Council of Europe turns down debate on planned rocket shield

2 October 2007

Council of Europe turns down debate on planned rocket shield

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) is for the time being refusing to make a pronouncement regarding the political consequences of the projected installation of an American rocket shield in Poland and the Czech Republic. A request for an emergency debate from SP Senator Tiny Kox was denied, despite promises of support from the chair of every political group represented in the Assembly. Senator Kox, himself chair of the United European Left group (GUE), described the refusal as 'ridiculous', adding that 'If this subject isn't urgent, or if it doesn't belong to the core of the Council of Europe's business, then what on earth does?'

It was the two centre-right groups, Christian Democrats and Liberals, who, against the expressed wishes of their leaders, torpedoed my proposal for an emergency debate. To be accepted, such a request must be backed by a two-thirds majority. Kox tabled it because the US government is seeking in the next few months to come to definitive agreements with the governments of Poland and the Czech Republic. In reaction to this, Russia has threatened to position new Iskander rockets in the country's enclave of Kaliningrad on the Polish border and to aim its nuclear weapons at European targets, a return to the Cold War and the arms race which it generated. Preventing this should be a Council of Europe priority, Kox argues. ‘The Council of Europe as it is now, with every European country participating, could only come into existence thanks to the end of the Cold War. If we can't stop this development, there is a threat that new lines of division will open up in Europe, with all of the political consequences this will bring.'

The United European Left group is currently looking into the possibility of initiating a debate in the Assembly by other means. In this they appear to be able to count on the support of the biggest political group, the centre-left social democrats.

The Assembly also held further discussions over Kosovo with Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, who declared that his government was prepared to offer Kosovo the most far-reaching autonomy, provided the territorial integrity of his country remained intact. He warned against the intention of the United States and also the European Union to recognise a unilateral declaration of independence on the part of Kosovo. ‘Only a negotiated result can lead to something lasting. Other routes would be extremely dangerous,' Kostunica said.

Tiny Kox shared this opinion and recalled that the left parties represented in his group had been opposed to the bombing of Serbia at the time of the war in Kosovo. ‘Wars don't solve problems,' Kox said, 'but problems must nevertheless be solved all the same. Finding a solution for Kosovo is the responsibility of the Serbian government. We will be interested to see whether, and to what extent, this government is brave enough to meet this challenge in the coming months, whether it can thereby contribute to bringing an end to the situation in which Kosovo's past is blocking Serbia and Kosovo's future.’

Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Aleksei II made a remarkable intervention at this month's PACE, speaking for the first time ever before an international political forum and showing himself at the same time to be an arch-conservative. Aleksei II warned against the misuse of human rights to excuse immoral behaviour, a label under which he turned out to include everything which appears perfectly normal to modern society. In reaction a motion was immediately proposed calling on the Patriarch to respect the rights of homosexuals and lesbians instead of treating them with contempt, though whether the religious leader will be in any way influenced by this is open to doubt. Not everything he said was quite so reactionary, however: one positive was that he described as scandalous the growing gap between poor and rich in Europe.

The GUE said a fond farewell to SP Senator Anja Meulenbelt, who will be replaced in the Assembly – whose membership reflects the strength of each party in its national parliament – by two new SP representatives, Senator Tuur Elzinga and MP Henk van Gerven.

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