Peter Michalko: “Together” is key word in new EU policies”. IPN interview

How do the representatives of the EU communicate with the Moldovan authorities and with Moldovan society in the quarantine period?; How does the EU manage the current situation, which are the common and separate responsibilities of the member states?; How does the principle of solidarity stipulated in the EU constitution documents work?; Who and how can cross the EU’s borders and how is trade in the EU and with the EU conducted?; What is the current and future state of the EU’s economy and of the employees in the EU?; What is the €37 billion mentioned in a new initiative intended for?; What is the goal of the misinformation campaign aimed against the EU in times of a pandemic?; What is the purpose of the document entitled “Eastern Partnership: New Policy Objectives for Beyond 2020”. What new benefits does the Republic of Moldova obtain and what are the new tasks entrusted to the Republic of Moldova?”. These and other things that re important for the relations between the Republic of Moldova and the European Union are featured in a video interview conducted by Valeriu Vasilică with the Head of the Delegation of the European Union to Moldova Peter Michalko at the end of last week.

- IPN: Your Excellency, we welcome you at IPN, even if your presence is only virtual! We have two very serious reasons to conduct this interview and one very serious reason to conduct it from a distance. The form of the interview is dictated by the necessity of limiting personal contacts as a measure to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus and the necessity of proving that the society’s communication need can be satisfied in such special conditions as well. You, personally, and the EU Delegation in Chisinau have all the tools needed to communicate with Moldovan society and with the Moldovan authorities in this period?

- Peter Michalko:
Yes, these days, in these harder times, we intensely communicate with the authorities of the Republic of Moldova and all the partners in the Republic of Moldova. Surely, for us it is important and necessary to obey the rules related to health safety. We applied these measures so as to limit contacts and most of our colleagues work from home. It’s very good that we live in a period when the developed technologies enable us to continue the activities even in such a difficult situation. We are permanently in touch with our partners, the authorities. I even today had several telephone conversations with Cabinet members, other partners. We are active in the digital sphere, through our Internet and Facebook pages, etc. We continue to work with our mates from Brussels so as to implement projects and other activities stipulated in our work program.

- IPN: As I said, today we will discuss two special themes of great interest to Moldovan society: 1) The situation in the EU member states amid the crisis generated by the novel coronavirus and its correlation with the situation in the Republic of Moldova and 2) The new foreign policy objectives formulated recently by the European Union for the Eastern Partnership countries that include the Republic of Moldova. To a particular extent, the given themes are interlinked, but let’s discuss them separately for greater clarity.

Firstly, how did the EU institutions react to the new challenge caused by COVID-19 at the beginning and how do they manage the situation at present? What common mechanisms does the EU activate to contain and minimize the effects of the pandemic?

- Peter Michalko:
As you know, particular measures are taken at the level of the European Union, while others by the member states because the member states enjoy more powers in this regard. The European Commission coordinates a common reaction at European level. I refer both to measures to prevent the spread of the pandemic and those aimed at preventing the possible economic and social impact of this crisis in the future. In particular, it comes to the assistance offered to the member states in purchasing the necessary medical and protection supplies, to the efforts made by the European Union to support the research sector so that medical remedies are found to ensure treatment for this virus. The situation is difficult as this crisis has unprecedented dimensions and each country is affected. Nevertheless, work is yet done on the measures to revitalize the economy and to prevent the economic impact on societies after we overcome this crisis that we will definitely overcome it.
- IPN: How did the principle of solidarity stipulated in the constitution documents of the EU work in the conditions of the new pandemic? For example, Italy received support from China, which is not an EU member state.

- Peter Michalko:
This mutual support effort takes place permanently, even right now, when we are talking. Initially, it was necessary that each country took the own measures to prevent and manage this enormous risk for protecting the own population and now we see that support is provided by the European Union and also by its member states. As I said, the EU organizes the purchase of the necessary medical supplies and take these were it is necessary. Mutual support measures were taken last week by member states, such as France, which delivered considerable supplies to Italy. The patients in a serious or difficult state started to be taken to countries that have available capacities and this effort will continue.

You mentioned China. I think in the contemporary world, it is something normal when those who can provide assistance. We should not forget that the European Union member states sent to China 60 or 70 tonnes of medical and protection supplies in February and we see this reciprocity now that Europe is in need. This mutual support and solidarity effort between the member states will continue.

- IPN: A number of EU member states closed the internal borders, including to European citizens from other states. The EU, in general, closed all the external borders to travellers, but I don’t think the borders were fully closed as communication is needed in the current conditions as well. How does the EU regulate the movement of persons inside its borders and can the citizens of the Republic of Moldova, with or without the nationality of an EU member state, enter the EU in emergencies?

- Peter Michalko:
It is the decision of the European Union leaders to temporarily limit travel without serious motives. This is a measure to prevent the spread of the virus, which is not linked to one country or another or to the European Union and the countries of the European Union. The virus can penetrate because it is linked to persons and the only prevention method is to limit, to stop personal contacts. This period will pass. Surely, it is normal for some of the persons to need to travel, for example, because they need to go back to their countries of origin. Possibilities are created for these persons by maximally respecting the rules to protect against the spread of the virus. Surely, these persons who now cross the borders and reach home should remain isolated for 14 days, in all the countries I think. This is something necessary and we should call on everyone to obey this rule as it was designed to protect the others. The respect for the health of the others is now a very important principle that helps us.

- IPN: How does the EU regulate the commercial exchanges and what opportunities does Moldova enjoy to supply its goods to the European market that has been the major market for several years? I realize that the business entities of Moldova significantly contracted their activities, but what continues to be produced needs to be sold. Otherwise...

- Peter Michalko:
From the viewpoint of commercial rules, no major changes occurred. Imports and exports continue and this is one of the realities that can support our economies and the people can have access to goods. Without this, it will be much harder. Surely, if the transportation takes place with the involvement of persons, for example drivers, all the health, hygiene rules applied in the transit countries should be obeyed.

- IPN: The economic activity was considerably affected in the EU as well. To what extent? What will be done to diminish losses and what the Republic of Moldovan can learn from this?

- Peter Michalko:
Regrettably, we cannot see all the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic at the current stage, but we hope they will be less grave. It is important that now societies focus on the prevention of the spread of the virus and on public health issues. It’s now clear that after this difficult patch is overcome, actions will be taken to renew the economic life, to continue the activities related to mutual trade, economic cooperation. The opportunities for investments will be restored. This is an important prospect for society and for employees. They will be able to continue work, to see more development, more opportunities for them. I think that after this period, the necessity of reforms will be greater as these will open up greater possibilities for each county to recover swiftly at economic and social levels. The current situation underlines the necessity of making the long-anticipated changes, but in the new conditions they will be much more topical.

- IPN: The same question, but about the problems faced on the labor market: to what extent was this market affected in the EU, what is done to diminish the blows and to support the employees on forced leave? What can the Republic of Moldova learn from your experience?

- Peter Michalko:
Surely, measures are being taken at EU level to protect the employees, to create conditions for the enterprises to be able to survive in this difficult period and to later resume work and call the employees back to work. An EU initiative on investment to the value of €37 billion is planned in response to this crisis. We do not forget about our partner countries, such as the Republic of Moldova. We will take into account their necessities. We will support the small and medium-sized enterprises as they can be the hardest hit and will need assistance to survive, to keep the jobs so that the people continue work and receive salaries. I will repeat that it is important that the necessary reforms be implemented so that the life is revitalized swiftly.

- IPN: I recently read a number of articles, from a number of sources according to which the EU faces a wave of media misinformation, manipulation and fake news produced outside its borders. Is it true? Who needs such techniques and what goal can be pursued in such a situation that is difficult for practically the whole mankind? Will Moldova’s population be also affected by something like this? What measures do you take to combat this wave?

- Peter Michalko:
It’s true that we face misinformation that refers also to the current situation. This is probably an opportunity for those who attack the European Union. This is absolutely inacceptable and we must say it clearly that these attempts will not have an effect. The European Union continues its work, its open cooperation with the partners, including with the Republic of Moldova with which we are connected by very close relations. The Association Agreement and the Free Trade Agreement will show once again, as they showed during the last five years, that they are appropriate instruments for supporting the Republic of Moldova, the people who live in the Republic of Moldova, including for overcoming the consequences of this crisis. We must be active against these misinformation attempts. We must underline that informing is important and this crisis shows how important correct and transparent informing is, how important it is for society, including about the prevention and overcoming of this type of crisis.

- IPN: Let’s talk about the second theme announced above. Recently, the EU made public a document entitled “Eastern Partnership: New Policy Objectives for Beyond 2020”. Why is this document so important?

- Peter Michalko:
It is important as we reached a stage when the Eastern Partnership delivered many results and a new perspective should be opened up. This announces the European Union’s policies that will center in the future on five major objectives. But these objectives should be achieved together, by the European Union and the Republic of Moldova, by the European Union and its Eastern partners. “Together” is the key word in the new policies: “Together for resilient, sustainable and integrated economies”; “Together for accountable institutions, the rule of law and security”; ”Together towards environmental and climate resilience”; “Together for a resilient digital transformation” and “Together for resilient, fair and inclusive societies”. This is I think a clear perspective showing where we want to be together the next years and what will be our common perspective that will bring us closer – the European Union and the Republic of Moldova.

- IPN: Can you detail slightly these objectives and say what new benefits can the Republic of Moldova obtain and what new tasks are entrusted to it?

- Peter Michalko:
Trough these objectives, the Republic of Moldova’s economy will obtain new support for greater development, access to investments for growth, investments that will create new possibilities in new sectors that will be connected to the European Union’s market, including with possibilities of exporting or producing. This means more jobs, higher salaries and at much higher levels that in the past. This will enable to further improve the functionality of institutions so that they become better for the people and more powerful in terms of the capacities by which they can offer services for the people. For example, support to the healthcare system is provided now, but will become more consistent in the future. It’s clear that environmental protection will continue to be addressed. Solutions are needed to prevent climate change, primarily in countries where such sectors as agriculture are important.

I should also note the support for the digital sector where there are very big possibilities and the development of this sector can influence to the better the life of many people, for sure. Here, the European Union can offer assistance and the Republic of Moldova can be a solid partner.

The support for a resilient, fair and inclusive society is also important. I want to remark here that we continue to see today that the citizens of the Republic of Moldova and society in general have the potential to cope with the risks that come together with this pandemic. I want to express my support, respect and gratitude to the representatives of civil society, the active persons who support those who need assistance in the period. I see a large wave of people who launched activities and started to simply humanly help those who are self isolating. There is a wave to collect funds to buy medical supplies for those who are in the front line today, for doctors and those who work in the health system, who should be shown extraordinary gratitude for their efforts. And this is the good side of the current situation. This will be what we will support by our activities intended for civil society, for society of the Republic of Moldova.

The video interview  with the Head of the EU Delegation to Moldova Peter Michalko was conducted on March 26. On March 30, the EU announced that it offers €140 million for the most immediate needs in the EaP member states, including in the Republic of Moldova.

The interview forms part of the series “Moldova’s Relations with Development Partners” that is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation of Germany.

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