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Roeland Böcker: 'Problems of multilateralism are a never-ending debate'

On 8 December, in honour of Human Rights Week, Roeland Böcker gave a public lecture about his experiences as ambassador to the Council of Europe. Between 2017 and 2021, Roeland Böcker was the representative of the Netherlands in the Council of Europe.

With his colleagues from the other 46 members of state, he took part in the assemblies of the Committee of Ministers, the organisation's main decision-making body. Thus, ambassador Böcker played a key part in one of the most turbulent periods in the history of European collaboration, which eventually led to the decision to expel the Russian Federation from the Council of Europe.

Böcker began his lecture, hosted by Prof. Niels Blokker and Prof. Rick Lawsonby stating that it happens at a moment when the multilateral order as we have known it, since the Second World War, is in turmoil. Despite its flaws and limitations, this multilateralism provided a relatively stable international order for many decades. On the European scale, this stability is constructed through a variety of organisations, such as the European Union, NATO, the OSCE, and the Council of Europe.

Roeland Böcker

Binding instrument

Böcker’s time in the Council of Europe has largely been marked by the problematic relationship with the Russian Federation. Since its foundation, the Council of Europe has focused on protecting and developing human rights, the rule of law, and democracy. Precious values, which have proved to be extremely vulnerable in preceding years. The Council of Europe delivered immediately, upon its creation. As early as 1950, it adopted the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. The Convention was the first international binding instrument, setting out a full catalogue of human rights.

Böcker described the developments in the Council of Europa in the past 30 years. During the first four decades of its existence, the Council of Europe led a relatively quiet life. The Council has brought many European states together and united the two halves of the continent. By the mid-nineties, the question of how to deal with the Russian Federation arose. Could the Russian Federation be considered a democracy based on the rule of law and respect for human rights? These are, after all, crucial criteria for joining the Council of Europe. Could a superpower like the Russian Federation fit into this Council?

'Never a dull moment with the Russian Federation.' - Roeland Böcker

However, by 1996, the Russian Federation had joined the Council of Europe. A quarter of a century later, it is safe to say that there was never a dull moment with the Russian Federation, as it challenged the Council multiple times. This led to a kind of half-membership of the Russian Federation in the Council of Europe, where the Russian government was dully represented, but Russian citizens were not represented at all. This is the situation that Böcker encountered at the start of his mandate, in the summer of 2017. Following the invasion of Ukraine by Russia in 2021, the Russian Federation was expelled and excluded from the Council of Europe. Böcker described this process and procedure and its effects on the Council of Europe since it has been one of its biggest challenges since its creation.

The turmoil of the multilateral order has led to major recent developments in the Council of Europe, the organisation that was founded specifically to improve and protect human rights, democracy, and the rule of law in Europe. Therefore, the contribution of this Council was and hopefully will be to counter the serious problems concerning multilateralism, which is, according to Böcker, a never-ending debate.

Text and photo: Catherine Vroon

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