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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar meeting with the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Marija Pejčinović Burić.

Varadkar lends support to Ukraine 'damages register' and pledges new funding to Council of Europe

Russia was excluded as a member last year and the ongoing war in Ukraine will dominate the Summit.

LAST UPDATE | 16 May 2023

Diarmuid Pepper reporting from Reykjavik

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR is in Icelandic capital of Reykjavik for a Council of Europe Summit and has lent his support to a “register of damages” for those who have suffered from the ongoing war in Ukraine.

Russia was excluded from the Council of Europe last year and the Summit will heavily focus on the organisation’s response to the ongoing war in Ukraine.

Speaking at the Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre, Varadkar told reporters that there is “no better time than now for all of the leaders in wider Europe to come together”.

He added: “A big part of what we do here is pledging solidarity with Ukraine and initiating a register of damages to begin the process of recording the damages that Russia has imposed on Ukraine because of the war there so that Ukraine can get reparations down the road to rebuild its country once the war is over.”

IMG_9684 Armed guards outside the Harpa Concert Hall. Diarmuid Pepper / The Journal Diarmuid Pepper / The Journal / The Journal

Varadkar also met with the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Marija Pejčinović Burić, and “committed additional contributions from Ireland to the Council of Europe”.

He explained that “since Russia was expelled, the budget for the Council of Europe has gone down because the Russian membership fee is gone”.

“So we’re making an additional contribution that’s being used to strengthen the European Court on Human Rights, but also for other priorities including helping the democracy movement in Belarus and also increased activity and action by the Council on LGBT rights and also on gender based domestic violence.”

The additional contribution is a fee of €325,000 euros, and Varadkar confirmed that “that’s on top of our regular membership contribution”.

Later this evening, the Taoiseach will co-chair a roundtable discussion on ‘supporting Ukraine – solidarity and accountability’.

The Council of Europe (COE) is the continent’s leading organisation in the field of human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

It was established in 1949 in the wake of World War II with the aim of promoting stability and increasing cooperation on the continent.

There are currently 46 member states and five observer states, which includes the United States, Japan, the Vatican, Canada, and Mexico.

Every European state except for Belarus, Russia and Kosovo is a member.

Russia was excluded from the COE in March of last year after launching an invasion of Ukraine.

IMG_9680 Icelandic Coast Guard close to the Harpa Concert and Conference Centre. Diarmuid Pepper / The Journal Diarmuid Pepper / The Journal / The Journal

The leaders of all the COE member states have been invited to attend the Summit in the Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre, alongside representatives from the observer states.

Exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who was recently sentenced to 15 years in jail in Belarus in absentia on charges of high treason, is also in attendance.

She said she is “grateful” to be invited by Iceland and added: “In this harsh time, Europe must stay united.

“We can’t win this fight alone. Our goal is to return Belarus to Europe’s family of nations and become a COE member.”

It is only the fourth time that the leaders of the member states will meet for a COE Summit in its 74-year history.

It is also the first Summit to be held since Russia was suspended from the organisation.

Iceland took over the Presidency of the Council of Europe from Ireland last November, and will hand the presidency on to Latvia during the upcoming Summit.

The last Summit was held in 2005 in Warsaw, Poland.

However, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a COE spokesperson said “it became clear that cooperation and solidarity within Europe would be under strain”.

As a result, discussions began last May “on whether it was time, in light of the global situation, to convene a Summit of the Council of Europe”.

Iceland, which currently holds the presidency, then announced that it was prepared to take on the task of hosting the Summit in Reykjavik.

A COE spokesperson said the aim of the Summit is for “its conclusions to be genuinely effective for Ukraine and to ensure accountability for the crimes committed by the Russian armed forces in Ukraine”.

The spokesperson added: “The aim is to set up a register of damages where all those who have suffered damages and harm due to the invasion can have them recorded and subsequently redressed, as well as to seek ways to make those who have committed crimes in Ukraine accountable for their actions.”

“There is also hope that the Summit will issue clear instructions to the member states on how to promote democracy within the council of Europe’s member states.”

The Summit will also “mark the beginning of efforts to address various modern challenges”, such as “environmental issues, artificial intelligence and digital development”.

Around 900 delegates are expected to attend the two-day Summit.

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