The "new" European agenda of Moldova, the unification with Romania and the separation of the Transnistria region. Analysis of Dionis Cenușa



Military aggression against Ukraine further worsens Moldova's reintegration prospects, as it fuels the motivation of some Moldovans to support a divorce from the Transnistrian region, regardless of the invisible costs such a decision may entail...


Dionis Cenuşa, Senior Contributor

The regional insecurity, exacerbated by Russia's militaristic foreign policy, has changed Moldova's immediate plans for interaction with the EU. Initially, the focus was on accelerating the implementation process of the Association Agreement with the European Union (EU) and establishing an ambitious Association Agenda for 2027. Ukraine's application for EU membership (February 28) and Georgia's announcement of similar measures (March 1-2) left Chisinau with no choice but to join the wave of pro-EU advances among the associated Eastern Partnership countries. Consequently, for at least the next 2-3 months, the central discussion will not be about the implementation of reforms that consolidate practically European integration, but about the preparation of the "acts", on the basis of which Brussels should decide on the eligibility of Moldova for EU candidate status. More precisely, the Moldovan authorities must provide comprehensive answers to an EU questionnaire, which has to determine the gap between the Moldovan political, economic and institutional dimensions with the European ones. Under normal geopolitical conditions, the ruling Action and Solidarity Party (PAS) could have handled the Association Agreement, the 2022-2027 Agenda and, at the same time, filled out the EU questionnaire, but the country faces a series of crises, which it barely gets by, largely due to Western foreign aid (consisting mainly of loans).

Concomitantly, the series of crises Moldova is going through has focused public attention on alternative solutions. While these are detrimental to the Moldovan state or territorial integrity, the alternatives to which the public gaze is directed do not contradict the European desideratum. On the one hand, the interest of citizens in the reunification project with Romania remains at a relatively high level, acceptable both from an ideational and utilitarian point of view as a perspective to achieve a sense of normality. This contrasts with uncertainty about Moldova's ability to effectively prevent and resolve crisis situations. On the other hand, there is an explosion in public support for the separation of Moldova from the Transnistria region. This trend is explained by the fact that part of the country's population believes that the recognition of the independence of the breakaway region will automatically accelerate the country's European course. In reality, there is no causal link between Transnistria's separatism and the path to the EU, which has been interrupted by the failures of political regimes, which have been held captive by successive oligarchic regimes between 2009 and 2019.

The EU "questionnaire" and Chisinau's modest capabilities

The verdict on the status of a candidate country for EU membership is the result of a serious evaluation of the applying country. Moldova is in this process. In the first stage, the EU will study the situation more closely, going beyond the much narrower and more superficial way of assessing how Chisinau is implementing the Association Agreement. To do this, Brussels resorts to a questionnaire, which Chisinau is obliged to duly fill in if it wants the EU to determine the compatibility of Moldovan with European standards in the field of state affairs governance.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Chisinau specified that completing the questionnaire will require a "colossal institutional effort" to systematize information related to Moldova's transposition of European legislation at this stage, the current development of the sectoral policies and the availability of administrative potential. It is a questionnaire of 33 chapters, in which very specific questions are asked, and the required answers must be detailed, comprehensive and free of political distortions. Following the example of the questionnaire received by Serbia in 2010, it can be deduced that the document addressed to Moldova could include 2,000-2,500 questions on all areas of state functioning. For example, with the attachments, the blank questionnaire received by Serbia was 380 pages long. The Serbian side started preparing for the questionnaire in 2007 or almost three years before the EU sent the document. To this end, Belgrade has launched an inter-institutional platform with more than 30 working groups according to each chapter indicated in the questionnaire.

For now, the authorities in Chisinau have acknowledged that the questionnaire is an extremely complicated task, but they have not clarified when and how they plan to fill it out. It is true that the state is already overwhelmed by multiple crises, so it is important that the government provides all the necessary capacity to complete the questionnaire in the best possible way. The process must be inclusive, which means that the government is obliged to bring all political forces and non-state actors into the process, even if state institutions are responsible for completing the questionnaire. A joint working group (Task Force) of specialized diplomats, sector officials and the Moldovan academic community (at home and abroad) with a profile based on European affairs, together with local civil society, can help pool resources. Thus, the necessary competence to aggregate and structure the adequate information for the "questionnaire" can be generated. This mobilization around the completion of the "European questionnaire" should take place immediately after the donor conference in Berlin on April 5, in which Germany, France and Romania will reiterate their political support and sectoral financial assistance to Moldova (refugees, energy security, rule of law reform etc.).

Unification with Romania versus separation from the Transnistrian region

The unionist aspirations of the Moldovans are present in at least a third of the country's population. About 700,000 Moldovans have Romanian citizenship, but a large part of them live in EU countries. To understand what proportion of the population we are talking about, we must refer to the 2004 census (before Romania's accession to the EU), when the number of citizens in Moldova reached 3.3 million. Therefore, of this figure, almost 21% of citizens came to possess Romanian identity documents. This is the approximate percentage of those who went abroad, resulting in the shrinking of the Moldovan demographic to 2.6 million people. Recent polls show that around 35% or 910,000 of the remaining population in Moldova would vote in a referendum for reunification with Romania. This figure is practically as high as the segment of the population that supports the separation of Moldova from the Transnistria region, which amounted to 31% in March 2022.

The gradual rise of unionism is explained by the advantages that public opinion attributes to belonging to the Romanian state, which is part of the EU and has more resources to be self-sufficient compared to Moldova, which is increasingly dependent on foreign aid. The reasoning behind the favorable opinion of the Moldovans towards the independence of the Transnistria region seems to be fueled at the moment in time by the Russian military aggression against Ukraine. Against the background of the illegal stationing of Russian forces, as well as Russia's departure from the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights, respectively, the Transnistria region becomes a more dangerous "uncertainty" than ever for national security from Moldova. Although the political (Obnovlenie) and economic (Sheriff's oligarchic network) elites in the region have refrained from attacking Ukraine for reasons of economic interdependence and risks of a Ukrainian military response, the separatist regime is subservient to Russia's geopolitical interests. In practice, the region can be used at any time as a platform from which Russia can attack, if it serves its strategic interests.

Despite the country's pro-reform and pro-EU government, public polls show that Moldovans seem increasingly determined to give up Moldova's independence or territorial integrity. At the moment, these proportions are lower than the percentage willing to cede part of the country's sovereignty in favor of the EU or the Eurasian Union (see Table below). If Moldova manages to move closer to the EU, gaining candidate status, then support for the union with Romania could decline, seen in part as a substitute for EU membership status. Accelerating the country's Europeanization process could have a catalyzing effect on the recognition of the independence of the separatist region, especially if Russia consolidates its occupation of Ukraine or, worse, extends it over Odesa to the Transnistrian region.

Table. Public opinion options regarding the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Moldova





(February 2022)

EU mebership


Joining the Eurasian Union


Unification with Romania



(March 2022)

Recognition of the independence of the Transnistrian region


Source: Author's compilation with reference to IMAS and IData.

In lieu of conclusions…

The "questionnaire" can become a useful catalyst to lay the groundwork for a national platform, bringing together the relevant institutions and actors for Moldova's preparation for EU accession, with a realistic timetable and reachable milestones. In no case should the government monopolize the European agenda, but rather it must mobilize the whole of society around this complex and difficult to achieve objective. With only one political party and a fraction of society, the viability of the European perspective is unlikely, even if, for EU geopolitical reasons, the EU will grant Moldova candidate status later this year, in 2023 or until the end of the PAS mandate in office in 2025.

In addition, successfully completing the questionnaire and obtaining candidate status, respectively, can strengthen Moldovans' positive perception of the country's independence, weakening unionist tendencies. However, the materialization of the European perspective will not have the same effect on the position of the Moldovans towards the separation of Moldova from the Transnistria region. The military aggression against Ukraine further worsens Moldova's reintegration prospects, as this fuels the motivation of some Moldovans to support divorce from the Transnistrian region, regardless of the invisible costs such a decision may entail.

Dionis Cenuşa, Senior Contributor
Dionis Cenușa is a political scientist, researcher at the Institute of Political Sciences at Liebig-Justus University in Giessen, Germany, MA degree in Interdisciplinary European Studies from the College of Europe in Warsaw.
Areas of research: European Neighborhood Policy, EU-Moldova relationship, EU's foreign policy and Russia, migration and energy security.
Follow Dionis Cenușa on Twitter

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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