Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon,
I am pleased to welcome you in Moscow. This is the second time that Russia is hosting your representative forum. And it is taking part in its work with great interest.
I would like you to know that the Russian Government is doing everything possible in order to strengthen the material basis of our national agencies that deal with elections, and this time the Central Election Commission of the Russian Federation is hosting you in a new building. So, I would first of all like to congratulate them on their house-warming, because it is the first large event to be held in the new building.
Your association is the only international association of election organisers in Europe. And you claim much of the credit for the fact that democratic institutions are taking root and the legal principles of the electoral process are being established in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe.
As I have said, our country has great respect for the activities of the association, above all on account of its practical work to promote open and fair elections and to adhere to the democratic principles.
We regard the fact that this conference is taking place in Moscow as the recognition of Russia’s progress in creating an effective and democratic electoral system. Indeed, much has changed in our country in recent years. Today when our lawmakers prepare for the elections they are concerned not with filling the legal void, as in previous years, but with improving the legal system that is already in place.
But I must also stress that many positive changes in our country have taken place precisely because regular and well-organised elections are emerging as a basic condition of ensuring the rights and freedoms of Russian citizens.
In organising the electoral process we do not merely draw on the progressive experience of other countries. The principles, norms and practice of elections in our country fully meet international standards. They have become part of our public life and our political tradition. I think that is very important. They have become part of the professional mentality of those whose duty it is to organise the electoral process in our country.
However, democracy – if it is genuine democracy of course – needs to be constantly fostered and cherished. Your association, which unites representatives of 18 countries, knows that better than anyone else. But many more countries are interested in this work. And that merely underscores the fact that constant exchange of experience and information is important even for “mature” democracies. In fact, we know cases of complicated electoral situations that have arisen in recent years in developed democracies.
By the way, I am aware that there are proposals to expand your association by incorporating representatives of other European countries. Such initiatives aimed at promoting cooperation can only be welcome.
We in Russia know the price of truly democratic elections. And we see clearly that there is a lot of room for improving our own electoral system. We are moving steadily along that path as we develop both the political institutions and the legal framework.
To be sure, our lawmakers as well as the chief executives and all the staff – I would like to stress that – of the central and local election commissions play a huge positive role in these processes. Theirs is a very complicated and challenging job, but it is very important and necessary for the country. It is also very important for us that the Central Election Commission of Russia is actively cooperating with the European countries in the framework of your association.
As far as I know, the theme of this conference has been proposed by the Central Election Commission of Russia. It builds on the initiative that Russia put forward at the OSCE two years ago. We then pointed out that national legislations had to be screened for compliance with international standards of electoral rights and freedoms.
Today Russia, together with other members of the association, is offering a draft European convention on the standards of elections, electoral rights and freedoms. I hope it will mark a good beginning of the work on a single European international legal document.
I believe that the initiatives aimed at harmonising the approaches in the sphere of electoral law have a big future. They logically fit into the process of legal cooperation among European countries, and remove the possibility of double standards in assessing whether elections are democratic and free.
Of course, we understand that a law-based electoral system alone cannot ensure a fully-fledged democracy unless it is “built into” the genuine democratic institutions of the whole society. Moreover, taken out of the context of overall democracy in society, it can merely serve as a veil and a screen for undemocratic principles of a state. That is true. But the system itself is very important and is in need of a common approach in the world, and certainly in Europe.
In conclusion, I would like to note that most of you have extensive experience in the professional preparation of elections. Therefore I am sure that your discussion will be meaningful and highly constructive. And its results will serve the key common goal, as I said, the formation of common principles of building democracy in Europe in the 21st century.
And, of course, I offer heartfelt wishes of success to you.
Thank you very much.