Germany still does not have a new government, four months after the election, but that has not stopped parliament from making important decisions.
Last week, the Bundestag sent a clear signal across Europe about its support to human rights and the institutions that protect them by dropping two controversial MPs from the German delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in Strasbourg.
Germany’s new 18 person-strong delegation to PACE does not include former PACE members, Karin Strenz and Axel Fischer. Both are MPs with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, which decided against including them in its list of nominees. The decision has been linked in the German media to the MPs’ alleged roles in limiting PACE’s efforts to hold the Azerbaijan government accountable for human rights abuses.
Strenz has admitted receiving thousands of euros in 2014 and 2015 from a German lobby company that received funds from Azerbaijan, which has a track record of severe human rights abuses. According to documents leaked last year and widely reported, the government in Baku ran a US$2.92 billion secret fund between 2012-2014 – known as the ‘Azerbaijani Laundromat’ – to pay European politicians and others to help dilute human rights criticism of Azerbaijan in PACE and other bodies.
In a resolution adopted last year, PACE expressed “great concern” about Azerbaijan’s activities and launched an investigation. Fischer is accused by some PACE members of trying to block this investigation, according to media reports. Fischer’s exclusion from the delegation will not go unnoticed: He was leader of the German PACE delegation and head of the European People’s Party, the largest political grouping in PACE.
The Bundestag decision comes at an important time for PACE – which holds its first siting of 2018 this week – and the wider Council of Europe. Composed of 47 member states, the Council of Europe’s mandate is to uphold human rights standards based on the European Convention on Human Rights.
Yet it has been weakened in recent years, in particular by moves by authoritarian governments, such as Azerbaijan, to undermine its work.
Human rights are under attack in many countries belonging to the Council of Europe. The Bundestag’s action is an important step in ensuring this institution remains the strong, independent body needed to uphold international human rights standards.