Possible scenarios for European Council’s decision about Moldova. IPN debate

The European Council in its meeting of December 14-15 is to decide whether to open the accession negotiations with the Republic of Moldova or not. This is a very important moment for the Republic of Moldova and Moldovan society. The criteria that the Council can use when it will discuss the case of Moldova, the decision’s dependence on the positions of the EU institutions and the EU member states and to what extent the “combined approach” to Moldova and Ukraine can influenced the decision were among the issues discussed by experts invited to IPN’s public debate “Possible scenarios for European Council’s decision about Moldova”.

According to the permanent expert of IPN’s project Igor Boțan, the European Council represents the highest level of political cooperation between EU countries. The members of the European Council are the heads of state or government of the 27 EU member states, the European Council President and the President of the European Commission. “The European Council defines the EU’s overall political direction and priorities, traditionally by adopting conclusions. It does not negotiate or adopt EU laws, but deals with complex or sensible issues that cannot be solved at a lower level and this matters a lot. It agrees the EU’s common foreign and security policy taking into account the strategic interests of the community and the implications in terms of defense. It nominates and names candidates for particular important posts at EU level, such as the European Central Bank and the European Commission. On each issue, the European Council can ask the European Commission to formulate proposals for debating these,” explained the expert.

Igor Boțan noted that the accession negotiations are the sixth stage of the integration process and are opened by the consensus of the Council members. They refer to the implementation of the legislation and standards on all the 35 chapters. For Moldova, it is very important that an eventual favorable final vote on December 14 be swiftly followed by the first EU-Moldova intergovernmental negotiation conference. This should take place at the beginning of next year, before the European Parliament elections as the EU in the second part of the year will be busy with institutional reconfiguration after the elections.

An intergovernmental conference at the start of next year will be able to take the first important decisions so that the negotiations advance at technical level in the second part of the year. As the volume of EU regulations that each candidate state must transpose to the national legislation is very big, the negotiations last for a long period of time. The candidate states benefit from financial, administrative and technical support during the pre-accession period.

Dorina Baltag, EU foreign policy and diplomacy researcher at the Institute for Diplomacy and International Governance in London, stated that when taking its decision, the European Council will abide by the same criteria used during other EU enlargement waves, namely the Copenhagen criteria established in 1993. “It goes to the stability of the institutions that guarantee democracy, the rule of law, respect for the human rights. It goes to a punctual market economy and to the capacity to efficiently fulfill the obligations of EU member state. This aspect will not change and namely these criteria will be taken into account by the European Council,” noted Dorina Baltag.

According to the researcher, these fundamental criteria are stipulated in the European Commission’s country report for Moldova. The report underscores the progress made by the county to implement the nine steps related to the Copenhagen criteria. This was followed by an exhaustive assessment of over 150 pages of the political, economic criteria and how prepared Moldova is to enter the EU, including with 30 technical chapters.

“We must admit that this relationship between the Republic of Moldova and the European Union has a context that is not really political, as the European Council is a political body and its decision is political, but is rather a geopolitical one. In general, it is for the first time in the history of the European Union that the European Commission gives the go-ahead for formal accession negotiations before the country fully fulfilled all the preset conditions. So, if we look at the Commission’s report, we see that we didn’t fulfill all the steps – those nine recommendations. Namely Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine hastened this process that is usually rather slow and meticulous,” explained Dorina Baltag.

She noted that the European Commission however underlined that the combined technical part for Moldova and Ukraine can start immediately after the EU leaders begin to discuss, either this decision is taken in December or next March, when the Commission will provide one more report on the steps taken by Moldova. The researcher considers the decision will be taken most probably in March.

Political commentator Nicolae Negru reiterated that the nine recommendations put forward by the European Commission for Moldova reflect the Copenhagen criteria concerning the solidity of state institutions, the functioning of the market economy, etc. “Namely if the Republic of Moldova’s economy will cope with the competition existing in the EU, if it is accepted into the EU, or will have to be maintained, which is unacceptable. It’s clear that the Republic of Moldova will be helped, but this doesn’t mean that all its duties will be fulfilled in its place,” stated the commentator.

Among the requirements, he also mentioned the ensuring of the respect for the basic human rights, the situation of the media, the relations with civil society, etc. “But out of the nine recommendations, three were fulfilled not sufficiently well. These refer to the justice sector reform that is done very slowly. The decision will be taken now, but anyway with the mention that the negotiations will start in March if the three overdue conditions are fully fulfilled. It is expected that the Republic of Moldova will carry out this assessment of judges and prosecutors and we will have a complete Superior Council of Magistracy, will have a Superior Council of Prosecutors, a Supreme Court of Justice and all these institutions of the judicial system will start to function so as to show their independence and political interference in the work of judges, prosecutors and others will not be possible. They also said that things are not perfect in the fight against corruption. There are particular results, but conclusive cases of conviction of corrupt persons, powerful oligarchs are required. There is one case only, of Ilan Shor, but there are yet many other cases pending in court,” stated Nicolae Negru.

According to the commentator, until recently the duties of the judicial institutions hadn’t been clear, but legal provisions to delimit these duties were now adopted. The deoligarchization of Moldova is also required, which is not to allow interest groups, business groups or political groups to become involved in economic, political, information activities, which is very important. Particular progress was made, but significant results are yet necessary.

“I think that without this theoretical fulfillment, the European Council will have to take a decision that will start to be implemented next March, when the European Commission will present another report, on the state of democracy, the economy etc. in the Republic of Moldova. The decision will be taken now, in December,” noted Nicolae Negru.

The public debate entitled “Possible scenarios for European Council’s decision about Moldova” was the 295th installment of IPN’s project “Developing Political Culture through Public Debates” which is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation.

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