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Catherine Ashton

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the European Commission

Speech on Preparations for the Russian State Duma elections

European Parliament

Strasbourg, 6 July 2011

Mr. President, Honourable Members,

Thank you very much for this timely debate on the upcoming Russian elections.

Let me also thank Parliament for its many resolutions on Russia.

Your resolution of 9 June on the opening day of the most recent EU-Russia Summit in Nizhny-Novgorod had real impact.

Russia is a partner for the EU on large number of foreign policy issues. But today I will stick to the upcoming elections.

A number of decisions have been taken recently in Moscow which give us some ideas as to what can be expected in December for the Duma elections, and in March 2012 for the Presidential poll.

Russia is already in pre-election mode, with new party alliances and increasing debate.

There are some encouraging signs: President Medvedev is calling for economic and political modernisation, while Finance Minister Kudrin insists on free and fair elections.

At the same time, political pluralism still faces obstacles.

On 22 June, the Russian Ministry of Justice refused to register the new liberal opposition “People’s Freedom Party/PARNAS”.

This Parliament is of course fully aware of the case, since one of the party’s leaders, Mr Kasyanov, has spoken here several times.

I issued a statement expressing my concern on the same day, and I have met Mr Kasyanov briefly here in Strasbourg today.

The main reason given for the refusal to register the party was that a few minors and “dead souls” had been found among the party’s 46,000 members.

Another of the Party’s leaders, Vladimir Ryzhkov, has rejected these claims as false or groundless. But even if these people were excluded, he says, the party would still have the required 45,000 members.

Ryzhkov’s earlier political party, the Republican Party of Russia, had met a similar fate in 2007, when Russian authorities ordered its dissolution.

On 12 April 2011, the European Court of Human Rights here in Strasbourg ruled that this dissolution was in violation of Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

As far as I am aware, the authorities have not yet acted upon this judgment. PARNAS seems to have been denied registration on the basis of this very same, unchanged law.

The Court also noted that minimum party membership requirements in Russia are the highest in Europe.

The Court was not persuaded that these requirements are necessary, and stressed that small minority groups must also have an opportunity to participate in elections.

It said that frequently changing membership requirements, coupled with regular checks, had imposed a disproportionate burden on political parties in Russia.

The Strasbourg ruling should give the Russian leadership pause for thought.

At the EU-Russia Summit, we again emphasised the need for political pluralism.

President Medvedev acknowledges that a focus on too much stability risks resulting in stagnation.

Two weeks ago, he introduced a bill which would lower the threshold for parties to enter the Duma from its current 7% to 5% - but only for the next Duma elections, in 2016.

The purpose of democratic elections is to give the voters a real choice, and a sense that their vote matters for the outcome.

Our main contribution is to offer election observation. Consultations between Russia and OSCE/ODIHR are ongoing.

Russia seems keen to cooperate, and to avoid a repeat of the situation we saw in 2007, when it did not admit any long-term observers.

Long-term observation is important, in particular to be able evaluate whether there is fair access to television and other media during the campaign.

We received encouraging signals at the summit in Nizhny-Novgorod, and I look forward to a request being sent soon from Moscow to the OSCE.

I am also sure many in this House would be interested in participating in the observation.

Let me close with a few remarks about other human rights and rule of law issues in Russia.

Our Partnership for Modernisation opens new opportunities for cooperation in this field.

I welcome the joint project with the Council of Europe on reforming the appeal system for civil and criminal court cases in Russia.

I also welcome the opening of new forms of dialogue with civil society, in particular the creation of an EU-Russia Civil Society Forum.

Likewise I welcome President Medvedev´s decision to examine (through his Presidential Human Rights Council) the Khodorkovsky/Lebedev and Magnitsky cases.

The conclusions on the Magnitsky case were presented yesterday, while those on the Khodorkovsky and Lebedev cases will take more time.

Let me restate here that the second verdict on Khodorkovsky and Lebedev was disappointing.

To conclude, Mr. President, Russia remains an essential EU partner, and a challenging one.

An interesting debate is going on within the country about the best way for it to modernise its society and its economy.

Changing attitudes and expectations will materialize, and shape new realities.

The nine months ahead will be decisive for Russia’s further development. Democratic progress can only come from within Russia.

We will continue our engagement, building on our common interests while standing firmly by our values.

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