PACE Head Rene van der Linden: “Europe should be more patient”
Today a mini-session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe is being held in Moscow. Although the meeting will deal with such routine issues as the budget of Council of Europe and the program of Russian presidency in G8, the participation of the Russian President Vladimir Putin and the State Duma Chairman Boris Gryzlov shows that Russia pays special attention to it.
For Russian delegates it is a sort of an exam: will they be able to lobby the interests of Moscow and, for example, to protect the Russian-speaking population in Latvia or to achieve withdrawing monitoring of Russia. The “Gazeta” correspondents Olga Pavlikova and Anton Ivanitsky interviewed Rene van der Linden – the head of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
Q – Russian diplomats speak often about the necessity to withdraw the monitoring control of Russia, Will they manage to achieve it?
A – Our common task is to control how the states respect the conditions of their membership. We don’t speak about punishment or sanctions, we speak just about the implementation of conditions and recommendations. I consider the Russian presidency in G8 as an instrument to do it.
Q – The Russian slogan for the period of its presidency in G8 is: “Towards the united Europe without any dividing lines”. It means first of all the will to get rid of the so called “double standards”. For example, many delegates consider the results of the elections in Ukraine and Georgia doubtful, but nobody discussed it. At the same time the elections in Belarus were in the agenda.
A – The representatives of the Council of Europe attended the elections in Ukraine and Belarus and we can say the elections in Ukraine were free and fair. As to the results of the election campaign in Belarus, they are doubtful at least because shortly before the elections some opposition leaders were arrested. It is very important for any government to respect international standards, but this time the standards were not respected. The Assembly representatives contacted both opposition and the speaker of Belarus Parliament. We are open for a dialogue.
Q – Are there examples of double standards in the Council of Europe?
A – It is very important for the Council of Europe to follow its obligations. This organ should be quite objective and to do everything possible to avoid double standards. Every decision of the Council should be well-grounded. One of the most important tasks of the Council of Europe is to control the situation in the member states.
Q – Today you will meet the President Putin. What issues are you planning to discuss with him?
A – The conversation will include the issues of Russian presidency in the Council of Europe and Russian-European cooperation. We will also discuss some unsolved issues.
Q – The mini-session will discuss the budget of the Council of Europe. Some people in Russia say the due of 26 million Euro annually is too high.
A – I don’t share this opinion. Of course, bigger states pay more that smaller. The question is what they have in return. Russian delegation arises question about the imbalance between the due and the programs it gets. I agree with such position and I think that the counteraction between the Council of Europe and the member states should be more balanced.
Q – Sometime one may have impression that Russia pays for all post-soviet countries. Many experts consider it necessary to pay due on the basis of per head count.
A – The overall budget of the Council of Europe is 185-188 million Euros. Netherlands spend such amounts to build new highways. So, the amount of due should be determined depending on the dimension of a country and the assistance programs by the Council of Europe.
Q – Some delegates propose to move the PACE head office from the Schengen zone because the HAMAS representatives were not allowed to attend the last session.
A – I think, every person being invited by one of our committees has the right to arrive to Strasburg. This problem is to be solved with the French authorities. And it is not a problem of the head office.
Q – What do you expect of the Russia presidency in the Council of Europe?
A – I expect activeness and the strengthening of a dialogue, particularly, between the Council of Europe and the European Union, between the Council of Europe and the Russian State Duma.
Q – How do consider the level of democracy?
A – Russia made a considerable step in this direction. But Europe should be more patient about it, because it is impossible to change immediately such enormous country and society. I consider the Russian presidency as a great opportunity for both sides to cooperate.
Q – The G8 summit will take place in July. Taking into account, that G8 states are not only economically developed countries but also world democracies, does Russia do for such company.
A – As a PACE Head, I have no formal opinion about G8, because it’s mainly economic union. But the fact that Russia is a member of G8 confirms its important role in the world. The Council of Europe and the world community in general should strengthen the partnership and mutual confidence and understanding.