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EASTERN PARTNERSHIP : AFTER UKRAINE MESS, NEW SPOTLIGHT ON MOLDOVA'S EU HOPES.

With the EU's relations with Ukraine in turmoil following President Viktor Yanukovych's decision to ditch the association agreement, a spotlight is shining on Ukraine's much smaller neighbour, Moldova. Now that Moldova has initialled its association agreement with the EU at the Vilnius summit, on 28-29 November, it is openly voicing its hopes to become a full EU member. Moldova's Ambassador in Washington, Igor Munteanu, told a discussion at the Woodrow Wilson Center, on 3 December, that it would fully implement the new accords but quickly added "we would like to see recognition of our European perspective at Riga". He was referring to the next Eastern Partnership summit, scheduled for June 2015. However, the top EU diplomat in Washington, speaking at the same event, seemed to pour cold water on that aspiration. "We are talking here about everything but accession," was how Ambassador Joao Vale de Almeida described the EU's Eastern Partnership initiative for closer relations with six East European countries, including Moldova.

In any EU membership push, Moldova can expect to have at least two champions. Tellingly, following the Vilnius debacle with Ukraine, US Secretary of State John Kerry changed his travel plans. He cancelled a visit to Kyiv for an OSCE ministerial and opted instead to visit Chisinau, on 4 December, to meet with Moldova's president, prime minister and foreign minister. In its briefing note on the visit, the US State Department said that Kerry would discuss how the US "can continue to support Moldova's sustained progress towards European integration". The note also reiterated US support for Moldova's sovereignty and territorial integrity, in reference to its breakaway separatist region, Transnistria.

And Chisinau can expect its Westerly neighbour Romania to make its case to the EU28. At the Wilson Center talk, Professor Iulian Chifu, advisor to Romania's president (although Chifu said he was speaking in a personal capacity), called Moldova "the real star of Vilnius". Chifu noted how his country, Romania, had increased its exports from 7 billion to 50 billion since 1999 (Romania joined the EU in 2007) and that its GDP was now bigger than Ukraine's. One cannot compare the sixty-year-old EU accession process, which helps enshrine better rule of law and reduce the black market, with the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union initiative, which is "just a piece of paper," he said. But if Moldova can count on Romania, other EU countries will be less keen to back further enlargement. During a teleconference call, on 2 December, Europolitics asked Thomas Bagger, head of policy planning at the German Foreign Ministry, if the time had come to offer Eastern Partnership states more than just association with the EU. "The reality is there is no consensus" among the EU28 to offer full membership and "I don't see this happening because of Vilnius," Bagger said.

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Publication:European Report
Geographic Code:4EXUR
Date:Dec 5, 2013
Words:464
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