PACE should work with delegations from both Russia and Ukraine to implement Minsk fully – Agramunt

Exclusive Interview with the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) President Pedro Agramunt.

Question 1. Before your visit to Moscow you expressed an intention to improve relations with Russia. What are the results of this visit?

I went to Russia because Russia is a member state of the Council of Europe and my role as President of the Parliamentary Assembly is to ensure that parliamentary delegations of all member states of the Council of Europe participate in the work of the Assembly.

The fact that the Russian Parliament decided not to appoint a delegation for the Assembly’s 2016 session – and that the voice of parliamentarians of one of our member states is not present in the Assembly – is an exceptional situation.

I have always worked to build bridges and to promote dialogue. I have always believed in the power of dialogue. When our relations are tense, we must keep talking. To be a true pan-European organisation, which seeks peaceful co-existence among all members, we should be able to keep a dialogue open between us. This is particularly important if we want to solve our differences.

True, our relationship has been troubled, but it is not broken beyond repair – it can be fixed. By bringing members of the Assembly closer together, we will be able to build trust and a shared understanding that peaceful and prosperous societies can only be built on fundamental freedoms, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

Question 2. What ways of resolving the conflict in Donbas do you see?

I have always been very clear on this. Ukraine must be able to recover full control over its territory and borders. It is clear that there needs to be a complete ceasefire, withdrawal of heavy weapons and withdrawal of the militias. Moreover, I think a peace process should be based on the fundamental principles of democracy and the rule of law in all phases of the process. This includes free and fair local elections in the region.

Question 3. What steps in your opinion should Ukraine and Russia take to implement the Minsk agreements?

I agree that the Minsk agreements must be implemented, and there is no alternative to this. Alongside dialogue between Russia and Ukraine, there needs to be dialogue between Kiev, Donetsk and Luhansk, including on such issues as enhancing security and promoting the political process. This means agreement on issues such as local elections, an amnesty law, a special status for Donbas and the necessary constitutional reforms.

It is true that the diplomatic efforts to find a political solution to the conflict in Ukraine have reached an impasse, however the path is clear: full implementation of the Minsk agreements. No more, no less. Ukraine and Russia share the responsibility to achieve this, and PACE should keep working with representatives from both sides so that their countries do their part of the job to implement Minsk fully.

Question 4. French President Francois Hollande announced a meeting in the "Normandy format" in the coming weeks. How effective do you think is this format for the settlement of the Donbas conflict?

I highly value the efforts of President Hollande in attempting to solve this matter. If the “Normandy format” contributes to the process of peaceful settlement of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, it will be very welcome. Eastern Ukraine needs genuine and sincere reconciliation because confrontation is against our common European interests. This conflict, which has already taken almost 10,000 human lives and ruined hundreds of thousands of families, must stop, and it is our responsibility as Europeans to help achieve that.

All sides have a crucial role to play in this process and must show respect for the values and standards we share. At the same time, all of us must shoulder our responsibilities too, be ready for dialogue, and seek solutions together.

Question 5. In 2017 a number of European countries will hold parliamentary elections where the parties of eurosceptics are likely to succeed. Is PACE ready to face new challenges in this regard?

Populism is often a consequence of a rigid and stagnant democratic system that provokes public disillusionment in the difficult times of an economic crisis.

During the Cold War, liberal democracy gained legitimacy by being better than totalitarianism in Europe. However since democracy has become the most prevalent form of government, it is held to tougher account, particularly among the young who have not lived under the yoke of Communism or Fascism.

Populism, however, requires a realistic and genuinely European response. PACE has to be ready to respond through the protection of fundamental individual rights and the guarantee of free elections. These are the pillars of liberal democracy and should be defended as universal principles.