President of Romania

Speech made to the Assembly

Thursday, 27 January 2011

said that it was a great honour to address the Parliamentary Assembly. He and Romania thought the Council of Europe important, and he wanted to stress that fact at a time when others were considering its future. The Council of Europe had created a space where fundamental rights and liberties were respected and where people could achieve their spiritual, cultural and civic aspirations. Respect for the values promoted and defended by the Council of Europe – human rights, democracy and the rule of law – allowed for the development of free societies where members could openly express their identity and hope for a better life.

Romania was a solid democracy under the rule of law and it owed a lot to the Council of Europe which had monitored Romania’s development over many years. The Council of Europe had had a role in shaping Romanian institutions and laws. The Council of Europe should continue this work with new states.

Over the previous 20 years, the world had changed and Europe had changed. New states had appeared and there had been progress in the process of unifying the continent. New challenges and risks had emerged. The continent’s organisations – the EU, NATO and OSCE – had taken on new goals and new missions. These developments were not always as harmonious as they might be: some institutions’ remits overlapped even competitively and there were gaps. Any reform of the Council of Europe ought to take into account its natural advantages: the participation of all European states and a straightforward legal framework. The Turkish Chairman of the Council of Ministers would make an important contribution to reform.

The Council of Europe needed the support of the citizens of Europe, 800 million of them. The European Court of Human Rights had to be more efficient. The Council of Europe needed to tackle the real, every-day problems faced by Europeans.

One urgent phenomenon was migration, an issue that required special attention. Migration might lead to two types of problems: those for the host country and those for the migrants. It was wrong to blame migrants for the economic and social problems of Europe. He urged the Council of Europe to monitor tensions caused by migration. Early warning could lead to early action to defuse tension.

National minorities also needed better protection, and monitoring by the Council of Europe. Many parts of Europe were not yet up to standard in this area. Romania itself had 20 resident minority communities and he well understood these peoples’ need to preserve their identity. Romania, having had the support of the Council of Europe, was a good example of inter-ethnic reconciliation and harmony.

Romania’s relations with Hungary illustrated this point. From mutual suspicion in the early 1990s, Romania and Hungary had now agreed a strategic partnership and worked well together at a governmental level. The recent Hungarian presidency of the EU had been well and fairly conducted. He hoped that Romania would meet the timescale for accession to the Schengen area in 2011.

The Romanian system to protect national minorities was an instrumental part of Romanian society. There was equal treatment and support for all citizens. Its citizens’ cultural, ethnic, religious and linguistic diversity was enriching. The constitution stipulated that people belonging to the national minorities in Romania enjoyed the right to be represented in parliament, to express themselves in their own tongue in court, and to be educated in their mother tongue – now at all levels of the education system. A Hungarian minority was part of the current governing coalition and this was having a positive impact on Romanian society. The representatives of each national minority had the right to set up a structure similar to a political party to make its voice heard.

The Roma were citizens of Romania, a particular state and one with obligations to protect their status. They were also citizens of Europe, which meant that all Europe should treat the Roma equally; last, they were often an ethnic minority in another state, unable to benefit from the protection of their homeland – this put a special duty of protection of the host state. The traditions of the Roma community ought to be protected, not suppressed. The lifestyle of nomad Roma ought not to be altered in a brutal, restrictive way. Instead, there ought to be regional strategies to protect their rights. The European Union, the Council of Europe and OSCE could play an important role in this: placing responsibility on the countries of residence alone would not work.

He noted that his speech coincided with International Holocaust Commemoration Day. Sixty-six years ago, the largest Nazi extermination camp at Auschwitz had been liberated by Soviet troops, thus ending the atrocities that had shattered humankind’s consciousness. Children, women and men had been tortured and exterminated, simply because they were different. Such a monstrosity should never happen again. That was why it was important to fight for fellow human beings irrespective of ethnicity, religion, culture or language. The Council of Europe had the mechanisms to help that fight in humankind’s defence. Romania acknowledged its responsibility to history and had held a series of events to commemorate the Holocaust.

One of the Assembly’s agenda items that part-session had been about the situation in the Balkans. Several leaders in the region had addressed the positive developments in these countries, assisted by the process of European integration. The European Union had granted Montenegro accession status and had liberalised the visa regime for Albania and for Bosnia and Herzegovina. Croatia and Serbia had also shown their political will in fighting corruption.

For Romania, the democratisation of its neighbours was a matter of national security. Although the signs of inter-ethnic reconciliation were ever stronger, the memory of the Balkan wars and the suffering they had caused were still very much alive. These tragedies originated in discrimination on ethnic and religious grounds. He wanted better integration of the Balkan states, within the European Union and the Council of Europe.

He had great expectations for these young democracies. He urged the Council of Europe to continue its process of monitoring progress. It was, for example, vital in the protection of minorities.

Romania wanted to see the rights of Romanians respected abroad by co-operating with the states of origin, on the basis of European and international law. Bilateral co-operation was also in Romania’s interest, to ensure stability and security in neighbouring countries.

Romania would make efforts to capitalise on the political, economic, social and cultural potential of the representative figures in Romanian communities abroad, not by seeking to remove them from their country of citizenship, but by encouraging them to contribute to good relations between Romania and the states where they were born and now lived.

He expressed his condolences on behalf of the Romanian people to the families of the victims of the dreadful terrorist attack on Moscow. Romania condemned the attack, on innocent people, and he reasserted its commitment to fighting terrorism.


Thank you very much, Mr Băsescu, for your most interesting address. Members of the Assembly have expressed a wish to put questions to you.

I remind them that questions must be limited to 30 seconds and no more. Colleagues should ask questions and not make speeches.

The first question is by Mr Vareikis, on behalf of the Group of the European People’s Party.

Mr VAREIKIS (Lithuania)

You talked in your speech, Mr President, about national minorities in Romania and Romanians who live outside the country. As a former rapporteur on Moldova, I want to ask you about the issue of so-called passportisation, or issuing Romanian citizenship to Moldovans. The numbers cited by various sources in this regard differ, sometimes by up to 10 times. What is your country’s long-term policy on that issue?

Mr Băsescu, President of Romania (interpretation)

said that Romania had a principled approach to the quality of citizenship which now entitled citizens and their relatives to regain citizenship in a manner which had not been previously possible. This applied to people living in the USA, France, Germany or any other country, and represented a marked departure from the communist era in which, if you left Romania, you lost your citizenship. Between 1990 and 2010, 170 000 people had re-acquired their Romanian citizenship.

Mr IWIŃSKI (Poland)

According to Article 80 of the Romanian Constitution, you, Mr President, should exercise the function of magician between state powers as well as between the state and society. How do you respond to the increasing number of accusations that, on the contrary, you have in recent years been minimising the role of parliament, breaking the independence of justice and refusing any dialogue with opposition groups? As a sign of protest, opposition members in the Romanian delegation to this Assembly are not present here today.

Mr Băsescu, President of Romania

Are you a socialist?

Mr IWIŃSKI (Poland)

I am from the Polish social democrat party.

Mr Băsescu, President of Romania (interpretation)

said that he had not asked which country Mr Iwiński was from, but merely whether or not he was a socialist. In his experience, socialist parties did not respond well to invitations to participate in joint events. He had not asked the members in question to leave the room, in fact it was his understanding that they had chosen to absent themselves. He wondered whether it perhaps had something to do with the fact that an opposition politician had the previous day been arrested for fraud in Romania, details of which could readily be found in the Romanian press. Unfortunately, these parties never wanted to discuss anything, and it was possible that Mr Iwiński had been misinformed by his ideological colleagues.

Mr SOLONIN (Russian Federation) (interpretation)

said that Mr Băsescu’s answer to Mr Vareikis had not cast much light on the situation. He wondered whether, in fact, Romania’s objective was to merge with Moldova in order to create a greater state.

Mr Băsescu, President of Romania (interpretation)

said that Romania had no experience of annexing or desire to annex any country.

Ms GUŢU (Moldova) (interpretation)

thanked Mr Băsescu for his speech and his tireless support of Moldova in its European aspirations. As President of a country which had itself been monitored for 15 years before accession, she wondered what Mr Băsescu thought of Moldova’s chances of acceding to the European Union as part of the Western Balkan package.

Mr Băsescu, President of Romania (interpretation)

said that this was a political battle that they would fight together. Moldova would indeed become a member of the European Union when it was ready. Romania’s strategic goal was to persuade colleagues in the European Union to allow Moldova’s accession at the same time as the Western Balkan nations. The interest taken by the European Union in the recent Moldovan elections had demonstrated the seriousness with which Moldova was being considered by the European Union. He hoped that the newly-elected government would continue to work towards that objective.

Mr PETRENCO (Moldova)

Mr President, today Romania is the only country in Europe, and in the world, whose authorities openly do not recognise Moldovan identity, stating that all Moldovans are in fact Romanians. You personally have declared many times that the Republic of Moldova is a second Romanian state, refusing to sign the basic political treaty between two neighbouring countries or to recognise the state border between Moldova and Romania, and accepting only signing the technical document on this issue. Do you not think, Mr President, that these attitudes and this official position are a serious challenge to stability and security in this part of Europe, as well as a real obstacle in the Transnistrian conflict settlement process?

Mr Băsescu, President of Romania (interpretation)

said that he had to remind Mr Petrenco of a few facts. The current border had been set following the Treaty of Paris in 1947 and Romania had never questioned that border. Indeed, in 1991, Romania had been the very first country to recognise Moldova as an independent state and she never tired of supporting it in reinforcing the territorial integrity of the Transnistrian region. Romania was not a member of the Five-plus-Two Group, which was responsible for these matters, but fully supported its objectives. Romania had never tried to take territory from Moldova, and he noted that the question supposed that his country did not in fact respect its borders. Romania fully accepted the Treaty of Paris and had, more recently, signed a newer border agreement. He asked what more they could be expected to do.

Mr FOURNIER (France) (interpretation)

reminded President Băsescu that France and Germany indicated that they were not in favour Romania joining the Schengen area in March 2011 because of its failings in preventing migratory flows and drug trafficking. He stressed that this was not an attack on Romania’s aspiration to accede to the Schengen area in the medium term. He asked President Băsescu what more Romania could do to assure its accession to Schengen in 2011.

Mr Băsescu, President of Romania (interpretation)

remarked that he had a short answer and a long answer. The short answer was that Romania had fulfilled all its obligations and had addressed the issue in the same manner as had the European Union. The longer answer was that Romania’s agreement to enter Schengen was part of the acquis communautaire which applied to all member states, and it set a dangerous precedent if states suddenly received more obligations with which to comply a few weeks before a decision was made on their accession.

He could prove that Mr Fournier’s question was incorrect, since Romania had done everything it could to fight corruption and he would provide the figures to support his case. In the previous five years, 51 customs officers and more than 120 border police had been arrested and prosecuted for corruption. He urged Mr Fournier to monitor developments in Romania in February.

Mr POZZO di BORGO (France) (interpretation)

said that President Băsescu that, until 2009, Romania had seen many years of economic growth. Then, as on the rest of the continent, there had been an economic slowdown. The result was that 23.4% of the population still lived in poverty and 33% of the population faced severe material deprivation. He asked President Băsescu what he intended to do to reduce those figures.

Mr Băsescu, President of Romania (interpretation)

disputed the figures because they did not take account of alleviation measures introduced in 2010. He conceded that the figures were from EU sources but those sources did not take into account the full situation in Romania. For example, 90% of houses in Romania were privately owned. What was the figure for France?

There had been an economic boom in Romania between 2004 and 2008, then, in 2009, the economy had fallen by 7.4% and again by 1.9% in 2010. He anticipated that there would be a slight recovery in 2011. The boom and bust had taught Romania a tough lesson. The economic boom had been based on excessive consumption and on real estate. Romania had now learnt to base its economy on sustainable development and real investment. As a result of the slowdown, Romania had had to introduce some tough measures, including a 25% reduction in civil service salaries, a new tax on pensions and an increase in the retirement age from 62 to 65 for men and from 58 to 63 for women. Measures had been taken to broaden the tax base. Together, these measures increased the likelihood of sustainable economic development in Romania. He acknowledged that they might lead to accusations that Romania was no longer a “social” country with a place in “social Europe” but Romanians considered it essential only to live within their means and not to borrow in order to speculate.

Ms STAVROSITU (Romania) (interpretation)

noted the unconditional support given by Hungary to Romania’s accession to the Schengen area. She asked the President what the basis was for his belief that Romania would soon accede to Schengen and what was his opinion on the new education law and on the measures he had taken to protect minorities?

Mr Băsescu, President of Romania (interpretation)

said that, as the Head of State of Romania, it was his duty to support Romania’s accession into Schengen in line with the treaty. There was a clear commitment for Romania to accede in 2011 and the experts agreed that this ought to go ahead. There was therefore no reason to abandon the objective.

The new education law was the most open in the European Union. The law meant that there was no obstacle to a child being taught in his native language. This was the first time such a law had been introduced and it granted significantly greater protection to linguistic minorities. There were 20 official minority groups in Romania, all of which were represented in the parliament. The education law meant that, if a child could not be taught in his native language in his resident community, the state would provide transport to a school with the right language skills. He suggested that, since European Union officials only ever discussed the negative impact of legalisation, the fact that they had not mentioned this policy meant that, in their eyes, it had no negative impact.

Mr BÉTEILLE (France) (interpretation)

recalled that, on 16 December 2010, the Commissioner for Human Rights had written to the Romanian Prime Minister to express his concerns about the treatment of the Roma in Romania. The letter had called for a plan to tackle problems of education, social welfare and discrimination which affected the Roma. He accepted that, in the current economic climate, it was not easy for states to make resources available for such matters, but he nonetheless asked what Romania was doing to improve the treatment of the Roma people.

Mr Băsescu, President of Romania (interpretation)

said that there were officially 500 000 Romanian citizens who were Roma. The reality was that 1.5 million Roma were also Romanian citizens. Between 2000 and 2010 Romania had introduced a strategy of integration. Since education was the only viable method of ensuring the long-term integration of the Roma, Roma children had been exempt from the exams which allocated places at schools. The result was that there were no restrictions on the schools that Roma children could attend. In addition, a separate government department for Roma integration had been established. Unfortunately, it had became clear in 2010 that the strategy had failed and did not justify the financial investment involved. The problem was not a matter of resources for much of the funding was provided by the European Union; the problem was finding a long-term solution which worked.

A new strategy, to run between 2011 and 2015, was to see the department for Roma integration become part of the Ministry for Interior Affairs. The Romanian Government had discovered that previous efforts had failed because of excessive centralisation. Moving the department for Roma integration into the Ministry for Interior Affairs would provide stronger links with local governments which he hoped would be beneficial: previous strategies had not engaged sufficiently with local authorities and had only interacted with NGOs.

Mr KALMÁR (Hungary)

I should like first, Mr President, to welcome you to the Council of Europe. According to the European Union, by 2013 you will have to redraw the borders of the regions in Romania. This should comply with the NUTS 3 standards. When Romania takes this decision, do you intend to take into account, besides the EU recommendations, the historically, culturally and ethnically distinct nature of the cities in these territories? Will it be possible even to change the territories of the departments if that seems necessary?

Mr Băsescu, President of Romania (interpretation)

said that Romanian policy makers universally considered that they could not agree with a theory of autonomy based on ethnic criteria. Romania was increasing local autonomy: the police were managed at a local level, as were hospitals and museums. The new Education Act delegated management of schools to local authorities. Local authorities had powers of taxation. He envisaged greater local autonomy within Romania and thought that the process of decentralisation was more advanced in Romania than some other European Union countries.

Mr GAUDI NAGY (Hungary)

The Council of Europe documents on regionalism and autonomous regions make it clear that regional autonomy is not a danger but a guarantee of greater political stability. It is part of the Council of Europe’s values. South Tyrol is a perfect example. Since the unjust Treaty of Trianon, a great number of Hungarians have been forced to live in Romania and their fate has been unresolved. In 2007-08, there was a referendum in Szeklerland – in Hungarian, Székelyföld – and 99% of the people voted in favour of creating an autonomous region there. Is the Romanian state ready to implement this status for Szeklerland, which is inhabited by more than 600 000 people who have their own specific cultural and historical tradition, and who share the Hungarian language and identity? When will you start to negotiate with the representatives of this community, the Szekler National Council?

Mr Băsescu, President of Romania (interpretation)

said that he would like Romanians in Hungary to enjoy the same rights as Hungarians had in Romania.


Thank you very much. We must now conclude the questions to Mr Băsescu. Mr President, on behalf of the Assembly I thank you most warmly for your interesting address and for the answers that you have given to questions.