The situation in the Eastern Partnership and the partner states was discussed in the context of the EU Foreign Affairs Council that met in Brussels on May 23, 2016. The discussions were held within the seventh annual meeting of the Eastern Partnership Foreign Affairs Ministers. Though the European diplomats were mainly preoccupied with the situation in Syria and Iraq, counteracting of the Islamic State, the problem of refugees and migration and the operations in the Aegean Sea, the agenda of the EU Council included also the Eastern Partnership.
Evidently, the EU Council focused on the more serious issues. However, a number of important aspects related to the Eastern Partnership, including Moldova, were addressed in the meeting. As regards Moldova, the European side announced the completion of the process of ratifying the Association Agreement inside the EU and informed about the adoption of the decision concerning the introduction of sanitary-phytosanitary and veterinary legislation in the annexes of the EU – Moldova Association Agreement. Moldova’s representative at the meeting Andrei Galbur focused on the reform agenda and the sector cooperation with the EU. Moreover, the Moldovan official suggested working out a strategic view on the ‘Eastern partners’ in the context of the EaP Summit of 2017.
New ‘contours’ for Moldova’s European agenda
The competition of the process of ratifying the Moldova – EU Association Agreement is the first ‘contour’ made public in the May 23 meeting of the EU Council. Thus, from July 1, 2016, Moldova and Georgia will become the only countries in the Eastern Partnership that will benefit from accords with the EU that fully took effect. Until then, the Agreement will be under the temporary implementation that began in September 2014 following the EU’s decision of June 2014 (the Council’s decision of June 16, 2014).
The comprehensive implementation of the Agreement implies a more pronounced involvement on the part of the EU and obligations on the part of Moldova that will take effect, like those concerning the projection of intellectual property. First of all, with the complete implementation of the Agreement, the EU is to remain at least as incisive when it assesses Moldova, as it did in the Conclusions of February 15, 2016. Secondly, the completion of the technical process of ratifying the Agreement within the EU has major political importance. We must take into account the fact that unlike the Agreement with Moldova, the ratification of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement has been in a state of technical blockage owing to the Dutch referendum of April 6, 2016. Last but not least, the full coming into force of the Agreement represents a positive step towards extending the areas of conditionality that can be invoked by Brussels in relation to Chisinau.
Another significant ‘contour’ obtained by Moldova’s European agenda resides in the EU Council’s decision that enables to amend the annexes of the Agreement in the sanitary-phytosanitary and veterinary areas (Results of the EU Council, May 23, 2016). Apparently, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Moldova overlooked this subject even if its weight is considerable in the commercial relations between Moldova and the EU. Without adjusting the national legislation to the European sanitary-phytosanitary and veterinary norms (animals welfare standards), Moldova will be unable to meet the eligibility criteria for exporting products of animal origin to the EU. Following the decision of the EU Council, Annex XXIV-B of the Agreement will be extended with 235 EU directives and regulations that are to be transposed to the national legislation.
These ‘contours’ count because, owing to them, the Association Agreement becomes a fuller and more robust instrument that can help reform the country.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs realistic and visionary
The messages transmitted by the Moldovan minister of foreign affairs in Brussels show slight balancing between purely pragmatic and powerfully visionary positions.
On the one hand, the Moldovan official promoted within the EU Council the idea of increasing interconnections (energy and transport), underlining also the necessity of more significant sector cooperation (SMEs, investment, etc.). These subjects reveal the pragmatic approach of the Ministry, which transmits the signal of the government for which the sector cooperation with the EU is an essential “oxygen mask” for staying afloat. Another important emphasis laid by the minister in Brussels is related to the common security and defense policy and the necessity of cooperating in counteracting the “hybrid threats” in which Moldova would want to take part. Among the minister’s realistic theses is the call to the EU to improve the informing of the public about the benefits of the Eastern Partnership.
On the other hand, the minister raised some visionary aspects. Thus, he proposed developing a strategic view on the Eastern partners in the context of the EaP Summit that will be staged under the presidency of Malta or the UK (if the latter remains in the composition of the EU after the referendum of June 23, 2016).
Surely, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration represents the expression of the Moldovan government that is often described as ostensibly or falsely pro-European. However, unlike other state institutions, this absorbed a higher dose of “Europeanism” and this can be deduced from its ambitious views in relation to the EU. In other conditions, the Foreign Affairs Minister (Andrei Galbur) would have omitted in his speech the call to the EU to devote greater attention to the “Eastern neighborhood” in the Global Strategy of the EU that is being worked out.
Instead of conclusion…
The Association Agreement acquires new contours that enable the EU to become more involved and simultaneously allows extending the commitments of Moldova and the EU. We will yet see if the ratification of the accord at EU level will change the situation on the spot, which is in Moldova, where the reforms were inhibited.
This automatically leads to the extension of conditions towards new areas (intellectual property, the sanitary-phytosanitary area, etc.). But this cannot change the attitude of the authorities and the government for which the reforms seem to be necessary for staying afloat, not for remodeling the country, its politics and economy and the relations between the people and the state.
The implementation of the Association Agreement must become a rupture point that would transform the institutions, civil servants and mostly the political class. No matter how visionary and Europeanist the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is, one institution or even two or three cannot move things on. The rupture point will be felt when changes of behavior, principles and objectives occur in the current government and in the parties that want to replace it.
Dionis Cenușa is a politologist, holding an MA degree in interdisciplinary European studies from the College of Europe.
Areas of interes: European integration, European policies, EU's foreign policy, migration and energy security.
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