Logo Assembly Logo Hemicycle

08 April 2019 morning

2019 - Second part-session Print sitting

Sitting video(s) 1 / 1

Opening of the sitting No 10

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER

Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly

11:34:54

I declare open the second part of the 2019 ordinary session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

Statement by the President

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER

Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly

11:35:09

Dear colleagues, welcome to Strasbourg for a new part-session, which will be exceedingly important given its agenda and political dimension. We are heading towards the 70th anniversary of our Organisation, and a key moment for its future. Just a week ago, while on an official visit to Armenia, I had the great honour of participating in the inauguration of Europe Square in the capital, Yerevan. As I was getting ready for the ceremony, I asked myself: what does Europe mean for each of us? There are many answers to that question, because as well as geographical and historical concepts, Europe has many facets.

When talking about European architecture, we often refer to the notion of concentric circles. The largest circle is the Council of Europe, followed by the circles of the European Union, the Schengen area and the eurozone. With 47 Member States, the Council of Europe forms the outer ring in this arrangement. That is why we often refer to it as the common European home, which provides 830 million people with a place to live. It is governed by a common legal framework that protects the individual against arbitrary decisions and authoritarianism and defines our rights and fundamental freedoms.

Our common home – Europe as we know it – will soon be 70 years old. I firmly believe that our duty, as representatives of our fellow citizens, is to preserve that common home and to ensure that it continues to wield influence and realise its full potential. The millions of Europeans who reap the tangible benefits of a close union between the peoples and nations of Europe, for which the Council of Europe has worked, expect that of us. What do our fellow citizens want? A Europe of co-operation, where disagreements and conflicts are resolved through dialogue and peaceful negotiations, or a Europe of division, where dialogue gives way to confrontation? A Europe torn apart again by geopolitical tensions, where new borders and walls spring up? For me, the answer is clear. The European acquis, the values that unite us and the common legal framework that we have succeeded in building are important for our fellow citizens. I firmly believe they want a Europe of peace, prosperity, co-operation and dialogue. I am not suggesting that we should compromise our values – that would be a betrayal of the European project.

All members of our common European home have the same duty to abide by the house rules. They also have the duty to help it run smoothly, including by honouring their financial obligations, just as they have equal rights and an obligation to participate in co-operation mechanisms and dialogue in our common home. When the rules that govern our common home are not respected, it is the duty of us all to seek ways to reach a common solution, in a coherent and co-ordinated fashion. To preserve unity in our common home, we must all – Member States and statutory bodies – work together to co-ordinate our actions. We need a mechanism for frank political dialogue and enhanced co-operation, to stop the abuses that threaten to destroy the very foundations of our Organisation. The Parliamentary Assembly is ready to play its full part in strengthening our response mechanisms, particularly through the Political Affairs Committee’s report on the role and mission of the Parliamentary Assembly. We are engaged in constructive dialogue on this with the Committee of Ministers, and I believe that we are on the right track.

We must also ensure that Europe continues to play an important role on the world stage in tackling challenges that extend far beyond Europe’s borders, such as migration, the sustainable development goals and the growing use of artificial intelligence – issues that raise real questions about respect for our fundamental rights. That message emerged clearly from my recent meetings in New York at the United Nations, during, and in the margins of, the 63rd session of the commission on the status of women, during which I met the Secretary General of the United Nations and many other senior United Nations officials.

It is clear that on the world stage, faced with major geopolitical players such as the United States and China, a Europe that is divided and riven by disagreements and conflicts will not have any authority. A united Europe, on the other hand – a Europe of 47 Member States that stretches all the way from Lisbon to Vladivostok, and from Reykjavik to Lampedusa – will be a powerful, solid player, not only because of its economic clout and the size of its population, but above all because of its normative framework based on common values that are central to the Council of Europe’s work.

Let us not forget that in many areas, Europe has legal and co-operation instruments of the most innovative kind, such as the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence; the Budapest Convention on combating cyber-crime; the recently revised Convention 108 – the Convention for the Protection of Individuals with regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data – and the Oviedo Convention on bioethics and human rights. Then, of course, there is the European Convention on Human Rights, with its Court in Strasbourg – a unique international mechanism for monitoring compliance with that Convention. Those conventions are international legal instruments that our Member States have voluntarily agreed to uphold. All are treated equally and are subject to the same control mechanisms based on uniform standards.

What makes our convention system so strong is its universality at European level. It has taken us 70 years to build this system. If its universality is compromised, and Member States do not respect the standards that they have chosen to embrace, there is a risk that it will very quickly collapse. We must therefore defend and promote our achievements to preserve this place that 830 million of our fellow citizens call home. It is also our responsibility to disseminate and share the Council of Europe’s conventions with our international partners, so that the world in which we live can become a safer, freer place, more respectful of human rights. We will actively address that issue this week when we examine the reports on the Council of Europe’s contribution to the achievement of the United Nations sustainable development goals. I look forward to those discussions.

I end my address by mentioning again the practical benefits that Europe has brought to the lives of our fellow citizens. To those of us who are nationals of the founding States of the Council of Europe, the Organisation’s common normative framework, in which the European Convention on Human Rights occupies a central place, is often seen as an irreversible achievement. It is worth remembering, however, that some of our Member States accepted the framework not that long ago, after the fall of the Berlin wall. In exactly 30 years – a relatively short time in historical terms – these Member States have accomplished dramatic changes, building strong, lasting democratic institutions out of the rubble of totalitarian systems in which human rights were just rhetoric.

This week, we will welcome the heads of government of Georgia and Armenia, which joined the Organisation only 20 years ago, but have made remarkable progress along the path of democratic reform. Their speeches to the Parliamentary Assembly are not only an opportunity to forge closer co-operation, but an opportunity for all of us to remember our own obligation to support our democratic institutions, and to stand up for rights and fundamental freedoms in our countries, because democracy and human rights are always works in progress, requiring a sustained commitment from each and every one of us. In this way, together, all of us can help to expand the reach of our common European home, which, as I say, will celebrate its 70th anniversary in one month’s time.

Examination of credentials

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER

Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly

11:37:42

The first item on the agenda is the examination of credentials of new members. I must inform the Assembly that the Parliament of Bosnia and Herzegovina has not, in line with Rule 6 of the Rules of Procedure of the Assembly, met the deadline for sending the credentials of its delegation ahead of this part-session. That is because of the parliamentary elections held in that country in October 2018. I sincerely regret this situation.

The names of representatives and substitutes are in Document 14858. If no credentials are challenged, the credentials will be ratified.

Are any credentials challenged?

The credentials are ratified.

Changes in the membership of committees

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER

Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly

11:40:31

Proposed changes to the membership of committees have been published in Document Commissions (2019) 04 and Addendum 1.

Are the proposed changes in the membership of the Assembly’s committees agreed to?

They are agreed to.

 

Requests for current affairs debate or debate under urgent procedure :

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER

Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly

11:43:19

Before we adopt the draft agenda, the Assembly needs to consider requests for debates under urgent procedure and for a current affairs debate, which we will consider in the following order: a request from the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs for an urgent debate on “The Budgetary Crisis at the Council of Europe”; a request from the Socialists, Democrats and Greens Group, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe and the Group of the Unified European Left for an urgent debate on the “Role and Mission of the Parliamentary Assembly: Main Challenges for the Future”; and a request from the European Conservatives Group for a current affairs debate on “The Relationship between the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the State Duma and the Russian Federation Council”.

For clarity, I point out that at its meeting this morning, the Bureau did not support the request for an urgent debate on “The Budgetary Crisis at the Council of Europe” or the request for a current affairs debate on “The Relationship between the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the State Duma and the Russian Federation Council”. It agreed to support the request for an urgent debate on the “Role and Mission of the Parliamentary Assembly: Main Challenges for the Future”.

The Assembly needs to consider the request submitted by the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs for a debate under the urgent procedure on “The Budgetary Crisis at the Council of Europe”. At its meeting this morning, the Bureau proposed that the request be rejected. Is the Bureau’s recommendation accepted?

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC

11:48:28

I shall roll two points into one, if I may, Madam President. The Rules Committee’s proposal for a budget debate is urgent and cannot be left until June, when another debate will take place; it needs to be heard this week. As for the proposed debate on the Kox report, the matter has not been considered by the Political Affairs Committee or the Rules Committee; this is premature and the debate should not be heard. I urge colleagues to vote for the budget debate and against the Kox report debate.

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER

Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly

11:49:02

Thank you, Sir Roger. You have given your position on two issues, but we are dealing with the proposal for a debate on the Council’s budgetary crisis at the moment. You call for us to have that debate. Does anyone take a different position, as the Bureau did this morning? I call Mr Frank SCHWABE.

Mr Frank SCHWABE

Germany, SOC

11:49:33

Thank you, Madam President. Dear colleagues, by an overwhelming majority in the Bureau, we decided not to have this debate. We will have such a debate in June, because we will then have our annual discussion and debate about the budget. I think that that is the right time and right place to discuss the matter; today is the wrong day. We should not discuss it today, so I ask you not to support this request.

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER

Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly

11:50:00

Thank you, Mister Schwabe. So, we shall now vote on the request for an urgent debate. I would like to remind you that a decision requires a two-thirds majority. Those who are in favour of holding an urgent procedure debate on the budgetary crisis should vote yes; those who are against holding such a debate should vote no.

The vote is open.

The request is rejected.

We come to the next proposal, which is for a debate under urgent procedure on the challenges for the future of the Council of Europe. Given that the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy has already been seized of the merits of this proposal, the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs will have to speak as the forum. This was supported this morning, as was already said. I have heard Sir Roger GALE’s position on this point. I would like to know if anybody wishes to speak in favour of holding this urgent debate on the “Role and mission of the Parliamentary Assembly: main challenges for the future”.

I call Mr Volodymyr ARIEV on a point of order.

Mr Volodymyr ARIEV

Ukraine, EPP/CD

11:52:04

I draw attention to the fact that is the first time I have ever heard about a draft report existing before an urgent debate is approved at the Assembly. I want to underline that this report could seriously damage the role of parliamentarians here. How is it possible according to procedure to have the draft text before an urgent debate is approved?

 

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER

Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly

11:52:28

Thank you, Mister Ariev.

I will happily respond to that remark by pointing out that according to our rules, the only condition on holding of an urgent procedure debate is the fact that you cannot put on the agenda for urgent debate a subject which is already on the Assembly’s agenda. That is not the case with respect to the proposal put to you, so there is no regulatory prohibition on the holding of this urgent debate on an issue already debated in Committee.

To support this request for an urgent debate, I give the floor to Ms Ria OOMEN-RUIJTEN.

 

Ms Ria OOMEN-RUIJTEN

Netherlands, EPP/CD

11:53:12

As you mentioned, Madam Chair, it is a big advantage if we have this urgent debate which is already prepared, because we have had two memorandums and one hearing. We discussed it in depth, so that is the reason why I recommend acceptance of this debate. We will have the time this afternoon in the Political Affairs Committee to debate it and to introduce amendments. What we did is on the request of the Finnish presidency, which came to us, so we have it on the agenda and I recommend this debate.

 

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER

Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly

11:54:00

Thank you. We shall proceed to a vote on the urgent debate. I remind you that it needs a two-thirds majority.

The vote is open.

The request is agreed to.

Since the two-thirds majority has been achieved, an urgent debate on “Role and mission of the Parliamentary Assembly: main challenges for the future” is included on the agenda for this part-session. We do not have to take a stand on which committees should have this referred to them, because this was already decided on 13 October 2017, with respect to referral to the Committee on Political Affairs and the Rules Committee.

Lastly, an unfavourable opinion was given this morning by the Bureau on a current affairs debate on “The relationship between the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the State Duma and the Council of the Federation of the Russian Federation”. Does the Assembly agree with the Bureau’s recommendation not to have this current affairs debate? That seems to be the case; there is no objection, so there will be no such debate at this part-session.

Adoption of the agenda

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER

Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly

11:55:11

We now come to the adoption of the agenda for this part-session. The draft agenda was drawn up by the Bureau on 28 February and updated this morning, and it has been distributed. I remind you that we have already agreed to hold an urgent debate on the “Role and mission of the Parliamentary Assembly: main challenges for the future”. The Bureau proposes that this urgent debate takes place on Wednesday afternoon as the second item of business. Mr Egidijus VAREIKIS’s report on the rules of the Assembly will now be debated on Thursday morning as the first item of business. The other change is to reverse the order of the debates on Thursday afternoon. If there is no objection to this agenda, it is thus agreed to.

Dear colleagues, given the large number of debates and the large number of members on the speakers’ lists, in order to maximise the number of members speaking, the Bureau proposes limiting speaking time to three minutes all week. Is there any objection? It is so agreed.

Approval of the minutes of the Standing Committee

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER

Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly

11:55:19

The minutes of the Standing Committee, which met in Paris on 1 March 2019, have been distributed and the Assembly takes note of them.

Debate: Progress report of the Bureau and the Standing Committee / Observation of the parliamentary elections in the Republic of Moldova

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER

Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly

11:58:10

The next item on the agenda is the debate on the progress report of the Bureau and Standing Committee, Document 14855, Addenda 1 and 2, and Document 14857, presented by Ms Boriana ÅBERG. This will be combined with consideration of the Report of the Ad Hoc Committee of the Bureau on the observation of parliamentary elections in the Republic of Moldova on 24 February 2019, Document 14859, presented by Mr Claude KERN.

I remind members that we need to conclude this debate, including the vote, by 1 p.m., so I will have to interrupt the list of speakers at around 12.50 p.m. to hear the response of the committee and to conduct the necessary vote. I remind you that we have agreed to limit speaking times to three minutes.

I call Ms Boriana ÅBERG to present the progress report of the Bureau and Standing Committee. You have 13 minutes in total, which you may divide as you see fit between presentation of the report and the reply to the debate. You have the floor.

Ms Boriana ÅBERG

Sweden, EPP/CD, Rapporteur

11:58:16

Thank you, Madam President. Dear colleagues, I was nominated as the rapporteur for this progress report, which covers the activity of the Bureau and the Standing Committee since the last Bureau meeting in January, up to the first Bureau meeting this morning. Two election observation missions took place during the reporting period: on parliamentary elections in the Republic of Moldova on 24 February and on the first round of the presidential election in Ukraine on 31 March. My colleague Mr Claude KERN will present the conclusions of the electoral mission to the Republic of Moldova.

For my part, I would like to mention briefly the statement of the international election observation mission, of which I was part. Ms Angela SMITH, chairperson of the Parliamentary Assembly election observation mission to Ukraine, will present at the next meeting of the Standing Committee an extensive report after the second round of the election, scheduled on 21 April. The first round of the presidential election took place in the context of the illegal annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation and the ongoing Russian military aggression in eastern Ukraine. As a consequence, the election could not be organised in Crimea and certain parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions under the control of illegal armed groups. A large number of international observers observed the first round of the election. They concurred that it was competitive, that fundamental freedoms were generally respected and that candidates could campaign freely, even though numerous indications of vote buying and the misuse of state resources undermined the credibility of the process.

More than 80 criminal investigations into alleged vote buying have been launched. The observers have also agreed that there were “key legal issues that should be addressed as a matter of priority”. In order to address these issues, continued close co-operation between the Parliamentary Assembly and the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission with Ukraine in the field of democratic development is required.

The next election to be observed by the Parliamentary Assembly is the upcoming presidential election in North Macedonia on 21 April. This the first election since the country adopted its new name, which has brought a 27 year-old dispute with Greece to rest. That signals and gives hope for further stability and co-operation in the region.

I encourage my distinguished colleagues to volunteer for election missions when provided with the opportunity. Election observation is a crucial part of our work in the Parliamentary Assembly; the experience allows for greater understanding of our cause to maintain the Council of Europe’s core values, and it is equally rewarding on a personal level. I urge colleagues who have been registered for these missions to actually participate: late notice of cancellations or no-shows leads to unnecessary costs for our Organisation – the last thing we need, given the extremely strained financial situation.

The budget deficit and the need to address it has been known about for several years and should have been acted on long ago. The proposal of Secretary General Jagland on the contingency measures and their consequences for the Parliamentary Assembly were discussed in the Bureau. I would like to comment on the Bureau’s exchange of views with the Secretary General on this issue at its meetings on 25 January and 28 February. As the Secretary General explained to the Bureau, the plan aims to reduce the Organisation’s expenditure budget to its effective budget that excludes the Russian Federation’s contributions. This plan would take effect in mid-2019 and be implemented over three years to absorb the scale of the decrease. It would also address the Russian Federation’s unpaid contributions for the period 2017 to 2019, in order to rebuild the cash flow.

Some important points have to be underlined in relation to the plan. First, what would be the consequences of the Russian Federation’s non-payment, which by the end of 2019 would amount to €100 million? One of the possible political consequences could be a decision to trigger the application of Article 9 of the Statute, allowing the suspension of a State’s representation rights in the Committee of Ministers and in the Assembly in the case of non-payment. The decision will have to be taken by the Committee of Ministers, but here in the Assembly there is the strong opinion that our core values are not for sale. The Russian Federation’s actions are very regrettable and we need to take a stance against them. The annexation of a part of a sovereign country, the refusal to accredit a delegation and the further refusal of a financial contribution is unacceptable for a member of the Council of Europe.

Secondly, the implementation of the contingency plan would result in operational and staff cuts at an average of 14%. The Secretary General suggests that the budget cuts planned over a three-year period would result in a 250-person decrease in staff. That would be done step by step through natural retirements and exclusion of short-term-employed staff, as well as buy-outs or the early retirement of certain personnel financed by additional contributions from Member States. The European Court of Human Rights would be less affected by the cuts. To compensate, the two general directorates dealing with the main activities of the Organisation are expected to absorb bigger reductions. That would have a very significant effect on the Council of Europe and the scope of its work.

These are difficult priorities and there is a need for an evaluation of which future resources are essential to the Organisation. Obviously, there is also the question of whether the Member States are prepared to deprioritise certain sections of our operations; that could mean significant cuts for certain sections or the putting on hold of sections until further notice. Potentially, some could be completely phased out. Such cuts, particularly in the main directorates, would challenge Member States’ capacity to develop and promote common values.

Thirdly, there are some concerns that the Organisation would risk losing what is currently its added value: the interaction among the three of its components, which are standard setting, monitoring and co-operation. We need to answer the question of whether there are alternatives to the cuts and for the Organisation to have a more sustainable budget. The concerns about the budget were once again brought to the surface when the Bureau was asked to acknowledge the formation of a new political group – the New European Democrats/Europe of Nations and Freedom.

Under Rule 19 of the Rules of Procedure, 20 members of at least six national delegations may form a political group. Under Rule 19, a group has to promote and respect the values of the Council of Europe. During the meeting on 25 January, after a first exchange of views, the Bureau decided to postpone the decision to acknowledge the formation of a new political group and invited Mr Martin GRAF, its chairperson, to take part in a second exchange of views on 28 February.

There were, and still are, several doubts about the commitment of the new group members to upholding the values of the Council of Europe. In particular, concerns were raised about the group’s statute’s compatibility with the Council of Europe and remarks of hate speech involving anti-Semitism and Islamophobia made by members of the group. In the context of the formation of the new group, the Bureau decided to ask the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs for advice on the procedure defined in Article 19.1 of the Rules of Procedure. The committee is expected to give advice this week.

Dear colleagues, I remind you that the 2019 edition of the Václav Havel prize has been launched and that the deadline for submitting entries is 30 April. Many brave women and men tirelessly fight for human rights, often under threat of persecution. They deserve their roles in exposing violations and orchestrating resistance to injustice to be acknowledged. I strongly encourage you to nominate someone who embodies those values.

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER

Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly

12:09:49

Thank you, Miss Åberg, for this comprehensive report on the activities of the Bureau and Standing Committee.

Mister Kern, you have the floor to speak on the monitoring of the parliamentary elections in the Republic of Moldova.

Mr Claude KERN

France, ALDE

12:10:07

I thank all the members of the delegation and our administrative staff who attended the pre-electoral mission and the election observation mission in the Republic of Moldova for the excellent spirit that prevailed. I also thank the staff of the Council of Europe office in Chișinău and the authorities in the Republic of Moldova for their excellent co-operation.

Since 1994, the Parliamentary Assembly has observed all elections in the Republic of Moldova, so the logic is one of continuity in co-operation with the Republic of Moldova with the aim of improving legislation and electoral practice. The co-operation between the Parliamentary Assembly and our partners the OSCE and its Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights was exemplary. I will dwell only on the problems we encountered during our observation mission.

Unfortunately, some recurrent problems that have been around since 1994 remain. However, the delegation concluded that the elections of 24 February 2019 were competitive and fundamental rights were generally upheld. Elections are not limited to what happens on polling day, however. With regard to electoral law, the new electoral system unfortunately confirmed certain concerns expressed by the Venice Commission, particularly the fact that electoral players, especially voters in single member constituencies, were subject to undue pressure or manipulation by wealthy local businesspeople. We are convinced that frequent changes to the building blocks of electoral legislation such as the system and seat allocation, combined with the political turnaround of Members of Parliament in the legislature, has resulted in changing the majority after voters cast their votes in the elections.

The day of the election was, generally speaking and on the whole, calm and was well organised, and the vote count was conducted in a professional manner and a calm atmosphere. However, Moldovans in Transnistria were transferred by bus on voting day and hundreds of voters had to wait in front of polling stations and in some polling stations fewer electoral officers were present. Also campaigning continued around polling stations up until the close which, although permitted by law, gave rise to the perception of voter intimidation. Some problems persist such as intimidation, isolated cases of violence against candidates, allegations of threats against supporters of opposition parties, pressure on public sector employees to oblige them to attend election campaign events during working hours, mass misuse of administrative resources, and allegations of vote buying or the distribution of electoral gifts.

Certain recommendations of the Venice Commission and GRECO, the Council of Europe’s Group of States Against Corruption, on electoral campaign funding were complied with, but unfortunately a considerable number of the people with whom we spoke talked about the absence of any real oversight. On media coverage of the electoral campaign, the delegation was informed of cases of pressure, threats or physical or verbal intimidation of independent journalists in the months preceding the vote.

However, we felt that the technical aspects of the election were well managed by the central electoral commission and the delegation invited the Moldovan authorities to pursue co-operation with the Monitoring Committee and the Venice Commission with a view to tackling some of the problems that have arisen in law and in practice. Through its various co-operation programmes, the Council of Europe should therefore continue to assist the Republic of Moldova in improving the legal framework and electoral practices.

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER

Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly

12:14:20

Thank you, Mister Kern.

We come now to the list of speakers. I call first Mr Egidijus VAREIKIS.

Mr Egidijus VAREIKIS

Lithuania, EPP/CD, Spokesperson for the group

12:14:34

I will focus mostly on elections, and not only in the Republic of Moldova, where I participated and I am the rapporteur, but generally in terms of what we are doing, and how we are observing elections and the conclusions we need to draw from that.

Some countries, including the Republic of Moldova, are trying to implement a new system; they are looking for a better system for organising elections. We can change systems, but experience shows that changing the system does not necessarily change the democracy. Different parties can win more seats or fewer but, if a democracy is limited, changing the system does not help. In the Republic of Moldova, there was criticism of the new system. It was said that people will not understand it and that it will be difficult to vote, but generally we observed that people did understand the system. It is not complicated and people knew what to do, and I would say the outcome of the election was not changed.

My second conclusion is that, when we are observing elections in the countries under monitoring procedures, we are observing the war or the battle; the handbooks say elections are a festival of democracy and we must be happy to observe elections, but we are observing the war. People are fighting: they are fighting for candidates and for seats in the parliament, and instead of festivities we still see the war situation. The war stops when the vote stops, but what happens next? We see in the current situations that it is more difficult to organise coalitions to form the government. We see that not only in the Republic of Moldova but in other countries too; even in Scandinavian countries they have difficulty doing so. After war settlement, it is more complicated under these election procedures.

When we are finishing the war and there is a peace deal we are generally trying to talk about democratic peace and a situation where there will be no more wars. However, generally in the countries being monitored, after the election people are already thinking about the next election, about the next war, and about revenge, so unfortunately we still have no democratic peace. That is my conclusion about the countries under monitoring procedures.

Mr Stefan SCHENNACH

Austria, SOC, Spokesperson for the group

12:17:49

On behalf of my group, I warmly thank Mr Claude KERN and Ms Boriana ÅBERG. This is the first time I have heard Ms Boriana ÅBERG.

First, let me say that elections are not a war. In German, the words may have semantic links but elections are a kind of competition, so we should not talk about a war. On the period under review, I thank the rapporteur and congratulate her, although not in terms of my Parliament where things have gone well and we have witnessed a small miracle in this time: in Azerbaijan 51 political prisoners were released, some of whom we had long striven to help.

We have adopted two important reports in the committee, one of which goes beyond the tangible and is on cultural heritage, and another on the value for democratic societies. That is all now behind us.

I have been to the Republic of Moldova frequently and attended elections. I think it is important not just to observe elections, but to work in a country and spend longer periods of time there. We all know about the difficult democratic situation in the Republic of Moldova. We think that its elections were conducted reasonably well, but the electoral law could be improved. We do not think that electoral campaigning should continue right to the door of the polling station, because voters should not have to push their way through a throng of excited campaigners.

We hope that many people will volunteer in Ukraine, where we hear that elections will all be held on the same day. In the first round, a young comedian spectacularly gained twice as many votes as the two oligarchs, Tymoshenko and Poroshenko. We must send the best possible team to safeguard those elections.

Mr Ian LIDDELL-GRAINGER

United Kingdom, EC, Spokesperson for the group

12:21:13

In case anybody does not know, we have two small crises here at the Council of Europe: one over the finances, and one over a former partner. I would like to correct a few misconceptions, if I may. First of all, the Russian Federation has not been under sanctions from this place for many years. Any sanction imposed on a delegation by the Assembly under Rule 10 automatically expires on the opening of the first ordinary session of every year. Each January, every delegation gets a new chance to join us again, but the Russian Federation did not choose to take the opportunity to come back in January.

Mr Jagland – I notice that he is not in his place as normal – has repeated his statement many times, but it was not the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe that occupied a third of Crimea. We are being accused of exceeding our powers, but please remember, colleagues, that we are parliamentarians. When it comes to getting out of this crisis, the new buzzword is “synergy” – it is an interesting word in English. What is required is synergy of action and the imposition of sanctions between the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly. Although we welcome the good co-operation with the Committee of Ministers, as we should – they are our ambassadors – the synergy appears to be increasingly Chinese in style, in that Parliament is becoming completely subordinate to the Executive. I repeat that we are parliamentarians. It comes as no surprise that the biggest promoters of synergy are from countries where the left is more prevalent than the right.

In the 70 years of our history, the Committee of Ministers has only once tried to sanction a country, and it failed. Why should any of us believe that, if the Parliamentary Assembly gave up its sanction mechanism to the Committee of Ministers, any country would be sanctioned in the next 70 years – provided that we survive that long – for violations of the Convention? I leave that question with you, colleagues. The Parliamentary Assembly always uses its sanction mechanism with extreme caution, and rightly so. Only in very exceptional cases have we done anything with it.

This system has been tested and it has worked for 70 years, so why go on the adventure of synergy? Does not the word synergy imply some sort of compromise? If we leave everything to the Kox report, it will be the Assembly that takes the blame and sells out its powers. We are parliamentarians, not the Executive. Why is this place so worried about democracy? We are not imposing our will on anybody, but we want to play by fair rules on a level playing field.

Mr Mart van de VEN

Netherlands, ALDE, Spokesperson for the group

12:24:32

I thank Ms Boriana ÅBERG for the progress report, and I have two questions. On 23 January 2019, we discussed the financial crisis in the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs in the presence of the Secretary General, Mr Jagland. There, a request was made to investigate alternatives to the proposed cut in the Council of Europe’s activities and staff. On 24 January, in the Presidential Committee, the leaders of the political groups decided to investigate alternatives to cuts in activities and staff. My first question is whether you have come across alternatives that have been raised with Mr Jagland. My second question is whether Mr Jagland’s contingency plan will be distributed to members of the Parliamentary Assembly in preparation for the June discussion of the Parliamentary Assembly’s budget, which we agreed earlier today.

 

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, Spokesperson for the group

12:25:39

Thank you, Madam President, for your inspiring speech at the beginning of this part-session. I thank both rapporteurs for their reports, and I thank Mr Claude KERN also for his excellent chairing of the election observation mission to the Republic of Moldova. Members of the Group of the Unified European Left thought that, although a lot of things are going wrong in the Republic of Moldova, our election mission performed very well. I therefore I pay tribute to the leadership of that mission.

In her progress report, Ms Boriana ÅBERG mentioned a lot of relevant developments. It is clear that, in the year of our 70th anniversary, we are confronted with a lot of substantial challenges. One could look at that in a negative way – problems, problems, problems – but it is also an opportunity to propose solutions. I am very happy that this Assembly, in its wisdom, decided to have an urgent debate on the report that I am preparing on its behalf to find answers to these challenges. I urge colleagues to read the 30 proposals in that report, which will be dealt with in the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy this afternoon, because they will see that the report does not contain what some people thought. It contains sturdy, clear proposals, to which all 47 Member States and all political groups contributed. I think that it could enable us to turn the challenges that we face in our 70th anniversary year into opportunities, and to move forward.

I am very pleased that during the last few months the Finnish presidency has been very active. To be honest, I have never seen such an active presidency. It is very keen to overcome problems, rather than simply recognising them. I was very grateful that the President of Finland was able to meet the Presidential Committee, and that the Minister of Foreign Affairs has been always at our disposal. For the first time in a long time – I refer to what Mr Ian LIDDELL-GRAINGER said – we are talking about synergy. I do not know how it is viewed in the British language or in Westminster, but I consider it to be a most positive word.

We have two statutory bodies with their own responsibilities, and we have a Secretary General and a deputy Secretary General, but in the end we work towards the same goals. We do not have to invent those goals; they are in Article 1 of the Statute of the Council of Europe, which states that we must work for greater unity to the benefit of the rule of law, democracy and human rights. Those goals are also formulated in the European Convention on Human Rights. I very much welcome the development of synergy, because if we can join forces, we will all win in the end. There are a lot of challenges, but I think now is the time to start to answer them with proposals that we can all support.

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER

Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly

12:28:58

I call Ms Åberg to respond.

Ms Boriana ÅBERG

Sweden, EPP/CD

12:29:06

I will respond at the end of the debate.

Mr Zsolt NÉMETH

Hungary, EPP/CD

12:29:19

I would like to comment on the Ukrainian presidential elections. In the first round, Mr Zelensky’s landslide victory has come as a big surprise. I commend our delegation’s suggestion that the elections were competitive, from which we can draw a few conclusions. First, if the situation continues, it will open up a very important opportunity for the whole international community. We may expect the mutual execution of the Minsk agreement, and it might change the whole dynamic of international discussions. We are also in the midst of debating the debates in the Council of Europe about the Russian Federation. Secondly, it opens up the possibility of respect for human rights, including minority rights, and respect for fundamental resolutions relating to Ukraine in this Organisation.

I draw colleagues’ attention to an important aspect of the second round. Not only are we between the two rounds of elections, but the Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada is about to have a second round of debates on the so-called language law. I encourage the Verkhovna Rada to suspend its discussion about the language law, because I believe that it would create tension inside Ukraine and fundamentally disturb the success of the second round. Our Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, has suggested that before the language law is adopted, it should be examined by the Venice Commission. Our Organisation has discussed the question, and even the head of the Ukrainian delegation has supported the initiative that the Venice Commission should take its own position before the adoption of the language law, which might be extremely dangerous.

Another important question before us is the election of the new Secretary General. This is probably the right time to express the Hungarian delegation’s gratitude to Mr Jagland. We are extremely encouraged to see two excellent candidates in Mr Reynders and Ms Pejčinović Burić, and we hope that the process will go smoothly.

Ms Maryvonne BLONDIN

France, SOC

12:32:29

I thank Ms Boriana ÅBERG for her introduction to her report. As co-rapporteur for the Republic of Moldova, I am minded to speak of the elections there – not in belligerent terms. We received a warm welcome from the Moldovan authorities. I thank the head of our delegation, my colleague Mr Claude KERN, who conducted the mission with a very open mind and with great effectiveness.

I wish to address two key points that have disturbed the electorate. First, a new hybrid electoral system was adopted without any consultation or debate, with 50 members selected by proportional representation from national lists and 51 elected by first past the post in their constituencies. Secondly, contrary to the recommendations of the Venice Commission and the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, a referendum was held with two questions. In other words, there were four ballot papers to fill out, which generated confusion, especially in rural areas, because explanations given by polling stations were often non-existent or dirigiste. Doing away with the ban on campaigning for one day before the vote in Chișinău also somewhat disrupted the process for voters.

None the less, progress was made. Previous remarks made by the ODIHR of the OSCE and by the Venice Commission were taken into account, and the legal framework that was put in place afforded the requisite basis for the elections to take place democratically. The voters had a choice between several candidates and fourteen political parties, plus a bloc for the national elections. At least most of the polling stations were well run, and more binding legislation was put in place with respect to electoral funding. It has also been rightly stressed that the position of women on the electoral list benefited from positive discrimination, as it were, because they were a little more numerous. All too unfortunately, however, they were often too far down the list to be elected.

There were recurring difficulties: abusive use of public resources, allegations of pressure against civil servants and concentration of the media in the hands of the oligarchs, which do not allow for pluralism. None the less, the Republic of Moldova is an important partner for the Council of Europe. We must support it and stand by it, so that reforms – especially in combating corruption and protecting the independence of the judiciary – may proceed.

Mr Corneliu Mugurel COZMANCIUC

Romania, EPP/CD

12:36:00

Free and fair democratic elections are essential, and it has been ensured that they take place in the Republic of Moldova. Fundamental rights were generally respected and pluralist elections were allowed. I congratulate Mr Claude KERN on his report, which underscores a number of positive points, particularly media freedom, the transparent functioning of the central electoral commission and the good organisation of polling on election day. These were the first elections held under a new mixed electoral system, with 50 members of parliament elected through proportional representation from national party lists and 51 in single-member constituencies. Women were well represented at all levels of election administration.

The Republic of Moldova is one of the most advanced Eastern partners. It signed an association agreement with the European Union on 27 June 2014, which came provisionally into force on 1 September 2014. It is the only Eastern partner that has benefited from visa liberalisation since May 2014. The Republic of Moldova made moderate progress in the implementation of reforms, but that slowed down prior to the election campaign.

The key to the stability of the Republic of Moldova remains the formation of a pro-European coalition, as soon as possible, to make a clear effort to continue the reforms related to the implementation of the association agreement with the European Union. I am confident that a pro-European coalition will ensure the irreversibility of the European democratic path of the Republic of Moldova and will stimulate the reforms needed to relaunch the European Union-Republic of Moldova partnership. In the meantime, I assure our colleagues from the Republic of Moldova that Romania wants to count on the guarantee of the continuation and implementation of projects already started on the relationship with the Republic of Moldova. At the same time, Romania considers it necessary to avoid a period of post-election political uncertainty with repercussions both internally and externally.

Ms Naira ZOHRABYAN

Armenia, EC

12:38:35

On 27 February, the court of Azerbaijan, which is a member of the Council of Europe and a State that is “extremely democratic”, condemned the Armenian citizen Karen Ghazaryan to 20 years in prison. Mr Ghazaryan lives in the village of Berdavan, which is on the border with Azerbaijan. Last June, by chance, he found himself in Azerbaijan, probably because he had strayed across the border. The young man was immediately accused by Azerbaijan of being a member of a sabotage group and was charged under articles in the Azerbaijani penal code.

What is presented as Azeri propaganda is just a crude lie. Karen Ghazaryan has never done his military service and, in fact, would never have been able to do it, as a result of his health problems, which include mental health problems. Presenting this young man who has been taken hostage as a member of a sabotage group is yet another display of cynicism.

One thing is clear: the only reason behind the decision taken by the court in Azerbaijan is Karen Ghazaryan’s nationality. What Azerbaijan – a Member State of the Council of Europe – continues to do is a shameful violation of a number of international conventions and humanitarian obligations. I consider this as a challenge to the civilised world, international human rights defence organisations, our Assembly, the United Nations Human Rights Council and the Red Cross. I appeal to all those organisations, as well as the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, to take all the measures necessary to protect the rights and safety of Karen Ghazaryan. We have seen, and we know, how hostages are treated in democratic Azerbaijan. I will not discuss the horrible torture inflicted on Armenian hostages, so as not to pour salt in the gaping wounds of their families.

However, the recent decision of the Artsakh authorities to release an Azeri soldier who has served his sentence – a sentence that was proportionate to his crime – proves yet again that the Armenian side abides by international humanitarian law and the rule of law, whereas Azerbaijan could not give a damn about those two things. Armenia will concentrate all its efforts on protecting the rights of its citizens, and I, as a member of parliament and a citizen, expect the same thing of our Organisation and other human rights defence organisations.

Mr Titus CORLĂŢEAN

Romania, SOC

12:41:33

First, I would like to thank our rapporteurs, Ms Boriana ÅBERG and Mr Claude KERN, for their reports. I will concentrate on the elections in the Republic of Moldova because I was part of the Parliamentary Assembly’s observation mission, and what I will say is based on our conclusions.

I was part of a team with one of our Polish colleagues from the EPP. We monitored 12 polling stations, including some of those that were offering the right to vote to people from Transnistria. Our conclusion is that, in general terms, the elections were well organised and extremely transparent. There were an impressive number of international and national observers of the elections, including NGOs such as Promo-LEX, which is an excellent Moldovan NGO. There was full co-operation from the Moldovan authorities. To add to the comments of Mr Claude KERN, I will translate the conclusion of Matyas Eörsi, the representative of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. He said: The elections offered a solid foundation for recovery of citizens’ confidence, and fundamental rights were respected. Of course, things are not perfect. Colleagues have raised the possible abusive use of administrative resources and electoral tourists, but there is clear progress in the democratic process of the Republic of Moldova.

From my point of view, the major challenge to these elections before the day and on the day was the extremely professional and active – like always – Russian interference in the Republic of Moldova’s internal process, through political means, starting with the socialist pro-Russian President of the Republic of Moldova, Mr Dodon, meeting Mr Putin; the messages that were launched; donations that track exactly the elections; use of the Russian media; and, of course, Russian intelligence. The most challenging thing was when, on election day, we and many others saw the extremely well-organised and professional transportation of a lot of people from Transnistria in cars and mini-buses – brand new mini-buses, by the way. There were huge crowds waiting to vote in those specifically allocated polling stations. If you tried to talk to them, it could only be in Russian; it was impossible.

Based on this progress, the most important thing that needs to happen is the formation of a pro-European coalition government and to continue the implementation of the association agreement. I will encourage all political groups to go in that direction and send the message to their partners in the Republic of Moldova that they should not go in a different direction.

Mr Rafael HUSEYNOV

Azerbaijan, ALDE

12:45:12

Initially I would like to reject the hate speech of our Armenian colleague, which was full of lies and slander as usual.

Just 70 years ago, Europe and the world were on the threshold of a very important event that would leave an indelible mark on the political landscape: the final preparatory work was being implemented for the Council of Europe to officially start its activity. This progress report gives rise to a number of positive and contradictory thoughts. Seventy years have passed, and the Council of Europe faces quite different realities and is not as it was. Even though it is hard to admit, it must be made clear that the Council of Europe today is not in a position to solve most of the major problems that have emerged in the new reality or have a significant impact on their resolution.

Why was the word of the Council of Europe in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s more prominent, influential, effective and generally accepted? Because, at that time, double standards were alien to this Organisation; because, at that time, there were no groupings in this Organisation; because at that time, the Organisation was not exposed to subjective influences, corruption and customised speeches and reports. Gradually those trends have emerged, and a virus has broken out in the Council of Europe. For many years, we have been talking about the need for reforms and trying to change, but we have failed to achieve the desired outcome. The most important factor behind this is that sincerity is lacking. There is no union between words and deeds and no determination to acknowledge shortcomings.

On the eve of this session, Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER, chairperson of the Parliamentary Assembly, visited Armenia and commended the democratic processes in the country in her speech in Yerevan. That is all very good. Nevertheless, a year ago, we heard positive opinions and praise about the already repelled former criminal Government of Armenia, assessed as such in accordance with the official position of the Council of Europe. We have not forgotten it all. At the very least, we must admit that we made a mistake in justifying the criminal regime in Armenia, which the people rejected, and find out who did it and in return for what. We will be closer to genuine reform when such analysis and criticism become more common in our progress reports. After 70 years, the Council of Europe has attained the age of wisdom. Now, more than ever, it needs to change, to modernise and to become more transparent and fairer.

Mr Frédéric REISS

France, EPP/CD

12:48:31

When I chaired the France-Republic of Moldova group of friendship at the National Assembly, I noted just how much that charming and Francophile country suffered from its geopolitical situation. The conflict in Transnistria, an economy subject to the will of powerful neighbours, the exodus of its young people and the marked wish to turn towards the European Union are challenges that weighed on this election, and the Republic of Moldova must address them.

I would like to talk about those who voted for the first time in the context of a new electoral system. As Mr Claude KERN underscored, frequent changes in electoral legislation lead to democratic instability and, above all, undermine voters’ confidence in institutions and the rule of law. The turnout rate of only 49% shows that Moldovan people, despite what is at stake, did not mobilise. It is interesting to note that the more than 2 million expatriate Moldovans turned out in low numbers to vote.

Another important aspect is voter psychology. The way voters perceive the fundamental right to vote means something only if citizens are convinced that their ballot papers will allow them to express their choice and that by voting they can exercise genuine democratic power. In the Republic of Moldova, the pressures in single-member constituencies were predictable, as the Venice Commission pointed out. Whether through pressure exerted by the administration on public officials, the manipulation of businesspeople, the obligation to attend electoral meetings or the buying of votes, voters’ freedoms were curtailed. We should allow Moldovans to vote according to their conscience in the privacy of the voting booth.

We should think about those Moldovans from Transnistria who were transferred by bus so that they could exercise their right to vote. The reception in the polling stations was not commensurate with the courage of these people. They waited in deplorable conditions. Hundreds of them wanted to be able to exercise their right to vote, rather than taking part in the Stalinist puppet regime in Transnistria.

The newly elected parliament reflects the visions in the country. The issue of the majority is important. The country desperately needs political stability to help it to emerge from the crisis, but beyond that, in respect of these elections, we should recall that to be duly elected is a question not only of a ballot paper but, above all, of citizens’ confidence in their representatives. Pressure and the manipulation of elections simply encourages the enemies of democracy. There has been genuine progress and I wish all the very best to the newly elected representatives of the Republic of Moldova.

Ms Alina Ștefania GORGHIU

Romania, EPP/CD

12:51:25

I took part, as a Parliamentary Assembly observer, in the election observation mission in the Republic of Moldova, so I shall address a few ideas that have not been mentioned yet.

The Moldovan authorities held the first parliamentary elections under the newly introduced mixed electoral system without broad consensus in society. Ahead of the parliamentary elections, there was an unprecedented trolling campaign, to which Facebook reacted by promptly removing almost 200 accounts on the grounds of “co-ordinated inauthentic behaviour.” This misuse of social media was meant to manipulate the voting public.

The elections unfolded in a context marked by some negative developments, such as the annulment of the results the mayoral election in Chișinău; the adoption of a controversial fiscal amnesty; acts of intimidation against political opponents; the slow pace of the investigation of 2014’s massive banking fraud; and the amendments made to the electoral code without taking into account the recommendations made by the relevant international bodies. All these concerns have been raised several times by the European Union, the Council of Europe and the IMF in their dialogues with their Moldovan counterparts.

On election day, no major incidents were reported but, as the preliminary conclusions of the international election observation mission said, the large-scale bussing of voters from Transnistria was noted. I am still awaiting the results of the police investigation into whether some of those voters were paid to vote.

The outcome of the elections was that there was no clear winner, which was the main problem, and that the existing polarisation of the political landscape between the pro-European, the so-called pro-European but more oligarchic than pro-European, and pro-Russian political forces is going to deepen. In such complicated circumstances, there will be a tough challenge to form a functioning government – in fact, there is a tough challenge in forming a European government. For the sake of the Republic of Moldova’s future, the European path should remain the only way forward. In my opinion, a robust institutional framework based on full compliance with the European standards – democracy, human rights and the rule of law – is mandatory to turn the Republic of Moldova into a prosperous country.

Mr Samad SEYIDOV

Azerbaijan, EC

12:54:31

A lot of things are changing in our region, but not the hate speech from our Armenian colleagues. It has seriously undermined the efforts that they have tried to present to the Assembly as democratic. Such speech could and should be an example in the Assembly’s forthcoming discussion of hate speech, but I do not want to interfere in that matter.

The progress report is very important. It is difficult for me to recall a time when during the discussion of progress reports the Assembly has not mentioned some negative developments in the region, especially in Azerbaijan. A lot of positive things have happened in Azerbaijan and it is important to record that in the progress report. Let me give the Assembly some examples.

First, we have heard very many times in the Assembly mention of the name of Ilgar Mammadov, who was sentenced in Azerbaijan, but the Supreme Court of Azerbaijan has now completely withdrawn all charges, suspensions and other measures against him. That is exactly in line with the position of the European Court of Human Rights. It is important to mention that in the report.

Secondly, the President of Azerbaijan recently signed a special pardoning decree, and a lot of people whose names have been mentioned in the Assembly have been released. More than 61 people – among them names we hear frequently in the Assembly – have been released. That is very important.

Thirdly, just one week ago the President of Azerbaijan signed a special decree on an important plan for the reform of the judiciary system in Azerbaijan. That is exactly in line with the Council of Europe’s values and developments.

Not one of those three things is reflected in the progress report. The report is essential, and we are now thinking about its adoption. It is about implementation and we have implemented a lot of things that were previously discussed in the Assembly. I ask colleagues in future to take into account not only the negative, selective approach, but the positive developments in countries.

Mr Iulian BULAI

Romania, ALDE

12:57:32

There were a number of discussions in the regional press about the influence on the elections in the Republic of Moldova of not only wealthy businesspeople but other political and external stakeholders. Does the Parliamentary Assembly delegation consider that, through intermediaries, a Russian influence might have intervened in the campaign or the election itself?

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER

Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly

12:58:00

Thank you. I must now interrupt the list of speakers. The speeches of members on the speakers list who have been present during the debate but have not been able to speak may be given to the Table Office for publication in the Official Report. I remind colleagues that the texts are to be submitted in typescript, electronically if possible, no later than four hours after the list of speakers is interrupted.

Ms Boriana ÅBERG, you have two minutes to respond to the debate.

Ms Boriana ÅBERG

Sweden, EPP/CD, Rapporteur

12:58:37

Thank you, Madam President. Thank you, dear colleagues, for your valuable interventions. To answer Mr Mart van de VEN’s question, the contingency plan will be discussed at the Bureau meeting on Friday, and proposals concerning the contingency plan as well as the sustainability of the Organisation’s budget could be discussed in the context of the report, budget and priorities of the Council of Europe for 2020-21, which is scheduled for debate in the next part-session in June.

It is important to remind ourselves of the well-known saying that a crisis is also an opportunity. By taking this opportunity and using the current crisis constructively, we can all contribute to restoring and strengthening the Organisation, granting it another 70 years of success in safeguarding the protection of our citizens’ fundamental freedoms and rights, as well as the principle of the rule of law, in our member countries.

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER

Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly

13:00:06

The debate is closed.

The Bureau has proposed a number of references to committees for ratification by the Assembly, set out in Document 14855 and Addendum 1.

Is there any objection to the proposed references to committees?

There is no objection, so the references are approved.

I also need to inform you that the Secretary General, Mr Jagland, has had to go home because of a minor health issue, so he is not able to be here this morning, but we hope we will see him back as soon as possible.

I invite the Assembly to improve the other decisions of the Bureau, as set out in the progress report, Document 14855 and Addendum 1.

The progress report of the Bureau and the Standing Committee is approved.

Mr Bernard FOURNIER

France, EPP/CD

13:01:07

Speech not pronounced (Rules of Procedure, Art. 31.2), only available in French.

Mr Serhii KIRAL

Ukraine, EC

13:02:17

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

When debating the progress report, we cannot ignore the continued efforts by the President of the Assembly, Secretary General Jagland and the leaders of some political groups, mainly left-wing groups, to give more concessions to the Russian Federation. The Russian Federation is widely seen as having demonstrated no political will in the past months to obey its statutory obligations or deliver on the Parliamentary Assembly resolutions.

It is of great concern that the Assembly’s leadership is willing to abuse its power of office by presenting as a fait accompli to some European leaders additional concessions in the form of more amendments to the Parliamentary Assembly sanctions procedure. At the meeting of the presidential committee in Helsinki last week, where I was present to represent the European Conservatives Group, such a scenario was rolled out around the Kox report and the so-called joint sanctions mechanism. Without proper debate in the Assembly and the adoption of a decision, and without going back to political groups and their bureaus to seek support, the President of the Assembly was willing to potentially embarrass the President of Finland by giving commitments which would then not be kept.

We all agree – and as a Ukrainian, I am interested more than anyone else in a solution, so that the Russian Federation and its troops withdraw from Ukraine – but where are those red lines of appeasement, which override the values and principles of this body? The Kox report’s only purpose is not to give an overview of the Assembly’s activities over 70 years and propose clear-cut ideas about how to improve the resilience of the Organisation, but to give the Committee of Ministers meeting in May a clear signal of the Assembly’s consent to castrate itself, and thus trigger changes to rules and procedures to lay the red carpet for the Russian delegation to come back in June.

The President of Finland said we need the Russian Federation back for geopolitical reasons. It is true that the Russian Federation has been part of European continental politics since the Metternich congresses system in the early 19th century, then during Bismarck’s myriad alliances after the strengthening of Prussia, and eventually during the entente with France leading to the start of the First World War. The Russian Federation was the only partner in the east because there was no eastern Europe with independent states. If such a colonial approach continues, we risk having a weak and divided Council of Europe of 45 member States or less from Lisbon to Vladivostok, or alternatively, we can focus on building resilience and on the core pillars of democracy, the rule of law and human rights in a much stronger, united Council of Europe of 46 from Lisbon to Baku. It is up to us to decide.

Mr Valeriu GHILETCHI

Republic of Moldova, EPP/CD

13:03:00

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

I want to thank Mr Kern and the members of the Parliamentary Assembly observation mission for observing the Moldovan parliamentary elections on 24 February 2019. I would like to mention several things about the report’s conclusions.

The most important conclusion is the fact that the Moldovan Parliament elections were competitive, free, calm and well organised. It does not mean that everything was perfect. I believe the Republic of Moldova has come a long way on the road to democracy and freedom, but there are still areas where we need to improve our performance, including the way elections are conducted.

The change of the electoral system was heavily criticized. However, the elections did not confirm the fears expressed beforehand. The number of mandates obtained by political parties on the proportional side was basically the same as the number of mandates obtained on the majoritarian side. This proves that, regardless of the change of the electoral system, the elections expressed the will of people.

I understand the criticism concerning Transnistria, but let us not forget that the Republic of Moldova has a frozen conflict in that region. For several years now we have been unable to make progress in our Assembly on the issue of the Russian Federation. How do you expect the Republic of Moldova to deal with this challenge alone? I believe there is a need for a better understanding of this complex situation.

On the media landscape, I would like to stress that despite the fact our media is not totally independent, it enjoys a lot of freedom. All political parties and actors have media channels that favour them, but there is no monopoly. Since 1 January 2019, one person can have up to two licences. No media group owns more than 30% of the media coverage.

The biggest problem after the elections is the incapacity of the political actors who entered into Parliament to form a majority. The excessive polarisation and division of society raised big walls between parties. The rhetoric used, including that by some colleagues, does not help either.

The Republic of Moldova is a European country and needs to continue its journey in spite of these challenges. I hope, with God’s help, it will.

Next public business

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER

Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly

13:04:09

The Assembly will hold its next public sitting this afternoon at 3 p.m. with the agenda that was approved this morning.

The sitting is closed.

The sitting was closed at 13:00