Expert: There Will Be No Breakthrough in the European Integration

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It’s high time for the authorities to start heeding the messages coming from Europe and prepare the public opinion for a realistic outcome of the EU Council’s meeting on the candidate status for Moldova
Sergiu Ceban, RTA: In late June, the Council of the European Union will hold its next summit to consider the applications of Moldova, Ukraine, and Georgia to join the EU, based on the findings and conclusions by the European Commission. Candidate status is a minimum plan, primarily for Kyiv who thereby hopes to receive a strong impetus of political support and dispel speculative narratives relayed by Russian propaganda. Most experts are talking about European integration in broad terms: about what exactly the status will be and what it will mean. But for some reason, almost no one comments on the terms and conditions that must be met in order to be admitted to the European Union. Many people naively believe that the current events in Ukraine may shorten the path to the EU for the Association Trio countries. However, European leaders say more and more often that the existing procedures and criteria cannot be neglected. According to representatives of France, Italy, Finland and the Netherlands, the European integration of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia will not be fast and may take 15-20 years. According to other estimates, a number of states are totally against granting such status to these countries, and offer to leave them in the stand-by regime for some more time, most likely indefinitely, following the example of Bosnia and Herzegovina. This is probably why Maia Sandu has been recently paying regular visits to the European capitals most skeptical about the “Trio”. The other day, the president left for the Netherlands, which traditionally takes a prudent stance towards the post-Soviet states and especially their European prospects. During the congress of the European People’s Party, Sandu said from the high rostrum that in the new geopolitical reality the EU accession is “the only chance [for us] to guarantee a free, secure, democratic and prosperous future”. At the same time, she assured that Moldova is not looking for shortcuts and is ready to work hard. There is not much time left before the EU Council reviews the application. Therefore, to further convince the Europeans of Moldova’s serious intentions, the president met with the ambassadors of the EU member states. Talking to them, the emphasis was made on the readiness to change the internal perimeter: according to Sandu, despite the difficult situation, Chisinau is determined to continue reforms in the economy and justice, to ensure energy independence and strengthen state institutions, to preserve democracy and to continue its European path. In this regard, the support of the Romanian government, which lobbies our interests in the high European offices, will be of major help. At the Netherlands meeting between Romanian Prime Minister Nicolae Ciucă and the presidents of the European Commission and the European Parliament, the importance of the EC’s positive opinion on Moldova, with recommendations to extend candidate status to it, was stated. Noteworthy in this context is also the visit of the heads of the Baltic and Nordic parliaments who organized the NB8 meeting in Chisinau where they expressed their full support for Moldova’s reforms and European integration. At the same time, statements by the Romanian representatives of the European Parliament are much less encouraging. The words of Eugen Tomac, who is critical of our country’s European integration process, about the need to take the path of least resistance and implement the long-standing idea of European integration through the merger of the two states, were widely disseminated. In May, the Romanian MEPs began to gradually integrate the Transdniestrian settlement into the overall EU integration agenda, although it is obvious that this topic would better be left aside. Opinions were voiced that Moldova’s political and institutional accession to the pan-European space will allegedly be possible only after the Transdniestrian problem is settled. This can probably explain Maia Sandu’s recent statements that the stages of conflict settlement have been mapped out, and that the final resolution should not hinder the European integration aspirations – this will be the number one condition in talks with Tiraspol. It is hard to imagine what decision the collective Brussels will ultimately adopt, given all the set of factors and circumstances. One thing is clear – it will be very difficult for the EU. At the same time, there are clear signs that European leaders are actively seeking alternative options to get out of this stalemate. An example is the initiative of French President Emmanuel Macron, already welcomed by the key leaders of the European Union. This initiative suggests the creation of a new entity, the European Political Community, which would help find new forms for political cooperation with non-EU countries. The leadership of our country, unlike Kyiv, has backed French proposals, which can mitigate the “Euro disappointment” if the EU does not extend candidate status to Moldova, Ukraine, and Georgia. It is difficult to imagine the Kremlin’s response, which has been extremely unpredictable as of late. Judging by the updated manual of Russian officials and diplomats, Moscow no longer sees Ukraine’s accession to the European Union as part of a peace agreement, and generally considers such a move equal to Ukraine’s joining NATO. At the same time, based on Henry Kissinger’s recent statements, the U.S. establishment still has actors willing to negotiate and even take heed of Moscow’s interests. Today, few people remember what integration with the European community actually means, and the very idea is considerably simplified. Above all, it involves the Europeanization of the way of thinking, laws, politics and everyday life, not just the geopolitical course. There is no critical need for formal candidate status. Our post-Soviet elites need to stop dreaming that they will be able to make a sudden breakthrough on this long and tough way. It is better to start heeding the messages coming from Europe’s leading capitals, not to overestimate expectations and to prepare the public opinion for a realistic outcome of the EU Council meeting later this month.