What does the launch of EU accession talks mean for Moldova?

June 26, 2024
5 min read
Photo credit: Lalandrew / Shutterstock.com

This article first appeared in Emerging Europe.

Moldova and Ukraine this week opened EU accession negotiations. The process is not solely technical but also deeply political, which means the pace of European integration might not always depend on progress made in the two countries.

On June 25, both Moldova and Ukraine officially opened European Union accession negotiations, just two years after applying to join the bloc. That negotiations have begun now is in large part thanks to Belgium, which has been keen for this historic event to happen now, while it still holds the presidency of the Council of the European Union.

Uncertain times lie ahead, however, especially since, from July 1, Viktor Orbán’s Hungary will dictate the EU’s agenda, with the priority of EU enlargement policy expected to shift to the Western Balkans.

Back in 2014, the European Parliament adopted a resolution stating that, “in accordance with Article 49 of the Treaty on European Union, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, as well as any other European country, have a European perspective and may apply for EU membership.”

As a result, an Association Agreement and Deep Comprehensive Free Trade Area Agreement (DCFTA) were initiated with Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova in 2014. It took eight years and a terrible war in Ukraine for the European Union to prioritise its enlargement policy, but also for Chișinău to pass through multiple parliamentary majorities in order to have the genuine political will to advance the European path of the country.

The Republic of Moldova applied for membership of the European Union in March 2022 and was granted EU candidate country status in June 2022. In December 2023, EU leaders agreed to open accession negotiations with Moldova and Ukraine and at yesterday’s European Council summit, the negotiating chapters were officially opened.

Once the negotiations are concluded, the Commission gives its opinion on the readiness of the candidate country to become a member state. After this lengthy process comes the signing of the Accession Treaty and the approval of the European Commission, the European Council and the European Parliament before it is signed and ratified by all EU member states and the Republic of Moldova.

Launching of the screening process. The two stages

The organisation of yesterday’s intergovernmental conference is the starting point of the European accession process of the Republic of Moldova, setting the framework for the assessment and harmonisation of national legislation with the EU acquis.

At the moment we are at the stage of screening, also known as the analytical examination of the European Union acquis (the body of EU laws applicable in the EU). The screening process is divided into 35 chapters, grouped into six clusters.

The screening is divided into two phases: explanatory (EU legislation) and mirror (Moldovan legislation).

The first phase, carried out between February and May 2024, involved clarifications from the European Commission on the standards and rules to be adopted by Moldova. With the help of two other EU hopefuls, Albania and North Macedonia, this process has been significantly accelerated, reduced from almost a year to a few months. In addition, with the help of Romania, the EU legislation has already been translated into Romanian, so Chișinău no longer has to make this effort.

In the next step, Moldova will evaluate its legislation in detail, comparing it with European requirements. This step will involve an in-depth analysis of the conformity of the national legislation with the acquis, after which discussions will start on the various accession clusters and chapters, each cluster dealing with specific areas such as justice, the economy, foreign policy and human rights and others.

All set for EU negotiations

President Maia Sandu last week signed the decree to launch Moldova’s accession negotiations with the European Union, marking another crucial step in the country’s European integration. The Deputy Prime Minister for European Integration, Cristina Gherasimov, was appointed head of the delegation and the person responsible for negotiations with the European Union. With the appointment of a new Prosecutor General (the European Commission’s condition for the start of negotiations), Moldova is now fully prepared to go through any negotiation chapter set by the EU.

By signing the decree and establishing the negotiating team, the intergovernmental conference signifies not only a procedural step but also a significant political signal. It demonstrates Moldova’s determination to align itself with European values and strengthen democracy, the rule of law, and the market economy. The accession process is not solely technical but also deeply political, which means the pace of European integration often does not depend only on Moldova. Nevertheless, the political signals are stronger than ever, especially since the beginning of the war in Ukraine.

The issue of Russian interference in Moldova’s EU accession process has drawn international attention and concern. Western countries and EU institutions have been vigilant in monitoring and responding to such interference, including through diplomatic efforts, sanctions, and support for Moldova’s sovereignty and democratic processes. The governments of Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States, in a joint statement at the G7, have accused Russia of “spreading falsehoods” regarding presidential elections and the EU referendum, and of attempting to undermine Moldova’s democratic institutions.

Although Chișinău is undergoing a process similar to that of other EU candidate countries, involving years of reforms, it is evident that for Moldova and Ukraine, the process has been accelerated. In just two years, these countries progressed from candidate to negotiator status. The next milestone is for the European Commission to set a target accession date—the year 2030.

Furthermore, the validation of a referendum on European integration in Moldova (to be held in October) represents another action that could accelerate the country’s European path.