President Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, dear colleagues.
Just recently, on October 8, elections took place in a number of regions across the country. Nine regions elected new regional legislative assemblies and the majority of voters in these elections gave their votes to candidates from your party, who received from 40–50 percent of the vote. Now, independently or together with their allies, members of your party form the majority in these regional parliaments. This is further confirmation that United Russia is indeed the most influential political force in the country.
I know that you have drafted a number of initiatives that United Russia plans to discuss at its party congress on December 2, and I hope that today’s conversation will give us the chance to look at their main ideas and discuss ways to implement them.
Last year, legal instruments were put in place giving the party obtaining the majority in regional elections the right to propose to the President the candidate for regional governor.
Resolving the party’s practical objectives requires closer cooperation with other institutions of civil society. On United Russia’s initiative, the federal budget is allocating considerable funds to supporting public organisations. But along with providing financial support, it is important to organise joint work in the areas where party bodies and public organisations can complement each other in their work. One positive example of this kind of cooperation is the way that United Russia and the Public Council have both become involved in work to resolve the situation with people cheated out of their deposits by pyramid schemes in the construction sector. This problem exists in Moscow and there are people facing similar problems in 35 other Russian cities. As we know, these problems arose out of the lack of legal regulation in the early 1990s. It is a problem that we have inherited and we need to work together with public organisations and with our citizens to resolve it. We need to take ongoing and consistent steps in this area so as to settle all these problems.
Another area of importance today where the party and public organisations could work together is that of strengthening interethnic peace and harmony and educating people to be tolerant towards members of other ethnic groups or religions. This is an area where it is important to make fuller use of the party’s information, education and intellectual resources and its public influence.
Russia is interested in attracting workers and specialists from abroad to work in economic sectors and regions that face labour shortages. We will work consistently to put in place a civilised system of labour migration relations. This means helping the people who come to work and live in our country in their social and cultural adaptation. We need to help them integrate comfortably into Russian society and in so doing remove the soil for interethnic and inter-religious conflicts. Of course, in attracting labour from abroad, we also must take into consideration, above all, Russian citizens’ interests on the labour market. I have spoken about this issue on many occasions. It is something that we are discussing almost all the time.
I support the changes to immigration and administrative legislation that were passed on the party’s initiative. On the one hand, these new rules simplify registration procedures for immigrants, and on the other hand they set strict penalties for violations of the immigration and labour rules. We currently estimate that of 10 million foreigners working in Russia, only 500,000 are registered. I gave the figure of 10 million, but this is not a definitive figure and, according to some data, the real figure could be as much as 15 million people. Other countries where the labour market is quite attractive also face this problem, and on just as big a scale. The number of illegal immigrants in Europe is in the millions, and some estimates put it at eight million or even ten million. I just met with my U.S. counterpart recently, and they also face this problem in the United States, with 10 million-12 million illegal immigrants.
I would like to note the principled support that United Russia has given to the draft law on regulating the gambling business. This draft law was passed by the State Duma in the first reading a few days ago.
I hope that this law will be passed before the end of this year. This will create the legal foundation for radical decriminilisation of this sector. According to the Interior Ministry, gambling establishments generated total revenue of around 134 billion roubles last year, 80 percent of which came from one-armed bandits. But inspections have shown that most of these one-armed bandits were not registered and were not paying the taxes required by law. I am fully aware of how many attempts will be made to lobby this or that decision in this area. I call on the leadership of United Russia not to give into the lobbyists. I know what the State Duma proposes, and you know my views on the subject. I think that we should concentrate this business in four specially selected zones, and this is enough. There is no need to expand this number.
I note in particular the draft law giving additional support to families with children. This is the draft law on the maternity or family capital. It has now been passed in its first reading. It is important to get this law through the Federal Assembly before the end of the current session so that its provisions can be implemented in practice starting from the beginning of 2007. This all has to be taken into account in the 2007 budget. We can’t allow any failures here, because any problems will mean that we will not be able to begin making payments. I hope that there will not be any problems.
You are also to examine the draft law regulating the activities of retail markets. The draft law gives, for the first time, strict legal definitions of retail and produce trade, and regulates the large number of issues regarding the rights and obligations of everyone involved in this sector. It is important to set common procedures for markets’ activities by law so as to enable retail trade to be conducted according to clear and transparent rules. Currently, we have a situation, unfortunately, where there is no legal basis at federal level for markets’ activities, and only 13 of our regions have passed local laws regulating their activities. And even these laws contain many unclear and imprecise provisions, and there are many legal problems and unregulated situations. I think this law is much needed now to protect our local goods producers. It should create legally-based and healthy competition in this sector and encourage the development of produce markets as the main channel through which farmers can sell what they grow. If sales develop and increase, this should lead in turn to increased production, create new jobs and become a real means of support for rural areas.
The draft law regulating issues in the nuclear energy industry is also of great importance for the country. Passing and implementing this law will enable us to make the nuclear energy industry machine-building sector more competitive both at home and abroad, help our nuclear energy specialists in their work, ensure balanced and stable development of the country’s energy sector and make it possible to maintain and develop advanced technology.
Finally, I would like to say a few words about legislative measures to increase liability for violating traffic rules. This is an important social issue and it has remained a serious problem despite increased attention given to the issue. Whether through the irresponsible behaviour of people on the roads or the lack of regulation and lack of attention from the Interior Ministry and the authorities in general, terrible tragedies are taking place on our roads. It is absolutely inadmissible that people should be able to drive when drunk, and we need to make sure that the legislation in this area works and is effective.
Dear colleagues, I have already spoken about the party’s growing influence today. But there is another important aspect to take into account, and that is the party’s international activities. United Russia’s increasing influence inside the country opens up new opportunities for developing ties with parliaments and parties abroad. Your cooperation with the most influential political forces in other countries will make it possible to inform the public more fully on Russia’s domestic policies, give a multidimensional nature to foreign affairs, and create new forums for political and economic ties. These are all serious levers for promoting Russia’s interests abroad, and so I would like to hear about your plans for expanding international ties and contacts.