During my speech at the International Forum in Baku on the humanitarian aspects of the challenges of the 21st century, I stressed that overcoming prejudice, discrimination and xenophobia through a truly intercultural model of “living together” is a key challenge for Europe and the world. I called for concrete steps to promote “living together” in Europe, including encouraging politicians to speak up for tolerance, an annual Forum against Extremism, and a major campaign on living together.
I also took this opportunity to highlight the Council of Europe’s work to build democratic stability and good governance in its neighbouring regions, not least through the Assembly’s new “Partnership for democracy” status. I declared that, in my opinion, by providing support to our neighbours in building stable democratic institutions, promoting human rights and sustainable development, we are addressing the root causes of humanitarian disasters, and that, without these efforts, even with the best co-ordination mechanisms possible of humanitarian aid, our action would not be sustainable.
On the occasion of the Forum, I met the President of the Republic, the Speaker of the Milli Mejlis and the Minister for Foreign Affairs.
I was invited to take part in a ceremony in Strasbourg to mark the Social Charter’s 50th anniversary. I declared on this occasion that all Council of Europe member states should be bound by the Charter, just as they are bound by the European Convention on Human Rights. The two conventions together make a whole and should be treated with equal value. I pointed out that to date, only 14 of the Council of Europe’s 47 member states allow collective complaints under the European Social Charter – which allows trade unions and international NGOs to bring collective complaints against states over social rights. I stated very clearly that it is no longer acceptable to make excuses when it comes to ratification of the European Social Charter.
On 18 October 2011, I addressed the 21st Session of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe and replied to questions of Congress’ members.
On 19-21 October 2011, I paid an official to Norway, at the invitation of the Norwegian Parliament. During his visit, I had an audience with His Royal Highness Crown Prince Haakon, and met with the President of the Storting, the representatives of political groups, the State Secretary for Foreign Affairs, as well as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. I also held an exchange of views with the members of the Storting’s Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence and with the Norwegian delegation to the Assembly. Finally, I delivered a lecture at the Norwegian Institute of Human Rights and met the Director of the Nobel Institute.
Speaking at the end of the visit, I welcomed Norway's permanent support to the work of the Assembly and the Council of Europe, praising in particular Norway's substantial contribution to the Organisation's co-operation programmes, both in terms of financial resources and expertise. In this respect, I supported the idea of launching co-operation and joint programmes in neighbouring countries, in order to offer them the necessary expertise for strengthening democratic institutions, the rule of law and human rights.
Among other issues addressed during the visit, I discussed with my Norwegian interlocutors the Council of Europe’s activities in the field of inter-cultural dialogue and its religious dimension, the situation in South-East Europe and the Council of Europe’s role in the region, the Council of Europe reform process as well as the accession of the EU to the European Convention on Human Rights and the reform of the Court.
At the end of his visit, I laid flowers at the Oslo Cathedral, in memory of the victims of July's attacks in Oslo and on Utøya island.
On 23 October 2011 in Moscow, I addressed the Conference on the occasion of the opening for signature of the Council of Europe Medicrime Convention. I stressed that counterfeiting medicines is one of the most hideous crimes, as it preys on peoples’ weaknesses and vulnerability, and called on all Council of Europe member states to sign and ratify this convention as soon as possible.
On this occasion, I also met with the new Speaker of Russia's Federation Council, Mrs. Valentina Matvienko. After the meeting, I was awarded the Order of Merit for Developing Parliamentarism, the highest distinction of the Federation Council.
The conference was organised by the North-South Centre of the Council of Europe and an ad hoc Committee of the Bureau also took part in it. In my speech, I pointed out that the current political developments in the South Mediterranean represented a unique opportunity to ensure that gender equality is enshrined in the new constitutional and legal frameworks of the new democracies, including family law, as well as an opportunity to promote a change in mentality amongst ordinary people and political leadership. Women must have their say in the running of public institutions and in the political decision-making process, in voting and standing for elections, in the same way as men. I said that the empowerment of women should not be limited to the public sphere, since in many countries of the South Mediterranean, women increasingly represent a driving force in the economy, as successful entrepreneurs or highly educated administrators.
I also highlighted the contribution of the Assembly to this process, namely through the Network of contact parliamentarians committed to combating violence against women, through the ‘Partnership for democracy’ status, which also includes a gender dimension, through intercultural and inter-religious dialogue, as well as through specific proposals for enhanced co-operation with emerging democracies in the Arab world, contained in a recently adopted Assembly Resolution on the same topic.
In the margins of the Conference, I had an interesting meeting with Mr Gianfranco Fini, President of the Italian Chamber of Deputies.
On 3 November 2011 in Kyiv, I addressed the Conference of Ministers Responsible for Local and Regional Government. On this occasion, I also addressed students at the University of Taras Shevchenko in Kiev and held an exchange of views with them.
On 10 November 2011 in St. Petersburg, I addressed the seminar on election monitoring organised by the Inter-parliamentary Assembly of the CIS member nations. I stressed that election observation increases public confidence in the democratic institutions and, therefore, the presence of trusted observers exerts pressure on the protagonists of the political process to set up a proper framework and respect the rules. I underlined that it was essential to agree on common standards and methods for election observation in order to avoid conflicting evaluations and forum shopping.
During my visit to St Petersburg, I also held a bilateral meeting with the Chairman of the Central Election Commission of the Russian Federation Vladimir Churov.
I paid an official visit to Algeria on 13-16 November at the invitation of the Chairman of the Council of Nations Abdelkader Bensalah. I also had talks with the President of the National People’s Assembly Abdelaziz Ziari, the Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia and the Minister for Foreign Affairs Mourad Medelci. I also met the Chairman of the National Consultative Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights Mohamed Farouk Kessantini and made a visit to the city of Tlemcen where I met with the regional Governor and the President of the regional Council.
During my talks, I stressed the key role that Algeria plays for stability and economic development in the Euro-Mediterranean region. I said that co-operation between the country and the Council of Europe was indispensible, as many key issues require common responses and co-operation, such as fight against terrorism, illegal immigration, trafficking, inter-cultural dialogue and environment.
I particularly encouraged authorities to request the Assembly Partner for democracy status, stressing that this would give the Algerian parliamentarians – who are already coming to the Assembly sessions under the terms of Resolution 1598 (2008) on strengthening co-operation with the Maghreb countries – more rights to take active part in deliberations on issues of common interest. In this respect, I expressed my opinion that Algeria qualifies on some of the key criteria for the Partnership status: multiparty system, moratorium on death penalty, efforts to enhance gender equality, organisation of elections according to democratic principles.
One of the major topics of all the discussions were the reforms announced last April by President Bouteflika aimed at changing legislation on elections, on political parties, liberalisation of broadcasting media, decriminalisation of press offence, participation of women in elected assemblies as well as a subsequent reform of the Constitution. I assured my interlocutors that the Assembly would be following developments with great interest and encouraged authorities to seek the opinion of the Venice Commission – of which Algeria is a member – on these laws, as well as on the forthcoming constitutional reform.
I also welcomed the intention of the authorities to invite international observers to the next parliamentary elections in spring 2012 and expressed my hope that Assembly would be invited to observe these elections. Furthermore, I encouraged Algeria to join the Council of Europe North-South Centre.
My interlocutors were very interested in all these possibilities. At the same time, however, they expressed a clear desire to introduce reforms at their own pace and in accordance with the national realities and sensibility, and following the principle of sovereignty. I assured them of the Assembly's respect for these principles and emphasized that co-operation should be enhanced in a spirit of dialogue and mutual understanding, not by exporting models, but by learning to each other. I encouraged the Algerian authorities to use the Council of Europe’s expertise along these principles.
On 18 November 2011, I participated in the 44th Annual Conference of the International Association of Political Consultants, held in Istanbul, delivering a key note speech on the topic “Religion, Ethnicity and Culture Challenges for Democracy”. In my speech, I stressed that Parliaments should use fully their democratic oversight powers in order to ensure that Governments take into account the inter-cultural dimension in the design of their policies and legislation. Moreover I noted that ever-closer ties should be developed with all of the actors in the society, particularly with ethnic and religious communities, including minority groups, in order to address all aspects of inter-cultural dialogue.
On the same day, I delivered a key note speech at the 2011 Black Sea Energy and Economic Fourm, on the topic “Key regional perspectives: Europe’s Southeast and Pan-European Values” highlighting the Council of Europe’s and the Assembly’s role in supporting the countries of the region in fulfilling their European aspirations. Moreover, I stressed that the South-East Europe and Black Sea region could be the bridge between Europe and the wider Euro-Asian and Euro-Mediterranean region. In particular, I suggested that the countries of the region should play an active role in sharing their own experiences of democratic transformations with our neighbours.
On 20 November 2011, I participated in the High level Conference on the Council of Europe Strategy for the Rights of the Child 2012 – 2015, convened at the initiative of the Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe and the Monegasque authorities. In my opening speech, I called upon the authorities of Council of Europe member states to support the draft Strategy and take an active part in its implementation through comprehensive national strategies. I stressed that the Assembly would keep the issue of children’s rights high on its agenda in the years to come in order to ensure that Parliaments make their own contribution to the implementation of the Council of Europe and national Strategies, by adopting the necessary laws corresponding to Council of Europe standards and scrutinizing the activities of the executives.
In the margins of the Conference, I held working meetings with the Speaker of the National Council, Mr Robillion, Minister of State, Mr Roger, the Government’s Councilor for external relations, Mr Badia, as well as the members of the Monegasque delegation to the Assembly. In my meetings, I welcomed the good co-operation between the Council of Europe and the Monegasque authorities, in particular, within the framework of the post-monitoring dialogue. At the same time, I stressed the need to continue reforms in order to implement the Assembly recommendations relating to outstanding commitments, in accordance with Resolution 1690(2009). In this respect, I suggested elaborating a concrete roadmap, with clear objectives, measures and deadlines, in order to streamline the reforms and fulfill Assembly’s recommendations.
During my two-day working visit to London, I met the Speaker of the House of Commons Mr. John Bercow and Deputy Speaker Mr. Nigel Evans as well as the Lord Speaker Baroness D’Souza. I also met the Minister of State for Justice Lord McNally, the Chair of the House of Lords EU Select Committee Lord Roper, the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Turkey Mr. Fabian Hamilton and the Chair of the UK delegation to Assembly Mr. Robert Walter, as well as other members of the UK delegation. I also attended Prime Minister’s question time.
During my meetings, I welcomed the priorities of the UK presidency and underlined that they hand in hand coincided with the priorities of the Assembly, in particular the emphasis put on the reform of the Court. In this connection, I stressed the importance of the European Union accession to the European Court of Human Rights and expressed hope that the progress will be achieved during UK Chairmanship. Finally, I discussed the importance of a further development of the Council of Europe neighbourhood policy and the Assembly dimension of it, especially in the light of current political changes in the Arab World.
In New York, I was member of the panel on “Accountability in the management of public funds – good practices and model legislation for budget transparency”. In my introductory statement, I stressed that accountability in the management of public funds and transparency are the pillars of good governance and parliaments play a key role in ensuring that these principles are implemented. In my opinion, nowadays, parliamentary scrutiny over public finances is even more pertinent against the background of widespread socio-political turbulence and the loss of confidence by the public in institutions and politicians.
I called on parliaments to demonstrate a sense of leadership, political will and national unity around the public interest. I also pleaded for stronger links between parliaments and independent auditors, because external independent audits of national accounts play a highly valuable role in securing financial accountability, especially if their findings and recommendations are duly channelled to parliaments.
Finally, I stressed the role of co-operation at international level in the prevention of the spreading of bad financial management practices, praising in particular the contributions of the OECD and of the IMF which provide parliaments and governments with a wealth of good practice examples and models to follow.
During my stay in New-York, I held high-level bilateral meetings, in particular with the President of the 66th Session of the United Nations General Assembly Mr. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, the Under- Secretary General of the United Nations for Political Affairs Mr. Lynn Pascoe, the Secretary General of the IPU Mr. Anders Johnsson, and the members of the diplomatic community, in particular Permanent Representatives of France, Russia and the United Kingdom to the UN. In accordance with the Assembly’s Resolution 1831 (2011), I asked the Ambassadors to take into account the Assembly’s call upon the members of the UN Security Council to support the Palestinian formal request to join the UN as a full member state. Among other issues, I raised the questions of promoting “soft security”, strengthening the core values of the Council of Europe and promoting inter-cultural dialogue and its inter-religious dimension.
At the invitation of the House of Representatives of the Parliamentary Assembly of Bosnia and Herzegovina, I travelled to Sarajevo and Banja Luka on 6-8 December 2011 to meet the leaders of all main political parties, the members of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as the members of the Collegiums of the House of Representatives and of the House of Peoples of the Parliamentary Assembly. During my meetings, I discussed the different ways to overcome the political deadlock over the formation of a Government at State level as well as the implementation of the Sejdic and Finci Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights.
At the end of my visit, I suggested a set of concrete measures the authorities could take in order to overcome the political stalemate as well as speed up the implementation of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s commitments and obligations to the Council of Europe. Among other things, I encouraged the authorities to continue seeking an agreement over the implementation of the Sejdic and Finci Judgment within the framework of the Joint Interim Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly, working at the same time on a broader constitutional reform to be implemented at a later stage, in order to create the necessary conditions for moving ahead with the European Union integration agenda. Moreover, I urged the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina to complete, before the Assembly debate on the functioning of democratic institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina scheduled to be held during the January 2012 Assembly part-session, the appointment of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s representatives in Council of Europe expert and monitoring bodies and launch the process of selection of candidates for the judge to be elected to the European Court of Human Rights.
Finally, I encouraged the political party leaders as well as the authorities in place to speed up the implementation of Council of Europe - and European Union -related reforms, on the eve of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s 10th anniversary of membership in the Council of Europe in April 2012.
During my meetings, I felt that an agreement on the formation of a new Government was close to being concluded. Therefore, after my visit, I welcomed, on 30 December 2011, the conclusion of an agreement on the formation of the new Government and encouraged the authorities and the political leaders once again to take concrete steps in the implementation of the commitments and obligations to the Council of Europe as well as the execution of the Sejdic and Finci Judgment of the Strasbourg Court.
I participated in the 89th Plenary meeting of the Venice Commission and took part in the debates.
I met the Palestinian President, Mr. Mahmud Abbas on 21st December 2011 and the Ukrainian President, Mr Viktor Yanukovych on 22 December 2011.
During my official visit, I met on 9 and 10 January in Ankara Mr. Abdullah Gül, President of the Republic, Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Prime Minister, Mr. Cemil Çiçek, Speaker of the Grand National Assembly, Mr. Ahmet Davutoglu, Foreign Affairs Minister and Mr. Sadullah Ergün, Minister of Justice, as well as the heads of the political parties represented in the Parliament. I also delivered a speech before the Grand National Assembly of Turkey.
Addressing the Grand National Assembly, I praised the reform process undertaken by the Turkish authorities and welcomed the importance given to a comprehensive constitutional reform. I stressed that the constitutional referendum held in September 2010 created, in particular, the basis for progress on 12 issues addressed in the framework of the Assembly post-monitoring dialogue with Turkey.
However, I underlined that there are still efforts to be made in order to complete judicial reform and to reduce the number of cases before the European Court of Human Rights. In this connection, I invited the authorities to make extensive use of Council of Europe legal and technical expertise, such as that of the Venice Commission and other Council of Europe specialised bodies.
I also emphasized the efforts of the Parliamentary Assembly and the Council of Europe in general to strengthen co-operation with neighbouring countries, both in the Arab world and Central Asia, in order to assist them in building democratic institutions.
When talking about the core issues on the Council of Europe’s agenda, I especially highlighted the necessity to fight racism, islamophobia intolerance and discrimination in our societies and underlined the importance of inter-religious and intercultural dialogue in order to cope with these negative phenomena.
In order to discuss the question of inter-religious dialogue, I met on 11 January in Istanbul the Chief Rabbi of Turkey, His Holiness Patriarch Bartholomeos I and the Deputy Patriarch of the Armenian Patriarchate. I also took part in a conference organised by the Istanbul Policy Center at Sabanci University, met the Rector of Koç University and addressed its students.
On 13 January, I visited a refugee camp in Turkey’s Hatay region, which borders Syria and expressed my warm appreciation to the Turkish authorities for their generous treatment of Syrians fleeing the violence in their country. In my opinion, the Turkish response to the Syrian refugee crisis has been swift, efficient and generous. The camps that have been set up are of a high standard, providing shelter and warmth in the depths of winter to a traumatised population.
In this connection, I repeated the Assembly’s call on Turkey to lift its geographical limitation on the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees so that non-Europeans are also able to obtain refugee status in Turkey. It would allow those who cannot or do not wish to return to Syria to benefit from longer-term international protection.
Referring to the ongoing crisis in Syria, I again urged the Syrian authorities to immediately cease violence against their own people and to honour their agreement with the Arab League. I declared that the continuing bloodshed was unacceptable and that Syria must stop killing its own people and start finding a way to enable peaceful democratic transition. In this connection, I also expressed concern at the death of the French TV journalist killed recently in Syria during a government-authorised trip and expressed sympathy to his family.
Furthermore, in Hatay, I addressed students at Mustafa Kemal University and visited the St Pierre Church, the Habib-i Mosque, the Orthodox Church and the Havra Synagogue. Finally, I ended up my visit in my home region of Antalya, where, in particular, I addressed students at Akdeniz University.