Finding a Strategy For Europe
By Grigory Yavlinsky and Alexander Shishlov

ALDE Bulletin, N°2, 2010. PACE Session. 26-30 April 2010

It was 65 years ago that the World War II ended. The scope of the disaster was so devastating that the entire world learned the lesson and found ways for reconciliation of the recent foes and creation of international mechanisms for peaceful development of the mankind. Responsibility and intellect of politicians, experts and public leaders took over narrow national and corporate interests allowing to formulate common approaches to the construction of a new Europe and a new world. After the war, the UN and the Council of Europe were established and the integration of the European democratic states leading to today’s European Union began. The Liberal International was created, and its Oxford Manifesto of 1947 proclaimed liberal values to be a must for future development. Freedom and democracy, human rights and rule of law became key components of the new world order. In spite of the fact that half of Europe remained under Stalin’s totalitarian dictatorship, progress was irreversible. This value-orientation proved to be successful as the communist regimes collapsed in the USSR and Eastern Europe.

However, the fall of the Berlin Wall did not bring about the understanding of the need for a new European strategy for the 21st century. Today, when we enjoy far more comfortable conditions than after the end of the Second World War, when considerably better assets and modern technologies are available, Europe and the world still fail to find an adequate response to new challenges. The rise of extremism, nationalism, international crime and terrorism present a real threat to the European security. Crisis in the global finance and economy, ecology and healthcare, population growth and migration can reverse the progress.

We believe that all these new problems, albeit different, have one common root: dominance of the Realpolitik, narrow pragmatism and short-term material interests over universal humanitarian values. It is not about moralising. There is a real practical need for the governments to observe a minimal set of requirements concerning public goods and the rules of fair political competition (even if it is only words and declarations at the beginning). It is vitally important to build a system that would prevent violations of minimal moral norms by the governments. And this is, by the way, an important aspect for overcoming the present economic crisis.

Although such a “moral” and “ethical” approach to politics is not new, it has been as a rule considered as secondary and often ignored, which led to serious economic and political problems, and even wars. However, no regime in the 19th and 20th centuries – except for the rogue states – dared to publicly challenge the moral approach. The victory over Nazism consolidated the moral approach, which brought about and secured the victory of the Euro-Atlantic world in the competition against communism. Politics remained separated from business, and business players in their pursuit of profits did not make any steps to destroy or disrupt the system. As to totalitarian and authoritarian corporate regimes, they were not allowed to participate in the fully-fledged competition in the free world, or to be integrated into the Western financial system. At the time, the Western governments felt obvious military, political and economic threat. Now, when the military and political threats seem to disappear or weaken, one can get the illusion that there is no more moral or economic threat to the European system of values. We also observe how prosily, virtually conflict-free and unemotionally the states governed by corporate culture turn into important world players while the businesses of their leaders increasingly merge with their political power.

Before such systems affect the social structure, they manifest themselves in political morals. For example, political techniques used by the Russian leaders (and not only Russian) for the past ten years may be unable to override the political practices employed by Washington, London or Paris, but they affect them nonetheless. That is where we think the problem of political morals resides.

The Council of Europe as institution based on values of human rights can and should play a considerably larger role both in strengthening the moral basis of politics and in confronting new threats. It is of special importance to us, Russian liberals, since we see that the Russian government, preoccupied with suppressing political opposition, emerging civil society and democracy, builds a bureaucratic police state, creates artificial “pocket” political parties and conducts elections in such a way that its victory is guaranteed. At present, elections in Russia are held under tough governmental control and their results are falsified. Consequently, there is no independent parliament in Russia. Russia also lacks independent judiciary which could protect the citizens from criminals and corrupted bureaucracy. Political censorship has been de facto introduced at the national television where any discussion on important political and social issues is prohibited.

We also see that the existing European mechanisms are unable to help Russian citizens to efficiently protect their rights. A group of privileged individuals has formed in Russia, and is rapidly turning into a “superior caste” with unlimited rights. In addition, the principle of equality of all before the law does not prevent Russian authorities from conducting domestic discriminatory policies towards specific social groups.

We have been observing freedom shrink in our country from year to year, democratic elections and independent press disappear, kidnappings and murders in the North Caucasus continue and serious crisis potential accumulate, while the Council of Europe was simply watching and, unfortunately, such a passive “watching” approach is not applied to Russia only.

We think that it is up to democrats, people with liberal views, to start the fight for bringing the European politics back from shortsighted pragmatism and Realpolitik to the moral values.

YABLOKO proposes to start formulating a new European agenda for the 21st century. We are aware of the scope and the complexity of such a task, however, the opposite would result in a relative decline of Europe compared to North America and Asia –continents that in 20 years will obviously turn into centres of economic growth and, consequently, global political influence. If Europe does not want to be left on the roadside and lose its competitive economic capacity and its status of equal political partner, it has to stop resting on its laurels. It’s high time to start working on a new long-term development strategy in order to keep reinforcing the post-war European civilization based on liberal-democratic values and human rights respecting national cultures and traditions. In our view, this is the only way to prevent Europe’s sliding towards uncontrollable socio-political and systemic economic crisis. We are already observing the symptoms of such a crisis not only in Russia, but also in other former Soviet republics, such as Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova or even in some countries of the “old Europe” as, for example, Greece.

Some of the required initial steps in this direction are already obvious and can be made by the Council of Europe. The Council of Europe needs strong analytical institutions that would considerably raise its competence and allow not only to analyse but also forecast socio-political trends and develop preventive measures rather than good wishes. Another step would be building and improving the instruments of independent public opinion surveys (especially urgent in Russia and some other Eastern European countries).

In our opinion, the principles of PACE composition should be further improved. The Parliamentary Assembly based on delegation of national MPs proceeds from the idea that all the member-states have approximately the same (high) democracy level. But this is not so, and a considerable part of the Council of Europe population does not yet have free and fair elections and is deprived of direct links with the European institutions. This is not strategic and even dangerous. Direct elections to PACE (or any other European representative body) could be decisive for such countries’ progress towards modern democracy, rebuilding of confidence in elections and limiting the power of criminal bureaucracy.

For Russia the Council of Europe is the key and yet the sole real bridge to Europe. The most important task for us, Russian liberals, is to make it broader and stronger.

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