Federation Council of Russia

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The Federation Council of Russia (Совет Федерации, Sovet Federatsii) is the upper house of the Federal Assembly of Russia (parliament of the Russian Federation), according to the 1993 Constitution of the Russian Federation. Each of the 88 federal subjects of Russia, consisting of 21 republics, 48 oblasts, seven krais, two federal cities, nine autonomous okrugs, and one autonomous oblast send two senators to the Council, making its total body of 176 senators.

The Council holds its sessions within the Main Building on Bolshaya Dmitrovka St. in Moscow, the former home of the Soviet State Building Agency (Gosstroi), with further offices and committee rooms located on Novy Arbat St.. The two houses of the Federal Assembly are physically separated, with the State Duma residing in another part of Moscow.

Contents

[edit] History

The modern history of the Federation Council begins during the 1993 Constitutional Crisis that pitted President Boris Yeltsin’s unpopular neoliberal and governmental structure reforms against the increasingly radical Congress of People’s Deputies, then the nation’s legislature. Throughout the year, the congress had grown increasingly dissatisfied with Yeltsin and his cabinet’s direction of the floundering Russian economy, as well as its plans to replace the Soviet-era 1978 Russian SFSR Constitution—which was still the constitution of Russian Federation—with a new one. In the midst of the increasingly tense crisis, on September 21, Yeltsin issued Presidential Decree 1400. The decree effectively scrapped constitutional reform then presently in discussion, as well as legally dissolving the Congress of People’s Deputies, ordering its replacement with an entirely new federal legislative structure, and granting the president increased executive powers. Following a war of words and acts of defiance from both sides, President Yeltsin abruptly ended the governmental power struggle by ordering the Russian army to bombard and storm the White House of Russia, then Russia’s legislative building between October 2-4 1993.

Image:Boris Yeltsin 1993.jpg
President Boris Yeltsin was instrumental in the creation of the Federation Council in 1993

Following the crushing of the Congress of People’s Deputies and other members of the federal and territorial governments who had initially supported what he viewed as a rebellious legislature, Yeltsin went on his way to present a new constitution. With the events of 1993 very much in mind, Yeltsin drafted a constitution that called for increased executive branch powers in prime ministerial appointments, veto overrides, and a stronger executive security council. The constitution also called for the creation of a bicameral legislature to be called the Federal Assembly, consisting of a lower house State Duma, and an upper house Federation Council. Although a Federation Council had been created by Yeltsin in July 1993 to gather regional representatives (except Chechnya) to support an earlier draft of a replacement constitution to the 1978 document, this Federation Council was to become a permanent part of the legislature.

Similar to the United States Senate, the Federation Council would consist of two representatives from each of Russia’s federal subjects. Unlike the State Duma, which consisted of hundreds of districts across the nation, the Federation Council was to act as more or less the voice of Russia’s federated subdivisions. Early debate on its creation centered on whether or not should the Federation Council be elected at all. To solve some problems on the upper house’s first scheduled election in December, Yeltsin issued Presidential Decree 1628 on October 11, stipulating that candidates for the first elections needed at least two percent, or 25,000 signatures—whichever was highest—of their oblast, republic, krai, autonomous okrug, or federal city population. This helped previous territorial elites remain within national politics. The decree also stipulated a single term of two years before new elections in 1995.

The Council’s first elections occurred on December 12, 1993 running simultaneously with State Duma elections and a referendum on the new Constitution of the Russian Federation. With the constitution now in effect after its successful passage, elections for the Council were to be franchised solely to territorial authorities, with one senator elected from the subject’s legislature, and the other by the subject’s executive branch. This later was codified in 1995 when the Council’s first term expired.

The constitution, however, did not specify how senators were to be elected. By 1995, using this constitutional anomaly, regional executives could sit ex officio in both their own provincial executive posts and within the Federation Council. While the State Duma did much of the serious debates on Russian policy during this time, the Council became a lobby for regional interests, competing for federal attention.

The ascension of President Vladimir Putin following Yeltsin’s resignation on December 31, 1999 brought many new changes to the Federation Council. As part of his top political goals in his first months of office in 2000, Putin proposed a reform law to change the makeup of the Council. Putin envisioned an upper house where regional executives had to chose designates, freeing it from what he saw as blatant personal cronyism on the part of provincial leaders. The Council furiously resisted Putin's plan, conscious that their role in federal politics, their very ability to enjoy the fruits of living within Moscow, and their parliamentary immunity would end. With the State Duma threatening to override a Council veto, and Putin’s threats to open federal criminal investigations on regional governors, the Council backed down and grudgingly supported the law in July 2000. In their place, a wave of new Kremlin-friendly senators took the vacated seats, complete with the full backing of Putin. The last of these dual senator-governors were rotated out of office in early 2002.

Following the Beslan school hostage crisis in September 2004, President Putin initiated a radical shakeup of the federal system, proposing that the direct elections of regional governors be replaced by appointments from the president himself. These appointments could later be confirmed or rejected by the provincial legislatures. The move further placed more control over the Council by the executive branch, due to laws which stipulate that regional executives have a say in choosing delegates to the upper house.

Since 2000, the Federation Council has largely remained a stable body. However critics have charged Putin’s tactics in reforming the upper house as being blatantly undemocratic and anti-federal, arguing that Putin's reforms have created a rubber stamp body for the executive branch and the ruling United Russia party, similar to what the Soviet of Nationalities was during the USSR period.

[edit] Officers and Members

As set in Article 101 of the Russian Constitution, the Federation Council “shall elect among its deputies the Chairman of the Council.” Some of the Chairman’s official duties include presiding over sessions, formulating and introducing draft agendas, issuing orders and consulting with the Council’s various committees, acting as the upper house’s official representative in the Federal Assembly, and signing resolutions to be passed forth to the president or the State Duma.

Image:Sergey mironov.jpg
Sergey Mironov has been Chairman of the Council since 2002

The current Chairman is Sergey Mironov. Elected to the Council by the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly in June 2001, Mironov quickly assumed the Chairmanship in December 2001, despite his lack of experience in the upper house. Mironov is considered to be a close ally to President Putin; both incidentally are from St. Petersburg.

Unlike the State Duma, with its division of parties and leaders, the Council has explicitly stated that no political factions are to exist in the upper house. In 2001, nearly 100 senators created a loose caucus called Federation, supporting President Putin on nearly all of his policies. Parties, however, were discouraged in 2002, following Mironov’s election to the Chairmanship and his instructions to disband all political factions. This leaves the Council with a considerable amount of consensus politics, where laws are relatively easily debated upon through the guidance of the Chairman and the various committee and commission chairs. Senators are able to retain membership to their respective parties, however they are asked not to bring party factionalism to floor itself. Since the reforms of 2000, the Council has enjoyed a significantly close relationship with the Kremlin, helping easy passage of key legislation the Kremlin desires.

According to Article 98, all 176 members of the Council enjoy immunity from arrest, detainment and searches.

[edit] Elections

Unlike the State Duma and the provincial legislatures throughout Russia, the Council is not directly elected, but instead chosen by territorial politicians, resembling in some respects to the structure of the U.S. Senate prior to the Seventeenth Amendment in 1913.

According to Article 95, the Council comprises representatives of each Russian federal subject—two from each. One senator is elected by the provincial legislature. The other is nominated by the provincial governor and confirmed by the legislature. Prior to 2000, all provincial governors sat in the Council while continuing to hold their territorial offices at the same time. Upon President Putin’s ascension to the Russian presidency, this practice was discontinued under pressure from the Kremlin, forbidding governors to hold dual posts.

Terms to the Council are also not nationally fixed, due to the continuing territorial nature of the upper house. Terms instead are determined according to the regional bodies they represent.

In 2001-2004 regional bodies were able to recall their senator by the same procedure as they've appointed him or her. Such recalls were quite often. But a new law passed in December 2004 required that a recall procedure must be first initiated by the chairman of Federation Council. The procedure wasn't implemented since.

[edit] Legislative functions

As the upper house of the Federal Assembly, the Federation Council is viewed as a more formal chamber than the lower house State Duma. Because of its federalist design, as well as its voting franchise strictly limited to provincial elites, the Council is viewed as less volatile to radical changes.

The Council is charged in cooperating with the State Duma in completing and voting on draft laws. Federal laws concerning budgets, customs regulations, credit monitoring, and the ratification of international treaties are to be considered by the Council after they have been adopted from the State Duma, where most legislation is introduced.

Special powers accorded to the Council include the right to change borders between the Russian Federation’s subjects, approve presidential decrees, declaring presidential elections, impeach the president, appoint judges to the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court, and the Higher Arbitration Court, and taking decisions on the use of Russia’s armed forces outside of its borders.

For laws to pass the Council, a vote of more than half of its 176 senators is required. When considering federal constitutional laws, ¾ of the Council’s votes are required for passage. If the Council vetoes a law passed by the State Duma, the two chambers are mandated to form a Conciliation Committee in order to form a compromise document, which would again go under vote by both houses. The Council's veto can be overcome by two-thirds majority in the Duma.

[edit] Committees

Committees form a key component to the structure of the Council. Sixteen committees and seven commissions exist for senators to consider legislation and policy on a number of issues ranging from foreign affairs, federal affairs, and youth and sports. Leadership in these committees are determined by the Council Chairman, who remains in correspondence with their findings. These committees include:

  • Committee on Constitutional Legislation
  • Committee on Judicial and Legal Affairs
  • Committee on Defence and Security
  • Budgetary Committee
  • Committee on Financial Markets and Currency Circulation
  • Foreign Affairs Committee
  • Committee on the Commonwealth of Independent States
  • Committee on Federal Affairs and Regional Policies
  • Committee on Local Government
  • Social Policy Committee
  • Committee on Economic Policy, Business and Ownership
  • Industrial Policy Committee
  • Committee on Natural Resources and Environmental Protection
  • Committee on Food and Agricultural Policies
  • Committee for Science, Culture, Education, Public Health and Ecology
  • Committee on Northern Territories and Indigenous Minorities
  • Commission on Standing Orders and Parliamentary Performance Organisation
  • Commission for the Council of Federation's Performance Maintenance Monitoring
  • Commission on Ways and Means of the Council of Federation's Constitutional Powers Implementation
  • Commission for Interaction with the Accounts Chamber of the Russian Federation
  • Commission on Youth and Sports
  • Commission on Information Policy
  • Commission on Natural Monopolies

[edit] Criticisms

Critics to the Federation Council stress that the upper house is an inherently undemocratic body made for regional elites, with little say from the Russian people. Since the reforms advocated and passed by President Putin in 2000, critics have also charged that the Council resembles more of a rubber stamp body for the Kremlin than an independent legislative body. Many senators, including Council Chairman Sergey Mironov, are viewed as close allies of Putin and the United Russia party, despite rules with explicitly spell out that political factions are not allowed. Since Mironov’s rise in the Council in 2002, the Kremlin’s position on impending legislation is closely communicated to and coordinated with the Chairman and the committee and commission chairs. This top-down approach has meant that the Council votes with extreme efficiency, backing Kremlin positions on legislation nearly all of the time.

Critics also point to how long the Council convenes, meeting only one day every two weeks, speeding through legislative analysis and providing lop-sided majorities for each vote. Many blame this speedy legislation on the enormous influence the Kremlin exerts, who they charge have already instructed Council committee and commission chairs on how to vote. Several left-leaning State Duma deputies have lamented that Putin has stripped away the upper house’s last hold on checks and balances.

Since Putin’s restructuring of provincial executives in 2004, placing them under direct appointment by the Kremlin upon approval of their legislatures, federalist supporters have also charged the president in reducing the provincial role of the upper house. Where Yeltsin had envisioned an upper house composing of regional concerns, they argue, critics view Putin's restructuring as deeply centralizing the Council to reflect the president’s and United Russia’s political interests, taking away provincial voices. Putin supporters counter these criticisms by acknowledging that Yeltsin had also appointed governors to Russia's federal subjects in the early days of the Federation.

[edit] See also

Politics of Russia

[edit] References

  • McFaul, Michael. Russia's Unfinished Revolution. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 2001.
  • Herspring, Dale R. Putin's Russia. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2005.

[edit] External links

Image:Flag of Russia.svg Federal Assembly of Russia Image:Flag of Russia.svg
Capital: Moscow

State Duma | Federation Council of Russia

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Federation Council of Russia

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