President of Romania

Speech made to the Assembly

Tuesday, 4 October 1994

I wish to express my most cordial thanks for your invitation to address the most representative forum of European democracy. It is a great pleasure for me to address the Parliamentary Assembly under your presidency, Mr President. Mr Miguel Angel Martinez has long been a faithful friend of Romania.

We Romanians attach particular significance to this moment, especially as it coincides with the first anniversary of Romania’s accession to the Council of Europe upon the recommendation of the Parliamentary Assembly. May I take this opportunity to express our utmost gratitude for the support given to our application. The changes which have taken place in Romania over the last year have clearly highlighted that the Council of Europe’s decision of 1 October 1993 made a substantial contribution to the setting up and consolidation of democratic institutions in Romania. We should like to emphasise, on this occasion, the remarkable activity and spirit of co-operation demonstrated by Mr Friedrich Kdnig and Mr Gunnar Jansson.

I also wish to take this opportunity to express our special esteem for Mrs Catherine Lalumière and the exceptional work she did as Secretary General over five years of unprecedented changes in Europe and our sincere acknowledgment of her support for Romania’s application for membership.

In the same vein, may I again offer Mr Daniel Tarschys our warmest congratulations on being elected to the post of Secretary General of the Organisation and wish him every success in the performance of the considerable duties with all the responsibilities that he must assume. I must also promise him our full support.

In the speech that I made at the Vienna Summit last October, I mentioned the causes and effects of the 1989 Romanian revolution and our nation’s full commitment to democracy as a fundamental factor in its irrevocable decision to join the European bodies. I also spoke of the importance that we attach to the role of the Council of Europe in the process of historic regeneration of Romania society and the construction of a united, democratic, peaceful and prosperous Europe.

I now think it worthwhile for me to summarise the changes which have taken place in Romanian society over the last twelve months and our main concerns at this time.

As far as domestic politics is concerned, two central priorities remain, namely the development and consolidation of the rule of law and its regulatory, legislative and institutional framework plus the normal operation of the institutions specific to a modem democratic society, together with the transition towards a market economy and economic restructuring.

Through accession to the European Convention on Human Rights and ten of its protocols, the provisions of the main instrument of the Council of Europe have become, in accordance with our country’s constitution, an integral part of Romanian domestic law. We have now deposited with the Secretary General the instruments of ratification of the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and its two protocols. That completes the system of guarantees and protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms in Romania. The European Charter of Local Self-Government has also been signed as an expression of our desire to redistribute responsibilities between central bodies and regional or local tiers of authority, in keeping with the demands of the operation of a modern society.

The draft law on education, whose elaboration has been contributed to by Council of Europe experts making suggestions and giving advice, is now coming before parliament. Another bill before parliament is one on minorities; its provisions strictly observe Council of Europe norms as well as those of the CSCE and United Nations in terms of the rights of persons belonging to national minorities.

Freedom of expression is a reality in Romanian society. The press, radio and television are vigorous mouthpieces for public opinion. Major national newspapers and a myriad of local radio and television stations operate and contribute to the debate of the principal issues of interest for the Romanian public.

As for the transition towards a market economy and economic restructuring, we might say that the hardest post-revolution period is behind us. In the last year the drop in industrial production has been halted and production has even slightly increased, as the first sign of an economic recovery in the country. Farming, too, has overcome the state of crisis which it was in until recently. This year’s harvest will meet the population’s consumption needs in full while adding to state reserves through sizeable earnings from farm product exports. Thanks to the government’s monetary and taxation policy, the inflation rate has been slashed and the currency and exchange rate have stabilised. Much progress has been made towards achieving a trade balance and building up the state’s currency reserves.

All those factors have led to increased confidence in the precepts and potential of the Romanian economy, leading in turn to a visible increase in the interest taken by foreign investors in Romania. In order to encourage that interest, the parliament has amended the law governing foreign investments in our country so that major investment is protected by further guarantees and arrangements, especially for investment in production.

Romanian society is currently coming to the end of an extremely important phase of reforms, namely the so-called “grand privatisation” affecting over 6 000 major state companies. Parliament is also considering a series of measures proposed by the government to speed up that process. It is our hope that in this way the reforms and economic restructuring will be stimulated by attracting not only internal resources and investment but external capital and loans, positively affecting our people’s living standards.

With these prospects in mind, Romania has decided to sign the European Social Charter today. We have taken this decision in the sure knowledge that the ultimate goal of all the political and economic reforms which we have undertaken is that of improving the living conditions of every member of our society.

For Romania, situated as it is at the crossroads of the main geo-strategic axes of the continent, ensuring peace and stability throughout Europe is a question of vital interest. Consequently, the central thrust of Romania’s foreign policy takes its inspiration from the strategic decision taken on the very first day of the Romanian revolution and still backed today, as then, by every political force in the country, namely Romania’s full integration into all European political, economic and security bodies. It is a perfectly natural decision given that the Romanian nation, by its civilisation, culture, history and geographical position, has always been part and parcel of European culture and civilisation. For us, the 1989 revolution marked the beginning of the restoration and development, in new conditions, of our traditional links with other European nations. It is significant therefore that less than three months after the victorious revolution of December 1989, Romania was already expressing official interest in joining the Council of Europe.

Apart from its participation in the activities of the Council of Europe and the CSCE, Romania is also stepping up its co-operation in all ways with the European Union, Nato and WEU. We are quite satisfied that, once the last two ratifications have been made, our association agreement with the European Union will come into effect in the near future – we hope before the end of the year. That will lay the way open for speeding up the necessary preparations for our becoming a member of that organisation, which we know will not be easy.

Along the same lines, we welcomed the initiative taken by the United States concerning the Partnership for Peace and we recently signed the Individual Partnership Programme between Romania and Nato.

We are involved in interesting co-operation with WEU as an associate partner. We have already had a positive experience of co-operation over action to monitor observance along the Danube of sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council on the former Yugoslavia.

Everyone recognises that achievement of a united, democratic, peaceful and prosperous Europe is the joint goal of several organisations and institutions including the CSCE, the Council of Europe, the European Union, Nato and WEU. Substantial contributions are also made by the European programmes of the United Nations and its specialised institutions, especially Unesco, ILO, WHO and FAO, as well as the ECE.

Of all these organisations, the Council of Europe plays a particular role. The Council of Europe is the only organisation with a truly pan-European vocation offering a political framework for exchanges of ideas between all European countries about issues of common interest, linked to the operation of democratic institutions and the consolidation of democracy, the guarantee of human rights and the strengthening of the rule of law. This is the essence of the Council of Europe’s activity and all these issues are at the forefront of interstate relations. The issues of observance and protection of human rights are directly connected with national and Europe-wide stability alike. As a result, the creation of a European democratic area is a vital factor for the stability and security of our continent or, in other words, their democratic dimension.

In view of its position, the Council of Europe is currently conducting priority activities of great importance for future peace and security in Europe, with a view to implementing the decisions taken at the Vienna Summit. First, they are aimed at consolidating the foundations of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, including the rights of persons belonging to national minorities. Secondly, the Council is endeavouring to enlarge co-operation between European states in combating instances of racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and intolerance, which undermine the democratic fabric of European nations and, implicitly, the stability of the continent. The Council’s action in these two priority directions represents a genuine partnership for democracy and stability in Europe, to which Romania is determined to make a constructive contribution.

In view of the over-politicisation of the problem of minorities, we are tempted to address this theme as a source of tension and potential strife. In fact, however, the existence of ethnic minorities all over our continent can and must be regarded in a completely different manner.

When persons belonging to national minorities are satisfied that their rights are being protected as equal and loyal citizens of the states in which they live, including their cultural and spiritual values which enhance and unite European cultural unity, minorities – as integral parts of the societies in which they live – must be regarded as factors for rapprochement, as bridges between the European nations. Such an approach to the minorities issue would be a solid foundation on which we could build up neighbourly relations between states – a requirement which is particularly important and topical.

We are convinced that in order to achieve this objective the Council’s efforts must be matched by work at regional, national and local levels. In this spirit we welcomed the European Union’s initiative regarding the stability pact and expressed our willingness to co-operate with the other states involved in accomplishing the aims of this initiative. Similarly, we are developing positive co-operation with the CSCE High Commissioner for National Minorities.

When bilateral relations are concerned, we are pleased that our relations with Hungary are evolving towards the establishment of mutually advantageous neighbourly relations and friendly co-operation between the two states, which share so many common interests. The talks held during the recent visit of the Romanian Minister of Foreign Affairs to Budapest highlighted the willingness of both parties to intensify negotiations with a view to completing the treaty on neighbourly relations and co-operation between Romania and Hungary. The outstanding problems are not insoluble: in late twentieth century Europe there can be no reservations about reaffirming in a treaty the inviolability of borders, and, similarly, the Council of Europe’s standards on human rights make it easy to agree on provisions mutually acceptable to minorities in both countries.

Deeply convinced that a country’s peace and security derive primarily from good relations with its neighbours, Romania desires, and is acting, to extend its neighbourly relations and wide-ranging co-operation with all neighbouring states.

In connection with the Republic of Moldova, whose whole history, culture, language and common spiritual values we share, we have supported, and are continuing to support, the development of this young state, in compliance with the desires and aspirations of its people. At the same time, since it is another Romanian state, it is natural that we should back the development of close, wide-ranging co-operation between both states, in political, economic and human terms, in order to construct a common economic and cultural area.

Romania fully shares the concerns emerging in the Council of Europe – the Parliamentary Assembly, the Committee of Ministers and the Secretariat – to make more effective the Organisation’s action to solve the problems falling under its jurisdiction.

One of these problems, which is the subject of your debate this very afternoon, is the future enlargement of the membership of the Council of Europe and the consequences thereof. In that connection there are many questions surrounding the admission of Russia. Such questions largely derive from the fact that for the first time since the second world war that power, Russia, is aspiring to become a party to a European organisation without the political counterbalance of the United States of America.

Our position is based on a number of considerations of principle. First, by dint of its statute, the Council of Europe is a pan-European organisation, and if we are to achieve our principle aim, that is to say the establishment of a democratic area covering the whole of Europe, all the European states must be parties to this Organisation. There is no doubt that Russia is a European state and that the integration of this state into the general process of democratic development is in the general interest of peace and security on our continent. I consider that the admission of Russia into the Council of Europe, providing it respects the established criteria and the obligations implicit in membership, would also constitute the best possible support from the Council for the democratic transformation of Russia.

In the same spirit and for the same reasons, we support the early admission to the Council of Europe of the Republic of Moldova, Ukraine, Albania, Latvia and all the other applicant states.

We also consider that it is in our common interest to provide a positive response to the Georgian, Armenian and Azerbaijani hopes for membership of the Council of Europe, given that they are closely linked to Europe through their history, civilisation and geographical position.

I would take this opportunity to extend to the Andorran delegation attending this Parliamentary Assembly session my warmest congratulations for the adoption, during yesterday’s sitting, of the recommendation for the admission to this great Organisation, of Andorra, a country which is rooted in an ancient Latin culture.

Another problem of common interest, the solution to which is of crucial importance in the construction of a European democratic area, is the economic rehabilitation of the countries of central and eastern Europe and the genuine integration of those

countries’ economies into the European economy. For us, there is no rational alternative to successful economic reform and restructuring. The failure of the programmes of change to which we have committed ourselves would mean not only perpetuating poverty and the danger of further conflicts arising, including conflicts in the social sphere, in the countries concerned, but an increase in emigration, intolerance, terrorism, xenophobia, racism and drug trafficking throughout Europe. As we see it, a stable Europe can only be a democratic, prosperous Europe free from regional conflicts and threats.

The assistance and support given to the countries of central and eastern Europe by the Council of Europe and other organisations, for which we are grateful, are extremely useful for the immediate purposes of the programmes designed to change the political, economic and social make-up of the countries concerned. But they are wholly inadequate to meet the development needs of a modern economy. What we need is not assistance or help, but a fundamental change in approach to the problems of transition in the countries of central and eastern Europe with the aim of developing co-operation on a continental scale, an economic partnership making it possible to dismantle the barriers which still keep Europe in a worrying and dangerous state of division, where the political and ideological “iron curtain” is in danger of being replaced by another one of an economic kind.

Of course, the Council of Europe does not have the material resources to back up such an effort on a gigantic scale. However, as the principal pan-European forum it is able to contribute to shaping a European awareness which would favour the organisation of a massive effort, a genuine European solidarity, a partnership for development such as to ensure success in the reforms in central and eastern Europe, in the common interest of peace, understanding and stability. The success of these reforms is an absolute precondition if the noble idea of a democratic organisation of society is not to be jeopardised over a large part of the continent, with unpredictable repercussions for Europe.

As far as we concerned, our choice to integrate into the European Union is clear and irreversible. We know that the road we have to travel in order to satisfy the requirements of co-operation within this Organisation is not an easy or a short one. We are also aware that it is we ourselves who must shoulder the brunt of efforts to build a modern, viable and competitive economy. This is our only hope if we are to become one of the world’s developed prosperous nations.

We consider that regional co-operation plays an important part in our economic development and in our progress towards European integration. For that reason, Romania is taking an active interest in the co-operation programmes in the Black Sea, Danube basin and central Europe. These projects are not and cannot be regarded as alternatives to European integration. They can be important steps towards stability and development, which are prerequisites for European integration. Once the conflict in the former Yugoslavia has been resolved, we envisage supporting the relaunching of co-operation in the Balkans by every possible means.

Nor does our approach towards European integration and regional co-operation – as a means of speeding up development and reinforcing stability in the areas in question – lose sight of the tendencies towards economic integration at the global level. That is what makes us determined, in order to keep in step with the spirit and the reality of the age, to develop our co-operative relations with countries in other geographic zones with which we have traditional links, and primarily with the United States of America. Following the talks we had a few days ago with President Clinton, it can be clearly stated that, as a result of the part they play in the security structures of our continent and through their increased co-operation with the countries of central and eastern Europe, the United States intends to continue supporting the preservation and consolidation of security and stability in Europe.

As I have said, the Council of Europe is not alone in its efforts to build a united, democratic, prosperous Europe. Alongside it, working in different perspectives, are other organisations doing valuable work, of which the most prominent are the CSCE, the European Union, Nato and WEU. In our opinion, all of these organisations must be regarded as complementing each other rather than competing.

For that reason, in order to increase their effectiveness and ensure consistency in their activities, as well as to reduce and eliminate duplication, it is essential that there should be close co-operation among them, each one concentrating on problems within its principal field of expertise and activity. In this connection, we welcome the interest being shown within the Council of Europe framework in the development of co-operation with other organisations such as EBRD, OECD, Unesco, ILO, WHO and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, which have substantial programmes of co-operation among European countries.

The debates organised periodically in this Assembly on problems of co-operation with organisations such as OECD and EBRD deserve our full appreciation. Similarly, we support the proposals for streamlining of the Council’s activities by focusing on its principal responsibilities, that is to say, the consolidation of democratic institutions, the protection and safeguarding of human rights and the upholding of the rule of law in every European country.

So much for a brief statement of our principal concerns. Our progress along the chosen path, that of democracy and the social market economy, is irreversible and evident, but it is not easy. We are facing great economic and social difficulties. We have to overcome in-built resistance to change.

Nonetheless, we are convinced that the most difficult time is behind us. We cherish the hope that the foundations have been laid to enable us to set our sights on the next stage: the effective functioning of a democratic, legislative and regulatory framework, and the promotion of the basic rights and freedoms of man, as well as the economic recovery of my country. In this way we shall be able to tackle more effectively the grave social problems with which my country is confronted, and to provide the necessary material and financial means of protecting the health and security of every individual while imparting an impetus to science, culture and education.

The progress achieved so far and the prospects now opening up reinforce our firm belief in the country’s capacity for regeneration, and in positive changes in Romania. I should like to assure the Parliamentary Assembly that, in its difficult task of constructing the European democratic area, the Council of Europe has and will always have in Romania a credible, resolute and faithful partner, respectful of the rules of the game and of its international obligations.


Thank you, Mr Iliescu, for addressing the Assembly. We listened with great interest to your speech.

Mr Iliescu has agreed to answer questions from members of the Assembly, for which we thank him. A large number of delegates wish to put questions to President Iliescu, so we cannot observe the usual procedure and allow supplementary questions. I hope that all member wishing to do so will have an opportunity to put one question, rather than half the number putting two questions. We have attempted to categorise questions according to topic. Our experience suggests that it is preferable for each member to receive a direct, personal reply. Members will have a maximum of thirty seconds to put their questions, so they should not attempt to present a doctoral thesis. We have received notice of thirty-five questions, so I hope that President Iliescu will answer them as briefly and as succinctly as possible. I call first Mr Iwinski of Poland.

Mr IWINSKI (Poland)

Can President Iliescu estimate the balance of Romanian privatisation, and state its advantages and disadvantages? I ask that question because privatisation is one of the most important as well as most controversial issues in the transformation of central and eastern Europe, and because Romania was one of the first countries in the region to adopt privatisation law.

Mr Iliescu, President of Romania (translation)

We consider privatisation to be a fundamental feature of our entire economic reform.

In Romania and other countries of central and eastern Europe, history and experience have shown that highly centralised economies under state control are inefficient.

I think that one of the one of the causes of the collapse of the Soviet and so-called socialist systems in eastern and central Europe was the rigidity of the centrally controlled economic system, whereas, as we near the end of the century, economies need to be dynamic and flexible in order to take technological progress and social change in their stride.

All the mechanical systems of centralised economic planning have demonstrated their inefficiency, whereas modem cybernetic methods have proved to be more flexible and able to adjust to the needs of a changing technological and economic world.

From this point of view, we consider economic decentralisation to be an absolute necessity, together with the development of a whole new network of independent economic agents, which we started on immediately after the revolution. The privatisation process is already well under way, and a number of important steps have been taken, including the privatisation of farmland and small-scale privatisations under legislation adopted by the provisional government to support private initiative.

As a result, over 500 000 private companies have been established, individual ventures as well as small and medium-sized firms. They are an important economic force, providing work for one third of the country’s workforce and producing one third of Romania’s GNP.

We are now facing a new radical but essential step: the privatisation of 6 000 major state-run companies. The corresponding law was enacted in 1991, but it is difficult to implement for lack of capital. The government has now brought new measures before parliament to speed up the privatisation of these large firms.

I will not go into the details of technology, methodology or the problems over legislative proposals and bills, but we are confident that these new measures will expedite the process. Privatisation is a key to the development and modernisation of the Romanian economy. It is not an end in itself, of course, but a means towards a more dynamic, more flexible, more efficient and more competitive economy. Generally speaking, all the political movements in Romania support the principle of privatisation. As in any democratic system, the practical aspects of the matter are a much debated issue, but that is part of the normal political scene.

Mr GÜNER (Turkey) (translation)

Mr President, allow me to congratulate you on your excellent address. We follow the problems related to your transition to a free market economy with great interest. I should like to ask you what steps you envisage to attract more foreign capital and investment to Romania?

Mr Iliescu, President of Romania (translation)

Amongst the first laws passed by the provisional National Unity Council early in 1990 was a law to encourage foreign investment in the Romanian economy. More recently, two or three months ago, parliament passed a new law providing for new facilities. Another law concerns “free zones”. We shall continue to pursue this approach in the light of the experience Turkey and other countries have acquired in the matter of advantages for foreign investors.

All in all the legal provisions in Romania are comparable to those in neighbouring countries. Positive flows are beginning to be observed, with cooperation and joint ventures of various kinds increasing, and there are now over 30 000 joint ventures with foreign partners or projects fully funded by foreign capital, not only from Europe, but also from America, Japan and South Korea. We are optimistic about the future development of this type of co-operation.

Mr PINI (Switzerland) (translation)

Mr President, in the spirit of your address, allow me to ask you a question of an economic and financial nature concerning your country and mine.

You know that as part of the financial aid granted by Switzerland to countries in central and eastern Europe after 1989, my country granted Romania additional aid of approximately 25 million Swiss francs. I believe that there is a shortage especially of health and hospital structures in Romania. May I ask what use has been made of my country’s aid, and whether it has all been used?

Mr Iliescu, President of Romania (translation)

I cannot give you a precise reply, for I am neither the head of Romania’s executive nor directly involved in day-to-day financial matters.

We are grateful for the aid you speak of. Last year in Zurich I met many representatives of Swiss banks. According to the information I have, progress has been made, particularly in direct co-operation between the Romanian and Swiss banking systems. We have also requested advice on the reorganisation of the Romanian banking system.

Regarding the use of which your aid has been put, I know there are concrete government programmes, in the health ministry and in other ministries, for its use. But I am afraid I cannot give details here and now. I could, however, have the information forwarded to you.

I know meetings took place in Switzerland between the minister and a number of Swiss economic and financial experts to co-ordinate the economic reforms undertaken. We have a common interest in the implementation of the reform process. We participated actively in the International Forum at Davos and Crans-Montana. And together we organised a similar meeting in Bucharest, attended by numerous experts from the economic, financial and banking sectors. I believe there now exists a favourable climate for the further development of these relations.

Mr MASSERET (France) (translation)

Mr President, you mentioned your desire to bring Romania within the European economic area. A major conference recently took place in Bucharest, bringing together company managers from central and eastern Europe. It was organised and chaired by Mr Volski, formerly deputy chief editor of the economic magazine of the former Soviet communist party, who, in summing up, laid down some guidelines for Romania to follow.

According to him, Romania should join the economic area that is building up around Russia. Perhaps it is an attempt to rebuild all or part of the Comecon.

Mr President, do you want Romania to join the European economic area or the economic area taking shape around Russia? Is it possible to do both?

Mr Iliescu, President of Romania (translation)

I mentioned in my address that all these regional initiatives in the areas around the Black Sea, the Danube and central Europe, between countries with a tradition of economic relations, must not be considered as alternatives to general integration into Europe, but on the contrary, as factors that can help to build the economic foundations all these states need in order to join the broader European area.

I think efforts must be made by everybody concerned, in western, eastern and central Europe, to reduce the divide that has come about between the economies of western Europe and those of the less developed countries of central and eastern Europe. Not to do so could lead to tensions in Europe.

A meeting was organised by businessmen from the former Soviet countries and from central Europe. They considered the feasibility of reactivating bilateral and multilateral relations within this area, having regard to tradition, but without going against the general trend and the aspiration of all these states to become a part of the European world and, as far as we are concerned, of the European Union. I covered all this in my address.

THE PRESIDENT (translation)

We now come to a series of questions concerning the rule of law. I must ask you to keep your answers brief, Mr President, as there are still thirty-one people with questions for you. I call Mr König.

Mr KÖNIG (Austria) (translation)

Mr President, as the Council of Europe’s rapporteur for Romania, I should like to express my personal thanks to you here before this plenary sitting of the Assembly for pardoning, at my request, the eight young members of the Hungarian minority sentenced to long terms of imprisonment during the revolution. I regard this as an act of reconciliation.

President Martinez has pointed out that your country has sustained deep wounds as a result of the period of dictatorship and that it will take time to heal them. We want to help you in this process, and it is in this spirit that I should like to ask you whether you are prepared to use your authority to ensure that the Romanian Government’s proposals regarding candidatures for the European Court of Human Rights are considered by the Romanian Parliament, as required by the constitution with respect to the appointment of Supreme Court judges in Romania, in order to give the opposition an opportunity to express its views too.

Mr Iliescu, President of Romania (translation)

With regard to the nomination of Romanian candidates to the Council of Europe’s European Court of Human Rights, the Romanian Government has fulfilled the conditions required by your statute. On the basis of the opinion of the Bar Council, the government has elected three candidates and put them forward to the Council of Europe.

I am aware that objections have been raised in the ranks of the parliamentary delegation regarding the candidates and even the procedure, which was not in keeping with that recommended by the Council of Europe. The government is ready, however, to discuss the matter with the delegation and in parliament, in order to achieve a consensual solution. This is a matter for us to settle at home.

Mr FRANCK (Sweden)

The Council of Europe recommended that Romania “resolve in a positive manner the problem of political and ethnic prisoners”. I shall mention only one case now. A person of Hungarian origin, Mr Geresznye, is still in prison after four years. Mr President, you and your Foreign Minister promised to pardon Mr Geresznye. Will you use your constitutional right to pardon Mr Geresznye and others, whom we had in mind in the decision of the Council of Europe?

Mr Iliescu, President of Romania (translation)

I have used the rights vested in the President by the Constitution to pardon the eight prisoners judged and sentenced after the events of December 1989 for crimes committed at that time.

Mr Geresznye was charged with offences committed in March 1990. You probably remember a scene that occurred in the centre of Tîrgu Mures and was reported in the mass media all over Europe, and even worldwide: a person was under attack in the main square from some violent aggressors, and the whole world was told that “Romanian thugs” had beaten up a “Hungarian” in this city square.

But the Hungarian was in fact a Romanian, and the man publicly denounced and accused by the courts of this attempted crime was Mr Geresznye.

The Supreme Court heard his appeal and rejected it. I could not go against a decision of the Romanian Supreme Court. That is part of the separation of powers in a democratic country.

Legally speaking, provisions exist for lodging an extraordinary appeal. This would make it possible to obtain his conditional release in 1996. These matters are the responsibility of the judiciary. As President I have no right to overrule a decision of the Supreme Court.

Mr RATHBONE (United Kingdom)

Mr President, how do you ensure that members of your government who are in important positions are as committed, as you have indicated that you are committed, to the process of open democratic government, freedom of opinion and freedom of the press? You will understand that that question is prompted by people in your government who were also in identical roles in the Ceausescu government.

Mr Iliescu, President of Romania

I do not know of any such people who held the same positions in the Ceausescu government. With regard to the liberty of the mass media, there is no legal or political limitation in our practice. We ensure that there is freedom of the press and freedom of information. I do not think that we have any difficulty with the freedom of expression of the people.

Mr ESPERSEN (Denmark)

According to the previous penal code of Romania, the private sex life between homosexuals was punished by harsh prison sentences. That was a clear violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. The law has been changed, but complaints still reach us regarding persecution or harassment by the Romanian authorities. I do not know whether these allegations are well founded. I am not making the accusation; I am simply telling you what is alleged. I should like the President’s assurance that no such punishments or harassment take place any longer. Also have those who were serving prison sentences been released since the law was changed?

Mr Iliescu, President of Romania (translation)

This issue is connected with various changes to be made to the Penal Code. It is being debated in the Senate. It is a matter for parliament to decide, after debate in both chambers.

Amongst the cases referred to, in particular by Amnesty International, one concerns people who sexually abused minors. Other cases concern disturbances of the peace. New criminal law provisions are in preparation. At any rate I am confident that parliament will solve this problem from the legal point of view.

I must say quite frankly that there is little sympathy in Romanian public opinion for homosexuals and their movements. The vast majority of the population approves the position of the Church in the matter. But rather than by administrative and penal measures, we feel that these problems should be addressed by educational and medical measures.

Mr GRAU (Spain) (translation)

Mr President, it appears that the other parties in your country want to ban the Hungarian Democratic Union.

You have accepted the Council of Europe’s resolution concerning minorities, however, which is against intolerance, xenophobia and racism.

Could you tell us how you intend to ensure that the other parties do not prevent the Hungarian Democratic Union from surviving?

Mr Iliescu, President of Romania (translation)

This question concerns the opinions of individuals or groups.

It is true that certain opinions have been expressed, even in public, regarding the existence of ethnic parties and whether or not they are in keeping with democratic principles. There are individual points of view which are not official positions of parliament, or government or state bodies. In other countries people are asking whether it is possible in a democratic context to have parties organised along ethnic lines. It is a new question.

Mr ATKINSON (United Kingdom)

When I came to see you, Mr President, in June of last year, before the debate on Romanian accession, I expressed concern that property confiscated from the Roman Catholic Uniate Church in Romania had not yet been restored. I understand that that is still the case today. Unfortunately, we are witnessing a rise in intolerance on the part of the Romanian Orthodox Church towards other religions. What new initiatives do you propose in order that Romania may satisfy its commitment to protect religious freedom and restore church property to the Uniate Church in Romania?

Mr Iliescu, President of Romania

On freedom of expression and the freedom of religions and the Church, our constitution and practical political measures assure the liberty of all the churches. A body has been set up to deal with all religions and we maintain a permanent dialogue with the Church. Together, we have worked out a new law concerning the Church and there is a good climate of co-operation between churches and between the Church and the state.

On the property of the Uniate Church, that is a historical question dating back to the seventeenth century. In 1946 a measure was taken to ban that church and give all its property to the orthodox religions. Those two churches, however, have the same roots and they both played an important role in the history of our nation. The problem has two aspects. At the beginning of the 1990s we made a decision about the freedom of that church and the property that was transferred to the state: we decided to return all that property to the churches, and that was done.

Regarding the property belonging to the churches themselves, there were differences in the jurisdictions of the Catholic Church, to which the Uniate Church belongs, and the Orthodox Church. The Catholic Church is centralised and decisions, even those concerning patrimony, are taken by the Church’s central organs. The Orthodox Church, however, is decentralised and the state has no right to interfere in the patrimony of the churches or the communities that own them. So the problem is not simple and the state cannot interfere in problems concerning relations between the churches.

I have often met representatives of the two churches. The state is helping by giving equal salaries to priests of all churches. We are even providing support to build new churches. But there are major controversies between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. Citizens connected with the Church consider that its property is theirs. Whether property belongs to one or another church is a decisive matter. It is a delicate matter for us, too.

THE PRESIDENT (translation)

l am sorry but we seem to have time for only one or two more questions. I am sure many of our colleagues will be disappointed at not having a chance to ask their questions. Since Mr Demiralp is absent, I call Mr Gjellerod.

Mr GJELLEROD (Denmark)

We all know about the suffering of the Romanian people, mentioned by Mr Martinez. We also know about the strong wish of the Romanians to turn towards western European societies. Do you think that it is possible, at the same time, to develop democracy at different levels of Romanian society and to use Romania’s geographical and cultural position to act as a bridge between the states of the European Union and Russia as well as a bridge to the countries that border the Black Sea?

Mr Iliescu, President of Romania

We are trying to play a positive role in our geographical position in Europe. Romania’s geo-strategic position is not very favourable. Over the centuries, it has been a point of interference by major powers such as the Ottoman, Russian and the Austro-Hungarian empires, all of which have caused Romania many problems. But in line with the new development of Europe and the world, we think that Romania’s position at the crossroads of western Europe, Russia and the Middle East and bordering on the Black Sea and the Mediterranean could be an interesting point of interconnection for general co-operation between those countries. We are working in that direction to stabilise Romanian society and act as a stabilising factor in our zone, which is otherwise extremely troubled with conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, the former Soviet Union with fourteen armies in Moldova, and the Caucasian zone. We are trying to act constructively in stabilising the zone and promoting general cooperation and integration, in line with today’s tendency to integrate and globalise old economies.

THE PRESIDENT (translation)

The programme included a brief meeting in my office with the Vice-Presidents of the Assembly, to give them an opportunity to meet you, Mr President. In view of the social nature of the next few questions, however, I think it is preferable to let four more members put their questions to you. The Vice-Presidents will not meet you in person, but I am sure the Assembly will appreciate it if we continue this interesting exchange. I call Mr Cuco.

Mr CUCO (Spain) (translation)

I should like to ask the President of Romania about the present situation of the Hungarian minority since Romania’s transition to democracy.

Mr President, what real changes has the new legislation in Romania made to the situation of minorities there? Could you briefly summarise the past situation and describe the prospects for the immediate future?

Mr Iliescu, President of Romania (translation)

As always, minority problems are a delicate issue and differ from country to country, particularly in this part of the world. All the countries of Europe have their national minorities and nationals of their own who live in other countries.

So there are two sides to your question. The first is an internal issue, namely how a country handles relations with its citizens, including national minorities. In this respect practices differ widely in Europe.

It is laid down in our constitution that European rules on human rights to which Romania adheres take precedence over national law.

As you know, we have signed the convention on minorities. Our legislation and our constitution provide the regularity framework within which the rights and freedoms of national minorities are upheld.

As far as the Hungarian minority is concerned, I believe they enjoy the broadest of rights and freedoms in comparison with other minorities and, unless I am much mistaken, with those provided by the legislation of virtually every other European state.

The Hungarian minority has thirty-nine members in the two chambers of the Romanian Parliament. All other minorities, even the smallest ones, are automatically represented, in keeping with the constitution, by one member of parliament. They are also represented on all elected councils at local level. For the Hungarian minority there is a Hungarian language institutional framework, with primary, secondary and higher education available in Hungarian.

There are also minority-language publications, radio stations and television channels.

Of course there is an there always will be discussion of how best to improve the treatment of minorities and the relevant legislation. This is only natural in a democratic society. But I do not think there is any opposition to the principle of aligning our legislation with European rules and standards.

I should be delighted, for example, if our neighbour Hungary had done as much on the political, cultural and educational levels, not only for the Romanian minority there but also for the other minority groups.

The second aspect of your question concerns relations between neighbouring states over minority issues. I already explained our position regarding this question in my main address.

I shall simply repeat that we are neighbours, we live together and we have shared a common history for centuries. So it is in the best interest of Romania and Hungary to be friendly neighbours. Our shared experience will help us to find a common ground on which to solve the minority problems facing our two countries.

Mr BARSONY (Hungary)

On behalf of the Government of Romania and on your behalf, Mr President, when Romania was admitted to the Council of Europe, Mr Melescanu, Minister of Foreign Affairs, agreed a written obligation that was before the Assembly in which he guaranteed the application in Romanian legislation and practice of the Assembly’s Recommendation 1201 on national minorities. Will you, Mr President, confirm those obligations and do you feel that it is incumbent upon Romania to enforce the voluntarily accepted conditions?

Mr Iliescu, President of Romania (translation)

I do not believe there is any problem here.

As I already mentioned, our constitution provides for all the international rules set forth in the European conventions and charters we adhere to take precedence over national law. And that is what happens in practice.

Of course there will always be argument over how best to improve existing arrangements. But this is no problem in Romania, and we certainly have no reason to feel inferior if we look at the different ways in which minority issues are dealt with in Europe. I do not think many other countries go as far as Romania in guaranteeing minority rights.

As you know, many European countries take citizenship as the sole criterion, and even exclude the notion of national minority. The dominant principle in the French Constitution and legislation, for example, is citizenship. All citizens of France are considered French, and minorities are not treated differently. Which solution is best? I cannot say.

In Romania we endeavour to tackle the question of national minorities bearing in mind our own specific character, our cultural traditions and our history. We look at the criteria generally applied in Europe, but they do not necessarily mean the same solution everywhere. The different countries of Europe have adopted approaches that differ considerably one from another. It is a domestic matter, and each state tackles the problem as best it can.

Mr BUGLI (San Marino) (translation)

Mr President, the question I wanted to ask about the Hungarian minority has already been answered, so I withdraw it.

Sir Russell JOHNSTON (United Kingdom)

President Iliescu was reported this morning in an interview in Les Dernières Nouvelles d’Alsace as believing that Mr Milosevic should be encouraged and suggesting that he is a peacemaker. Even if we were willing to play down his direct control over affairs in Bosnia – and I am not – it is indisputable that he is in control of Kosovo, where 90% of Albanians are ruthlessly repressed by 8% of Serbians. How can you, Mr President, associate yourself with someone who is responsible for such sustained offences against human rights?

Mr Iliescu, President of Romania

I am not associating myself with any politicians from other countries. I am not associating myself with Mr Milosevic. I have spoken factually about events in the former Yugoslavia. The decision taken by Mr Milosevic on relations with Serbians from Bosnia is an important step in ensuring a political and peaceful solution to what is the key problem in the conflict in the former Yugoslavia. For that reason, I think that it is right to support an initiative that provides the possibility of a peaceful resolution of the problems. I approve of the Security Council’s decision to give a political sign of encouragement to that initiative.

I had discussions in New York with Mr Izetbegovic, the President of Bosnia. Even he conceded that the initiative is an important step by Serbia as it publicly recognises the state of Bosnia. In that context, one might support the removal of sanctions against Serbia.

Mr Izetbegovic even proposed the United Nations Assembly postponing for six months the lifting of the arms embargo on Bosnia. This is a very delicate problem which we must approach realistically, taking into consideration all steps, internal and external, which could help towards providing a peaceful political solution. That is our stance.

THE PRESIDENT (translation)

Unfortunately we must now bring the debate to a close. I am sure many of our colleagues are sorely disappointed and frustrated, but that is all part of parliamentary life. (Laughter)

I invite all the members of the Assembly to attend a ceremony in the foyer during which President Iliescu of Romania will present a gift to the Council of Europe.