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Home / Analyses / Moldovan President about Visa Regime with the EU: Between Wishful Thinking and Irresponsible Politics. Andrei Popov
Moldovan President about Visa Regime with the EU: Between Wishful Thinking and Irresponsible Politics. Andrei Popov
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August 6, 2007 (
By Andrei Popov,
Executive Director, Foreign Policy Associationof Moldova (APE)

At a press conference on July 25th President Vladimir Voronin spoke in ratheroptimistic terms about the possibility of liberalising visa regime with the EUby the end of this year, so that “Moldovan citizens could travel in theSchengen area in the same conditions that citizens of the new EU member statesdo”. In particular, President Voronin made following points:

The Visa FacilitationAgreement with the EU is already in force. Now work is being done to extend itsprovisions over all categories of citizens and to obtain full visaliberalisation regime “like other EU member states have”. European Union wouldhave promised Chisinau that by the end of this year it will try to settle in apositive way this issue. For this it is important to convince not only theBruxelles, but also all EU member states and that to this end, Moldova wouldorganise in Chisinau on August 24th a conference with all European deputyministers. Moreover, half of the EU deputy ministers have already confirmedtheir participation. This initiative represents an excellent opportunity toconvince EU to grant Moldovaa visa liberalisation regime.

Mr. President is right in one thing: when hestresses that it is important to work with all EU member states, not only withBruxelles. It is so. […] The rest of Mr. Voronin’s statements are indivorce with reality: The Visa Facilitation Agreement is not in force. Thiswill happen only in January 2008. The European Union has never promised that itwould help us obtain visa liberalisation and even less so by the end of thisyear. Moldovais nowhere near from getting a visa liberalisation regime with the EU. Theconference of deputy ministers is organised not in Chisinau, but in Bruxelles. Itis not at all “an excellent idea”, but rather an unfortunate one, that besidesis being implemented in a clumsy way. Not even close to “more than half deputyministers who have confirmed participation”. In general, it would be good if atleast some 4-5 could come. This conference could not bring any changes to theEU policies towards Moldovain general and in particular on the issue of the visa regime. Advancing Moldova’srelations with the EU is done not through organising conferences, but byactions and reforms.

Let’s take a more detailed look at thissituation and start with clarifying the status of the Visa FacilitationAgreement. This document was initialed on April 25 and will enter in force inJanuary 2008, after it would be signed and ratified. It envisagessimplification of the procedure of obtaining visas only for a number ofcategories of persons, visa free access for holders of diplomatic passports,keeping the visa fee at the current level of 35 euro and fee-exemption incertain cases, multi-year visas with longer period of validly for those whotravel frequently and a series of other facilities of a secondary nature (forexample, reduction by several days of the visa request examination period).Inparallel with Moldova, the European Union negotiated and initialed similaragreements with all Western Balkan countries (except Croatia that has visa freeregime). Such an agreement has already entered in force with Russia and will soon enter into force with Ukraine. SomeMoldovan officials and diplomats rushed to publicly boast that Moldova has managed to obtain from the EU muchmore facilitations then Ukraine.However, until comparison could be made between the two documents, it is saferto rely on European Commission’s representatives who say that Moldovanagreement is practically identical with the Ukrainian one.

Moreover, Moldovan document practically wasn’tthoroughly negotiated at a technical level, but was initialed following minorchanges based on the draft proposed by Bruxelles. In reality, the Agreementwith Moldovaseems to be the least and the most rapidly negotiated one out of all othersimilar agreements. In a paradoxical way, after it started negotiations withmaximalistic requests, insisting on full visa liberalisation, Moldova ended upnegotiating the same facilitation agreement, but which was concluded hastily ina sprint of only 3 negotiations rounds (while other countries even had up to 6and 9 rounds; not to mention Russia that negotiated for several years).

Some European experts assert that if Moldova wouldhave not screwed up at the beginning pressing for some absurd demands and wouldhave instead adopted a reasonable position, engaging in well preparednegotiations within the framework of the mandate given to Commission inDecember 2006, it could have obtained even more facilities. But Chisinau haschosen the tactic of the “shock diplomacy”. In fact at the first negotiationsround on February 9th, Moldovan Deputy Foreign Minister came not to negotiate,but to present to the Union a true ultimatum:“we don’t need visa facilitation, we accept either visa liberalisation ornothing”. Commission’s first reaction was not at all “constructive” and“receptive” as was described by the Foreign Ministry’s press release, butrather full of stupefaction.

After the initial shock, the EuropeanCommission warned Moldovathat it was playing with fire and was risking to not being able to concludeeven the facilitation agreement, which would mean that Moldovan citizens wouldhave the most difficult access regime to the Schengen and would have to pay analmost double fee of 60 euros. Moldovascaled back its demands and adopted a reasonable position, only after PresidentVoronin had been told by the very top European official about the consequencesand costs for Moldovaif it persists in refusing to negotiate on the basis of existing mandate.

Following this, Moldovan position changed overthe night. Without obtaining anything but a damaged image of an unseriouscountry and with a maneuver room reduced to minimum, Moldova speedily concludednegotiations. The Visa Facilitation Agreement was initialed on April 25th onthe occasion of Commissioner Franco Frattini’s visit to Chisinau. Europeansleft with a unpleasant taste, but at least they thought Chisinau had finallyunderstood what are the rules of the game and from now on would no longerbehave in an adolescentin and irresponsible way. However, here we are, exactlythree months after this, on July 25th, President Voronin out of a blue againraised this subject declaring that visa free regime with EU could be obtainedby the end of this year. While the initialed visa facilitation regime has notyet entered into force, the head of state without any basis raises population’sexpectations, encouraging it to believe in something that is a prioryimpossible. This thing was conveyed to him by the EU on countless occasions,directly and through the Foreign Ministry. The sad reality is that not by theend of this year, not in 2008 and, probably, not even in 2009-2010, Moldova wouldhave a visa liberalised regime with the Schengen states. What has madePresident Voronin return to old himeras that have already did so much harm to Moldova’s andhis personal credibilty?

Part II.
One can understand the motives why PresidentVoronin speaks of the need to obtain a complete visa liberalisation regime withthe EU. Undoubtedly the much desired abolition of the visa requirement forentering the Schengen area – similar to what Romaniaand Bulgaria got in January2002 – would be extremely good news for all citizens of Moldova, whose access into the West has becomeeven more complicated after Romaniajoined the EU. This has contributed to the sharpening of the feelings that Moldova belongsto a different world, that it would not have future and that the county and itsleadership are incapable of ensuring the basic needs of its citizens. Exasperated,people are willing to pay thousands of euros to intermediaries that promise toget them into Europe through various illegalschemes.

Motives could be understood but notjustifiedThe visa facilitation regime that enters into force in January 2008doesn’t solve this problem. It covers only a limited number of categories ofpeople, probably about 5-7% of those interested. Under these circumstances, theRomanian passport naturally appears for many like the only hope to be able totravel freely and in decent conditions to Europe.This explains the significant increase in the number of persons who haveexpressed over the last year their wish to regain Romanian citizenship.

The leadership of the Republic of Moldovaperceives - quite wrongly - this process as a major threat to the country’sstatehood. Moreover, it was exactly the threat of “loosing citizens in favourof Romania” that was citedby Chisinau as the main argument when in February it requested from theEuropean Union, in an almost ultimatum like way, to make an exception for Moldova andgrant it the visa liberalisation regime. As President Voronin declared at thattime “if European Union sees no problem for 4 million Moldovan citizens toreceive Romanian passports, then I am sure we will find a solution to allowthose 4 million to travel to Europe without visas but with Moldovan passports”.

These statements and, in general, Chisinau’sinsistence on obtaining a travel regime “identical to that of the new memberstates” could not represent convincing arguments in favour of obtaining visaliberalisation regime. Instead, they could only demonstrate that Chisinaudoesn’t understand the way EU functions and takes decisions.

What official Chisinau doesn’t understand

For example, it doesn’t understand that todaythe EU is not prepared to give anything more than visa facilitation regime,even to countries of the Western Balkans (except Croatia), although theirrelations with the European Union are more advanced than of Moldova. It doesn’tunderstand that from the political point of view, for the EU it is impossibleto create now a precedent with Moldova(that would be tomorrow called not only by Western Balkans, but by Ukraine and Russia as well). It doesn’tunderstand that the EU functions on the basis of some rigid rules (that, in acertain way, define the Union) and thereforeit could not make a major exception, particularly for a country that has somany shortcomings in the implementation of its own commitments undertaken inthe Action Plan. It doesn’t understand that there could be no comparison with Bulgaria and Romania that prior to getting aliberalised visa regime in 2002, first became candidate countries and thenunderwent major reforms in justice, police, public administration etc. thatmade them eligible for lifting visas.

For all these motives, Chisinau’s insistence onimmediate visa liberalisation is a false road, a dead end and a perilousmirage. We can’t succeed on this road, neither today, nor in the next 2-3years. The latter official Chisinau understands this, the worse it would be forthe country, because it would further discredit itself and waste in vainlimited resources, instead of concentrating on what can be changed and whatdepends first and foremost on internal possibilities.

And for visas, Europe should be built inMoldova

Bringing closer the day when citizens with blueMoldovan passports could travel freely to Europeis done not by declarations, but by actions and real Europeanisation of thecountry. In the area of visas, our efforts should be focused on taking maximumpossible advantage from provisions of the recently initialed Agreement thatenters into force in January, in order to create a platform from which tolaunch our efforts of convincing the EU, may be as early as in 2008-2009, toextend the number of categories of persons covered by the visa facilitatedregime. Gradually and in exchange for real progresses achieved by Chisinau onthe road of reforms.

It was exactly in terms of developing such kindof relationship between Moldova and the European Union, realist and responsibleone, that President Voronin spoke with leaders of the European Union inBruxelles and Luxemburg on June 18-19: before advancing any new requestsMoldova first should demonstrate that it can take full advantage of allpossibilities offered by existing frameworks and mechanisms of cooperation.

Then why did Mr. President make these “strange”declarations at his press conference on July 25 claiming that Moldova is very close to obtainingcomplete liberalisaton of the visa regime with the EU.

Part III.

To force the Europe’shand?

ay be Mr. President deliberately distorts thetruth, thinking that such promises could lift people’s morale and give them newhopes. This might be so, but only in the short run. But they also increasetheir expectations. What will happen after, when it would become clear thatthese were just some nonrealistic expectations based on empty promises? Wouldn’tit lead to an even bigger disillusionment?

Or, may be, it is a tactical move, a situationartificially created to attempt to force the hand of the European Union,saying: “Gentlemen, we are sorry, but we have no other option but to find asolution, because we have already promised to the people and we can’tdisappoint them?”

Or, may be, Mr. President lost touch withreality and, simply, no longer understands what is going on in this importantforeign policy file, while the “professionals” that should have helped him tounderstand, don’t do their job properly (Either out of the lack of courage, orbecause they are themselves prisoners of some illusions in this matter)?

In case of the visa regime with the EU, butalso more generally in what regards Moldovan policy towards the Union over the last years, I think that it is through theprism of this last explanation that President’s declarations about visas couldbe interpreted. In this respect, the way in which Mr. Voronin spoke about theupcoming conference of all European deputy-ministers of foreign affairs thatChisinau is organising on August 24th it is more then telling. According to him,it offers a wonderful oportunity to convince member states to grant Moldova a visaliberalisation regime.

However, very much contrary to what Presidentsaid in very positive terms about this conference, its organisation in themidst of European vacation is not at all such a good idea for the followingreasons:

· TheEuropean Union expects from Chisinau not conferences, but reforms and concreteactions. Therefore, in Bruxelles and in many European capitals the idea ofholding such a conference was a negative surprise and is likely to receive thefollowing reaction: “instead of focusing on reforms, Moldova is wasting time and itslimited resources on staging festive actions with no practical meaning”.

· Everythingthat the EU had to say on this subject was already conveyed to Moldova on July18-19. And it was done not from a deputy minister to a deputy minister, butfrom the highest level directly to President Voronin. During one month thatpassed since then, absolutely nothing has changed (political atmosphere hasbecame even worse), in spite of President’s assurances that reforms would bestepped up immediately upon his return to Moldova. Therefore, it makes nosense to expect from this conference changes in the European Union’s position.

· Evenif one decides to organise such an event, one must first consult those on whoseparticipation it relies and with whom one thinks to co-organise it (inBruxelles, by the way, and not in Chisinau, as President mistakenly announced).Not only this was not done, but key actors from the Commission and the Councillearned about this conference very late, practically simultaneously withMoldovan journalists. Worse, some important countries and, apparently, evenPortuguese EU presidency, were initially not invited at all, and receivedletters from Chisinau only several days ago.

· Nothingclose to “more then half of deputy ministers who had already confirmedattendance”, as Mr. Voronin declared. It is just not true. And it looks veryuncertain that Portuguese presidency or some of the most important Europeancountries would sent their vice-ministers. It is also highly improbable thatthe most appropriate person for a meeting at such level, a deputyDirector-General in the Commission responsible for European Neighborhood Policyand relations with our region, would be able to come.

· Eventsof such importance are not organised in a few weeks and at dates arbitrarilychosen depending on Chisinau’s agenda. There is a need for months of thoroughpreparations to identify an optimum timing and ensure that those invited havetime to pencil it in their busy schedules. Besides, today’s EU agenda isoverloaded with a number of pressing subjects – from Kosovo to Darfur or to the Reform Treaty. What has Chisinau done toconvince the European vice ministers to push aside, even for a day, theseburning files and to fly to Brussels to speakabout Moldova?

· And,finally, an important detail that seems to have escaped the organisers’:Friday, August 24 is in the midst of the summer vacation and is probably themost unsuitable time, after Christmas and New Year, to organise such an eventin Brussels.

Are there no competent and honest people aroundPresident who could tell him what is the real state of affairs and who couldtell him, at least from time to time, that the “king is naked”? If not for thesake of the country’s interests, at least for that of President’s own image.

For the Info-Prim Neo

Translated from Romanian. Original text at:

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