Why and how the third EPC Summit Matters for Moldova. Op-Ed by Dr. Dorina Baltag



It goes without saying that to be able to fully enjoy such benefits, Moldova needs to do its homework -reforms, specifically in combating corruption, fighting organized crime and reforming public administration...


Dorina Baltag

Following the impactful EPC summit in Moldova, the European Council meeting on June 29-30 in Brussels focuses on fostering a more resilient, prosperous, and secure Europe. The gathering of EU heads of state will delve into critical topics such as Russia's aggressive actions in Ukraine, the ongoing support extended by the EU to Ukraine, and the domains of economy, security, defense, migration, and external relations. Building upon the momentum of the EPC summit, this European Council meeting serves as a pivotal platform to consolidate and propel key issues on the European agenda, including the ones addressed in Bulboaca. Peace, security, and energy security were central themes during the summit in Prague, particularly in the context of Russia's war in Ukraine. Consequently, during the subsequent European Council meeting on October 20-21, 2022, these focal topics were solidified in the summit's conclusions. EU leaders resolutely demanded the immediate, complete, and unconditional withdrawal of all Russian military forces from Ukraine's entire territory, emphasizing unwavering support for Ukraine and a commitment to stand by the country for as long as necessary.

The Bulboaca summit served as a significant follow-up, with a clear emphasis on peace and security, specifically the unity of all participants in supporting Ukraine, while energy and interconnectivity took a secondary role on the agenda. The paramount objective of the summit revolved around safeguarding the security of the European continent and protecting it from all forms of warfare, including hybrid attacks. Security, therefore, remains a prevailing focus during the ongoing European Council meeting. Deliberations will encompass the latest developments in Russia's aggressive war against Ukraine, alongside the EU's continued support, encompassing both financial and military assistance, who have already mobilized over €77 billion.

It should come as no surprise that peace and security will be the centerpiece on the agenda of the upcoming EPC summit, scheduled to be held in Granada, Spain, on October 5. Building upon the discussions held during the Moldova summit, Spanish President Sánchez underscored the need for the European Political Community to convey a resolute message of unity in response to Putin's aggressive actions in Ukraine. He highlighted the threat posed by Russia's war of aggression to our democratic freedoms, the principles and values of the European Union, and the rules-based international order and expressly emphasized the importance of addressing this challenge collectively. It should be understood that addressing peace and security is a quintessential identifier of European Union’ commitment to its neighborhood. But why should Moldova leverage the European Union’s focus on this topic to advance its own interest and objectives?

First, rewards to reap.

The EPC Summit proved to be highly beneficial for Moldova, delivering both immediate and long-term advantages that will positively impact our citizens. In terms of regional security, in a resolute stance against those aiming to destabilize Moldova, the EU, Norway, Switzerland, and Canada imposed sanctions against Russian collaborators in Moldova. To contribute to crisis management and the elimination of hybrid threats, the European Union, opened the EU Partnership Mission in Chisinau which will further bolster regional security. And, through the European Peace Facility, Moldova received generous donations of defense equipment to fortify its defense system, ensuring the safety and stability of the country. Moldova received additional support in overcoming the energy crisis. This was addressed with a generous donation of approximately 50 million euros from Norway for the procurement of natural gas, offering crucial support that will contribute to the stability and reliability of the Moldovan energy sector. Additionally, the EPC Summit facilitated the strengthening of economic relations and attracted investments, with the EU's Economic Development and Investment Plan receiving an increased funding rising from 600 million to an impressive 1.6 billion euros, fostering economic growth, job creation, and improved living standards. Meanwhile, Moldova's connectivity received a boost, as roaming tariffs within the European Union will gradually decrease for Moldovan citizens starting from January 1, 2024. And finally, Moldova gained enhanced international visibility. The event garnered extensive international attention, with over 700 accredited journalists from European countries as well as non-European ones such as USA, China, Argentina, Mexico and others, providing widespread coverage, amplifying Moldova's presence on the international stage.

The outcomes achieved during the EPC Summit underscore the significant influence it has had on shaping Moldova's current and future trajectory. Looking ahead, Moldova has the potential to reap additional advantages from the upcoming EPC summit in Spain, provided that its leadership maintains an active engagement with European counterparts and remains steadfast in upholding EU values. This entails a commitment to the rule of law and the establishment of robust democratic institutions that function effectively.

Second, Transnistria.

Even though the discussions at the EPC summits were centered on Ukraine's security, which remained at the heart of the deliberations, additional side meetings took place. One meeting aimed to facilitate the normalization of relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan, addressing resurging tensions in the region where accusations of ceasefire violations were exchanged between the parties. Another meeting intended to address tensions in northern Kosovo arising from the boycotted local elections by the Serb community. This opens an opportunity for Moldovan diplomats to advocate for side meeting on Transnistria at the summit in Granada to find a feasible solution for its reintegration.

Despite initial concerns that Transnistria, located less than 100 km from Odesa, could become entangled in the conflict following Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the region has managed to maintain relative stability. This is due, inter alia, to the fact that the opening of EU markets to Moldova, including Transnistria, has achieved what years of diplomacy struggled to accomplish – initiating the economic integration of Transnistria with the rest of Moldova. Since the signing of Moldova's Association Agreement and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) with the EU in 2014, the country's trade dynamics have shifted significantly. Previously, the majority of trade was with Russia and other CIS countries, but now the focus has shifted to the EU: in 2022, 49,3% of Moldovan trade was with the EU while 10,8% is with Russia whereas a total of 58,7% of Moldovan exports are prepared for the EU market. It is worth noting that Transnistria currently conducts 70% of its trade with the EU, demonstrating the region's economic dependence on European markets. To facilitate this trade, Transnistrian products, such as cognac or wine, are labeled as ‘product of Moldova’ to ensure their eligibility for export to the international market. The closure of the Ukraine border with Transnistria and the Russian naval blockade of Odesa have further underscored the significance of trade routes through Moldova, either for accessing the EU by land or reaching destinations outside the EU through Romania's Black Sea ports. Given the lack of direct sea or land connections to Transnistria, Russia will face challenges in maintaining its economic influence in Tiraspol. Therefore, the summit in Spain would be the right place to do so (part of Spain are several autonomous communities, including Catalonia and the Basque country) as well as the current geopolitical contexts is beneficial in pushing for a side meeting on Transnistria (the EPC excludes Russia).

Third, European integration.

The EPC summit in Moldova served as a platform to address key issues of security, energy, and interconnectivity, as highlighted in the European Parliament briefing. However, it was the topic of enlargement that dominated the discussions, despite not being an official agenda item. President Maia Sandu of Moldova and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine advocated for the opening of EU accession negotiations by the end of the year, placing European integration at the center of the debates. Considering the ongoing war in Ukraine, aligning Moldova's agenda with Ukraine, and emphasizing European integration at the upcoming summit in Spain would be strategically beneficial for Moldovan leadership.

While Ukraine and Moldova have received EU candidate status in an impressively short period of time (4 months instead of the usual 18), both countries have been informed that further progress towards full membership will be based on merit and adherence to certain conditions. The EU has made it clear that the steps taken towards EU integration can be reversed if the underlying conditions are not met. Ahead of the EPC summit in Moldova, French minister Boone suggested that the event could provide an appropriate forum for discussing the EU's future enlargement, including potential changes such as staged accession. To advance their integration agenda, both, Moldovan and Ukraine, should be politically active to pursue EU member-states to move EPC beyond mere rhetoric in this sense and leverage European Council plans to advance the gradual integration between the EU and candidate countries. This would allow Moldova and Ukraine to integrate gradually, step-by-step, based on the pace of their reforms and on their ability to implement necessary reforms (particularly in the areas of rule of law, tackling corruption and the judiciary), and, in turn, allowing the two to experience different levels of integration.

The road ahead: homework

It goes without saying that to be able to fully enjoy such benefits, Moldova needs to do its homework -reforms, specifically in combating corruption, fighting organized crime and reforming public administration. The #MoldovaEUCandidateCheck report conducted by civil society organisations, highlights that the overall average degree of implementation for the 9 EU recommendations is 3.8 out of 5. Out of the 60 actions specified, only 23.33% were implemented without deficiencies and 35% were implemented with certain shortcomings. The fight against organized crime received a score of 3.8, and the fight against corruption scored 3.55, indicating that most actions were initiated but not completed at the time of evaluation. These most recent evaluation of these recommendations done by the EU Commission provide specific areas for Moldova to focus on in order to enhance its progress and address the shortcomings identified in the implementation of the Action Plan. In terms of anti-corruption, the report emphasizes the need for Moldova to ensure the efficient functioning of the Anti-corruption Prosecutor's Office and the National Anti-Corruption Centre. It also calls for improvements in the quality of investigations and the effectiveness of prosecution to achieve convictions. Regarding the fight against organized crime, the report highlights the importance of adopting secondary legislation for the Law on Preventing and Combating Money Laundering and Financing of Terrorism. It further recommends legislative amendments to implement the mechanism of civil confiscations, strengthening Moldova's efforts in combating organized crime. In the area of public administration reform, the report underscores the need for Moldova to finalize the functional review of ministries. Additionally, it emphasizes the importance of continuing the reform of the salary system and advancing towards a merit-based civil service.

Dorina Baltag
Dorina Baltag is a PostDoctoral Researcher at the Institute for Diplomacy and International Governance at Loughboroug h University (London campus). Her research covers democratisation in the Eastern Partnership and EU diplomacy related topics. You can liaise with her at linkedin.com/in/dorina-baltag/.

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.

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