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Good afternoon to everybody,
I am very pleased to welcome you again, Madam Prime Minister [Natalia Gavrilița], here in Brussels.
We met last month during your last visit to Brussels and today we had the Association Council – the first one for you in your new capacity, but the sixth for the European Union and Moldova. And we will continue fulfilling the strong mandate from the Moldovan people which is to advance in reforms.
I welcome your clear objective to bring Moldova closer to the European Union, based on our common values of democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights. This week has indeed been an important week in strengthening our partnership, with a number of very concrete initiatives facing the energy sector.
And today this Association Council is a proof of this. We have discussed the strengthening of our cooperation and implementation of reforms in a wide range of areas. These will be reflected in our joint press statement, which will be published shortly.
In the meantime, I would like to focus on a certain amount of issues. I will summarise them on four.
First – on energy. It is the topic of the day. Our discussions have been taking place in the context of the emergency situation in Moldova’s gas sector. We see attempts by Gazprom to put political pressure in return to lower the gas prices. We agreed with the Prime Minister on the importance of strengthening resilience against any potential efforts by third parties to use energy as a geopolitical weapon. Gas is a commodity. It has been bought and sold, sold and bought but it cannot be used as a geopolitical weapon.
As our sign of political support, a high-level energy security dialogue took place yesterday between Commissioner Simson and you, Prime Minister. Followed up by a senior official’s meeting this morning, convened by the EEAS, to discuss the situation and the EU’s immediate and medium term support to Moldova.
Let me reiterate our message. The European Union stands ready to support Moldova to find a way out of this crisis and as an example, a first example, a first step of our support is the announcement done by the President of the Commission [Ursula von der Leyen] of a €60 million budget support programmes announced yesterday. It will enable Moldovan authorities to set up a support scheme for the most vulnerable people affected by this crisis ahead of the winter.
The second issue that we have been talking about, is reforms. We have assessed the overall progress in this regard. The clear results of the elections gave to you, Madame Prime Minister, a strong mandate to your Government to implement an ambitious anti-corruption agenda, to improve the justice system and fight poverty in line with the obligations under our Association Agreement.
I want to stress the importance of this comprehensive reform of the justice sector and welcome the first steps already taken by your Government. Here quality is more important than speed and it is always recommended to seek expertise from local as well as recognised international partners in order to rebuild trust in the justice systems.
Third, foreign and security affairs. In the presence of the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration, Mr Popescu, we agreed to launch a high-level political and security dialogue early next year, to have a forum for more in-depth discussion on security, on regional cooperation, as well as cooperation in the area of Common Security and Defence Policy. And the time is especially appropriate for launching such an initiative.
And fourth and last, is the issue of Transnistria. We reaffirmed our commitment to facilitate a comprehensive, peaceful and sustainable settlement process on the basis of respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the Republic of Moldova, within its internationally recognised borders, with a special status for Transnistria.
All in all, I am happy to state that today’s positive and forward-looking discussions have set a good basis for our work together. It will be reflected in our updated Association Agenda. These ambitious targets will guide our work and assistance for the next seven years. I am looking forward for the conclusion of these negotiations soon.
And let me reiterate that I am very glad to see that we are stepping up cooperation in [other] key areas: research and innovation, where Moldova’s participation in the new Horizon Europe programme is excellent news. Let me reiterate that we are going ahead step by step.
Lastly, we discussed also the Eastern Partnership, where we have been welcoming your commitment and looking forward to continue cooperation in view of the Summit in December.
Madam Prime Minister, the European Union stands ready to support you, and to work closely with you and your government in order to improve the lives of Moldovan citizens and to bring Moldova closer to the EU.
Q. You mentioned the €60 million that Madam von der Leyen pledged yesterday. Is more in the pipeline? Because €60 million, when Moldova is negotiating billions of euros with Russia, is nothing. Is the European Union, is Brussels willing to offer more money to help Moldova meet its energy needs this winter?
Certainly, if the gas problem in Moldova could be solved by €60 million it would not be a problem. Certainly, we know that it is not going to solve the problem, but it is a first step, and we have to look for other kinds of solutions, not just financing the gap between current prices and the high prices that Gazprom is asking for. But do not dismiss it. ‘€60 million is nothing’, well, €60 million are €60 million. And they will be of much help in order to start building a system in order to protect the more vulnerable.
The solution, certainly, will not come from the European Union funding all the differences between the current prices and the prices that Gazprom is asking for. There are other solutions, which are more in a medium-term, like developing the diversification of Moldova’s energy mix, and on that we can provide resources and expertise, increase energy efficiency and improve energy security by diversifying supply sources. Moldova has already started doing that with this supply of gas coming from Poland. We will be acting in all fronts and using all the tools that we can use in order to support Moldova. Take this €60 million, which are grants, as a first step in order to provide, not only financial support, but also technical support in order to face this situation.
Q. Can you tell me directly, is the European Union strongly advising Moldova not to sign any additional gas supply deals with Gazprom? Will it be disappointed if Moldova did in the end sign a deal for additional gas from Russia? As a second question, obviously this is all happening while European Union countries themselves are worried about gas supplies this winter. Do you have promises from European Union Member States that they will make gas available to Moldova? And might they do that at a discount?
Well, certainly I will not tell my Moldovan friends and government what they have to do. It is a sovereign state, and they are very much master of their decisions according to their interests, values and capacities. So, if they have the possibility of bargaining and having a pragmatic approach and getting better conditions from Gazprom, it is not a matter for us to forbid it.
Certainly, the gas issue is not just a Moldovan issue, but in the case of Moldova it has political characteristics that have to be very much taken into account. I said ‘weaponisation of the gas supply’. And if price increases, not in Europe, but in the whole world, it is not, in general terms, a consequence of a weaponisation of the gas supplies. In the case of Moldova, yes, it is. And it is a sharp increase, which was related to some political problems. And this required support from our side, because this is what our Association Agreement means, that is what a partner does. We cannot compare the conditions in which this gas shortage has been produced in Moldova with the gas price increases that we are suffering - all of us, as consumers and producers - around the world.
But be sure that this money is not going to go to the Gazprom pocket, it is going to go to the most vulnerable Moldovan people. And not only through this way, but through other ways, we will try to give our support in order to face what can be considered - as I said – as a weaponisation of the gas supplies. And this is something which we have to be strongly against
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-213003