Disappointing Assessments of Moldova’s European Integration

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Sergiu CEBAN
The current indicators of our country’s readiness to become part of the European family are disappointing. It is time for the authorities to understand that the EU path is a long distance and it cannot be “skipped” using declarations and slogans alone.
Last week many people were interested in the draft report of the European Commission that had been leaked to the press, according to which our country demonstrates weaker results in implementing the European legislation than Ukraine and Georgia. The document claims that the Moldovan authorities have a certain level of readiness, but based on combination of indicators, the country is at the initial stage of implementing the European legislation in almost all areas of cooperation with the EU. The Presidency and the Government were apparently aware of the planned release of the report. This explains the uncommon activity and convening of various commissions and meetings to assure citizens that the process of European integration is under control and on track, there are delays, but they are not significant. The head of the MFAEI said that the press had access to an interim document that reflected the state of affairs at the time of granting Moldova the candidate-country status. President Maia Sandu, for her part, hurriedly held a meeting of the National Commission for European Integration and listened to reports on the implementation of the action plan to meet the nine recommendations of the European Commission. It turned out that less than half of the 35 actions to be carried out by the end of 2022 had been implemented – only 16, and nine more were at the final stage. In this regard, the Head of State demanded that the remaining activities be completed by the end of March this year, stressing that all responsible institutions must intensify their efforts to implement the action plan. The authorities also publicly presented a manual (guide) on legislative harmonization as a key element for the success of the EU integration process, which should help our officials in the process of adapting to the European requirements. The Head of the EU Delegation to Moldova, Janis Mazeiks, stressed that legal harmonization is not a banal copying of normative legal documents but a structured process consisting in elaborating, planning and adopting normative acts. Not only the approval of legal acts will not be the end of the process, but also the process of implementation will be analyzed during the conformity assessment of the legislation. Among the main aspects that hinder progress on the European integration agenda is the so-called pre-vetting of candidates for the Superior Council of Magistracy and the Superior Council of Prosecutors. This procedure has already caused many disputes in the circles of power and among experts. Obviously, not everyone is happy with these innovations. The justice system is desperately resisting, and sometimes even challenging the country’s leadership. In a TV show Maia Sandu reminded that judges would be tested, and their behavior today would determine the marks given to them by the Pre-Vetting Commission. These comments raised a storm of indignation on the part of the Association of Judges, who saw them as an attempt to influence the judiciary system politically. This was followed by several controversial court rulings on high-profile cases of public and political interest. This “judicial salute” caused serious irritation in the presidency, which through its affiliated speakers hinted at the possibility of introducing a state of emergency in justice in order to bring “order” to the judiciary. The current state of Moldovan justice, actively snapping at the authorities, is just one of the signs of systemic problems. These problems are not less in other spheres, which are also to undergo a series of deep reforms, and there will be no less opposition. Statements by the authorities that their political predecessors did very little for European integration do not convince anyone in Brussels. Moreover, there are reasonable doubts about the real progress towards harmonization with the EU during 2022. They say that it’s most important not to lose hope. Our authorities have plenty of it – according to Maia Sandu’s forecasts, we will join the EU by the end of this decade. Nicu Popescu echoes her: he shares the optimism about the year 2030, but, in his opinion, it will be only the first finished stage of integration, while the full EU membership will be achieved in 20-30 years, during which the foundations of accession to the common migration and monetary space will be laid. The European reports release allows us to get away from all sorts of forecasts by Moldovan politicians and experts, to look at objective indicators of our readiness to become a part of the European family and to assess the real scale of the forthcoming transformation. Chisinau often talks optimistically about acquiring membership within a few years, but looking at the EU work papers, it is easy to see that our country actually still has a very long way to go. According to experts, the results of the year 2023 will be decisive. In autumn, the European Commission will publish its first report reflecting the reality of the situation, as well as Moldova’s progress in implementing European recommendations and reforms. The results of this evaluation will determine further political decisions of the EU governing bodies, first of all, the launch of direct negotiations for Moldova’s accession to the European Union. The start of negotiations by the end of this year can be the authorities’ key foreign policy achievement. Compared with the candidate status perceived by the public quite moderately the start of full-scale negotiation process will be something really promising. Moreover, it could be the cornerstone of the PAS electoral campaign in this year’s local elections, and then in the presidential 2024 and parliamentary 2025 elections. But if the current government fails this work and negotiations are postponed indefinitely, the PAS can safely resign and announce early parliamentary elections.