The EU ambassador in Chisinau, Peter Michalko, states that the European institutions are watching the new Government from Chisinau and are ready to provide assistance, however it would be conditional. Moreover, the ambassador warns that it would be a negative thing for the country to reactivate its past schemes, along with the people who via these schemes were able to control the society. Regarding the financial assistance provided by the EU to the Republic of Moldova and the sources of funding the new Government is trying to identify, Michalko argues the European resources are matchless in comparison to other financing sources in the world, because they are the most favorable to the Republic of Moldova.
Peter Michalko appreciates the fact that the Government of Maia Sandu issued the most reforms so far in the Republic of Moldova, however he points out that the need for reforms did not go away along with her Government, and that the process must continue. The EU ambassador in Chisinau also said that the relationship between the Republic of Moldova and the EU is at a level that deserves a positive and an objective appreciation.
Cotidianul.md: In the past 3 weeks, we have witnessed many changes in the political spectrum of the Republic of Moldova. Each time, your presence in the press is expected, because the EU is one of the main external partners of the Republic of Moldova, and you, being in Chisinau, have the opportunity to see how things are evolving. In these 3 weeks, we have witnessed the fall of the Government led by Maia Sandu, and the formation of a new Government, led by Ion Chicu. Could you give us your opinion on what happened?
Peter Michalko: As you know, and this was expressed by the EU at one point, the fall of the Government of Maia Sandu, which was a very pro-reformist Government, brought disappointment and concern at the same time, because the Government was dismissed on account of an important factor, regarding the reform of justice. Justice reform is a priority for the Republic of Moldova and for the EU, and at the same time it is a primary factor in our cooperation. The need for reforms did not go away along with Sandu’s Government, and the process must continue. Any new Government in the Republic of Moldova must continue these changes, which must bring better life conditions and better state institutions to the citizens. This is what we expect from the current Government, led by Chicu, and we will make the assessment based on what will be done.
Cotidianul.md: Prior to examining the censorship motion in Parliament against the Sandu Government, you had several meetings with the Prime Minister, but also with the president Igor Dodon. Each time, following those meetings, you came with the message that they must sit at the negotiating table and find a political agreement. In the end, no agreement was reached. In your opinion, what was the main reason for the separation between the ACUM Bloc and the PSRM?
Peter Michalko: I can’t answer in the name of the politicians, but we did everything to help keep that alliance, which was based on an ambitious program of reforms and, at the same time, to continue the real justice reform, to bring about the necessary results – independent justice and, at the same time, a very important thing, an impartial General Attorney, which is a necessary part of the justice system in the Republic of Moldova. Unfortunately, these attempts have not ended successfully. But the need for these changes remains.
Cotidianul.md: In June, President Igor Dodon demanded protection from the EU and the US in order to get rid of Vladimir Plahotniuc, committing himself to reforms and to compliance with the Association Agreement with the EU. Now we see that they are practically giving up on those and betraying their commitments to the EU. In this case, what could be the EU’s dialogue with President Dodon?
Peter Michalko: The EU dialogue does not include individual politicians, but the Republic of Moldova itself, the country’s institutions, and its political factors. We also talk to the citizens of the Republic of Moldova, who can understand what our message is and what our expectations are, but also what we can offer in relations to the Republic of Moldova. The Association Agreement between the EU and the Republic of Moldova is also the basis for our relations, but it is also the right framework for reforms and changes, which should help the Republic of Moldova develop its economy and achieve high productivity. This means having more money for the citizens and the state, having state institutions to serve the citizens, so that people can see that they are all equal before the law, that the justice system works for them and that development in all areas is possible at the European standards. This is the purpose of the Association Agreement – political association and economic integration.
Cotidianul.md: During the 5 months of activity of the Sandu Government you only had words of praise towards the Executive. I want to ask you about the collaboration that the EU delegation had in Chisinau with the Government led by Maia Sandu.
Peter Michalko: The Government of Maia Sandu was the most pro-reformist Government in the Republic of Moldova. This was also seen in the eagerness with which the commitments of the Republic of Moldova in relation to us began to be fulfilled. This is related to the association agenda, which is now in its completion year. The agenda is incomplete, because during the 3 years in which it was in force not much was done until June of this year. This is also due to the expectations expressed by the Council of the EU Ministers in February last year, where the areas in which the Republic of Moldova must make progress are very clearly set out. This includes the justice, the economy, the fundamental fields of democracy and human rights, the media and the civil society.
Cotidianul.md: I remember that, a year ago, I had an interview with you. Then you did not talk as enthusiastically about the Government led by Pavel Filip and the PDM government, which damaged the relations of the Republic of Moldova with the EU. The Sandu government managed to restore these relations in 5 months. What can we expect now? Is there a risk that we might return to negative schemes?
Peter Michalko: It would be tragic if we saw the negative schemes of the past coming back. I think the change in June has given people hope that freedom can still be achieved. This also shows that the local elections of October 20 and November 3 took place in an atmosphere totally different from the previous elections, regarding the pressure and the use of administrative tools in the wrong way. I think that this is something that the citizens still remember and I think they will not want to see the machinations of the past return. It is important not to allow other negative things such as corruption schemes, illegal economy schemes, smuggling, schemes that have been stopped, to reoccur. It is also important that the people linked to those illegal schemes do not come back to power so that they cannot control the society once again, or for others to take charge of those practices and renew them. This is equally true in terms of the justice system, as those who controlled and manipulated the justice in the Republic of Moldova are being investigated and the trial started in this regard. I want to highlight the fact that the EU and the international partners expect that the investigation of the bank fraud to continue and those responsible and guilty of the fraud to be punished.
Cotidianul.md: In the last 5 months, 4 deputies remained without parliamentary immunity, 3 of which are now in the Kroll report regarding the investigation of the theft of the billion. Do you view these actions as a necessary step in the investigation of the theft of the billion?
Peter Michalko: It is important that the Kroll report gave us the opportunity to see names. And this is proof of the political willingness to move in the right direction. That must continue. These are important steps that must be followed, steps that must lead to results. I saw that the investigation in the case of Șor is not progressing and it would be very bad if in other cases progress would not be made for many years as well. It is important for all institutions involved in the investigation to have the willingness to complete it. However, it is important to mention that other actions in terms of the investigation have been taken as well, for example, international cooperation regarding the investigation and identification of the assets for recovery.
Cotidianul.md: In order to have truthful investigations you need a real justice, with honest prosecutors. The contest regarding the selection of the Attorney General was concluded, a contest that caused some political changes in Chisinau. We now have the new Attorney General, Alexandr Stoianoglu, however everyone knew for over a month now that he will be the next Attorney General. How credible is the CSP (the Superior Council of Prosecutors) selection?
Peter Michalko: It is important that the selected candidate should do his / her work independently and impartially, in a way that will bring about a radical change for the better in the justice and prosecution system of the Republic of Moldova. We have watched this process during all its stages. I do not agree with the statement that from the very beginning it was known who would be selected for the position of Attorney General and I think that now we have to look at how the new prosecutor will perform.
Cotidianul.md: The new Attorney General is expected to fight against corruption. In your opinion, what is one of the main problems that the country is facing in terms of corruption at the moment?
Peter Michalko: Corruption is an extraordinarily large problem in the Republic of Moldova, which does not allow the country to develop. Because of the corruption, investors do not come, people leave, especially those who do not want to see that they or their families become victims of this phenomenon in all areas. There are case in which officials of state institutions come to people and ask for bribes or pressure them based on economic or political aspirations. Many companies have been victims of such practices and this cannot exist in a country that yearns for development. The state institutions, the Prosecutor’s Office, the courts, must radically change the brutal reality in this area. It is not my personal opinion, but this is what reports from international institutions show. This is an unpleasant situation that needs to be resolved.
Cotidianul.md: Another pressing issue of the country is the monopolization of the press. We see that some media sources formerly controlled by some politicians, are now under the control of other politicians. There is a holding company of Vladimir Plahotniuc, which the socialists are now strengthening, and there is also Ilan Șor’s TV channels. Under such circumstances, how could people understand what is actually happening in the country, because we have to admit it, the situation of the press in the Republic of Moldova is very precarious.
Peter Michalko: The existence of independent and free press is a precondition of a democratic society. The existence of free and independent media must be guaranteed. Excessive monopolization of the press and advertising, and also cartels, should be excluded. Unfortunately, I have not seen the independent institutions that have the obligation to bring order in this regard to do so. The Audiovisual Council and the Competition Council need to change things in this area. After 2 years of intensive talking about the existence of this problem, the traces of these cartel arrangements were not found. It is important for the citizens to have free press and access to more sources of information. The press must be independent of economic and political interests. The citizens need to be sure that they are not being misinformed, because there is a lot of misinformation in the current so-called press. People cannot be misled for the mere purpose of serving certain political interests. The EU helps a lot in this regard and also helps the Republic of Moldova to create and strengthen free and independent media. This aspect is stipulated in the Association Agreement, but also in the preconditions from the memorandum regarding the granting of macro-financial assistance, signed in November 2017.
Cotidianul.md: We also talk about the conditions of the EU, because this is how the community works. Money is granted only if reforms are registered. It has been 2 weeks since the formation of the Chicu Government, during which the new Government has spoken less about the EU. Instead, the Prime Minister chose to pay a first visit to Moscow, from which he came with several promises. They are beautiful promises, but in the end we will see how and if they are fulfilled. It seems that the Republic of Moldova is going on a path other than the European one. I would want you to tell us how the dialogue between the EU Embassy and the new Government is going so far.
Peter Michalko: Our collaboration with the Republic of Moldova is based on the Association Agreement. This includes the acceptance of the political factors, however it is important that the commitments of this relationship are felt and seen. I saw that the new Government is taking the first steps, that it is talking about the importance of the Association Agreement, which is essential. We must also say how important it is that the European Union has supported and is still supporting the Republic of Moldova and its citizens, by improving their lives and creating a qualitative infrastructure, and also by changing the villages and the cities of the Republic of Moldova for the better. Very large resources were invested here. Only in the last 7 years, on the budget 2014-2020, the Republic of Moldova had in its possession between 610 and 740 million euros, in the form of grants. Here we must emphasize that the grants are non-refundable. More than 1.2 billion euros will be invested in Moldova by next year. In addition, there are projects worth hundreds of millions of euros supported by the European Investment Bank, which is the bank of the European Union, and which creates quality projects in the Republic of Moldova. Today there are water supply projects, road projects. Only for next year, important projects are underway regarding the Ungheni-Chisinau road, which will include the Chisinau beltway as well as another project which includes the Comrat beltway. There are also projects in the field of energy. There is a project of connection to the electricity system of the European Union, which will be completed in a few years. The project started with the fund of 40 million euros. There are many funds dedicated to the countries of the Eastern Partnership, the countries of the Black Sea region, the Danube region. There are tens of millions of euros to which the Republic of Moldova has access, plus funds for cross-border cooperation. There are tens of millions more for infrastructure, which can connect the Republic of Moldova to the European Union. These are huge resources that the Republic of Moldova can use. People need to know that these projects are in progress, but there is potential for more. The conditions under which these resources are offered are incomparable with other financing sources in the world, because they are very favorable to the Republic of Moldova and are combined with non-reimbursable funds from the European Union.
Cotidianul.md: Yes. The conditions are favorable and the EU always sets conditions. All the grants you mentioned earlier are conditional. In case Chicu states that EU funding is not sufficient and the Government tries to identify other sources, like the $ 500 million that was discussed in Moscow, money that can be granted without any conditions. In the eyes of the people this would be much better. Under these conditions, isn’t the EU in danger of helping the Republic of Moldova with the consequence of it losing in the end?
Peter Michalko: The assistance coming from the EU, grants and non-reimbursable resources, is not comparable to the loans taken from elsewhere. If we talk about other loans, we do not know what conditions or commitments they include. With regard to the EU, the commitment for reforms is taken over by the Republic of Moldova in the interest of the country itself. These changes are necessary for the Republic of Moldova to become a modern state, a developing state, to grow economically, a state that will have money for pensions and good salaries. To say that these conditions will not be met would mean that these perspectives will be achieved and I believe that this would no longer be in line with the commitment in the Association Agreement. It is important that the Association Agreement is accepted by all political partners.
Cotidianul.md: On Wednesday, the European Parliament approved the new composition of the European Committee. The mandate of the future Community Executive began on December 1, 2019. Is there in the EU agenda the availability to receive Chicu in Brussels by the end of 2019? And I mean important meetings with the President of the European Committee, or with the head of European diplomacy.
Peter Michalko: The dialogue between the Republic of Moldova and the EU is structured and based on the Association Agreement and in this Agreement are a series of structures that work from the level of subcommittees to the Association Council level. I had the meeting on 30 September in Brussels, where the evaluation of relations was made and a vision for the development of the relationship for the future was expressed. As you said, we have had changes in the management of the European institutions. It is the process that began with the European Parliament elections in May and has now been completed with the approval of the European Committee, with a pretty imposing majority of votes in the European Parliament. These days the new leadership takes over the positions and Federica Mogherini, at the end of her mandate, had held a speech in the European Parliament where she spoke very clearly about the Republic of Moldova. In the same way as throughout her tenure, she was now very principled, expressing the position of the European Union and their expectations for further reforms. Now we will continue the dialogue. We will see how things will unfold and what contracts we will make with other countries, including the Republic of Moldova.
Cotidianul.md: We will see how the positions at the European level are cemented and the report on the new Government in Chisinau. But by the way, that „Danke schon” for your predecessor Dirk Schuebel and former enlargement commissioner Stefan Fule. It was a rare occasion when a diplomat had to come up with a response to a message from a political figure from Chisinau. Did you talk to Chicu about that „Danke schon” and what did he actually mean?
Peter Michalko: We must say that for us the communication about the relation between us is an element that we look at carefully. For us it is an indicator of how our partners see the commitment in our relation. We will see how the new Government works. In this regard, what will be done is important. But, as I said, we also pay close attention to statements. I think our relation is at a level that deserves objective appreciation, positive appreciation, because much has been done and the prospect of people being able to benefit from our relation is even greater. I think I said what I had to say publicly. Let’s not waste time on this. Life is too short to waste time on this.
Cotidianul.md: There is some controversy in the EU regarding the expansion of the community in the Balkans. While the eastern countries, and also Germany, are supporting an expansion, several other states, especially France, are opposed to this idea. What are the chances for the EU to expand in the next 5-10 years and how should Moldova perceive these processes?
Peter Michalko: The Republic of Moldova is the neighbor, friend and associate country of the European Union. This is the reality of today and the future is in the hands of the Republic of Moldova, but of course it is in the hands of the European Union as well. Now, the Republic of Moldova is in the phase of association. The same as the other countries of Central or South-Eastern Europe, which have gone through the association phase, the Republic of Moldova must take advantage of every chance that it has at the moment. To take the chance to develop, to attract investors, to change the state institutions that work properly. The period of development and prosperity must begin in the Republic of Moldova. This can be done if the reforms are implemented and if there is political willingness to do so. If there is no willingness, the current reality could continue, and that will not be too promising. As a diplomat, I have to look at things optimistically, because I know we have all the tools to build a positive future.