“Russia belongs in the Council of Europe”: Maas looking for solutions

Foreign Minister Maas talks into microphones

Foreign Minister Maas, © Felix Zahn/photothek.net

17.05.2019 - Article

The Council of Europe protects human rights activists in Russia. Foreign Minister Maas is working to ensure that Moscow does not leave the Organisation.

At the meeting of the Committee of Ministers today, Foreign Minister Maas is calling for Russia to stay in the Council of Europe.

Russia belongs in the Council of Europe – with all the rights and responsibilities that implies,

Maas said at the meeting in Helsinki. The Foreign Minister will be holding talks with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, on the fringes on the meeting.

Russia is threatening to withdraw

Foreign Minister Maas at the meeting of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers
Foreign Minister Maas at the meeting of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers© Felix Zahn/photothek.net

Moscow has been in arrears with its contributions since 2017. If the payments are not made soon, the country will lose important rights in accordance with the organisation’s rules. The rift between Russia and the international organisation can be traced back to the annexation of Crimea in violation of international law. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe responded to this illegal invasion by revoking the Russian delegation’s voting rights.

Mediation milestone reached

In Helsinki, therefore, Foreign Minister Maas is trying to find a way to settle the dispute in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. The aim is to ensure that Russia retains its voting rights in the organisation. At the same time, it is necessary to draw up a new sanctions mechanism that can kick in when member states violate the organisation’s principles. An important milestone along this path has been reached: In a joint declaration the Committee of Ministers stated that it wants all delegations to participate in the election of the new Secretary General and new judges for the European Court of Human Rights. The Committee also emphasised that all member states must meet their obligations, for example by paying their contributions.

Human rights activists could lose protection

If Moscow were to withdraw from the Council of Europe, it would deal a severe blow to the protection of human rights in Russia. This is one of the Council of Europe’s most important functions: with the European Court of Human Rights it has created a unique protective mechanism for all citizens of its member states. Anyone who feels their human rights to have been violated can take their case to the Court.

The member states are bound by the Court’s rulings. The Court has therefore been able, on several occasions, to greatly strengthen and protect the position of human rights defenders – not least in Russia. So it is in Germany’s interest for Russia to remain in the Council of Europe.


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