The Russian President took everyone aback on January 15th during his address to the nation, as he announced a wide-ranging Constitutional reform, before receiving the resignation of his Prime minister. This announcement triggered worldwide speculation about his willingness to extend his grip on the country, even after he leaves office. What do the changes to the Constitution proposed by President Putin imply for Russia? For Europe? How is the Russian population responding? Tatiana Stanovaya, Founder and Head of R. Politik and Nonresident Scholar at the Carnegie Moscow Center, answers our questions.
What changes does President Putin propose to make to the Constitution? What do they imply for Russia ?
The most important change is to be found in the strengthening of the presidency, leading it to become a much stronger institution than it used to be. The President will receive the right to demand the Federation Council to dismiss Supreme Court and Constitutional Court judges for misconduct. This means that the judiciary will become less independent, and even more vulnerable to political influence. Another important amendment is that the President will be able to override Parliament’s veto over legislation. At the moment, the President can veto any law, but the veto becomes void if the law is approved by at least two-thirds of the Federation Council and the State Duma. After the Constitutional reform, however, the President will be able to require the Constitutional Court to examine laws in order to ensure they do not violate the Constitution. Last but not least, depending on the Court’s decision, some laws may be rejected at the end of the process.
During his annual address on 15 January, Vladimir Putin tried to convey the impression that the role of the State Duma, and Parliament overall, will increase with the Constitutional reform. It however turns out that the final Constitutional reform draft barely modifies Parliament’s role, and actually decreases it. The procedure for appointing the Prime minister will not change significantly. According to existing procedures, shortly after being sworn in, the President submits a candidate for Prime minister to the State Duma. Then, the State Duma either approves or rejects the candidate. As a result of the reforms, the State Duma will "confirm" candidates — little more than just a shift in semantics. Furthermore, if the President's candidate is rejected three times, the lower chamber is dissolved. This means that the President, who chooses the Prime minister and the government, will not become "partial". The only right the State Duma will obtain is to confirm deputy prime ministers and ministers submitted by the Prime minister.
The Federation Council obtains some not very prominent prerogatives but also loses some. For example, the President will be obliged to consult with the Federation Council before appointing the law enforcement agencies’ heads. However, the upper chamber will not be able to decline the President’s choice. Furthermore, the chamber loses the right to confirm the general prosecutor. Currently, the President cannot appoint him without the Federation Council’s agreement. After the reform, he will just have to hold "consultations", which makes the general prosecutor office more dependent from the Kremlin. One of the most important constitutional changes however concerns Judiciary. The courts will become more dependent and vulnerable as the President will be able to "impeach" the Constitutional and Supreme judges for misconduct.