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UKRAINIAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT SAYS PARLIAMENT MAY ELECT PRESIDENT IN 2004... Ukraine's Constitutional Court ruled on 11 December that a clutch of constitutional amendments providing for the election of a president in 2004 by the Verkhovna Rada and a one-year extension of the term of the current parliament until 2007 is in line with the Ukrainian Constitution, Interfax reported. The bill, drafted by a group of deputies from pro-presidential caucuses, proposes that the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada elect the president in 2004 with a majority vote of 300 and that elections to parliament in 2007 be held on a proportional basis from party lists in a single, nationwide constituency. In November, the Constitutional Court ruled that a separate constitutional-reform bill, prepared by the presidential administration, also does not contravene the constitution (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 2003). That earlier bill proposes that a new parliament, elected for five years under a fully proportional party-list system in 2006, elect a president. Changes to the Ukrainian Constitution require 300 votes in the Verkhovna Rada. JM

...AND RULES ON PRESIDENTIAL IMMUNITY, IMPEACHMENT. Also on 11 December, the Constitutional Court announced its ruling on a request by a group lawmakers for judicial interpretations of constitutional provisions that deal with presidential immunity and impeachment, Interfax reported. The court said the president of Ukraine enjoys immunity from prosecution, meaning that no criminal proceedings may be instigated against the president during his or her term in office. The court also concluded that impeachment, which is essentially a non-judicial procedure, is the only way the Ukrainian president may be held accountable for misdeeds. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT ABOLISHES SOVIET-ERA SYSTEM OF RESIDENCY PERMITS. The Verkhovna Rada on 11 December passed a law "on the freedom of movement and free choice of residence" to replace the Soviet-era system of residency permits (propiska) with a more liberal residence-registration system, Interfax reported. Under the new regime, individuals are obliged to register a change of residence within 10 days following their arrival at a new address, requiring the submission to an appropriate registration office of a written statement, a passport, tax documents, and a certificate showing that the previous registration has been canceled. JM

ROMANIA POSTPONES SCHENGEN GUIDELINES FOR MOLDOVAN CITIZENS. Foreign Minister Geoana told the parliament's European Integration Committee on 10 December that Romania will delay the introduction of Schengen regulations for Moldovan citizens visiting the country until 2007, when Romania hopes to accede to the EU, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Geoana said economic conditions will make Romania inaccessible for Moldovans, who would under the current regulations have to prove access to at least 50 euros ($61) for every day of their visit. He also said Bucharest will introduce Schengen regulations on cross-border movement for Serbian, Russian, Ukrainian, and Turkish citizens in 2004. MS

The new Schengen-style border crossing that opened recently at Obrezje on Slovenia's border with Croatia brought distinctly different reactions from the respective sides of the border. Slovenian Prime Minister Anton Rop praised the new system as one that will link EU and non-EU countries rather than divide them, "Delo" reported on 4 December.

Meanwhile, some Croatian politicians -- such as Damir Kajin of the Istrian Democratic Party (IDS) -- condemned the development as a new "Iron Curtain" that will isolate Southeastern Europe from the rest of the continent. Despite such grumbling from the south, however, Slovenia's leaders are increasingly turning their attention to the north and sizing up opportunities for positioning Slovenia within the EU.

Concerns over Slovenia's future contributed to a series of high-profile meetings called by President Janez Drnovsek over the past two months. The first round in October focused on foreign policy and the position of Slovenia as a small state in the international community. The second meeting, held in late November, looked at identifying and preserving traditional values, while the third meeting on 10 December examined the roles of knowledge and science.

Despite all the talk in and around this "convention on the future of Slovenia," the public remains largely oblivious to the discussions. A "Delo" poll published on 29 November revealed that only 9 percent of Slovenes considered themselves knowledgeable about the meetings, and over half said they knew nothing at all.

Individual political parties are now dealing with the selection of candidates to run in elections to the European Parliament (EP), slated for 13 June 2004. Slovenia's population of 2 million entitles it to seven representatives. Although campaigning will not begin until 15 May, the tickets are already being drawn up.

In some parties, obvious jockeying for positions is betraying internal rivalries. France But -- minister of agriculture and former head of the junior member of the governing coalition, the Slovenian People's Party (SLS) -- announced in August that he would step down from both positions in exchange for top ranking on the SLS EP slate. But's subsequent hesitation and a three-way race to succeed him as party president, however, gave the impression of a free-for-all (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 21 November 2003).

The largest opposition party, the Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS), announced its lineup of seven candidates for the EP elections on 29 October. As expected, party Vice President Miha Brejc is heading the list, followed by Joze Jerovsek, a senior SDS deputy. Formal adoption of the list will take place in spring 2004, when the party will also make a final decision on whether or not to run a joint ticket with the New Slovenia (NSi) party.

Meanwhile, speculation is rife about whether the senior member of the governing coalition, the Liberal Democracy of Slovenia (LDS), may "invite" Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel to be on its list of EP candidates as a way of gently removing him from the domestic political scene.

Rupel has taken significant heat from the public over the past year, especially following the signing of the "Vilnius 10" statement expressing support for the U.S. position on Iraq. Moreover, there have been reports of friction between the minister and key coalition figures. Rupel's latest worries involve alleged misuse of his ministerial position to support a university training program for diplomats. However, Rop commented in "Delo" on 6 November that he supports Rupel and the work of the Foreign Ministry.

Plans to upgrade Slovenia's links with the EU suffered a setback in November, when a proposed second rail line from the port of Koper to Ljubljana failed to gain priority ranking for EU funding. Slovenia has been striving to win support for developing infrastructure along its section of the planned Trans-European Corridor V -- which will stretch from France to Ukraine -- in both rail and highway construction.

Slovenia particularly fears that the port of Koper may be sidelined in favor of Italy's facilities in Trieste. Accordingly, Transportation Minister Jakob Presecnik and Minister for European Affairs Janez Potocnik have been lobbying for development of the Koper-Divaca rail line as a link to the main Trieste-Ljubljana route. Slovenia will get a second chance for priority funding of the route at a summit slated for 12-13 December in Brussels, "Delo" reported on 6 December.

Slovenia is also looking to other current and future EU member states to find its own niche in the Union. Parliamentarians are examining plans for coordinating lawmaking at the national and EU levels, and many are looking to Finland as a model for Slovenia. At the same time, Slovenia took advantage of visits by Czech and Slovak leaders in October to stress its commitment to the rights of small and medium-sized states in the expanded EU.

Whatever the ups and downs of Slovenia's accession experience, one thing is certain. Croatia will be watching with interest, hoping to imitate its neighbor's successes and avoid any mistakes in the next round of EU expansion.