According to Europe Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland, the European Council may soon have to deal with Ruxit. Jagland visited Helsinki on November 8, 2018. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

On Wednesday, Finland begun its presidency of the Committee of Ministers. It’s the highest decision-making body of the Council of Europe (CoE). 

Earlier in November, Foreign Minister Timo Soini met with Europe Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland in Helsinki, and we attended their joint press conference to learn more about the subjects revolving around the presidency.

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We had learned previously that CoE doesn’t have binding powers in the EU, but instead plays a key role in promoting human rights and democracy and helps its 47 member states comply with its principles.

The council is dependent on its member states for funding. But at the press conference, it became clear that Russia—who has been a member of CoE since 1996—hasn’t paid its fees; since 2007 it has refused to pay a ruble to the council.

Jagland and Soini have known each other for a long time. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

Foreign Minister Soini was not hesitant to express his thoughts on the subject:

“If you are a member, you need to pay. The criteria are the same for everybody.”

According to EUobserver, an independent online newspaper in Brussels, one of the reasons for Russia halting payments is because of the sanctions that the EU has laid upon it for the annexation of Crimea.

During the presidency, Soini would like to make it clear for the Russians that the membership in the council is good for the Russian Federation and its citizens.

Should Russia decide to continue in its path of non-payments and finally part the council, the country’s citizens would be left without the humanitarian work and surveillance that the European council provides.

According to Secretary General Jagland, Russia’s exit from the council would, for example, stop an ordinary Russian citizen from seeking justice from the European Court of Human Rights. “There’s a real danger that Europe is not only facing Brexit but also Ruxit,” Jagland said.

Finland surely has its hands full in attempting to solve this one. Finland’s presidency of the council ends in May 2019.

Good to know:

The priorities of Finland’s Presidency are: strengthening the system of human rights and the rule of law in Europe; supporting equality and women’s rights; openness and inclusion; and young people and the prevention of radicalization.