Heidi Hautala in HUMAN RIGHTS AND DEMOCRACY – symposium in Helsinki: Human rights and democracy must be raised to a new level in EU-Russia Summit tomorrow

Chair of the Green Parliamentary Group in the Finnish Parliament Heidi Hautala
gave the opening words in a symposium on Human rights and democracy in Russia
in Helsinki. Summary of her speech can be found below:

We are holding this symposium on the state of democracy and human rights in
Russia on the eve of the EU-Russia Summit in Helsinki. Since the murder of Anna
Politkovskaya a number of civil society organizations and other concerned
citizens in this country have come much more together in order to bring
attention to the anti-democratic developments in Russia. A rare window of
opportunity has opened up in the sequence of this and other tragic events,
during the Finnish EU Presidency.

It is our duty here, on behalf of many EU-wide organizations, to see that the
European Union takes its responsibility and uses the leverage it has to assure
Russia that, after all, it is a European country, as Prime Minister Matti
pointed out to some 200 parliamentarians from all over EU here in Helsinki on
It is important to understand that Russia needs the EU at least as much as the
EU needs
Russia. Trading energy for human rights is a cynical business, and as citizens
should never accept to be a part of it.

It is time raise questions about the responsibility of corporations dealing
with and in Russia. The rule of law is also instrumental to businesses
operating in Russia. According to some estimates, corruption has increased
during the rule of President Putin. Foreign businesses should understand that
if they
participate in it, they postpone the normalization of life and wellbeing of
Russian citizens.

Lotte Leicht, director of Human Rights Watch in Brussels, has pointed out that
for too long, EU concerns about human rights have been relegated to lower-level
consultations which are welcome but not effective. I agree with her, at the
upcoming summit, EU must articulate a strong position at the highest level. We
only need to study the new reports of  Amnesty International and Human Rights
Watch to understand the urgency. I trust that Prime Minister Vanhanen has
understood the message which has been conveyed to him.

The suggestion of President Putin of bringing the relations to a new level with
a strengthened “equal and strategic partnership” is worth support. However, we
must make sure that the negotiation mandate of the EU – though probably not yet
in this summit because of the Polish veto on other matters  – also contains
strengthened formulations on promoting democracy and human rights, as we now
see that the situation in Russia is rapidly deteriorating.

We are sometimes misled to believe that we must speak to Russia in another
language than we speak to each other e.g. in Europe or the USA. Some even
suggest that Russia has a “democracy of its own kind”. And when we speak about
our “European values” to Russia, Russia responds by saying that we do not need
to impose “artificial standards” to each other, as President Putin wrote in
Financial Times (22.11.).

This all is a confusion. The European Union and Russia already share common
commitments as members of many international organizations. The standards of
the Council of Europe and OCSE are universally recognized norms. Russia does
not need to obey to artificial standards, it only needs to fulfil its
obligations according to international, its own commitments in international