On February 11, the working group on the ensuring of the functionality of the Autonomous Territorial Unit (ATU) of Gagauzia met for the first time after the last parliamentary elections. Besides the technical moments to update the regulations and to agree the plan of meetings, the group examined the major issue of the last years of activity – the fate of the three bills drafted by the working group, which are better known as the “Gagauz initiatives”. In time the given bills served as informational occasions for tens of times and a series of politicians discovered in them risks to Moldova’s integrity. Now that the working group resumed work, things in Chisinau and in Comrat will become clearer.
“Special level” and guarantees for status
Three years and a half ago, the “Gagauz bills” were submitted to Parliament for examination as initiatives of the People’s Assembly of Gagauz-Yeri (APG-Y) and under such a designation correspond to the name spread by the media. In fact, they are the product of common work of members of Moldova’s Parliament and of the APG-Y. They were approved within the working group after a long coordination process that involved representatives of all the groups of Moldova’s legislative body. Each document is signed by the two co-chairpersons: Elena Bacalu on behalf of Parliament and Gheorghe Leiciu on behalf of the APG-Y. Moreover, the initiatives were worked out with the expertise of mediators - the international NGO (Finish, e.n.) Crisis Management Initiative.
The given bills include amendments and supplements to the law of the Republic of Moldova concerning territorial-administrative division (№354 of 17.08.2016), the law on local public administration, the law on administrative decentralization (№319 of 15.07.2016), and the law the special legal status of Gagauz-Yeri (№318 of 15.07.2016).
In essence, the first two bills enshrine in the national legislation the existence of a territorial-administrative unit with a special legal status. For example, Article 4 of the law on territorial-administrative division provides that Moldova’s territory, from administrative viewpoint, is divided into districts, towns and villages. The APG-Y proposed supplementing the list of territorial-administrative units with “ATU Gagauz-Yeri”
The APG-Y would like the same article to stipulate a special administration level as the ATU now is incorporated neither into the first category (towns and villages) nor into the second category (districts, municipalities of Chisinau and Bălți).
One more amendment to this law specifies that the decision concerning the administrative division of Gagauzia, the change of category and name of localities in the ATU as well as the power to set the borders between districts should be within the remit of the APG-Y. These powers are provided to the People’s Assembly by the law of the Republic of Moldova concerning the special legal status of Gagauz-Yeri and the Gagauz deputies insist that the whole national legislation should specify this norm.
The second initiative of the APG-Y concerns the public administration bodies and also proposes specifying the status of Gagauzia and the different administration level by law. The Gagauz deputies suggest adding the phrase “public administration bodies of a special level”, with reference to the People’s Assembly of Gagauz-Yeri, the Bashkan of Gagauzia and the local Executive Committee, to this law. Also, the representatives of the ATU consider the article concerning the areas of activity of the public administration bodies of the law on administrative decentralization should stipulate that the People’s Assembly, besides the powers of the district councils (such bodies do not exist in the region), also enjoys the powers specified in the law on the special legal status of Gagauz-Yeri.
Special attention should be paid to the third bill that suggests amending the law on the ATU. This provides that any Parliament initiative to amend and/or supplement the given law should be adopted only after the People’s Assembly endorses this. The APG-Y wants guarantees that the central authorities will not be able to unilaterally modify the status of Gagauz-Yeri. In this connection, representatives of the region make reference to the Venice Commission, which in 2002 opined that this clause will strengthen the constitutional guarantees of the ATU. Besides, the official Comrat considers it is useful to remind of the European experience, in particular the laws that regulate the autonomous status of the Italian region South Tyrol and the self-management of the Aland islands in Finland.
Between legal arguments and political assessments
It often happened that the “Gagauz initiatives” were subject to free interpretations and generated new understandings. Other times they determined resonant political statements. In particular, in December 2019, Democratic MP Sergiu Sîrbu told reporters that the package of laws in the way presented by the APG-Y violate the Constitution and can generate turbulence in society.
In an article of IPN, reference is made to the opinion of former minister of defense and ex-president of the Liberal Democratic Party Viorel Cibotaru, who in an interview warned about the big risk of appearance of separatist zones on Moldova’s territory if Parliament adopts the initiatives designed by the working group.
If leaving aside the political rhetoric and focusing on the juridical arguments formulated by Parliament over the initiatives of the APG-Y, these can be found in the appraisals of the parliamentary commissions that examined the bills according to the procedure. This way, the legal commission’s appraisal says the national legislation does not contain the notion “special administration level” and, if this term is not clearly defined, the given norm can be abusively interpreted and implemented. This can affect the commitments concerning the territorial-administrative organization of the Republic of Moldova. “If the special administration level” is accepted, an imbalance will appear between the public administration levels,” says the commission’s appraisal.
Consequently, most of the amendments proposed by the APG-Y to draft laws No. 354 and No. 319 were rejected or sent back for modification. In particular, the commission on public administration suggested not granting any special administration level to Gagauzia and specifying only that it has a special legal status. In 2018, Parliament adopted this version of the bills in two readings. However, at the request of the APG-Y, President Igor Dodon didn’t promulgate them.
The MPs had most of the questions concerning bill No. 318. The commission on public administration noted that the condition for the APG-Y to give its consent to modifying the status of Gagauz-Yeri will limit the rights of Parliament as the supreme legislative body. The commission suggested that only preliminary consultations should be held with the People’s Assembly. The given bill was given a first reading only.
The February 11 meeting of the working group was attended by President Igor Dodon’s representative Sergey Mishin, who told the MPs about the initiatives that were updated by the presidential team and will be soon submitted to Parliament as legislative proposals of the President. It will shortly become known what is the difference between these and the first version of the APG-Y’s bills and which sides’ position is reflected.
At the end of this year, Moldova will have presidential elections and elections to choose deputies of the People’s Assembly of Gagauz-Yeri in almost the same period. This means that in the immediate period “the Gagauz initiatives” will motivate the sides to play their own parts – some the role of defenders of the united motherland, others the role of advocate of Gagauzia and the rest the role of patriotic defenders of the interests of voters before the central authorities. It is known from experience that one can do this as long as they want.
IPN publishes in the Op-Ed rubric opinion pieces submitted by authors not affiliated with our editorial board. The opinions expressed in these articles do not necessarily coincide with the opinions of our editorial board.