The membership of the working group was approved by the Presidential instruction of January 15, 2020. The group comprises 75 politicians, legislators, scholars and public figures.
The President believes that the task of the working group is to organise consistent and responsible work on draft amendments that have already been or will be proposed later. It is very important to meticulously check their conformity with the law. Clear-cut and thought-out legal formulas must be put to a vote. Vladimir Putin emphasised that the final decision will of course belong to Russian citizens.
The President thanked all those present for agreeing to take part in this work.
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, colleagues.
As you know, in the Address to the Federal Assembly yesterday, I shared my view on the possible amendments to the Constitution of the Russian Federation, bearing in mind the discussion that we have been already having in our country, our society.
In this regard, I would like to say the following. First, thank you very much for agreeing to take part in this work. It requires not only professional knowledge – I will speak more about this later – but also political and life experience. These are extremely important skills for the people who will work on this most important decision.
Another point I would like to make at the beginning is that the amendments that were proposed yesterday do not affect the fundamental basics of the Constitution. They aim to ensure the development of Russia as a rule-of-law social state, as well as to improve the efficiency of the country’s institutes, strengthen the role of civil society, political parties and our regions in developing solutions vital for the development of our country.
This also refers to the new procedure of appointing the Prime Minister, deputy prime ministers and federal ministers.
I would like to reiterate, yesterday, the format of the Address did not allow me to go into detail, but I think this makes a great deal of sense. Russia, while remaining a presidential republic, is becoming more open. Parliament’s importance is increasing, and the interaction between Parliament and Government is becoming more active.
So Parliament will have more responsibility – not only for appointing ministers, deputies and the Prime Minister – but for the work they are doing, their policy. I believe there is now a need for such close ties between Parliament and Government.
Again, imagine a situation where the Prime Minister has been appointed and the President does not have the authority to reject this candidacy. And then the Prime Minister does not take his proposals to the President, but goes straight to Parliament, and Parliament approves the Deputy Prime Ministers and the federal ministers, and the President has no authority to reject any of them. That gives Parliament and Government a completely different level of responsibility, of course, in their coordination and work.
I would like to reiterate this and I believe that it is extremely important – I am certain that many of those present here will agree, while the citizens of Russia, I am certain, will agree in an overwhelming majority: Russia must remain a strong presidential republic. The President should be able to remove from office those who violate the law, those who dishonestly perform their official duties, or due to loss of trust. This is absolutely mandatory, an imperative, in my opinion, otherwise we will move completely into a parliamentary republic. With our complex statehood, with so many religions and ethnicities, with a huge territory, that would be a serious trial for Russia today, I believe. It is hard to say how it could all end up.
But this flexible combination – an increase in the role of Parliament and coordination with Government while maintaining major prerogatives in the hands of the head of state at the same time – this seems to me to be justified.
We also have to determine the constitutional status of the State Council. I would also add into the picture the powers to control the quality of legislation that are proposed for the Constitutional Court.
I would also like to make a comment about the State Council. We have the upper House of the Federal Assembly – this has always been and remains so – and it is the House of the regions. And here we also need to be very careful: we do not need another House of the regions. Therefore, this is a delicate job, and we must be very careful about how we define the State Council in the fundamental law, its prerogatives, and so on. This is a very important component.
I would like to specifically highlight proposals concerning the strengthening of the social rights of citizens. I would like to repeat, I consider it important to include in the Constitution a provision that the minimum wage in Russia cannot be lower than the subsistence level. We have already spelled this out in other laws, but those are regular laws, while having something enshrined in the fundamental law, in the Constitution, is quite another thing. This will be an extremely important and fundamental provision concerning the life and activities of the state bodies in the current mode.
The Constitution should also state that Russia guarantees decent pensions and their regular adjustment to inflation. It seems we are currently doing this. But it was not always so, and many of those present here know it. “Not enough money, lots of priorities, pensioners will have to wait;” if we set out the mandatory adjustment in the Constitution, nobody will say this anymore. The Government will have to adjust pensions; otherwise, it would be a violation of the Constitution with certain consequences, including the President’s reaction and his right to relieve officials of their positions.
I know that Parliament members, public associations and citizens supported proposals related to the strengthening of Russia’s sovereignty, increasing the role of our Constitution in the country’s legal system.
It is crucially important, and I want to assure you: we will not differ from other countries of the world that made these decisions long ago and boldly outlined that in their countries they allow everything that does not contradict their Constitution.
This does not mean that we, say, are trying to avoid the situation when an international agreement prevails over other laws of the Russian Federation, but not the Constitution. If an agreement contradicts the Constitution, it should not be signed, and if it was signed and we found that it contradicts our main law, it will not be valid on the territory of the Russian Federation.
Of course, this job requires the highest legal, judicial skills, as well as precision, consistency of each word, each letter, and maybe even each comma. We need to preserve the orderliness of our Constitution, the integrity of its legal fabric, and proceed from the fact that the Constitution is a document with a direct effect, and all innovations should strengthen and develop its potential.
I believe that the working group, which has gathered for the first time today – thank you all once again for this – is to organise system-wide and very responsible work on draft amendments and the proposals that have already been made, as well as those that, I am sure, are yet to be made. Their comprehensive legal appraisal is quite important. Only well-honed, both in meaning and form, legal formulations should be put to vote. And as I already mentioned yesterday, the people of Russia will have the final say.