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Moldova: EU Says Upgrade Of Ties Conditional On Reforms

Ferrero-Waldner (left) meets with Voronin in Brussels (official site) BRUSSELS -- The European Union's external relations commissioner has said that the EU will soon address ways of bringing its relationship with Moldova forward.

After a meeting with Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin, Benita Ferrero-Waldner said that "a new, broader agreement" is needed, as the current EU-Moldova Partnership and Cooperation Agreement will expire in June. The agreement can be extended, but the EU believes it has served its purpose and needs to be replaced.

Moldova's larger neighbor, Ukraine, is already negotiating a new agreement with the EU. Like Ukraine, Moldova is hoping the new accord will take it perceptibly closer to its eventual goal of EU membership by upgrading the country's current "partnership" status to that of "association."

The EU, on the other hand, is wary of extending its commitment to either country that far, at least at this point. On May 27, Ferrero-Waldner outlined some of the tasks that Moldova will have to complete before a new agreement can be signed.

"Of course, all that presupposes that the reform efforts are going on, and it's very important to still make reform efforts, particularly in the question of judiciary and police reform, on the question of reforms to create the right business and investment climate, and particularly the fight against corruption," she said. "And since we are also in the run-up to the next election, particularly also media freedom."

Voronin duly responded with a pledge that all reforms -- most of which have already been written into law -- would be implemented speedily. He also said the conduct of the country's 2009 elections will conform "to the highest democratic standards."

The Moldovan president also said his country is ready to restart stalled talks with its breakaway Transdniester region "at any moment" -- provided the separatist leadership first accepts broad autonomy within Moldova.

Ferrero-Waldner said the EU is ready to do "absolutely everything" to support the conflict-resolution process with Transdniester. But, she said, it is imperative that the two parties themselves first agree to resume talks.

She said Chisinau must do more to convince the population of Transdniester of the benefits of staying within Moldova, that "they should feel that they want to be in Moldova, and this is something we have discussed very, very clearly indeed."

Ferrero-Waldner said one positive example of such confidence-building measures has been a drive to convince Transdniestrian businesses to register with Chisinau in exchange for opportunities to export their products to the EU.

The commissioner also said the EU and Moldova are working on a "mobility partnership" aimed at easing EU visa restrictions for Moldovan citizens and possibly creating limited opportunities for Moldovan citizens to apply for EU work permits.