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Is European integration still of strategic importance?

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Igor Botan / January 11, 2004
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Outlining and delegation of tasks

In his speech of December 26, 2003 at the closing of the Parliament fall-winter session, Vladimir Voronin outlined new tasks for the year 2004. One of those tasks was speeding up the efforts in view of Republic of Moldova’ integration into EU. Several days latter a meeting was convened and presided by the President with the Prime Minister Tarlev, decision-makers of the Presidency, Parliament and Government in attendance. President Voronin pointed during the meeting that “European integration is an objective of strategic importance for the Republic of Moldova and the future of the country; and the destiny of the generations to come rests on it”. Therefore, it was important to take some steps “institutional and functional ones” to prepare in due time “Republic of Moldova’s propositions on the Republic of Moldova — EU Action Plan”. The Action Plan is to define “the objectives to be accomplished for Moldova to get closer to EU, which is a very prestigious European organisation”. The Action Plan is to be finalised prior to the EU Council reunion in May 2004. According to the President, European Integration Department would have to “define Republic of Moldova’s position in negotiations with EU on the Action Plan”. In addition, the Department “would have to co-ordinate the activities on the domestic scale and to represent Republic of Moldova at negotiations…”

In this respect President Voronin outlined the basic tasks for getting closer to EU: 1) more decisive enforcement of structural reforms so as to meet Copenhagen criteria; 2) adjusting national legislation and standards to the community ones.

In his turn, to fulfil them Prime-Minister was entrusted with a number of other tasks: 1) to develop and enforce a governmental plan of personnel training and professional development; 2) to establish “task forces, whose members are to be carefully selected and endorsed by the Government” within Ministries and departments; 3) to oversee the activity of the task forces while developing the Action plan; 4) to study Slovakia and Slovenia’s experience in joining EU; 5) “simultaneously” elaborate “the European Strategy, which is to include all areas of activity in view of fulfilling Republic of Moldova aspirations to join EU”.

New sources of integrationist inspiration

It is all-to-clear that Moldovan authorities’ integrationist rush is inspired by two sources: 1) failure of the “Kozak plan” on settling Transdnistrian conflict that was released in mid-November and ended in worse-off bilateral relations with Russia; 2) visit paid by Enlargement Commissioner, Gunter Verheugen, to Chisinau on December 4–5, 2003.

Let us follow on the second one. During his meeting with President Voronin, European Commissioner reviewed the strategic priorities and basic principles of the EU’s “new neighbourhood” policy for countries on its eastern and southern borders after enlargement. He pointed that “Republic of Moldova would enjoy a preferential treatment as compared to Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus”. In this respect, EU was willing to develop jointly with the Moldovan authorities an individual Action Plan, which is to take into account the specifics, capacity and problems of the Republic of Moldova and is to define the objectives of the Republic of Moldova — EU co-operation.

European Commissioner’s message to Moldovan authorities and political elite was plainly clear: 1) EU neighbourhood policy is different from a new accession wave; 2) this policy refers to the countries for which membership is still not on the agenda; 3) it is not in the best interest of the Republic of Moldova to insist on being included in the Stabilisation and Association Process, as those policies were initially designed for western Balkans and are not tailored to Moldova’s needs; 4) EU would employ different co-operation mechanisms in relations with its new neighbours than those employed within the Stability Pact for South-Eastern Europe.

Domestic experts interpret EU Commissioner’s message as: 1) quite discouraging for the President Voronin’s intention to join EU via the South-Eastern tier; 2) eventual preferential treatment for the Republic of Moldova comes from the fact that EU would have joint borders with Moldova at least three years latter than with Ukraine and Belarus, that is EU’s differentiated relations with its neighbours is not exactly an indicator of preferential relations with the Republic of Moldova.

However, the bright side of Verhaugen’s message for Moldova is that “EU’s neighbourhood policy does not shut the door for the European aspirations of any of the neighbourhood countries”, this policy represents a “window of opportunities”.

It is quite interesting, though, that Moldovan authorities interpreted European official’s message slightly different, to say at least. According to the Presidency press service “Gunter Verheugen pointed that EU neighbourhood policy opens a clear perspective of joining EU for the Eastern countries, which are not part to the accession process, and gives new hopes and incentives for a more active promotion of economic and political reforms”.

This specific interpretation of Verhaugen’s message came to light immediately after Enlargement Commissioner’s visit to Chisinau, when the President called on a meeting Moldovan Ambassadors serving in European countries, as well as a number of other decision-makers responsible for enforcing Republic of Moldova’s strategic objective of joining EU. During the meeting President Voronin insisted on accession via South-Eastern tier “I am convinced that Republic of Moldova has to … capitalise efficiently on all the possibilities offered by the South-Eastern dimension of our policy, by combining them with those provided by the EU’s neighbourhood policy”. He also briefed Moldovan diplomats on the objectives of the future Action Plan and the tasks to be carried out in this respect. The latter were once again reiterated a couple of weeks later, during a meeting attended by officials of the Presidency, Parliament and Government. At issue was also the need “to enforce central government reform by taking into account the needs of European integration”.

Moreover, diplomats were given specific tasks, one of them being Republic of Moldova to “obtain in the next 2–3 years the status of candidate country”. For that to happen, EU should be involved in: 1) settlement of the Transdnistrian conflict; 2) enforcement of the National Poverty Reduction Strategy; 3) boosting trade between EU and Moldova as well as domestic and foreign investment in the Moldovan economy. The only thing left is for EU to accept to get involved in those activities.

“Deja vu”

Taking notice of the tasks outlined by the President during the two December meetings, first one with the diplomats, and the second one with the decision-makers of the Presidency, Government and Parliament, one cannot help having a feeling of “deja vu”. The fact is that a year ago, in mid-December 2002 during the first session of the National Commission on European Integration President Voronin outlined the very same tasks, i.e. Republic of Moldova’s accession to EU. Back then, at the end of 2002, the tasks outlined were intended to further the ones outlined in the Presidential Decree no. 957-III of November 13, 2002 thereby establishing the National Commission on European Integration (NCEI). The Presidential decree also provided for: 1) elaboration by the NCEI of the Republic of Moldova’s Strategy of European Integration; 2) approval by the Parliament of the NCEI’s Strategy; 3) elaboration, approval and co-ordination in the implementation of the Action Plan on enforcing the Strategy; 4) establishing a central government body to oversee the enforcement of the European integration policy.

Nowadays, one year later we find that all the efforts in view of European integration resumed to the establishment of three bodies, namely: of a NCEI via a Presidential Decree no. 957-III; of a Parliamentary Commission on European Integration (PCEI) via the Resolution no.84-XV of February 28, 2002; and of an European Integration Department (EID) via a Government resolution no. 960 of August 4, 2003. Noteworthy, Republic of Moldova’s legal framework in as far as its new “objective of strategic importance for the Republic of Moldova” is concerned resumes to the three documents cited above. They are also the only ones where “European integration” term is ever to be found.

It is true that the term “European integration” is also to be found in the Law on Tourism no. 798-XIV of February 11, 2000 which stipulated “European integration via tourism”, as well as in the Parliament resolution no. 605-XV of November 2, 2001 approving the Environmental Conception of the Republic Moldova providing for “European integration via environmental policy”. As for the international acts signed by the Republic of Moldova, the said term is only to be found in the Joint Declaration of the Republic of Moldova and People’s Republic of China of June 6, 2000 “on the further consolidation of the multilateral co-operation in the XXI century”. This Declaration is remarkable by the fact that is the only document specifying the terms of Moldova’s eventual accession to EU, namely XXI century.

It is all-to-clear that the current legal framework is inappropriate for matching such an “objective of strategic importance” as European integration is. Establishing Commissions failed to deliver the expected results. On the contrary, it seems that Republic of Moldova’s authorities follow the soviet-time practice thereby in order to compromise an initiative all sorts of commissions are to be established in order to implement it.

Indeed, after reviewing one-year achievements of the NCEI one may find that after its release had been postponed three times, the Strategy of European Integration ended being a simple conception. Probably, the Parliament didn’t even examine, nor did it approve the Conception developed by the NCEI on the grounds that the Presidential decree referred specifically to the Strategy and not to the Conception which wasn’t even made public for the citizens to read it. Authorities claim the document was directly submitted to the European Commission back in September 2003. It is still unclear whether EU officials took a stance on the Moldovan Conception. The recent European Parliament’s resolution on the Republic of Moldova of December 18, 2003 makes reference to nine core documents related to the Republic of Moldova and there is no mention of the NCEI in it.

The strange thing here is that in his recent addresses to the decision makers who are to carry out the very same tasks of EU integration that were entrusted to the NCEI one year ago, President Voronin did not refer at all to its existence.

Even stranger is the fact that decision-makers whom the president addressed are no one but the members of the Commission themselves, namely Prime-Minister Vasile Tarlev, its Chairperson, as well as the rest of the Cabinet! One may say that Commission’s name got to pay for the failure of any progress, rather than its members. Under those circumstances one may rightly wonder whether Presidential Decree — the main normative act referring to the Republic of Moldova’s European integration issued specifically in order to establish the NCEI — still holds true.

The activity of the PCEI seems to have been as fruitful as that of the above. One thing is for sure, PCEI did not even made public its activity reports (on July 1 and on January 1) as was provided for in the Parliament resolution, thereby the Commission was established.

It comes as no surprise then, that in its action plan for the first quarter of 2004, approved via Resolution no.1577 of December 26, 2003 the Government does not envisage any actions in view of achieving the “objective of strategic importance for the Republic of Moldova”. And this after President Voronin indicated in his address to the Parliament and Government at the end of summer Parliament session that “we should acknowledge the fact that European integration should necessarily be reflected in a joint and a well co-ordinated programme of the legislative and executive powers. This programme should not resume to a statement of intentions. I should say that this raft of measures should become a programme of the legislature as well, more precisely of that political majority that determines Parliament decisions. Otherwise, this endeavour is pointless. Both the Government and Parliament should act in this respect, observing a carefully designed agenda and having a clear objective, i.e. in 2007 Moldova should become an EU associated member”.

It’s hard to evaluate the activity of European Integration Department established just 5 months ago. It is hoped that the Department would become the propelling force of the Republic of Moldova’s efforts to join EU, at least for the sake of justifying its name. However, for this to happen, in compliance with Article 66 of the Constitution, the Parliament is to adopt at last the “main priorities of the state foreign policy”, that is, the new Conception of Foreign Policy, which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had promised to deliver by the end of the year; as well as adopt the Strategy of European Integration of the Republic of Moldova in line with the Presidential decree issued more than a year ago.

Only in this case one may talk about an appropriate legal framework designed to embolden the “strategic course” towards European integration, which would determine decision-makers in the Presidency, Parliament, and Government to act in line with the Strategy of European Integration, instead of opportunist considerations. For instance, the existence of a legal framework to support the Strategy of European Integration would considerably diminish the possibility to develop and adopt “behind Europe’s back” any documents such as the “Kozak Memorandum” and the like, which rule out prospects of eventual EU membership in the first place.

Also, the adoption by the Parliament of the Strategy of European Integration may have a considerable impact on the ruling party reform. If the Communist leaders were to compare the tasks outlined in the party political programme with the provisions of the Partnership and Co-operation Agreement concluded between Moldova and EU on November 28, 1994, they would notice that they run counter to each other. Or may be it is exactly the indecision of the Communist party moguls’ (members of NCEI and PCEI) on what’s more important — European integration or party program, that generates inconsistency between words and deeds? To cite just one example. One month after President Voronin declared European integration as the country’s strategic course, Eugenia Ostapciuc, Speaker of the Parliament stated during a press conference that “Communist Party sticks to all its options outlined in the electoral programme, including the one on joining Russia-Belarus Union”. Therefore, European officials recommended Moldovan authorities in quite delicate manner to firstly comply with the provisions of the Partnership and Co-operation Agreement before engaging in issuing European integration strategies.

In this respect, one may understand President Voronin’s claim to reform central government and personnel policies in the Republic of Moldova. Beating time may stem from the fact that representatives of the incumbent ruling — who for ten years since independence while being in opposition kept winning about “disappearance of the socialist motherland” and singled-out URSS restoration as a strategic goal — are now called by the President to engage in the elaboration and implementation of the Strategy of European Integration. The fact is that the inconsistency of policies promoted by the Communist Party went to the most ludicrous length. For instance, immediately after President Voronin’s meeting with Moldovan ambassadors when he urged them to promote integrationist policies and contribute to the elaboration of the Strategy of European Integration, Moldova Suverana governmental newspaper featured an interview with Alexei Tulbure, Republic of Moldova’s Ambassador to the Council of Europe who unceremoniously claimed that “this year (2003) our country adopted the Strategy of European Integration, a document which outlines the top priorities for the country development in the next couple of years”. This publicly state falsehood is another evidence to the fact that European integration efforts are nothing but an opportunist propaganda move. Thus one may well claim that the widely-publicised reform of the ruling party as well as the European integration strategy follow to a great extend the well known slogan “Movement is everything, goal is nothing” by Edward Bernstain, one of the opportunist leaders of the Second International.

In this respect, it is worth mentioning again President Voronin’s opinion voiced during his meeting with decision-makers: “we are obliged to show maximum responsibility from our side so as to prove to EU, to the entire society, and to ourselves for that matter, that we are able to meet the highest requirements of the European community and that we may be accepted to the negotiation table in view of accession to EU”. Moreover, President’s call correlates very well with another of his statements of July 2003: “If we consider ourselves politicians, if we are ready to account for each of the word we speak up in front of the people, then, I believe, the time has come to take action”. This is a paraphrase of Lenin’s “Sincerity in politics, in that sphere of human relations which does not refer to a single person, but rather to millions — sincerity in politics is a thing that could be easily tested by comparing words to deeds” (v. 32, p. 259). Lenin words should serve as a strong incentive to the Communists’ in power to engage in elaboration and implementation of the Republic of Moldova’s Strategy of European Integration, the only thing is that Lenin considered that “United States of Europe are impossible or rather reactionary under capitalism”.

Would CEC preserve its independence? Ratio of forces: power — opposition