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The Vector of European Integration

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Igor Botan / June 15, 2003
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“Strategy” or “Conception” of European Integration?

According to the Government Plan of Activities for the first quarter of 2003, the Conception of European Integration was to be developed by 14 March 2003, and promulgated by the President on 9 May 2003, on Europe Day. This did not happen, and so on 20 May 2003, during the meeting of the Bureau of the National Commission for European Integration, the chair thereof, the Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev, requested that the draft Conception of Integration into the European Union of the Republic of Moldova be developed by 12 June 2003. On the other hand, during the 6th meeting of the EU-Moldova Parliamentary Co-operation Committee held on 11 June 2003 in Chisinau, the Moldovan co-Chair Victor Stepaniuc said that the National Commission for European Integration had already drafted Moldova’s Strategy of Joining the European Union, which is to be discussed in Parliament.

The curious thing about all this is that the Prime Minister Tarlev spoke of a “conception” while the co-Chair of the Parliamentary Co-operation Committee referred to a “strategy”. This terminological discrepancy seems to be an accidental one, yet suspicious. First, the conception represents a coherent set of ideas intended to describe a given objective, while a strategy presupposes a well coagulated plan of actions for achieving the objectives set forth in the conception.

Suspicions do arise because the said strategy is already the second strategy, together with the Strategy for Economic Growth and Poverty Reduction, that the Government has promised to draft this year and has failed to.

There are many other similar examples. More than a year ago, on 1 May 2002, the draft of the new Conception of Moldova’s Foreign Policy was published as drafted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The draft took by surprise the entire Moldovan public opinion by its largely pro-European character and its express indication that Moldova’s prior strategic objective is joining the EU. There have been reasons both for the reaction of surprise and for doubts. First, the political and electoral programme of the ruling party included priority objectives in foreign policy (such as integration into the Russia-Belarus Union for ex.) that were diametrically opposed to those laid down in the Conception. Secondly, only half a year before the publication, in October 2001, there had been a huge public argument between the presidential advisers and the Foreign Ministry experts with regard to the foreign policy orientation of Moldova.

The fact that the Foreign Ministry won the argument became clear after several months, when on 10 January 2002 the Government Medium Term (until 2005) Strategy for Socio-economic Development was published. The strategy put forward as the priority political-economic objective of Moldova the association with the EU and later eventual joining of the EU. Beyond all doubt, the Foreign Policy Conception draws directly from the Medium Term Socio-economic Strategy. Moreover, the text of the former indicated that it could be serve as a foundation for another conception, that of Moldova’s integration into the EU.

Thus, one can see that, despite the swinging political discourse, there has existed a systematic approach toward the political orientation of the state. However, the Foreign Policy Conception was never adopted. Indeed, it was difficult to imagine that the current Parliament would adopt a document in which Moldova’s major strategic partners are the USA, followed by Russia, Germany, France and so on, and the major objective is integration into the EU. Thus, one can state that, although President Voronin has succeeded to build the so called “vertical axis of power in the state” placing himself at the top of the pyramid, a year ago he found it impossible to persuade his party mates from the communist faction to adopt a paper of major importance, the new Conception of Foreign Policy, which thing has revealed major problems inside the ruling party.

This year, though, things have evolved dramatically. On 11 March 2003 the European Commission made public a policy paper on the future relations between the EU and its “new neighbours” — Belarus, Moldova, Russia and Ukraine. According to this paper, these “new neighbours” will receive additional aid due to the status that they will acquire following EU’s eastern enlargement. The paper also provides for increasing the access of Moldovan and Ukrainian goods to the EU markets, the possibility of exempting the citizens of these states from visas once free trade agreements are signed between them and the EU. Also, the paper does not rule out the possibility of Moldova, Russia and Ukraine later joining the EU, despite the fact that lately a number of European officials, including the President of the European Commission Romano Prodi and the Commissioner for Enlargement Gunter Verheugen alluded that “Europe, in the political sense, will stop at the borders with the Russian Federation, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine”. One of the first to have started the debate on the EU borders is the President of the European Convention Valery Giscard D’Estaing, who said that most European officials want the EU enlargement to stop and the EU to establish partnership relations with the “new neighbours”. In this context, one needs to remind that the initiative to establish new relations with Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine, the future neighbours of the EU following the eastern enlargement, belongs to the British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. The EU Foreign Ministers meeting in 2002 in Luxembourg decided to support Straw’s proposal and instructed the Danish presidency (July -December 2002) to work out the “special status of neighbour”, which was to involve the liberalisation of trade with the EU and co-operation in the fields of justice, home affairs, security and defence.

So, things do not seem to have cleared much, the pessimistic messages for Moldova alternating with more optimistic ones. The Moldovan officials had to act in order to make them more clear. In this respect during the 5th meeting of the EU-Moldova Co-operation Council in March 2003, the Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev requested a special treatment for Moldova, different from that of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine, and pleaded for the application of an individual Plan of Actions noting the inappropriateness of signing just a Neighbourhood Agreement with Moldova. The same thing was done by President Voronin a month later, during the Belgrade meeting of the heads of states and governments of the Co-operation Process in the South Eastern Europe (CPSEE), as well as during the EU Conference in Athens.

Already during the 6th Meeting of the EU-Moldova Parliamentary Co-operation Committee held in Chisinau on 11–13 June 2003, the co-Chair of the Committee Jan Marinus Wiersma said that the EU might sign with Moldova a stabilisation and association. However, “to adhere to the EU, Chisinau will have to prove that it really wants to”. In this sense, there is no better way of showing that the European option is a strategic one but through the adoption by the Parliament of the Strategy of European Integration and its gradual application.

The Transdnistrian conflict — major factor for the re-orientation of Moldova’s foreign policy

So, one can assume that the official rhetoric is not prompted by a conscious and benevolent choice for European integration, but by reasons of other nature. One can only ask which are these reasons that make the Moldovan decision-makers, at least at the level of rhetoric, to push forward the foreign policy vector oriented towards the EU.

On the face of it, two factors are related to the regional political configuration. First, EU and NATO are enlarging up to Moldova’s western borders. Secondly, Ukraine, Moldova’s eastern neighbour, assiduously promotes policies of rapprochement with both the EU and NATO. Under such circumstance, Moldova does not seem to have much choice. That is why the communist authorities in Moldova, although they have promised integration into Russia-Belarus Union, fell impelled not let an idea of great perspective be explored solely by the opposition. But there’s also another factor that determines the reorientation of the Moldovan foreign policy. This is the Transdnistrian conflict mediated by Russia, Ukraine and the OSCE, which, after 11 years of efforts of conflict resolution, hasn’t be solved yet.

It is obvious that preserving the current framework for solving the conflict was not giving any big hopes. Moldova was attracted many times into various traps: the synchronisation of the withdrawal of the Russian army with the granting of a status to Transdnistria in 1994, the issue of customs stamps to Transdnistria in exchange for its promises that it will be more co-operative in the talks on its future legal status within Moldova (1996), accepting the notion of “equality of parties” in the process of talks over forming a “common state” (the 1997 Memorandum). All these solutions have only created new vicious cycles, from which the Moldovan authorities did not know how to escape. It was for these reasons that a year ago the OSCE proposed a new plan for solving the Transdnistrian conflict through the federalisation of Moldova. But this plan too seems to have become stuck in endless discussions over the notion of “asymmetrical” and “contractual” federations etc.

The Moldovan authorities have realised at a certain point that the resolution of the Transdnistrian conflict could only happen if it is internationalised, despite their previously categorical opposition to this. At least this kind of conclusion can one draw from the Foreign Policy Conception that was never adopted. On the other hand, however, the internationalisation of the conflict without there being a clear foreign policy conception creates a host of problems, suspicions and tensions both in relations with the opposition and with the mediators. All the more so that the model of solving the conflict through federalisation is being imposed from outside. Indeed, if Moldova intends to stay in the CIS, then the resolution of the conflict should become a major preoccupation of the CIS. If Moldova has different intentions, then they should be put forward clearly so that other adequate means can be used.

In this sense, one can say that at present the non-adopted Conception of Foreign Policy is already outdated. The developments in international politics have unfolded so quickly that the Moldovan authorities have failed to react appropriately. Therefore, another document needs to be drafted now to indicate clearly which is the vector of Moldova’s foreign policy. The combination of factors related to the new international configuration and a clear foreign policy option inside the country might create completely special conditions for the resolution of the Transdnistrian conflict. By to all appearances, the Moldovan authorities may hope that the Strategy or Conception of European Integration might fill the gap that is created by the lack of a new Conception of foreign policy.

One way or another, one can assume that the very stalemate in solving the conflict has determined the Moldovan authorities to change, at least at the rhetorical level, the orientation of Moldova’s foreign policy. To support these assumptions it is sufficient to observe that the main subject of talks between the Moldovan authorities and the European officials is the resolution of the Transdnistrian conflict. Thus, on 9 April 2003, during the Belgrade meeting of the heads of states and governments of CPSEE, President Voronin requested the President of the European Commission Romano Prodi to get involved more actively in setting up joint Moldovan-Ukrainian customs points. Also, during the European Conference on 16–17 April 2003 in Athens, where the ten associated countries signed the Accession Treaty with the EU, the Moldovan President asked the same thing from Javier Solana, Secretary General of European Council and High Representative of the EU for the CFSP. Javier Solana back then reassured the Moldovan side that in the context of the EU eastern enlargement the EU would get more involved in the process of resolving the Transdnistrian conflict. A bit earlier, in March 2003, during the 5th meeting of the EU-Moldova Co-operation Council in Brussels, the Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev and Deputy Speaker of Parliament Mihail Camerzan made the same pledge.

Hence, there is no doubt that the re-orientation of the Moldovan foreign policy is primarily determined by the need to solve the Transdnistrian conflict. On the one hand, the mechanism of talks has remained the old, five-party one joining Russia, Ukraine, the OSCE, Moldova and Transdnistria, probably in order not to antagonise Russia who has an important role to play as long as the process of weapons withdrawal from the region is not over. However, on the other hand, with the help of the EU, totally special conditions have been created for the resolution of the conflict. Barring the access of Transdnistrian leaders to the EU and Ukraine’s determination to set up joint Ukrainian-Moldova checkpoints at Moldova’s eastern borders have substantially reduced the field of manoeuvre of the Tiraspol leaders in the negotiation process. The EU involvement in the conflict resolution also shapes to a considerable degree Russia’s behaviour. The partnership between the EU and Russia is of extreme importance for both parties and that is why the two parties have a high capacity of striking compromises in a variety of fields.

Under these circumstances, the Moldovan officials in their relations with the EU officials have not missed out on any occasion to bring forward the dangers inherent in the very existence of the secessionist regime in Tiraspol. On the other hand, Russia, apart from the fact that it is one of the main mediators in the conflict, also insists on its special role of military guarantor in the conflict resolution process. There is no doubt that Russia has taken measures to ensure the economic survival of the Transdnistrian regime. Thus, the conflict resolution process may last for a very long time and fail to meet the too optimistic expectations of the Moldovan authorities.

The Republic of Moldova between the EU and the CIS

The recommendation recently made by Jan Marinus Wiersma, co-Chair of the EU-Moldova Parliamentary Co-operation Committee, to maintain economic ties with the CIS up to an eventual joining of the EU is actually a suggestion that Moldova adopts a similar behaviour toward the CIS with the one that Ukraine has adopted a long time ago.

Thus, although Ukraine holds the Chairmanship of the Council of the CIS Heads of States and prepares the organisation on 19 September 2003 of the next CIS Summit in Ialta, which is to discuss issues related to the single economic area within the CIS, it continues to promote its policy of integration into the EU and NATO with great firmness.

President Kucima has officially stated the political vector of Ukraine towards integration into the EU during his “European Option” address to the Supreme Rada a year ago. Secondly, the representatives of the Ukrainian political elite consider that the integration processes in the CIS are being undermined by Russia’s behaviour, which is more concerned with the political and military aspects of integration than with the economic ones.

After the Chairmanship of the CIS Council has been taken over by the Ukrainian President Leonid Kucima, he declared that there could not be any discussion about setting up a single economic space in the CIS area as long as Russia does not change its differentiated tariffs policy for energy trade inside and outside the country. Under current circumstances, for example, the Ukrainian economic units that use energy imported from Russia, which costs them three times as much as it costs Russian firms, may not stand the competition of the latter in a free market.

The Ukrainian experts believe that the single economic space, if it were established in the CIS, should become only a variant of the free trade area based on the principles of the World Trade Organisation. In their view, there is no point in creating a free trade area in the CIS also because the member states should first try to adjust their economic legislation to the Russian one, and then adjust it to the WTO so that later they can adjust their legislation to the EU standards.

First of all, a series of CIS member states are already members of the WTO, and others are very close to concluding the accession negotiations, while Russia has yet to go a long way before it can join the WTO.

Secondly, although Russia and the EU are strategic partners, they both want to remain distinct actors and are searching for the point they can get closest to best satisfy their interests. This happens because the intellectual circles in Russia are still debating the civilisational future of their country. Obviously, countries like Ukraine and Moldova do not find very optimistic the endless debates on whether “Eurasia” or “Asiopa” should be constituted within the CIS area in order to combine European and Asian roots of its members culture.

Thirdly, the experts believe that Russia is interested in the CIS integration processes in order to ensure its political domination over the former Soviet republics, and the economic integration is the bite that is supposed to attract the latter. Indeed, the integration processes in the EU and the CIS are dramatically different. The EU, during the enlargement processes, injects enormous financial resources into the infrastructure and economy of the candidate countries to create relatively fair conditions in the future free circulation of capitals, goods, people and labour, while Russia has reverted to supporting secessionist movements in the former Soviet republics to keep them in its “area of influence” (Moldova Azerbaijan, Gerogia).

Therefore, the path of integration into the EU through the CIS is a very risky one and is predestined to place the countries that adopt it at the “periphery of the periphery of the EU”. It seems, though, that the vision of some Ukrainian experts is shared by the Moldovan authorities ever more. The idea that the state media attributes to President Voronin the proposal to bring the CIS legislation in line with the EU one is nothing but an allusion to following the behaviour of Ukraine, which is that of staying in the CIS as long as this does not harm integration into the EU.

The fears that an open declaration of such intention could antagonise Russia are not really founded. First, Moldova and Ukraine have the right to determine alone their national interests. Secondly, Russia has declared a priority to protect the rights of the Russians who live in the former Soviet republics. The experience of the Baltic States has demonstrated that the EU integration process helps achieve this aim. On the other hand, the recent experience of Turkmenistan has shown that when Russia’s political and economic interests prevail, the Russians become the hostages of such interests. From this point of view, it is the concern for the wellbeing and comfort of Russians in Moldova and Ukraine that need to motivate Russia not to impede their economic development as they get closer to the EU and farther from the CIS.

By all appearances, Moldova and Ukraine should form a tandem on their way to integration into the EU, although it is obvious that at a certain moment this tandem will have to split. Ukraine will become EU’s neighbour in May next year, while Moldova only in 2007. Therefore, the efforts of Moldovan authorities to pursue the South East European track towards integration seems to be the right ones. However, both parties need to give clear signals that they want to integrate into the EU and take joint efforts to overcome the existing impediments. One most problematic moment in this is the Transdnistrian conflict. It has been noted already that the co-operation between the two sides on customs checkpoints and securisation of Moldova’s eastern border is crucial. Secondly, the two communities — Moldovan and Ukrainian, form the majority population in Transdnistria, and with joint efforts these could be persuaded to help eliminate the obstacles to the territorial reintegration of Moldova.

From this point of view it is not accidental the fact that the head of the Tiraspol diplomatic office Valerii Litkai has tried to act in this very aspect in order to discourage the Transdnistrian citizens by stating that one could seriously talk about Moldova’s integration into the EU in about 50 years or so. Also, the Transdnistrian authorities have tried to use every occasion to speculate on the bloody events in the early 1990s to maintain the negative attitude of the citizens of Transdnistria towards the future re-integration of Moldova. Another in the row of obstructionist actions of the Tiraspol leaders has been their recent refusal to meet with the delegation of EU parliamentarians who attended the 6th Meeting of the Moldova-EU Parliamentary Co-operation Committee, despite the fact that they had previously agreed to the meeting.

Power-opposition relations from the perspective of European integration

From what has been mentioned above, one can clearly observe that there are grounds to take the statements by Moldovan authorities with regard to European integration very seriously. Indeed, although in the first half of last year it was impossible to adopt a new Conception of Foreign Policy, later, in the second half of the year, after the OSCE draft proposal on solving the Transdnistrian conflict through the federalisation of Moldova was launched, many things have changed. The head of state proposed to set up a Department and a National Commission for European Integration. After the NATO and EU enlargement summits in Prague and Copenhagen, President Voronin addressed the European officials a message in which he argued that Moldova’s pro-European option is the only one that could help reach an internal political consensus in Moldova. All later messages addressed to the outside by the Moldovan authorities have been relatively coherent and focused on the need to solve the Transdnistrian conflict that is a motive of concern for the security at the future borders of NATO and EU, as well as an impediment for Moldova’s rapprochement with the EU.

At the same time, the policies of the government inside the country have generated big doubts about their honesty and capacity to pursue the European integration. First, it has become obvious that for the current ruling party it is more important to enhance their own power at all levels inside the country than develop the democratic processes that would help Moldova get closer to the EU. This conclusion is based on the behaviour of authorities who last year blocked the initiatives of the opposition to initiate referendums to improve the electoral system and test the attitude of citizens towards an eventual policy of Moldova’s integration into the EU. Also, the abusive behaviour of authorities in the elections for the Gaguz Yeri Governor last autumn has shown again in the general local elections of 25 May — 8 June 2003, which has also been mentioned in the COE and OSCE observation reports.

Therefore, it is not by accident that the co-Chair of the Moldova-EU Parliamentary Co-operation Committee, Jan Marinus Wiersma, suggested the Moldovan authorities to prove that they truly want to join the EU.

The adoption by the Moldovan Parliament of a strategy or conception paper on European integration would be the most adequate proof in this sense and would contribute enormously to a favourable climate of co-operation between the power and the opposition. This would be the first official document to confirm the existence of a clear foreign policy vector intended to shape all aspects of the domestic policy of Moldova. The fact that the communist majority would adopt this document would mean that in Moldova there are practically no significant political forces left, except those in Transdnistria, to oppose the vector of Moldova’s integration into the EU. Thus, Moldova would repeat the experience of other countries from the Central and Eastern Europe that, after having adopted a clear path of European integration, have alleviated to a considerable degree the internal frictions among the various political forces.

Certainly, in the case of Moldova there is a range of risk factors that are related to the eventual behaviour by the ruling party, but which should not overestimated. Indeed, one can ask if the unreformed Communist Party could be able to promote reforms in order to bring Moldova in EU. In this sense, there might appear the problem of consecutive action. It would be logical for the Communist Party to first revise its political programme, as its leaders promised to do a year ago, and give up the Marxism-Leninism in favour of the principles and values which lay at the foundation of the EU. Only then could they declare integration into the EU the priority strategic aim of Moldova. However, if things go the other way round, they seem to be no insurmountable problems.

First, it has been observed that although the communist party elite has used the pro-European rhetoric during the recent electoral campaign, this has not affected in any way the results of the elections. Thus, the gap between the provisions of official documents and the actions dictated by the political configuration do not seem to have influenced much the rating of the party. This fact is due, without doubt, to the authority that the leader of the communist party enjoys.

Secondly, an eventual display of discontent among the ranks of the ruling party about the discrepancy between their declared programme values and their efforts at European integration would be relatively easy to contest. Indeed, during the EU Conference on 17 April 2003 in Athens, President Voronin said “Moldova shares the same values” as the EU member and accession states. Of course, it would be an exaggeration, but if we look at things from another point of view we will observe that the Communist Party programme there are two fundamental things, such as socialism and internationalism, which are widely valued in the European area. It is plain clear that in the EU, especially in the Scandinavian countries, there is more socialism than in the CIS where the wild, oligarchic capitalism flourishes. Moreover, the phenomenon of ever-greater involvement of former employees of secret services in the process of redistribution of property and influential economic spheres has demonstrated that the political and economic stability in the CIS area will not be possible to maintain for a long time.

As for the internationalism, it is well known that the situation in the EU and in the CIS may not be compared. Moreover, the research undertaken by prestigious Russian institutions and published in the press show that there are serious motives for concern about the boost in nationalistic moods in this country. The fact that last year a number of diplomatic missions accredited in Moscow draw the attention of local authorities to the wave of xenophobia in Russia is an extremely eloquent indicator in this sense.

During the same EU Conference in Athens, President Voronin mentioned that the “European orientation is for Moldova not just a process of reverting to the European culture and civilisation, but also a process of adjusting to the European political and economic standards and norms.” One can only ask how conscientious is this “reversal”. Obviously, one can revert to where one has left from at some point. The reversal also means leaving the place where one stayed temporarily. This could mean that Moldova’s membership of the CIS is temporary.

Under these circumstances, new prospects have opened up for the Moldovan opposition to establish a dialogue with the power, especially in finding an acceptable solution for the Transdnistrian conflict and ensuring the functioning of democratic institutions by European standards. Obviously, the resolution of the Transdnistrian conflict can be accepted only when it does not jeopardise in any way the process of Moldova’s integration into the EU.

Political style The Discontent of the Victorious