Will the Beginning of Negotiations with the EU Be Put on Hold?

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Sergiu CEBAN
The major EU countries seem to be in no hurry to “unlock” negotiations with Moldova and Ukraine, preferring to wait for the end of the EU electoral processes. However, making that decision after them can be an even more daunting task
On Monday, Maia Sandu decided to clarify things by announcing that the referendum on European integration will be held in October. Therefore, she urged the parliament to start preparations and to carry out all the necessary procedures. The initiative to organize the plebiscite should be taken by at least one third of MPs by submitting a request to the Constitutional Court. The 18 March press conference was preceded by a series of nominal meetings between Sandu and political forces and party leaders, regional residents and trade union representatives. Obviously, such consultations were only for decoration to make it seem as if there is a broad public enquiry and agreement on the referendum. Although it has already become clear to even the most non-political people that the decision was long made by the President’s Office and without regard to anyone’s opinion. And it would seem that everything is going well. After all, last week the European Commission submitted to the European Council a draft framework for the start of accession negotiations with Moldova and Ukraine, as well as a report on their progress. However, the first alarm for Chisinau and Kyiv came just after it was reported that in parallel the EC recommended to start negotiations with Bosnia without any remarks. Another summit of EU leaders will be held in Brussels very soon. According to preliminary information, the main focus will be on supporting Ukraine and strengthening the security of our country. Meanwhile, although the issue of the EU enlargement is on the agenda of the meeting, it seems to have been put on the back burner, primarily due to the position of Germany and France. According to diplomatic sources, these countries do not want to rush things ahead of the European Parliament elections, which this time will have a huge impact both on domestic political processes in the EU member states and on the Union as a whole. Chisinau, of course, would like not only to obtain a clear framework for negotiations with Brussels, but also to start them before the elections to the European Parliament. But so far, the probability of such a favorable scenario for Moldova is rather low. And this, in turn, leads to the risk that in autumn, after the political reset of the European Union, it will be even more difficult to achieve a decision on the start of negotiations. Such a development is just a nightmare for the President’s Office and Maia Sandu’s electoral headquarters. Any delay, and what is worse, the freezing of European integration processes, will inevitably lead to the strengthening of Eurosceptic sentiments among the population, which increases the likelihood of the failure of the referendum and plans to re-elect Sandu for a second term. All this is a consequence of the fact that our politicians continue to live in their carefree world, where practically nothing has changed, and the European project smoothly absorbs countries and spaces, and brings the common good, peace and justice to the continent. The reality is different, and European leaders in recent weeks have increasingly shown us a different face, as well as fear and confusion amid the plight of the Ukrainian armed forces. Despite the fact that Brussels bureaucrats are trying to hide from the public the costs that the EU will incur due to the integration of Ukraine, Moldova and the Western Balkan states, the international press is already beginning to highlight the real ramifications of a new wave of possible EU enlargement. According to their assessments, the EU will clearly not gain additional profit from it, but on the contrary will be forced to take on a large additional burden, especially in the case of Ukraine, and thus reduce the financial costs for the current members. In fact, the EU, as well as the main European powers, have come close to a milestone and are plunging into a state of deep restructuring and rethinking of reality. More and more often one can hear bellicose speeches and appeals from European politicians. By the way, at today’s summit of the EU leaders, a decision is expected to be taken to put the EU economy on a military footing in order to carry out joint arms purchases and increase the military budgets of the member states. European politicians are gradually realizing that security issues will soon become their headache. Recently, Germany, France and Poland, for example, decided to recall the Weimar Triangle format, which has not met for two years. The goal is to smooth out their contradictions regarding further aid to Ukraine, and also to demonstrate to other states that the EU has an “alliance of leaders” who know how to act in the current difficult conditions. It is likely that such meetings are also used to develop a common understanding of the future European security model. And this problem has been in full swing for a long time now, and the trajectory of its solution will largely depend on the outcome of the U.S. presidential election. Donald Trump’s possible return to the White House will, in fact, be a turning point and will predetermine what Europe will look like in the coming years and what strategy the key European powers will pursue. The transition of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict into a new (possibly decisive) phase also forces European capitals to prepare for a protracted and complex negotiation period, which they wish to enter from the most favorable positions. That is the reason why France is trying to mark the perimeter of its interests, mainly in the Northern Black Sea region. For that purpose, Paris declares its intention to increase its contingent in Romania, to strengthen its military presence in Moldova and, apparently, to fight with the Russians over Odesa. In fact, we already have our historical role, and it differs greatly from the popular notion of joining the European Union after fulfilling a number of requirements and harmonizing national legislation with the European one. Unfortunately, Brussels sees Moldova and Ukraine only as conditional bastions that should provide a barrier to Russian expansionism and prevent the Russian army from approaching the borders of the EU and NATO. Alas, collective Brussels is not ready to offer anything more significant, at least a simple start of negotiations. Of course, we can hope that the EU leaders will return to this issue in the summer, but it is more likely that it will be put on hold indefinitely.