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European lawmakers are calling on the bloc to do more to help Moldova deal with the repercussions of the war in neighbouring Ukraine and attempts to destabilise the pro-EU government.
Moldova, the fourth poorest country in Europe in 2021 by GDP per capita, has struggled to cope with the cost-of-living and energy crises that have been exacerbated by Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Annual inflation reached 25.9% in February, triple the rate observed in the euro area, fuelled largely by energy prices. The small country of 3 million inhabitants powers itself primarily with gas and oil which were near completely supplied by Russia before the war.
The pro-EU government of President Maia Sandu responded to Moscow’s aggression on Kyiv by submitting an application to join the EU. It was swiftly granted candidate status and tasked to start working on nine key reforms.
Brussels has also stepped up support with separate financial packages worth over €1 billion including €250 million to overcome the energy crisis.
‘Start accession talks’
For Romanian MEP Siegfried Mureșan (EPP), who also serves as chair of the Delegation to the EU-Moldova Parliamentary Association Committee, the EU’s help should go further.
“Moldova is a direct neighbour of the EU and a direct neighbour of Ukraine. We would all be much worse off in the European Union if, in addition to dictator Lukashenko in Belarus, Putin will have a pro-Russian regime in the Republic of Moldova. This is why it’s important to support the pro-European Moldovan authorities. It’s good for us Europe, It’s good and important for Ukraine as well,” he said.
He expects Chișinău to finalise the implementation of the nine reforms demanded by Brussels by the end of the year and called for the bloc “to start EU accession talks.”
“Until the moment when they become an EU member state, we have to, firstly, help them financially so that the government can help the vulnerable categories of population overcome the situation with high energy prices, high inflation, high energy bills” and help the country reduce its dependency on Russia, he told Euronews on Wednesday.
This came after MEPs held a foreign affairs debate this week on Moldova, Israel and Georgia with EU Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Oliver Várhelyi.
But the bloc also needs to assist Moldova against attempts by pro-Russian agents to destabilise the country, Mureșan said.
The government has accused Moscow and oligarchs close to the Kremlin of carrying out a “hybrid war” in Moldova by sponsoring protests and conducting cyber attacks in a bid to topple the pro-EU government and replace it with a Russian-friendly administration.
This is supported by US intelligence, unveiled last week by the White House, which warned that “Russian actors, some with current ties to Russian intelligence, are seeking to stage and use protests in Moldova as a basis to foment a manufactured insurrection against the Moldovan Government.”
Several people, accused of being part of a pro-Russian plot to trigger mass unrest during anti-government protests, were arrested over the weekend.
Sanctions against oligarchs?
Dutch MEP Thijs Reuten (S&D) told Euronews on Wednesday that the EU’s support to Moldova should cover security, including through a civil mission.
“I also said we need to consider the sanctions now against these oligarchs that are actually not even in the country, but outside of Moldova, but actively participating in this destabilisation from the inside, encouraging insurrection almost,” he added.
“They (Moldova) have chosen for applying for European membership. That’s a courageous choice. And we now need to show the same courage as their European friends and help them to overcome this situation, because otherwise we might be confronted with a situation that we cannot handle,” he added.
During his address to the plenary, Várhelyi had sought to reassure MEPs that “Moldova remains on top of the European Union’s political agenda”, describing as “remarkable” the progress it has already made on its EU path “despite all the pressures”.
He also said that EU exports are currently supporting Moldova on cyber security, addressing hybrid threats and countering disinformation and that a hub “to address internal security and border management challenges” has also been launched.
A possible EU Civilian CSDP (Common Security and Defence Policy) mission “to further strengthen Moldova’s security and resilience” is also being assessed, he added.