Earlier this week, the Republic of Moldova received the European Commission’s Questionnaire for accession to the European Union. A part of society hailed this act “as a historical chance”. Others are skeptical about the country’s accession chances, while another part remained indifferent or even in oblivion. The arguments of the optimists, pessimists and the indifferent ones and what this document represents were discussed by the participants in IPN’s public debate “EU Questionnaire: What it offers and what is asks instead, how are chances assessed inside and outside?”.
Igor Boțan, the standing expert of IPN’s project, said that after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine on February 24, a new regional political conjuncture appeared. While fighting against the Russian invasion, Ukraine decided to apply to become an EU member state and on February 28 submitted an application for membership to the European Council. At a summit held in Versailles on March 10 and 11, the European Council adopted a document by which the European Commission is recommended to prepare an opinion on the possibility of opening talks with Ukraine. The same document reefers to the applications filed meanwhile by the Republic of Moldova and Georgia.
“So, it should be clear that we have a new conjuncture and in this conjuncture the European Union gives the green light to a process that is now at its incipient stage. For this process to start and the European Commission to be able to formulate an opinion following the European Council’s request, a questionnaire is needed and this is usually transmitted to all the countries that express their readiness to join the EU,” explained Igor Boțan.
According to him, the questionnaire is an official document by which the EU assesses the readiness of a country that filed an application for EU membership to obtain the status of candidate country and to have the negotiations opened. As a rule, the questionnaire consists of several thousand questions to which the responsible state institutions give answers and based on which the European Commission can formulate its opinion on 33-35 chapters. “Later, the European Council needs to adopt a decision based on the European Commission’s opinion. The accession talks can start then. The European Council is one of the seven most important institutions of the EU. It consists of the heads of state and government of the EU member states, the President of the European Council and the President of the European Commission. The duty of this very important body is to define the main development directions of the EU,” said the expert.
Referring to the internal conditions needed for submitting the accession application and for receiving the questionnaire, Veaceslav Berbeca, political commentator of the Institute for Development and Social initiatives ”Viitorul”, said that a European party rules in Moldova and this announced its intention to make effort for the Republic of Moldova to join the EU. “In the conditions that existed earlier, it was more difficult to come closer to the European Union,” he said, noting the international conjuncture is as important as this changed the Western states’ attitude to Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia, which are all members of the Eastern Partnership.
“Given this conjuncture that appeared and evidently hastened things and the European Union’s attitude to these states, the Union decided to offer a new opportunity to these three states for them to join the EU following the submission of this application. Earlier, when we spoke about the Republic of Moldova’s integration or entry into the EU, we asked the decision makers why this application is not submitted. One of the explanations was that “we are not sure that this application will be accepted”. So, now the situation evidently changed.”
According to the commentator, now that the questionnaire was received, the first steps are being taken to launch the accession process. “Obviously, this is a very difficult process that lasts long. The application was accepted, but this does not mean that the process of joining the EU will be accelerated because, as I said, it is a very difficult process that can last for years. In fact, if the Republic of Moldova is granted the status of candidate country, this will be an important step as new relations with the EU will be established this way. The status of candidate country changes a lot the relationship with the EU, primarily from financial and technical viewpoints. This is different than the current one,” noted Veaceslav Berbeca.
Dorina Baltag, EU diplomacy and foreign policy research fellow at the Institute for Diplomacy and International Governance in London, said emphasis should be also placed on the external conditions as it goes to the security crisis in the region. In the context of the war in Ukraine, we witness the evolution of the EU’s role of security player as the Union responded cohesively, firmly and at an exceptional speed to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. “In circles in Brussels and in the European capitals, they often discuss the role of regional player and they say that this is a long-awaited role that was earlier criticized because it was overshadowed by the tendency “not to wake up the bear” or Russia, not to affect somehow the relations between the EU and Russia,” explained the researcher.
According to her, the EU began to impose sanctions gradually, after the annexation of Crimea in 2014. But the start of the active phase of the war in Ukraine made the European leaders to impose the harshest penalties ever on Russia. There were adopted packages of sanctions that covered the media, diplomatic and individual and mostly economic aspects.
Dorina Baltag said that when it comes to the EU as a security player and the importance of this questionnaire for states like Moldova, Ukraine or Georgia, it should be clear that the EU is not a traditional security player, as NATO is. However, the sustainability of peace also depends on the granting of this status of candidate country to the EaP states. “In fact, such a move can turn into a security instrument for the EU. In the adoption of such a decision, a lot depends on the political wish of the member states whose leaders form part of this European Council,” stated the researcher, noting that in the European capitals they also say that the destructive and consistent actions of Russia, combined with the lack of perspective for joining NATO, made the three countries apply for EU membership.
The public debate titled “EU Questionnaire: What it offers and what is asks instead, how are chances assessed inside and outside?” was the 237th installment of IPN’s project “Developing Political Culture through Public Debates” that is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation.