French Strasbourg derives its name from ‘fortress by the road’; during Europe’s wars, it has five times changed its subordination — shifting either to Germany or France. It is a symbol of the European world. On May 5th, 1949, ten states signed an agreement, establishing the first purely European international political organisation. The Council of Europe — headquartered in Strasbourg — now unties 46 countries.
The idea behind the organisation is especially clear for Belarusians (in comparison to other Europeans). The city has seen numerous military campaigns from west to east and vice versa. It echoes Belarus’ own longsuffering history of withstanding attacks from each side…
Our country asked for special guest status on the Council of Europe back in December 1991 — soon after it became independent. This status was eventually granted in September 1992 and, in 1993, Belarus applied to join the Council of Europe as a full member. The organisation aimed to act as a ‘European family of nations’ on the continent, without division.
Sadly, new barriers were seen in this ‘family’ — instead of normal dialogue. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s Bureau divested Belarus’ National Assembly of its special guest status after the country’s referendum on amendments and supplements to the Constitution. Generally speaking, that step was useless — like the famous Maginot Line near Strasbourg symbolising a losing war strategy.
Everyone to the Assembly! For a long time, European political circles have been accepting that sanctions against Belarus are unproductive. Late 2008 was a famous turning point in the European Union’s official position: as confirmed by the visit of Javier Solana, High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy of the Council of the European Union, to Minsk. Moreover, Belarus was invited to participate in the Eastern Partnership programme.
Europe is represented by a political syndicate of various organisations and institutions acting jointly. Using the language of economics, the European Union holds ‘the controlling stock’, while large political originations (like the Council of Europe and OSCE) are ‘shareholders’.
Belarus is a member of the OSCE, with its National Assembly collaborating with the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly for many years. The latter is a good venue for discussing topical issues of European co-operation and security. This year, the President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, Joao Soares, visited Minsk — a landmark event. “We’ve arrived in the spirit of Khelsinki-75. We wish to build a safer and peaceful Europe,” he stressed during his meeting at Belarus’ National Assembly.
...In May, the PACE Political Affairs Committee voted for the restitution of Belarus’ special guest status, enabling Belarusian deputies to participate in the Assembly’s work. The final decision is being made at the PACE regular session in late June but we can already speak of co-operational prospects for Belarus and the Council of Europe.
Talks are golden! The European vector is a focus for Belarus’ foreign policy. Co-operation in Europe currently resembles a multi-layered cake where all the ingredients are of major importance. Mechanisms of aid, collaboration programmes and instruments of kind neighbourhood are fixed by politics...
The Council of Europe is the most important political institute on our continent, while its Parliamentary Assembly is the main European venue for gaining mutual understanding and discussing joint interests. Moreover, the most important all-European projects and new ideas are generated there. Communication within the PACE usually brings concrete results.
The Committee of Ministers (consisting of all member states’ foreign ministers) is the Council of Europe’s decision-making body. It prepares conventions and agreements and passes budget approval while also being a consultative body; in reality, its ministers adopt all decisions supported by the deputies but the PACE Parliamentary tribune stands high.
Belarusian deputies preparing to participate in the Assembly face a huge responsibility. Despite our special guest status ceasing in 1997, our liaisons with the Council of Europe continued as part of certain conventions. Soon, an Information Point of the Council of Europe is to open in Minsk, reporting on its activities, goals and priorities.
Naturally, it’s important for us to be heard. Belarus has many issues it wishes to debate with its European colleagues. “The almost fully-fledged participation of the Belarusian delegation in PACE sessions and its working bodies would help us to further voice our views on the processes taking place in Belarus,” stressed the Deputy Chairman of the Permanent Commission on Human Rights, National Relations and Mass Media at the House of Representatives, Anatoly Glaz.
Commenting on the PACE Political Affairs Committee’s decision, Mr. Glaz asserted that the status ‘would enable us to participate in various European formations and institutions, including ecological programmes and projects dealing with the battle against human trafficking’. “Moreover, this is an additional possibility to develop our export potential,” the official added, saying that ‘the restoration of our status would be an intermediate stage in Belarus receiving Council of Europe membership’.
The European house — in which Belarus-PACE collaboration is a brick — is gaining greater sustainability. The saying, ‘everything will be as it should, even if it is wrong’ comes to mind. ‘Wrong’ here may equate to deviation from dialogue — but, eventually, Europe is returning to a path of communication. In my view, the historical significance of Belarus’ regaining its special guest status is rooted in a clearly-voiced acknowledgement that all problems within the European ‘family’ must be solved via dialogue. Independent experts agree. “The trend is for the EU and other European political structures to include Belarus in European processes,” stresses Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies analyst Denis Melyantsov.
The Managing Director of the Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations of the Federation of German Industries, has told German Wave that the restitution of special guest status would be a move towards re-orientation of Europe’s politics regarding Belarus. “This is not the first — nor the last — decision by European structures in this direction. Renewal of Belarus’ inter-state consultations with European states (i.e. Germany) is now expected. Such processes are active today,” the German politologist asserts.
...The Council of Europe — established by Churchill and other famous ‘European house’ founders — recently celebrated its 60th jubilee in Strasbourg. It continues to develop, with new PACE members invited. Much joint work is still needed to build a continent without division.