Moldovan president launches campaign to promote EU referendum

By Thomson Reuters Mar 18, 2024 | 10:38 AM

CHISINAU (Reuters) – President Maia Sandu launched a campaign to promote an upcoming referendum on Moldova’s push to join the European Union on Monday, calling on civil leaders to rally support for the country’s accession to the 27-member bloc.

Moldova, a former Soviet republic of 2.6 million led by a pro-European government, applied for EU membership in 2022 and received a draft framework for accession negotiations in March, along with neighbouring Ukraine.

The country’s relations with Russia have become strained since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, which Chisinau has staunchly condemned.

Sandu announced plans in December to hold a referendum later this year on whether to join the EU. The president, who will seek a second term at elections in late 2024, told a news conference that Moldova had a historic opportunity to mount an accession push.

The referendum would vote on enshrining Moldova’s EU ambitions in the constitution ensuring that the bid is not derailed by future governments.

“Member states of the European Union are more open than ever, we have the necessary political will for this step, and our citizens want to be part of the EU,” she said.

The referendum would prevent Moldova’s pro-Europe drive stalling or reversing after a change of power, she said.

“This must be reconfirmed and written in the Constitution, so that whoever is in government, the voice of the people for this direction of development should be mandatory for the political class.”

The referendum could take place in October, she said, though parliament would choose the date. It was not yet clear whether the constitutional court would allow the referendum to fall on the same day as the presidential elections.

Sandu’s comments come after Russia operated polling stations for its presidential election inside the breakaway, Moldovan region of Transdniestria despite protests from Chisinau, which said the move was disrespectful to the country’s sovereignty.

The Russian ambassador to Moldova dismissed those complaints as “unfounded” and said the polling station were needed to ensure Russian citizens could participate in the elections.

(Reporting by Alexander Tanas; writing by Anastasiia Malenko; Editing by Sharon Singleton)