CM/Inf(2002)3 16 January 2002
Report on the visit of the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers, Mr Antanas Valionis, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Lithuania, to Moldova (5-6 December 2001)
The Chairman of the Committee of Ministers and accompanying delegation were received at the highest level, including by President Vladimir Voronin, Speaker of Parliament Eugenia Ostapciuc, Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev and Minister of Foreign Affairs Nicolae Dudău.
The Chairman also had meetings with the leaders of parliamentary factions, the Chief Chişinău negotiator on the Transnistrian settlement, the Acting Head of the OSCE mission to Moldova, as well as the diplomatic representatives residing in Moldova.
The Delegation also made a brief visit to the Council of Europe Information Centre in Chişinău and met representatives of the Journalists Union.
The Chairman would like to express his appreciation to the Moldovan hosts for all their assistance and co-operation in the organisation of his visit tp Chişinău.
The programme for the visit is appended.
II. OBJECTIVE OF THE VISIT
The aim of the visit by the Chairman was to acquire first-hand information on developments affecting relations between Moldova and the Council of Europe. The Delegation was concerned with questions regarding progress made by Moldova in meeting the commitments to the Council of Europe, in particular since the visit in July 2000 by the Italian Chair of the Committee of Ministers.
The Chairman’s main message was to urge the Moldovan authorities to make greater use of the extensive possibilities of the Council of Europe expertise and to improve and intensify co-operation with the Council of Europe, as well as joint programmes with the European Commission, especially on the issues of legal reform, local self-government, civil society and independent media.
In reply to the message the Moldovan authorities confirmed that they were very interested in support from the Council of Europe.
The Chairman emphasised Lithuania’s readiness to share the experience of transition from a totalitarian system to democracy and a market economy. The Moldovan interlocutors confirmed that they appreciated Lithuania’s offer and positive example.
III. GENERAL OBSERVATIONS
The Moldovan interlocutors admitted that Moldova is undergoing severe economic difficulties. Debt servicing deadlines are accumulating over the next two years. While until 2001 the servicing of the foreign debt took a yearly average of 10% of the GDP, for 2002 the figure is 42% and for 2003 75%. Due to the difficulties in industry and agriculture some 60% of the budget income depends on customs duties.
Economic hardship causes dissatisfaction among the people. The parliamentary elections held in February 2001 showed disapproval of the programmes of previous governments. The election programme of the Communist Party attracted the majority of the electorate and the party gained 71 out of 101 seats in the Parliament. However, implementation is more difficult than foreseen.
The present Government’s long-term goal is integration into Europe, with the ultimate aim of joining the EU. This corresponds with regional aspirations. The present government sees membership of the Stability Pact as an important step in this direction. The country pursues three main goals: economic revival; settlement of the Transnistrian problem and the fight against corruption.
IV. PARTICULAR ISSUES
The Transnistrian settlement
The continuing existence of a self-styled separatist regime in Transnistria represents a heavy economic and political burden to the country and a source of instability. The conflict is of a purely economic and political nature, lacking any ethnic or religious dimension.
All interlocutors in Moldova took the view that the Tiraspol regime was above all interested in maintaining and continuing to profit -mostly in a criminal way- from the status quo. Therefore it is not interested in a settlement.
President Voronin said that after his four unsuccessful rounds of talks with Mr Igor Smirnov, he saw no sign of political will to achieve a settlement. Nevertheless, the Moldovan side is ready to renew negotiations which were broken by the other side. Chişinău is prepared to negotiate in good faith to seek a solution based upon the broadest possible autonomy for Transnistria within a single Moldovan State.
The Moldovan government did not exclude the possibility to take more radical measures such as preventing the Tiraspol authorities from unauthorised use of Moldovan certificates of origin.
The visit of the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers took place in the eve of the so-called “presidential” elections of 9 December in Tiraspol. The Moldovan interlocutors stressed the undemocratic, fictitious character of these elections, which will not affect prospects for a settlement. President Voronin stressed that President Putin of the Russian Federation gives his full support to the achieving of such a settlement, for which the first half of 2002 will be crucial according to our interlocutors.
The importance of the role of Ukraine was particularly stressed in this context. At present, Moldova is trying to regain control over its exports, which is also in accordance with new commitments resulting from joining the World Trade Organisation in September 2001. The present situation at the Ukrainian-Moldovan (Transnistrian) frontier is an irritant in Chişinău/Kyiv relations.
Moldova wants trilateral customs posts for joint control of this border (824 km, 11 existing crossing points). A corresponding agreement was concluded in 1996, but was never implemented due to Tiraspol reluctance.
Our interlocutors expressed strong hopes that Russia, Ukraine and OSCE will assist in reviving the process of negotiations in the existing format.
The Chairman of the Committee of Ministers reaffirmed strong support for the territorial integrity of Moldova.
During the meetings Minister A. Valionis stressed the concern of the Council of Europe that Gagauz autonomy, with which the Council’s expertise was much involved, does not function properly in particular because of non-compatibility with the national legislation. There is no provision on Gagauz autonomy in the Constitution.
The Moldovan interlocutors gave assurances that the Constitution would be duly changed. Constitutional changes to acknowledge Gagauz autonomy were among the points of the pre-electoral programme of President Voronin. In October, draft amendments were submitted to the Constitutional Court for opinion and will soon be presented to the Venice Commission for legal expertise.
The Speaker of the Parliament stated that the foreseen amendment of the Constitution and the budget would solve the greater part of Gagauz autonomy problems.
President Voronin returned to Parliament the draft budget for 2002, in particular because it contradicts the Gagauz autonomy law where it comes to distribution of taxes.
Some Gagauzian leaders reject the draft constitutional amendments as insufficient and claim that Gagauzia should be constitutionally proclaimed a republic. President Voronin dismissed this as a Tiraspol-inspired plot aiming to promote a Moldovan confederation composed of Moldova, Transnistria and Gagauzia, each with their own taxation, customs services etc.
The Bessarabian Church
According to the Prime Minister, this question should be settled amongst the churches. The Government has difficulties to register a Statute of the Church, which proclaims the Bessarabian Church the sole legal successor of all Moldovan Churches as this could create property disputes.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs would not like to be associated with this issue as this is religious issue and it should be solved by representatives of religious communities.
The case of Vlad Cubreacov
The Chairman raised the issue of the ongoing inquiry regarding the situation of Mr Vlad Cubreacov, a parliamentarian and a member of the Moldovan delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
The Speaker of Parliament stated that the complaint against Mr Cubreacov has been initiated by a single parliamentarian (Mr I. Eriomin). The complaint is meant to clarify compatibility of activities of Mr Cubreacov, in particular with regard to the Bessarabian Church, with regard to the law on the status of a member of Parliament.
The Speaker observed that the Parliament has not yet given follow-up to the complaint concerning respect by Mr Cubreacov for the Rules of Procedure of Parliament.
The Prime Minister conceded that relations of central government with local authorities was one of the controversial issues. He admitted that the reform of self-government of 1998 is not fully satisfactory. The Government seeks to review the status of local self-government. There are plans to increase the number of local regions. While this is meant to bring local governments closer to the people, opponents criticise these plans as a step back from past reforms only requiring to be implemented.
The Speaker of the Parliament stressed that the Parliament would adopt a new law on self-government, which it duly did at the end of the year.
Freedom of expression
During the meetings the Chairman raised an issue of recent closure of “Comersant Moldovy” newspaper. The Speaker of the Parliament pointed out that the closure was linked with breaches of national laws. Moreover, she assured that no pressure on independent media is exerted by administrative methods. Nevertheless, representatives of the Journalist Union expressed fear that the closure of “Comersant Moldovy” would create a bad precedent.
During the meeting with representatives of mass media the principal focus was on the lack of economic conditions for freedom of expression in Moldova. Moreover, the State still controlled the most influential mass media. The journalists were critical of government practices regarding the media.
V. FINAL OBSERVATION
At the end of the visit, the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers is convinced of the necessity of further intensive and wide-ranging support and assistance to Moldova from the Council of Europe. In particular, the settlement of the Transnistrian problem takes on added urgency, in the context of the international fight against terrorism, and potentially related criminal activities, such as money laundering. It is clearly of the highest interest for the international community as a whole that the founding values of the Council of Europe should be respected and that territories should not remain outside and exempt from the necessary transparent legal order of the State.
Programme of the visit
5 December, Wednesday
14.00 Departure from Vilnius by special flight
16.30 Arrival at Chişinău Airport
16.45 Departure for the Residence (Marija Chebotar 18)
17.25 Departure for the meeting (Sfatul Ceri 16)
17.30 Meeting with Acting Head of the OSCE Mission in Moldova Dr Oswald SCHNEIDRATUS
18.20 End of the meeting
19.30 Private dinner
6 December, Thursday
08.00 Working breakfast with the Ambassadors of the Council of Europe member states
08.50 Departure for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Moldova
09.00 Meeting with Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Moldova HE Mr Nicolae DUDĂU
10.30 Departure for the Government’s Palace
10.40 Meeting with Head of the Joint Commission on the Issues of Regulation of the State Policy at the Left Bank Region of Dnestr Mr Vasile STURZA
11.30 Meeting with Prime Minister of the Republic of Moldova HE Mr Vasile TARLEV
12.30 Lunch, hosted by Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Moldova HE Mr Nicolae DUDĂU
13.45 Departure for the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova
14.00 Meeting with Speaker of the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova HE Ms Eugenia OSTAPCIUC
14.50 Departure for the President’s Palace
15.00 Meeting with President of the Republic of Moldova HE Mr Vladimir VORONIN
15.50 Departure for the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova
16.00 Meeting with Leader of the Parliamentary Faction ‘Braghis Alliance’ Mr Dumitru BRAGHIS
16.30 Meeting with Leader of the Parliamentary Faction of the Christian Democrats Party Mr Iurie ROSCA
17.00 Meeting with Leader of the Parliamentary Faction of Communist Mr Victor STEPANIUK
17.25 Departure for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Moldova
17.30 Joint Press Conference of the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Moldova
18.00 Departure for the Press House
18.10 Meeting with Representatives of the Journalist Union of the Republic of Moldova
19.00 Dinner, hosted by Chairman of the Foreign Political Committee of the Parliament, Chairman of the Parliamentary Delegation of Moldova to the PACE Mr Andrei NEGUTA
21.00 End of the dinner
7 December, Friday
07.00 Departure for Kyiv