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At 60, discordant Council of Europe must adapt

At 60, discordant Council of Europe must adapt
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A belated ceremony for the Council of Europe’s 60th anniversary has been far from harmonious. Various of the rights organisation’s 47 member states are at each others’ throats.

The Parliamentary Assembly has rejected stripping the Russian delegation of its voting rights over last year’s Russia-Georgia conflict. But the newly- elected Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland — a Norwegian — is taking up the post at a most demanding time. Jagland said: “I am not calling it a crisis, but this is an old organisation, and old organisations need to reform, and adapt to a changing world, and that is the challenge for the Council of Europe.” The Council founded in 1949 by ten countries is the oldest international organisation for European integration and furthering human rights. Many more countries joined, especially after central and eastern European democratic transition in the early 1990s. Not to be confused as a European Union institution, the Council does share the values of the EU. An assembly member refutes any suggestion that a growing overlap of pursuits has reduced its relevance. Jean-Claude Mignon said: “The Council of Europe is an institution which is irreplacable. We deal with human rights, and it’s true that we are surprised to see the European Parliament grappling with these subjects — which are the very essence and spirit… the very reason for the Council’s existence — when the European Parliament has other things to do.” But Russia is no part of the EU. In the Council’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE), however, its opponents can bring pressure, such as motions to strip it of voting rights. Moscow’s diplomats say most fellow members realise good relations with Russia are preferable. PACE member Konstantin Kosachev said: “If we analyse the list of signatures on this motion, most of them come from the Baltic States, Poland, Ukraine — and it’s bad! Because we do not speak in that case about values; we speak about how to hit a certain country.” Thorbjorn Jagland this week was quoted as saying: “Europe is the most important peace project in history,” but that the Council was a “bit ineffective”, and in adapting needed to answer questions posed by ordinary people.