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It was my pleasure to welcome again the Prime Minister [of the Republic of Moldova, Pavel Filip], as well as other members of the government - a large ministerial delegation - to Brussels today for the fourth meeting of our Association Council.
These meetings are always a good opportunity for us to really discuss in detail, in depth, our partnership and how we can move forward in areas that are sometimes easy to address and sometimes more difficult, but always with open and frank discussions.
At the centre of our partnership is the Association Agreement and its Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area. The Agreement shows the EU's commitment to strengthening political association and economic integration with the Republic of Moldova by working in close partnership. The Association Agreement and the Trade Area that we have in place are in the interest of and the benefit to Moldovan citizens and European Union citizens. This is why we have to work together to make sure that all parts of it are implemented and all commitments taken are met.
Our comprehensive agenda was reflected in our discussions today. We looked at many different issues, in particular how to improve our economic links, to increase trade and therefore bring jobs, how to strengthen democracy, human rights and support for civil society – who in Europe as well as in Moldova play a crucial role when it comes to accountability, as well as strengthening the rule of law and the fight against corruption.
As I said, enjoying the full benefits of our Association Agreement requires that it is implemented fully. With the Prime Minister and the Ministers we discussed what needs to be done and how the European Union can continue to support and accompany this in very concrete terms.
We had meaningful exchanges on the state of play of key reforms. We agreed that it is essential for Moldova to focus on the full implementation of reforms in key sectors, such as justice, media, energy, and the business sector, with the understanding that all reforms should be sustained and based on a continued, concerted fight against corruption and strong support for the rule of law.
This includes investigations on the banking fraud which we expect to be finalised without any further delay. The investigations must be thorough, impartial and comprehensive, with a view to recovering the misappropriated funds and to bringing all those responsible to justice, irrespective of their status or political affiliation. We have been demanding this for many years and we now expect this to happen, as the current situation is difficult for us to understand. This is about the credibility of the anti-corruption reforms in Moldova, as well as credibility towards the Moldovan citizens who cannot and must not be the ones to pay for the cost of this situation.
Resilience is a key area in the European Union's relations with our eastern partners. Moldova is no exception to that. A resilient State means encompassing all of society, building democracy, trust in democratic institutions and sustainable development.
So we also discussed political issues, in particular the electoral system. The European Union's position on this is very well-known: transparent, inclusive and credible elections at central and local levels are of key importance. Any change to the electoral system should be based on a broad consensus among political forces, following a genuine consultation of civil society and in accordance with the recommendations of relevant international partners, namely the Council of Europe Venice Commission, and the OSCE [Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe] Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. So we will closely monitor the consequences of the new electoral code for multiparty democracy over the coming months.
We also touched upon the efforts made by the Government of Moldova on developing policies for the integration of persons belonging to national minorities and on reaching out to all segments of Moldovan society and to different parts of the country.
When it comes to the Transnistrian settlement, the latest significant, positive developments that we have witnessed will serve to bring tangible benefits to the populations on both banks of the Nistru River. The European Union will continue to support a peaceful settlement of the Transnistrian conflict within the framework of the 5+2 Process. In line with the Vienna OSCE Ministerial Statement of last December, which underlines the output-based principle of the process, it is important to continue this level of engagement in the upcoming months. We support the efforts of the Italian OSCE Chairmanship-in-Office in this regard.
The continued co-operation we have on many different other sectors, such as the Eastern Partnership Framework – and let me thank the Prime Minister for the very positive contribution he personally gave to the Eastern Partnership Summit last November here in Brussels – on the level of the international issues - and let me mention in particular the alignment of Moldova with EU Common Foreign and Security Policy Decisions - is also much appreciated.
Let me finish by underlining once again the importance for Moldova to keep up with the commitments under the Association Agreement and its Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area, and proceed with their implementation. As always, you can count on us, you can count on the European Union to be there as a strong partner and friend to accompany and support Moldova in this process.
Q: What is your opinion on the last achievements of the Moldovan government? Do you plan to come to Chișinău and when might such a visit be scheduled?
As the Commissioner [for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes Hahn] said, we have seen some progress on reforms in different sectors that we acknowledge and encourage. But I would say that we also identified together some key areas where reform and a lot of efforts, in particular results, are still needed, and I would underline here the anti-corruption work, the banking fraud, the electoral code, which are not new issues, but that are issues that need to be addressed and solved not because Brussels asks for it, but because I understand and we understand that the Moldovan citizens have high expectations on these issues to be addressed. I am very much looking forward to visiting Chișinău again. My last visit was on a day that I will always remember - it was the day immediately after my appointment by the European Council, but that was quite long ago, almost four years. So, I am looking forward to coming back again. We do not have an agreed or planned date yet, but for sure I will visit at a certain moment and I will be happy to do so.