Vladimir

Voronin

President of Moldova

Speech made to the Assembly

Wednesday, 1 October 2003

I felt a sort of satisfaction as I was mounting this most authoritative rostrum in Europe, not only because Moldova’s chairmanship of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers is coming to an end, but because my country has worked so hard at self-improvement lately that we have taken a completely new approach to evaluating our strengths and priorities for future development.

The experience of constructive partnership with the Council of Europe has not only provided a model for resolving internal political problems but given an impetus to our setting of new objectives, including, primarily, Moldova’s integration into the European Union. Crucially, that co-operation has inspired optimism and given the authorities and civil society confidence that the objective is achievable and that success depends on our own political will and consistency rather than on the interests of the great powers.

Fruitful co-operation between Moldova and the Council of Europe began in 1995, but the really radical changes in our relations have taken place in the past eighteen months. Those relations are now more exacting and demand more responsibility from us; there is also greater mutual commitment.

I remind you that Moldova experienced a serious political crisis as it was preparing to assume the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers. Chişinău’s squares were occupied by demonstrators, and there seemed to be no realistic prospect of a normal dialogue between the government and the opposition. The government, who gained the majority of votes at the election, refrained from using force against the demonstrators, who created disorder over several months, but it was seen by its supporters as weak and lacking confidence.

At the same time, the government’s opponents were making unfounded allegations that it was totalitarian and dictatorial. Acts of provocation from both sides almost led to a tragic outcome in the country. Sooner or later, the real motives behind those events will become clear. The future will reveal the true aims of those who organised those strange and so far unexplained events between January and April 2002.

One point, however, is important for all of us today: it was only the Council of Europe’s active involvement that led Moldova out of that unnatural and artificially provoked situation. Only a timely legal appreciation of the situation enabled my country to recover from a state of political helplessness.

Frankly, two Council of Europe resolutions on Moldova seemed at first to be unfairly severe. As President, I found it difficult to make straightforward decisions based on the recommendations – decisions that would be unpopular with many people in Moldova. Besides, the recommendations for immediate implementation included some that had been constantly ignored by the Moldovan authorities since 1995. That led to the question: why should we have to implement them, and why immediately?

The recommendations that seemed too uncompromising included the following: to register the Bessarabian Church, an issue disputed by the overwhelming majority of believers in Moldova; to sit at the round table with the opposition, thus practically ignoring our own political majority in parliament; and to transfer television to the public sector, when even our immediate neighbours have no such experience. Nevertheless, those recommendations demonstrated that Moldova was required to do only what the country itself had undertaken to accomplish on becoming a member of the Council of Europe. Meeting those requirements and criteria means adhering to the Council of Europe’s principles – the principles of modern democracy.

The opinion of the Parliamentary Assembly and the Council of Europe experts could have been ignored, following a trite accusation of double standards, but it would have demonstrated once more the immaturity of the country’s democratic institutions and the government’s weakness and indecision. We unreservedly implemented most of the recommendations and gained not only political stability, but confidence that our progress in implementing European standards has a highly positive influence on political processes in Moldova.

Our opportunity to resolve a political crisis through joint efforts was convincing proof that democracy is not a slogan, but an exceptionally complicated and, at the same time, effective instrument of managing society. However, if democracy is to work it requires us to take responsibility and to have a sincere will to improve the situation. Democracy, if you like, is a form of political consciousness, and citizens will judge their country according to whether it is present.

From this rostrum today I would like to thank all those who rendered support to my country. First among them is the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Mr Walter Schwimmer. I thank also Mrs Durrieu, Mr Vahtre and Mr Bársony, the strict but objective rapporteurs for Moldova, along with many other sincere friends of our country. It was your support and initiative that enabled Moldova seriously to prepare for the honourable and responsible task of chairing the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers. We have now established an ongoing co-operation with the Council of Europe. I must confess that it has been easier to chair the Committee of Ministers than it was to prepare for the chairmanship. I am sure that we shall maintain a high level of productivity and effectiveness in our last month’s work.

We have learnt much during this year. We have had personal experience of what it means to exist and work in a complex context of international relations, mutual obligations and agreements. We have learnt what any modern European state must know about resolving complicated economic, social, political and other problems in the context of freedom, openness, and the mass participation of citizens in the state decision-making process.

We shall use this invaluable experience in fulfilling another very ambitious goal – that of joining the European Union. Our argument is not based merely on the geographic claim that we are part of Europe. Our main premise is that our country’s place is among those who share fundamental European values of human rights and freedoms and of proper social and national development. We realise how difficult that path will be, but there is no alternative. Just a few days ago, our government approved the blueprint for Moldova’s integration into the European Union, which once again confirms that there is no room here for any ambiguous interpretations.

We see our progress towards the European integration and implementation of European standards as the main way to integrate our society, to unite the country and to resolve the present Transnistrian problem. It is only on the basis of European principles of linguistic and cultural diversity and protection of ethnic minorities’ rights that we will be able to restore Moldova’s state integrity and overcome the serious consequences of nationalism and separatism. As we seek to build a multi-ethnic Moldova, we realise that we rely on the best traditions of European integrity, on that legacy that has always called for peace, solidarity and mutual understanding. In this connection, we are grateful to the Council of Europe for its support in developing and continuing integration in Moldova, which does not place barriers of historical right and longstanding ambitions either in the past or in the present and which does not know bad or good peoples but treats us all, first and foremost, as human beings.

To a great extent, this approach must form the psychological background for the radical change to the constitutional foundations of the Republic of Moldova that will become the main guarantor of integrity and stability of our state. I remind you that in February this year, I offered Transnistria an opportunity to participate in drafting a new constitution of the Republic of Moldova. Today we have a joint constitutional committee, which despite difficulties and contradictions, is drafting a model of an absolutely new federal set-up for Moldova.

However complicated the path to the preparation of the new constitution, and however much the chosen principles may be criticised, I wish to state firmly and with full responsibility that federation is our firm choice. I state it so categorically only because the unitary Moldova, over the past decade, has been unable to offer a method of reintegration that would guarantee democracy, good will and non-violence in achievement of this goal. Chişinău is ready to share power and responsibility with the subjects of the future federation, as federation, essentially, is about delegation of powers. We now expect openness and sincerity from Transnistria, and for it to take active steps to put an end to its self-imposed isolation.

The Council of Europe is providing Moldova with great support in resolving these difficult problems. The recent conference on frozen conflicts in Chişinău showed that the Council of Europe could be actively and effectively involved in the settlement of conflicts on our continent. Aspects of democratic security, respect for the fundamental rights of populations involved in such conflicts, the functioning of democratic institutions in conflict zones – these are the activities where our Organisation can realise its potential.

Our working experience in the Council of Europe shows that it is the only pan-European organisation that currently brings together the interests of the whole of Europe, and that unites, on the same fundamental principles, the countries that have joined the European Union and the countries that are governed by other suprastate interests. Today, the Council of Europe is an excellent place to discuss and resolve problems concerning not only human rights, social and cultural programmes of co‑operation, but also political and economic problems, freedom of movement, regional security, and the fight against extremism and new threats. Hence, the Council of Europe’s mission is to become a leading organisation that will determine the introduction and observance of basic standards of sustainable development in European states. It is a structure invested with great responsibility and powers.

That is why we need the third summit of the Council of Europe – a full-scale pan-European meeting, at which state and government leaders will set out their positions on the fundamental challenges facing to the continent in the beginning of the third millennium. The summit’s slogan is, “Building a united Europe without dividing lines” and that is the principle of any state striving to meet the challenges of globalisation.

I suggest that many of the problems that have developed in our states provide clear evidence in favour of these changes. In the long run, only these changes will enable the ambitious programme of European integration to overcome the artificial borders created by historical conflicts and stubborn stereotypes.

Thank you for your attention.

THE PRESIDENT

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

I remind members that questions must be limited to thirty seconds and no more. Colleagues should be asking questions and not making speeches. Contrary to what happens with questions to the Committee of Ministers, I will allow supplementary questions only at the end and only if time permits.

The first question is by Mr Atkinson.

Mr ATKINSON (United Kingdom)

Mr Voronin, you need no reminding of the commitment that the Russian Federation entered into when it joined the Council of Europe in 1996 that it would remove its 14th Army and its substantial stockpile of ammunition from your country’s soil. Several deadlines have passed since that commitment was made. What is the latest position?

Mr Voronin, President of Moldova (interpretation)

said that withdrawal of ammunition was taking place. Unfortunately, Moldova was not able to fulfil the pledge given at the Istanbul Summit to complete final withdrawal by the end of 2003. That was because of technical obstacles and even ideological issues.

THE PRESIDENT

Thank you. Mrs Zapfl-Helbling is not here, so the next question is from Mr Markowski.

Mr MARKOWSKI (Poland)

My question is about the resolution discussed at the protest meeting of the Christian Democratic People’s Party on the state of democratic institutions and human rights in Moldova which was adopted on 28 September 2003. We read in the resolution about matters such as the independence of the judiciary. It makes it clear that local autonomy has been destroyed, the freedom of parties is limited and the right to private ownership is being ignored. The resolution refers to fifteen issues that are similar to the ones that I have mentioned. Mr Voronin, what steps are you going to take to change the image of Moldova as seen by members of the Council of Europe recently?

Mr Voronin, President of Moldova (interpretation)

said that the question was based on slogans mainly by the opposition. The allegations about freedom of political parties and the right to private ownership were not accurate and had not been confirmed by monitoring reports.

THE PRESIDENT

Thank you. Mrs Kósá-Kovács is not here, so the next question is from Mr Gross.

Mr GROSS (Switzerland)

Mr Voronin, we were delighted to hear what you said in Chişinău and in a meeting about efforts to federalise the country and to integrate Transnistria. You have referred to that again, but will you tell us precisely how the countries with similar experience could support this process? We have read about the difficulties, but countries such as Finland and Switzerland would be very interested in supporting the process.

Mr Voronin, President of Moldova (interpretation)

said that over the past five years Moldova had been looking at the experiences of other federal states, which experienced similar conditions. Moldova would take into account the experience of Switzerland and of other countries.

Mr COX (United Kingdom)

Mr Voronin, I listened with interest to your speech, but you did not refer to the action that your government is taking to stop the traffic of people, especially women, from Moldova to other member states of the Council of Europe. What are you doing to stop this evil trade in people’s lives?

Mr Voronin, President of Moldova (interpretation)

said that he was sorry that time limitations had prevented him from addressing that important question. Moldova was taking serious steps to combat human trafficking. A special department to deal with the issue had been established and links were being forged with countries where the number of Moldovans was increasing. There were also bilateral agreements with other countries on the employment of Moldovan nationals.

Mr GORIS (Belgium)

On the subject of the investment climate, the former Moldovan Government conducted a policy of privatisation and joint ventures between notable Moldovan state companies and western investors. Mr Voronin, is it true that your government is renationalising several of those companies without financial compensation even though, several years ago, the western investors paid huge sums of money to the Moldovan state during the privatisation process?

Is it also true that the judicial courts agree with that policy because you appointed new judges to the higher courts? I will be grateful to hear your answer.

Mr Voronin, President of Moldova (interpretation)

said that renationalisation was not a government aim. Over 80% of businesses in Moldova were in private ownership. The government was monitoring how privatisation took place, but regardless of the form of ownership, all enterprises worked for the good of the country.

THE PRESIDENT

The second part of the question was about judges. Mr Goris, will you please repeat the second part of your question?

Mr GORIS (Belgium)

The second part of my question was about the fact that the courts in Moldova had confirmed the policy because Mr Voronin had appointed new judges, especially to the higher courts. Is that true?

Mr Voronin, President of Moldova (interpretation)

said that these new judges had not been appointed because of their views on government policies.

Mrs BURBIENĖ (Lithuania)

As is made clear in Recommendation 1605 of 2003 of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, the economic development of Moldova requires external debt restructuring so as to make more funds available for economic growth and the reduction of poverty. What has been done through work with the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other creditors to make the debt burden easier to bear for your country?

Mr Voronin, President of Moldova (interpretation)

said it was not necessary to restructure but it was necessary to honour Moldova’s debts, and progress in that respect had been made over the past three years. Debt was a very big problem for the Moldovan economy. It was important that any more loans should be avoided; Moldova should work with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. A programme to fight national poverty had been developed and implementation had begun.

Mr BUZATU (Romania)

Do you think that there is a direct connection between the politics of the Republic of Moldova regarding Europe or the Russian Federation and books recently published in Kishinev that attempt to falsify Romanian history?

Mr Voronin, President of Moldova (interpretation)

said there was no direct link; history textbooks were based on European principles and recommendations of the Council of Europe.

Mr PRISĂCARU (Romania) (interpretation)

said he has listened carefully to the Mr Voronin’s statement and congratulated him on it. He remarked that at a recent conference on “cold conflicts”, the President had suggested that the European Union participate in the solution to the Transnistrian problem. He asked what specifically the Moldovan Government was expecting from the European Union, and what Romania’s role would be, if any.

Mr Voronin, President of Moldova (interpretation)

replied that in the spring of 2003 the Nato summit declared it a regional conflict, not solely a Moldovan one. Moldova was now working on a new constitution and a referendum; the EU was closely involved in those processes. The EU had therefore been asked to open an office in Moldova, and it was hoped that the problem would soon be solved in a positive way.

Mr ILAŞCU (Romania) (interpretation)

said that the Russian Federation had indicated that it would not be withdrawing its troops from Transnistria at the end of the year, in conformity with its international obligations. He was still not clear how new peacekeeping forces would be deployed in Transnistria, whether they would replace Russian forces entirely, or work alongside them. He asked if that would be done through the United Nations, and what the situation was with regard to the three political prisoners.

Mr Voronin, President of Moldova (interpretation)

said that the forces should only be involved after the new constitution had been drafted and elections had taken place. The issue would be discussed and negotiated. The process of unification of Transnistria was difficult because of the presence of military forces. It would be premature to make any decision on the group of three prisoners. The subject had been raised with the Transnistrian authorities, but the matter was difficult as they were not willing to enter into discussions with Moldova.

Mr ČEKUOLIS (Lithuania) (interpretation)

asked Mr Veronin what means were used to encourage investment to support the growth of the economy in Moldova.

Mr Voronin, President of Moldova (interpretation)

agreed that investment was an important factor; Moldova was encouraging investment and had introduced laws in line with European laws. Moldova was working with investors in a number of countries, but the flow of investment was slow because of the Transnistrian conflict. However, approaches were now being made by investors to Moldova, not the other way round.

Mr POPA (Romania)

noted that discussions regarding the organisation of the Moldovan state would shortly start in the Mixed Constitutional Committee. He asked when the final outcome of that work could be expected, given that the original, six-month deadline for producing the new draft constitution had been missed.

Mr Voronin, President of Moldova (interpretation)

said that the aim was to finish the process of drawing up a new constitution and holding the referendum on it by April 2005.

Mr OLTEANU (Romania) (interpretation)

asked whether the provisions clamping down against “anti‑Moldovanism” were compatible with President Voronin’s stated desire for greater democracy.

Mr Voronin, President of Moldova (interpretation)

said that this was an internal issue and not a matter for the international community.

THE PRESIDENT

Thank you. We have some time for three or four additional questions. I shall start again from the top of the list.

Would you, Mr Atkinson, like to ask an additional question about the presence of Russian 14th Army in Moldova?

Mr ATKINSON (United Kingdom)

I was grateful for your original reply, Mr Voronin, but I was not entirely clear as to what new initiatives you might like the Council of Europe to take to press our colleagues to remove Russia’s forces and, in particular, its equipment and ammunition, from your soil. Is there any new initiative that you would like to suggest we take account of?

Mr Voronin, President of Moldova (interpretation)

replied that a set of proposals were scheduled to be discussed at the OSCE. The Russians had a commitment to the OSCE.

Mrs ZAPFL-HELBLING (Switzerland) (interpretation)

said she had recently discussed the issue of the trafficking of people, especially women, and human organs in Moldova. What was the President planning to do about it?

Mr Voronin, President of Moldova (interpretation)

said that, with regard to people trafficking, measures had already been taken and his government was taking a firm line on the matter. With regard to human organ trafficking, the matter was being constantly monitored.

Mr GROSS (Switzerland)

I shall try again: will Mr Voronin tell us more precisely what we can do to support the process as members of different countries with similar experience? Shall we visit your committees, discuss these issues with your people or visit Transnistria? What should we do to ensure that the process is carried out speedily, so that you can adhere to the timetable that you have set yourselves?

Mr Voronin, President of Moldova (interpretation)

said that all European institutions – the EU, the Council of Europe and the OSCE – were included fully, for which he was grateful. It was now important for there to be a new constitution and a referendum on it. The Venice Commission was directly involved in monitoring progress and would be helping with the new constitution. However, he was always open to proposals.

Mr COX (United Kingdom)

Thank you, Mr Voronin, for the frankness and honesty of your reply about the sad problems that your country faces with regard to the trafficking of people. May I assure you and your country that you will find many friends in this Assembly who will be prepared to work with you to try to stop this evil trafficking of people into fellow member states, including my own, the United Kingdom.

Mr GORIS (Belgium)

You told me, Mr Voronin, that your policy involves privatisation. There is a list of several companies that are being nationalised that I would like to hand over to you. Some observers told me that you are the only key to some solutions, so I ask you for the sake of the Moldovan state to find some solutions very soon on investing companies from western European countries.

Mr Voronin, President of Moldova (interpretation)

asked for a list of those companies that were interested.

THE PRESIDENT

Thank you. We must now conclude the questions to Mr Voronin.

On behalf of the Assembly, I thank him most warmly for coming to the Assembly and the Council of Europe. I thank him for his address and for the answers he has given to questions. All the best for your country