I first visited Moldova as Foreign Minister only two weeks after the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
After meeting with you, Nicu, in Chișinău, I went to Palanca, a border crossing between Moldova and Ukraine. It was still very cold. Thousands of Ukrainians, mostly mothers with their kids, with their cars, with their everyday belongings, toys and winter clothes, were coming across the border.
Some of them arrived not in cars, but on foot, carrying no more than a small bag. We went to a nearby refugee camp, and I couldn’t believe what I saw there. Because within eight hours, they told me, your government, your country, had set up a refugee camp directly at the border. With a working internet connection in the tents. And when I went to the food bank, somebody offered me some soup. I asked, like you normally ask questions as a Foreign Minister: “So you are a cook, where are you from?” And I thought they came from some NGO or charity organisation. But the person handing over the soup to me said: “No. I normally work at the Ministry of Internal Affairs.”
And I think this showed everything: when your partners and friends, when Ukrainians needed you, everybody in your country showed up, even from the ministries, to, among other things, work in a refugee camp.
I’m telling you this because the compassion shown by Moldovans was overwhelming. Overwhelming in a situation when you yourself were faced with the biggest fear of destabilisation or maybe even an invasion.
You provided Ukrainians with shelter and safety; you opened up your homes, your hearts, your schools to them.
Moldova is one of the front lines in the defence of freedom and democracy. This is why it was so important for me and for my colleagues, Catherine, but also many other Foreign Ministers, to be here today in person, especially at a time when crisis diplomacy after Hamas’s brutal terror against Israel has become more important than ever.
We are here to show that we stand shoulder to shoulder with Moldova and Ukraine.
When Russia attacked Ukraine, Moldova already knew what Russia was capable of: weaponising energy, spreading disinformation and destabilising neighbouring countries.
All of us were aware at the time that the shockwaves of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine could threaten the stability and security of Moldova. Our joint response was the Moldova Support Platform, which came into life after exactly 40 days of Russia’s war, at a meeting in Berlin in April of last year. Together, we set out to build a bridge of solidarity from European partners to Moldova.
Today is the 601st day of Russia’s full-scale invasion. Russia is continuing its abhorrent aggression. The good news in this grim reality is: Moldova has so far weathered the storm with the help of its friends.
This platform, as my colleague has described already, has been a success story. Our Energy Vulnerability Reduction Fund helped ease the burden of skyrocketing gas prices for Moldovans. The platform helped to shelter, protect and assist refugees and Moldovan families. And since we Foreign Ministers set up this format one and a half years ago, many of our government colleagues have joined in the effort. Just a few days ago, the German Minister of Food and Agriculture was here to discuss our agricultural partnership. And the list goes on and on.
Moldova is on a good way – and chiefly so thanks to your resilience, determination and creativity – like Ministry of Internal Affairs staff handing out sweets.
Last year, Moldova faced a record inflation rate of 30%. Today, inflation is well below 10%.
Last year, your country was confronted with a massive disinformation campaign directed by Russia, targeting your government. Today, we are working together to tackle disinformation and hybrid threats through the Moldovan Disinformation Centre as well as the EU Partnership Mission.
And I must say again: this is so successful because your government is so committed. And personally I would also like to say: it is especially because your president, Maia Sandu, is so committed to all of these efforts.
You are continuing on your democratic reform path. You are a candidate country for joining the European Union. You have good reason to believe that this journey to the EU will continue. I’m impressed with the work done so far. Please keep that momentum up and continue your efforts, for example in the fight against corruption.
Moldova’s accession to the EU is a geopolitical task. But the process leading there is merit-based. That’s why we are keeping up our support for the reform efforts. We are also supporting you financially, as my dear friend and colleague Catherine has already said. Germany is not only together with France cooperating with you in the energy sector, but our support to Moldova will continue in 2024, with a total of 95 million euro.
I’m glad that our fourth conference, dear Nicu, is taking place in Chișinău today. This shows that Moldova is taking ownership of this platform. With the need for emergency assistance subsiding, the question before us now is: how can we move to a more long-term and strategic form of cooperation?
We discussed it this morning. We propose to turn our common support platform into a permanent Moldova Partnership Platform. Our ministerial conference could become an annual event, with our high-level civil servants steering the work of the Partnership Platform. Also, with regard to the important work of the working groups, we are thinking today about how to restructure them and tailor them to your needs on your way towards the European Union.
What I do know is this: the bridge of solidarity that we built together last year is standing; it is stronger and more solid than ever, and that is how it will remain.
Because it leads to our common European future.
Thank you very much.