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The case of Renato Usatii as a symbol of a 'captured state' in #Moldova

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Over the past six years Moldova has undergone a tragic transition from being hailed as the “success story” of the EU's much-vaunted Eastern Partnership to what Thorbjorn Jagland, secretary general of the Council of Europe, has branded a “captured state”,
writes Colin Stevens.

Moldova also face the prospect of being a “failed state”, in the same company as North Korea, if its young democratic system remains in the hands of oligarchs, including the all-powerful business tycoon Vlad Plahotniuc (pictured), the man who effectively rules the country.

He is accused of using the instruments of power, which are totally under his control, to suppress opposition forces through arbitrary arrests, blackmailing and fabricated lawsuits.

In particular Plahotniuc wants to get rid of the leader of “Our Party” and the mayor of Beltsi, Renato Usatii, as well as other local leaders of the party.

In order to highlight the plight currently facing the country, a top level delegation from Moldova was in Strasbourg this week to speak to parliamentarians and other top officials.

Speaking at a news conference at the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe on Thursday, each of the Moldovan representatives revealed that most of their colleagues are now under criminal investigations under fabricated lawsuits instigated by Plahotniuc's proxies in the judiciary and prosecution offices.

The Moldovan politicians who travelled to Strasbourg included Ilian Casu, Municipal Councillor of Chisinau; Elena Gritco,  a municipal councillor in Balti; Victor Bogatico, Mayor of Riscani; Victor Petrioglo, Mayor of Vulcanesti; Eduard Plesca, a Falesti District councillor  and lawyer Angela Istrati.

The aim, they said, was to provide “genuine and objective information about what is really happening on Moldovan political scene".

“The case of Renato Usatii, the leading opposition politician, is a symbol of a captured state in Moldova and that is why we, the members of the suppressed Moldovan opposition, have come to the Council of Europe to search for justice.”

Moldovan representatives added: “Plahotniuc's regime is using all means to keep Usatii in exile in Russia. Plahotniuc even offered him a large sum of money to quit the country forever.

“The reason is that Usatii is successfully co-operating with law enforcement bodies in both Romania and Great Britain to rid the country off Plahotniuc. Plahotniuc is  also afraid that Usatii will cooperate with the British authorities in relation to a criminal case dealing with the murder of a Russian banker."

On 12 April, the EU agreed to some €100 million financial assistance for Moldova, supposedly to help support its structural reform agenda.

But Victor Petrioglu, mayor of Vulcanesti in the Gagauz region, said, “The region, which is governed by the opposition, has never received any of the European assistance allocated to Moldova. This is an indication of the selective democracy that currently operates in the country.”

Usatii has supplied documents about the alleged involvement of Plahotniuc and his close associate Ilan Shor in what was dubbed “the robbery of the century” when €1bn mysteriously disappeared from Moldovan state banks.

Further comment came from Angela Istrati who said, “We expect a proper reaction from the Council of Europe regarding the case of Renato Usatii and other political prisoners in Moldova.

“We would also like to see strict monitoring of the situation in Moldova.”

Elena Gritco, vice chair of Our Party and another speaker at the press conference, said, “We would like the Council of Europe to investigate crimes committed by Plahotniuc. Usatii is not hiding but is a victim of Plahotniuc's regime

“If he goes back to Moldova he'll be arrested and most probably killed in prison. This is one reason why the CoE was right to describe Moldova as a captured state.”

“Plahotniuc's victims are his political rivals whose popularity threaten to challenge his power and aspirations to control political mechanisms of the country.

“The case of Renato Usatii and his party associates clearly prove that normal laws are not applied in Moldova nowadays. Instead, we see fabricated lawsuits, the ousting of party nominees from various electoral campaigns and an arrest warrant issued by the Moldovan Interpol office against  Usatii.”

“We are here to defend our people and our statehood. We also try to defend our colleagues who are now in prison or under prosecution.”

She added, “Today we are asking: Is Strasbourg really able to guarantee the Moldovan opposition rights taken for granted by others in Europe?"

Another speaker, Ilian Casu, said the delegation has been “very warmly received” by the PACE representatives who, he said, had promised to take the situation in the country “under strict control” and send CoE monitoring groups to Moldova.

Casu commented, “They promised to use all legal means to restore the rule of law in the country. When we met the human rights commissioner earlier this week he promised to come to Moldova in September with the fact finding mission. He also expressed concern that the case of Renato Usatii had been taken up by the Interpol.”

Casu told reporters that the accusations against Usatii were “absolutely groundless,” adding,  “As usual they have charged him with something he has never done. All the accusations had been put forward with violation of the judicial procedures".

“For example, he's been accused of smuggling foreign currency to the country while another case even deals with accusations of murder as well as a number of other crimes!"

During a 4 day stay in Strasbourg, which came at the invitation on the CoU Venice Commission, the Moldovan representatives held numerous meetings with PACE officials and national deputies.

They met the vice-chairman of the Venice Commission Thomas Markert and discussed a troubling situation with possible drastic changes in Moldova’s electoral system, which was initiated recently by Plahotniuc and was met with skepticism by the Commission.

The Moldovan representatives stressed that this change in election law merely seeks to shore up Plahotniuc's Democratic Party that currently has very low popularity in the country.

The Moldovan envoys also had detailed discussions with the leaders of the Socialist group of PACE, headed by Italian MP Michele Nicoletti and Stefan Schennach from Austria.

Italian Senator Sergio Divina promised to closely monitor the situation and, after their meeting with the Moldovan delegation, both Nicoletti and Schennach spoke of the need to “closely monitor the situation” in Moldova as happens in other countries.

Representatives of Human Rights Watch, the leading rights NGO, also met with the delegation and said that the situation in the country “should be taken under strict control”.

After a productive series of meetings, the delegation said the clear cut message to emerge from this week’s visit to France was: “Please take a close look at the Moldovan political landscape as it is suffering from illegal deeds of its sole oligarch - Vlad Plahotniuc .

“This man has subjugated Moldova’s judiciary and law enforcement and has put it at the behest of his own political ambitions.”

According to the PACE Special rapporteur Berndt Fabritius, he will closely follow the case of Renato Usatii in connection with the "red notice" issued against him by Moldovan Interpol office. His case among others will be better checked since the PACE has serious grounds to suspect that certain states, Moldova is allegedly one of them, abuse the Interpol system that allow police persecute political opponents beyond their borders.

 

 

 

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Kazakhstan’s Kairat Abdrakhmanov appointed OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities

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Kairat Abdrakhmanov. Photo credit: Kazakh Foreign Ministry

Kazakh diplomat and Kazakhstan’s Ambassador to Sweden and Denmark Kairat Abdrakhmanov (pictured) was appointed High Commissioner on National Minorities (HCNM) at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), said Kazakh Foreign Minister Mukhtar Tileuberdi at a press briefing today (4 December), writes Assel Satubaldina.

The decision was made during the 27th meeting of the OSCE Council of Foreign Ministers that took place online 3-4 December.

Abdrakhmanov’s candidacy was submitted by Kazakhstan and was “positively welcomed by all OSCE members”, said the minister, which, according to him, attests to Kazakhstan’s increasing role and influence on the international arena as well as the political reforms carried out by Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. Kazakhstan’s chairmanship in the 57-nation OSCE in 2010 also served as a positive factor.

Abdrakhmanov is a veteran Kazakh diplomat. A graduate of the Al Farabi Kazakh National University, he previously served as Kazakh Foreign Minister, Kazakhstan’s Permanent Representative to the OSCE and to the United Nations, Kazakhstan’s Ambassador to Austria, and Israel.

The post of High Commissioner on National Minorities is one of the key positions at the OSCE assigned to identify and address situations in regard to tensions involving national minorities, which could give rise to a conflict between OSCE member states. The commissioner personally visits representatives of governments and minorities and analyzes the current threats to stability in the OSCE region.

The high commissioner is elected every three years and Abdrakhmanov replaced Italian diplomat Lamberto Zannier, whose three-year tenure ended 18 July this year.

Being appointed as OSCE High Commissioner, Abdrakhmanov will have to relinquish his position as Kazakhstan’s Ambassador to Sweden and Denmark to “ensure objectivity and impartiality.”

“As you know, 2020 has been uneasy for the OSCE, because, over the past months, the organization’s senior positions were vacant. In July, all four relinquished their mandates. We believe it was an institutional crisis. But a solution was found today, and the consensus was achieved on key positions,” said Tileuberdi, noting that no diplomat from the Commonwealth of Independent States and Central Asia has been previously appointed to such a high-level position.

During the meeting, the decision was also made on the OSCE Secretary-General, Special Representative for the Freedom of the Media and head of the Office for Elections and Human Rights. The four top positions at the organization remained vacant since July.

“Our country will continue to work in close cooperation with Sweden’s chairmanship at the OSCE,” concluded the minister.

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€6.1 billion for sustainable fisheries and safeguarding fishing communities 

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Today (4 December) EU legislators reached a provisional agreement on how EU countries will be able to spend funds allocated to fisheries and aquaculture for 2021-2027.

The European Maritime, Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund (EMFAF) for the period 2021-2027 amounts to €6.1 billion (€6.108bn EUR in current prices). €5.3bn will be allocated for the management of fisheries, aquaculture and fishing fleets, while the remaining sum will cover measures such as scientific advice, controls and checks, market intelligence, maritime surveillance and security.

Member states will have to spend at least 15% of the money on efficient fisheries control and enforcement, including fighting against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. In line with the Green Deal, actions under the fund will contribute to the overall budget objective to dedicate 30% of funds to climate action.

Compensation for fishermen

If fishermen’s activities cease permanently, they can be supported to scrap or decommission a vessel. In order to receive compensation, the equivalent fishing capacity is permanently removed from the EU fishing fleet register and the beneficiary must not register any fishing vessel within five years of receiving support.

If fishing activities cease temporarily, fishermen may be granted compensation for a maximum duration of 12 months per vessel or per fisherman during the programming period.

Specific needs of small-scale coastal fishing and young fishermen

Member states will need to take into account the specific needs of small-scale coastal fishing, including simplifying administrative requirements. Also, first acquisition of a fishing vessel or partial ownership (of at least 33%) can be funded if the fisherman is no more than 40 years of age and has worked for at least five years as a fisherman or has acquired the equivalent qualification. Fishermen can purchase small-scale coastal vessels (total length less than 12 meters) that have been registered for three years or vessels up to 24 meters that have been registered for five years.

Small-scale vessels may also receive support to replace or modernise engines if the new or modernized engine does not have more power in kW than that of their current engine.

Improving safety, working conditions and energy efficiency

A fishing vessel that is not longer than 24 meters and older than 10 years can have its gross tonnage increased if this results in significant improvements, such as renovating accommodation and other facilities for the well-being of the crew, better on-board fire prevention and safety systems, increased energy efficiency or lower CO2 emissions.

Other key measures

- Engines can be replaced or modernized under strict conditions: for vessels between 12 and 24 meters and at least five years old, the new or modernised engine must not have more power in kW and a reduction of 20% CO2 emissions must be ensured; the fishing capacity withdrawn due to engine replacement or modernisation cannot be replaced.

- Focus on outermost regions: member states will have to prepare an action plan for each of their outermost regions; specific budget allocations are foreseen.

- Support may also be granted for storage of fisheries products in exceptional events generating a significant disruption of markets.

Rapporteur Gabriel Mato (EPP, ES) said: “We reached a balanced agreement on the future European Maritime, Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund. A fund that would enable the EU fleet to fish and farm better, not to fish more. A fund that would allow the sector to invest in workers’ safety and wellbeing and environmentally-efficient engines and vessels. And a fund that would allow for generational renewal, while avoiding overcapacity and overfishing. The fishing and aquaculture sectors and the whole seafood value chain need support now more than ever to face current and future challenges.”

Next steps

Parliament and Council are now expected to endorse the agreement. The provisions of the regulation will then apply as of 1 January 2021.

Background

The European Maritime and Fisheries Fund proposal was published by the Commission in June 2018 and refers to the Multiannual Financial Framework for 2021-2027. The previous EMFF budget covering the years 2014 to 2020 amounted to €6.4bn.

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EU Budget 2021 deal: Supporting the recovery 

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MEPs have fought for and obtained better support for key EU programmes creating jobs, tackling the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and boosting climate action.

Today (4 December), the negotiators from the European Parliament and the Council reached a common understanding on the 2021 EU Budget.

The preliminary figures are €164.3 billion in commitment appropriations and €166.1bn in payment appropriations. Detailed figures will be available later.

For a more competitive Europe, creating jobs and investing in the EU’s future

MEPs succeeded in reinforcing, on top of the Commission’s original budget proposal, programmes they considered key to boosting growth and jobs, reflecting widely agreed European Union priorities, namely Digital Europe (+25.7 million) and the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) for transport infrastructure (+€60.3 million).

Strengthen respect for Europe’s values and boosting climate action

As a supplementary effort to fight climate change, the reinforcements obtained by the EP for the LIFE programme (+€42 million) aim at contributing from the outset to reaching the target of 30% of climate-relevant spending in the EU budget for the 2021-2027 period.

The Rights and Values programme will receive an additional €6.6m, and the European Public Prosecutor's Office (EPPO), an independent Union body aiming to fight crimes against the Union budget will benefit from an extra €7.3m.

MFF top-ups: supporting the young, EU research and health care

Other reinforcements for 2021 reflect the top-ups to selected key EU programmes Parliament obtained in the deal with Council on the next long-term EU budget (MFF) 2021-2027.

This is the case for Erasmus+ (+€175.1m), Horizon Europe (research programme, +€20m) and the EU4Health programme, the EU’s response to COVID-19, by a further €74.3m. EU4Health will support medical and healthcare staff, patients and health systems. Similarly, the commitment appropriations for humanitarian aid have been increased by €25m and for supporting the EU’s southern neighbourhood by €10.2m.

“I’m pleased we could reach a swift agreement in the interest of European citizens in these challenging times. With the top-ups for some of the future-looking programmes agreed in the multi-annual framework just weeks ago, we obtained budget increases for other programmes with proven European added value. These extra investments in, for example, the trans-European transport networks and digital Europe all answer to real needs and are in line with the expectations of EU citizens”, said the Chair of the Budgets committee Johan van Overtveldt (ECR, BE).

“Parliament and Council today reached an agreement on the 2021 EU budget. €164 billion to protect citizens, reduce the immediate impact of the crisis and prepare for a more prosperous, balanced and sustainable future. In the last two days of the negotiations, Parliament secured an additional €183m for its priorities: health, climate and employment. Considering the very rigid framework, this is a good result. Faced with governments that were unwilling to give up one cent, Parliament did its utmost and obtained additional increases. But, in all conscience, we all know that this budget is not up to the task. It was the maximum that could be obtained given the multiannual budget that was negotiated with heads of state who decide unanimously.

"But the good news is that there is a solution that can mobilise more than €50bn per year for health, climate and employment, and that will not be blocked by the unanimity rule: taxing speculation by relaunching the existing reinforced cooperation on this subject. I call on the leaders of these pioneering countries, starting with Merkel and Macron, to get to work on this tax without delay”, said the lead rapporteur (Commission section) Pierre Larrouturou (S&D, FR).

"Thanks to the united position of the European Parliament, we have reached a very good political agreement on the 2021 budget of the European Union institutions, despite a difficult context of crisis. My concern throughout these negotiations was to ensure that all the institutions of the Union, i.e. the Court of Justice, the Court of Auditors, the European Ombudsman, the Committee of the Regions, the Economic and Social Committee, the European Data Protection Supervisor,..., have sufficient resources and staff to enable them to fulfill their missions as well as possible and to function optimally. This was made possible following our commitment to save money in connection with the changes in our activities during the COVID-19 pandemic", said the rapporteur for the other sections, Oliver Chastel (RENEW,BE).

Next steps

In the absence of an agreement in Council on the EU’s long-term budget (MFF, Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027), the two arms of the EU’s budgetary authority, Parliament and Council, have not formalised their deal. Once the MFF is adopted, Commission will propose the substance of the agreement as second draft budget.

Once Council has formally adopted the compromise in the form of this second draft budget, it will be submitted for approval to the Committee on Budgets, then voted on in plenary in the European Parliament and signed into law by its President.

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