Referendum Law could jeopardize Ukraine’s stability


Venice Commission Secretary Thomas Markert recently gave an interview to Deutsche Welle on the Venice Commission’s recommendations regarding the Law on National Referendums (see Venice Commission critical of National Referendum Law

He was asked how the Venice Commission had assessed the National Referendum Law.

Thomas Markert:  “This was possibly one of our most critical opinions as we were extremely worried that this law enables amendments to be made to the Constitution via a referendum. Yet as the Venice Commission already stressed in 2000, according to Ukraine’s Constitution this is impossible without the Verkhovna Rada which must pass all amendments to the Constitution through a constitutional majority”

Why do you think that the Ukrainian government is so determinedly trying to pass a law which the Venice Commission has already indicated is incompatible with norms of European law?

I wouldn’t like to speculate on the Ukrainian government’s motives. However I believe that it is extremely dangerous for the stability of the country to have the probability that effectively anything can be changed by means of a referendum.

Thomas Markert stresses that in most European countries referendums are help only on those vital issues where the public need to give yes or no answers.  They are not run where there are more complex alternatives, for example, , on improving the text of a particular document.

He adds that changes to the Constitution must not be made by a narrow majority and the opposition needs to take part. “A referendum in this case can be used to bypass the requirements on achieving sufficient consensus.”

On the proposals regarding amendments to the Constitution regarding the judiciary

“Our recommendations on that subject which were made at the request of the Head of the Constitutional Assembly Leonid Kravchuk are extremely important. We particularly welcome the fact that the way of forming the High Council of Justice has been changed, and the five year probation period for judges cancelled. However in this sphere several problematical issues remain. These include for example, the provisions on the dismissal of judges on the basis of infringement of their oath which is formulated quite vaguely making it easily susceptible to manipulation. We therefore want this paragraph to be formulated in a new way.

On the subject of sexual minorities

Thomas Markert explains that the Venice Commission was asked by the Council of Europe to prepare an opinion of the type of draft law currently proposed in Ukraine, Russia and Moldova regarding so-called promotion of homosexuality.  The Venice Commission has concluded that such draft laws are in breach of the Convention on Human Rights for a number of reasons. First and foremost, in defining a crime you need to be exact so that people are clear what behaviour is a crime and what is not.  “From the text it’s very hard to understand what is meant by “propaganda” and “promotion of homosexuality”

Thomas Markert stresses that the Venice Commission’s recommendations are not binding, but are taken very seriously.  He points out the importance of this time for Ukraine as the  Vilnius summit approaches with the question to be decided of whether the Association Agreement will be signed.

From the interview here

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