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Moldova is ready for the EU

Daniela Vidaicu / Jun 2024

Photo: Shutterstock

 

While the European Union’s 450 million citizens continue to digest the momentous parliamentary elections that saw gains for Eurosceptic parties, Moldova’s 2.5 million-strong population is preparing for a vote aimed at securing its democratic future in Europe. On October 20th Moldova will hold presidential elections and a referendum on EU integration. The two key polls occur amid a concerted destabilization campaign by Russia, which casts a long shadow over Moldovan life through occupation of its territory, support for its proxy politicians and media, and the continuing economic, security and humanitarian challenges posed by its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

On June 7th, the European Commission confirmed that Moldova had met the necessary criteria to begin formal accession negotiations. EU membership was always a key goal under the pro-European government of President Maia Sandu but the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine – Moldova’s neighbor – has added a sense of urgency. In four months’ time Moldova will decide between Russian political and economic dependence or democratic European integration. Moldova’s resilience is already being challenged by the Kremlin’s efforts to sow social discord and undermine the EU integration process through extensive disinformation campaigns, polarizing narratives, hate speech, discrimination, and cyber-attacks.

Moldova, along with Ukraine, recently completed the EU accession screening stage, which assessed the compliance of both countries’ national legislation with European Union standards. Along with the Commission, both countries received a formal endorsement from the European Council to open negotiations. The decision comes after several member states’ governments called on the Belgian presidency to convene the intergovernmental conference with Chisinau and Kyiv at the General Affairs Council on June 25th . It will be crucial to make substantial progress on accession negotiations before July when the EU Presidency will be assumed by Hungary, one of the member states most sympathetic to Russia. Moldova has already established a Bureau for European Integration and approved a national EU Integration Action Plan, delineating specific milestones for each ministry to advance sectoral reforms in an irreversible manner.

While Moldova develops strong alliances abroad, it faces huge challenges at home. Russian forces have occupied the eastern territory of Transnistria since 1992 and continue to promote separatism. In February, the entity’s officials appealed to the Russian Duma to defend it against “increasing pressure from Moldova.” Days later, the governor of Gagauzia - an autonomous region of southern Moldova - travelled to Moscow to ask Russia for support, claiming that the Gagauz minority were suffering oppression. Exiled oligarchs wanted by the Moldovan state for large-scale corruption and embezzlement are teaming up with pro-Russian proxies and parties to aggressively promote the Kremlin’s agenda, erode the public trust in Moldova’s pro-EU leadership and fuel social polarization and euroscepticism. Last October, President Sandu accused Russia of plotting to use foreign saboteurs to violently overthrow her government.  

EU membership is a national security priority for Moldova, and alignment is well underway. In May, Moldova signed a Security and Defence Partnership with the EU, the first non-EU country to join such an agreement. The European Peace Facility (EPF) is financing non-lethal equipment for the Moldovan armed forces as well as enhancing operational effectiveness. Last month Moldova celebrated the first anniversary of the EU Partnership Mission (EUPM), the first civilian mission under the EU Common Security and Defence Policy, which is supporting efforts to tackle hybrid threats. In addition, the European Union Support HUB for Moldova Internal Security and State Border Management has been functional since 2022 to reduce the threat of drugs, arms and human trafficking, and other cross-border crime.

Fighting corruption and countering disinformation remain a cornerstone for Moldova’s integrity and sovereignty, while the vulnerabilities related to these endeavors represent serious security threats exploited successfully by anti-European actors. While it fights unprecedented hybrid warfare from Moscow aimed at undermining its social cohesion and democratic order, Moldova continues to advance with large-scale domestic reforms despite significant resource constraints. In a wide variety of ways, Moldova has demonstrated that it is ready to embrace the accession procedure and advance its European journey. Advancing dialogue with the EU will be vital for October’s elections and referendum, but any delays or perceived stagnation in this process could undermine public confidence in Moldova's future inside Europe.

Daniela Vidaicu

Daniela Vidaicu

June 2024

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