C Explanatory memorandum
by Ms Petra De Sutter, rapporteur
1. On 15 December 2017, the Bureau
of the Assembly held an exchange of views on the expenditure of the
Parliamentary Assembly for the 2018 financial year in the light
of the decisions of the Committee of Ministers on the adoption of
the 2018-2019 Council of Europe budget and the decisions of certain
member States, in particular that of the Turkish Government to no
longer be a major contributor to the Council of Europe budget with
effect from 1 January 2018. The Bureau consequently asked the Committee
on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs to draft
a “report modifying the Assembly’s Rules of Procedure with a view
to removing Turkish from the list of working languages of the Assembly”.
2. This report will identify the consequences, in terms of the
Rules of Procedure, of the budgetary restrictions drastically affecting
the Assembly, with a change to the number of working languages in
the Assembly being the first of those consequences.
2 Budgetary situation of the Council
3. On 21 November 2017, the Committee
of Ministers adopted the Council of Europe’s general budget and the
budget of the Partial Agreements for the 2018-2019 biennium. The
Committee of Ministers decided to maintain its strict policy of
zero nominal growth, and did not accept the proposal of the Secretary
General of the Council of Europe to return to real zero growth capped
at 0.5%. Consequently, continuation of zero nominal growth of member
States’ contributions means that additional savings of more than
€4.5 million must be identified to compensate the increased costs
in the budgets of the 2018-2019 biennium.
4. On 31 October 2017, Mr Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, the Turkish Minister
for Foreign Affairs, informed the Secretary General of the Council
of Europe by letter of the decision of the Turkish authorities to
no longer be a major contributor to the Council of Europe budget,
without specifying the date on which this decision would come into
effect. Nonetheless, the member States (including Turkey) adopted
the Council of Europe 2018 budget by consensus taking account of
Turkey’s contribution for 2018 as a major contributor. It will be
recalled that Turkey provided an additional amount of almost €20
million per year in 2016 and 2017.
5. On 13 December 2017, the Permanent Representative of Turkey
confirmed to the Committee of Ministers that Turkey would stop being
a major contributor at the end of 2017. This means a drastic reduction in
the Organisation’s budgetary resources of €19.6 million for all
the budgets (i.e. 6% of the entire budgets), of which €15 million
for the ordinary budget (the Turkish contribution falling from 34
to 13 million euros).
6. In addition to these decisions – resulting in a “shortfall”
of €18 million in the “receipts” of the ordinary budget of the Organisation
(€15 million as a result of the decision by Turkey and €2.8 million
following the decision by the Committee of Ministers to readjust
the budget downwards) – is the non-payment by the Russian Federation.
On 3 July 2017, the Government of the Russian Federation informed
the Secretary General of the Council of Europe of its decision not
to pay two thirds of its contribution to the 2017 budget (namely
€22.65 million) pending the “complete and unconditional restoration
of the powers of the delegation of the Federal Assembly of the Russian
Federation to the Parliamentary Assembly”. Since that date, Russia
has frozen all payments to the Organisation.
7. All the Council of Europe’s activities are impacted by these
successive decisions, with far-reaching implications on the investment
budget and staff expenses. For the Assembly (and the Congress of
Local and Regional Authorities), this means the postponement sine die of the renovation of the
crisis: consequences for the expenditure of the Assembly and the
way it operates
As a result of the budgetary
decisions of the Committee of Ministers and Turkey’s decision to
no longer be a major contributor, the Assembly will be required
to freeze €1.5 million out of a total budget of a little under €17.5
million for 2018, of which €450 000 on staff expenses and €1 050
000 on operating expenditure. This will lead to a number of measures
of varying degrees of severity – freezing and/or suppression of
posts and positions within the Assembly secretariat; reduction in
operating expenditure (interpretation, translation, number of committee
meetings, rapporteur missions, etc.).Note
in Turkish (€700 000) is therefore no longer funded in the Assembly
budget by the corresponding grant from the ordinary budget.
9. The draconian reduction in the Assembly budget, a consequence
of the Turkish decision to revert to its initial status of ordinary
contributor to the Council of Europe budget, calls for drastic measures.
The first of these is to no longer cover out of the Assembly budget
the cost of interpretation in Turkish in plenary sittings and in committee
meetings or the publication of the reports of debates in Turkish
and the translation of adopted texts into this language. In order
to implement such a measure, the corresponding provisions in the
Rules of Procedure must first be modified.
as a working language of the Assembly
10. Article 12 of the Statute of
the Council of Europe (ETS No. 1) provides that “[t]he official
languages of the Council of Europe are English and French” and that
the Rules of Procedure of the Parliamentary Assembly “shall determine
in what circumstances and under what conditions other languages
may be used”. The Assembly’s Rules of Procedure supplement this
provision, granting German, Italian, Russian and Turkish the status
of working languages (Rule 28.3).
It will be recalled that in May 2015, the Assembly had supported
“the request made by the Turkish parliamentary delegation to introduce
Turkish as a working language in the Assembly”, asking the Committee of
Ministers to amend the Statute of the Council of Europe and set
the number of seats allocated to the Turkish delegation at 18 (Resolution 2058 (2015)
on the allocation of seats in the Parliamentary Assembly
with respect to Turkey). The Assembly’s support for this request
had been strictly conditional upon the Committee of Ministers’ decision
to allocate the Assembly a corresponding supplementary grant in
the ordinary budget to compensate for the additional costs. The
financial cost of this measure alone had been estimated at €700 000 per
year for the Assembly.
12. In parallel to the procedure initiated in the Assembly to
increase the number of seats of the Turkish delegation and recognise
Turkish as a working language within the Assembly, the Turkish Government
had announced its decision to become a major contributor to the
Organisation’s budget with effect from 1 January 2016, in response
to the request made by the Secretary General of the Council of Europe
to provide the Organisation with the resources it needed to fulfil
its role in addressing the many challenges facing Europe.
13. The introduction of Turkish as the working language in the
Assembly in sessions and committee meetings resulted in an increase
of the expenditure of €700 000 per year, charged to the Assembly
budget and broken down as €660 000 for interpretation in plenary
sittings (€400 000) and in committees (€260 000), and €40 000 per
year for the translation of adopted texts into Turkish (the adopted
texts are also translated into Russian, the cost of which is also
14. The decisions to be taken concerning modification of the Rules
of Procedure in view of the Assembly’s budgetary situation will
not in any way affect the number of seats belonging to the Turkish
delegation in the Assembly and its committees, nor the allocation
of a permanent seat of Vice-President of the Assembly. The status
of major or ordinary contributor to the budget of the Council of
Europe is unrelated to the number of seats assigned to the parliamentary
delegation of the State concerned, as it appears in Article 26 of
the Statute of the Council of Europe, in application of Article
6 of the said Statute. From the point of view of the Rules of Procedure,
the status of languages in the Assembly and the recognition of a
member State’s language as a working language does not depend on
the number of seats held by a delegation to the Assembly. Nevertheless, it
is a fact that the working languages of the Assembly are those of
the major contributors to the Council of Europe budget.
15. It should also be noted that this approach to sorting out
the budgetary issue does not in any way prevent members of the Turkish
delegation from speaking in their own language in plenary sittings,
as is authorised by Rule 29.2 of the Rules of Procedure (“Speeches
may be made in a language other than the official or working languages.
In such cases the speaker shall be responsible for arranging for
simultaneous interpretation into one of the official or working
languages …”. Before Turkey became a major contributor, the cost
of Turkish interpretation was borne directly by the Turkish Parliament.
Modification of the provisions in the Rules of Procedure would therefore
require a return to the previous practice.
modifications to the Rules of Procedure
Rule 28 of the Assembly’s Rules
of Procedure on the official and working languages provides that:
The official languages of the Assembly shall be English and French.
28.2. Documents of the Assembly
shall be published in both official languages.
28.3. The working languages
in the Assembly shall be German, Italian, Russian and Turkish.”
17. The Rules of Procedure also provide that speeches given in
plenary sittings shall be simultaneously interpreted into the six
official and working languages (Rule 29) and that interpretation
in committees shall also be provided in the six official and working
languages (with the exception of the Committee on the Election of Judges
to the European Court of Human Rights, which is limited to the two
official languages). Interpretation in sub-committees is limited
to two languages (Rule 30).
18. The Rules Committee could, in its deliberations, go beyond
a simple proposal to remove Turkish from the list of working languages
in Rule 28.3. Given the Assembly’s current budgetary situation and
projections for the future, and notwithstanding the sensitive nature
of the linguistic issue in the Assembly, the committee could consider
another approach, more flexible in the long term.
19. It could be worthwhile reviewing the provisions in the Rules
of Procedure relating to interpretation, recognising as working
languages of the Assembly the languages of the States which
are major contributors to the Council of Europe budget (currently
German, Italian and Russian), provided that the funding is guaranteed
by the corresponding provision in the Assembly’s budget.
20. In addition, in a difficult budgetary situation, thought could
also be given to the value of maintaining publication of the reports
in the working languages. This costs the Assembly €55 000 for Italian
and German. Similarly, it is no longer relevant or justified to
provide the translation of adopted texts into Russian and Turkish, the
cost of which is a total of €80 000 (€40 000 per language).
It is therefore proposed to modify Rules 28, 30 and 31 of
the Rules of Procedure as follows:
- with regard to the working languages, Rule 28.3 could
provide that: “The working languages of the Assembly shall be those
of the member States which are major contributors to the Council
of Europe budget, provided that the necessary appropriations for
their funding are entered in the Assembly’s budget”;
- and Rule 30.1: “Interpretation during the meetings of
the committees and the Bureau shall be provided in the official
languages and, for working languages, under the conditions stipulated
in Rule 28.3. Interpretation at meetings of the Committee on the
Election of Judges to the European Court of Human Rights and in
sub-committees shall be limited to two official or working languages”;
- with regard to the reports of debates; delete the last
sentence of Rule 31.1 (“The verbatim records of speeches delivered
in any of the working languages shall also be distributed”) and
amend accordingly the additional provisions relating to the Assembly’s
debates (Organisation of debates, paragraph 3).
adverse budgetary developments?
22. The Assembly’s budgetary difficulties
have been magnified by the decisions taken by the Committee of Ministers
and the Russian Federation’s refusal to pay the first third of its
contribution to the 2018 budget. With respect to the 2018 budget,
the Assembly shall freeze €1.5 million, i.e. nearly 9% of its total
budget; with respect to 2019, however, these €1.5 million might
have to be permanently cut from the budget, resulting inter alia in the abolition of a
number of posts in the Assembly Secretariat.
23. It should be pointed out here that following the injection
of funds from Turkey in 2016, the Secretary General of the Council
of Europe created 58 new posts (none of them in the Assembly Secretariat).
The funding for these posts is no longer available but the Secretary
General is refusing to abolish at least 30 of the posts, which he
considers to be in priority sectors, and is asking the other entities
to cut their staffing levels so that these newly created posts can
24. The general savings which the Secretary General of the Council
of Europe is asking of the Organisation’s directorates general have
a direct impact on the Assembly, moreover, as there is a temptation for
these directorates to seek first and foremost to reduce or even
eliminate items of expenditure on support and assistance for Parliamentary
Assembly activities. Such is the case, for example, with spending
on audiovisual coverage of Assembly sessions or production of official
Assembly documents during part-sessions.
the budgetary crisis: recommendations from the Assembly to the Committee
member States to comply with the Statute of the Council of Europe
25. Article 39 of the Statute of
the Council of Europe clearly states that “[t]he Secretary General
shall each year notify the government of each member of the amount
of its contribution, and each member shall pay to the Secretary
General the amount of its contribution, which shall be deemed to
be due on the date of its notification, not
later than six months after that date.” Article 9 of the Statute provides
that “[t]he Committee of Ministers may suspend the right of representation
on the Committee and on the Consultative (Parliamentary) Assembly
of a member which has failed to fulfil its financial obligation
during such period as the obligation remains unfulfilled”. In November
1994, at its 95th session, the Committee of Ministers decided that
“apart from exceptional circumstances having prevented a member
state from fulfilling its obligation, Article 9 of the Statute will
be applied to any state which has failed to fulfil all or a substantial
part of its financial obligation for a period of two years”.
26. In the current circumstances, it may seem odd, if not incomprehensible,
that the Committee of Ministers is not insisting that the provisions
of the Statute be complied with. This is tantamount to totally exonerating
a State from its financial obligations vis-à-vis the Organisation.
27. In this context, one may have serious questions about the
“exceptional circumstances” vis-à-vis the Russian Federation which
the Committee of Ministers would appear to recognise and which would
legitimise the wait-and-see position of the Committee of Ministers.
Only compelling reasons of an economic nature – such as bankruptcy
of a State, major financial or monetary crisis – could prevent a
State from fulfilling its obligations. The reasons given by the
Russian Federation to absolve itself from its commitments do not
in any way tally with such circumstances.
28. The Committee of Ministers’ decision in 1994 amounts to authorising
any member State not to pay the slightest contribution to the budget
of the Organisation for a period of two years. Furthermore, once
the budgetary period has closed, a State has not the slightest interest
in paying retrospectively the sums due: in point of fact, the Committee
of Ministers introduced the rule of the redistribution of the unspent
balance (appropriations not used at the close of the budgetary period)
to all member States. It is clear that a “defaulting” State would
not have the slightest interest in paying a contribution for the
previous year and a closed budgetary period since it would be redistributed
to other States and would not benefit the Council of Europe by helping
to finance its activities. If the Russian Federation were to pay
its unpaid contribution to the 2017 budget, the sums in question
would not be paid into the Organisation’s 2018 budget but would
be counted as part of the unspent balance for 2017.
29. The Committee of Ministers should urgently and seriously review
this decision concerning the application of Article 9 of the Statute
and resolutely undertake to ensure that member States observe the
six-month time limit set out in the Statute, a common time limit
which prevails in other international organisations.
30. The Council of Europe’s financial
regulations need to be revised. They do not contain any rules regarding the
accession of a member State to the “club” of major contributors
or withdrawal from that “club”. The Committee of Ministers should
compensate for this shortcoming which has serious consequences in
terms of budgetary predictability and stability, and draw up precise
rules in this field, in particular by laying down a minimum length
for this status, of at least six years, and a waiting period following
notification of the decision to withdraw from this status, which
cannot come into effect until at least one year later.
31. Similarly, it is surprising that the Committee of Ministers
continues to approve the budget of the Organisation “by consensus”
and maintains a policy of zero nominal growth only because a small
number of States blocks any other decision.
32. At the same time, the current rate of default interest payable
by States which fail to pay their financial contributions on time
is very low. The Committee of Ministers could revise this rate so
that it acts as a deterrent.
33. Lastly, given the seriousness and the exceptional nature of
the current budgetary crisis, the Committee of Ministers and all
member States could make available to the Organisation, in a reserve
account, the unspent balance which may be identified at the closing
of the 2017 accounts instead of returning to States the amounts which
the Council of Europe did not spend in 2017. The use of funds put
in reserve would remain subject to the decisions of the Committee
of Ministers on the basis of proposed allocations submitted by the
Secretary General of the Council of Europe.
34. The Rules Committee has been
asked a question which has not only a regulatory dimension – the necessary
modification of the Rules of Procedure – but also a budgetary dimension,
as both these aspects fall under its remit. It is therefore proposed
that the committee consider a draft resolution relating to the changes to
be made to the Rules of Procedure, and in parallel put forward specific
recommendations to the Committee of Ministers concerning the current
35. As a modification to the provisions in the Rules of Procedure
on working languages falls within a much more general context which
the committee does not wish to ignore, the rapporteur proposes to
amend the title of the report so that it better reflects the scope
of her reflections and conclusions.