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Moldova: Realities of the Association Agreement post - Vilnius Summit

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SOURCE International Foundation for Better Governance

CHISINAU, Moldova, February 6, 2014 /PRNewswire/ --

Last November, the Republic of Moldova initialled an Association Agreement with the European Union. Today, an amended text of this Agreement was discussed in the Moldovan capital Chisinau at a round table organised by the Helsinki Civil Assembly of Moldova, with support of the Brussels based NGO, the International Foundation for Better Governance. The debate gathered local politicians, political experts and analysts, media, academics as well as representatives of the European Commission in Moldova, to openly discuss the perspectives of country joining the Eastern Partnership Policy in regards to its benefits and conditions.  The discussion focused on the most crucial elements of the Agreement such as the judicial system, rule of law, trade relations and the proposed free visa regime amongst other subjects.

Opening the debate, James Wilson, Director of the co-organising body - the International Foundation for Better Governance - stressed that, "unfortunately there is an international image of Moldova as a country with endemic corruption, and with no respect for property rights… There are divided views on the future course of the country's development, and we face the prospect of parliamentary elections in the autumn. For this reason there is a need to debate together the different options facing the country and to come to a united and inclusive view of the best way forward."

Moldova has the lowest income per capita of any of the Eastern Partnership countries and there is much that Moldova ought to be doing to secure higher rankings in the World Bank's ease of doing business survey. Wicher Slagter, head of political and economic department of the European Commission in Chisenau, pointed out that, "it is wrong to say that the Moldovan story in the context of Eastern Partnership is a success. The Moldovan business climate remains very poor - taking a mere 83rd position according to the World Bank".

The initial thought behind the Association Agreement and the ENP programme was to create a platform for political and economic modernisation in order to ensure security and stability in the partnership countries, including Moldova. However, in the light of recent political turmoil in Ukraine, the project is going through a series of crises.

According to Bogdan Zyrdya, a Moldovan political expert, the first one is the ENP's  image, which has been tarnished due to the sudden and violent rejection by its biggest candidate Ukraine. There is also an issue of the credibility - the programme's goal is no longer clear and it does not appear to be a partnership, but rather "a one-way integration". Zyrdya also raised concerns regarding candidates having to choose between the Eastern Partnership and Customs Union with Russia.

Comparing the country's situation to what is happening in Ukraine, Oleg Noginsky, head of Association of Suppliers of Customs Union in Ukraine stressed that only few supporters have actually read the document. "How can you so blindly support something that you know nothing about? There will be no free entry for Moldovan goods to the European market and according the Agreement the EU will only offer fairly limited quotes.

Adding to the economic perspective, Galina Schelar, director of the Institute of Strategic Research and Reforms, reminded that according to the presented document, Moldova will have to implement over 300 directives in the following 3 to 4 years after signature. Consequently Schelar proposed, "to carefully consider the options and conditions that are offered to us (Moldovans). We should pause the process and reconsider the directives stated in the document, as we are now taking the risk of opening our customs to the EU without being able to openly export our products; risk of worsening relations with our autonomous regions and with Eastern neighbours." Elena Gorelova, a fellow Institute member added that "for Moldova is it vital to keep both export directions as 50% goes to the EU and 50% towards CIS countries".

Regarding the visa-free status promised to Moldova, James Wilson insisted that "the visa free regime does not imply the possibility to work in the EU; its purpose is to facilitate touristic and cultural exchanges. " Oleg Noginsky of Ukraine, added that "this visa-free regime does not even appear in the document, thus cannot be guaranteed".

Throughout today's debate, speakers expressed their support of open discussions with the Moldovan population and leadership and the need to inform citizens of what the Agreement entails.

Vasily Ernu, Romanian publicist and writer asked, "what kind of sovereignty are we talking about when the agreement has been revealed to the population after signature and has not been translated into local languages?" His point was supported by Mark Tkachuk, Moldovan MP from the Communist Party, "the final translation of the document is not available to the population to read. Why not to consider a global discussion or maybe even a referendum in this country." Both James Wilson and Galina Schelar raised the importance of including businesses in the debate.

"In the next 3 years, Moldova is agreeing to provide new job positions within the EU norms", stated Schelar. "Considering that 90% of Moldovan businesses are private, were these businesses even asked if they can accept and implement such conditions within the imposed timeframe? "

The Vilnius Summit which was held late November in 2013, aimed to enhance cooperation between Eastern Partnership countries, but appeared to make no progress on reviving far reaching association agreements with countries like Ukraine. The summit's centrepiece would have been a major step towards eventual integration. Going forward, given the change in scenarios there is a need to better explain what is at stake to the population and seek to understand the realities of local markets.

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