President of Ukraine

Speech made to the Assembly

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Mr Yanukovych said that it was an honour to be addressing the Parliamentary Assembly as President of Ukraine and Chairman of the Committee of Ministers. This was a significant time, the first that Ukraine had chaired the Committee of Ministers, and the occasion also marked the 16th anniversary of Ukraine’s membership of the Council of Europe. There were a number of rapidly changing political realities in the modern world which was increasingly globalised and interdependent. The Council of Europe had an important role to play at this time and its goals and tasks were crucial in facing modern challenges. Transformation was taking place within the Council of Europe, including work on the budget and structural changes, and Ukraine stood ready to facilitate those changes. The changes were not simply of an administrative nature but would be better referred to as institutional and political reform. These should establish the clear competencies of the European institutions. The priorities of the Ukrainian chairmanship were the rights of the child, support of human rights and the promotion and consolidation of local democracy. These were all aligned with the basic goals and principles of the Council of Europe and dialogue between the Ukrainian chairmanship and the Parliamentary Assembly had been important.

The United Nations Convention on Human Rights was the basis on which actions were taken at the Council of Europe. It was therefore a joint task which was being undertaken, the Court of Human Rights working within the legal system of the Convention. The accession of the European Union to the European Convention on Human Rights was a priority for Europe. This would consolidate the European system of human rights and facilitate improved interaction between the two organisations. It was easy to see the advantages: these were closer co-operation and co-ordination rather than duplication of functions. The European Union should be based on a clear set of principles including those used by the Council of Europe. The Council of Europe had an important role to play in encouraging this. The report of the Group of Eminent Persons, which would be discussed on Wednesday, was important and relevant. The conclusions of the report should be considered thoroughly at both the governmental and parliamentary levels and would be vital in addressing the challenges facing the modern world.

While the development of co-operation between the Council of Europe and non-member countries seeking support for their transition to democracy was important, the Council of Europe’s obligations within Europe should not be forgotten – in particular, developing an area free from capital punishment and the violation of human rights; and addressing issues of illegal migration, human trafficking and organised crime. It was also necessary to ensure human rights were respected in conflicts. These were all vital tasks on the agenda of the Council of Europe.

One year ago, he had shared his vision with the Council of Europe regarding reforms in Ukraine. Ambitious goals had been set to complete Ukraine’s obligations to the Council of Europe within one year. Legal reform was under way; for example, laws had been drafted on elections and criminal proceedings. These were being considered at a number of different levels. Parliament had already agreed a number of laws; for example those on access to public information, corruption, and free legal assistance. While there had been a number of positive developments within the past year on legal reform, he acknowledged that it was a complicated process which required significant efforts to complete.

While reforms had been implemented that were of great public significance – such as constitutional reform – others had also been initiated in the areas of criminal justice, specifically corruption and the public system of broadcasting. These were personal priorities of his, and co-ordinated and effective work in these areas would be continued. It was necessary to break through the previous years of stagnation, which had proved to be a challenge to progress. Democratic reforms would ensure compliance with European standards and recognition of the supremacy of law. He acknowledged that this process required significant time and effort but, already, the first results could be seen – for example work on economic reforms including a new budget and tax code and a law on judicial reforms.

He supported improvements to the political system through work on the constitutional assembly. These changes would take place within the correct legal structures and in co-operation with the Venice Commission. The Ukrainian Parliament had also considered the law on the prevention of corruption. He personally was committed to rooting out corruption, but some of his efforts had experienced opposition from individuals who had become rich as a result of embezzling public funds. Corruption remained a significant problem in Ukraine, but one which he had the political will to resolve, despite the fact that some important offices were held by his opponents, and some criminal cases had already been opened. There had been some misuse by the opposition of the legal system and some individuals had attempted to avoid responsibility for offences which were not of a political nature. These cases would be reviewed on the basis of objective factors.

Reforms to the judiciary were important in efforts to overcome corruption and develop civil society. Significant steps towards this had been taken in line with the Venice Commission and this should be taken in to account when considering reforms in Ukraine. The Criminal Procedural Code, which would be approved later in the year, and reform of the Criminal Court would represent the next steps in the process. These would represent important guarantees against corruption, ensuring that human rights were being respected. In particular, there would be equal treatment of the prosecution and defence in court. The rights of defence advocates would be strengthened, enabling them to collect and provide evidence on the same terms as the prosecution. Courts would be prohibited from accepting evidence which had emerged as a result of violence or threats to the accused in order to ensure human dignity.

Freedom of expression was fundamental to human rights and increased freedom of the media had been an important achievement of recent years. The public information law was significant in establishing clear relationships between the government and the press and giving citizens access to important data. The work on public broadcasting had increased the amount of objective information available to the public. He stressed that the government was open to dialogue in the area of freedom of speech. Any suggestion of violations was taken seriously, including any information received from international human rights organisations. He stressed that any pressure on journalists in the course of their investigations was viewed as unacceptable.

In summary, positive steps had been taken to consolidate human rights and fundamental freedoms. This had been the result of joint efforts between the government, civic organisations and the public. In May, the Ukrainian Parliament would be considering a draft law on non-governmental organisations, ensuring that citizens have freedom of association.

He was keen to stress his country’s co-operation with the Venice Commission. European integration remained an unchanged policy goal for Ukraine: both key political parties and a majority of the population supported this and his position as president. He reiterated that when anyone from his country contacted the European Union at any level, the goal of European integration was key. He hoped that his country’s voice would be heard. Both the President of Ukraine and the leaders of the EU member states shared the commitment to free trade and they believed that it was key to European progress. He would like all European citizens to have freedom of movement across all of Europe.

His key foreign policy goal was to improve relations with Russia and to take them to a new level. A mutually beneficial relationship with Russia would be good not only for both countries but for the world as a whole. He wanted resolution to all conflicts and he knew that economic stability would follow from peace. He was convinced that new European opportunities would be good for democracy and would have many far reaching prospects. The Council of Europe was a natural leader for Europe and tolerance throughout Europe was its most important task.


Thank you very much, Mr Yanukovych, for your most interesting address. Our members have questions to put to you. I remind colleagues that questions should be limited to 30 seconds. Colleagues should be asking questions and not making speeches. The first question is by Mr Volontè, on behalf of the Group of the European People’s Party.

Mr VOLONTÈ (Italy) (interpretation)

wished to know what the president’s attitude was towards the rule of law.

Mr Yanukovych, President of Ukraine (interpretation)

said that he had come to the Council of Europe to meet colleagues and discuss crucial key issues in the relationship between Ukraine and the European Union, and especially issues relating to integration of the EU and Ukraine. He considered all issues in respect of the rule of law to be important and Ukraine had started the implementation of various commitments to this. He said that, speaking frankly as president of the state, he did not have the right to tell prosecutors whom to send to jail. The main goal should be to unite all politicians in the move towards integration of Ukraine within the EU and to respect European values.


Mr President, according to Transparency International’s corruption index, Ukraine is a highly corrupt country, ranking 134th lowest of 178 countries. According to your prevention of corruption programme, what are the main causes of corruption in Ukraine? What concrete measures have already been taken? What further special plans do you have, and when will Ukraine find itself at the positive end of the scale?

Mr Yanukovych, President of Ukraine (interpretation)

said that his speech had emphasised the challenges he faced in fighting corruption, which in recent years had become worse. He reiterated his concern at the level of corruption in Ukraine, and the need to implement certain actions and measures. As part of the massive programme to fight corruption, a law had been passed recently which would come into effect on 1 July. The deregulation of the economy was also a part of this: all elements of civic life were being reformed as part of the fight against corruption. For example, in the future there would be a reduction of 90% in the state’s involvement in the issuing of permits, which would reduce the existing corruption involved in that process. All public sector functions would be streamlined and there would be a 30% reduction of civil servants working in the ministries. He remarked that the Council of Ministers of Ukraine had cut its civil servant numbers by 60%, so and he understood how difficult this work could be.

A law had also been passed on state procurement which would change the involvement of the state and civil service in the management of this area. In addition, no longer would civil servants have the ability to influence decisions of the entrepreneurs. In the future, each region would have only one body which would deal with all matters relating to new business start-ups. It was hoped that this would reduce the previous problem of bribes having to be paid by entrepreneurs to different people at different stages of the start up process.

It would take a long time to implement all the stages and there was huge resentment from civil servants and bureaucracy, who were putting pressure on the state to keep the status quo. It was a painful process to abolish the previous systems but he felt that there was now a system in place to fight corruption.

Mr BADRÉ (France) (interpretation)

welcomed the constitutional change but had concerns over how this would be implemented.

Mr Yanukovych, President of Ukraine (interpretation)

said that this was a very interesting issue as this would be the first time that Ukraine had attempted constitutional change. The constitution of Ukraine was 15 years old and during this time there had been a number of examples of attempts at constitutional reform which had not been systematic or successful.

In 2004, the re-election of the president had led to turbulence which was still being felt today. In 2010, a decision had been taken to change the constitution and the reforms of 2006 were cancelled. The country was still living with the results of those changes, which had made Ukraine realise that any future changes would need to be implemented in a more democratic way. Changes would have to be made through a constitutional majority. He hoped that this democratic approach would give the Ukrainian Government an opportunity to work with non-governmental organisations and political parties to unite both Ukrainian society and the members of its parliament. These constitutional changes would have to go through a public hearing. Such changes should not be adopted in a haphazard way – that was not an approach that he wished to see – rather, they should be done by a constitutional assembly with representative of international and local bodies.

Mr JIRSA (Czech Republic)

Mr President, as a neighbouring country of Moldova and its region of Transnistria, Ukraine is one of the most important players in this issue. In my opinion, Transnistria is the most problematic region in Europe. There is speculation about Transnistrian weapons being illegally transported around the world. What is your opinion on the existing status of Transnistria and its future?

Mr Yanukovych, President of Ukraine (interpretation)

said that Ukraine was working on this as a member of the international commission that had been established to resolve this issue. Mr Sergey Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, and Mr Kostyantyn Hryshchenko, the Ukrainian Foreign Minister, had together hosted a meeting on the future of Moldova and Transnistria. This dialogue was being conducted on the basis of the principles of territorial integrity of individual countries under international law. He expressed his confidence that this work would produce a positive result, and Ukraine’s involvement would always conform with those fundamental principles.

Mr KOX (Netherlands)

It is good to see you again, Mr President, answering our questions here. I have two to add. First, you spoke about the importance of the European Convention on Human Rights. Do you consider the recent decision of your Constitutional Court to ban the use of the red flag compatible with freedom of expression – the right that is guaranteed under that important Convention? Secondly, is your government really capable of tackling the ongoing dangers of the Chernobyl nuclear plant? Some 25 years after it exploded, it still threatens many of your citizens and those of neighbouring countries. Are you able to tackle this or do you need more international assistance?

Mr Yanukovych, President of Ukraine (interpretation)

said that the decision of the Constitutional Court of Ukraine was legitimate and conformed with constitutional principles. No person or organisation would be prevented from flying the flag of victory that had been flown over the Reichstag at the end of World War II. The decision of the Constitutional Court underlined the supremacy of the rule of law in Ukraine.

On the issue of Chernobyl, the memory of this event was still very painful in Ukraine. The country was grateful to all those countries that had taken part in the Chernobyl conference that had been dedicated to the 25th anniversary of the disaster. During the conference, subjects of great importance to the international community had been raised. The construction of the containment barrier would ensure that the destroyed power plant would be made secure and allow for the removal of hazardous and radioactive materials that were still present below the site. According to the project manager, the construction of the containment barrier would give Ukraine 100 years to conduct this vital work. A total of €100 million had been raised but an additional €150 million still needed to be found to support this work. The funds that had already been secured were sufficient to allow the work to start and it was planned that construction would be completed by 2015. With help from the G8, Ukraine would be able to complete this task and the country would fulfil its obligation under the G8 agreement.

Ms MARIN (France) (interpretation)

said that she also wished to ask a question about Chernobyl. She wished to know what plans there were for the land that had been contaminated by the distaste as there was still a degree of uncertainty about how far this perimeter extended.

Mr Yanukovych, President of Ukraine (interpretation)

said that the territory which had been contaminated as a result of the incident had already been tested by both Ukrainian and international scientists to ensure that it had become an environmentally safe and secure area.

During the Chernobyl conference, a new initiative for the land’s use had been sounded out. It was proposed that the site of the nuclear power plant be used to construct a scientific research centre. This would investigate the Chernobyl incident and also act as a centre to share learning from this experience that could be applied to other nuclear incidents. Events at Fukushima had illustrated that no one country was able to deal with events of this scale by itself. The idea of establishing the Chernobyl centre had been supported by both the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency. Information on this development would of course be made public via the media.


We must now conclude the questions to Mr Yanukovych. On behalf of the Assembly, I thank him most warmly for his address and for the answers he has given to questions.