Should the Transnistrian tail wag the Bessarabian dog

 

 

Should the Transnistrian tail wag the Bessarabian dog? 

Michael Emerson, Associate Senior Research Fellow, Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS).

 

 

The strategic, geo-political future of Moldova is on the table of the Maastricht meeting of the OSCE foreign ministers on 1-2 December. Literally on the table is a draft constitution of a Federal Republic of Moldova proposed by Russia, following years of unfruitful negotiations sponsored by the OSCE to resolve the problem of Transnistria's unrecognised secession. The text is being promoted diplomatically by Dmitri Kozak, a senior figure on President Putin's staff. The proposal is in parts passable professionalism in the writing of federal constitutions, except that it is distorted by a blatant attempt at power politics to secure for Russia leverage over the whole of Moldova via the proxy role of little Transnistria. The Russian initiative also blatantly bypasses the OSCE, which was meant to have a key mediating role. Moldova, BessaBasarabia and Transnistria BessaBasarabia is usually understood to be the territory bounded by two big rivers flowing into the Black Sea, the Dniestr to the north and the Prut to the south. in 1812 BessaBasarabia was annexed by Russia, but in the wake of the Russian revolution it was able to declare independence in 1918 and unite with Romania. in 1940 the USSR annexed BessaBasarabia and united it today's Transnistria - a very thin piece of land stretching over 200 kilometres along the left bank of the Dniestr - to form the Moldovan Soviet Socialist Republic. The Stalin regime deported about 500,000 Moldovans in the period 1944-1959, while bringing in about 300,00 Russians, the majority settling in Transnistria. in August 1991 Moldova declared its independence upon the collapse of the USSR with, but Transnistria was at the same time seceding from Moldova to remain loyal to collapsing USSR, or at least Russia. This led to a short war in 1991-1992, in which the 14th Soviet/Russian army prevailed over the weaker Moldovan forces. Russian troops have protected Transnistria's de facto secession ever since, despite commitments made to the OSCE to withdraw them. Russia's proposal for a Federal Republic of Moldova This Russian text proposes the basic principles of a new constitution for what would become the Federal Republic of Moldova, consisting of a federal territory and two 'subjects' of the Federation - the Transnistrian Moldovan Republic (Transnistria) and Gagauzia. The federal territory would consist of the rest of Moldova, excluding these two subjects. The term 'asymmetric federation' is being used to describe this proposal, since the federal territory and the two subjects would not have equal status. The federal government would be responsible for both the federation's competences and government of the federal territory. The idea of an asymmetric federation is plausible where the entities are of very unequal size. One can consider as other examples of asymmetric federations the cases of Spain and the United Kingdom, where Catalonia and Scotland respectively have special autonomy compared to the rest of Spain or England. By contrast Belgium is a symmetrical federation, with equal status for the two main communities and regions, and with separate federal and regional tiers of government. Transnistria has in the past argued for equal status with the rest of Moldova, like Northern Cyprus also, but the Russian proposal has shifted Transnistria off this position. For the Federal Republic of Moldova it is proposed that the competences of government be divided into three categories: those of the federation, those of the subjects, and joint competences. There are a large number of important joint competences, as opposed to exclusive competences for each tier of government. This large number of joint competences is a recipe for indecisive or blocked governance, and must be considered a weakness in the proposal. However this weakness is all the more serious when taken together with the electoral and voting rules proposed for the senate. The legislature would have two houses. An orthodox lower house, elected by proportional representation, would pass legislation by simple majority. However all laws would also need the assent of the senate, whose representation would be highly disproportionate: 13 senators elected by the federal lower house, 9 by Transnistria and 4 by Gagauzia. An alliance of the two subjects could block any law. However the voting strength of Transnistria would be even stronger since its representatives in the federal parliament could use their votes to elect some more senators from Transnistria. This disproportion would be even more serious still during a transitional period lasting until 2015, before which federal 'organic laws' could only be passed with a ¾ majority in the senate, where Transniestria would have 34% of the seats, and therefore an outright blocking minority. There is a similar story for the Federal Consitutional Court, which would have 6 judges appointed by the lower house, 4 by Transnistria and 1 by Gagauzia. Until 2015 decisions by the court would require no less than 9 votes, giving again an outright blocking minority to Transnistria. The voting rules are differentiated as between 'organic laws', which regulate joint competences and 'ordinary laws', which regulate federal competences. Both types of laws may be passed by simple majorities of the two houses. Vetos by the senate of ordinary laws may be overridden by a two-thirds majority in the lower house, but vetos of organic laws may not be overridden. Changes in the constitution would require a 4/5 majority in the senate. Problem The potential blocking power of the Transnistrian minority is the essential issue. It is usual for constitutions dealing with proble of secession to give a strongly protected position to the minority groups. It is invariably a highly delicate matter to find a workable balance between the majoritarian principle and that of consensus, or veto powers. However the Russian proposal manifestly goes much too far in giving blocking powers to Transnistria. The problem is all the more serious given that the leadership of Transnistria is an authoritarian regime, backed by omnipresent secret services, which has also acquired an extremely bad reputation for illegal trafficking business of all kinds (drugs, weapons, people). It not usual in asymmetric federations to grant extensive blocking powers to autonomous entities that represent only a small fraction of the total population. For example neither Catalonia nor Scotland can block legislation in the Spanish or UK legislatures, where there is no doubt over the democratic credentials of these autonomies. The normal model is that autonomies enjoy the free exercise of their exceptional powers within their territory, and for their autonomy to be constitutionally guaranteed, but not otherwise to have special powers over federal legislation. Even in the case of Belgium, with absolute political equality between the two main communities, there is only a restricted category of legislation that requires more than a simple majority, and allowing for a veto by one community. One way of improving the present proposal would be to reduce drastically the number of joint competences, and thus the scope of the blocking power of the minorities. This would be crucial for Moldova's European perspectives, since integration with the EU ultimately involves a large amount of legislation in domains that would be joint competences according to the Russian proposal. If Transnistria wanted to block Moldova's European integration ambitions it could easily do so. A complementary method would be to have a much less disproportionate representation in the senate, and/or to have less high qualified majority voting threshholds. It would be more appropriate to reverse the logic of the proposed transition period that gives Transnistria exceptional blocking powers until 2015. The alternative would be for Transnistria not to have exceptional minority powers in the federal legislation until and unless the regime had become sufficiently democratic, which the OSCE might monitor. Reactions President Smirnov of Transnistria has characterised the document as a compromise able to normalise relations between Moldova and Transnistria. However he also wants military guarantees, which are not mentioned in the proposal. He wants a Treaty providing for a Russian military deployment in Moldova for 30 years. President Voronin of Moldova was initially been quoted as giving qualified support for the proposal: "Moldovan society will succeed in finding the optimal solution after studying, discussion and improvement of this document". However several Moldovan opposition parties held an extraordinary session of their Permanent Round Table on 24 November, advocating rejection of the Russian proposal, insisting on unconditional withdrawal of Russian troops from Transnistria, and on EU, US, Romanian and Ukrainian participation in the process. A group of 20 non-government organisations and think tanks signed on 21 November an appeal to the EU, US, Romania and Ukraine to use their influence to stop the Russian proposal, which "purporting to 'resolve' the Transnistria conflict. . . would destroy our state and the existing feeble elements of democracy here". Students have been demonstrating in the streets of Chisinau, brandishing banners such as 'Putin, don't forget, BessaBasarabia is not yours'. The OSCE did not participate in the drafting of the proposal and saw it for the first time on 14 November, before it was formally presented to the principal parties on 17 November. On 24 November a press release of the OSCE indicated that its Chairman-in-Office, the Dutch foreign minister, had told President Voronin that there was no consensus among OSEC member states to support the Russian proposal, which could be an understatement. Dmitri Kozak for Russia has said that "leaders of the Republic of Moldova and of Transnistria are to approve, as soon as possible, the draft of the memorandum". However he has added that "not all points from the memorandum are ideal and acceptable". Kozak also disingenuously sought to clothe his proposal with the European flag. "Without settlement of the Transnistrian problem, the Republic of Moldova will be unable to integrate with the European Union. If the country will unify, then this perspective will appear". But that would depend also upon seriously amending his proposal for the Moldovan constitution, which Mr Kozak presumably appreciates. On 24 November the Moldovan presidential press service announced that President Putin would be visiting Moldova on Tuesday 25 December, expecting that the Kozak memorandum would be signed that day with President Voronin. On 25 November it was announced that President Putin's visit had been cancelled. President Voronin issued a statement on 25 November that: "The plan proposed by the Russian federation is a response to a true compromise between the sides. . . . However the document is of such strategic importance cannot be adopted against the resistance of one or another side. 

 

 Obviously, Moldova's European integration option requires the support of the European organizations, in particular of the OSCE for this settlement plan. . . . Under these conditions Moldova's leadership describes the signing of this memorandum as premature before the coordination of its text with the European organizations". Mr Kozak was reported on 25 November as describing Voronin's refusal to give green light to the memorandum as "illogical", and "lacking in political courage" and "political irresponsibility". Options for Moldova There are choices to be made by all interested parties, first of all by President Voronin of Moldova, who might be reflecting on three possible scenarios. A/ The first one would be to accept the Russian proposal without significant improvement, only to find his country becoming political hostage to the veto powers of an undemocratic Transnistria indefinitely, or at least until 2015. in this case he would be overriding strong opposition at home, which is of course highly undesirable for any such constitutional act. B/ The second scenario would be to succeed in getting sufficient improvements in the memorandum, and then go ahead with re-unification, which could be supported then by all the international community as well. C/ The third scenario would start with an attempt to try to get the essential improvements, which however Russia and/or Transnistria do not agree to. in this case Moldova would suspend the negotiations and aim instead at an accelerated Europeanisation, making an agreement with the European Union to join seriously the South East European integration train without Transnistria. This should lead to improving perspectives for Moldova (Chisinau). The Transnistria regime, which is already in a desperate condition, would further decline and ultimately, maybe in a few years time, collapse. Thereafter re-unification negotiations could resume under more favourable conditions for Moldova with a new and maybe democratic Transnistrian regime. The EU, US and Russia may also be reflecting on these three main possibilities. The EU could do well to make its position clear and credible. Its argument could be in two steps. First, essential improvements to the Russian proposal are necessary for Moldova to have a future in Europe. Second, if the Russian and Transnistrian sides are unreasonable in resisting these, the EU would offer to Moldova (i. e. Chisinau alone) an immediate step into the Stabilisation and Association Agreement process, with perspectives of ultimate EU membership equal to those already extended to the rest of South East Europe, and without preconditions over reunification of Moldova. The EU would also offer conditional incentives to Transnistria, but the conditions would amount to a regime change there. The US would presumably support this proposed EU strategy. The choice is also for Russia, whether to persist in backing a biased and defective constitution, or rather support a democratising, modernising and Europeanising concept for the whole of Moldova with a better proposal, and so to enter into a new phase of cooperation with the EU, the US and the OSCE as a whole in the overlapping near abroads. Already the story is one of Russia having grossly overplayed its hand in trying to bulldozer through a proposal that meets serious opposition in Moldova itself, and dismay in the West over both the method and content of its diplomacy. 

 

 

 

Michael Emerson Should the Transnistrian tail wag the BessaBasarabian dog? Michael Emerson, Associate Senior Research Fellow, Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS). 

 

 

Conclusions: Options for Moldova 

 

There are choices to be made by all interested parties, first of all by President Voronin of Moldova, who might be reflecting on three possible scenarios. A/ The first one would be to accept the Russian proposal without significant improvement, only to find his country becoming political hostage to the veto powers of an undemocratic Transnistria indefinitely, or at least until 2015. in this case he would be overriding strong opposition at home, which is of course highly undesirable for any such constitutional act. B/ The second scenario would be to succeed in getting sufficient improvements in the memorandum, and then go ahead with re-unification, which could be supported then by all the international community as well. C/ The third scenario would start with an attempt to try to get the essential improvements, which however Russia and/or Transnistria do not agree to. in this case Moldova would suspend the negotiations and aim instead at an accelerated Europeanisation, making an agreement with the European Union to join seriously the South East European integration train without Transnistria. This should lead to improving perspectives for Moldova (Chisinau). The Transnistria regime, which is already in a desperate condition, would further decline and ultimately, maybe in a few years time, collapse. Thereafter re-unification negotiations could resume under more favourable conditions for Moldova with a new and maybe democratic Transnistrian regime. The EU, US and Russia may also be reflecting on these three main possibilities. The EU could do well to make its position clear and credible. Its argument could be in two steps. First, essential improvements to the Russian proposal are necessary for Moldova to have a future in Europe. Second, if the Russian and Transnistrian sides are unreasonable in resisting these, the EU would offer to Moldova (i. e. Chisinau alone) an immediate step into the Stabilisation and Association Agreement process, with perspectives of ultimate EU membership equal to those already extended to the rest of South East Europe, and without preconditions over reunification of Moldova. The EU would also offer conditional incentives to Transnistria, but the conditions would amount to a regime change there. The US would presumably support this proposed EU strategy. The choice is also for Russia, whether to persist in backing a biased and defective constitution, or rather support a democratising, modernising and Europeanising concept for the whole of Moldova with a better proposal, and so to enter into a new phase of cooperation with the EU, the US and the OSCE as a whole in the overlapping near abroads. Already the story is one of Russia having grossly overplayed its hand in trying to bulldozer through a proposal that meets serious opposition in Moldova itself, and dismay in the West over both the method and content of its diplomacy. 25 November 2003