Federica Mogherini, the newly appointed head of the EU diplomatic service, met with several EU foreign affairs ministers in Chisinau, Moldova yesterday (1 September) in a sign of support for the country. This was Mogherini’s first official trip abroad, after being appointed to be the next EU foreign affairs chief.
The visit was largely symbolic, as Moldova struggles to pursue its EU integration against efforts by Moscow bring it back into its orbit. Moldova is a former Soviet republic (see background).
Trade, the situation in Ukraine and the EU-Moldova Association Agreement (AA) was discussed. Moldova signed its AAA on 27 June, and ratified it the following week.
Like Ukraine, Moldova has been threatened by Russia for its pro-European agenda. Following the signature of the AA, Russia banned Moldova’s wine, fruits and vegetables exports, as well as restricted access to its labour market. It is estimated that 16% of the Moldovan population works in Russia.
Last April, the EU granted visa-free travel to the citizens of Moldova.
In this context, Mogherini reiterated EU support for the eastern countries, and said “more is to come".
— MFA Moldova (@Diplomacy_RM) September 1, 2014
The Ukraine crisis and the Russian trade embargo are not the only weapons pressure that destablises the former Soviet country. The frozen conflict of Transnistria, dating from the early nineties, on the eastern border of Moldova, has put pressure on the central government every time Moldova has taken another step closer to European integration.
“It is unacceptable that countries are being bullied because of their choices,” said Harlem Désir, French foreign minister.
He encouraged all parties in the Ukraine conflict to return to the negotiation table in order to achieve peace through diplomatic means. Désir said France and Germany are making big efforts to find a solution.
Also present at the meeting, EU enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle announced that the Commission had adopted a proposal to increase the import quota of apples, plums and grapes from Moldova.
“We turn the word solidarity into practice,” Füle said. Apart from giving Moldovans visa-free access and more funding, the Commissioner said the EU has one more goal: “to build an independent, prosperous and strong Moldova".
Romanian foreign minister Titus Corlățean added that the meeting of the EU diplomatic representatives in Moldova “sends a political message”. The EU will support Moldova’s path toward European integration, the Romanian minister insisted.
Corlățean added, however, that the meeting was “not against anyone”, but in his words was a way to recognize Moldova’s efforts and “to show European support”.
EU candidate status?
Moldova hopes to be recognised as a potential candidate country for EU membership at the Eastern Partnership summit in Riga next May, under the Latvian EU Presidency.
So far, Romania has been the only EU member country to strongly support Moldova being granted EU candidate status.
"Today's meeting is about Moldova's vision for the future," said the Moldovan Prime Minister Iurie Leancă. He then alluded to Riga Summit as the next opportunity for the country to be granted “more than hopes”.
So far, the EU has been reluctant to grant candidate status to countries who have not solved their problems with their neighbours. But in the context of the Ukraine crisis, political thinking is reported to be changing, and the Union may decide not to remain trapped by the Russia-sponsored “frozen conflict” of Transnistria.
The meeting in Moldova was organised in the context of the Friends of Moldova group, established at the initiative of the French and Romanian foreign ministers. The gathering took place on a symbolic date in EU-Moldova relations, as on 1 September, the provisional AA between the two sides entered into force.