K. Kosachev. In 2006 Russia will be G8 president
T. I. Kosachev, president of the State Duma committee for International Affairs
In 2006 Russia will be G8 president. What themes will be priorities for the leaders of the G8 countries?
The fact that from 1 January Russia will be G8 president is an acknowledgement that our country is moving along the same path of development of political and economic systems as was already officially approved by other G8 members.
We take the baton from the United Kingdom, which was G8 president in 2005. The United Kingdom chose as priorities such themes as combating poverty, debt write-off for less developed countries, and assistance for African countries. And by common consensus, the United Kingdom's G8 presidency was extremely successful and effective.
Russia considers it correct to discuss the issues of energy development, combating new diseases, and unified standards in the field of education in the G8 format over the forthcoming year, as well as a range of others. The culmination of this will be the G8 summit, which will take place in St. Petersburg in the second half of April.
How did the mechanism develop from the G7 to the G8 with the addition of Russia?
The format for interaction between leaders of the seven biggest countries in the world developed out of the idea of creating a channel for informal exchanges of opinions between heads of state with regard to the most important issues.
But from the end of the 1970s, once this model had been assembled the format underwent changes, chief among which being introduction to the discussion of the relevant ministries and agencies of the G8 member states, which allows the leaders, besides exchanging opinions, to develop specific proposals with regard to specific issues.
As an example, I can cite key resolution 1244 of the UN Security Council on the Balkan crisis, which was initially developed by the G7.
In recent years, Russia has been a full participant in all G8 discussions except with regard to financial issues.
Some believe that the G8 format should be expanded through addition of further large states. What do you think about this?
There are many ideas for G8 expansion. Various proposals are made – inclusion of Brazil, South Africa, China, India – but I would consider this unlikely, as it is too early to expand the format of this mechanism. It works very concisely and well, and this could be disrupted by widening the format.
The G8 mechanism, in its current format, is unique in that the leaders of the largest countries accept each other as reliable and long-term partners, and it cannot be assured that this would be preserved were the format to be widened.
There are many conflict situations, both, for example, between China and India, as well as between these countries and other G8 nations, specifically, for example, the disagreement on a range of crucial issues between China and G8 member Japan is well known.
In the coming year Russia will also assume presidency of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. What will be the hallmarks of this presidency?
Russia will preside over the Council of Ministers of the Council of Europe from May to November. Our country's task here is a lot more pragmatic in nature. Unlike the G8, where nothing requires changing, in the activity of the Council of Europe, in our view, there is much to be changed. The Council of Europe has now become a sort of lower chamber of the European Union.
The European Union contains 25 of the 46 member states of the Council of Europe, and these 25 nations act as a sort of exclusive club. They hardly ever uphold any claims from other Council of Europe members. Specifically, the Russian side cannot be expected not to be agitated when the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopts a resolution to curtail post-monitoring dialogue with Latvia with regard to the problems of ethnic minorities. And many PACE members are governed by unsaid motives. It seems that now that Latvia is a European Union member it is somehow inconvenient to criticise it. It's just an exclusive club.
I believe that we need to take advantage of our presidency of the Council of Europe, using it to lead the Council away from the areas it currently occupies, and will dedicate almost a hundred percent of our time to this. These are issues of human rights, democracy, the primacy of law, voting systems, and observation of elections in various countries. These are, without dispute, highly important issues, and they require attention, although not to the detriment of other equally important issues. Russia will strive to ensure that the activities of the Council of Europe become more balanced from the point of view of the financial appropriateness of projects, in order to allow financing of programmes in the sphere of education, culture, science, programmes against terrorism, against crime, and so on.
For example, the Council of Europe now spends far more on programmes for prevention of torture in member states' prisons than it does on all cooperation in the area of culture, and of course, culture is not within the remit of NATO, or the OSCE, or the European Union. So this must be done by the Council of Europe.
We will also propose reexamination of the current practice for application of monitoring procedures. Countries that joined the Council of Europe prior to 1997, when a resolution was adopted approving the procedure for monitoring, are not subject to this mechanism, the effect of which is to place countries on an uneven playing field. We believe that monitoring is required not in respect of countries, but in respect of problems. The current system of monitoring is unnecessarily politicised, and is therefore ceasing to be appreciated by new countries in respect of which it is mandatory. We also consciously reject many of the critical remarks made by parliamentarians of the Council of Europe in respect of the monitoring of our country.
And finally, taking into account that the slogan of our presidency is 'Europe without borders', we will do everything we can to insist on more substantial development of the theme of simplified visa procedures over the entire space of the Council of Europe.
Unofficial translation from Russian