As expected, the European Council agreed to make Moldova and Ukraine candidates for membership in the bloc. RTA experts offered their opinion about what it might mean for our country
The fact that Moldova was granted candidate status is an extraordinary, in many respects fortuitous coincidence, because the authorities, in fact, used the geopolitical window of opportunity that opened after the outbreak of the conflict in Ukraine. When Brussels’ intention to encourage the stranded countries and to bolster its influence on the eastern flank coincided with the presence of pro-Western forces in Chisinau that have not yet discredited themselves - at least in the eyes of Brussels and Washington. I must admit this doesn’t happen very often in our country.
Basically, this is certainly a very political decision. Objectively, Moldova does not meet any of the criteria for candidate status, except for geographical, which of course has never been questioned. The new status does not radically change anything for Moldova in terms of membership timeframe, since there are Western Balkan countries that were granted the same status much earlier. Anyway, they are expected to join the Union earlier than Moldova, if at all the EU will make it by that time.
Nevertheless, this move is a demonstration of Brussels’ highest loyalty to the current leadership of the republic. A politicized curtsey, but on the other hand with this backing Brussels was pursuing its own goals. It understood very well that it either chooses this purely cosmetic way of showing its support or it would have to take patronage over the authorities failing to cope with socio-economic crisis, regardless of whether the reasons are objective or subjective. The second option would have required huge resources, including financial, so that to prevent the sitting government from complete bankruptcy by the next election. So, they decided to take the cosmetic route. They measured the risks and prospects, figured that this would be the cheapest and easiest way to reward Maia Sandu and her party.
It should also be understood that by the time Moldova will have spent 10-12 years as a candidate and will have to decide whether its membership in the EU as such is possible or not, the geopolitical landscape on the European continent and in Eurasia in general can drastically change.
As to the possible aftermath, we can assume that Russia will return to active use of Transdniestria as an anchor hampering the country’s advancement along the European path. At the same time, in the right-bank territory of Moldova, Russian political forces will most likely go bankrupt. This is logical: despite the fortuitous nature of this candidacy, in many respects it was the absence of a systemic alternative to the pro-European course and the failure of the socialists’ rule that largely contributed to this result.
The candidate status is a milestone on the way of Moldova’s European integration which under different circumstances could be regarded as a breakthrough and undoubted success of the authorities who ruled the country when it was obtained. In fact, everyone understands that we got the status “for free”. This is a purely symbolic gesture, which European leaders do not hesitate to mention. It virtually does not bring us any closer to real membership in the European Union, which is still a distant, almost a pipe, dream as it was before.
To me personally, the most confusing is the fact that the European Union has abandoned its own principles in favor of a short-term opportunistic solution. As a result, Ukraine and Moldova were granted candidacy without the need for internal transformations but simply based on the current geopolitical situation. Moreover, both countries have lately shown regression rather than progress in introducing reforms and democracy in principle. It is clear that the region is in the midst of the war, but is this a reason to turn a blind eye to flagrant “excesses”: party and media suppression, freedom of speech restrictions, political “jailings”, and corruption.
Of course, our authorities will use the candidate status for self-praise, as a way to cover up any failures. The ruling party actually got an undeserved carte blanche which unties their hands for any actions, since they are now glorified as “the most successful Euro-integrators in Moldova’s history”. We all know well what this can lead to. This lays the ground for a “new success story” which can again discredit the European integration process in the eyes of the population in the future. And the split in our society, which seemed to be heading toward being bridged in favor of the European vector, may reappear even worse.
We are certainly very lucky. Moldova, on Ukraine’s shoulders, got into this conditional European transit hub, where we will have a long and difficult road of reforms, deep modernization of the state system and thorough preparation to become truly European. In the coming weeks, we will probably continue to watch the excited rhetoric about the tangible benefits of being an EU candidate and, for example, the amount of investment from the entire continent of Europe.
The reality, however, is obviously a bit different, if not harsh. Therefore, for the time being, our colleagues are either embarrassed or trying not to scare the population by the fact that the sweet taste of a fast-track candidacy will soon be replaced by the need to work hard and roll up our sleeves. Meanwhile, the results of our officials’ work over the past 30 years can be seen, as they say, with the naked eye. If someone in Moldova expects also an accelerated membership procedure, it’s necessary to get rid of these unjustified hopes as soon as possible. Even the 10-year period that Nicu Popescu talks about looks overly optimistic.
In the coming years, the prospect of our country gaining full membership in the European Union is likely to depend on several important contexts. First of all, we are talking about the situation in the post-Soviet space, which is undergoing profound reformatting. No one can say what the final or intermediate configuration of this region will be in terms of security and political-geographical contours, nor can anyone guarantee that we will in no way be affected by these processes.
Of no less importance is the internal resilience and political stability in the EU itself. Although the conflict in Ukraine has mobilized European states, the deteriorating economic situation has already triggered unpleasant centrifugal processes, which may adversely affect the place Kyiv and Chisinau will eventually have in the pan-European agenda.
The internal political situation in Moldova and the ability of our authorities to do everything possible to unite the population around the mainstream pro-European idea are of key importance. Without a high level of national cohesion, with a significant number of skeptical citizens and much weakness in state institutions, the preparation for accession might take decades.
And finally, we should not forget about the Transdniestrian factor, which will inevitably have an impact on further process of European integration. So, something has to be done about it. If this problem continues to live in some parallel reality, its resolution will also drag on for decades, without much prospect to be settled on our terms.