Despite all fears, European leaders have opened a new phase of EU integration for Moldova. RTA experts discover the reasons for the decision taken yesterday and what consequences it has for our country
The European Union made a largely symbolic decision that is unlikely to have serious consequences for it, no matter how much Hungarian leader Viktor Orban exaggerate the situation. It was important for collective Brussels not so much to draw Moldova and Ukraine, which are already heavily dependent on it politically and economically, further into the orbit of its influence, as to demonstrate to the Kremlin its resolve and geopolitical subjectivity.
Despite the forthcoming weeks-long celebrations and dancing round this historic success by the ruling party and the president, the citizens are unlikely to be quite enthusiastic about the transition to the negotiation phase. This is primarily due to the fact that the one-and-a-half-year experience of being a candidate to the European Union has had almost no positive impact on the population’s everyday life.
The consent among the EU member states was difficult to achieve, and internal resistance, with Budapest at the forefront, was more than serious. That there was no way for a compromise could be understood not only due to the notes in the European media and statements of European officials, but also due to the mood of Moldovan politicians, who in recent days, for the purpose of reassurance, began to prepare the public for the postponement of the European Council’s positive resolution. However, apparently, geopolitical expediency, first of all, with regard to Ukraine, again outweighed. We cannot rule out that a call or a series of calls from Washington, especially after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited the USA, was decisive.
If we put aside the enthusiastic speeches of the ruling political community and look into everything with a cold head, Moldova is actually being dragged into a very complicated process without the experience, resources and potential to achieve a relatively accelerated accession to the EU. We should understand that calls from senior comrades won’t help during negotiations. Moreover, all those countries, which were forced to accept the consent imposed from above through clenched teeth and closed eyes, will obviously raise all their requests within a long and difficult dialogue on 35 chapters.
Most likely, the launch of negotiations will entail some internal political and electoral effects. The question is to what extent Maia Sandu and the ruling party will be able to convert the positive decision of Brussels into electoral points. Both PAS and the head of state, unfortunately, have repeatedly proved their ability to devalue any foreign policy success and investments of external partners in Moldova’s pro-Western course.
The story with the opening of EU accession negotiations this year, as well as of obtaining candidate status in mid-2022, has once again become a “fairy tale with a happy ending” for Moldova. Despite all the negative signals of the last weeks, which even forced the ruling party to temper expectations, the European Council gave the go-ahead.
Such a decision, if it had been taken, for example, five of ten years ago, would have been a truly major success and a powerful bid to join the European family. In the current circumstances, it is difficult to consider it from any practical point of view due to a number of related factors.
It is obvious that the charm of accelerated European integration of the two Eastern European countries subjected to various forms of aggression by Russia, is by no means as strong as it was last year. Fatigue from the Ukrainian conflict and the enormous damage it has inflicted on the European economy is extreme. We already see its political consequences in EU countries, where the European right-wingers and sceptics are confidently expressing their dissatisfaction.
As a result, this time the European bureaucracy and the heads of the EU’s leading countries had to make extra efforts to achieve a favorable decision for Moldova and Ukraine. However, its achievement was possible only because it would not burden the Union with any special obligations in the foreseeable future.
Firstly, due to the early changes in the way accession negotiations with new countries are conducted, they are no longer irreversible as they used to be. The EU has the right to suspend, restart or terminate them at any time. Secondly, if you read the final resolution carefully, even access to the special funds that exist for states engaged in accession dialogue will be granted to us only if we successfully reform justice and eliminate corruption risks. Ad this, as we understand, is not a quick process. Thirdly, the vote in favor of Ukraine and Moldova made it possible to divert public attention and reject at the same meeting the €50 billion aid programme for Kyiv, which has enough opponents in the EU countries, without major image losses.
Therefore, it is hard to disagree that yesterday’s decision can only be seen as a political signal or a declaration, the only background to which lies in the need to provide at least some support to Ukraine, which is currently in a very difficult situation, both politico-military and economic. After all, financial assistance has a clear tendency to decrease significantly, and this applies to us as well. Even the PAS has to admit that the amount of grant, i.e. non-refundable, money received from international donors has decreased.
The start of the negotiations itself does not provide us or our eastern neighbor with any great benefits in the short term, and the prospect for their completion is as unclear as possible. For prosperous Croatia, the last country to join the EU, the process took about nine years. In our case, taking into account that we should not expect any more political favors, the timeframe will probably be much longer.
A good face on a bad game. That’s how we can interpret what has happened, both in terms of presentation and content. Charles Michel’s public statement at the beginning of the European Council Summit in response to Vladimir Putin’s press conference. A political signal in response to a signal from the rival camp. It’s all about symbolism, and the rest is behind the scenes.
As early as last year, assessing the resolute attitude of the Brussels bureaucracy, we could realize that the EU’s enlargement is no longer evolutionary but rather of a pronounced expansionist nature due to the geopolitical demarcation in Europe. The idea of granting EU preferences solely on merit is no longer relevant with regard to Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia due to the lack of possibility to control these countries in the usual way. The political elites of the Western Balkans can complain about this double standard as long as they like, but the obvious fact is that these countries have nowhere else to go. And in the case of the former Eastern Partnership trio, things are not so clear-cut. The most indicative in this respect is the situation with Georgia. It is as if the EU has suddenly realized that the Georgian authorities turned the demarche of last summer against itself by developing a multi-vector foreign policy. Therefore, the granting of candidate status is intended to discipline Tbilisi in its relations with its neighbors, primarily the Russian Federation.
As for Ukraine as the main object and driver of the new wave of enlargement, the situation is more complicated. The EU might not have been in a hurry to announce a decision, having postponed it until the spring or even summer of the next year, but everything went wrong. Kyiv continues to lose its subjectivity and demonstrates its inability to fulfil the functions assigned to it in the conflict with Moscow. With the Ukrainian issue becoming a bargaining chip in the internal political squabbles in the United States, it was Brussels that had to carry out the main “resuscitation” measures for Ukraine. And it is not only about finances which had to be allocated also for the willful Budapest. Both in the case of Ukraine and Moldova, the coming year poses risks due to election campaigns and internal political processes. Zelensky and his team will not cope with it without high-profile foreign policy achievements, regardless of whether there will be elections or not. The situation is similar in our case. Maia Sandu also needs success for a confident victory, and alas, only the European Union can ensure it through highly controversial decisions that aggravate the already considerable internal disagreements about the future of the Community. The most remarkable thing in this situation is that there will be no one to take care of the EU itself, given the upcoming electoral processes and ramifications of the current opportunistic decisions.