The European Council is a place where everybody comes in pursuit of his or her own truth and almost surely finds both proponents and opponents. Is this about the pluralism of discourses or the scattering of actions? Apparently, about everything at the same time
Photo: Mr. Kostiantyn Hryshchenko, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine
Some refer to the Council of Europe as a democracy lab, a platform for international communication, an incarnation of rhetoric and the intersection of diplomatic strategies. Each description is arguable, yet this international organization represents opportunities and imperfections, bureaucratic restrictions and bold precedents.
On the premises of the Palace of Europe, it is possible to get into an argument with Zhirinovsky on the stairs or become acquainted with a foreign minister in the coffee line. This is the place where unexpected partnerships are born and big ambitions die. Many say that big-time changes are brewing in the Council. But only a few believe that the current reform will resolve the most serious conflics within the international structure.
THE MYSTERY OF UKRAINE’S GLASS
The attempt to address the political situation in Ukraine at an extraordinary debate during the CoE’s October session looks like a Sufi quiz about the half empty or half full glass of water. Some colleagues resolutely refused to discuss the issue. At least, this was the first comment on the voting by one of the Russian MP’s and it was namely his comment that automatically flooded the Ukrainian mass media.
Other journalists stressed that voting in favor of holding the debate dominated, winning 82 votes, compared to 69 negative votes. In fact, the issue did not get a qualified majority, i.e. two thirds of the accredited members of national delegations present at the session. Figures demonstrate that attention to Ukraine is far from marginal. This is an important trend, which should not be ignored, say MPs from the European People’s Party faction, the largest political group at PACE.
Like every other issue at the CoE, the Ukrainian one was granted several readings. Serhiy Holovaty, Deputy Chairman of the PACE Legal Committee, said Ukraine “had no problem respecting the rule of law and no political prisoners”. However, Christos Pourgourides who is the Legal Committee’s Chairman, has a totally opposite view. He believes that Ukraine is run by “clans with close ties to criminals” and PACE made a mistake when it refused to discuss political repression in Ukraine. The CoE has it all at the level of each committee, political faction or national delegation, everything except unanimity.
Mr. Pourgourides was among the most fervent proponents of the debate regarding Ukraine. He brought it up for discussion at the Legal Committee three times, on the first day of PACE’s autumn session and at the bureau session, but failed to get the necessary majority. “Don’t interpret the voting outcome in Strasbourg mathematically,” says a PACE staff member. “What matters here, is the diplomacy of influence and the diplomacy of moral authority. Certain ideas, just like streams, only grow strong and powerful with time. Then, they become unstoppable.”
Hanne Severinsen is a role model in this sense. Some treat her as an indisputable authority, someone with clear political principles and comprehensive moral standards. For others, she is a burr in the saddle. I remember one Ukrainian diplomat chanting happily, “She will no longer be an MP in Denmark and will finally give us some peace!” That was in December 2003, when, apparently, Ms. Severinsen’s report as a Rapporteur on Ukraine ran counter to explanations from official Kyiv that the above-mentioned diplomat was forced to promote and disseminate abroad.
Today, Ms. Severinsen is indeed no longer a member of the Danish delegation. Yet, the institute of moral authority is an incredibly powerful leverage at the CoE. It is no wonder, that for decades, the Strasbourg-based Palace of Europe has been serving as a broad platform for NGOs which successfully present their research and reports.
Ms. Severinsen is no longer a Rapporteur on Ukraine but nothing can keep her from going to Strasbourg and speaking on certain matters. She is now a campaigner at the Danish Helsinki Human Rights Committee. To some, her protection guarantees fair treatment, while others, such as Ivan Popesku, the Head of the Ukrainian Delegation, cannot wait for the PACE Ethics Code that will “ban former rapporteurs from turning into open lobbyists” to be passed. Mr. Popesku’s legal naivety is touching, yet something else is of importance: official Kyiv would have no reason to fuss if Ms. Severinsen’s speeches had not been on the mark.
WHAT REMAINS IN THE END
The Ukrainian issue was barely mentioned at the October session of PACE, but Strasbourg is about to launch several missions regarding Ukraine in the coming months. PACE Rapporteurs Mailis Reps and Marietta de Pourbaix-Lundin will visit Ukraine to finalize their scheduled report on the Functioning of Financial Institutions in Ukraine. The report itself is to be completed by December 10, with the draft being published before December 25.
Thomas Hammarberg, CoE Commissioner for Human Rights will visit Ukraine in November. Among other things, he will look at the living conditions of Ukrainian prisoners. This refers both to one-time top officials and regular people who are also sometimes treated unfairly by the Ukrainian symbol of justice. However, if Yuriy Lutsenko and Valeriy Ivashchenko, ex-Deputy Minister of Defense, are still under arrest when Mr. Hammarberg is in Ukraine, the possibility of the CoE Commission trying to visit both them and Yulia Tymoshenko cannot be ruled out.
By the end of the year, Ukraine will welcome another important visitor. Mariluisa Beck serves as CoE’s Rapporteur for the protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms. In October, the CoE decided that Ukraine would be one of the countries Ms. Beck would pay special attention to. Her report is in the process of being prepared, ready for a discussion on it next year.
Ultimately, no matter how hard the Party of Regions and its allies try to distract other PACE members from the problems in the country, the planned report called The Functioning of Democratic Institutions in Ukraine is already on the agenda for PACE’s January session. Official Kyiv is bluffing and trying to convince Ukrainian voters, through its Minister of Foreign Affairs, that supposedly Tymoshenko’s sentence and other political processes have absolutely no effect on prospects for the signing of the Association Agreement with the EU or on Ukraine’s reputation at the CoE.
This is not so. A top French diplomat, who prefers to stay anonymous, told The Ukrainian Week of the existence of an internal ministerial document calling on all EU members to raise the question of respect for the rule of law in Ukraine more strictly. “Since there is no active mobilization in the country, the time has come to act,” he says. “France will bring up the matter of political persecution at the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, currently presided over by Ukraine. We believe that further cooperation between Ukraine and the EU must directly depend on Kyiv’s ability to ensure the right of Ukrainians to pluralism.”
Time will show how efficient the efforts of various political camps, particularly those represented at the CoE will prove. However, there is no doubt that Ukraine will be unable to avoid the vigilant attention of foreign politicians as a result of the verdict against Tymoshenko. The only thing is that their reaction will now be much tougher.