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10 October, 2011  ▪  Hanne Severinsen

The Council of Europe – Russia and Ukraine: Who Influences Whom?

The position of non-democratic forces at the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly keeps it from fulfilling its fundamental functions of protecting human rights and the rule of law to the full extent

The autumn session of PACE ended with confusion about Ukraine. The Bureau of the Assembly was made up of the heads of political groups and committees opposed to the idea of an extraordinary discussion on Ukraine. The issue was raised at the session yet never collected the necessary two-thirds of votes even though the majority (82 versus 69) voted in favor of having the extraordinary discussion. According to European MPs, situations like this hint at some problems with the Assembly and the need to reform it.

In spring 1996, a heated discussion was held about the accession of Russia into the Council of Europe (CoE) in the Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe (PACE).

Would CoE-membership influence Russia? Or vice versa?

The first national Russian delegation of 1996 had joined all five political groups in PACE, (although some - like Zhirinovsky were not invited to any group). The Liberal Group had MPs from Yabloko and Union of Rights Forces who disagreed with Russian state policy for instance on Chechnya.

Optimists looked forward to a more European Russia. But after the election in 2003 when four-fifths of delegates came from Putin’s party, it seemed that it was the Council that had changed the most. Monitoring Russia has been rare, and these members have regarded it as interference in “internal affairs”

WORKING ON PARTY-LINES

Mainly it is to the advantage of international organizations to have a Parliamentary dimension with national delegations consisting of representatives from all elected parties. It can create cooperation across more traditional national lines if the system is based on groups divided along political value-lines. In that case it can give you a value-based network of mutual inspiration. If not, it is merely a system of intrigue!

The system of party lines has been even more decisive in the European Parliament, which also has much more influence in the legislative machinery of the EU’s member countries. (The EU Parliament is at the moment divided into seven groups whereas PACE has only five.)

UKRAINIAN GROUP PARTICIPATION

Many of the new member states in PACE who did not have value-based parties were in doubt about which group to join and the groups also had doubts about whom to accept.

From Ukraine, the Communists joined the Unified Left. BYuT had in the beginning members both in the Socialist, Liberal and EPP (Conservative Christian party) factions, while Our Ukraine had members among the Liberals and EPP. But in 2007, both parties decided to join EPP en bloc. The Party of Regions is now represented fifty/fifty in the Socialist and EDG (Conservative Nationalist party) groups. (Only Yanukovych's son stayed outside all groups). Lytvyn joined the Liberals together with one member from the Party of Regions and Serhiy Holovaty.

In the European Parliament in 2007, BYuT was the first to have formalized relations with the EPP. And last November the Party of Regions signed a cooperation agreement with the Socialists.

This alliance of EPP versus Socialist seems to have great influence in the group’s policy towards Yanukovych and the issue of alleged selective justice against former Ukrainian ministers.

HOW TO BECOME PRESIDENT OF PACE?

Twenty years ago, four parties (without the Unified Left) agreed on a rotational system for choosing the president of PACE. Instead of an election campaign, the group-designated president should, after his/her election, cooperate with a presidential committee from the five group leaders. They also negotiate Committee-Chairs and Vice-Chairs, important rappourteur-ships, all on a rotation/proportional base. This very practical arrangement can sometimes look a bit undemocratic from the outside, and also sometimes results in the designated person being someone who could not have obtained a majority in a “free” election.

But it is obvious that it is a system that gives hope for those group-leaders which have time to wait for the next election of the PACE-President.

In 2008 it was EDG’s turn, and this could have led to Russia's Margelov from Putin’s Party becoming the President of PACE (they have one third of the group-members and at that time the chairmanship). But in order to avoid that, the rotation-rules were slightly changed, so that the Spanish Socialist De Puig became president for 2008-10. This was achieved using the reasoning that their group was twice as big as the EGP-group. Therefore in 2010 it was EDG's turn and their choice was Turkey's Chavushoglu.

Incidentally, rotation was also about to be a tradition for the post of the General Secretary of the whole organization. But the Committee of Ministers reacted against this, and refused to nominate a candidate who had not been a former prime minister or “the like”. So the Assembly was denied the ability to choose one of “their own”. This caused the crisis two years ago that was won by the Committee of Ministers after three months without a General Secretary.

WHO WILL REACT AGAINST THE AUTHORITARIAN DEVELOPMENTS IN UKRAINE?

In February 2010, the newly-elected President of PACE, Chavushoglu, congratulated the newly-elected President of Ukraine. He promised him that there would now be a good chance to end the monitoring of Ukraine. And in September, after a long series of illegal power takeovers by Yanukovych, Chavushoglu went to Kyiv on behalf of PACE and praised Ukraine's “stability”. Adding to this, Ukraine has got – in a strange coincidence this year – the Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers from May to November due to alphabetical order.

This means, that in this very fragile period for Ukrainian democracy, human rights and rule of law — core values of the Council of Europe — the same Council of Europe is chaired by Yanukovych’s Party of Regions and the Assembly is chaired by a president appointed by EDG, one-third of which is made up of delegates from Putin’s United Russia and in which the Party of Regions placed half of its own MPs.

I am sure that the majority of PACE is worried about developments in Ukraine. And surely the whole organization has a lot of efficient monitoring mechanisms that can be at work. But a firm stand is needed now! Prevention is better than a cure. 


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