The Council of Europe: a sleeping beauty
Archived Articles 25 Mar 2009  EWR
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Andres Herkel

Sometimes it is said, that the Council of Europe is Europe’s only value-based organisation. The assertion is based on the fact that the Council of Europe’s competence is restricted to the most traditional value spheres: human rights, democracy, free elections, gender equality, rule of law and due process. Other organizations have their own concerns, such as security and economic cooperation. True, adherence to values is also among the prerequisites for becoming a member of the European Union, and in fact experience shows that it is actually the European Union that holds the bar as high as it is. Going by the European Union’s yardstick, a number of Council of Europe member states are about as far from EU membership as the moon is from the sun. The European Union gave its biggest discount in admitting Bulgaria and Romania, even though in the context of the Council of Europe, these countries were either partially or completely exempted from monitoring long ago.

However, the most striking characteristic of the Council of Europe is the fact that Russia is a member of the organization and an unceasing source of problems. This is the real source of the devaluation of standards and the constant internal strife that leaves no time for focusing earnestly on serious work toward strengthening democracy.

I would argue that the Council of Europe has gave a discount both by admitting Russia and the countries of the southern Caucasus, and by ending post-monitoring in Turkey. In spite of the fact that Belarus has not met the acceptance criteria due to Lukashenka’s dictatorship, “better in than out” arguments have never ceased and internal pressure for a détente with Belarus continues apace. Among other things, this stems from the fact that the organization includes, alongside Russia, members such as Armenia, Azerbaijan. The two latter countries may have irreconcilable differences over Karabakh, but in other questions they might form a united front of countries that have a controlled democracy. A popular notion in recent times is the idea that smaller countries should not be called to order for lack of democracy, because the situation is worse in Russia. But this leads to a vicious circle – Russia cannot be taken to task just because it is Russia. Let us recall that military aggression against another member state – Georgia – and the subsequent failure to comply with the peace plan did not result in any sanctions.

Thus the Council of Europe is the only organization that according to the letter of the law is based purely on values, yet at the same time these are values that have been on a clearance sale for some time. When Russia became a member of the Council of Europe in winter 1996, Mart Nutt wrote in Postimees that it was the end of the Council of Europe – that in other words, it would soon become a powerless organization, much like the UN or the OSCE. The inconvenient question of whether the Council of Europe has influenced Russia in the direction of democracy or whether Russia has instead influenced the Council of Europe toward less democracy is clearly a salient one. In my opinion, resolving this question in accordance with values will be the number one task facing the incoming general secretary of the Council of Europe, whether his name is van den Brande, Eörsi, Jagland or Cimoczewicz...

(To be continued in
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