Republic of Moldova Adapting the Visegrad Model of Regional Cooperation

A direct contact among the University students from the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Moldova inspired students to thought-sharing. Short essay bellow shows what the students have to say on the topic of European Integration and Reform Experience of the Visegrad countries and how it relates to Moldova’s European path.

Title: Republic of Moldova Adapting the Visegrad Model of Regional Cooperation
Author: Marin Danu
University: University of Pecs, Faculty of Humanities (Third Semester)


The first paragraph of the essay will present a brief theoretical review about the integrationist processes in Europe. With the help of Pełczyńska-Nałęcz criteria I will try to answer how and why European Union adopts a certain position or policy towards a specific region. The next paragraph will be designed as a short overview of Republic of Moldova relations with EU in order to have a general understanding of the relationship dynamics. This chapter will also tackle the issue of Russian influence its effects regarding the European integration of Moldova.

In the final paragraph I will talk about the success of regional integration model of Central European Countries, focusing primarily on Visegrad as political and CEFTA as economic cooperation, of which Moldova is part since 2007 thus already having a part of Visegrad heritage. I’ll argue about the need to build upon Central European cooperation model in order to consolidate the Eastern Partnership countries towards a common goal of European integration.


When building a parallel between Moldova and Visegrad countries we can find many similarities and differences, yet I would like to highlight one specific distinction which explains and describes Moldova’s path towards European Union. For that I would like to borrow Milan Kundera’s Tragedy of Central Europe, where author describes the Central Europe as being always European, “For them the word ‘Europe’ does not represent a phenomenon of geography but a spiritual notion synonymous with the word West” (Kundera, p.1 1984), the tragedy of central Europe was that communist regime stripped it of its historical belonging. In Kundera’s thinking the Central Europe always belonged to the cultural, western ‘Europe’ and after four decades of Communism it finally came back. This thinking emphasized the strong national identity of Central European countries which materialized in the struggle against the communist regime with 1956 Hungarian Revolution, The Prague Spring in 1968 and Polish Solidarity Movement from 1981, all culminating with in 1989 fall of communism.

If we create an analogy of ‘tragedy of Moldova’ is that Moldova didn’t yet find its true identity. It does belong both to the West – speaking a Latin-group language, transitioning to a democratic model of governance; and the East – adopting the Eastern Orthodoxy, interacting with numerous Slavic civilization and having the heritage of Russian and Soviet cultures. As many historians pointed out, Moldova could not start the process of nation-build because it was under foreign occupation for considerable part of its history which led to building of several separate sometimes contradicting sub-identities. Thus if we make a contemporary trajectory, the European path chosen by the Visegrad countries after 1989 signifies long last ‘return’ to Europe with 2004 enlargement wave, in other words Visegrad countries had a place to come back to, in contrast to that Moldova’s European integration has little to do with a ‘returning’ anywhere it is a struggle to find where does it actually belongs.

On the other hand the Central and Eastern European countries have a lot in common. They shared the same fate after the Second World War of being under soviet sphere influence and both obtaining a disruptive communist heritage. Currently Moldova decided to follow in the footsteps of Visegrad country and approach European Union. I believe that Moldovan authorities and people could benefit from large Visegrad experience of European Integration, especially valuable is the skill for regional building which proved to be a very effective and flexible tool for Central European countries, helping them to join EU in 2004.

Integration driving forces: a comparative perspective between Moldova and CE

In order to understand what lessons can be learned from the experience of Visegrad countries we’ll first need to make a brief introduction on the relationship dynamics between EU and Moldova and compare it with other EU-enlargement countries. According to Pełczyńska-Nałęcz the European Union priority thinking in adopting a certain policy towards a region or a country, especially in the matter of enlargement, is dictated by 3 factors: the geographical proximity, regional standardization and interest in the individual country (Pełczyńska-Nałęcz p.39; 2011). If we expand on these principles we get the following picture, with the 1994 fourth enlargement wave both the Central Europe plus Slovenia, the Baltic States and to a lesser extend Bulgaria and Romania come closer to European Union which makes them eligible for passing the first criteria. Secondly the grouping of these separate post-communist countries intro distinguishable groups like the Visegrad countries, Baltics states and currently the Balkan states allows EU to develop a common policy towards the entire region which facilitates the process of European Integration by building intra-regional cooperation mechanisms. The third criteria varies from country to country and takes into consideration major geopolitical and security reasoning, for instance the EU enlargement to the East was also preceded by NATO enlargement creating a double-inclusion procedure.

If we correlate these indicators to Moldova and Eastern Europe as a whole, we obtain a very different view from the one described above, in term of geographical proximity Moldova got closer to EU only after 2004 and 2007 enlargement waves, previously being viewed solely as a distant periphery. The first success was inclusion of Moldova in European Neighbourhood Policy in 2004 and in 2009 joining the Eastern Partnership. As Dangerfield points out it was the European new-comers like Visegrad coutries, Baltic States and Romania who advocated for a new and more inclusive policy towards the east (Dangerfield, p.1741-1743; 2009). The regional standardization is another important issue which is lacking for Moldova, and there are several ways to interpret the Eastern Europe as a regional association[1]: the first view which is by far the most dominant is through the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a Russian-centric regional structure which together with Custom Union[2] is seen as an alternative, sometimes even as an opposition to European Union. Moldova is not part of the Custom Union, however it still is a member of CIS, this fact put Moldova in an ambiguous position – ‘Between Two Stools’ as described by Korosteleva (Korosteleva, p. 1268-1270; 2010). Another possible interpretation of the region, which is barely known, is through Organization for Democracy and Economic Development – GUAM[3], started in 1997 as a consultative forum and in 2001 after Yalta Summit becoming a regional organization. As the name of the organization suggest it was initially designed to help the member-countries develop a healthy democracy, economic development through cooperation, promote regional security and unite the member-states it its mutual aspiration towards European Integration[4]. Yet as good as it sounds the organization’s capacity to accomplish these goals was extraordinary limited lacking political will and commitment from the country’s government combined with intricate relationship with the regional hegemon power of Russia led currently to an inactive status of this organization. This means that EU cannot adopt a general policy towards these countries, the solution EU has chosen is to try and include them in a multilateral cooperation with already existing institutions combined with individual interest-based approach.

Additionally to the 3 principles outlined by the author we can also add 3 other criteria: historical and cultural correlation, the geopolitical structure of the region and the country commitment to democratic values. I would like to specifically expand on the last two indicators. A short historical introduction will be necessary to understand the current predicament which most of the Eastern European countries encounter. Compared to Central European countries which were soviet satellites states with communist, not particularly independent yet autonomous governments, the Eastern Europe countries were directly incorporated into Soviet Union, creating a stronger bond with Russia. We can argue that the Baltic States were also part of USSR yet had less binding relation with the former protégé, however as Svante noticed, the Baltics and South Caucasian countries always had a stronger level of autonomy from the central government than other soviet republics (Svante p. 142-143; 2002). These ‘historical possessions’ are the prime material for today’s Russian concept of “Near Abroad” which speaking in Janusz Bugajski’s terms is a sign of Russian new imperialism or reimperialization. Today the Russian-factor is omnipresent both internal and foreign politics of the Eastern European states, especially in the European integration discourse, because it generates a constant need of balancing between the two poles[5]. According to Minzarari the current juncture is more favorable for Russian because the “Near Abroad” strategy is a top-priority foreign policy while the European Union efforts in the region are far more dispersed (Minzarari p.17; 2009). As a result we have an ongoing geopolitical skirmish where the two major actors are not proportionally committed which reflects on the ability of countries like Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia to undergo a democratic transformation.

EU-Moldova relationship dynamics

Proceeding from above mentioned facts I would like to outline a short overview of Moldova – European Union relations which can be roughly split into 3 timeframes. The first period between 1991 and 2003 was characterized by a divergence of expectations, the newly elected political government in Moldova was eager to seek closer ties with European Community, especially in the latter part of 90’s asking to become an associate member by 2000[6] (Ticu p. 163-164; 2008) however due to War in Transnistria and general disinterest of European Union in the matter this phase is commonly considered a long initiating step in the process of European integration.

The second period spanning from 2003 to 2009 signified a qualitative upgrade in the relationship especially from the perspective of European Union. The following changes occurred, the Communist Party (PCRM) won a Parliamentary majority and consolidated its power in the country[7], parallel to that several important events happened in Europe, the 2004/2007 Eastern Enlargement brought the European borders closer to Eastern Partners making EU reassess the Eastern vector by launching European Neighborhood Policy and a series of Revolutionary waves all across the post-soviet countries commonly referred to as ‘Colored Revolution’ emphasized the adherence of the region towards a democratic model of governance. Another import event particularly important for Moldova was deterioration of relations with Moscow because of the dismissal of Kozak Memorandum for Transnistrian conflict settlement[8] (Coppieters, et. al. p. 173-176, 2004) which pushed Moldova even more into the European direction. Even thou some important steps were made in this period like: creation of National Commission for European Integration and establishing the Department for European Integration in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2003), signing of the Action Plan (2005), Official inauguration of Common Visa Application Centre (2007)[9]; this period is described by many Moldovan and Romanian authors like Botan, Gheorghiu, as being very inconsistent from the Moldovan side, to quote Buscaneanu “the problem of Moldova is that it adopts good laws but has poor enforcement” (Buscaneanu p.4; 2008), especially critical are Litra, Ciurea and Tugui stating that the communist rule enhanced the syndrome of ‘post-sovietness’ further diverting the Moldovan society from genuine democratic transition (Litra p. 74-79; 2012).

The last period started from 2009 till present day and is characterized by yet another change in Moldova political landscape with emergence of Alliance for European Integration, a coalition of four parties, who ran their electoralcampaigns with strong pro-European stand. The massive mobilization of people by these new parties, most of whom were created only a short time prior to elections, lead to 2009 students protest against the communist party government. These protests were seen as a delayed Moldovan revolution similar to the “Rose Revolution” in Georgia or “Orange Revolution” in Ukraine. The result of the change of power however was disastrous plunging the country into a deep political crisis[10] followed by economic recession from the global financial crisis. In this period of turmoil Republic of Moldova was supported by EU, making it the biggest recipient of European funds per capita (Pełczyńska-Nałęcz p. 47; 2011). The new government had a considerable success in advancing Moldova towards EU expressing more commitment for European Integration, the most tangible result so far is the Visa liberalization, signing and ratification of Association Agreement and DCFTA in the summer of 2014. Even EU itself changed, its initial stance based on conditionality was replaced by a more open attitude in the recent years. According to the recent annual report – European Integration Index 2013 for Eastern Partnership Countries, Moldova is placed as top performer in the region being closest to meeting EU standards, leading in all three dimensions of Linkage, Approximation and Management[11], and scoring high levels of sustainable development (Kvashuk p. 16; 2013). However as Chirila, Bucataru and Griu indicate in APE’s[12] recent policy analysis, Moldova still suffers from serious shortcoming: the decreasing social support of European Integration especially among national minorities, political scandals which undermined the current government credibility and deteriorating regional security caused by the Ukrainian crisis (Chirila p. 9; 2014) present serious challenges for the Moldova’s European future. That’s why Moldova needs now more than ever the help and experience of countries like Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Czech Republic.

Learning from CE countries? Adapting the Visegrad regional integration model

This chapter will focus on one important trait of Central European countries which is worth adopting – the ability to foster regional cooperation and to unite the separate efforts of particular countries into a common policy. The heritage of soviet times and its defunct and imbalanced economic model led to serious economic trouble in Visegrad countries in the 90’s. The ‘Shock Therapy’ approach adopted by the Visegrad countries being rather controversial in the end remodeled their economies to be fit for the European market. Even thou from economic and political perspective the early 90’s were a difficult period in CEE’s history they also represent the time when the first regional mechanism for cooperation started to be built. Creation of Visegrad cooperation forum and signing of CEFTA proved to be formidable instruments for democratic and market economy transition making the Central European countries the frontrunners of European Integration. These new mechanism turned the CE into the motor for regional cooperation facilitating the reorientation of foreign trade from east to west, eliminated one-sided dependence on the Russian and decreased its influence in the region succeeding in a successful withdrawal of soviet troops, allowed import of technology and rapid modernization coming from West while attracting new funds and investments (Majoros p. 33-35; 1997). Dangerfield further emphasized that the enlargement of CEFTA contributed to the “region building” process farther to the south and east and created a ‘soft security’ in the region by providing a forum for top-level political dialogue between member states officials and resolved peacefully the complications between CEFTA members and accession members (Dangerfield p. 78-81; 2000). Special effectiveness of these institutions proved to be in mobilizing the ‘small countries’ towards collective goals. Two primary objectives of Visegrad Group was NATO accession to provide regional security and to prevent the establishment of a new sphere of influence between the West and USSR and European Integration to speed up the process of democratic transition, get access to the largest single market and secure political and economic sustainability (ICDT p. 22-29; 2010).

The results of this cooperation can be well seen today, 10 years after the CE countries joined EU, according to a report by the High Level Reflection Group the Central Europe is now the growth engine for the wider EU economy thanks to the catch-up dynamics, the combined GPD of the four Visegrad countries making them the 15’th largest world economy, GDP per capita in Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia amounting to 75-80% of EU average and in Poland, Hungary and Croatia to 60% (High Level Reflection Group p. 11-16; 2014). Beside the economic growth the region itself undergone a positive transformation, becoming more independent and able to influence major policies in European Union. Surely there are numerous challenges yet to be solved like issues connected with democratic consolidation, unpopular austerity measures after the financial crisis which contributed to exhaustion of reforms, numerous structural problems connected with demography, regional disparity and minority rights. However there are visible and undeniable improvements in the CE countries infrastructure, governance and improvements in transparency. This success is also replicable in Moldova as well if we build a comprehensive intra-regional integration model. Moreover the first attempt was already made in 1997 by creating GUAM, yet the idea was abandoned very fast. Following the Visegrad integrationist model we can construct a stronger and more competitive Eastern European region, especially because most of the post-soviet countries are like-minded and have a lot of resemblances. With the Ukrainian crisis these resemblances are becoming even more evident, first of all these countries all share a common communist heritage from the soviet times and have a difficult relationship with Russia, being dependent from economic, energetic and political perspectives; they also have an on-going or “frozen” separatist conflict which hinders greatly the ability to maintain a healthy democracy, moreover countries like Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia from the Eastern Partnership expressed a strong desire to adopt the European model of governance and adherence to democratic norms. If these three countries can propose a working and sustainable model of regional cooperation based on mutual aspiration for European Integration the more hesitant countries like Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus will be more willing to get rid of the democratic-authoritarian regime and align for the same goal. The regional cooperation can also provide a solution to the separatist problem and facilitate the process of reconciliation between states by increasing the inter-country mobility while simultaneously diffusing the ethnic tensions.

There are numerous other examples of small-states regional cooperation, for instance Benelux or the Nordic Council, yet what makes the Visegrad model of cooperation more attractive for countries like Moldova is that we share many similarities making us more compatible to import the Central European practices. It is especially important for Moldova to gain as much experience as possible in the context of advancements made in our path towards European Integration with the ratification of Association Agreement and DCFTA. The report of the Task Force under the Project “V4 Supporting Economic Integration of Georgia and Moldova with the EU” gives several important recommendations from Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Poland how to handle new arising challenges. Hungary’s advice was to focus on economic opening and keep the non-EU export segment to provide better diversity, Slovakia and Czech Republic focused on institutions and mechanism necessary for cooperation between the government and the private sector in the process of negotiations, while the Poland advocated that the European Integration should also have a bottom-up dimension focusing on more active society and bussiness engagement by clear communication update from the political elite (Task Force Report p. 13-25; 2014).


Moldova’s and generally speaking the Eastern European region path towards European Union can be described in one word as – ‘inconsistent’. The inconsistency is generated both by Eastern Partnership countries and European Union, as Pełczyńska-Nałęcz put it “EU and its Eastern partners will be merely imitating an integration. Both sides will in fact be playing this game without focusing on achieving the goal and without any hope of implementing it” (Pełczyńska-Nałęcz, p.6; 2011). However as it often happens there was a need of an emergency to mobilize both parties into taking a more serious approach towards the European Integration and it was provided in form of Ukrainian crisis which brought the East and the West to a new confrontation. The crisis is a very important turning point in the relationship between Eastern Partners and European Union, at this cross-road Moldova will need to seek out for experience of countries that already walked a similar path.

Why the experience of Visegrad countries is so important for Republic of Moldova, it is because the Central European countries created the currently existing archetype of integration into Euro-Atlantic structures by uniting the efforts of regional actors into a single strategy. Being regarded and categorized into a region is not enough for success, the region itself must show commitment and unity for the progress to be made. And as Central Europe proved that by building mechanisms of regional cooperation it’s possible to overcome the differences between the countries and achieve a common goal. I’m not suggesting to completely import the Visegrad model, even thou it is highly compatible with the Eastern European countries, I suggest building on the Central European prototype and adapt it to the realities existing in the Eastern region. The cooperation itself is not a completely foreign term for Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. The USSR provided mobility within the Union similar to the one we have today in the European Union, yet after the ‘Autumn of Nations’ in 1989 most of newly-obtained independence countries in the Eastern Europe and South Caucasus instead of adopting a partnership model decided to close up in a nationalist model pushing each other apart and in the process creating numerous intra and inter-country conflicts. We can always blame the corrupting actions of Soviet Union however the blame also lays in each particular country as well. If we compare it to the Visegrad countries, we see that cooperation is by far more fruitful than competition and struggle. Thus I consider that it’s still not too late to unite the Eastern Partners countries into a regional cooperation organization similar to the Visegrad model based on the mutual aspiration for European Integration.


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[1] We are looking at organizations and institutions built as a result of Eastern Countries initiatives and decision, not as a result of classification by European Union. For instance the Visegrad group in Central Europe, the Baltic Assembly and Baltic Council of Ministers in the Baltic region.

[2]These structures are the theoretical background for a larger Russian idea still in development of Eurasian Union

[3]The acronym is composed of the state members Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova – GUAM

[4] Charter of Organization for democracy and economic development – GUAM Web: 25 Oct. 2014.

Another popular interpretation of GUAM was that it is an anti-Russian establishment, aided by external actors in order to limit Russian influence in the region

[5]A popular depiction of this phenomenon is showing Moldova between an Anvil – representing European Union and a Hammer – representing Russia

[6]The author here refers to several official letters sent by the Moldovan President Petru Lucinshii to European Commission President Jacques Santer asking to accelerate the process of Moldova European integration and grand Moldova the status of associate member by 2000.
Needless to say that such a move was preemptive and dictated by misleading successes like the signing of PCA in 1994 only due to the insistence of the previous President Mircea Snegur and admittance of Moldova to the Council of Europe in 1995, making it the first CSI country to accomplish it, as a reward from European Union for initiating first democratic reforms in the region.

[7]The communist rule from 2001 till 2009 even thou described as having elements of authoritarianism was a period of relative stability and economic growth

[8]The Kozak Memorandum was a Russian plan for solving the Transnistrian conflict secretly negociated by former President Vladimir Voronin and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. When it became public it triggered strong opposition from the civil society because of the fear such a settlement will paralyze completely the country, also Voronin was under pressure from Europe and USA to reconsider the offer.

[9] European Information Centre in Scientific Medical Library of USMF “Nicolae Testimiţeanu” Web: 26 Oct. 2014

[10] Neither the Alliance nor the Communist party could secure enough votes to elect a working government leading to three consecutive elections which ended in 2012 by appointing Nicolae Timofti as a president

[11]Linkage is assessment of political, economic and social ties with EU; Approximation is based on analysis of legislation, practices and institutions converging to EU standards; Management indicator evaluates the management structures aimed at further European Integration

[12] The Foreign Policy Association (APE) is Moldova’s leading foreign policy think-tank, committed to supporting Moldova’s Europeanization, integration into the European Union and a viable settlement of the Transnistrian conflict