During this period, the situation in Turkey continued to be in the focus of my attention.
The visit to Strasbourg during the Assembly’s 4th part-session of Turkey’s Foreign Minister, Mr Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, was an opportunity to take stock of the developments since the attempted coup d’Etat on 15 July, to reaffirm our support and solidarity with the authorities and the people of Turkey, as well as to discuss concerns regarding some of the steps taken in the aftermath of the attempted coup, especially as regards the emergency decrees, the number of people detained or dismissed from their work, as well as allegations of ill-treatment by police and law enforcement agencies. Minister Çavuşoğlu assured me that the authorities were fully aware of the need to act with caution and proportionality, and to respect the Council of Europe standards.
Against this background, I was duty bound to react to the detention, on 4 November 2016, of Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag, co-chairs of HDP – the third largest political force in Turkey’s Parliament – along with a number of other members of the Grand National Assembly. I immediately issued a statement raising concerns about the necessity and proportionality of such extreme measures against parliamentarians and addressed a letter to the Speaker of the Grand National Assembly requesting further information concerning the cases concerned. Moreover, I met the Permanent Representative of Turkey, Ambassador Erdoğan İşcan, and asked him to convey to his authorities our serious concerns regarding the detention of parliamentarians as well as some of the other measures, in particular the recent closure of 15 Kurdish media outlets and the pressure and attacks against Cumhuriyet. I stressed that derogations to the European Convention on Human Rights, which may be justified under a state of emergency, must nonetheless comply with the standards of the Convention and the case-law of the Court and that the advice from various Council of Europe bodies can help Turkey and the authorities to uphold human rights and the rule of law so as to avoid future cases being brought before the European Court of Human Rights.
Ambassador İşcan immediately provided information to me, in particular regarding the charges against the parliamentarians detained as well as figures regarding the members of the Grand National Assembly affected by the constitutional amendment lifting parliamentary immunity. I am looking forward to receiving a more detailed update from the Speaker of the Grand National Assembly.
While sharing concerns with my Turkish interlocutors, I also reaffirmed my full support for the co-operation between Turkey and the Council of Europe, expressed appreciation of Turkey’s efforts and solidarity in addressing the refugee crisis, and condemned the attacks of terrorists against Turkey.
The Assembly has taken several initiatives to pursue political dialogue and co-operation with Turkey and the visits of the Assembly’s Ad Hoc Sub-Committee of the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy, as well as of the Assembly’s Rapporteur on “Attacks against journalists and media freedom in Europe” are opportunities to discuss the situation further and seek clarifications. I shall continue to follow the developments in Turkey closely.
During this period, I continued to promote the Assembly’s initiative #NoHateNoFear both with high-level personalities and with civil society representatives. The Assembly’s 2016 4th part-session was an excellent opportunity for this. I greatly appreciated that the President of France, Mr François Hollande, and Germany’s Foreign Minister, Mr Frank-Walter Steinmeier, accepted to support it. It was also an hounour to present the #NoHateNoFear initiative to H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco during my official visit to Monaco and I am grateful to Prince Albert for his support.
The initiative was also largely embraced by the participants of the World Forum for Democracy, where a stand with banners and relevant material was set up in the lobby of the Assembly Chamber.
During the October part-session, and in co-operation with the Assembly’s Committees on Political Affairs and Democracy and Legal Affairs and Human Rights, I organised a hearing with the participation of Ms Luciana Milani and Mr Antoine Leiris, whose daughter and wife, respectively, were killed in the Bataclan attack on 13 November 2015, and Mr David Anderson Q.C., Independent Reviewer of the United Kingdom’s Anti-Terrorism Legislation. This event was a further opportunity to promote a message of tolerance, as well as to hear the voice of the people directly affected by terrorist attacks, understand their concerns and try to find a European way of honouring the memory of the victims.
Furthermore, on 4 November 2016, I travelled to Nice in order to pay tribute to the victims of the terrorist attack of 14 July. On this occasion, I laid a wreath on behalf of the Assembly at a ceremony attended by local authorities as well as the EU Commissioner for the European neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Mr Johannes Hahn.
Finally, at the opening of the 2016 Council of Europe Exchange on the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue I called all religious representatives to join the #NoHateNoFear initiative and to stand up against the extremists’ attempts to divide us and their attempts to undermine the message of peace and freedom that religions are promoting.
At the invitation of the National Council, I paid an official visit to Monaco on 3-4 November 2016. During the visit, I met the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Co-operation, Mr Gilles Tonelli, the President of the National Council, Mr Christophe Steiner, and members of the Monaco delegation to the Assembly. Moreover, I held an exchange of views with the National Council’s Committee on External Relations. Furthermore, it was an honour and a privilege to be received in a private audience by His Serene Highness Prince Albert II of Monaco.
At the end of the visit, I congratulated the Monegasque authorities on the progress made since 2004. Since accession, Monaco demonstrated a genuine commitment to the Council of Europe’s fundamental values, in particular by closely co-operating with the Council of Europe monitoring mechanisms, such as GRECO and ECRI, and ratifying 49 Council of Europe conventions, including, just recently, the Additional Protocol to the Convention on the Prevention of Terrorism. I urged the Monegasque authorities to continue in this fashion and become even more involved in the work of our Organisation.
During my meetings, I also raised the issue of outstanding commitments, including the ratification of the European Social Charter. In particular, I offered the Assembly’s advice and assistance in finding arrangements that would allow Monaco to ratify this major Council of Europe instrument, while preserving Monaco’s specificities. I invited my interlocutors to resume discussions at parliamentary level about this issue.
During the visit, I also discussed topical issues such as the fight against terrorism, the migration and the refugee crisis, and the attempted coup d'Etat in Turkey. I was also able to welcome the decision by Monegasque MPs to launch the #NoHateNoFear initiative at the national level.
I would like to thank the Monegasques authorities for the excellent organisation of my visit.
On 7-9 November 2016, I participated in the World Forum for Democracy which was held in Strasbourg. In particular, I moderated the debate during the Second Plenary Session of the Forum entitled “Education – reproducing or bridging inequalities”, together with Ms Anja Olin Pape, Vice-Chair of the Council of Europe Advisory Council on Youth.
In my introductory statement, I stressed that education is one of the most important factors of social development and that it plays an important role in promoting civic engagement. This is becoming a serious issue with the rise of populist, extreme and nationalist movements, because populists play with the lack of knowledge and information and exploit often well-grounded fears, frustrations and disillusionment of citizens. While politicians have to oppose demagogy and populist rhetoric by explaining to citizens the policy choices and their positive and negative consequences, our efforts alone are not sufficient because the democratic political process relies on active participation of educated citizens. Therefore, all stakeholders must concentrate on ways to reform the education system, so as create effective mechanisms to engage citizens – especially the youth – and equip them with the necessary tools for participation in the democratic political process.
On 9 November 2016, I participated in the 2016 Council of Europe Exchange on the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue.
In my opening statement, I stressed that religions and churches, which are founded on the values of dignity, respect and tolerance, have a great potential in promoting education for democratic citizenship. This is particularly important as we are facing the challenges of terrorism, violent extremism and radicalisation. In this context, education for democratic citizenship should help us immunise our societies against the virus of hate. In particular, I presented to the participants our #NoHateNoFear initiative emphasising our ambition to turn it into a genuine grassroots citizen movement.
Speaking about the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue, I stressed that we need to show that in our democratic societies, freedom of religion, freedom of thought and open-minded secularism are not only mutually compatible but also inextricably linked. I called upon all religious and non-religious actors to join efforts and promote, together with the Council of Europe, a culture of peace and living together.
On 24-25 November 2016, I participated in the meetings of the Assembly’s Presidential Committee, Bureau and Standing Committee, held in Nicosia in the context of the Cypriot Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. My visit to Cyprus was also an opportunity to hold a series of bilateral meetings with the President of the Republic, Mr Nikos Anastasiádis, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Ioannis Kasoulides, and the President of the House of Representatives Mr Demetris Syllouris.
During my meetings, I welcomed the priorities set for the Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers, in particular the focus on the promotion of social rights, the reinforcement of co-operation with other international organisations and the fight against radicalisation. All these topics are pressing issues on the Assembly’s agenda and I assured the authorities that the Assembly will fully co-operate in the implementation of these and other priorities. As far as the fight against radicalisation is concerned, I welcomed, in particular, that the focus will be on education and recognising that this has a key role to play in promoting tolerance and avoiding that young people fall into the trap of extremists. I will closely follow this issue in the framework of the #NoHateNoFear initiative.
Among other topics discussed during the meetings were the main political challenges facing Europe today and the co-operation between Cyprus and the Council of Europe, including the state of signature and ratification of key conventions of the Council of Europe. I commended Cyprus’ commitment to our common values and standards and the impressive number of conventions it has ratified over the years. I encouraged the authorities to continue on this positive path and to put particular emphasis on the ratification of the Istanbul Convention.
With my interlocutors, I also raised the on-going talks on the reconciliation of Cyprus and its people. In this regard, I underlined that unity is the only way forward and expressed the Assembly’s full support for the efforts aimed at finding a long-lasting solution based on reconciliation, mutual trust and peaceful coexistence. Furthermore, I underlined that achieving a settlement at the moment when the country holds the Chairmanship of the leading European human rights organisation would convey a strong, symbolic message.
Finally, I also welcomed the Cypriot authorities’ intention to launch a consultation process concerning the proposal to hold a 4th Council of Europe Summit of Heads of State and Government.
On 5-9 December, I participated in the meeting of the Assembly Sub-Committee on External Relations of the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy in New York. During my visit to New York, I had a number of bilateral contacts with UN officials, including with the United Nations Secretary General-elect, former colleague in the Parliamentary Assembly, Mr Antonio Guterres.
In my discussions, I underlined that, as value-based organisations, the Council of Europe and the United Nations were natural partners and insisted that we need to make our partnership even stronger in the years to come. I believe that the Assembly can play an important role in supporting the ambitious UN global agenda, especially taking into account that parliamentarians are in a position to translate international commitments into policies and legislation at the national level. This is particularly important when it comes to addressing some of the most complex global challenges, for example, the migration phenomenon and the refugee crisis, building inclusive, accountable and resilient societies, the prevention of terrorism, violent extremism and radicalisation, as well as the search for solutions to existing conflicts.
Turning to conflict prevention and resolution, I highlighted the important role that parliamentary diplomacy can play in promoting dialogue and building confidence between different sides. At the same time, I also emphasised that we must be vigilant for early signs of conflicts, in particular, manifestations of hate intolerance and discrimination. This kind of acts directed against a minority are often a cause or an important element of conflicts. I stressed that our role as Assembly members is to defend the values and principles for which we stand, within our geographic area of responsibility, as well as in our neighbourhood.
Finally, I thanked my interlocutors for their support to the Assembly’s #NoHateNoFear initiative. I hope to turn this initiative into a larger movement bringing together as many stakeholders and individual citizens as possible. Therefore, strong support by UN officials will be a valuable step in this direction.
Ahead of the January 2017 part-session of the Assembly, my contacts with the Russian Parliament intensified. The aim of my contacts was two-fold: firstly, I wanted to clarify the situation regarding the appointment of a possible Russian delegation to the Assembly in view of the January 2017 part-session; secondly, I wanted to continue high-level political contacts with the Speakers of the State Duma and the Federation Council, so that, irrespective of the Russian Parliament’s decision regarding the participation in the work of the Assembly in 2017, contacts between the Assembly and the Russian Parliament could continue.
Thus, on 15 and 22 December 2016, I had telephone conversations with Ms Valentina Matvienko, Speaker of the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation. On 12-13 January 2017, I travelled to Moscow, inter alia to meet Mr Vyacheslav Volodin, Speaker of the State Duma of the Federal Assembly, as well as Russian Parliamentarians from the Foreign Affairs Committees of both Chambers of Parliament.
In my contacts, I sought to clarify to our Russian colleagues the Rules of the Assembly, namely that if the Russian Parliament decided not to submit the credentials of the delegation before the January 2017 part-session, there would be no Russian delegation in the Assembly for the entire year.
Against this background, I encouraged the leadership of the Russian Parliament to submit the credentials of the new delegation for the 2017 ordinary session, so that Russian Parliamentarians could resume co-operation with the Assembly. I stressed that, although a challenge of credentials could be expected, it would be important for the Russian Parliamentarians to voice and defend publicly their position in the Assembly.
That said, I stressed that whatever the decision taken by the Russian Parliament, it was important, in my opinion, to keep the communication channels open between the Parliamentary Assembly and the Russian Parliament. I pointed out that I, as well as Assembly officials and bodies, were open to the continuation of such contacts.
It transpired from my discussions that the Russian Parliament would not submit the credentials of a new delegation for the 2017 ordinary session of the Assembly. I told the State Duma Speaker Mr Volodin that this would be regrettable because the Parliamentary Assembly brings together 47 member States of the Council of Europe, not 46. I pointed out that, we should continue dialogue with Russian MPs, because if their voice is not heard, our debates cannot reflect the diversity of views and opinions that exist in Europe. I was encouraged by the position of the Speakers of the State Duma and the Federation Council who, notwithstanding the decision not to submit credentials, appear to leave the door open for some form of discussions and contacts. This is an important basis for the continuation of our co-operation and I look forward to this dialogue in the future with both Speakers, as well as with the members of the State Duma and the Federation Council.
Unfortunately, during this period, several of our member and observer States were hit by deadly terrorist attacks.
In public statements I firmly condemned, on behalf of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the terrorist attacks in Turkey (in Istanbul and in Kayseri), in Germany (Berlin) as well as in Israel (Jerusalem).
The Christmas market attack in Berlin, the New Year Day attack in a nightclub in Istanbul, as well as the brutal murder of the Russian Ambassador in Turkey were particularly shocking. These cruel and barbaric acts leave only heartache and anger. However, as politicians, we must live up to our responsibilities and stay sober and balanced. We have to show example to our citizens and, therefore, we should not give in to the hatred and the fear that terrorists seek to create. In this context, I continued to promote the #NoHateNoFear initiative of the Assembly which constitutes a democratic and civic response to the terrorist threat. I would like to thank all members of the Assembly who have joined this initiative during 2016 and hope that many more will join us in 2017.
At the invitation of the Rector of the Academy, Mr Vladimir Mau, I participated in the Gaidar Forum and delivered a keynote speech at the Round-table devoted to the 40th Anniversary of the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between Spain and Russia. This round-table was attended by high officials and personalities, in particular, Mr Aleksey Meshkov, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Igor Ivanov, former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Emilio Lamo de Espinosa, Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Elcano Royal Institute, and Mr Ignacio García-Valdecasas, Chargé d'Affaires ad Interim of Spain in the Russian Federation.
The discussion focused on the wider context of Pan-European co-operation, the relations between Russia and the EU, as well as international co-operation in the face of the global challenges of terrorism and migration. In my statement, I highlighted the role that the Council of Europe and the Parliamentary Assembly is playing in this process and explained the Assembly’s positions and resolutions, focusing on the need to respect international law and international commitments as well as the need to keep the channels of dialogue open so as to bring positions closer and overcome divisions.