Archive for November, 2011

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Stephan Fulle, EaP strategy and civil society

November 30, 2011

These days “civil society” doesn’t really mean “society” at all.  We should be quite honest and state that “civil society” is  defined as NGOs, academics, dissidents and everything else that is not “State” or the “hoy polloy” that constitutes the vast majority of society.

For some reason, established international political institutions in particular, have come to think of “civil society” as representing the “hoy polloy” when their voice is not being recognised by domestic politics, despite “civil society” having no democratic mandate and therefore representative of whom and how many exactly, is sometimes difficult to identify.

It is quite easy to make a case, whether it is a strong case or not, that “civil society” in a great many cases are often no more than lobby groups with narrow interests dressed up something they are not, namely representative of the unheard voice of the masses and acting on their behalf with some form of inferred majority democratic mandate and legitimacy.

Of course there is no problem with engaging with such lobby groups, even those with extremely narrow interests, as they will continue to push domestic governments in those particular areas where the EU has common interest with theirs.  Maybe my dislike for the expression “civil society” is simply based on the fact it is on occasion not civil and often  not representative of much of society either.  Maybe I am being pedantic relating to the label such groups are given, but in politics words and perception matters.

Anyway, Stephan Fulle gave a speech two days ago in Poland to “civil society” from the EaP nations.  Such was the reach of this speech to the “hoy polloy”, that there is no mention of it in the Ukrainian press, despite the fact he didn’t mention Ukraine in a good or bad way other than acknowledging it as an EaP nation!

EU politicians criticising Ukraine are often shown on Ukrainian TV, covered in the press and of course are all over the Internet on Russian and Ukrainian websites.  Ukraine has not got to the point where such things are removed from reaching the masses via State intervention.  Indeed Ukraine is a long way from that point as watching any political debate programme on TV would underline.  Such programmes are live, feisty, attract large national audiences and feature guests from political parties large and small debating with each other, questioned by the press and also by the live audience on occasion.  One could even call it vibrant.

However, returning to Mr Fulle’s speech, whilst he quite rightly identifies Belarus as the current EaP “bad boy” and in particular draws attention to the plight of Ales Byalyatski, again quite rightly, is it not strange in a speech of this kind, he fails to mention Yulia Tymoshenko, particularly as her 51st birthday was the day before and spent in a cell that the EU say she should not be in?

Was she omitted because she is classed as a politician (despite not having held a seat in the RADA for almost 2 years)?  If so then that is fair enough.  She certainly doesn’t qualify as academia or an intellectual, nor NGO or dissident which seems to be the broad definition of “civil society”.  One has to suppose that being the leader of a political party, whilst not being an MP herself, keeps her within the “political class” rather than being a civil activist or just another member of the hoy polloy.

He calls for more talking platforms, promises of another Euro 22 million on top of the last Euro 9 million would seem to once again be building more structures within structures within structures within the EU.  Yet further promises of further funding when yet another internal EU platform is created as well.

All of this whilst he is speaking from an existing platform that managed to gather EaP “civil society” from numerous nations to Poland.  So that platform obviously works!  Why make it more complicated and more costly?  How many platforms does there need to be to engage with “civil society” in any EaP nation?  Do there need to be so many platforms that it becomes deliberately opaque?  How to account fot the Euro millions then?

The EU should be quite relieved that supra-structures are not measured by Transparency International.  One wonders where the EU would sit when their next report is published on 1st December if it did.  Talking of said report, I will be sure to bring you news of Ukraine’s anticipated sliding down the league.

In summary, the EU EaP strategy with regard to “civil society” appears to be delivering a far more complex structure than currently exists and then throwing money at it, in broad terms as highlighted by Mr Fulle.  I suppose that is at least consistent with every other EU policy.

It should be noted that the Ukrainian Tax Code initially outlined by the government was not modified due to Ukrainian political opposition or indeed a formal NGO or civil society group.  Change to the proposed Code came from the biggest Ukrainian demonstration by the public since 2004 (about 10,000 people).

Such demonstrations would suggest that society as a whole has little faith in political opposition, civil society or others (EU) to change matters and that large scale bottom up peaceful protest is the best way for reform.  Fortunately when Ukrainians take to the streets over something they believe in it has been both peaceful and with a narrative that provides alternative solutions.

Great song, wonderful parody, no real alternative solutions or mechanisms for any proposed reforms that are forcefully narrated.  Nevertheless, the link to the video was forwarded by Bianca Jagger and obligingly I will re-post as requested although that does not necessarily infer my personal views on the matter.

Nevertheless, Mr Fulle and civil society should take note that Ukrainian politics takes note of bottom up protest that is A-political by society far more than civil society, regardless of how complex the EU makes any communications systems or the amount of cash the EU throws at civil society.

Maybe civil society should engage the Ukrainian public a lot more actively than it does?  Sitting aloof from the hoy polloy and engaging with Ukrainian and EU politicians alone is no way to garner the support in the numbers necessary to avoid being easily dismissed.  Despite the lack of pointed narrative the Occupy movement manages to convey, they have at least managed to gain support in huge numbers who realise that what they want to be heard is not being heard well enough by the politicians, whatever that is.

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“Essential” Odessa – Odessa City Website

November 29, 2011

As many of you readers know, Odessa City has its own website to promote or record the events in Odessa. On the whole it is not a bad website. A little dated and boring for the site visitor given the funds that could be made available for an upgrade, but then my websites are not exactly exhilarating to the eye and I could of course spend some money on them. Yes I hear you all shouting “Pot and kettle!”

Odessa City is also on twitter (@odessa_ukraine) but not a tweet from them since I have been following it.

Anyway, on the Odessa City website, on the right hand side under the “Announce” block is a section called “Essential” which lists causes for which the city is trying to raise money via public donation. Now of course it is worthy to raise funds to safeguard Russov’s home as an architectural monument and maybe it is not essential but no less worthy to raise funds to erect a statue to Issak Babel (who wrote Tales of Odessa amongst many other famous works), however I cannot help but feel the “Essential” section could be redirected somewhat to benefit those who are alive today and the issues they are facing and about to face.

For example, energy bills have gone up twice under the current government by huge percentages (at IMF insistence) and there is incredible pressure from them to do so again by another 50%. As Ukraine is absolutely terrible at energy conservation which is normally the base of any energy pyramid, let alone energy efficiency you would think it “essential” in view of recent and projected energy price hikes, that the city website at the absolute minimum, have an idiot’s guide to energy conservation and also energy efficiency for both homes and business premises alike.

It is just as essential to find willing citizens or home owner groups to engage with the authorities over both issues and encourage occupants to engage in energy saving technology. It is surely in the long term interests of Ukraine to subsidise energy conservation and efficiency rather than subsidising energy for it to be simply wasted as it currently is.

This is of course but one example that is “essential” to the city looking forwards if current and future Mayor’s wish to avoid being rudely and publicly carpeted each year by the Kyiv administration for not having enough money to pay Naftogaz as their predecessors have been.

There is possibly an endless list of “essential” issues the city could use the “Essential” section for when it comes to public awareness and public engagement that would benefit both public and city administrators if it had the political will to force any issue into the public debate/awareness arena.

There is, after all, no point in achieving 19% of Ukrainian energy from renewable sources as is the goal, if much more than 19% of energy used is wasted. To conserve and be energy efficient must be economically and environmentally “essential” surely?

As I say, this is but one issue the city could and probably should promote under the “Essential” category. Recycling, preventative health awareness etc. are no different to my example and equally essential to the city. They are probably more essential that a statue to Issak Babel that would be lost amongst the other 250 statues in the city when all is said and done.

Maybe it is just me that thinks the “Essential” category is somewhat misaligned?

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Agricultural protectionism in Ukraine

November 28, 2011

Now many economists, of which I am not one, would and do claim that the EU Single Market is fairly protectionist.  The last US Congressional hearing I watched via an Internet link had three US economists telling the panel that the US was also a very protectionist market as well.  I shall of course defer to their professional assessments although I would question the extent to which they are protectionist given the rise of globalisation and the multinational which to all intents and purposes is nation-less but penetrates these domestic markets with incredible ease.

Of course Ukraine has its own interests to protect as well and one such area is agriculture.  The moratorium preventing foreigners owning agricultural land will undoubtedly be extended (again) by the current authorities to 2013 very shortly (and no doubt again after that).  Foreigners will have to continue to lease large areas of Ukrainian agricultural land as they do now for some years to come I suspect rather than own it.

I do find a recent statement from the Ukrainian President quite interesting though.  Whilst in Sumy, he stated that the State will continue to protect the domestic agricultural producers of Ukraine.  He went on to state that he foresaw, as global accessibility grows for the Ukrainian producer/exporter, that a minimum of 15% profits for grain should be a benchmark for the sector.

Clearly the Ukrainian government is keeping a close eye on this sector of Ukrainian economic activity.

How this fits within any DCFTA agreement with the EU I am not sure.  Certainly agriculture was a particularly difficult part of the negotiations, albeit overcome now by all accounts.  To be fair, agricultural policy and the CAP is also a bone of contention within the EU itself and it is their own policy so it is hardly surprising it would have been a difficult area in any DCFTA negotiations.

Maybe this statement flies directly in the face of any DCFTA with the EU.  Not being privy to the agreed text, who am I to know?  AT the very least it would seem to be a suggestion of governmental price fixing in a free market environment.  Whether it goes against the grain with the WTO is also a relevant question, although there are so many governments within the WTO slanting the fair playing field through hidden or overt subsidies to certain sectors, overtly or covertly price fixing or dumping, it is often difficult to see any relevance the WTO has at times.

There have also been recent suggestions, from amongst others the Prime Minister, that Ukraine should consider a joint grain pool with Russia and others on the Black Sea.  These rumours began in earnest after it became clear that Russia will succeed in accession to the WTO at long last.  Are we about to see Ukraine become part of some OPEC-esque grain consortium once Russian WTO membership has been achieved?

Will the 15% profit suggested by President Yanukovych become 20% after discussions with other leaders who may well enter a regional grain pool?  How transparent will such a multinational grain pool be?  It has every possibility of becoming a feeding trough for the corrupt national leaderships.

Is further State interference in the agriculture sector a good or a bad thing?  As a producer, the power of the State behind you seeking 15% profits is no bad thing until you are accurately taxed due to increased State interest in your production.

As an international consumer, what is the profit margin you accept when buying Ukrainian grain and would you feel economically threatened by an OPEC styled grain consortium?

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Ukraine makes it into Ernst & Young Renewables list

November 27, 2011

Unless you are somebody who really follows energy and in particular renewable energy, you probably are not aware that since 2003 Ernst & Young have been creating a quarterly country attractiveness index for renewable energy investors to contemplate.

This month’s quarterly report contains 5 new entrants in the top 40 and Ukraine is one of them, coming in at No32.

The Ukrainian potential is of course less than it could be due to the bureaucracy that also drags it down the WB Ease of Doing Business Report and the more bureaucracy you face in Ukraine, the more “financial incentives” you may wish to pay to expedite your way through the said bureaucracy rather than wait 4 times longer than a competitor by not doing so.  (A reminder to Brits that the Bribery Act 2011 covers any such activities even in Ukraine.)

However, the Ukrainian report, whilst not being ideal does indeed show the potential and also that fact the others have indeed succeeded and also intend to enter the Ukrainian market by the year end.

What is particularly interesting to note is that Ernst & Young not only see evidence of the government’s commitment to reach the 19% of Ukrainian energy generated from renewable by 2030 but also believes it could very well achieve it.

Also of note is the law provides for Green Tariffs, obliges the State to buy green energy by law until 2030 and also obliges the State to insure connection to the grid for renewable energy schemes.

Hardly surprising that Ukraine has come from nowhere and entered the Ernst & Young list despite the bureaucratic hurdles.  Everybody likes a guaranteed buyer when entering a market don’t they?

Also included in the law, and reminding me very much of the principle of “considerate construction” when I worked for Mowlem PLC, is the binding fact that 30% of works, materials and services must be domestically sourced.  This rises to 50% in 2014.     When I worked for Mowlem we also had a policy of 30% minimum local labour, suppliers and services.

The thought behind it was to keep the locals happy despite any inconvenience caused by the work, by providing revenue directly into the local economy.

The thought process behind this part of the law relates to a policy I completely understand and agree with.   Simply parachuting in, doing the job and leaving, without any involvement with the local community, suppliers and available local workforce makes you rather unpopular and can lead to problems.

Whether it needs to be written into the law or could simply be contractually obliged is a matter for debate or judgement, however the principle is sound and for once, as it is written into the law, it is at least transparent and no surprises are install in this regard.

Anyway, for those interested in renewable energy, it will now be interesting to follow the Ernst & Young quarterly report to see if Ukraine climbs or drops out of it.

Time will tell, but for now, a step in the right direction for Ukraine as far as long term planning and political will are concerned.  It would still be far better off concerning itself with energy efficiency in the immediate term as in that regard it must be one of the world’s biggest sinners.

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US Citizen travel alert – Ukraine

November 26, 2011

On Thursday (US Thanksgiving) I spent more than a few hours in the company of an American friend who lives in Odessa.  He is quite definitely the only non-native I spend any time with, and that time consists of a few hours a month on average.  Give or take, we have lived here for about the same number of years permanently.  He arrived from Iraq and I from Moscow within a couple of months of each other.

He has brought to my attention, with no amount of incredulity I would add, the latest US citizens travel alert which states:

“The US Embassy in Kyiv informs US citizens that recent instances of violence in Ukraine provide a stark reminder that  everyone should take steps to maintain awareness and ensure personal security.  There have been incidents apparently connected with business disputes as well as extortion demands against government authorities.  On Saturday November 19, 2011, an improvised explosive device (IED) exploded in a basement parking garage in Kyiv.  Additionally, in the last year several IED incidents apparently related to extortion have occured, including an incident in Dnepropetrovsk on November 16 where one person was killed.  The possible threat of additional IED attacks in Ukraine cannot be discounted.  Attacks could target official or private interests.

Although these attacks have not targets US citizens, the embassy advises US citizens in Ukraine to maintain a high level of vigilance and to take appropriate steps to increase their personal security awareness.  You should report any  suspicious activity to local authorities.”

As I said above, my American friend has found this warning somewhat incredulous to put it mildly.  To quote a few comments that are repeatable in polite circles, he stated “A couple of IEDs in Ukraine, completely unrelated to  Americans and whoa, freakin’ A, all you American citizens out there tremble!”

He went on to say, “Warning – Living is hazardous to your health” and further, “Keep an eye out for people who look like they work for or who may be contracted by the US Government carrying suspicious packages, especially Pizza Hut containers, as there is more to fear from the US Government than anything in Ukraine.” 

Now several issues come to mind with this USG alert.  Firstly, Ukraine and Ukrainians are nowhere near as paranoid as Americans, naturally, as Ukraine doesn’t involve itself in causing a stir in far off lands unless under the UN Peacekeeping missions which are in far off lands by invitation of hosting national governments.  If a Ukrainian sees an unaccompanied package they are far more likely to look inside it or ignore it than they are to call in the bomb squad.

Secondly, the US Embassy is quite correct that most murders, be it exploding lifts, exploding cars or shootings are business dispute related.  You will recall that on January 6th I asked if Odessa had managed the feat of the first business/politics assassination of the year.

On average, every year since I have lived here, Odessa manages 2 or 3 business/political (and they are one and the same) murders/attempted murders each year, either with IED or gun.  Generally such acts are carried out quite professionally and very few if any “innocents” are ever hurt.

Both my American friend and I, collectively with almost 2 decades of time in Odessa, have never seen or heard a single gun shot or been anywhere near an IED that has gone off.  Such instances are few and far between despite the reputation of the Odessa mafia and criminal underworld and despite neither my US friend or I living in some form of Expat gated community separating us from real life in Odessa.

The next consideration, according to my US friend, is how, exactly, does a US citizen inform the local authorities when (according to him) most Americans he knows in Ukraine cannot speak Russian or Ukrainian and most of the authorities cannot speak English.  Just how many times does it take for neurotic US citizens, calling the authorities over an empty and forgotten sandwich box on a park bench at the behest of the US Embassy Kyiv, before they simply take no notice or start to look at the US citizenry for wasting the time of the authorities?  He asked.

Indeed a very good point.  There is the “Peter and the wolf” scenario to be considered before embassies overtly encourage foreign citizens to attempt to communicate with Russian/Ukrainian only speaking authorities over empty food containers on park benches or in the corners of a parking garage.

He feels, quite obviously, that the US Embassy is overreacting, which he says is nothing new for the US government (of any colour).  He also wonders if the Ukrainian embassies in the US warn all visiting Ukrainians that there is an exponentially higher chance of being shot than in Ukraine.  I had a quick look and found no such warning.

Anyway, there you have it.  All you US citizens coming to Ukraine should be aware that business disputes are occasionally settled in a brutal manner, which as I say, is not anything new.  Thus far, whether you are vigilant or not, I have found no historical evidence of a US citizen managing to get hurt in any such activities within the nefarious business community of Ukraine.

Ergo, whether you are indeed alert or completely oblivious to your surroundings, statistically as far as I have been able to establish, it doesn’t make any difference, as the collateral damage incurred by way of dead or injured US citizens is precisely zero in such instances.

Now for the practicalities of reporting something suspicious for the vast majority of US citizens in Ukraine who can’t speak Russian or Ukrainian.  If you need to use Google translate or similar, obviously you prove my point:

Ring, ring….ring ring…..

“алло милиция ”

“Oh, yes, um, hello.  Very sorry, don’t speak your language but  I am calling to inform you that there is a suspicious package on a park bench at the Peoples’ Friendship Park”

“алло алло?  я не говорю по англиский.  что ты хочешь?”

“Um hello, yes there is a suspicious package at the Peoples’ Friendship Park and my embassy told me to report it to you”

“Embassy?  Embassy, embassy hmm……Ah! я мелиция не консульство понемаешь я не консульство”

“Yes the embassy told me to inform you of anything suspicious”

“ты тупой или что?  я не консульство долбоеб я милиция”

“Yes so if you could send somebody over you will see this package on the bench near the entrance”

“слушай дурак я милиция и не понимаю что ты говоришь.  ты на украине сеичас.  гоаори по русски или украински ты игнорированный американский козел.  когда я в америке ты захочешь я говорю на английском конечно, почему ты не говоришь на моем языке в моей стране?”

“Ok thanks, so you’ll send somebody then?  Um…..bye”

“все я не буду слушать тебя.  я не понимаю тебя тупой и ты думаешь я понял что ты сказал.  учи мой ебаный язык!”

Not really going to work out that well in practice is it!

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Ukraine and the CEI Presidency

November 25, 2011

Well, fresh out of the Presidency of the Council of Europe, Ukraine takes over the Presidency of the CEI in 2012.

Yes, I know you have never heard of the CEI.  The CEI is the Central European Initiative and its role is rather multifaceted but all directed towards the EU.  It is made of of some existing EU Member States and quite a few hopefuls.  I think it fair to say that certainly the Western Balkan nations will eventually gain EU Member Status if the EU survives that long.

With this Presidency looming, Ukraine has been preparing.

As with all Presidency’s, Ukraine gets the opportunity to champion its own priorities within the organisation as well as generally steering the group along preexisting paths.  What are the Ukrainian priorities?

The ESDR (European Strategy for the Danube Region) appears to be one.  I am not sure about any others at the moment.  I have written about the Danube region before when Hungary held the EU Presidency.  The Danube Delta is a quite beautiful place and well worth a visit for those who appreciate natural beauty ecology and environments.

So what is the ESDR all about?

Its purpose is to improve connectivity and communications in the Danube region, protect the Danube environment and encourage socio-economic, human and institutional development – in a nutshell.

I’ll go along with that as a Ukrainian priority for this organisation during the Ukrainian presidency as the Danube is of interest to at least ten nations and what affects the Danube will affect them all,  Ukraine is not best known for its careful handling of its natural environment.  Actually maybe that is a little unfair.  Ukraine is better known for its Soviet inherited environmental disasters than its more considerate handling of the environment and ecology today.  The Danube Delta is well worth protecting and home to some quite unique ecosystems.

The Danube Delta also happens to be in the same Olbast (County) as me, so of course I am always pleased when it gets highlighted to our international neighbours.

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Open mouth, insert foot – Ukraine’s General Prosecutor

November 24, 2011

One wonders how long Ukraine’s General Prosecutor, Rinat Kuzmin, will remain in post.  He will not be removed by external influence by the EU over the process of Ms Tymoshenko’s court case.  After all, he was not the judge that was in charge of the process.

He is also responsible for the investigation into ex-President Kushma and the murder of  Gongadze.

So why is his position less secure to day than it was last week?

Well, whilst in Brussels two days ago, he was asked by the press why President Yanukovych was not under investigation relating to his mansion, currently being turned into a palace, whilst declaring an income of $150,000 per year.

To be fair, all Ukrainian politicians lie on their tax returns of course.  Ms Tymoshenko declared $30,000, no car, no property and yet wears Luis Vitton, has property in London and is driven around in a top of the range Mercedes.

Anyway in response to how the President is turning his mansion into a palace on such a small income, he replied, “”To you as a journalist who is interested in this topic, I would recommend to present an official information request, with accompanying documents, and to transmit it to the prosecutor’s office. We will examine your request and provide written answers.”

When further asked about another obviously nefarious deal relating to an oil rig for which the Ukrainian government recently paid $150 million more than current market value, he replied, “I would like to repeat, if the investigative department receives your information about the rig we are ready to examine it … Don’t be shy. Send a request.

Now when faced with such questions in Brussels rather than Ukraine, you would expect that the western press will certainly take him up on that challenge, even if the Ukrainian press don’t.  I expect the Ukrainian press will take up the challenge though, particularly after being invited to do so by the Prosecutor General.

One has to ask why there has been no investigation into the oil rig deal as even President Yanukovych asked for an investigation at the time by the Presidential Administration (rather than the Prosecutor General).  It maybe there is good reason why the rig was bought at such a huge figure over and above market value.  There probably isn’t though and somebody or somebodies within the current government received large backhanders out of the deal one way or another.

Anyway, having invited the international and Ukrainian media to submit the appropriate requests to investigate both the President and the oil rig deal, one has to anticipate the solid ground Mr Kuzmin walked upon until his statements on the 22nd November, may now no longer be as solid.

Step forward the international investigative journalists and do what you often do so well.

Let’s see how Ukraine’s Prosecutor General reacts when inundated with investigative requests over his President and one of the most powerful Ministries in Ukraine (Energy).  One can only assume that the Prosecutor General will come to regret such statements in Brussels.

A case of mouth open and foot firmly planted?

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