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18th Aug 2018

EU tells Moldova it is still corrupt

  • The EU says Moldovan citizens need to be better informed about the benefits to their economy from the EU-Moldova treaty (Photo: Adam Jones)

Moldova still has a long way to go to implement the reforms it promised as part of a free trade and political deal with the European Union, according to a report published on Thursday (5 April).

"Corruption still remains widespread, and independence of justice, law enforcement as well as national anti-corruption authorities need substantial improvement," said the report by the European Commission.

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  • 'The EU share in Moldova's export has been increasing steadily since the entry into force of the [EU-Moldova treaty],' according to the European Commission (Photo: European Parliament)

The report assessed the eastern European country's progress made since the last EU-Moldova summit in March 2017.

The Republic of Moldova is not a candidate member like Serbia, or even a potential candidate like Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Instead, it is part of a so-called association agreement, which established a free trade area, and perks like visa-free travel to the EU for Moldovans who have a biometric passport.

Since April 2014, more than a million of Moldova's 3.5 million citizens have used visa-free travel to visit the EU, according to the commission report.

The deal also included a political side, which required Moldova to carry out reforms that will align its laws closer to those of the EU.

Ukraine and Georgia have signed similar agreements with the EU. Failure to implement the reforms will mean that financial support from the EU remains locked.

Some progress

According to the commission's report, there was "some progress" in reforms needed in Moldova's financial and business sectors, as well as in a reform of public administration. It said the reforms have helped improve the country's economic situation.

In 2017, Moldova's government approved several strategies for gender equality, strengthening inter-ethnic relations, and a human rights action plan.

However, the commission also saw many shortcomings, for example in the field of rule of law.

"In the area of independence of the judiciary efforts are still needed in order to promote a transparent and merit-based selection procedure for judges and to improve transparency," it said.

"The wide-spread use of pre-trial detention continued and the death of a detainee suffering from mental disorders while in state custody revealed systemic weaknesses in the system," the report noted.

It said only three of the 17 functioning penitentiary institutions met "the minimum standards of detention".

"The ownership of media outlets remains concentrated and the advertising market monopolised," it added.

The commission also noted not enough had been done in response to a major bank fraud that occurred in 2014, when over $1bn vanished.

"Lost funds have not been recovered, and the full version of the follow-up report on the fraudulent schemes, outsourced to a private company, has not been published (only a summary was published in December 2017) raising doubts on the real will to prosecute this culprit of the fraud."

Torn between the EU and Russia

The report comes ahead of parliamentary elections – which are due to be held before the end of the year – and as the issue of aligning with the EU or with Russia continues to be prevalent in Moldovan politics.

Earlier this year, Moldova banned the broadcast of news shows and documentaries from Russia – to the chagrin of Moldova's pro-Russian president, Igor Dodon.

Dodon had tried to block the ban, which was motivated as preventing Russian propaganda. The president did the same with several other reforms proposed by the parliament, in which pro-EU parties currently have a majority.

Euronews recently reported on the ban and cited a Moldovan citizen from Chisinau, who said she could circumvent the ban easily via the internet.

"We need to listen to both sides, listen to the news from Europe as well as from Russia and make our own decision as to what is propaganda and what is not," said Elena Chiriac.

Last week, Moldova's government sided with the west by expelling three Russian diplomats after a Russian ex-spy was poisoned in the UK, which subsequently blamed Russia.

Elections coming up

The future of the EU-Moldova association agreement will hang in the balance later this year, when Moldovans go to the polls.

The pro-Russian president is opposed to it, and has said last year that if his party won the 2018 elections, Moldova would pull out of the agreement.

The eurosceptic president has also been saying that Moldova has not benefited economically from the deal – a stance which the EU commission's figures dispute.

According to Thursday's report, the EU was Moldova's most important trading partner in 2017, with bilateral trade amounting to €4bn – an 18 percent increase compared to 2016.

"The EU share in Moldova's export has been increasing steadily since the entry into force of the [EU-Moldova treaty], and it accounts for around 55 percent of Moldovan total trade," the report said.

It also noted that more should be done to convince Moldovan citizens of "the benefits to be brought by the reform process and by the EU support to Moldova".

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