The European Parliament gave the green light to the EU-Moldova Association Agreement today (13 November), the first economic and political cooperation pact with a visa-free regime between a former Soviet state and the EU since the start of the Ukraine crisis.
Moldova is the first former Soviet country to enjoy such an agreement. Georgia is in talks over a similar deal. Ukraine signed their equivalent in September but, on the request of Russia, it will not be implemented until the end of 2015.
“The agreement will not only help Moldova integrate into the EU’s internal market but will benefit the business sector with increased opportunities for small and medium enterprises,” said a Slovenian MEP, Tanja Fajon. “It will also improve trade and create investment opportunities which will contribute to economic recovery and growth.”
Once the agreement enters into force, the Moldovans will be able to sell their goods on the EU market without tariffs. Exceptions apply only to a number of agricultural and textile products.
The deal between the EU and Moldova will enter into force in its entirety once all EU member states ratify the document. So far only Romania, Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Malta and Slovakia have approved it.
Since the election of a pro-European government in 2009, Moldova has gone through a number of reforms in the hope of joining the EU in the future. But Russia is not ready to let go of its influence in the region.
Moscow has responded to Moldova’s pro-Western ambitions with embargoes on wine, fruits, vegetables, and restrictions to access the Russian labour market.
“This is not a move against any of the EU’s or Moldova’s neighbours and we can only regret that Russia perceives it as a potential threat,” said Knut Fleckenstein MEP, a German Social Democrat.
Following Russia’s economic pressure, the EU has accelerated strengthening its ties with Moldova.
The EU-Moldova agreement is seen as a setback to Russia’s influence in the region. But Russia still holds a firm arm on Transnistria. The region, which lies in the eastern part of the country, declared independence from Moldova and obeys Russia in exchange for financial support.
While the new EU agreement applies to the whole country, Transnistria rejects it on the grounds that it was not involved in the negotiations with the EU. Moldova hopes that the EU’s single market will lure Transnistrian companies.
EU policymakers have reiterated numerous times that Moldova has little chance of becoming an EU member as long as there is a conflict inside its borders.
The signing of the EU agreement comes at a crucial moment for the current government. The Moldovans will head to the poll stations on 30 November to elect a new government. According to an October survey, the pro-European parties are set to win the elections but the communists are still popular with the older generation.
MEPs today in the plenary meeting of the European Parliament praised the current government for its determination to continue with reforms despite the Russian pressure.
The European People’s Party chair in the European Parliament, Manfred Weber MEP, said, “In a situation where Russia closes its borders and creates economic problems, Europe opens its frontiers. Today, we voted to give a helping hand to the citizens of Moldova and to show our solidarity in times of external pressure against the country.”