Romania’s Support for Moldova’s EU Accession Process

, by Jules Bigot

Romania's Support for Moldova's EU Accession Process

Romania was once where Moldova is today and Moldova wants to be where Romania is today. That is, in essence, what Maia Sandu claimed during her visit to Timisoara, Romania, on 13 January. A quick look at a map is all it takes to understand how close Moldova and Romania are. In addition to sharing a 681 km border along the Prut River, the two countries have long coexisted within the same political structures, thus bequeathing them a shared history, language (Romanian), and cultural heritage. Nevertheless, with the collapse of the Soviet Union (which ruled over Moldova and with which Romania was affiliated), the paths of these two states diverged. Romania rapidly moved closer to the European Union, becoming a member state in 2007, while Moldova remained within Russia’s sphere of influence for years. This trend is nonetheless changing, with the election of Maia Sandu and the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine having greatly accelerated Moldova’s EU accession process. In this article, we will explore the many different aspects of Romania’s support for Moldova in this important period.

Exchange of Good Practices Along the Prut River

Given its recent experience with EU accession and its proximity to Moldova, Romania is one of the best-placed countries to support the administration in Chisinau. One form of support is the exchange of good practices. This was the purpose of the forum organized by the Romanian parliament on 17 January, aimed at “boosting the absorption of European funds by the Republic of Moldova“ through interinstitutional partnerships and the adoption of Romania’s best practices. The delegation of senior Romanian civil servants within the Moldovan administration also provides support for Moldovan authorities. For example, Former finance minister Anca Dragu was appointed head of the National Bank of Moldova, following the footsteps of diplomat Cosmin Dinescu who was appointed head of the EU civilian partnership mission in Chisinau, or even Marius Steicu, the former head of Romania’s anti-money laundering agency, who was appointed head of the analogous institution in Moldova. Another ten senior Romanian civil servants have joined Moldovan institutions as advisors or high-level EU advisors. This list includes former ministers, Members of the European Parliament, directors of national agencies, and prosecutors. Strategically placed within the Moldovan administration, they share their knowledge of EU procedures and provide a direct link with their neighboring EU member state, Romania — a major resource for Moldova.

Hand-in-Hand Towards Energy Security

In Moldova, energy issues are closely intertwined with the question of EU integration. Totally dependent on Russian gas since its independence, Moldova has regularly been the victim of energy blackmail by Moscow, in a bid to sanction the authorities’ support for Ukraine or their pro-EU stance. Energy security is therefore a priority, especially in the context of EU integration, and Moldova has been able to count on Romania for that matter in recent months. In the lead-up to the winter of 2023, Moldova created gas reserves on Romanian territory to ensure an alternative source of energy supply in case of renewed Russian energy blackmail. Moldova’s reserves in Romania were, however, limited compared to those it has in Ukraine, due to the low gas transit capacity with its western neighbor, preventing effective utilisation of this energy. It was partly for this reason that the energy ministers of the two countries signed a Memorandum of Understanding in December to develop their natural gas and electricity grid interconnections. The agreement provides for an increase in the gas transport capacity of the Iasi-Ungheni-Chisinau pipeline and the continuation of Moldova’s interconnection to the European ENTSO-E electricity grid with the construction of overhead high-voltage lines across the Prut. Through these various projects, one can see that Moldova is definitely anchoring its energy security agenda with its neighbor and partner, Romania. This is a highly strategic choice, given that Moldova will also be connecting itself to the European energy networks — an important step on the road to EU accession.

Chisinau’s Best Ally in Brussels

Beyond the technical and energetic considerations mentioned above, Romania’s political support for Moldova also deserves to be emphasised. As a symbol of their closeness, the first foreign visits of the newly appointed Romanian government in June 2023 were to Chisinau. Foreign minister Luminita Odebescu was the first to arrive, declaring her will to “reaffirm the special, particularly close and deep relations between Romania and Moldova.“ A day later, Prime Minister Marcel Ciolacu arrived in Chisinau and told the press that he felt like “[he’d] come home,“ before describing the relationship between the two countries as that of “twin brothers.“ Romanian support is particularly important for Moldova in the context of its EU accession process and it is safe to say that in Brussels, Bucharest is Chisinau’s best ally. MEP Siegfried Muresan is one of the great architects of this, bringing Moldova’s cause to the forefront of the European stage through his numerous speeches in front of the Parliament and his extensive social media communication. In 2018, as the European Parliament’s chief negotiator for the EU budget, he notably fought for an increase in the funds allocated for the Eastern Neighborhood countries. Since 2019, he has served as the chair of the Delegation to the EU-Moldova Parliamentary Association Committee. Moldova could soon have another major supporter within EU institutions — the current Romanian President Klaus Iohannis. Following Charles Michel’s announcement of his intention to step down as European Council President to run in the European elections, there has been much speculation about his potential successor. Although a number of prominent European politicians have already indicated their interest, the Romanian press reveals that President Klaus Iohannis could also be a strong candidate, given his party’s membership in the European People’s Party (EPP) and his solid national experience. As Charles Michel’s succession saga continues, one thing is certain — the nomination of Klaus Iohannis as European Council President would represent a tremendous asset for Moldova’s EU accession bid.

This brief (non-exhaustive) overview of contemporary cooperation between Moldova and Romania is an undeniable sign of their close ties. This is taking place simultaneously with Moldova’s movement towards the EU, enabling the country to maximize efficiency in its management of the EU accession process. It is now up to the authorities in Chisinau to reap the fruits of cooperation over the coming months to maintain this pro-EU momentum in the forthcoming elections.

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