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Home » CENUSA: Multi-speed EU Integration of Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia

CENUSA: Multi-speed EU Integration of Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia

by Abram Tsitsishvili
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“If the EU institutions do not ensure that the progress achieved by Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia [is] fully impartial, they will be doing them a disservice. Their path towards Europeanisation must not be subjectivised or romanticised, nor must it be politicised to avoid discouraging European aspirations of the political forces that make up the government and the opposition…”

The regional geopolitical context strongly influences the speed with which Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia move towards the European Union. In the spring of 2022, Russian aggression forced the EU to offer its three Eastern European neighbours an unusually swift European perspective. Threats from the Russian factor played a persuasive argument in favour of Ukraine’s and Moldova’s EU candidacy.

The same Russian factor, however, had an opposite role in the case of Georgia. The overlap of the local oligarchic phenomenon, with the trends of weakening of democratic institutions, pushed the EU to place Georgia in the category of potential candidates, where it remains.

The results of the evaluations on the transposition of the EU acquis show that, in addition to the Russian danger, the decisions in Brussels on the candidacies of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia were strongly dominated by political calculations, with meritocratic evaluation taking second place. In any case, from a political perspective, Ukraine and Moldova are more compatible with the EU bid. The Georgian authorities use the EU’s assessments of the application of European law to indirectly reproach Brussels for dealing with favouritism for Moldova. At the same time, Georgia demands to be compared with Ukraine due to similar results.

Georgia’s attempt to (geo-)politicise Moldova’s sub-optimal performance in transposing European law or putting it on an equal footing with Ukraine may cast a negative light on EU enlargement policy. Even if the Georgian government pursues internal political goals, its criticism of the EU’s objectivity may increase the demands of the European institutions in the dialogue with Moldova and Ukraine on the timetable for opening accession negotiations.

This would contradict Kyiv’s efforts to speed up EU membership (to up to a maximum of two years). To avoid image costs in relation to the Western Balkans and possible opposition from certain member states, the EU could centre its attention on maximising results in Ukraine and Moldova before starting accession negotiations.

At present, the assessment of progress related to sectoral and policy reforms, as well as harmonisation with EU legislation, shows that Ukraine is in the lead. Although Moldova is already a candidate country and Georgia is in the potential candidate category (along with Kosovo), both face problems, albeit of a completely different nature. Moldova, which lagged behind Georgia in terms of harmonisation, was included in the pre-accession dialogue, while Georgia was included in the list of possible candidates. Thus it can be deduced that the EU meritocratic mechanism has a strong political component, where technical parameters may have less significance.

Progress towards meeting EU requirements: Ukraine and Moldova ahead of Georgia

In the context of the EU-Ukraine summit and the EU-Moldova Association Council in the first half of February, some nuances related to the progress of the three countries in the field of European integration can be highlighted. Most attention is focused on priority political and sectoral reforms, where the EU would like to see irreversible progress.

In this field, the European Commission has outlined some relatively clear priority requirements handed over to the national governments of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia for implementation. Even if the EU requirements (conditions) are binding, some political actors in these countries treat them as “recommendations”. In reality, without meeting these requirements, none of the three states will be able to advance in the dialogue with the EU.

It is true that the EU might be inclined to provide a subjective (politicised) assessment of progress. However, this depends on how the EU perceives the level of trust towards national decision makers. The political situation in the target country is essential. Therefore, if the government finds itself embroiled in a political scandal that risks discrediting the EU, the European opening will be minimal.

For now, regardless of the progress of reforms, only Georgia risks remaining in a shadow cone relative to the EU. This may be determined by the oligarchic phenomenon and the critical situation related to the rapidly deteriorating health of former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, a Ukrainian citizen, who is serving his sentence in a Georgian prison (European Parliament, February 2023).

Analysis of the progress in the implementation of the EU conditions by Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia shows differing results (see Table 1). Ukraine is in the lead with two requirements out of seven fulfilled and only one requirement where additional efforts are needed. As for Moldova, the problematic issue, pinpointed in the case of Ukraine, concerns the rule of law. More precisely, it is imperative to create an adequate composition of the Advisory Group of Experts, following the recommendations of the Venice Commission, for an efficient and non-politicised selection of Constitutional Court judges. Complications related to Moldova are also related to the rule of law.

This refers to the fact that the parliamentary majority ignored multiple recommendations from the Venice Commission in relation to the new electoral legislation. An example of this is the composition of the Central Electoral Commission, which according to the new provisions favours the dominance of the electoral body by a single party. In any case, Georgia has the most problems. Thus, despite some progress, four of the 12 EU requirements need to be accompanied by significant adjustments in Georgia. The deficit areas include political polarisation, judicial reform, de-oligarchisation and the media. In all these areas, the government’s actions appear to be geared towards imitating progress rather than effectively solving the issues.

Table 1. Progress achieved by Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia in implementing the EU requirements set out in 2022

Condition is mostly implemented228111325
Progress is going on458778542
Actions taken, but serious issues remain to be addressed114111433
Lack of progress000
Total number of actions7100910012100
Source: Emerson, Akhvlediani, Cenusa, Movchan and Remizov, February 2023

The degree of implementation of EU legislation: Ukraine is the most advanced and Moldova is behind Georgia

In the legislative harmonisation chapter, the EU assessed the progress based on the information provided by the governments of Kyiv, Chisinau and Tbilisi after the second questionnaire was completed and sent to Brussels in the spring of 2022. Although the reports on the approximation with the EU acquis at the end of December 2022, the EU published them on February 2, 2023. According to some reports, the content of the EU reports was already familiar to certain governments in mid-January, but it was kept away from the public.

This is the case in Moldova, where Foreign Minister Nicu Popescu declared the EU report an “internal document” (, January 2023). Among the areas to which the EU draws attention in these reports, it is worth highlighting the institutional composition and the application of legislation. The European side provides a rating on the degree of transposition of its legislation into the legal framework of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia: early progress, some progress, moderate progress, good level and advanced progress.

Of the 33 EU accession chapters, which were mentioned by the European Commission in the reports published in February 2023, the chapters in which early, moderate and good progress are identified deserve special attention. In this way, the most problematic areas can be mapped, but also those areas in which progress has been made. Thus certain explanations can be found about the factors that contribute to progress or that, on the contrary, hinder it.

According to the assessments of the European Commission (See Table 2), only Ukraine has made good progress in several areas: 1) the customs union; 2) energy; 3) foreign relations and 4) security policy. In these areas, Moldova and Georgia have moderate results. The foreign policy and security aspects, where Ukraine stood out, could be due to the strong alignment with the European agenda in the context of the Russian military aggression, which dates back to 2014. Unlike Ukraine, both Moldova and Georgia have not yet aligned with the EU sanctions regime against Russia. In financial and export areas, the two countries implement the effects of sanctions to avoid secondary sanctions from the US.

Table 2. Progress in approximation to EU legislation for Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia

Early progress8125
Some progress151819
Moderate progress539
Good progress500
Advanced progress000
Total evaluated chapters333333
Source: Reports of the European Commission, February 2023

In the case of early progress, Moldova has the most chapters where harmonisation is at an early stage (12 in total), compared to eight identified in Ukraine and six, respectively, in Georgia. One of the areas that stands out in Moldova relates to public procurement, where due to the lack of effective digital mechanisms, a high incidence of corruption is still observed. A common problem identified by the EU for all three countries is non-compliance with EU legislation on labour movement. Other chapters where all three are in the early stages concern the environment, agriculture and rural development, regional policies and budgetary provisions. Unlike Ukraine and Georgia, Moldova has lagged behind in the transposition of European provisions on company law, financial services, taxation and statistics. Some problem areas overlap in Moldova and Ukraine: social policies and fiscal control. Harmonisation of legislation is at an early stage on intellectual property only in Ukraine.

Georgia has exactly nine chapters where the EU identified moderate progress, followed by Ukraine (five chapters) and Moldova (three chapters). Georgian law has been harmonised with European law in the fields related to the right of establishment and the movement of capital, where both Moldova and Ukraine are at an early stage. The chapters dealing with monetary policy, industrial policy, education and culture and, respectively, the customs union, are other areas in which Georgia is more advanced than the other two countries. This is largely due to the massive liberalisation that took place before the Association Agreement with the EU was signed in 2014 (the period of the Saakashvili government).

In any case, Ukraine is one step ahead of the others in terms of free movement of goods, digitisation, but also food safety. Due to the transposition of phytosanitary regulations, Ukraine is the only one of the three countries that can export goods of animal origin, such as poultry and dairy products. Although Georgia seems to perform similarly to Ukraine, the latter takes the lead in terms of European legislation implemented at a good level. The main problems are related to the Moldovan case, where the delay in the transposition of the European acquis has some systemic loopholes that must be urgently eliminated so that the “Europeanisation” of the Moldovan legislation gets more efficient.

In lieu of conclusions…

The expectations regarding the openness that the EU should show towards Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia are exaggerated. Threats of Russian origin prioritise the EU’s political criteria when examining the progress of the three countries. In this context, there is a risk of reducing the responsibilities of these countries vis-à-vis the efforts that their political and bureaucratic elites must make to comply with the technical criteria without deviations and hesitations.

If the EU institutions do not ensure that the progress made by Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia is fully impartial, they will be doing them a disservice. Their path towards Europeanisation must not be subjectivised or romanticised, nor must it be politicised to avoid discouraging European aspirations of the political forces that make up the government and the opposition. The role of the EU is to support reform and Europeanisation in parallel, ensuring fairness in the process of evaluating progress through the use of conditionality.

Given the war, in the case of Ukraine conditionality can be punctual and flexible. The conditionality should be applied without deviations in relation to Moldova and Georgia, where there is evidence of poor performance in implementing the European acquis or in meeting the political criteria.

Source: intellinews

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