Madrid: Former Ambassador Mamuka Jgenti, co-founder of the Georgian Institute of European Values (GIEV) and former Permanent Representative of Georgia to the Council of Europe told Front News International that 2019 would be decisive for the work of the Council of Europe.
According to him, this year will be decisive for his future and, therefore, for the work that he performs for all citizens of Europe.
The Council of Europe should elect a new Secretary General. At the end of the 1990s, Mamuka Jgenti in the Foreign Ministry of Georgia headed the group on the country's accession to the Council of Europe, later you worked in the Secretariat of the Organization, and later represented Georgia as an ambassador to the Council of Europe.
FNI: You know the organization from the inside. Difficult times for the organization, what do you think?
M.J.: Well, the challenges are not new for the Council of Europe, which has been in search for its real identity and role on the continent for quite some time now. But indeed, this year will be crucial for its future and hence, for the work it is doing for all the citizens of Europe. The elections of the new Secretary General will take place in June, but this and next year we shall also see the chairmanship of France and Germany in the decision-making body of the organisation (the Committee of Ministers). Georgia will assume the chairmanship in between these two leading countries for the first time in our history. Russian so called crises is there, relations with Turkey are important, as well as other topics pending before the oldest pan-European institution.
FNI: Still, to focus on the forthcoming elections. To start with, how would you assess the outgoing Secretary General and his legacy?
M.J.: Mr Jagland will be remembered as the first and perhaps the only Secretary General of the Council of Europe who was elected twice, two times in a row and served two terms in office.
FNI: Very laconic evaluation indeed, but Mr Jagland will remain in office till fall and perhaps you have some wishes or recommendations?
M.J.: As for the wishes for the months to come, I would be relieved to see that instead of wrongly labeling some small but proud member states as “captured states”, much more is done to examine whether the organisation is itself in a captured state and even if nothing could be realistically accomplished until the new Secretary General enters the office, it would be still very useful and valuable for the Organisation and its future.
Last year, Mr Jagland was interviewed by the Norwegian investigative journalist regarding the so called “caviar diplomacy scandal in the Council of Europe” and it is our understanding that the Secretary General referred to you as the organiser of his planned but cancelled encounter with one of your former colleagues in the Committee of Ministers who also appeared to be a whistleblower in this scandal.
I left Strasbourg in mid-2013. Since then, I met Mr Jagland once in Strasbourg when visiting the Palais de l’Europe with the President, Judges and staff of the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Moldova in 2017. There was another meeting planned with the Secretary General in Tbilisi, but for certain reasons the meeting could not take place. As for acting as some kind of middle-man and arranging meetings of the Secretary General, I am afraid “personal assistant functions” are definitely above my pay-grade. After all, Mr Jagland is a heavy-weight politician…….and with his workload some factual errors cannot be avoided.
FNI: To return to the elections. What is the procedure? What should we expect till June session of the Parliamentary Assembly?
M.J.: In multilateral diplomacy and particularly in the Council of Europe “the procedure” is the key to any issue. Sometimes and I would say in prevailing number of cases it is even more important than the substance. The Secretary General is elected by the members of the Parliamentary Assembly. However, to get to this vote there is a procedure to follow and here the Committee of Ministers comes into play. The whole election process is co-ordinated by the CM and PACE through the consultations between the leaderships of these two structures. Main avenue for these consultations is the Joint Committee, which is taking place at the end of each PACE plenary session and which is attended by the PACE leadership and Ambassadors of member states.
The next formal step is the interview with the candidates to be conducted by the Committee of Ministers in March. The candidates will be given the opportunity to present themselves, their views and plans and then there is a Q&A session. The whole interview lasts for about 1 hour. Whether there will be written questions submitted to candidates before the actual interview, should be decided by the Committee of Ministers. I do not favour this procedure and prefer to have proactive oral questions asked and answered in a live regime. But it remains to be seen how the CM will decide.
Following the interviews, the Ambassadors are given ballot papers with 4 names and with the secret ballot they have to tick the boxes with their preferred candidates. The candidates who shall obtain certain number of votes and if I remember it correctly 2/3 of the votes cast, shall be included in the list of candidates that is submitted to the PACE for the elections. The tricky part is that the CM may submit one, two, three or all the 4 candidates. In an unlikely situation that none of the candidates acquire necessary number of votes, the CM may decide to proceed with the second round of vote either with all the candidates or only with those two who obtained the most votes. It may also decide to reject the whole list and re-launch the procedure and request the submission of the new candidatures from the member states. These are theories based on ambiguous procedures that exist, but nothing could be excluded in practice, should the circumstances dictate such a development.
The final step is the election by the Parliamentary Assembly.
FNI: There are 4 candidates officially submitted by the member states. What is your personal choice and also how would you assess chances of each of these candidatures?
M.J.: Unless there is only one candidate standing for election, it is impossible to predict the outcome at such an early stage. Much will depend on how the candidates will conduct the election campaign and to what extent and with what efficiency the respective member states, those who submitted the candidatures, will support their nominee. Obviously, there are concrete criterias as well. There is so called “Juncker Criteria”, named after the current President of the European Commission and former PM of Luxembourg Jean-Claude Juncker, who was asked in 2004-2005 to prepare the report on the Council of Europe. I know this document and the recommendations contained therein quite well, as at that time I was working in the Directorate of Strategic Planning of the Council of Europe, which was headed by Jean-Louis Laurens, who was a focal point in the CoE general secretariat to co-ordinate the work with Mr Juncker.
According to these criterias, all the four candidates are qualified. Some more and some less, but still the professional carriers of all the candidates fall within the remit envisaged by the Juncker recommendations. The candidate nominated by Lithuania is the only one who fully complies with the criteria, as Mr Kubilius was serving as the head of the Government and he held these functions twice and for quite a long period of time.
Being a woman may be also an advantage. However, reports I have seen recently in some European media outlets that the CoE needs first female Secretary General are incorrect. CoE already had a female Secretary General and French politician Catherine Lalumiere was undoubtedly one of the most brilliant leaders the Secretariat of the organisation ever had. Furthermore, although holder of the position of the Secretary General should be quite independent from the state of nationality in implementing his/her duties, at the end of the day it is a common and obvious trend that the member states are favouring candidates from countries with whom they have either closer relations or some other issues pending solution. For example, we are entering the period when other European positions for example in Brussels are becoming vacant and there is an unwritten rule that these positions should be more or less equally distributed among countries or at least sub-regions of Europe.
Yet another unwritten feature that cannot be ignored, is the presence of nationals of different countries and/or regions in the high positions in the CoE Secretariat. From this point of view and considering the actual distribution of positions in the CoE, best chances could be attributed to candidates from Lithuania and Belgium. The reason for that is that the important positions of HR Commissioner and Director General are already held by the functionnaires coming from the Balkan countries, position of most important Director General in the Secretariat is also held by the Greek national.
When it comes to election process in the Assembly, there are additional unwritten rules that should be kept in mind. For instance, there is this notion of rotation among the political groups in the Assembly and this rule applies inter alia to the election of the PACE President and also the Secretary General of the Council of Europe. If these rules are respected, Socialist group has no chance and none of the 4 candidates are representing this political group and since the biggest political group in the Assembly is the EPP, main competition should take place among the candidates representing this political family, in other words candidates presented by Lithuania, Cyprus and Croatia. But these are unwritten rules that are in place, but they do not have mandatory force and hence, may not be regarded as bullet-proof arguments for prediction of the election’s outcome.
Our audience mainly comes from former Soviet states. What would you suggest to the authorities of Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan when it comes to the elections and their possible choices. You also did not mention your personal choice and I would like to insist on getting the answer to this question.
Well, I am not in a position to give any advice to the authorities of these countries. Moreover, in the PACE the delegations of member states are quite eclectic, so position of the authorities does not necessarily mean that all the members of the PACE from these countries will make similar choices. What I can do though, is for example recall one of the opinion articles published recently in Ukrainian media predicting that Ukraine will not support the Lithuanian candidate as his election would result in the eventual election of Serbian female candidate to the position of the Deputy Secretary General and this in turn would strengthen the position of the Russian Federation in the Secretariat. To this, in my opinion wrong analyse, I can reply that first of all, who matters most in the organisation is the Secretary General, not the Deputy Secretary General. Secondly, having lady Secretary General does not necessarily exclude the possibility of another lady to hold the position of the Deputy Secretary General. Finally, I would still recall that the nationality of the Secretary General still matters, as well as his/her background, dedication and professionalism and in this case, for the countries like Ukraine, Republic of Moldova, Azerbaijan, Georgia, I would also say Armenia, I see only one genuine choice, unless there are some other unknown arguments against. I believe, I answered to the question you insisted on to get the clear answer.
FNI: Thank you. Your answer is pretty clear. And final question would be about the role of Russia or the “Russian crises” as you have earlier referred to it for the election outcome. What importance would you attach to this matter and what kind of position you would personally appreciate from the candidates?
M.J.: In my humble opinion, this “Russian crises” should be resolved one way or another in the near future and more precisely, during the French presidency in the Committee of Ministers, in other words before the new Secretary General assumes his/her functions. If this is not the case, the issue will be frozen during the 6-month Georgian presidency and the CM will have to come back to it with the German chairmanship. If the issue is not solved by the time the new Secretary General takes the position, I would only suggest him/her not to navigate from capital to capital by begging to give up to Russian blackmail. The history of Russian blackmail is very old in Strasbourg. This budget contribution blackmail was seen much earlier, during Chechnya crises, as well as at a later stage when Russia effectively managed to kill Russia’s CM monitoring with the same blackmail. At the time of Chechnya crises Russia did no quit and I am persuaded that as soon as real talks about Russia’s expulsion from the Organisation due to unpaid contribution will be launched, Kremlin will give up and become more constructive. So far they only see the weakness and as it is accustomed for the Russian diplomacy they are playing with this card. There is nowhere to go and hence, they shall not go. Other arguments like the danger of leaving the citizens of Russia without the ECtHR protection mechanism etc are groundless. With the so called Zorkin policy and sovereign democracy in Russia especially. On the other hand, by submitting to the blackmail, the Organisation risks to loose most important ground for its existence and thus, start the irreversible process of becoming obscure and irrelevant.
FNI: Since you voiced your recommendation to the new Secretary General, I would like to add one last question. Namely, what else would you recommend to the new Secretary General as the top priority tasks during the initial year of the term?
M.J.: Well, first of all what I would like to see in the new Secretary General is the integrity, dedication to the mission, respect and appreciation of organisation’s main principles and values and its own very dedicated and capable staff. I wish to see the Secretary General for whom the standing and future of the Organisation is the highest priority prevailing even on his/her personal political career (like the second term re-election etc). I want to see the Council of Europe regaining its importance and usefulness like it had after the fall of Berlin wall and during the accession of new member states from Balkans and former Soviet empire. All pre-conditions for that are present. I wish to have the Council of Europe, which has it political influence on matters it is best placed to deal with. And one can imagine that without making this a priority objective, without even having Directorate General of Political Affairs in the Secretariat, this mission cannot be accomplished. I would not exclude for the new Secretary General to launch and explore ideas with the Committee of Ministers regarding possible organisation of the CoE Summit, should the political will and relevant agenda become reality. I also want to see the CoE CM and the Secretariat are implementing monitoring functions based on clearly defined criterias and rules and without any undue discrimination or appeasement. I wish to see that the most professional team in Europe that the CoE Secretariat has the luxury to have at all levels is well respected, duly heard and appreciated. There are many things I wish to see in Strasbourg as I believe that this organsiation, which is located in the capital of Europe, has huge potential to be of great benefit and value to all citizens of Europe and it will be unfortunate or even disastrous to waste this oldest pan-European institution in vain.