AEGEE welcomes that the Council of Europe will not implement the “contingency plan”, that would have stopped youth sector funding from its budget completely.
At the same time we are sad and worried that this remained “plan A” until the end.
Other sectors of the Council (CoE) would have suffered cuts between 6-30%, while the funding for youth programmes from the ordinary budget would have been cut 100% if the Russian Federation had not agreed to resume payments into the budget.
AEGEE strongly denounces playing geopolitical games with the already meager funding of Civil Society and Youth as well as with the principles the Council of Europe is sworn to uphold.
The Council of Europe (not to be confused with the Council of the European Union) is an international organisation founded in 1949, with 47 member states across the continent. Its stated aim is to uphold human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Europe
The Council of Europe (or CoE for short) is renown for operating the European Court of Human Rights, for it’s democracy support and election monitoring as well as for it’s support and funding of Civil Society organizations and initiatives across Europe, including initiatives targeted at young people.
In 2014, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE for short) restricted the voting rights of the Russian delegation, citing the annexation of Crimea, which the Assembly considered a gross violation of international law. As a response, the Russian Federation froze all payments into the CoE budget in 2017.
To compensate the CoE would have had to save around 14% of its annual budget.The Secretary General of the institution devised a contingency plan in case Russia would have stopped payments permanently or left the organisation. The plan proposed cuts of 6–30% in all sectors of the Council of Europe. Except for youth. The plan “proposes to end the financing of the Organisation’s youth sector activities from the Ordinary Budget as of 1 January 2021 and to set up a new enlarged partial agreement on Youth.”
Partial agreements are voluntary associations through financial contribution of states for a specific set of activities. Each Member State of the Council of Europe could then decide to join, or not, and therefore to contribute financially, or not, to the partial agreement on youth. This gave little prospects for the future of the Council of Europe’s youth sector. After all, those same Member States’, most of whom purport to value and stand for human rights, the rule of law and support civil society, did not agree to any increase in their own contribution, to make up the difference.*
In the end, the contingency plan was shelved when PACE voted to restore the Russian delegations voting right and Russia agreed to stay in the organisation and pay its debts. The delegations of Ukraine, Estonia, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Slovakia walked out of the Parliamentary Assembly in protest.
The question of voting rights for Russia is a complex one. On the one hand there is the need to denounce breaches of international law, especially for principles as fundamental as the non-acceptance of states acquiring territory through conquest).
On the other, if the Russian Federation had left the organisation completely, it would mean ordinary Russian citizens would no longer have the right to appeal to the European Court of Human Right, civil society organisations fighting for democracy, the rule of law and human rights in Russia would lose access to critical funding and support for their cause and the Russian government would be free to reintroduce the death penalty if it wished**.
Due to these contradictory issues, AEGEE-Europe knowingly decided not to take a position in the question of restoring the voting rights of the Russian Federation or not. However, we did and still do strongly advocate that in the case of budgetary issues, spending on Youth and Civil Society should not be disproportionately cut.
Politicians love to make grandiose speeches, about Youth being the future. The recent events surrounding the Council of Europe proved once again, that those words are all too often not followed by actions. We call on the CoE Member States not to forget the importance of Youth in the construction of a Europe where democracy, human rights and the rule of law are respected!
*The entire budget of the Council of Europe makes up approximately 0,0022% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of its Member States, the contribution needed to completely make up for the budget deficit would be approx. 0,0003% of GDP.
**Banning the death penalty across Europe was a major and successful initiative of the Council of Europe. The will to become a member of the CoE was the main motivation for Russia ceasing to carry out the death penalty from 1996 onwards.