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European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy
Address to the Moldovan Parliament
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Europe Day Special session
Chisinau, 14 May 2010
Mr. President of the Moldovan Parliament,
Honourable Members, Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,
It gives me great pleasure to be in Chisinau for my first visit as Commissioner for Enlargement and the Neighbourhood Policy. I am delighted to witness the city preparing to celebrate Europe Day with such enthusiasm.
I would like first of all to thank you, Mr. President, as well as the leaders of the present parliamentary groups for this opportunity to address your distinguished assembly. I regret that not all political forces are represented here today. I hope that his is not a sign that not all political groups are genuinely committed to bringing Moldova closer to the European Union. The presence of the deputies of the Communist party would have allowed me to discuss directly with them their concerns as regards freedom of media and human rights in general. Both issues will become more and more important for the Republic of Moldova as it gets closer to the European Union. The EU attaches utmost importance to freedom of media and human rights. For example, the situation of the radio station Silver Rain and the TV station NIT have been raised with the Moldovan government during the first round of the formal EU – Moldova human rights dialogue.
Let me now outline briefly how relations between the EU and Moldova are developing.
For more than a decade, we have set increasingly ambitious goals for our relationship. Looking back, I am amazed to see how many of them have been achieved. This would have not been possible without the considerable efforts that you, as well as we, have deployed towards this aim. We have stepped up our co-operation on foreign policy and security matters and brought our markets and our citizens closer. Our collaboration has brought very tangible results for our citizens. The unilateral trade preferences granted by the European Union; the Common Visa Application Centre; the visa facilitation agreement; financial support to your social assistance schemes: all these are just a few examples which illustrate how effective our actions can be when they are driven by the will to come closer to each other. And let us not forget about the strategic impact on your economy and society of our flourishing trade links: the European Union now ranks first, by far, among Moldova’s trading partners.
Extensive financial and technical support has always underpinned our cooperation. The European Union is today the largest single grant donor to Moldova. Between 1991 and 2009, it provided more than €270 million to your country, entirely in the form of grants. This assistance has contributed to supporting many key reforms and activities. It has facilitated the reforms of the social assistance, healthcare and water sanitation systems; it has provided for modernising and promoting exports of Moldovan enterprises, and for attracting foreign investment. We have committed ourselves to increasing this support very substantially, with a pledge of €550 million in 2010-2013. I am proud to say that we will be able to launch our first programme under this new commitment already in a few weeks. With a budget of €45 million, this programme will help foster regional development, by stimulating economic activity outside large cities.
Mr. President, Honourable Members, Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,
“Hitch your wagon to the stars”, advises the poet. It seems to me that this could be the motto of EU-Moldova relations these days. Last December, for the first time, we released a joint statement on EU-Moldova relations. Drawing on the new opportunities offered under our Eastern Partnership, it outlined an ambitious way forward, implying commitments by both sides, to move dynamically towards political association and economic integration.
We set out six objectives for ourselves. Let me recall them briefly: we agreed to launch negotiations on a new Agreement that would be far more ambitious than the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement; to label that new document an “Association Agreement”, in order to properly reflect our joint ambitions; to work towards establishing a deep and comprehensive free trade area, as soon as the necessary conditions are met; to launch a visa dialogue this year; to start a regular dialogue on human rights; and to step up our financial and technical support and improve coordination among providers of assistance so that the latter can be better used to achieve your goals.
Has this been translated into practice? The answer is “yes”: we have delivered on all points. On 12 January, we started negotiations on our future Association Agreement. Negotiations are proceeding smoothly and swiftly. In three weeks from now, your government will be hosting the third plenary meeting of the negotiators. On 4 March, we launched our human rights dialogue.
After a very intense exchange of information with your government, we are working on preparing a fact-finding mission which will be an important milestone on the way towards a future free trade area. Next month, we will launch our visa dialogue, in the margins of our Cooperation Council. This will allow us to examine together in a structured manner the conditions for visa-free travel of Moldovan citizens to the European Union.
Finally, on 24 March we hosted a very successful conference of donors, where the reforms identified by your government as priorities for foreign assistance, summarised in the ‘Rethink Moldova’ document, received across-the-board support. I signed with Prime Minister Filat a Memorandum providing a 75% increase in our bilateral assistance to Moldova. This makes Moldova the front runner in assistance in this part of the world. The 42 donors that participated in the conference pledged an impressive €1.9 billion of assistance in 2010-2013. This was more than expected.
All of these developments demonstrate the confidence of the European Union and our international partners in the future of Moldova; in its commitment to the process of European integration and in the development of its democratic culture.
Mr. President, Honourable Members,
Nolens volens, I should like to touch upon the issue of constitutional reform. This is a tremendously important issue and probably the biggest challenge that you face today - a litmus test for your democratic credentials as representatives of Moldovan citizens. There is no need to remind you that today’s situation in your country has not yet stabilised. At the same time, new elections may be approaching. I perfectly understand that this may appeal short-term tactics.
Instead, it is far-sighted statesmanship that your country needs. Resolving now the problem of the election of the Head of State is not only important to escape the vicious circle of endless elections. It is vital to allow Moldovan society to concentrate on the most urgent political, economic and social challenges that it is facing. Moldova’s political class has shown a great deal of courage in the last 15 years, to assert Moldova’s independence and move forward on reforming and modernising a country without huge natural resources, while part of its territory is effectively cut off.
The current constitutional issue puts the onus on you to demonstrate again these qualities of courage and compromise. The Venice Commission has shown a clear way forward. Your representatives have had the opportunity to receive additional clarifications when recently in Strasbourg.
I would like to recall the position of the European Union. The Venice Commission is the European body for constitutional advice. We expect our partners which are members of the Council of Europe to respect its recommendations. It means that you need to reach, as soon as possible, a compromise in Parliament to reform Article 78 of your Constitution. No matter that previous attempts to find such a compromise have ended in failure. It is courage and determination that counts.
Time is high for reforms to continue, to be implemented determinedly, not for the sake of Bruxelles, but for the good of your citizens, to improve the lives of Moldovan people in areas such as health, education, business, environment, and most importantly human rights and fundamental freedoms. These are the aspirations of your people. This is where you, the political leadership and broad support across the whole political spectrum, are needed for such ambitious reforms to succeed. And you can count on our continuous support.
Mr. President, Honourable Members, Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,
Let us find inspiration in Europe’s history of reconciliation and unification in the last half century. It has a lesson to offer. It has brought peace, stability, and prosperity. Moldova faces formidable challenges on many fronts – political, economic and social. But it does not stand alone, as long as it acts determinedly in its own interest to stabilise its internal situation. In sharing our experience with you, we hope to see you reap the same benefits as Europe has. We hope to see you deliver to your citizens what they deserve and what matters to us as your friends and partners: a prosperous Moldova, its society reconciled, and its territorial integrity restored.
Thank you for your attention.