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To Be or Not To Be: Ukraine, Moldova, and the EU

J. Bailey Wiggins

Although the European Union has granted candidate status for membership to both Ukraine and Moldova, Russian influence is still present and working to maintain its dominance within the former Soviet region. Through direct and indirect warfare, Russian interference demonstrates a vulnerability that the growing unification of Moldovan, Ukrainian, and European ideals presents. This article will serve as a guide to the inner workings of the EU, the implications of EU membership for Ukraine and Moldova, and what obstacles lie in the way of their acquiring full membership status.

The EU

World War II and the collapse of the Soviet Union impacted much of the contemporary international system; the EU is no exception. Based on the foundations of the European Coal and Steel Community from 1952, the modern rendition of the EU formed in 1993 with the hopes of creating an integrated European economy, as well as to deter future intra-European conflict.

Internal Organization

The EU is organized by legislative, executive, judicial, and financial functions – seven individual institutions in total. Executive powers are within the European Council and the European Commission; legislative powers rest within the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union (also called the Council of Ministers); judicial bodies are the Court of Justice of the European Union and the European Court of Auditors; and financials are handled by the European Central Bank. Three of these institutions are directly involved in the process of admitting new members: the European Council, the European Commission, and the European Parliament.

The executive powers, the European Council and the European Commission, are the most prominently discussed. Both of these bodies contain 27 members; the European Council is staffed by the national leaders of member states, and the European Commission contains commissioners that are nominated by the European Council and confirmed by the European parliament. The role of the executive bodies within the EU is somewhat unorthodox in that the European Council sets the agenda of the policy that will be proposed and the European Commission holds the sole authority to propose EU legislation.

The legislative functions, carried out by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers, are therefore unable to propose or set the tone of legislation. These institutions must, however, approve the policies that have been submitted through the executive branch. The European Parliament and the Council of Ministers are elected by EU citizens. The officials within the European Parliament are elected directly. National ministers from each EU member state, elected through respective national elections, are allocated a spot within the Council of Ministers. These ministers are then grouped regarding their areas of expertise, so that all member states’ respective policy positions are represented within the approval process of legislation.

As their names imply, the Court of Justice of the European Union and the European Court of Auditors handle the judicial responsibilities of the EU. Twenty-seven officials appointed by the Council of Ministers run the Court of Auditors. The Court of Auditors is responsible for auditing the EU budget and monitoring its appropriation. The Court of Justice itself actually contains two courts: the European Court of Justice, which is responsible for the interpretation of EU law and rulings on alleged violations of member states, and the General Court, whose responsibilities largely include hearing complaints brought against EU institutions by individuals and organizations. Both of these courts within the Court of Justice of the European Union are staffed by officials who have been jointly appointed by member states; together, they embody the highest judicial authority within the EU.

The European Central Bank, whose president and executive board are appointed by the European Council, heads the financials. The EU’s monetary policy operates upon the implementation of the euro, but this is not all that the Central Bank handles. It also regulates the banking systems within the EU as a whole. The actions of the Central Bank during the European economic crisis within the last decade and a half had a major effect on the performance of member economies.

Process of Accession

There are three steps through which acceding members must go: candidacy, accession negotiations, and treaty ratification. Candidacy status is granted by the European Council through a unanimous vote of approval. The candidate country and the European Council then move to negotiations for the implementation of treaty requirements. Once negotiations are agreed upon and completed, an accession treaty is signed by the candidate country and the EU and then ratified by all member states. This is a simplified explanation, as the average length of time for a candidate state to fully accede to the EU is nine years.

The majority of time is objectively spent on the period of negotiations of accession. There are 35 chapters of the acquis, covering a wide array of topics that must be negotiated and agreed upon before the candidate state can move onto treaty ratification. Chapter 31 on common foreign and security policy and the European security and defense policy is principally important in the current context of the Russian invasion and at the top of Ukraine and Moldova’s list of priorities in these negotiations.

The Copenhagen criteria – stable democratic political institutions, a functioning market economy, and the capacity to implement the acquis effectively – and the candidate state’s ability to move towards and maintain them are implemented as a measure of the success of accession negotiations. Once the union has determined that the candidate state has proven its ability to maintain these criteria and negotiations over all 35 chapters of the acquis are agreed upon, the candidate state may move onto treaty ratification and into full membership.

EU Influence on National Sovereignty

While the EU can be understood as bolstering an all-encompassing European front, member states are far from controlled by it. EU influence varies depending on the topic at hand, referred to as competency levels. Exclusive competencies are areas that are singularly affected by EU law, namely the customs union, business competition rules, and trade agreements. This can be most obviously seen through a region termed the “eurozone,” a group of 19 EU members who have changed their currency to the euro.

With lesser authority are the realms within shared competencies, in which member states can introduce legislation, but can only do so if EU law has not already instituted an adequate policy. Shared competencies are largely areas related to the single market, which dictates the free movement of labor, goods, service, and other capital, but they also include the spheres of agriculture, regional development spending, research, transportation, energy, public health, environmental and consumer protections, and technology.

Supporting competencies are domains in which the EU can only pass legislation that would reinforce member states’ existing national policies; otherwise, supporting competencies are carried out by national governments. Included in this are the topics of culture, education, sport, and much of a government’s social policies.

Therefore it is not correct to assume that EU membership and integration erases the sovereignty of a nation. All the same, EU interference, as it were, was a principal reason for the 2016 Brexit referendum on the status of British membership in the EU, though it should be noted that the leading complaint was on the increase of immigration into the United Kingdom. The majority of the votes were in favor of leaving the union, and as of 2019, the U.K. is no longer a member.

Ukraine and Moldova, however, are much different than the U.K.: they both have smaller economies, less access to resources, and comparatively minute global standing. EU membership is not something to be seen as constricting, but as a way to reinforce their dedication to democratic goals and a globalizing economy.

Ukraine and Moldova

Less than a week after the Russian invasion, Ukraine applied for membership to the EU. The growing Ukrainian economy would benefit greatly from integration, a move that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelesnkyy has said the nation “ha[s] been waiting for 120 days and 30 years.” However, despite the EU granting the wait is not yet over, as the process to full membership typically takes years or even decades; depending on the state of the war, it could take longer.

Even without official EU membership status, the EU has provided protection and access to resources, such as jobs, healthcare, and education, to Ukrainian citizens fleeing the invasion. The full benefits of EU membership could assist in the alleviation of the damage inflicted by the ongoing war, which has damaged Ukrainian energy grids and infrastructure. This damage is so severe that it has been labeled a crime against humanity and the International Criminal Court has officially called for the arrest of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

EU leaders have moved with unprecedented speed in the initial stages of granting both Ukraine and Moldova memberships status, but their status has remained unchanged since being granted membership last year: neither Moldovan nor Ukranian negotiations have even started.

The situation playing out in Moldova resembles what is happening in Ukraine, with notable differences. Similar to the route Ukraine has taken, Moldova also applied for EU membership shortly after the Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine. This small nation stands to gain more from the EU than the average applicant; the integration into a European market would bolster Moldova from its reliance on Russian energy. Currently, the EU is Moldova’s largest development partner, and such a relationship could create distance from Russian influence.

There is also the status of Transdniestria that must be considered. In the eastern region of Moldova around the area of the Dnieper River, a group of Moscow-backed insurgents began a separatist movement shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union out of fear that Moldova would become part of Romania. A remaining Soviet force intervened on the behalf of the separatists, ending the fighting between pro-Romania and pro-Soviet factions. The region has remained without armed conflict for over thirty years despite differing political goals; supporters of both sides interact with one another on a daily basis.

However, while there is no direct use of violence against populations, Russian-backed intimidation, misinformation, and political campaigns has experienced a resurgence in the small republic. This is a sharp difference between the circumstances of Moldova and Ukraine. Even though they are both experiencing attempts from the Russian government to be resewn into the Soviet patchwork, the use of direct violence has been absent in Moldova.

It is not clear if this will continue as Moldova attempts to further integrate itself into the standards set forth by the EU. In February of this year, Moldovan President Maia Sandu accused the Russian government of planning a coup d’état to further destabilize Moldova. Sandu was clear in her assertion that this coup was at least in part motivated by the process of Moldovan accession to the EU.

It is possible that Russian troops may be deployed into the territory of Transdniestria, but hopefully unlikely. With the ongoing invasion of Ukraine, Russian forces are steadily being pulled from other locations within the former Soviet Union. This has already ignited pressure on the Russian government to reassert its dominance over the region. For this reason, it could be speculated that indirect warfare would be the more efficient option in curating Moldovan dissent; the Russian military simply does not have soldiers to spare and should seek other methods to reach their political goals. Yet, in spite of this, it could also be argued that the growing desperation of Russian foreign policy to reclaim control of these areas may justify the implementation of further armed conflict.

Nonetheless, the creation of intrastate conflict compromises the efficiency and speed at which the Moldovan government is able to align itself with the required standards in order to fully accede into the EU. Although the Russian government has provided substantial obstacles in this path, Ukrainian and Moldovan officials are still working towards complete integration with the union.



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