Interview with Rene van der Linden

In an exclusive interview with Russia Today, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Rene van der Linden, commented on Russia-Europe relations. 

Rene van der Linden: I would not say that Russia is most criticised. I fully agree that it is one of the most active delegations and member states, and I was very thankful to the Russian chairmanship last year. It was a very constructive period; they have supported the Parliamentary Assembly in a very active and proper way. Concerning the criticism, I believe that it is not a negative thing. If it was only criticism, then I would say ‘no’, I am strongly against this because nobody is interested to get only negative reaction from counterparts. But taking myself, I am very active in the relationship between the Council of Europe and Russia, it was and is one of my priorities, for the simple reason: to my mind, the relationship between Russia and the rest of Europe is the most important issue for the coming 10-20 years. We have to build up partnership which meets the interests of both parts and that contributes to stability, prosperity and peace in Europe.


Russia Today: In recent years PACE has criticised Russia and other former Soviet Republics for allegedly restricting human rights. What is the situation with human rights in the region at the moment? How do you see it?


R.V.D.L.: It is for sure that Russia is an extremely important country that has a very complicated situation. You cannot reform a country overnight, so, to my mind, we have to be more patient. I want to look at the situation in Russia not just from the Dutch point of view, but I also try to look at it from the Russian viewpoint, when it comes to the human rights question. Of course, from time to time you see that in member states they have a lot of problems with the implementation of the human rights question. Take the example of the Russian minority in the Baltic states. Whether these are minorities in the Baltic states or in Hungary, Romania or Spain or any other country, that cannot make any difference. We have the obligation to treat minorities all in the same way.


RT: And what is the closest goal for PACE in terms of co-operation with Russia? What do you want from Russia?


R.V.D.L.: The nearest goals for me would be, firstly, free and fair elections, secondly, freedom of press and media – it can be better – and the implementation of the new law that will be monitored by the Council of Europe – you know, Russia has voted a new law concerning non-government organisations. They have accepted most of the recommendations of the Venice Commission but I can assure you the law is important, and for the citizens its implementation is much more important. For that reason we will also check the implementation. Finally, Russia plays an extremely positive role in the Council of Europe and the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, during his EU presidency gave full support to the position of the Parliament Assembly and it is highly appreciated.


RT: What is your opinion on how relations between Russia and the EU are going to develop?


R.V.D.L.: I am sure that the relationship between Russia and the EU will develop in a positive way because both parts know that this is in their interests, and the isolation of Russia, either by itself or by Europe, would be a disaster. Russia is a part of Europe, we have to co-operate and work together in a much closer way, for that reason I am very happy that the visa policy has been changed, the EU had wrong visa policy, in my opinion. Today, to my regret, there are incidents which have burdened the relationship between the EU and Russia, for example, Polish beef or the Tallinn monument, the discussion over the nuclear shields in Poland and the Czech Republic. I am sure that we will overcome these problems. I very much regret that the EU does not have a well-formulated Russia policy. It is too much influenced by incidents, and this is a wrong policy, I believe.


RT: I have mentioned the issue of the deployment the U.S. anti-missile system elements. Poland and the Czech Republic, both members of the Council of Europe, are ready to host these elements on their soil. What is your attitude towards the issue?


R.V.D.L.: I suppose it is unacceptable that the member states take a decision on their own, without having consultation between Russia and NATO or Russia and the EU. I believe one cannot take a unilateral decision in the EU and NATO, and in case of problems, of crisis, one cannot then get solidarity if he does not show it in the decision-making process. I am not an expert in military affairs, but I am strongly against the way the issue is being discussed now, because it is again a case of confrontation instead of re-conciliation. So I will oppose the decisions taken by member states on their own, responsibility without taking into account the position of others.


RT: Apart from the possible deployment of the U.S. missile shield in Europe, another sensitive issue is the murder of Aleksandr Litvinenko, the former Russian security officer. Many fear that this case could damage relations between the UK and Russia. What consequences do you expect?


R.V.D.L.: For me personally the murder of Anna Politkovskaya is much more important. Of course, both are relevant, but one was representing freedom of expression in media, another was a former spy, I really do not know what is behind, I can only guess. And I hope sincerely that the relationship between the UK and Russia will not be damaged by this case. Of course, it can temporally influence the atmosphere, but it cannot be determined by this case. I hope that finally the murderer will be found and brought to justice. And I also hope that both countries will co-operate to find out the truth.



Earlier, Rene van der Linden joined Russia Today to share his view about international legislation and human rights observance in Russia.


President Putin's has previously criticised the European Court of Human Rights for making political rulings, especially against Russian forces in Chechnya.


However, the PACE president defended the Court's rulings and said: “the European Court of Human Rights is completely independent, and there’s a clear separation between the function of the European Court of Human Rights and the PACE. In my mind, the Russian authorities have fulfilled the commitments which have followed the judgement of the Court until now, except a few cases, and that’s not unusual. Several member states didn’t follow judgements of the Court, and for that reason the Parliamentary Assembly is now dealing with these cases.”


Now in Moscow, Mr Van der Linden has been urging Russian officials to drop their veto of Protocol 14 – an amendment to the European Convention of Human Rights. He has pointed out that he does not know that they’ve ever used the veto. “They’ve discussed it in the Duma,” PACE president said, “and sent it back to the Committee. After my official talks here in Moscow, I’m hopeful they will finally ratify Protocol 14”. Russia is the only member state that hasn’t yet ratified Protocol 14.


Speaking about the ways in which ratification of Protocol 14 can help the work of the European Court of Human Rights, Mr Van der Linden underscored that after the enlargement of the Council of Europe “the Court has a tremendous number of cases, and it’s impossible to deal with them in the same way as we used to deal in the past”, especially because the member states have only increased the budget by a slight percentage.“ He voiced his belief that “the Court has to be reformed, to deal with different cases in a proper way.”


The PACE president also pointed out that the European Court of Human Rights “is a unique instrument as 800 MLN people, citizens of the member states of the CE, have the right to go to the Court of Human Rights in Strasburg and ask for a judgement.”


“It’s promoting and defending the rights of individual citizens,” Mr Van der Linden added, so “we won’t see the Court acting against the natural member states or their governments.”


So, in Mr Van der Linden’s opinion, Russia is sure to uphold Protocol 14, as he “cannot imagine that finally Russia, which has just successfully fulfilled the chairmanship and played an important role in the Council of Europe, …will not finally follow the other 45 member states.”


Next week a PACE delegation headed by its president is going to Belarus. “We had a long discussion in the PACE on the situation in Belarus,” said Russia Today’s guest. “Belarus is the only state in Europe which is not a member of the CE. They belong to the European family, [so] we have expressed a number of serious concerns, when it comes, for example, to the freedom of the media, the situation with the opposition, even the existence of some political persons. I believe that especially the CE and the president of the Parliament Assembly will try to build new bridges between Belarus and the rest of Europe. We’re more flexible, we’re using soft power, we’re encouraging dialogue”, so in Minsk the PACE delegates are going “to see whether we can start with new positive steps,” and “suggest that Minsk open an information office of the CE, so that we can promote the values and goals and targets of the CE in that important country.”


Answering the question how he would assess the work of PACE, Mr Van Der Linden sounded quite optimistic.


«[I think] it is effective, PACE is the forum for intercultural and inter-racial dialogue; we are a school for democracy, and we are the only pan-European organisation in which all the member states, except for Belarus are represented. So, we are playing a very important role when it comes to the implementation of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. To my mind, PACE also offers a »European house“ for the states that are not numbered among the EU-member states; [due to us] they belong to the European family. Thus, we can play an important role of a valuable addition to the EU; in this context Russia can also play a very important role. Last year showed that Russia can be considered as a part of Europe, since it was the first time that Russia chaired international European democratic organisation. Russia used this opportunity to show that it is a full part of Europe and it is also in the position to play this role in relation to the EU,” he said.
Assessing the role of Russia being in that position, the President of the PACE also expressed his complete approval of that role.
”In that position Russia played an extremely good role. For me, as the President of the Parliamentary Assembly it was interesting that the Russian President supported the position of the Parliamentary Assembly much more than any of the member states before. If you look at the situation in Europe, they [Russian side] promoted effectively that we have to avoid new dividing lines in Europe. What happened in 1989, happened not only to change the border from at that time existing 15 member states of the EU to 27 member states of the EU now, it actually happened to create Europe without dividing lines. For that reason, Russia has to play an extremely important role in the Council of Europe, as well as in the profound partnership with the EU," stressed Mr Van Der Linden.