Joint press statement following the seventh Association Council meeting between the European Union and the Republic of Moldova

On 7 February, the European Union and the Republic of Moldova (hereinafter “Moldova”) held the seventh meeting of the Association Council under the EU-Moldova Association Agreement.

The Association Council reiterated the commitment of the parties to further deepening their relationship, based on common values and close and privileged links. The EU-Moldova Association Agreement has been and continues to be of essential importance in facilitating and promoting Moldova’s further integration with the EU. The Association Council highlighted the historic importance of the decision of the European Council of 23 June 2022 to recognise Moldova’s European perspective and to grant it EU candidate country status. The future of Moldova and its citizens lies within the European Union. The EU welcomed Moldova’s considerable efforts to continue with its reform agenda and fulfil the nine steps identified in the Commission’s Opinion in order to advance towards future EU membership. Moldova underlined its determination to meet the necessary requirements in order to start accession negotiations as soon as possible.

The Association Council highlighted the publication on 2 February of the European Commission’s Analytical Report on Moldova’s alignment with the EU acquis. The report recognises the important efforts taken by Moldova including under the Association Agreement. The report also offers valuable guidance on the work ahead under the different acquis chapters.  The Association Council also highlighted the last Association Implementation Report published on 7 February 2023, reviewing Moldova’s implementation of reforms under the EU-Moldova Association Agreement over the past year. The report outlines that last year, progress was made in several key areas and that EU-Moldova relations visibly intensified.

The EU recalled that the Commission was invited to report on the fulfilment of the nine steps specified in the Commission’s Opinion as part of its regular enlargement package in 2023. Without prejudice to this comprehensive regular reporting, the Association Council took note of the Commission’s intention to provide an update in spring 2023.

The Association Council welcomed the adoption of the revised EU-Moldova Association Agenda for the period 2021-2027. The document establishes a set of jointly agreed priorities towards further implementation of the Association Agreement, including the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA).

The EU and Moldova reiterated their commitment to strengthening political association and deepening economic integration, by working in close partnership on the basis of mutual commitment to reforms and to the common values of democracy, protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law as enshrined in the EU-Moldova Association Agreement.

The EU recalled its comprehensive support package by mobilising over €1.09 billion in loans and grants since October 2021 to strengthen Moldova’s resilience, including humanitarian aid, assistance provided under the Union Civil Protection Mechanism (UCPM), budget support, macro-financial assistance and continuation of bilateral and regional programme support. In this context, the EU also acknowledged the importance of the Moldova Support Platform, initiated by Germany, France and Romania and supported by G7 and EU partners.

The EU reiterated its commitment to support Moldova’s macroeconomic and financial stabilisation efforts in step with Moldova’s key reforms through the ongoing €150 million macro-financial assistance programme. The EU reassured of its readiness to further support Moldova in line with its financing needs, including through a proposal to increase the ongoing macro-financial assistance by up to €145 million.

The EU commended the strong commitment of the Moldovan government to continue delivering on its ambitious reform programme, despite the inherited systemic challenges and overlapping crises triggered by Russia’s unprovoked, unjustified military aggression against Ukraine.

In particular, the EU welcomed the adoption of the comprehensive justice sector strategy and the decisive steps in its implementation, including the launching of a pre-vetting procedure for new members of top-level judiciary and prosecution bodies. Moldova expressed its commitment to further advance in the implementation of this strategy and its action plan.

The EU called on Moldova to ensure that the reform of the Supreme Court of Justice and further vetting of top positions in the judiciary and prosecution are carried out in line with the recommendations of the Venice Commission and further underlined the importance of the quality and sustainability of reforms rather than their pace. Moldova committed to continue reforms in line with European standards and in consultation with international partners such as the EU and the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission.

The EU welcomed steps taken by Moldova in the fight against corruption, and reiterated its expectation that Moldova steps up efforts in this area, at all levels by taking decisive steps towards proactive and efficient investigations, and a credible track-record of prosecutions and convictions as a matter of highest priority. Parties welcomed the signing of the Working Arrangement on cooperation between European Public Prosecutor’s Office and General Prosecutor’s Office of Moldova, which will facilitate the exchange of strategic information between the two institutions.

The EU welcomed the commitment of Moldova to step up efforts of de-oligarchisation by eliminating the excessive influence of vested interests in economic, political and public life. In this regard, the EU underlined the importance of deep structural and regulatory reforms on justice, political party financing, electoral laws, media ownership, taxation, competition policy and others and to implement fully the Venice Commission/ODIHR recommendations in this area.

The Association Council stressed that transparent, inclusive and credible elections at central and local level remain key to strengthening democracy and the rule of law. The EU welcomed the review of the Electoral Code in an inclusive and participatory process, and its adoption addressing the shortcomings identified by Venice Commission/ODIHR recommendations.

Moldova expressed its commitment to undertake further steps in the reform of the media environment, in order to enhance transparency of media ownership and media financing, contributing to limiting the influence of oligarchs over public life. The EU welcomed the efforts to strengthen the capacity of the Audiovisual Council to play its role in ensuring citizens’ access to impartial information.

The Association Council stressed the importance of continued work on strategic communication and in building capacity to counter disinformation. The EU expressed readiness to step up its support in this regard. The EU called on Moldova to strengthen the protection of human rights and access to justice, particularly of persons belonging to vulnerable groups. Moldova committed to sustain its efforts to further enhance gender equality and women’s empowerment, and fight gender-based violence and discrimination against women.

The Association Council welcomed the continued effective fulfilment by Moldova 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 Fifth Visa Suspension Mechanism report, recalling the progress made in addressing the previous recommendations as well as the need for further efforts on visa policy, combating money laundering and organised crime.

The EU encouraged Moldova’s efforts against organised and serious international crime, and acknowledged the good cooperation on combatting trafficking in human beings, especially in the context of increased risks stemming from Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified aggression against Ukraine. The Association Council welcomed the work undertaken in the EU Support Hub for Internal Security and Border Management in Moldova.

Concerning the fight against money laundering the EU welcomed the adoption of a new national criminal asset recovery strategy but also stressed the need to strengthen efforts in this field.

The EU welcomed Moldova’s vocal position against Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and commended its solidarity with Ukrainian refugees. The EU appreciated  Moldova’s recent decision to grant temporary protection for people fleeing war in Ukraine in line with the EU relevant legislation. The EU also expressed appreciation for Moldova’s contribution to the EU-Ukraine Solidarity Lanes facilitating grain and fuel transit from Ukraine, as well as the transport of other goods between Moldova and Ukraine, and the EU.

The EU reiterated its commitment to supporting structural reforms, including through financial and technical assistance, and recalled that EU assistance remains strictly conditional upon the implementation of agreed reforms in line with European standards. In this vein, the EU stressed that strict conditionality will continue to be applied in the EU’s financial assistance that will continue to focus on bringing tangible and visible benefits for citizens and on supporting actors of change.

The Association Council recalled the importance of implementing the Flagship initiatives for Moldova under the Economic and Investment Plan for the Eastern Partnership that, in parallel and in full alignment with the Economic Recovery Plan, will translate policy priorities into tangible investment projects in Moldova with high impact and visibility.

The EU reiterated its unwavering support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Moldova. It affirmed its full commitment to facilitating a comprehensive, peaceful and sustainable settlement of the Transnistrian conflict, based on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Moldova within its internationally recognised borders, with a special status for the Transnistrian region. The EU encouraged continued dialogue between the Sides in view of further confidence-building and avoiding destabilisation.

The Association Council acknowledged the substantially increased cooperation in the field of Common Foreign and Security Policy and confirmed its commitment to continue the EU-Moldova high level political and security dialogue with a view to achieving gradual convergence. Parties confirmed their willingness to step up cooperation in countering hybrid threats, and to continue supporting efforts to strengthen cybersecurity. The EU and Moldova are committed to further enhance cooperation under the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) to strengthen Moldova’s overall resilience.

The EU recalled assistance measures for 2021-2022 under the European Peace Facility worth €47 million to support the modernisation of the Moldovan Armed Forces with non-lethal equipment and confirmed the EU’s readiness to maintain a substantial level of support in 2023. The EU welcomed Moldova’s continued participation in the EU Training Mission in Mali and its interest to expand its contribution to other EU CSDP missions.

The EU condemned Russia’s continued use of energy as a weapon to destabilise Moldova, and expressed appreciation for the constructive way in which the government has handled this crisis. Moldova thanked the EU for its solidarity and continued support to Moldova since the beginning of the energy crisis in October 2021.

The Association Council welcomed the continuation of the EU-Moldova high-level dialogue on energy and the Energy Rescue Scheme developed by the Energy Community Secretariat as a deliverable of the Moldova Support Platform.

Moldova appreciated the opportunity to participate in the EU Energy Platform and expressed its strong interest in making full use of the joint gas purchasing mechanism designed by the EU to ensure security of supply and access to affordable energy.

The EU commended Moldova’s efforts to increase its energy security by ensuring alternative supplies and reducing consumption in the short term and by developing domestic electricity and heat production capacity, including through the capitalisation upon and renewables production potential in the medium term. The EU recalled the importance of strengthening competition and transparency in the energy sector and the completion of the energy sector reform with full respect of the Energy Community acquis. Moldova thanked the EU for its valuable support in development of the Energy Efficiency Fund in residential buildings and asked for further cooperation aimed at increasing energy efficiency of the country.

The Association Council welcomed Moldova’s association to the EU LIFE programme in 2022. While understanding the challenges of this winter season, the EU encouraged Moldova to align its environmental and climate policy with the objectives of the European Green Deal to enable Moldova’s green transition while increasing Moldova’s energy security and linking Moldova’s economy more closely with the EU’s sustainable value chains. Moldova reiterated its interest to establish an EU-Moldova high-level dialogue on the Green Deal.

The Association Council underlined the importance of further deepening sectoral cooperation and Moldova’s integration in the EU Single Market on the basis of enhanced implementation of the EU-Moldova DCFTA. To this end, parties expressed readiness to work on preparing a Priority Action Plan, in order to use the full potential of the AA/DCFTA and to focus efforts on the implementation of its key areas.

Moldova appreciated the EU’s support in mitigating the negative impact of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, by temporarily liberalising tariff rate quotas for seven agricultural products under the DCFTA and by extending the EU-Moldova Agreement on the Liberalisation of Road Freight Transport until 30 June 2024, allowing Moldova to make full use of alternative export routes in order to support its economy. The EU and Moldova agreed to further discuss Moldova’s request for liberalisation of tariff rate quotas. The EU welcomed Moldova’s association in the work of the Transport Community Treaty.

The EU underlined its commitment to explore possibilities for reducing roaming charges between the EU and Moldova.

The EU welcomed Moldova’s accession to the EU Customs and Fiscalis programmes and expressed support to Moldova’s efforts towards the modernisation of its payment system to bring it closer to EU standards and to the fulfilment of all the conditions for integration into the Single Euro Payments Area.

The Association Council welcomed the signature of the EU4Health programme 2021-2027 in the margins of the Association Council, allowing Moldova to access EU financial support in the health area, in particular in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and to reinforce crisis preparedness. Moldova expressed interest to join the EU mechanism for Joint Procurement of Medical Countermeasures.

Moldova underlined its commitment to advance on reforming the domestic labour and social markets, and on further bringing the labour inspections system in line with ILO standards. The EU took note of Moldova’s intention to commit to the principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights and to join the Employment and Social Innovation strand of the European Social Fund Plus.

The Association Council confirmed the commitment to further strengthening the Eastern Partnership taking into account to the new status of Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine and to the new regional context. The Association Council underlined that the Eastern Partnership needs to remain flexible and tailored to the needs of partner countries, ensuring complementarity with the enlargement process. Moldova highlighted the importance of transfer of Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine under the pre-accession financial instruments of the EU not later than the start of the next EU multiannual financial cycle.

The Association Council acknowledged the continued challenging geopolitical environment and looked forward to the next Summit of the European Political Community to be held in Moldova in June 2023.

The Association Council was chaired by the Prime Minister of the Republic of Moldova, Ms Natalia Gavriliţa. The High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Mr Josep Borrell led the European Union delegation. The Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, Mr Olivér Várhelyi also participated in the meeting.