Moldova doesn’t rule out settling Transnistrian conflict only after joining EU

Moldova doesn’t rule out settling Transnistrian conflict only after joining EU
President Maia Sandu says Moldova could join EU without Transnistria to avoid giving Russia - which backs the separatist region - a chance to stall the country's accession process. / Moldovan presidency
By Iulian Ernst in Bucharest November 15, 2023

Under the worst-case scenario, Moldova will join the European Union in two steps, firstly with the right bank of Dniester then with the left side after the conflict is settled, President Maia Sandu said in a show broadcast by Moldovan public radio. 

Moldova hopes to start the accession negotiations in March 2024 and join the union around 2030. But Transnistria, a separatist region hosting some 400,000 people (out of Moldova's total 3.5mn population) declared independence in 1992 and seeks international recognition. 

Russia, the backer of the separatist regime, has not recognised Trannsistria's independence and the leaders in Tiraspol have actively sought to prevent the escalation of the conflict during Russia's invasion of Ukraine. 

Previously, Sandu stressed that “Moldova will not give up the breakaway territories on the eastern bank of the Dniester River as it integrates into the European Union”. 

However, she now argues that ruling out such a two-step accession scenario would give Russia de facto veto rights in the EU accession process. In turn, joining the EU with the right bank of the Dniester first would convince the separatists of EU membership, Sandu added. 

“The moment when the people on the left bank will see how living standards increase, how pensions and salaries increase, how life improves in our localities, of course, they will also want to follow the same path,” Sandu stated.

The two-step accession process has not been rejected by the European Union, Sandu said without adding details.

The possibility of gradual accession was mentioned by the EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who said that the Transnistria problem would not prevent Moldova, which became a candidate for EU membership in 2022, from joining. He cited Cyprus, which gained EU membership despite having a territorial dispute.

Cyprus was accepted into the EU as a whole in 2024, although the EU legislation is suspended in Northern Cyprus until a final settlement of the Cyprus problem.