The Western Balkans – between lessons learned and good practices for the accession process of Moldova to the EU. Op-ed by Mihai Mogildea

3 November 2022

In June 2022, with the granting of the candidate country state for EU accession, Moldova entered a new qualitative stage of the European integration process. This stage involves the implementation of nine measures related to the key areas of the rule of law and good governance in Moldova, which could pave the way for obtaining a favorable decision at the EU level for the start of accession negotiations to the community block. To a large extent, this depends on the dynamics of the implementation of the action plan related to these measures, whose implementation deadline set by the authorities is July 2023.

At the current stage, as well as in the future ones, Moldova could retrieve some important lessons from the experience of the Western Balkans, especially from the states that are at a more advanced stage on the path of joining the EU: Montenegro, Serbia, North Macedonia or Albania. The good practices, as well as the internal and external constraints, which characterized the accession process of these countries can bring an added value for Moldova. Moreover, given the inclusion of Chisinau and Kyiv in the logic of the EU enlargement policy after granting the state of candidate countries for accession, the coalition of the advocacy efforts of the two countries and the Balkan states to achieve common general or sectoral objectives becomes paramount.

The experience of the Western Balkan countries is not far to Moldova. Moreover, Moldova’s profile is in many ways similar to that of the Western Balkan countries. Since the 2000s, our country has managed to integrate into all the regional formats that have supported the European integration processes of the countries of the Western Balkans. Initially, in 2001, Moldova joined the Stability Pact for South-East Europe, and later co-founded the Regional Cooperation Council, established by the South-East Europe Cooperation Process (SEECP) and became part of the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA). The only aspect that differentiated us until recently was the lack of a clear perspective for our country to join the EU. This framework, this experience built in recent years, is an important one that can and will be capitalized on in the new stage of the European integration of Moldova.

Development of an efficient and well-coordinated institutional framework

Going through the stages of the EU accession process requires sustained efforts and may take several years, depending on the progress made in the candidate state. A positive example in this regard is Croatia, which in nine years managed to take all the necessary steps from obtaining the status of a candidate country to the EU to membership in this organization. At the opposite pole, there are Serbia and Montenegro, which, although they obtained this status in 2012 and 2014, respectively, are in the phase of negotiating the accession chapters.

The experience of these states proves that changes at the political level can influence the course of the accession process and postpone the approval of some decisions aimed at this process. This can happen either because of new human resources, which require time to accommodate, institutional reforms at the government level, or political crises. That is why it is fundamental to develop an institutional framework at national level to coordinate the interaction with EU institutions and member states, which must ensure the symbiosis between political leadership and the technical expertise of civil servants, with a good institutional memory. An example of this is the presence of a deputy chief negotiator of the accession process, who is not politically affiliated and has a long-term mandate in this position. The same applies to the coordinators of the accession negotiations for each cluster, be it rule of law and good governance, environment, agriculture or the internal market.

Composition and activity of sectoral working groups for the negotiation process

The authorities of Moldova are going to develop working groups that will have the purpose of facilitating the negotiation process for the 35 accession chapters at the technical level. The composition of these groups must be inclusive and ensure the presence of representatives of civil society, with expertise in the fields under their jurisdiction. The selection of these representatives must be the subject of a transparent and meritocratic selection mechanism, with the involvement of the National Platform of the Civil Society Forum, the most representative structure of civil society in Moldova. The formula for involving civil society in the work groups’ activity was applied in the case of Montenegro, offering a better understanding and participation of the associative environment in the sectoral dialogue with the EU.

Initiation and sustained promotion of advocacy efforts at the level of EU member countries

In order to obtain a favorable decision from the European Council for the opening of the accession negotiations, as well as during them, Moldova will need a consolidated advocacy strategy for the main European capitals, as well as for the states that for various reasons may have some reservations about of the particular file of our country. In this sense, it is a priority to develop a specific advocacy approach for each of the important EU states, based on understanding the position of these states in relation to the accession of Moldova to the EU, the relevant actors at the level of these states and the priorities promoted in relation to the Republic Moldova.

In the particular case of Chisinau, the coalition of advocacy efforts of the authorities and civil society will be very important for a better interaction with public institutions and civil society in EU member countries. Another priority aspect is aimed at building the formal and informal advocacy formats of Moldova, with North Macedonia, a country that is at a close stage on the EU accession trajectory and that mostly faces similar challenges.

The government in Skopje has been given the green light to open EU accession negotiations in 2020, after signing the Prespa Agreement with Greece in 2018 and aligning with the new methodology for the EU enlargement process. This year, after Bulgaria withdrew its veto on the initiation of actual negotiations at the intergovernmental level, the first intergovernmental conference for accession negotiations took place, an event that announced the launch of the screening procedure of the normative framework. North Macedonia’s advocacy efforts to unblock the uncertain situation of the last two years can help Moldova to better understand what tools can be used to increase the support of member states in the transition to the next stages of the EU accession process.

Instead of conclusions…

The new status of EU candidate countries of Moldova and Ukraine, as well as European perspectives offered to Georgia this summer, are to be reflected in the updated policies of the EU. The three countries are to find themselves in the EU enlargement policy in the near future. The first report as part of the enlargement package on the three EU associated countries is planned for the end of next year. In the same way, the European Commission is going to revise its European Neighborhood Policy and implicitly that of the Eastern Partnership to reflect the transition of the three associated countries in the EU enlargement policy.

Meanwhile, Moldova is going to capitalize on its participation and the links created over the last two decades with the countries of the Western Balkans within the regional cooperation processes in South-Eastern Europe, in order to provide a new dynamic and quality to these relations in the context of progress in the EU accession process. The principle of meritocracy will have to be reflected in the EU enlargement policy. At the same time, Moldova is going to develop European integration partnerships with the Balkan countries. Considering several similarities, North Macedonia could be the country with which Moldova would develop consolidated programs for the exchange of experience and best practices in the EU accession process.

Mihai Mogîldea is the Deputy Director of the Institute for European Policies and Reforms (IPRE).

This Op-Ed was published within the project “We and Europe – Analysis of Moldovan-European Relations through Innovative Media and Analytical Products”, implemented by the Institute for European Policy and Reform (IPRE), in partnership with IPN, Radio Chisinau and, with the support of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation. The opinions presented in this op-ed belong to the author.


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