Placing increased emphasis on Moldova could be acceptable for Finland, which supports a series of initiatives in Moldova through its embassy in Bucharest. But the priorities of Croatia can be yet distinct and aimed at accelerating the entry of the Western Balkans into the EU that is expected before 2025 (IPN, February 19, 2018), also if the name dispute between Greece and Macedonia is overcome for good. That’s why Romania will have to promote a comprehensive and acceptable formula for the external dimension that the trio Presidency will have until the middle of 2020. A solution to have Moldova at the forefront is to couple it with Ukraine, Georgia and the rest of the countries of the Eastern Partnership, as Estonia did while holding the Presidency together with Bulgaria and Austria (IPN, July 3, 2017).
The Romanian presidency of the Council of the EU will have to take into account the political situation in Moldova, where the government in 2019 could be less Euro-enthusiastic, if the Socialists win the parliamentary elections of 2018. Therefore, Romania’s approach should be pragmatic to a sufficient extent so as to overcome the geopolitical differences no matter what government comes next in Chisinau. Among the key priorities should be the interconnection in the natural gas sector that was included in the 20 deliverables until 2020 (IPN, July 3, 2017) and that can have a substantial multiplying effect on Moldova’s energy and economic security.
Romania already implements measures dedicated to Moldova
Romania’s preoccupations as regards Moldova were already reflected in the government program for 2018-2020, being the fourth foreign policy objective after the EU, NATO and the strategic partnership with the U.S. The strategic partnership for Moldova’s European integration is the general political framework within which other operational documents are implemented. Romania’s objectives dedicated to Moldova until 2020, including in the period of its Presidency of the Council of the EU, are numerous, but can be separated into three groups.
The first group of actions includes support for the recognition of the European perspective and the democratic and economic reforms, including by providing bilateral assistance and supporting the implementation of the Association Agreement.
The second set of objectives embraces the enhancement of energy interconnection and completion of the construction of the Iasi-Ungheni-Chisinau gas pipeline and other infrastructure projects (roads, etc.). The rebuilding of the social infrastructure (kindergartens) and formation of new elites (by providing scholarships) are other objectives of interest.
The third group includes Romania’s intention to plead the Moldovan cause within the European Action Group for Moldova and within NATO so as to strengthen the Moldovan defense capacities. Romania is also interested in identifying a solution to the Transnistrian conflict through the 5+2 format talks and by respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Moldova.
A Strategic Partnership “plus” for Moldova?
A diplomatic and political format of cooperation between Bucharest and Chisinau, focused on Moldova’s European integration, was established after 2010. Preconditions were then created for launching the bilateral Strategic Partnership devoted to the European integration of Moldova. This was initiated through the joint Declaration of the ex-President of Romania Traian Basescu and acting President of Moldova Mihai Ghimpu. By this Partnership, Romania agreed to support the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Moldova in accordance with the European principles and standards. The support for Moldova’s independence is not specified in that document. The Strategic Partnership includes three general activity directions in politics, economy and culture.
At political level, Romania expressed its readiness to offer its expertise and technical assistance in the reform process so as to meet the criteria for entering the EU. As it was launched in 2010, the Partnership invoked Romania’s assistance in negotiating the Association Agreement with the EU that took effect in July 2016 and in implementing this. Also, the Romanian side’s contribution included the support for the liberalization of the visa regime with the EU from which over 1.5 million Moldovan citizens have already benefitted as of April 2014 (IPN, May 2, 2018). The transmission of the European acquis translated into Romanian is another measure assumed by the Romanian side. As a result of this, the transposition of the European legislation to the Moldovan one takes place faster than in the case of Ukraine or Georgia, which need more time and money to translate the document into their official languages.
In the economic sector, it was decided to strengthen the legal framework of the economic cooperation that is ensured through the joint economic commission. Besides the development of the energy interconnection and road infrastructure, the bilateral cooperation includes transfrontier projects related to the Prut, the Danube and the Black Sea Basin.
At cultural level, Romania and Moldova agreed to extend the cultural-scientific relations and in the education sector (offering of scholarships, etc.), the mass media, sports and tourism (inclusion of Moldova in Romanian tourist itineraries).
After eight years of the launch of the Strategic Partnership and in the context of the Romanian Presidency of the Council of the EU, the achieved results should be assessed and updated. A Strategic Partnership “plus” could set down new strategic objectives for Moldova and its European course. A renewed partnership could also incorporate a bilateral plan of action for implementing the Association Agreement in strategic areas, such as foreign trade and regional development.
Natural gas interconnection as a key priority
The completion of the Iasi-Ungheni-Chisinau interconnection project is of crucial importance for Moldova’s development. The involvement of the Romanian company Transgaz, which is over 50% owned by the Romanian state, in the implementation of this energy project increases the chances for this to become functional, on condition that all the legal or technical barriers are eliminated.
The Presidency of the Council of the EU could be used as constructive leverage for stimulating the construction of the Ungheni-Chisinau section so that the gas pipeline could be put into operation in the first half of 2019 already. The finishing of the gas pipeline is not threatened by the eventual coming of the Socialists to power given the support shown by President Igor Dodon for this project.
The access to the gas market of Romania will liberalize the natural gas market of Moldova, will enable to review the contract with Gazprom and to stop the augmentation of the debts for Russian gas that are accumulated by the Transnistrian region (IPN, April 17, 2018). Besides the completion of the construction of the gas pipeline, effective de-monopolization of the market is needed. The implementation of the Third Energy Package and, respectively, the clear separation of the production activity from the supply one, on the one hand, will lead to the elimination of the dominant position of Gazprom (exerted through Moldovagaz). On the other hand, this will enable European companies to exploit the pipeline and to supply gas to Moldova.
Through the agency of Transgaz, Romania, together with the Moldovan authorities, can develop the idea of supplying gas to Ukraine. In such a case, the Iasi-Ungheni-Chisinau gas pipeline would gain regional strategic importance and would become an additional interconnection source, besides the Tekovo-Mediesul Aurit pipeline that is not yet functional. Given that Russia was given the go-ahead to build the Turkish Stream and in the near future will be also get the go-ahead for the Nord Stream 2, any new supply of natural gas from the West will represent an advantage for the energy security of Ukraine.
So, the energy interconnection within the Eastern Partnership can be one of the main aspects of the Romanian Presidency, which combines the particular interest in the Iasi-Ungheni-Chisinau pipeline and in Moldova.
Instead of conclusion...
The success of the European integration in Moldova or its absence can have an impact on the Eastern borders of Romania. That’s why its contribution should include assistance in increasing the resilience of Moldova’s institutions, infrastructure and borders. This logic should be also followed because the number of Moldovan citizens with dual nationality is on the rise (about half a million according to unofficial reports) and this justifies the more visible presence of Romania in Moldova as a development partner and as the main promotor of the European course.
To make its agenda compatible with Finland and Croatia, Romania will have to look for common subjects in which it could introduce the Moldova cause. The energy interconnection in the Eastern Partnership countries can be one of this subjects and this can also cover the Iasi-Ungheni-Chisinau gas pipeline.
Romania can use the Presidency of the Council of the EU to radically change the status-quo in Moldova, at least in term of energy security. The ensuring of fully functional natural gas interconnection in 2019 already could be a first step, followed by interconnection in the electric power sector.
Areas of research: European Neighborhood Policy, EU-Moldova relationship, EU's foreign policy and Russia, migration and energy security.
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IPN publishes in the Op-Ed rubric opinion pieces submitted by authors not affiliated with our editorial board. The opinions expressed in these articles do not necessarily coincide with the opinions of our editorial board.