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Home / Analyses / The European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) in Moldova: weaknesses, strengths and future opportunities. Victor Chirila. APE
The European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) in Moldova: weaknesses, strengths and future opportunities. Victor Chirila. APE
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Summary: The ENP has given a new more dynamic impetus to Moldova’s relations with the EU. In the last years, the presence and influence of the EU in Moldova has increased remarkably, the Moldova – EU political cooperation has become more active, broader and deeper, the harmonization process of Moldovan legislation with the Acquis Communautaire in the areas of democracy, economy, trade, energy, transports and other fields has been accelerated, the Moldova’s trade relations with the EU have expanded, the mobility of Moldovan citizens in the EU has been improved, the people-to-people contacts have become more intense and the EU assistance to Moldova has been quadrupled. Nevertheless, the ENP has not met the expectations of the Moldovan political class and Civil Society. They have hoped to see Moldova being placed on the integration track into the EU. Instead, the ENP has left Moldova under the legal and institutional constraints of the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement which hardly recognizes even its European vocation. The implementation of the Moldova – EU Action Plan has not been always a coherent, steadfast and continuous process. This reality has been emphasized by the European Commission in its annual Progress Reports on Moldova and the Monitoring Reports of local NGOs. In the view of majority of local experts, the EU can and should reinforce its leverages over reform process in Moldova by strengthening the conditionality mechanism of the ENP using the model and experience of the EU Enlargement policy. Recently, the EU has initiated the reflection period on the future Agreement with Moldova that will replace the existing PCA Agreement. The Moldovan authorities hope that this time around they will be able to overcome the ENP’s constraints and limits by negotiating with the EU an Association Agreement, which will give to Moldova the long-desired European perspective.

The ENP from National Perspective

In the Republic of Moldova, the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) has inspired high expectations with regard to Moldova’s potential prospects of being integrated gradually within the European Union (EU). The Moldovan Government, as well as the main political parties hoped that the ENP would offer to Moldova a clear-cut European integration perspective. The hopes of the Moldovan authorities and political elite have been only, partially, materialized. The ENP have recognized the European aspirations of Moldova, yet it has not put Moldova on the UE’s enlargement agenda, as it was requested by the Moldovan authorities. At the same time, the ENP has left Moldova’s relations with the EU under the legal and institutional constraints of the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) that was signed between two parties in 1994 and entered into force in 1998. The PCA Agreement has put Moldova’s relations with the EU on the course of a mere horizontal cooperation, therefore, when the ENP was officially launched, the PCA was already considered in Moldova out of touch with its European integration objectives. Moreover, even if the ENP have recognized the European aspirations of our country, it has been included within the ENP alongside with South-Mediterranean countries, like Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan  and others, that are non-European states without any European vocation. 

In spite of those afore-mentioned structural deficiencies, all Moldovan parliamentarian parties approved the participation of our country within the ENP, mainly, because it was viewed as having the necessary capacity to prepare Moldova for negotiating and signing an Association Agreement with the EU. This endorsement was formalized, on 24 March 2005, within the Declaration of the Moldovan Parliament concerning the political partnership for implementing the European integration objectives of Moldova. According to this Declaration, the further development of the Republic of Moldova can be ensured only through promoting a steady and irreversible strategic course of European integration. Furthermore, in the same Declaration the Moldovan parliamentarian parties have pledged their support for all diplomatic, legal and political efforts undertaken by the Moldovan governmental authorities in the context of implementing Moldova – EU Action Plan signed in the framework of the ENP and considered as representing a valuable instrument for advancing Moldova’s integration into the EU.

The Declaration of the Moldovan Parliament has raised the integration of Moldova into the EU at the level of the main domestic and foreign policy priority of the country[1]. From this perspective, the ENP is considered and used by the Moldovan Government as a complimentary instrument enforcing its policies designed to further Moldova’s European integration agenda. Yet, because the ENP is distinct from the EU Enlargement Policy, the Moldovan authorities have always tried to overcome the ENP’s political limits by promoting, in Brussels, as well as in all other EU capitals, alternative proposals for developing Moldova’s relations with the EU, such as: including Moldova within the “Western Balkans Package” of countries which enjoy since 2003 a clear European perspective; and signing an Association Agreement that would open to Moldova the way towards gradually joining the EU.

So far, these two Moldovan proposals have not met the support of the European Commission, as well as of many EU member states. The EU refuses to consider them by arguing that Moldova is not prepared enough, that Moldova lags behind Western Balkans states in terms of democratic and economic reforms, that after two consecutive East Enlargements the EU is now under effects of “Enlargement fatigue”, and that before considering new rounds of East Enlargements the EU must, first of all, digest the last two from 2004 and 2007. As well, it should not be forgotten that, at this stage, the key priority of the EU is to reform its supranational institutions in order to make them more efficient and flexible.   

Despite the EU refusal to give to Moldova a clear defined European perspective, the Moldova’s membership within Community of Independent States (CIS) is not viewed by the most important Moldovan political parties and public opinion as being a real alternative to the ENP. However, Moldovan political parties have different opinions when it comes to assessing the level of compatibility or incompatibility that exists between the European aspirations of Moldova and its CIS membership status. For instance, while almost all Moldovan left and centre-left parties[2], and among them the governing party of communists (PCRM), believe that the CIS is perfectly compatible with the Moldova’s European integration policy, the Moldovan right leaning parties are almost entirely against CIS membership because it is regarded as an important obstacle for accelerating Moldova’s way to the EU. Yet, none of the key political parties do see the Moldova’s CIS membership as playing the role of a vehicle towards EU, rather it is deemed as a tribute which has to be paid to Russian Federation for maintaining its good will in areas of strategic interest for Moldova, like: the political settlement of the “frozen conflict” in its separatist Transnistrian region; the withdrawal of the Russian military ammunitions and forces still present in the Transnistrian region; importing natural gas at a reasonable price for the Moldovan economy; ensuring unimpeded access for Moldovan products on Russian market etc..   

The ENP – implementation: weaknesses and strengths            

The Republic of Moldova has officially joined the ENP on 22 February 2005, when it signed with the EU the Moldova-EU Action Plan. In accordance with this Action Plan both parties have assumed a series of common and unilateral commitments. The implementation process of those commitments gave a new dynamic to the development of Moldova’s relations with the EU in areas such as political dialogue, democratic reforms, settlement of the Transnistrian “frozen conflict”, economic reforms and bilateral trade, justice and internal affairs, people-to-people contacts etc..

Since 2005 the EU has increased significantly its political visibility and status in Moldova.

The political dialogue between the Moldovan authorities and the European Commission[3], the EU Council and the European Parliament has become more active. Even if, the PCA has continued to be the main framework of the political dialogue with the EU, the both parties have started to use more frequently the dialogue opportunities offered by regional cooperation initiatives like those from South-Eastern Europe, as well as by Moldova’s bilateral relations with the EU member states. The intensity of political dialogue has been matched with an increased level of quality and substance of discussions referring to a whole list of Moldova’s domestic issues like human rights, energy security, fighting corruption, illegal trafficking of human beings and the Transnistrian conflict, which before 2005 were superficially or incompletely addressed by the EU in its dialogue with the Moldovan authorities. Additionally, the Moldova – EU Action Plan has given to the EU more concrete leverages to influence the reform process in Moldova, yet the efficiency of those leverages is still far from reaching the level of those leverages that the EU enjoys in the case of the EU candidate countries. In the view of many local experts, the EU can and should reinforce its leverages over reform process in Moldova by strengthening the conditionality mechanism of the ENP using the model and experience of the EU Enlargement policy.

Due to the Moldova-EU Action Plan, the Transnistrian “frozen conflict” has become one of the major issues on the agenda of the political dialog between Moldova and the EU.  In accordance with the afore-mentioned document both parties have pledged to work together for supporting a viable solution to the Transnistria conflict. Subsequently, the EU started to play an increasing role in the settlement of this regional problem. It has joined the negotiations’ table as observer and appointed a Special Representative for Moldova, in charge with Transnistrian issue. Also, at the request of the Moldovan and Ukrainian Governments, on 30 November 2005, the EU launched its Border Assistance Mission to Moldova and Ukraine (EUBAM)[4] having as its main objective to work with Moldova and Ukraine to harmonise their border management standards and procedures with those prevalent in EU member states. Concurrently, the EUBAM’s most important achievement to date has been to contribute towards the implementation of the Joint Declaration signed by the Prime Ministers of Moldova and Ukraine on 30 December 2005, which introduced the new customs’ regime[5] on the border between two countries. Under this customs’ regime companies based in the Transnistrian region of the Republic of Moldova may only export to and via Ukraine with official Moldovan stamps. From 2006-2007 increasing numbers of companies based in the Transnistrian region of the Republic of Moldova registered with the Moldovan authorities in order to receive customs stamps. Subsequent to this, in 2007, the Mission provided technical advice to assist the Moldovan authorities with the implementation of amendments to Moldovan government decree No 815, which provided the same possibilities to obtain preferential trade certificates to companies registered temporarily as those registered on a permanent basis. The changes were necessary for Moldova to comply with its international obligations in foreign trade matters. Yet, on its turn, Moldova has tried to enter in direct talks with the Russian Federation on reaching a suitable settlement for the Transnistrian “frozen conflict”. Since 2006 Moldovan authorities proposed to Moscow a “package” deal that would reconcile Moldova’s and Russia’s interests in Transnistrian region. Particularly, Moldova has offered to Russia to ensure its permanent neutrality in turn for the complete withdrawal of the Russian military contingent (1300 soldiers) and ammunition (20 thousands tonnes) from its territory; international recognition of the neutrality status; wide autonomy to Transnistria, but no veto power in the future united Parliament; and recognition of all Russian property in Transnistria. Until now the Russian government has not accepted the package deal drafted by the Moldovan authorities. At the same time, semi-transparent character of the talks between Moldova and Russia has raised some legitimate questions in the EU member states over the Moldovan authorities’ real objectives. On the other hand, Moldovan Government has tried to engage the Transnistria separatist authorities in promoting confidence building measures through execution of common projects in several fields like economic and trade relations; infrastructure development; reopening of the rail connection between Moldova and its Transnistrian region; health and social protection; education and youth issues; humanitarian assistance; agriculture; and disarmament and demilitarization. All these proposals were put forward by Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin in October 2007. Consequently, in November 2007, Moldovan Government created eight working groups authorized to draft cooperation projects in above-mentioned eight areas. At the beginning, the idea was not supported by the Transnistrian separatist authorities. Nevertheless, after several months of persuasion efforts carried out by Moldova in coordination with OSCE, Russia, USA, EU and Ukraine, in April 2008 Transnistrian authorities agreed to create only three working groups in the areas of infrastructure development (roads and rail network); ecology; health and social policy. Concurrently, they have refused to establish a working group on disarmament and demilitarization. However, up to now the working groups from Tiraspol[6]  and Chisinau have managed to convene common meetings only twice this year, but without delivering any conclusive results.                        

In the field of economic and trade relations, we have witnessed the transformation of the EU in the main trade partner of Moldova, thus, outrunning the CIS countries. After Romania joined the EU in 2007, the Moldova’s exports to the Common Market of the EU have surged from 33% percent to 55% in 2008. Looking to encourage the pace of reforms undertaken by the Moldovan Government in accordance with the Moldova – EU Action Plan, the EU has increased the openness of its internal market for Moldovan products, by providing our country with more advantageous trade conditions under GSP plus regime in January 2006 and Autonomous Trade Preferences in March 2008. In the area of facilitating mobility of Moldovan citizens and managing illegal migration flows, the EU and Moldova have started an intensified dialogue. Consequently, in 2007 Moldova succeeded to negotiate and sign with the EU two important agreements in the way of obtaining gradually a visa-free travel regime for its citizens, such as: the Agreements on facilitating visa regime and readmission of persons illegally residing on the territories of both parties. In the same context of visas facilitation, the EU has approved the opening of the Common Visa Centre within the Hungarian Embassy in Chisinau. Currently, this Centre is issuing visas for Austria, Denmark, Estonia, Iceland, Norway, Latvia, Slovenia, Sweden and Hungary. Also, in June 2008 the EU has offered to Moldova a Mobility Partnership that aims at helping our country to address the economic and social causes that motivate illegal migration of Moldovan citizens to the EU, as well as to create proper conditions for circular legal migration of Moldovan qualified labour force in the EU member states.

All these practical results have had a positive impact on how the EU is perceived by Moldovan citizens, majority of whom are favouring an eventual integration of their country into the EU. This could be explained, largely, by the fact that the EU is regarded mostly as being an economic power that has the weight, ability and capacity necessary to accelerate the economic modernization and democratization of Moldova. Moreover, in the last three years, the EU has begun to be treated by more and more Moldovan citizens as representing an essential political actor in finding and guaranteeing a viable and lasting political solution to the Transnistrian “frozen conflict” in accordance with Moldova’s national interests.   

The implementation of the Moldova – EU Action Plan has not been always a coherent, steadfast and continuous process. This reality has been emphasized by the European Commission in its Progress Reports on Moldova from December 2006 and April 2008, as well as by the Moldovan experts in their monitoring assessments[7]. Both the European Commission and local experts have drawn attention to the unsatisfactory pace and quality of reforms that the Moldovan Government have had to implement in the fields of justice, combating corruption, freedom of mass-media, or improving the business and investment climate. According to the local experts the poor record of the Moldovan authorities in executing their reform commitments have been caused by lack of firm political will to accelerate European integration process by achieving concrete results in the troubled areas of reforms, by the superficial attitude of government officials in realizing the measures agreed in the Moldova – EU Action Plan, by the weakness of opposition parties, by the lack of a genuine democratic pluralism in the society, by the inefficiency of judicial system because of the frequent interferences of the executive power in its activity, or by the widespread corruption within governmental institutions etc..

Besides, after more than three years from the launch of the Moldova – EU Action Plan, the Moldovan authorities have not succeeded to develop appropriate institutional capacities that would have matched their extremely ambitious European integration agenda. The development and the efficient use of existing institutional resources continue to be hindered by four major institutional problems: 1) too much centralization of vertical power; 2) insufficient training of governmental officials in the area of European integration; 3) the failure of the Moldovan Parliament to use effectively its power of control over the Moldovan Government; 4) the insufficient transparency and openness of the Moldovan authorities towards Moldovan Civil Society.

According to its Constitution, Moldova is a Parliamentarian Republic, yet, in the recent years, the centralization of vertical power in the state has raised notably the authority of the President Office at the expense of the legal responsibilities of the Government and the Parliament of Moldova.  The strengthened authority of the President Office has not brought more efficiency to the executive power. On the contrary, it has limited the decision making autonomy of the Moldovan Government, inhibited the creativity and ingenuity of the governmental officials in charge with executing the Moldova – EU Action Plan, increased the level of red-tape within the governmental institutions and agencies, and discouraged a genuine transparency and openness of the Government.               

In addition, the institutional capacities mobilized by the Moldovan Government for implementing the Moldova – EU Action Plan can not be fully capitalized due to the insufficient qualification, knowledge and experience of the Moldovan authorities dealing with the European integration matters. Most of the governmental officials involved in carrying out the commitments taken by Moldova in the Action Plan do not speak even one of two main working EU languages – English or French. Regrettably, this fact can not contribute at all to establishing a fluid communication between Chisinau and Brussels at all levels, particularly among the Moldovan and European experts. Furthermore, the Moldovan government officials are inadequately familiarized with the EU’s institutions, policies, programmes, agencies and Acquis Communautaire. They, also, are not sufficiently trained to be able to draft projects in line with the EU criteria. Currently, these projects are drafted, mainly, by the European experts working with the Permanent Delegation of the European Commission in Chisinau. This state of affairs is affecting negatively the Moldova’s ability to assimilate efficiently the financial assistance granted to it by the EU in the framework of the ENP.

The Moldovan Parliament plays a vital role in the process of carrying out the Moldova – EU Action Plan. The Parliament not only adopts laws harmonized with the EU Acquis Communautaire, but it also has to monitor and control how the Government is enforcing those laws. The European Commission’s reports on Moldova show that the Moldovan Parliament is doing a good job when it comes to draft legislation that would satisfy the European principles, values and norms. Yet, the same reports suggest that the Parliament is not performing fully its key responsibilities of monitoring and controlling the Government record in applying the adopted laws. Actually, in the last seven years, the Moldovan Parliament has constantly ignored its fundamental duty of scrutinizing the activity of the executive branch of power. In the end, it has become a sort of thunder-rod for the Government of Moldova and has proved its inadequate performance in enforcing adopted laws not only in accordance with the European practices, but also with their European spirit.

The lack of a permanent and efficient monitoring process over the Government efforts to enforce reforms assumed within the Moldova – EU Action Plan, is only partially compensated by the monitoring undertaken by the Moldovan Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), like ADEPT or Expert-Group. The Moldovan authorities rarely take into account the findings and suggestions of the Civil Society with regard to the implementation of the Action Plan, more than that, the Moldovan NGOs are still far from having capability to influence the governmental decisions-making process. It is true that as a result of the ENP, during the last three years, the Moldovan public authorities have become more open towards establishing cooperation links with the NGOs. For instance, the Moldovan Parliament and Government have institutionalized their dialog and partnership with Civil Society constituents. Also, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration, has signed with a number of NGOs a Memorandum on European integration cooperation.  Nonetheless, the level of engagement, transparency and openness demonstrated so far by the central and local public authorities is still considered as being insufficient by the local experts. In this sense, particularly relevant are the findings of “The Report on Right to Information: on Paper and Reality”[8] carried out in 2008 by the Moldovan NGO “Access-Info”. According to this report the results of the monitoring have revealed the negligent and in too many cases irresponsible attitude of the public authorities and institutions toward ensuring the accurate implementation of the current legislation and international standards in the field of right to information. Thus, the general monitoring results are absolutely unsatisfactory: out of 4839 information access requests submitted to public authorities/ institutions, only 19,3% of the petitioners received an answer. The NGOs received 18,5% answers; mass-media - 21,2%; citizens - 17,2%. Furthermore, in line with the partnerships set up between central authorities and the Civil Society, the latter has the right to contribute to the drafting of Moldovan Laws in accordance with European standards. During the last three years the Moldovan Parliament has acquired a good experience in this area. Yet, there are still a lot of instances when the Civil Society’s proposals are mistreated or treated with indifference. For instance, in the spring of 2008, the Parliament approved the Concept of National Security which discarded all relevant proposals put forward by the Moldovan NGOs during the drafting phase of the afore-mentioned document. Moreover, too often the dialog initiated by the public authorities with the NGOs has had a superficial character and has only aimed to appease the possible domestic and external criticism by creating an illusion of consulting regularly the Moldovan Civil Society constituents.    

Having in mind all the afore-mentioned political and structural weaknesses, increasing the efficiency of the ENP would require a genuine democratic pluralism in Moldova; a powerful Moldovan Parliament that fulfils entirely and properly its legal responsibilities; a Moldovan Government that enjoys more autonomy in making and taking decisions; a wiser allocation of resources for developing and strengthening governmental institutional capacities dealing with the ENP; maintaining the European Partnership between the main political forces; and setting up a wider European Partnership between the Moldovan Authorities and Civil Society that would give to the later a true sense of inclusion in the process of implementing the ENP commitments.

Future Development of the ENP – opportunities, risks and visions      

Even if the ENP has not given to Moldova a European perspective, however, its strengths, benefits and opportunities have outrun the objectives of the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) that is still in enforce between Moldova and the EU. For instance, the ENP gave to the EU the legal and political ground necessary to be directly involved in assisting Moldova to find a viable and lasting political solution for the Transnistrian “frozen conflict”. Currently, thanks to the ENP, the EU is present in Moldova at the level of its Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) in the person of the EU Special Representative for Moldova and at the level of European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) represented by the EUBAM Mission. From the point of view of Moldova, among the main strengths of the ENP, we also can count its economic integration dimension through establishing a deep and comprehensive trade free zone, the prospects of accepting Moldova in the Energy Community Treaty, the perspective of introduction a visa-free travel regime in the EU area, the opportunity to join a series of EU agencies and programmes that before were accessible only to the members or/and candidate countries of the EU, as well as the increased financial assistance granted to Moldova by the EU[9].  

The Moldovan authorities are perfectly aware of the ENP strong elements, yet their can not come to terms with the fact that the ENP continue to be framed by the legal and political constraints of the PCA Agreement which does not recognize even Moldova’s European aspirations. Therefore, the Moldovan political elite has two major objections to the ENP: first of all, the politicians are unhappy that Moldova has been included in the ENP together with non-European countries from North Africa and Middle East that do not have any kind of European vocation and, secondly, that the ENP is, in their view, a policy conceived to delay granting to East European countries, like Ukraine and Moldova, a clear-cut promise of joining the EU, when those countries will be ready to do so.

In December 2006, the European Commission has announced new measures designed to strengthen the ENP, such as negotiation and signing of the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreements; strengthened economic integration and cooperation in key sectors; facilitating mobility by signing visa facilitation and readmission agreements; promoting people-to-people exchanges; building thematic dimension to the ENP; strengthening political cooperation and enhancing regional cooperation[10]. The new proposals put forward by the European Commission have been welcomed by the Moldovan authorities because they met the immediate priorities of Moldova to get more access to the EU common market for Moldovan products and services, to facilitate the mobility of Moldovan citizens within the EU member countries and deepen sectorial integration and cooperation, especially, in trade, energy and transport areas. Nevertheless, the same proposals fell short of meeting the expectations of the Moldovan authorities that wanted Moldova to be put on the meaningful political, institutional and economic integration track into the EU. Instead, the European Commission has once again promised more of the same it has offered in the past years: trade, enhanced mobility for Moldovan citizens and increased political cooperation.

On 27 May 2008, the EU has initiated the reflection period on the future Agreement with Moldova that will replace the existing PCA Agreement. The Moldovan authorities hope that this time around they will be able to overcome the ENP’s constraints and limits by negotiating with the EU an Association Agreement that would give to Moldova the long-desired European perspective and facilitate the gradual access to the four freedoms of the EU - the ability of goods, services, capital, and labour to move freely within the internal market of the EU.

On 3 December 2008, the European Commission published its Communication to the European Parliament and the EU Council on the Eastern Partnership. The document has announced the EU’s intention to endorse new measures and institutional mechanisms designed to adjust the Eastern dimension of the ENP to the new realities that are unfolding in the region, particularly after the recent Russian military intervention in Georgia. In its Communication, the European Commission has formulated a series of ambitious proposals for the ENP’s Eastern European partners, which certainly will extend the political and institutional limits of the ENP. For Moldova the most relevant proposals included in the Eastern Partnership are the perspective to establish new contractual relations with the EU in the form of an Association Agreement that would deepen Moldovan-European political cooperation, especially in the framework of the EU’s Foreign and Security Policy. Secondly, the Eastern Partnership will help Moldova to set up a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) with the EU that would entail binding legal harmonisation with the EU’s legislation and standards in the trade related fields.  Thirdly, Moldova will be assisted to meet the security and legal requirements necessary for establishing a visa-free travel regime with the EU. Fourthly, Moldova energy system will be integrated within the EU energy market. All these tangible benefits have the potential to transform the ENP in a more attractive and credible offer for Eastern European partners. Nevertheless, the ENPs efficiency will continue to suffer if it fails again to be equipped with a more powerful kit of feasible rewards and sanctions that would underpin reform process in the beneficiary countries.

The Enlargement policy has showed that the most feasible reward is the promise to join the EU in a foreseeable period of time. The access to different stages in the accession process, such as achieving candidate status or starting the accession negotiations, is conditioned upon meeting specific criteria put forward by the EU. Therefore, this mechanism is considered to be the EU’s most powerful political instrument for enforcing compliance. For example, at the Helsinki European Council in December 1999, the European Union explicitly made achievement of the democracy and human rights conditions for accession a precondition for beginning the accession negotiations, thus excluding Turkey from the accession process at that time. Also, Bulgaria and Romania were given additional specific conditions to be met before the 1999 Helsinki European Council. Bulgaria had to decide on acceptable closure dates for a nuclear power plant and show evidence of making progress on economic reforms. Romania had to reform its child-care institutions and show evidence of making progress on economic reforms. Eventually, both countries were judged to have met afore-mentioned conditions sufficiently by December 1999 and subsequently Helsinki European Council admitted them to the accession negotiations. 

On 3 December 2008, the European Commission made clear that the future Eastern Partnership will deliver to its beneficiaries almost all opportunities that the Western Balkan countries enjoy now, excluding just one – the EU accession prospect. In this context, the EU must offer the Eastern European partners a convincing set of concrete rewards that would be compelling enough to determine the wavering governments to apply tough but indispensable political, economic and social reforms agreed in the framework of Action Plans with the EU.  As concerning Moldova, it would appreciate if the next Action Plan with the EU provides not only attractive prospects, but also lays down concrete periods for their execution. This is particularly recommendable for setting up the DCFTA, the visa-free travel regime and mobility pacts between Moldova and the EU. Among other potential feasible rewards for good implementation of reforms, would be offering a privileged access to the relevant EU’s agencies and programmes; increased technical and financial assistance for infrastructural projects; cancel the visa fees; further simplifying the visa issuing procedures; increased assistance for building and strengthening institutional capacities. Yet, the positive rewards must be used hand in hand with credible sanctions when, for instance, Moldovan government fails constantly to improve its reforms’ record in most important areas like respecting freedom of mass-media, ensuring the independence of judiciary or combating corruption. Otherwise, the Moldovan authorities will be always tempted to neglect the mild criticism of the European Commission, the European Parliament or of the EU member states. The reality is that the carrot and stick tactic employed by the EU in our region will be faulty as long as the positive conditionality remains unequalled with a convincing negative conditionality, because while the positive conditionality makes governments to appreciate the rewards for their efforts, the negative conditionality helps the same governments to understand what they could lose if they would not honour on time their commitments. In the case of Moldova, among probable sanctions there should be the possibility to freeze or delay any dialogue, consultations, negotiations on establishing a DCFTA, on facilitating the mobility of the Moldovan skilled workers within the EU or on liberalising EU’s visa regime for all Moldovan citizens.                     

The efficiency of the ENP in Moldova will as well depend on helping the Moldovan authorities to capitalize the expertise of the Civil Society, which in the last three years has proved that it has experience and knowledge necessary to assist the Moldovan government in implementing and monitoring the execution of the Action Plan with the EU. One option to attain this objective would be to create Civic Expert Councils/Committees that would assist the Moldovan delegations to the Cooperation Council, Cooperation Committee and Parliamentarian Cooperation Committee between the Moldova and the EU. The idea of creating such Civic Expert Councils/Committees should be included as a distinct commitment in the next Moldova – EU Action Plan. By supporting this idea, the European Commission would help the Moldovan Civil Society to raise its profile and credence in the eyes of the Moldovan authorities that are still reluctant to engage the relevant local ONGs as equal partners in implementing Moldova’s ENP commitments.   

The future Association Agreement and the Action Plan with Moldova must provide for a stronger involvement of the EU in the settlement process of the Transnistrian conflict. The Russian aggression against Georgia from August 2008 did not have a direct impact on our country. The Transnistrian “frozen conflict” has not escalated mainly because the separatist regime has not so far received green light from Moscow for their thrust for independence, like it occurred in the case of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Also, it has to be underlined that by focusing on the ideas of promoting confidence building measures and solving the Transnistrian conflict only through political negotiations, the Moldovan authorities have deprived the Transnistrian separatist regime of necessary arguments to exploit the Georgian events in its favour. Nonetheless, the Russian attack on Georgia highlighted how fragile and volatile are so called “frozen conflicts”, including the Transnistrian one; it also has proved that the Russia is an involved party and can not play the role of an impartial mediator; it showed that the Russian “peacekeeping forces” are a potential destabilising factor in those conflicts; at the same time, it has revealed that Russia prefers to preserve the status quo than to solve “the frozen conflicts” in  line with the national interests of sovereign states, like Georgia and Moldova, that want to join either the NATO alliance and/or the EU. Yet, most importantly is the fact that the Russian war against Georgia has underlined the urgency for the EU to step up its engagement in the settlement of the Transnistrian separatist conflict[11], which is in the immediate vicinity of the EU’s Eastern border. Consequently, first of all, Moldova needs the EU assistance to promote confidence building measures in its Transnistrian region through financing common projects in the areas of infrastructure, health and social policy, ecology, education and youth policy etc.. Secondly, Moldova wants the EU to place the Transnistrian issue high on the agenda of its political dialogue with the Russian Federation. Thirdly, Moldovan authorities would like to see the EU more resolute in engaging Russia to agree with replacing its “peacekeeping forces” stationed in the Transnistrian region with the international mission of civil and police observers. Moreover, there is a need for the EU to take a greater role in democratising the Transnistrian region, above all, through assisting the incipient local Civil Society to develop its expertise and interaction capacities[12].

Following the current Action Plan, the regional cooperation between Moldova and the EU has been focused mainly on the South-East Europe’s multilateral initiatives. During the last three years the visibility of the EU in the Eastern Europe has increased mainly due to the development of the bilateral cooperation with the countries from the region. However, the EU is still reluctant to assume fully its role of a major regional political and economic actor. By drafting and approving the Black See Synergy the EU has made an essential step in increasing its involvement in the region, but it would not bring the expected results as long as the EU is going to concentrate primarily on promoting practical cooperation projects within an institutional framework that has proved to be inefficient in addressing the economic, political and, in particular, security problems of the Black See Area. The multilateral institutional mechanisms that were developed in the Black See Area in the last 16 years have to be modernised and readapted to the new geo-strategic and geo-economic realities that have taken shape in the region. After Bulgaria and Romania have joined the NATO and the EU, after Georgia and Ukraine have been given a clear-cut promise of joining the North-Atlantic Alliance at the NATO Bucharest Summit, once Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia have declared the European integration as a national strategic objective, the NATO and the EU have a stronger ground than ever for increasing their presence and contribution in addressing the vulnerabilities and risks that jeopardize the prosperity and the stability of the Black See and the Eastern Europe regions. In other words, in order to ensure stability and promote prosperity in those regions, the NATO and the EU have to take the rightful place within the multilateral institutional framework of the Wider Black See Area. As the past experience has plainly revealed, the efficiency of the economic cooperation in the region depends greatly on creating a secure and stable environment for it. The recent war against Georgia has damaged severely the chances of the Russian Federation to assert itself as a reliable regional player in the near future. At the same time, the NATO and the EU have together not only the experience, but above all they have political influence, economic power and military capabilities that make them credible regional actors. Consequently, both organisations have the necessary clout to establish themselves as full-fledged partners of the Black See Economic Cooperation (BSEC) in working out cooperative approaches, solutions and mechanisms for tackling the common security problems of the Wider Black See Area. The interaction between the NATO and the EU must also be enhanced in the context of the ENP, particularly in reforming defence and security sectors of the Eastern European partners. For instance, in the case of Moldova, the next Action Plan with the EU should make a clear reference to the importance of reforming its defence and security sector in accordance with the commitments taken by Moldovan Government within the Individual Action Plan agreed with the North Atlantic Alliance.                             

Victor Chirila

Programs Director

Foreign Policy Association of Moldova            

[1] It has to be mentioned that the reintegration of the country is treated by the Moldovan authorities as representing the most important national strategic objective.

[2] The Democratic Party of Moldova (PDM) led by Mr. Dumitru Diacov is an exception in this regard.

[3] In October 2005, the European Commission has opened a Permanent Delegation in Chisinau.

[4] The EUBAM Mission is an advisory, technical body. It has no executive powers.

[5] The customs regime increased transparency about flows of good to and from Transnistria. For example, large amounts of meat are imported into the Transnistrian region of Moldova.  In the six months from October 2005 to March 2006, there were almost 40 thousand tonnes of chicken meat imported into Transnistria. This was the equivalent of 67 kilogrammes per person; the average consumption in Germany in 6 months is around 5 kilogrammes per person. Much of this meat is re-exported from Transnistria to other regions of Moldova and Ukraine. The profits to be made and the consequent losses to the state budget are very large; smugglers can make a profit of around €750 on every 1 tonne of smuggled foodstuffs. The potential loss to the Ukrainian state budget is estimated at €43 million.

[6] Tiraspol is the administrative center of the Transnistrian region.

[7] ADEPT & EXPERT-GRUP, “Moldova and EU in the framework of European Neighbourhood Policy. Implementation of the EU-Moldova Action Plan (February 2005 - January 2008)”, Chisinau, April 2008,

[8] Access-Info, Monitoring Report “Right to Information: On Paper and In Reality”, Chisinau, 2008,

[9] After Moldova signed the Action Plan with the EU in February 2005, the assistance received from the EU has increased fourfold, from 10 millions in 2003 to40 millions in 2007. The indicative financial envelope for Moldova under the National Indicative Programme for 2007 -2001 is €209.7 million. This allocation is going to be increased to €250 million through allocations under the ENP “Governance Facility” Initiative.

[10] European Commission (2006), “Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament on strengthening the European Neighbourhood Policy”, Brussels, 4 December 2006, COM(2006)726 final  

[11] Council Conclusions on the Republic of Moldova, 2896th General Affairs Council meeting, Luxembourg, 13 October 2008,

[12] The Unite Kingdom has already accumulated a good deal of experience in this field. During the last three years the UK Department for International Development (DFID) has supported the Moldovan Foreign Policy Association ( in implementing the “Transnistrian Dialogues” project designed to forge cooperation links between the Civil Society’s representatives from the both banks of the Nistru River.           

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Home / Analyses / The European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) in Moldova: weaknesses, strengths and future opportunities. Victor Chirila. APE
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