A difficult journey: struggles of Moldova with the EU integration

“We are not forming coalitions of states, we are uniting people.”
Jean Monnet, 1952

 

Moldova is a rule of law state characterized by democratic principles, sovereignty, and territorial integrity. After the Soviet Union collapse, Moldova similar to other Soviet states, sought to retrieve its cultural identity, conserving political and cultural traditions gained during the Soviet period.
The Soviet Union influence still remains vivid in nowadays society, the fidelity over the Russian cult being intensively promoted by the pro-Russian political party.
Due to historical reasons, Moldova’s cultural identity is considered to be controversial. The transit period from one social form to another arose various ethnic conflicts and divided the national identity into two parts: people considering themselves being Romanian, and people considering themselves being Moldovan. As a reaction to the unionist wave, namely of that people considering themselves Romanian, latterly Moldova is witnessing an increase of the “Moldovan cultural identity” efforts.
Although the problem of cultural identity exists, Moldova seeks to find the best solutions for the common good of the citizens and establishes strong partnerships with the development partners.
In spite of the latest changes jeopardizing the European Union existence, i.e. Brexit and tricky positions of EU member states, Moldova upholds European values and tends to harmonize its legislative mechanism to the acquis communautaire.
Moldova’s EU integration path was the main topic on which pro-European political parties were elaborating on their speeches during the election campaigns. In spite of transformations the European Union is overpassing during the last period, it still remains the best choice of development for the former soviet states seeking to achieve welfare and prosperity for their citizens.
Albeit Moldova is a democratic country, it faces political instability issues and poor quality government management, sometimes being subject to protest and populist movements. Since the attempt of a coup d’état in 2009, Moldova radically changed its political direction and strongly expressed the path to be a part of European Union.

Partnership and cooperation with EU
Formally, the partnership between Moldova and EU was established in ’94 when an Agreement on Cooperation and Partnership was signed. The Agreement entered into force on 1st of July 1998, initially for a period of 10 years, and represents so far the judicial basis of EU-Moldova relations. Based on the Agreement, EU supports the efforts of Moldova oriented to consolidating the democracy and rule of the law, protecting human rights and promoting the rights of minorities and establishing of a relevant political dialogue framework.
The first steps towards cooperation were made in 2004 when the Republic of Moldova was included in the EU Neighbourhood Policy. As a follow-up, in 2005, an EU-Moldova Action Plan was signed, and the premises of EU Delegation to Moldova were established in order to facilitate and drive the relations between Moldova and EU.
Moreover, in 2006 Moldova was accepted as a full member of the South East European Cooperation Process, tool which once again confirmed Moldova’s membership in the Southeast European area and opened new perspectives on relations with EU.
In June 2008 the Moldova-EU Mobility Partnership was launched and at the 3rd Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius, which took place on 28 and 29 November 2013, the Republic of Moldova signed the Association Agreement, which entered into force on 1st of September 2014.
The most important achievement of Moldovan Government was realized on 28th of April 2014, when the decision on the visa-free regime published in the Official Gazette of the European Union entered into force and so far, Moldovan citizens, holders of a biometric passport, are allowed to freely travel, anywhere in the Schengen area, for 90 days in a period of 180 days.

What does European integration mean for the citizens of Moldova?
First, we are speaking about the possibility to develop the country through implementing of reforms, harmonizing national legislation in accordance with EU standards, and development of investment sector.
Secondly, the European integration means economic opportunities for entrepreneurs and businesses. So far, DCTFA has been considered the most proactive tool between Moldova and EU foreseeing a preferential trade relationship, based on mutually advantageous treatment, and giving to each other better access to markets.
Thirdly, the liberalization of visa regime allowed Moldovan citizens to travel freely within the Schengen zone and to reunite periodically with their families, as well as to network within a multicultural and diverse environment.
Nevertheless, the European integration means the opportunity to affirm the national identity, to share Moldovan traditions and customs, and to spread the culture. What makes EU a core of culture is the recognition of identity and specific contribution of churches to the life of Europe and respect of the status offered by the national legislation to churches and religious associations. Thus, the European integration is united through diversity and deals, as well, with the spiritual and cultural identity of each nation.
In fact, the integrationist ideas made an important impact for the future development of the country and, as well, contributed to share the understanding about the liberalization of visa regime, regional trade, facilitated migration, economic opportunities and social development.
Moldovan choice to be a part of the European Union does not imply hostility against other partners, such as Russia. Having in mind the historical and geopolitical considerations, it is easy to understand that former Soviet Union countries have always been a priority for Moscow, aiming to bring them closer to the core of the Community of Independent States, and, indirectly, closer to the Russian Federation.
In this light, the presence of Western actors in the region has increased over the recent years and this fact has been treated with reluctance and, sometimes, with hostility by Russia.

The main question: West or East?
Withal, the integrationist ideas arose a dispute about the future development of the country – towards West or East? The Russian position on Moldova’s European directive was clearly stated in 2007 by Sergey Lavrov, the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, when he mentioned that the Community of Independent States is transforming into a platform for geopolitical games, expressing by this way the discontent of Russia upon the decision of some former Soviet states to embrace the European vector.
Same as Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan and other former Soviet states, Moldova was subject to various pressures made by Russia, in order to discourage the efforts to consolidate the relations with the European Union. Thus, once Moldova started to prepare for signing the Association Agreement with the EU, Russia prohibited the import of Moldovan wines, declaring its interest to protect the Russian marketplace from the products that could get in via Moldova, products that do not correspond with Russian quality standards required by the Russian health service “Rospotrebnadzor.”
The next embargo was imposed in 2014 when Moldova signed the Association Agreement. Thus, Russia prohibited the import of processed meat, but the impact of this embargo was insignificant, as the Moldovan export rate of processed meat was relatively low. And following this step, Russia as well prohibited the import of fruit conserves and vegetables.
Having in mind the consistent pressure of Russia, as well as the challenges the European Union is currently facing, Moldova stayed committed to its European integration way and sought to find development opportunities for economic, political, cultural and social fields.
What makes Moldovan identity great is the capacity to address geopolitical issues in a peaceful manner, seeking to continuously establish new partnerships and maintain strong relationships with neighbours and partners.
European integration does not only opened new perspectives to get closer to a united community, but offered Moldova the opportunity to share its culture, tradition, and the cult of national identity.
In spite of obstructions and reluctant behaviour of Russian representatives, Moldova is opened for cooperation and upholds its commitment to having a strong partnership and good relations with neighbours and development partners.
What really do matter in a tumultuous world is to conserve your identity and to uphold it over the next generations.

Cristina Bejenaru

Director and J.A in Russian and European Relations at OSI Occidental Studies Institute. Moldova.