Winter 2000 (8.4)
Azerbaijan Joining the Council of Europe
Will It Mean?
On November 9, 2000, the Committee of Ministers of the Council
of Europe invited Azerbaijan to join this pan-European organization.
A similar resolution for Armenia was adopted that same day. There
has been concern that both Azerbaijan and Armenia should be admitted
together so as not to give one advantage over the other in regard
to the peaceful resolution of the Karabakh conflict. Georgia,
the only other country in the Caucasus, was admitted to the Council
on April 27, 1999.
Azerbaijan's entrance into the Council of Europe (CoE) has not
been finalized, although the possibility of admission is viewed
as very strong. The ratification date is set for January 17,
2001. The Council has asked that Azerbaijan provide evidence
that its Parliamentary elections held November 5, 2000 were fair
and in line with the Council's standards. Azerbaijan has voided
the election results in 11 precincts where fraud was observed.
New elections for those precincts are scheduled for January 4,
Sometimes people confuse
the "Council of Europe" with the "European Council".
The European Council comprises 15 member states belonging to
the European Union whose responsibility is to plan Union policy.
The Council of Europe, on the other hand, has 41 member states,
including non-European Union members such as Russia and Turkey.
of Europe is viewed by many Azerbaijanis as an institution that
will support them as a newly independent nation in the process
of developing democratic institutions.
is credited with the concept that eventually developed into the
Council of Europe. After the devastation of World War II, many
Europeans were searching for a way to put their lives back together,
having suffered tremendous economic loss, a lack of political
influence and power, not to mention the tragic loss of life.
Churchill imagined a "kind of United States of Europe".
The first gathering took place on May 5, 1949 in St. James' Place,
London. Ten countries signed the original treaty constituting
the Statute of the Council of Europe: Belgium, France, Luxembourg,
the Netherlands, Italy, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and the United
Kingdom, accompanied by Ireland.
The CoE's first sessions were held in Strasbourg, France, which
later was chosen as the organization's permanent seat. In the
initial flush of enthusiasm, the first major convention was drawn
up: the European Convention on Human Rights was signed in Rome
on November 4, 1950 and went into effect on September 3, 1953.
Advantages to Membership
The majority of Azerbaijanis seem to be supportive of joining
the Council of Europe, even though the organization has no policing
power to impose its will. The institution is based, more or less,
on what might be termed a "Gentlemen's Agreement" of
what is defined as civil behavior between nation states-though
in this case, the responsibilities are not just implied but specifically
set down in writing. Given the nature of such an organization,
one might ask: Exactly what are the advantages of Azerbaijan
joining this "club?
1. Path to Democracy
To be a member of the Council of Europe, there are many standards
of compliance that will facilitate Azerbaijan's path to democracy.
CoE provides certain leverage to help urge and scrutinize the
process, especially when it comes to matters dealing with the
executive, legislative and judiciary systems, including the protection
of human rights, freedom of the media, of religion, of minority
peoples and languages and of political prisoners.
For example, within a year of joining, Azerbaijan must sign a
Law on Combating Corruption; within two years, it must ratify
a State Program on Combating Corruption. European observers have
identified the prevalence of corruption in Azerbaijan's official
structures and the society at large as the major obstacle to
democracy. The anti-corruption plan is welcomed as an initiative
to provide support for those who are serious about tackling this
In 1999, in anticipation of membership, a new Law on the Police
was adopted in Azerbaijan to provide for more stringent supervision
of police activities by the judiciary. Of course, signing these
laws is only the first step; implementing them on a daily basis
is a process that will require much training and scrutiny.
As for Armenia, within one year of accession, it must abolish
the death penalty and decriminalize homosexual relations between
consensual adults. Within two years, Armenia must conform to
the Council of Europe's conventions on extradition and give mutual
assistance in criminal matters on laundering, search, seizure
and confiscation of proceeds from crime. Azerbaijan already complied
with all of these requirements earlier this year in anticipation
of joining the Council. There are numerous other stipulations
that both countries will have to implement in their effort to
conform to the Council of Europe's standards.
As of November 2000, Azerbaijan has already signed nearly 15
Council of Europe Conventions related to a wide array of topics
such as: conservation of wildlife and natural habitats, protection
of archeological heritage, control of the acquisition and possession
of firearms by individuals, legal status of children born out
of wedlock, cinematographic co-productions, and even spectator
violence and misbehavior at sports events, with particular attention
to soccer matches.
2. Karabakh Resolution
In regard to the resolution of the Karabakh conflict, the Council
of Europe as an institution has not been involved with peace-seeking
solutions directly, as this is the mandate of the OSCE (Organization
on the Security and Cooperation of Europe). However, the admission
of both Azerbaijan and Armenia simultaneously to this organization
is expected to accelerate the process of resolution by intensifying
contact and encouraging dialogue between representatives of the
two states, at both parliamentary and inter-governmental levels
within the Council of Europe.
By virtue of their membership, both Azerbaijan and Armenia are
required to pursue efforts to settle this conflict through peaceful,
not military, means. If the past is any indication, one could
expect that the Council of Europe will support an agreement based
on the inviolability of borders, guaranteed security for all
peoples in the area concerned, particularly through multi-national
peacekeeping forces, and extensive autonomy for Nagorno-Karabakh
within Azerbaijan, as the CoE Parliamentary Assembly put forward
in a resolution in 1997.
3. Voice in Europe
As far as representation is concerned, Azerbaijan will have an
important platform for voicing its positions along with colleagues
from other European countries. Azerbaijan is expected to have
six representatives in the 291-seat Parliamentary Assembly of
the Council; Armenia, four.
4. Higher Courts
Citizens of Azerbaijan who feel that their human rights have
been violated will have access to a higher court than their own
national judiciary. The European Court of Human Rights is an
international institution that, in certain circumstances, can
receive such complaints from nationals of CoE member states.
Furthermore, recently elected Azerbaijani municipalities will
gain representation in the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities
of Europe. Azerbaijani NGOs (non-governmental organizations)
will receive access to certain humanitarian funds in Europe.
Azerbaijani students who wish to study in other countries on
the continent will become eligible for financial support by the
governments of those countries. Most of the time, such applicants
must be citizens of a CoE member state.
One of the most practical benefits for Azerbaijan will be that
finally the international community will recognize it as being
part of Europe. Many Azerbaijanis feel psychologically aligned
with Europe, regardless of how others view them. Especially since
the collapse of the Soviet Union, there has been much confusion
about how to categorize Azerbaijan. Does it belong to Europe
or Asia? Membership in the Council of Europe will go a long way
toward resolving this question.
8. Future Alliances
Becoming part of the Council of Europe is likely to help with
future membership in other international organizations, such
as the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Organization for
Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Some have even suggested
that this might lead to European Union membership one day. Who
knows what shape Europe might take in the next 25 years?
Each alliance is of vital importance for Azerbaijan these days,
especially since independence as a nation depends on forging
ties within the world community. In the long run, membership
in the Council of Europe can be immensely beneficial in helping
to accelerate this process.
For more information about Azerbaijan in the context of Council
of Europe, visit the official web site: www.coe.int.
22, is an M.A. student of European Public Affairs at the University
of Maastricht, The Netherlands.
(8.4) Winter 2000.
© Azerbaijan International 2000. All rights reserved.
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