Margelov Blocked From PACE Presidency

Senator Mikhail Margelov will not be the next president of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly due to a reform that has been described as aimed at preventing a Russian from chairing Europe's prominent human rights watchdog.

At a meeting in Paris on Jan. 10, the leaders of the assembly's five political groups agreed on reforms to the nominating procedures for the rotating presidency that would give the chamber's largest group, the Socialists, the right to nominate a candidate for the election, scheduled for Monday.

The European Democrat Group, headed by Margelov, had been expected to nominate the next president. Traditionally, a group nominates its chairperson.

Margelov would not comment on the issue, his spokeswoman Varvara Paal said Wednesday. She stressed that a final decision on the matter would only come Sunday, and that it would remain classified.

But Joachim H?rster, vice chairman of the European People's Party and a member of the German Bundestag, suggested that strong reservations about Russia's stance on human rights would have made it difficult for Margelov to win a majority from the parliament's more than 300 members.

"The question was raised of what this presidency would mean with respect to the State Duma's refusal to ratify Protocol 14 to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights," H?rster said Wednesday by telephone from Berlin. "We had a very intense debate ... and this played a significant role."

Russia is the only Council of Europe member state that has not ratified the protocol, which should help speed up the processing of cases at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasburg.

The issue is on the agenda of the Assembly's outgoing president, Dutch Senator Rene van der Linden, who was to hold talks with President Vladimir Putin on Thursday in Moscow.

Yet Wolfgang Wodarg, vice chairman of the Socialist Group and a Bundestag deputy, denied the motive was aimed at Moscow or Margelov. The sole reason, he said, was to ensure that each of the five groups could nominate a member for the presidency.

He stressed that Margelov himself had signed the packet of reforms containing the changes as chairman of the European Democrat Group.

But H?rster said Margelov had signed under the condition that his group, which is mainly made up of Russian and British Conservative members of the parliament, accepted the changes.

The reform entails that the Assembly's presidency and committee chairmanships rotate every two years instead of three. Being the biggest group, the Socialists will nominate the first candidate, and Margelov's European Democrats will be next.

Leonid Slutsky, a Liberal Democratic Party Duma deputy and one of only two Russian members of the Socialist Group, said talk about discrimination against his country was baseless.

"Russia will get the next presidency," he said, adding that that the new rotation principle made sense because some political groups had not had a chance to nominate a candidate in the past.