Moldova's effort to maintain a pro-European course is a positive example for Ukraine and other countries in the region that aspire to EU membership, experts and officials say.
By Paul Ciocoiu for Southeast European Times in Bucharest -- 19/03/14
Moldovan citizens will soon be able to travel to the EU's border-free Schengen area without a visa. [AFP]
The EU Council's decision to approve lifting visas for Moldovan citizens is a result of the country's strong pro-European efforts that bring social and economic benefits to the former Soviet republic, and serve as a roadmap for other countries in the region seeking EU accession, analysts and officials said.
Moldova is the first country of the Eastern Partnership, the EU project to forge closer relations with six former Soviet republics -- Belarus, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine -- to meet all the criteria for visa-free travel. The EU Council agreed on Friday (March 14th) to lift the visa requirement.
Tanja Fajon, the European Parliament's rapporteur for the visa liberalisation dossier, called it a historic moment that will stimulate economic co-operation and connections between Moldovan and EU citizens.
Eugen Tomac, a lawmaker in Romania's parliament representing 400,000 Romanians living in Moldova, said lifting the visa requirement makes the EU the first option for Moldovans in any field of action: labour, studies, small border traffic, "after years of confinement to the only choice, namely Russia."
"The measure allows about 1 million Moldovans who work in the west to return to their country with an infusion of capital which can help the development of small and medium enterprises," Tomac told SETimes. "Also, the Moldovan passport will become attractive to the population in the breakaway Transnistria, which will spur people there to turn their eyes to Moldova."
Speaking to SETimes, Chisinau Mayor Dorin Chirtoaca said lifting the visa regime for Moldovan citizens "will consolidate the country's pro-European course and will allow the commencement of other integration processes, such as the signing of the Association Agreement. The decision will also translate in social and economic benefits and open the door to European standards coming to Moldova which can only lead to a better life of the ordinary citizens."
Moldovan citizens hailed the decision.
"I spoke to my family and friends back home," Ana Batca, a Moldovan economist living in Bucharest, told SETimes. "They are thrilled to be able to travel to Europe freely and basically meet a whole new world for most of them."
Batca said she hopes the decision will encourage Ukrainians to keep fighting for their European ideals.
"We have been in this pro-European race shoulder to shoulder," she said. "They deserve to be part of this world just as much as we do. It is a pity people had to die to make their voices heard."
Chirtoaca, one of the leaders of the Liberal Party, one of the most prominent pro-European voices in Moldova, said "just like in Moldova, the European ideal can help Ukraine settle down after a long and difficult post-Soviet transition. Both Moldova and Ukraine are seeking to adhere to those deep-rooted values, principles and fundamental freedoms the EU is based upon and which they have lacked so far."
Moldova initialled the Association Agreement with the EU, a treaty which mainly regulates the commercial relations between the two sides, at the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius last November, and is expected to sign it this summer. Ukraine also planned to sign the accord in the Lithuanian capital, but then President Viktor Yanukovych decided to abandon pro-European efforts and turn to Russia instead, which prompted massive street protests in the country and finally led to his government's removal last month.
What kind of impact will Moldova's pro-European achievements have on Ukraine's EU integration process? Share your thoughts in the comments section.