Category Archives: Eastern Europe

The new cold war

Edward Lucas talks about his new book (The new cold war – How the Kremlin Menaces Both Russia and the West) at Google HQ:

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EU Enlargement: Enjoy the process!

The Economist has quite a good commentary about EU enlargement and the limited influence of the EU once a country has joined the club:

A common feature in all these tales is the limited leverage of Brussels. It is often said that the EU‘s enlargement policy has been the most potent tool yet devised to entice its neighbours along the road to free-market democracy—far more effective than anything the United States has found to wield over its southern neighbours. But the corollary is a loss of influence after a country actually joins. The pattern of intensive reform to qualify, followed by a let-up in the process once membership is achieved, is too common to be mere happenstance.

(…)

There is another big problem with this game: the behaviour of old EU members. Mr Rehn notes that, if one took the worst features of every old EU country, one could easily come up with an amalgam that would barely meet any of the criteria for EU membership. To take just one example often cited by new members, Italy can hardly claim to be free of organised crime.

Click here to read the whole article!

While reading the article I remembered a very good comment made by Osman Topcagic, the Director of the Directorate for European Integration for Bosnia and Herzegovina whom I met a few weeks ago. He was fully aware of the above mentioned problem and instead emphasized the importance of the enlargement process in itself. Basically he said something along these lines (unfortunately I did not write down the exact words of the statement): It is not important when Bosnia joins the EU, it is important that we reform our country which is the most challenging task ahead of us. The EU helps facilitating this process and therefore we should enjoy the process because this is the time of improvements. And ultimately everyone would like to see improvements.

So, I guess the times are changing. The EU has learned from its mistakes and introduced stricter benchmarks, that can trigger restrictions also after EU accession. At the same time, politicians, especially in the Balkans (Turkey is indeed a different case), see EU accession as a chance to reform the respective countries.

Now only the old EU member states should start thinking about the issue…

Russia: Corruption ‘price list’

Corruption in Russia is neither a new development nor a surprising one. However, now even President Putin as well as his likely successor Medvedev mentioned the corruption problem in recent public speeches. Of course it is a bit awkward for Putin to admit that corruption has been flourishing during his term in office, so it might be a rather tactical move to support his successor… and might even lay the ground for some politically motivated arrests later this year…

Coming back to the topic of corruption: According to the Eurasia Daily Monitor, two Russian research institutes, namely the Institute for Public Projects (INOP) and the Institute for Comparative Social Research (CESSI)  published a study called “The Nature and Structure of Corruption in Russia” which also contains a very interesting (and expensive!) ‘price list’ for all sorts of bribes:

According to the list, a place on a party list for a State Duma election cost $2 million-$5 million while getting legislation introduced in the Duma for consideration costs $250,000. For a state monopoly to win a “goszakaz,” or state purchase order, it must pay 20% of the order’s total value; for it to participate in a national project, it must pay 30-40% of the project’s total value; for it to get a line item in the federal budget, it must pay three percent of the project’s total value.

A large private company must pay $1 million-$5 million to get a license, prevent a license it has from getting revoked or get a competitor’s license revoked. For a large private company to win a “goszakaz,” it must pay a third of the order’s total value. For a small business to ensure that a transaction is carried out, it must pay a third of the transaction’s value; in order to get “help” from officials, a small business must pay 10% of its total profits. Getting customs duties reduced costs 30-50% of the sum on which the duties were assessed; getting tax arrears written off costs anywhere from $1000 to 30-50% of the sum of the arrears.

To get the Central Bank to begin examining documents costs a bank $500,000, while winning the right to transfer federal budget funds costs a bank five percent of the sum of the transfer. To win a case in a civil court or an arbitration court costs 10% of the awarded damages. To win a grant costs a charitable foundation 20-30% of the value of the grant. Finally, according to the INOP-CESSI study, to get a television “talking head” to criticize an official costs $20,000 a month.

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Romania needs a new constitution!

After all the political scandals in Romania, it becomes clear that only a new constitution can bring the much needed reform to the country. But first lets look at some problems that the country is facing:

It seems that, after EU accession, reform willingness has somewhat disappeared. This can be seen as a result of letting Romania join the EU although it was not fully prepared. However, the European Commission is still monitoring progress in key policy areas and also has the power to activate several safeguard measures that could for example make every judicial verdict not valid throughout the EU, a truly humiliating step for any EU member state. The latest progress report of the European Commission concludes:

Delays have occurred in implementing a coherent recruitment strategy for the judiciary (benchmark 1), in the establishment of a National Integrity Agency (benchmark 2) and in developing an overall strategy and implementing flagship projects to fight local corruption (benchmark 4). Romania should particularly step up its efforts in the fight against high-level corruption (benchmark 3) and should strengthen its efforts to maintain the legal and institutional stability of the Romanian anti-corruption framework.

That sounds rather diplomatic, but actually Romania has deep-rooted problems and the Commission should not hesitate to trigger the safeguard clauses if no improvements are reported by June, when the next report is due.

Constitutional Court RomaniaEspecially the judiciary produced quite a number of scandals lately. The Romanian Constitutional Court declared that the law regulating the work of the CNSAS (the institution dealing with the Securitate files) is partly unconstitutional. This highly controversial decision forced CNSAS to stop its operations, at least for the time being! Read here about the background story of Romanias’ “Sluggish processing of the past”. Quite a strange coincidence is that just this week CNSAS announced the first results of an ongoing investigation that showed that 1 in 5 Romanian judges were key collaborators of the infamous secret police Securitate.

And now the same Court decided that the President has the right to reject the first candidate (proposed by the Prime Minister) for a ministerial post. (The case was brought before the Court following President Basescu’s refusal to appoint Norica Nicolai as Minister of Justice.) However, according to the ruling, he can only block the candidate once, which can be seen as a rather weak competence. The problem is that the very same Constitutional Court came to a contradictory ruling a few months ago in the case of Foreign Minister Cioroianu. In this case, the Court ruled that the President does not have the right to reject any proposed candidate. It is now an open secret that the rulings of the Romanian Constitutional Court are politically biased.

This has to be put in context with the developments from last year, which I covered here and here. But all these problems are related and, in fact, could be seen as results of the ill-conceived Romanian constitution or, as Mircea Marian (translation via eurotopics) puts it: “The constitution, contrived in 1991 and corrected cosmetically in 2003, is a disaster. Romania needs a new constitution. And it must be designed either for a presidential republic or a parliamentary republic. But not for a ‘semi’-republic, a monster with two heads that spit fire at each other.”

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Rewriting history

What is happening at the moment? History (or better the interpretation of history) is more and more used to justify political actions. Nothing really new, but somehow two recent statements were not only shocking but also worrying:

First, the Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski used weird historic justifications for his negotiations at the EU summit last week:

We are only demanding one thing, that we get back what was taken from us. (…) If Poland had not had to live through the years of 1939-45, Poland would today be looking at the demographics of a country of 66 million.

Now, Russian President Vladimir Putin also discovered the benefits of relativism in order to justify his political agenda:

Concerning some problematic pages in our history — yes, they exist, as they do in the histories of all states. We have less than some countries. And ours are not as terrible as those of some others. (…) Yes, some pages in our history were horrible: We can think of the events beginning in 1937, and we should not forget them. But it wasn’t better in other countries — in fact, it was far more horrible.

Recently it became clear that Putin wants to use history and social science in a very ‘soviet way’. In order to reflect the apparent new strengh of Russia he wants to rewrite history to establish a new “national-patriotic ideology”. For a more detailled analysis read Pavel Felgenhauer article in the Eurasia Daily Monitor:

Putin told the teachers: “Many school books are written by people who work to get foreign grants. They dance to the polka that others have paid for. You understand? These books, regrettably, get into schools and universities.” Putin demanded new history textbooks that “make our citizens, especially the young, proud of their country” and reiterated “no one must be allowed to impose the feeling of guilt on us.”

Putin specifically noted that the history of World War II and Russia’s history after 1991 are wrongly interpreted and must be rewritten. Today Stalin has again been rehabilitated as a leader who made mistakes, but still secured victory over Nazi Germany. The 1990s — a decade when Russia was a freer state than at anytime before or since — today is demonized. The pro-Kremlin youth movement Molodaya Gvardia has announced it will be organizing marches in Yekaterinburg and other cities in support of Putin and against the regime’s critics under the slogan, “No return to the 1990s”

Putin’s personal paranoia and anti-Americanism seem to be growing and are increasingly dominating external and internal Russian politics.

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Transnistria’s internal power struggles

A quite interesting article on the internal power struggles in Transnistria called Sheriffs vs. Patriots (!) speculates about the underlying internal reasons for the recent plan on the settlement of the conflict in Transnistria.

Insistent rumors are circulating in Transdniester that Igor Smirnov has fallen out with the Kremlin. Moscow has again refused to grant financial help to the region. It is said that humanitarian money is simply melting under the hot sun in the region. This is how $40 million to $60 million has already disappeared.

Smirnov has made mistakes in the past too, but the first and the only Transdniester region president still continues to sit in his armchair. It is not ruled out that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s current hard-line policy towards the region is due to a completely different reason: to incline the region’s authorities to accept a union with Moldova within a single state. There are rumors that Moscow is also behind the Renewal Party (read Sheriff company). Not official [structures] but some business structures. And they have their own interests in the region.

Thus, the struggle has begun. Who will win it? Ladies and gentlemen, place your stakes.

Romania’s political mess – A mini roundup

Last week the political crisis in Romania truly escalated. A few weeks ago I posted a general introduction on the nature of politics in Romania and the fight between President Basescu and PM Tariceanu.

Now, President Basescu is suspended from office and there will be a referendum on May 19 (unusual for elections: a Saturday AND the day of Saint Patriciu …), the political elite is deeply split, demonstrations in favour of Basescu took place, a parliamentary coalition without any mandate is in power and politicians already want to change the Romanian constitution to prevent Basescu from becoming president again, leaving the country with a interim president and interim MEPs (due to the indefinetly postponed EP elections) …. So what happened in Romanian politics? Everything is quite messy (as usual), so let’s make some sense out of it. Here is a little blog/commentary roundup:

Vladimir Tismaneu and Paul Dragos Aligica call it a Parliamentary Putsch:

The frivolous impeachment procedure is payback for Mr. Basescu’s unremitting fight against corruption and his support for transparency in dealing with the secret police archives from Romania’s dark, totalitarian times. When the president last year called the former communist regime “illegitimate and criminal,” he made himself many enemies among the old nomenklatura.

Andrei Plesu, a former Romanian foreign minister and well known writer and former Basescu advisor also lashes out at the parliament:

One can say without exaggeration that in all the years of its fragile democracy our country has been led by faceless voting robots who wave their hands between naps while the demagogues keep talking.

Valentina Pop comments on Romania’s backlash to kleptocracy:

The new political configuration around liberal prime minister Calin Tariceanu is using and abusing every possible democratic tool for its undemocratic goals: delaying the European elections for fear of facing the voters, an impeachment procedure against president Traian Basescu based on no constitutional grounds and a cabinet reshuffle to get rid of performing ministers thought to be “too close to the President”.

(…)

For the newly installed “Black Coalition” – the one Romanian voters never approved – the stakes are great. The four “Black Coalition” parties – Liberals, Socialists, the ethnic Hungarian UDMR party and the small Conservative Party of former communist secret police agent and media owner Dan Voiculescu – are trying to defend the very privileges and impunity they have been used to so far.

The European Commission seems to have predicted something like this when it constantly called for “continued reforms that are irreversible.”Four months after Romanian accession, it is clear that not even the post-accession monitoring mechanisms imposed by Brussels and the threat of safeguard clauses are real means of pressure for the Romanian politicians.

And she comes to a rather worrying conclusion:

Romania’s return to kleptocracy will be devastating for its citizens and business environment. But ultimately, Romania’s backlash will prove that EU’s “soft powers” are sometimes too soft. This is particularly so when facing old guard communists with decades of experience in cooking the books, corruption and promises that are never fulfilled.

Jon Worth also thinks about the role of the EU:

In the meantime the EU looks on quite helplessly. Barroso and others have stated that Romania needs to get the crisis sorted out using its own methods, but the European Parliament elections in Romania have been postponed in order to achieve a national solution. Plus with pressure being increasingly applied to Basescu, and government ministers talking a much more anti-EU rhetoric, the situation for Brussels is not easy. If the EU was to trigger the safeguard clauses that accompanied Romanian accession, would that actually help? On the other hand, with equally shaky politics in Poland, Slovakia and Hungary, would a tough message to Romania from the EU not just look like hypocrisy?

The nEUrosis has an excellent overview focusing on the legitimacy of the whole suspension procedure:

A democracy is based on a clear separation of powers, all of whom bear the same degree of independence. When any of these over-rules the decision taken by another, the premises of democracy are severely affected. When a Parliament dominated by anti-presidential forces decides to over-rule a constitutional advice provided by the highest constitutional authority in the country and assumes constitutional powers the most immediate question is: in which sort of democracy are we living?

Gérard Delaloye, a historian and journalist, thinks that the Romanian constitution should be changed:

The Romanian political class … cannot be spared a drastic revision of the Constitution without plunging the country into anarchy or dictatorship. Furthermore, the current crisis also rests on the exorbitant power of members of parliament, deputies and senators. The electoral system, directly inspired by the communist regime is based on a list ballot of proportional representation where the elected representatives are chosen by the parties, not the voters. Thus, over fifteen years, a parliamentary autocracy has been created which serves its own interests when it is not obsequiously pandering to those of the oligarchs, its backers.

Cristina Viehmann looks at the underlying reasons of the crisis that do not only stem from the personal fight between Tariceanu and Basescu:

But there may be other reasons as well. The president’s reforms were undeniably aimed against the interests of many politicians, many of them belonging to the Social Democrat Party (PSD), which ruled Romania from 1990 until 1996 and again from 2000 to 2004. (…) For many, the PSD symbolizes what Romania was unable to deal with after 1989 – its communist past.

Regarding the anticipated outcome of the referendum she is rather sceptical:

According to opinion polls, Basescu is backed by 50 percent of the electorate and is therefore very likely to win and return to office. But once in power, he will find himself immobilized by the parliament.

However, EurActiv speculates about new parliamentary elections later this year while The nEUrosis sees a light at the end of the tunnel:

The entire political scene might not settle after the referendum in May, but at least one issue could become clearer: president Basescu and the strong reforms advocated by him and his supporters show the right way for Romania, not the economic interests or behind-the-scene political games of those for whom the reform of the Romanian institutions and society exists in theory, but not in practice.

But even new presidential elections would be difficult to win for Basescu according to Catalin Dimofte who sees a certain mood of apathy among voters:

In the end, the assumption of many political analysts that Basescu will easily win early presidential elections may turn out to be false. It relies on a single risky belief, which is that his opponents will not be able to come up with a credible candidate of their own.

….. to be continued…..