Wednesday, April 22, 2009

EU envoy visits troubled Moldova

By Oana Lungescu 
BBC News, Brussels 

The EU is sending a senior politician, Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, to Moldova amid continuing tensions over a disputed parliamentary election.

The Czech leader, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, is visiting a day after a recount confirmed that the governing Communist Party had won.

The election dispute triggered riots in Moldova's capital Chisinau this month.

Moldova blamed neighbouring Romania, an EU member, for stoking the violence and expelled the Romanian ambassador.

Border worries

Mr Topolanek is paying the first high-level EU visit to the country since the riots.

The EU wants to show it cares about stability on its eastern border with Russia's former empire. It has urged all parties in Moldova to avoid the use of force and stressed the need to respect human rights.

But the Czech prime minister has to tread a fine line - showing solidarity with Romania, a full EU member, while not alienating Moldova, Europe's poorest country, which is increasingly turning to Moscow for support.

This is a test of the EU's "Eastern partnership" policy to build closer ties with former Soviet republics, including Moldova, which is due to be officially launched at a summit in Prague next month.

An EU official told the BBC that the recent unrest was even more reason to engage with Moldova.

The European Parliament is considering whether to send a fact-finding mission and EU foreign ministers will debate the situation next week.

But behind the scenes, there is also concern about Romania's offer to speed up granting passports to up to a million Moldovans - a quarter of the country's population - which would give them access to the rest of the EU.

Most of Moldova was part of Romania until the Soviet Union annexed it in 1940, and there remain close cultural links between the people.

But it is hard to see how the passport offer would contribute to bolstering Moldova's stability, a diplomat said, and it will not gain Romania any sympathy in other EU countries.

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