Peter Michalko: If reforms are not done, EU financing will be suspended or even annulled


Interview with the Head of the EU Delegation to Moldova Peter Michalko conducted by political pundit Dionis Cenusa for IPN News Agency.

- Your Excellency, how do you assess the quality of governance in the Republic of Moldova at the start of your mandate?

For the EU, the assessment of governance in the Republic of Moldova is a complex process that involves multiple foreign experts through our programs and the programs of other international organizations. The assessment carried out by the OCDE/SIGMA with EU support in May 2016 reveals deficiencies both in the strategic framework for defining, implementing and coordinating the public policies and in the policies in the fields of finance, public administration and the offer of services for citizens.

Since 2016, the Republic of Moldova has made progress in adopting new laws and strategies in the areas of integrity, anticorruption, public administration reform and others. Surely, the authorities of the Republic of Moldova should now focus on the implementation of reforms and problematic aspects appear generally here. The EU monitors attentively the developments in this field, our budget support being subject to conditionality such as, for example progress in the area of management of public finances. What we want from the implementation of the EU – Moldova Association Agreement is efficient, transparent government that encourages meritocracy, limits political interference, has a constant dialogue with civil society and meets the people’s needs.

- Which are the top three priorities of your mandate?

The three priorities of my mandate are: 1) to obtain substantial progress in implementing the Association Agreement and the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement between the EU and the Republic of Moldova (DCFTA); 2) a constant, open dialog aimed at achieving results both with the public authorities, political factors and with civil society, the business community and other partners; 3) efficient communication with the citizens of the Republic of Moldova on what the European Union is and how it can contribute to the democratic development of the Republic of Moldova. As to the third objective, I intend to make use of the direct communication with the citizens as much as possible and hope that during my mandate I will visit as many of the communities in the Republic of Moldova as possible.

- In the recent past, both civil society and the media have faced pressure on the part of the ruling party. What role should civil society and the independent media play?

Powerful and independent society and mass media are essential for a democratic society and for the country’s development for the benefit of all the citizens. I noted in my previous answers as well the attention that we pay to the dialogue with civil society, transparent governance and efficient public communication. Moreover, pluralism should be ensured both for civil society, the mass media and the political class. This is the only way in which the diversity of opinions, orientation or aspirations in any society ensures the constant exchange of ideas and information, the health and representation of society. This diversity should be yet ensured in conditions of correct informing, respect for the professional deontology and counteracting of manipulation and misinformation.

- The ruling party proposed introducing the European course in the Constitution. Does Moldova need such a thing when there is an Association Agreement that includes the European aspirations of Moldova?

Indeed, the Association Agreement recognizes the European aspirations and option of the Republic of Moldova and pursues the political association and economic integration of the Republic of Moldova into the EU. In general, a constitution transposes “the people’s sovereignty” to a series of legal norms and institutions that ensure the separation of powers in the state with a view to protecting the rights of all citizens. The way in which this transposition is done is a sovereign process in each state, but the ensuring of an inclusive and broad dialogue for any constitutional change is one of the basic rules.

- Since 2016, efforts have been made to implement elements of the DCFTA in the Transnistrian region. How do you assess the progress made so far?

The Association Agreement and the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement that governs the commercial relations between the EU and the Republic of Moldova impose rights and obligations both on the EU and on the Republic of Moldova. Starting with January 1, 2016, the preferential access of Transnistrian companies to the EU market has been based on bilateral arrangements aimed at facilitating trade between Chisinau and Tiraspol. This also means that Transnistria should fulfill particular commitments assumed and adjusted to the specific local situation. The assessment of the fulfillment of these commitments is conducted by competent technical experts each year. At this moment we can speak about the positive dynamics of exports. To keep the preferential access to the EU market, it is important that the made efforts have a constant and efficient character.

-  How do you see the reform process in Moldova after the Brussels Eastern Partnership Summit of this year?

I hope the Brussels Eastern Partnership Summit of this November will give a new impetus to the reform process in the Republic of Moldova and the whole Eastern neighborhood. As you know, the reform process is not always linear. There are steps forward and backward, but we hope that at the Brussels summit the leaders of the member and partner states (28+6) will transmit a powerful message of confidence, cohesion and solidarity for the region. We now also have a concretely defined framework for the evolution of the Eastern Partnership – 20 results that should be achieved by 2020 and I hope that these will give a new incentive to our common action in the region and the Republic of Moldova.

- The EU faced a confidence crisis in relation to Chisinau. What will the EU do to avoid unpleasant surprises similar to the robbing of the banking system revealed in November 2014?

- We should definitely ask ourselves what the Republic of Moldova will do to avoid such crises and how the EU can help. The shortage of confidence between the government and the population is what counts the most and the investigation and recovery of the funds embezzled from the banking system will surely be needed to restore this confidence. The EU raised this aspect in all the formats of dialogue with the Republic of Moldova. One can see, for example, the conclusions of the EU – Moldova Association Councils of 2016 and 2017. Independent and efficient justice has an important place in this equation. But as important are the measures that can be taken, especially by the National Bank, to ensure an institutional and normative framework that would not allow such frauds in the future. We welcome the adoption by Parliament on October 6 of the law on banking activity, which is a requirement of the Association Agreement, and are waiting for its coming into force and its implementation as of January 1, 2018.

The European Union will continue to support reforms in the Republic of Moldova in the interests of its citizens, applying stricter conditionality elements in its assistance. Depending on the EU assistance programs, the conditionality elements are different, but the general ones include aspects of democracy, good governance and economic development. As we recently announced, the EU financing for reforms in justice for 2014-2015, if reforms are not done, can be suspended or even annulled.

We will continue the active communication about the cooperation with the EU and the implementation of the Association Agreement, the priorities of the Association Agenda, with political factors, directly with the citizens, partners from the economic and social spheres and with civil society, which plays a very important role.