The foreign ministers of France and Germany, Laurent Fabius and Frank Walter Steinmeier, reassured Moldova Wednesday (23 April) that the EU stood ready to sign an association agreement with Chisinau this summer, and that the Union supported the country’s territorial integrity.
Laurent Fabius and Frank Walter Steinmeier were in the Moldovan capital for a meeting with Prime Minister Yurie Leancă.
The Association Agreement (AA) would be similar to the one proposed to Ukraine, which prompted Russia to try to prevent its signature. Having learned the bitter lesson of procrastinating with Ukraine, EU leaders decided last December to put Georgia and Moldova on a fast track to sign theirs by August 2014 [read more]. At their 20-21 March summit, EU leaders decided to sign the AA with Moldova and Georgia no later than June 2014 [read more].
Both Georgia and Moldova initialed their AA at the 28-29 November Vilnius summit of the Eastern Partnership. The AAs are coupled with Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreements (DCFTAs).
As with the Ukraine, Moldova has been threatened by Russia with dire consequences if it follows the EU track. Last September, Russia banned wine exports from Moldova citing “food safety concerns”. But a much more serious blow to the Moldovan economy, experts say, would come from a Russian ban on products such as fruit or vegetables, as well as restrictions on Moldovan migrant workers.
Some Russian statements suggest that Moscow could impose restrictions on Moldovan nationals working in Russia. Seasonal workers abroad contributed €2 billion to the Moldovan economy this year. And 60% of that amount came from migrants working in Russia.
EU diplomats generally believe, however, that given Moldova's relatively small size, it would not be difficult for the Union to help Chisinau if needed. Last week, the European Parliament voted to lift import duties on Moldovan wine from this week onwards, in an effort to make up for lost exports to Russia.
Russia's annexation of Crimea has stoked worries in Chisinau that Moscow could make a similar move in the breakaway region of Transnistria (see background). Steinmeier said Germany and France "take very seriously the deep anxiety" with which their eastern partners view the situation in Ukraine
"The Republic of Moldova can rely on its partnership with Europe," Steinmeier said. "We're not about to enter into a geostrategic game or a confrontation between the West and the East, between the EU and Russia," he added.
“We absolutely don’t want to build new barriers across the continent, we want to bring Moldova to the EU and, at the same time, we want Moldova’s excellent relations with Russia to continue,” said Fabius.
“Regarding that, I want to stress our full support of Moldova’s territorial integrity,” he added.
Fabius and Steinmeier will travel to Georgia next, where they will also promote closer EU ties and an association agreement with the bloc.