On 20 February 2014, Henri Malosse, president of the Economic and Social Committee, accompanied by the head of the EU delegation to Moldova, Pirkka Tapiola, paid an official visit to Comrat, capital of Gagauzia, an autonomous region of Moldova.
The visit was organised following the recent referendum on 2 February in Gagauzia, in which 95% of voters supported integration into a customs union with Russia.
The EESC president said that the referendum question had been misleading because the European perspective was a matter of values, rather than of choosing between Brussels and Moscow. Mr Malosse hoped that the Association Agreement would open up a clear perspective for Moldova's integration with the EU.
The visit included meetings with the Bashkan (governor) of Gagauz Yeri, Mikhail Formuzal, the president of the People's Assembly, Dmitry Konstantinov, and students from Comrat State University.
"The Gagauz people are not against European integration, but demand respect for autonomy, a fairer distribution of resources, including EU funds, and a greater commitment to the fight against corruption in the country.
"This is why we voted as we did on 2 February," stressed Mr Formuzal.
Mr Formuzal added that European integration might raise concerns about respect for the territorial integrity of Gagauzia and Moldova, in particular by Romania. Mr Malosse reassured him on this point and promised to broach the subject forcefully in his talks with Chisinau, Bucharest and Brussels.
The EESC president felt that the outcome of the referendum, although controversial, demonstrates the Gagauz people's legitimate attachment to relations with their great eastern neighbour, Russia. For that reason, the EESC will seek ways of reconciling arrangements for a possible customs union with Russia with the commercial aspects of the Association Agreement with the EU.