Strasbourg-Kyiv — At the end of last week, the Russian Federation once again proved that he can act asymmetrically. Contrary to expectations of officials in Strasbourg, the Kremlin has fulfilled its threat and suspended the financing of the Council of Europe. This step does not leave many options: either in the next few years, Russia has “come around” and repay the debt with interest and penalties, or sooner or later it will be a question on its membership in the Council of Europe. But do not hope that Russia lost interest in CE. On the contrary, the activity even increased.
In particular, now in Moscow the question on the legality of key personnel decisions of the Council of Europe. Also the “European truth” became known about creation in the PACE of unification of deputies in defense of Russia and Azerbaijan. The Union should employ the main lobbyist of the Russian Assembly — a French ex-Deputy, Thierry Mariani, who was defeated in this election.
The continuing scandal around the President of the Assembly. Pedro Agramunt continues to fight for this position, although it has been suspended from duty. But even his dismissal will not reduce to zero sympathy for Russia: it is already known that the next Plenipotentiary of the President will again become the politician with the sentiment towards Russia.
In the end, now there are all grounds to assume that Russia will be the last to work in Strasbourg, undermining the organization from within, while other countries that will not put the question of its exclusion from the organization.
A counter to Russia
Nervous session of the parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, during which he entered a new round of conflict between the Assembly and its Pro-Russian President, Pedro Agramunt, said a statement of the foreign Ministry.
The Russians announced that it was suspending the payment of membership dues in the budget of the CE in 2017 in connection with the “deep crisis in PACE”. Time for public statements was chosen could not be better — it was made on Friday at lunch, the summer session of the Assembly just ended and the MPs have not been a tribune for a reaction to it. However, this decision was not unexpected.
The Russians have long threatened to Strasbourg to reduce or suspend funding of the organization, which monitors compliance with human rights. In the past two years, these threats have become a regular, and in early June, the speaker of the state Duma made a statement that his country would “be fined” CE of 11 million euros, without paying the balance of the annual fee. Now this line is officially confirmed. What does the Kremlin decision to suspend funding of the Council of Europe?
First, to avoid confusion, it is necessary to stress that Moscow is not talking about the complete rejection of the payment of membership fees, but only reduce them by one third. Russia had to pay in the budget of the COE 33 million euros in 2017, and now announced that it will pay 11 million euros of this amount. However, from the statement of the Russian foreign Ministry, it follows that next year they will resume payments — may be re-paid part of its contribution. The only problem: Russia has no right to change the amount as they please.
The contribution of each member state of the COE is determined by the same for all countries methodology; in particular, it depends on the number of population and GDP of the country. Exception for Russia it is impossible, because in this case, other States may want to reduce your expenses. And the fact that Russia will resume payments next year, does not solve the current problem of non-payment: it becomes an internationally recognized duty.
Since July 1 the debt of the Russian Federation have begun to accrue interest. In the first 6 months “counter” will add to the debt of Russia to 0.5% in the month, followed by 1%, that is more than 100 thousand euros per month. Is not complete payment yet, and next year the amount of Russian debt will further increase.
And no explanations of the Russian Federation that it “is dissatisfied with the work of the organization” will not be sufficient justification for other States turned a blind eye to the problem of non-payment. How long Russia will remain part of the Council of Europe with millions of debt? The answer to this question remains open, and it is clear that this cannot continue forever.
Blackmail 11 million
In fact, debts to Strasbourg arise not only from Russia. Traditional debtors are the Balkan country last year in Strasbourg complained that the balance for more than a year “hangs” a debt balance of Montenegro and Macedonia.
But if we are talking not only about the budget of the organization, but also of its “daughter” in various fields, some debtors even more. For example, Ukraine in last year’s report of defaulters to the European Directorate for quality of medicines. But the main difference is in the scale of the budget hole.
For example, the Balkan debt in 2015 is… only 8 thousand euros. Ukrainian longstanding debt to the medical component of the Council of Europe in the past year was defined in the sum about 100 thousand Euro (the mission of Ukraine to the Council of Europe said that this year it was reduced to less than 30 thousand). However, Russia’s decision has created in the budget of the Council of Europe a hole in 11 million, with the prospect of annual increase in this amount. It is more than 7 per cent of the budget — amount, the failure of which creates serious problems for her.
Moreover, Russia does not hide: it is about direct political blackmail of Strasbourg. The office of Sergey Lavrov has made a statement that it will pay a fee in exchange for the lifting of sanctions in PACE. “Payment for 2017 is suspended until the unconditional restoration of the powers of delegation of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation in the Assembly,” reads the official statement on the website of the foreign Ministry.
So there are three basic options:
any Assembly will make concessions and the lifting of sanctions;
or at some point Moscow “come to their senses” and pay the debt;
anything on the agenda will be the issue of suspension of Russia’s membership in the organization.
The first scenario is unrealistic. Sanctions decisions are made not by officials in Strasbourg, and the deputies from the national parliaments, which still will not be affected by the financial crisis in the Council of Europe. All the recent decisions on the issue of Russian-Ukrainian conflict gave a comfortable majority of votes in favor of Ukraine. Besides, Russia publicly calls for the abolition of all sanctions, without exception, so their partial mitigation is unlikely to be accepted.
The second scenario would be beneficial to Strasbourg, but little faith in the fact that Russia, starting outdoor blackmail the Council of Europe, will depart from his position. Therefore, it remains the third scenario. Although it is not simple.
Farewell to Slavyanka
Numerous sources “European truth” claim that in Strasbourg there is another opinion: they believe that the Russians will find a compromise. In the office of Secretary General Jagland also hoped to the last that the current threats will remain on paper, but the Russian foreign Ministry will be able to convince the Kremlin not to stop the payments. But life has confirmed the rightness of the skeptics.
Currently, Russia has a lot of reasons for leaving the Council of Europe. We are talking not only about the situation in PACE, which Moscow suffered a series of defeats, after which just ceased to give a list to participate in the Assembly. The Russians lost the support of all key organs of the COE. Every year Russia has more and more problems with the European court of human rights.
It’s not only about the Yukos case. Recently resumed the flow of decisions in which the ECHR found Russia responsible for the actions of Transnistria. On the way hundreds of cases against Russian actions in the Crimea and in the Donbas, which will also be a judgement against Russia, despite statements about “we’re not there” (more on this in the article “Strasbourg prepares to punish Russia for Donbass”).
Another pilot case — decision against Russia’s “homosexual propaganda”. And in the queue — a decision on the cases of “prisoners Marsh”. The list is long. These decisions Russia certainly deemed political and will not to perform them, creating additional problems in relations with the Council of Europe. At the same time arguments in favor of maintaining membership in the Council of Europe for Russia.
Russians have long been do not affect the decision of the organization on key issues and voting in the Committee of Ministers of the Crimea and the Russian aggression turned into a game with only one goal: decisions were approved almost unanimously, with only Russia and Armenia voted against. In fact, there was one plus from the membership. But it is significant.
Moscow wins where there is a crisis. And her participation in the Council of Europe has created a permanent crisis in the organization. Quite revealing example is the work PACE. Because of the history with Pedro Agramunt, the Assembly has six months can not return to normal operation, this topic stirred up a quarrel between the leading members and leaders of groups.
It seems that this is pushing the Russians to the decision to remain part of the Council of Europe. And most importantly, Russia is unlikely to ever announce that emerges from the organization on their own. She will have to wait for the exception to be in the role of the victim. And this further delays the solution to the current crisis.
The attack on the Assembly
Speaking of Agramunt. “European Pravda” wrote about the situation (see the publication “Agramunt in the fall shoot: all items and scenarios of the scandal with the Pro-Russian President of PACE”).
This problem will be solved no later than the autumn session, but do not hope that the problem of Pro-Russian views of the new head of the PACE will disappear. Fall will be appointed interim President, just for one session. Constant, for two years, will be elected in January.
Intrigue with his election no. Representatives of several political groups in the EP confirmed that there is a clear understanding: the Assembly will be headed by the representative of the socialists. The socialist faction in June, has already announced its candidate. They will become the head of the group, the Italian Deputy Michelle Nicoletti.
The new head is unlikely to repeat the stupidity that made Agramunt: the current scandal clearly demonstrated how dangerous the open support of the Russians.
But it doesn’t change the fact that the future PACE President supports the resumption of closer relations with Russia. Finally, in the Assembly there is another agent of influence of Russia.
Officially, this has not yet been reported, but in the near future PACE will be the official “faction support” of Russia and Azerbaijan. A political group under the name of “Free Democrats” had to create back in June, but because of an error of the organizers has blocked the process (specifically, the deputies found plagiarism in the constituent documents, and the members of the group had not emerged from their political groups).
But this is a purely technical issue which will be solved probably until the autumn session.
“European truth” has on hand copies of the constituent documents of the group. In it should be composed of 24 MP, and it will be headed by Italian Adele Gambaro.
The group included deputies from different factions previously supported the position of Russia and Azerbaijan. And there is no doubt that in the case of Russia’s return to PACE (although this option is unlikely) it will add a lot of Russians.
This means that the Pro-Russian group will get a place in the presidential Committee and the Bureau of the Assembly, the quota of heads of committees and rapporteurs who will try to appoint on issues critical to Baku and Moscow.
It is noteworthy that the position of General Secretary of the group nominated by the infamous Thierry Mariani, a Pro-Russian ex-Deputy from France, which this year was defeated in the parliamentary elections. Mariani known as a key lobbyist of Russian interests in PACE. He has repeatedly led a delegation of parliamentarians who visited the Crimea, despite the protests of Kiev.
Now Mariani retains the status of a member of the PACE, therefore, also appears among the members of this group. But even after replacing part of the French delegation, he will probably remain in the Assembly secretaries of all political groups work in the Secretariat of the PACE.
All this means that the battle for the PACE is still far from complete. And following years in Strasbourg will definitely not be boring neither for MPs nor for journalists. Only the Council of Europe is unlikely to benefit.