On June 1, Republic of Moldova became, in the words of EU Commission President von der Leyen, ‘the political heart of Europe’ and represents the embodiment of Europe's fundamental values. Moldova's selection as the host for the second Summit of the European Political Community (EPC) carries profound significance, the country has demonstrated unwavering solidarity, exemplified by its support for Ukrainian refugees as well as remarkable resilience in the face of Russia's attempts at coercion. Therefore, the deliberate choice of Moldova as the summit's location stems from the country's current predicament of Russian pressure, which gives the European Union the opportunity to pass as a resounding message to Russia: Europe stands firmly behind Moldova, serving as a unified front against external pressures. Once again, the 45 leaders reunited in Moldova, reiterate their strong signal of unity, resolutely communicated to President Putin and his administration.
When the French President Macron proposed the idea of the EPC, there was criticism that it will be used as a photo opportunity and there will be little room for it becoming more than a talking club. So how did the second summit prove the skeptics wrong and most importantly what did it bring for the two countries affected by the Russian aggression - Ukraine and Moldova?
First, security guarantees for Ukraine (and Moldova)
France and Germany voiced their readiness to offer security guarantees for Ukraine at the upcoming NATO summit in July. President Zelenskiy emphasized the importance of Ukraine's inclusion in the NATO military alliance during his statement at the EPC summit in Bulboaca. He urged NATO countries, present at the summit, to provide security guarantees, even if immediate membership was not feasible. Zelenskiy's came to Moldova specifically to gain support from Western leaders ahead of Ukraine's anticipated counter-offensive against Russia's invasion. Both France and Germany expressed their support for the idea. President Macron stressed the necessity of offering long-term prospects to Ukraine and urged the Vilnius summit to deliver immediate guarantees. Chancellor Scholz highlighted the importance of designing these guarantees in a manner that ensures Ukraine's security against potential attacks while simultaneously stabilizing the country, including support for its defense capabilities.
The 2nd European Political Community Summit in Moldova, also offered the premises for the Ukrainian President to meet with the leaders from an informal coalition focused on training Ukrainian pilots to operate F-16 fighter jets. The coalition, led by the Netherlands and Denmark, aims to expand its membership by urging more countries to join. The Dutch Prime Minister Rutte expressed his opinion that, even in the event of Ukraine facing adversity in its conflict with Russia, Europe should not waver but instead provide increased humanitarian, financial, and military support. Rutte also stressed the strength of unity demonstrated by the coalition and assured Moldova that they were not alone in their struggles. The gathering included the British, the Polish, the Danish, the Swedish, and the Belgian counterparts. This coalition, to be called the 'Ukraine's Sky Shield,' is set to formalize its collaboration at the upcoming Rammstein Summit of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, following consultations with representatives from the United States. The initiative has already garnered support from other nations, including, Portugal, and the United States.
At the same time, the preparations for the summit gave impetus to the European Union to have approved a substantial EUR 40 million package for Moldova, aimed at bolstering its armed forces, enhancing military supplies, and providing technical training through the European Peace Facility (EPF). The EPF is operational since July 2021, but it is only in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine that the EU, for the first time in its history, has mobilized funds to facilitate the delivery of military equipment, including lethal weaponry, to assist a partner country. On December 2, 2021, the Council established three assistance measures under the EPF for non-lethal equipment, allocating €12.75 million for Georgia (Decision (CFSP) 2021/2134), €31 million for Ukraine (Decision (CFSP) 2021/2135) and €7 million for Moldova (Decision (CFSP) 2021/2136). The additional assistance measure adopted specifically for Moldova (Decision (CFSP) 2022/1093) reflects EU's commitment to supporting Moldova's security and defense needs in the face of evolving geopolitical challenges.
Second, economic and energy resilience for Moldova
The EPC Summit served as the backdrop for the launch of the European Union Partnership Mission to Moldova. By the end of this summer, the mission will be reinforced by the arrival of 39 foreign experts. This Mission will join the other twelve EU civilian missions worldwide and its primary objectives are twofold: firstly, it aims to strengthen the crisis management capabilities of Moldova's security sector and secondly, the mission will assist in building resilience to counter hybrid threats, with a particular focus on cybersecurity, countering foreign information manipulation, and interference. The mission will involve developing strategies, policies, and capacity building for early threat detection, attribution, and an effective response mechanism to safeguard Moldova's security and democratic institutions. Finally, the EU High Representative Borrell accentuated that Moldova is not alone but rather a strategic partner and a prospective member of the European Union.
Furthermore, Commission President von der Leyen declared that the European Union is providing extra economic support for Moldova. In terms of energy resilience, the EU is allocating over EUR 100 million to address immediate needs. These funds will be utilized to assist vulnerable individuals and households, improve energy efficiency in residential buildings, and ensure preparations for the upcoming winter. Notably, Moldova's participation in the EU's common gas purchasing mechanism has already proven successful, with 80% of the requested gas volumes matched through the platform. This achievement translates to better prices and reliable suppliers, significantly enhancing Moldova's gas supply security. Additionally, the EU's Economic and Investment Plan for Moldova aims to generate EUR 600 million in additional investments, and the good news is that the funding is expected to nearly triple, reaching up to EUR 1.6 billion. This significant boost aims to create exceptional opportunities for Moldovan companies and directly contribute to the country's economy.
And finally, the European Commission and Moldovan authorities have signed a joint declaration among mobile operators to establish more affordable roaming tariffs between the EU/EEA and the Republic of Moldova in the near future. This significant development means that starting from January 1, 2024, individuals traveling between the EU/EEA and Moldova will enjoy reduced rates for voice-call roaming and data roaming services. This will provide greater convenience and cost savings for citizens when using their mobile devices while traveling across these regions.
Third, conflict resolution in the EaP region
The decades-old conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh among the ex-Soviet countries, Armenia and Azerbaijan, has remained a persistent challenge. The summit in Moldova served as the meeting point for the leaders of the two countries and their EU counterparts: President of the European Council Charles Michel, German Chancellor Scholz, President Macron, President of Azerbaijan Aliyev and Prime Minister of Armenia Pashinyan. Although the summit in Chisinau did not lead to any breakthroughs, there is optimism that certain gestures related to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict could be on the horizon. These may include the release of detainees, demining initiatives, or the unblocking of transport links. Additionally, the EU Monitoring Mission in Armenia, established earlier this year to contribute to stability at the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan, could potentially take on a larger role. The objective is to maintain peace and create a conducive environment for dialogue and negotiations, ultimately aiming for a comprehensive and sustainable resolution to the conflict. It is important to note that this meeting indicates a clear European intention to play a more substantial role in the settlement efforts, which have thus far been influenced largely by Moscow. To ensure a balanced approach, Brussels made a conscious effort to include Berlin alongside Paris, as the latter has been accused of favoring Yerevan. To this end, some senior EU officials stress that the EU's engagement in the conflict comes without any hidden agenda and demonstrates a willingness to provide both time and a platform to facilitate talks for as long as necessary.
A Geopolitical European Union: are we there yet?
The war in Ukraine and its impact on non-EU and non-NATO member states have created a pressing need to establish a creative framework that fosters discussions among all Europeans on matters affecting the continent – the European Political Community. By purposefully excluding the Russian Federation from the EPCS summits, a strong message of solidarity is sent to President Putin, expressing support for Ukraine's ongoing fight to protect freedom, democratic values, and the peaceful future of the European continent. This exclusion highlights that Ukraine serves as a safeguard not only for Moldova but also for the EU as a whole.
It is in this context that an independent European security framework became imminent for the EU. The vulnerabilities of the European Union, particularly in critical resource dependency and trust in international relations, have been exposed. Clearly, there has been a comprehensive reassessment of the EU's global positioning, visible in areas such as defense, energy, and sanctions. The developments at the two EPC summits in Prague and Bulboaca, reinforces the emergence of a geopolitical Union, one that acknowledges the need to respond effectively to the geopolitical challenges of the modern world. The reaffirmation of solidarity and the deliberate decision to exclude the Russian Federation (and Belarus) reflect the collective understanding that neither Ukraine nor Moldova should stand alone in their challenges brought by the war in Ukraine. In practical terms, the EU must leverage its economic strengths strategically, mobilize its financial resources, and advance the accession process.
However, pursuing geopolitical ambitions comes with its own costs. It requires significant financial investment, relies on the EU's collective power, and necessitates intense coordination among member states and institutions. An initiative such as the EPC is providing the EU with the forums to assume a greater geopolitical role, however, the all-inclusive nature of the Community is not without its risks. As the EPC encompasses states with diverse interests and values, it will become difficult to discern a singular geostrategic purpose underlying its formation. Serbia, for example, maintains friendly relations with Moscow despite Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the war in Ukraine in 2022. Similarly, Turkey has pursued its independent foreign policy, often at odds with the EU, and actively seeks opportunities to bolster its emerging power diplomacy. To fulfill its promise of being more geopolitical, the European Union must develop a strategic approach and cultivate strong alliances as well as learn how to navigate the complexities arising from the diverse perspectives and priorities of its participating nations at the EPC.
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