Pirkka Tapiola, Head of the European Union Delegation to Moldova: “The country passed through periods of political instability and crisis. This has forced us also to look at the situation with more prudence”

Anastasia Nani
2017-06-19 14:18:00
Pirkka Tapiola, ambasadorul UE în Republica Moldova. Foto: CIJM

Mr. Ambassador, we are witnessing lately a series of detentions and arrests on corruption offenses involving political players, mostly from a particular camp. How honest are the law enforcement institutions when suggesting that this would be a real fight against corruption, not a pretended one?

For the EU, the fight against corruption at all levels and proper implementation of the anti-corruption laws is crucial. It is not my role, however, to comment on ongoing investigations. I expect the authorities will timely inform the citizens about the outcome of those arrests. All the corruption cases, and especially those politically sensitive, should be tried in the most transparent manner possible.

Some of these detentions [on corruption cases] took place after European funds were found to be embezzled. Has the EU Delegation held any information about these cases before the prosecutors intervened?

Rest assured it is our priority to protect the financial interests of the European Union and ensure that European tax payers' money is spent according to transparent procedures and reaches the intended beneficiaries. The European Union through its European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) is well equipped to detect, investigate and work towards stopping fraud involving European Union funds. In addition, within the National Anti-Corruption Centre there is a newly created focal contact point for the cooperation with OLAF, which has the mandate to closely coordinate, exchange information and provide investigative assistance.

What measures should be taken to prevent such situations?

Corruption needs to be tackled at various levels: you need anticorruption laws, you need effective anticorruption institutions to put these laws into practice, you need transparency in how public funds are spent, and, last but not least, you need better awareness among citizens of what corruption is and how it slowly destroys society and economy. The EU is a staunch supporter of fight against corruption in the Republic of Moldova at all these levels. We have urged the authorities to adopt the new National Anti-Corruption Strategy and we welcome the recent adoption of this strategy. We provide support to the relevant institutions and organisations to enhance fight against corruption and the respect of the rule of law and human rights, to strengthen their investigatory capacities, to improve cooperation between relevant agencies, to conduct professional integrity assessments of public institutions and to better combat financial crimes. In parallel, we are supporting the reform of public finance management to increase transparency and efficiency of public spending and make public institutions more accountable to people. Here, public procurement is an area which is often prone to corruption; we are working with the authorities on implementing the new National Reform Strategy on Public Procurement to ensure public procurement in the Republic of Moldova is more efficient, transparent and less exposed to abuse.

To what extent could the Republic of Moldova suffer after the revealing of such cases?

Disclosing of such cases is not a problem as such – it is actually a positive development; the main issue is how these cases are dealt with in terms of investigations, prosecutions and convictions, and what lessons are learnt to prevent them from happening in the future. It is important for the Moldovan authorities to build public trust for the way public money is used. As regards EU funds, if funds are found to be misused, the money will be clawed back and those responsible prosecuted.

Law enforcement and judiciary have just undergone ample reform, supported by the development partners of the Republic of Moldova. Do you think these structures are ready to act independently and come out of the influence of politics?

Indeed, the new policy framework you refer to should focus on the integrity of justice sector actors. Clear benchmarks should be put in place in order to measure the independence of the judiciary. The Moldovan authorities have all our support to make it possible.

In recent months, there have been some resounding convictions - the case of Vlad Filat and that of Veaceslav Platon. The trials were held in camera. How do EU structures view these files?

We are closely following these cases. With EU member states we addressed the issue of transparency in a joint statement last December, in which we stressed the importance of public court hearings. Holding proceedings behind closed doors and obstructing access to court buildings for media and observers deprive citizens of the possibility to follow trials. Such practices furthermore raise concerns regarding the fairness of the process.

Andrian Candu and Pirkka Tapiola. Foto: CIJM

The Democratic Party insists on changing the electoral system, an initiative criticized by independent experts. It happens during the time of mass accession to the Democratic faction in Parliament. To what extent do you think the electoral system proposed by PD could bring more honest people to Parliament?

It is not up to the EU to tell the Republic of Moldova which specific electoral system could have the most beneficial effect on the functioning of the Parliament. At the same time, we have been consistently emphasising that any change to the electoral system should further strengthen democracy. Therefore, it should be based on a broad consensus amongst political forces, including non-parliamentary opposition, following genuine consultation of civil society. Last but not least, it should fully adhere to the opinion of the Venice Commission.

As a general, analytic remark, to answer directly your question, I would say that the electoral system in itself does not make people more or less honest – the electoral system is just an instrument to translate popular vote into seats in the Parliament. What really matters is the legal framework that could help to identify conflicts of interests and cases of corruption, and a rule of law system that could implement such a regulation with neutrality and effectiveness. Transparent funding of political parties will also contribute to that matter. Furthermore, the channels of communication with society that could ensure transparency and accountability of parties and politicians, should be maintained.

On the one hand, independent journalists are making it harder, and on the other exponents of politics have concentrated in their hands several press institutions. In addition, websites that spread false and manipulative information are getting more and more. The 2016 elections have shown how dangerous this can be. What solutions do you see for quality and independent journalism in the Republic of Moldova?

Independent, quality media are a cornerstone of a democratic society and this is why we are committed to supporting them. Just to give one concrete example, together with the Council of Europe we are taking actions to help bring your laws on freedom of expression and media pluralism in line with the Council of Europe standards, improve the independence, transparency and efficiency of public service broadcasters and enhance their professionalism in covering political and social issues.

How do you see the current state of civil society in the Republic of Moldova?

The engagement with the civil society is among the fundamental principles of the EU, this means not only supporting the civil society organisations, but also involving them in all strategic and legislative drafting processes. We are happy to see a smooth implementation by the government of the 2% regulation, as a means for ensuring the civil society organisations financial sustainability. I can give you other good examples of cooperation with civil society in the country, such as the functioning of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum, the appointment of the civil society in drafting the Justice Sector Reform Strategy. However, there are still serious issues that deserve special attention. The drafting process of the National Integrity and Anticorruption Strategy for 2017-2020 showed that there is a need for clarifying the role of civil society in engaging in political activities as well as debates on public policy. While political parties seek power, the civil society brings the interest of the public. It is important for the authorities to have a constant dialogue with civil society, but also with professional and sectoral organisations. Cooperation is important and by providing critical assessments and recommendations, the civil society exercise a watchdog function that is crucial for democracy. This also means that civil society needs to be able to organise themselves and present their views without fear of retribution. I have seen the declaration of several NGOs in the Republic of Moldova of March 3, 2017, on the worsening environment for civil society organisations, and the Declaration of 19 May. I would encourage the Government to adhere to the Council of Europe standards of legal status of civil society organisations. I hope the draft of the new Law on non-commercial organisations would be adopted at the earliest opportunity. We, as the EU, will continue to encourage an all-inclusive dialogue between the government and the whole spectrum of civil society organisations.

Mr. ambassador, from the point of view of a diplomat, how can the expulsion of the five Russian diplomats be interpreted? To what consequences should the Republic of Moldova expect?

The decision taken by the Moldovan authorities, to expel five Russian diplomats, is a bilateral issue between the Republic of Moldova and Russia. What I can say is that we hope that diplomatic channels between the two countries will be used in order to diffuse tensions.

Mr. Tapiola, your mandate in the Republic of Moldova comes to an end. Could you please compare the situation you found the country in and the current state of affairs?

When I took over as EU Ambassador in Chisinau, the country was perceived as a frontrunner in the Eastern Partnership. The Republic of Moldova received Visa Liberalisation – the first one in the Eastern Partnership. The Association Agreement was signed in 2014 and started to be applied on a provisional basis until 2016 when it fully entered into force, together with the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement. I would say that in the past few years the country advanced in its cooperation with the EU, trade relations have increased tremendously - 64% of Moldovan exports go now to the EU market due to the DCFTA. Unfortunately the country passed through periods of political instability and crisis – I refer here to the stolen 1 bn USD and the subsequent crisis in the banking system and at political level. This has forced us also to look at the situation with more prudence and circumspection. Part of the previous trust was shaken but is gradually being restored after political stability was achieved and a Roadmap of priority reforms for the implementation of the AA was put into place. There was progress in many areas, we wish more could have been done, a lot of legislative commitments were complied with. However, it is important that these are implemented fully in practice and in an efficient manner, so that the benefits of the cooperation with the EU to be felt at the level of all citizens, who are our main partners here. There are still areas of improvement and reform, the fight against corruption is extremely important, the consolidation of the rule of law, independence of the judiciary, freedom and pluralism of the media remain at the core of our attention and are essential for taking the country forward towards a fully functional democracy. We continue to offer considerable support for all these reforms, with expertise, financial – and here we have turned more towards investing directly in infrastructure and projects that directly improve the lives of the people and are turning farther away from budgetary support. What is still lacking is the implementation of a real transformation. There is still a way to go until building Europe at home.

Anastasia Nani
2017-06-19 14:18:00