The war waged by the Russian Federation against Ukraine has shifted its focus to the approach of EU member states to the security and defense sector, both at national and European level. From German Chancellor Olaf Scholz's speech in the German Budestag, announcing massive investments in Germany's defense sector to the endorsement of the EU's 2030 Strategic Compass at the informal Summit of European Council in Versailles, the EU and its Member States have rumored the need to rethink the format and substance of previously developed cooperation initiatives, especially in the areas of budgetary, human and technical resources. The repercussions of the war in Ukraine will most likely require a more ambitious and courageous EU-wide vision for the Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP), which will materialize in dialogue with countries in the Eastern Neighborhood.
Although the EU's role in crisis management, conflict prevention and border management has visibly increased over the last decade, Brussels' ability to mobilize defense assistance to third countries is limited. One of the main reasons behind these limitations is the application of the unanimity principle to the decisions approved by the Member States in this segment, but also the "sensitive" nature of these decisions for the geopolitical interests of the Member States. This is also the case of the Eastern Partnership, where security and defense cooperation has not been one of the key priorities, especially due to the Russian factor.
In the case of the Republic of Moldova, the interaction with Brussels intensified in the second half of last year, with the installation of the Gavrilița government. At the Association Council in October 2021, the two sides announced the launch of the high-level political and security dialogue, which was formalized in March. At the same time, the EU has allocated a grant of 7 million euros for the Republic of Moldova, as part of the European Instrument for Peace (IEP), in order to support the structures of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Moldova. The financial support was followed by a visit by a team of experts from the European External Action Service to Chisinau, aimed at identifying key needs and setting priorities for cooperation in the field of defense for the coming years.
In the context of the military aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine, these priorities must be reconsidered, extended and actively promoted in communication with the EU, in order to address the systemic vulnerabilities of the security and defense system of the Republic of Moldova.
First of all, the European Union should develop a budget assistance package for the Republic of Moldova in the field of security and defense, as part of the Multiannual Financial Framework 2021 - 2027. In this regard, the EU could mobilize funds from the IEP, which has a budget of about 5,7 billion euros for the same period. This assistance package could be coupled with a number of conditionalities aimed at strengthening the governance of this sector. The member states, part of the Support Platform for Moldova, could participate in this exercise, along with the international structures included in the management of this platform.
Secondly, the Republic of Moldova could request the EU to send a CSDP mission (CSDP) mandated to provide advice and support for defense and security sector reform. The mandate of this mission should be adapted to the issues identified by the two parties in the process of assessing the performance of the relevant institutions, such as the Intelligence and Security Service or the Ministry of Defense. In optimal terms, the process of forming and sending a CSDP mission could take about a year, a good time to initiate and develop the screening of this sector.
Another necessary measure is the involvement of the Republic of Moldova in Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) projects, which are open to non-EU countries as of November 2020. Currently, over 60 PESCO projects are being implemented at EU level. The authorities of the Republic of Moldova may request the participation of Chisinau in one or more projects related to our areas of interest, such as cyber security, intelligence or rapid response mechanisms in the context of crisis. Even if a unanimous decision is needed among member states to accept a non-EU state in these projects, there are all the prerequisites for achieving this status in the current context.
Last, but not least, the Republic of Moldova needs to strengthen its capabilities in the field of cyber security, by developing a National Cyber Security Center. In this regard, the EU could provide financial and technical assistance to develop this focal point and increase cyber resilience. Once set up, the Center could actively cooperate with the European Cyber Security Skills Center in Bucharest, but also with the network of cyber security centers in EU countries.
Mihai Mogildea is the team leader of the Europeanization Program at the Institute for European Policies and Reforms (IPRE).
This Op-Ed was published within the project "We and Europe - Analysis of Moldovan-European Relations through Innovative Media and Analytical Products", implemented by the Institute for European Policy and Reform (IPRE), in partnership with IPN, Radio Chisinau and ZUGO.md, with the support of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation. The opinions presented in this op-ed belong to the author.
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