Moldova wants to start formal talks on becoming a EU member state and will use the a summit of all 50 EU and non-member European leaders in its capital, Chișinău, on Thursday to underline its desire to accelerate the accession process, the country’s foreign minister said.
Along with Ukraine, Moldova has official accession candidate status since last year but believes, like its larger neighbour, it can accelerate the years-long process to get a seat in Brussels in the face of continuing threats from Russia.
The foreign minister and head of EU integration, Nicu Popescu, described Thursday’s summit of the European Political Community as an “important moment” and “opportunity to show, explain that Moldova is fit for EU membership”.
Citing the recent restoration of state control of the airport, the conviction of an oligarch after “multiple delays and stonewalling from our justice department” as examples of the country’s determination to deliver on necessary reforms.
“EU accession been a primary objective for our society for the past two decades. Our objective is by the autumn of this year we will start accession talks,” he told reporters.
As heads of state from the EU and non-member European countries including Serbia and Kosovo descend on the capital for the second meeting of the EPC, Moldova will also be looking to keep financial and political support flowing in the coming months and years.
“This is the biggest event of 30 years, a strong sign of commitment to Moldova, a strong sign that Moldova is not alone,” said Popescu, a message echoed by European Commission chief, Ursula von der Leyen, at an event a few hundred metres away in the presidential palace.
Von der Leyen later said the EU could see that “good progress” was being made on reforms and it would accelerate the steps in Chișinău to help it build the administrative structures needed to join the bloc.
She also announced the EU was tripling financial support for the country “leveraging” €1.6bn (£1.4bn) funds it can access on top of the €1bn already made available last year.
“It is amazing to see that despite all the pressure, Moldova is advancing rapidly and with great quality,” Von der Leyen said at a joint news conference with the Moldovan president, Maia Sandu.
Sources say leaders deliberately chose Mimi Castle, 20km from the Ukranian border, to send a message to Vladimir Putin.
“The presence of 50 European leaders, 50 heads of state and government, right now in Moldova – the EPC now gives a very strong message. Moldova is at the heart of Europe. Moldova is Europe. And today and tomorrow, the whole of Europe is Moldova,” she said.
“We support you every step of the way on your path to the European Union,” she added.
On Wednesday, the EU also opened a civilian mission in Chișinău to support the country against Russian disinformation, something Popescu said was familiar to generations of Moldovans pre- and post-Soviet rule.
With a complex history and a rich mix of politics including 60% who support EU membership, 20% who favour eastern orientation and a large proportion who he said were “undecided or scared” about the future, one thing was clear, Popescu said: “They want to live in a democracy, a country where they are not beaten up by the police.”
Nestled between Ukraine and the EU, Moldova sees itself as a bulwark against Russian aggression being of benefit to the entire continent.
“We’ve managed to keep peace, calm stability, socioeconomic stability, keep energy supply, gas supply, electricity supply and modular financial stability, macro financial stability, but all of it comes at a great cost to our economy,” said Popescu.
This article was amended on 3 June 2023. An earlier version said 30% of Moldovans supported EU membership. This has been corrected to 60%.