European leaders are meeting in Iceland on Tuesday for a two-day summit meant to show their support for Ukraine but also send a powerful message on core democratic values many feel are under threat.
In only the fourth summit of the Council of Europe (CoE) since it was founded after World War Two, the 46 members of the leading human rights body, which is entirely separate from the European Union, will gather to discuss emerging threats as the war in Ukraine rages on.
"The Council of Europe is often underestimated in its importance," Frank Schwabe, a German lawmaker who was closely involved in the planning of the summit told Reuters.
The CoE's democratic values are upheld by the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights, where citizens can take governments to court in case of human rights violations.
Russia's lack of involvement in the Council of Europe
Russia's membership was suspended the day after it invaded Ukraine in February 2022. Moscow then left the watchdog hours before a vote to expel it.
According to a draft of the final declaration seen by Reuters, the leaders will approve a new Register of Damages, a mechanism to record and document evidence and claims of damage, loss, or injury incurred as a result of the Russian invasion.
"The summit will also be about saying what happens if you don't respect the rules," Schwabe said. "The threat of expulsion is already a sharp sword. Even Russia didn't want to leave the Council of Europe, Turkey doesn't want to leave either."
"The threat of expulsion is already a sharp sword. Even Russia didn't want to leave the Council of Europe, Turkey doesn't want to leave either."Frank Schwabe
Turkey, which is in the middle of a presidential election fought by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, faces removal from the CoE after it failed to implement a 2019 court ruling to release jailed businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala.
The CoE's Committee of Ministers has launched infringement proceedings against Ankara that has so far stressed dialogue but could eventually see Turkey's removal or its membership suspended, experts say.
European leaders such as Germany's Olaf Scholz, Britain's Rishi Sunak, and French President Emmanuel Macron will attend the summit in Reykjavik, while Ukraine's Volodymyr Zelensky will address his counterparts via video link.
Icelandic organizers said the meeting will be an opportunity to support Ukraine through "concrete measures" as well as to boost initiatives to address emerging threats to democracy, including climate change and artificial intelligence.
Macron's office said the Council is looking at how its little-known bank, the Council of Europe Development Bank (CEB), could help meet the needs of struggling Ukrainians.
Meanwhile, Sunak will use the meeting to urge other leaders to stop "the humanitarian disaster caused by illegal immigration," his office said.
The British prime minister will make the case for reforming the European Court of Human Rights' power to block British migrant deportation flights to Rwanda, Number 10 said in pre-released remarks.
Sunak will call for a reform of the court's Rule 39, which was used to issue last-minute injunctions to ground the flights of migrants to the East African country, plans that have been criticized by opponents, charities, and religious leaders as inhumane.