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How PACE wants to change its rules to lift sanctions on Russia

At the Council of Europe. Photo: Council of Europe
How PACE wants to change its rules to lift sanctions on Russia

On 9 October, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) will vote for a resolution which will determine the debates of the fall session of the Assembly. Moreover, the outcome may influence the future of the whole Council of Europe. It will determine whether Russia will be able to triumphantly return to Europe’s largest human rights organization without sanctions and at the same time without fulfilling any of PACE’s demands, European Pravda writes.

Only under these conditions is Russia ready to resume its payments to the budget of the Council of Europe – €33 mn annually; or 7% of the CoE budget.

And even though everyone in PACE knows about the reasons and motives of the resolution titled “Strengthening the decision-making process of the Parliamentary Assembly concerning credentials and voting,” most in the Assembly continue to pretend that Russia is not involved.

The four pages of the document don’t have any references to Russia or the financial crisis of the Council of Europe. But the decision to change the Assembly’s rules outlined in the resolution includes all the preliminary agreements with the Russians.

The Trojan Horse procedural amendments

The resolution will change the mechanism of implementing and prolonging sanctions, making it more complicated:

First, the number of delegates needed to launch the process of applying sanctions will change. Now, one needs 30 delegates to support the initiative. The resolution proposes changing this to ⅙ of the delegates present. This gives the country under threat of sanctions more leeway to manipulate the proportion and block the sanctions resolution in its very conception.

Right now, to launch the process of applying sanctions, 30 delegates need to support the initiative. After the initiative, a project of the resolution is prepared, which is adopted by a simple majority. Then sanctions will apply. The resolution proposes that the initiative must be supported by 1/6 of the present delegates. If earlier one was sure that the initiative would be supported if one had managed to secure the support of 30 delegates, now it is impossible to calculate whether it will get through, as it is impossible to know how many delegates will be present during the vote. Let’s say you approximate that 30 votes in favor will be 1/6 of those present during the vote. The potential victim of sanctions can mobilize its supporters to show up, and your 30 is no longer 1/6. The initiative failed.

Second, resolutions will need more votes. Now, a resolution needs a simple majority of votes. This is proposed to be increased to ⅔ of the delegates present. This will make it more difficult to introduce sanctions not only on Russia but on any other country, as forming a coalition of ⅔ votes is nearly impossible in PACE. Resolutions are usually adopted by 150 delegates (votes for and against). Each delegation has a certain number of votes – some have 12, some 3, and some 6.

The Russian delegation has 18 votes – which is more than 10% from 150. And finding the necessary votes among countries which have to make up the 1/3 necessary to disrupt the adoption of sanctions should not be difficult. Russia’s regional influence on the voting patterns of countries like Serbia and Armenia is well known. As well, the ⅔ threshold would disproportionately benefit larger countries like Russia – their larger amount of delegates would allow evading sanctions thanks to sheer numbers, according to Ukraine’s delegate to PACE, Volodymyr Ariev.

Although these changes are complicated and at first glance might seem innocuous, they will make it much more difficult to apply sanctions against any country. As they are being rushed through before the January 2019 session, when sanctions against the Russian delegation will be reconsidered, it is obvious that they are being made only to allow the return of the Russian delegation.

What kind of sanctions?

In 2014, following Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the Russian delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) was sanctioned, i.e. suspended in its right to vote in PACE, be represented in its ruling organs, and to participate in election observation missions. The sanctions were imposed following resolution 1990 and have been prolonged each year.
The delegation’s credentials were not suspended so that political dialogue could be continued; however, Russia pulled out completely by its own will and stopped paying its membership fees to the CoE, putting the organization under financial stress.

Additional resolutions have been adopted calling upon Russia to deoccupy Crimea, withdraw its forces, release hostages, and stop its repressions in occupied Crimea and aggression in Ukraine – 2034 (2015), 2063 (2015), 2067 (2015), 2112 (2016), 2132 (2016), 2133 (2016), 2198 (2018) and 2203 (2018).

Moreover, in Resolution 2132 (2016) “Political consequences of the Russian aggression in Ukraine,” the Assembly reminded Russia of all of the demands set up by PACE in previous resolutions and resolved that “only significant and measurable progress towards their implementation can form the basis for the restoration of a fully fledged, mutually respectful dialogue with the Assembly.”

The new resolution to be voted on 9 October has the goal to omit these limitations, changing PACE’s regulations to limit PACE’s capability to impose sanctions on Russia – or any other country.

According to European Pravda, all the PACE delegates commenting on the decision admit: it is being adopted for Russia and on Russia’s demand.

But the word “Russia” is missing from the text, which appears to be about a routine change of rules, unrelated to any country.

This phenomenon has an easy explanation, European Pravda writes: Western politicians are reluctant to admit that they are changing the Council of Europe’s procedures on the demand of one country, which seeks to hide its violations of the common rules of the Council of Europe.

Russia has put forward an ultimatum: it will not renew paying its membership fees and will not return to the work of PACE until it receives guarantees that in January, at the start of the new session, it has a guarantee that it will not be sanctioned again.

And this is what the Trojan Horse procedural amendments are designed to achieve.

Whether Russia will manage to summon the support of 2/3 of PACE delegates on October 9 is yet to be seen.

But what is unquestionable now is that the Council of Europe is attempting to accommodate an aggressor country – instead of insisting it complies with the common rules intended to safeguard the human rights situation on the continent.

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