“Good news for Russian civil society” – Russia to stay in the Council of Europe

25.06.2019 - Article

On Tuesday, the Council of Europe arrived at a compromise which enables Russia to remain a member. This is good news, especially for civil society in Russia.

In the early hours of Tuesday, shortly after 1 a.m.: following nine hours of debate, the members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) voted by a clear majority in favour of a compromise which smooths the way for Russia’s delegation to return to the Parliamentary Assembly.

New sanctions mechanism

Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe
Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe© Council of Europe

For five years, Russia has had no voting rights in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe – so it had stopped sending delegates. Thanks to a change in PACE’s Rules, Moscow is now to get its voting rights back. This means it is still possible for Russia to remain a member of this important European institution.

At the same time, the Council of Europe will develop a mechanism to sanction countries in line with the Statute if they are in breach of duty. Until now, there has been no provision in the Statute of the Council of Europe for withdrawing voting rights. “The new regulations will strengthen the Council of Europe,” Foreign Minister Maas said.

But he made it clear that “Moscow is called on to play a constructive part in this compromise. We will continue to remind Russia of the obligations that it undertook itself in joining the Council of Europe. This includes restarting the payment of its membership contributions without delay.”

Russia should remain full member

Flags of the member states in front of the Council of Europe building in Strasbourg
Flags of the member states in front of the Council of Europe building in Strasbourg© picture alliance / Frank Rumpenhorst

It is in Germany’s interests for Russia to remain a full member of the Council of Europe. Its withdrawal would deal a severe blow to human rights protection in Russia. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said: “This is also good news for Russian civil society. Russians must continue to have the opportunity to seek justice at the European Court of Justice.”

This is one of the Council of Europe’s most important functions: every citizen in its member states can seek justice before the European Court of Human Rights, which plays an important role in helping to protect Russian civil society. Also, as long as Russia remains a member, the Council of Europe can inspect in Russia itself whether the country is adhering to the obligations to which it has signed up (e.g the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture).

Foreign Minister Maas expects “Russia to adhere to the standards that it has a duty to uphold under the European Convention on Human Rights.”

Maas advocates compromise

Foreign Minister Maas talks into microphones
Foreign Minister Maas© Felix Zahn/photothek.net

Over the past few months, Foreign Minister Maas has been seeking support for the compromise. At the meeting of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe in Helsinki on 17 May, the Council of Europe stated that it would welcome the participation of all delegations at the Parliamentary Assembly meeting in June and in the election of a new Secretary General.

However, it is also clear that the German Government’s view of the illegal annexation of Crimea has not changed. The German Government will not accept this violation of international law. For this reason, the European Union just last week extended its sanctions against Russia.


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