Sticks and Carrots of European Integration

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Moldova’s European integration becomes more and more geopolitical: if the authorities want new successes and bonuses, they need to fulfill a number of apparently not very pleasant conditions. And it is not at all about the notorious “harmonization of legislation”.  
Smyon ALBU, RTA: Today, the World Economic Forum in Davos, where Maia Sandu has traveled, is coming to an end. Over the past few days, she has held a lot of ceremonial meetings, often fleeting – but this, of course, is not the same as the “toilet talk” of her predecessors, and gives full grounds for claiming that “the whole world is by our side”. The main point of all this international agitation by our government is, of course, not some empty small talk, but Moldova’s final descent into the Western trench, which in our country is declared almost as an existential event. Sandu said so in Davos – only within the EU, for some reason, our country has a chance to survive as a democracy, and we certainly want to be part of the “free world”. Not surprisingly, a little earlier, the president, convening a national commission on European integration, announced that this very European integration remains the main priority for the coming year 2023. However, at the beginning of the year it turned out that our cheerful march to the European Union, judging by the speeches of officials and the leadership of the republic, was not so orderly. And it’s okay that so far we have been feebly fulfilling the EU recommendations, given to us after we were granted the status of a candidate country. Not for the first time, we’ve been there before. In fact, Sandu rushed to accuse her predecessors, who have been “messing around” for the last 6-7 years. I would also add that even those points which the government considers as implemented, such as the reform of the Electoral Code, have little in common with democracy, but that’s OK. And then, as if out of nowhere, the European Commission’s evaluation of the Moldovan legislation’s compliance with European standards was released in the press and it turned out that we are at the initial stage in almost all the sectors. Moreover, we are not only hopelessly slow in harmonizing the national law with the European one, but we even lag behind Ukraine and Georgia in this regard. On the other hand, as Nicu Popescu says, we are well integrated economically – most of our exports go to the EU. It’s a very dubious achievement to bind ourselves to a single market, and even without much right, for in case of any force majeure we would have serious problems – see agriculture. Here, of course, it is very interesting why Brussels decided to give our authorities such a slap in the face. I believe that this is a banal “carrot and stick” policy. In general, there were plenty of carrots for our government in the past year. These are political bonuses in the form of a bunch of elite international visits to Chisinau and tours of our leaders in the western capitals and forums. And an economic boost worth hundreds of millions of euros. And a big geopolitical gift – the granting of candidate status. Our government expects that the carrots will keep on coming. In Davos, Maia Sandu has already voiced the minimum cash rider – 600 million euros of macro-financial assistance to get through 2023 without turbulence. Politically, the PAS must be aiming at the beginning of negotiations on accession to the European Union, in order to win three consecutive elections – local, presidential and parliamentary – on this powerful success. However, you do not have to be a wise judge to understand that all these blessings were poured on the heads of our leaders for a reason. The West is not accustomed to charity, and any debt means repayment in one way or another. It is not that one can get much economically from our poor country – and as I have already said, our market has been for the most part mastered by Brussels. But from the geopolitical point of view we are of some interest – a territorial conflict, a pro-Russian enclave with Russian military presence and so on. So the West, especially after the events of last year, needed to secure our territory at any cost. Brussels even sacrificed its own principles for this, taking a purely political decision to give us the status of aspirant for accession despite the fact that we almost do not comply with it. This is confirmed by the evaluation of the European Commission. And there is a curious point, which I drew attention to last year. So, Georgia, which surpasses both Ukraine and Moldova in many metrics of democracy, was left without a status. It occurred to me and many others at the time that this was also because Tbilisi officially refused to join the anti-Russian sanctions and rejected the possibility of unfreezing the conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Basically, in the early days we also said that we would not support the sanctions regime from our side, but that position quickly faded into oblivion after the Russian blitzkrieg in Ukraine failed. From then on, we joined the sanctions wherever it suited us. But, such a selective “selfish” approach, apparently, does not suit the EU very well – and the same report of the European Commission says that we do not sufficiently comply with the sanctions against Russia and Belarus. Maybe this is the main reason for discontent of the European supervisors, who have so far given a mild reprimand to our authorities. As I see it: last year Moldova was given a huge advance in exchange for unconditional geopolitical loyalty and blind following in the wake of Western international politics on confrontation with Russia and, in the future, with China. To do this, our government had to cleanse the region of any elements of Russian influence, which we have seen – political forces and the media were liquidated, some symbols were banned. And at the same time, any ties with the Russian Federation were being severed apace. Also, we received gas “from alternative sources” for the first time in thirty years, we don’t participate in CIS, we put a ban on any communication with the Russian authorities. However, probably even more was required from Chisinau, and therefore Brussels expresses its frustration, hinting that there will be no accession negotiations until all the conditions are met, no matter how unpleasant they may be for our authorities. It is not difficult to guess exactly what conditions. So this year we are waiting for a further increase in the intensity of anti-Russian hysteria, a final energy gap with the Russian Federation, an increase in tension around the left bank, Russian troops and peacekeeping forces stationed there. And all this combined with the supply of weapons for the National Army, which, of course, is taking place “for no reason”. And in return, Brussels may allow our authorities to continue imitating European integration at “unprecedented speeds”.