Check against delivery!
Thank you Mr President, Honourable Members of the European Parliament and Mr Rapporteur [Dragoș Tudorache].
It is true, the EU-Moldova Association Agreement is a very ambitious one. It has been in place since the last four years. It is rooted in democracy, respect for human rights and for the rule of law.
These values are at the core of the objective of political association and economic integration of the Republic of Moldova with the European Union.
But as you [the rapporteur] have been emphasising, only tangible, significant progress on the Moldovan side, with the full implementation of necessary reforms, will enable progress in addressing long-term challenges with which you are very familiar.
These challenges are: weak state institutions, persisting high levels of corruption and oligarchic structures, a deficient judiciary, an ageing population and economic challenges faced by young people, leading to poverty and brain-drain through emigration.
As an associated country, Moldova remains an important partner within the Eastern Partnership framework. The Presidential elections on 1 November will be a crucial juncture in our partnership. As the report highlights, these elections will be a test for democracy and the rule of law in the country. Thus, practices contravening international standards must be absolutely avoided. In previous elections, the OSCE/ODIHR mission observed vote buying, misuse of state resources or pressuring voters, among others.
In the current COVID-19 context, it is even more important to ensure that all Moldovans are given a free and fair opportunity to vote, following a transparent, inclusive and credible election process, which we will be closely monitoring.
We also expect the Moldovan authorities to address the recent actions that risk the hard-won independence of the National Bank of Moldova and the stability of the Moldovan banking sector. I agree with your report that the lack of results on the prosecution side are unexplainable. Multiple postponements of the ongoing trials of the 2014 $1 billion banking fraud, which means 15% of Moldova’s GDP, are deeply problematic. Clear delivery on that issue is a litmus test for Moldova's fight against corruption.
The COVID-19 pandemic is having a devastating impact on Moldova. Our solidarity and assistance in response to the pandemic has been strong and the European Union remains the biggest provider of aid. We have mobilised over one hundred million euros in bilateral grant support, focusing on the immediate needs for protective equipment, strengthening the healthcare system, and supporting socio-economic recovery.
Looking ahead, we will be updating our Association Agenda. This offers a further opportunity to focus on reform priorities across all sectors. Supporting civil society and in particular engaging with local actors and strengthening independent media will remain key.
We shall also continue the full implementation of the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area, supporting Small and Medium Enterprises and advancing the ambitious process of regulatory approximation.
Our future assistance will continue to be linked to clear delivery on reforms. The European Union's strict and smart conditionality pays off, as it pushes the necessary reforms to improve lives and strengthen Moldova's resilience. This is the purpose of our Association Agreement and I am very happy to participate in the presentation of your report. I fully agree with the need to continue working with Moldova and to fully engage in the fight against Coronavirus and these challenges that we have been mentioning which really show that the country really needs and deserve our support.
Link to the video: https://europa.eu/!dY49qQ