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Hungarian hold on EU’s enlargement policy cannot continue, says EU-Moldova delegation chair

Chair of the Delegation to the EU-Moldova Parliamentary Association Committee Siegfried Mureșan
Chair of the Delegation to the EU-Moldova Parliamentary Association Committee Siegfried Mureșan Copyright Emilie GOMEZ/ European Union 2023 - Source : EP
Copyright Emilie GOMEZ/ European Union 2023 - Source : EP
By Mared Gwyn Jones
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Siegfried Mureșan says that putting the EU executive’s enlargement portfolio in the hands of Viktor Orbán’s man in Brussels has been a ‘problem’ over the past five-year mandate.

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A Hungarian should no longer steer the European Commission’s department in charge of the EU’s future enlargement, the chair of the European Parliament’s EU-Moldova delegation, Siegfried Mureșan, has said.

His warning comes amid an imminent reshuffle in the EU executive, where for the past five years Hungary’s Olivér Várhelyi has been the Commissioner in charge of the enlargement and neighbourhood portfolio after he was appointed to the job by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

Orbán’s government has since repeatedly attempted to slow down or completely derail Ukraine’s and Moldova’s bids to join the bloc - both countries have been paired on their accession paths after jointly applying for membership following Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Budapest is also taking over the six-month rotating presidency of the Council of the EU as of July, giving the most Russia-friendly government in the bloc ample opportunity to demote the accession push. 

Last week, EU ambassadors managed to piece together unanimous backing for the opening of accession talks with Ukraine and Moldova to start on 25 June, the first step in a notoriously long process where the countries must finalise a raft of reforms.

The next European Parliament, due to sit for the first time next month, is also more rightward-leaning than ever before, prompting fears far-right voices historically sympathetic to Putin’s Russia could be emboldened.

On Wednesday, the hard-right European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group - which is competing to become the third biggest political force in the European Parliament - welcomed a nationalist, populist party considered Russia-friendly, the Alliance for the Union of Romanians (AUR), into its ranks.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Mureșan slammed AUR's veiled pro-Russian stance, which he compared to that of Alternative for Germany (AfD) as "not openly pro-Russian but open to pro-Russian narratives."

"The fact they (AUR) joined the ECR makes it more difficult to convince that ECR is moving to the centre," Mureșan, who was this week elected vice-chair of the group of the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), added.

European security at stake

Mureșan linked the successful and gradual integration of Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova into the European Union and its single market as pivotal for the bloc’s future security. "We can only live in stability if we are surrounded by a neighbourhood which is safe and stable,” he said. 

Flanked by Romania and the EU to the west and Ukraine to the east, the pro-European government of Moldova has acted as a geopolitical cushion in the midst of the war in Ukraine, in sharp contrast to Alexander Lukashenko's regime in Belarus, which has allowed Putin to use its territory as a staging ground.

Moldova has also successfully shaken itself free from its pre-war 100% dependence on Russian gas and energy supplies, despite this coming at a cost to its citizens. Mureșan explained that the only Moldovan entity still relying on Russian gas is an electricity production facility in the Kremlin-backed breakaway state of Transnistria.

Mureșan assured that Transnistria was also part and package of Moldova's bid to become a member of the EU, despite the presence of some 1,500 Russian troops in the region and fears the territory is being used to harbour Russian ammunition.

"Transnistria belongs to the Republic of Moldova, so the will of Moldova is for all of the country to join the EU," he clarified.

"As long as Ukraine is holding the front, Russian troops in Transnistria are irrelevant," he explained. Transnistria borders the south-west of Ukraine, meaning Moldova's stability hinges on Kyiv's resistance. It also means Moldova sees the war in Ukraine as a historical opportunity to reintegrate Transnistria.

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Chisinau has also been able to restore dialogue with the breakaway region, an industrial powerhouse which relies on the EU for 80% of its exports, above the Moldovan average of 65%.

Upcoming presidential election 'crucial'

On October 20, Moldovan voters will be called to the ballot boxes to elect their new president, with current office-holder Maia Sandu hoping to cement her mandate. On the same day, Moldovans will also vote in a referendum on European Union membership, in a move Mureșan said is intended to confirm the "irreversibility" of the decision.

"President Sandu is projected to win in all scenarios," he explained. "But the nature of that victory will be significant: Will it be decisive? Will she need a second round?"

Such votes have in the past been targeted by Kremlin-backed attempts to sow disorder. In February, a series of anti-government protests mobilised by pro-Russia parties reached a climax.

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It came a year after President Sandy revealed a foiled plot by Moscow to overthrow the country's government using external "saboteurs."

"Russia will for sure invest in pro-Russian candidates in the October presidential election," Mureșan said.

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