Prime Minister of Romania

Speech made to the Assembly

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Thank you very much, Mr President, Secretary General and members of the Parliamentary Assembly. It is a great honour and privilege for me to be here today to address the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe – the oldest and most prestigious political institution in Europe, created by visionary politicians with the aim of putting an end to war and ensuring lasting peace on the continent.

It is 20 years now since Romania became a member of the Council of Europe. Today, when we look at the past we see that major democratic changes have been carried out with your help. At the beginning of the 1990s, Romania, like other eastern European countries, had only recently come out of an authoritarian regime. Today, we are a fully-fledged member of this Organisation, of the European Union, and of the transatlantic community. I am here to thank you for your contribution to the democratisation and modernisation of my country.

With your permission, Mr President, I will make my presentation in English.

“The most important challenge is the better integration of the Roma community”

(The speaker continued in English)

Let me say once again how important this is for me and for the people who are joining me today – the President of the Romanian Parliament, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, my special advisers, and, especially, a former distinguished member of this Assembly, Mr Frunda. I am here today to present a very clear message about the commitment of the Romanian Government and the country to all the values of the Council of Europe and our commitment to learn from the mistakes of the past and to think towards our common future – a future that implies for my country democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights.

I stress the important role that President Mignon, Secretary General Jagland and all your representatives who have visited Romania last year and this year played in assisting and helping Romanian politicians to find the best solution for the country to the political crisis and all the challenges that we have been confronted with in past years. Indeed, 2012 was a very difficult year for the country, coming after a long economic, social and political crisis. Your involvement in settling on the best institutional solutions for the country has been very important. It is proof that through dialogue, co-operation and assistance, all kinds of crises can be solved and the best solution for the countries involved can be found. I am very grateful for your personal involvement, Mr Mignon, and that of all your colleagues, in helping us to find the right way and the right solutions.

As you mentioned, Mr President, in December the Romanian people went through a very democratic election in which they stated their democratic will. After the election, we – the Romanian politicians – tried to find the best solutions, having in mind the future of the country, not the past. As some of you know, there is clear agreement on co-operation – “cohabitation” in French – between the president and the government. The new parliament has a legitimate structure and a clear majority. All the decisions of the constitutional court are respected and implemented. The judicial system is independent and is providing important solutions in criminal, civil and commercial cases. I will say right here, right now that we are all learning from our lessons and that we are all committed to working together for the benefit of the country.

I have a special thought for all the members of the Romanian delegation to this Parliamentary Assembly. They make me feel today much solidarity and very proud to be a Romanian. It is not very often in our political history that all the representatives of the political parties – government and opposition together – could have signed the letter for all the members of this Assembly saying that Romania has been able, and is able, to solve all the political and institutional problems and that we can, as I said, work together for the benefit of the country.

I will refer to the four issues on which Romania as a country, and myself as the head of the government, will seek your assistance, your partnership and your help in improving and consolidating the institutions of the country. First, taking into account all the deadlocks and political crises that we have been confronted with, there is general agreement that during the mandate of the new parliament we should make some improvements to the constitutional provisions. I do not mean a fundamental change in the constitution – only fine-tuning and fine changes in order to avoid future political crises and to demonsrate that we have learned from the lessons of the past and are showing our commitment to trying to create democratic and constitutional instruments to pre-empt a crisis and to be able to solve it without jeopardising the stability and productivity of the country.

I am also here to seek the support of the Venice Commission in this process. I have made a formal request to the Venice Commission, and I am very grateful for the very fast reply stating that we will have all its assistance and expertise. We will go forward with all the changes only after consultation and taking fully into account the suggestions of the Venice Commission, because it is our will to have a democratic, effective and very good constitution according to all the Council of Europe standards.

The second issue on which we will need to co-operate better is the Romanian cases before the European Court of Human Rights. Until now, almost 3 500 cases have been pending at the Court regarding the restitution of properties confiscated by the communist regime. With your assistance and help, for which I am very grateful, we have succeeded in adopting a new law that I am confident will solve most of the problems, provide a very fair restitution, and provide a clear juridical solution to this issue, which has been pending in Romanian society for almost 70 years.

Thirdly, Romania has applied the highest standards regarding the protection of the rights of minorities, but there is always something to improve, and I very much count on your co-operation and partnership in always keeping Romania updated with the latest developments in order to guarantee the most advanced juridical regime on the rights of minorities. I shall take this opportunity to express my gratitude to all the legitimate political representatives of the Hungarian minority in Romania. We have been working together on the most important decisions, those relating to the restitution of property and to minority rights. I am absolutely committed to keeping working with those representatives, and I am sure that together we can always find the best solution that allows us to live together and work together for our country.

The problem that presents the most important challenge for my government – and for the governments to come – is how to ensure the better integration of the Roma community. We have adopted a new strategy, working with the European Commission and some member States – I am very grateful to the French, German and Dutch Governments – but to get results we need patience and commitment, and we need to get to the roots of this issue. I am very grateful for the fact that when you, Mr Secretary General, came to Bucharest you visited an important project – a school in which the children from the Roma minority can learn and prepare themselves for the future. We have all the legislation providing positive discrimination in all the schools and universities, and even in some areas relating to the hiring of people from the Roma community, but I say, right here today, that this is going to be a big challenge for all the Romanian authorities. I strongly believe that all of our Roma minority, who represent Romania and have Romanian citizenship, are our responsibility. We therefore have to be very committed to obtaining more effective solutions, in order to have better integration, to educate the kids better, to find better jobs for these representatives and to make them feel the same in Romania as they do in all other parts of the region: at home and safe.

I would very much appreciate your partnership and your assistance in these four topics, which are very important for my government. I am also here to say that Romania, which last year was considered as a country jeopardised by a lack of stability, is now a very stable and predictable country in the region. It is our duty to co-operate with the Council of Europe and the European Commission to find the best solution on strengthening democracy, the rule of law and human rights in the entire region. As you mentioned, Mr President, Romania is strategically placed on the map of Europe. Our assistance could be very helpful to the Republic of Moldova, and I am here to say that we strongly support the European path of not only Moldova, but of all the countries in the Black Sea area. I am also confident that together we may find the best solution for the countries in the western Balkans; having more integration, more democracy, more human rights and a strengthened rule of law would be a great advantage for not only those countries, but for Romania, as a member of that region. I would like to convince you to have confidence in our country and our potential, and in our good will in fighting for these important principles and goals in the region.

In conclusion, I wish to express my appreciation for, and my trust in the future of, your important institution, Mr President. Of course we are very proud to be a full member of the European Union and NATO, but I strongly believe that on human rights, the rule of law and democracy, the Council of Europe has not only a great past, but a very important future. I am very proud to be a Romanian – to be from a country that for the past 20 years has been a full member of the Council of Europe. I am also very confident in our common future. Thank you very much for your attention, and I look forward to your questions.

THE PRESIDENT (interpretation)

Thank you very much, Mr Ponta, for your most interesting address. Members of the Assembly have questions to put to you.I remind them that questions must be limited to 30 seconds and no more. Colleagues should be asking questions and not making speeches. Mr Santini will ask the first question, on behalf of the Group of the European People’s Party.

Mr SANTINI (Italy) (interpretation)

Prime Minister, before Romania acceded to the European Union – I imagine that you understand Italian, as you have not put your headphones on – it was considered a sort of paradise for Italian, French and German industries that moved into the areas around Timișoara and other cities. What is the situation today, some five years after your accession? Are foreign countries’ industries still coming to Romania? What is the situation of those industries that were set up some time ago?

Mr Ponta, Prime Minister of Romania (interpretation)

I would be delighted to respond in Italian, because we Romanians find it wonderful to speak Italian and are very proud to be able to speak it.

Mr Ponta, Prime Minister of Romania

However, I will answer the question in English, because the question relates to European companies investing in Romania – putting trust and money into my country, and offering thousands and thousands of jobs. I appreciate that effort very much. Since 9 December – after the election – we have done everything we can to create a very friendly environment for investors. While here, I have just received very good news about an important investment in Romania made by a German – not an Italian – company. The most important thing for not only Romania, but for all Council of Europe countries is our ability to be competitive in a very competitive world, while never forgetting the social effects of this competitiveness. I am very grateful to all companies that create at least one job, because that provides one wage. All the confidence of the business community in Romania will benefit not only investors – in terms of making profit – but Romanian and European citizens.

THE PRESIDENT (interpretation)

Thank you for that answer. The next question is from Mr Gross, who will speak on behalf of the Socialist Group.

Mr GROSS (Switzerland)

I thank you, Prime Minister, for your encouraging speech. Last time, when we came to you in the Presidential Committee, you promised us that you would not follow the bad habit of using your Parliament’s urgent procedure when making decisions – when making law – because that hampers debate and democracy. How did you make that change? Did you fulfil your promise? How many times did you go back to this old habit, and how many times did you not use the procedure?

Mr Ponta, Prime Minister of Romania

Thank you very much for your question. According to the Romanian constitution, there are two situations in which the government can use a faster procedure, the first of which is when assuming responsibility. That constitutional provision had been used 16 times in two years by the previous government, and, as you correctly said, I criticised it very much. In one year, I have used it only once, doing so only for a special law – the one dealing with the restitution of property taken by the communists. I thought this was the responsibility not of my government – I do not believe my parents were born at the time this took place – but of the Romanian Government and the Romanian State. I expressed, for the first time, the apologies to all the people who suffered from the communist regime. That is why I used this very special provision. I do not intend to use it again, as we have a very large majority in our parliament and I believe that good laws are made by the parliament, not by the government.

The second constitutional provision gives the government the right to issue emergency ordinances. On average, over the last 10 years, about 200 such ordinances have been issued each year by governments of all parties – Social Democratic, Liberal and Christian Democrat. It is now April, and so far this year we have issued 24, so we hope that the figure for our first year will be half of that average. Of course, I should aim to have even fewer.

THE PRESIDENT (interpretation)

Thank you. I call Ms Schuster, on behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.

Ms SCHUSTER (Germany) (interpretation)

I thank you for your address. Yesterday evening we had a debate on the situation of Roma children. What tangible measures are you implementing to help the Roma community, particularly Roma children, and other minorities?

Mr Ponta, Prime Minister of Romania

Thank you very much for that question. I was honest in saying that the integration of the Roma community is, in my view, not only our top priority but one of our biggest challenges. I mentioned the school that was visited by your Secretary General, where the Roma kids learn in their own language. Our legal provisions and projects, which we have already included in the new European Union financial framework, are tools for improving the education of Roma kids. You referred to other minorities, and I should say that all Hungarian minorities learn in their native language, not only in primary and high school but even in university. That is an effective system that meets all the standards. We will always work with minority representatives to keep our legislation updated so that it meets their needs.

With the Roma community, the issue is not only one of educating the children; it is one of convincing the parents to send their children to school. We have, as I told you, a good strategy, but in Romania, as elsewhere, implementing good strategies can be most challenging. I put myself forward as the first one not only to have a good strategy but to achieve results. As I said, we will not have results in six months or a year, but I believe that, in the medium and long term, better education and positive discrimination could have the beneficial effects that everyone hopes for.

Ms GILLAN (United Kingdom)

I thank you for your charming address. As a valued member of the European Union, you are aware of the controversies over freedom of movement and how that is open to abuse, hence transitional controls. Will you confirm whether your government is automatically to grant potentially 1 million or more Moldovan citizens Romanian citizenship, which would allow them entry and free movement within the European Union? Are you aware of the concerns that if that policy goes ahead, it could undermine confidence in the freedom of movement?

Mr Ponta, Prime Minister of Romania

I consulted the Minister of Foreign Affairs because the law that gives citizenship to all foreigners was adopted long ago – in 1991. There is a special provision that is only for Moldovan citizens who used to have Romanian citizenship because they are of Romanian origin, so it is not for all Moldovans. The citizenship is not automatically granted, but the procedure is faster, and up to now it has not affected migration into the European Union. As you know, we are working hard to join the Schengen area, so we have been in close communication with the European Commission and with member States. Of course, to achieve our goal of joining Schengen, we are ready to improve our legislation if necessary. I just want to be clear that it is not a special law; it is the law, and it was adopted long ago. Neither is citizenship automatically granted; it is just a faster procedure. It does not apply to all Moldovans; it applies only to those who used to have Romanian citizenship.

THE PRESIDENT (interpretation)

Thank you. I call Mr Kox, on behalf of the Group of the Unified European Left.

Mr KOX (Netherlands)

According to Secretary General Jagland, combating corruption should be the priority of all member States in order to protect democracy, the rule of law and human rights. Romania’s score with regard to the level of corruption is a matter of great concern to your government, to us and especially to Romanian citizens. What makes it so difficult to combat corruption in Romania, and what may we see happening with this important struggle in the future?

Mr Ponta, Prime Minister of Romania

You know, I am a former prosecutor but I am still unable to tell you exactly why it is so difficult to fight corruption. I can assure you that significant progress has been made, and all the co-operation and verification reports issued by the European Commission have praised the results of the anti-corruption bodies and the convictions in this area. The Transparency International chart shows Romania improving its statutes in the last few years. I will not – I will never – say that everything is perfect, but I will say that based on my personal background and the commitment to strengthen the anti-corruption bodies, to maintain their independence and to allow justice to be absolutely independent, the first good results will be confirmed in the years to come.

Mr POPESCU (Ukraine) (interpretation)

The resolution on the minor trafficking of people between Ukraine and Romania has been postponed, and the final resolution will contribute to better relations between the two countries, especially for people who live close to the border. How should we continue discussing this matter and make progress on it?

Mr Ponta, Prime Minister of Romania

As I mentioned, we have invested a lot and we want to prove that our borders are very safe, but that should not be contrary to the interests of daily trans-frontier exchanges of a commercial and cultural nature. I mentioned the role that Romania wants to play in the region. Our bilateral relationship with Ukraine is very positive and should be placed on a more pragmatic basis. All I can tell you is that, together with the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Home Affairs, I will undertake a pragmatic analysis and talk to the Ukrainian Government to improve the situation. The safety of the border is important, but so are cultural, commercial and personal exchanges. The answer is not to choose one over the other but rather to put both together and to find the best solution.

Mr MICHEL (France) (interpretation)

The European Court of Human Rights often finds against your country, and its rulings have to be implemented by countries. You have talked about the issue in your speech, but will you tell us in greater detail about how your country intends to remedy the situation that has existed for around 20 years?

Mr Ponta, Prime Minister of Romania (interpretation)

I spoke about the restitution of property. More than 3 500 cases are being examined by the courts. Thanks to the new legislation that we have been discussing with representatives from the Court, I am sure that we will settle those cases. We are also working successfully with the European Commission and have adopted new civil and criminal codes, which we are implementing.

I am particularly concerned about prison conditions, a problem that exists not only in Romania. While we are not the worst in that regard, we certainly need to invest more to improve prison conditions to bring them closer to European standards.

If we can resolve the bulk of cases regarding the restitution of property, we will have taken a major step forward.

Ms PASHAYEVA (Azerbaijan)

Prime Minister, your country attaches great importance to overall co-operation with Azerbaijan, particularly in energy security. What topics will you focus on in your visit to Baku in May?

Mr Ponta, Prime Minister of Romania

One of the main goals in my term of office is to develop the energy potential of the Black Sea region. The Nabucco project is the first priority. Better co-operation among all the countries in the area will provide huge benefits in the medium and long terms, delivering the energy and economic improvement that all our countries need. I will be visiting your country with great pleasure.

Energy is a key issue, which is why the European Council on 25 May will focus on that topic; I hope that that is not a secret. We are in close contact with the authorities in Azerbaijan to ensure that Nabucco is a successful project.


My question is about the many poor Romanians begging in the streets of many European cities, including in my country. Many, but not all, of them are Roma people. What can and will Romanian authorities do to fight poverty in your own country? To what extent do you depend on co-operation with other European countries to solve the problem of people dependent on begging to survive?

Mr Ponta, Prime Minister of Romania

Poverty is a huge challenge for many, not just us. After several years of recession and a deep economic crisis, I was satisfied – though not happy – that we had economic growth last year. Importantly, the European Commission has forecast that Romania will have economic growth this year. That will not be seen or felt directly by poor people in the short term, but we have taken some social measures, such as improving our social legislation. However, it will take years to fight poverty and to provide a solution to all those affected.

Your question was about Romanian citizens. For me, there is no difference whether they are from the Roma minority or not – they are all Romanian citizens. If you are talking about criminality, we have worked closely with law enforcement agencies, and we have had significant results. If you are talking about social problems, we should and will of course accept the adoption of legislation in your and other countries that limit access to benefits, but such limits should be non-discriminatory. Each country has the legitimate right to pass its own legislation, but it is important not to discriminate. Fighting poverty takes commitment and time – surely more time than my term of office as prime minister.

THE PRESIDENT (interpretation)

Mr Ghiletchi is not here, so I call Mr Kalemár.

Mr KALMÁR (Hungary)

The Romanian Government has announced that it will start the reorganisation of the country’s territory. The published drafts of the plan show that the region inhabited by secular Hungarians will be divided. If so, the Hungarian community will be assimilated within a short time. That is contrary to the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and other resolutions and agreements that Romania has signed. How will the Romanian Government fulfil its obligations during the process of territorial reorganisation?

Mr Ponta, Prime Minister of Romania

I will answer briefly: we will fully respect our obligations. I am grateful that you have given me the opportunity to clarify certain issues. The current system of administration in Romania was set up by a law in 1968, which created 41 counties. All those counties are still in place and will remain so; no one will change the borders of the countries. Two of them, which are inhabited by the Hungarian minority, have the full range of local authorities – county president, county council and city councils – and they are led by representatives of the Hungarian minority. We will not change the borders.

Each county has on average 500 000 inhabitants, which is too small to access European funds in the next financial framework. We have a regional development plan based on eight development regions. It was adopted in 1998, when a Hungarian minority party was in government, so the decision was taken not by my party, but by other parties. All eight regions will be based on economic and social cohesion. I am not sure whether the final result will be eight – it might be 10, 12 or 16 – but I assure you that we will take a decision only after consulting all the parties in parliament; the Hungarian minorities are strongly and proudly represented in the Romanian Parliament. The decision will not be against any minority community, but will be based on economic and social issues. Nothing will be adopted without consultation, and the counties, which you mentioned, will not be changed.

Mr JAPARIDZE (Georgia)

Thank you very much, Mr Prime Minister, for your very important speech. You mentioned briefly the wider Black Sea area, which has an important strategic dimension for energy security, but we all know that the region is plagued with all kinds of illicit trafficking – small arms, nuclear and radioactive materials and human trafficking – so what is Romania’s approach towards this?

Mr Ponta, Prime Minister of Romania

Of course I mentioned the positive part, which is the area’s energy and economic potential. All opportunities come with dangers, so that is why the Romanian authorities, not only under my government but since the 1990s, have had close and effective co-operation with the other authorities around the Black Sea. We have been very effective in combating human trafficking, drug trafficking and all kinds of crimes. If the Secretary General will allow me, I will say that we will work together in the area to combat cybercrime with the Council of Europe’s assistance. Cybercrime is another challenge, but I am sure that our previous experience of success will continue.

Mr M. JENSEN (Denmark)

As you know, Mr Prime Minister, the Committee of Ministers adopted a Council of Europe recommendation on combating discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity in 2010. In a Council of Europe survey, your government has admitted that you have not even taken the first step to translate that recommendation into action. I would like a statement from you on what plans the Romanian Government has to address homophobic and trans-phobic discrimination. In particular, how will you implement the Council of Europe recommendation?

Mr Ponta, Prime Minister of Romania

I have just consulted my colleagues, and as far as I know, we have implemented all the legislation and European standards. We have set up a council for combating discrimination, which has been effective in penalising all those who manifest discriminatory behaviour. After the election, we discussed increasing the rights of all minorities. A member of my political group has already begun to do that in the Romanian Parliament, and the first discriminatory reactions have been punished by all the political forces. We will make progress not only in implementing the legislation but in changing the mentality of the people and some politicians. Although that might not happen very quickly, that future is nearer than we might think.

Mr GAUDI NAGY (Hungary)

You must recognise the symbol that I am holding up, because your administration insists on banning it. It is the regional symbol of 700 000 ethnic Hungarian Seklers who live in Transylvania and claim territorial autonomy in conformity with the relevant Council of Europe documents and European models. This March, 40 000 Seklers demonstrated to be granted a statute of autonomy, which was refused twice by the Romanian Parliament. On the 20th anniversary of Romania’s accession to the Council of Europe, do you not think that your country should ensure the Seklers’ territorial autonomy and start immediate negotiations with the leadership of the Sekler National Council, to avoid tensions and conflicts?

Mr Ponta, Prime Minister of Romania

I praise your appeal to avoid confrontations and extremism, and I join you in fighting against extremists. On 9 December, the Hungarian minority sent legitimate representatives from the Union of Hungarians in Romania to the Romanian Parliament. I can assure you that we will work closely with them to try to find the best solutions for the better representation of the Hungarian community and to respect all the rights of the Hungarian minority, according to all the European standards. But once again, dialogue and co-operation are the solution. Extremism will not help you or us.

Mr V. SZABÓ (Hungary)

Mr Prime Minister, I would like to ask you about an education issue concerning the Hungarian minority. What is your view on creating a University of Medicine and Pharmacy in the Hungarian language in Târgu Mureş?

Mr Ponta, Prime Minister of Romania

I am very proud of this government achievement. After I spent three long nights with the Romanian and Hungarian professors at the University of Medicine and Pharmacy of Târgu Mureş, they reached an agreement without us – the university has autonomy – and Romanian and Hungarian teachers are now represented on the board of the university. Hungarian and Romanian students can learn in their own language. This is the best example that not through confrontation, but rather through dialogue and commitment, we can solve issues that might be seen as unsolvable initially. I suggest that you join me in visiting the university at Târgu Mureş to see an example of the good results of dialogue and of issues that have been solved when no one thought it possible.

THE PRESIDENT (interpretation)

Ms Gutu and Mr Petrenco are not here, so I call Mr Türkeş.

Mr A. TÜRKEŞ (Turkey)

Mr Prime Minister, it is good to see that the elections in December 2012 put an end to the political instability in Romania and that the government under your leadership is determined to solve the pending issues. What measures are your government planning to take to prevent the younger generation from emigrating abroad for economic reasons?

Mr Ponta, Prime Minister of Romania

You come from a country that I appreciate very much for its economic development. We have begun to implement concrete programmes to provide incentives to young people to open new businesses and small businesses. We have a scheme of State aid for all the young people who want to open new businesses. We will also implement legislation to provide taxation advantages to companies that hire young people. We have succeeded in developing, and will keep doing so, new technology industries. I can give many examples of big international companies that are now hiring thousands of young people in Romania. They are paid wages similar to those in the United States or western Europe, but they live in Romania and have a future there. When we have succeeded in doing this in all areas of the economy, we will consider the problem solved.

Mr BENEYTO (Spain) (interpretation)

As you know, Prime Minister, the Romanian community is the biggest immigrant community in Spain. We have had excellent co-existence without a single problem over many years. What can we do fully to develop all the cultural co-existence that that offers us, either through the Council of Europe or through bilateral relations?

Mr Ponta, Prime Minister of Romania

I express the gratitude of my country to Spain and Italy, where more than 1 million Romanians now live. They are hard-working and honest, they are raising their children there and they have been welcomed like brothers. I am grateful for that. I am aware that Spain and Italy are confronted with economic problems, but working together not to discriminate and not to blame anyone for the difficult times will strengthen the relationship between the two peoples and make us feel like working together to drag our countries in the right direction. On behalf of many Romanians who have found their destiny and life in your country, I thank you very much.

THE PRESIDENT (interpretation)

Mr Hancock is not here, so I call Mr Iordache.

Mr IORDACHE (Romania) (interpretation)

Co-operation between Romania and the Council of Europe has been a key factor in ensuring respect for the political criteria for accession to the European Union. What is the relevance of the Council of Europe today for Romania as a member of the European Union and what value is added by it? For what reasons should countries be candidates for membership of the European Union?

Mr Ponta, Prime Minister of Romania (interpretation)

Clearly, we are of the same political family. We are proud to be members of the European Union, but I believe that the Council of Europe will retain its importance not just because of its 47-strong membership but because it will always remain the prime authority in respect of human rights, the rule of law and democracy. That benefits us. Even as members of the European Union, it is invaluable to be able to draw on the experience and principles that we find only here in the Council of Europe.

Mr KORODI (Romania)

Prime Minister, what sort of political decision do you support, in the spirit of the charters and conventions of the Council of Europe, to ensure that the Hungarian community in Romania can freely use its symbols? Forbidding the use of the Székler flag as the symbol of the community is discrimination, especially when we take into consideration the fact that other local communities can use their representative flags and symbols. What legal approaches are being considered by the government to tackle the issue in the European manner? Secondly, how do you propose to ensure the implementation of subsidiarity for minorities after the adoption of the new constitution?

Mr Ponta, Prime Minister of Romania

Thank you very much for the question. Let me take this opportunity to say once again how proud I am to see all the Romanian members of the Assembly, regardless of the political party they represent, being very constructive and accepting a dialogue with the government. I will reply in the same spirit. On the question of the minority symbols, or local symbols, I am ready to initiate a dialogue with all the political parties and representatives of civil society so that we can have clear legislation. The central administrative institutions will have, of course, the national and European Union symbols, but all the local institutions should have the right to adopt their own symbols as long as they are not against European standards.

On your second point, subsidiarity will be strengthened by the changes to the Constitution, based on local authorities’ powers. I am a Prime Minister who honestly believes that the closer the authorities are to the citizen, the more effective and legitimate they are in taking decisions. The central government should retain the basic powers of the State, but I am convinced that local authorities, using the principle of subsidiarity, will be more effective in representing citizens and serving the public interest.

THE PRESIDENT (interpretation)

That brings to an end the questions to Mr Ponta. Once again, Mr Ponta, I congratulate you on your excellent address to the Parliamentary Assembly and your replies to the questions. We are grateful. Romania has been with us for some 20 years and, as I said earlier, I was one of those who voted in favour of its incorporation into the Parliamentary Assembly and the Council of Europe. I am happy to see that Romania is still a member 20 years later.