Why was Moldova granted candidate status? When and in what conditions can it become fully-fledged member of EU? IPN debate

A week ago, the European Council granted the EU candidate status to the Republic of Moldova. Moldovan society welcomed the event, but produced also equivocal interpretations about the event and the European perspective and even about the necessity of the accession itself. The experts invited to IPN’s public debate “Why was the Republic of Moldova granted a candidate status? When and in what conditions can it become a fully-fledged member of the EU?” discussed the value of this event, why it happened and what should be done for this important step to be followed by the obtaining of the status of EU member state.

Igor Boțan, the standing expert of IPN’s project, said that there are ten procedural steps towards joining the EU and Moldova so far covered five of them. But the subsequent steps are more intricate. “It goes to three levels. The Republic of Moldova reached only the first level, when the country in principle is ready to become an official accession candidate and it was granted this status on June 23, 2022. From now on, the procedures are more complex. The candidate country needs to open formal accession negotiations and the process implies the adoption of EU legislation, getting ready to appropriately apply this legislation and we will later reach the final phase, when the negotiations and related reforms are completed. When everyone reaches the conclusion that the country is ready for accession, a treaty is signed. But the road up to there is long,” stated the expert.

According to him, a very interesting period follows, during which the ministers and ambassadors of the EU member states and the candidate country will open the so-called intergovernmental conference. The negotiations will center on 35 chapters. The European Commission will carry out a detailed examination together with the candidate country, in each policy area. The findings by chapters will be presented by the Commission to the member states in the form of a screening report and later, based on the conclusions and recommendations, direct negotiations will be opened.

“Ahead of the negotiations, each EU member state and the candidate country will need to decide the negotiation positions and this is a long-term process,” stated Igor Boțan. He noted that when the negotiations are over and when each of the EU member states agrees that Moldova is ready, an accession contract will be signed and this will take effect on the indicated date.

University professor Igor Munteanu, affiliated researcher of the Institute for Development and Social Initiatives “Viitorul”, said that the Republic of Moldova has implemented the Community acquis during eight years, starting with the signing of the Association Agreement with the EU. This fact enabled the state to make progress that cannot be neglected. “However, I think that if we had had firmness and capacity to manage the crises of 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, our results would have been much better and brighter. There would have been probably broader internal support for the European integration among the population than at present. Today, opinion polls show that 54-56% of the citizens are for entry into the European Union, while about 24-26% are for entry into the Eurasian Union. This teaches the government lessons and gives headaches to it as the support is not overwhelming. But there are also other options in society, which particular forces of the left, pro-Kremlin, would try to exploit further. From this viewpoint, the Republic of Moldova has particular handicaps, but the fact that we are one of the two countries that were granted the candidate status is a brilliant victory,” stated the ex-ambassador.

He noted that things developed this way namely because the regional context changed fundamentally. The war in Ukraine is a factor that completely changed the security perception at the level of the European decision-making authorities. When 66% of the Europeans consider that Ukraine should be protected from the barbaric Russian aggression, the European authorities do not have maneuvering space for avoiding doing this and for finding pretexts not to support Ukraine. “The main emphasis of such an approach among the Europeans is the moral factor that balanced and contributed to multiple visits by European officials, heads of state, to multidimensional support for Ukraine, financial assistance etc.”, explained the researcher.

Igor Munteanu also said that no one can challenge the fact that Moldova and Ukraine managed to incorporate about 60-70% of the Community acquis into the national legislation. Respectively, this is a solid basis that makes even the most skeptical Europeans to admit that these states can be drawn closer to the West-Balkan integration model. Besides the regional context, there is also the merit of an interlocutor existing in Chisinau. “The radical replacement of the political power in Chisinau, initially by the election of a new President and later by the election of a pro-European party with an overwhelming majority in Parliament, created in Brussels the feeling of predictability of the European course. But we should not be super-exalted by the current moment and by the prospects of accelerating this process as we have a conditional accession form. This conditional form means that before a special group for negotiations is created and a negotiation strategy is adopted, we will have to show firmness in the obtaining of results in internal reforms.”

MP of the Party of Action and Solidarity Adrian Băluțel said the current government received a clear mandate to promote and advance the European integration process. This was one of the main desiderata of the current government and it was stipulated in the electoral program. Before the war in Ukraine broke out, the government took actions in the relations with the EU, including by removing the country from isolation, implementing the recommendations of the European partners in a number of areas. But after the war in the neighboring country started, the regional context changed and the whole Europe realized that the Republic of Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia should form part of the free world.

“The opportunity to submit the application for EU membership was indeed created by this war waged by the Russian Federation on Ukraine. But when the war started in Ukraine, there were many countries that were skeptical about the granting of the candidate status to Moldova, Ukraine, Georgia. They had pertinent questions about security, the countries’ capacity to do reforms in times of crisis. Here, the role of the Government, of the presidential administration, of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was to demonstrate progress and capacity to cope with a crisis, in solidarity with the Ukrainian citizens, and also capacity to cope with challenges in the advancing of reforms despite the crisis,” said the MP.

According to him, this is the most important thing that the government managed to do. Also, the foreign policy is very active and detailed. They started from rather general discussions and moved to very specific subjects. “We managed to persuade the countries that were very skeptical about the idea of granting the candidate status to Moldova and Ukraine. Evidently, we managed to create this wave of support for Moldova, in particular, as the applications were analyzed separately, not together. The wave of support inside the EU definitely appeared because the citizens of the Republic of Moldova have shown their solidary following this war. The regional context predisposes, but enormous diplomatic work was done the past few months,” stated Adrian Băluțel.

The public debate entitled “Why was the Republic of Moldova granted a candidate status? When and in what conditions can it become a fully-fledged member of the EU?” was the 254th installment of IPN’s project “Developing Political Culture through Public Debates” that is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation.

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