PACE Vice-President: “Ukrainians alone can demand condemnation of Ukraine’s election riggers”
René Rouquet, PACE vice president, discussed with The Ukrainian Week whether international organizations can realistically be expected to impose sanctions on election riggers and whether Party of Regions representatives will again join the socialist faction at the PACE winter session to be held on 21-25 January in Strasbourg.
René Rouquet, head of the French parliamentary delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), was elected PACE vice president in 2012. In his interview with The Ukrainian Week, he discusses whether international organizations can realistically be expected to impose sanctions on election riggers and whether Party of Regions representatives will again join the socialist faction at the PACE winter session to be held on 21-25 January in Strasbourg.
U.W.: In December 2012, the team of PACE observers released their report on the parliamentary elections in Ukraine. It points out that Ukrainian politics is largely dependent on money provided by oligarchs and calls the elections ‘non-transparent’ and ‘unfair’. Do you share these conclusions? Do you believe that the Council of Europe should demand sanctions against election riggers in cases where these falsifications have been proven?
Before speaking about any sanctions it should be clearly proven that falsifications indeed took place. The report composed by mission chief Andreas Gross, impressions of other observers and, finally, OSCE conclusions point to numerous deviations from European standards and several controversial situations that can be equated with falsifications. On the whole, no actions were registered on the day of the elections that could be called massive falsifications.
U.W.: In fact, they took place later, during the vote count…
You know how observers work. They can identify irregularities at their polling station but have no way of doing so at a neighbouring one. It is very hard to clearly determine what really happened. Most observers noted irregularities. But if we’re talking about condemning election falsifiers or applying sanctions against them, this is first and foremost up to the Ukrainians themselves to demand. The task of the Council of Europe and OSCE is to clearly call a spade a spade and offer legal assessment. Demands of possible sanctions would have to come to these organizations from Ukrainian parliamentarians and NGOs.
U.W.: What possible sanctions could be considered?
The PACE and OSCE are political bodies and they must act accordingly. If they conclude that the broad electoral process was unfair, they have to exert a long-lasting political pressure on the incumbent country.
U.W.: Precisely this type of political sanction would be optimal for Ukraine – with the support of international organizations, calling things by their proper names and restoring fairness to the electoral process.
True, but there is also another aspect. The states that have signed the protocol on securing democratic elections must report before the Council of Europe before the countries with which this protocol was signed. This means that the Council of Europe must continue its monitoring activities in order to find out whether there are any positive changes taking place. In many countries where similar problems occurred, Council of Europe specialists are helping to work out proposals to amend legislation. Monitoring determines whether new laws have indeed been passed and implemented. A promise is not enough. I remember a recent election in Armenia that was not perfect. But today Yerevan seems to be moving along the path of positive change. On 18 February, we will learn whether the innovations that have been introduced are working. But even in developed democratic countries such as France, things do not always work to perfection.
U.W.: Are you referring to the incident in Perpignan where voting slips were hidden in a man’s socks?
Right, there were problems in Perpignan. But violations were also recorded in Île-de-France, my home province. These were not as brutal, but any violations have to be exposed both at the smallest polling stations and at the national level even if they have a negligible impact on the final result. Otherwise people will feel disappointed and cheated. I was in Ukraine in 2004, working as an observer during the first and second rounds of the presidential election that ended with the Orange Revolution. Personally, I was pleasantly surprised by the way it all happened, particularly considering that it was a country that had not yet developed stable democratic skills. Returning to the mission of international observers, we need to understand that their capabilities are limited, especially because they don’t have enough time. Pre-election missions are three days long, and only the voting process and the first day of vote counting are monitored during the election itself.
U.W.: Isn’t this report going to be discussed in the session hall during the PACE winter session?
No, this report was finally approved during a meeting of the standing committee in Andorra on 30 November. If there are no extraordinary events in the meantime, Ukraine will be discussed when the report of the Monitoring Committee rapporteurs is finished.
U.W.: Some sources say that the question of dispatching a post-election PACE mission to Ukraine was discussed in Andorra.
That would have made sense, but the decision has to be made during the session.
U.W.: In his interview for The Ukrainian Week, PACE President Jean-Claude Mignon said that he wanted to arrange for a joint mission of the Council of Europe and OSCE to Ukraine in order to visit political prisoners together and try to meet with political leaders. Is this project making any progress?
Yes, Jean-Claude Mignon regularly mentions this intention of his. The Committee on Migration has taken systematic interest in the situation with political prisoners in all member states. I don’t know if Ukraine is one of the priorities, but this preparatory work is being done.
U.W.: Leonid Kozhara, Ukraine’s new Minister of Foreign Affairs, said while he was still a Party of Regions MP, that the definition which PACE gave to the term political prisoner had nothing to do with Ukraine. Do you consider Yulia Tymoshenko a political prisoner in the proper sense?
Of course. The situation with Yulia Tymoshenko is an anomaly that is hard to comprehend. Why do the Ukrainian authorities, including the president of the country, assume responsibility for this? Even if they employ legal arguments, it is clear that Viktor Yanukovych could solve this problem through his personal authority. The majority of European politicians cannot make sense of this situation; I can’t see anyone in Europe calling it normal.
U.W.: In your opinion, to what extent does the application of selective justice in Ukraine hamper the signing of the Association Agreement with the EU?
I am not a member of the French government, but I am one of those who are convinced that we cannot further financial and political relations with Ukraine until the problem of selective justice has been resolved. What we need to find is a political solution. I have never heard any French government officials speak in favour of Tymoshenko remaining behind bars and in the conditions she now has at that. This is unacceptable. I don’t understand why the Ukrainian president fails to understand it himself. Any normal person understands that it is unbearable to be under video surveillance around the clock. It is more than evident to the Council of Europe. Our organization has taken great care to make sure that prisoners are kept in conditions that permit them to keep minimal human dignity. The entire world, not only Europe, knows about the Tymoshenko affair. We are also informed about the case of former Internal Affairs Minister Ihor Lutsenko and persecutions against other ex-government members.
U.W.: In late January, the new Ukrainian parliamentary delegation will come to Strasbourg to begin its work. Until recently, your socialist faction included members of the Ukrainian Party of Regions, which is oligarchic in its composition, and priorities. A year ago, Andreas Gross, leader of your faction, explained to The Ukrainian Week that it had happened “because there is no entrance examination”. Will European socialists again agree to admit Ukrainian Party of Regions members to their group?
You know, this is a very complicated thing. Let’s say some country held an election, even a completely democratic election. Then its parliament determined the members of the national delegation. It is only in Strasbourg that the delegates apply for membership in this faction or other. If no one is against their candidacies, the delegates join the political group of their choice.
U.W.: Does a political group have the right to reject a membership application?
No, only the national delegation has the right to withdraw a person from a particular group. As far as membership in the Parliamentary Assembly is concerned, If there are excessively odious persons involved, the entire delegation may be denied recognition by the Assembly. But these are extreme measures. A request of this kind was submitted with regard to the Russians during the second Chechen War, but it never came to a logical conclusion. All of these things are, after all, utterly serious. They concern the sovereign choices that a country makes, and the Council of Europe does not have the right to invalidate them.
On 14 January, the members of the new Ukrainian delegation to PACE were announced: Volodymyr Vecherko, Serhiy Kivalov, Serhiy Kliuiev, Yulia Lovochkina and Ivan Popesku (all from the Party of Regions); Volodymyr Ariev, Lesia Orobets, Serhiy Soboliev and Pavlo Riabykin (all from UDAR); Petro Symonenko (Communist Party); Oleksandr Shevchenko (Svoboda) and non-partisan MP Lev Myrymsky. The delegation will be headed by Ivan Popesku.
At a campaign rally in Iowa, President Donald Trump cited an unsubstantiated news report to revive a widely debunked false narrative about Joe Biden’s work in Ukraine on behalf of the Obama administration