Statements & Interviews
Council of Europe: Mechanisms of rapprochement. Interview with Tatarstan Parliament Speaker, Chair of Current Affairs Committee of Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Council of Europe
The newspaper "Respublika Tatarstan"February 25, 2016
February 28 marks the twentieth anniversary of Russia's accession to the Council of Europe – one of the most authoritative and representative international intergovernmental organizations. Our country’s position in this pan-European forum is quite serious as Russia is one of the six largest contributors to the Council of Europe budget.
Recently Federation Council of the Russian Federation held a round table on “20 years of the Russian membership in the Council of Europe: results and prospects”. Chairman of Tatarstan State Council Farid Mukhametshin, who for 15 years represents the Russian Federation in the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Council of Europe (hereinafter Congress), attended the event.
- Mr. Mukhametshin, at the “round table” held in the Federation Council, you emphasized that Russia should maintain its positions at the Council of Europe as it is an excellent platform for interaction. What should be done for this?
- As I have already pointed out, for twenty years of our work in the Council, we have accumulated rich experience of cooperation with the European partners. Quite often we have different approaches and positions on important issues and the European colleagues have to take into account our opinions and views... Due to some states’ ambiguous reaction on the ways to resolve internal Ukrainian crisis, the Russian delegation to PACE (Parliamentary Assembly to the Council of Europe) was imposed sanctions: it was deprived of the right to vote and participate in the governing bodies of the Council. In protest, our delegation refused to participate in the Assembly. Fortunately, the Council of Europe is a multi-structured organization, which, in addition to the Parliamentary Assembly, includes the Committee of Ministers, Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, European Court of Human Rights and other institutions.
With Russia's accession to the Council of Europe, its regions have received the opportunity to voice their positions at the Congress. Over the years we have gained a number of important contacts, established positive relationships and links with colleagues from 46 European countries. We should not forget that in recent years on the initiative of the Russian delegation, the Congress passed dozens of documents, made ten presentations of the Russian cities and regions in Strasbourg within the framework of the Congress sessions. We have also presented Kazan, which in 2013 was chosen as the host city of the World Summer Universiade. This event contributed to the growing popularity of our republic in Europe. Europeans see our capabilities and high level of development. This is an incentive for investment.
- What is the political and social role of the Congress?
- The uniqueness of the Congress is that it unites over 300 parliamentarians of regional and local levels. This shows the importance of active cooperation within the framework of the Congress. Here we discuss the specific problems of local self-government, find joint solutions to the most difficult tasks and problems. In addition, questions of territorial autonomy of national minorities, migration, culture and education, social cohesion in cities and financial support for local authorities, which the Russian regions are concerned over, are regularly on the Congress’ agenda.
- How do the delegates of the Congress manage to maintain their position in the Council of Europe at times of misunderstanding between West and Russia?
- On March 24, 2014, a few days after the referendum in the Crimea (when Crimeans declared their independence), I discussed the situation with foreign colleagues. We've had a lot of supporters, but they couldn’t voice their position openly. Next day, at a meeting of the Current Affairs Committee, on behalf of the Russian regions and municipalities, I urged members of the Congress to participate in the stabilization of the social and political situation in Ukraine by sending a group of observers, so that they could form correct and verified position of the Congress and the Council of Europe as a whole.
Moreover, in violation of all the statutory procedures, the Bureau of the Congress prohibited to hold field sessions in the Russian Federation. Of course, in a difficult foreign policy situation Russian delegates face some challenges. However, we should not stop the dialogue started, and it is important to maintain the possibility of cooperation by informing the European colleagues about our position on key issues.
Slowly but surely “the degree of tension” in the Congress over the Russian-Ukrainian problem is reducing. The acute problem of refugees arriving from North Africa and the Middle East to Europe played a certain role here.
- Does this mean that the Congress can be called a platform, where people use constructive approaches to solving pressing issues?
- Certainly, the Congress cannot remain aloof from the political agenda, and here we discuss “acute and pressing issues” from time to time. But the main focus of the Congress is finding solutions to the specific municipal and regional problems.
Regular visits of European parliamentarians to Tatarstan speak loudly about good and friendly relationships. Thus, for the past five years, Kazan was visited by chairmen of the Parliamentary Assembly and the Congress. In October 2015, we conducted a large-scale youth event – the 7th Russian-German Leadership Conference, where the young leaders of the two countries talked in favor of finding a compromise. Recently Kazan hosted the International Congress of practicing inclusive education, which was attended by my vise in the Current Affairs Committee of the Congress, Member of Parliament of State North Rhine - Westphalia (Germany) Josef Neumann.
- The next session of the Congress will be held this spring. What questions are on the agenda?
- Traditionally, Europeans arrange sessional meetings in March. The 30th jubilee session’s agenda is expected to be full and complicated. We will discuss ethical standards and ensuring their transparency at the local and regional levels, Congress Strategy against radicalization, solution of problems of formation of multicultural societies in Europe, fight against corruption, aspects of local and regional democracy in a number of European countries.
- Thank you, Mr. Mukhametshin! We wish you successful and efficient work at the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe.
The newspaper “Respublika Tatarstan”, February 25, 2016
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