The Eastern Partnership’s Vilnius Summit in November 2013 has generally been seen as a milestone for EU-Moldova relations, with the initialling of the Association Agreement (AA), including a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) between the two partners. Although planned for some time, the initialisation was far from being a simple formality, with both internal and external factors in danger of putting the process at risk.
The question of what happens next on the path to EU integration was the subject of a panel discussion by the European Policy Centre that took place in Brussels on 11 December.
The Moldovan assessment
Eugen Caras, Ambassador of Moldova to the EU, praised his country’s recent achievement, but underlined that it was now time to turn the commitment into action. He identified two upcoming milestones for Moldova: the establishment of a visa-free regime for Moldovan citizens, and the signing of the AA and DCFTA, which would turn Moldova’s “irreversible choice into an irreversible path”. The governing coalition is planning to sign the agreement in September so the results of elections due to be held in November do not destabilise the process.
Moreover, Caras listed the reform of the judicial system and the fight against corruption as the current priorities for the government, underlining, nonetheless, that they also expected the EU to offer concrete incentives and prospects in return.
Dirk Schuebel, Head of Division for the Eastern Partnership countries at the European External Action Service, noted how unlikely it would have been just a few years ago that the AA could be initialled so quickly. He said a first draft of the association agenda covering matters the EU would like to see addressed was already underway and would soon be negotiated with Moldova to enable the agreement to be signed next September. As well as issues relating to the judiciary and corruption, the EU sees the protection and promotion of human and fundamental rights, media freedom and a solution to the issue of the breakaway Russia-supported region of Transnistria as priorities. This region could also benefit from the AA and DCFTA but has so far shown no interest in this opportunity. Concerning the visa liberalisation process, Schuebel pointed out that after the Commission’s recent recommendation to waive visa requirements; it is now up to Member States and the European Parliament to give the green light.
Possible pressure from Russia
Kamil Całus from the Centre for Eastern Studies focused on the factors that could hinder Moldova’s European integration which, aside from tensions between parties of the ruling coalition, originate from Russia’s role in the region. Russia’s efforts from preventing Ukraine from signing the agreement have been widely reported, however, it has exercised only limited pressure on Moldova. This could change in 2014, especially following the elections when the situation is likely to be more volatile. Russia could attempt to destabilise Moldova by pushing Transnistria to provoke tensions. Całus also fears that Russia would prevent Moldovan workers from accessing the Russian market and might also restrict or ban imports of Moldovan fruit and vegetables.
The Vilnius Summit – what’s in for Moldova?, Library Summary, November 2013
Helping Moldova stay on the EU course – Proposals for a real ‘more for more’ approach/ Chirila V., Ghinea C., and Paul A., European Policy Centre (EPC), 11 December 2013
Moldova Reality Check: Success Story Before the Storm?/ Central European Policy Institute (CEPI), 6 December 2013