European Court rules against Russia
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR)has ruled that Russian regulations governing political parties infringe on the rights to freedom of assembly and association.
The Russian Republican Party (RRP) has won its case against Russia in the European Court of Human Rights. The court ruled that Russia’s disbandment of the RRP violated Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees the rights of assembly and association.
The RRP was established in 1990 and abolished in 2007 by a decision of the Supreme Court following a Federal Registration Service suit which found that the RRP had only 39,000 members, while under the law a political party needs a minimum of 50,000 members. The RRP itself claimed it had a membership of 58,000.
The court deemed the disbandment of the party on the grounds of its small membership unfounded: minorities must be able to take part in political life, it ruled. The court ruled that requirements set out in Russian party membership laws, coupled with regular checks, are too demanding. The court also failed to be convinced by the Russian government’s view that such requirements are needed to avoid excessive parliamentary fragmentation: a party must win a minimum of 7% to be represented in parliament, which takes care of that problem.
The court ruled that Russia is to pay the RRP 6,950 euros in compensation for legal fees.
The RRP’s former co-chairman, Vladimir Ryzhkov, is pleased with the decision. “We have set a precedent,” he said. He has not ruled out making an appeal to the Supreme Court to revoke the disbandment. Currently, he is involved in establishing the Party of Popular Freedom and hopes the ECHR decision will lead to the creation of a legal environment that will enable it to register.
Andrei Fedorov, who heads Russia’s representative office at the ECHR, says that the Justice Ministry will consider the ruling before deciding whether to appeal it or not. In Russia, all Justice Ministry decisions were found legitimate, he said. If, however, the ECHR ruling takes effect, the RRP may apply to the Supreme Court to revise the decision on the party’s disbandment. But this does not mean that the court will grant an automatic repeal. In Fedorov’s view, the ECHR’s conclusion about excessively demanding requirements for parties is both subjective and legally unfounded: how can the judges in Strasbourg know whether 50,000 members is too many or too few?
“The Europeans have a different mentality,” agrees Alexander Moskalets, deputy chairman of the state development committee in the lower house of Russia’s parliament. He is confident the ECHR’s ruling is no reason to change the law on the parties. “We have our own Constitution and our own legal playing field. Our electoral legislation is so advanced that there is nothing to compare it with.”
Lawyer Vadim Prokhorov says the Russian authorities are very unreceptive to Strasbourg decisions. He believes, however, that if other parties follow the RRP’s example, they will achieve a result.
Privatization: Government ponders what to sell next
Russia’s state property management agency has earmarked about $4 billion worth of government assets to be privatized this year, or one-third of the Finance Ministry’s planned cash inflow.
This suggests the government is still undecided about what assets it wants to sell off this year. Consequently, the Finance Ministry cannot be sure how much the federal budget will raise from privatization.
MN came across a letter in which Deputy Finance Minister Alexei Savatyugin asks the property management agency to finalize its 2011 privatization plan as soon as possible.
The Finance Ministry’s initial plan was to privatize government stakes in large strategic companies in 2011-2013, including oil major Rosneft, hydroelectricity giant RusHydro, Federal Grid Company, Sberbank and shipping giant Sovcomflot. But the government has not yet given any dates, which means it does not have a clear idea when it is going to auction the 7% stake of Sberbank and the remaining government stock of VTB, the country’s second largest lender. A 10% stake in VTB was sold in February; another 25.5% of its stock is expected to be privatized later.
The Finance Ministry had been lobbying for large-scale privatization to help plug the budget deficit and take the pressure off rapidly shrinking reserves. But the situation has changed.
“With oil prices as high as they currently are, and good first-quarter results [a budget surplus – MN], the revenue shortfall is not the government’s chief concern,” said Vladimir Tikhomirov from the Otkritie financial company.
However, the Finance Ministry does seem concerned about privatization stalling. After the property management agency failed to submit a completed privatization plan as requested, Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Zhukov issued an order to the agency’s head, Yury Petrov, and Economic Development Minister Elvira Nabiullina, to present the plan in two weeks’ time.
The agency’s press office said on Tuesday it had already sent the final version of the plan to the ministry, but declined to give any further details. According to information in the public domain, the $4 billion projected cash income already included the VTB deal. This means the government has already received the bulk of that revenue, because the 10% VTB stake was worth around $3.2 billion.
The future of the other government assets remains unclear. It is even difficult to say whether they will be privatized this year at all. A source close to First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov, the man responsible for this privatization, said “the Economic Development Ministry, the state property agency and the government office maintained an ongoing dialogue” and that planning privatization was a “complex and multifaceted process.”
State Duma kills blinker-light bill
Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma, has killed an amendment restricting the use of blinker lights.
Although the public is outraged over senior officials’ use (and misuse) of blinker lights, Russian lawmakers voted not to introduce punitive measures against them, citing the lack of regulation in this area.
At its Monday meeting, the State Duma killed amendments to the Administrative Violations Code that would have limited the use of these lights to special vehicles carrying out urgent duties vital for the general public’s health and safety.
Under the amendments, the government had to define both the concept of urgent assignments and the procedure by which drivers’ claims to be fulfilling them would be verified.
The proposal suggested suspending drivers’ licenses for a period of between 18 months and two years for their illegal use. Under the bill, any official found to be illegally authorizing drivers to use special signals would get a 20,000 ruble ($711) fine.
The Duma Committee on Constitutional Legislation did not back the bill. It claimed that work to assess whether blinker lights are being used illegally or not would delay vehicles and have a negative impact on the emergency services and other services authorized to use these lights.
The State Duma agreed with the committee and voted against the bill.
The proposed amendments had been submitted to the State Duma a year ago, in April 2010 by Anatoly Ivanov, a member of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party.
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