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3rd Mar 2024

Moldova pins hopes on EU visa pact

  • Moldova's EU aspirations hinge on Ukraine (Photo: BBM Explorer)

A visa-liberalisation decision by the European Commission on Friday is being viewed in Moldova as make-or-break for the country's EU path.

“I expect a positive recommendation from the European Commission,” Moldova foreign affairs minister Natalia Gherman told a group of diplomats and journalists in the country’s capital city Chisinau at the start of the week.

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The European Commission is set to deliver its recommendation on lifting visa restrictions on the former Soviet state on Friday (15 November).

A positive assessment would still need approval from member states and the European Parliament, possibly around the end of next year.

The scheme would allow Moldovans to travel to the EU for up to 90 days a year without a visa.

A suspension clause has been introduced to prevent a repeat of previous experiences when the Balkan-EU visa liberalization process saw an upsurge in asylum claims in member states.

Low wages and crippling poverty force many Moldovans to seek work outside the country with remittances alone accounting for some 25 percent of its total GDP.

The ministry of economy says 700,000, or around half of its working population, are abroad. Many are in Russia with others in the EU and Ukraine.

Gherman noted that Moldovans are aware that the short-term visa does not grant them permission to find work in the EU.

Meanwhile, Moldova’s fragile governing coalition of three parties with pro-EU ambitions view a positive commission verdict as essential in the run-up to next year’s general elections which will pit them against the Communist party.

The coalition sees the EU as its best bet to modernise the country and is set to initial a trade agreement at a summit in Lithuania at the end of the month.

Their plan is to have the trade pact signed and the visa-free regime finalised before next year's general elections.

The Communist party sees the Russian Custom’s Union with Belarus and Kazakhstan as a better alternative to the EU.

But the internal geopolitical tug of war between the two sides is said to depend largely on Ukraine, the second largest economy and the second largest market in the region.

Kiev is also in the process of deciding whether to turn towards Brussels or Moscow - a decision that is also set to become clear at the Lithuania summit.

The commission, in an effort to help curb corruption in the country, tied numerous corruption-fighting conditions to the visa deal.

Moldovan authorities say they adopted the relevant laws last year and have already implemented most of them.

But Moldova’s prime minster Iurie Leanca has admitted that fighting corruption and reforming the justice system also requires a change in mentality.

The recent arrests of low ranking judges is put forward as an example of their efforts to help stop the practice.

“It is just the beginning because they are small fishes so to say,” he told the group of visiting diplomats and journalists.

The EU, for its part, says it expects Moldova to deliver on its promises.

“Like any other country, Moldova needs to sustain the political will to root-out corruption at all levels, including high-level corruption,” a commission official told this website in an email.

Leanca is expected to arrive in Brussels on Friday to press Moldova’s case for EU integration.

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