Exclusive interview to the EU Ambassador to the Council of Europe

Russia, Ukraine, reforms of the Council of Europe, role of the High Representative for Foreign Policy Federica Mogherini are among the topics discussed by the EU Ambassador to the Council of Europe Jari Vilen with The European Post.

Schermata 2015-03-25 a 15.45.56Ambassador Jari Vilen (in the picture) has a deep knowledge of European and Foreign Affairs: he was Finland’s Ambassador to Poland and to Hungary, and before that had a political career as a member of the Finnish parliament and from 2002-2003 as Minister for Foreign Trade and European Affairs.

The EU delegation to the Council of Europe can be considered one of the most active EU delegation on the social media (Facebook and Twitter)

What is the role of the EU delegation to the Council of Europe?

The EU Delegation in Strasbourg represents the interests of the Union and its 28 Member States in the Council of Europe. The Delegation contributes to common EU positions taken within the Council of Europe and ensures the best possible coordination between the two organisations. The Council of Europe and the European Union have a long tradition of co-operation which draws on their shared values: human rights, democracy and rule of law. A true, strategic partnership in the areas of political dialogue, legal co-operation and concrete co-operation activities has also resulted in increased policy co-ordination in the context of EU Enlargement and Neighbourhood policy, in particular through consultations and joint initiatives between the leaderships of the two organisations. As the Ukraine crisis has been developing, the EU has all the interests to maintain its coherence between its internal and external policies.

The Council of Europe has been established during the Cold War when Europe was divided in two different worlds. The end of this bilateral confrontation has brought peace for about 30 years. Unluckily, today we are facing difficult times. Ukrainian crisis, ISIS and instability in Southern Mediterranean have casted dark shadows on Europe’s future. How do you envision the role of the EU in the CoE? Does CoE need some reforms?

Even though the Council of Europe and the European Union are separate entities, they perform complementary roles and share the same fundamental values: human rights, democracy and the rule of law. The geopolitical situation of Europe after the end of the Cold War is now entering a new phase, and the Ukraine crisis appears to be a potential turning point, since Russia is challenging the institutional structures and mechanisms, and the applicability of the European standards. In particular, Russia’s grave violations of international law in respect of Ukraine had the expected consequence of a ban on its right to vote at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). The Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Thorbjørn Jagland, suggested to hold a summit to redefine Europe’s security structure among the organisations which encompass politico-military, economic and environmental, and human aspects, such as the EU, CoE, OSCE, OECD and UN. It is an interesting initiative indeed, but the momentum is not yet the most suitable. Surely there must be a broader discussion on the entire role that the organisations play on the international scene, as well as the level of cooperation with each other.

The Ukrainian crisis has been a severe trial for EU-Russia relations. Being a member of the CoE, what is Russia’s position within other CoE member states? At Coe level, what is Russian risking if violence escalation will not stop? Will the Coe act somehow to stop concretely this conflict? 

In its April 2014 Session, the PACE, declaring that Russia’s annexation of Crimea was “in clear contradiction with the Statute of the Council of Europe” and the commitments Russia made when it joined the organisation in 1996, suspended the voting rights of the Russian delegation, as well as its right to be represented in the Assembly’s leading bodies, and its right to participate in election observation missions. This decision had been effective until the end of the 2014 session, and extended for a second time until April 2015. In turn, the Russian Delegation decided to quit the Parliamentary Assembly until the end of the year. However the Assembly often reiterates that political dialogue should remain the most privileged way to find compromise, and there should be no return to the pattern of the Cold War. Suspension of the credentials of the Russian delegation would make such a dialogue impossible, while the Assembly constitutes a good platform for keeping the Russian delegation accountable on the basis of the Council of Europe’s values and principles. The Assembly reserved the right to annul the credentials of the Russian delegation, if the Russian Federation does not de-escalate the situation and reverse the annexation of Crimea.

Also the Committee of Ministers at Deputies level has been following the crisis in Ukraine since its very beginning. In fact, since January 2014, the situation in Ukraine has been discussed at every meeting of Ministers’ Deputies. The 17 September the Committee of Ministers Decision called upon Russia to use its influence over the separatist movements in eastern Ukraine and urged it to withdraw all its troops and refrain from any further military interference. In its last Decision adopted on 24 October, the Committee of Ministers reiterated the need to find a sustainable political solution to the crisis based on the respect of Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity and urged all sides concerned to fully respect and implement the provisions of the Minsk Protocol and underlined the Russian Federation’s responsibility in the context. The Council of Europe is the benchmark for human rights, the rule of law and democracy, and is highly committed to making new proposals to solve the conflict in Ukraine. It is urgent and essential to put into practice the Council of Europe Action Plan for Ukraine 2015-2017, to assist the country in its reform agenda. Once the fighting stops, the Council of Europe’s role will be to assist Ukraine as much as possible on its path towards a more independent judiciary and a more democratic future.

Recently, both Amnesty International and the Council of Europe strongly criticized the EU member states for their response to the refugee crisis. There are huge differences among member states on refugee policies. How Europe can improve this situation helping both countries facing massive immigration flows and refugees rights? 

One of the most important goals for the EU is to ensure a safe, regular and responsible migration. Unfortunately Europe is facing directly the consequences of instability in its immediate neighbourhood, therefore humanitarian actions, international cooperation and sharing responsibilities among States are fundamental priorities to prevent irregular maritime migration and loss of life. All these priority actions have been identified within the framework of the Task Force Mediterranean, which was established in the wake of Lampedusa incident of October 2013. Such a human tragedy constituted a “turning point” in terms of political awareness: joint operations coordinated by Frontex with the support of Member States, e.g. joint operation Triton are another examples of how every effort must be made to preserve human life.

Federica Mogherini, new HR for Foreign Affairs, has been criticized for having apparently missed the opportunity to represent the European Union in important diplomatic talks. What is your opinion on her first 100 days of mandate?

In her first hundred days in office HR/VP Mogherini has been working on Europe’s key priorities for foreign and security policy, both at home in Europe and around the globe. First of all the crisis in Ukraine. HR/VP Mogherini met with all the actors involved, notably Ukrainian President Poroshenko and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, and closely cooperated within the frame of the ‘Normandy format’ peace summit. She also travelled to Ukraine and made it clear that respect for Ukraine’s territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence as well as international law are non-negotiable. HR/VP Mogherini is also a mediator in the Middle East Peace process, re-launched the talks on the normalisation between Serbia and Kosovo. Another key priority is with no doubt the situation to the South of the EU’s border – in particular in Syria and Iraq, but also in Libya. HR/VP Mogherini has been working with much energy to make EU member states and institutions work together in unity, as well as strengthening EU’s ties with key strategic actors around the globe.