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EU Council recommends policy paper by Passau researchers

The Republic of Moldova is seeking EU membership. Is this possible given the conflict over Transnistria? Researchers from the University of Passau, Julian Plottka from the Jean Monnet Chair of European Politics and Florence Ertel from the Science Hub for Europe, address this question in a policy paper that the Library of the Council of the EU has recommended in its current “Think Tank Review”.

Florence Ertel (2nd from left) and Julian Plottka (back right) with Mihai Popşoi (centre), the current Foreign Minister of the Republic of Moldova. Picture by: Ertel

In December 2023, the European Council decided to open accession negotiations with the Republic of Moldova. The government of President Maia Sandu is endeavouring to join the EU as soon as possible, not least driven by security considerations, as the republic is a possible target of Russian aggression. However, the accession process is difficult. One of the obstacles is the status of the Transnistria region along Moldova’s border with Ukraine.

In a policy paper published by the Institut für Europäische Politik (IEP), Julian Plottka, research associate at the Jean Monnet Chair for European Politics, and political scientist Florence Ertel, Managing Director of the Science Hub for Europe, analyse the challenges associated with Transnistria. In the policy paper “The status of Transnistria and Neutrality: Major Obstacles for Moldovaʼs EU accession and few Incentives for Reforms”, they discuss reforms needs during the accession process. From the authors’ point of view, one prerequisite is the reintegration of Transnistria into the Republic of Moldova. Official Russian soldiers are still stationed in the internationally non-recognised and Russian-backed state on Moldovan territory, while companies in the region, like all Moldovan companies, have preferential access to the EU internal market. “In the current geopolitical situation, the accession of a region occupied by Russian troops to the EU is impossible ns,” says Plottka. However, the Moldovans have come to terms with the status quo. “Changing it is unpopular with the population, so the pro-European government of President Maia Sandu has little interest in tackling the issue.”

The situation is similar with the country’s neutrality. The government would like to abolish this constitutional provision, but has little support for doing so. Although Austria, Ireland and Malta are neutral states in the EU, none of the three countries sees themselves under any specific threat. “This is different in the Republic of Moldova, where the fear of a possible Russian aggression is one of the main drivers for the desire to join the EU,” says Ertel. However, there are strict limits to the security policy integration of a neutral state into the EU. This poses a dilemma for Moldova’s accession to the EU. A political discussion about the status quo of Transnistria and the country’s neutrality risks of undermining the popular support for EU accession. 

Researchers gained direct impressions of the country

The Passau researchers’ analysis is based on a field trip to the Republic of Moldova organised by the IEP. Plottka and Ertel had visited the country before the European Council decided to open accession negotiations in December 2023. Supported by the German Federal Foreign Office, they took part in many discussions with representatives of the government, opposition and local politicians as well as in the “Next4EU Lab” conference in order to gain a direct impression of the country’s preparations for EU accession. The “Next4EU-Lab” and the field trip are part of an IEP project that aims to support the democratic transformation process in the Republic of Moldova.

Research into the European integration process and the Common Foreign and Security Policy is one of the main focuses of the Jean Monnet Chair for European Politics at the University of Passau. “The fact that the Council Library recommends the policy paper shows that our research is practice-related and therefore highly relevant for decision-makers at EU level,” explains the chair holder Professor Daniel Göler, with whom Plottka and Ertel are doing their doctorates. The policy analysis is part of the European research focus at the University of Passau. The Science Hub for Europe (SHE) is a central academic institution that is intended to set the course for greater visibility of the University's European focus, further bundling of internal synergies and an even more active interlinking and presence at the European level.

Professor Daniel Göler

Professor Daniel Göler

conducts research on European integration

Where is the European Union going?

Where is the European Union going?

Professor Daniel Göler holds the Jean Monnet Chair of European Politics at the University of Passau. His research focuses on all matters concerning European integration. Naturally, this involves academic networking across the globe. At the same time, the chair makes European political topics accessible to the general public by organising events and publishing the Jean Monnet Papers.

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