The European Commission will recommend lifting visa requirements for Moldova after the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius later this month, EC president Jose Manuel Barroso said on November 15, following a meeting with Moldovan prime minister Iurie Leanca and Romanian prime minister Victor Ponta.
Moldova is expected to initial an association agreement with the EU, which includes a free trade agreement, at the summit in Vilnius on November 28-29.
In its latest report on Moldova’s progress implementing the visa liberalisation action plan, which the EC approved in January 2011, the Commission said that Moldova implemented all the benchmarks, including reform of its interior ministry, co-operation with EU member states in judicial matters and improving controls on its eastern border, with Ukraine.
“This is very good news for citizens and a very tangible element towards a closer political association and economic integration with the EU. It is also an encouragement for other Eastern partners who seek to achieve the same goal”, EU commissioner for home affairs Cecilia Malmström said.
Moldova has made big steps towards closer ties with the EU since the current pro-Western government coalition took office after winning snap elections in 2010, turning into the success story of the EU’s Eastern Partnership programme.
This, however, has led to the souring of relations with Russia, as the Kremlin is keen to bring as many former Soviet republics into the fold of the Moscow-led Customs Union, envisioned to become the basis of a future Eurasian Union.
In September, Russia banned Moldovan wine imports citing health concerns, but observers interpreted the move as direct pressure on Chisinau to dissuade Moldovan authorities from signing the association agreement with the EU. Separately, Russian deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin, who is also the Russian envoy to the region, made an unsubtle threat that Moldova might find itself cut off from Russian gas supplies if it signs the agreement with the EU.
In response, the EU has moved to lift quotas on wine imports from Moldova in advance of schedule, while also underscoring the importance of the gas interconnector between Moldova and Romania.
The lifting of visa restrictions for Moldovan citizens (albeit only those that hold biometric passports) appears to be another helping hand for Moldova’s pro-EU government. If the process advances along the same timetable used for the Western Balkans, the visa restrictions could be lifted as early as next autumn, shortly before Moldova is due to hold parliamentary elections in November 2014.
(Left to right: Romanian prime minister Victor Ponta, EC president Jose Manuel Barroso and Moldovan prime minister Iurie Leanca. Photo: European Commission)