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José Manuel Durão Barroso
President of the European Commission
Speech by President Barroso: "European Union and Moldova: a journey to share"
National Palace “Nicolae Sulac”/Chisinau
30 November 2012
Mr President of the Republic of Moldova,
Mr Prime Minister,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a real pleasure to be here in Chisinau and to be able to address you from this impressive venue, the National Palace, one of the symbols of Moldova’s culture. And culture is precisely one of the many common threads one can find between your country and many countries of the European Union. Và mùltsùmèsc pèntru primìre calduroàsa. The fact that I can say this in a Latin language and apparently you have understood what I said is a demonstration of how close we are. Many thanks for your warm reception.
Your language is, for someone like me, also a Latin speaker, who is visiting Moldova for the first time, something that makes me feel at home. The second thing which made me feel at home was the very good dinner and wine that I tasted yesterday at the Cricova cellars!
My visit to Moldova was long overdue and it is part of a process, a process built on the growing importance of Moldova for the European Union and on our interest in seeing Moldova reaping the full benefits from its courageous investment in structural and political reforms.
Moldova has chosen a courageous path, that of political association and economic integration with the European Union. I would like to commend you for that. This is a path which is intrinsically linked with another fundamental choice the country has made 21 years ago, that of being a fully independent, democratic and free nation.
We know from experience in the European Union that these common goods are not achievable in a short period of time. Transitions take time and entail deep reforms. Such reforms are never easy in any country, and this is especially true in times of economic hardship. But they are necessary for Moldova to fulfil the promises of its independence and to provide for its citizens the perspective of a better future.
I also know from experience how important it is to engage with the public, with young people and civil society at a time of reform and profound change and to explain the meaning of all these steps. Because a policy that is not fully explained does not stand the chance of being embraced by those it aims at: the people. This is why I have chosen to speak to you: to share with you why I believe that your country has taken the right choice and why this is a path worth walking.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The first point I want to make is not about the institutions, the politics or politicians, it is about the impact of the European agenda on people's lives. In fact the reforms being undertaken are first and foremost for the direct benefit of the citizens of this country and are not simply boxes to be ticked as part of a bureaucratic exercise.
Let me start with some good news. As a result of your hard work in recent years and months, the European Union was last week able to launch the second – and last – phase of the visa liberalisation action plan. This brings us one step closer to our shared goal of visa-free regime when the necessary conditions are in place. I am certain that this objective can be achieved in a not-too-distant future.
Liberalisation is linked to further progress in the fight against corruption and the reform of the judiciary: reforms that will directly benefit Moldovans.
I am glad to see that the government has started to tackle these issues, but further impetus is needed. Of course, it will be challenging work and take some time, because it is about implementation, changing realities. But Moldova does not stand alone. We will continue to support reforms, technically and financially, every time they will benefit the citizens of this country.
Improving the lives of the ordinary citizens is the objective which drives our policies and is also the measure we must be judged against. Let me take the example of two recent agreements signed in June this year: the Agreement on a common aviation area and Amendments to the Visa Facilitation Agreement of 2008.
These agreements are complementary: the amended Visa Facilitation Agreement extends visa facilitation to further categories of beneficiaries and simplifies the rules, while we are steadily moving ahead towards a visa-free regime. The Common Aviation Area creates a common regulatory space, in which greater competition should see the price of airfares to EU destinations fall. Taken together, the two should give a real boost to mobility for ordinary citizens of Moldova.
To give another example; the European Union has created this year a new assistance tool, the Eastern Partnership Integration and Cooperation programme. It is meant to implement the ‘more for more’ principle.
"More for more" is about putting our principles into practice about rewarding performance in an objective manner. It means the more structural reforms you carry out to improve respect of democratic standards and the creation of a functioning market economy, the more the EU will be able to support you.
In recognition of Moldova's important progress in these areas, the EU has significantly increased its bilateral assistance budget by 30% bringing it to €122 million. We had never before, in the history of our relations, gone beyond the symbolic threshold of €100 million per year.
Adding other EU assistance funds to these grants we stand at €41 per capita; the highest level of support in the European Neighbourhood! In the last six years the EU's financial support has increased by five times, from € 25 million in 2006 to € 122 million in 2012!
And let me recall that part of this additional money is being used to help Moldova’s agricultural producers after this year’s drought. It also went to develop the Public Health System. And next year we will jointly start tackling the education sector with EU support for vocational education and training. These are good examples that ‘closer EU relations’ is not just an abstract phrase; it is yielding concrete results for Moldovan citizens.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Having set out some of the practical benefits which EU-Moldovan co-operation, this is a good moment to recall that these benefits will be multiplied as our co-operation evolves and deepens into a more structured framework: that of an Association Agreement, comprising a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area.
We have made very good progress in Association Agreement talks, and since March including on the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area component. We share the goal of completing negotiations in time for the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius at the end of next year.
But what does Association mean? It means fundamentally to share the same values. This process will bring us closer to each other than declarations will ever be able to do. You are well aware that the values on which the EU is built – freedom, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law – lie precisely at the heart of the political association and economic integration process which the Eastern Partnership offers and which we are pursuing with Moldova.
Our common goal today is to enshrine the European values and respect for human rights into the fabric of Moldova’s institutions and political life. And to boost our economic relations, which have enormous potential. This should help make Moldova’s economy far more robust and sustainable and to include it gradually into the vast European market.
Here, the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area is vital. It is about using the same norms and standards, so as to become part and parcel of the same single market – which happens to be by far the largest in the world. It is, so to speak, a quality mark: a sign that the Moldovan economy meets certain standards. Experience elsewhere has shown that this opens the door to trade; to much needed foreign investment and to job creation.
Ladies and gentlemen,
You may well be asking is all this a realistic goal? In recent years, we have witnessed unprecedented consistency and speed of reforms, even where the reforms have been financially and indeed politically costly. Such reforms are having a transformative impact on your country. All of this gives hope that yes, our common goal is not only realistic but is attainable.
When it is implemented, our Association Agreement will induce an even fuller reform agenda for Moldova, and the best prospect for Moldovan citizens to be assured of a future based on European values and standards.
So, I encourage you to keep your commitment to the European perspective of Moldova.
Finally, we cannot ignore issues of regional stability and conflict resolution. Progress on the settlement of the Transnistria issue is one of the EU’s foreign policy priorities for our Neighbourhood. 20th century divisions do not serve the 21st century challenges. We want to create a new reality where all the citizens of Moldova, without exclusion, can enjoy all the benefits of a modern and effective political and economic system, respectful of their fundamental rights.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am very glad to have had the opportunity to talk to you directly. It is always easy for leaders to agree on ambitious plans, but reforms and modernisation must be first and foremost understood and accepted by citizens, so that they can be successful. Communicating about reforms is therefore an essential element of the reform process itself.
It is appropriate that we meet here in this concert hall to discuss a reform process which ultimately is not about politicians but about improving everyday lives of people.
I know that some of you think already of the next stages, of the next stops in our common journey. However let me tell you that provided you are marching in the right sense of the history, the journey is as important as the destination. And it is only by concentrating on the next step that needs to be taken, the next curve where you need to turn, the next crossing where you need to pass through, that you are sure you will reach the end of the road.
There is no doubt that Moldova belongs to Europe and that it already now shares a common culture, language and history with the European Union. I have said it and I can repeat it: we see Moldovans as Europeans, you belong to our family of nations.
In this spirit, let me assure you that the European Union continues and will continue standing by your side, by the people of Moldova, to move ahead with your ambitious reform plans. If you keep the speed and if you intensify the depth of the reforms I am convinced that your European choice will come to fruition. I wish you the best of luck in your endeavour!
I thank you for your attention.