Ukraine and Moldova on a EU path/ Airport strikes inspire for ‘horror stories’

This week the European Council will decide on Ukraine and Moldova’s application to accede to the EU. The decision will determine whether Ukraine and Moldova will be able to embark on the path toward full EU membership, after getting the status of EU candidates, and will draw trajectories for the region’s political development for years to come.

To explain better what this means politically for the EU and the rest of the candidates, I’m joined by Alexandra Brzozowski and Cristina Papusoi, journalist from radio Chisinau, who is shedding some light on the Moldovan reality and its hope to join the EU. 

We also spoke with Sean Goulding Carroll, EURACTIV’s transport editor, to find out why airport strikes are happening all over Europe, and what travellers should be aware of.

Transcript

Evi: Hello and welcome to EURACTIV’s Beyond the Byline podcast. I am Evi Kiorri and this week, the European council will decide on Ukraine’s and Moldova’s application to exceed the EU. The decision will determine whether Ukraine and Moldova will be able to embark on the path toward fully membership through the candidacy process and will draw trajectories for the region’s political development for the years to come.

To explain a bit better what this means politically for the EU and the rest of the candidates. I’m joined by Alexandra Brzozowski and Cristina Papusoi who is shedding some light on the Moldovan reality and hope to join the EU. We also spoke with Sean Goulding Carroll EURACTIV’s transport editor to find out what is happening with the airport, strikes all over Europe. Why are they happening? And what should travellers be aware?

Hi Alexandra. Hi Christina.

Alexandra: Hello

Evi: Alex, we might be looking -at the historic EU summit on enlargement. Why is this so important?

Alexandra: What we really have to remember is that basically never before has an opinion by the European commission on candidate status, being given so quickly. So the war Ukraine has also given new momentum to the push for enlargement and proposals, how to deal with the lack of clear accession process and timelines. As we see now are coming quite frequently. I think Macron’s vision of a wider European political communities is one of them that will definitely be discussed for the next few months. In some sense, the war has brought the EU’s neighbourhood out of the darkness of the backrooms. As the enlargement process has been starting for years, as we know.

They EU’s last major enlargement was in 2004. When Poland, the Baltic states and Slovenia joined and then Romania and Bulgaria followed in 2007. So that’s relatively long ago. So not living up to this historical moment now would also spell and end to what has been described as the geopolitical awakening of the EU in the recent few months, especially because the connotation would be one of leaving out the countries that are most vulnerable to threats, not only from Russia, but also from other third countries and third players in the region.

And this would make the whole strategic shift seem like empty words. So obviously we know that enlargement will remain a controversial topic because there has been no progress in the last decade. But I think that is the moment where the EU can decide which way it wants to go.

Evi: Now, there were several EU members that have been very cautious about the upcoming decision. How are the camps playing out?

Alexandra: So I think what we have seen over the past few weeks and months was very intense lobbying and basically a charm offensive by the Ukrainian side to win over those that have been skeptical of approving the candidate status. What we see now, before and around the summit. I think after several days of internal EU discussions, there is not much opposition among the 27 to not grant. Ukraine candidacy status. I think that’s what diplomats have been also repeating, so that the opinion will for sure be reflected in the decision. The consensus in favour of grounding Ukraine candidate status has basically mostly gained momentum after the joint visit to Kiev by german chancellor Schultz, French president Macron and Italian prime minister Draghi so I think after that, we’ve seen that member states have started to drop their opposition. The latest were Netherlands and Denmark. Those that have said they would especially wait for the recommendation of the commission and what it will say.

And they also have said they will support its candidacy status, but obviously also they admitted that there is no illusion that, Should come with reforms and in parallel also rebuilding the country and that this will be a huge effort for the next few months and here. So that’s  something we will likely see reflected in, in, in the summit conclusions which we’ve seen a draft of already.

So we expect EU leaders to stress that progress of each country will depend obviously on own merits and meeting all the criteria, the Copenhagen criteria and also feed into the whole discussion about the use capacity to absorb new members in general.

Evi: And what would it mean when it comes to the next steps for these countries to have been granted the you member status?

Alexandra: A lot of work and quite a few hurdles, actually heavy a first progress assessment report on the conditions that have been set out by the commission in the recommendation will. Probably come with an enlargement package that is to be presented by the end of this year. That’s the regular assessment.

And what we expect in the next days is also that you leaders will say that they will decide on further steps once all those commissions. Basically are fully met. So for Ukraine, that would mean improvement on rule of law judiciary reforms sorting out everything with oligarchs and also adopt the law national minorities when it comes to fundamental rights and for Moldova it’s similar areas.

So they will have to also fulfill the set of conditions to move on to the next stage. So to say, but Both of them moving on would be required to carry out economic and political reforms. And the big question is then how the territorial integrity will be addressed in the further process, because we obviously know that both of them have issues with that.

They will also start lining on their laws with those of the EU’s at time of peace, it took Poland which is of similar population size and similar history, communist history. It took them 10 years from applying. For membership in 94′ to actually joining in 2004. I think when we make that comparison and also think about Turkey on the other hand, who got formal candidate status in 99 and it’s the fact of frozen also by its own fault, mostly I think it, it is obviously a process that is dependent on the country itself and the domestic issues.

It needs to sort out, we also know about the six Balkan countries that have also have a complicated way of dealing with migration, organised crime and mutual disagreements in the region. So it, it really will. Have to be seen how the domestic issues are resolved. I think in the case of Ukraine it’s especially interesting because what we know is that, the Ukrainian government is working it’s fully functional.

So I think they will do a lot of work already. We saw this week that Ukrainian president Zelensky has. Signed into law the Istanbul convention. So that is for example, something that has not been specifically in the recommendation of the commission, but it’s obviously one of the steps that feeds into the whole fundamental rights issues.

So there is willingness to work fast and then after that all of those conditions are fulfilled. Obviously the painstaking work begins on the accession talks. And should you member states decide this unanimously but that depends obviously on the political will inside that you. The more hesitant countries like Netherlands, France and Germany have been among those opposing bringing new members in the recent years. So I think then we will have to see what the political will is like in, in a few well years.

Evi: And Christina coming to you, Moldova has been a bit of a dark horse. What does it mean for the country to be considered as well? Since if it was not for Ukraine, we might not have seen this push.

Cristina: In Moldova, we are speaking that we are living historical days because we are very close to be part, maybe of the European union. Not now we are understanding that, but also we understanding that we are very small country yes. And after the war that Russia start in Ukraine, we are thinking that the European union and the Western countries start to pay more attention to the eastern Europe.

Yes, of course Ukrainians are now in the middle of a war and they are fighting not just for them, for their country, but they are fighting for us and they are fighting for the whole Europe. In a way we can say that if this war wasn’t, so maybe it’ll take more years to be closer to the European union and on a more human aspect.

For the citizens of Moldova just judging by the most recent polls and relative good polls. We can say almost 16% of our population and it’s more than half of our population want to , become a part of the European union. So we will have this feeling that we are not alone in a very difficult time, very difficult time for our country, but also for the world, for the region. And we are struggling with this danger that it’s coming from Russia. So this is the first part. To feel that you are. Part of something to be part of a family and to not feel alone in this difficult time.

The second part also the most important we are thinking that by, for example, getting this candidate status that we are hoping that will happen. We will have, for example more opportunities to develop our country. That will mean for us more money and more expertise from the European union to change.

For example, the, justice the sector in Moldova, that was a very problematic. This is one part the second it’s, I don’t know, even to have a better life for our citizens to have a better healthcare system to have better universities.

So it’ll be meaning that we are choosing European path because during. This years of independence of Moldova our society was oscillating between the European union and Russia.

Evi: And why is it important when it comes to interior politics?

Cristina: The political majority our country in the Republic of Moldova is detained by a European party. So also we are having a pro-European president pro-European government and the majority of our parliament and is also a European one. So I think this political choice of our citizens, it was also a very important factor when the European union give us this Clear European perspective because in Moldova, we still have parties who are very attached to Russia. Even now when Russia start a war against Ukraine, the former president of the Republic of Moldova, very close to Russia. So he is accused for money laundering, but also for the betrayal of the Homeland, it’s something very serious. He is part of the opposition now of the opposition party. We will see if the justice is working, because I think we still have problem with with this sector in Moldova. And if I remember the European union give us a lot of money and expertise to change the situation in the justice sector and to do more reforms there.

Evi: On an economic level. What does it mean?

Cristina: In the past years the volume of exports from the public of Moldova to the European union. It was 68%. So it’s something very important for us the European union. So it’s very important for our economy, but now we are struggling with a huge economic crisis. So our inflation it’s a have reached 29%. We are having this energy crisis because. Now we are still depending on the Russian gas. For us to join, but maybe to join us too much, to be closer to the European union will mean to have more opportunities.

Evi: What expectations does Chisinau now have for the next steps, we are hoping that we will get this candidate status of the European union?

Cristina: We are understanding that there will be conditions for Moldova and now people in Moldova and authorities in Chisinau are ready to work and to do what they need, what we need to do to be closer to the European to the European union and to be part of the free world, because actually we really need to be part of a big family and I know to feel safer and in that family,

Evi: Alex coming back to you. There are more countries that are actually on the waiting list for years, as you mentioned earlier, what is the plan when it comes to the accession of these countries?

Alexandra: I think one of the aspects of the summit is that we really see that we obviously have that you. Western Balkan leaders meeting in the morning. Then we have the whole discussion about candidate status for Ukraine and Moldova, and then the wider discussion about why the Europe and ideas of association or different formats of association of  those neighbouring countries. So I think when you look at that as a whole package it’s quite interesting because there seems to be the understanding that this has to be discussed in this moment of time. And when it comes to the Western Balkans, I think, three of the four Western Balkan EU candidates have come out in support of Ukraine and its candidacy status. They were saying that, fast tracking here would not. Really mess up their own slow moving EU integration, but would complement it rather.

And I think also there’s a bit of the hope that they can ride on same train as Ukraine and Moldova, but out of the six other hopefuls, only Montenegro and Serbia have formally really opened accession negotiations and Albania north Macedonia they’re official candidates, but have been in the waiting room for years. And we all know that the issue with Bulgaria might not be resolved anytime soon, actually. In fact, EU diplomats believe no major progress might be expected from either country around the summit, particularly because Bulgaria’s six months old government is collapsing again.

So if you put that on one side and then. Look at, for example, at Bosnia, which some EU member states have been arguing in the run up to the summit to, to be included and also pushed for it for receiving EU candidate status. That was mainly Slovenia and Austria. But something like that seems also very unlikely because we know the political situation in Bosnia is not easy.

And out of. The 14 points of the recent political agreement, currently two to four points are fulfilled. So it seems rather unlikely that there will be a stronger message to Bosnia than there has already been. But what we do see is that there is resentment growing in the region. Why nothing is moving.

That’s not necessarily vis a vi Ukraine, but or the other aspirants, but. It’s more. We’ve seen that for example with Serbia together, with Albania, north Macedonia threatening, not to show up to the summit. So I think there will be a very difficult discussion that will follow the summit and probably, in the next few months where it has to be defined what the EU’s idea for the region is.

And thank you, Alex. Thank you, Christina. You’re listening to EURACTIV’s Beyond the byline podcast. Subscribe to podcast newsletter on your active.com/newsletters. And if you want to expand your knowledge on other fields, you can listen to our digital brief podcast agrifood brief podcast. And if you have any comments or ideas, you can email us@podcastatyouractive.com.

Evi: Welcome to the podcast, Sean.

Sean: Thank you very much.

Evi: Traveling has returned to normality almost after the COVID 19 restrictions. We see the number of travelers rising day by day plus summer season is here and it is one of the busiest periods of the year when it comes to traveling. However, there have been some disruptions with a number of airports in different countries, not operating properly. So what is happening exactly. And why do we have these disruptions?

Sean: You’re absolutely right. That there have been serious disruptions across Europe. It’s difficult. There are a number of different reasons for this, but to put it in one sentence, it’s because of labor shortages. So if we look back to 2020 at the outbreak of the pandemic, Essentially the aviation sector shut down.

You might recall that basically the grounded flights countries close their borders. So what this means is that a lot of airlines, airports, they had to lay off staff . So we saw a lot of people in the aviation sector lose their job. And now that they the pandemic’s not over, but it’s gotten better.

And there are less restrictions. Now there’s huge demand to travel again, but. There isn’t the staff members. So we’re not seeing enough people doing security clearance. We’re not seeing enough people doing baggage handling cabin crew members. There’s a serious shortage of these staff. And therefore we’re seeing huge queues and tailbacks and problems with flying.

Evi: So we went from empty airplanes and airports to packed airports, chaos, and packed flights.

Sean: Yeah, exactly. It’s not really a surprise, right? If you can’t travel for two years there’s gonna be a pent up demand. People want to see their family and friends and even just explore Europe again. So it’s not coming as a surprise, but it seems to have taken airports and airlines by surprise that they’re seeing this level of demand.

Evi: Sean, can you give us some facts and figures on how was the situation before the beginning of the pandemic in terms of employees on the transport sector and how is it now?

Sean: Globally it’s estimated that 2.3 million staff members who are employed in the aviation sector, lost their job as a result of the pandemic and in Europe tens of thousands. Of employees were let go. Because as I said, aviation just came to a standstill. The issue now is that they’re trying to recruit people back because there is this demand, but a lot of workers don’t want to return.

And the most prominent reason for this is they don’t feel that the pay conditions are attractive enough. And they also feel that the working hours are not very attractive. There’s a lot of criticism of some of the contracts that are being offered by airports. For example, in Dublin airport you are only guaranteed for example, 20 hours a week, but you have to be available the full 40, even though you may not get to work them.

So a lot of people who used to work in the aviation sector have now moved to other industries and have just decided not to go back. Into airports or airlines. So what needs to be done then is to recruit new staff. But the issue with this is a lot of the jobs for, working on a plane or working in an airport they’re quite sensitive in terms of security.

So it takes a long time to recruit people for some jobs in, in, if you want to work in a French airport, it can take up to five months to get the requisite security clearance to actually do the.

Evi: And how can this affect the travellers, but also how can it affect the companies

Sean: There’s real horror stories coming out of airports. We see travellers queuing for, six hours. I’ve heard up to eight hours. People who are queuing outside of the terminal, stretching all the way down to the road. And then we have passengers who have. Flights Dublin airport had over a thousand passengers, missed flights as a result of the queues in one day.

So the air travel experience is really quite difficult at the moment. So this is bad for passengers who are, planning their holidays, booking their flight, and then often not making it onto that flight. And then losing, their deposit for hotel or accommodation, whatever as well.

In terms of the companies. So obviously they don’t want this to happen. What we may see is that people just, elect not to fly because they don’t want to go through this experience. Maybe they’ll try and shift to another transport mode. So really it’s not good for passengers and it’s not good for companies either.

Evi: Is there any action taken already?

Sean: There’s no quick fix solution. Ryan Air have said that what airport should do is bring in the army to basically do security clearance, to help, pat people down, if they go to the metal detector and it buzzes it’s hard to know if they’re being serious sometimes they say things for publicity. But what needs to be done is just more recruitment of staff. And this, as I’ve said, takes time. But until, the staffing levels are adequate, we’re gonna continue to see these delays. The other option is that demand falls. So if people do decide that they, they’re gonna postpone their trip, or they’re going to try and travel by train or car or whatever other mode then maybe. We won’t see these delays just because there’s a fall demand.

Evi: And as a note to our listeners, which are the airports that experience the biggest problems?

Sean: It’s really all over Europe. Amsterdam Schiphol airport is been in the news for experiencing huge queues. Charles de Gaulle and Paris has also been affected Dublin airport’s been affected airports across the UK. It’s really an Europe wide issue.

Evi: And what about the strikes on a national level? On Monday we saw here in Belgium, but also in the UK that there were strikes on a national level. Are there happening for the same reasons or what are the workers asking for?

Sean: Yeah, it’s really a perfect storm. So we’re seeing rising inflation, of course. And as I said, what’s being offer to new recruits has been described as inadequate by trade unions. And also for the staff members that remained in their job during the pandemic, many of them took a pay cut.

And these pay cuts haven’t necessarily been reversed. Even though we’re seeing increased demand. So we’re seeing less staff being asked to do more a mid rising inflation and with perhaps lower salaries than they would’ve got some years ago. So for these reasons staff members have decided that they would, that they will strike in order to try and get management to increase their wage.

As you said Brussels airport. There was a walkout of security staff which saw over 200 flights grounded. There’s also been strikes in Italy strikes in France and there’s yeah, there’s also talk of British airways potentially going on strike over the summer. So this, again, as there are issues with airports that are also potentially industrial action across Europe.

Evi: And lastly, what is the wise thing to do. What is the advice for travellers?

Sean: So the wise thing to do is to expect delays, like mentally prepare yourself. You’re gonna have to stand in a queue for a long time. But also, check that your flight is going ahead. Follow the advice of the airports check. They often on Twitter or on their website give an estimation of how long the queues are and give advice about how far in advance you should show up and try and stick to that. But yeah, it there’s no magic bullet it’s essentially just mentally preparing yourself and following all the advice.

Evi: Thank you, Sean.

Sean: Thanks for having me.

Evi: I am Evi Kiorri and this was EURACTIV’s actives. Beyond the Byline podcast. We will be back on your feed next week. Visit EURACTIV.COM for the latest news. And if you haven’t subscribed to the podcast, you can do so on your favourite podcasting app. This episode was produced by me with the help of Alexandra Brzozowski, Cristina Papusoi and Sean Goulding Carroll.

Thank you very much for listening!

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