Moldova just a step away from the EU
by Franco Frattini and Iurie Leanca (Foreign Minister of Moldova)
While the Europe of 27 still ponders its global relevance, the common European home cannot be said to be complete. Areas of the continent remain, to the south and east, which we need to anchor more firmly to the heart of Europe: a Europe that is political, economic and cultural. We therefore look with great interest to the Eastern Partnership – a new cooperation mechanism between the EU and the Caucasus countries, Moldova, Ukraine and Belarus. A partnership that aims to promote security and stability at the eastern borders, break down cultural barriers and establish dynamic free trade areas.
Italy and Moldova strongly support this partnership, which they view as complementary rather than contradictory to the need for increasingly strong links between Europe and Russia. The Swedish EU Presidency in the second half of 2009 gave it a strong new impetus. In Moldova, it immediately found an actor ready to take up the challenge and open negotiations for a new Association Agreement with the European Union. This is no coincidence: Moldova’s geographical location, history, religion and the natural European outlook of its people are proof of its European spirit.
Moldova’s Alliance for European Integration, the ruling coalition of four anti-communist parties that emerged from the July 2009 elections, has embarked on a modernisation process and an ambitious reform plan. Its aim is to bring the country rapidly into line with European standards and open a dialogue with the EU institutions. For its part, Europe must show that it is a vital partner in Moldova’s democratisation and modernisation.
For Chisinau, looking to the west also means laying the groundwork for the growth and diversification of its economy and the stabilisation of its society. We are well aware that Moldova’s ambitions clash at present with a situation made more complex by the global economic crisis and the country’s energy dependency. The emigration of a significant part of the labour force – significant in both qualitative and quantitative terms – and the admittedly weak infrastructure and educational and health systems require a quality leap which must find a prompt and significant response in Moldova’s European partners.
For Italy and Europe, Moldova could become an important platform for direct inward investment opportunities, in a context where “much to do” and “can-do” both apply. The country has a skilled, low-cost workforce and sectors in need of development, from basic services to infrastructure. 2010 opened well: negotiations are under way for a new, enhanced EU/Moldova agreement setting out the rules to bring the country gradually but constantly closer to the European space. We hope this agreement includes provisions for an enhanced free trade zone that refer explicitly to Moldova’s European prospects and, above all, envisage a concrete path to be followed in liberalising visas for Moldovan citizens.
The increasingly close dialogue with the countries of Europe must also prompt a normalisation of relations with Russia, an essential outlet for Moldova’s agricultural production. And above all, it must act as a spur to normalise relations with Romania, first and foremost to tackle trade issues and define borders.
Italy, which is home to 90,000 Moldovans and is the country’s 3rd inward investor, strongly supports the new Government’s openness to Europe. Our countries have begun a new era of increasingly close relations: in November 2009 the new Italian Embassy was opened in Chisinau; we have greatly increased the meetings we hold, and placed them on a regular footing; and Italy has signed up to the “Friends of Moldova” initiative to support Chisinau on its path towards Europe.
Italy views as a priority the stabilisation of the south-eastern quadrant of the European continent and intends to stand at the side of its Moldovan friends. This duty derives not just, and not so much, from the Latin roots both our countries share.
It derives also, and above all, from a moral obligation to hold out new prospects to a country that occupies a pivotal position between western and eastern Europe. A country that is in search of a new dignity which the European institutions cannot deny it by closing in on themselves.