Energy in Moldova: Are EU prospects in Danger?
As the effects of the war in Ukraine are increasingly felt in the small neighbouring country of Moldova, several European countries gathered in Paris to coordinate assistance. The eastern European country, which was considered a potential next target for Russian military aggression in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine, has seen Russian intimidation and aggression through means similar to the ones seen by EU member states. Gas deliveries from Russia to Moldova have been drastically reduced, and several power outages have taken place throughout the country due to damage to Ukrainian energy infrastructure, a major supplier of electricity for Moldova accounting for 20% of the total electricity supply prior to the crisis.
Actions in the breakaway region of Transnistria, in the east of the country, have worsened the situation. Electricity produced at a major power plant in the region had its supply of electricity to the rest of the country cut, dealing a significant blow to the nation given the large share of electricity provided by the region: 70%. This culmination of events has led to a soaring price rate for Moldovan households. The country has now witnessed a 34% inflation rate, placing a strain on families and the government alike.
A short-term solution established by the Moldovan government has been to import gas from EU member states such as Romania and Slovakia, nonetheless, this is still insufficient in the face of such energy shortages in the country.
Prior to this conference in Paris, Germany and France had announced €200 million in support for Moldova. Additional pledges were made at the conference that took place on the 21st of November, including a further €100 million originating from France and €32 million from Germany.
Despite the aid offered by EU nations at this conference, the political and social impacts have already dawned upon Moldova. Large protests have already invaded major areas of the capital Chisinau, organised by pro-Russian parties present in the country’s parliament. These protests, led by Ilan Shor, have called upon the resignation of both pro-EU president Maia Sandu and the similarly aligned government in place.
Impacts on EU membership ambitions
Moldova elected a fiercely pro-EU president to power in 2020, beating out pro-Russia incumbent Igor Dodon. President Maia Sandu is currently backed by a strong majority in parliament and a robust government that shares her values and visions. Nevertheless, weaknesses in the future of their EU ambition have begun to appear.
The European Union delivered candidate status to Moldova and Ukraine in June of this year, after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Both nations, together with Georgia, have shown strong ambition in the past years to join the EU. Yet, this candidate status carries strong expectations on the part of current EU member states in the light of reform in these nations. In Moldova, the justice system, corruption and protection of human rights are all areas where reform has been demanded by the bloc of 27. Although strong ambition seemed to be the guiding statement of the Moldovan government, a long series of crises including this energy crisis have disabled the ability and focus of the government to carry out these imperative reforms. President Sandu herself has stated that this new crisis has the possibility to "jeopardize our social peace and security”.
In an opinion piece written by President Sandu, she highlights the major reforms that the government undertook in the areas of press freedom and money laundering. Economic growth is equally mentioned in the successes of their government. However, the ending of the opinion piece points to a dark next chapter in the book of Moldovan history: “we can’t do this alone”. Government ministers have highlighted the need for more interconnectedness between the EU and the former-Soviet nation, with Nicu Popescu, the minister for foreign affairs, emphasising on the need for these projects to move faster. Public opinion in Moldova has also begun to show signs of impatience and fatigue towards EU integration and the policies that come with it, with many considering the energy crisis of more importance than EU plans.
Among all of these obstacles, a major issue remains in the country: the previously mentioned breakaway region of Transnistria. Russian influence remains strong in the region, with Russian state TV being strongly present and with there being over 1 500 Russian troops permanently stationed. Tensions in this region have only grown in the past months. The region’s state security ministry was shelled in Tiraspol in April and several false alarms regarding bombs and other risks were sounded in the region. With such a tense and volatile standoff within the country in the future, EU membership is unlikely given the necessity for the “stability of institutions”, outlined in the Copenhagen Criteria of 1993, in order to become a member.
Fatigue over EU membership processes have also been seen among the Western Balkans, some of which have been candidates for EU accession for over a decade. Leaders from the region have expressed their disappointment with the progress of their candidacies.
For the present however, Moldova can count on the newly formed European Political Community for relations with EU member states and their partners on the continent. The choice of Moldova for the group’s conference in 2023 was welcomed by President Sandu, stating it is a “a sign of support we value highly”.