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European Integration Conception — at last…

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Mariana Argint / September 21, 2003
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The Government has finally prepared the draft of the “Conception for European Integration of the Republic of Moldova”. Its discussion and more accurate definition are yet to come.

This is a very belated document. And it is also unclear why it is called “conception” instead of “national strategy” as in other countries? Thus, it was November 1993 when President Mircea Snegur sent a letter to the European Commission Chairman Jack Delore proposing to stir up the formation of political and legal grounds for relations between the Republic of Moldova and the European Union (EU). In 1994, the Commission assessed the situation and acknowledged the positive changes in Moldova — the first multiparty parliamentary elections, the new Constitution, liberalization of the economy and financial macro stabilization, and democratization of societal relations.

This was followed by the signature of the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) between the EU and Moldova (1994) and its coming into effect (1998), which was an official recognition of Moldova as an EU partner for political dialogue and legal and economic cooperation.

This agreement though, unlike the EU “association agreements” with the Central and Eastern European countries, by no means was a prelude to further accession to the EU. It was rather meant to Europeanise our young state and bring the quality of its state system, economy and social life as close as possible to the Copenhagen criteria of the EU (1993) for new eventual EU members.

Unfortunately, the EU-Moldova agreement has been implemented slowly over 1998–2000, and the fault was mostly ours. As strange as it may seem, despite the new emphases emerging every year in policy and practice of the country’s transformation, the agreement has never underwent any adjustments. Both parties — Brussels and Chisinau — admit that the PCA potential has not been used in full measure. Last year, at last, it was decided to concentrate the cooperation in five areas: legal harmonization, customs and cross-border cooperation, fighting criminality, examination of approaches towards interaction of the parties within the Free Trade Area, and investments.

Over the past decade Moldova nonetheless preferred staying within the so called “grey zone”, a zone of geopolitical uncertainty. But even in this situation the country has already received aid worth more than 240 million euro from the EU within the framework of TACIS and other programs. In addition, it has been announced that another 50 mil euro will be alotted to Moldova for 2003–2004. These funds are meant for macroeconomic support, social assistance, stimulation of private sector and export, as well as for reformation of the administrative and judiciary systems.

At present, though, Moldova’s leadership puts the question more assertively — it has declared that European integration is an external policy priority of the country. According to President Vladimir Voronin (January 2003, during a meeting with the diplomatic corps), “the Moldovan leadership perceives European integration as a three-dimensional process. Firstly, this is a path to reintegration of Moldova itself based on modern legal standards. Secondly, European path means for Moldova modernization of the country’s economy based on universally recognized mechanisms functioning in Europe and in the world. Thirdly, European integration means formation and development of our political institutions, reformation of public administration with strict delimitation of functions and powers proper to a democratic state with market economy”.

The President expressed himself even in a more clear cut way on Independence Day, 27 August 2003: “the program of Moldova’s European integration is the main strategic document for us, which is superior to all party programs and current tasks of all power branches”.

These are our intentions. The Government is convinced that there are no fundamental contradictions between the pro-CIS and pro-EU policies. Apparently after the CIS Summit hosted in Yalta on September 18–19, Moldova’s belief in CIS was shattered significantly, whereas in the EU, on the contrary, was strengthened.

However, European Commission has a more clear position on this: in the mid-term perspective Moldova has no chances of becoming an EU member. In a more distant future this is not excluded. Possibilities of this will grow as the country connects to the processes of stabilization and association in South East Europe. The EU has recently declared that it was ready to work out a plan in 2004 of priority EU actions for Moldova.

European choice is a strong incentive for Moldova, since it is this choice that provides the country with both democracy and institution-building, internal stability and external security.

Moldova today is a partitioned state located at the periphery of the uniting Europe, whose existence is complicated by the frozen Transdnistrian conflict. Efforts to reunify the country within a “common state” will enable Moldova to use the Transdnistrian issue as a good argument: conflict resolution would not be sustainable unless backed up by perspectives of EU integration, by promises, for Transdnistria as well, to take advantage of the benefits of political and economic association with European Union.

Proposing new and new initiatives along the European direction (as also regards settlement of the Transnistrian conflict), we should not slacken efforts to realize political and economic clauses of the EU-Moldova PCA. What can PCA give to Moldova as regards approaching Europe? This includes:

One of the priority directions of the PCA implementation is the creation of a free trade area between Moldova and EU. It is important to mention that since at present Moldova still cannot assume obligations to create an area of free trade with the EU (due to the underdeveloped competitive environment and administrative capacities), the EU is willing to consider new possibilities of providing Moldovan goods with access to the market within the framework stipulated by the WTO.

Now, the most realistic for Moldova is its participation in processes of sectorial integration with the EU. This means ensuring Moldova with autonomous trade preferences followed by the Free Trade Agreement, infrastructure development, border control etc.

Speaking of Moldova’s European vector, one should consider both “pros” and “cons” of such orientation. Indeed, it could be already in the near future when Moldova as a new neighbor of the EU will be able to count on enhanced financial and technical assistance, facilitated visa regime and access to new markets.

At the same time, given Moldova’s slowness, some of these advantages may turn into problems.

Thus, for instance, transition of the united Europe to common norms and standards will undoubtedly facilitate movement of goods throughout its market. With this in mind, Moldova should provide “euro-harmonization” of its standards and requirements and the conformity assessment procedures. Sluggishness will sharply worsen the access of Moldovan products to European markets, especially foodstuffs.

Another important aspect is attracting foreign investments into the country. And this requires urgent improvement of the country’s investment climate; otherwise, after the EU enlargement, it will be our neighbors — the new EU members — who will become the main recipients of European subsidies and technical assistance programs. It is not excluded it will be the new members’ economies that the EU will encourage investments into, leaving the “tardy” Moldova outside this activity.

The process of Moldova’s rapprochement with Europe requires a lot of effort and time. Therefore, it is not rare when the question arises: is EU membership an absolute necessity for Moldova? To answer this question, a more detailed analysis of the impact of EU policies (Common Agricultural Policy, Social and Labor Market policies, Standard and Costs in Environmental Protection etc.) on our national interests is necessary.

According to President Vladimir Voronin, “the enthusiasm of all branches of power is now focused on European integration”. But this enthusiasm (!) also requires a wider public support. It is still unstable. According to opinion polls, the population favors EU and CIS almost equally. Taking this into account, the two-level EU policy concerning Moldova is important — at the level of the Government and the civil society. This will be the case when in our country the notion of “integration” will link closer to such notions as “democracy” and “development”.

Ultimately, all of us need a democratically stable Moldova, integral from the political, social and territorial points of view. And its approach to Europe will undoubtedly enhance the external positive impact upon the quality of governance, business and living in our country.

Changes in the economic policy? CIS Summit and European Integration