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Thank you Mr President.
Let me start by thanking the [European] Parliament for the attention you always pay to [the Republic of] Moldova, and I would like to thank the representatives of the opposition in Moldova for their presence here today with us and also for the opportunity I had to meet with them [Maia Sandu, Andrei Nastase, and Viorel Cibotaru] yesterday.
I also met with Prime Minister [of the Republic of Moldova] Pavel Filip just two months ago at our Association Council and I think that our constant attention and our constant open channels with all our interlocutors – from the Parliament, from myself, from Commissioner [for Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes] Hahn, from all of the European institutions – are extremely important to accompany the country on the right track.
I remember myself with a lot of emotion and positive memories, when we achieved visa liberalisation for the Moldovan citizens - Moldova being the frontrunner of our Eastern Partnership countries just a few years ago.
After the invalidation of the mayoral elections in Chisinau, Commissioner Hahn and myself reacted immediately. The Supreme Court decision of the 25th June deprives the citizens of Chisinau of a democratically elected mayor. Last week, the Central Electoral Commission has decided not to organise new elections now, and this confirms that Chisinau will continue to be governed by a non-elected administration.
These decisions undermine the trust of the citizens of Moldova in the State institutions. The invalidation of the mayoral elections was non-transparent, and we expect – I personally expect - the Moldovan authorities to quickly find a way out of this unacceptable solution and to guarantee judicial independence in line with its international commitments.
In all our contacts with our Moldovan interlocutors, we always keep a strong focus on the reforms that Moldova needs: addressing the lack of independence of the judiciary; investigating the banking fraud; electoral reform; protecting the space for free media, and we could continue.
The European Union has been consistently asking for this; but let me stress this very clearly: it is first and foremost the Moldovan citizens who expect and deserve these reforms. They have been asking for these reforms over these years, and I think they expect these reforms to take place and to be delivered upon.
The citizens of Chisinau have been expressing very clearly their dissatisfaction through peaceful demonstrations in these weeks. Their safety and their freedom and right to demonstrate must always be respected and guaranteed. This is an absolute priority; I would like to stress what Rebecca Harms [Member of the European Parliament] mentioned before: we will keep an eye on what will happen in the coming weeks, we expect their safety and their freedom to be protected and guaranteed.
Journalists must always be allowed to do their job freely. As I mentioned the press, let me just mention the work we are doing in Moldova through our Strategic Communications Task Force – to support independent media, but also to monitor disinformation from all sources, and communicate the benefits of cooperation with the European Union.
Let me stress very clearly: the cooperation with the European Union is not against anyone, it is for the benefit of Moldovan citizens. We do not think in terms of spheres of influence or geopolitics. We only think in terms of reforms, of having sustainable situations including on the economic front, and the rule of law and democracy in the countries that are around us.
We will increase our work on communication and media freedom in Moldova as well as in other Eastern Partnership countries, also thanks to the support of this Parliament to all EEAS Strategic Communications Task Forces, but in particular the one working on the Eastern neighbourhood.
Credible, inclusive and transparent elections at all levels are basic pillars of any democracy. The way that the mayoral elections in Chisinau have been handled does not bode well for the organisation of national elections, expected for the end of this year.
Our position has been very clear since the Council Conclusions we adopted last February: the new electoral law that was adopted exactly one year ago does not address the key recommendations of international partners, namely the Council of Europe Venice Commission and the OSCE [Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe]’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. This is also largely reflected in your motion for resolution.
All this is why we have decided to put on hold the disbursement of the first tranche of the current macro-financial assistance programme.
As you know, disbursements under the macro-financial assistance programme are contingent on two things: the successful implementation of specific economic policy measures laid out in the memorandum of understanding - and this we consider has been implemented -, but also the fulfilment of political pre-conditions related to respect of democratic mechanisms, the rule of law and human rights.
After the invalidation of the mayoral election, the political pre-conditions have not been fulfilled. In this situation, a decision was taken to put on hold the disbursement of the first macro-financial assistance tranche until political pre-conditions attached to our assistance are met. And we hope this can happen soon. The sooner, the better. But this must happen.
So, I will personally keep constant contacts with all our interlocutors in Moldova. I hope you will continue to do the same. The Parliament here can be extremely helpful and useful as always.
Moldova for us is not just a neighbour, it is a friend and a partner - Moldovan citizens are – and we will keep engaging for a positive, fast solution to the current crisis.