Moldova seeks sign on EU accession talks by year-end

FILE PHOTO: British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly visits Moldova

By Sarah Marsh and Alexander Ratz

BERLIN (Reuters) - Moldova is hoping for a sign by the end of the year at least that EU accession talks can begin as the former Soviet republic races to implement reforms proposed by Brussels, Foreign Minister Nicu Popescu told Reuters.

Reforming the "extremely corrupt" justice system was a top priority, Popescu said, since half the European Commission's recommendations for Moldova focused on this sector.

The nation of 2.5 million has been hit hard by the fallout from the war in neighbouring Ukraine that has sent inflation soaring to more than 20% and caused power cuts after Russian attacks on Ukrainian energy facilities.

Moldova says it is also facing Russian attempts to destabilize it, allegations Moscow denies.

"The accession to the European Union of countries like Moldova and Ukraine is the best and the only way to make sure that our part of Europe returns back to a situation of peace," Popescu said during a visit to Berlin.

Also vital for stability in Moldova were infrastructure projects like an electricity interconnector linking its power grid directly with neighbouring EU member Romania, bypassing Ukraine, that would diversify and therefore ensure a more secure power supply.

Popescu said international political and economic support for such projects existed but procedures to implement them were too sluggish. The deadline for the interconnector, being partly financed with EU funds, is 2026.

"Peacetime procedures need to be reassessed because we are not living in peacetime. Europe is affected by a large scale war - the biggest since World War Two," he said. "We cannot be applying the same speed and same procedures."

Popescu said this was one of the main issues he discussed with German government officials.

"We urgently need an electricity interconnection with Romania, so for us, whether the procedure lasts 1 or 5 years is not theoretical," he said, noting his country was also waiting on responses on building a second one.

Separately, Popescu said the fact the European Political Community was holding its second ever summit in Moldova in June was a strong sign of support.

The initiative, a brainchild of French President Emmanuel Macron, was founded after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, bringing together on an equal footing the EU's 27 member states and 17 other European countries.

"It's a clear sign to Moldovan society but also to the region at large that Moldova matters, that Moldova is not alone," he said, noting it was too early yet to say what concrete initiatives could be agreed.

Still, Moldova hoped to accelerate European integration measures and ensure it could benefit from initiatives EU citizens maybe took for granted, like free mobile roaming and the Erasmus student exchange programme, he said.

(Reporting by Sarah Marsh and Alexander Ratz; Additional Reporting by Dan Peleschuk in Kyiv and Luiza Ilie in Bucharest; Editing by Giles Elgood)