SP warns of "new division" of Europe as Merkel addresses Parliamentary Assembly

17 April 2008

SP warns of "new division" of Europe as Merkel addresses Parliamentary Assembly

NATO and Russia must meet much more often if tensions in Europe are to be nipped in the bud. One meeting in the last six years is simply not enough, according to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, guest this week of Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). Merkel stated her views in response to a question from SP Senate leader Tiny Kox, on the threat of a new division of Europe.

Senator Kox, who chairs PACE's United European Left group, told Chancellor Merkel that he fully supported her recent call to prevent new lines of division from appearing on the European map. This would, however, come up against a number of recent developments - the ever increasing spread of NATO eastwards, the controversial American rocket shield, the ever bigger and more arrogant European Union and Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence. According to Kox, these developments could lead to a new division, to the formation of new blocs in Europe, and to a new arms race, instead of better cooperation and more disarmament.

Merkel answered that NATO was no longer the geographically-determined North Atlantic alliance of the Cold War years. It was now a community of values, to which anyone might apply for membership. In its relations with others tolerance should be the key word for both NATO and the European Union, and not arrogance, she said. If that was not understood, something must be done about it. But Russia was now being consulted on the rocket shield and on possible cooperation on that point. Kosovo's independence, Merkel argued, would not set a precedent for other areas of Europe. Although she understood the concerns of a number of European countries, the Chancellor felt that in the case of Kosovo no other course of action remained possible.

Chancellor Merkel went on to emphasise the value which her government, she said, attached to the Council of Europe and to its core task, the furtherance of democracy in Europe and the defence of the rule of law and of human rights throughout the continent. She argued that the different forms of European cooperation were needed to complement each other. The European Union should therefore as soon as possible accede to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), the Council of Europe's most important treaty.

The United European Left welcomed this proposal. "As a left grouping we have long urged this step," said Senator Kox."It is plain silly that every European country has signed the convention but that the European Union still hasn't done so to this day. Accession to the ECHR would mean that citizens of the member states would be able to bring complaints before the European Court of Human Rights if their rights were not respected as a result of a law emanating from Brussels."


In a heated debate on Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence, the United European Left group position was that international law had been broken in a way which could indeed be seen as a precedent, with all the dangerous consequences which might flow from that. This unity on the left side of the chamber was reflected in a unity on the right, which rallied to the view that Kosovo's move must be supported. Centre-right and centre-left appeared as divided as the response of national governments themselves: while most western European countries have recognised independent Kosovo, a number including Spain, Slovakia, Greece, Russia, Georgia and of course Serbia itself are adamantly opposed, fearing that separatist movements in their own countries will be encouraged by events in Kosovo.


Ukraine is also opposed to recognition of Kosovo, as its prime minister Julia Timoshenko told the Assembly in her speech on Wednesday. Her government is in favour of accession to NATO, but before this can happen, the people will be given the chance to express their view in a referendum. This won't make accession any easier, left members pointed out, with polls showing that as things stand 70% of the population is opposed.

Rocket Shield

The President of Slovakia, Ivan Gasparovic, informed the Assembly that there was no place in his country for sections of an American rocket shield, as was made clear at the recent NATO summit, when Slovakia had voted against the US proposal. A definitive decision must now, however, be taken, he said, in answer to questions from Senator Kox, who had reminded him that three months ago the Slovakian prime minister Josef Tiso had expressed the same view.

Abortion rights

After a long debate, PACE voted by a solid majority to call for the recognition of a woman's right to decide whether to have an abortion and a guarantee of safe health care to anyone so deciding. Heavy resistance came from countries such as Italy, Poland, Malta, Romania and Ireland, whose attempts to drown the proposed resolution in a flood of amendments failed. Icelandic left member Steingrimur Sigfusson, Chairman of the PACE Committee on Equal Rights for Men and Women, said that in the end, however, two-thirds of members backed his committee's text. Expressing her "delight" at the result, United European Left spokeswoman Pernille Frahm of Denmark, said that this would be shared by women's movements in many countries which had called on the Assembly to support the Europe-wide decriminalisation of abortion.

Against extremism and terrorism

The Assembly called on national parliaments and governments to confront anti-Muslim extremism with the same vigour as they tackled Islamicist terrorism. Freedom of religion deserved better protection and integration of Muslim migrants must also be improved. The United European Left group's member from San Marino, Allessandro Rossi, warned of growing 'Islamophobia' and called for more effective policies to make integration a realistic possibility.

More money for human rights

Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg gave a report on his activities over the last year. He said that despite all the excellent conventions on the protection of human rights, he still came across many abuses in European countries. SP Senator Tuur Elzinga, speaking on behalf of the United European Left group, urged more support for this, the most important of the Council of Europe's activities.

Next Tuesday the SP's group in the Senate will join other political groups in calling on the government to ensure improved financing for the Council of Europe, for PACE, for the European Court of Human Rights and for the Human Rights Commissioner.

Finally, the Assembly evaluated recent elections in Armenia, Montenegro, Serbia and Russia to which PACE observers had been sent. Those in Armenia and Russia had, in particular, failed to meet the standards of free and fair elections.

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