern Partnership program. However, the composition and the results of the summit show in what a complex and uncertain state the project is stalled, and in principle the entire interaction of the European Union with states on its eastern periphery. It is likely to become more and more difficult for Brussels to ignore a group of countries that are making persistent attempts to “move closer” to the EU and get clearer prospects on the issue of their membership in the Union. First of all, we are talking about a legally formalized Association Trio with the support of European officials. But while Europe is increasingly talking about the fatigue of the EU from the arrival of new members, apparently, Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova will be offered only routine cooperation on the basis of association agreements with small monetary incentives. It seems that the opinion continues to dominate on the sidelines of Brussels that the Eastern Partnership is not a path to membership, but its alternative, and therefore there is no endeavor, no means, no objective need to revise the goals or objectives of this program. So, perhaps, the summit’s main highlight was not the meagre results, but the speech of President Maia Sandu, who stated clearly once again: Moldova will continue to move confidently exclusively in the pro-European direction, and no gas or other tricks can change the foreign policy course of the state. But how effectively can you get closer to the EU if you constantly have to knock on the closed door?