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Questions over Russian membership to be answered as Finland chairs Council of Europe

Finland began its presidency of the Council of Europe on Wednesday. Russia's status in the group will be on the agenda during Finland's half-year term.

Euroopan neuvoston pääsihteeri Thorbjörn Jagland ja Timo Soini lehdistötilaisuudessa 8. marraskuuta.
Secretary General of the Council of Europe Thorbjörn Jagland (left) and Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini during their joint press conference in Helsinki, Finland, on Thursday, 8th Nov., 2018. Image: Antti Aimo-Koivisto / Lehtikuva

Finland began its six-month presidency of the highest decision-making body of the Council of Europe (CoE) on Wednesday. Weekly meetings of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe will be chaired by Timo Soini, Finland's Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Russia's status in the organisation will be on the agenda during Finland's presidency, which ends next May.

Russia suspended paying its membership fees after the CoE's Parliamentary Assembly (Pace) imposed sanctions on the country in 2014 for its military aggression in Eastern Ukraine and annexation of Crimea.

The CoE, which is not affiliated with the European Union, celebrates its 70th anniversary next May.

Russia on the way out?

The sanctions meant that the Russian delegation was denied voting rights in Pace. Two of the country's leaders, including Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, recently indicated they may leave the council entirely.

The council's secretary general, Thorbjörn Jagland of Norway, has previously said that if Russia does pull out of the group, it would deny Russians human rights protections and be a continuation of President Vladimir Putin's efforts to draw Russia further away from Europe, according to an Washington Post report last month.

The CoE is an intergovernmental group focusing on the promotion of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Founded in 1949, it includes representatives from 47 member states.

Finland's Ministry for Foreign Affairs said its priorities in the CoE include: strengthening the system of human rights and the rule of law in Europe, supporting equality and women's rights and promoting openness and inclusion, with a focus on young people and the prevention of radicalism.

The last time Finland held the CoE presidency was in 1997-98.

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