On the Council of Europe, Russia, and elections of the Secretary General

Andrius Kubilius
DELFI / Šarūnas Mažeika

MP Andrius Kubilius and Reinhard Veser

At the end of March 2019, when the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe declared that my nomination was not to be submitted for further consideration to the Parliamentary Assembly, I made a clear statement that this act of conniving with Russia, made under pressure, was a mistake set to increase the polarisation between the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly. I also noted that this would not help solve the crisis with Russia, nor would it ease the process of election of the Secretary General.

This week, I followed closely the debates at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe from Vilnius. Russia and its friends lost again, despite the efforts of the German side. My prediction is coming true.

A week ago, one of the main German daily newspapers, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, has published a detailed article on the topics I still consider relevant: the Council of Europe; the election of its Secretary General; sanctions on Russia; alleged Russia’s friends in Europe who want the country to return to the Council of Europe; and your humble servant. The very title of the article sends a strong message: ‘At what price?’ What is, indeed, the price that the friends of Russia in the Council of Europe are ready to pay in order to indulge Russia’s whims? The removal of my nomination was one of the steps in that direction. In the article, the author puts forward an indirect question: just how much more does Russia need to be paid to become satisfied? Moreover, can the Council of Europe afford to pay the price by undermining its own values?

Russians already winning the elections

A brief quote from the article: “The forthcoming elections of the Secretary General, due to take place in June, are seen as a battle both in Moscow and among Eastern European parliamentarians, and, notably, a battle already won by Russia. Andrius Kubilius, former Prime Minister of Lithuania, also sought being elected as Secretary General. He is a conservative politician, whose personal qualifications and transparency are widely recognised well beyond the confines of his party. Unfortunately, Russia made it clear that his candidacy was unacceptable in any case. At the end of March, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe removed Andrius Kubilius from the list of candidates. Ever since then, the Russian side stopped caring whether its parliamentarians would take part in the elections of the Secretary General in June. In the meantime, Ukraine in particular accuses Germany of standing at the forefront of the pro-Russian lobby. “This is absurd”, says Andreas Nick (CDU), Member of the Bundestag. “We adhere to a clearly pro-Ukrainian stance.”

Full R. Veser article:

At what price? Controversy in the Council of Europe on the conditions of further membership of Russia

In the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe is hotly debated over a resolution in which it is at first only about things against which no one can have – solemn commitments to democracy, the rule of law and other beautiful values. But the real subject of the resolution is whether Russia will continue to be a member of the organization – and if so, under what conditions. A decision on this is coming, because if a state does not pay its membership fees for two years, the issue of suspending membership is on the agenda. And that will be the case with Russia in June. Before you are thrown out, you go yourself, it is said on the Russian side. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, the chairmen of both chambers of parliament and leading MPs have repeatedly confirmed this.

Russia’s allies in the Council of Europe

Several Western European countries, including Germany, as well as Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjörn Jagland have been looking for months for ways and means to still be able to hold Russia in the Council of Europe. Opposite them are the Ukraine, the Baltic States, Poland, Georgia and also many MPs from other countries. They also say they wanted Russia to stay. But they see in a concession to Moscow a collapse of pressure from the Kremlin and a de facto acceptance of the annexation of Crimea by Russia.

In protest of this breach of international law, the parliamentary assembly deprived the Russian delegation of its voting rights in the spring of 2014 by a majority vote. Since then, the Russian parliamentarian delegation no longer appears in Strasbourg, although its members are expected to continue attending the meetings. After several attempts to return the voting rights to the Russian delegation, Moscow stopped paying its contributions in June 2017. This puts the Council of Europe in growing financial difficulties because a € 33 million gap in its budget is torn, well over ten percent of the total. However, the return of voting rights to his delegation is not enough for Russia to repay. It also wants a guarantee that such a thing cannot happen anymore, preferably in the form of a change of the statutes.

This is not yet on the agenda. It would not be enforceable. The result was a conflict over the interpretation of the existing statutes: the majority of the Council of Ministers came to the conclusion that Parliament had no right to withdraw a vote from a delegation. Thus, the Russian deputies would have the right to vote – and there would be no danger that they could lose it again. Part of the MEPs insists on the right to deprive delegations of their right to vote if their country seriously violates the principles of the Council of Europe – the commitment to democracy and the rule of law. They point out that there are precedents for this.

However, a growing number of MEPs were recently ready to compromise. The crucial sentence in the controversial resolution, which is hidden under point 15, is about who may impose sanctions. Not all of them are concessions to Russia. The Social Democrat parliamentary group leader, Member of Parliament Frank Schwabe, says that this crisis shows that the existing rules of the Council of Europe were made for “nice weather”. Now you have a situation in which Russia is excluded from one of the two institutions, the Parliamentary Assembly, in the other, the Council of Ministers, but may have a say in the future.

In the future, it must apply: “either in there or outside. I want everyone inside, but if a country breaks the rules, it should be thrown out. “Schwabe does not just focus on Russia: rules must be created that would allow Parliamentary Assembly and Council of Ministers to respond to serious violations. Schwabes use for a hard sanctioning mechanism is credible. He was one of the driving forces in the investigation of the corruption scandal over MPs who had blocked a condemnation of human rights violations by the regime in Azerbaijan.

Many from Eastern Europe are not impressed

But for many Eastern European MPs in particular, the catastrophic signal that comes from a return of the Russian MPs is in the foreground: “If they are allowed to vote here again, that means politically that this is what was the reason for their exclusion “Says Georgian MP Giorgi Kandelaki. Statements by Russian politicians and the coverage of the state-run Russian media leave no doubt that in Moscow with triumphant tones would be interpreted in exactly the same way. Also, the prelude to the upcoming election of a new Secretary General in June is understood by Moscow and Eastern European parliamentarians as a struggle in which Russia has prevailed.

The former Lithuanian Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius also wanted to take office – a conservative whose qualifications and personal integrity are recognized far beyond the party boundaries. However, Russia has made it clear that it will not accept it in any case. At the end of March, Ministerial Council Kublius was removed from the list of candidates. Since then, for the Russian side, the question of whether their deputies may participate in the election in June, apparently plays a lesser role. Especially from the Ukraine was then accused, Germany is at the head of a pro-Russian lobby in the Council of Europe. “That is absurd,” says the member of the Bundestag Andreas Nick (CDU). “We have a clearly pro-Ukrainian position.” A commitment to Russia is no guarantee that it will remain in the Council of Europe. This includes the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), whose rulings in Moscow are becoming less and less popular the more repressive the regime becomes. Only on Tuesday, the court once again gave the regime opponent Aleksey Nawalnyj in a lawsuit in all respects. In hundreds of sentences, Russian citizens in recent years have been right in Strasbourg against their state. Therefore, Russian human rights organizations call for everything to be done to keep Russia in the Council of Europe. And it is quite possible that the Kremlin is looking for a reason to leave

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung article in German here.

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