For Moldova, EPC summit is a chance to shine

This week, Moldova plays host to the second meeting of the European Political Community (EPC), placing the country firmly in the global spotlight. 

Moldova is not usually front-page news; in most parts of the Western world, it’s not usually news at all. The odd article about its superb wines perhaps, a feature on its breakaway region of Transnistria, soccer results when its teams play more starred opponents. 

Russia’s war on Ukraine has changed all of that.  

Moldova, which shares a long border with Ukraine, has become a frontline state of great interest to anyone following events in Central and Eastern Europe. At the beginning of the war there were concerns that Russia might use its military base in Transnistria to launch attacks on southern Ukraine.  

Since then, its impressive president, Maia Sandu, has manoeuvered Moldova carefully westwards, applying for membership of the European Union (Moldova was awarded candidate status in June 2022), and supporting Ukraine as much as the country’s constitutional neutrality allows. 

It has received hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees, fended of hundreds of cyber-attacks – assumed to originate in Russia – and Sandu has been a constant presence at international forums, warning continually that Russia poses a threat not just to Ukraine but to all of the countries of the region. “Russia wants to remake the Soviet Union,” she said earlier this month in an interview with the Financial Times. 

In February, she accused Russia of plotting to use foreign “saboteurs” to overthrow her pro-EU government. 

Perhaps the country’s greatest achievement however has been to wean itself off Russian gas in record time, helped by the European Union. 

Prime Minister Dorin Recean said on May 18 that while at the start of the war 100 per cent of energy consumed in Moldova originated in Russia, “today Moldova can exist with absolutely no natural gas or electricity from Russia”. 

“Moldova no longer consumes Russian gas, it is integrated in the European energy network both technically and commercially,” he told a security conference in the Romanian capital Bucharest.

The European Political Community 

This week, Moldova plays host to the second meeting of the European Political Community (EPC), an informal body created last year following a plea from French President Emmanuel Macron calling for a new political organisation to unite democracies – both inside and outside of the EU – on the European continent.  

Speaking last May two days after being sworn in for a second term as French president, Macron said he wanted to see more “big thinking” on the future of Europe, saying the war in Ukraine showed the need for a “historic process of reflection”.  

“The war in Ukraine and the legitimate aspiration of its people, just like that of Moldova and Georgia, to join the European Union, encourages us to rethink our geography and the organisation of our continent,” said Macron. 

As well as the 27 members of the EU, the group also includes the UK, Turkey, Ukraine, the six countries of the Western Balkans, Switzerland, Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway, as well as Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Moldova. Since the first summit last year, the microstates of Andorra, Monaco and San Marino have also joined. 

The new format has been dubbed a “United Nations in Europe” by Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda.  

No short cuts

This week’s summit of leaders from the 47 member states will take place at Mimi Castle, Bulboaca, east of the Moldovan capital Chișinău. The location, symbolically and perhaps significantly, is close to Moldova’s border with its breakaway region of Transnistria: indeed, the castle is closer to Transnistria’s capital Tiraspol than it is to Chișinău. 

Sandu is likely to use the EPC summit to push for faster Moldovan access to the EU, something she sees as the only guarantee against becoming Russia’s next target. On May 21, tens of thousands of people rallied in Chișinău in support of European Union membership. 

“Moldovans know how to make the right choice because there is no family that does not have brothers or grandchildren in Europe,” Sandu told the crowd, a sea of EU, Ukrainian, and Moldovan flags. “We know that peace and prosperity are in Europe. Moldova will join the European Union, and this must happen by 2030.” 

That date is the very earliest Moldova can expect to become an EU member. Faster access to the EU is unlikely: the EU has no mechanism to facilitate fast track access even if the political will to do so existed. In the capitals of Western Europe, such will is lacking. Both Ukraine and Moldova, made candidates for membership at the same time, were clearly told that the accession process would be carried out “by the book”, with no short cuts. 

Moldova is not alone

In the run up to the EPC summit, European leaders have been posting short videos of support for Moldova linked by the hashtag: “MoldovaIsNotAlone”. It offers an invaluable opportunity to continue to promote European values at such an important time. 

For Moldova, while the summit may not hasten EU membership, it does place the country firmly in the global spotlight. 

“There has never been such a mega-event in the history of Moldova,” Felix Hett, an expert on Ukraine and Moldova at Germany’s Friedrich Ebert Foundation, told the AFP this week.  

“If all goes well, the summit will be a promotional event for Moldova, proof of what the small country can achieve.”

Photo: A rally in support of Moldovan EU membership, held in Chișinău on May 21. (Maia Sandu official Facebook page).

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