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Thank you very much, Madame Prime Minister [of the Republic of Moldova], Maia [Sandu]. It is a pleasure for me to be in Chisinau for my first visit in my current capacity and my second visit after – as you rightly said – five years, one month and a couple of days, and just three days after a very successful Association Council that you chaired in Brussels, together with a large number of Ministers.
Like the meeting in Brussels, I want to say it very clearly, my visit here today is, first and foremost, a sign of the importance we attach to our partnership. But most importantly maybe, this is a sign of the renewed engagement between the European Union and the Republic of Moldova. There is a reason why I am here after five years, one month and two days and not before: this reason is that we see today recent, positive developments in the country that we have long been working for, together with the Moldovan citizens. And we always feel the responsibility to support not only financially and politically, but also with clear and visible signs such as good meetings and a visit when we see positive developments happening.
This is to me also a symbol of the European Union’s strong support for Moldova and its people, and for the reform agenda of this government, led by you, Madam Prime Minister [Maia Sandu].
What we wish to see is strong and continuous support across the political spectrum for this very ambitious, robust and courageous reform path, based on commitment to the comprehensive implementation of our Association Agenda together with its Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area. You rightly mentioned the fact that our Association Agreement is domestic policy, and this is also our understanding. It is a common agenda that we have defined together and that is the basis of our partnership. It is also the basis on which we believe that our people, both in Moldova and the European Union, can get benefits that are very tangible on a concrete basis.
It is crucial, we believe, to first of all strengthen the independence of state institutions in order to rebuild public trust. We know this is an issue everywhere in the world, but here with a special flavour. We believe this is also vital to improve the living standards of citizens.
It is a path that I know the government has been following consistently in these first three months. Three months - 100 days - can be seen as very long or very short. But what is most important from our point of view is that the right things start to be put in place. And we see clearly this determination on the clear and strong reform agenda that is being put in place in these first three months under your leadership. Again, let me stress that we hope and expect to see a strong support across the political spectrum for this reform agenda.
Staying on track with reforms is also essential to get the most out of our Association Agreement, for the benefit of the people, as I said, both in Moldova and in the European Union, also for the long term.
As always, our financial support is and will remain conditional on progress with the reforms. But also as always, we will stand by Moldova, by the citizens and by the institutions, with our assistance, our advice and our technical support. We know that reforms are complicated and difficult to put in place and so together with the conditionality of the financial support comes also the technical assistance to help and accompany this process. Let me say clearly that we are ready to support you even more than in the past, and even more than what we have started to do in these first three months.
In these first three months, we have resumed budget support payments already in July of this year – they were suspended in 2018. We also signed with the Government financing agreements to implement programmes on sustainable local development and the rule of law, with already some tangible results. We are ready to increase our financial support and advice in support of the Government’s reform agenda. We will release the first instalment of macro-financial assistance soon, I hope in the next couple of weeks. All of this is a clear sign of our recognition of the reforms that have been already put on track and also of our high expectations for the next steps.
At my meetings today with Prime Minister [Maia] Sandu and the Ministers that were present today in our bilateral meeting, but also the Ministers that I have seen on Monday in Brussels, at my meeting later this afternoon with the Foreign Minister [of Moldova, Nikola Popescu], as well as in the meeting I had with the President [of Moldova, Igor] Dodon earlier this morning, we discussed and will discuss the great importance that we collectively attach to the comprehensive reform of the judiciary and of the prosecution service.
This is a vital issue in itself, but it is also a vital issue to contribute to a stronger business climate and to incentivise investment. Because we know that an independent and accountable judiciary is key to the further successful democratisation of Moldova as well as for the country's growth and enhanced resilience. So it is good for the rule of law, it is good for the citizens, it is good for the institutions, it is good for society, but it is also good for the economy and the business climate.
Let me also add here that we believe that the effective prosecution of all those involved in the banking fraud in 2014 is essential in this regard, but it is also essential to restore trust in the institutions.
We welcomed positive changes in the electoral framework, while also noting the need for reforms here to continue. I know there will be local elections coming up on 20 October. They will be an important test for the electoral process to show that it is in line with international democratic standards.
My visit gave me also the chance to confirm our longstanding and unchanged position from the European Union’s side on continued support for Moldova’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and a special status for Transnistria within Moldova’s internationally recognised borders. Recent progress that we have seen in the 5+2 talks needs to be built on, particularly during the round that will be held in Slovakia next week.
As I already stated in Brussels a few days ago at the Association Council meeting, I believe this is really the good time for the Republic of Moldova and the European Union to look forward and seize the opportunity for real structural change that would finally enable solid, sustained growth in your country, paying dividends for all your population.
Sometimes, change needs a little bit of time to come. Three months is a long time for those who are in government - especially the first three months - but I know that expectations on quick and concrete deliverables are high. I believe that the direction that has been taken is the right one. This is why the European Union remains committed to continue to accompany and support you, your government, the institutions of this country, and your citizens on this challenging but also exciting journey.
Q. How carefully is the European Union monitoring the upcoming elections in the Republic of Moldova? How do you see this campaign when some competitors are eliminated from campaigning and some others end up with criminal cases initiated?
As always, the European Union will closely monitor the electoral process, in this case, through the support to existing monitoring systems that have been put in place and the diplomatic presence of the European Union and of the Member States of the European Union.
More generally, as I already mentioned, this being the first electoral test after the beginning of this new government, these elections will be seen, not only by the European Union but I believe by the international community, as a test of how transparent and respectful of international standards, the procedures will be.
Also let me add that I hope that the candidates and the parties that run the electoral campaign will take this opportunity to show responsibility and to show that they attach, first and foremost, importance to the people’s expectations rather than simply confrontation among political parties or candidates.
Having said that, we will closely monitor the situation, the running of the campaign and the outcome. I hope that this can be the first test of this new era in the country.
Q. During the press conference of the Association Council, you stated several times that the EU is putting a special status for the Transnistrian region within the Republic of Moldova. Could you tell us if this special status excludes any type of federalisation?
First of all, the European Union has always supported the internationally recognised borders of Moldova and the sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Most importantly, I think there will be a discussion on what kind of special status for Transnistria within the internationally recognised borders in the format that is the most appropriate, which is the one that the European Union has always accompanied and supported, which is the 5+2 talks.
As a meeting is upcoming next week, that is a discussion that I believe on the basis of what the Prime Minister [Maia Sandu] has mentioned – will happen in that context. The European Union will be there as usual to accompany and support that.
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