Wednesday, August 4, 2010

EU-Ukraine: Partners for securing gas to Europe

Procurement Notice: Preparatory studies for the modernisation of the Ukrainian Gas Transit and Storage - 28/07/2010

In the framework of the Joint Commission-Ukraine-IFI Declaration agreed at the March 2009 EU-Ukraine Joint Investment Conference on the modernisation of the Ukrainian Gas Transit System, the procurement notice for the technical feasibility study and the environmental and social impact assessment study has been issued. Details are available on the website of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) at the following address:

International Investment Conference on the Modernisation of Ukraine's Gas Transit System, Brussels 23/03/2009

Ukraine is a key transit country for oil and gas supplies from Russia to the EU and has expressed its wish to be integrated in the EU and South East Europe energy markets. Energy is therefore a sector that will continue to be at the centre of EU-Ukraine relations and where co-operation will continue to grow substantially over the coming years. The gas transit system of Ukraine represents the backbone of gas supplies to Europe, accounting for 20% of the EU’s gas consumption and 80% of Russian gas exports to the EU, as well as carrying substantial quantities of Central Asian gas.

In this context, an International Investment Conference on the Modernisation of Ukraine's Gas Transit System is scheduled to take place in Brussels on 23rd March 2009. This conference, to be co-hosted by the European Commission and the Government of Ukraine, will bring together representatives of the EU, Ukraine and third countries, as well international financial institutions and the private sector.

The conference will be a major step forward in ensuring that the Ukraine’s gas transit system operates at the highest levels of efficiency, transparency and reliability.

Joint Declaration:

Conference Documents:

Source: European Commission External Relations

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Council of Europe anti-torture Committee interrupts visit to the Transnistrian region of Moldova

A delegation of the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) began a visit to the Transnistrian region (*) of Moldova on 21 July 2010. Against the background of the CPT’s reports on its previous visits to the region in 2000, 2003 and 2006, the intention of the delegation was to review the situation of persons deprived of their liberty in police and prison establishments.

Following initial consultations with Sergey Stepanov, the person responsible in the region for justice-related issues, the CPT’s delegation commenced a visit to the remand section (SIZO) of Colony No. 3 in Tiraspol on 22 July 2010. However, the delegation was informed that, unlike the Committee’s previous visits, it would not be allowed to interview remand prisoners in private. Such a restriction contradicts one of the fundamental characteristics of the preventive mechanism embodied by the CPT, namely the power to interview in private any person deprived of his or her liberty. Consequently, the Committee’s delegation decided to interrupt its visit to places of deprivation of liberty in the region until such time as the enjoyment of this power could be guaranteed.

Nevertheless, the CPT’s delegation visited Penitentiary establishments Nos. 8 and 12 in Bender; these establishments are located in an area controlled by the de facto authorities of the Transnistrian region but form part of the prison system of the Republic of Moldova. The opportunity was also taken to review the treatment of persons detained by the Moldovan police. In this context, the delegation paid follow-up visits to Temporary detention isolators in Anenii Noi and Bender, as well as to the Temporary detention isolator of the General Police Directorate in Chişinău. Further, the delegation interviewed in private a number of newly-arrived remand prisoners at Chişinău Penitentiary establishment No. 13 on the subject of their treatment by the police.

At the end of the visit, the CPT's delegation had a meeting with Alexandru Tănase, Minister of Justice of the Republic of Moldova, and senior officials of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Prosecution Service and the Department of Penitentiary Institutions, and presented to them its preliminary observations.

The visit was carried out by the following members of the CPT:

- Jean-Pierre Restellini (Swiss), Head of delegation
- Anna Lamperová (Slovak)
- Joan Miquel Rascagneres (Andorran).

They were supported by Johan Friestedt of the CPT's Secretariat, and assisted by Jürgen Seiger, Public Health Officer, Münster (Germany).

Source: Council of Europe. Published in Strasbourg on 30 July 2010

Monday, August 2, 2010

Will Moldova Be The Next Ukraine?

Less than a year after the country's last elections, the Republic of Moldova finds itself at a crossroads once again. The "Twitter revolution" in Chisinau last April that made waves in the international media mirrored, somehow, the 2004 Orange Revolution in neighboring Ukraine. It took six years for the Ukrainians to turn their clocks back, when they elected Viktor Yanukovych -- the main adversary of the Orange revolutionaries -- president earlier this year. Moldova's pro-Western coalition, the Alliance for European Integration, which formed a slim majority in parliament and a pro-reform government a year ago, may have an even shorter lifespan.

Authorities in Chisinau have scheduled a September referendum on how to elect the country's president, and they are likely to schedule new parliamentary elections for sometime in November. This round of legislative elections was prompted when lawmakers failed to elect a president after repeated attempts last July, prompting the current constitutional crisis. If the fragile coalition of four parties that essentially only had one thing in common -- a desire to defeat the Communists -- collapses, it is very likely the Communists will return to power.

In that case, Moldova would join the growing list of countries in Russia's "near abroad" whose pro-Western reform efforts failed. Ironically, these things are happening at a time when Washington's "reset" policy has apparently produced much-improved relations with Russia and EU members seem to be announcing new energy, military, and trade deals with the Kremlin every day.

Like in Ukraine and Georgia, the main focus of the Western donors in Moldova is on the central government's policies and upper-echelon reforms. Less attention is given to strengthening and support of the four pillars that should contribute to long-lasting reforms in post-totalitarian countries: civil society, independent media, judiciary, and local public administration.

In this piece, however, I'd like to focus on media and civil-society matters. Independent media outlets are rightly considered the watchdogs of any democratic society. However, in CIS countries, after decades of Soviet rule, these watchdogs are -- at best -- young and inexperienced. Even where they are allowed to operate without undue interference, they do not have sufficient strength or professionalism. They are always vulnerable to being turned from watchdogs into the attack dogs of the ruling parties.

Media Does Matter

This has certainly been the case in Moldova. Here, the majority of independent media (along with nongovernmental organizations, including think tanks and universities) found themselves in difficult straits during the eight years (2001-09) of Communist rule. Only a few outlets and NGOs reported on corruption, human rights violations, and abuse of power by officials during these years. The vast majority were either restricted, persecuted, destroyed, or co-opted by the Communist authorities.

Although it was a tough environment for investigating and reporting, some human rights groups and media outlets -- with the support of some Western donors but mostly relying on the dedication and courage of certain individuals -- were in a position to report on the election fraud of 2009 and the other abuses of power that culminated in the mass protests in April of that year. They continued to report on the brutal suppression of those protests and the arrests, torture, and even killings of demonstrators by the Communist-backed law-enforcement agencies. All this pressure and the sacrifices of the young Moldovans who took to Chisinau's main square forced repeat elections in July 2009 that brought the current liberal coalition to power.

But in the wake of those elections, some important changes began. A good number of professionals from the nascent NGO community were recruited by the new coalition to enter parliament or work in the government. As a result, in many cases the NGOs they left were less comfortable criticizing state institutions and less motivated to do so. Many who remained in the NGOs felt that criticizing the authorities would only help the Communists in their bid to regain power.

The same thing happened in the media. It was one thing to criticize former Communist President Vladimir Voronin or his old, Soviet-style apparatchiks, but quite another to criticize former colleagues who are now in politics -- or your own relative who happens to be a minister or a friend who is in parliament. Worse, according to some reports, some of the new politicians have begun acquiring their own "independent" media outlets, either directly or by proxy. Sometimes these deals are even touted as examples of "foreign investment" in Moldova!

Getting Beneath The Surface

Although the ruling coalition is described in shorthand as liberal and pro-Western, a closer look at those who sit in parliament and occupy government offices reveals a much more mixed picture. In addition to some honest and principled reformers, there are former members of Communist governments, former Soviet-era diplomats and KGB officers, and some just plain opportunists. It is no wonder no post-independence governments or legislatures -- including the current ones -- have had any real interest in adopting serious lustration legislation.

Moldovans often complain that their country was not treated during the 1990s like the Baltic states were, but they don't acknowledge that their politicians lacked the courage of their Baltic counterparts and did not, like them, restrict the participation of the Soviet-era nomenclature in government from the very beginning of independence. The Baltic states have, over the last two decades, often selected presidents, parliament speakers, and other top officials from their diasporas abroad. Many of these officials were even born in exile.

But Moldova never made any significant attempts to recruit ethnic-Moldovan professionals from abroad. Instead, they have been viewed suspiciously as outsiders or, worse, even as traitors. In this regard, it seems the most Moldovans simply have not cut their ties with the Soviet past.

Power Check

That is precisely why it is crucially important for Moldova to have a strong and vibrant civil society, including independent media, NGOs, and universities. Otherwise, each time there is election, the politicians who gain power will be tempted to adopt authoritarian means or follow the path of Vladimir Putin, who, by the way, is considered a role model by some Moldovan leaders.

During the Communist period, it was common to see elected officials or other public figures joining the Communist Party. That is why it was embarrassing and depressing on July 1 to see that nine rectors of Moldova's main public universities unanimously and publicly declared their support for the Liberal Democratic Party, whose leader is the current prime minister. I was reminded of the days when whole enterprises, collective farms, and universities raised their hands to support some Communist resolution or to praise Leonid Brezhnev's latest book. I couldn't help but think that this was another sign of the Soviet-era vassal mentality that remains engrained in Moldovans, even intellectuals such as these rectors.

Moldovan civil society and media, of course, must do the heavy lifting in forming a sustainable democratic country themselves. They must continue to expose corruption and abuses and incompetence. They must continue to hold officials to account for their campaign promises, even as they continue to criticize Communist policies and remind the public that the Communist Party remains the main obstacle to Moldova's democratic development.

Every society needs institutionalized checks and balances -- including Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova. Moldova stands at a crossroads now, and Western donors should focus on finding ways to help develop the pillars upon which any sustained democratization effort must rest.

By Vlad Spanu. Published on 30 July 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.