What’s next after the accession request? Short and medium term stakes for Moldova. Op-Ed by Mihai Mogildea
“Applying for membership is a first step towards becoming an EU member state. For the Republic of Moldova, as well as for Georgia and Ukraine, there are several stages of evaluation, negotiation and harmonization of the legal and procedural framework in accordance with the acquis communautaire. Beyond achieving the strategic goal of EU accession, the Moldovan authorities must rely in this process on the fulfillment of intermediate objectives in short and medium term, which can bring more tangible benefits for Moldovan citizens …”
The signing of the application for EU membership by the Republic of Moldova on March 3 was driven by two external factors: (1) the repercussions of the war launched by the Russian Federation against Ukraine and (2) similar steps taken by the Ukrainian and Georgian governments. , who announced their intention to sign the application for EU membership a few days before the Republic of Moldova. The need to “keep up” with the states in the associated Trio and the opportunity to maximize the results of the dialogue with the EU in this uncertain period weighed in favor of submitting the application for membership in the first year of the current government. However, the decision of the Chisinau authorities was determined by the new regional security context and less by their internal reform agenda, which is at an early stage of implementation.
Applying for membership is a first step towards becoming an EU member state. For the Republic of Moldova, as well as for Georgia and Ukraine, there are several stages of evaluation, negotiation and harmonization of the legal and procedural framework in accordance with the acquis communautaire. In this process, Chisinau will have to achieve convincing results on two closely related dimensions: the political one, which is related to the sustainability of interaction with EU governments, and the technical one, which aims to ensure the convergence of standards of good governance, economic stability and respect for rights, in accordance with the Copenhagen criteria. The progress in the implementation of the Association Agreement with the EU will be decisive for the dynamics and speed of the evaluation process of the Republic of Moldova in order to obtain a potential status of EU candidate country.
On the political dimension, in the last month, the Republic of Moldova has received several messages of support from Western countries. States, such as Romania and Poland, along with the Baltic countries, have openly expressed their support for the EU’s EU accession process. Moreover, during this period, Moldova was visited by more than 20 officials of the EU member states. These visits, although focused on addressing the impact of the refugee crisis on the Republic of Moldova, provided an opportunity to reiterate the commitments made by applying for membership and probing the ground for political support from EU member states.
The declaration of the informal summit of the European Council at Versailles on 10-11 March underlined the need to go through all pre-accession stages in accordance with the Lisbon Treaty, despite Ukraine’s call for a “special procedure” for Kyiv’s integration into community space. The conclusions of this summit highlighted the different views on EU enlargement policy among member states, including on providing a clear perspective for accession for the three Eastern Partnership partner countries. The member states unanimously emphasized that the EU will ad litteram follow the rules laid down for the examination of applications for accession, with an increased emphasis on the technical dimension of this examination.
Thus, in the next period, the Republic of Moldova, as well as Ukraine and Georgia, will initiate preparations for the completion of a questionnaire to assess the degree of fulfillment of the political and economic criteria for EU accession. This questionnaire, which in the case of Serbia contained more than 2,500 questions, will provide Brussels with a detailed picture of all the key areas included in the 35 negotiating chapters on EU accession. Based on this questionnaire, the European Commission will prepare a comprehensive opinion on the fulfillment and compliance of the Copenhagen criteria by the Republic of Moldova.
This opinion, insofar as it will be a positive one, will be transmitted later to the Council of the European Union, which will decide by unanimous vote whether Chisinau will obtain the status of candidate country. Ultimately, this decision requires formal approval at the European Council level, providing the candidate country with the opportunity to start accession negotiations. Following the latest reform of the procedures included in the accession process, adopted in 2020 in the context of the discussions on the Western Balkans, the 35 accession chapters will be divided into six thematic groups, each including a few chapters. These thematic groups come to structure and streamline the negotiation process, but also to emphasize the EU’s increased focus on the size of the fundamental group on the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary.
Although there is no set timeframe for completing the above steps, the experience of previous and current waves of EU enlargement may be useful for the Republic of Moldova. The most relevant example of this is Croatia, which has gone through the whole negotiation process until EU integration over a period of eight years. On the other hand, other countries in the Western Balkans, such as Montenegro and Serbia, are at an early stage in the accession negotiations, although these mechanisms were initiated in 2012 and 2014 respectively. The comparative advantage of the Republic of Moldova in this regard is the optimal rate of transposition of the acquis communautaire provided for in the Association Agreement into national law, currently estimated at 65-70%. This degree of harmonization of national law, in line with EU law, will facilitate the negotiation process on accession chapters, as it will be opened in the coming years.
Beyond achieving the strategic goal of joining the EU, the Moldovan authorities must rely in this process on the fulfillment of intermediate objectives in the short and medium term, which can bring several tangible benefits for Moldovan citizens. In the short term, the efforts of the current government should focus on obtaining the candidate country by the Republic of Moldova and starting accession negotiations until the expiration of the current parliamentary term in the second half of 2025. The capabilities and resources of the government apparatus, although limited, oriented towards the priority of meeting all technical criteria and requirements from the EU in order to achieve this intermediate goal.
Secondly, in the medium term, the Republic of Moldova should seize the opportunity to access pre-accession funds, once it has obtained the status of a candidate country. These funds, amounting to 14.2 billion euros for the multiannual EU budget 2021-2027, are noticeably higher per capita in the countries of the Western Balkans than the current allocations for the Republic of Moldova and can be directed to large-scale development projects at the national and local level. These issues must be stated and explained by the governmental authorities in a dialogue with the citizens of the Republic of Moldova, in order to increase the awareness and understanding of the European integration steps.
Mihai Mogîldea is the team leader of the Europeanization Program at the Institute for European Policies and Reforms (IPRE).
This Op-Ed is published within the project “We and Europe – Analysis of Moldovan-European relations through innovative media and analytical products”, implemented by the Institute for European Policies and Reforms (IPRE), in partnership with IPN, Radio Chisinau and ZUGO.md, with the support of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation. The opinions presented in this op-ed are the ones of the author.