Minister: Moldova is the frontrunner for visa liberalisation

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Moldova expects to become the frontrunner of the EU's Eastern partner states vying for visa liberalisation with the 28-country bloc, if it signs its mooted association agreement at a 28-29 November summit in Vilnius, Moldova’s Foreign and European Integration Minister Natalia Gherman told EURACTIV Slovakia in an exclusive interview.

Natalia Gherman has served as Moldova’s ambassador to Austria and to Sweden. She is the chief negotiator of the EU-Moldova association agreement. She spoke to Zuzana Gabrizova, Chief Editor of EURACTIV Slovakia.

Moldova is the subject of the European neighbourhood policy (ENP) and its spin-off, the Eastern partnership. How you perceive its effectiveness? Moldova has been always prioritizing the bilateral track in the Eastern partnership – the way how Moldova individually interacts with the EU institutions and EU member states. This is where we think we can advance much faster and this is where we think we could be distinguished as an individual Eastern partner form the rest of the group.

The multilateral track of the Eastern Partnership is of course important but it has become increasingly difficult to promote a very coherent policy on the multilateral track for both sides. The EU sometimes advocates the regional approach, but if we look at the group of countries in the system nowadays they could not be more different. In terms of size, the geographical positions and, most importantly, it is about the level of ambition to develop the relationship with EU. Here you can clearly distinguish the countries that have proclaimed the European integration as an absolute priority of the domestic and external policy and the other participates that cannot share this objective. I would advocate differentiating between probably three countries now – Moldova, Ukraine, Georgia, on the one hand and the rest. But we three are also at different stages and calendar of the integration effort.

The ENP should be backed up by the so called “more for more” principle – the more you reform yourself the more assistance you receive. That would help the relevancy of the Easter partnership after the Vilnius summit.

What is your expectation from the November summit on Easter Partnership in Vilnius? Moldova has very concrete objectives – we would be initiating the Association agreement (AA) and Deep comprehensive free trade area (DCFTA) that we have successfully negotiated for the last three years. The signature of the AA which includes the DCFTA should happen the sooner the better, because the signature means that it will be put to provisional implementation.

That would be the proof of irreversibility of the EU integration course in my country. It is not an easy task, but looking at how convincingly Slovakia passed through the same stages of its integrations inspires optimism provided there is the political will.

Moldova is also a front runner in delivering on implementation of conditionalities required for the visa liberalisation regime. We are progressing, even though it is not easy. In Vilnius there will be the presentation of progress of each EP country by EC in this field. We are counting that we will be presented as a front runner.

Without granting the European perspective, which is the objective of all the painful reforms, it will be very difficult to maintain the Easter Partnership as a relevant policy for countries like mine.

Is there a political consensus regarding the European aspirations of Moldova? There is no consensus in the society about that so far, which I could mention. But the majority of the Moldovian people have made their choice, because in the last three years we had to undergo through three elections. The fact stays that in those three elections Moldovans voted three times to support pro European democratic parties that have campaigned on the idea of bringing Moldova into the EU and mobilized the people to support this ambitious reform agenda that we have voluntarily assumed to make us eligible for integration course. Also for Slovakia it was not without certain setbacks from which we also have to learn.

We are in the third year of implementation of a project that our Slovak partners have shared with us and that is the National Convention on the European integration.

What are the biggest challenges in the reform process that Moldova is undergoing? Enlargement and Neighbourhood Commissioner Štefan Füle mentioned constitutional reform, judiciary among other things. Justice sector is the most challenging one. It is difficult but we are not an exception. I am very pleased that EU supports us and that we are receiving budgetary support to reform in a best way. We want to align ourselves with EU norms and legislation in every field and in this field as well.

We have started with the clear deliverables. It has repercussions immediately as everything and every ones of us is related to justice. But if it works properly you have the trust in the future of your country and you do not leave.

What role do you foresee for the EU in unfreezing the issue of Transnistria that remains a major setback in your efforts? The EU is already an active participant in the 5+2 format where the settlement talks are being conducted. It is contributing generously in the so called confidence building measures (CBM). That is a very important element because it provides for the better understanding and for the better atmosphere between people living on both sides of the river also when the talks are touching the most sensitive elements which is the status for the Transnistrian region. We are not yet there. The political and security issues of the talks are difficult to open and the Transnistrian side is unfortunately resisting that.

The fundamental truth is that the EU integration of Moldova is the most efficient facilitating factor for the reunification of the country, because becoming more European in each sense of the word makes us more attractive to the other bank. Furthermore, we are very inclusive towards the residents of the Transnistrian region in the process of visa liberalization and DCFTA. These are very pragmatic elements as opposed to being dependent on subsidies.

What is the current status of your relations with Russian Federation in this context? Very pragmatic at this point in time. We do have trade, although you heard that there were rejections of certain Moldovan products onto the Russian markets, so it is not without setbacks. We do have a lot of humanitarian cooperation, cooperation in education and culture. We have issues in the migration field that we are trying to solve in negotiations.

Russia is advocating and alternative integration, so called Customs Union and Euroasian Union, which is their choice and their preferred model. But Moldova has made its strategic choice. It is – integration into the European Union.

What do you think that the EU will look like by the time when you believe Moldova could join the EU? No matter how the EU will look like by the time we join we will join anyway. There is no alternative or other direction. Maybe I am so certain because of the personal experience. We know how is to be part of a different, Soviet Union.

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