POLITICS
Georgia chairs the Council of Europe: Why is it important for Eastern Europe?
11 December, 2019
The new PACE session beginning in January 2020 will be an arena of serious confrontation. The interests of Western and Eastern European countries are to confront. The latter have a serious trump card since from November 27th Georgia will chair the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. Why is this important for the whole of Europe and how will it be used in the near future?

The Council of Europe has been facing a major organizational crisis since June
following the return of the Russian delegation to the PACE. Sanctions against Russia were lifted, despite the fact that none of its conditions were met and despite the fact that Russian troops continue to kill Ukrainians in the Donbas as well as despite the fact that Russia remains the leader among countries refusing to implement of the European Court of Human Rights' decisions. Therefore, the reason of the conflict, which will continue to grow at the January PACE session, was laid earlier.

The main drivers of the process of Russian delegation unconditional return were the largest Western countries – Germany and France. They made full use of the status of the country holding the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. The fact that the worst pages of the history of the organization fell exactly on the six months of French presidency is not a coincidence. In May, when taking the post, France announced its priorities, including promoting the idea of ​​a united Europe and modernizing the Council of Europe to meet new challenges. At that time, we did not fully understand that a united Europe would extend “from Lisbon to Vladivostok”, and the modernization of the Council of Europe would be aimed primarily at the fraud with the return of the Russian delegation and the complication of imposing such sanctions mechanism. The result of this compromise with conscience was the complete discrediting of the organization, the feeling of impunity in countries that violate conventional rules and the awareness of the ineffectiveness of instruments to hold them accountable for such a decision.

Whose interests were completely ignored by this decision? Delegations of many countries supported Ukraine in a démarche against the shameful decision. First of all, these are the countries of Eastern Europe – Georgia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland. Sweden, Britain and the United States also opposed Russia's return to the PACE. These countries are united by a common and reasonable interest in deterring Russian aggression. Have the voice of Eastern Europe been heard in the west of the continent? No, it hasn’t been heard at any of its negotiation sites. Neither in the PACE, nor in building internal dialogue in NATO and the EU frameworks, the arguments of Eastern Europe are missing the ears of the western decision makers. And that became part of the common policy.
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leksey Goncharenko, Member of Parliament of Ukraine (Verkhovna Rada),
Member of Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe

How is it explained by Western politicians? Proponents of lifting sanctions named "the need to continue political dialogue" as the main reason for the return of the Russian delegation. French President Emmanuel Macron also spoke of "responsible dialogue with Russia". The reality is more hackneyed and it's about the Russian money. As it turned out, European values ​​have their price and Russian propagandists do not forget to mock Europe for it. What is preventing Russia from continuing its impudent and effective tactics? Nothing. And the first results of it are already here.

An interesting fact is that Belarus is the only non-PACE country in Europe. It looks like it won't be any necessity for it to have a membership anytime soon. The Belarusian ambassador to Russia has already stated that his country is actually ready for full absorption by Russia, while maintaining the facade signs of independence. The actual transformation of Belarus into a federal district of Russia is a serious challenge for the security of the whole Eastern Europe. “Tanks to Warsaw in a day” is no longer an ephemeral threat. For Georgia, Ukraine, Baltic States and Finland it has never even been so, rather it has always had a very real character. Vladivostok is getting closer to Lisbon, not the other way around.

Seems like this fact is in no way to worry countries that do not have a common border with Belarus and Russia. What, then, is left to do for Eastern Europe? The decision is to start to get united. In October, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Georgia formed an informal association in PACE called Baltic +. There is talk about Scandinavian countries to join the group. In fact, we are seeing the symbolic creation of the Baltic-Black Sea Alliance. Currently, it brings together countries with a common Russian threat, but in the future it should become something bigger. In order for Eastern Europe to be heard, it must be strong. This is particularly possible within the framework of the Baltic-Black Sea integration.

Our region will have the first opportunity to declare its importance at the new PACE session. The French initiatives to reform the organization are scheduled for January. What is important to us is that all procedural matters will be passed through the Committee of Ministers, the body chaired by uncompromising Georgia. Georgia's presidency of the Council of Europe is a chance for the whole region to take a strategic initiative on its own and begin to pursue larger-scale foreign policy goals. If Western European countries continue to build the “Lisbon – Vladivostok” axis, we must oppose with the alternative “Stockholm – Tbilisi” one.

Oleksey Goncharenko, Member of Parliament of Ukraine (Verkhovna Rada), Member of Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe

Exclusively for Georgian Journal

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