The expec­ta­tions for the German Council Pres­i­dency as to the future shape of the Eastern Part­ner­ship from the perspec­tive of civil society. The case of the Republic of Moldova

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As part of our project “Eastern Part­ner­ship 2.0” we publish a series of arti­cles about the three EU asso­ci­a­tion states (Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova). Three authors from the region (Paata Gaprindashvili, Mariam Tsit­sikashvili, Hennadiy Maksak, Angela Gramada) analyse the expec­ta­tions for the German Council Pres­i­dency as to the future shape of the Eastern Part­ner­ship from the perspec­tive of civil society.

By Angela Gramada

In its current form, the program for Germany’s Pres­i­dency of the EU Council is substan­tially different from what was envisaged in the initial planning. The final plan focuses on the specific goal and priority of over­coming the crises caused by COVID-19 pandemic. Germany, with an economy less affected by Covid-19 than those of many other European countries, will have to promote a foreign policy that can support the appli­ca­tion at the EU level of the principle of soli­darity and demo­c­ratic prin­ci­ples, while gener­ating the necessary cohesion, and support for the view that the European policies and projects being promoted are feasible and will yield common benefits across EU borders.

Security, public safety, and socio-economic cohesion are the key prior­i­ties for the German EU Pres­i­dency in the next six months. These prior­i­ties are cross-cutting elements in the German program, and in the coming months we will see how the process through which these prior­i­ties are placed in relation to one another and imple­mented unfolds, not only within the European Union but also beyond its borders.

Speaking of borders, the non-EU partners expect these prior­i­ties to be imple­mented in Eastern Europe as well, including the appli­ca­tion of the concept of civilian security as part of the discus­sions on European security. At issue are questions like how this concept can be inte­grated intoac­tions taken to increase the resilience of public insti­tu­tions, into socio-economic reforms and efforts to make political discourses account­able, and into the strategy for coping with the pandemic; how the states can address this issue in their inter­ac­tions with unrec­og­nized regimes in areas for which consti­tu­tional author­i­ties do not have access to data and no means ofpro­viding support to their citizens. No conver­sa­tion about a strategy to mitigate the impacts of various risks and chal­lenges can be produc­tive without an under­standing of the specific situation of each dialogue partner. In the document “Eastern Part­ner­ship. 20 Deliv­er­ables for 2020: Bringing tangible results for citizens” this concept of civilian security is found in several prior­i­ties (rule of law, reforms, security). It must continue to be supported, even though it is an extremely technical issuerequiring sustained and immediate action. Over­coming the pandemic, as a priority issue, passes from Croatia to Germany pres­i­dency. This means that more attention must be paid to this area.

The “pandemic” issue must also be addressed from the perspec­tive ofthe other prior­i­ties that Germany has set for itsEU Council pres­i­dency: climate change and digi­tal­iza­tion. De facto, climate change and digi­tal­i­sa­tion are constant elements inGermany’s foreign policy, which promotes­both issues at the European and global level. These issues­take on even greater strategic impor­tance in the context of a pandemic. Progress in these areas is accom­pa­nied by increased oppor­tu­ni­ties to stimulate the economy, inno­va­tion and the safety of commer­cial transport, and helps create oppor­tu­ni­ties to mitigate the negative impact and risks asso­ci­ated with epidemics or natural disasters, including that ofre­suming the discus­sions for granting macro-financial support to the Republic of Moldova.

Returning, however, to Eastern Europe and the Republic of Moldova and to the primary need to achieve the objec­tives of the program for Germany’s pres­i­dency of the EU Council beyond the external borders of Europe, one can recom­men­dac­tions taken to extend the prin­ci­ples estab­lished by Germany not only within the EU, but also in the rela­tion­ship withnon-EU partners, with the aims of:

- further encour­aging public inter­ac­tions and private part­ner­ships and joint projects, in which European expe­ri­ences and inno­va­tions or economic projects can be taken over under the legal framework generated by the Asso­ci­a­tion Agree­ments and the DCFTA;

- encour­aging qual­i­ta­tive political debate as well as mech­a­nisms of coop­er­a­tion in the next financial period (2021–2027) to enhance theef­fec­tive­nessof the Eastern Part­ner­ship project, which will provide the necessary framework for imple­mentingini­tia­tives that areal­ready deliv­ering qual­i­ta­tive change;

- supporting the eval­u­a­tion and improve­ment of these mech­a­nisms at the forth­coming Eastern Part­ner­ship summit (planned for March 2021), without neglecting the impor­tance of the rule of law, good gover­nance, economic reforms or the multi­lat­eral coop­er­a­tion in areas such as the economy, energy, and security;

- avoiding an exclusive focus on mapping issues and chal­lenges, but instead coming equipped with solutions and recom­men­da­tions for a sustained, contin­uous and effective dialogue on common or specific issues facing Eastern European actors that also affect the content of public security policies in neigh­boring states.

Germany is perceived in the Republic of Moldova as a state with a strong potential to influence political decision-making and the allo­ca­tion of financial support to various projects. At the level of public opinion, expec­ta­tions are high due to the fact that the debates on the strategic approach tothe future of the Eastern Part­ner­ship coincide or overlap with the agenda of the German Pres­i­dency of the EU Council, although these are, at the same time, subject to careful scrutiny. The caution is fuelled by the way Berlin’s rela­tion­ship with Moscow is evolving, but also by the dialogue between different European partners on foreign policy issues, prior­i­ties and objec­tives, how inte­grated they are and how they might be turned into opportunities.

In recent months, the EU has shown that there is a need for soli­darity, involve­ment and cohesion in promoting common interests. Even actors who had previ­ously denied this have found the necessary support within the EU. The Republic of Moldova was no exception. Casting doubt on the cred­i­bility of the project of building a united Europe is still a tactic used by political actors exploring populism as a way to impose them­selves in the domestic political debate. To reduce the impact of this at the local level, which has the potential for regional expansion, the EU itself needs to be more respon­sible, more versatile and faster in responding to chal­lenges, in iden­ti­fying solutions.Therein lies the diffi­culty of Germany’s mission: to offer a tailor-made solution for every challenge.

In the Republic of Moldova, the cred­i­bility of the European project has seen some ups and downs, and is perceived differ­ently in the context of electoral periods or other current chal­lenges. One question of impor­tance here is who speaks on behalf of the EU to the Republic of Moldova, what is the status of this actor and what message is commu­ni­cated to the partners. The citizens of the Republic of Moldova expect the German pres­i­dency of the EU Council to take a firm stance onthe need to move forward with the imple­men­ta­tion of economic reforms, concern­sre­gard­ingjus­tice and judicial reform, the emphasis on security and the settle­ment of regional conflicts. Politi­cians are guided by other interests, and seek to find inter­me­di­aries that can help them meettheir own goals. Germany must avoid being iden­ti­fied too strongly with Moldovan political actors. This is the only way to have a long-term impact rather than be merely a series of minor temporary successes.

Any European project or policy undergoes periods of success and regres­sion. This is only natural given that the envi­ron­ment in which they are imple­mented is so volatile. When speaking of the Eastern Part­ner­ship, we must not forget the context in which this project was launched, i.e. imme­di­ately after the Russo-Georgian war in August 2008.Nor should we forget that most EaP member countries face security dilemmas, which amplify social and economic problems. The European Neigh­bour­hood Policy is not a panacea able to resolve all the dilemmas of the states involved in it, but rather a set of strate­gies and measures capable of miti­gating the negative impact produced by a partic­ular national objective or regional context, depending on the issue addressed by this policy.In the asso­ci­ated countries, stability, democracy and rule of law are pillars which may collapse in the absence of a sustained­in­ternal will to achieve objec­tives and well-defined national interests.These pillars must be supported.Only then can the European Neigh­bour­hood Policy argue that it is able to support the achieve­ment of the EU’s foreign policy objec­tives effectively.

Angela Gramada is President at Experts for Security and Global Affairs Association.