Klaus Werner


President of Romania

Speech made to the Assembly

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Mr President, dear members of the Parliamentary Assembly, Mr Secretary General, excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, I warmly thank President Agramunt for the invitation to be here today and for his very kind introduction.

I am truly honoured to address this distinguished Assembly. My presence is one more proof of the deep attachment and respect Romania nurtures towards the Council of Europe, the first major international organisation to which my country acceded after the fall of communism. Our accession to the Council of Europe in 1993 was one of the first major steps in the process of democratic transition in Romania. It also played a key role in the European and Euro-Atlantic integration of my country. Romania’s 10-year European Union membership, which we celebrate this year, can be also considered a result of the tremendous transformative power of membership of the Council of Europe.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe greatly contributed to developing the rule of law in my country and strengthening respect for human rights, and those things characterise present-day Romania. In this context, I stress the importance of the Council of Europe’s legal instruments in consolidating a democratic State. Convinced of this fact, Romania has ratified 107 of the Council of Europe’s conventions.

“One of the main challenges we all face in Europe is, unfortunately, the rise of populism, radicalism, xenophobia and Europhobia.”

Through constant dialogue with the Council of Europe, Romania also became a model – I speak about this from my personal experience – in protecting and promoting the rights of persons belonging to national minorities. The successful Romanian intercultural model is recognised as such at a European level and this genuine model of inter-ethnic relations entails the active involvement at all levels, whether local or national, of national minorities’ representatives in the decision-making process for not just the minority in question but society as a whole. It involves not only the mere co-existence of minority groups with the majority population, which defines the so-called multicultural model, but the interaction of minority and majority groups, thus fostering an intercultural project. It is a project that enriches our society and civic spirit through cultural diversity and proves the virtues of interaction and tolerance. In my view, national minorities represent a true, enriching asset of a nation and contribute to building solid bridges between States.

As for the Roma minority and their social inclusion, we can see that our step-by-step multi-institutional approach over the past 15 years has produced tangible results. Of course, there are still things to be done, but the confirmation of our results can be found, among other things, in the rise of the political participation of Roma, the efficiency of the strategies implemented and the figures published, for instance, by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights. I want to reaffirm in this context Romania’s strong support for the work of the Council of Europe in this area and our commitment to further work towards the social inclusion of Roma both in Romania and in Europe more generally.

As for the keystone of human rights protection in Europe, the European Convention on Human Rights, it is obvious that the continued efforts of the Strasbourg Court alone are not enough. States party to the Convention should be the first protectors of human rights. At the same time, we can neither ignore nor tolerate situations in which judgments of the Court are not implemented in certain member States. On the other hand, Protocol 16 to the Convention will contribute to the better implementation of the Convention standards through judicial dialogue. Romania has already signed Protocol 16 and we are in the process of drafting the piece of legislation necessary to introduce in our procedural framework the possibility of the highest national courts asking for advisory opinions. However, the effort started in 2010 regarding the reform of the Court, which has already showed concrete results, should continue so as to streamline further its activity and improve its overall efficiency. Romania will do its best to support the accomplishment of this goal.

Present-day Europe is faced with multiple crises unprecedented since the end of the Cold War and capable of undermining our core values. In this complex context and as a result of their capacity to regenerate and modernise, the Council of Europe’s standards and institutions are even more relevant. In this sense, I commend the activities not only of the European Court of Human Rights, which I have already mentioned, but of the Commissioner for Human Rights, the Committee for the Prevention of Torture, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, the Venice Commission, the Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, MONEYVAL and, not least, this Assembly.

I want to dedicate a special word to the Venice Commission, whose relevance nowadays cannot be emphasised enough in the light of various evolutions in some European democracies. We benefited a lot from its expertise, from its opinion on the first democratic Constitution of Romania of 1991 to the assistance with so many essential pieces of legislation to uphold the rule of law in Romania. Its activity needs to be backed as it performs its duties as guardian of democracy through law, and Romania will continue to support its efforts.

I am therefore pleased to inform you that on 6 April I, together with Secretary General Jagland, will open in Bucharest an international conference co-organised with the Venice Commission on the role of the majority and the opposition in a democratic society. It is a highly topical subject given the background of certain changes in some member States. I praise the initiative of the Secretary General, who asked the Venice Commission to elaborate guidelines on the matter.

We need solid democratic societies, in which majorities do not abuse their otherwise legitimate rights just because they are a majority and the principle of loyal and constructive co-operation between and among democratic institutions works without failure. In a democratic society, normal criticism from the opposition cannot be seen as a destructive element or interpreted as a lack of acceptance of the results of democratic elections. It is just part – as legitimate as the effort and activity of the democratic majority – of a sound liberal democratic system, which we all need if we want to cope successfully with the challenges of our times.

Another challenge that we in Europe all face, unfortunately, is the rise of populism, radicalism, xenophobia and europhobia. Europhobia is not only against the values of the European Union; it also very much against the fundamental values, principles and norms of the Council of Europe. This Organisation has a key role to play in fighting those pernicious phenomena, which attack the very basics of our democratic societies. We have to fight them with all the forces, instruments and mechanisms available to us. Romania will not spare any effort to do so.

I am glad that the latest parliamentary elections in Romania, held in December, did not bring any europhobic, xenophobic or radical political parties into the Romanian Parliament, which shows eloquently the maturity of Romanian society. I hope that the results of the various elections that will take place this year in Europe will prove the same maturity of European citizens, against all odds.

Alongside serious European internal challenges, we face another major threat: violent extremism and radicalisation leading to terrorism. The Council of Europe has taken up an important role in fighting terrorism by strengthening its legal instruments and improving its bodies. Romania firmly condemns all terrorist attacks and reiterates its firm support for combating any form of terrorism. Our common efforts aimed at countering the phenomenon of foreign fighters should remain grounded in our need to protect and reinforce our values. That is why Romania and Spain launched in 2015 an initiative on the creation of an international court against terrorism in order to prevent, deter and punish terrorist crimes. I invite you all to support that initiative. It is also why Romania signed in March 2016 the additional protocol to the Council of Europe Convention on the Prevention of Terrorism and will ratify it soon.

In a broader context, I would also like to underline that Romania supports every joint action against cybercrime. That is essential for combating terrorism, organised crime and human trafficking. As host State of the Council of Europe’s Cybercrime Programme Office, which became operational in Bucharest in 2014, Romania acknowledged the growing need of States to strengthen their capacity to properly combat cybercrime.

As members will know, Romania is also a staunch supporter of the democratic process in its vicinity. In that context, the role of Parliamentary Assembly members in consolidating democracy is fundamental. Romania has strongly supported the Republic of Moldova’s democratic development since its declaration of independence in 1991. Romania was the first State in the world to recognise the independence of the Republic of Moldova. After 26 years, we hold firmly that the only path that can bring long-term prosperity to our neighbouring State is that of European integration. That goal can only be reached through a profound reform process based on ensuring domestic political stability and the responsible involvement of all political and institutional factors in consolidating the process. That is essential for the State’s modernisation and the support of its European course, to the direct benefit of its citizens. I therefore strongly encourage the Council of Europe community to continue its support for the Republic of Moldova, while keeping in view the next parliamentary elections in 2018, which will be crucial for the democratic future of the country.

As for Ukraine, Romania strongly supports the sovereignty, territorial integrity and unity of our neighbour. The Minsk agreements are the best tool for solving the crisis and should be fully implemented. The Council of Europe has a major role to play in the reform process in Ukraine, and Romania remains a strong supporter of all these efforts.

The situation in the Western Balkans is still marked by a certain degree of insecurity, originating in the difficult economic situation, the rise of nationalism, organised crime and the threat of religious radicalisation. The strategic importance of the Western Balkans in Europe should motivate us to overcome those difficulties and persevere in projecting our values of democracy, the rule of law and prosperity. To achieve that aim, the European Union enlargement process needs to continue and, as appropriate, the European Union should consider assuming more creative means and a broader approach. The Council of Europe’s complementary role has proven crucial in that pursuit. We are grateful for its involvement in monitoring respect for human rights, protection of the rights of persons belonging to national minorities and respect for democratic principles.

My presence here coincides with the commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust. I took part in an event yesterday and inaugurated an exhibition called “Education and Remembrance: the Holocaust in Romania”. This is taking place while my country holds the chairmanship of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. Raising awareness of the Holocaust and teaching younger generations about the tragic events that occurred during the Second World War has been a top priority for Romania in recent years.

With the chairmanship of the Alliance, we have strived to provide support to educational establishments and to educators on how to use the lessons learned from the tragedy of the Holocaust to promote knowledge and tolerance in our society. Students across my country have had the opportunity to attend workshops, lectures, study trips and contests which are meant to equip them with knowledge and skills to adequately relate to this tragic historical episode. Furthermore, Romanian institutions have also established international partnerships for training civil servants and law enforcement personnel in combating anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial, racism, xenophobia, discrimination and hate speech in the public sphere. In 2015, Romania introduced in its criminal legislation one of the most modern sets of legal provisions in Europe banning extreme nationalism, racism, xenophobia, negationism and anti-Semitism. This new legislation allows for the prosecution of such actions even if they were performed on social networks.

I would like to underline here the importance of combating the threat of the spreading of hate speech on social networks and the need for effective institutional instruments to follow and ban this type of action. I call on all of you to act against this menace. These kinds of measures, as taken by Romania, are instrumental in providing the correct reaction when faced with attempts to deny or distort history or to "promote" people who are guilty of crimes against peace and humanity. This approach should be followed by all Council of Europe member States. In May 2016, a working definition on anti-Semitism was adopted on the occasion of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance plenary meeting in Bucharest. This was a great achievement, but keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive, and fighting anti-Semitism and all forms of racism, discrimination and xenophobia, is a collective endeavour. I once again praise the activity in this field of this distinguished Assembly and of all the other Council of Europe institutions.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am sincerely convinced that the Council of Europe and this Assembly, in particular, must and will remain a major player in upholding the rule of law and safeguarding human rights, against the background of the current challenges. A new Council of Europe Summit, in 2019, would constitute an endorsement, at the highest political level, of the key role that the Council of Europe plays for the future of our continent. As future holders of the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, in the first semester of 2019, Romania stands ready to contribute to a successful Summit of the Council of Europe, if the member States decide to organise it.

In Romania’s view, the work of the Council of Europe is vital for maintaining and safeguarding our democratic values and principles. I assure you that Romania will continue to make every effort necessary in supporting this essential mission. You may count on me, you may count on Romania. Thank you.


Thank you very much, Mr President, for your most interesting address. As I said before, 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. I will now allow one question from each of the political groups.

Mr KOX (Netherlands), Spokesperson for the Group of the Unified European Left

Thank you very much, President Iohannis, for your most interesting speech, in which you elaborated on the relationship between Romania and Moldova. Your country was the first to recognise Moldova, but since then the relationship has been, to put it mildly, rather complex. At this moment, your ideas about the future of Moldova and of EU integration are quite different from those of newly elected President Dodon, who is not in favour of the association agreement with the European Union and pleads for the neutrality of his country. Nevertheless, you both share an interest in solving the divide in Moldova. How can Romania help to overcome that divide between Transnistria and the rest of Moldova? Could you be of any help? What do you think of President Dodon’s new proposal?

Mr Iohannis, President of Romania

Thank you for your question. I guess you all know that Moldova is of the utmost importance to Romania, not only because it is our neighbour, but because of historical, cultural and linguistic links, and of course our common desire to build strong democratic systems. Romania has been a fair, reliable partner for Moldova during all these years. Romania and Moldova managed together to build programmes destined to strengthen the rule of law and to reform the judicial systems. The political systems became stronger. As is natural, this process has its ups and downs, but Romania is determined to continue to be a strong, reliable partner for Moldova. During the last month, in Romania we analysed our relations with Moldova, including in the light of the latest elections in Moldova, and we decided to become an even closer ally for Moldova. We therefore decided to extend our aid programmes and to continue, for example, with important financial aid for the Republic of Moldova. We are going to continue to help local communities to rebuild and to modernise schools, hospitals, local transportation, and to be involved in a very constructive way in the promotion of the much-needed reforms in Moldova. That is what we are going to do; no matter who is going to be elected in which position, we are going to stay as a partner for Moldova.

In our opinion, the one sustainable path for Moldova is the European path. On the other hand, we know very well that Moldova has very specific problems, one of which you mentioned – the Transnistrian problem. Romania’s opinion is that that problem can be solved only through diplomacy; no other solution is thinkable or viable. Negotiations take place in the 5 + 2 format, but the negotiations got stuck a couple of years ago. The Germany presidency of the OSCE managed to move things towards a new phase of dialogue, which I appreciate very much. It is a good sign in this complicated situation. If you are a friend of Moldova, be sure that we are a friend of Moldova. Together, we can solve problems.

Mr VAREIKIS (Lithuania), Spokesperson for the Group of the European People’s Party

When you became the president, you expressed the very strong will to fight corruption. New results from Transparency International today show that Romania scores 48 on a scale from zero to 100, so there has been an improvement, but it is quite modest. What are your comments on that? Is the mission to fight corruption possible and what would you suggest to our countries in the Council of Europe?

Mr Iohannis, President of Romania

Thank you so much for that question. You have touched on one of my favourite themes: fighting corruption. Fighting corruption in Romania is not an easy task. It is very complicated, but I believe in Romania and in the capacity of Romanians to build a solid, mature democracy. I believe that corruption in Romania can be eradicated, but there is a long way to go from that belief to the fact. We are determined to go that way and we are currently fighting corruption with good results. Corruption is an endemic problem in Romania – I hope that it is not in your countries and that everybody is fine – and if somebody imagines that it could be eradicated in one, two or 10 years, I can tell you that he is wrong.

Fighting corruption is a long, painful and ugly process that brings up the ugliest facets of a democratic society. The fact that we are successfully fighting corruption leads to daily breaking news, saying, for instance, “Ex-politician charged with corruption” or “Public employee charged with mismanaging public money”. That is extremely stressful for society and for politicians, and the results come, but they come slowly. That is why corruption cannot be fought in the short term. It can be fought, and probably eradicated, if we believe in the fight and keep going until we win. If not, the other guys will win, and that is not something that I can imagine for Romania.

Mr SCHENNACH (Austria), Spokesperson for the Socialist Group

Pictures of and information about your country over the past weeks and months have made us worried that the sickness of Macedonia has arrived in Romania, with recordings, videos, documents and illegal distribution by the intelligence service and others. That does not paint a good picture and puts pressure on the justice system. Are you behind the parliamentary investigation of that, and will personal and legal decisions be taken?

Mr Iohannis, President of Romania

We all know that the media are part of political life, but we also know that media reports are not designed as proof of guilt or, on the contrary, lack of guilt. No matter how interesting and important media reports are for us as politicians, we should not mistake them for hard proof. I, as president, support any committee and procedure, and every institution, to find out whether anybody has proceeded illegally. I believe in the legal path. If somebody makes a mistake, he will pay for it. If not, his image should stay clean. In short, of course I support any and every procedure that leads to illegalities being uncovered.

Mr D. DAVIES (United Kingdom), Spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group

Mr President, as you will know, Dan Adamescu, who was the owner of a newspaper that was critical of your government, died in prison this week. There have been suggestions that he was denied a fair trial, access to medical treatment and access to parole. When his son, a playwright who lives in London, took action against one of your predecessors, he was served with a European extradition warrant. I accept what you say about the importance of fighting corruption, but it is important that this is not used as a means to silence people. Will the Romanian Government uphold the right to fair trials, fair treatment of prisoners convicted of any offence, and freedom of the press?

Mr Iohannis, President of Romania

I was not acquainted with the person you mentioned, so I will not comment on that. But, yes, as President of Romania, I stand for fair trials and fair media approaches. As I said to your colleague, I am ready to support all necessary legal procedures to establish the truth.

Mr XUCLÀ (Spain), Spokesperson for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe

I congratulate you on the Romanian-Spanish common project to set up an international court against terrorism. What do you consider the key initiative to avoid populism, and why do you think populism is increasing around Europe and around the world?

Mr Iohannis, President of Romania

How much time have I got?


At least 10 minutes.

Mr Iohannis, President of Romania

This is a very broad topic. I am a member of the European Council, and on several occasions we have discussed the future of the union, the way our constituents have voted in recent years, the fact that whoever has called a referendum has lost it, and the fact that populism has become popular again. Politicians usually have opinions about every subject. Everybody has an explanation for the populism, europhobia and xenophobia that we face, but we have to be honest. We usually blame the media and migrants – others – but we should use a mirror if we are to explain why populism has become popular again.

I think we have a problem in Europe, and perhaps elsewhere, too. Too often, we avoid giving clear answers to clear questions. Too often, we tell people one thing during political campaigns and do something else during our mandate. Too often, we think that our constituents would not understand our plans, so we do not explain what we want to do.

I have come to a conclusion, which I shared with my colleagues in our discussions in the European Council. Europe has all kinds of problems – problems with the economy, with migrants, with the Eastern border, with the Southern border and with the banks – but at the root I think we have a credibility problem. Politicians and the institutions we built are not credible any more. If we want to make things better and beat the populists, we must not become populists ourselves. We should reconnect with the people and tell them what the problem is and what we intend to do for them. If we do that, I think we will have to speak less often about the rise of populism, extremism, europhobia and xenophobia.

Mr FOURNIER (France) (interpretation)

Mr President, recent events relating to a major State service seem to have provided arguments to the detractors of the fight against corruption in Romania. Romania has done a lot to counter corruption in the past, so is that an individual shortcoming or a broader problem? Are there any legislative plans to work on that subject? What is the content of the European Commission’s last report on whether to lift the co-operation and verification mechanism? What does it say about developments in the Romanian judiciary? What is your assessment of its conclusions?

Mr Iohannis, President of Romania

You raise a very good subject – thank you. I am pleased to tell you that the latest report on the CVM was issued two hours ago, and it is very positive – surprise, surprise. Romania is always good for surprises, sometimes even positive ones.

The latest report on the CVM states that consistent progress has been made in all areas, but we know that a lot of things still have to be done. More precisely, it sets out 12 areas where we have to work harder to ensure progress. It states for the first time that it is not advisable – this is what the Commission says – to link the CVM report and results to other issues, such as Schengen or European funding. We are going to continue our work. It states that if Romania fulfils the 12 requests, the CVM is going to be finished, terminated, closed – “phased out”, as President Juncker and I said in the meeting in which we discussed the subject.

Be assured that Romania has systems of checks and balances in place. It is a myth that the secret services provide strange proofs in penal dossiers. I assure you that that is not possible. I know, because I am President of Romania. If a charge is made, the person who makes the complaint should go before the relevant entity and it will be clarified. Right now, as I speak, the head of one of the secret services is in our parliament clarifying such issues; undoubtedly he will do so. Talking about facts and European reports is one thing but explaining myths is usually difficult, so I will stick to the facts.

Mr BILDARRATZ (Spain) (interpretation)

Many political parties and organisations have shared their concerns about Romanians who fear for their identity. Have there been any advances in promoting the Hungarian minority’s identity? You talked about minorities in your speech, but are you co-operating with the Szekler National Council, for example, or the associations that promote the Hungarian minority’s identity?

Mr Iohannis, President of Romania

Thank you for your question. This is very important issue for Romania and the Council of Europe, which is why I spoke about it extensively in my speech. It is also important for me as a private person. As you may know, I myself am a member of an ethnic minority. Just imagine – a member of a small ethnic minority is President of Romania. That is an indication of the openness of the Romanians.

In Romania, we have a large number of ethnic minorities. I spoke in my address about one of them: Roma. Another large ethnic minority is the Hungarian minority, but we also have Ukrainians, Jews, Germans, Italians and so on. We do not have Spaniards so far, but who knows? Right from the start, Romania established a very interesting model. Politicians, from that time to this day, understood that ethnic minorities are not a problem, but an opportunity to make our society better. We profit from diversity, and institutional support was there right from the start. We accepted and introduced the principle of positive political discrimination for ethnic minority organisations.

In the Romanian Parliament, there are 18 Members representing 18 rather small ethnic minorities. The larger Hungarian minority is represented by Members elected on a regular path – they usually receive a large number of votes. So we do not only listen to minorities; they are actively involved in the Romanian political system. Hungarians have parliamentary representation. As with many others, they have schools and even university departments in their language. I can assure you that there is no problem called the “Hungarian problem”. We have Hungarians with us. They are an active and well-integrated part of Romanian society and that is how it is going to stay. As President, I have constant and, if I may say so, very good contact with the leaders of the Hungarian community.


Thank you, President Iohannis. Speaking of Hungarians, I give the floor to a member of the Hungarian delegation, Mr Németh.

Mr NÉMETH (Hungary)

The restitution process for church properties in Romania has been regressing, not advancing. The cases of the Sfîntu Gheorghe Sepsiszentgyörgy, Unirea Theological Gymnasium and Székely Mikó College are among the most notable. A few years ago, these properties were restituted and now they are being renationalised by the State. Is it really conceivable that, 10 or more years after restitution, church property is going to be nationalised again?

Mr Iohannis, President of Romania

That is a very particular and concrete question. As it happens, I am a teacher so I am interested in this issue and know pretty well what is going on. Let me clarify a couple of points. A building restituted to the church community is restituted. That is absolutely not in question. It is not a case of talking about renationalising, because nobody intends to do that. It is restituted and that is that. Because of an administrative rush, schools have administrative problems relating to how they are organised and managed. This is because our Minister of Education did not intervene in good time. However, this matter is undergoing a review to clarify the situation. As President, you will know that I am not involved in government procedures, but I hope this situation will be clarified as soon as possible. The centrepiece of your question was about restitution. Let me assure you that if a building has been restituted, and it rightly belongs to the community, it will stay there. Nobody – I repeat, nobody – in Romania intends to put renationalising procedures in place.


We must now conclude the questions to President Iohannis.

Thank you very much, President Iohannis, for your important address and the exchange of views. You highlighted the benefits that Council of Europe expertise has brought to the democratic transformation of Romania. Indeed, our Organisation and the Assembly has been, and continues to be, a beacon of democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Europe. I thank you for your commitment to our Organisation and your words of support for a new Summit of heads of State and government of the Council of Europe, which will provide the political impetus for our action in the years to come.

Allow me also to highlight your contribution to our Holocaust remembrance ceremony yesterday, in your capacity as chairman of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. The exhibition we are hosting is an important reminder of our duty to memory and our attachment to the ideals of the Council of Europe.

Finally, let me welcome the idea of a conference on the role of the majority and the opposition in a democracy. This is a very important issue in today’s society and I thank you for the invitation. The Assembly has produced a lot of reports on this issue. I am sure we can make a valuable contribution to this event.

Thank you very much, President Iohannis. I wish you all the best.