Ireland to help Moldova move towards joining EU


IRELAND INTENDS to help Moldova make strong progress towards European Union membership during its presidency of the bloc next year, even as Russia puts growing pressure on the former Soviet state to reconsider its links with Brussels.

Lucinda Creighton, Minister of State for European Affairs, told Moldovan leaders yesterday that Ireland hoped their country would initial a vital association agreement and free trade deal with Brussels in the first half of 2013.

The agreements would place Moldova firmly on the road towards eventual EU accession and potentially weaken Moscow’s influence in a strategically important corner of its old empire.

But Moscow is showing reluctance in regard to losing its grip on Moldova, and delivered a stark ultimatum to Moldovan prime minister Vlad Filat when he visited Russia last week.

“First of all, we propose that Moldova denounce the protocol on entering the Europe energy community agreement. This is a precondition for us to discuss the issue of gas price cuts and the relief of debt,” Russian energy minister Alexander Novak said.

Russia fears it could be forced to sell parts of its pipeline network in the EU – and in Moldova – under the new energy community pact. “Of course, it won’t do for us,” said Mr Novak.

Moscow is also furious about an EU investigation into Kremlin-controlled energy giant Gazprom and allegations of overpricing and unfair practices in member states.

With winter approaching, Moldova has yet to sign a new supply contract with Gazprom. In recent years, Russia has reduced winter fuel flow to Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova during disputes, which at times had knock-on effects for EU countries.

“There’s certainly a degree of bargaining being attempted by the Russians. Of course that puts pressure on Moldova, but I have no fear or doubt that they are very committed to the European perspective,” Ms Creighton told The Irish Times. “The gas issue is connected to the major overall challenge of energy security in the EU. And we hope to progress that during our presidency.”

Ms Creighton said she hoped Moldova would complete talks on the EU trade and association agreements during Ireland’s presidency so they could be signed by the end of 2013.

“It will give Moldova and our presidency a sharp focus . . . Having initials by the end of our presidency would be a huge step along the road.”

Mr Filat said Dublin’s engagement with Moldova when Ireland is holding this year’s chair-in-office of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe had made him “very optimistic about Ireland’s EU presidency”.

“This is when we hope to finalise these important agreements,” he said, adding Moldova hoped to clinch a new supply deal with Gazprom and an inter-governmental pact with Moscow to ease Russia’s fears over its local pipeline network. “But our position is firm,” he stressed. “Our being part of the EU energy community is part of our European integration. And European integration is vital for us.”