18 May

Comment by the Information and Press Department of MFA of Russia on the start of the Greek Chairmanship in the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe

The Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe was handed over from Georgia to Greece on May 15, 2020. Athens assumes the six-month chairmanship at an extremely challenging time, as all the European countries are struggling against the coronavirus infection, a treacherous enemy that transcends borders and nations. It is at this tense moment that mechanisms of international and pan-European cooperation are crucial like never before for making a real contribution to stabilising the epidemiological situation and overcoming its consequences. The Council of Europe is definitely one such mechanism.

The main theme of the Greek Chairmanship is “Protection of human life and public health in the context of a pandemic – Effectively responding to a sanitary crisis in full respect for human rights and the principles of democracy and the rule of law.” We fully support our Greek partners in their commitment to make maximum use of the Council of Europe, its principal bodies and conventions to these ends.

Russia strongly believes that the Council of Europe has the potential to be more than just a defender of values limited in its role to making sure that the restrictions governments impose are consistent with their human rights obligations. Offering a constructive agenda is equally important: reviewing best national practices in fighting the pandemic and its consequences, facilitating joint efforts by countries, be it in healthcare, on social matters, economy or education. In fact, the Council of Europe has extensive experience in working on the legal and practical aspects of public health. In particular, there is the Council of Europe Convention on the counterfeiting of medical products and similar crimes involving threats to public health (MEDICRIME), also known as the Moscow Convention. In the current context, the Council of Europe could benefit from the framework offered by the Partial Agreement for the prevention of, protection against, and organisation of relief in major natural and technological disasters.

Strasbourg is known for putting too much emphasis on petty issues that are relevant only to small fractions of the population. The tragic lessons of the pandemic are forcing us to rethink many things, shifting the focus toward the vital necessities of a vast majority of Europeans, primarily their social and economic rights. The Council of Europe has a European Social Charter, and the European Social Cohesion Platform. However, over the past years the policy of contracting the Council of Europe’s social dimension has prevailed. Russia has repeatedly warned that it would be a mistake to go down that road. We will now have to make up lost ground.

Russia continues to insist that turning a blind eye to statelessness, mass ethnic and language discrimination is unacceptable for today’s Europe. We are hopeful that as we mark the 75th anniversary of Victory over Nazism Strasbourg and Athens will not fail to offer an adequate response to the attempts to glorify Nazi collaborators, desecrate monuments to the liberators, and in general review the outcomes of WWII. Let us not forget that these outcomes form the foundation of the Council of Europe.

The Greek Chairmanship also coincides with another memorable date for our continent – 70 years since the signing of the European Convention on Human Rights. Russia will remain a guarantor of effective and good faith performance under the Convention, which has become a pillar of the European architecture rooted in international law rather than the much-hyped rules-based order.

We wish our Greek colleagues every success in implementing their priorities and advancing toward the Council of Europe’s main statutory objective of strengthening unity among its members. Russia stands ready to offer the Greek Chairmanship the necessary assistance and support.