Without any pressure from official Moscow

After a year of studying federal relations in Russia, European experts published their report last week. The experts claim that centralization of power in the hands of the Kremlin (abolition of direct gubernatorial elections and other suchlike measures) had a “positive effect” on the situation in Russia.

Paradoxically, but experts of the European Union drew this conclusion without any pressure from official Moscow. In the meantime, the survey in question had been arranged with help from the Russian authorities. The presidential administration appealed to the EU mission in Russia for recommendations on facilitation of federalism in the country four years ago. The EU was happy to oblige and organized a contest for realization of the project Federalism and Federal Relations in Russia within the framework of the TACIS program.

The contest was won by a consortium including companies Arcadis BMB (Holland) and GOPA (Germany), Association of Dutch Municipalities VNG International, and the Russian Institute of Law and Public Politics. Sponsored by the EU, the two-year project worth 2.9 million euros began in December 2004. The first year of studies resulted in appearance of the document titled “Institutional, legal, and economic federalism in the Russian Federation”. The Kremlin’s Legal Department is studying it nowadays. “Some of the recommendations will take the form of amendments to the acting legislation. Some others will be turned over to lawmakers themselves. Let them think about how they may be used,” to quote Oleg Tarasov, adviser to the Legal Department.

EU experts are unanimous in their conviction that “the concentration of powers and resources in the federal center that have taken place from 2003-2005 had a positive effect on the sociopolitical and socioeconomic situation in Russia.” The conclusion is startling. Authors of the document essentially backed “the new procedure of election of the heads of Federation subjects” which they say “stifled regional leaders’ objections” to the new regional policy and “reinforced the center’s image.”

The analysts believe as well that reinforcement of the power vertical led to positive results in the socioeconomic and administrative spheres. Rearrangement of spheres of responsibility for instance helped “with stabilization in the sphere of social grants and subsidies, with realization of major social programs, and with modernization of the whole social sphere.” The reforms “formed a more precise, unequivocal, and specific structure of powers on different levels of state management”. The process did not always concur with basic principles of federalism (experts admit that much) but it proceeded in what they called “a correct and vital direction.”

“The state has never wielded so considerable clout yet,” expert Vladimir Leksin said. “It is the president and his administration, his State Council, and his plenipotentiary envoys in federal regions that comprise the state nowadays. As for the Finance Ministry, this may be compared with the former KGB. The presidential administration has seized the legislative initiative lost by the Duma and the Federation Council…” According to Leksin, some politicians interpret it as “Russia’s transformation into a unitary state” but he himself believes that the strengthening of the state power in the regions is “justified”. First, “it is the federal legislation itself that demands presence of the state to a certain extent.” Second, “centripetal moods prevailing in the country and the ideology itself of centrism” promote it. Third, “it is provoked by emergencies in some territories.”

Authors of the report emphasize as another accomplishment the fact that rearrangement of powers initiated by the Kremlin partially abolished “confrontation between the federal center and Federation subjects.” Leksin claims that “expansion of the powers of the regions needs some legislative backing yet” and that is precisely why EU experts drafted a number of recommendations for Russia to follow, the recommendations that do not challenge basic principles of Russian federal reforms.

Whenever authors of the document object to anything, it is collisions between the legislation and how the reforms are implemented in practice. They point out for example that the administrative reforms are actively under way only in Moscow while executive power structures in the regions remain essentially unchanged. Experts warn that “a critical misbalance of the integral state power structure may occur after 2006.”

“There are certain conflicting tendencies,” to quote Yuri Tikhomirov, Senior Deputy Director of the Institute of Legislation and Comparative Law. “Reorganization of the judicial system was not even over when the federative and administrative reforms were initiated. All of that is crowned with national projects now. The state is a complex system and we are casting away its functions now. Constitutional powers are turned over to the regions. The system has become absolutely incomprehensible now. We’ve lost the art of state management.”

Recommendations on ways and means of correcting the flaws take 13 pages. They do not say a word on the necessity to abolish the existing procedures of appointment of governors or return (even eventually) to direct gubernatorial elections. Authors of the recommendations mostly concentrate on nuances of distribution of powers and finances.

Along with everything else, Europeans advise Russia to improve budget relations, set up a mechanism of settling disputes between the federal center and the regions, and include regional parliaments into the process of discussion of federal laws by the Duma. Representatives of both houses of the parliament, Constitutional Court, research centers, and presidential administration became acquainted with the recommendations but do not yet know which of them might be followed.

In the meantime, even European experts seem to understand where all decisions in Russia are made. “Federal relations in Russia may be improved and developed,” Project Director Peter Crosby said. “Federal relations boil down to the authorities’ ability to reach agreements and cooperate. Russia lacks this ability at this point but it can be learned. We’ve forwarded the recommendations to the Legal Department of the presidential administration. Everything is up to them now.”

Previous articleWORD BY WORD
Next articleEXHAUSTED