What is the EPC and its Summit? Why did the Summit take place in Moldova? Why do they say that this is a “historic event”? Why didn’t the participants adopt a final position document? What important signals did the Summit transmit in the absence of such a document and who were they addressed to? What important results for the states and the people of Europe were emphasized? What results did Moldova and the Moldovans obtain as a result of this event? How was the Summit organized and why is it important for the citizens of the Republic of Moldova? Answers to these and other questions were provided by political pundit Igor Boțan in the interview below.
- Mister Boțan, what is the European Political Community and what is the EPC Summit?
- The European Political Community was founded on the initiative of the President of France Emmanuel Macron in response to the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine. Europe, which was scrupulously rebuilt after World War II, after the Communist system in Europe collapsed, found itself again in front of a very serious dilemma. The first idea in response to this challenge was to build a platform with the participation of all the European countries, not only of the countries of the European Union. All the European countries because they all cooperate closely between them, have a common historic fate and face the same challenges. The European Political Community does not substitute any institution of the European community, but offers this dialogue platform for all the countries to be able to sit together at a high level and to discuss these challenges.
- Why did this Community meet in the Republic of Moldova? Who decided this?
Holding the second EPC Summit in the Republic of Moldova was Mister President’s Macron initiative and this was supported by the President of the European Council Charles Michel. I think for the Republic of Moldova, this was a very good occasion for showing its potential, especially because our country asserts that it is committed to a long European integration process. The second very important factor is that it was decided from the start that the summits will take place twice a year and the hosts of the summits will alternate: an EU member state and a non-EU member state. Furthermore, the idea was for this summit to take place in one of the Eastern Partnership countries. In Ukraine, it cannot be held given the resistance war against the Russian aggression that is taking place there. Belarus is practically associated with Russia. The countries of the South Caucasus also experience problems. So, Moldova was a more evident candidate. The authorities of the Republic of Moldova accepted this invitation and, judging by all the appearances and echoes we heard, it coped rather well.
- Who took part in the event and who of those who could take part didn’t attend and why?
- Of all the states that geographically are situated in Europe, almost all the states attended, except for Russia and Belarus. So, Russia is the aggressor, while Belarus is Russia’s ally in this war and offers its territory for launching attacks on Ukraine from it and now allows locating nuclear tactical weapons on its territory. Turkey also didn’t take part. I don’t know why the President of Turkey ultimately refused to come to this summit. There were all kinds of speculations. It is probably logical to presume that the President of Turkey preferred not to take part in the summit given all the fuss around his inauguration.
- Which were the main problems discussed at the Summit and why?
- Security, interconnectivity, problems related to energy infrastructure, communication infrastructure that needs to resist the hybrid attacks, food security. These are the most pressing problems faced by the whole European continent. The unsolved conflicts existing in the European space was one more important issue raised by President Zelensky, like the conflict in Transnistria, the problem of Karabachos, the separatism problems faced by Georgia and we should not forget that the conflict in Ukraine is also related to separatism, which initially involved Crimea and then the so-called people’s republics in Donbas. These conflicts are active now, while the others are frozen, but there is a risk that they can anytime be unfrozen and we convinced ourselves that they pose a big danger. These problems must be discussed so as to identify solutions and another more effective format than the possibility for the heads of state and government to meet in an informal way to discuss in groups cannot be imagined in this difficult situation.
- The Summit didn’t adopt a final position document. Why?
- From the start it was announced that a joint statement will not be signed. As far as I remember, a joint statement wasn’t signed after the Prague summit either. Only the discussed problems were summed up. The same will happen now after the summit hosted by Moldova. So, the discussion of problems and identification of solutions were the goals of this summit, while the symbolical significance was to prove the unity of the states from Europe against abuses and aggression.
- What important signals did the Summit send in the absence of a common document? About what and for who?
- The most important signal is that Europe is united against aggression. The potential of only the European Union, which is almost half of the countries that took part in the summit, the economic potential I mean, is almost ten times higher than the potential of the aggressor – the Russian Federation. If the other states agree and realize that they should be united against the aggression, we see that the first signal is that any aggression will meet with the unity of the people of Europe, not only of the European Union, and this thing is transmitted in the clearest way possible. Europe’s population is at least 5-6 times larger than Russia’s population. So, the human potential in this confrontation, if we can name it so, when an aggressor attacked a country and challenges its sovereignty and even its existence, should be realized by the aggressor. The potential of the whole continent is larger than the potential of Russia even if this has natural resources and human resources, which cannot be out to good use because Russia is dependent on the technological potential of the United States. Things from this angle should be very clear. The potentials are incommensurable and those who ventured into this war will have to answer for what they do on condition that Europe remains untired. Moreover, solutions to all the problems that were frozen after the collapse of the Communist system, like these crises and separatist projects, can be identified so that the European continent does not witness surprises like that related to the aggression against Ukraine.
- What important results for the states and people of Europe can be underscored?
- I consider things here are very clear. Firstly, Europe cannot accept gray zones like those that involve the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine. They also spoke about Georgia. So, all the states with pro-European aspirations. These states should realize that they can, if they make the necessary efforts, comply with the Copenhagen criteria and later assimilate the Community acquis. They can become members of the EU and can benefit from support. We have states that are fully integrated into the EU’s economy, but do not form part of the EU. It goes to Switzerland and Norway – two very developed states. Another very important thing is the fact that the UK could leave the EU if it wanted to and now has the best relations with the EU despite this decision of the British people to detach themselves from the EU. In the European Union, no one formulates the question as President Putin formulated it, concerning the Soviet states that allegedly left the Soviet Union with presents of the Russian people. These are incomparable things.
Surely, the message was also addressed to the Russian Federation and the people of the Russian Federation, namely that aggression cannot be accepted in the 21st century after Europe was the source of two world wars that claimed tens of millions of lives and it is very important for the European community to be united in the actions to discourage the Russian Federation, first of all through the agency of economic, commercial sanctions. Evidently, the message is very powerful also for the states involved in illicit trade, with parallel imports, which help the Russian Federation to continue this war. So, the messages were multiple and we realize that on another platform than that of the European Political Community, it is hard to imagine that all these messages can be warped up and transmitted for everyone to understand what goals are pursued and to whom the messages are addressed.
We saw that President Zelensky insisted a lot on security and security can be offered to the countries that form part of the gray zone by joining NATO and also the EU. Later, he confirmed that he realizes that the requests he formulated can be treated somehow as untimely, but this is the further path for ensuring military, economic security, the security of infrastructure and protection from hybrid threats, separatist threats that can be solved only if all these aspects are taken into account. We see that the range of problems that was discussed is very wide. No institutionalized structure can cover such a broad range of issues as they are specialized and the challenge here is so great, while the consequences are so varied that this platform is necessary.
It is very important for the people of Europe to realize several things: wellbeing cannot exist without security and security cannot exist without unity. On the one hand, the aggressor has resources, has ambitions, has goals that are hallucinating and, without unity, it is impossible to resist the aggressor. On the other hand, aggression cannot be combated without transmitting a very clear signal and without adopting a position to it. Aggression can be combated only when there are clear international law rules that are applied. So, the international community, the states of Europe should realize that there is interconnection between wellbeing, unity, aggression fighting and observance of international law norms. These are very clear things that should be realized by everyone.
- Why is the Summit important for the Republic of Moldova and what are its benefits for the country and the citizens?
- The message we heard practically from all the participants is that the Republic of Moldova is not alone. The Republic of Moldova, which is subject to hybrid threats, enjoys all kinds of support. The second point is that the Republic of Moldova should be helped to leave the gray zone. We remember what happened before the EU Summit of May 7, 2009, when the Eastern Partnership Summit was launched and when Russia opposed, insisting that the post-Soviet space is or should be an exclusive area of interest of Russia. Such a position cannot be accepted as this space witnessed separatist conflicts. A short war occurred in Georgia in 2008 and we now have an already hot war in the heart of Europe, an aggression. Initially, the annexation of Crimea and then this direct aggression against Ukraine for destroying the country and the people of Ukraine. So, the message for the republic of Moldova is: “You are note alone and you have the chance to leave this gray area”. How? With the support primarily of the EU and also of the whole European community, including of the states that do not form part of the European Union.
- How feasible is the assertion that not only the EU is important for Moldova, but also Moldova is important for the EU?
- The Republic of Moldova is important for Europe now primarily because the Republic of Moldova is a neighbor of Ukraine, which is being attacked, and everyone noted the important role played by the Republic of Moldova in solving the problems of Ukrainian refugees. So, taking into account the Republic of Moldova’s potential per capita, this support was among the most considerable aids for Ukraine. The second very important thing is that we have an unsolved conflict on the territory of the Republic of Moldova – the Transnistrian region that is controlled by Russia militarily and politically. So, the existence of Transnistria itself poses a threat to Ukraine and this thing could be deduced from the speech of President Zelensky, who was very resolute when he stated that this problem should be solved. We also saw the reaction of President Maia Sandu, who said that this conflict should be settled in the interests of the Republic of Moldova, by respecting the independence and sovereignty of the Republic of Moldova, by peaceful ways. But it is anyway a problem that represents a frozen conflict. Let’s remember how last March, April, May, everyone was very concerned after the Snake island was occupied, after Kherson was occupied and after Nikolayev city was attacked as the way to Odessa and from Odessa to Transnistria could have been paved for the occupation troops. But as long as the war continues and it is not known how long it will yet last, the Republic of Moldova, given the aforementioned problems, holds great interest for Europe and for the European Union.
- What important results for the Republic of Moldova can be emphasized and what did the country and the citizens gain from this Summit?
- Here, we have two aspects that converge in a way. First, I’m talking about the EU Civilian Partnership Mission, which is expected to be set up in Moldova and which has a very clear task: to combat hybrid dangers. The main task will probably be to combat cyber-attacks. Other issues to be addressed by this civilian mission are related to the persistent attempts to destabilize Moldova, and EU experts will have to team up with the Moldovan authorities, especially with the Ministry of the Interior, to identify all the risks for the security of the Republic of Moldova, the destabilizing attacks and find solutions to counter them.
The second aspect is military security, which is covered by the European Peace Facility. For several years already, it has been used to reequip the Moldovan National Army. Now we are receiving additional support, worth over 80 million euros, of resources that will have to be used by Moldova to bring its armed forces to a level of readiness to face the existing challenges. This is an investment to ensure the security of the Republic of Moldova and also to train staff so that the Republic of Moldova, for its part, forms part of international peacekeeping missions.
We could feel the concrete benefit for ordinary Moldovans the day that preceded the opening of the forum, when President Maia Sandu met with the President of the European Commission, who spoke about the support enjoyed by the Republic of Moldova last year to cope with attacks and threats, the blackmail against the Republic of Moldova and we saw that the President of the European Commission spoke about five important things through which the European Union wants to help the Republic of Moldova, with increased support, now reaching 1.6 billion euros for five sectors. We all know that almost one third of our citizens aged over 18, those who vote, are outside the country, in the EU, and the roaming problem, communication with the dear people are very important things. So, this problem is being dealt with. The economic development is the second very important issue on which the President of the European Commission insisted. Part of these resources will be used for raising the potential of our country to eventually assimilate investments and develop the economy and export capacity, as the EU is Moldova’s leading export market. More than two thirds of products manufactured in Moldova are exported to the EU.
Infrastructure is another important issue and we all remember that several weeks before the summit, a visit to Chisinau was paid by the EU Commissioner for infrastructure problems, who spoke about infrastructure projects, railways, bridges for which financing exists. The strengthening of the administrative capacity of the Republic of Moldova is another very important issue to which the President of the European Commission also referred. The Republic of Moldova is close to opening the negations with the EU. We hope a lot that this will happen soon and we all saw that the efforts made by our country and its accomplishments were appreciated. There was skepticism, but measures were taken in spring to overcome the stalemate in the judicial system and to appoint a new Superior Council of Magistracy and the vetting in this system will now follow, accompanied by the fight against oligarchs. Also, the Chisinau International Airport was transferred back under state management
Messages of support were delivered in this regard, with the negotiations becoming the most important point on the political agenda in the Republic of Moldova. The message for the citizens is that our country, if it succeeds, will enjoy even greater support. As the Republic of Moldova’s capacity is yet reduced, we heard that the EU representative office here, in Moldova, will be extended for European experts to work hand in hand with experts from the Republic of Moldova, most probably for the assimilation of the Community acquis to take place faster. All these things imply benefits for the citizens of the Republic of Moldova. But the biggest benefit for the citizens is that at the end of this effort, the Republic of Moldova will be welcomed in the family of EU countries, where our country will be able to easily find its economic niche to develop. I think this hope fuels the citizens’ interest and the wish to lend a hand, to contribute to this path.
The interview entitled “European Political Community Summit to everyone’s understanding” forms part of IPN’s series “Developing political culture through public debates”. The project is implemented with the support of the Hanns Seidel Foundation of Germany.
The video version of the interview is available here.