BRUSSELS, February 19, 2013 /PRNewswire/ --
By Martin Banks
Ukraine's tenure at the head of the organisation for security and cooperation in Europe (OSCE) faces its first big challenge as it wrestles with one of Europe's longest-running 'frozen' conflicts.
It hopes to forge a breakthrough in negotiations on Tuesday and Wednesday aimed at finding a resolution to the Transnistria dispute in Moldova.
Transnistria lies within Moldova's border but is the subject of a conflict over various issues, including transport and freedom of movement.
At the talks in Lviv, which conclude on Wednesday, various parties, including the EU, will aim to find a settlement to the conflict.
The negotiations are being organised by Ukraine in its role as current president of the OSCE. Kyiv has made the issue a presidency priority.
The EU also has a keen interest in the issue as it is coming under pressure over Moldova's EU accession ambitions.
These include the possible signing of a 'deep and comprehensive free trade agreement' (DCFTA) with Moldova, membership of the EU customs union as well as other issues such as visa liberalisation.
Moldova had hoped for progress on each of these ahead of the EU's eastern partnership summit in November.
Indeed, EU foreign ministers, at a meeting in Brussels on Monday, called for progress on a DCFTA with a view to its finalisation by the time of the summit in Vilnius.
Ministers also "welcomed the progress" made by Moldova in implementing a visa liberalisation action plan and launching of the assessment of benchmarks set out under the second phase of the plan.
There are some, though, who have questioned the wisdom of pressing ahead with such moves at a time when major question marks remain about Moldova's commitment to introduce what most see as much-needed fundamental reforms.
This week's summit has been partly overshadowed by a domestic scandal in Moldova over a hunting incident involving Valeriu Zubco, the country's prosecutor general, which resulted in the death of a businessman.
Details of the incident, which only came to light via a whistleblower, have been given widespread media coverage in the Russian media.
Against this difficult background the EU is due to undertake a review of Moldova's programme of economic and other reforms.
This will come ahead of an International Monetary Fund delegation which is due in Chisinau, the country's capital, next month to negotiate renewal of the IMF 'standby facility' for Moldova.
EU insiders say this week's negotiations 'will not be easy' in light of Moldova's failure to implement key reforms.
They point to the fact that economic growth remains poor and the country's debt situation has got worse.
Concern has also been voiced about Moldova's commitment to reform of its judiciary and measures to improve the rule of law.
The Zubkov case, it is argued, could not have come at a worse time for the Moldovan government and merely serves to complicate this week's two-day summit.
With the EU apparently keen to speed up relations with Moldova, a new report by the centre for eastern studies (OSW) has cast fresh doubt on the wisdom of moving with such haste.
The OSW report says that only 'moderate progress' has been made in the reform process and the outlook remains 'uncertain.'
It says, "Attempts to evaluate Moldova's reforms have proven rather problematic. On the one hand, the ruling coalition has managed to make significant progress in the areas of civil liberties, human rights and electoral reform.
"The government has also successfully implemented regulations which have brought Moldova closer to signing a DCFTA with the EU and it has made headway in talks on visa liberalisation."
But it cautions, "On the other hand, Moldova has still not carried out the structural and economic reforms without which real change in the country will be impossible."
SOURCE Parliament Magazine