(Source: Council of the EU and European Council)
The European Union and the Republic of Moldova (hereinafter “Moldova”) today held the sixth meeting of the Association Council under the EU-Moldova Association Agreement. The Association Implementation Report, published by the EU on 19 October 2021, concluded that the early parliamentary elections on 11 July 2021 gave a clear and strong mandate to pro-reform forces to pursue an ambitious reform agenda on fighting corruption, improving the justice system and fighting poverty, with a view to reverse the backsliding in the rule of law standards and reforms registered in 2020.
The parties welcomed the resumption of this high-level dialogue format and noted the importance of follow-up on its outcomes. The Association Council acknowledged Moldova’s European aspirations and European choice and reaffirmed the joint commitment of the EU and Moldova to strengthen political association and deepen economic integration by working in close partnership on the basis of mutual commitments to reforms and to the common values of democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law enshrined in the EU-Moldova Association Agreement (AA). The EU and Moldova welcomed the progress on update of the Association Agenda and looked forward to its formal adoption at the earliest opportunity. The updated Association Agenda will guide the implementation of the AA/Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) as well as programming of EU financial support, taking into consideration the March 2020 Joint Communication on the future of Eastern Partnership and the Joint Staff Working Document on post-2020 Eastern Partnership priorities.
The Association Council noted the clear and strong mandate for reforms given by citizens in the recent elections, and welcomed the commitment of the Moldovan Government to pursue decisively a reform agenda contributing to effective implementation of the AA/DCFTA. The Association Council reiterated the expectation that Moldova step up efforts to support the rule of law, and to prevent and fight against corruption as a matter of highest priority. It reiterated the EU’s commitment to continue supporting Moldova in implementation and monitoring of these reforms to achieve tangible improvements in the lives of the citizens of Moldova. In this regard, the EU recalled that its assistance is based on the principle of conditionality linked to satisfactory progress on reforms, notably in the area of justice, rule of law and fight against corruption.
The meeting took place against the backdrop of an acute gas supply crisis in Moldova, following the end September non-extension of the long-term gas contract by Gazprom. The EU has been supporting Moldova throughout this period, notably through the provision of expert advice to develop options and scenarios on the diversification of energy supplies and routes. A high-level energy dialogue at the level of Commissioner Simson and Prime Minister was launched yesterday and in this context a senior officials’ meeting took place back-to-back with the Association Council, to discuss the situation and the EU’s immediate and medium term support to Moldova. The EU reiterated its commitment to provide further technical support to Moldova to tackle the crisis and underlined the importance of unbundling of gas and electricity transmission and distribution as a means to strengthen Moldova’s resilience. The EU and Moldova stressed the importance of resilience against any potential efforts by third parties to use energy as a geopolitical lever. The Association Council recalled the importance of continued energy market reform to strengthen competition and transparency in this sector. The EU urged Moldova to ensure that the energy sector reform ensures full respect of the Energy Community acquis and is in line with the EU Third Energy Package. The EU side confirmed its support to the objective of Moldova to synchronise its electricity network with the Continental European Network (CEN), an important step towards the integration into the EU energy system and market.
The Association Council welcomed the EU’s continuing solidarity with Moldova on COVID-19 by mobilising EUR 127 million in 2020 in grants, and delivering more than 1 million doses of vaccines with Team Europe support. The EU and Moldova agreed to work together to increase the level of vaccine uptake in Moldova. The EU recalled its commitment to help Moldova address the long-term effects of the pandemic by mobilising up to EUR 600 million in the next 2-3 years under the Economic Recovery Plan. Moldova welcomed that, as part of this plan and on the basis of recent positive developments, on 28 September 2021 the EU disbursed EUR 36.4 million in budget support to assist in the implementation of healthcare and rule of law reforms. Moldova also welcomed that, on 8 October 2021 the EU disbursed the second EUR 50 million tranche of the emergency COVID-19 macro-financial assistance programme. The parties noted that a waiver was granted for one of the unfulfilled conditions, and agreed on the need to setting up an effective and efficient mechanism for asset recovery.
The Parties agreed that the Flagship initiatives for Moldova under the Economic and Investment Plan for the Eastern Partnership will translate policy priorities into tangible investment projects with high impact and visibility. The EU underscored the key importance of sustained and effective reform progress in the Eastern Partnership framework, and recalled that the EU financial support, including under the Economic and Investment Plan will be conditioned by concrete reform steps. Parties agreed to continue their discussions on practical implementation of the Flagship initiatives with a view to announcing progress and next steps at the Eastern Partnership Summit in December.
The EU welcomed that the 11 July 2021 early parliamentary elections were well administered and competitive, and stressed the importance of transparent, inclusive and credible elections at central and local level. The Association Council acknowledged the need to address the pending recommendations of the Council of Europe Venice Commission and the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe by reviewing the electoral legislation in an inclusive and participatory process.
The EU encouraged the involvement of civil society in decision-making processes to increase public scrutiny of reforms. The EU also stressed the importance of stepping up strategic communication efforts to improve public awareness of the tangible benefits of EU cooperation and ensure effective response to disinformation. The need for a thorough reform of the media environment to enhance transparency and competition in the sector was called for, as well as the importance of ensuring full implementation of the Audiovisual code and independence of the Audiovisual Council to ensure access to impartial information.
The parties agreed on the need to increase efforts on gender equality and prevention of violence against women and girls. In this regard, the EU welcomed Moldova’s recent ratification of the Istanbul convention. The EU encouraged Moldova to continue efforts aimed at protecting the rights of persons belonging to minorities and to tackle discrimination in all its forms. The Association Council welcomed the continued effective fulfilment of the visa liberalisation benchmarks, underlining the substantial number of Moldovan citizens that have benefited from the visa-free regime. The EU referred to the Fourth Visa Suspension Mechanism report, recalling the need for further efforts to address the issue of unfounded asylum applications, align the visa policy with EU lists of visa-required third countries, and make progress on fighting financial fraud, anti-money laundering, and the prevention of and fight against corruption and organised crime.
The EU encouraged Moldova to pursue a comprehensive justice reform and took note of the steps already taken in the prosecution and judiciary, including the adoption of amendments to the Constitution regarding the Superior Council of Magistracy in line with the Venice Commission recommendations. The EU highlighted the importance of ensuring a merit-based and transparent selection process for judicial appointments. Moldova informed about the upcoming adoption of the Strategy for ensuring independence and integrity of justice sector aimed at building independent and accountable justice system. To that end, Moldova has referred to its intention to pursue extraordinary vetting of judges and prosecutors in office and to improve the system of selection and appointment of judges and prosecutors. The Association Council agreed on the need to reform the prosecution in order to strengthen the capacity to investigate and prosecute high-level corruption. The EU and Moldova agreed to engage into regular dialogue on justice sector reform priorities, and recognized the need for financial support to its implementation.
The EU reiterated the expectation of an impartial and comprehensive investigation and prosecution of the 2014 massive banking fraud with a view to bringing all responsible to justice without further delay and recovering, to the extent possible, the misappropriated funds. Moldova confirmed that recovery of stolen funds and prosecution of those involved remains a major priority. The parties agreed on the importance of tackling financial fraud, money laundering and organised crime through comprehensive legislation and effective implementation, and called for increased international cooperation including with the relevant EU agencies and platforms.
The Association Council recalled that the effective implementation of the Association Agreement and its Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) which, linked to the broader process of regulatory approximation and related necessary reforms, contributes to establishing conditions for enhanced economic and trade relations with the EU leading to Moldova’s further gradual economic integration in the European Union Internal Market, as envisaged in the Association Agreement. The EU expressed the expectation to continue reform efforts related to the implementation and enforcement of the DCFTA. The EU welcomed the adoption of the new Customs Code approximating the Union’s Customs Code. Both sides agreed on the continuation of work towards concluding the Agreement on the Mutual recognition of Authorised Economic Operators once Moldova meets all criteria. The EU expressed concerns about the new provisions of the Domestic Trade Law that are in clear violation of Moldova’s commitments on non-discrimination under the DCFTA, as well as its obligations under the World Trade Organisation, and urged Moldova to address this issue as a matter of urgency. The Association Council welcomed Moldova’s inclusion on the list of third countries authorized for the entry into the Union of dairy products subject to a specific risk-mitigating treatment against food-and-mouth disease. Moldova recalled its ambitious commitment to approximate to the EU agricultural acquis and to enhance the competitiveness of Moldovan products thus increasing the volumes and the categories of products exported on the EU market including of animal origin. In this regard, the EU called for further reforms in the sanitary and phytosanitary area with a view to further diversifying exports. The Council reiterated the importance of regular updates of the Annexes of the Association Agreement. It looked forward to finalization of the ongoing updating exercise on Title IV on economic and other sectoral cooperation and to the initiation of the same exercise under Title V on trade and trade-related matters. The Moldovan side confirmed its interest for launching discussions with the EU on reducing roaming tariffs as soon as the Regional Roaming Agreement is signed.
The EU reiterated its commitment to support Moldova’s macroeconomic and financial stabilisation, and highlighted its readiness to support Moldova with a new macro-financial assistance programme in conjunction with a new International Monetary Fund programme as a result of the Government’s re-engagement with the IMF. The Association Council recalled the importance of preserving stability in the financial and banking sector and the independence of the National Bank of Moldova.
The Association Council encouraged Moldova to adopt the spirit of the European Green Deal and to ensure that the COVID-19 economic recovery follows a green path. In this context, the EU welcomed Moldova’s commitment to bring its economy as close as possible to climate neutrality by 2050 and underlined the need to redouble efforts to deliver maximum ambition in the 2030 perspective through comprehensive policies and measures. Moldova stressed that implementation of green agenda will require substantial support for implementation of the necessary policies, including capacity building. The EU urged Moldova to continue with the approximation and implementation of key legislation in the areas of waste and water management and air quality. The parties welcomed close cooperation with EU Member States through the Union Civil Protection Mechanism, including to mobilise health-related assistance and delivery of vaccines in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Council acknowledged the advanced stage of preparations that will lead to the mutual recognition of COVID digital vaccination certificates in the near future.
The EU expressed the expectation for Moldova to act in line with the Common Aviation Area Agreement, including regarding competition. It called on Moldova to step up efforts to align with the aviation transport acquis, and in this regard welcomed the signature of the 2nd EU-Moldova Joint Committee decision.
The parties noted good continued cooperation in the higher education area and Moldova’s participation in the Erasmus+ programme. The Association Council welcomed the signature on 27 October of Moldova’s association to the Horizon Europe programme, and encouraged Moldova to enhance participation in the Creative Europe programme.
The Association Council noted positively the continued cooperation in the field of foreign and security policy, including in multilateral fora. On the occasion of the Association Council, the EU and Moldova agreed to launch a high-level political and security dialogue. The EU underlined the importance of further increasing Moldova’s alignment with the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy declarations and decisions in line with the commitment to promote the principles enshrined in the Association Agreement, including the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity. The EU appreciated Moldova’s continued participation in the EU Training Mission to Mali and its active engagement in the Common Security and Defence Policy orientation courses and seminars in the framework of the Eastern Partnership. Moldova expressed interest to participate in the projects under European Peace Facility. The parties agreed to resume consultations on security and defence to discuss cooperation on countering hybrid threats, cyber security, protection of critical infrastructure, and strategic communication.
The EU reiterated its support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Moldova within its internationally recognised borders and the provisions of the OSCE Ministerial Statement from December 2020. The Association Council reaffirmed commitment towards a comprehensive, peaceful and sustainable settlement of the Transnistrian conflict within the framework of the 5+2 format, and welcomed the dialogue on the level of political representatives and joint expert working groups, including the enhanced coordination in addressing the challenges of COVID-19. The EU and Moldova looked forward to further result-oriented work in the 5+2 format under the Swedish OSCE Chairpersonship-in-Office. The Association Council stressed the importance to advance towards full and continuous implementation of the “Berlin+” package and to develop joint proposals on further confidence-building measures, as well as to intensify dialogue on protection of human rights. The EU expressed readiness to continue supporting confidence-building measures that bring tangible benefits to the populations on both banks of the Nistru river.
The EU welcomed Moldova’s commitment to the Eastern Partnership and looked forward to continuous cooperation in view of the Summit in December 2021, which is expected to endorse the post-2020 agenda based on recovery, resilience and reform. The EU took good note of the initiative of the three associated partners aimed at increased coordination between them and enhanced cooperation between the three associated partners and the EU. The EU also recalled the importance of both principles of inclusivity and differentiation in further development of the Eastern Partnership.
The Association Council agreed on the importance of good neighbourly relations between Moldova and Ukraine, including on the issue of the sustainable use of the Nistru river basin. The EU recalled its readiness to support Moldova and Ukraine with expertise to ensure full respect of EU and international standards and commitments, as well as the application of best practice in river basin management.
The Association Council was chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Mr Josep Borrell. The Prime Minister of the Republic of Moldova, Mrs Natalia Gavriliţa led the Moldovan delegation. The Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, Mr Olivér Várhelyi also participated in the meeting.