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Two weeks ago, a historic debate on Azerbaijan took place in the Council of Europe. Given the history of relations between the Council of Europe and Azerbaijan, this was a watershed moment. Two weeks after this debate, Ilham Aliyev was elected president of Azerbaijan for the fifth time in a row: after 2003, 2008, 2013, 2018, also now in 2024.
Today, Serbia and Kosovo stand at the brink of a catastrophe. It is urgent for European powers to act in time and in a way that can pre-empt it. And the EU must acknowledge that a dialogue based on the promise of EU integration cannot work without this promise being credible.
The UK Court of Appeal showed a way how the UK and other European governments might combine migration control through migration diplomacy with respect for the Refugee Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights.
No member state of the Council of Europe should be able to get away with imprisoning politicians, journalists and human rights defenders on false grounds, or to ignore judgements on such arrests by the European Court of Human Rights. This must have consequences.
Due to Russia's attack on Ukraine, European democracies took in many refugees. Until Ukraine's conflict resolves, Europe must support those seeking safety. Addressing the influx of Ukrainian refugees and aiding affected communities in Turkey should be Europe's political priority.
Putin hopes to divide European societies. His instrument is terror against Ukrainian civilians. A Europe-wide campaign that shows that civil societies, backed by governments, are prepared to host more Ukrainian refugees is a powerful signal to Russia that its horrific blackmail will fail.
All Western Balkan states are stuck. Their accession process resembles a bus without wheels, with North Macedonia discussing conditions for moving up a row of seats inside a vehicle going nowhere. It is time for the EU to acknowledge this reality and take action. This dysfunctional process and the Bulgarian veto are the two elephants in Skopje everyone knows about, but that no one wants to discuss openly.
The EU must prepare to defend its members against the threat of a revanchist Russia. At a time of Russian military aggression and ever more ominous threats coming from Moscow, European leaders should think of Ukraine as an ally, not a burden.
It is striking how differently Russia and Kosovo have been treated by the governments of Council of Europe member states in recent years. For many years, Kosovo governments have been actively discouraged from applying for Council of Europe membership by other members. The result: Kosovo remains outside.
Putin’s cynical goal of blackmailing Ukraine and the EU through brutal warfare leading to mass displacement must fail and must be seen to fail. An Airlift 2022, the most generous refugee reception policy worldwide in decades, would be an appropriate response. It would be a humane response to inhumane cynicism.
The Council of Europe must not harbour a dictatorship that is invading a neighbouring state, committing massive war-crimes, while suppressing the human rights of its own citizens to hide its aggressive war from its public. Member states of the Council of Europe must move to expel Russia from their organisation.
Russian president Vladimir Putin declared war on the principles enshrined in core treaties on which European stability is based: the Statute of the Council of Europe and the European Convention on Human Rights. If they are to remain credible, the member states of the Council of Europe must react and suspend Russia for violating its most solemn commitments.
After a tumultuous and troubling 2021, with instability and fear returning to the Balkans, with a European Union seemingly lost and bereft of ideas for its neighbours, and with the very real threat of a Russian aggression looming over Ukraine, the vision, expressed since 1990 by Vaclav Havel and Madelaine Albright, remains as urgent and relevant as ever.
Time is not on the side of the rule of law in Poland. Justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro no longer pretends to care about European law and courts. It is time for European institutions to prove that European law and institutions are stronger than the chaos that he has already brought to his country’s courts. But time is running out.
Poland has become a test case today whether it is possible to create a justice system in an EU member state without independent courts. The Commission should propose, and the ECJ impose a fine of € 880 million every two months until the Polish government implements the 15 July ruling.
There is a possibility that the current consensus in Australia – that only pushbacks and the harshest deterrence reduce irregular migration, which is both morally and politically desirable – will be embraced elsewhere, in Asia and in Europe. If this happens refoulement will be normalised around the world.
Adherence to the global refugee protection system has always been fragile. And yet, today the system risks collapse, as pushbacks are carried out routinely across the world, including in Europe, in Australia and in the US. How to protect the Geneva refugee convention today?
If the Russian state is allowed to ignore the European Court of Human Rights, again, and to kill another critic of the government, it will have shown that the Council is a club of states for whom the respect for fundamental rights is wholly optional.
In recent weeks, the unbelievable story of corruption of parliaments across Europe by the Caspian autocracy of Azerbaijan has created big waves in Germany. For the Aliyev regime, almost two decades of efforts to aggressively undermine democratic institutions remained without consequences.
The EU has a strong political and economic incentive to offer to any interested Western Balkan nation the chance to join its Single Market as an interim goal in a reformed two-stage EU accession process. Countries and economies can catch up. For this it must be credible, merit based and serious. It has happened before. It can happen again.