The authorities have firmly seized on the idea of “European integration without reintegration” presented by the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell. But what is the chance that Brussels will apply the Cyprus model to Moldova?
Why did the authorities decide to join the EU without Transnistria?
The last week was marked by fierce discussions about the statement of Nicu Popescu, head of the MFAEI, who said that only right-bank Moldova could join the European Union. Most experts criticized the minister’s position, considering it ill-conceived and even dangerous for the territorial integrity of the country. However, sometime later, the same opinion was expressed by Maia Sandu, confirming the conjecture that the idea of “European integration without reintegration”, despite all the objections, is indeed considered as a working option. Let’s try to understand why.
At the already forgotten summit of the European Political Community in Bulboaca, among other distinguished guests was EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell. Taking the question from journalists whether the Transnistrian issue could become an obstacle for the republic’s accession to the EU, he noted that Cyprus had achieved that having territorial problems, and Moldova could do the same. After the statement of the European official, this concept came to life and, as we see, the Moldovan leadership took it well.
Why is it so appealing? We can outline several motives. The first one is that dissociating the European integration from reintegration will make it possible to concentrate efforts on only one of these tasks. To supervise two such complex processes may indeed prove to be an impossible task in the conditions of not the most efficient management system, which is experiencing a severe shortage of personnel. At the same time, the path to the EU seems to the authorities to be a much more beneficial project from all points of view: image, economic, electoral and others.
There is a certain truth in that. The reunification of the country sounds attractive only in slogans. In fact, it is a whole range of problems to be solved: unification of legislation on the both banks of the Dniester, integration of all spheres, determining the fate of paramilitary structures on the left bank, equalization of living standards, etc. This will require not only a huge bureaucratic resource and over-exertion of the entire state machine, but also considerable funds, which can be found only abroad. There is also the factor of differences in mentality, identity and other quantitatively immeasurable but crucial characteristics. To better understand what the task of connecting 2 parts of a country that have existed separately for several decades is, we can turn to the experience of Germany, where even after 30 years there is a clear division into “Ossi” and “Wessi”.
The second motive is more controversial and is related to the conviction of the country’s leadership that it is impossible to resolve the Transnistrian conflict until the end of hostilities in Ukraine. It is difficult to verify this hypothesis now, as Chisinau neither earlier nor over the last year and a half has presented its own model of settlement, which would help to understand the mood of all international actors involved in the negotiation process.
On the other hand, if we assume that the Ukrainian variable in the Transnistrian conflict equation is indeed of fundamental importance, it will not be resolved soon. The war in Ukraine is obviously dragging on, and forecasts of its duration reach already the end of the 2020s and even beyond. From this perspective (if, of course, the authorities’ version is correct), the current passive stand has the right to exist.
The Cyprus’ model of European integration: pros and cons
Let’s assume that the authorities will actually throw all their efforts into European integration, temporarily suspending the Transnistrian settlement. In this case, the nearest example would be the Republic of Cyprus as the only EU state that has an “unresolved” internal territorial conflict.
The main advantage of the Cyprus’ model for Moldova is obvious: Cyprus has been a part of the European Union for almost two years, enjoying all the benefits of being in this privileged community. And it was not even necessary to spend energy and funds for the reintegration of the island. However, if we dig deeper, significant disadvantages begin to emerge, not only for Cyprus itself, but also for the European Union as a whole.
The conflict in Cyprus dates back to 1950-1960. During this time, it witnessed outbreaks of ethnic violence, large-scale armed clashes with hundreds of casualties, and the Turkish military invasion of the island, creating the subsequent multi-year status quo. Two de facto independent states were established on the island: the Republic of Cyprus with a predominantly Greek Orthodox population (recognized by the international community, except for Turkey) and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, populated mainly by Muslim Turks (recognized only by Turkey and no one else). There is a dividing line between them, where a UN peacekeeping mission operates.
Turkey’s intervention, which led to the ethnic division of the two parts of the island and provoked a large-scale resettlement of Turks to its north (including from Turkey itself), created numerous problems that made any reunification scenario difficult to realize. The most significant progress was made in 2004, when the UN presented a plan named in honor of Secretary-General Kofi Annan. It was agreed by both sides, but failed in a referendum in the Greek part of Cyprus (75% against) while being supported in the north (65% in favor). The Greeks attributed this to the imperfections of the proposed model, which did not address the issue of the presence of Turkish troops and Turkish settlers (and, consequently, the return of Greek property seized by them).
According to many experts, one of the reasons for the failure was Nicosia’s focus on EU accession, which paid little attention to the unification process (also because of this, the Annan Plan could have turned out to be so unbalanced). This is partly confirmed by the fact that after accession to the EU (it happened in May, a week after the failed referendum), the RC actually stopped negotiations with the Turkish Cypriots. They resumed only a few years later, and with varying dynamics and successes continue to this day, however, not even an inch closer to the denouement of the conflict. In general, Brussels’ agreement to accept Cyprus unilaterally, according to a number of politicians and researchers, as well as Turkey and the TRNC, played a decisive role in the failure of the island’s unification.
Cyprus’ reliance on mediation by Brussels, whose influence in theory should have been enough to ensure productive negotiating efforts, has also failed. Cypriot politicians still have such hopes, but, as we can see, in vain. The EU obviously does not want to participate in this process as the leading part, being ready to play a supporting role, but not to replace the Greek Cypriots themselves.
The accession of Cyprus to the European Union without resolving the internal territorial conflict on the island has also created a number of long-term regional and even geopolitical problems. Firstly, the contradictions between Athens and Ankara patronizing their parts of Cyprus persist, provoking constant tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean. Secondly, Turkey’s movement into the European Union has come to a halt, as it turns out it does not recognize one of its member states. Cyprus, in its turn, using collective decision-making mechanisms in the EU, undermines in every possible way European initiative on cooperation with the Turks and in general the process of European integration of this country. Turkey prevents any cooperation between Cyprus and NATO and its accession to the bloc. This state of affairs has a negative impact on the cooperation between NATO and the EU in general.
Thus, we should admit that the European integration of Cyprus has not been a catalyst for its reintegration, but has instead perpetuated a state of separation and uncertainty. After almost 20 years, the two parts of the island are further apart than ever. Time is passing, the RC and TRNC are developing in their own ways, and the difference in living standards is growing. The island’s unification now would require much more investments than in the early 2000s. The regression is also visible in the positions of the parties: for instance, if in 2004 the Turkish Cypriots agreed to the creation of a bizonal federation, then later they began to talk about a confederation, and now both the TRNC and Turkey officially declare that the only realistic model of settlement is the recognition of Northern Cyprus as an independent state.
Does Moldova have chances to become a “second Cyprus”?
As we see, the Cyprus’ scenario turned out to be not the most successful for the European Union, resulting in a package of strategic and, in fact, stagnant problems, insurmountable in the foreseeable future. There are also difficulties for Cyprus itself. For instance, Cyprus cannot join the Schengen area without controlling all its borders and remains outside the NATO security “umbrella”. Characteristically, some European politicians involved in the island’s European integration now openly consider it a mistake, insisting that Cyprus’ accession to the EU should have taken place only after the resolution of all territorial disputes. And it is difficult to consider such an opinion a mistake.
Why did Borrell consider this model acceptable for Moldova? This official is known for his not the most elaborate and diplomatic (despite his position) statements. Moreover, the European bureaucracy in general looks at the EU enlargement process more positively than national states (especially Western ones), which are more conservative and pragmatic.
In the case of Moldova, each EU country (if the Union’s governance mechanisms won’t change by then) will weigh all pros and cons. And the presence of an uncontrolled territory with a foreign military contingent, which belongs to a state with which the EU is in a state of acute political and diplomatic conflict, will seriously reduce our chances for a favorable verdict.
In this respect, Cyprus case is rather to the detriment of Moldova’s European prospects than to its benefit, as it clearly demonstrates all the possible negative consequences of this model. It is unlikely that Brussels will want to further threat its territorial sovereignty by repeating the situation with Cyprus, which de jure is fully in the EU, but de facto European legislation does not naturally apply to its northern part (although all Cypriots are considered EU citizens).
The Europeans clearly do not like the idea of transferring the Transnistrian settlement’s burden on their shoulders, which our authorities obviously intend to do. The fact that Brussels does not support this is also confirmed by the criticism of the authorities in the media sponsored by Western structures for the absence of their own plan for bringing Transnistria back.
To sum up, we can draw a simple conclusion that the official Chisinau, despite all the reluctance, will have to willy-nilly deal with the Transnistrian issue in parallel with the fulfilment of the conditions for accession to the EU. And it will be necessary either to present an attractive model of unification to the left bank, or to officially renounce this region, or to return it through a military-police operation or a total blockade. Obviously, the country’s leadership does not like any of these scenarios, but it will have to decide one way or another – unfortunately, Moldova is unlikely to become a second Cyprus.