Agreements on readmission and visa facilitation: aiming high, striking low

Posted: 19 Feb 2007

The way the Moldovan authorities conduct sometimes the foreign policy reflects their arbitrary management style in domestic affairs, in spite of diplomatic practice that imply restraint and predictable behaviour. Yet, as far as we know, the Moldovan Delegation in charge of negotiating the Agreement between Republic of Moldova and the European Community on facilitation of visa issuance has received instruction from the Presidency which knocked down the expectations held by the European Commission officials. Instead of negotiating the above mentioned Agreement, Moldovans stated that they have the mandate to negotiate the liberalization of visa regime not its facilitation. (However, there have been no objections to commence negotiations on the Agreement between the Republic of Moldova and the European community on readmission of persons residing without authorization.)

In fact, this means that instead of a document regulating the visa issuance and the conditions of residence in the EU member states, Chisinau has asked overnight for a regime similar to the one granted to the countries which are EU member- candidates. The Moldovan authorities also knew that the Commission’s negotiators have the Council’s mandate to negotiate the Agreement on facilitation of visa issuance and nothing more than that. The assumption that the Commission’s representatives will return to the Council is 25 times less plausible than the assumption that the Moldovan diplomats will return to the President's Office to explain to Mr Voronin the real stakes in the process of getting closer to the EU.

There is no doubt that the Moldovan diplomats are fully aware of this and they have informed in due time the President's Office, the Parliament and the Government about the real prospects of the negotiations with the EU both at the level of the Commission and that of the EU member states.

However, the bold approach adopted too often by the President Vladimir Voronin in the domestic affairs cannot be automatically transferred to the foreign policy, in particular to the relations with the EU. Moreover, our high-level officials should first have read the document which will guide EU's relations with Moldova until 2013 – the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument, which defines the Country Strategy for 2007-2013.

There it is clearly stipulated what are the activities under the heading "Cooperation in justice and home affairs" and stated that the assistance will be granted for such issues as migration, including the readmission, visas, asylum, border management, fighting against terrorism and organized crime, including the traffic in human beings and drugs etc.

Although this is still a draft document, its status of Final Provisional implies that it passed through all internal procedures and it is to be approved by the Commission, while the Parliament has the right to a consultative vote.

What is important in this regard is that Moldova is defined as an EU neighbour at least until 2013 and it is very unlikely that the Commission's strategy will change overnight in the absence of some radical circumstances.

However, in relations that are described by Chisinau as strategic and far-reaching, surprises like the one offered by the Moldovan Delegation at the negotiations do not enhance confidence between partners. Unlike the reluctant attitude of some EU member states, the Commission has goodwill towards Moldova but that could diminish on such occasions.

Anyway, after the surprise effect passed, the Commission has suggested that Chisinau takes a break for a though pause until April if it wishes to sign the Agreement in general. Of course, at the domestic level, the authorities have tried to save appearances by stating that the "EU Delegation has displayed understanding and a constructive attitude and now it has to consider the issue in line with the EU internal procedures" (excerpt from a statement by the Moldovan Foreign and European Integration Ministry published in the “Moldova Suverana” newspaper on 15 February 2007). That was done as if the public is fully unaware of the well-known fact that mandate for the negotiations could be normally altered only after the status of an EU neighbouring state is changed into that of an EU candidate-state or any other formal-legal status that would undoubtedly stipulate Moldova's institutional future in the EU.

In the context of the Agreement on visa facilitation, as well as in the context of the European integration process generally, there are also some rumours circulated according to which the President Vladimir Voronin is frustrated over the large number of Moldovan citizens applying for Romanian citizenship and that he would like to hit the ball in this field, in particular ahead of the upcoming local elections.

On the other hand, it is claimed Andrei Stratan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration, is given deliberately impossible tasks in order to exclude him from the future race for the top political and governmental positions.

We cannot comment on these allegations, although, this possibility should not be ruled out given the arbitrary nature of the decisions taken by the current authorities. It is obvious that the number of Moldovan citizens seeking Romanian citizenship in order to have the possibility to travel freely to the EU is large and that disturbs the President Vladimir Voronin since one day he could wake up without the human "material" necessary to build up his version of the Moldovan statehood (it is worth mentioning here the draft law banning public employees from holding dual citizenship).

Also, there are obvious subterfuges within the Moldovan bureaucracy where politics interferes with no remorse. Let's just recall the "red card" showed by the President Vladimir Voronin to the Government at the end of 2006 for "arrears" regarding European integration and the readiness, as we are informed, of Foreign Minister Andrei Stratan to resign on that occasion.

We do not know what colour the next card will be, maybe orange, but it is clear that Moldovans will not be allowed to travel to the EU without visas in a foreseeable future, which means until 2013, when the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument as well as the EU budget cycle expire. This is what will occur unless we witness some striking developments within the EU, forecasts that we will leave for some other time since they have nothing in common with progress in the field of integration registered by the current Moldovan Government.

At the same time, the Moldovan negotiators could use this situation to attempt the largest possible extension of category of individuals who could enjoy a facilitated visa regime. It could be possible as well to obtain a visa free regime for holders of service passports, along with holders of diplomatic passports given the fact that the transposition of the acquis implies a deep involvement of officials and their subsequent frequent business trips abroad. And not because a bad start can sometimes lead to a good end, but at least we should take advantage of situations in which we find ourselves, usually because of the intellectually limited capacity of some of our state advisors. Otherwise, it would be probably good to be aware that in diplomacy James Bond's arrogant and unpredictable style could perhaps reduce frustration over the relations with a country which is illegally deploying its army on the territory of the Republic of Moldova, but the relations with a partner like EU should be built on another basis, especially given the fact that the Commission has repeatedly proved that it is a "natural" ally of small countries.

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