8 Restrictive measures against the leadership
of the Transnistrian region of the Republic of Moldova |
|Council Decision concerning restrictive measures against the leadership of the Transnistrian region of the Republic of Moldova
|Legal base||Article 29 TEU; unanimity
|Department||Foreign and Commonwealth Office
|Basis of consideration||EM of 3 March 2011
|Previous Committee Report||None; but see (31941) : HC 428-iii (2010-11), chapter 16 (13 October 2010) and (31320) : HC 5-xi (2009-10), chapter 6 (24 February 2010)
|To be discussed in Council||21 March 2011 Foreign Affairs Council
|Committee's assessment||Politically important
8.1 Following Moldova's independence, a separatist movement in
the Transnistrian region on the eastern bank of the Nistru River
declared itself a Republic. Attempts to find a settlement to this
situation have thus far failed.
8.2 EU concern about the threats to security and
stability in eastern Europe posed by the activities of the illegal
separatist regime go back over six years. The first Common Position
was in the form of an EU-wide ban on travel in the EU against
17 members of the Transnistrian leadership for obstruction of
the negotiating process to resolve the conflict. In August 2004,
the scope of the restrictive measures was expanded to include
ten persons responsible for the intimidation campaign and closure
of Latin-script Moldovan schools.
8.3 Each EU Member State enacts the necessary legislation
to implement the travel ban; but, to be effective at an EU level,
a Council Decision (previously, a Common Position) is necessary
due to the free movement of people across the Schengen area. Each
measure has been valid for 12 months.
8.4 Previous Committees judged that neither the original
imposition of these restrictions in 2004 nor the annual renewals
were of sufficient political importance to warrant a substantive
Report to the House. A year ago, however, the Council decided
on a change of tack.
8.5 In his Explanatory Memorandum of 15 February
2010, the then Minister for Europe at the Foreign and Commonwealth
Office (Chris Bryant) said that, as well as removing three names
who no longer met the criteria for listing, the measures were
to be suspended until 30 September 2010 "in the hope that
this will encourage the Transnistrian leadership to engage with
the Moldovan Government and the EU." He also explained that,
if at the end of the suspension, consensus within the EU was not
reached to renew the suspension, or lift the sanctions, then the
travel ban would be re-imposed by default, which, he said, "ensures
the sanctions measures do not simply lapse."
8.6 As our previous Report explained, there was also
an exchange of correspondence with the then Minister concerning
the scrutiny over-ride that had occurred in this process, at the
conclusion of which the previous Committee cleared the document
and, as regards keeping the Committee informed on sanctions matters,
the then Minister undertook to endeavour to ensure that this did
not happen again.
The last revision to the Council Decision
8.7 At our meeting on 13 October 2010, we considered
the most recent renewal of these measures. In the preamble to
what in due course became Council Decision 2010/573/CFSP of 27
September 2010, it was:
that Council Decision 2010/105/CFSP
renewed the restrictive measures until 27 February 2011 and their
application was suspended until 30 September 2010;
- on the basis of a re-examination
of Common Position 2008/160/CFSP, the restrictive measures should
be extended until 30 September 2011;
- "in order to encourage progress in reaching
a political settlement to the Transnistrian conflict, addressing
the remaining problems of the Latin-script schools and restoring
free movement of persons," the restrictive measures should
be suspended until 31 March 2011;
that, at the end of that period, the Council would review the
restrictive measures in the light of developments, notably in
the areas mentioned above;
and noted that the Council might decide
to reapply or lift travel restrictions at any time.
8.8 In his Explanatory Memorandum of 16 September
2010, the Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington) said:
"This renewal continues to send a strong political
signal that the behaviour of the Transnistrian leadership is unacceptable
to the EU whilst encouraging them to return to the negotiating
table, to pursue any negotiations as transparently as possible
and to conclude a settlement acceptable to all concerned. If at
the end of the suspension in March 2011, consensus within the
EU is not reached to renew the suspension, or lift the sanctions,
then the travel ban will be reimposed by default. This ensures
the sanctions measures do not simply lapse."
8.9 The Minister began his accompanying letter of
15 September 2010 by regretting that he had not been able to provide
his Explanatory Memorandum in sufficient time for it to be considered
by the Committee before the Decision had to be adopted in the
EU: the draft Decision had been provided only on 9 September;
it was necessary to adopt the measures by 30 September so they
were in effect before the current measures expired; there had
been insufficient time to provide an EM and the proposed draft
Council Decision prior to the previous Committee meeting on 15
September; as a result, he would have to agree to the adoption
of the Decision before it had been cleared from scrutiny.
8.10 The Minister went on to say that extending the
restrictive measures for a further 12 months, whilst at the same
time extending the suspension of the travel ban until 31 March
2011, was in line with the UK's negotiating position; that if
the Decision were not to be updated by 30 September, sanctions
would automatically lapse; and that this would be an outcome that
he did not wish to see.
8.11 The Minister then said that the responsibility
to keep the Committee informed on issues concerning sanctions
"is something I take seriously". Firstly, he referred
to an earlier letter of 22 July 2010, prior to the summer recess,
advising of the measures likely to be adopted during that period,
including on Moldova; and then said that he followed this up with
a letter on 8 September, updating the Committee on upcoming sanctions
negotiations, including the measures to be adopted against Moldova,
and the Government's position.
8.12 The Minister concluded by saying that he would
be writing to the High Representative (HR; Baroness Ashton) to
emphasise the EU's responsibility to provide draft decisions in
a timely fashion, to ensure that national parliaments had a proper
opportunity to scrutinise EU legislation.
8.13 In the first of the letters under reference,
the Minister said:
"To encourage progress in reaching a political
settlement to the Transnistrian conflict, addressing the remaining
problems of the Latin-script schools and restoring free movement
of persons between Moldova and the Transnistrian region, the restrictive
measures were suspended until 30 September 2010. At the end of
that period, the Council will review the restrictive measures
in the light of developments, notably in the areas mentioned above.
The Council may decide to reapply or lift travel restrictions
at any time. In September the EU will decide whether to
continue to suspend, lift or re-impose the travel ban on selected
individuals in the Transnistrian leadership."
8.14 In his second letter, the Minister said:
"The sanctions have been suspended since February
to encourage progress on settlement negotiations, on ending the
harassment of Latin Script schools and on improving the free movement
of people between Moldova and Transnistria. Although there has
been more regular contact between the relevant parties, there
has been no significant improvement in these areas. However, we
assess that pushing to re-impose their effect could be counter-productive,
especially in the run-up to the Transnistrian elections in December.
In light of the fact that the sanctions measures currently require
renewal in February 2011, we are pushing for sanctions measures
to be extended until June 2011, but for their suspension to remain
in effect until February 2011. This will allow us to review progress
in light of the Transnistrian elections, whilst eliminating the
risk of losing the sanctions measures altogether at the beginning
of the year."
8.15 We noted a history of ministerial protestations
about commitment to prior scrutiny of decisions on sanctions regimes,
accompanied by expressions of regret at failures to do so. On
this occasion, we were not entirely clear why an Explanatory Memorandum
could not have been provided in time for our 15 September meeting.
That said, we acknowledged the Minister's endeavours to keep the
Committee informed about developments and the Government's position
prior to the emergence of the draft Decision. Against this background,
on this occasion and in these circumstances, we did not object
to his having over-ridden scrutiny.
8.16 We also noted his determination to apply pressure
to the usual source of the problem, and ask the Minister to let
us know how the High Representative responded to his representations.
8.17 Looking further ahead, we noted that it was
not clear what was likely to happen at the end of the suspension
in March 2011. Much seemed to depend on the outcome of elections
in Transnistria in December 2010. Whether or not consensus within
the EU was reached to renew the suspension, or lift the sanctions,
or if the travel ban was reimposed by default, we presumed that
a further Council Decision would be required. We therefore asked
the Minister to let the Committee know in good time prior to then
what the reaction had been to the further suspension, what his
views were on that reaction, and what course of action he would
be seeking to pursue in the Council ahead of the end-March deadline.
8.18 We also cleared the Council Decision.
The draft Council Decision
8.19 In his Explanatory Memorandum of 3 March 2011,
the Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington) explains the basis
of the latest proposal as follows:
"An updated EU Heads of Mission (HoMs) report
was commissioned by the EAS and was issued in February 2011. The
British Embassy Chisinau has taken a leading role in influencing
and drafting this report. The report assesses progress against
the criteria laid down in Council Decision 2010/573/CFSP: progress
in reaching a political settlement to the Transnistrian conflict,
addressing the remaining problems of the Latin-script schools,
and restoring free movement of persons.
"The report concluded that the limited progress
made against each of these criteria, along with the inadequate
human rights situation in the Transnistria region, does not allow
for the lifting of the existing restrictive measures.
"At the same time, the report noted the positive
dynamics in the activities of the EU/OSCE Confidence Building
Measures Working Groups and in discussion at informal 5+2 consultations;
some progress to facilitate the free movement of persons is also
noted (e.g. the reopening of the Chisinau-Tiraspol-Odessa rail
service). HoMs also took into account that progress on political
talks during the period under review had been modest for credible
and understandable reasons related to election campaigns on both
banks of the Nistru.
"The report recommended the suspension of the
restrictive measures for a further six months until 30 September
2011 and (to avoid a potential legal vacuum) an extension of the
restrictive measures for a further six month period (starting
from 30 September 2011) until 31 March 2012.
"HoMs further recommended that the extension
of the suspension of the restrictive measures should also be seen
in light of the increasing role that the EU plays in the region
and a desire to provide more time for the Transnistrian leadership
to take real steps towards a political settlement of the conflict.
Changes to the de facto Constitution of the Transnistria region
and elections for the post of de facto President are scheduled
to take place in 2011. HoMs recommend that changes to the restrictive
measures should not be considered until after these events take
"The recommendations from the HoMs report were
discussed at EU level on 22 February, with unanimous member state
agreement for the proposals. These recommendations are reflected
in the draft Council Decision."
8.20 The Minister also notes that the procedures
for designating individuals continue to be fully compliant with
fundamental rights, viz: individuals may only be listed where
evidence exists that they are engaged in the activities listed
under Article 1 of the 2010/573/CFSP; individuals subject to a
travel ban would be entitled to challenge the implementation or
application of such a ban in the General Court of the European
Union; Member States may grant exemptions from the travel ban
for specified reasons including, inter alia, where travel
is justified on the grounds of urgent humanitarian need.
The Government's view
8.21 The Minister says that he has endorses the
HoMs recommendation that the suspension of the restrictive measures
be extended for an additional six months, to expire at the same
time as the Council Decision on 30 September; and to extend the
restrictive measures for a further six month period (starting
from 30 September 2011) until 31 March 2012:
"There has been no real change in the situation
in Transnistria and no real progress with settlement talks, so
no change to the position on sanctions. Therefore, maintaining
the suspension is consistent with existing policy on sanctions."
8.22 The Minister concludes by noting that the Council
Decision is due to be adopted at Foreign Affairs Council on 21
March, before it expires at the end of March 2011.
8.23 We are grateful to the Minister for ensuring
that the draft Council Decision has been submitted for scrutiny
in a timely fashion, and encourage him to continue do all that
he can vis à vis the HR and her staff , as well
as his own in the FCO, to ensure that this continues not only
with regard both to these measures when they are reviewed in the
late summer, but also to other such measures applied to other
such errant regimes.
8.24 We now clear the documents.
35 OJ L 46, 23.2.2010, p. 3. Back
See headnote: (31941) -: HC 428-iii (2010-11), chapter 16 (13
October 2010). Back