BRUSSELS -- The European Commission has said it is cutting its financial assistance to Moldova by 20 million euros ($22.7 million) per year for both 2017 and 2018 amid concerns about the rule of law and the democratic backsliding of the country.
The financial assistance earmarked by the European Union for the two years amounted initially to a total of 140 million euros ($158 million).
Furthermore, EU Neighborhood Commissioner Johannes Hahn told RFE/RL the 100 million-euro macrofinancial assistance (MFA) program for the country had now been suspended until further notice after being initially frozen temporarily in July.
The decisions come one day after the European Parliament overwhelmingly passed a nonbinding resolution highly critical of Moldova, saying it has become a "state captured by oligarchic interests" that exert their influence over most parts of Moldova's society.
"It's also a question of our own credibility," Hahn said, adding, "if we pursue European standards and if all this is not respected or [worse], it's even done the opposite way, of course we have to react. Otherwise people would believe we are in a way a lame duck" a reference to the current outgoing European Commission, whose term expires next year.
Hahn said the decisions were meant to penalize the government rather than ordinary Moldovans.
”It's important to understand this is not something which is against the [Moldovan] citizens, quite the opposite; the programs which are still in place are targeted and aiming to support the interests of citizens, for instance to invest in certain infrastructure measures, waste-treatment [stations] where there's clearly a benefit for ordinary citizens.”
Both the suspension of the MFA and the cutting of direct support could be reversed, Hahn said, if authorities address EU concerns regarding issues such as the "very dubious" voiding of mayoral elections in the capital which had been won by an anticorruption candidate, or the disappearance in 2014 of an estimated $1 billion from Moldova's banks -- a huge fraud known as "the robbery of the century" in Moldova -- one of the poorest countries in Europe.
Addressing concerns that the EU could cancel the visa-free traveling regime to the Schengen zone, which Moldovans have been enjoying since 2014, Hahn said the issue is not being "currently discussed."
However, he warned that Moldova “is very proactively advertising Moldovan citizenship, for instance in the [Persian] Gulf region for economic reasons,” and cautioned that the 28-member bloc doesn't have "any evidence of who is getting Moldovan citizenship."