Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Clock ticks for Moldova to resolve political deadlock

Time is running out for the current parliament in Moldova. Having failed for almost a year to elect a president, lawmakers were put to work on March 25 to devise constitutional changes to resolve the impasse, but it's looking more likely that a new round of parliamentary elections will have to be called in June – a setback for the new reformist government that ousted the old guard last year.

The country has been stuck in a constitutional crisis without an elected president since July when an EU-oriented coalition called Alliance for European Integration managed to replace the statist Party of Communists administration led by the then-president Vladimir Voronin. However, Moldova's unique constitution sees the president elected by a three-fifths majority of the unicameral parliament, but the coalition is one MP short of the 61 votes needed, and the now-oppositional Communists are in no mood to compromise on a candidate. If no president is picked, the deadline for holding new parliamentary elections is June 16 - one year after the previous parliament was dissolved.

In an attempt to resolve the crisis, the parliament on March 25 set up a commission to draft amendments to Article 78 of the constitution, which sets out the rules for electing a president. The commission's 11 members include representatives from all the political groups in the parliament, including four Party of Communist deputies. It has just one month to draw up its proposals. Acting President Mihai Ghimpu had hoped to call a referendum on constitutional changes before June 16, thereby avoiding the need for early elections. However, the Party of Communists, which has been boycotting parliamentary sessions, has said it will only back plans to amend the constitution if the ruling coalition agrees to dissolve the current parliament and call fresh elections.


Although the reformist, pro-European coalition government has secured a $2.6bn support package from the EU, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other international donors impressed by its economic development plans, Moldova still risks losing international credibility if the political crisis isn't resolved.

The political deadlock has made it difficult for the new alliance to push ahead with political and economic reforms. This coalition won a July re-run of elections after the April 2009 elections culminated in thousands of Moldovans pouring onto the streets of Chisinau to protest against alleged vote rigging and fraud, which then erupted into violence on April 7 when the demonstrators stormed the parliament and other official buildings.

Attempts to progress along the road to EU membership have been frustratingly slow, with Economy Minister Valeriu Lazar saying on March 25 that Moldova would not be content to sit in the EU's "waiting room" forever, RFE/RL reported. And visiting Chisinau on March 25, Mevlut Cavusoglu, president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, said the situation was "draining too much political and human energy."

"The current deadlock would not bring political dividends to any political force. It only deviates the country from urgently needed political and economic reforms," Cavusoglu said in his address to the Moldovan parliament. "It projects an image abroad which would do nothing to help Moldova's further integration into the European architecture and into the international financial and economic structures."

However, Moldova's economic stabilisation programme for 2010-12, launched in October, has helped attract international support. "We fully support the Moldovan Government's plan to Rethink Moldova," said Stefan Fule, EU Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy, at a donor conference March 25. At the conference, the IMF, EU, World Bank and several individual countries pledged a total of $2.6bn over four years to Moldova. This follows the IMF's decision in February 2010, to provide a $574m package in support of the stabilisation programme.

The funds will help the Moldova government in its attempts to stabilise the economy and restore growth, but in the longer term the political situation will have to be resolved in order to continue with reforms and restore investor confidence.

By bne. Published on 31 March 2010
Copyright (c) 2010. BNE Inc. 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, March 30, 2010

PACE co-rapporteurs welcome willingness of Armenian authorities to draw up reform ‘roadmap’

The co-rapporteurs for the monitoring of Armenia of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) have welcomed the prompt response of the Armenian authorities to their call for a “roadmap” to put into effect the reforms recommended in the aftermath of the March 2008 election violence.

“We welcome the wide range of reforms announced in the preliminary response of the authorities to our recommendation, but we would also like to stress that, in the end, it will be the content of these reforms, and their implementation, that counts,” said John Prescott (United Kingdom, SOC) and Georges Colombier (France, EPP/CD).

The two co-rapporteurs underscored the importance of carrying out the reforms recommended by the OSCE/ODIHR in its trial monitoring report. “The ODIHR report pinpoints serious problems with the functioning of the judiciary in Armenia, and we would like to have a clear indication from the authorities as to exactly when they intend to carry out all of its recommendations,” they said.

“We now await the promised details from the authorities, as well as the opinions of the different departments of the Council of Europe that were solicited by the Armenian authorities,” they continued. “Following that, and after hearing the opinions of the different political forces in Armenia, we hope to agree – together with the National Assembly of Armenia – on a clear, detailed and specific roadmap, including deadlines, for the implementation of these essential reforms, which are in the long-term interest of all Armenians. Nobody wants a recurrence of what happened in March of 2008.”

The co-rapporteurs also expressed their satisfaction at the publication of the report on Armenia by the Council of Europe’s Anti-Torture Committee (CPT), which was made public at the request of the Armenian authorities following a suggestion made by the co-rapporteurs to the Speaker of the Armenian National Assembly.

Press release: PACE. Published on 25 March 2010 in Strasbourg.

Monday, March 29, 2010

PACE President urges political forces in Moldova to continue dialogue over the Constitution

Mevlüt Çavusoglu, the President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), has warmly welcomed the imminent setting up of a parliamentary committee in Moldova to revise Article 78 of the Constitution – concerning the election of the President of the Republic – and said it was “encouraging” that all political forces, including the opposition, have designated representatives to it.

Speaking at the end of a three-day official visit to Chisinau, the President said the present deadlock over the election of the President could not continue, and warned that it was “unthinkable” to hold yet another election with the present constitutional provisions regulating the election of the President. He appealed to the “political responsibility” of all political forces, urging them to engage in constructive dialogue over the Constitution, rather than be guided by “narrow political pre-electoral interests”.

The issue of election of the President was “draining too much political and human energy”, which otherwise could be dedicated to solving the pressing needs of the country, he said. He said he appreciated the presence of the opposition in parliament during his earlier address, and appealed to it to stay on: “People elected their representatives because they trusted in their ability to contribute to the parliamentary debate with their ideas and principles. They cannot do this by being absent.”

The President also offered the help of the Council of Europe, and PACE in particular, in promoting dialogue, mediating if necessary and guaranteeing any future agreement, but he pointed out that the “final decision” on which way to go in order to overcome the deadlock rested with the Moldovan people. “I dare leave the country with some hope that the spirit of dialogue and compromise will prevail over petty political calculations,” he concluded.

Press Release: PACE. Published on 25 March2010 in Strasbourg.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Vigenin reaffirms high hopes for successful Euronest Parliamentary Assembly

EP Chairman for Euronest Parliamentary Assembly Kristian Vigenin expressed his regrets concerning the unsuccessful attempts to reach an agreement with the Eastern countries to launch the Euronest Constitutive Assembly today but remains very optimistic that this assembly will kick-off later this year. Vigenin said this during a press conference today in the European Parliament.

Despite that the European Parliament does not have official relations with the Parliament of Belarus, the Eastern Partnership opened new opportunities for a new policy towards Belarus.

In an attempt to find a compromise solution on the participation of Belarus in Euronest, an EP delegation went to Minsk earlier this year to discuss this issue with the opposition, civil society and the government of Belarus. It was agreed that Euronest could offer a platform for the Belarusians to maintain this outgoing dialogue to promote a democratic society and respect for rule of law.

Vigenin gave a detailed account of the process which led to the agreement on the rules of procedure as presented by the EP, namely to invite 10 members of the opposition and civil society from Belarus to participate as observers in Euronest. Meanwhile, it was proposed to create a working group together with the other 5 Eastern countries to monitor the developments in Belarus and continue discussing the status of Belarus in the assembly. This idea emerged following a letter signed by the Speakers of Parliament of the 5 Eastern countries, in which they pleaded to invite Belarusian members of parliament to participate as equal partners in the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly.

The local elections due to be held in Belarus on 25 April will be the first concrete opportunity for the Belarusian government to prove their commitments towards taking the necessary measures to hold free and fair elections which could pave the way for further strengthening relations with the European Union.

Kristian Vigenin repeatedly expressed his optimism that the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly will be launched later this year.

Watch the interview:

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

PACE rapporteurs welcome pardon decree in Azerbaijan

Three rapporteurs of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) have welcomed the decision by President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan to pardon 70 prisoners, including Ganimat Zahidov, the editor-in-chief of the opposition newspaper Azadlig. However, they regretted that Eynulla Fatullayev, another opposition editor, was not among those released.

The Assembly has repeatedly called for the release of both men, along with others it considers political prisoners or whose cases it has been following closely, and its rapporteurs have visited them in prison.

“Every step made by Azerbaijan in this direction helps bring the Council of Europe closer to its aspiration of being an area free of political prisoners,” said Andres Herkel (Estonia, EPP/CD) and Joseph Debono Grech (Malta, SOC), co-rapporteurs for the monitoring of Azerbaijan, and Christoph Strässer (Germany, SOC), rapporteur on the follow-up to the issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan.

They pointed out that President Aliyev had already pardoned 99 prisoners by decree on Christmas Day 2009, including some whose cases had been raised by the Assembly, or who appeared on the lists of alleged political prisoners drawn up by local human rights NGOs.

“Together with the latest pardon, this reveals an encouraging trend, and we sincerely hope that Azerbaijan will make further progress on fulfilling the key promise it made when it joined the Council of Europe: to release all political prisoners,” the rapporteurs said.

Press Release: PACE. Published in Strasbourg on 22 March 2010

Monday, March 22, 2010

PACE will make official visits to Moldova and Georgia

Mevlüt Çavusoglu, the President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), will make an official visit to Moldova from 22 to 25 March 2010, where he aims to promote stability and fully functioning democratic institutions, and contribute to moving the current political situation in the country forward.

In Chisinau he is due to meet the Acting President and Speaker of Parliament Mihai Ghimpu, as well as members of the government, and the heads of the different parliamentary groups and main political parties. On Thursday he will address a plenary session of the Parliament.

Meanwhile, Mátyás Eörsi and Kastriot Islami, co-rapporteurs for the monitoring of Georgia of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), will visit Tbilisi from 21 to 24 March 2010 for talks on constitutional and electoral reform, the forthcoming local elections and media freedom, as well as minority issues.

They are due to meet the President of the Republic, the Speaker of Parliament, the Ministers for Re-integration and for Refugees, the Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister, the heads of the Central Election Commission, State Constitutional Commission and National Communications Commission, the Deputy Public Defender and representatives of opposition parties, as well as national broadcasters and civil society.

Georgia is one of ten Council of Europe member states currently subject to the Assembly’s monitoring procedure, which involves regular dialogue with a country’s authorities and periodic assessments by the Assembly. The last public assessment of the situation in Georgia was in April 2009.

Press Releases: PACE. Published in Strasbourg on 19 March 2010.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Hopes Raised Anew About Future Of Nabucco Gas Pipeline Project

After a long, cold winter for the Nabucco pipeline project, March has brought a fresh wave of energy to the long-stalled Western plan to diversify Europe's natural gas supplies.

Nabucco, which aims to bring some 31 billion cubic meters (bcm) of Caspian and Middle Eastern natural gas to Southern and Central Europe, has long been seen as an opportunity for the EU to break a dangerous dependence on Russian gas and pipelines.

The project has stumbled so frequently on funding and supply issues that some have dismissed it as unfeasible. But it now appears on track to meet its target date for first deliveries in 2014.

The new momentum began on March 4, when the Turkish parliament ratified an intergovernmental agreement on Nabucco transit. Turkey was the last of the five transit countries -- Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania being the other four -- to approve the agreement for the 3,300-kilometer pipeline.

"This intergovernmental agreement is indeed a significant document," Reinhard Mitschek, Nabucco's managing director tells RFE/RL, "because it provides a legally unified transport regime across five countries. And that's very, very important for a transnational pipeline like Nabucco."

Mitschek pointed out that the intergovernmental agreement "was signed in the form of a treaty, which means it goes beyond the national laws of the five countries. It has a duration of 50 years." That's important, Mitschek says, because it "provides comfort, security, and reliability for investors, for banks, and also for shippers."

Turkey's hesitation before ratifying the deal could have been due to negotiations with Azerbaijan. The Nabucco pipeline starts at the Georgian-Turkish border, from where it connects to a pipeline originating in Azerbaijan. Ankara and Baku are regional allies but talks to settle on a price for incoming gas from Azerbaijan have been slow.

'Clear Contract'

Federico Bordonaro, an authority on energy affairs and a lecturer on geopolitics at the University of Rome, says a recent deal between Turkey and Azerbaijan helped end Ankara's reluctance to ratify the intergovernmental agreement.

What wasn't there before was a clear [pricing] contract between the Turks and Azeris," Bordonaro says. "So as far as I understand, Ankara will now impose a transit tax, but no entrance fee, for the gas that will flow from Shah Deniz in Azerbaijan to Turkey and then from Turkey to the Balkan area and the European Union."

Bordonaro says the "really new and interesting thing" about the agreement "is that the Turks and the Azeris now have a written agreement with clear-cut decisions about taxes, fees, prices, etc. So now there is a solid legal basis [for Nabucco] and the [EU's] southern [gas] corridor can really function on a legal basis."

Another big breakthrough for Nabucco came on March 10 when one of the project's six shareholders, Germany's RWE Supply & Trading, signed a memorandum of understanding with Azerbaijan to develop the Nakhichevan field in the Caspian Sea, some 50 kilometers off the coast of Azerbaijan. The gas from that field will almost certainly be destined for Nabucco and may soothe long-standing anxieties that the project is short on suppliers.

RWE last year signed a contract with Turkmenistan to develop one of that country's offshore Caspian fields. Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan have frequently been named as the two key potential suppliers for the project, and RWE CEO Stefan Judisch has noted that Turkey's ratification of the transit deal means Baku and Ashgabat now have no legal impediment to concluding gas contracts with Nabucco.

Asked if he is feeling more confident about Nabucco's ability to fill the pipeline following the latest RWE deal with Azerbaijan, Mitschek says it has never been a serious concern. But he credits the initiative of Nabucco's partners in finding suppliers, noting, "Luckily, the project has very active shareholders such as RWE for Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, [Austria's] OMV for Azerbaijan and Iraq, and [Hungary's] MOL, also in Iraq.

"I'm convinced that we cannot only manage to fill it with 8 to 10 billion cubic meters at the beginning of the startup of the project," Mitschek adds, "but we will build up to 31 billion cubic meters relatively soon." (The remaining three shareholders are Turkey's BOTAS, Romania's Transgaz, and Bulgarian Energy Holding.)

More Money From EC?

Another piece of potentially good news came from the European Commission on March 4, the same day the Turkish parliament ratified the intergovernmental agreement. Last year, following the wintertime shutoff of Russian gas to the EU amid a Russia-Ukraine pricing dispute, the commission allocated 1.5 billion euros ($2.1 billion) for projects aimed at improving the EU's energy infrastructure. Nabucco received 200 million euros of that money.

This month, the European Commission added 2.3 billion euros to help fund energy projects for Europe. Mitschek indicates Nabucco would welcome an extra infusion of cash but says that "we are now concentrating on this 200 million [euros] funding topic." He says Nabucco shareholders are "in permanent contact with the commission," but he stresses that "financing for the project is not the real obstacle, in principle."

Mitschek says that "especially prior to FID [final investment decision] -- we're now in the development phase and preconstruction phase -- it's very important and quite significant support from official sides to receive this funding." As concerns possible additional funding, Mitschek says, "The more the better. We will check if we can increase the 200 million euros, but so far we're concentrating on that amount."

In a further sign Nabucco is forging ahead, Mitschek says: "We are preparing prequalification and tender procedures for suppliers of long-lead items, materials, and construction works. On the other hand, we are also preparing the open season for offering transport capacity to market participants.

"Both will happen this summer," he adds. "The open season maybe will start in August-September."

Mitschek's confidence in financing makes more remote a suggestion from Paolo Scaroni, chief executive officer of the Italian major Eni, a partner in the Russian-backed South Stream gas pipeline that is seen as a rival to Nabucco. Scaroni last week suggested that Nabucco and South Stream be merged for the last section of their routes into Europe, as a cost-saving measure.

The managing director of Nabucco does not entirely dismiss such a possibility, although he says he does not want to comment on such speculation. Mitschek acknowledges that "it's highly competitive, commercially and technically, to realize the project." But he says, "We know the markets, we are confident of realizing the project on time and on budget, and any kind of change of the project's scope is up to the discussion and decision of the shareholders."

'We Are On Schedule'

Russian Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko ruled out such a merger on March 15, saying South Stream -- which will have a capacity of 63 bcm -- is "more competitive" than Nabucco.

In response to the ultimate question -- Will Nabucco be ready on schedule? -- Mitschek responds, "I can say, yes, we are on schedule. We have a very exciting year, 2010, to prepare everything -- open season, financing, technical elements, etc.," he says. "In 2011, we will start construction as foreseen, and as scheduled, at the end of 2014, the first gas will flow to Europe."

Bordonaro says a new sense of urgency on the part of the European Union should also help give Nabucco a boost. "The European Union has witnessed the increasing competition for Central Asian reserves. We have witnessed the Chinese and the Iranians become more and more assertive in the Turkmen and Kazakh energy markets," Bordonaro says. "And I think that the European Union perceives that the increased competition forces it to be quicker."

Bordonaro says he expects Nabucco to grace the front pages of the specialist press soon, especially since "the next six to eight months will be really decisive for this project."

By Bruce Pannier. Published on 16 March 2010
Copyright (c) 2010. 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.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Commissioner Stefan FÜLE to address EU-Ukraine Parliamentary Cooperation Committee

The 14th meeting of the EU-Ukraine Parliamentary Cooperation Committee will take place in Brussels on 22-23 March at the European Parliament.

Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy Stefan FÜLE will address the Committe on Monday afternoon.

During the Parliament Cooperation Committee, the members of both sides will exchange views on the following topics:

- EU-Ukraine relations after the EU-Ukraine summit in Kyiv (4 December 2009), including the negotiations on the Association Agreement and the Free Trade Area (FTA), the implementation of the EU-Ukraine Association Agenda, Eastern Partnership and EURONEST Parliamentary Assembly issues,

- Internal developments in Ukraine and the EU,

- Results of the PCC Working Group on the EU-Ukraine visa relations; cooperation in the sphere of justice and home affairs, including the implementation of visa facilitation and readmission agreements, visa-free dialogue and people-to-people contacts,

- EU-Ukraine economic and sectoral cooperation, in particular European Investment Bank and its activities in Ukraine.

Ambassador of Ukraine in Brussels, Mr Andriy Veselovsky, representatives of the Spanish Presidency of the European Union, European Commission and vice-Director of the European Investment Bank Ms Eva Srejber will also attend and address the participants of this Committee.

A final statement and recommendations will be adopten on Tuesday afternoon.

Vilija Blinkevičiūtė, Marek Siwiec, Monika Smolková and Kristian Vigenin represent the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the EU-Ukraine Parliamentary Cooperation Committee.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Van Rompuy on EU-Georgia Relations

Statement to the press by Herman VAN ROMPUY,President of the European Council,after his meeting with Nika GILAURI,Prime Minister of the Republic of Georgia

"EU-Georgia relations are strengthening rapidly. In the context of the Eastern Partnership, significant steps have been taken to enhance bilateral EU-Georgia relations. Discussions on the draft negotiation directives for an Association Agreement are now coming to an end. This means that it should be soon possible to start negotiations on this Agreement, including a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area.

Georgia is also the only South Caucasus country to have successfully negotiated both Visa Facilitation and Readmission Agreements. The signature and entry into force of these agreements are now going through the EU’s internal decision-making procedure. We hope that we can soon fix a date for signature, possibly early June.

The strengthening of relations between Georgia and the EU is a stimulus for Georgia to deliver on further democratic reforms.

Local elections will take place end of May. We welcome the Georgian government’s invitation and the OSCE/ODIHR’s decision to observe these elections. The EU will not send observers but we will watch the developments closely.

The EU continues to support the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia and expects Russia to fulfil all its commitments from the ceasefire agreements. It is the EU's intention to remain actively involved in confidence building measures and conflict resolution. The EU Monitoring Mission has proven to be a crucial factor of stability. It will remain so also in the future. We also consider that a dynamic Geneva process is of utmost importance.

The EU has a strategic interest in stability, prosperity and the development of democracy in our eastern neighbourhood. The Eastern Partnership is a powerful vehicle for promoting this, and for bringing the countries there closer to the EU and to one another."

Press Statement: Published on 16 March 2010

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Public Panic, Opposition Anger Over Report Of Mock Invasion In Georgia

Georgians reacted with fear and in some cases panic to a mock television report that claimed that invading Russian tanks had crossed the border and were heading for Tbilisi, and that Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili was dead.

The report, carried on the night of March 13 by the privately run -- but staunchly pro-government -- Imedi television station, said key members of the political opposition had thrown in their lot with the Kremlin, naming former parliamentary speaker Nino Burjanadze and former Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli in particular.

Both Burjanadze and Noghaideli have made recent trips to Moscow, prompting Saakashvili to accuse them of "shaking hands with people who have Georgian blood on their hands."

The opposition reacted furiously to the report, calling it outrageous and irresponsible.

"I can't imagine any normal country where things like that could be possible, where somebody could call you a traitor or an agent of another country without any response," Burjanadze said.

"And I am more than sure that Georgian people will make a choice for stability, for unity of the country, for democracy. And for that we need to change this criminal, irresponsible government."

Burjanadze and other opposition figures denounced the program as government-sponsored propaganda that had traumatized many people.

The Alliance for Georgia, an opposition group led by former UN ambassador Irakli Alasania, accused the government of "initiating artificial hysteria" and turning television into a "source of disinformation and a tool of life-threatening propaganda."

Heart Attacks Rise

Reports from Tbilisi said people rushed out of doors when they saw the program, mobile phone circuits became overloaded, and -- according to the emergency services -- there was a marked increase in heart attacks.

The head of Georgia's influential Orthodox Church, Patriarch Ilia II, condemned the report, calling it an "abomination." An Orthodox priest in Tbilisi, Father David, denounced the hoax in comments to Reuters television.

"When the situation is so tense it is a criminal act to make jokes on these topics and they should answer for that, answer through the courts," he said.

Two pages on the social networking website Facebook emerged after the broadcast, attracting more than 6,500 fans in less than one day.

The mock report comes just 18 months after Russia actually did invade Georgia, and some of the film footage came from that conflict.

Imedi, which is owned by a friend of Saakashvili, carried a brief notice before the report saying it was a "simulation" of possible events, but the report itself appeared genuine and carried no warning it was a fake.

The head of Imedi, Giorgi Arveladze, later apologized for the way the report was presented but said he has no intention of resigning over the incident. He said the goal of the report was not to cause panic but to show how events might unfold.

Government officials denied any knowledge of the report, calling it irresponsible. Saakashvili's spokeswoman, Manana Manjgalazde, visited the television staff with a personal message of caution from the president on March 14.

"The president sent me here to tell the [TV staff] that when such a program is being made, despite the fact that our country is still subjected to certain threats, there should be not only a verbal warning in advance but also a special on-screen banner saying it is a 'simulation' [of possible events]," Manjgalazde said.

Burjanadze said her Democratic Movement-United Georgia party would sue Imedi television and the authorities over the report.

By RFE/RL. Last Updated on 15 March 2010
Copyright (c) 2010. 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, March 15, 2010

Ukrainian Envoy: EU Will 'Always' Remain Kyiv's Main Priority

This, Veselovskyy said, is a position confirmed by President Viktor Yanukovych during his visit to Brussels on March 1 -- his first foreign destination in the role -- and remains one that enjoys the support of the majority of Ukrainian people, who feel they "belong in the European family of nations."

Briefing journalists in Brussels on March 12, Veselovskyy hinted at a moment of doubt that appears to have seized Kyiv in the immediate aftermath of Yanukovych's defeat of Yulia Tymoshenko, who represented the overtly pro-Western forces in Ukraine in the runoff.

But Yanukovych was quickly reassured. The EU decision to dispatch foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton and Enlargement and Neighborhood Commissioner Stefan Fule, along with the president of the European Parliament, Jerzy Buzek, to Yanukovych's inauguration in Kyiv on February 25 demonstrated the bloc's respect for Ukraine's maturity as a democratic country, Veselovskyy said. The seniority of the EU representatives present in Kyiv paved the way for the new Ukrainian president's decision to travel to Brussels a mere three days later.

The "signals" sent to Kyiv by the European Union, exemplified by a letter signed by the president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, surpassed all expectations. Reading out parts of the message, Veselovskyy lingered on phrases such as "close European partner" and "member of the European family of nations."

The EU's charm offensive was crowned by assurances given to Yanukovych during his visit that visa-free travel for Ukrainians is an entirely realistic prospect provided the bloc's preconditions are met. Reassured, Yanukovych was said to have told his team to occupy themselves "day and night" with Ukraine-EU links.

Three main issues will dominate the relationship in the short and medium term. On visas, Veselovskyy said Ukraine is expecting an EU questionnaire, delayed by a few weeks. A "road map" with a detailed timeline should be in place by June, Veselovskyy said. He said it is "difficult but not impossible" that the EU could tentatively lift the visa requirement in time for the European soccer championship in 2012, to be hosted jointly by Ukraine and Poland.

A second Ukrainian goal is a free-trade agreement with the EU, along with the conclusion of an Association Agreement.

Gas Issues

On the part of the EU, reforms in Ukraine's energy sector remain the most urgent desirable. Yanukovych was told in Brussels a quick passage of the gas-market law was essential. The law would bring Ukraine's energy legislation into line with that of the EU and should significantly ease the inflow of foreign investment.

The main objective of the law is to liberalize the market. Veselovskyy said the signal was "received" by Yanukovych. A draft of the law has been approved by the relevant committee of the Ukrainian parliament. The country's first deputy prime minister has been charged with responsibility for the natural-gas sector.

Veselovskyy said that while Ukraine's new government is not looking to renegotiate the controversial gas accord struck by Prime Ministers Vladimir Putin and Yulia Tymoshenko in January 2009, Kyiv would like the deal to be adjusted to reflect a certain number of "changes."

He listed cheaper gas prices, the coming into being of a world spot market for gas, Europe's increased capacity to receive liquefied natural gas (LNG), and the current global gas surplus. Everything depends on Gazprom's realism, Veselovskyy said. "No reassessment would be unfair."

The Ukrainian ambassador rejected criticism of the state of the country's gas-transit infrastructure. He said the pipeline network was in "good shape," despite Russian actions in January 2009 that shut off gas flow in large parts of it. The network, Veselovskyy said, needed constant gas pressure at some 60 atmospheres like "the brain needs blood" -- or cracks in the pipes would result. But the ingenuity of Ukrainian engineers, who pioneered the technique of reverse flow, prevailed.

Veselovskyy also gave short shrift to proposed alternatives to Ukrainian gas transit -- in the shape of the Russian Nord Stream and South Stream pipelines. Gas transit through Ukraine was "at least twice as cheap as any 'streams,'" he said.

Veselovskyy said Ukraine was now ready to increase gas prices for domestic consumers, which are currently subsidized to the tune of 90 percent.

Navigating Brussels

Overall, Ukraine appears much more relaxed about its relationship with the EU than at any time in the past five years. Veselovskyy's predecessor until 2008, Roman Shpek, never wasted an opportunity to berate the EU for treating Ukraine as a neighbor, rather than as a potential member.

Veselovskyy said today Ukraine is content with the EU's Eastern Partnership project, describing it as a "strong tool for bringing European values and laws to Ukraine." In the long run, however, there is only one goal from Ukraine -- full EU membership. Veselovskyy has no doubt this is where Ukraine belongs. "Europe ends where people -- and not governments -- do not want to be in Europe," he said.

The Ukrainian diplomat is understanding of the teething problems of the EU's new leadership structure under the Lisbon Treaty -- which Yanukovych was among the first major outside leaders to personally test during his visit.

Veselovskyy said all three EU presidents seem to have clear-cut roles. Barroso, he said, represents the "government," or management of day-to-day EU affairs. Herman van Rompuy, president of the European Council, which consists of EU heads of state and governments, is a "strategist." Buzek's role is to lecture neighbors and others on values and democracy. Ashton and Fule, meanwhile, have "concrete things" to say in the field of foreign policy.

In Brussels, Yanukovych, who has a reputation as pro-Russian, said Ukraine's status vis-a-vis NATO "will not change" -- widely seen as code for putting membership aspirations on ice. Today, Veselovskyy said Yanukovych's failure to meet the alliance's secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, on March 1 was due to an absence of "time and need" for such a meeting in so short an order. The visit, he said, needed to be "quick and convincing, without sending too many signals."

But a meeting between Yanukovych and Rasmussen is in the offing soon, Veselovskyy said. NATO is "too important a partner" for Ukraine to "pretend" it doesn't know what it wants. Yanukovych has already made it clear Ukraine will not withdraw its contribution from the NATO Response Force. Veselovskyy said the president will support "everything that is positive for Ukraine's military forces."

Clearing The Air

Bemoaning the deep-seated political malaise in his country, Veselovskyy said the new government under Mykola Azarov, who became prime minister on March 11, will need a month for a thorough stock-taking. The "politicization of government" over the past five years has been so intense, Veselovskyy said, that the new ministers must find their bearings in terms of "what they govern and where their responsibilities lie."

Addressing relations with Russia -- which Yanukovych visited on March 5 -- Veselovskyy said Ukraine is looking for a "balanced, friendly, and open relationship." Significantly, he included the United States in the same formula. During the visit to Moscow, Yanukovych mostly discussed economic matters and "sensitive bilateral issues," including energy security and the management of the two countries' common border.

Asked by RFE/RL if leaders in Moscow had quizzed Yanukovych on the particulars of his Brussels trip, Veselovskyy's smiling response was: "You can guess. And you would be right, even more [than you can guess]."

Veselovskyy attached great significance to comments made in advance of Yanukovych's Brussels visit by his chief of staff, Iryna Akimova, who said Ukraine's membership in a customs union with Russia would be incompatible with the country's entry into the World Trade Organization. This assessment, Veselovskyy said, has not been "challenged" since. He said Yanukovych has also taken pains in Brussels to "explain" to his EU interlocutors that this "reality" is understood in Ukraine.

By Ahto Lobjakas. Published on 13 March 2010
Copyright (c) 2010. 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.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Euro MPs call for withdrawal of us tactical nuclear weapons from Europe

The European Parliament on Wednesday branded tactical nuclear weapons on its soil as "an anachronism" and called for them to be withdrawn.

In a Strasbourg vote, the Parliament became the first EU institution to back US President Obama's commitment to a world without nuclear weapons. Ahead of a review of the non-proliferation treaty, Euro MPs urged the EU to address ‘the strategic anachronism of tactical nuclear weapons’ in Europe.

Welcoming the move, S&D leader Martin Schulz said: "President Obama has created the opportunity to move closer to a nuclear-free world. We expect EU ministers to support this commitment and to propose an ambitious timetable for achieving it."

The Parliament's resolution says that revision of NATO's strategic concept offers an opportunity to reassess the alliance's nuclear policy. Up to 200 nuclear weapons are estimated to be deployed in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Belgium. The fifth NATO state with US nuclear weapons on its territory, Turkey, is a candidate for EU membership.

The resolution says that withdrawing these weapons could help future nuclear disarmament. It notes Germany’s new policy of working towards their withdrawal from its territory.

Said S&D vice-president Adrian Severin: "All EU member states have an obligation to contribute successfully to nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament policies. We are pleased that the European Parliament is now calling for the removal of all tactical nuclear warheads from Europe. This will also be good news for European citizens because it will improve their security."

The S&D Group officially endorsed withdrawal of nuclear weapons four years ago. S&D delegation leaders from the countries directly concerned – Bernhard Rapkay (Germany), David Sassoli (Italy), Kathleen Van Brempt (Belgium), and Thijs Berman (the Netherlands) –give the move their full support.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Belarus: MEPs condemn measures against Union of Poles

The European Parliament has condemned the police action and legal measures taken against the Union of Poles in Belarus and the attempts by the authorities to impose a new leadership on the Polish community.

MEPs also urge the Belarus authorities to release political activists such as Andrei Bandarenko and prisoners of conscience such as Ivan Mikhailau and Aristyom Dubski.

In a resolution adopted on Wednesday, the EP demands that the Belarusian authorities re-legalise the Union of Poles in Belarus (UPB) led by Angelika Borys. The UPB is not recognised by the state authorities and has been facing regular harassment and persecution since 2005. Its members are accused of illegal activities and face criminal charges.

Parliament urges the authorities to guarantee freedom of speech and association and to guarantee the freedom to register political parties, such as the Belarusian Christian Democracy (BDC), religious freedom and the creation of conditions conducive to the work of civil society bodies such as "Viasna". The authorities should also refrain from seeking to control the content of Belarusian sites of the World Wide Web, says the resolution.

MEPs point out that the EU has shown considerable openness to engagement with Belarus, with the country's inclusion in the Eastern Partnership. The success of this process is conditional on steps taken towards democratisation and the upholding of human rights, including minority rights, by the government of Belarus.

If Belarus adheres to fundamental human rights and democracy criteria, the country could benefit from a Partnership and Co-operation Agreement (PCA), EU financial instruments such as European Investment Bank (EIB) and European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI), an extension of European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) financing to projects involving state entities in Belarus and a restoration of the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP+).

Press release: European Parliament
Published on 10 March 2010 by Thomas Dudrap

EU Enlargement Chief Tackles Balkans, Moldova, Eastern Neighbors, And 'Elephant In The Room'

Stefan Fule, the new EU commissioner for enlargement and the European Neighborhood Policy, says the European Union is looking to keep its relations with neighbors on a pragmatic footing. Fule also recommends pragmatism to the EU's neighbors in their relations with Russia, but says the countries must remain free in choosing their own future. In an interview with RFE/RL's Brussels correspondent, Ahto Lobjakas, the commissioner also said the EU would not accept the emergence of any new states in the Balkans.

RFE/RL: Let's start with your job. As commissioner responsible for enlargement and the Neighborhood Policy, you function as part of a new setup put in place under the EU's Lisbon Treaty, which includes the high representative for foreign policy, Catherine Ashton. So what's the difference between what you do and what Ashton does?

Stefan Fule:
What's new is that we [that is, the European Commission and the EU member states] coordinate much more. You could take as an example the Western Balkans, but as far as the Neighborhood Policy [goes], Ukraine, for example -- we have prepared a table in which, for the first time, we have combined what we require from Ukraine in terms of homework and incentives, the offers we can [make], and make a horizontal comparison of these two lists.

If it were only up to the commission, it would not work because you need the support of the member states and this is where [Ashton] comes on the scene -- the member states' input. My input was to take into account the current state of the EU-Ukraine, where we stand on the [Association] Treaty [talks], where we stand on the visa dialogue, where we stand on this deep and comprehensive free-trade [accord].

We combined this community approach with a political approach, and, as a result, we traveled together to Kyiv at the time of the inauguration of President [Viktor] Yanukovych, and we were able to offer him as a basis for future cooperation a rather coherent policy which reflects, again as I said, the full spectrum of what the EU could offer -- which is a combination of the community approach with a political context, political framework [provided by] the [European] Council."

RFE/RL: But that doesn't really represent a radical departure from the way things were done before...

Stefan Fule:
The radical departure is that it is [Ashton's] responsibility to make sure that at the end of the day the policy towards Ukraine is coordinated, that at the end of the day both the commission and the council, in their messages to Ukraine, speak in one voice. It is her responsibility -- and that of her team -- to make sure that the EU, by talking in one voice, is actually stronger in [its] foreign [policy].

RFE/RL: However, would it be fair to say that under the old system of rotating six-month presidencies you sometimes had presidencies which took a very close interest in the Eastern neighborhood -- Sweden, for example -- and then you had presidencies which would be less focused on this -- like Portugal, or Ireland. Isn't there a danger that what you now have is a more indifferent approach, because Catherine Ashton has no particular attachment as such to Eastern Europe?

It's not indifferent. It's interesting your saying that, because if you listen to [Ashton], she's saying quite clearly that she has three priorities. The first one is to build up an external [diplomatic] service; the second one is the neighborhood, the neighborhood in its entirety. As Cathy is saying, we cannot be a global player, play a more important role, unless we show in the neighborhood in particular the effects of our [foreign] policy. And the third priority is the relationship with the strategic partners.

And I'm helping her from the side of the commission to keep the focus actually not only on the Eastern dimension of the neighborhood but also on the South, because both of these dimensions are important to us. You are absolutely right in saying that at a certain moment in time you had a six-month presidency which was more interested in the Eastern dimension of the neighborhood, [and at other times] in the South. But [this way] the message was not always coherent. I mean, if you're changing your priorities every six months -- "so what's new?" responding to your first question, is that we now have the possibility to have a medium term more coherent policy vis-a-vis our neighbors.

RFE/RL: Moving on to the specifics. The two major goals -- let's call them shared goals -- of the EU for the Eastern neighbors are free trade and the eventual lifting of visa restrictions. Do you have a clear idea when either of these objectives might actually materialize?

You are right in that these are the two basic pillars. There is another one, which is [concluding] association treaties, because at the end of the day it is all about deeper political association and economic integration. I think it is important to say two things. Talking in rather technical terms [about] a deep and comprehensive free-trade area, what we are talking about is not just another free-trade area. What we are talking about is actually trade and economic integration. This kind of agreement opens the road to the acquis [communautaire -- that is, EU legislation] related to the internal market. This is actually how these countries could make significant progress towards then later, eventually becoming members of the European Economic Area. This is the way how [while] not being an EU member you are still able to align yourself, your economy, your finances, your administration with most of the acquis we have -- as most of the [EU] acquis is related to the internal market [sector]. So, it is a rather complex exercise.

We hope that in the case of Ukraine [with which] we have already entered discussion on this deep and comprehensive free-trade agreement, we think that it is possible within a year to conclude this agreement. We are now in the process of establishing the state-of-play with Moldova -- we sent very recently almost 250 questions to our partners in Moldova and are determined to start the discussions as soon as possible. In the Caucasus, the situation is a little different because you need to be a part of the WTO [World Trade Organization], [and] one country in the region is not yet [there] -- and with the rest of the countries in the region we hope that sooner or later we will start that process. And Belarus is a little bit different player, so we will come back to this issue later on.

Then once you conclude this treaty, it takes years for the country to do the work of aligning itself to the acquis. So we have a certain [idea] of the timeframe when we will be able to negotiate such an agreement, but then it will very much depend on the speed and the commitment of that country to reforms, the commitment of that country to adopting various [bits of] legislation. [There], it's very difficult to talk about a timeline.

The visas. There are two issues. Visa facilitation -- there are countries [with which] we have concluded the technical discussions, Georgia is a very good example. We hope to very soon to send both the readmission and visa facilitation agreements to the council and the European Parliament [for approval]. There are discussions with Ukraine, and we're starting the discussion with Moldova on this issue. For the first time, we're talking with the new Ukrainian president of the road-map approach -- and, who knows, vis-a-vis other countries, too -- taking our best experiences from the Western Balkans where we have three countries benefiting [from visa-free travel to the EU].

RFE/RL: In the Western Balkans, the most pressing problem is Bosnia. Is the EU prepared to see the country break apart, as seems increasingly likely? What would the EU do should that happen?

I think what we are now preparing [for] is not that scenario. What we are now doing is focusing on how we could help Bosnia-Herzegovina at this point in time to actually avoid such a scenario. It is true that we need to do a lot of things to put this country on a much more stable basis.

RFE/RL: Such as?

I think the key is the follow-up to [the 1995] Dayton [accord]. The key is in constitutional changes. The key is to come to the end of the OHR [Office of the High Representative] chapter and through the constitutional changes open the way for the country to run itself [with] a stable, effective administration, where the European aspirations are shared by, if not all, then most [participants]. In that environment, the community approach, the accession process, would hopefully anchor Bosnia-Herzegovina firmly in the European Union.

RFE/RL: Can you definitively rule out the possibility that the EU will accept the emergence of any further countries in the region?

No, we are not ready to accept increasing the number of countries in that region, and we are doing everything with the [existing] countries to avoid that situation.

RFE/RL: Switching to Moldova, which is in a strange situation of being a small country right on the border of the EU, very close to one of its member states, yet it remains one of the poorest countries in Europe. What can the EU do to make a difference to the lives of the people in the streets?

The Eastern Partnership [contains] a very structured "menu" which we are offering to our Eastern partners in the bilateral and multilateral sphere. What it offers in practical terms in addition to the macrofinancial assistance we are now finalizing [with Moldova] is as follows. We have started the discussion on the visa dialogue with Moldova. This is after Ukraine, [which is] actually the second country to start the discussion, which we started on January 12, on an association treaty. It is a country which we hope very soon to start [talks] on a deep and comprehensive free-trade agreement.

Moldova is very active in the program of institution building, where we are offering experience and expertise on how to build the institutions the country needs for getting closer to the European Union. We are just finalizing putting together a group of experts which will be assigned to the government of Moldova. We're talking about nine experts who will help Moldova with all these processes we're talking about in general -- getting the country closer to the European Union. Which, by the way, is fantastic, because we got more than 250 requests from various member states to have their experts helping Moldova.

Moldova is also very active in all the multilateral formats of the Eastern Partnership with its concrete flagship projects like the integrated border management, like the governance in the [area] of protection of the environment, like better governance of the energy [sector].

RFE/RL: So this is where the extra money allocated to the Eastern Partnership last year will go?

Yes, exactly. we're talking about 350 million euros for the period 2011-2013 for the Eastern Neighborhood, for the six countries. There are those saying it's a decent sum of money [while], of course, for some it is not enough. But I think it is a substantial contribution of the European Union to support this very extensive structure of the Eastern Partnership. Moldova is actually a very good country to show that if you have a pro-European government, [that] if you're active enough, you could actually get a lot [out] of the Eastern Partnership offer.

RFE/RL: I know that Russia is not part of your portfolio...

But still...

RFE/RL: It is the elephant in the corner when you're dealing with the Eastern Neighborhood. During the hearings in the European Parliament in January, you said the Eastern neighbors must build up good relations with both the EU and Russia. Do you think it is fair to ask the EU's Eastern neighbors to improve relations with a Russia where -- on the European Commission's own admission -- reforms have stalled over the past eight years, which invaded Georgia in 2008, and has troubled relations with more than one Eastern EU member state?

I think it is fair for us to say that we would like to deepen our relationship with that part of Europe not at the expense of the relationships that part of Europe has with third countries. So, I think it is fair to say that no third country should feel threatened, for whatever reason, by the European Union's trying to upgrade its relations with these countries...

RFE/RL: But if Russia objects to the spread of democracy and reforms in these countries?

The relationship with Russia is not only focused on how, for example, the Russians see human rights. It is multifaceted, with energy playing a big role, for example. There [I have some] personal experience, because at one time, when the Czech Republic was about to join NATO and also, later on, the European Union, there were those telling us, "You have to choose between Moscow and Brussels." And we were saying, "Actually no, we don't want to be pushed into that decision." We were saying that actually, through joining NATO and the European Union, we could strengthen to a certain extent our relationship with Russia. And I think it is actually exactly what has happened. The relationship between the Czech Republic and Russia is not full of emotions as it was before. We feel more on an equal footing when talking to Russia. It's actually improved the relations because they are now more pragmatic. And this is also what we seek vis-a-vis the countries of the Eastern Partnership.

RFE/RL: So improving relations with Russia is fully compatible with seeking full membership in the EU and NATO?

I see absolutely no problems here. Of course, where I see a problem, is if someone at the beginning of the 21st century tries to change borders by military force. Then [there] is a problem. That is not compatible with our policy; it is not compatible with what we are offering to that part of Europe.

By RFE/RL. Published on 9 March 2010
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, March 10, 2010

EU Foreign Policy Chief Puts Focus On Neighborhood, Showcases Georgia

Catherine Ashton, the European Union's new high representative for foreign policy, says that reforms in the bloc's immediate neighborhood will be her key priority. Such reforms, she said, will be vital in furthering the bloc's ambition to play a greater role in the world.

In her maiden speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg today, Ashton -- who has come under fire for failing so far to give the bloc's foreign policy a clear shape or purpose -- said the EU must become a major player on the international scene, to protect its interests and values, and to respond to the "enormous" global demand for its presence.

But the EU's top diplomat had little of substance to say about how the bloc would go about it. She mentioned the United States and Russia only to refer to visits and meetings to the two countries. On Ukraine, Ashton noted her recent visit to Kyiv and said she wanted to deepen the EU's relationship with the country.

During her speech, Ashton showcased the EU's involvement in Georgia since the August 2008 war between Tbilisi and Moscow. There, she said, "the EU has demonstrated what we can do when we fully mobilize the resources we have."

Ashton mentioned the EU's immediate response to the conflict, the truce it brokered, the 300 monitors deployed, and the Geneva talks -- involving Russia, Georgia, and its two breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia -- where the EU is one of the mediators. The focus now, Ashton said, is on building stability and security in Georgia and the region, going on to list the EU's main current areas of contribution.

She said: "We work on trade, on visa liberalization, and we support measures to rebuild the ties with breakaway republics."

However, Georgia and the EU have so far only negotiated a visa facilitation accord, which will make getting EU visas easier but will not abolish them -- as "visa liberalization" implies.

'Full Agenda'

Ashton said the EU has a "full agenda" when it discusses Georgia with Russia -- her only reference to Moscow in this context.

Ashton's other highlights of recent EU successes were Bosnia and the Horn of Africa region.

Much of the debate in Strasbourg today centered on the External Action Service (EAS), which with its prospective 8,000 diplomats could become a major EU foreign policy instrument.

But Ashton has been unable to prevent infighting from breaking out for control of the EAS between the European Commission, the EU's semi-autonomous executive arm, and the member states that jealously guard their sovereignty in foreign policy matters.

The EU's top diplomat is partly hamstrung by her job description, which gives her a "double-hatted" role making her simultaneously answerable to the commission and the member states.

Charles Tannock, a senior British conservative deputy, today warned the EU now risks falling prey to the same kind of "introspection" that blunted its foreign policy during the last years of the previous decade.

By Ahto Lobjakas. Published on 10 March 2010
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.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Do Central Asia's Gender Quotas Help Or Hurt Women?

By law, one out of every three lawmakers in Kyrgyzstan's parliament is female. One of them, 42-year-old Gulnora Derbisheva, says she has always wanted to play a role in changing society.

Derbisheva began by working as a teacher, then moved on to become a social activist, joining neighborhood and women's rights committees before setting up her own NGO in her home province of Batken in southern Kyrgyzstan.

That much she was able to achieve on her own. But she says she would never have been able to enter parliament three years ago if there had not been a special quota for women. "There were so many obstacles on my path to politics. Even now, I feel there's discrimination against women," she says.

"A few years ago, there was a lot of prejudice against female lawmakers, and honestly, it was quite a hard time for me," Derbisheva continues. "Some people would say, 'Just what are these women capable of doing -- especially this one?' Some men, fellow lawmakers, would even say things to me like: 'What issues could you possibly have that would be worth bringing to our attention?'"

Derbisheva's dream of becoming a legislator and moving to the capital to take part in "serious politics" became possible only after Kyrgyzstan introduced a 30 percent quota for women in parliament in 2007, after complaints that the country's post-Tulip Revolution legislature did not include a single woman.

Surpassing U.S., France

Gender quotas exist throughout Central Asia. Under the Soviet system, women in the region enjoyed rights and opportunities equal to their male counterparts. But many of those opportunities dried up in the chaos of the Soviet collapse, leading governments to step forward and impose a mathematical solution to a suddenly complex gender equation.

The countries of Central Asia, many of which are still led by their communist-era elite, are routinely criticized for human rights abuses and rampant corruption. But even the region's staunchest critics acknowledge that local governments have made important strides to improve the gender balance in politics -- even though many believe it's little more than a cosmetic attempt to enhance the countries' images abroad.

Even Uzbekistan -- a country that regularly appears at the bottom of international rights and transparency rankings -- has instituted a 30 percent quota for women in parliament. On paper, that puts it well above France (19 percent), the United States (17 percent), and Russia (14 percent).

In Tajikistan, all government agencies are required to appoint at least one woman to a high-ranking post, although such titles usually reach no further than the level of deputy heads. Neither Kazakhstan nor Turkmenistan has a quota system for women, but both countries strive to take the gender balance into consideration.

Alina Hamatdinova, the executive director of an NGO called the Civic Alliance of Kazakhstan, says there is an "unofficial agreement" in her country that women must be included in all levels of decision making. "Women sometimes have better chances to advance in the workplace than men. Specifically, at state corporations there is an understanding that women are more responsible than men and less corrupt," she says. "So there is a tendency to promote women."

Turkmenistan -- Central Asia's most conservative country regarding women's place in society -- has placed women in a number of top jobs, such as the speaker of parliament and the ambassador to the United Nations. Nearly all the deputies to provincial governors are women as well.

Impact of Poverty, Religion

In white-collar professions like medicine and education, little has changed since Soviet times, with the balance between Central Asian men and women roughly equal. Likewise, the gender balance among university students remains more or less evenly split.

However, economic hardship and mass labor migration to Russia have made millions of women the sole breadwinners for their families. The rising influence of Islam in the region has also considerably altered the perception of women's role in society, with a growing number of people favoring the notion that women should stay at home to care for their husband and children.

The majority of women currently engaged in leadership positions in Central Asia still spring from the generations raised and educated during the Soviet era. Activists believe that, under such circumstances, official quotas will help raise and protect women's social standing while the countries in the region continue the transition from their Soviet pasts.

Quota systems do have their limitations. Although women are numerically represented in many corridors of government, they are virtually nonexistent in power ministries like those of law enforcement, energy, defense, or foreign affairs. Instead, the majority are engaged in "softer" spheres like education and health. In Turkmenistan, the country's only female deputy prime minister is in charge of the culture portfolio.

Just Filling A Quota

In a region with rampant corruption, many women activists also complain that government officials use gender quotas as a convenient opportunity to offer positions to their own female relatives and friends, who are not necessarily qualified for the job.

In Tajikistan, women's rights activists like Marhabo Davlatova argue that quotas in some instances have actually limited the opportunities open to women. "Sometimes we've had the heads of organizations bar a woman from a vacant top position, saying they've already filled the 'women's quota' by appointing a deputy," she says.

Zurafo Rahmoni, a member of Tajikistan's Islamic Renaissance Party, opposes gender quotas, saying it's an artificial way of promoting women and a system that breeds contempt, rather than respect, for many women. "Women should be treated as men's equals, so they could have an equal and healthy competition with men," she says. "If we create such conditions for women, hundreds of them will emerge as leaders on their own merits."

Still, among women, gender quotas have more supporters than critics. Kyrgyzstan's parliament this week welcomed two new female lawmakers, thereby fulfilling the 30 percent women's quota as vowed.

But there's a long way to go. Nurgul Djanaeva, a Bishkek-based NGO activist, says that even with the quota system, the expectations and demands placed on women in the workplace are far less forgiving than those facing their male counterparts.

"When we are talking about men, nobody cares about the fact that they're using whatever resources, whatever tools, corrupt or not corrupt, Djanaeva said. "When it comes to women, immediately there's a double standard: 'If she comes, she should be clean.' I agree totally -- men and women should both come [into a position] using clean, normal, legal ways."

By Farangis Najibullah. Published on 8 March 2010
Copyright (c) 2010. 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.

Friday, March 5, 2010

First meeting on Transdniestria settlement under Kazakh OSCE Chairmanship sets goals for 2010

The first meeting of the representatives of the Sides, Mediators and Observers in the "5+2" Transdniestria settlement process with the Special Representative of the Kazakh OSCE Chairmanship, Ambassador Bolat Nurgaliyev, ended in Vienna Tuesday.

"This was the first 5+2 meeting of 2010, and its purpose was to elaborate a workplan for the year aimed at renewing real negotiations towards a comprehensive political solution acceptable to the people of both Sides," said Ambassador Nurgaliyev.

The 5+2 includes the sides, the Republic of Moldova and Transdniestria, the mediators - Russian Federation, Ukraine and the OSCE - and the United States and the European Union as observers.

At today's meeting in Vienna, the 5+2 agreed to meet regularly and frequently, with agendas for the meetings to be driven by issues of mutual importance to the Sides. A goal was set to renew formal negotiations in the 5+2 format this year. Formal negotiations have been suspended since 2006.

"The most important factor in achieving real negotiations is building a climate of trust between the sides," Ambassador Nurgaliyev said. "Direct talks between the political representatives of the Sides since late last year, which resolved significant problems faced by populations in both sides, have laid a promising foundation for our efforts."

Representatives of the 5+2 also lauded the re-launch of work in the Expert Working Groups on Confidence-Building Measures. They exchanged information on their individual workplans for 2010, concentrating on seminars, visits and other events to widen contacts and co-operation between the Sides.

The 5+2 agreed to hold their next meeting this May in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, at the invitation of the 2010 OSCE Chairman-in-Office, Secretary of State and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan Kanat Saudabayev.

Press Release: OSCE. Published on 2 March 2010.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Breakaway Region's Leader Says South Ossetia 'Building Independence'

Eduard Kokoity, the leader of South Ossetia, has denied speculation that the breakaway Georgian region will merge into Russia.

Kokoity sat down in the Russian city of Vladikavkaz with RFE/RL Echo of the Caucasus correspondent Oleg Kusov to discuss the future of the region, his government's work to rebuild its tattered infrastructure, and local politics.

RFE/RL: Inside Russia and abroad people have been discussing the future of South Ossetia. Some are saying that a possible scenario is the unification with North Ossetia in the Russian Federation. Others speak of South Ossetia as developing as an independent state.

Eduard Kokoity:
The people of South Ossetia conducted a referendum on this topic and expressed themselves clearly and precisely. And it is not by chance that the Republic of South Ossetia was recognized as an independent state. This is logical. And that is why we are now building our independence, a free state.

We are obliged and grateful to the Russian Federation. Russia is our main strategic partner and this has been the case for many centuries. Today Russia is doing everything it can so that South Ossetia can get up on its feet on its own as an independent state.

Of course, there are a lot of people who want to accuse Russia of annexing foreign territory, but nothing remotely like that is going on here. Russia today is establishing interstate relations with us, is signing interstate agreements. States that are trying to annex foreign territory -- like many in the West suppose -- never sign such high-level interstate agreements or strictly fulfill them. So we are now building an independent Republic of South Ossetia.

RFE/RL: Let's talk about reconstruction work. Some -- particularly in the opposition -- are saying that no such work is going on.

As far as the so-called opposition is concerned -- the opposition is within South Ossetia. But there is also a handful of offended people who use the pages of various newspapers here and in Russia to present themselves as an opposition -- they are practically all former South Ossetia bureaucrats who failed to cope with their direct responsibilities. These are offended people.

As for the reconstruction of South Ossetia, this work is proceeding. Perhaps not at the tempo that a lot of people would like, definitely. There are some people who, if you listen to them, think it was possible to reconstruct South Ossetia in two months. Others said it could be done in a year.

But this state -- its entire infrastructure -- was destroyed over the course of 20 years. We aren't talking about a five-day war. Practically all the documentation was destroyed. So we are restoring all this today. We are approaching this matter in a very comprehensive way. But today we see efforts to discredit the leadership of South Ossetia, to accuse them of embezzlement -- this is being done by dishonest people.

Practically all of South Ossetia has been turned into one big construction site. We are restoring residential housing. The house and housing that we are building now in South Ossetia for our citizens are significantly more modern and have more living space and better conveniences. We aren't talking about one-room flats with an entrance hall and a toilet. We are building practically complete, attractive, and modern European housing.

Second, we are practically building all utilities from scratch. This is because the utilities date from 1957, from the days of the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic. Since 1957, they have not been renovated. We now have to create the electrical grid. We are building roads.

But these things are hard to publicize -- they aren't very glamorous. For instance, we reworked some enormous hills in order to build a road in the Leningorsky region. This year we will begin construction of roads in the Naursky region and road construction in Kvaisa. In order to expand and improve the state economy as a whole, we have to undertake some serious projects, including international ones.

Of course, this primarily means with the Russian Federation and today we are preparing to sign off on a series of projects, including providing for trade relations with the Russian Federation, customs relations. This will help develop the economy of South Ossetia as a whole.

Russian Connections

RFE/RL: There was a lot of noise recently when a Russian news agency reported that Vadim Brovtsev, the Russian businessman who heads the South Ossetian government, plans to resign.

I really don't even want to comment on that, since Vadim Brovtsev and I have very good relations. He is an excellent professional. This report is the desire of many people who do not want the best for South Ossetia. It is an effort by people to create tension between the Russian Federation and South Ossetia, for the most part. After all, it was because of my request to the Russian Federation that this Russian specialist was chosen to head the government of South Ossetia.

Since financing is coming from the Russian Federation, we are very interested that Russia itself exercise control over those funds. And in the very near future, specialists from the Audit Chamber of Russia will be invited in order to lay to rest all these rumors.

The constant visits to us and the complete understanding and support of the leadership of the Russian Audit Chamber are evidence that the leadership of South Ossetia has nothing to hide. We are working absolutely honestly. There are efforts to smear us, to discredit us, first of all, in the eyes of the Russian public. But we won't let these forces do that.

As far as Vadim Brovtsev is concerned, he has made no such statements. Our most recent meeting with the presidium of the parliament showed that the government and the legislature of South Ossetia are ready to work together constructively.

'Laughable' Rights Activist

RFE/RL: Another story that is getting a lot of attention in the media is the arrest on arms-possession charges of the human rights activist Fatima Margiyeva, editor of the newspaper "Pozitsiya."

I think it is laughable to consider such people human rights activists. If a mother rejects her own children, can she be a human rights activist?

I have had dealings with Margiyeva for a long time, going back to when she practically took for herself the funds that I personally transferred to her to organize an intellectual club for students. Is there in South Ossetia an intellectual club for students created under the project of the president of South Ossetia with funds transferred to Margiyeva? Of course not.

Then they found in her house -- not again because of some order from the top -- such an arsenal in her home. And suddenly she becomes a human rights advocate. There is the law -- and this is not a question of the president, a question for the president. There is the law and the justice system. The justice system will sort this out.

And every criminal tries to turn themselves into some sort of great human rights activist or some sort of great opposition figure, primarily to attract attention to themselves and also to discredit us, of course. Margiyeva has violated the law many times. Even when she had signed a pledge not to leave the country without informing judicial authorities, she repeatedly traveled beyond the borders of South Ossetia.

As far as civil society in South Ossetia is concerned, that civil society is pretty solid and serious. In this regard, I will completely support nongovernmental organizations. But on the other hand, there are some leaders of so-called nongovernmental organizations who start saying all sorts of nonsense like that they are paying taxes to the budget of the republic of South Ossetia. Sometimes this is even funny.

I will definitely gather them all together. I just feel ashamed for them when they are lying in front of the whole world. The president has a special state adviser on work with nongovernmental organizations. And those nongovernmental organizations who meet us halfway, who work with us, they are satisfied and they don't have any problems. We will support them. We don't want nongovernmental organizations to be, as we call them today, "controlled." We want them to be involved in all spheres. I just would urge everyone to observe basic decency, that's all.

By RFE/RL. Published on 24 February 2010
Copyright (c) 2010. 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.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Ukraine Needs Political Stability

Ukraine's Orange Coalition was dissolved today. Prime Minister Tymoshenko lost a parliamentary majority and faces a vote of no confidence.

Said Adrian Severin, S&D vice-president, in charge of foreign affairs for the EP's main progressive group :

"The dissolution of the coalition was a predictable scenario after Mr. Yanukovitch won the presidential elections. For a country like Ukraine, with its specific socio-economic situation and historical background, political co-habitation did not appear to be a practical solution so far.

"However, even if such dissolution constitutes a democratic option that should not in any way lead to further uncertainty and instability in the country.

"Therefore, we are hopeful and encourage the Ukrainian parliamentary parties to agree as quickly as possible on a common national agenda as a basis for a new, strong, coherent, efficient and sustainable governing coalition", Mr.Severin stressed.

"Such an approach is certainly to be preferred to any kind of snap election solution which could push the nation again into political fights and uncertainty".

The S&D Group reiterates its plea for unity in Ukraine and for a swift solution that will ensure the governability of the country, its long term stability and the continuation of the reform process.

Press Release: Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats

Monday, March 1, 2010

Euronest delegation visits Belarus

A Euronest delegation, led by EP Chairman Kristian Vigenin visited Minsk, Belarus on 25-27 February on a fact finding mission. Chair of the Delegation for relations with Belarus Jacek Protasiewicz, Foreign Affairs Committee Rapporteur on Belarus Justas Paleckis and Chair of the Sub-Committee on Human Rights Heidi Hautala formed part of this delegation.

The mission stared with a briefing about the current situation in Belarus by the European Union Member States ambassadors and the head of the EC delegation in Minsk. Later on, OSCE representatives in Minsk, namely Deputy Head Jandos Asanov,Human Dimension Programme Assistant Svetlana Senko and Senior Programme Assistant Natalia Belikova briefed the delegation about the work of their institution, in particular about their work in relation to elections in the country. The discussion on this topic continued in the meeting with the Central Electoral Commission during which previous elections, and the upcoming local elections due to be held in April this year were questioned in detail.

The European Parliament delegation also met, and discussed human rights issues with the following representatives of the civil society in Belarus, namely:

Aleh Hulak from the Helsinki Committee,
Uladzimir Labkovich from the Viasna Human Rights Centre,
Michail Pashkevich from the Centre of Legal Technologies,
Irina Kapariha from Ekodom,
Tatsiana Shaputska from the Young Front,
Alexandr Jaroshuk, from the Independent Trade Unions,
Viktor Gutovsky from the Ukrainian Minorities´Representatives` NGO "Vatra"
Valentina Logvin, from the Ukrainian minorities´representative NGO "Sich",
Emilia Pranskute, from the Lithuania minorities´representative NGO
Andrzej Poczobut from the VP of Union of Poles in Belarus
Teresa Sobol from the Union of Poles in Ivianets

A special meeting was also held with Sakharov Prize winners Zhanna Litvina and Aliaksandr Milinkevich.

Further meetings were held with representatives of the Belarusian parliament namely:

Ms Nina Mazay, Chairperson of the Standing Committee for Foreign Affairs and National Security of the Coincil of the Republic of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus,

Mr Sergei Maskevich, Chairman of the International Affairs and CIS Relations Commission of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus.

During these meetings, the EP delegation brought up and discussed the situation of human rights in Belarus, the relations of the EU with Belarus, including the outcome of the previous election campaigns and results as well as Belarus´ participation in the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly.

In this regard, the representatives of the democratic opposition in Belarus also met the EP delegation and had an exchange of views about how should the EU shape its relations with Belarus to ensure democracy and the rule of law in the country. The opposition was represented by:

Aliaksandr Kozulin, former presidential candidate,
Aleksej Janukevich, leader of the Belarusian Popular Front,
Anatol Lebedko, Chairman of the United Civil Party,
Siarhiej Kaliakin, Leader of the Belarusian Communist Party,
Anatol Laukovich,acting Chairman of the Belarusian Social-Democratic Party "Narodnaja Hramada",
Nicolai Statkevich, leader of the Belarusian Social-Democratic Party,
Vital Rymasheuski, co-Chairman of the Belarusian Christian Democratic Party,
Jury Glushakou, vice-Chairman of the Belarusian Party of Greens