BRUSSELS — Moldova wants to become the EU’s newest member, and it is pushing to be offered a clear path to membership when Brussels unveils its latest expansion plans next month, despite fears that membership could drag the bloc into a decades-old frozen conflict with Russia.
Moldovan Foreign Minister Nicu Popescu insisted in an interview with POLITICO that his country’s European aspirations should not be at the mercy of Moscow, which continues to support the breakaway region of Transnistria.
“Everything would be easier if a country like ours did not have a separatist conflict – it affects our security, our economy, our ability to control borders – and it has massive negative effects,” he admitted. Backed by the Kremlin, Transnistria, a region along the Moldova-Ukraine border, has operated as an unrecognized state since the fall of the USSR, retaining its hammer-and-sickle flag. Soviet era and using Russian as its official language.
However, Popescu insisted, it is “not at all” true that this impasse harms Moldova’s membership ambitions.
“The territory controlled by our government in Chişinău can join the EU regardless of what happens to the east of our country, and this includes the situation around Transnistria,” he said. “No one wants divided countries within the EU, but keeping countries at the mercy of geopolitical manipulation and separatist conflicts would be even worse for the continent, for the EU and for us. »
Moldovan diplomats in Brussels will present a position paper to the Commission on Tuesday, saying their government “has worked hard to firmly anchor the country in the European family of nations.” According to a draft seen by POLITICO, in the coming weeks, “Moldova will also launch a self-assessment process to identify legislative needs for the expected accession negotiations,” paving the way for entry into the bloc without delay. .
Moldova’s pro-European President Maia Sandu has repeatedly condemned Russia’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine and said her country of just 2.6 million people must cut its historically close ties with Moscow . Last June, EU leaders granted the former Soviet republic candidate status, alongside Ukraine.
Brussels has also released hundreds of millions of euros to help Moldova end its dependence on Russian energy and deployed a civilian mission to the country following warnings from Ukrainian intelligence that pro-politicians -Russians planned to stage a coup and overthrow the government. Meanwhile, polls have consistently shown that a majority of Moldovan citizens favor joining the bloc, and almost half the population already has an EU passport, largely thanks to family ties to neighboring Romania.
During a visit to the country in May, the EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, was asked whether the conflict in Transnistria would delay Moldova’s accession process. “There are precedents of member states becoming members having a territorial problem internally – this is the case of Cyprus,” he said.
However, earlier this year, Romania’s Siegfried Mureșan, chairman of the European Parliament delegation to the country, told POLITICO that “Moldova cannot become a member of the EU with Russian troops on its territory against the will of the Republic of Moldova itself”. According to him, despite support for his pro-Western turn, “we will have to resolve this problem before accession”.
Brussels will take stock of its enlargement plans in October. Three of the candidate countries – Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia – all face the occupation of part of their territory by Russian troops.
As the war in Ukraine rages across the border, it is unclear whether EU countries are willing to take a risk for Moldova’s European dream.