Vladimir

Voronin

President of Moldova

Speech made to the Assembly

Wednesday, 27 June 2001

Mr President, excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to come back to Strasbourg in a new capacity and to greet my former colleagues in the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly. I am grateful to the President of the Parliamentary Assembly, Lord Russell-Johnston, for the opportunity to address the parliamentarians of the European democracies today.

The Republic of Moldova needs Europe, and Europe, I hope, needs the Republic of Moldova, for there are no big and small nations in Europe. Let me paraphrase the words of our classic writer, Mihai Eminescu, who said, “Europe is a diamond, and its facets, represented by European nations, give the diamond special brightness”. I fully agree with that statement.

The six years that have passed since the Republic of Moldova joined the Council of Europe have been marked by intense co-operation with this European forum. By honouring most of the commitments entered into by the Republic of Moldova upon its accession to the Council of Europe, we have achieved considerable success in the democratisation of our society. We have ratified a number of European conventions, including the European Convention on Human Rights and its additional protocols, the European Charter on Local Self-Government and the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. All these have led to a fundamental change in the legislative framework, which in many respects now complies with European standards. Moldova is firmly determined to meet fully all its commitments undertaken as a member of the Council of Europe, while at the same time adjusting its legislation and government policies to European standards.

On the domestic level, implementation of the principles and norms of the Council of Europe is intended to advance the Republic of Moldova on its way towards integration in the European Union. This objective will continue to be one of the main priorities of my country’s foreign policy. In this context, I should like to express our satisfaction regarding the openness towards the Republic of Moldova shown recently by the European Union.

In particular, I express our gratitude to the EU member states for their decision to admit my country to the Stability Pact, an event that is due to take place tomorrow in Brussels, and for the invitation to participate at the European conference. We consider those decisions to be a sign of confidence in our country and a recognition of our aspirations to become in future a fully fledged member of the EU.

Mr President, excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, 27 August will mark ten years since the proclamation of the Republic of Moldova. During that decade, the election of political authorities, in a multi-party system, took place in Moldova. We can declare with all firmness that in the Republic of Moldova, political authorities at all levels were elected democratically. The parliamentary elections held this year were no exception: they were held democratically and correctly, as was acknowledged by numerous local and international observers. As a result of the elections, a stable parliamentary majority was created. The new leadership of the Republic of Moldova is determined to pursue the goal of the construction of a state ruled by law, based on the respect of general human values. I confirm that as head of state and as leader of the governing party.

Mr President, excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, democracy building in the Republic of Moldova is a major objective, but one that is difficult to achieve. The new political authorities of Moldova are confronted by three serious problems, and without settling them the building of statehood in Moldova according to European standards and values is impossible: the Transnistrian problem, poverty and corruption.

The armed conflict in Transnistria was not inter-ethnic, but political. Although several years have passed since the end of the conflict, its consequences continue to be felt. We repeatedly expressed our readiness to grant the Transnistrian region a special legal status, which would guarantee it maximum possible autonomy, conditional on preservation of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the Republic of Moldova. We consider that full compliance with the decisions of the 1999 OSCE Istanbul Summit regarding the withdrawal of foreign ammunition and armed forces can bring about a long-lasting settlement of the Transnistrian conflict.

In addition, the negotiation process, which is taking place with the participation of the OSCE mission and representatives of the Russian Federation and Ukraine as mediators, is moving slowly. In the Transnistrian region controlled by the separatist authorities, fundamental human rights and freedoms are violated and the population of the region is excluded from the protection system offered by the European Convention on Human Rights. That is a serious cause for concern for European democracies and for the Council of Europe as the promoter of those common human values. Without the support of Europe, it will be difficult to promote and implement European values in that region of our country.

For ten years Moldova has made efforts to restructure its national economy based on market principles, economic freedom and private property. Without doubting those principles, I have to note that the price paid by my country’s citizens for that restructuring is high. We shall continue to opt for building a market economy. Our adherence to the World Trade Organisation is eloquent proof of our intentions in that regard. Yet we cannot forget that the problem of poverty demands extraordinary measures from the Government of Moldova in order to solve it. That problem must also be perceived in the context of the construction of democracy and the implementation of European values. A poor man cannot be free. Democracy is built on free citizens – politically and economically. That has been proved by history many times, and the European Community should not tolerate the existence of a poor state in the middle of Europe. We also hope for close co-operation in this domain in order to alleviate another area of poverty in Europe. At the same time, we are well aware that only by mobilising internal resources and consolidating our own forces can the revival of the state and the dignity of its citizens be made possible.

It is known that poverty gives birth to corruption. Unfortunately, that scourge has not spared the Republic of Moldova. One of the priorities of our policy is to fight that phenomenon. We are determined to elaborate and accomplish urgent action to fight corruption in accordance with the provisions stipulated in the partially open Agreement of the Council of Europe on setting up the group of states against corruption – GRECO – to which the Republic of Moldova has recently agreed.

Mr President, excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, the working agenda of the current session also includes a subject of great sensitivity to the Republic of Moldova: the trafficking of children and teenagers. That phenomenon, which is an increasing trend, represents a challenge for many European states and it must be fought by joint efforts. The Chisinau authorities co-operate with countries in the region to fight international networks in that illicit traffic. A recent decision of the Government of Moldova to suspend procedures for the adoption of children by foreign citizens was dictated by our intention to bring order to that matter.

The Republic of Moldova is part of South-eastern Europe and so cannot ignore the escalation of violence in “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, which constitutes a serious threat to peace and security in the region. In that context, I stress that the history of the twentieth century teaches us that the revision of borders and the creation of zones based on ethnic or religious criteria undermine security. The experience of our country proves that such problems must be solved exclusively by peaceful means. Therefore, we oppose any nationalistic or separatist temptations that contradict current European realities and the spirit of relations between states with a democratic identity. It is to our common benefit to look ahead and not backwards, and to work hard to respond to the expectations of the nations of South-eastern Europe for democratic reconstruction and prosperity.

Mr President, excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, the commitment to respect for and the development of human rights constitutes our common values and reflects our European identity. The Council of Europe, in its role as depository of the European experience in protecting and developing democratic values, represents a chance for all European nations to identify their own role in the new, continental architecture. The Council of Europe is the first pan-European organisation and represents, in a way unlike that of any other European institution, the unity of Europe. The Council of Europe has a mission to consolidate the rapprochement between the east and the west of the continent, and to harmonise its political, cultural and social dimensions.

The Republic of Moldova, together with all member states of the Council of Europe, has a responsibility to consolidate that continental foundation, through the commitment of every Moldovan citizen to the general human values of European civilisation. We are ready to fulfil this mission.

Thank you for your attention.

THE PRESIDENT

Thank you, Mr President. Your address was direct. It covered all aspects of Moldova’s difficulties in an open way and we thank you warmly for it. You have now agreed to answer questions and fifteen members of the Assembly have put down questions. With any luck, we will manage to take them all. I have grouped them according to policy similarity. I shall start with two questions on general policy from Mr Oliynyk and Mr Gross.

Mr OLIYNYK (Ukraine) (interpretation)

welcomed the President of the Republic of Moldova and said that the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Moldova were very important. He asked what policies were being developed to achieve that.

Mr GROSS (Switzerland)

I wish to ask you about the commitment to reform that was made by the former legislature, especially the statute of the president, the constitutional position of the president, the four-level court system and the election of the regional heads of administration by the people and not by nomination by central government.

Mr Voronin, President of Moldova (interpretation)

expressed his thanks for the greetings he had received and said that, during an official visit to Ukraine, he had had constructive meetings with the authorities there. Some 1 200 kilometres of border had been handed over to Ukraine. That territory was not controlled by anyone as of yet: it needed to be policed. There was a need to forward the processes towards proper control and transition of the new authorities. Help was needed from Ukraine, the Russian Federation, and the Assembly of the Council of Europe. On 1 July 2000, Moldova had become a parliamentary republic. He was working hard to develop processes there. There was a need for changes to be made in the constitution for Moldova to fulfil its commitments.

THE PRESIDENT

Thank you. I shall now take four questions on foreign policy and regional co-operation. First, Mr Kivalov and Mr Čekuolis.

Mr KIVALOV (Ukraine) (interpretation)

asked how Moldova saw the path towards Europeanisation unfolding.

Mr ČEKUOLIS (Lithuania)

Mr Voronin, you practically answered my question in your excellent speech and my colleague from Ukraine has also asked you about the priorities of Moldovan foreign policy. I appreciate your strong commitment to following European values and I shall narrow my question to one particular point that is connected to the local authority situation in Moldova. The local authorities have practically no right to draw up local budgets and all monies are distributed centrally by the prefects. That is against the principles of the European Charter for Local Government. How will the Moldovan authorities improve that situation?

Mr Voronin, President of Moldova (interpretation)

said that, to assist with the direction Moldova was taking in Europe, it had displayed six years of co-operation with the Council of Europe. Laws connected with civil procedures in Moldova had been ratified that year. All other commitments were to be fulfilled. Moldova realised what was involved and aimed to achieve the objectives. On the matter of local authorities, certain issues had been considered last week in Moldova. There was presently a review of the laws. Care was needed in order to fight corruption and to organise properly the administration of financial resources in Moldova.

THE PRESIDENT

Thank you, Mr Voronin. We now have two more questions from Mr Zarubinsky and Ms Tevdoradze.

Mr ZARUBINSKY (Ukraine)

For Ukraine, Georgia, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and, I hope, for your country as well, Mr Voronin, the beginning of June was a time to be marked, as the presidents of those states formalised their inter-state association under the name GUUAM. In your opinion, what are the prospects for that association, and what do you personally plan to do, as the President, to revive the multilateral co-operation within GUUAM so that it will become the model of equality, modernism and effectiveness as soon as possible?

Ms TEVDORADZE (Georgia) (interpretation)

noted that Georgia was carefully following events in Moldova as her country had similar problems. She asked whether the President thought that closer relations with Russia would strengthen his country’s sovereignty and the integrity of his state.

Mr Voronin, President of Moldova (interpretation)

noted that the five states which had signed the association agreement did so in Yalta. In 1945 Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill had famously held their conference there. It was hoped that this association might have the same kudos. The main reason for joining that association with those neighbouring states was economic and it was hoped that the association would be successful in that respect.

In respect of the Georgian member’s question, it was important to realise that Moldova was a small country oriented to pursuing its own interests, especially economic interests. There was therefore much interest in the outcome of links between Russia and Belarus.

THE PRESIDENT

Thank you, Mr Voronin. It is said that it was from that meeting in 1945 that Churchill’s addiction to Moldovan brandy can be dated. I do not know whether that is true – but I am not allowed to ask questions now.

We now move to the subject of Transnistria, and we have three questions, from Mrs Durrieu, Mr Ilaşcu and Mr Laakso.

Mrs DURRIEU (France)

said that it was a pleasure to welcome the Moldovan President to the Assembly. As rapporteur for that country she had followed events there and was worried by the recent serious decline. The Transnistrian problem imperilled progress in Moldova. She wondered what impact secessionists in Transnistria might have on elections in Moldova in December. She asked whether the President thought it was possible to sort out the problem of secession with Russia.

Mr ILAŞCU (Romania)

(The speaker spoke in Romanian)

THE PRESIDENT

I am afraid that there was no English translation – or, I gather, French. Is it possible for you to put your question in Russian, Mr Ilaşcu?

Mr ILAŞCU (Romania) (interpretation)

drew attention to the imprisonment of three political prisoners in a province of Moldova. They had been imprisoned by a self-proclaimed court which was not recognised internationally. He asked when the Moldovan Government would take action on that matter.

THE PRESIDENT

Thank you, Mr Ilaşcu. Finally, Mr Laakso, who is the leader of the Group of the Unified European Left, will ask a question.

Mr LAAKSO (Finland)

It is always a pleasure when our former colleagues from this Assembly become presidents of our member states – and this is a double pleasure for me, Mr Voronin, because you come from my group. Because you know about the practice of the Council of Europe, I ask you whether you think that it could play a role in solving the problem of Transnistria? The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe has been exceptionally active in that respect, but what about the Council of Europe?

Mr Voronin, President of Moldova (interpretation)

in responding to Mrs Durrieu’s question, noted that the Transnistrian authorities did not recognise the government of Moldova. However, he joked that he would be willing to stand as President of Transnistria. He did not believe that the Transnistrian problem could be solved in six months, but he would do everything possible to solve the problem.

He welcomed Mr Ilaşcu’s question. Moldova did not wish to control Transnistria. His government was working very hard to solve the problem. He did realise how important it was to free the hostages, whom Mr Ilaşcu had mentioned.

He thanked the Group of the Unified European Left for helping in his political education. He hoped he had the support of the Assembly in solving the difficult problems which he faced. Earlier that day he had discussed with the leadership of the Assembly a number of programmes that could be undertaken in co-operation with the Council of Europe. He believed there could be concerted, consistent co-operation.

THE PRESIDENT

Thank you. We now have two questions on the independence of the judiciary, from Mr McNamara and Mr Jurgens.

Mr McNAMARA (United Kingdom)

I welcome you, President Voronin. You will be aware that the Assembly is currently voting on the list of candidates presented by Moldova for appointment as a judge at the European Court of Human Rights. You will also be aware of the controversy that surrounded the drawing up of that list, the complaints that were made about it in your country, the withdrawal of the original list and the fact that the President of the Court was so concerned that he wrote to the Committee of Ministers saying that he felt that the existing judge was being intimidated by the Moldovan Government.

How can we be certain that you will introduce procedures that ensure that the drawing up of any future list of candidates can be seen to be fair and open? What undertaking can you give us that there will be no attempt to interfere with the independence of a judge, either here in Strasbourg or within your own country?

Mr JURGENS (Netherlands)

I, too, welcome the presence of President Voronin in our midst, but does he agree that the complete independence and high quality of the judiciary constitute the very basis of democracy and the rule of law, and if so, will he guarantee that appointments of judges, especially at the European Court of Human Rights, will not be motivated by party political interests, thereby endangering democracy and the rule of law?

Mr Voronin, President of Moldova

explained that the nominations for the election of the judges had been late owing to the national elections. There were also some organisational problems. There were twenty-six candidates and all of their details had been published in the national press and discussed openly. It was the government who proposed the candidates not the party. He was happy with all of the candidates and waited for the Council of Europe’s decision.

THE PRESIDENT

Thank you, President Voronin. We now move to questions on the trafficking of children, from Mrs Pozza Tasca and Mr Iwiński.

Mrs POZZA TASCA (Italy) (interpretation)

asked the President what he was doing to allow Moldovan children to develop fully with the same opportunities as other children in Europe.

Mr IWIŃSKI (Poland)

I, too, welcome you, President Voronin, particularly as your country has historically shared a border with mine.

I am aware of the different challenges that your country faces. It is of particular concern that, for economic reasons, a third of your active population has been forced to leave. Additionally, according to the latest issue of the French weekly, L’Express, at least 100 000 young women have been intercepted by international gangs involved in the female slave trade. What could be done to prevent such happenings in future?

Mr Voronin, President of Moldova (interpretation)

thanked Mrs Pozza Tasca, whom it was a pleasure to see again. As soon as his government had come to power, it had started to address trafficking in humans and the adoption of children. It had temporarily suspended adoptions by foreign citizens until controls could be introduced and information obtained on every child which had been adopted abroad. The work had started and the government was waiting for a response before it took a final decision.

Migration was a human right which they were obliged to respect but there was also the question of forced migration in his country. He did not agree that the proportion was as high as one third but it was nevertheless a problem. Some concrete measures to create new employment had been taken but economic and social problems persisted, as did the need for new investment.

THE PRESIDENT

Thank you, Mr Voronin. The next question on the Bessarabian Church comes from Mr Tudor.

Mr TUDOR (Romania)

Mr Ilaşcu is here at the Council of Europe because a change in his citizenship has enabled him to become a Romanian senator and a member of the Assembly. He followed a good strategy step by step.

As you already know, Mr Voronin, one of the main obligations that the Republic of Moldova assumed on its admission to the Council of Europe was its admission of the Bessarabian Orthodox Church. Unfortunately, this obligation was not fulfilled, so the Bessarabian Orthodox Church sued the government from Chisinau and the case is quite advanced in the European Court of Human Rights here in Strasbourg. Without God, we can do nothing.

My question is: what do you intend to do, as the newly elected President, so that a Christian church already functioning de facto can be recognised de jure so that the Republic of Moldova may observe its international commitments?

THE PRESIDENT

Thank you, Mr Tudor. I note that your question was twice as long as the time allocated. I call Mr Voronin.

Mr Voronin, President of Moldova (interpretation)

said that perhaps he knew better than the questioner the circumstances of Mr Ilaşcu. As for his question, the church was separate from the state and the government was obliged neither to encourage nor to obstruct the solution to the problem. He believed it would be solved in due course.

THE PRESIDENT

Thank you, Mr Voronin. The next question is from Mr Vahtre on the Russian language.

Mr VAHTRE (Estonia) (translation)

Immediately after the results of the recent parliamentary elections became known, you declared that the communists would introduce Russian as the second official language in Moldova. Does your party still hold that position? If so, what measures have been taken and what is the public opinion?

Mr Voronin, President of Moldova (interpretation)

said that the former regime had adopted statutes on the use of languages in the Moldovan territory which stipulated that Russian was a language of communication for its citizens. Unfortunately, that had not been respected. The situation was being monitored and if the trend were to change, the questioner would be informed.

THE PRESIDENT

Thank you, Mr Voronin. That brings the question session to an end. We thank you warmly for your answers and for being willing to subject yourself to that process. None of us is all that enthusiastic about it, whatever people may pretend. Thank you again for your address and for being with us.