The Eastern Partnership in Moldova: the 10th anniversary

The Eastern Partnership in Moldova: the 10th anniversary

On the 13-14th of May 2019 in Brussels, the 10th anniversary of the Eastern Partnership (EaP) was celebrated with the representatives of the European (EU) Member States and the Eastern Partners[1].

The EaP includes the European Union (EU), EU Member States and six countries that were members of the Soviet Union: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine[2]. In this article, we will discuss the Eastern Partnership, its history, its founding principles and its evolution. Then, we will specifically analyse this partnership in Moldova in order to see its effects.

I. Brief historical review of the Eastern Partnership

Firstly, the establishment of a foreign policy towards the eastern part of Europe and the south caucasus was quite complicated and long. This partnership was agreed in 2008 and inaugurated in May 2009 during the Prague summit thanks to the momentum of two EU Members States, Poland and Sweden. This partnership is an element of the European neighborhood policy (ENP) and was created in order to strengthen the link between former communist countries and the EU[3].

Secondly, the EaP was established thanks to the eastern enlargements of 2004 and 2007  that encouraged the creation of links with the EU. This is the reason why in this partnership the influence of former communist countries which became EU Members States is important.

Notwithstanding, a cooperation agreement between Moldova, Ukraine and the EU was already signed in 1994 and ratified in 1997-1998[4]. It was a first step toward further cooperation between these countries and the EU.

What are the goals of the Eastern Partnership ?

This partnership has different goals such as « accelerate political association and deepen economic integration between the EU and its eastern neighbors[5] ». Moreover, is it based on « a shared commitment to international law and fundamental values, including democracy, the rule of law, respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and gender equality, as well as to market economy, sustainable development and good governance [6]».

Besides, every two years a summit is organized in order to carry through this partnership. During the 2015 EaP summit in Riga, the European institutions expressed their desires to continue this partnership with these countries. These summits are organized with the « participation of the EU and partner countries’ heads of state or government and representatives of the European Parliament, the European Commission and the EEAS (European Union External Action Service)[7] ». Indeed, during the summit of November 2017  the European Council expressed its will to improve this partnership.

The EaP is based on the establishment of a free trade zone and a softening of visas regimes between the EU and these countries[8]. This partnership includes different dimensions according to the European Parliament, « a facility for SMEs, regional electricity markets and efforts to improve energy efficiency, increase the use of renewable energy sources (…)[9]  ».

Similarly, some challenges have to be overcomed thanks to this partnership[10] : “the rule of law, the implementation of judicial reforms and the fight against corruption”, then the protection of the environment in order to tackle climate change, “countering hybrid threats and disinformation” and finally, “the strengthening of the environment for civil society and a free and independent media”[11]

II. Moldova and the Eastern Partnership

Moldova is a member of the Eastern Partnership. This country is located between Ukraine and Romania and was a former member of the Soviet Union.

Moldova’s cooperation with the EU started in 2003-2004 when an Action Plan was signed. It established the priorities that Moldova should have solved : « the Transnistrian conflict, supporting institutions, working for democracy and respect for the rule of law, respect for the freedom of the media and freedom of expression, the support of institutional and administrative capacities, the fight against poverty[12] ».

Then, in April 2014, Moldova signed a visa liberalization with the EU. This visa exemption was developed in order to improve travel, economic activities and networking, relationship  between people in Moldova. This is an example of progress made through the Eastern Partnership[13]. Furthermore, in July 2016, an Association Agreement that stated  the implementation of a free trade zone between Moldova and the EU was signed[14]. Indeed, the EU is Moldova’s first trading partner and biggest investor[15]: more than 68% of the exports of Moldova go to the EU and only 8% to Russia.

The EaP addressed several priorities in Moldova: a stronger economy, a stronger governance, a stronger connectivity and a stronger society[16]. The EU has the will to reinforce this partnership in the perspective of its adhesion. By the way, the EU established a special funding program for Moldova with the European Neighborhood Instrument (ENI) for the 2014-2020 period. For instance, in 2017, the EU allocated €56 million in Moldova for projects such as the « support to citizens’ empowerment to engage in local decision making and participatory budgeting[17] ».

The current situation of the Eastern Partnership in Moldova

Moldova faced some major political changes since February 2019. Indeed, during the Parliamentary election of February 2019, the four main Moldovan parties (the Socialists, the Democratic Party, the ACUM electoral bloc and  the Șor) arrived at the top of the results. However, after the election they did not find an agreement to form a majority and a coalition. Therefore, the situation led to « a political crisis », as explained Nicu Popescu during a  meeting organized by the CEPS, the 15th of July 2019[18].

The 8th of June, a coalition was created between two Moldovan political parties which are the Socialist (pro-Russian) and ACUM party (pro-Eu alliance) and was approved by the Parliament[19]. The goal of this newly created coalition is « to free Moldova of mono-oligarchic control[20] », meaning keeping away the democratic party of Vladimir Plahotniuc, an oligarch. He had been the Democratic Party’s leader, although he did not hold an official position in the country[21]. Maia Sandu from ACUM party, was appointed Prime Minister (PM) by the Moldovan Parliament and her government has been recognized by the European institutions and  by EU Member States.

The day after, the Moldovan President, Igor Dodon, was removed by the Moldovan Court of Justice because he refused to dissolve the Parliament and he was temporarily replaced by Pavel Filip who dissolved the assembly and called for early elections on the 6th September. However, the new coalition affirmed that these actions were illegal. The 11th of June, Igor Dodon, canceled the dissolution of the Parliament, which provoked Pavel Filip’s resignation. Currently, Igor Dodon is the President of Moldova.

According to Nicu Popescu, this coalition is based on the « rapprochement » with Russia and the maintenance of closer relations with the EU[22]. Moldova wants to continue its relations with the EU with the association agreement. Furthermore, he said Moldova should stay neutral with NATO, reopen the access to the Russian market and export. He declared Moldova will follow all the former international agreements that were signed.

The relationship between the EU and Moldova

In early July, the new PM Maia Sandu reaffirmed the European perspective of Moldova. In a statement, she thanked the EU for its « principled position, which played a key role in persuading the previous government to leave peacefully and not to try to cling onto power through brute force and repression[23] ». This new Moldovan government will continue to maintain good relationship with the EU in order to pursue this partnership.

The EU congratulates Moldova’s progress and asks it to pursue their reforms[24]. Johaness Hahn, the former European Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations said : « The Republic of Moldova can count on European Union support both politically and – probably even more importantly now – financially, to ensure sufficient resources are available for the implementation of these fundamental reforms[25] ».

Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, also encouraged the pursuit of this partnership : « We are glad that Moldova has now a government, with a bold programme to tackle corruption and reform the country. Obviously, after the programmes, reforms need to happen for real and implementation has to come[26] ». She also said : « in this spirit, what we want to do is keep accompanying and supporting reforms in Moldova[27] ».

What progress should Moldova do in the EaP ?

Firstly, Moldova has not a good image in the European institutions due to its corruption problems, its bad management of affairs and its problems of money embezzlement. Moldova needs the support of the European institutions to fight these problems.

Indeed, Nicu Popescu mentioned during the meeting the priorities of the new Moldovan government. The first one is to create jobs, then to export more towards the EU, to consolidate democratic institutions, to gradually constrain people to stay in the country and finally to re-attract people. The new Moldovan government should also reform its the judicial sector,  boost its security cooperation with EU member states and maintain good relationships with Russia[28]. The foreign minister said it will be « difficult, slow and tough », however it will stay a fundamental priority of the new government[29]. Nevertheless, at the same time, Moldova should be less dependent of the Russian gas and try to develop its own pipeline with Romania[30].

In addition, the Moldovans are divided about the European question. Actually, Nicu Popescu said more than 40% of Moldovans think they should join the EU. Nevertheless, at the same time,  80% of them want good relations with Russia, Ukraine, China,[31]etc.

Natalia Yerashevic, director of the Eastern partnership civil society forum said that this new coalition is leading to more consensus in political parties[32]. According to her, it is viewed as a positive moment to unit the Moldovan population and it is the beginning of a big social transformative process.

Thomas de Waal, Senior Fellow at Carnegie Europe, explained that depopulation and immigration are the main issues on which the country has to work because they have an effect on other eastern European countries. According to Vadim Pistrinciuc, visiting Fellow at ECFR this new government should solve the problems of « independence of media, selective justice, high corruption scandals, invalidation of election results, and changes in electoral legislation – all in defiance of strong objections lodged by the EU [33]».

The Transnistrian conflict

According to Thomas de Waal, he crucial point on which Moldova should progress  is the Transnistrian conflict. Transnistria is a region located in Ukraine where the majority of the population is Moldovan and wants to be reattached to Russia. This conflict between Russia and Moldova has recently evolved positively[34]. Furthermore, in Transnistria, the cooperation to fight smuggling and illegal cooperation should be reinforced[35]. For Nicu Popescu, this conflict is the most peaceful one of the post soviet period. As he explained, in Transnistria there are still Russian troops : some are peacekeepers and are over there because  of ceasefire agreement between Moldova and Russia, even if it does not have a legal basis. However, the Russians promised to withdraw the other group. The Transnistrian issue is important  for  Moldova and the EU. In this region, more than 40% of Transnistrian inhabitants have an Moldovan ID. Nicu Popescu said it is difficult to move faster with Transnistria and they should continue their engagements. Nevertheless, Moldova is not in a position to have quicker progress towards settlements[36]. The new government already launched a dialogue with the Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, to cut down smuggling around this region.

The EU has played a role in the resolution of this conflict and has participated in the 5+2 negotiation process on the settlement of the Transnistrian conflict[37]. In addition, the EU supports: « confidence building measures designed to facilitate the settlement of the Transnistrian conflict[38] ».

Source: Map of Moldova showing the zones of a frozen military conflict with Russia in Transnistria/Transdniestria and a resolved conflict in Gagauzia.

To conclude, the Eastern Partnership is still effective. In Moldova it  brought a lot of progress in different fields. However, Moldova, which recently faced political changes, should continue its efforts to maintain this partnership.

Lucie Cazat


[1] The European Council. « Celebrating 10 years of the Eastern Partnership », 10 may 2019. Available : https://www.consilium.europa.eu/fr/press/press-releases/2019/05/10/celebrating-10-years-of-the-eastern-partnership/

[2] European Parliament. « Three Eastern Partnership neighbours: Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus », Available : http://www.europarl.europa.eu/factsheets/en/sheet/171/trois-voisins-du-partenariat-oriental-ukraine-moldavie-et-bielorussie

[3] Ibid.

[4] DELCOUR, Laure, TULMETS, ELSA. « La Moldavie et la politique de voisinage de l’Union européenne: quel partenariat ? », Revue d’études comparatives Est-Ouest, vol. 46, no. 1, 2015, pp. 137-159.

[5]  European Parliament. « The European Neighbourhood Policy », Available : http://www.europarl.europa.eu/factsheets/en/sheet/170/la-politique-europeenne-de-voisinage

[6] EU neighbours. « Eastern Partnership – 20 Deliverables for 2020 Focusing on key priorities and tangible results », joint staff working document, 2017. Disponible sur: https://library.euneighbours.eu/content/eastern-partnership-20-deliverables-2020-focusing-key-priorities-and-tangible-results.

[7] European Parliament. « The European Neighbourhood Policy », op.cit.

[8] European Council. « Eastern Partnership », [online]. Available : https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/policies/eastern-partnership/

[9] European Parliament. « The European Neighbourhood Policy », op.cit.

[10] European Commission. « Top 10 Achievements of the Eastern Partnership in the last 10 Years », Available : https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/sites/near/files/eastern_partnerships_top_10_achievements.pdf.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] The European Council. « EU relations with the Republic of Moldova ». Available : https://www.consilium.europa.eu/fr/policies/eastern-partnership/moldova/

[14] Ibid.

[15] European External Action Service. « Facts and figures about EU-Moldova relations ». Available : https://eeas.europa.eu/sites/eeas/files/eap_factsheet_moldova_eng_web.pdf.

[16] European Commission. « Moldova », European Neighbourhood Policy And Enlargement Negotiations. Available : https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/neighbourhood/countries/moldova_en

[17] Ibid.

[18]  POPESCU, Nicu, Foreign Minister of Moldova. « Is it a new Moldova ? », CEPS meeting, 15 july 2019.

[19]  « En pleine crise politique, la Moldavie suspend son président et dissout son Parlement ». France 24, 9 June 2019. Available : https://www.france24.com/fr/20190609-moldavie-crise-politique-president-igor-dodon-dissolution-parlement.

[20] PISTRINCIUC, Vadim. « Moldova crisis: The first battle in the war for democracy », European council on foreign relations, 21 June 2019. Available : https://www.ecfr.eu/article/commentary_moldova_crisis_the_first_battle_in_the_war_for_democracy#.

[21] Ibid.

[22] POPESCU, Nicu, Foreign Minister of Moldova. « Is it a new Moldova ? », CEPS meeting, 15 July 2019.

[23] Mc LAUGHLIN, Daniel. « EU pledges cash to Moldova’s new government after political crisis », The Irish times, 3 July 2019. Available : https://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/europe/eu-pledges-cash-to-moldova-s-new-government-after-political-crisis-1.3945668.

[24] Eastern Partnership civil society facility. « Moldova », [online]. Available  : http://eapcivilsociety.eu/moldova.

[25] Mc LAUGHLIN, Daniel. « EU pledges cash to Moldova’s new government after political crisis », op.cit.

[26] European External Action Service. « Speech by High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini at the plenary session of the European Parliament on the situation in the Republic of Moldova », 17 July 2019. Available: https://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/united-states-america/65556/speech-high-representativevice-president-federica-mogherini-plenary-session-european_id.

[27]Ibid.

[28] POPESCU, Nicu, Foreign Minister of Moldova. « Is it a new Moldova ? », CEPS meeting , 15 July 2019.

[29] Ibid.

[30] POPESCU, Nicu, Foreign Minister of Moldova. « Is it a new Moldova ? », CEPS meeting , 15 July 2019.

[31] Ibid.

[32] YERASHEVICH, Natalia, director, secretariat of the Eastern Partnership civil society forum, « Is it a new Moldova ? », CEPS meeting , 15 July 2019.

[33] PISTRINCIUC, Vadim. « Moldova crisis: The first battle in the war for democracy », op.cit.

[34] DE WAAL, Thomas, Carnegie Europe. « Is it a new Moldova ? », CEPS meeting, 15 July 2019.

[35] Ibid. .

[36] POPESCU, Nicu, Foreign Minister of Moldova. « Is it a new Moldova ? », CEPS meeting, 15 July 2019.

[37] European External Action Service. « Facts and figures about EU-Moldova relations », [online]. Available : https://eeas.europa.eu/sites/eeas/files/eap_factsheet_moldova_eng_web.pdf

[38] Ibid.

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