Why do the EU's eastern neighbours matter?

A conversation with Nicu Popescu

On 12 November 2019, we had the honour to talk to former foreign minister of Moldova, Nicu Popescu. 

Here are 10 thoughts we took from the debate:

1. The EU and its Eastern neighbours are interdependent. Problems that emerge outside of the EU can quickly affect the EU internally. It is therefore in the EU’s interest that countries in the Eastern Neighbourhood live in peace, are governed well and enjoy security.

2. The level of EU interest in the region has massively increased since 2004. EU investment and attention towards the region increases whenever governments are willing to reform.

3. Since 2004 several things have worked well in the Eastern Neighbourhood, most importantly the free trade areas created with Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia. What did not work well, however, were campaigns to reduce corruption and efforts at conflict resolution in the region.

4. To improve regional security, EU member states should start security partnerships with Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova. EU institutions such as the EU Agency for Cybersecurity (ENISA) should have a legal mandate to discuss cyber security with these countries.

For more on this see report: https://ecfr.eu/.../the-best-defence-why-the-eu-should.../

5. The EU’s involvement in conflict settlement in the Donbas in Eastern Ukraine and in Transnistria in Moldova was important, and sanctions against Russia helped prevent the expansion of the war in Ukraine. Yet, it did not solve these conflicts.

6. It is a cliché that Moldova is caught between Russia and the EU. Moldova is more dependent on the EU economically, than on Russia. Today, 65 percent of Moldovan trade goes to the EU while only 9 percent goes to Russia. In 2019, Russia bought only as much Moldovan wine as the Czech Republic.

7. Today Moldova has a more diversified media market then 10 years ago. And with the construction of the first gas pipeline to the EU, Moldova is no longer fully dependent on Russian gas

8. Mental maps do not always correspond to geographical maps: Chisinau is closer to Vienna than to Moscow.

9. To understand the world, we have to look at statistics concerning trade, demography and energy. This offers a more inclusive picture: while political dialogue between the EU and Russia is frozen, Russia actually sold more gas to the EU in the last 3 years than ever before.

10. To have influence in the region, the EU needs a long-term strategy.