Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Federal Republic of Germany Wolfgang Manig was interviewed by APA News Agency
– For the first time since 1998, Germany has taken over the Presidency of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. And this happens in the midst of an ongoing international health crisis. What are the expectations, is Germany ready for this mission?
– Germany has prepared her Chairmanship already since March 2018. The Federal Government mobilized many resources including staff and financial means. Therefore, I am confident that our program can be fully implemented.
– It has already been announced the priorities that Germany will promote. About these priorities I would like particularly mentioned multilateralism because to some, the EU does not promote effective multilateralism. How will Germany promote multilateralism in an effective way?
– Unlike the EU as a supranational body, the Council of Europe is a classical international organization. In this regard, the Council of Europe requires a full commitment of all Member States to discuss and decide both on matters of civil law, protection of the rights of the citizens, and sensitive political topics. With the requirement of unanimity, the Council of Europe offers a forum also for smaller countries to present and defend the interests of their citizens, to look for allies, and to convince the others. Finally, a decision of the Council of Europe, be it a Convention or a policy, wears a quality seal. A decision is not the result of power broking among the big shots. Germany has an immediate interest in negotiated, rules-based solutions for the challenges of the modern world. Therefore, we encourage all Member States to be active in all competent bodies of the organization. This will be done by a permanent dialogue with the decision-makers, also here in Azerbaijan.
Germany is one of the big five contributing countries with more than 10 % of the budget of the Council of Europe. We support the Human Rights Trust Funds, a Special Account for the implementation of decisions of the European Court of Human Rights. We are convinced that the Council of Europe is the best institution to support the Member States and their governments in the protection of their citizens – in an unbiased way and treating all Member States equally by formulating conventions, implementing them, or by having a legal recourse on them at the European Court of Human Rights.
– Among the priorities, the fight against hate speech online is also mentioned. Is there any mechanism Germany will offer to counter this?
– Combatting hate speech is a very difficult issue. It seems to be easy to delete hate speech on social media or to ask the prosecutor to start an investigation. But firstly a clear definition is required to define what hate speech is and secondly, we do not want to execute censorship of the internet. If we ask a machine to filter hate speech, it becomes even more complex. Germany intends to start a discussion in the framework of the Council of Europe on balancing the limits of artificial intelligence, individual personal rights, and the obligation of States to protect their citizens.
– Federal Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas in his speech on the occasion of passing chairmanship to Germany, touched upon the recent war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. And he said that the EU calls on "the parties to work towards a lasting political settlement within the framework of the OSCE’s Minsk Group." On the other hand in these days we hear the ineffectiveness of post-Soviet peace-making diplomacy, especially under the auspices of OSCE Minsk Group...
– The Minsk Group was created as a body to facilitate negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan. In the early years, both parties were unable or unwilling to use this body. With the three Co-Chairs, all of the permanent members of the Security Council of the United Nations, it was expected that they will succeed to bring the parties together on the negotiation table, unfortunately, they continued to refuse. In my opinion, the Minsk Group did not fail – you cannot force two enemies to sit together if they simply resist talking seriously. Today, we have a different situation as far as negotiations are concerned. But since the tripartite statement of November 9 does neither address the details of the relationship between Azerbaijan and Armenia nor the rights and duties of the people – whether Azerbaijanis or Armenians – living in the conflict area, a comprehensive and sustainable settlement of the conflict is still pending. The mandate of the Minsk Group contains the facilitation of such a settlement and is, therefore, not yet exhausted and thus, the work of the Co-Chairs and the Minsk Group will continue.
– As a permanent member of OSCE Minsk Group, how can Germany contribute to increasing the effectiveness of this format?
– Germany is a member of the Minsk Group, together with several other EU Member States. With the Eastern Partnership, the EU disposes of an instrument that can contribute to ever closer cooperation of the Eastern Partners and the EU Member States. As the example of the EU has shown, identification of common interests and close cooperation can reconcile former enemies. I am of the opinion that Germany and the other EU Member States represented in the Minsk Group can support the Co-Chairs with the programs and projects elaborated in the EU for the development of a prosperous Southern Caucasus – as it is stipulated in the tripartite statement.
– As you know, the peace deal between Azerbaijan and Armenia brokered by Moscow. There is a widespread view that the EU did not put serious efforts to play a role during these days and stayed aside. Would be interesting to know your viewpoint about this issue.
– The Eastern Partnership is the instrument of the EU to interact with its Partners, also with Azerbaijan and Armenia. Both the current German EU Council Chairmanship – Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Heiko Maas – and the High Representative and Vice President of the European Commission, Josep Borrell, were actively involved in the talks about a cease-fire, of humanitarian assistance, etc. Both the EU and Germany and others supported the ICRC in order to implement the humanitarian aspects of the tripartite statement. I understand the impatience, however, shown by the other two Co-Chairs to learn about the details of the tripartite statement concluded at night in Moscow. I am convinced that Azerbaijan as a reliable and trustful partner of the Eastern Partnership will cooperate with the European Union and its Member States discussing the shape of future relations in the South Caucasus.