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New PACE leadership: The biggest betrayal or a new chance for Ukraine?

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At the First part of the PACE 2022 session, after his two-year cadence, the current Assembly president, the Belgian senator Rik Daems will leave his position. He will be replaced by Tini Cox, the Dutch politician, the chairperson of the United Left in Europe political group. Many people call him “the leader of Russian interests in PACE” and the main Russian Federation’s lobbyist”

Almost every of the previous PACE presidents who were in the office since 2014 has been called “pro-Russian”. The most obvious example is Pedro Argamunt, who joined the Russian State Duma’s members on a trip to Syria to meet with Bashar al-Assad. All Agramunt’ successors were defined by “fluid” rhetoric of “peace and dialogue in Europe”, not expressing such sympathy to Russia’s comeback to PACE. Russia has been absent here since 2015 because of aggression against Ukraine and fundamental violations of human rights.

Russian influence and one of the most extensive contributions to the PACE general budget became that sweet craving that made the PACE change their minds. After another confirmation of Russian delegation participation in 2021, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Dmytro Kuleba has tweeted about that: “This PACE has been broken for a long time. The new one hasn’t arrived yet”. Many experts found it even threatening to the whole of Ukraine in the PACE situation, but, in our opinion, we have our own strategic and national interests, which even in the context of such a policy must be protected by any legal means.

Tiny Kox has been a PACE member since 2003. Nineteen years is already an excellent term to go higher in the organisation positions. PACE was giving him many important tasks. For example, in 2021, he became the Head of the working group for the direction of the Assembly’s work. His ideas about the strategic priorities for the Council of Europe were accepted by the Assembly and presented to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.

Taking that, his nomination was not a surprise in PACE hallways: there were even talks about how to stop this process. However, it is inappropriate to violate the most sacred, the foundation of the functioning of the Assembly, which, according to some of its members, is the Rules of Procedure and the principle of political consent.

Another interesting feature of these Rules is that if one candidate is nominated for the post of PACE President, he is approved without any vote! His selection is simply announced, but if there are two or more candidates, the Assembly elects its President by secret ballot.

In this case, we need to rationally assess the result and understand that the selection of an agreed candidate, even by secret ballot, is predictable. Still, we agree that this way, the election gains some legitimacy in the eyes of all national delegations, even if they disagree.

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That is why some members of the Ukrainian delegation favour nominating another candidate. This could be, for example, a candidate from the entire informal group "Baltic +".

In general, we do not expect radical changes in the PACE position. However, this year may seem less politically productive, as the blocking of unwanted initiatives of opponents will be easier. Obviously, the strategy of confrontation with the "left" leadership of the Assembly will be wrong — it is possible and even necessary to find ways to dialogue with a President like Kox.

Moreover, we can advise the Ukrainian delegation to play ahead and meet with Tiny Kox during the plenary session of the Assembly in Strasbourg, when the relevant restrictions will be lifted, and invite him to visit Ukraine. This will demonstrate Ukraine's apparent victory in their favourite field of “peace and dialogue”.

Another problem for the Ukrainian delegation in 2022 is that Ukraine, following the rules of rotation in the PACE, will not have "its" vice-president of the Assembly. From a legal point of view, this factor does not bring about radical changes, but from a practical point of view, it means less contact with the leadership of the Assembly. The absence of our representative in the Bureau, the PACE's collegial governing body, which includes all PACE Vice-Presidents, will also affect our ability to represent our agenda.

On the other hand, there is nothing to stop us from working more deeply and intensively with friendly to us delegations, which will be able to promote the issues we need in the Bureau. Another way to influence the Bureau is to elect a member of the Ukrainian delegation as chairperson of one of the PACE Committees. Theoretically, this is possible, but in practice, it depends on the Ukrainian members in the PACE political groups and their ability to delegate themselves for such a high position.

What can we expect from the so-called "left" leadership of the PACE in the end? The best-case scenario is that Tiny Kox will take a neutral position and really address the following issues of the Assembly: strategic priorities, policy revision on many matters, budget. Let's remind that Russia has not yet paid in full the contributions it owed during the deprivation of its right to vote in the PACE, as well as the imposition of Russian sanctions against PACE members for their reports, which is unacceptable under the PACE Code of Conduct.

And we really believe that will be the case because Tiny Kox as the delegate and Tiny Kox as the President of the PACE, who will now represent the whole Assembly, are different characters and different roles.

Authors
Bohdan Veselovskyi, adviser to the chairperson of the Permanent Delegation of the Verkhovna Rada to the PACE.
Taras Prodaniuk, CEO of the ADASTRA Think Tank, CGAI Fellow.

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