In the run-up to the Eastern Partnership (EaP) Summit in Vilnius, the expectations of the six partner countries are rather diverse. For some (Azerbaijan, Armenia and Belarus) this summit will have little impact, whereas for others (Ukraine and Georgia) it could represent an epochal step on their road to deeper political and economic integration with the EU. Moldova is definitely also part of the latter group. However, stumbling blocks may still hinder the planned initialisation of the Association Agreement (AA) between the EU and Moldova which includes a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA).
Moving closer to Europe
Unlike Georgia and Ukraine, Moldova has been relatively far from the spotlight in recent months. It had repeatedly been commended as the success story of the EaP, until this image was tarnished by the political crisis of early 2013 that made the pro-European government collapse. The subsequent formation of a new government under former Foreign and European Integration Minister Iurie Leancă averted early elections and thus prevented a slowdown of EU-Moldova AA negotiations. Despite persistent internal turbulences these were completed last June. In addition, the EU’s Visa Liberalisation Action Plan (VLAP) for Moldova has also moved forward, and on 15 November the European Commission issued recommendations on lifting visa restrictions on the country. However, before the visa free regime can enter into force, it will have to be approved by EU Member States and by the European Parliament.
Factors of insecurity
A number of determinants, both domestic and external, may still compromise Moldova’s smooth integration with the EU. Internally, Moldova suffers from political instability caused by tensions in the governing coalition and growing euroscepticism backed by the Communist Party. Moreover, the Russian-funded breakaway region of Transnistria is reluctant to follow Moldova’s European path.
On a larger scale, Russia is perceived as the largest threat to Moldova’s EU approximation. From a Russian perspective Moldova’s Europeanisation narrows Moscow’s sphere of influence in a strategic area bordering the EU. In the months preceding the Vilnius Summit, Russia has already expressed its hostility vis-à-vis the agreement with the EU by putting a ban on Moldovan wine. Closer to the summit Russia is scaling up its pressure by threatening to limit natural gas supplies and to hinder a settlement of the Transnistrian conflict.
The EU’s stance
Besides confirming its commitment to initialling the AA in Vilnius and signing it in autumn 2014, the EU has condemned external pressure on Moldova and promised to remove quotas on Moldovan wine. Political instability remains an issue of concern for the EU and institutional reforms will be needed in order to tackle it.
Just a few days ahead of the Vilnius Summit, Moldova still faces both internal and external pressures. The question is whether the outcome of the summit will help to appease these tensions or, on the contrary, lead to further exacerbation.
The Republic of Moldova in the Eastern Partnership: from »Poster Child« to »Problem Child«? / Rinnert D., Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, August 2013
Prospect for an upgrade in trade relations with Eastern Partnership countries, Library Briefing, October 2013