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BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — The European Union’s executive arm recommended on Friday granting Moldova — a tiny, non-NATO country that borders Ukraine — EU -candidate status, marking the beginning of its path to joining the 27-nation bloc that will be contingent on a series of key reforms.

The European Commission’s proposal was made on the same day that it recommended the same status be given to war-torn Ukraine, and it is conditional on Moldova enacting a series of reforms, such as the rule of law, cleaning up rampant corruption, and addressing human rights issues.

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Friday that “Moldova has taken a decisive step towards reforms, with a clear mandate from its citizens.”

“It is on a real pro-reform, anti-corruption and European path for the first time since independence,” she said, noting that the former Soviet republic “still has a long way to go.”

The EU’s existing 27 member states will discuss the recommendation during a summit next week in Brussels. Even if candidate status is granted, it will likely take years for Moldova to become an EU member.

Moldovan President Maia Sandu reacted to the Commission’s proposal in a statement calling it “a huge step” that “solidifies our European aspirations, encourages and strengthens our conviction that we are on the right path.”

“The recommendation is based on the understanding that our country will undertake additional efforts in key areas such as justice reform, the fight against corruption, public administration and human rights,” Sandu said.

She said the Commission will monitor progress in those areas until the end of 2022, and that Moldova is expecting EU Member States to support the recommendation at next week’s European Council meeting.

In Transparency International’s 2021 Corruption Perception Index, Moldova ranked 105th out of 180 countries, with the first place being the least corrupt.

Moldova, a former Soviet republic sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine with a population of about 2.6 million people, has pushed to accelerate its EU path in the wake of Russia’s war against Ukraine, a country with which Moldova shares a long land border.

In April, a string of explosions in Transnistria — a Russia-backed separatist region of Moldova with a population of about 470,000 — raised fears that the war could spill over to Moldova and further destabilize the region.

Russia bases about 1,500 troops in Transnistria, which has been under the control of separatist authorities since a civil war in 1992.

In 2014, Moldova signed a deal with the EU to forge closer political and economic ties, but widespread corruption and a lack of reforms in recent years have hindered development.


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