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Moldova: EU Officials Say Union Membership Hopes Are Premature

Moldovan Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev at the EU in Luxembourg (epa) Top EU officials today made clear that Moldova's hopes of joining the union are premature. Visiting Moldovan Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev was urged by the EU at a meeting in Luxembourg to focus on reforms and work within the union's Neighborhood Policy instead. The EU side indicated that it can grant trade perks, although significant political concessions remain unrealistic at this stage.

BRUSSELS, April 11, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The EU today told Moldova to concentrate on essential reforms instead of focusing on membership of the union.

After meeting with Moldova's prime minister, Vasile Tarlev, EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said Moldova's progress so far was enough to secure trade perks.

"Moldova has made quite important advances on the economic, political, and also structural reform side. It is a result of these efforts that Moldova has become part of the 'GSP Plus' [EU equivalent of most-favored nation] scheme that offers indeed some better access to the European market, and it has improved also the certification and the control of origin rules, which opens the way also to a possible granting of additional autonomous trade preferences," Ferrero-Waldner said.

But, Ferrero-Waldner said, reforms in the fields of human rights, minority protection, and the rule of law will still require "a lot of effort." She said the EU was ready to provide Moldova both technical and financial assistance to support reforms. However, longer-term aid figures will only emerge later this year as the EU works out the finer details of its 2007-2013 budget. The budget was only fully agreed on last week.

Prime Minister Tarlev said today that EU membership has been Moldova's "firm intention" since 2002.

Not Ready For Membership

But EU representatives made it clear today that any talk of Moldovan membership is premature at best.

Ursula Plassnik, foreign minister of current EU chair Austria, said Moldova must work within the EU's European Neighborhood Policy.

Plassnik said the EU is "aware" of Moldova's aspirations, and offers support and assistance. But she indicated Chisinau must remain aware membership is not a realistic goal at the present time.

"However, the quality of friendship and partnership, the quality of neighborhood is also to manage expectations in a responsible way. And this is what we are also doing with regard to our friends and partners in Moldova," Plassnik said."For the time being we are at the very beginning of a long road, there is an enormous amount of challenges ahead of the Moldovan government and Moldovan political actors, where we can only encourage and support from our point of view, but where the essential burden will have to be taken and is taken upon the shoulders of the Moldovan government and the Moldovan population."

Both Plassnik and Ferrero-Waldner said the EU's Neighborhood Policy continues to be a sufficient framework for relations between the two sides. The policy explicitly avoids addressing the membership prospects of its target nations.

Visa Talks

They were also pessimistic about Moldova's chances in the foreseeable future of getting the EU to relax its visa requirements on its citizens. Like talk of further enlargement, the opening of borders is an increasingly sensitive topic among EU electorates.

Last year, Moldova unilaterally stopped requiring visas from EU and U.S. citizens.

Responding to Tarlev's plea for the EU to be "open to Moldova's efforts" in this respect, Ferrero-Waldner said any easing of the visa regime needs the unanimous assent of all EU member states. To get that support, Moldova needs to step up its fight against corruption and cross-border crime, among other things.

Plassnik said that if border controls between the EU and Moldova were to be relaxed, this must increase security and not risk what she called "negative effects."

Ferrero-Waldner said high-ranking EU border-control and visa experts will meet their Moldovan counterparts in May to discuss closer technical cooperation.

Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner briefly also expressed EU support for Moldova in the country's fraught relations with Russia, most recently evidenced by Moscow's boycott of Moldovan wines. But, she said, the dispute remained a bilateral issue. The EU can do very little to intervene as long as Russia is not a member of the World Trade Organization, she said.

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