The core values driving the European Union are democracy, the rule of law, respect for human rights and social cohesion. Not only are these values intrinsic to the European system, they also provide the guiding principles for partnerships between the EU and its neighbouring countries.
The European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) expresses the EU’s interest to build stronger relationship with its neighbours in the East and South. It is directed first towards establishing common values in the EU and its partners. Further, it aims at the stabilisation and strengthening of the EU’s partner states regarding challenges they are facing, politically, socially and economically.
The ENP is a joint initiative agreement, emphasising the need for action on both sides. This is further complemented by bilateral policy agreements between the EU and each individual partner, and additional regional and multilateral initiatives adding to these dialogues.
For the EU’s neighbours in the East – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine – this plan for increased cooperation is documented by the Eastern Partnership, launched in 2009. This joint policy initiative comprises priority areas of stronger economies, stronger governance, stronger connectivity and stronger societies.
This is further reflected in individual, country-specific agreements between the EU and its neighbours: Partnership and Cooperation Agreements or Association Agreements.
The Republic of Moldova signed an Association Agreement with the European Union in June 2014, set to strengthen relations between Moldova and the EU through increased political association and integration into the EU’s economic system. It entered fully into force on 1 July 2016.
The most essential aspect of the Agreement is regarding the main principles of the EU: ‘the common values on which the European Union is build – namely democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law’, which ‘lie also at the heart of political association and economic integration as envisaged in this Agreement’.
Another significant aspect is Moldova’s trade partnership with the EU. The Association Agreement includes a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area, which was signed on 27 June 2014 and has thus lead for the country’s gradual integration into the EU’s internal market. As for today, the EU is Moldova’s leading trade partner and biggest investor, accounting for 56% of its total trade and 64% of total exports in 2017.
Of all six Eastern Partnership countries, Moldova has perhaps the strongest ties to the EU, especially through its direct neighbour Romania. Having once been united, Moldova and Romania share a language, many traditions and similar culture. Many Moldovan citizens already have dual citizenship of both Moldova and Romania, claimed on the basis of Romanian ancestry due to its past unification.
Moreover, Moldova was the first Eastern partner to secure visa-free travel for its citizens within the EU in April 2014.
Yet it is unclear if Moldova will be joining the EU in the near future. In 2014, the European Parliament passed a resolution stating that:
in accordance with Article 49 of the Treaty on European Union, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, as well as any other European country, have a European perspective and can apply for EU membership in compliance with the principles of democracy, respect for fundamental freedoms and human rights, minority rights and ensuring the rule of rights.
There remain, however, numerous obstacles that have slowed down this process of further integration. This includes the overall fragility of Moldova’s democratic institutions due to oligarchic influence, the politicisation of state institutions and state corruption.
Furthermore, the election of pro-Russian Igor Dodon as President of the Republic of Moldova seems to suggest that becoming a EU member state is currently not a priority.
For now, the agreements between the EU and Moldova are intended to boost trade and exports as well as bring forth national income growth, stronger domestic rules, increased wages and a decrease in consumer prices.
What Moldova’s future looks like beyond that remains yet to be decided.
 Deepening EU-Moldovan Relations: What, why and how?, edited by Michael Emerson and Denis Cenușa, 2nd Edition (2018), p. 1
 Emerson and Cenușa, p. 16