In order for the EU to effectively respond to the vulnerabilities described in this report, we formulate the following recommendations:

On Moldova’s (domestic) political vulnerabilities

The next six to nine months will be critical. The EU should do what it can to help the Moldovan government to mitigate social discontent linked to rising inflation, including by direct budgetary support and direct subsidies for the energy bills of vulnerable citizens if needed. This support should be accompanied by a solid strategic communication campaign, since it would be beneficial if Moldovan citizens – including those from minority groups – could see a direct and positive impact of Moldova’s EU candidacy status on their purchasing power.

While the war in Ukraine rages on and Moldova remains acutely vulnerable, the EU should give the Moldovan government space to manage its complex relationship with Moscow. This includes not aligning with EU sanction regimes that target Russia directly. In turn, the Moldovan authorities should ensure Moldova is not used for sanction-busting – including in the banking sector, and that it commits to gradually aligning with EU foreign policy as part of the accession process. In order to contribute to managing the geopolitical dimension in Moldova’s domestic politics, the EU should in its public communications try not to emphasise geopolitical competition, but instead tailor its discourse towards (EU support for) domestic challenges.

As part of its relationship with its two new candidate countries, the EU could also reach out to Ukraine to promote understanding of Moldova’s precarious position, in order to assuage Kyiv’s concerns about a lack of support from Chișinău. Ukraine should particularly refrain from unilateral actions or statements regarding Transnistria that are not coordinated with Moldova and that risk further destabilising the region.

The EU should continue and intensify its efforts to reduce Moldova’s reliance on Russian energy, including by ensuring that the Iași-Ungheni gas interconnector becomes fully operational, that gas pressure issues on the Romanian side are resolved and that suitable locations for the storage of natural gas are identified in Romania or Ukraine. Together with EBRD, the EU should invest in upgrading Moldova’s power grid, both its connections with Europe’s energy grid as well as its own internal connections between the north and the south of the country. It should also help the Moldovan government to reduce its reliance on electricity from Transnistria and invest in country-wide energy efficiency and renewables.

The EU should support political pluralism in Moldova by actively engaging the whole political spectrum. Even if the present pro-European government currently has a comfortable majority, a more sustained commitment to political pluralism is needed for inclusive governance, democratic consolidation and longer-term political stability. The EU could, for example, facilitate enhanced political relations between Moldovan and party-political families from the EU to foster professional political party development or support civil society activities aimed at promoting multi-party democracy.

Potential links between Moldovan oligarchs and Russian businessmen, combined with the alignment of interests of local political actors opposing reforms and those of the Kremlin, pose a particular risk to Moldova’s democratic reforms. The EU and the intelligence organisations of its member states should assist the Moldovan authorities to investigate these potential links, including by actively supporting the Financial Intelligence Unit, the public prosecutor and the state security services. This should be monitored closely as part of the EU accession process.

The EU could step up its efforts to support a pluralistic, unbiased and good-quality media landscape in Moldova. It could do so by supporting the professionalisation and de-politicisation of Moldova’s public broadcaster so it can create both Moldovan- and Russian-language quality content that can compete with Russian programmes rebroadcasted in the country. The EU could also build on the existing efforts of some of its member states to support unbiased Russian-language media. The EU is furthermore advised to sponsor media-ownership monitoring in Moldova such as it is doing in Ukraine and other countries to counter oligarchic and/or political control over the media. Last, the EU would do well to support public communication training for officials and/or the political establishment so as to enhance the effectiveness of their public communication, which is especially relevant in times of geopolitical tensions and rising socioeconomic concerns.

The EU should use its leverage as part of the pre-accession negotiations, including the Copenhagen Criteria, to protect and promote the rights of national minorities and facilitate integration of Moldovan society. Rather than ignoring Russian-speaking minority communities who might harbour reservations towards European integration, the EU and the Moldovan government should actively reach out to them, including in their strategic communication. The EU should push for a balanced and inclusive language policy and the long-overdue ratification of the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages, and also for increasing knowledge of the state language through the education system. The EU could more actively promote its experience with multilingual education and linguistic diversity and put its weight behind the full implementation of the Strategy on Consolidation of Inter-Ethnic Relations. To protect minority rights and promote participation of minorities, the EU could furthermore urge Moldova to fill vacancies of a presidential adviser on inter-ethnic relations, as well as a director for the agency of inter-ethnic relations. In the education system, it is of crucial importance that efforts to teach the state language are intensified, including through the use of multilingual education. The EU has a wealth of experience in this regard which it could share more actively with Moldovan central and local authorities.

Moldova will continue to need considerable EU support to develop and implement key strategies such as the National Security Strategy, the Cyber Security Strategy and the Strategy on Consolidation of Inter-ethnic Relations that warrant more attention and resources from the authorities. In this regard, the practice of seconding high-level advisers to specific Moldovan government agencies is beneficial, as long as they are appointed through a transparent and competitive recruitment process and their performance is regularly evaluated.

On vulnerabilities related to Transnistria

Despite the geopolitical deadlock of the 5+2 process, Moldova’s and Ukraine’s EU candidacy status combined with Transnistria’s precarious position offers the EU a major opportunity to have a longer-term impact on the conflict-settlement process. While altering the 5+2 process would be counterproductive at this time, the EU could take a more active role in supporting the 1+1 talks between the sides, using the pre-accession negotiations as a tool.

In particular, the EU should expect the Moldovan government to articulate a strategic vision on the eventual resolution of the Transnistrian conflict and translate it into actionable documents. The EU could then monitor this implementation rigorously.

The EU should carefully engage Moldova’s left bank in the accession process to ensure that further EU integration of the right bank does not lead to a widening gap between the two. It could base such a model of engagement on the informal negotiations with authorities in Tiraspol in the context of the DCFTA negotiations in Bavaria in 2015. In this regard the EU should be both aware of and make use of differences between different factions in Transnistria. If chief negotiators from Tiraspol remain unconstructive or outright hostile to Moldova’s EU integration, the EU could set up a direct and informal dialogue with the Transnistrian business community. This would ensure that Transnistrian businesses understand what the accession process, especially approximation in economic fields, means for them. In the process, the EU should not harbour any illusions about the adherence of these economic actors to EU values; it should keep in mind that its ultimate aims of promoting democratisation and rule of law should eventually also apply to Transnistria.

The EU should make efforts to reduce Russia’s soft power over Transnistria’s population, in particular through the education system. For example, the EU could further explore options for enhanced contacts between left bank students and those in right bank Moldova and the EU. As integration of the regular curricula might remain difficult, such exchanges could focus on more irregular activities like summer schools. The EU could also open up more student exchange opportunities via the Erasmus+ programme for students at Tiraspol university and work directly with Transnistrian education professionals to address structural obstacles that impede such exchanges.

On vulnerabilities related to Gagauzia

The EU should make use of Moldova’s accession process to address the vulnerabilities stemming from the uneasy relationship of the autonomous region of Gagauzia with the rest of Moldova. This would require a balanced approach in which the EU both serves as a ‘guarantor’ of the Gagauz autonomy, requiring Chișinău to respect and implement its provisions, but also promotes the region’s integration in Moldova as a whole. In this regard the EU could make use of its experience of involving autonomous regions in other pre-accession negotiations.

The EU should expect the Moldovan authorities to engage more actively with Gagauzia and should also do so itself, not only despite of but even because of its generally pro-Russian orientation. The EU could consider establishing a presence on the ground in Comrat through a liaison office focusing on culture, social issues and economics. Such an office could engage in public diplomacy activities to publicise outcomes of EU investments, and could ensure adequate engagement with local authorities and prevention of embezzlement. It should operate under the authority of the EU delegation in Chișinău.

Gagauzia should play a prominent role in EU efforts to promote the participation and integration of national minorities in Moldova as a whole. Among other options, the EU could consider funding efforts to strengthen knowledge of the state language and support educational initiatives that enable Gagauz students to study in Chișinău or in the EU instead of in Russia or Tiraspol.