EU Grants Visa-Free Travel to Moldovans

Moldova on Monday became the first country east of the EU whose citizens have the right to visa-free travel to the 26 European countries that comprise the Schengen area.

Moldova won the approval of the EU for the change after undertaking a series of reforms, including providing secure travel documents and improving border and migration management.

The decision came as the EU seeks tighter links with countries in Eastern Europe, with Brussels seeking to counter Moscow's influence in the region, analysts have suggested.

Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine are all part of what is called the Eastern Partnership with the EU, which allows for closer trade and business ties without full EU membership.

Bucharest on Monday hailed the decision, saying that “this is a clear signal of support for Moldova from the EU”.

“Welcome back to Europe,” the Romanian Foreign Ministry told Moldova in a statement.

The scheme will allow Moldovans with biometric passports to travel to the EU for up to 90 days a year without a visa. A suspension clause has been introduced to prevent a repeat of previous experiences when the Balkan-EU visa liberalisation process saw an upsurge in asylum claims in member states.

Moldova was part of Romania before the Soviet Union annexed it in World War II. Before the World War I, it was part of Tsarist Russia. A landlocked country lying between Romania and Ukraine, most people speak Romanian, although the country's constitution calls the language Moldovan. Russian is also widely spoken.

Russia and neighbouring EU member Romania are vying for influence in Moldova, where reforms are needed to end corruption and depoliticise key institutions like the judiciary and police.

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