Council of Europe: Kosovo negotiations must continue

24 January 2008

Council of Europe: Kosovo negotiations must continue

The international community and the groups involved in the conflict must continue their efforts to arrive at a negotiated solution for the future status of Kosovo. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) concluded a long debate this week by voting in favour of a motion to that effect, contradicting the original proposal which had concluded that no solution was possible and that all possibilities had been exhausted. PACE also discussed recent Russian and Georgian elections, the US rocket shield, and its own financing.

Tiny KoxSP Senator Tiny Kox, Chair of the United European Left (GUE) in the Assembly and co-sponsor of the motion on Kosovo, was delighted by the fact that it won the support of the majority of his colleagues, who consist of members of national parliaments from the Council of Europe's forty-seven member states. "The original proposal simply threw in the towel, seeing no sense in further negotiations, opening the door to a unilateral declaration of independence by the Kosovo government," said Senator Kox. "Many, including myself, saw this as also opening a real Pandora's box. If Kosovo can declare itself independent unilaterally, other regions will want to follow the example, with potentially serious consequences. By committing itself to supporting further negotiations, however difficult these may be, the Council of Europe is demonstrating wisdom at what is an important moment, when a number of European Union member states and the US are determined to proceed with haste, seldom a good idea in international politics."

In addition to Kosovo's future, the Assembly discussed recent elections in Russia and Georgia. PACE observers described the Russian elections as 'free but not fair', and the Georgian presidential election as 'more competitive than ever but also worse than expected.' On behalf of the GUE, Senator Kox called on the governments of both countries to improve the organisation of coming elections for the Russian presidency and the Georgian parliament, at the first of which Kox will be present, acting as a Council of Europe observer. For now, he had the opportunity to question Georgia's President, Mikheil Sakaashvili on these elections as well as those which brought him to power. “During your first presentation here, after your election as President, you were everyone's hero; the second time when you spoke about your peace plans for the rebellious provinces of Abchazie and South Ossetie, we applauded you," Kox began. "But on this occasion, after your re-election, it's time to make our anxieties clear, to put critical questions to you and to ask you how your second presidential term will be different, will be better, when it comes to points such as democracy, social conditions and your approach to so-called 'frozen conflicts'."

President Sakaashvilli defended his record by pointing to the high rate of economic growth, falling levels of corruption and extensive foreign investment in his country, expressing the hope that after his second term of office he would once again be the hero of his country's inhabitants, who were, as things stood, to an extent disappointed in him. The Assembly decided to extend Georgia's probationary period by two years, after which it would be expected to meet all of the obligations regarding standards and values which came with membership of the Council of Europe,. It would in any case not be considered to have fulfilled its obligations until there was visible progress in areas such as democracy and the fight against poverty. Yet as well as criticisms, Kox had compliments to pay, commending Georgia on its cooperation in a large number of Council of Europe conventions, on its growing prosperity and the visible reduction in corruption.

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico took a strong stand against the involvement of his country's neighbours, the Czech Republic and Poland, in American plans to build a so-called rocket shield on their territory. Last October a majority in PACE refused to support the left's call for an emergency debate on the issue, yet now the Slovakian PM was letting it be known in no uncertain terms that he finds what the US is planning unnecessary and undesirable and that Slovakia would never cooperate with it. He called on European countries to distance themselves from the plans, which were causing disquiet, especially in Russia. Although the Americans claimed that the shield was exclusively directed at so-called 'rogue states', the Russians feared that it could also be used against them. The Dutch government has so far refused to take a position against the American plans.

Later in the week Senator Kox's call for the Council of Europe to be put on a firmer financial footing won support from Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany. Kox called on the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Terry Davis, to take the initiative in forming a ‘coalition of the willing’, a coalition of countries prepared to give full support to the Council and its vital institutions, the European Court of Human Rights, the European Human Rights Commission and PACE itself.

Finally, SP Senator Tuur Elzinga, who has replaced his party colleague Anja Meulenbelt on PACE, took the opportunity of a speech by UEFA President Michel Platini to call for support for the international trade union initiative to improve conditions for workers involved in what he described as the "commercial circus around the Beijing Olympics". He asked how many days work a Chinese worker would have to put in before he or she could afford a ticket for an event at the Games, and suggested that the answer showed the size of the gap that existed between the Olympic ideal of 'fair play' and the Olympic reality, and that this was worthy of more attention than it was getting.

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