Dear President Metsola, Dear Roberta,
Honorable members of the European Parliament,
I feel here among the true friends of Moldova, in the circle of the family of our people. Allow me, above all, to thank you on behalf of all Moldovans for your constant, unwavering support of Moldova and its European future, at good times and at bad times.
Your support has been vital in keeping Moldova on its democratic path and supporting the aspirations of our people to live in peace and prosperity and to decide on our own future.
Thank you for this opportunity to address you at a time when our region – and the world – is going through its most difficult period in a long time.
After the end of the Cold War, expectations were high among our newly independent states for a new beginning. A new beginning of peace and development, which would relegate to distant past unabashed land grabs and geopolitical conquests by larger states.
We all hoped that utter disrespect for national borders and the way of life chosen by newly independent states would not recur.
We expected that buffer zones and spheres of influence would no longer guide relations between neighbors.
Above all, we expected that states would be treated as peoples with their own aspirations, and that their will and voice would be heard and respected.
Russia’s war against Ukraine seeks to put an end to these hopes and sends us all a century back in history.
This war was caused precisely by geopolitical designs to reshape the region, to divide it into spheres of influence, to seize territory.
Russia has attacked a neighboring state, just as big powers did in the past, and has unleashed an unimaginable tragedy on the Ukrainian people and the entire European continent.
Russia’s war against Ukraine was designed to turn Ukraine into something that nobody would want to be – a geopolitical annex of a more powerful neighbor.
The Baltic states, the Bulgarians, the Hungarians, the Poles, the Romanians, the Czechs, the Slovaks, and the Germans, free states today, remember vividly and all too well what this means. We had hoped and expected that those times would never return. Yet, they did. We all see with our own eyes the tragedies of women, men, children and elderly who lost their homes and their loved ones.
We all saw crimes against Ukrainians, who did no wrong to anyone. Moldova feels deeply the pain and the tragedy that Ukraine is going through. In the early morning of February 24, Moldova woke up to a new grim reality. Like many in our country, I could hear the bombs falling over Odessa from my office. But the shock, agony and disbelief of the war was met by our citizens with kindness, generosity and compassion. In a matter of a few hours, our authorities started receiving tens of thousands of refugees fleeing the brutality of the war. Only in a few weeks, our population of 2.6 million people increased by 4%. Almost half a million Ukrainians crossed our border, and around 90,000 people are still with us, hosted by my big-hearted fellow citizens. Half of the refugees today are children. And this constitutes 10% of the total number of children in the country. We are overwhelmed, but determined to do our best to help those in need. We will continue to provide humanitarian support to Ukraine, and we will continue to stand by the Ukrainian people – our neighbors, our friends, our partners.
We have immediately condemned Russia’s war against Ukraine. We support the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine as we always did. Crimea is Ukraine. Donbas is Ukraine. Kyiv is Ukraine. And they will always be. This war has no justification, and it must be stopped immediately.
In the last three decades, Moldova has had many achievements of which we can be proud. Throughout our independent history, Moldova has been and remains a democratic country, with free and competitive elections. Freely expressed will and dignity of our people is a fundamental value which is at the foundation of our state. Our people have never allowed their freely expressed will to be taken away from them. Those who tried were always met with failure. Moldova today is guided and run by its people, and they have consistently stopped politicians who wanted to impose their ill designs on the country. The freedom and the dignity of our people makes us a country with a strong European identity which we deeply value.
And our democracy and the freedom of speech are becoming stronger. This year, Reporters Without Borders rank Moldova 40th out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index. That is 49 positions better than the last year. They cite changes initiated by the government and "improvements in the situation for journalists". We are working on consolidating democratic processes. We are taking serious steps to make sure that all political parties and their election campaigns are financed legally and transparently. We are working on countering disinformation and building a strong and resilient civil society and mass media.
The people of Moldova gave us a strong mandate to reform the country and bring it closer to the European Union. Today, like never before, the government’s commitment to reforming institutions is unquestionable and profound. We are well on course towards reforming justice, a too long overdue process. Courts are becoming cleaner, prosecution more professional and impartial. We have eliminated a big number of corruption schemes through which the state and the people have been robbed.
But building independent, strong institutions takes time. I am asking for your help in tackling the big corruption. I am asking you to sanction the corrupt politicians who captured institutions in the past, stole significant amounts of public money and have moved abroad, investing the stolen money including in countries with consolidated democracies. I am asking you to help us recover the stolen money and bring the corrupt fugitives to justice. The EU states and institutions, the international community, should do more to reject the dirty money, especially the dirty money coming from fragile democracies.
History and our own transition experience has taught us that the sustainability of the democratic achievements is closely linked to economic development. A major challenge for us is to create economic opportunities for everyone at home, to convince the young people that it’s worth trying to build a future in Moldova. Over the past nine months, the Government and the Parliament have been working together to improve the business environment. We are working with the business community inside and outside of Moldova to demonstrate that Moldova is changing and becoming a better place for one to build his or her future. We have increased support to SMEs and launched dedicated programs for young entrepreneurs.
With your help, we started building up our energy security and resilience. We embarked on the reform of our security sector. We are strengthening our border management capacity. We are taking steps to improve the efficiency of public spending, to improve coverage and targeting of the social assistance programs, and to eliminate undeclared work. We are taking measures to improve access to quality education and health services.
However, despite our achievements, we have been hit hard by a succession of crises culminating with the war against Ukraine. The country’s resources are overstretched. The social-economic situation is difficult. The dramatic increase in the energy prices is the main reason for a historical surge in inflation - 27%. The measures that we are taking to build energy security will show results only in a few years. Investments have practically stopped because of the war at our border. Supply chains have been interrupted. Even though 67% of our trade is with the European Union, an important part was with Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. Financing the shortfall in revenue is no simple task.
The Transnistrian conflict is another challenge that the country faces. We remain committed to a peaceful, political resolution of the Transnistrian conflict, fully preserving Moldova’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within our internationally recognized borders. Recent tensions inside the Transnistrian region, however, have increased concerns over potential destabilization. The Moldovan government works hard to keep the situation stable and peaceful by pursuing a diplomatic track of conflict resolution. And we will continue to do so, for the sake of our citizens on both banks of the Nistru River, who do not want war or destabilization. We have a vision for peaceful reintegration of our country, which will guide our efforts to keep the situation stable. We believe, today, there is no immediate threat of Moldova being dragged into the war.
Moldova is also a neutral country by Constitution, a provision still backed by a majority of our citizens, which we respect. However, to be really neutral, we have continuously called for the withdrawal of Russian troops from our territory, because their presence in the Transnistrian region fundamentally violates our neutrality and our independence.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Despite the long list of overlapping challenges that I just talked about, Moldova is strongly determined to stay part of the free world. We are part of Europe. EU’s values are our values – respect for human life and the pursuit of everyones’ dreams in dignity and peace, as human beings.
I ask you to increase the EU’s support for Moldova – for the sake of Moldovans who want to preserve their democracy and freedom, but also for the sake of Europe - to have a stable, predictable, and reliable partner and contributor to peace in its eastern neighborhood. At the same time, our independence, peaceful development, economic and political reforms must have an anchor, and this anchor is a clear perspective of EU accession, the status of a candidate country. In the middle of the dramatic events, myself, the Prime-Minister, and the Speaker of the Parliament signed on the 3rd of March the application for EU membership. We made the choice inspired by the aspirations of our people. We chose EU accession as a path towards freedom, prosperity and peace. A path that will require a lot of work, coordination and good will, but one that is worth every step. On May 12, we submitted the completed comprehensive assessment which will provide the basis for the European Commission to issue its opinion on Moldova’s candidate status. This was a significant collective effort on behalf of our small civil service, parliament, civil society, and our diaspora abroad. We all worked hard because, as a country, we believe in the EU, in its values, and in its bright future.
We are aware that political decisions at the EU level have to be made. We are also aware that these are not easy decisions. But granting Moldova candidate status is the right decision.
First, I want to say this – we belong in the European Union. We are a European country, with a European language, a European history, and a European political system. At least ⅓ of us are already EU citizens. Our big diaspora is among you. You have likely met us. We live side by side with you, we pay taxes and contribute our share to the common good. We come from a diverse society, where different cultures have coexisted in peace and harmony for centuries, preferring compromise to confrontation. In this, we are Europeans. Moldova’s democracy is gradually strengthening. We are fully committed to advancing reforms, ensuring rule of law and strengthening an independent and corruption-free justice system. Our economy and trade is increasingly connected and integrated into the European market. The EU is our main trading, and investment partner. Very important, for us, the EU is a peace project. The waves of EU integration transformed Europe from a continent of war to a continent of peace. It embodies the successful struggle for peace and reconciliation, for democracy and human rights. We are not naive to believe that EU accession can take place overnight. We understand that the accession process is long and complicated. And we don’t look for shortcuts. We deem accession as based on meritocracy and achieved results, and not on geographic sequence. We fully respect the meritocratic principle.
At the same time, we would like to see pragmatism and strategic political flexibility on behalf of the EU member states. A prospect of accession would send to Moldovan citizens a strong signal that the EU stands by us. For us the EU membership status is the light at the end of the tunnel in these very difficult and uncertain times - a clear target and a strong political message to mobilize everyone – society, business community and authorities, around the European integration process. We need a political decision that will be for Moldova the lighthouse in these terrible storms, guiding our country for years ahead.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Here, at the European Parliament, I know I am speaking to people who are already convinced. This house is the consciousness of the European peoples. It is the institution that represents the peoples of Europe. It provides a vision for Europe, it is driving Europe. And it is standing by us. I am very grateful for your support.
It is just days ago, that YOU, Members of the European Parliament, our friends and partners, have passed a resolution urging the EU to grant Moldova a candidate status. Thank you for this on behalf of all Moldovans. Thank you for recognizing our European choice and our hard work in implementing reforms, our constant fight for democracy. We are asking for nothing more than to live in peace, that our voices be heard and taken into account and to be guided in our affairs by the will of our people. Defending these values with your help, we will be able to build a prosperous future for our citizens.
I ask you to become Moldova’s Ambassadors in your countries and call on policy-makers to support Moldova in its path to stay part of the free world by joining the world’s most successful peace project. I urge you to hear this strong message from the Moldovan people – the European Union should, once again, show that it is the world’s most successful union for advancing peace, prosperity and democracy. The EU has created the longest period of peace in Europe’s history, and it can do so again. Extend this anchor of peace once again to states seeking safe harbor, which truly merit and believe in this. Thank you.