EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS – EU ambassadors have agreed to the "political goal" of moving towards a visa-free regime with Moldova in a boost for the pro-EU coalition in Chisinau ahead of November elections.
The ambassadors' decision on Thursday (21 October) could see foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg on Monday task the European Commission with drawing up an Action Plan for visa-free travel for Moldova, on the model of a plan already drafted for Ukraine.
The ambassadors could not agree on the final wording of the ministers' communique because France insisted on language underlining that EU countries will have to approve the Moldova plan if the commission prepares one.
"All the discussions were about the visa issue. The European Ccommission is rushing to start things, but we have to make sure all the necessary guarantees are there," one EU diplomat told that website.
Moldova - a post-Soviet country of 4 million people sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine on the eastern fringe of the EU - accelerated in EU integration terms after a pro-Western coalition ousted the pro-Moscow Communist administration.
A subsequent parliamentary deadlock and a failed referendum on changing the presidential system triggered early elections, which are due on 28 November. Amid widespread disenchantment due to the financial crisis and infighting in the pro-Western gang, the Communist side could stage a comeback.
Progress is also being held back by a frozen conflict in the country's easterly region of Transnistria, where Russia still has what it calls "peacekeeping" troops.
Some in Brussels are keen to support the pro-Western camp in Moldova. But others, such as France, are more mindful of Russia's interests and Moscow's "new ouvertures" for better relations with the EU.
At a summit in the resort town of Deauville in France on Monday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev for the first time agreed to EU technical conditions on visa-free travel for Russia. Previously, Russia has called on the EU to scrap visas "overnight" in a more simplistic model.
The so-called "regional approach" to visa politics in Brussels means the EU is wary of seeing one former Soviet country, such as Moldova or Ukraine, leap ahead in case those left behind take umbrage.
Romanian centre-right MEP Monica Macovei criticised the regional model while speaking during the full sitting of the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Thursday. "Moldova has made more progress than any other country in the Eastern Partnership [Ukraine, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Moldova] and it should be rewarded on its merits," she said.
"We call on member states to ask the commission on 25 October to prepare an action plan for Moldovan citizens' visa-free travel. People-to-people contacts have more value than any statement."