Estonia unlikely to quit PACE on Russia issue

Riigikogu foreign affairs committee chair Enn Eesmaa (Centre).
Riigikogu foreign affairs committee chair Enn Eesmaa (Centre). Source: Kairit Leibold/ERR

Estonia is unlikely to withdraw from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on the issue of the restoration of full voting rights to the Russian Federation, ERR's online news in Estonian reports.

Russia's voting rights at PACE, the representative arm of the Council of Europe (CoE), a body unrelated to the EU, were suspended following the 2014 annexation of the Crimea. However, Russia withheld its budget payments to the CoE, threatening to leave altogether in spring, which would have denied its citizens access to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), a CoE body. The vote to restore full rights to Russia came in late June.

Estonian delegates left the session in protest following the vote.

According to Enn Eesma (Centre), Riigikogu foreign affairs committee chair, Estonia leaving the PACE would play into Russia's hands in reducing the number of voices critical of its membership, as things stand at present.

"If we were to suspend our membership or leave the PACE, the organization, which has made very little criticism of Russia, would see this situation consolidating further," Eesmaa told ERR on Monday, following a committee session.

"This is not our final decision, however. We will certainly still consult on and discuss this issue again at the end of August. Given that the three Baltic States' PACE representatives are to meet in Riga on Sept. 6, we will further have proposals from our delegation about what to do next," Eesmaa added.

Marko Mihkelson (Reform), foreign affairs committee vice chair, reiterated that Estonia must not take any steps which might isolate it from its larger allies in Europe.

"No matter what steps we take, they must be done in concert with like-minded countries," Mihkelson told ERR.

"It is also important for the foreign ministry to take steps at the various capital cities of PACE countries which voted in favor to restore Russia's rights, to explain why, in our opinion, this move was premature and will not solve the problems in the way we are hoping to achieve," Mihkelson added.

"f we look at Russia's initial reaction, there was already a malignant aspect when it said that it was the first step towards full recognition of the Crimea annexation," Mihkelson continued, adding that Russia has not complied with any of PACE's demands in its five resolutions on Ukraine.

Both Eesmaa and Mihkelson confirmed that although the representatives of all five parties represented at the Riigikogu attended the committee session, no one raised the issue of leaving PACE.

Eesmaa agreed that sounding out the other two Baltic nations' stances on the matter – which, like Estonia, have still to be fully formulated as well – was needed.

"I believe that it would be wise to consider the possibility of Baltic delegations continuing at PACE, although I know that the Latvians have been quite serious about leaving. But they have not yet made a firm decision," Eesmaa said.

Mihkelson and Eesmaa also noted that the restoration of the rights of the Russian delegation has not been finalized, since the Venice Commission, which clarifies the legality of this decision, has also initiated its own investigation.

"The Venice Commission is examining whether the restoration of the Russian delegation's mandate is in line with the PACE Statute, as some Russian Duma ambassadors have also been elected (from territory annexed from Ukraine) by the votes of the Crimean people. However the outcome of the commission's deliberations won't be known until October," Mihkelson added.

Estonia's PACE delegation consists of Maria Jufereva-Skuratovski as chair, plus Eerik-Niiles Kross. Jaak Madison (EKRE) was also a member, but after winning an MEP seat at the May European elections, he has had to step down, with a replacement due in Autumn, according to ERR's online news in Estonian. Potential replacements have included Raivo Tamm (Isamaa) and Social Democratic Party (SDE) leader Indrek Saar.

Russia joined the CoE in 1996. The council itself was formed in 1949 and proclaims its main functions as protecting human rights and the rule of law.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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