Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Green Light For Euronest Parliamentary Assembly

During the delegation meeting of the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly which took place today in Strasbourg,Euro MPs approved unanimously the Rules of Procedure and Constitutive Act for the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly.

Following weeks of intensive meetings and negotiations at different levels, Euronest EP Chairman Kristian Vigenin said this meeting was the first concrete step towards a functioning and active assembly.

The Rules of Procedure will be sooner presented to the Conference of Presidents for the final approval on behalf of the European Parliament before being presented to the eastern partners for approval from their side.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Outgoing EU Neighborhood Chief Says Change Will Take Generations

Benita Ferrero-Waldner served five years as the EU's external relations commissioner before making way on December 1 for the bloc's new high representative for foreign policy, Catherine Ashton. Ferrero-Waldner took over the trade portfolio from Ashton and will retain the EU neighborhood brief until a new European Commission is sworn in early next year. In an interview with RFE/RL, Ferrero-Waldner cautions the bloc's Eastern neighbors to accept the fact that the reforms needed to make them ready for the EU could take "generations." Ferrero-Waldner spoke with RFE/RL's Brussels correspondent, Ahto Lobjakas.

RFE/RL: Let's get the big picture out of the way first. Having done your job for five years now, what would you say being European means? And where does Europe end for you?

Benita Ferrero-Waldner:
First of all, I think there is a certain European identity. We have a common history, we have a common culture, and we also have common values. That is absolutely clear. And I think that I see that and I have been seeing that in these five years whenever I've gone outside -- to the other continents, to other countries. Then you really feel there is something that brings us together. Therefore, I don't really think that the borders are geographic borders, but they are the borders of this certain European identity that is there.

RFE/RL: Every now and then one hears the words "European values," which represent something basic the EU stands for. Yet when I hear the neighborhood countries being told -- as you yourself told the foreign ministers of the six Eastern Partnership countries on December 9 -- that the reforms the EU proposes to them are subject to their consent, I wonder if you don't feel that there are certain European values that should be accepted unconditionally and not be at the mercy of what the partner governments might happen to think?

I think [it] is our objective to have the same values for all the countries. But I also think we have to see the history of some of those countries. And so they have to recuperate some of the values that for us are already very evident. And I think that we have to help them to recuperate [those values], and that is one of the aims I have tried to [reach] in my time as commissioner for external relations and neighborhood policy.

RFE/RL: Obviously, these values span a wide spectrum; there are different types of values. But it would seem to me that respect for human rights constitutes a very basic element of what it means to be European. And in that sense, one sometimes wonders about what is going on when, for example, the EU receives the foreign minister of Azerbaijan without the slightest public sign of friction, at a time when there are journalists in jail in Azerbaijan for expressing their opinions. How do you personally reconcile yourself to this?

What I've been doing all the time is I've always been quite firm with all these countries in private, in the meetings, but I have not always put them on the spot in public. Because I think it's very important to have trust, to have confidence, and that you can also speak even of the most difficult issues with those ministers. And I remember very well always having mentioned all those difficult cases that unfortunately -- and you are right -- are still there, not only in Azerbaijan, but in many others of these countries.

RFE/RL: This brings us to the dilemma of dialogue versus sanctions. You're known as a great proponent of dialogue. Do you feel that when the EU has applied sanctions -- for example, against Belarus -- it has done so in error?

Well, I thought that sanctions, indeed, have not really brought us very far. You can have this policy or that, but we always have to go back and ask ourselves: "What is really more constructive? What will bring us further?" And I personally believe that engagement is much more constructive and brings us better [results] than isolation.

RFE/RL: The two countries keenest to have a dialogue with the EU in the Eastern Partnership have been Ukraine and Georgia. Neither has gotten very far in their development. Why do you think that is the case?

I don't agree with that. I think [that Ukraine] in particular has gone very far. You know, the neighborhood policy, from the outset, has been designed as a policy to bring our neighbors -- east and south, but I will speak now about the east -- much closer to the European Union. And we have tried to give them all the possibilities to bring them close to us.

But there was one thing that at that moment was not mature, and is not yet mature. That is the question of whether these countries in the future can become members of the European Union or not. Therefore, I've always said from the outset, very clearly, "Please, take whatever we can offer you. Try to comply with what we ask of you, and use this momentum to come closer. But the future is, of course, open and at [this] very moment we cannot give you any other answer." And this is what we have said during [the past] five years.

Now Ukraine, at a certain moment, didn't want to accept that. But in the end, [the EU maintains] exactly this policy, because you need unanimity of all the member states. It's not a policy of the [European] Commission. The commission, so to speak, [pursues] the policy that has been commonly agreed upon. And I think we have given a lot of possibilities to Ukraine. Bilaterally, they are also the furthest in the negotiations of the [new Association] Agreement.

But all these things are painful negotiations. They are difficult because [Ukraine] needs to change not only their whole legislation -- all different items -- but they also have to change their implementation [of it], and their spirit, and this takes time. I always am also of the opinion -- because I think I'm a realist -- that this is a societal change that we want to help them bring about. Again, it's for them to change, and it's for us to help them to change.

RFE/RL: I remember in 2003 when the European Commission released the first draft of what became the European Neighborhood Policy, and I vividly remember a highlight in the text noting that enlargement has been the EU's most successful foreign policy tool. Now, without the promise of accession -- as you said, the member states are not agreed -- do you not feel that without that, the EU has been attempting to reform these countries with one arm tied behind its back?

Well, there is this opinion that only enlargement can change everything. But I'm not of that opinion. And we as foreign ministers -- and I was foreign minister [of Austria] in 2003 -- and I remember we discussed this policy with Anna Lindh [then foreign minister of Sweden] and many others of our good colleagues then. And I think there is a very important policy to bring these countries closer. Because for the moment, none of these countries is mature [enough] to enter the European Union, [even] if we wanted it. No.

And there always have to be the two sides -- both have to be ripe, have to be mature. Remember, countries like Sweden, Austria, Finland, for instance, when they wanted to become members of the European Union, there was this European economic space, or area, which I must say as an Austrian we didn't like too much. But then we understood how important it was. And when the time was ripe, this helped us. So let us see.

But these countries, I think, have to do their reforms. And you know [in] Ukraine, for instance, a lot still is missing. But also in the other countries. And therefore, we tell them, "Please use this momentum. You get a lot of financial support. You get, in reality, a free-trade zone, a comprehensive free-trade zone. You get regulatory [convergence]." And apart from the bilateral [links] we also have now created this multilateral Eastern Partnership with all the platforms, where the different six countries can work together, can see the best practices -- "Who is farther [along]? What do I learn from here or there?" That is very important.

RFE/RL: There is the reality of cooperation and integration, and there is the reality on the ground, in the countries themselves. I listened to Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt the other day observe in a speech that all of the EU's eastern neighbors are now more fragile than they were five years ago -- even if they may have progressed in their relations with the EU. Do you agree with this? And if so, why would that be?

There is, of course, the politics around [the countries] that you cannot completely disregard. And, indeed, of course, Russia is there and sees these countries somehow [as its] near abroad. But we think these countries should use the momentum to come closer to us. So I think it is really to show both -- these countries, but also the Russians -- this is our common neighborhood, as we always have said.

To stabilize countries is not against Russia but, indeed, is a favor for all of us, and for the countries themselves. So, you know, you have to see it in this context, in this political context.

RFE/RL: Russia -- is it a European country in the sense of having a legitimate and necessary contribution to make to Europe's identity and its values? Or is it something located next to Europe on the map which has to be accommodated?

I think Russia is a European country, but it's a huge European country. And therefore, I don't think that Russia would be a member in the European Union one day. I don't think so. And I think Russia, after having had its Soviet phase for a long time, and before that a feudal system, has to slowly, slowly get acquainted with all our values and also adopt them. All of them. But it will take time. This is my belief. I always say societal changes take generations.

By RFE/RL. Published on 14 December 2009
Copyright (c) 2009. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Georgian rebel region of Abkhazia elects Bagapsh for 2nd term

Georgia's rebel region of Abkhazia elected its de facto President Sergei Bagapsh for a second term December 12 in a vote lauded by Russia, condemned by Georgia and ignored by the rest of the world.

Georgia lost control of Abkhazia, a tiny subtropical chunk of territory on the eastern coast of the Black Sea that was Stalin's favourite holiday destination, after its short and disastrous war with Russia in 2008. Russia, Nicaragua and Venezuela are the only three countries that recognize Abkhazia's independence.

The Georgian government stressed in a statement released as preliminary results were being announced Sunday that the territory of Abkhazia, occupied by Russia as a result of its 2008 invasion of Georgia, is not recognized as independent by the international community. "As such, any 'presidential' election is a political farce with no legal basis."

The count showed Bagapsh with 59.37% of the vote and his closest rival Raul Khadzimba trailing on 15.44%. Russian observers who were sent to monitor the election said it was fair and transparent. Khadzimba accused Bagapsh of falsification and threatened to challenge the result.

A similar standoff between Bagapsh and Khadzimba after the 2004 election led to minor rioting on the streets of the capital Sukhumi. This time around there was nothing but a few celebratory rounds of gunfire from Bagapsh's supporters and the streets of the seaside town remained otherwise quiet.

Close relations

Russia acts as Abkhazia's protector to such a degree that it has been accused by Georgia of trying to annex it. It has sent around 3,000 troops to Abkhazia since the end of the August 2008 war and contributed RUB2bn to the region's budget last year, 57% of the total. Russia plans to match that contribution this year, according to Abkhazia's Economy Minister Kristina Ozgan. "Russia is the only country that is helping us now," she says, adding that around 80% of the small investment inflow that exists in Abkhazia at the moment comes from Russia. The sectors that desperately need investment are tourism and agriculture, she said.

Russia insists it takes Abkhaz independence seriously and Abkhaz officials, while admitting "Russification" is a concern, say they see Russia as a friendly partner. "Today no-one is interfering with what we do," said Bagapsh.

Russia's ambassador to Abkhazia, Semyon Grigoriev, said the embassy in Sukhumi operates in exactly the same way as any embassy abroad and does not act as a supervisor or advisor. "We do normal diplomatic work characteristic of bilateral relations," he said, adding that Moscow had not named a preferred candidate in the presidential election.

In its Soviet heyday Abkhazia was a thriving holiday destination famed for its unspoiled coastline, palm-tree lined boulevards and juicy mandarins. But a bloody war in the early 1990s when it first broke away from Georgia caused an estimated 200,000 ethnic Georgians to flee.

Today, most of the hotels and cafes along Sukhumi's seafront are abandoned and the place feels like a ghost town after dark. There are only around 200,000 people living in Abkhazia, and the administration is trying to tempt back the diaspora and encourage the people who are left to have bigger families.

Russia has already made small investments in timber, brewing, fruit processing and packaging in Abkhazia. Rosneft is already supplying petrol to the region and Grigoriev says Gazprom or one of its subsidiaries might be interested in expanding to the territory in the future.

The 2014 Winter Olympics, to be held in Russia's Black Sea resort of Sochi, which is just 20 kilometres from the Abkhaz border, will provide a boost to Abkhazia as it's already supplying building gravel, and will house construction workers. "Russia is providing us with the resources for our economic development. It's our biggest neighbour, our goods are sold on the territory of the Russian Federation and their tourists still come here," said Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba.

By Samantha Shields. Published on 14 December 2009
Copyright (c) 2009. BNE. Reprinted with the permission of Business New Europe
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Will Georgia's Afghan 'Surge' Pay Off?

For the past year, Georgia has been desperately trying to attract the attention of U.S. President Barack Obama's White House. It may finally have succeeded.

Georgian officials announced last week that they will contribute two light companies and a heavy battalion -- nearly 1,000 troops -- to the NATO mission in Afghanistan next spring. Those troops will join 170 Georgian soldiers already on the ground, making the tiny South Caucasus nation the Afghan mission's largest per capita contributor.

The deployments are part of a surge expected to bring foreign troop levels in Afghanistan to 140,000-150,000. Obama announced last week that the United States was sending an additional 30,000 troops, and turned to NATO allies in search of another 7,000. Georgia, whose own NATO ambitions have been repeatedly frustrated, stepped forward nonetheless.

"Our main message is that Georgia, which is a country under threat, is not just a consumer of security but a frequent contributor as well. I believe our partners understand this," Eka Tkeshelashvili, who heads Georgia's National Security Council, tells RFE/RL's Georgian Service.

"The contingent we're sending to Afghanistan might shame Western European countries in its size and content. But we're not doing this to shame others, only to demonstrate that we're ready to stand with our partners."

Georgia announced its troop commitments in Brussels during a NATO meeting in which the alliance once again declined to offer Tbilisi a Membership Action Plan (MAP), a key step toward NATO membership.

Mikheil Saakashvili has made his country's Western integration a cornerstone of his presidency since coming to office in 2004, and received strong support from the previous U.S. administration of George W. Bush.

But the Obama administration, distracted by priorities elsewhere and wary of antagonizing Russia, has not given Saakashvili the level of attention he enjoyed from the Bush White House. Georgia has also seen its prospects dwindle under mounting critique of its democratic record and the country's disastrous war with Moscow in August 2008.

So now, Tbilisi's dramatic gesture of support for the Obama administration's goals raises a natural question: What, if anything, are they getting in return? Not much, analysts say, other than goodwill from Washington.

"The Georgians know they are in a difficult neighborhood and that American interest creates a kind of tacit security guarantee against further Russian aggression," says Edward Lucas, Central and Eastern European correspondent for the British weekly "The Economist" and author of the book "The New Cold War."

"And anything that keeps America feeling engaged and grateful is good."

'Punching Above Your Weight'

U.S. officials were quick to express gratitude for Georgia's troop commitment.

During a visit to Tbilisi on December 7, General Roger Brady, the U.S. Air Force commander in Europe, called Tbilisi's decision "an example to others" and praised Georgia as "a nation that clearly is punching well above your weight."

Likewise, speaking at a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council in Brussels this week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Washington was "very grateful for Georgia's contributions to this important mission."

Georgia also was a major contributor to the U.S.-led mission in Iraq, with a peak of 2,000 forces serving in that conflict. Georgian troops there were withdrawn and brought to the home front during the August 2008 war with Russia.

But experts say the Obama administration, while acknowledging Georgia's right someday to join NATO, is unlikely to take their support further.

Analysts say that even if Obama wanted to spend political capital on pushing Saakashvili's NATO bid, he would likely be thwarted by strong opposition from the European allies like Germany and France.

"He's not getting NATO and Obama can't give it to him. He can't deliver. I think it is important for the U.S. administration to recognize that, and I think they have recognized that, which is good," says Lincoln Mitchell, a professor of international politics at Columbia University and author of the book "Uncertain Democracy: U.S. Foreign Policy and Georgia's Rose Revolution."

"To fight a losing fight early in an administration is never something you want to do. And I suspect that on some level, Saakashvili recognizes that."

Nevertheless, Mitchell calls Georgia's troop gambit a savvy move. "In any negotiating or bargaining situation, you often try to create an environment where you are vaguely owed something. And I think Saakashvili always wants to have that environment going," he says.

On The Pentagon's Radar

Addressing soldiers at a new military base outside Tbilisi last week, Saakashvili directly linked Georgia's participation in the Afghan mission to the country's security at home.

While the United States and NATO are preoccupied with the Afghan conflict, he said, Russia is getting stronger and more assertive in the South Caucasus. "The sooner the Afghan situation is resolved," he added, the sooner "Georgia will be more protected."

Saakashvili added that tough tours of duty in Afghanistan will give Georgian troops "a real combat baptism" that would come in handy in potential future conflicts.

Experts say combat duty in mountainous Afghanistan would indeed provide valuable experience for Georgian troops that could prove useful in the event of another war with Russia.

"It's good for Georgia getting its troops working alongside the Americans and getting trained and equipped. There is a definite plus for Georgia in this," Lucas says.

"It keeps them on the Pentagon radar, and battle-hardened troops from Afghanistan can be useful if you find yourself fighting in the Caucasus. So there's a plus from that point of view as well."

Muted Opposition

A recent public-opinion poll conducted in Tbilisi showed a slight plurality favoring the deployment. According to the poll, 44.9 percent supported sending the troops, 43.4 percent opposed, and 11.7 percent were undecided.

Nugzar Rekhviashvili, a 73-year-old retired designer, says that despite the risk the troops will face in Afghanistan, the deployment gives Georgia a chance to show NATO that it is ready to contribute to the alliance in a serious way.

"Since Georgia has the possibility to join NATO, we have the duty to go. To do otherwise would be unthinkable. NATO is a collective security organization, and if you want to be part of it you need to show that you can fulfill the requirements of the alliance," Rekhviashvili says.

"Our troops will get very important experience from serving there. NATO is also helping the Georgian army develop by sending instructors and trainers. So I think this is very positive."

But with Russian troops just 30 kilometers from Tbilisi, 33-year-old Tamar Shugliashvili questions the wisdom of sending so many Georgian forces abroad. "I am very upset that our guys are going to serve on foreign soil, especially when our own country is so unprotected," she says.

Analysts say that despite the poll numbers, opposition to the deployment is fairly passive and muted.

Archil Gegeshidze, a senior fellow at the Tbilisi-based Georgian Institute for Strategic and International Studies, says the fact that the Afghan mission is a NATO-led operation -- and that an overwhelming majority of Georgians have a favorable view of the alliance -- has stifled any serious and vocal opposition to the move.

"Since everybody understands that the Afghanistan campaign is something very decisive for NATO itself and for NATO's future, Georgia sending troops there is seen as a positive decision," Gegeshidze says.

And is there a risk of a backlash against the United States and NATO if, after strong contributions to missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, Georgia continues to be denied membership in the alliance?

"Regarding a backlash, it is possible but not likely, because Georgia's NATO aspirations are driven by a fear of Russia," says Gegeshidze

"Russia is still there as a source of threat to Georgia's national security. And since there is no other alternative to NATO to deter possible Russian aggression in the future, then NATO integration will remain a priority. Even if it does not happen soon, I do not think that Georgian public opinion will make a U-turn and choose other priorities."

By Brian Whitmore. Published on 10 December 2009
Copyright (c) 2009. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Support for increased cooperation across the EU's eastern borders

The Eastern Partnership, launched in Prague in May this year, can be described as a great success. In a series of areas, the relationship between the EU and six countries along the Union’s eastern border – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine and Belarus – have deepened. This was made clear when the EU’s foreign ministers met with the six countries’ foreign ministers in Brussels on 8 December.

“We are very satisfied with today’s meeting. Our discussions today show that the Eastern Partnership has gained a solid footing and is moving ahead”, says Minister for Foreign Affairs Carl Bildt.

Both the relationship with the countries as a group and bilateral relations with the individual countries have progressed. In the case of Ukraine, negotiations on an Association Treaty with the EU have progressed and are expected to conclude in 2010. Negotiations on a Moldovan Association Treaty with the EU have not commenced but are expected to take place in January. In the EU Council of Ministers, discussions on a draft mandate ahead of negotiations with Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia are ongoing.

Progress in the areas of democracy and human rights required
Belarus is a separate case. Due to the political situation in the country, it has no partnership or cooperation agreements with the EU. The EU has however clearly stated that the Union is ready to upgrade relations with Belarus, provided that there is progress made in Belarus in the areas of democracy, human rights and rule of law.

“It has been asked whether the Eastern Partnership can be seen as a conflict resolution mechanism for certain countries. I would like to point out that this is not the case. The Eastern Partnership is a cooperation between the EU and the countries on the Union’s eastern border and its objective is social and economic development in the countries.

On the multilateral side, in the cooperation with the countries as a group, four thematic platforms – forums – have been established. Since May this year, two meetings have taken place in each of the areas. They have focused on democracy, good management and stability, economic integration and closer ties to EU policy; energy issues in a broad perspective and education, research, culture and youth issues. The meeting formally approved the work programmes for the continued work in the four areas.

Concrete examples

Through the work in the four platforms, a number of flag ship initiatives have been launched. These are concrete examples of the work in the Eastern Partnership and include integrated border control, regional energy markets, improved energy efficiency and use of renewable resources.

On 9 December, there will be further initiatives taken in connection with a meeting for the EU’s Directors-General for Civil Protection which is to take place on 10–11 December in Göteborg. The meeting will adress prevention, preparedness and measures taken in the event of natural and man-made disasters. Further initiatives are expected in early 2010.

At the meeting, strong support for developing and implementing the Eastern Partnership over the coming years was expressed.

Source: Swedish Presidency of the EU. Published on 8 December 2009

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Moldova: Changes to the Constitution are essential say PACE co-rapporteurs

Josette Durrieu (France, SOC) and Egidijus Vareikis (Lithuania, EPP/CD), co-rapporteurs of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) for the monitoring of the obligations and commitments of Moldova, today made the following statement:

"We have taken note of the results of the second round of the presidential election in Moldova, which took place today, and we note that the institutional deadlock continues. Clearly, in pursuance of the legislation in force, parliament must be dissolved and parliamentary elections held in 2010. In the meantime, the Speaker of Parliament carries out the duties of the President of the Republic. This is a temporary situation which must not endure.

Furthermore, constitutional changes are now essential in the interests of the country and of its progress towards genuine democracy. The Council of Europe confirms its readiness to give the requisite assistance to the Moldovan authorities in this step. We therefore call on the authorities to refer this matter with the utmost urgency to the Venice Commission, so as to start work on the various options for constitutional changes. It should be noted that it is parliament's role to decide on any changes which are to be made."

Source: Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Strasbourg 7 December 2009

Monday, December 7, 2009

Doubts Rise As Kazakhstan Prepares For OSCE Chairmanship

Even before Kazakhstan's bid to chair the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) was accepted in late 2007, controversy over the country's dubious rights record and dedication to democratic principles was simmering.

Now, with the country just weeks away from beginning its one-year stint as the rotating OSCE chairman on January 1, 2010, those criticisms and concerns have reached a full boil.

Just how contentious Kazakhstan's chairmanship has become was on full display in Athens on December 1-2 during a two-day conference of the OSCE's Ministerial Council, the body of 56 foreign ministers that chooses the organization's chairmanship.

Kazakhstan was advised not to take its leadership role for granted by Janez Lenarcic, the head of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) -- the OSCE institution specifically focused on furthering human rights, democratization, and the holding of free and fair elections.

The ODIHR director said that just because Kazakhstan will be taking up the mantle for an organization that espouses respect for basic human rights and freedoms does not mean it should stop working to improve its own record in a number of areas.

According to Lenarcic’s spokesman, Jens Eschenbaecher, the ODIHR head said that “taking over the chairmanship of the OSCE is a great responsibility and challenge for each participating state, including Kazakhstan. ODIHR and other parts of the [OSCE] as well have in the past expressed concerns about issues related to, for example, the election framework in Kazakhstan, freedom of the media, and other issues."

Lenarcic conceded that Kazakhstan is "in the stage of developing democracy," expressing optimism that its OSCE chairmanship will help keep it on the democratic path, but the essence of the message directed at an incoming OSCE chair was unprecedented.

Historic Firsts

Kazakhstan's chairmanship promises to be unique in many ways.

It is the first former Soviet republic, the first CIS member, and the first country in Asia ever to head the OSCE.

Kazakhstan will be the standard bearer of free elections, while knowing that it has never held an election judged to have met democratic standards by ODIHR. The most recent of the country's electoral failings took place in 2007, when just months before it was voted in as OSCE chair, the propresidential party Nur-Otan won all the seats in parliamentary election.

International watchdog Human Rights Watch has said from the start that Kazakhstan was not worthy of the position. On November 25, the group issued a report entitled "Kazakhstan: Rights Deteriorating As OSCE Chairmanship Nears."

"I think it's pretty clear that Kazakhstan's human rights record doesn't completely conform with OSCE standards and norms,” said Rachel Denber, deputy director of the Europe and Central Asia division for HRW. “Kazakhstan was a highly controversial choice for the OSCE chairmanship because of its human rights record," she said.

Those concerns grew even as Kazakhstan put the final touches on its preparations for the chairmanship. In the course of the past year, it has come under intense scrutiny following the passage of legislation seen to restrict media freedoms, proposals within its rubber-stamp parliament that President Nursultan Nazarbaev be named "president for life," and a spate of violent attacks against journalists.

When asked by RFE/RL by e-mail or telephone to respond to criticisms over activity in Kazakhstan that appeared to contradict the OSCE's values, the Vienna-based organization replied by saying the organization was working with Kazakhstan on its reforms, or, on numerous occasions, simply gave no comment.

HRW's Denber notes that Kazakhstan was originally aiming to become the OSCE chairman in 2009, but that bid was capsized due to concerns by some member states that Kazakhstan had not met the standards required to be OSCE chair.

In the end Kazakhstan's chairmanship was put off until 2010 under the idea that the extra year would give Kazakhstan ample time to bring its legislation and practices closer into line with the values espoused by the OSCE.

Kazakhstan promised to do so, but Denber said its government made only token progress toward that goal.

"At the time it was chosen for the OSCE chairmanship, its foreign minister at the time made several promises for human-rights reforms,” Denber said. “They were rather modest pledges and the government adopted some reforms based on these rather modest pledges. They're obviously welcome, but they don't really address the fundamental underlying problems.”

“And those reforms were completed in February 2009, and since then there have been a number of steps backward in other spheres in human rights in Kazakhstan. So overall, it's a very disappointing picture," she said.

Backward Slide

Among those "steps backward," Denber lists a law enacted this year against the dissemination of false information about elections, and legislation limiting people's right to assemble. "You can sort of see where this is headed, and because the courts aren't independent it could be very much open to an arbitrary interpretation," Denber said.

Muzzafar Suleymanov, a research associate with the Europe and Central Asia program of the Committee to Protect Journalists, says that in terms of media freedom, the situation in Kazakhstan has certainly not improved since it was tapped to head the OSCE.

"Actually, it's gotten worse,” Suleymanov said. “If you take a look at our press coverage of developments in the media, regarding the media in Kazakhstan, you will see that the year started with the beating and stabbing of journalists, which didn't take place before. And then we have this Internet-regulation bill, which many international media-freedom groups, including the OSCE, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Human Rights Watch, and other groups warned Kazakh authorities not to implement, to stop it. But all the appeals, all the calls to the government, have been ignored."

Vladimir Shkolnikov, the director in Europe of Freedom House, an organization dedicated to monitoring democratic processes around the world, expressed surprise that Kazakhstan’s government has not done more to address the criticisms of its policies, considering that it received more international attention over the past year than it ever has since becoming independent in 1991.

"It's almost as if they've taken the OSCE chairmanship for granted and have gone on about their domestic business as if the international spotlight, which obviously comes with the OSCE chairmanship, was not on them,” Shkolnikov said. “And that's very disappointing. They're confirming the worst fears of people who believe that Kazakhstan just simply wants the prestige and was not going to follow up on its own words."

Andrea Berg, a Central Asia researcher with HRW, said Kazakhstan is seeking the limelight in particular because it could have the chance to host the OSCE’s first summit in 10 years.

“The last summit was in Istanbul, in 1999 -- so the Kazakhs really want to have this summit in their country,” Berg said. “And again, they tried to push this issue and have this summit in their country and for them -- my impression, really -- this is like an opportunity to have nice photos instead of really discussing or really reforming the OSCE."

A decision on Kazakhstan's proposal to hold the summit in Astana in 2010 was put on hold this week in Athens. In explaining the delay, Kazakh Senator Adil Akhmetov was quoted as saying that U.S. representatives called for a "time out" until "concrete questions" for discussion at such a summit could be agreed.

The United States and Great Britain were already vocal in pointing out Kazakhstan's leadership shortcomings before eventually signing on to the Ministerial Council's 2007 decision that handed Kazakhstan the OSCE chairmanship next year.

For its part, Kazakhstan has promised to devote its year as OSCE chair to pushing through an agreement on conventional arms in Europe and promoting interethnic and interreligious harmony. But as it attempts to promote OSCE values, it can expect to do so under even more intense scrutiny.

By Bruce Pannier. Published on 5 December 2009
Copyright (c) 2009. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Gas issues and need for reforms on EU-Ukraine summit agenda

The final third-country summit of the Swedish Presidency, EU-Ukraine, took place in Kiev today. As was the case in earlier summits, the Presidency’s two top priorities, the economic crisis and climate change, was on the agenda. But the major part of the meeting was devoted to two other issues: energy security and gas supply and Ukraine’s need for political and economic reforms.

On 17 January, the people of Ukraine will be voting in presidential elections and domestically, the country is experiencing some turbulence. At the same time, the economic and financial crisis has hit Ukraine hard and the country has responded to the crisis by not living up to the IMF’s demands for adaptation in order to qualify for further financial support. The previous high level of growth last year turned into inflation and exports fell dramatically.

The need for extensive democratic and economic reforms to modernise the country was one of the EU’s main messages to Ukrainian President Victor Yushchenko, who several times emphasised the Ukrainian willingness to forge closer links with the Union. MrYushchenkoalso pointed out that the EU and Ukraine are facing several common global challenges and appreciated the symbolism of today’s summit being the first large EU summit under the new Lisbon Treaty.
“I hope that the EU’s reforms under the new Treaty can give impulses to our future cooperation”, said Mr Yushchenko at the summit’s concluding press conference.

Energy cooperation

In the energy field, discussions on the project launched earlier this autumn – the Eastern Europe Energy Efficiency and Environment Partnership (EEEEEP) – continued. A long series of countries have promised to jointly contribute EUR 90 million to the project, which is intended to last between 2010–2014 and aims at making greater investments in the energy and environment fields in Ukraine and in the longer term in other East European countries as well. Ukraine itself contributes with EUR 10 million during the same period.

Energy use in Ukraine today is only one third as efficient as in the EU countries on average. The new energy cooperation is also intended to yield further positive consequences. Reduced energy consumption leads to reduced emissions which in turn leads to a reduced impact on the climate. At the same time, modernised energy production and increased energy security is greatly desired in this part of Europe – not least after the past years’ energy crises when Ukraine had been unable to pay energy bills to Russia, who in turn cut off energy supplies, thus leaving not only Ukraine but also several EU countries without gas and heating.

The gas crisis

And the gas crisis was one of the issues dominating both the meeting and the press conference.
“Ukraine has set a lower price on gas when they sell it than when they buy it. This of course helps undermine state finances. The EU’s attitude is that we must be certain that we get the deliveries we pay for. It is our opinion that this is their issue to solve. And it is an issue which needs solving, because 25 % of energy supply in the EU is based on natural gas and a great part of it comes in via Ukraine. So it is no small issue to many of the EU’s Member States”, said Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt.

Later on in the day Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt and President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso also met with Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and leader of the opposition Victor Yanukovich. The EU expressed the same message at all three meetings. An agreement on strategic work between the EU and Ukraine was also signed.

The declaration that was adopted during the summit can be found via the link below:!menu/standard/file/EU-Ukraine%20summit%20resluts.pdf

Source: Swedish Presidency of the EU. Published on 4 December 2009

Friday, December 4, 2009

Georgia targets Mideast money

Georgia is hoping its strategic location between Europe and Asia and a raft of government incentives will help it brush off the global financial crisis and attract billions of dollars in investment from the Middle East over the next five years.

Middle Eastern investors already have a strong toehold in Georgia, with United Arab Emirates (UAE) investment companies RAKIA (Ras Al Khaimah Investment Authority) and Dhabi Group having been active since 2006, and Egypt's Fresh Home Appliances launching operations this year.

Now the government is hoping that the development of free industrial zones offering tax and customs breaks to investors, a new fiscal austerity bill, and the easing of the world financial crisis will unfreeze stalled projects and attract fresh capital. "With several of the Arab Gulf States heavily investing worldwide, the government of Georgia thought it was a good opportunity to target them to attract their capital. Georgia is located not far from the Arabian Peninsula and has certain competitive advantages," says Irakli Matkava, director of the government agency Invest in Georgia.

The government has already presented its case to potential Kuwaiti and Qatari investors, and Prime Minister Nika Gilauri will lobby in Abu Dhabi in December as part of a Georgian investment road show that will also go to London and New York.

The so-called Liberty Act, which President Mikheil Saakashvili presented to parliament in October and still needs to be passed, would give investors a guarantee that current liberal economic policies won't change. It lays out constitutional amendments to limit state spending to a maximum 30% of GDP, the budget deficit to no more than 3% and foreign debt to no more than 60%.

Liberty to invest

Investments from the UAE totaled $124m in the first half of 2009, down from $202m during the same period of the previous year. In 2008 as a whole, the UAE was the biggest foreign investor in Georgia, accounting for $306m out of a total $1.56bn.

While Dhabi Group froze its investments in telecommunications and a five-star Kempinski Hotel to be built in the centre of Tbilisi after the August 2008 war with Russia, money from RAKIA's two Georgian subsidiaries, RAKIA Georgia and Rakeen, is still trickling in. RAKIA Georgia bought 51% of the Black Sea port of Poti in the west of the country for $155m last year and has invested a further $10m in the free industrial zone in the town and $67.5m in the Sheraton hotel in Tbilisi.

The company's Georgian construction arm, Rakeen, has started work on a $200m shopping mall called Tbilisi Uptown on the outskirts of the city. The 200,000 square metre complex will be completed in a year and a residential phase costing a further $100m will begin construction in two years time, says Rakeen's general director, Zaza Mikadze. Rakeen has six other projects on the table including a development of luxury villas in the hills overlooking central Tbilisi, three Black Sea resorts and a golf course in the capital. The total investment could come to $600m. "This is our five-year plan, but of course a lot depends on recovery and demand," Mikadze says. "Georgia has a unique location as a bridge between Europe and Asia and the government is loyal to investors."

Fresh Home Appliances bucked the worldwide trend of companies holding back expansion plans in May when it announced it would invest in the free economic zone in Kutaisi in the west of the country, potentially bringing Georgia an enormous $1.2bn.

So far Fresh's plans are on track, says Misha Tigishvili, CEO of Fresh's local partner Georgian International Holdings. The company has invested $115m this year and signed up 11 other Egyptian manufacturers to the free economic zone, including automakers, textile and furniture producers and electrical appliances makers all keen to assemble goods in Georgia then export them. "The investment will be $450m by the end of 2010 and the plan is for the full project to be finished by the end of 2011," Tigishvili says.

Georgia's government, while admitting that the economy could shrink by as much as 4% this year, is still confidently predicting a return to growth of 2% in 2010, and hopes Arab countries will continue to be major contributors. "We continue to work hard to attract more foreign investment from the UAE and other Arab countries. The priority spheres for Georgia in the nearest future are energy and agriculture, but flows into other fields are more than welcome," Matkava says.

By Samantha Shields. Published on 4 December 2009
Copyright (c) 2009. BNE. Reprinted with the permission of Business New Europe
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

EU-Ukraine Summit

The thirteenth summit between the EU and Ukraine will take place in Kiev on 4 December.

The EU and Ukraine hold a joint summit once a year. It takes place in the autumn and is held alternately in Ukraine and the country holding the Presidency of the EU. The meeting in the second half of 2009, the thirteenth of its kind, will be held in Ukraine.

The political dialogue between the EU and Ukraine is also conducted through foreign minister meetings (twice a year), the Parliamentary Cooperation Committee (twice a year) and the Cooperation Council (once a year). This framework is established in accordance with the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement of 1994, on which the political dialogue between the UK and Ukraine is based. The EU and Ukraine also meet several times a year at senior official level.

The EU will also be represented by Sweden’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Carl Bildt and President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso. The Ukrainian delegation will be led by President Viktor Jusjtjenko.

The summit will address broad relations and cooperation between the EU and Ukraine. Particular importance will be given to the issues of climate change, energy and the management of the economic and financial crisis. In addition, the EU’s Eastern Partnership and current international issues will be discussed.

Meetings are also planned with Prime Minister Julia Tymosjenko and leader of the opposition Viktor Janukovytj.

Programme points:
11.30 Summit opens.
Place: Presidential palace

13.30 Summit press conference. Family photograph.
Place: Presidential palace

Please note that special accreditation is required. Please contact Markus Nordström at the Prime Minister's Office by Tuesday, 1 December at the latest.

Press Release: Swedish Presidency of the European Union

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Cooperation between Baroness Ashton and the European Parliament is essential

The exchange of views with Baroness Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and vice-President designate of the Commission (Brussels, 0212/2009), showed that Baroness Ashton, as the person responsible for directing EU foreign policy, has the necessary skills and aptitudes but also she has the political will to cooperate closely with the European Parliament.

Said S&D vice-president Kristian Vigenin: The fact that Baroness Ashton came initially to the committee on foreign affairs for an exchange of views with MEPs shows that the High Representative wants to work closely with the European Parliament and this is a very significant sign. I am satisfied that she intends to take a pragmatic approach on relations with Russia while putting human rights and democracy issues high on the agenda.

Said S&D vice-president Hannes Swoboda: First, I am very happy that she is committed and was committed to anti-nuclear activities and supports disarmament. We hope that she will continue that. Second, we expect very close cooperation with the Parliament not only where it is legally and institutionally necessary but beyond that.

Mr Swoboda added: "Transatlantic relations, especially with the Obama administration, are very important but transatlantic relations means that we want to cooperate on an equal basis. That is our expectation and the answers given by her have proven that she is going in that direction. We will now cooperate very closely on these issues".

Press Release: S&D. Published on 2 December 2009

THE UKRAINE INSIDER: Tymoshenko, the profligate PM

With Ukraine's presidential elections only two months away, the main contenders are squabbling fiercely amongst themselves, more intent on scoring points against each other than making a positive impact on voters' lives.

The crux of their infighting centers on the fact that Yulia Tymoshenko currently occupies the post of prime minister and has shamelessly used this position to promote her candidacy. Tymoshenko has used government largesse to buy votes while staving off the country's financial collapse through "creative accounting." She has also played the role of crisis manager for the swine flu epidemic sweeping the country.

Tymoshenko's prodigious political talents have meant that she has retained the image of a delicate-looking woman who is surrounded by bestial men of low character. This image probably works well, because some of these men – opposition leader Viktor Yanukovych, who has served two prison terms, comes to mind – indeed literally ooze low character.

Yet what drives her opponents to distraction is that they are fully aware that Tymoshenko has remained largely unaffected by the financial crisis because of smoke and mirrors.


Earlier this year, the tax service - headed by a Tymoshenko stalwart, the banker Seriy Buriak - did a shake-down of companies by asking that taxes be paid in advance. Then, to hide the budgetary shortfall, expenditures were shifted to the last quarter. Stabilization credits from the IMF, of which $11bn has been received, are being used to cover the budget deficit by paying government salaries and pensions. Without this cash injection, the government would not have been able to make these payments, which in turn would have caused popular dissatisfaction, perhaps even a popular revolt.

True to her profligate and headstrong character, Tymoshenko has not even taken a stab at tightening the purse strings. On the contrary, she has been spending money wildly - and promising even more - in an attempt to both convey the impression that all is well and to keep voters happy. The list of new and increased expenditures that Tymoshenko has already begun financing this year covers the proverbial kitchen sink.

As PM, Tymoshenko has begun paying for an ambitious government programme to re-equip all of Ukraine's notoriously unsafe mines. Her government is subsidizing the metallurgical sector with preferential prices for natural gas and transportation via the national railway carrier. She has promised to spend billions on building new subways in the cities of Donetsk and Dnipropetrovsk, providing a new water supply for the city of Lviv, even buying milk trucks for agricultural producers. Her government has also ordered agricultural equipment from the US and medical equipment from other western countries to the tune of the hundreds of millions of dollars - all on credit. This "slash-and-burn-money" approach may have saved Tymoshenko from a disastrous drop in the polls, but it spells financial ruin for Ukraine following the elections.

Tymoshenko's campaign has even bought the services of Western policy analysts in an attempt to bolster her reputation abroad. Given this pattern of behaviour, small wonder that many suspect Tymoshenko of making secret promises to Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, including selling Ukraine's gas transportation system, keeping Ukraine out of Nato and the EU, and introducing Russian as a second official language in Ukraine.

In the meantime, Tymoshenko's opponents are in a quandary about what to do about her? Currently, they are dithering about whether or not to see off her government.

A vote of no confidence in Tymoshenko's government is a real possibility. On November 6, Tymoshenko's opponents united in the Rada, or parliament, to vote through increases in minimum salaries for government workers and the minimal living standard used to calculate social spending, ie. subventions to pensioners and the poor. Their move is fiscally irresponsible, designed to politically increase the strain on Tymoshenko's government, hopefully - in her opponents' imagination - bringing about widespread dissatisfaction.

But Tymoshenko is such a fearsome campaigner that sending her government into retirement and her into opposition may well backfire and her opponents are right to be wary. Given the widespread dissatisfaction with the governing elite, sending Tymoshenko into opposition would only boost her poll ratings, although a last-minute vote of no confidence just before the first round of voting set for January 17, 2010, is possible.

Opposite opponents

Tymoshenko could not provide more of a contrast with her principal opponent, Viktor Yanukovych, the leader of the Party of Regions, who is hopelessly uncomfortable both in opposition and in front of the TV cameras. Yanukovych's campaign has been singularly ineffective. One would have to search far and wide to find a voter who believes Yanukovych's slogan on his billboards, which declares, "He will hear everyone out." Ukrainian voters have few illusions about Yanukovych - who, according to credible information, deals in hundreds of millions of dollars in slush funds - as someone who cares about ordinary voters.

Yanukovych's most prominent supporters seem to have the fear of a presidential victory by Tymoshenko stamped on their foreheads. And for good reason - in a second round run-off against Tymoshenko, as seems likely, Yanukovych would almost certainly lose. Compared to Tymoshenko, he is a big brutish-looking fellow with a reputation for using physical force against his opponents. He speaks slowly, Ukrainians say, in order to avoid cursing every other word, as is the habit of both ex-cons and organized crime figures.

Yanukovych cannot afford another defeat (he lost to current President Viktor Yushchenko in 2004) at the polls. If he loses again, his political career is over and he will lose his position as the political face of the Regions party. Small wonder then that highly-placed security officials mutter about the "Donetsk clan," as Regions is known, going so far as to physically remove Tymoshenko before the second round, ie. having her killed in a contract killing. This would be par for the course if multitudinous accounts of the criminal background of Yanukovych's principal sponsor and Ukraine's richest man, Renat Akhmetov, are correct.

By Ivan Lozowy . Published on 2 December 2009
Copyright (c) 2009. BNE. Reprinted with the permission of Business New Europe
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Vigenin meets the Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada Volodymyr Lytvyn

Euronest EP Chairman Kristian Vigenin met the Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine Volodymyr Lytvyn during an official visit to the European Parliament.

Vigenin and Lytvyn exchanged views on the upcoming Presidential elections in Ukraine, due to be held on 17 January 2010, EU´s Association Agreement with Ukraine and the importance of Ukraine´s participation in the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly.

Both endorsed the appointment of a new Commissioner for Enlargement who will include neighbourhood policy in his portfolio as an encouragement for countries like Ukraine to pursue their aspirations for future EU membership.

No Quick Fix For Moldova's Political Crisis

In sports, as in politics, "moving the goalposts" -- and thus changing the rules of the game midstream -- may make the spectacle more intriguing, but it doesn't do much for fairness, consistency, or the long-term viability of the enterprise. A momentary "win" may be achieved by this or that side, but the real victim can end up being the process and people's trust and future participation in it.

Momentum is building in Moldova for a constitutional amendment to lead the way out of the current deadlock over electing a president. For sure, Moldova's election laws and practices are impossibly tangled and contradictory. Since 2000, six out of eight presidential ballots in parliament have failed to yield a leader. Sometimes precisely opposite outcomes find equal support in law. The courts -- which should be the final arbiters -- remain politicized and subject to pressure. All of this mixed together with the venal post-Soviet legacy has allowed a creeping "Ukrainization" to enter Moldova's politics in 2009.

Thorough and thoughtful constitutional changes are needed to allow direct presidential elections and to fix other serious shortcoming in the system, particularly the lack of local representation in parliament, which keeps political elites Chisinau-bound and out of touch with the rest of the country.

Not having a fully empowered head of state is, of course, a serious problem. But resorting to rushed constitutional amendments as a way out of a political crisis also presents a danger to this deeply divided fledgling democracy. The Alliance for European Integration (AIE) risks continuing a troubling trend in which each newly ascendant group of politicians spikes, or is perceived to spike, the ground rules to suit its interests.

The alliance complained bitterly about this rule-tweaking by the previous Communist government. Vladimir Voronin's party was notorious for its disciplined use of administrative resources and, generally, for doing whatever it took to remain on top. The AIE's lamentations about these highly effective tactics played a prominent role in their campaign strategies and promises, particularly after the terrible events of April.

What Comes Around

Since gaining power in the July repeat elections, however, the alliance has flirted with moves uncannily similar to those it so decried as an opposition force. It has already changed the rules in a self-serving manner on a number of very important issues. First, it pushed through a simplified procedure for electing a president in parliament. Now a single candidate (theirs) can run unopposed.

Then, the AIE amended the Audiovisual Code to ensure that it could use its simple majority of 53 votes to elect the members of the Audiovisual Coordination Council and the Board of Observers of Teleradio Moldova. Such a move had formerly required a consensus of three-fifths of legislators, the same troublesome threshold that currently so complicates electing a president. Not surprisingly, Moldova 1, the state's national broadcaster is now giving a priority to information about the alliance, just as it formerly did in reporting the doings of the Communist Party after it had packed broadcaster's board.

The AIE thought it fit to leave nine alliance ministers as deputies in parliament for a period of six months, essentially violating the separation of powers, stretching what had been a "temporary" measure, and preserving those votes should the coalition fall apart. As a bone to the public, Prime Minister Vlad Filat announced -- without tongue in cheek it seems -- that these nine deputies would not, at least, be receiving two salaries. Even Chisinau Mayor Dorin Chirtoaca (who should know better) made only half-hearted efforts to relinquish his simultaneous mandates in the legislature and as the city's chief executive.

In parliament, certain AIE members have acted with an authoritarian air, shutting off the microphones when the Communists have the floor (just as the Communists did so often before to their opponents) and using earthy Voronin-esque language more expected in a locker room than a legislature. As well, the AIE has managed to postpone key parliamentary sessions on shaky pretexts, such as the presence of foreign guests in the country.

And now the prosecutions of Communist legislators are starting. It was recently announced that Communist deputies Iurie Muntean and Igor Dodon -- who also is the former minister of economy and trade -- are under investigation for an alleged scheme to monopolize the import of meat into Moldova.

Prosecuting opponents was a tactic used extensively and painfully by the Communists against certain members of the AIE. While corruption may be as widespread as ever in Moldova, great care needs to be taken with prosecutions having political overtones.

...Goes Around

Following all this comes the suggestion of a national referendum on direct popular presidential election as the "only way" out of the political stalemate. Given the Communists' seeming intransigence on Marian Lupu's candidacy and the AIE's insistence on it, such a referendum may be the magic-bullet solution that acting President Mihai Ghimpu has been hinting at for some time.

It should surprise no one, however, that the burning need for this approach only appeared publicly when, for the first time, Lupu's popularity surpassed that of Voronin. An opinion poll from November 5 showed Lupu as 7 percentage points more trusted by the Moldovan people than the Communist leader.

Lupu carefully suggested a week later that any changes to the constitution only need modify the voting procedure -- to get him elected and "end" the crisis -- and not the other gnarled provisions that continue to create headaches for politicians and constitutional experts alike.

The problem is that once you start hastily modifying the constitution, unexpected things can happen. The Alliance would do well to remember that it only takes a one-third vote of parliament to put a question to national referendum, and any question is fair game. That means that the Communists, still with the largest bloc of any party at 48 seats, could easily counter with their own referendum proposals. What those might be is constrained only by the limits of political imagination.

Ironically, the Moldovan Constitution has already been changed by referendum once -- to create the very parliamentary republic we know today, in which the president is elected (or, as the case may be, not elected) by the legislature. With the AIE's newly proposed referendum question on direct popular elections, the wheel will have come full circle.

No More Quick Fixes

Despite its heavy-handedness, the new Moldovan government is beginning to put into action the long-standing rhetoric of European integration and reform. The AIE has many well-wishers who are stepping up to support it. Germany just offered 8.5 million euros ($12.7 million) for social investments and technical assistance. Poland, itself now a donor nation in the Eastern Partnership area, is providing $15 million to cover Moldova's deficit and buy the AIE some breathing room.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development will lend 15 millions euros for small and medium enterprises. The World Bank recently allotted $24 million for capital investments through commercial banks. And the International Monetary Fund is back in Moldova, signing memoranda with the provisional Filat government and revealing how clearly political was its refusal last year to deal with the equally provisional (but markedly less friendly) Voronin government.

Even the Russian Federation has telegraphed its preference for a stable Moldova under a Lupu presidency. Still, although Moscow finds in Lupu the most palatable option among the AIE leaders, it has yet to pony up any of the $500 million that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin promised Voronin last spring.

Serious changes to the Moldovan Constitution are sorely needed, but they should be undertaken with great care and deliberation, not as a quick fix. Even Lupu, who stands the most to gain from direct elections, has indicated that real constitutional reform could take years to do properly.

What is needed now is one last round of serious, responsible, mature, good-faith negotiations between the AIE and the Communists to elect a president under the existing system. Then, in an atmosphere of (relative) calm, Moldova's politicians, scholars, and advisers can undertake a comprehensive review of the constitution to create a better system for Moldova's people and its future leaders.

Otherwise, the country's politicians will just be perceived as moving, once again, to advance their own interests, and in reality will only be slapping a bandage on a dysfunctional system.

By Louis O'Neill. Published on 30 November 2009
Copyright (c) 2009. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.