Archive for May, 2013

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EU sponsored education on the Danube Delta

May 24, 2013

A short entry today owing to technical issues and my woeful IT skills which manage to lose a fair amount of pending material, including what had been written yesterday for publishing today.

Anyway, I have written here and here  about the quite beautiful and unique natural environment of the Danube Delta before, relating to the EU Action Plan for th Danube and Danube region.

Nothing I can write will do justice to just how special that environment is – so I won’t try.

As the saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt – so it is encouraging to note that the EU has spent a few Euros to gather together schools, teachers and students from Ukraine, Moldova and Romania, all of whom have regions that share the Danube Delta, in an effort to expand and appreciate the surroundings they live within, under the umbrella of the EU ENRTP programme.

A project I refuse to decry, despite the fact others will undoubtedly consider it a waste or EU funds.

 

 

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Insuring failure – Ukrainian opposition

May 23, 2013

Now if you happen to be the opposition – ergo the minority – in any parliament, it goes without saying that getting the laws you support passed – or those you are against to fail – requires party discipline to insure the maximum turnout at any such vote, as well as erosive lobbying of those within the majority to gain support that goes against their party line.

Very difficult in any parliament and it is certainly not easy in a corrupt and self-serving cesspit  such as the Ukrainian RADA.

I have written previously of the critical and headline votes that the opposition could have won had they the discipline to insure their party members turned up to work as they are paid to do.  However snatching defeat from the jaws of victory is becoming something of an unofficial policy for the “United Opposition”.

After such public leadership and party disciplinary failures that caused the opposition to lose all 4 headline votes in the above link, you would think that thereafter the mandatory attendance of all opposition MPs would have been required by parties when bills they sponsor or support are up for vote.

After all what harm could the occasional victory over the government do for their image and the public perception of their effectiveness – let alone display weakness within the majority coalition occasionally?

And yet, Anatoliy Grychenko, a leader within the United Opposition on the Batkivshchyna Party list, now almost daily decries the fact that party discipline is non-existent, together with party leadership being noticeable by its absence.

Анатолій Гриценко
Опозиція має відрізнятися від влади!

Сьогодні Рада провалила два проекти опозиції. Опозиція допомогла їх провалити.

1) проект 2126 – про зарахування екологічного податку до бюджетів місцевих Рад. Логічний і правильний. Внесла Свобода, Сех. Опозиція активно агітує за підтримку. Голосування: Батьківщина – мінус 30 голосів, УДАР – мінус 15, Свобода – мінус 5 голосів. Разом – мінус 50 голосів!

2) проект 2503 – про охорону тварин і рослин від винищення браконьєрами. Логічний і правильний. Внесла Батьківщина, Томенко. Опозиція активно агітує за підтримку. Голосування: Батьківщина – мінус 42 голоси, УДАР – мінус 16, Свобода – мінус 4 голоси. Разом – мінус 62 голоси.

3) проект 2149 – зараз розглядається. Про адміністративні послуги, теж від опозиції, УДАР, Продан – результат буде аналогічним, а то ще й гіршим, бо в секторі опозиції все більше пустих крісел.

Не може бути виправдання такій недисциплінованості й безвідповідальності депутатів. Сектор влади теж напівпустий, але влада мене менше турбує. Турбує те, що опозиція – діє так само, а мала би задати інший стандарт поведінки. Говорю про це вождям і депутатам майже щодня. По барабану. Біда…

To save you translating, an environmental taxation bill (566) aimed at funneling environmental taxes to local government rather than central government, and vigorously supported by the opposition, failed because 30 Batkivshchyna MPs did not turn up to vote, neither did 15 from UDAR and another 5 from Svoboda.  A total of 50 opposition votes missing from a bill the opposition wanted to pass.

Bill 2503, drawn up by Mikola Tomenko relating to the protection of flora and fauna.  Tomenko is a man who sits amongst the elite of the elite in the Batkivshchyna Party and his bill faired even worse.  Despite his position in the party hierarchy, 40 of his fellow Batkivshchyna MPs, almost all of which his junior in both parliamentary longevity, party position and most importantly political ability, were absent.  Add to this another 16 missing from UDAR and 4 missing from Svoboda and that is a total of 62 opposition votes AWOL for one of their own pieces of legislature up for the vote!

Grychenko rightly summarises that there can be no excuse for such indiscipline and irresponsibility that the United Opposition is consistently displaying – quite rightly.  As he states, complaints about opposition leadership and deputies within are now an almost daily occurrence from within its own ranks.

Fair play to him for stating the obvious- not that the disunity within the opposition is a closely guarded secret.  It is obvious to anybody who cares to look amongst either the leadership, the rank and file, or both.

Leadership-less, discipline-less, rudderless and feckless – As far as the Ukrainian public and EU are concerned, this coalition will once again turn out to be hopeless – whether it regains power or remains in opposition.

So terribly sad that they cannot even muster being an effective opposition, as that would at least assist giving some credibility to any opposition presidential candidate – and whilst Ukraine is no doubt capable of suffering another Yanukovych term, one has to hope it won’t have to.

– And before I am asked who I would prefer to see as the next president of Ukraine – whilst it may read like anybody other than the present incumbent or Yulia Tymoshenko – it’s not – at least not quite.  In no particular order:

Klitschko (UDAR leader) – likely to run and likely to reach the second round if there is one according to current opinion polls

Tomenko (Batkivshchyna) – very unlikely to run which is a shame as he is a very competent politician

Poroshenko (Independent) – may run but will not get the votes his experience deserves

Grychenko (Batkivshchyna) – very unlikely to run as not enough support at the ballot box despite TV popularity in debates

In the unlikely event of an internal Party Regions competitor:

Serhey Tigipko

You see, if I had listed those who I would not want to see as the next president, the likes Yanukovych, Tymoshenko, Tyahnybok, Yatseniuk and the vast majority of each of the parties hierarchy, it would have been a very long list indeed!

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But what if the Association Agreement gets signed?

May 22, 2013

Much has been said and written about the EU-Ukrainian Association Agreement and DCFTA.  Much has been said and written about how it would necessarily anchor Ukrainian policy within the EU normative.  Much has been said and written about whether – or not – the Association Agreement will be signed in November.

But what if it does get signed – apart from the much repeated long term economic benefits to Ukraine – not to mention short term geopolitical victory for the EU (and perhaps Ukraine depending on your point of view) – where does democracy fit into this equation in a relationship with an EU in flux which seems to simply add layers of complexity where they are not needed but ignoring necessary layers of complexity where they are required?

There are already nations outside the EU that are in the European Economic Area (EEA) such as Switzerland and Norway which in short are effectively regulated and somewhat controlled by the EU through decisions relating to the single market, without having the voting or veto rights of full EU membership – EU-Lite for want of a better expression.

Debate rages in the UK over EU withdrawal – or not – and a much mentioned issue is the de facto issue that by leaving it would put the UK in a very similar position to the EEA nations – whereby a certain amount of arbitrary compliance will be necessary for trade without any voting rights over the rules and regulations that come with compliance.

And so, taking that issue one constituency further from the centre, to the most ambitious agreement ever attempted between the EU and an external State (Ukraine) – where does that leave Ukraine should the Association Agreement and DCFTA get signed?  A position that is likely to be effectively EU Lite-lite or EEA-Lite.

It will be left to implement EU and EEA rules and regulations without any voting rights whatsoever over EU or EEA decisions.

It is hardly likely when lobbying the Ukrainian cause without any robust voting or veto rights, that Ukraine will change EU minds when future decisions change the EU internal political/trading/economic environment to which it may have signed up to.  28 internal nations will have already agreed – what chance an EU Lite-lite nation making any impact on that decision?

If the decision is made that all bread sold within the EU must be coloured green, then any Ukrainian bread imports into the EU would have to be green, whether Ukraine can make green bread or not – or whether it can do so cost-effectively – to make a point in a rather juvenile way.

Basically, if the EEA (EU-Lite) is a constituency without democratic normative tools to influence the EU, then what is equivalent to being EU-Lite-lite – should the agreements be signed – is no different.

Should these documents be signed and all content within effectively implemented by Ukraine, it will be as close to being an EEA nation without being an EEA nation as is possible – part of a constituency with no effective democratic tool box or representation within the EU.

The more integrated it becomes in that EEA or EU constituency, the more Brussels decisions with impact within Ukraine will seem undemocratic to the Ukrainian society – a society already desperately clinging on to democratic ideology despite seeing absolutely nothing delivered by the democratic system since 1991.

How can this be overcome when there are no explicit promises of accepting Ukraine into the EU other than vague references to Article 49 of the Treaty of the European Union?

An EU-Ukrainian council in which, should no agreement be reached, a third party with a decisive vote in case of deadlock – the EEA nations perhaps, in the form of the EEA Council – can settle matters?

If not that way, or in cases of appeal, who would act as the final court if legal challenges were made?  The ECJ or another jurisdiction?

How do you deal with an effectively enlarged constituency when denying it the basic rights of the democratic tool box and representation to rules and regulations are made by the core?

After all this is not a simple matter of bilateral relations – nothing is simple when it comes the EU foreign policy!

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A day with the “Beeb”

May 21, 2013

A very short entry today as I have spent the day filming with the BBC talking drug and human trafficking, smuggling and counterfeit goods in Odessa – naturally I will eagerly await my BAFTA nomination!

So having spent the day talking trafficking routes in and out of Odessa and more broadly Ukraine – and basically stating the obvious, in that serious and organised crime will always choose the route of least resistance – and Ukraine is probably not as robust as the EU States when it comes to preventing entry or egress of illicit “goods” on the European continent, it is perhaps good timing that today, an announcement of the opening of Odessa Port’s new terminal will be in Autumn 2013 – an absolutely necessary economic infrastructure addition in respect of legitimate trade – but also another point of weakness in a somewhat porous and very large international land and sea Odessa border.

With such a large international land and sea border, how can Odessa be anything other than porous and a route of least resistance for serious and organised crime?

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The symbolic signing of nothing special

May 19, 2013

There is much to be said for symbolism.

It can be inspiring, it can be unifying, it can be a moment of hope or defiance that ignites the courage of others – in short, it can have impact.

It can also be completely empty of meaning, condescending, devoid of rationale and ultimately, pointless in the extreme.

And so, 18th May brought to an end the 2 month “Rise Ukraine” strategy of the United Opposition – Batkivshchyna, UDAR and Svoboda parties – in Kyiv.

After countless rallies in numerous (opposition friendly) cities drawing crowds of a few thousand people each time – worryingly low numbers if you are an opposition party leader to be blunt – the finale in Kyiv attracted a only few thousands people once again.

I would have expected for 10,000 – 15,000 after months of rallies leading up to a well publicised finale – and even that number would be disappointing.

All the issues I raised in the above link back in March have proven to come to fruition – not that it would take anybody with a modicum of common sense and even the most basic understanding of Ukrainian politics and society any effort to come to that same conclusion.

When adding all the reported attendance numbers from all the rallies over the past 2 months, it doesn’t even get close to the gate numbers of Manchester United playing an average team on a very wet and cold Tuesday night at Old Trafford.

To be quite honest I still have no idea why the opposition embarked on such a strategy that was so clearly doomed to failure.  I still cannot deduce why I was asked to “rise” over the past 2 months just to now sit back down again – possibly until October 2015 when the next presidential elections are due.

There has certainly been no impact or identifiable causal effect from the “Rise Ukraine” campaign, other than to identify just how few people the opposition parties have managed to turn out during this time.

Hmmm.

Anyway, back to today’s “Rise Ukraine” (anti)climax of the 2 month campaign, which saw the opposition party leaders sign a joint agreement in front of a pitiful crowd of about 4,ooo people relating to the presidential elections in 2015.

This agreement states that all opposition parties will support any opposition candidate that makes it to the second round of voting in the presidential elections.

That is a significant change in rhetoric from the past few months where is has been consistently claimed that a single nominee from the United Opposition would run.

Now it seems rather than a single opposition candidate to run against the current incumbent from the very beginning of any presidential election campaign (in the first round), the opposition leaders have failed (unsurprisingly) to agree on one of them running for the top job with the unified support of the others from the off.

Thus the plan after the least popular two have been eliminated in the first round of voting, leaving one to go head to head with Yanukovych, is to then unite behind their last man standing for the second round of voting.  A cozy little agreement granted – but will the opposition voters turn out in sufficient number in the second round to vote for a candidate that is not the man they voted for, not from a party they voted for, and does not share the same ideology as the man and party they voted for in the first round only a few weeks previously?

As Klitschko never seems to tire of saying, there are ideological differences between himself, Yatseniuk and Tyahnybok, and the parties they lead.  That is also true of their supporters differing ideologies.

Time will tell if opposition unification around a single presidential candidate after the first round of voting, rather than prior to any voting, will prove to be a sound strategy – I have serious doubts that it is a good strategy, although I also have serious doubts (at the time of writing), that Yatseniuk, Klitschko or Tyahnybok will beat Yanukovych anyway (even with full transparency and on a level playing field – which they may not get).

And so to the impact and underlying realities of the symbolic signing of the joint statement of opposition leaders,  pledging to support each – other only when they themselves have been eliminated from the presidential race.

The underlying  and sad reality is, there is little genuine unity amongst the opposition.  The impact of this agreement is almost zero, given that when all is said and done, ultimately, the public will be faced with the choice between Yanukovych or another in the second round of voting – opposition agreement or not.

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On a completely different subject, there will probably be nothing from me tomorrow as I am doing something for the BBC – and their filming may take some time as I am not a great fan of being on camera, so single takes are very unlikely.   Thus I doubt I will have the time or interest to blog after being “Beeb’d” all day.

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Asylum, Schengen and proportional representation

May 18, 2013

Now here is an interesting little story – somewhat comical to a degree – which leads nicely into Ukrainian voting systems.

Andriy Shkil, a former Batkivshchnya (BYuT) MP of the previous parliament, has been refused asylum by the Czech Republic, a nation well known for granting asylum via the historical legacy of Vaclav Havel who rarely turned an application down.

Why did the Czech Republic refuse his application for asylum?

The answer lays within the Schengen Visa system.

Although free to travel anywhere within the Schengen area once a Ukrainian has a Schengen Visa, they have to enter and egress the Schengen zone via the specific nation that granted the Visa.  If Poland granted the Visa, a Ukrainian who wanted to visit Italy for example, would have to travel there and back via Poland.

Personally I don’t know a Ukrainian who isn’t aware of the rules – although undoubtedly there will be some.

Logic would dictate, following on from such basic rules, that if an individual is going to claim asylum somewhere within the EU, that also will necessarily need to occur in the nation that issued the Visa, rather than seeking asylum in any EU nation an individual may take a fancy to.  Ultimately, a nation issuing a Schengen Visa must have some responsibility for their decision to grant – or not – an individual entry, for it is their decision and not that of any other Schengen area state who may well have made a different decision.

And so, in a way, it is rather comical that a one-time parliamentarian – an individual supposedly bright enough to have been trusted in creating and supporting – or not – Ukrainian legislature, has tried to claim asylum in the Czech Republic on a Schengen Visa issued by France.

Naturally, had Mr Shkil been reelected to the current parliament, he would not be seeking asylum anywhere but enjoying the immunity and impunity being an MP brings – and the fact he is not in parliament today it is not because he was beaten in any constituency seat, but rather due to his very lowly place on the Batkivshchnya Party list when it comes to proportional representation.

The Ukrainian electoral system is a mixed electoral system where 50% of MPs are those who take office through what is officially called Single Member District Plurality (or First Past The Post as most would recognise it), and 50% of MP seats are in parliament due to how high they are placed on their party list vis a vis the percentage of the vote their party gets.

Naturally all the top places on party lists go to the leaders to insure their place in parliament without having to go through the rigors of actually standing against another in the first past the post system in a constituency seat – as they may lose and that would never do!

Placed at 87 on the Batkivshchyna Party list, either Mr Shkil was not willing to pay enough to those who make the party lists to be placed higher, or he was such a poor performer during his tenure that his placing was deliberately done to insure he would not return to parliament.  Given the high number of poor performers on most party lists, he was either simply out bid or truly useless beyond comprehension.

Anybody on party lists lower than position 50 are in a precarious position and are certainly not assured of representing a party in parliament.  87th on a party list is a clear signal you will not get your nose in the RADA trough.

Even if we look at the ways of manipulating the proportional representation part of the vote, 87th place would simply not have been high enough to reasonably expect a return to the RADA.

If we look at the independent form of mixed electoral systems, then the 50% of first past the post seats run completely separately and in parallel to the proportional representation 50%.  This system can lead, for example, to a party winning all the constituency seats and then half of the 50% of seats allocated by proportional representation – thus giving a party 75% of the parliamentary seats.

Alternatively there is the dependent mixed electoral system, whereby proportional representation places parameters on the system, thus is therefore somewhat dominant over first past the post.  For example if a party wins 40% of the national vote, then their party members who win their seats through the first past the post constituency elections take their seats, followed by a remainder from the party list until it reaches the 40% of the popular vote it won.

Yes there are occasions under the dependent system whereby a party may win more seats in the first past the post constituency seat elections, than it should hold under its share of the proportional vote count.  Should that be the case, these “overhanging” seats in excess of the proportional vote are honoured and the parliament extends to accommodate the additional MPs for that session – whilst everybody else is represented by their proportional share of the vote.

None of this would have helped Mr Shkil at such a lowly place on the Batkivshchnya Party list – and neither would manipulating the size of voting districts – as Ukraine, for the purposes of its proportional representation, is seen as one big district rather than allocations on a proportional basis by Oblast (county) level.

Quite simply, the smaller the district, the smaller the number of proportional seats available, and thus the higher the percentage of the vote needed to win a seat.  The larger the district, the more proportional seats available, the lower the percentage of the vote needed to win a seat – not rocket science (albeit political science summed up by the formula X  1/(X+1)).

Anyway, enough of that academic waffle – Mr Shkil is now in France duly seeking asylum there.  The question is, will France grant it given that it is not normally that accommodating compared to the Czech Republic – a nation that was obviously Mr Shkil’s first choice when submitting his asylum application.

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A mixed day for the Ukrainian Ministry of Health

May 17, 2013

A day of contrasts for the Ukrainian Ministry of Health on Wednesday – albeit one with symptoms that runs through the current government.

Firstly and in a move lauded by Human Rights Watch, the decision to approve easier access and dispensing of pain killing drugs such as morphine to terminally ill people was approved.

“This is a major advance, ensuring that Ukraine’s drug policy addresses the legitimate needs for medical opiates for pain relief.  Tens of thousands of patients who are in pain will benefit from this reform.” – Diederik Loham, Human Rights Watch

Some pain relief for a nation all too often decried for its human rights issues.

Thus it should have been a good day for those within the Health Ministry, and in particular the Health Minister Raisa Bogatyryova.

Raisa Bogatyryova

Raisa Bogatyryova

However whilst Human Rights Watch was quite properly lauding the aforementioned decision, the cancer called corruption, a systemic disease that cannot have the pain dulled by morphine, was simultaneously being called to account in relation to the Health Ministry by the RADA.

With the Communist Party unusually siding with the opposition, a vote was taken and passed to create a parliamentary committee and inquiry into corruption within the Health Ministry and opaque purchases of UAH 203.48 million of drugs from certain companies.

One has to strongly suspect that once the biopsy of the opaque drug purchases has been made, more than a hint of corruption will be found in the system of the Health Ministry.

The question then arises over whether the infected parts can or will be efficiently surgically removed and if so, whether remission will be a long lasting result.

Sadly, I fear not!

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