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EU Presses Moldova On Judicial Reform, Fighting Corruption

BRUSSELS -- The European Union is urging Moldova to press ahead with judicial reforms and undertake a "more decisive fight against corruption," according to a draft text seen by RFE/RL.

The draft expresses EU concerns over the prosecution of lawyers, judges, and political opponents and the "selective use" of law enforcement and justice proceedings which, it says, undermines the "public's respect and faith in the judicial system."

The draft by the EU Foreign Affairs Council will be presented to the bloc's foreign ministers for approval on February 26.

The remarks reflect longstanding demands by the EU for Chisinau to make substantial reforms to its judicial system and to crack down on corruption in what is one of Europe's poorest countries.

In October 2017, the EU said it would not transfer a final tranche of loans worth 28 million euros ($35 million) to support a revamp of the justice system, saying the authorities had not fulfilled the bloc’s conditions for receiving the money.

The disbursement of other EU funding, including a 100 million euro ($118 million) microfinancial-aid package, has also been delayed.

EU sources familiar with the matter told RFE/RL that the first payment in that funding package could be made in April, and that it would depend on Moldova's judicial, media, and electoral reforms.

The draft does not state specifics, but says that "the council recalls that EU assistance to the Republic of Moldova is based on strict conditionality, and is linked to satisfactory progress in reforms."

The reluctance to commit more funds to Chisinau is also linked to what the EU regards as the lack of progress of the investigation into a 2015 bank fraud that resulted in the disappearance of up to $1 billion from the country.

The draft states that the fraud should be “subject to a thorough, impartial and comprehensive investigation and prosecution, with a view to recovering the misappropriated funds and to bringing all those responsible to justice, irrespective of any political affiliations.”

Controversial Electoral Reform

The EU draft text also includes criticism of a bill introducing a mixed electoral system that was approved by lawmakers and signed into law by President Igor Dodon in July 2017 despite mass protests in Chisinau and criticism from the EU and the United States.

The law provides for half of the lawmakers to be elected on party lists and the other half in individual constituencies.

Critics say the changes favor Moldova’s two largest political parties -- the ruling pro-Western Democratic Party and the opposition Russia-friendly Socialists. They say the Democratic Party initiated the changes to improve its chances in 2018 parliamentary elections amid declining popularity.

The draft text underlines that "the consequences of the new electoral law system should be thoroughly and closely monitored during the electoral process, including during the campaign, on election day, and the period thereafter, with respect to their impact on democracy in general and on the multi-party system in particular."

It said that with the law "majoritarian candidates may be influenced by businesspeople or other actors who follow their own separate interests."

Moldova is not in the EU, but an Association Agreement between the bloc and Chisinau, signed in 2014, fully came into force in July 2016.

The country has been marred by widespread corruption and high migration, as well as the frozen conflict with the Moscow-backed breakaway region of Transdniester.

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    Rikard Jozwiak

    Rikard Jozwiak is the Europe editor for RFE/RL in Prague, focusing on coverage of the European Union and NATO. He previously worked as RFE/RL’s Brussels correspondent, covering numerous international summits, European elections, and international court rulings. He has reported from most European capitals, as well as Central Asia.

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