The application of the Republic of Moldova for EU membership – next steps and challenges
The European Union funded project “Support for structured policy dialogue, coordination of the implementation of the Association Agreement (AA) and enhancement of the legal approximation process for the Republic of Moldova” provides support in increasing the capacities of the Government of the Republic of Moldova and other key national institutions in implementing the EU-Republic of Moldova Association Agreement. In the context of the applying for EU membership, the project team will continue to provide the necessary achievements in order to help relevant institutions fulfil their commitments and obligations pertaining to the AA.
The Republic of Moldova officially applied for membership in the European Union on 3 March 2022. This step marks a significant change in Moldova-EU relations as Moldova also has formally entered the EU accession process. This change in relations will have a significant effect on the EU requirements for Moldova and on Moldova’s approach to the European Union. Even though the existing Association Agreement between the Republic of Moldova and the EU is very demanding, Moldova’s application for membership will raise the requirements to a higher level.
This application is submitted based on Article 49 of the Treaty on the European Union (TEU) which prescribes that “any European State which respects the values referred to in Article 2 and is committed to promoting them may apply to become a member of the Union”.
Article 2 of the TEU defines these values, stating that “the Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail.”
Any potential future EU member state will be assessed against these values. The country’s ability to demonstrate its willingness to act in line with these values will be essential for EU accession. Since in its essence the EU is the largest European peace project ever, the sharing and promoting of these shared values becomes particularly important in the light of the war in Ukraine and other threats to European peace.
After receiving Moldova’s application, the Council has already invited the European Commission to submit its opinion on Moldova’s application as the EU’s first step in the accession process. To be able to draft such an Opinion, the Commission will submit a substantial Questionnaire to the Republic of Moldova. Based on the Questionnaire’s answers, which have been prepared and submitted by Moldova, the Commission will issue its Opinion and will most likely:
1) recommend granting Candidate status to Moldova and the ability of Moldova to start accession negotiations or –
2) recommend granting Candidate status but only after specific conditions are fulfilled by Moldova.
The EU Member States will decide on Moldova’s application, acting unanimously, based on the Commission’s Opinion. Once Moldova receives Candidate status, the date for opening the EU accession negotiations will be set (most likely after the Republic of Moldova meets additional conditions). Accession negotiations will be conducted until the country will meet all of the EU membership requirements, particularly requirements around political criteria, because core EU values as defined in article 2 of the TEU are assessed under the political criteria. Once the terms of Moldova’s accession are agreed, the Treaty of Accession is negotiated, agreed to and signed by Moldova and all EU Member States and the date of accession is set.
It is expected that the Republic of Moldova would organise a referendum where its citizens should confirm the accession of the Republic of Moldova to the European Union.
The Accession Treaty must be approved by the European Parliament and ratified by the Republic of Moldova, as well as by each EU Member State national parliament prior to its entry into force.
As mentioned above, the Commission’s Questionnaire is the crucial first step in the EU membership process which will show readiness of the Republic of Moldova to react by answering the questions in a timely and precise manner. The Questionnaire should be understood as a picture of Moldova at the specific moment of reply, no more and no less.
The last Questionnaires for the Western Balkan countries contained 2,500-3,000 questions each. They served as a snapshot of how each country functioned and how close to meeting the EU membership requirements each country was at the moment of answering the Questionnaire (Questionnaire and responses of Republic of Serbia can be found on the following link: https://www.mei.gov.rs/eng/documents/national-documents/answer-to-the-european-commisions-questionnaire, questionnaire and responses of Bosnia Herzegovina can be found on the following link:
The Republic of Moldova could expect that the number of questions could be higher, in order to accommodate the country’s specific circumstances. The questions will be multi-layered and will require the involvement of the entire state administration and many consultations among the different state institutions. Additional follow-up questions will be sent later to clarify Moldova’s responses. The responses will provide a clear view to the European Commission of Moldova’s readiness to conduct accession negotiations and the capacities of Moldova’s administration. Not being able to respond to a question or taking too long to submit its answers to the Questionnaire will also serve as indication for Moldova’s lack of capacities.
Structure of the Questionnaire
The Questionnaire will be structured to follow the format of accession negotiations which are organised to cover the 1993 Copenhagen accession criteria:
- political criteria: stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities;
- economic criteria: a functioning market economy and the capacity to cope with competition and market forces; and
- ability to take on the obligations of EU membership including the administrative and institutional capacity to effectively implement the entire EU acquis (organised in more than 30 negotiation chapters).
For the Republic of Moldova to be able to respond to the Questionnaire in a coherent and organised manner (as well as to be organised for accession negotiations later) and to speak “with a single voice”, the administration should organise its work in a way to mirror the structure of the questions posed by the European Commission. This means that Moldova will need to organise its work in replying to the Questionnaire according to the structure of the Copenhagen criteria (Political criteria, Economic criteria and over 30 negotiation chapters). For the Political and Economic criteria chapters and each negotiation chapter, a leading institution should be determined, and all institutions related to the substance of the criteria/chapter should be identified. Such an internal reorganisation of the coordination process will also serve Moldova well during the subsequent accession negotiations.
This reorganised coordination process which is aligned according to the structure of the negotiations chapters does not require new institutions and people. However, the reorganisation of existing coordination structures into the new working groups should be done within the next several months while Moldova is waiting for the Questionnaire. Institutions outside the Government such as the Parliament, the judiciary, state agencies, Ombudsman, etc. should also be included in the Questionnaire process.
The questions received should be divided among the institutions within the newly- established working groups (which will be later transformed into negotiation groups), so that all competent bodies/actors will be able to provide its contribution for each individual question. The response to a single question may require the work of many institutions that must agree and provide a common, unified answer to the question. All responses within a chapter should be synchronised and a joint response to the entire chapter should be defined. All chapters should be synchronized by the institution leading the entire process. The final responses should be adopted by the Government and then sent to the European Commission in Brussels. The responses to all questions can add up to about 8,000-10,000 pages.
The experience from the Western Balkans indicates that it took 6-12 months to respond to the Questionnaire, with the necessary administrative structures being set prior to this timeframe.
In addition, all responses (which will be prepared firstly in Romanian) must be then translated by the Republic of Moldova into a high-quality level of English. If the translation is not done properly, the quality of Moldova’s responses will suffer and/or be inaccurate. Additionally, all of Moldova’s legislation (primarily laws and some bylaws) that are the basis for responses must also be translated into English and attached to the answers. Therefore, the Government of the Republic of Moldova should establish a translation service/unit that will coordinate and ensure the quality translation of the Questionnaire responses and relevant legislation, and subsequently, for all documents related to the accession negotiations.
The EU membership application and its resulting Questionnaire exercise will be challenging for the Republic of Moldova since it signifies the beginning of a completely different and broader level of relations with the European Union. This step is unknown and new. However, the prior experiences of many countries (including all new EU Member States from Central and Eastern Europe as well as most Western Balkan countries) which have responded to the Questionnaire provide a source for many lessons learned.
Since 2014, the Republic of Moldova has been implementing a demanding Association Agreement with the European Union. If the necessary political support will exist (which recognises that the answering of the upcoming Questionnaire is a strategic priority for Moldova), and if all the necessary administrative preparations will be done in the upcoming months (including setting up the working groups and organising the translation process), then there are no reasons to doubt that the Republic of Moldova can perform this step as successfully as many of the previous countries.
The EU-funded technical assistance project “Support for structured policy dialogue, coordination of the implementation of the Association Agreement (AA) and enhancement of the legal approximation process for the Republic of Moldova” is able to provide the necessary support, based on the experiences from the latest Questionnaire responses as well as internal reorganisation from various Western Balkan countries.