Wednesday

20th Nov 2019

Europe's rights watchdog lifts Russia sanctions

  • The Council of Europe, created in 1949, is a separate body from EU institutions (Photo: EUobserver)

The Council of Europe, a human rights watchdog, has lifted its sanctions on Russia in a moral victory for the Kremlin.

Some 118 MPs on the council's "parliamentary assembly" voted to do so in Strasbourg, France, on Monday (25 June), while 62 voted against, and 10 abstained.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 year's of archives. 30-day free trial.

... or join as a group

It meant Russia can take part in the assembly's votes again after its rights were suspended over its invasion of Ukraine in 2014.

Special measures passed on Monday also meant a Russian delegation will be able to vote in Wednesday's election of a new Council of Europe secretary general, where the Russia-friendly Belgian foreign minister, Didier Reynders, is a top candidate.

The measures were proposed in a report by a Belgian MP, Petra de Sutter.

"This is not about being for or against Russia ... the sanctions weren't effective," she said in Strasbourg on Monday.

The move was backed by France, Germany, and Switzerland - three leading countries in the 47-member European club, which is separate from EU institutions and which was created in 1949.

France wanted to "preserve the pan-European dimension of the Council of Europe," Amelie de Montchalin, the French EU affairs minister, said also in Strasbourg.

"We don't do geopolitics here, the values that we defend are human rights values," she said.

"We all have the same objective: to defend the common interests of 830 million Europeans ... without any exclusion whatsoever," Liliane Maury Pasquier, a senior Swiss MP, added.

Inviting back Russia would ensure "millions of Russians the protection of the European Court of Human Rights [ECHR]," the council's special tribunal, German foreign minister Heiko Maas said last month.

The Russian delegation is to return despite Russia's ongoing warfare in Ukraine.

It is also coming back despite Russia's routine violations of ECHR verdicts.

And it was coming back because Russia was too big to ignore, Piotr Tolstoi, a senior MP on the returning delegation told press.

"We're going to Strasbourg to help our partners overcome the crisis that is undermining this institution, which seems to miss us ... No question in Europe can be solved without its biggest country [Russia]," he said.

Some of the MPs coming back to Strasbourg might be from Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine, he added.

"How can you examine human rights in Crimea without its representatives? To prevent it would be like banning elected officials from the territories of the former GDR [East Germany]," Tolstoi said, referring to the Cold War-era division of Germany.

The Council of Europe had "recognised its errors" on Russia, another senior MP, Konstantin Kosatchev, added.

The sanctions were the freak of a "Russophobe minority" in the council, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said.

The French and German position in Strasbourg stood in contrast to the EU's unanimous decision, last week, to extend economic sanctions on Russia.

It raised the question of whether Russian MPs on EU visa blacklists would be allowed to travel to Strasbourg under special derogations for international events.

And it sent a "very bad message" to the Kremlin, according to Volodymyr Ariev, the head of Ukraine's council delegation.

It said: "Do what you want, annex another country's territory, kill people there and you will still leave with everything," he explained.

"Regrettable and disappointing," Edgars Rinkevics, Latvia's foreign minister, said.

"Latvia opposed the decision because it undermines respect for key values: democracy, rule of law, and human rights," he added.

Opinion

Council of Europe vs Russia: stay or go?

We have reached the point where Russia threatens to leave the Council of Europe and cease to be party to the European Convention on Human Rights.

Opinion

Is Russia blackmailing the Council of Europe?

Moscow stopped paying its €20m annual bill to the Council of Europe after criticisms of its human rights record. Now it appears to be waiting for the Strasbourg-based body to crumple.

Magazine

EU diplomacy 2.0

MEPs on the foreign affairs committee ought to be like second-tier EU diplomats on the Western Balkans and Russia, according to its German chairman, but foreign policy splits could bedevil its work.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  3. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  5. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  6. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  7. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  9. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  3. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  4. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  5. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  6. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  11. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  12. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us