CHISINAU, Moldova, Feb. 21 (UPI) -- Moldova's progress toward an association agreement with the European Union could be delayed due to a continuing political crisis in Chisinau, diplomats say.
Moldovan Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration Iurie Leanca said after a Monday meeting in the capital with his British, Polish and Swedish counterparts hopes of signing an EU trade and visa liberalization deal at a November summit in Lithuania may not pan out as planned.
The European Union had been hoping that Moldova would be able to join fellow former Soviet states Ukraine, Georgia and Armenia in signing "deep and comprehensive free trade area" deals and visa reform regimes at the Vilnius Eastern Partnership Summit.
But thanks to a roiling political scandal among the three pro-EU parties that form Moldova's current ruling coalition, a new round of elections may be necessary in April, dealing a blow to the timely implementation of reforms Brussels is seeking.
After Leanca met with foreign ministers William Hague of Britain, Radoslaw Sikorski of Poland and Carl Bildt of Sweden, European officials confirmed that Moldova might not sign an association agreement in Vilnius as originally expected, the Romanian daily The Truth reported.
Leanca said the delay isn't due to political instability but for technical reasons.
"Moldova is considered the best student in the class of the Eastern Partnership, but the EU is not a single body," he said. "Decisions are taken by consensus and it is a complex process. Each member state and institution must have its say."
The Chisinau diplomacy chief, however, admitted that EU negotiations and the implementation of reforms in general could come to a standstill in the event of early parliamentary elections -- a possibility becoming more likely because of fighting between the three parties that form the governing Alliance for European Integration.
The crisis erupted last month when it became known that a Chisinau businessman had been accidentally killed during a hunting party attended by high-ranking officials of the coalition partners Democratic and Liberal Democratic parties but it wasn't made public until it was uncovered weeks later.
Media reports identified Attorney General and DP member Valery Zubko as having pulled the trigger. Opposition politicians demanded Zubko's resignation, which they got, but he wasn't charged with a crime. Instead, a member of Prime Minister Vlad Filat's LDP was charged by the DP-controlled prosecutors' office.
Filat responded last week by announcing the LDP would withdraw from the governing coalition, saying his party was the victim of manipulations perpetrated by "an obscure person who has bought a place in politics and now wants to buy a country."
Although he didn't name him, there was little doubt he was referring to the DP's controversial leader Vladimir Plahotniuc, a wealthy oligarch, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.
The LDP holds 31 seats in Parliament, and should they follow through with the threat to withdraw, the country would be likely be faced with its fourth round of elections in four years, given the unlikelihood of a partnership between the DP and the pro-Russian Communist Party opposition, analysts said.