BUCHAREST/ROME (BLOOMBERG) - Moldova will imminently send a request to the European Union to begin membership talks, joining a bid earlier this week by Ukraine and plans by Georgia to also start the process.
Moldova's request to begin the official procedure, which can last more than a decade, could happen as soon as Thursday (March 3), according to officials familiar with the plan, who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private.
The moves could antagonise Russian President Vladimir Putin as the eastern nations push to align themselves more with Europe and the Western alliance. Before invading Ukraine, Putin decried the encroachment of the West on Moscow's sphere of influence and put the blame on the US and its allies.
"Our European aspirations are even more justified in these dramatic conditions because the European Union represents safety and security for citizens and we'll do everything we can to move forward on the European integration path," Moldovan President Maia Sandu told reporters on Wednesday.
The Moldovan president's office declined to comment on the timing of the request, indicating a previous statement that the country will make an announcement when and how it will apply for candidate status.
Leaders of the bloc will discuss enlargement at a summit in Paris next week, according to another official, who added that member states are divided on the topic and that the process is very complex. Ukraine, along with Georgia and Moldova, already has association and free-trade agreements with the EU, involving strong political ties and economic integration.
The EU has started the process of assessing Ukraine's application, which can take as long as 18 months, according to the official. "There is no doubt that these brave people who defend our values with their lives belong in the European family," Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told reporters on a visit to Bucharest in a reference to Ukraine.
Von der Leyen said the process set in motion by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who formally put in a bid on Monday, "will be discussed with the member states". She added: "Right now our focus is ending this horrible war and of course before this tragedy started we already had very strong economic ties with Ukraine." Long, Complex
The accession procedures are long and complex. Croatia was the last country to join the bloc and its application process lasted 10 years before it was formally accepted in 2013.
Accession requires the candidate country to adopt established EU law as well as to enact reforms - including to its judicial and economic systems - to meet the bloc's criteria.
More than 30 policy areas are examined and negotiated to make sure the nation is prepared to join - and moving on to the next so-called chapter requires the consent of all 27 member states.