On the Way to EU Candidate Status

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Sergiu CEBAN
Amid the frenzy of emotions caused by encouraging signals from Brussels, let us not forget there are many EU countries that are not impressed by a democratic government with promising plans having come to power in a particular country
On Friday, the European Commission recommended that Moldova be granted candidate status, with the proviso that we continue the process of internal reform. At the same time, the statement did not say anything specific about whether such a status would be supplemented by any conditions. Apparently, this is done in order to leave room for maneuvering to the European Council, which has the last word. The meeting of the EU heads of member states is expected to be held on June 23-24 in Brussels, where the final decision will be made. Our leadership and opinion leaders believe that Moldova has every chance of success. Maia Sandu welcomed the European Commission’s positive conclusion, based, in her opinion, on the understanding that our country will make further efforts in such fields as justice reform, fight against corruption, public administration and human rights. She also expressed the hope that EU leaders will support the European Commission’s proposal and grant our country candidate status at the next meeting. “This is an important moment for Moldova, a hope that our citizens need. We know it will be difficult, but we are determined to take this path, aiming to anchor our country in the European space of values, towards progress and prosperity,” Sandu said. Natalia Gavrilita also thinks that our country is one step closer to implementing the project of European country in this generation. In her opinion, Moldova’s citizens deserve to live in a state where human rights and the rule of law are fundamental values. Therefore, the Moldovan leadership is ready to work with confidence and optimism to meet European standards and eventually overcome the difficult and lengthy process of integration into the European Union as a full member. Brussels responded by noting Moldova’s major breakthrough regarding reforms, which “shows a genuine pro-European, anti-corruption and reformist approach of the Moldovan authorities, demonstrated for the first time since gaining independence. At the same time, the EU voiced the principal conditions, on fulfillment of which the further process of European integration depends. EC head Ursula von der Leyen stressed that our country still has a long way to go, as the economy and public administration need significant improvements and effective management. Moreover, European officials want to see effective changes in the financial system, as well as in public procurement. In the justice sector, the integrity, transparency and efficiency of the justice system must be ensured by developing mechanisms for property verification and democratic oversight. The fight against corruption and organized crime, including bank fraud, must be an important focus for the government, so everything must be done to recover the stolen billions. The EU also expects progress on civil society’s involvement in decision-making, democracy and the rule of law, and the protection of human and minority rights. Amid the frenzy of emotions caused by encouraging signals from Brussels, let us not forget there are many EU countries that are not impressed by a democratic government with promising plans having come to power in a particular country. Therefore, there is still a risk that Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia end up with only “potential candidate” status. This will mean that the collective Brussels will be in favor of a clear European perspective, but on the way to the candidate status we have to fulfill certain requirements and conditions. And depending on the speed of implementing the reforms, the European Union could revisit the issue, analyze the overall situation and restart the procedure for granting candidate status. In the view of the current European integration process being closely linked to the Ukrainian crisis, the final verdict of the European Council may depend on what decision Kyiv will eventually take regarding the (non)continuation of further hostilities and the start of negotiations with Moscow. This could explain the recent visit of the leaders of France, Germany, and Italy, who probably tried to convince Volodymyr Zelensky of the need for a cease-fire. It’s important to understand that the EC took a certain exception to the rule and made a political decision, given all the circumstances of the Ukrainian crisis. Yes, the armed conflict in Ukraine opened a window of opportunity for us, and Moldova, in fact, skipped the long road to candidate status. But from now on, the hardest stage begins. And the main question is whether our elites will be able to mobilize before such a serious strategic task or fall back into internal feuding. However, the European integration ideas must become a significant part of our society no matter what the final decision of the European Council is. There is no doubt that in the near future the final decision in the long-standing dispute about the foreign policy vector of the country will be made. Most citizens, skeptical about Moldova’s chances of getting a clear prospect of future membership, are likely to gradually reevaluate their political views and somehow bring them in line with the general course of the state. This will inevitably affect the structure of Moldovan parties, for in the new environment it is difficult to imagine an increase in support for political forces advocating participation in Moscow’s integration projects.