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01 October 2019 morning

2019 - Fourth part-session Print sitting

Sitting video(s) 1 / 1

Opening of sitting No.30


Switzerland, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly


The meeting is open. Proposed changes in the membership of the committees were published in document "Commissions (2019) 07 Add.2".

Are there any objections to these changes?

This is not the case. They are adopted.

The next point in the agenda is the presentation and discussion of the report by Mr Sylvain WASERMAN, on behalf of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights entitled: "Improving the protection of whistleblowers across Europe" (Doc.14958).

I remind you that we will have to finish the examination of this text, including the vote, at 12 o'clock, at which time President MACRON will deliver an address to our assembly. We will therefore have to interrupt the list of speakers at about 11:40 a.m. in order to hear the reply of the Committee and to proceed to the necessary votes.

Mr Rapporteur, you have a total of 13 minutes, which you can divide at your convenience between the presentation of your report and the reply to the speakers.

Rapporteur, you have the floor.

Debate: Improving the protection of whistle-blowers all over Europe


France, ALDE, Rapporteur


Thank you Madam President,

Dear colleagues,

The emergence of whistle-blowers is a question of fundamental rights that is based on freedom of expression, but also in fact in our society, our world of social networks and new information technologies, where every citizen who wants to whistle-blow can technically do it.

The question for our states and democracies is the impact and consequences for whistle-blowers. Therefore the protection of whistle-blowers becomes a true democratic marker in our countries with rule of law, because whistle-blowers are a real democratic and citizens' guardian for major issues such as the fight against corruption, the environment, or the question of individual freedoms. That's why whistle-blowers need to find their proper place in our society and our states must find the right level of protection for whistle-blowers.

The Council of Europe, our assembly, first tackled this subject in 2010 in a report by our colleague Mr Pieter OMTZIGT. The work of the Council of Europe largely inspired the European directive adopted in April by the European Parliament. This is one of the key roles of the Council of Europe: to inspire the law and to be a source of proposals for legislative developments.

The approach I followed in my report is based on three approaches.

The first was to consult very widely Council of Europe members to establish an inventory of legislation on the subject of whistle-blowers, and I want to thank the many countries that responded, with 27 responses from 27 countries.

We also organised an event I called "48 Hour Chrono on Whistle-Blowers" that took place over two days, bringing together nearly 130 specialists (academics, journalists, citizen associations and whistle-blowers) such as Edward Snowden, who gave us his testimony in videoconference.

We also of course conducted two series of hearings in Committee.

The report I am presenting supports and promotes the European Directive, a major step for future legislative developments on this issue of whistle-blower protection. But it mainly raises the question of what could, in my view, constitute the next step in the evolution of our legislation, implementation of the directive.

I deliver twelve proposals in this report, drawn up jointly by many stakeholders. As an example, I would like to highlight four of these proposals:

First of all, it seems to me essential that each of our countries should have an independent agency to support whistleblowers. It is also a question of having a reliable contact point with the judicial authorities, and especially of helping the whistle-blowers to answer a question: can the specific legislation on whistle-blowers be applied to their particular case? This network of independent authorities would be intended to constitute for both whistle-blowers and for the Council of Europe a preferred contact point, in order to make progress on this issue.

The second proposal concerns the various possible legislative developments for the protection of whistle-blowers, in particular to counter gagging procedures aimed at smothering whistle-blowers under a flood of legal attacks, in order to try to silence them. Several specific proposals were made, including the creation of a support fund fueled by the proceeds of the financial penalties imposed on individuals or organisations that did not comply with the whistle-blowing legislation, to fund legal support for whistle-blowers in their proceedings before the courts.

I also think it is important to change our legislation on asylum in this respect. The right to asylum has long existed, but it can be seen today's implementation methods are not adapted to the issues to be faced by whistle-blowers. For example, to claim asylum it is necessary to be in the country, which sometimes poses a problem for whistle-blowers.

Finally, I am convinced that it is essential to foster the emergence in civil society of an ecosystem that is supportive of whistle-blowers. Many have talked about their solitude and community networks and the civil society ecosystem have an essential role in breaking the isolation that each whistle-blower faces and supporting their action, but also in inspiring changes in national legislation.

Colleagues, each of us has a vital role to play in ensuring that whistle-blower protection in our respective countries is fully effective. For this reason, we have added a self-assessment tool for you in Appendix II of the report so that you can identify the state of progress of your respective legislations, by screening them against 30 criteria and 30 questions. This self-evaluation tool is available and this approach may perhaps lead to the emergence of improvements in your respective laws and parliaments.

Finally, I would like to conclude by thanking the teams of the Council of Europe who have worked on the matter and, the major contribution from civil society, especially that of large citizens' associations and that of individual whistle-blowers.

I believe and trust in this process of continuous improvement that depends on each one of us. The protection of whistle-blowers in our respective rights is obviously a subject on which the work of our assembly since 2010 can be enlightening and make a difference and imprive the legislation. On this 70th anniversary of the Council of Europe, I really feel we can inspire and it is in this spirit that I submit this report to your vote, thanking you for the exciting mission you have entrusted to me.


Switzerland, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly


Thank you very much, Mr Rapporteur.

You will have six minutes later on to respond to the speakers. In the general debate, I give the floor now to Mr WHITFIELD from the Socialist Group.


United Kingdom, SOC, Spokesperson for the group


Thank you Madam President.

On behalf of the Socialist Group we very much welcome the work of the Rapporteur and the Committee with regards to whistle-blowing.

Whistle-blowing, that moment in a sporting event when all the participants stop because the sound of the whistle announces an infringement. It is understood across the world, that moment. And yet, here we are discussing the protection of individuals who are trying to do the same thing within governments, organisations and indeed businesses.

The time has come that we need to extend fully protection to whistle-blowers. In the United Kingdom it is some while since we visited legislation with regards to whistle-blowing. It is true that we have drifted slightly from these excellent proposals that we hope that the EU will adopt. I would urge my government to return to the question of whistle-blowing, to protect those individuals who do so much and risk everything when they choose to whistle-blow on an organisation; be it a hospital, be it a bank, be it within the military services, be it within government. Because we rely on these individuals, those people who are there when they make that moral decision to say something is wrong. And that protection should be extended to them.

There are two elements in this report that in my short time I would like to draw attention to. The first is with regards to who can whistle-blow: there should be an extension away from direct employees to other groups and other legal entities to allow for whistle-blowing and to have the protection that flows from it. The second point is with regard to setting up an independent authority. I believe whistle-blowers do need a voice. They do need the protection of another to help, to guide and to ensure that their information comes before the public eye.

And finally, in paragraph 11.6, I think one of the greatest steps that we could take is to shift the burden of proof away from the whistle-blower and that protection, but indeed to those who want to attack a whistle-blower; there should be the explicit presumption that the whistle-blower has acted in good faith. To quote a Sir Norman Lamb, a fellow MP, "whistle-blowers should be celebrated and not denigrated". Inside the United Kingdom Parliament we have an all-party parliamentary group for whistle-blowing who published their first report. I think the title of that report in itself points to where we should go, because the personal cost of doing the right thing and the cost to society of ignoring it is far far too great. We have an opportunity here. I compliment the rapporteur and indeed the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights on this excellent report and would urge across this hemicycle support when the vote comes. Thank you.


Switzerland, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly


The next speaker is Mr Richard BALFE, from the EC Group.

Lord Richard BALFE

United Kingdom, EC, Spokesperson for the group


Thank you Madam President.

One of the most enjoyable things about being a member of the European Conservatives is that you can say things which are not totally politically correct. Though I will say with political correctness that I congratulate the rapporteur.

I think it's very important to defend whistle-blowing but we need a much clearer definition. We've got into a position where we say oh, anyone who blows a whistle must be protected. That is the case for people who expose corruption or wrongdoing, and they do need protecting. If it's employers, well, in our country the National Health Service has had some tremendously bad cover-ups of people disguising and people using non-disclosure orders to prevent people saying what has actually been happening. We've had in this chamber the example of Daphne Caruana Galizia, the Maltese journalist who was murdered and was busy exposing corruption. No one could possibly deny that those two categories are absolutely necessary and they should be protected and the people who do it should be protected and it should be made possible.

But when we look at NGOs, again we tend to go a bit weak at the knees, don't we? Because obviously NGOs are good cuddly little things. But let's remember it was a journalist to expose the fact that Oxfam, an NGO, was running brothels. So all NGOs are not necessarily perfect and sometimes corruption within NGOs needs revealing.

The next point, just to make an almost final point, is there are areas where people, with the best will in the world, will say "I'm doing this for the national good". I'll take one example from history. Klaus Fuchs the atomic spy never apologised. He always said that his spying and the passing of secrets was for the good of humanity. I'm not sure everybody would agree with that. And ditto, I'm not sure everybody would agree that all of the CIA cables and the activities of Julian Assange are unnecessarily in the interests of everybody in this world.

So I support the report but it must be protection, we must not look for profit, and we do have to remember the legitimate demands of national security are quite different to the need for whistle-blowing.


Switzerland, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly


Thank you. The next speaker is Mr Robert TROY, who speaks for ALDE.

Mr Robert TROY

Ireland, ALDE, Spokesperson for the group


Thank you Madam President.

I'm very happy to speak in favour of this very timely and important report on improving the protection of whistle-blowers.

Whistle-blowers play an essential role in any open and transparent democracy. Whistle-blowing is acknowledged as one of the most effective ways to stop wrongdoing. Wrongdoing which ultimately stems from greed, a sense of entitlement and a mentality of superiority and belief that self-interest trumps all else. Both these behaviours and attitudes have far-reaching consequences on wider society and the common good. Therefore, while much has been done to protect the people who act in the common interest, we must not become complacent. We must continue to improve their protection, continue to create greater awareness, and ensure that disclosing serious failings in the public interest should become the normal response of every responsible citizen who has become aware of serious threats to the public interest.

If anyone was ever in any doubt all you had to do was look at the quotations from the supposedly leader of the free world who ridiculed a person who raised very serious legitimate concerns that go to the very core of a functioning democracy. Earlier this month, The Guardian had an article about six whistle-blowers and ex-government scientists who described how the Trump Administration made them bury climate science. This despite the scientific community coming together and warning in advance of the Paris climate change meeting that if greenhouse gas emissions keep increasing, the planet will reach a point of no return. Global warming will become catastrophic. So the actions of a few have far-reaching consequences on many.

In Ireland we are one of just 10 EU countries which currently have enacted comprehensive protected disclosure legislation. It is acknowledged as setting a benchmark with regard to anti-corruption agenda. While the EU Directive on whistle-blowing will soon be adopted and we will have two years to transpose that, Ireland has made a good start, but yet still there are many key differences. I think we have a responsibility, all of us here, to work within our own legislature to make sure that brave citizens are protected and supported. Recently back home a member of our police force endured unbearable treatment. Both him and his family suffered character assassination for speaking out. This is not acceptable and it must be stamped out.


Switzerland, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly


The next speaker is Mr GAVAN, he speaks for the UEL group.


Ireland, UEL, Spokesperson for the group


On behalf of the United European Left I want to warmly welcome this report and resolution and congratulate the rapporteur.

Whistle-blowers play an essential role in any open and transparent democracy. They need to be given recognition and protection in law. This is a matter of fundamental rights. We need responsible citizens to disclose serious failings in the public interest if they come across them within government or the private sector. They need to do this without fear or repercussion.

The rapporteur has rightly pointed to the progress made in recent years with a number of countries adopting some forms of legal protection for whistle-blowers. The proposal for an EU Directive in this regard is another step forward, particularly if it applies a ban on retaliation against whistle-blowers with no let-out clause and also pushes the burden of proof to those accusing the whistle-blower. I also want to echo the call for asylum. We need asylum. Because when we look around us today at the plight of whistle-blowers, I say, look at the plight of Edward Snowden, still unable to return to America where he could face a lifetime in jail four years after a previous Council of Europe report called on the US to lift the threat of legal sanctions against him. Look at the disgraceful treatment meted out to Julian Assange. Above all look at the callous murder of campaigning journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta. Incidentally yesterday we heard how her memorial is being routinely destroyed by the government of Malta. May her name continue to ring out throughout this chamber until justice be done.

We are currently seeing how important such whistle-blowing is through the hearings in the US Congress in relation to the US President. It's extremely hard to tackle corruption and political malice without whistle-blowers. One of the major issues affecting our societies is the use of tax havens by extremely wealthy individuals and companies. They're using tax loopholes to hide vast amounts of money they should be paying tax on in foreign tax havens. Unfortunately my country Ireland is part of this global tax haven structure. We got an insight into this gross tax evasion due to the Panama Papers and Paradise Papers journalistic investigation. This could only happen because a whistle-blower leaked data and information that was clearly in the public interest.

We need more whistle-blowing to reveal how corrupt and damaging such tax evasion is for our economies and societies. Increasingly we need whistle-blowers to help us tackle new challenges such as threats to individual freedom for the mass fraudulent use of personal data, as Edward Snowden bravely highlighted. We also need whistle-blowers to help us tackle activities causing serious environmental harm. Finally, I want to agree with the rapporteur that the term whistle-blower must be broadly defined so as to cover any individual or legal entity that reveals or reports in good faith a crime or lesser offence, a breach of the law or a threat or harm to the public interest that they may become aware of either directly or indirectly. Once again on behalf of the UEL I commend this report.


Switzerland, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly


Thank you. I continue with Ms DALLOZ, who speaks for the EPP.

Ms Marie-Christine DALLOZ

France, EPP/CD, Spokesperson for the group


Thank you, Madam President.

Thank you, Mr Rapporteur, for your very interesting work.

In France, the Mediator trial alone demonstrated the importance of these people who awaken our conscience, these whistle-blowers. Unfortunately, while Irène Frachon continues to lead an almost normal life, most whistle-blowers are mostly unemployed and are bogged down in multiple, isolated and unreported court proceedings. This is particularly the case of those who denounce cases of corruption or tax fraud. And, in some countries, it can go further: arbitrary imprisonment, pressure on family members, torture or even murder.

There are a number of instruments, European Union directives, Council of Europe recommendations and resolutions, and national laws, that aim to protect whistle-blowers, but they also set out the boundaries for the procedure in order to blow the whistle. In all of these existing instruments, it is mentioned that protection will apply to people reporting actions or omissions "constituting a threat or serious prejudice to the public interest".

Now, it happens that there is no legal definition of the notion of general interest. This can be interpreted, depending on the legal systems concerned, as the sum of particular interests or as an objective, an interest superior to that of the simple individual. But, who decides what is in everyones interest? Moreover, who are we talking about? This is a real debate. There is no independent body that can say "this is in the general interest, and that is not". Today, in the environmental field, we see that the definition of general interest depends a lot on who is talking about it. Similarly, no one has defined the perimeter of the communities of common interest in common law countries . For example, in the area of taxation, where do you draw the boundary between the general interest and competition interests?

If whistle-blowers can only be protected, as is the case of French law, if they manifest themselves in the public interest, it would be appropriate to try to find a clear legal answer to the above question. Especially since, in several instruments, even if they act in the general interest, the whistle-blowers must do so taking into account several restrictions: military intelligence rules, trade secrets or doctor patient confidentiality.

In this complex legal context, we see the need to consider extending the right of asylum to whistle-blowers, especially when it is clear that their lives are at risk in their country of origin or residence.

As I said, whistle-blowers awaken our conscience because they encourage us to debate, to think, to excercise our free will, and this freedom to think is the cement of our democratic culture. The whistle-blowers are often alone, in front of a fact that they have discovered, and they must be able to say to themselves: "I am going to go for it, because democracy is at stake, because our rights or our values are being threatened". Only a democratic culture can offer effective protection to whistle-blowers. The Council of Europe must be at the heart of this process.


Switzerland, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly


Thank you, Mr Rapporteur.

You have the option of immediately responding to group spokespersons or doing so at the end. At the end. Thank you very much.

So, I will continue with the list of speakers, with Mr OMTZIGT

It's your turn to speak.


Netherlands, EPP/CD


Thank you, Madam Chair.

And let me first congratulate the rapporteur Mr Sylvain WASERMAN on an excellent report.

Let's face it, whistle-blowing is one of the few areas in which the Council of Europe has made an impact over the last 10 years. This is the third report on whistle-blowing – or the fourth if you count the report on Snowden. It has set a movement, which has now led to the European legislation which will be implemented in all 28 or 27 EU Member countries.

The UK in this case, by the way, is an example where things were better than in most other countries. It's important that we keep alert on what's happening there because today we hear a lot of very nice stories about whistle-blowing and very good examples. I hope we also are alert that when someone blows the whistle on something our own government is doing which we are supporting we are also a little bit supportive in solving the problem and not seeing the whistle-blower as the problem. That's usually what happens. If your coalition is threatened, or your government party, then you think quite differently about whistle-blowing than when it's something in another country where we're saving lives. So please think about the speech you gave here next time someone exposes some deep form of corruption within your own party or within your own government.

I share the statement of Mr Paul GAVAN that it's a shame that a few years after we stated here that Mr Snowden should be seen as a whistle-blower he's still in the position he's in. He is still in a better position than some others, however. And you're rightfully pointing out that Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was a whistle-blower in her own sense, paid the price for it and the government of Malta is still not doing the full inquiry which this Assembly asked for. We adopted a very specific statement on that last night and I hope to hear my friends from Malta as well on how they actually want to solve this case instead of blaming either Ms Caruana Galizia or the rapporteur.

The last two points I would like to make is that whistle-blowing is not only important in countries but also international organisations. The EU itself doesn't have a very good whistle-blower regime and doesn't have a very good track record. Roelie Post, the Dutch citizen, is still in hiding for having exposed trafficking of children and she's losing everything. So I hope the EU will solve that.

Lastly, I put forward an amendment to have a general rapporteur on whistle-blowing. Not to have a report on every single case, like Snowden, but to have one of us who's able to speak out on behalf of whistle-blowers when they're in an acute position of danger. I hope we can nominate such a person even this week.

Thank you very much.


Switzerland, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly


Thank you. The next speaker is Ms KARAMANLI.


France, SOC


Madame President,

My dear colleagues,


First of all, I would like to thank our colleague Sylvain WASERMAN for his balanced report in his observations and proposals.

The subject is very important for our democracies and for all states having or a democratic purpose or intention.

The French law of December 2016 precisely gave a precise definition of what a whistleblower is, namely (article 6 of the Sapin II law, of December 9, 2016) "a natural person who reveals or signals, in a manner disinterested and in good faith, a crime or offense, a serious and manifest violation of an international commitment duly ratified or approved by France, of a unilateral act of an international organization taken on the basis of such an undertaking –of the law or regulation–, or a threat or serious harm to the public interest, of which she has been personally aware".

In a nutshell, it means protecting the person who denounces a violation of the law but also of the general interest in a disproportionate way, and of the rights of individuals.

This is true in a wide variety of areas, such as the environment, health, and nutrition.

And our colleague rightly recalls that the European Union, the European Parliament in particular, approved on 16 April 2019 a proposal for a directive to go a step further by drawing precisely on the work of the Council of Europe.

I will make two substantive observations, complementary to the findings and recommendations of the report.

First, the report rightly proposes the creation of an independent authority in each country and a network of these authorities.

I note that many of the European Union and non-Union States have an independent national non-judicial Human Rights structure and that these structures could be supportive of this. We are indeed in the case of the protection of the rights of people, whistleblowers, but also the rights of citizens, including the right to know, the right to seek help and the intervention of the public authorities, the right to request an application of the precautionary principle.

My second observation focuses on a number of principles that are of course posed. The hardest thing is to have to reconcile this right to protection with other rights.

I will therefore take an example of the necessary conciliation between the protection of the "business secret", namely information which is secret and which has commercial value because it is secret, and the right to launch an alert.

Certainly, in many cases, there will be discussions on the open field. State texts often refer only to protection for reporting wrongdoing or illegal acts. There is also the question of the denunciation of legal acts, no clarification being made in the hypothesis, far from being exceptional, where they represent a threat to the general interest.

Under these conditions, an ad hoc monitoring on the protection of whistleblowers could therefore be proposed; the monitoring of the legislation and the operational principles to be applied could be a useful complement.

Thank you for your attention.


Switzerland, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly


Thank you.

I call Mr HOWELL.


United Kingdom, EC


Thank you Madame President.

I'd like too to thank the rapporteur for a fascinating report and I'd like to turn to paragraph three of that report, where he says "disclosing serious failings in the public interest must not remain the preserve of those citizens who are prepared to sacrifice their personal lives and those of their relatives, as too often happened in the past."

I think that that illustrates the point of why we are debating this issue this morning. It is also a very appropriate time to be looking at this, particularly when one looks across to the United States to see the results of the whistle-blowing of a member of the intelligence community on the US government on the interference by the president from a third country. And I think that this US example is a very good example of what we must avoid. We must avoid the politicisation of whistle-blowing, and being able to see it in those terms.

I would like to thank the speaker earlier who commended the UK for what it has been doing in terms of being able to deal with whistle-blowing. But this report also illustrates the poor state of legislation in Europe and I perfectly agree that some harmonisation and rationalisation are called for. I have no objections to an EU Directive on this subject. But I do think in this, the 70th year of this Council, that this should be a Council of Europe initiative rather than an EU initiative, given that we reach so many more countries than the EU does.

I have a few points of concern to be able to raise. I think the issue of dealing with vexatious complaints needs to be looked at again and to be looked at in more detail, and there needs to be a mechanism for making sure that the way in which we deal with that is neither subjective nor unpredictable. And I do think that some more work on that is absolutely called for.

The second point is in relation to non-disclosure agreements in the UK. In the UK, for example we can get tied up with non-disclosure agreements that try to prevent whistle-blowing. Now I am always somebody who stands against being embraced by the legal profession when it comes to this – no offence to members of the legal profession here – but I do think that we need to be able to concentrate on that and be able to to deal with that. And of course the more we make this whole thing special, the less need there will be for non-disclosure agreements. Lastly the thing that we need to concentrate on is speed: there needs to be speed in dealing with these things because that helps to end the politicisation.

Finally, if I may, I think that there is an opportunity here to combine this debate with the debate tomorrow in recommending an ombudsman to be able to deal with these problems and to be able to sort the difficulties out.

Thank you.


Switzerland, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly


The next speaker is Mr FOX.

Lord George FOULKES

United Kingdom, SOC


Chair, it's a great pleasure to follow another United Kingdom delegate Mr John HOWELL, who is one of the few decent conservatives left in our country. However, he paints a somewhat rosy picture of the situation in the United Kingdom.

The situation in the United Kingdom has deteriorated substantially recently. It's very difficult to get answers to freedom of information requests. The prime minister tried to shut down parliament for five weeks so that we couldn't ask any questions and he had to be taken to the supreme court, who agreed by 11 votes to nil that what he was trying to do was unlawful. One of the remaining ways that we can find out what's going on in the United Kingdom is through whistle-blowers and ministers and civil servants who are unhappy about the way that this – our government – is moving. They have done that.

Recently, for example, there was a revelation that the current prime minister, when he was mayor of London, overruled officials to allow his then-girlfriend to go on a trade mission which he had been told she couldn't go on. I mean, this is just astonishing. And that's just one of many examples that is coming out through whistle-blowing.

We even had the former chancellor of the exchequer, Philip Hammond, revealing that Crispin Odey, a hedge fund billionaire, hedge fund backer of the conservative was backing against the United Kingdom – some of our institutions – on the basis that we would leave the European Union without a deal. And he's pushing the government in that direction. He's said to make hundreds of millions of pounds as a result of this and we only know that through Philip Hammond and others.

Of course, most of our newspapers don't tell us what's happening because their owners are based in tax havens. Whether they're the Barclay brothers, all of them are based in tax havens. And, of course, the European Union, on the first of January, is bringing in regulations against tax havens. That's why they want us out. They want us out so that we don't don't find out. We'll need a lot more whistle-blowers to find that out.

So I'm afraid, with no disrespect to Mr John HOWELL, he tries very hard to paint a rosy picture of what's happening in the United Kingdom. But over the last few months things have deteriorated. In Boris Johnson we've got our own Donald Trump. It's not a good thing for our country. The more we have whistle-blowers, whether they be civil servants, ministers or anyone else to tell us what's going on behind the scenes, the better our country will be.

Thank you.


Switzerland, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly


The next speaker is Ms TRISSE.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE


Thank you, Madam President.


Dear colleagues,

Every whistle-blower, whether an individual, a group or an institution, plays a crucial role in our modern democracies: through selfless disclosure of information relating to collective danger or a serious crime, they most often trigger a process of regulation, controversy and citizen mobilization beneficial to the general interest.

From William Mark Felt, aka "Deep Throat" in the Watergate affair, to Erin Brockovich, who acted to uncover the chromium scandal in the drinking water of Hinkley, California, or more recently, Irene Frachon, the doctor who disclosed the Mediator revelations to Edward Snowden, who denounced the generalized surveillance system of US intelligence agencies. Who can ignore these figures who have defended our rights by reporting abuses or scandals of all kinds?

Make no mistake: while they are acting for the common good, these whistle-blowers take real personal risks in the name of the causes they defend. They most often jeopardize their professional and financial situation, the tranquility of their private life and their family, and even their personal security and their image.

The Council of Europe has, for several years now, taken up the cause of these public opinion advocates. Our Assembly voted on several important resolutions on this issue, the Committee of Ministers adopted a specific recommendation in 2015 and the European Court of Human Rights has developed a demanding jurisprudence.

As pointed out by the rapporteur, whose high quality work I welcome, the recent Directive on the protection of persons reporting on breaches of the European Union law, which was adopted on April 19th, was largely inspired by the work of the Council of Europe on whistle-blowers. I welcome this as a further illustration of the contributions of our Organization to the European Union on all matters relating to Human Rights, the rule of law and democracy.

Quite logically, the Legal Affairs Committee invites Council of Europe member states to follow the European Directive, while retaining a wider scope. This incentive should not raise any particular problem for the Member States of the Union, some of which - like France - have already implemented legislation which is quite close to the Directive. In any case, it will be more ambitious in the case of non-EU states.

Like the rapporteur, I believe that the prospect of a Council of Europe convention on the subject, based inter alia on the recommendation of the Committee of Ministers of 2015, but also on the proposals of our Assembly, would be a strong signal as the Organization celebrates its 70th anniversary. This idea, like the text in debate, garners my full support. I will, therefore, of course, vote without hesitation for. Thank you.


Switzerland, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly


Thank you.

The next speaker is Mr NACSA.

Mr Lőrinc NACSA

Hungary, EPP/CD


Thank you very much, Madam President.

We welcome the increased focus on whistle-blowers and their protection; they play an important role in defending human rights and raising awareness of issues of public interest. While we agree that whistle-blowers who act in good faith should be protected, we must also pay attention to those who take risks in order to defend rights of national minorities.

We have witnessed violations of minority rights in some of Hungary's neighbouring countries, and those who raise awareness and try to address these issues should also be protected. Harassment and violations of human rights of those who try to raise awareness of minority-related problems in our immediate neighbourhood are more and more common. This incident should be measured equally since they all aim to raise public awareness on issues that concern the whole society. National minority issues and rights belong to this category. Society can only flourish and function properly if national minorities are an integral part of it and minority rights are protected and respected by all and those who raise awareness of these problems are not persecuted by the authorities. Whistle-blowers and minority-right defenders should enjoy the same level of protection.

Thank you very much.


Switzerland, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly


Thank you.

The next speaker is Ms CHRISTOFFERSEN.


Norway, SOC


Madam President, dear colleagues,

Let me start by thanking our rapporteur for a solid report. I fully agree that the effectiveness in the protection of whistle-blowers against any kind of retaliation, or lack of such protection, ought to be valued as a genuine democracy indicator.

As in most other countries, Norway has far too many examples of whistle-blowers subjected to different forms of retaliation, with major consequences for each and every one of them. Some labour unions have even warned their members against whistle-blowing because the unions see themselves as unable to protect their own members from retaliation. On several occasions, the public sector has even proven to be worse than the private sector. In several municipalities employees have been deprived of their constitutional freedom of speech.

On the positive side, the protection of whistle-blowers has been part of the parliamentary agenda in Norway for the last 15 years, and legislation is gradually improved. Actually, many of the improvements have been implemented based on resolutions and recommendations from this Parliamentary Assembly, brought into our parliament by the Norwegian delegation to the Council of Europe. We passed the latest improvements in parliament last spring. They will be put into force in January 2020. I guess that is the reason why they are not mentioned in the explanatory memorandum.

Every time whistle-blowing is on our agenda, we receive heart-breaking stories from whistle-blowers who have been subjected to various forms of retaliation. Research has detected different forms of retaliation, such as disciplinary penalties, deprivation of work duties, exclusion from socialising at the workplace, bullying, charges or dismissals. Too many whistle-blowers have seen their careers ruined, many have suffered from illness and have seen no other opportunity than to quit work. On the other hand, around 50% of the whistle-blowers have actually received positive feedback from both management and colleagues. At the same time, figures indicate that the proportion who have experienced retaliation has increased in recent years.

Obviously, further improvement is needed in all member countries. An EU Directive is good, but not enough. Whistle-blowers are heroes of democracy and really deserve the protection of a Council of Europe convention.


Switzerland, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly


The next speaker is Mr AVETISYAN.


Armenia, SOC


Dear Chairperson, fellow parliamentarians,

I too would like to congratulate Mr Mr Sylvain WASERMAN for an excellent report which has touched upon one of the key issues of the whistle-blowers and has underlined the mechanisms that help to protect them: the legal mechanisms. Indeed, strengthening this legal mechanism is paramount, however work should be done on the societal aspect of perceiving the whistle-blowers as heroes. This is something that we should bear in mind for the future and I will address this issue in my speech further.

The secrecy and anonymity, due procedure, security guarantees, perhaps a shelter, are the pillars for having the normal system of whistle-blowers. In my home country, after the Velvet Revolution we uprooted systematic corruption. At the same time, corruption on a lower level should be tackled by the whistle-blowers. We have passed an appropriate law on this and a separate mechanism is set, as well as a platform where the citizens can kind of tell their stories anonymously.

At the same time, even with the improvement of the legislation, the whistle-blowers, due to these societal and historical norms, are not often seen as heroes of democracy or champions of open democracies. This is where I think that the work should also be focused. I think that recalling what Mr Mr Pieter OMTZIGT has said, we should think of actually having a convention on whistle-blowers. It will be based on the previous reports in this report, that hopefully will pass in this hemicycle, but also work in the school curriculum and the university curriculum, explaining that by protecting these people who stand for the public interest, not allowing corruption or not allowing political malice, we are going to have better societies. This is particular too in the Eastern European countries, where this practice is hindered by certain societal norms which should be transformed in the future.

I again commend you on this excellent report. I hope that we will also look at the societal part of the issue and the norms that inhibit reporting, as well as hope for the comprehensive convention that can help to deal with the member states across the Council of Europe, which is far larger in some ways than the European Union.

Thank you very much.


Switzerland, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly


The next speaker is Ms DURANTON.


France, EPP/CD


Thank you very much, Madame President.

My dear colleagues,

I thank our colleague Sylvain WASSERMAN for his report, which focuses on improving the protection of whistleblowers across Europe.

This protection has indeed become a democratic marker.

Our Organization has been dealing with this issue for almost 10 years. The first report on the protection of what was then called whistleblowers dates back to 2010.

The recommendation made by our Assembly was followed in 2014 by a recommendation of the Committee of Ministers to the Member States on the protection of whistleblowers. Since then, like several Member States, France has adopted legislation in 2016 to ensure the legal protection of whistleblowers.

Whistleblowers are thus defined in our national law as "a natural person who discloses or reports, in a disinterested and good faith manner, a crime or misdemeanor, a serious and manifest violation of a regularly ratified or approved international commitment by France, of a unilateral act of an international organization taken on the basis of such an undertaking of the law or regulation, or of a threat or serious prejudice to the general interest of which it has had personal knowledge ".

The whistleblower then benefits from a clause of criminal irresponsibility. Excluded from this protection are facts, information or documents covered by National Defense secrecy, medical confidentiality or the secrecy of relations between a lawyer and his client.

Debates are underway today at the level of the European Union, with a view to adopting a proposal for a directive on the protection of persons denouncing infringements of Union law.

This proposal is inspired by the work done by the Council of Europe. Our colleague Sylvain WASSERMAN gives a detailed description of the state of the process.

I would like to remind you that, for my part, the French Senate had adopted a European resolution on this proposal for a directive. While approving globally the general scheme of the proposal for a directive, the Senate made a number of recommendations concerning, in particular, the legal precision of the device, the notion of whistleblower disengagement, the graduation of the procedure and the legal protection regime. Once the proposal for a directive has been adopted by the Council and the European Parliament, our rapporteur considers it desirable to draw up a Council of Europe convention on the issue of the protection of whistleblowers. I share his idea. Our Organization has had a pioneering role in this area. It seems to me that on the occasion of its 70th birthday, the launch of such a work would be an important signal for the vitality of our democracies everywhere in Europe.


Switzerland, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly


Thank you very much.

The next speaker is Mr LEIGH.

Sir Edward LEIGH

United Kingdom, EC


Madame President.

Of course, we all agree and applaud paragraph 3 of this report, which tells us that disclosing serious failings in the public interest must not remain the preserve of those citizens who are prepared to sacrifice their personal lives and those of their relatives, as too often happened in the past.

And indeed, there are still instances in Europe and in this family of nations, where whistle-blowers who expose corruption and wrong dealing in the highest places are protected, but we have to have a balanced debate. And, in this sense, I applaud the remarks made by my colleagues Richard BALFE and John HOWELL, who tried to get some balance into this argument, particularly the comment of Richard BALFE who said: Does everyone who blows a whistle need protecting?

Those who blow whistles against corruption, yes, but not necessarily every whistle-blower is acting for the best interests of either his employer or his nation. And Richard BALFE quoted the case of Klaus FUCHS, the atomic spy, one could quote, no doubt, other instances, no doubt, the famous spy Kim PHILBY who betrayed hundreds to their death, perhaps, in the Soviet Union, perhaps he thought he was a useful whistle-blower. So there has to be a balance.

And I note that our colleague from the Netherlands, Mr OMTZIGT, actually said that in the United Kingdom, even before the European Union has taken action, we have one of the best records and the most watertight legislation of any nation in the European Union.

And in this context, I must regret the remarks by my colleague Lord FOULKES, who painted an irredeemably bleak picture of our nation. Lord FOULKES, through no fault of his own, is not elected.  I am, and I am determined to implement, as is my government, the decision by 17.4 million British people -- a majority of the British population -- to leave the European Union. And indeed, the UK will soon join the family of those 19 Council of Europe member states who are outside the EU.

One of the reasons why we decided to leave was a feeling that Pan-European diktats don't sufficiently take into account the peculiarity of United Kingdom common law and indeed Scots law systems. We are a European country but often different from our European friends. This report notes EU proposals for a common Union-wide standard of legal protection for whistle-blowers. And I personally believe that this Assembly and the Court of Human Rights may be the best forum to achieve that.

But any judicial protection for those who seek to expose wrong-doing and corruption is welcome but must be balanced. And this, in the United Kingdom, is already covered by the Public Interest Disclosure Act of 1998, passed by the previous Labour government, one of the most comprehensive pieces of legislation in the world.

So let us have a balanced debate. Let us expose corruption, but let us not try and impose Pan-European diktats, which may indeed make things worse.

Thank you. 


Switzerland, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly


The next speaker is Mr MARUKYAN.


Armenia, ALDE


Thank you, Madam President.

I would like to thank the rapporteur, Mr Sylvain WASERMAN, for his efforts to make a real cultivated report that creates an opportunity to share our ideas on this very crucial topic.

Starting my speech, there is no doubt whistleblowers now have a unique role to play in local and regional governance. At the subnational level, the one closest to the citizens, it is easier to detect alleged violations of law than at the national level. This also means that local and regional authorities are especially vulnerable to various types of corruption, given their responsibility for public service provision, which is increasingly based on public-private partnerships, accompanied by the transfer of public resources to the private sector.

Studies have examined the written content of whistleblower laws by comparing their provisions to European and international standards. On the other hand, we also need to examine the application of these laws in real-life cases of employees who suffered retaliation after reporting crime and corruption in Europe. To date, Europe lacks a centralised agency that counts and tracks whistleblower disclosures, retaliation complaints, and case outcomes. At the national level, a vast majority of countries -- even those with whistleblower laws in place -- also lack such agencies. Official statistics, case summaries, and analyses are rare.

Speaking about the whistleblower mechanisms in Europe and worldwide, I can't scorn recent USA-Ukraine scandals. If the whistleblower's anonymity is revealed, that could put him or her in dangerous and uncertain territory, which probably means despite many layers of protection, though, none of these laws has proven able to keep whistleblowers safe from professional and public retaliation. If history is any indication, the current whistleblower might end up regretting coming forward altogether.

This case proves that whistleblower protection is not just a matter of legislation, there also needs to be a change in social attitudes to the disclosure of information, which often discourages individuals from reporting crucial information, afraid of potential negative consequences that could ensue. Action needs to be taken to make the public aware of the important role of whistleblowers in the fight against corruption.

I also want to remind you of Anna Monaghan's case. Monaghan was harassed, intimidated, bullied and eventually suspended from her job in 2014 after telling authorities about mistreatment at Aras Chois Fharraige Nursing Home in rural Ireland. Two years later, Labour Court Judge Caroline Jenkinson ruled that Monaghan was a victimised whistleblower entitled to compensation. The case of Anna Monaghan should serve as an example to the rest of Europe that a whistleblower protection law can work in practice. These laws, in fact, must work in order for governments to recapture trust from citizens exasperated with fraud and corruption.

Thank you.


Switzerland, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly


I call Mr PRINGLE.


Ireland, UEL


Thank you.

I would like to thank the rapporteur Mr Sylvain WASERMAN for his report. It is very interesting.

Madame President, the protection of whistleblowers is vitally important. Many public bodies and organisations rely on the effect of whistleblowing in order to provide effective governance. It is a sad reflection on public organisations, but having effective protections and indeed having effective Ombudsman legislations which we will also be discussing this week are critical to ensure the effective operation of public institutions. It is a fact that many employees and public organisations are afraid to highlight problems with the system that they are implementing and love to see the problems being highlighted so that they can react to them.

In Ireland we have good legislation that has been enacted in the last few years. Much of it in response to whistleblower cases that we have had locally. Unfortunately like everything in Ireland we have good legislation and rules however the operation of them in practice leaves a lot to be desired. This is something that as a nation we will have to confront and tackle head-on. The jury will have to wait and see if our dealing with issues of whistleblowing will improve. I hope it will. But unfortunately, all we have at the moment is hope.

Over the last number of years we have had some high-profile cases of whistleblowers. The most notable of which has been the case of Maurice McCabe, a member of our police force who highlighted cases that he was concerned with and which were of concern to everyone in Irish society. However the Gardaí and the political establishment sought to try and destroy him and his reputation. Interestingly he had recorded relevant conversations and that was what saved him and allowed the significant issues he highlighted to be exposed. It was not legislation or the will of the establishment that made sure that his concerns would be addressed. I think this highlights the difficulty that officialdom has on accepting the need for whistleblowing. This needs to be an integral part of legislation.

I think it was important also to highlight the treatment of whistleblowers around Europe. I'm thinking of the case of Daphne Caruana Galizia from Malta, who gave her life in pursuit of wrongdoing and exposing it to the court of public opinion. In her case she could not rely on the state to deal with the issue because the state was at the heart of the problem. Thankfully in Ireland we have not experienced the awful death of a journalist or whistleblower who has exposed the wrongdoing of the state. But whistleblowers have suffered greatly from their experience.

I think it is interesting that the protection of whistleblowers is only now coming on the agenda. Is it because of the high profile cases that have been seen across Europe and the world? That is interesting I think in itself. It is not over the will of officialdom to be responsible, but through reaction to what has happened in all our societies that is making this possible. That is why it will not be enough for us to have good legislation, but we as a political establishment will have to commit to making it work as well. Thank you.


Switzerland, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly


Thank you.

The next speaker is Mr FOURNIER.


France, EPP/CD


Madame President,

My dear colleagues,

The whistle-blowers play a particularly important role in various fields, such as the fight against corruption, the illegal use of personal data or threats to public health. To protect our fellow citizens, it is our duty to protect whistle-blowers everywhere in Europe. I thank our colleague Sylvain WASERMAN for this report.

Our Organization, aware of the role of whistle-blowers in the proper functioning of democracies, has been working on this issue since 2010. A European directive on the subject should be adopted no later than 2020, and it should allow us to define a minimum level of protection within the European Union. And this Directive is largely inspired by our resolutions on the subject, which I welcome.

Thus, the future European Directive provides that whistle-blowers are presumed to act in good faith. It also provides for criminal and civil immunity regarding the conditions in which the information was obtained, as well as protection against any form of reprisal.

But what about States that are not members of the European Union? I regret the fact that the Council of Europe has not yet adopted a Convention on this subject and, in the absence of that, I would like to support the draft recommendation which is before us today. Indeed, a Council of Europe Convention on this subject would ensure effective protection of whistle-blowers across Europe. We could incorporate the main provisions of the future European Directive with the following improvements.

First, it is necessary to provide special protection for those working in the field of national security. It is a question of better supervising the penal prosecution in the cases of State secrets. These provisions already exist in French law, which shows that this is possible without jeopardizing national security.

In addition, creating a specialized agency in each country to assist whistle-blowers also seems to be a necessity. This agency would have sufficient means to support whistle-blowers. It would guarantee legal and financial protection which would also benefit their family.

Finally, the draft EU directive defines a whistle-blower as "any individual who reports breaches of legislation in areas that fall within the scope of the EU law". This definition, at national scale, should be extended to cover all individuals who report breaches of the law or regulation regardless of the sector. Better yet, in France, the law also defines as whistle-blower "any individual reporting serious threats or serious harm to the general interest".

Pending the drafting of a Council of Europe Convention on this issue, the Member States of our Organization, which are not members of the European Union, should adopt legislation inspired by the future European Directive and the resolutions drafted by our Assembly. Thank you.


Switzerland, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly


Thank you. I call Ms EROTOKRITOU.


Cyprus, SOC


Madam President, dear colleagues.

I would first like to thank the rapporteur Mr WASERMAN for his excellent report.

This debate highlights our assembly's determination to create a comprehensive framework for the effective protection of whistle-blowers in member states. To this effect, the endorsement of the much-discussed European Directive would be a giant step forward.

The need to enhance the legislative framework derives -- among other things -- from the world economic crisis that brought to the forefront the impunity enjoyed by private corporations in the pursuit of profits and the abuse of power performed by certain key actors in government motivated by private gain. According to recent studies, corruption practices and conflicts of interest cost the EU's economy 120 billion euros per year or, in other words, 1% of the EU's total GDP.

According to the findings of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, the protection of whistle-blowers constitutes one of the most important pillars in our fight against corruption and the prevalence of the rule of law. This protection must mitigate whatever concerns whistle-blowers might have as regards job security or retaliatory action perpetrated against them.

The draft resolution before us rightly points out the need to provide whistle-blowers with the necessary legal support as well as immunity, as these persons often become the target of highly influential vested interest groups.

Recent scandals and European banks, pharmaceutical, and manufacturing companies have clearly demonstrated employees' resistance in blowing the whistle for fear of retaliation and job loss. That is why it is very important to provide information to employees on their rights as regards the impact of reporting or remaining silent in the face of corruption. In order to combat these phenomena, we must find ways to encourage these people to come forward and speak.

To this effect, the setting up of an independent authority in each country dealing with whistle-blowers, and all information emanating from them, under the auspices of an independent European observatory would be instrumental in alleviating the pressure on would-be whistle-blowers.

Furthermore, the setting up of a legal support fund providing and financing high-quality legal support for whistle-blowers would also be a very positive step in encouraging individuals to step forward and disclose information they possess. It would also be highly commendable to fund whistle-blower protection from whatever proceeds or fines are collected from those found to be engaged in corruption or illegal acts. The above, among others, are contained in the European Parliament's proposal for a Directive approved on 6 April, which is broadly inspired by the Council of Europe's work on the subject.

Furthermore, all assembly members should raise awareness in their own national parliaments about the importance of implementing a coherent web of legislative protection for whistle-blowers. In the parliament of the Republic of Cyprus, a bill is pending regulating the protection of whistle-blowers covering both the public and private sectors, encouraging individuals to disclose information they possess. This is a clear indicator of improved functioning of our democracies and promotes transparency and the rule of law, and keeps both the private and public sector on their toes.


Switzerland, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly


Thank you. The next speaker is Mr CHRISTIANSSON.


Sweden, EC


Yes, Madam President.

I have studied Mr Waserman's report on whistle-blowers with great interest, and I find it very good and timely.

Nevertheless, there is one aspect I believe might usefully be added, and that is a more explicit reference to the fundamental importance in this context of a free and independently acting press and media landscape in our member states. Basically, we can have a hundred EU directives, a hundred Council of Europe conventions, national boards, legal support funds, and community volunteers to try and shield whistle-blowers from harm. Such institutions are indeed usefully suggested in the report. Though they may be helpful, they will be of limited value in practice unless you have, parallel to them, a media that is jealous of their freedom and supported by a firmly protected freedom of expression in our countries.

In my country, Sweden, we fortunately have a part of our constitutional legislation, the so-called 'Tryckfrihetsförordningen', or in English, Freedom of the Press Act. Going back as far as 1766, and last updated in 1949, it is the world's oldest legislation in the field of freedom of print and expression. It especially covers the anonymity of whistle-blowers and their freedom from prosecution as long as they have obtained their information by lawful means, and it ensures the principle of public access to official records, which is another vital weapon against corruption and other crimes in the public arena.

Many news outlets in Sweden have introduced what is known as 'secure drops', and that is an encrypted channel of communication between the source and a given news outlet, where the outlets must of course respect press ethical rules. One advantage with a respected news outlet over, let's say a supervisory board, is that the news outlet will often have a greater news impact. Another advantage with the news outlet maybe is that it will defend the anonymity of its source with greater ferocity, especially if it can build on an age-old Freedom of the Press Act, such as in Scandinavia.

In recent times, we have also seen joint projects that have been started between journalists and news media in different countries and indeed spanning continents, in order to unearth major international crime centres. Often these journalists projects rely on whistle-blowers, with many of them needing protection.

In conclusion, Madam President, I commend Mr WASERMAN's report and hope that the amendment I will propose in the forthcoming vote will be accepted by him and this assembly, and seen as a helpful contribution in our common effort to protect whistle-blowers.

Thank you for your attention.


Switzerland, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly


Thank you.

The next speaker is Mr KITEV.

Mr Betian KITEV

North Macedonia, SOC


Thank you Madam Chair.

Dear colleagues,

I would like to thank the rapporteur for his excellent report. I fully agree with Mr Sylvain WASERMAN that without whistle-blowers, it will be impossible to resolve many of the challenges to our democracies, such as fighting against grand corruption and money-laundering, as well as new challenges such as threats to individual freedom through the mass abuse of personal data or activities causing serious environmental harm or threats to public health.

Whistle-blowers play a key role in preventing breaches of law and protecting society, but they are often discouraged from reporting their concerns or suspicions for fear of retaliation. Therefore, I also welcome the proposal that Council of Europe member states should revise their relevant legislation so as to grant whistle-blowers in their own countries higher level of protection, or the same as that of EU member states.

Whistle-blowing as a reporting system was introduced in the legal systems of many countries in order to promote and encourage reporting. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the Committee of Ministers in their resolutions and recommendations invited all member states to review their legislation regarding the protection of whistle-blowers and to create an appropriate normative, judicial and institutional framework for the protection of whistle-blowers.

Following those recommendations, the Republic of North Macedonia has adopted the law on protection of whistle-blowers, as well as measures to improve the protection of whistle-blowers, strengthen accountability and bolster the fight against corruption and mismanagement in the public as well as in the private sector.

Dear colleagues, I think that it is very important to establish comprehensive protection of whistle-blowers in order for the widest possible range of individuals can fall within the definition of whistle-blowers and the widest possible range of illegal and impermissible actions can be subject to reporting. In that, we must provide effective protection mechanisms, in accordance with international recommendations.

The most effective way to encourage employees to report suspicion or knowledge of wrongdoing and negligence is to ensure effective, systematic and institutional protection of their rights. As long as these people do not feel that it is safe to report suspicion or knowledge of irregularities, there is a risk of silence that significantly reduces the possibility of effectively addressing these wrongdoings.


Thank you for your attention.


Switzerland, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly


Thank you.

The next speaker is Mr MAIRE.

Mr Jacques MAIRE

France, ALDE


Thank you, Madam President,

I would first like to congratulate my colleague, Sylvain WASERMAN, for his rich, interesting and very ambitious report for our Assembly.

Naturally, I fully support his proposals, which in particular call on the Committee of Ministers to launch the negotiation of a Convention for the protection of whistle-blowers.

I myself had the opportunity to get involved in this situation, especially with whistle-blowers from the financial sector, as rapporteur in 2019, on the fight against financial crime.

In this respect, I would like to mention a paradox: how is it that the biggest cases of corruption, financial fraud or tax evasion do not come out through State services? Because whistle-blowers in general prefer to trust the press, rather than the devices provided by legislation.

This is the case, for example, in the scandal of the Panama Papers, DieselGate, Luxleaks and others.

I think it must be said: despite recent legislation, people don't trust the State enough. Of all the people who dare to bite the bullet and blow the whistle, how many hesitate or back out?

The status and protection of whistle-blowers must be strengthened, as proposed in this report. And this is urgent, including in the States of the European Union.

Of course, this must first be inspired on the European Directive, as well as the concrete proposals included in this resolution.

But there is one point where I think we need to go further. This is the financial protection of whistle-blowers. In general, they lose their jobs, they become unemployable in the companies of the sector they come from. Remember the case of the Swiss bank UBS. For similar facts, the French whistle-blower, Stéphanie Gibaud, obtained a symbolic compensation of 3000 euros. At the same time, her colleague, Bradley Birkenfeld, was awarded 75 million dollars under US law.

In France, when the Sapin II law was passed, we introduced financial assistance for legal fees, but this was censored by the Constitutional Council.

Today, the resolution proposes a legal support fund once more. I think we can go further. I do not believe in a bounty hunter system like in the United States. It would not be consistent with our culture and it would also carry perverse effects.

But it should be possible to establish the principle of financial assistance, for the benefit of people that are in difficult situations. And we could also possibly, especially in the case of hackers, offer the possibility of easier access to public employment to allow them to reintegrate into the world of work.

The Council of Europe has a unique opportunity to create a truly protective framework for whistle-blowers. I think this is an opportunity we should not miss out on.

Thank you very much.


Switzerland, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly


Thank you.

The next speaker is Mr SCHENNACH.


Austria, SOC


Mr Waserman, I congratulate you on your work, which shows that there have been improvements since our last report in some member states, which is very, very positive; and as is the fact that the European Union has acted in this regard too. That's where the Council of Europe comes into play. Since we are much larger than the European Union, this report also acts as a clear invitation to all states that do not belong to the European Union: "Join us!" I think that's right.

Someone said earlier: "They are the heroes." That's a strong word. These are definitely very confident people who also take on responsibility when they become whistleblowers. But you have to pay a little bit of attention – especially to the speech of my predecessor here – are they from the public sector or from the private sector? That's a bit of a difference, because, of course, in the private sector – you have to be careful here too – what are trade secrets, if you're looking at certain products?

In principle, we assume that whistle-blower is a fundamental right, a human right. If you recognize something untoward in a company, or corruption in various areas, you should have the right to act and to be protected by the state. This is important and the next step, as Mr Waserman has said, is a reversal of the burden of proof, that is to say that the state or the public administration has to prove that a whistleblower has or has not spoken the truth. Also important are the fines that are addressed here; the threat of high fines is important.

There is also the suggestion that there be a right to asylum for whistleblowers within our states; that if a whistleblower is persecuted in one state, he should be able to apply for asylum. These are just some of the points that are addressed in the report, which I find very good. Once again, whistleblower is not a business, it's an altruistic act: a cry for justice and an outcry to eradicate injustice. So thank you, Mr Waserman, for this good report.


Switzerland, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly


Thank you.

Mr SCHÄFER has the floor.


Germany, SOC


Madam President,

Dear Colleagues,

In fact, we are talking about something self-evident in this important report, namely on the perception of citizenship rights. But in reality, we also talk about one attitude, namely, moral courage. Bertolt Brecht once said: "A lot is won if someone gets up and says 'no'".

We have many examples, my colleagues, previous speakers have already named them individually, where you could personally understand what has succeeded, what has failed, and also under what pressure those who have made things public. Therefore, it is a great commitment for us here in the Parliamentary Assembly to develop as much agreement as possible, which is also the result of a long way of discussions here. And at the same time and self-imposed in our Member States –where necessary, and I think it is often necessary– to bring about changes. You all know: you have to start with yourself. The European Court of Human Rights found in Heinisch v. Germany that there is too little protection in the Federal Republic; that is to say, it is also a self-commitment to the members of the Bundestag working here to get more involved there. It is, as I expressly thank Mr Schennach, that it is equally necessary to point out that foreigners have the right to political asylum in the event of a problem, and that we must guarantee this. That, too, is an important commitment for us, I believe.

Dear Colleagues,

Whistleblower is a new word. But bringing things to the public is an older process. We have now 90 years since the famous journalist Carl von Ossietzky revealed to the world stage in 1929 what could be disclosed under civic duty: that the German Reichswehr secretly wanted to rearm, thereby violating the Treaty of Versailles and at the same time preparing a war of aggression. That was important and right. Ossietzky ultimately paid to the Nazis with his life; but he had previously received the Nobel Peace Prize. And it is important for us that we both decide here and that we reference ourselves on role models; and he is a good one for us here and in Europe.


Switzerland, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly


I call Mr BASHKIN.

Mr Aleksandr BASHKIN

Russian Federation, NR


Madame Chairperson.

Ladies and gentleman,

The Russian Federation supports the need to take legislative measures to defend people who have blown the whistle about corruption or infringement of human rights or the general interest. And the Russians have this in their legislation to a large extent already. Not all of these whistle-blowers occur in our country or in other countries so it is important for countries to work together on this.

In the draft resolution, I think we need to say, that we express concern about the attempt to make all our approaches in all countries the same without any account taken of their traditions and the history of their legislation. If we were to base ourselves only on the EU Directive, as countries which are both members and not members of the EU, well, that might be legally justified. But regarding countries that are not members of the EU, this would seem to be a little bit premature, and I am particularly thinking about point 12-2.

I don't think it's true that we have not done anything about that. The protection of whistle-blowers is in the UN Convention, it is in a Council of Europe Convention about civic responsibility for corruption, it is in various Council of Europe Conventions, in fact, and the problem of protecting the whistle-blowers is something that is being looked at in the G20.

There is a special group looking at this, so, as a result of the legislation, we might want to, indeed, bring in new laws but we have to take into account the different views of different countries and the legislative history. One of the experts said that equality does not mean uniformity, it is often diversity. So, we also have to understand who the whistle-blower is, the mechanisms, which are not easy to protect. And, for example, if the whistle-blower is not perhaps protecting the general interest -- but he might be protecting another person -- does that still make them a whistle-blower?

So we are going to be abstaining on this document because of this. In conclusion, I would say, we do feel that we need to settle this, in principle, and we are prepared in the future to work towards that end. 


Switzerland, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly


Thank you. I call Mr WELLS.

Mr David M. WELLS



Good morning colleagues.

Let me begin by thanking rapporteur Mr Sylvain WASERMAN and his colleagues for their outstanding work to advance whistleblower protection.

This issue has never been as relevant as it is today, as our societies grow more complex and our economies more reliant on information than ever before.

Indeed, Canada’s experience grappling with this important topic has positioned it as an emerging leader. At the same time, Canada has much to learn from the Member and observer states of the Council of Europe.

Various Canadian jurisdictions have already introduced protections for whistleblowers; while most employees in the federal public sector are protected by law, there are gaps in protections in many provinces and for private-sector workers.

In 2007, the federal government enshrined certain rights for public servant whistleblowers and created both the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner and the quasi-judicial Public Servants Disclosure Protection Tribunal.

These two bodies provide independent processes for disclosing wrongdoing in Canada’s federal public service and hear complaints related to reprisal.

Both have room for improvement, but Canadians’ experience with them can provide valuable insights.

For their part, the recommendations listed in the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights of the Council of Europe’s report directly address certain gaps in Canadian whistleblower protection.

These recommendations combat the root causes and common forms of reprisal against whistleblowing activity.

They should be recognized as international best practices. Canada would do well to consider implementing many of these recommendations.

This productive activity is proof once again that the Council of Europe provides an excellent forum for Member and observer states to share best practices and to learn from one another’s trials and successes.

I appreciate that we can continue to learn from each another and look forward to sharing our perspectives with you on this issue.

Thank you colleagues.



Switzerland, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly


Thank you very much.

Next speaker: Ms WONNER

Ms Martine WONNER

France, ALDE


Thank you.

Mr Rapporteur,

Dear colleagues, dear Sylvain,

You made it quite clear in your report, and I thank you for that. Whistle-blowers play a central role in our democracies and the failings they disclose contribute directly to the health of our democracies. In a way, Edward Snowden risked his life to improve ours. Thanks to his disclosures, we live in a world that is a little more just and a little freer. But we must also remember that bringing Mr Snowden to France would pose major political problems, as it would have a lasting impact on our diplomatic relations with one of our key allies.

And, therefore, I think you can understand the various positions taken on the Snowden case in our government and the majority because this is a subtle question, a complex question and I think we need to reflect more on the issue.

I know, of course, that you are very dedicated to this topic. In addition to this report, you have organised the '48-hour whistle-blower challenge' for the Council of Europe, during which you had the opportunity to speak to Mr Snowden by videoconference.

My question, sir, is twofold:

Firstly, can you elaborate on your position regarding the possibility of bringing Mr Snowden to France, particularly in view of the political and diplomatic difficulties that this would pose vis-à-vis our American ally; and if, in your opinion, it would be possible to opt for constitutional rather than conventional asylum. Do you think that's an idea worth exploring?

Secondly, how would you envisage the functioning of an asylum system specifically tailor-made for whistle-blowers, possibly at the European level, taking into account the particular political differences within our continent that could jeopardise such a system?

Thank you.


Switzerland, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly


Thank you very much. The next speaker is Ms Filatov.


Finland, SOC


Madame President.

Dear colleagues,

We are all responsible for a just society. The bigger our influence, the bigger our responsibility.

The present is often blamed as indifferent. People care about their own affairs but are careful to intervene in questions concerning the common good if there is a chance of personal disadvantages. Too many close their eyes to abuse. That's why we need mechanisms for making it easier to intervene.

I know that this proposal and report is not for everyday abuses, it is for serious cases. But it is important that those discovering actions against the common good, abuse or illegal acts can report it without fear. This allows us to discover the threats and abuse that would otherwise be uncovered.

Because of brave people who reveal abuse, we have been able to catch tax dodgers, abuse of legally collected data and many other deeds that harm the just society.

In the information society, hindering massive abuses of personal data has become increasingly important. Such crimes are difficult to spot using traditional surveillance methods. As a result, we need new tools.

Companies are international and their activities reach across borders. Therefore, we need to find common rules for how to protect persons reporting abuse in different countries. The issue is very timely. In addition to the Council of Europe, solutions are discussed in the UN, the OECD and among G20 countries. We need clear channels for making anonymous reports of abuse. It is equally important to protect the informant if the report is made public.

However, this is only one side of the coin. Whistle-blowing also creates a risk of wrongful accusations and we must protect such victims and punish those making false claims. This complex of issues shows how proposals in a report of this organisation can end up in an EU directive, or almost. I believe it is coming.

However, not all member states are EU members, so this matter needs to proceed also in these countries.

I support this report's proposals.



Switzerland, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly


Dear colleagues,

We must now interrupt the speakers. The speakers registered but who have not been able to speak during the debate may, within four hours, transmit their typed statements to the communication department for publication in the minutes.

This transmission must be done as far as possible electronically. I call for the reply of the Commission. Mr Rapporteur, you have six minutes left. You have the floor.


France, ALDE, Rapporteur


Thank you, Madam President.

Dear colleagues,

I would like to thank you for your comments and return to four points. I will not be able, in the time allotted to me, to answer all the questions that have been made. But the first point is obvious: our view on whistle-blowers has changed.

At first it was sometimes considered a problem or an epiphenomenon, but it is clear that today, whistle-blowers are key building blocks, key players, in our democratic systems. Your numerous testimonies and interventions have attested to it.

The second point is that the law has not been stabilized. We are in this period where our creativity, our imagination, the way we can model, design and support the protection of whistle-blowers legally is an important topic.

More than ever, this is the right moment to reflect and propose improvements to our legal systems. Furthermore, the solutions should be co-build.

If I had to withdraw a lesson from this report, it is that of the 130 experts who contributed to it, who brought their activities through NGOs, associations, experts, academics, journalists who were able to contribute. Because I think — and this is my third point — that the Council of Europe, as many of you have said, and our Parliamentary Assembly in particular, is a spearhead for reflection on the subject of whistle-blowers.

We are not alone, of course, but today we are a key player in this process of reflection.

And I would like to say that, just as our democracies need whistle-blowers, whistle-blowers today need us. They need us collectively, but also each one of us in our individual actions, in our respective parliaments, to put the protection of whistle-blowers at the right level. And finally, I would like to remind you that in 2016 our Parliamentary Assembly invited the Council of Ministers to start thinking about a Convention on this matter. A Convention is not to fix every detail of a law that would apply uniformly to everyone, to take up legitimate concerns that have been expressed about this. A Convention just lays down the principles that we could implement in our respective parliaments. And so, I express the wish that this report, which resumes the invitation we had made to the Council of Ministers, that this invitation is heard. Because today, it is not only a question of a simple invitation: in my opinion, it is a true democratic demand.

Thank you, Madam President.


Switzerland, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly


Thank you, rapporteur.

Madame President of the Commission, would you like to reply?

You have the floor for three minutes.

Ms Thorhildur Sunna ÆVARSDÓTTIR

Iceland, SOC


Thank you, Madam President. 

Dear Colleagues,

Whistle-blowers are among the bravest of us all. Speaking truth to power takes courage. But disclosing the ugly truth about power takes enormous bravery. Protecting them should be our utmost priority. It is therefore that I am very happy to support the excellent report of our rapporteur Mr Sylvain WASERMAN. I've enjoyed watching his work progress within the Committee. We have heard and we have seen talks with many experts and also talks with whistle-blowers themselves. I have to celebrate that we are at this point suggesting that there should be a conference, that there should be a convention that protects these important people for our democratic societies.

This is an issue rather close to my heart because my mother is a whistle-blower. She disclosed how bad dealings and incompetence and sort of lack of bravery caused pollution and a big polluting of scandal in Iceland while she worked for the environmental agency there.

Once an investigation started into that scandal she disclosed what had been going on that led to the fact that the public's livelihood, the public's food, and the public soil was contaminated. For this, my mother was excluded, bullied and pushed out of her workplace. And I really do wish that we would have had protection like this already then, the one that we are foreseeing now. But we didn't.

My point with this story is first to perhaps commemorate my mother, whose birthday was yesterday, but also to say that whistle-blowers can be any one of us that sees injustice, that exposes it, that tells the truth and is punished for it all over the world. Of course, Edward Snowden is a very famous example and a very brave man who exposed very harsh truths about the world that we live in today. As a punishment for that, he is in exile.

My mother is not an exile in Russia, but she was exiled from her profession. She was excluded from her vocation and she was punished for telling the truth. She was excluded for acting in the public interest. I don't think her story should have to repeat itself. I don't think any of the stories where people speak truth about power, where people disclose truth about misdealings and the public interest, I don't think that should ever have to face these kinds of consequences again.

I hope that we together will approve this report and start giving whistle-blowers the protection that they deserve. Thank you.

Mr Christophe LACROIX

Belgium, SOC


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




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


Switzerland, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly


Thank you, Madame President.

The general discussion is closed. The Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights has tabled a draft resolution on which five amendments have been tabled and a draft recommendation on which no amendments have been tabled.

We turn now to the consideration of the draft resolution contained in Document 14958. I have been informed that the Chair of the Committee on Juridical and Human Rights would like to propose to the Assembly to consider Amendments Nos. 1 and 5, which were adopted unanimously by the Commission, as adopted by the Assembly. Amendments Nos. 4 and 3 were also adopted unanimously; however, since they are the subject of oral sub-amendments, we will consider them separately.

Is this the case, Madame President? Is there an objection? This is not the case, there is no objection. Amendments Nos. 1 and 5 on the draft resolution are therefore declared adopted definitively. We come back to the discussion of the other amendments. Amendment No. 1, adopted unanimously.

Amendment No. 4 is the subject of an oral sub-amendment. I call Ms Boriana ÅBERG to support Amendment No. 4. You have the floor.

Vote: Improving the protection of whistleblowers all over Europe


Sweden, EC


Mr CHRISTIANSSON, I will speak for the amendment. Is that correct?


Switzerland, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly


Mr CHRISTIANSSON, you have the floor.


Sweden, EC


Thank you. Thank you, Madame President. 

First, I would like to thank you, Mr WASERMAN for the report again, and as I said before, it is a very important matter.

And as I said in my speech earlier, I also think that it is important to underline the value of free and truly independent press anchored in the Constitution, and therefore, I hope that the Assembly and of course Mr WASERMAN can give your support to this amendment.

Thank you.


Switzerland, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly


The chair was requested by Rapporteur Sylvain WASERMAN.

On behalf of the Commission the following oral sub-amendment: in line 2 of Amendment No. 4, replace the words "and courageous who stand for their independence and defend it and who have, if possible, the support of entrenched legislation in the Constitution and guaranteeing the freedom of the press and public access to official documents" by the words "which stand for their independence and defend it and who benefit from the support of legislation guaranteeing freedom of the press and organizing public access to official documents".

I consider this sub-amendment to be in accordance with the criteria of the Regulation. It can not, however, be taken into account if at least ten representatives or substitutes oppose it and stand up.

Are there any objections to taking this oral sub-amendment into account?

No, this is not the case.

We will, therefore, examine this oral sub-order. I call on the rapporteur to support the oral sub-amendment.


France, ALDE, Rapporteur


Thank you, Madame President.

It was simply a question of concentrating the text on the notion of freedom of the press and guaranteeing its independence. So these are details and with these sub-amendments I will be very much in favor of this amendment.


Switzerland, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly


Does anyone wish to speak against the oral sub-amendment?

This is not the case.

Opinion of the proposer of the amendment on the oral sub-mandate? This is not the case.

Favorable opinion of the Commission on the oral sub-amendment?

Ms Thorhildur Sunna ÆVARSDÓTTIR

Iceland, SOC


Unanimously approved.


Switzerland, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly


We will proceed to the vote on the oral sub-amendment.

The poll is open.

The ballot is closed.

I request the display of the result.

The oral sub-amendment was adopted.

We come back to the amendment.

Does anyone wish to speak against Amendment No. 4?

This is not the case. Committee on the amendment?

Ms Thorhildur Sunna ÆVARSDÓTTIR

Iceland, SOC


Unanimously adopted.


Switzerland, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly


We will proceed to the vote on Amendment No. 4.

The voting is open.

The voting is closed.

Amendment No. 4 is adopted.

Amendment No. 2. I call Mr Evans to support Amendment No. 2.

No? Does anyone else wish to support the Amendment? I see it is not the case.

Does anyone wish to speak against the Amendment?

This is not the case. Commission's opinion?

Ms Thorhildur Sunna ÆVARSDÓTTIR

Iceland, SOC


The Committee approved it by a large majority.


Switzerland, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly


We will vote on the Amendment.

The poll is open. The ballot is closed.

Amendment No. 2 is adopted.

Amendment No. 3 is subject to an oral sub-amendment.

I call Ms RAUCH to support Amendment No. 3.

No. Madam TRISSE perhaps? No? Does anyone else wish to support this amendment?

I have been informed that Mr WASERMAN wishes to propose the following oral sub-amendment on behalf of the Committee:

Amendment 3 after the word "create" delete the words "by international agreements".

I consider this sub-amendment admissible with regard to the criteria of the Regulation. However, it cannot be taken into account if at least 10 representatives or substitutes oppose it and stand up.

Are there any objections to taking this oral sub-amendment into account?

No, this is not the case.

I call Mr WASERMAN, the rapporteur, to support the sub-amendment.


France, ALDE, Rapporteur


Thank you, Madam President.

In short, it is a legal clarification that gives a very positive improvement to the whole text. 


Switzerland, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly


Thank you, Mr Rapporteur.

Does anyone wish to speak against the oral sub-amendment?

That is not the case.

What is the opinion of the author of the amendment?


What is the opinion of the Committee?

Ms Thorhildur Sunna ÆVARSDÓTTIR

Iceland, SOC


Unanimously approved.


Switzerland, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly


We will proceed to vote on the oral sub-amendment.

The voting is open.

The voting is closed.

The oral sub-amendment has been adopted.

We come back to the main amendment.

Does anyone wish to speak against Amendment No. 3?

This is not the case.

What is the opinion of the Commission on the Amendment?

Ms Thorhildur Sunna ÆVARSDÓTTIR

Iceland, SOC


Unanimously approved.


Switzerland, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly


We will proceed to vote on Amendment No. 3.

The poll is open.

The ballot is closed.

Amendment No. 3 is adopted.

Amendment No. 5 was adopted unanimously.

Vote on draft resolution. We will proceed to vote on the draft resolution contained in Document 14958.

The poll is open.

The ballot is closed.

The draft resolution is adopted.

Thank you very much. We turn now to consideration of the draft recommendation contained in Document 14958, on which no amendment has been tabled.

Vote on draft recommendation. We will proceed to vote on the draft recommendation contained in Document 14958. I remind you that the required majority is two-thirds of the votes cast.

The poll is open.

The ballot is closed.

The draft recommendation is adopted.

Thank you very much. Thank you very much to the rapporteur.

Address by Mr Emmanuel MACRON, President of the French Republic


Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly


My dear colleagues,

The next item is the speech by Emmanuel Macron, President of the French Republic.

I welcome with great pleasure the presence in the Chamber of the former President of our Assembly, as well the former Secretary General of the Parliamentary Assembly.

Mr. President of the French Republic, it is an immense pleasure and a great honour, to welcome you to this house, which is also yours. France is a regular and faithful guest of our Organization. Yesterday we joined the French people in mourning, paying tribute to Jacques Chirac, former President of the French Republic, who, in 1987, also addressed our Assembly.

Mister President,

Seventy years ago, ten countries, including France, came together to draw the foundations of this common house.

On the ashes, which were still warm, of a blind and murderous war that divided our continent, these ten countries made a promise: to respond to divisions and barbarism in unity, with dialogue and cooperation, and to build an area of peace based on shared values of democracy, Human Rights and the rule of law.

Thus, the Council of Europe was born and began to take shape, until it became what it is today: the largest pan-European organization, bringing together 47 countries, united around the values of humanity.

Its foundations have found their natural place here in Strasbourg, a frontier town, an emblem of peace and unity among peoples.

We are proud to be able to celebrate this success with you today, even more so in this very symbolic moment, when your country, France, is chairing the Committee of Ministers of our Organization.

Mister President,

On a more personal note, I am also very honoured to welcome you as - if you will allow me - a "Feminist President". You have indeed made the struggle for real equality between women and men, one of the priorities of your work as a politician and as President.

A strong democracy, where all citizens can act and express themselves freely, cannot be built without equality. We cannot continue to deprive half of the population - women - of some of the powers, resources and rights that are fully secured to the other half. Such a democracy would indeed be lame.

And it is exactly in this context that the "Generation Equality: for women's rights and an egalitarian future" campaign is part of, which France is actively supporting, and whose Forum in Paris will be the culminating point, in July next year.

Pomoting of an egalitarian future is a collective responsibility, which belongs to each and every one of us. Our Assembly is moving in this direction with several actions, including, more recently, the #NotInMyParliament initiative, aimed at combating all manifestations of sexism, harassment and violence against women in our parliaments.

I wish to assure you, Mr President, of the full support of the Assembly towards your efforts, and in the implementation of a new "generation of equality". As you pointed out in New York a few days ago: "It is out of the question to back down. This is a new step that we must take. Every action, every effort counts." I am happy to take this step with you, Mr President. And I invite you to speak.

Mr Emmanuel MACRON

President of the French Republic


Madam President of the Parliamentary Assembly, 

Madam Secretary General of the Council of Europe,

Mr. President of the Congress,

Mr. President of the European Court of Human Rights,

Madam Commissioner for Human Rights,

Ministers, Members of Parliament, Ambassadors,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you, Madam President, for the words of warm welcome that you have had for France, and also thank you for your kind words about President Chirac. I must admit I am very moved by what you have said. I myself, and the entire nation, would like to thank you. 

I also want to thank you for the support, and congratulate you on the proactive approach you have just displayed.

If I am here today, it is first of all to pay tribute to this Assembly, and also to the institution that hosts us: the Council of Europe. I would like to thank you for your kind invitation, and I would also like to thank Mr JAGLAND, and wish the best of success to the new Secretary General Mrs PEJČINOVIĆ-BURIĆ. 

I am very pleased that the French Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers has given me the opportunity to be here, before you, the representatives of 47 Member States, of 820 million citizens, on the 70th anniversary of this Organization. Before anything else, I wish to reiterate France's unwavering commitment to this Organization, as it has been the case since the very beginning.

Charles Peguy said that "freedom is a system of courage". And perseverance, fighting for freedom and dignity, in the face of all adversities, is at the heart of this Organization. It was born in a city that was demolished three times by fratricidal wars. I do not believe in coincidences: unity can only be envisioned in those places where the flames have been most vivid. This Organization is the product of European humanism.

From an act of faith, came the possibility of reconciliation in our continent, based on the respect for human dignity and considering it sacred. At a time when it seemed almost impossible to believe in this, it was an act of faith, it was our act of faith, and it still is.

The Council of Europe has allowed us to move forward in terms of respect for fundamental rights, democracy and the rule of law in Europe. It has allowed us to almost completely eradicate the death penalty on the European continent, by making its abolition a prerequisite to join this Organization. Torture has also been pushed back, preventing it from being used in places where there is deprivation of liberty. It has allowed us to adopt instruments on the protection of children, against their exploitation, on the prevention of violence against women. It gave birth to the European Convention on Human Rights, which, under the leadership of René Cassin, required a court with a binding force that would ensure that States comply with its judgments. It has pushed forward social rights, housing, health, education, employment, freedom of movement, which is guaranteed by the European Social Charter. Furthermore, this Organization has helped us build the rule of law, which today is taken forward in Moldova through the Venice Commission. It has been a visionary organization with a precursory role when it comes to the protection of personal data. It has made our continent more democratic with election observation, by fighting corruption, by defending freedom of expression. It has made it safer by defining common rules to combat terrorism or cybercrime.

Inevitably, I cannot give you a complete list of all that has been done over the course of the last 70 years of struggles, 70 years of conquests, that are the treasure of our Organization.

We have forged here, for the whole continent, and despite all the obstacles, a common architecture in the name of the European fraternity Victor Hugo dreamed of. With the will to build a common house for Europe, evoked by Mikhail GORBATCHEV before this Assembly in 1989.

Thirty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the walls of this common house are showing some cracks. That is because fundamental rights are being questioned on our continent, and we must face this fact and discuss it in this forum. In Turkey, where the rule of law is declining, where the judicial proceedings opened against human rights defenders, journalists, academics, this must be subject to our vigilance. Russia, where repression of the demonstrations this summer raises many legitimate concerns, which France shares and clearly expressed. There is also fascination with authoritarian regimes in the European Union, as our democracies in crisis have failed to provide our citizens with the protection they aspire to. They were fractured under the illusion that freedom could be mechanically imposed everywhere, that the peoples of Europe would eventually unite around a set of rules and norms, where the weight of their past, of their culture, would eventually be diluted. The return of history puts an end to this belief, or this hope. This is why the times we live, where the cracks are starting to show, call for a certain strength of soul, of lucidity and courage.

I believe that for the future, we must set ourselves at least two requirements, which I would like to mention. The first is to safeguard and rebuild the unity of our continent on the basis of our common values. This is what France defends within the European Union, to build economic, digital, ecological and strategic sovereignty with our partners. For that, first, we need solidarity, full and entire, among its members. It also involves strengthening the rule of law in the European Union and, therefore, taking into account the work of the Council of Europe in that regard and the accession of the UE to the ECHR. There is no incompatibility, no competition between projects and organizations, quite the opposite. I am deeply convinced that this European sovereignty will be all the better supported if we are able to lay the foundations of trust, on a continental scale, based on the values ​​that bring us together in the Council of Europe.

To build Europe is not a given task. It is what we have achieved over the last seven decades, after a millennia of conflicts, of European civil wars and conquests coming from the outside. I firmly believe that it is in the Council of Europe where the fractures of our continent can be repaired. Because we have learned, precisely here, to overcome the divisions of war, the divisions of the cold war; because it is the place where the European conscience is built and where it is discussed. It will not be without tension. I know that in this Assembly there have been profound debates this year, about the place of Russia within the Council of Europe. Your Assembly and the Committee of Ministers have chosen to maintain Russia in the Council of Europe. And without the joint effort that we have made with the Finnish Presidency, without the commitment of our countries and this House, in order to return to the normal functioning of the Council of Europe, the crisis could not have been overcome. And it would have been followed by negative consequences for our peoples and the protection of their rights.

I fully support the choice to keep Russia in the Council of Europe, because I believe that the Russian people feel fundamentally recognized in European humanism. Because they participated in its construction, because the geography, the history and culture of Russia are fundamentally European. And because when one of our members moves away from the bedrock of our common values, the division would be yet another failure, which would condemn us to impotence. This helplessness would be the victory of those who do not believe in our common ground, or in our values. Doubts and criticisms are audible, legitimate. But, what would have happened if we had just done nothing?

Let us never forget everything the entry of Russia into our Organization has actually brought us, specifically. Everything that it meant for all Russian citizens: the moratorium on the death penalty, the right to individual petition and the compulsory jurisdiction of the court; the possibility for Russian citizens to defend their rights before the European Court of Human Rights against their own government. Your Assembly has made the sovereign choice to welcome back the Russian delegation. If that hadn't happened, the risk was that sooner or later Russia would have simply left the Council of Europe. Then Russian citizens would have been deprived of the right of appeal, the very possibility of enforcing their rights. You have made this decision and I support it without being naive. I am aware of the fact that the role of the Council, the Committee of Ministers, this Assembly, is not to replace the governments, which are responsible for bringing the Minsk agreements to a successful conclusion, the Normandy procedures, or any other legitimate debates. Your duty is to defend the rights of all citizens.

I strongly believe that this decision in no way weakens our common determination, and it does not mean that we have any double standards within the Council of Europe. This decision in no way weakens our determination to put an end to frozen conflicts, which are still painful scars of the divisions in our continent: in Ukraine, in Georgia, in the Caucasus, in Transnistria. It's not a gesture of complacency; it is a decision attached to requirements. Requirements for Russia to fully respect its obligations and fulfil its duties towards the Council of Europe. Requirements for our Organization to be stronger and more effective in such situations, to act with more predictability, responsiveness and credibility. This is the purpose of the new joint procedure that your Assembly and the Committee of Ministers have decided to initiate. I hope it will be operational next January. We must have credible and strengthened tools to enforce Council of Europe decisions, and to ensure that each Member State fully respects its own commitments and obligations.

Before joining you here, I was with Oleg Sentsov. He is here today in Strasbourg: free. This is an outcome of the exchange of prisoners between Russia and Ukraine a few weeks ago, which also allowed the release of 24 Ukrainian sailors. Others are still waiting. We owe them our commitment to dialogue and reconciliation in our continent. Oleg Sentsov is one of those people who believes — as Bernanos — that the freedom of others is as essential to us as our own freedom; one of those people who believes that there is no point in having ideals if we are not prepared to fight for them against all odds. If we look at history and at the course of our lives, I think that holds true. This makes him a great European, because being European, fundamentally, is never to give up in the fight for freedom and dignity. And what we are working towards, as we have done, and as we continue to do, is the unity of our whole continent around these values, to give them full effectiveness, as the philosopher Simone Weil said.

The second requirement we must set ourselves is to look at human rights, freedom and democracy in the face of great contemporary challenges. I will not be exhaustive here either, but I wanted, as head of state, to share some unfinished reflections on the collective situation we are experiencing today, which is — I believe — deeply novel. This is undoubtedly the main challenge of European humanism in the 21st century, because the principles and values ​​that bring us together in the Council of Europe are not only threatened by our divisions, they are challenged by the transformations that we live. Challenged from the outside by the world as a whole, the return to an era of brutal exercise of power, where violations of fundamental rights, the most basic humanitarian law, are no longer punished and there doesn't seem to be any kind of proper response to it.

The era we live in — which David Miliband described a few weeks ago as a "new age of impunity" — is a historical setback in the respect for human rights and humanitarian rights, in the major theatres of war in many of our societies. Where we thought, until a decade ago, that this movement was unstoppable, that its purpose was always the extension of rights, the completion of democracy, the conquest of human rights. The victory, yet again, in every State, of new centimetres of democracy and rule of law: that is no longer the case. This is due to an unprecedented weakening of the multilateral system, which is a deep source of insecurity for all, and also calls into question the very spirit of an Organization like ours, the Council of Europe. The building of peace based on cooperation between nations and respect for the rights of all. The challenge to our principles and our values ​​is also internal, as history accelerates at a great speed. They are challenged by the terrorist threat, the digital, climatic and demographic transformations, the crisis of globalized capitalism, which has not been able to deal with inequalities.

All of these phenomena have logics and dynamics, sometimes profoundly different. But they all come together in our societies and mark the return of great fears, that we see growing everywhere. And with them, irrationalism: fear of decommissioning, loss of values, fear of the world, loss of confidence in who we are, in our relationship with the world, in the very truth of the facts, sometimes even in the rule of law. Faced with this, two radically opposed voices assert themselves today. The first is what I would call disintegration. It is that of those who claim that, in order to protect ourselves from the upheavals of the world, we should narrow the space of our rights and freedoms, turn in on ourselves; those who accept elections, but reject pluralism and are wary of counter-powers that limit the exercise of their authority; those who use the counterterrorism argument to silence their political opponents; those who believe that the answer to contemporary challenges, to build a strong State, is the deconstruction of what we have built. This voice exists. It has triumphed in some European countries and it is getting stronger in many of our countries. And I believe that if we yield into that we would be forgetting who we are, Europeans. Like you, I unfortunately see polls that show the growing fascination of our peoples with authoritarian regimes, and that they are sometimes ready to make concessions, as they believe that perhaps a more efficient authority would be the right answer to these fears and threats. I think that would be a historical mistake, we would be losing our way and taking the risk of disappearing.

The second voice, sometimes raised by the opponents to the first category, is what I would call illusion. It feeds on a sort of dryness of reason, that intends to erase the mark of history. It is the voice of those who, most of the time, sincerely in love with the ideas of freedom and rights, want the world not to be what it is, and for people not to be who they are. They would like to say that people are wrong, that their fears are illegitimate, and answer them only using a discourse of reason, sometimes of exclusion or sermon. This would mean forgetting that the rule of law is a fragile construction that must be the object of daily nurture, intelligence, perseverance, and this also implies facing our contradictions. It would also mean to give in to a form of magical thinking when it comes to human rights, forgetting history and the women and men who helped build that history. It would mean forgetting that human rights are an unfinished struggle and that, with modesty — as René Cassin said, to whom we owe so much —, we should be "the infantryman", and not only the eye-catching guardian. The infantryman, yes. Because it is a battle that goes hand-to-hand, understanding the fears and the limit situations they can produce.

I believe that it is our collective task here, in the Council of Europe and all together, not to give in to either of these two voices, but to try to build another one. We must think about our objectives, such as a space for freedoms and rights in our world as it is, with questions that seem simple, but are precisely the questions that we need to address. For instance, how do we protect our fellow citizens from terrorism at the same time we preserve their individual rights and freedoms? How do we defend freedom of expression while hate speech is spreading? How do we respond to the increasing violence in our societies while making our democracies stronger? How do we protect the right to asylum while responding to the legitimate demand of control of migratory flows? What new rights do we need to build in the digital age, the age of artificial intelligence, in a world where human life is increasingly dematerialized? These are some of the questions that we must face here, together with others, and there are no easy answers.

In my view, the challenge is to give proper grounding, a factual historical reality to the building of rights and freedoms. For all of those who no longer believe in this, we need counter arguments, and we need to look at the building that we have made moving on from illusions and other wrongful ideas. The challenge we face is to make our democracies stronger by rediscovering the very meaning of what makes us Europeans. The conviction — and, above all, the demonstration — that our strength in the face of the transformations of the world lies, not in the weakening, but in the defense of our rights and freedoms. This requires, first of all, clarity of mind. It is always easier to criticise liberal democracies than authoritarian regimes. Always easier. You can perfectly well criticize liberal democracies, and even more so, liberal democracies that ratify the most treaties. We can criticise all we want in liberal democracies that authorize it. But, let us beware the risks of falling into the trap of the illiberals and the authoritarian regimes. No, it's not the same thing to maintain public order than to repress a demonstration. It is not the same thing to protect one's borders than to undermine the right to asylum. It is not the same thing to fight against hate speech and misinformation than to restrict freedom of expression and opinion.

Let us be careful with the accuracy of our language, the precision in the analysis of facts. I say this for all of us: democracies can run out of steam if there is confusion in our minds. That is why we all must show great responsibility, lets avoiding any shortcuts. It also requires courage to confront these great challenges, in each of our countries, and we must accept to have a debate here in the Council of Europe. I want to mention a couple of examples where we have had discussions and even criticism in this House. Criticism is valuable to democratic dialogue, and to the very construction of our rights. As for the answer, it isn't entirely here, in our respective countries, that are being discussed, criticized or judged. It is in this dialogue, in the existence of this dialogue and in the dialectic it produces. The first question, which I have mentioned briefly, is the fight against terrorism in a democracy. I mentioned it two years ago, before the European Court of Human Rights. There is no distinction between protecting our societies against terrorism and defending our rights and freedoms. It is one and the same fight, since in fact, what the terrorists want is to destroy these rights and these freedoms in our societies, our way of living. The goal is, therefore, to make our democracies stronger against terrorism, while strengthening the guarantee of rights for our fellow citizens. It is the very notion of safety, that should never be confused with obsession with security.

It was in this spirit that the law to strengthen domestic security and fight against terrorism, from November 1st 2017, was prepared, debated and adopted in France. It enabled France, first, to put an end to the state of emergency and return to the confines of the European Convention on Human Rights, by abandoning the mechanism provided by Article 15. I could answer all the questions that arise with this subject, but I believe that this law has allowed us to return to ordinary law, to respond to the challenges we were faced with because of terrorism in our societies, and to protect the safety of all peoples. The second example I wanted to mention is the issue of maintaining order in our democracies. Like other countries, France is facing profound changes in terms of public demonstrations in our streets. And again, there can be no shortcuts, no confusion, when addressing this issue. Therefore, let me say before this house: that we have looked very carefully at the work of the Council of Europe on the use of certain so-called intermediate weapons.

The Government has responded in detail and publicly to the comments of the Commissioner for Human Rights. But it is true, also, that this new situation, that this unprecedented violence we have been confronted with, which might not have started yesterday, but is something that has been developing over the course of the past ten years in France as in other countries, must lead us to rethink our own Organization with great humility, pragmatism and commitment to all our principles. This situation implies, therefore, a deep reflection on the means to respond to these new forms of violence. Again, without using any shortcuts or simply pointing at each other, starting with the forces of order, whose very reason is to preserve the public space so freedom of expression can be exercised. If we fail, it is the freedom of manifestation itself that would be challenged. That is why I asked my government to take into account all the observations made by the Commissioner for Human Rights, but also all the discussions that have taken place here by human rights defenders. All of this in order to rethink and propose a new doctrine, which is currently being developed. This new doctrine of homeland security and public order will be debated, made public and it will be transparent. The third example is the fight against misinformation. The recent elections, notably the European elections, have shown the existence of massive campaigns to disseminate false information, intended to change the normal course of the electoral process. While the civil and criminal responsibilities of the authors of false information could be sought on the basis of pre-existing laws, we must note that they are still deeply insufficient — in France as in many other States. For instance, how can we quickly withdrawal the contents online, to avoid their spread and the distortion of the democratic exercise?

The law of  December 22nd 2018, thus imposed an obligation of transparency on Internet platforms, in order to facilitate the work of law enforcement authorities to detect and to better inform users about the identity of advertising content broadcasters. This is just one example, and this work must continue, but it shows how much we need to think about a form of democratic public order in the Internet. Preserving, of course, freedom of expression and freedom of information. But this new space, of the Internet and social networks, has been conceived, thought, as a new space where our primary values ​​do not have to be respected. Imagine: we had to respond in recent months after what happened in New Zealand, a response against terrorism on the Internet, that was held in Paris in the month of May, and was comforted a few days ago in New York. There is no public order today in social networks and the Internet, I say this to those who legitimately defend freedom. There is no freedom without public order. Liberty, as Montaigne said, is a freedom which is expressed through the laws of the sovereign. There is no absolute freedom, that would be expressed in the denial of the freedom of all the others: it does not exist. It is, however, what we are experiencing today. Freedom is not the freedom of the anonymous author who would utter the worst hate speech, the worst disinformation. That is not what freedom is about. It's the appearance of freedom, but It's the opposite. So, this being the point, we also have to reconcile opposing points of view.

The fourth example, and I will stop here, is the control of migratory flows and the protection of the right of asylum. The right of asylum is now threatened in Europe by the speeches of those who want to confuse everything, who believe that Europe must barricade itself behind walls, and no longer welcome those fleeing from war and persecution, who need our protection. The French Constitution, since the end of the Second World War, and as our constitutional text here at the Council of Europe, carries the right to asylum, that is to say the protection of freedom fighters. This is one of our most fundamental achievements. It's part of who we are and it was invented here, in this continent. However, If we are not able to respond effectively to the migratory challenge, if we do not have the courage to face the demand for control expressed by our fellow citizens, if we do not have the clarity to see that, in many cases, asylum applications come from deeply safe countries — some of which are in the process of opening negotiations with the European Union, or with whom we have complete freedom of movement, and that today demand asylum —asylum is obviously subject to distortion. If we fail to remember this, I don't think we would be entirely honest with ourselves. We would not be honest with our laws, with the principles of this right, and with what our people are telling us. If we let the right of asylum become object of diversion, of human trafficking, it will disappear.

And it is not the democrats who will make disappear. It will be authoritarians, elected by people because they are afraid, and they think "these people are not serious about our rights, they mix up everything and protect us from nothing". Our peoples, by choosing to protect the freedom fighters of the world, have not decided to abolish all borders. And this has been decided legitimately, so they want to continue to decide as sovereignly. Sovereignty sets boundaries and respect for the law. This is the reason why France, domestically and at European and international levels, is subscribing to a comprehensive agenda for major migratory flows. Which do not affect Europe first and foremost; but Africa and within Africa itself. We must have a responsible development policy, a policy to fight against all forms of trafficking, but also we need to protect the respect for our European borders. That is what a European public order is about, we need a harmonization of our rules. Here too, we must improve our own Organization. On each of these topics, I want to make you feel, deep down, what I would call the ethical tension that comes through our democracies. And that makes your work — our work —, undoubtedly, deeply original and historic. I believe that our generation, no longer has to just build progress of rights everywhere in Europe. That is, the advance of rights, of the common ground that we built, towards countries that had not yet accepted them and, therefore, to push a geographical extension of these rights, or simply to create new rights. No, now we also have to deal with this tension, the new phenomena that come to play in our societies. Because these phenomena are as radical as terrorism, so profoundly new as the migratory fact, in its scale and characteristics, so profoundly unseen technologically as social networks and the Internet, that we must rethink our Organization without taking any shortcuts. I think it's our job. This Assembly is not an assembly of legal experts. With all due respect to lawyers and judges, who have their role to play. 

We have political work to carry out in the most noble sense of the term, which is, basically, to fulfil, in the public sphere, the purpose of ethical thinking. So we have to think about these borderline situations, this new framework, without no shortcuts, never forgetting where we are from and what is happening all around us. These are some of the convictions I wanted to share with you, ladies and gentlemen, dear friends, before answering your questions.

We need unity, lucidity, but we also need to think about this new framework, this new paradigm. I believe that is the challenge of our Council, this Assembly, the Committee of Ministers, the Court. This is the challenge that is also posed by artificial intelligence. I do not want to be long, but it is something that we also must address in all European jurisdictions. This challenge is historic. This is the challenge of Europe, and it is a challenge that we must face together.

I was rereading, while preparing my intervention, some texts to try to think about what most characterizes, deep down, this Great Europe that our Organization embodies. Undoubtedly, one is the ability to meet these challenges, which we see, have incomplete and unequivocal answers everywhere else in the world. We have taken that on board, assuming the tensions I have just mentioned. I found a text from 1992, in a book directed by Koslowski, called "Imagine Europe". A book written by one of my masters, to which I owe a lot, Paul Ricoeur. He called it "a new ethos for Europe". I wanted to end my remarks with a few ideas that illustrate the debates we have had in recent months, and those that will guide us in the coming months. Basically, he was trying to qualify Europe. He said that there are three pillars. It's a model of translation. I have often mentioned it, citing Umberto Eco: "The European language is that of translation". It is true that what characterizes our Great Europe — this Assembly illustrates it marvellously — is, basically, this form of linguistic hospitality which consists in accepting all the languages ​​of Europe. And no continent — look at the map — has such a concentration of languages, cultures, and thus has accepted the translation. Translation is accepting the other with his differences and welcoming it in my language. It is not a dream of Esperanto, that would reduce all differences; it is the capacity for hospitality and, therefore, to accept our dissonances, our differences. Even if they are — and especially if they are — momentary. Then, he said, it is a "model of exchanges of memory". Basically, Europe is not just a reconciliation of memories — and we can see that in frozen conflicts. The divisions that there may have been in this House have shown, there are memories that are still fractured, divided. But in Europe, at least, there is an exchange of memories. That is to say that they talk to each other.

Many would have us believe that there is a frozen European identity. Sometimes, even, some say there is a frozen European way of life, as if it were established. I believe very deeply that there is, above all, in Europe, to paraphrase Ricoeur, what I would call a narrative identity. There is a common history that we share together. Sometimes we have different versions, but we talk to each other, we write it together. It is a dialogue, it is made of controversies, and these controversies will continue, and therefore this exchange of memories is irreducible. This is why the Observatory of History Education, which we strongly support, is to me, in this essential undertaking, one of our fundamental roles and, in particular, it is for your Assembly. Finally, he said it is "a model of forgiveness", Europe. When we have had so many wars, when we have divided so much, there is a moment when the Spartan decree must apply. It is forbidden to recall the words of the past, you have a duty to remember, towards history, but also, at some point, a duty to forget. Not an oblivion that erases traces, but an oversight that allows you to live together.

This model of forgiveness is constitutive of who we are. That means to regulate things, but to have what I will call the intelligence of the future. Because we have to live together. This is Europe, its inevitability our treasure. We have to live together and we are here together. These were, ladies and gentlemen, some convictions that I wanted to share with you. This Great Europe is being made here, sometimes in this division, in its traumas. We forget too often in the time we live that controversy is essential, it is deeply democratic. The incessant controversy will not weaken us. On the contrary: it is one of the great luxuries of democracy and the rule of law. Long live. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much. 


Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly


Thank you very much, Mr President, for painting a complete picture of past successes, present-day concerns and the challenges of the future.

And I think we have listened with great interest to your speech, your convictions, which we share.

I hope we live up to the courage shown by the pioneers in defense of European humanism.

Earlier you alluded to the questions that were going to be put to you, and I do not hide anything from you by saying that 87 people have registered on the list to ask you these questions.  I think there will be a lot of frustration and, therefore, I would like to suggest that you actually listen to five questions.

Five questions posed by the spokespersons of the five political groups, to which you will answer afterwards, I am very sorry for the others.

I give the floor to Mrs BAKOYANNIS, on behalf of the PPE Group.

Questions to Mr Emmanuel MACRON, President of the French Republic


Greece, EPP/CD, Spokesperson for the group


Mister President,

Welcome. Congratulations on your speech.

You talked about the migration crisis. I am Greek, and in my opinion, we are facing a new great crisis. During the three summer months, 20,000 people arrived on the Greek islands via Turkey. It is very clear that Turkey makes no effort to stop this flow, on the contrary, it facilitates this migratory flow.

Turkey is putting pressure on Europe for financial reasons — it wants a new agreement —, it wants Europe to accept its policy in Syria, and for there to be no reaction to the flagrant violation of sovereign rights in the exclusive economic zone of Cyprus.

What, Mr President, will be the policy of France on this subject, where everyone agrees that burden sharing is necessary for a common and united European policy?

Thank you very much.


Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly


I give the floor, afterwards, to the five spokespeople, so that you may be able to regroup some answers. I give the floor to Mr. SCHWABE for the Socialist Group.


Germany, SOC, Spokesperson for the group


Thank you, President.

I would like to express my sincere thanks for the French Presidency of the Council of Europe.

You have led this Council of Europe into a new era. Russia is back, but we have agreed that we will create a new mechanism to deal with the countries that do not follow the rules here. I can only encourage you to continue on this path consistently.

I'd like to follow on to what Ms BAKOYANNIS has said. I think it is a disgrace that we in Europe are allowing people in the Mediterranean to die. We have 928 people have died so far this year in the Mediterranean, and more will no doubt die. My question is: How are we going to move forward with this? German Chancellor Merkel has proposed the creation of a new EU mission, a state-owned maritime rescue service, so I want to ask how France feels about it.


Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly


The next question is put by Mr LIDDELL-GRAINGER for the Conservative Group.


United Kingdom, EC, Spokesperson for the group


Thank you, Madame President.

Mr President, you said in your speech -- you mentioned a couple of countries -- and I am very grateful for that, but imagine if a member state that has invaded two other members and said it would execute its citizens on the Council of Europe soil and has committed serious violations of the Convention of Human Rights, and yet continues to have the full support of the "grand payeur" countries.

You said you would not, as a country, exclude a member state from the Council of Europe. Then what is the threshold of violations that would result in France -- France -- calling for such an expulsion?


Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly


For the Liberal Group, I call Mr DAEMS.

Mr Hendrik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, Spokesperson for the group


Mister President,

Thank you for your important and motivating comments.

But I have a very specific question: will your new approach to dialogue with Moscow change France's position on the illegal annexation of Crimea? More concretely, will you sooner or later accept the annexation of Crimea by Russia?


Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly


Thank you. The last question is put by Mr KOX for the United European Left.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, Spokesperson for the group


Mr President,

May I first thank you and Madame de Montchalin for the great help France gave to get this organisation back on track again. Thank you very much. Merci beaucoup.

Do you agree with -- could you agree with -- me that the next major step that we should take is the accession of the European Union to the European Convention of Human Rights so that we indeed can strengthen the whole system of human rights, the rule of law and democracy. As you know, in the Lisbon Treaty it is already agreed, but it has taken ten years, so can we again count on France as the main advocate for a quick accession to the Convention, as Madame de Montchalin also favoured in her introduction speech yesterday?

Thank you very much.


Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly


Thank you. Mr Speaker, you have the floor.

Mr Emmanuel MACRON

President of the French Republic


Thank you very much, Madam President.

Thank you for having spoken in French, Madam Bakoyannis, I am very grateful for that. And thank you for your comments.

I am, of course, fully aware of the difficult period Greece is going through. It's true to say that we've seen a surge in migration here and the problems are focused primarily in the Eastern Mediterranean. You are quite right in saying that. And you are also right in saying that Turkey is, or could be, using this is a means of applying pressure. Let me start by stressing that I don't think it would be right for us to cede to such pressure. 

I think we have to work with Turkey. In 2015-2016 we negotiated with Turkey, and those negotiations led to an agreement that we must comply with. That agreement doesn't call for additional measures at this stage. At the same time, I don't believe that our agenda in Syria should be dictated by this pressure from Turkey. 

We have agreements regarding the situation in northeastern Syria and we've reached an agreement in Turkey. And within the Istanbul Process, Germany, France, Russia, Turkey, and the United Nations have been working together to secure progress on that. So I am very much committed to that agreement. 

With regard to migration policy, you talked about the need for burden sharing; this is essential, and it must be an important part of our reforms of the migration policy. The setting up of the European Commission must enable us to accelerate the speed of this now. 

We've seen the effect of the migratory crisis in Greece, and indeed in Italy – not over the last few months when the numbers of migrants have been considerably smaller, but think back to Mare Nostrum, the operation set up back in 2015, when the migratory flows were at their height.

At that time, there was a severe lack of European solidarity and this European solidarity is still sorely lacking. What we need is a European policy focusing on the needs and on the situation in the countries of origin. We've been talking about the borders on the Eastern Mediterranean, but we have a genuine need for Europe-wide coordination on this issue.

Secondly, we need an effective European policy that enables us to protect our borders. Border protection cannot simply be seen as the responsibility of the first countries of entry. France has committed to increasing funding for Frontex and increasing new staff for that agency. But we have to do more. We also have to share the cost of protecting our borders. 

Personally, I believe this whole debate on balancing responsibility and duties has to be addressed in a different way. The number of countries which were welcoming refugees – called the second countries of entry – were in effect placing the responsibility on the initial countries of entry. So I think we have to step up our sense of financial responsibility to the initial places of arrival of refugees. 

If somebody who comes from outside Europe is registered in Eurodac, we use the word "migrant", but I do not like the word migrant because it covers so many different forms of reality. We all have to share responsibility in dealing with these individuals, not just the country of entry. Otherwise, we end up with a situation where the inflows will be unacceptable for the initial country of origin and inhumane for so many of these refugees.

So the first requirement for me is to work towards genuine European solidarity, which is something that is far from complete. The cost of integration has to be shared by the whole of Europe, which will enable all countries to cooperate together. Thirdly, we have to improve procedures within the Schengen area, in particular for refugees, and the measures we can use to support refugees.

So, once again, not only do we have to reduce the burden of the initial countries of origin but also we have to reduce these non-managed flows. Human traffickers take advantage of our short-comings and imperfections to exploit the dreams of people who have no hope of achieving asylum. You see people coming and spending three to four years in Europe, from countries which are safe, and in many many cases, they can't even go back to their countries of origin or they find themselves living deplorable living conditions. At the same time, we have people who are entitled to asylum — they also pay the price for this because they will also have to wait three to four years before they can benefit from the protection they are entitled to. In the meantime, they live in terrible conditions.

We have to have a genuine European policy to take migrants back to their countries. That's also a condition for the success of our system. So, yes, we do have to find a more effective way of sharing the burden. We need a Europe-wide, a genuine European mechanism for sharing the cost of this, and we also have to ensure that we have a genuinely shared, uniform approach to asylum policy.

Thank you, Sir, for your comments. You talked about the rescue mechanism at sea, which is another strand of the migration policy. This concerns the central Mediterranean and Libian zone in particular. I've never wanted to get caught up in discussions about figures. Every human life that is lost in the Mediterranean is a shame for each and every one of us, and that's even more the case if it's due to our collective failings.

We have clear responsibilities here. First of all, to avoid playing into the hands of networks of human traffickers. They are the first culprits of what is happening; they promise young people – young adults or young children – living in Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea, Senegal, Mali or elsewhere, that their future can only be built in Europe, so they travel across the Sahara, the Sahel, and in many cases spend many months living in Libya, before risking their lives trying to cross the Mediterranean.

So we have to lead a merciless battle against these organised groups. We've been working in cooperation with the UNHCR and the International Office of Migration and the African Union to try to tackle this problem of these inhumane and degrading conditions in which people are forced to live in Lybia. 

Last July, after the Helsinki meeting, it was in France that the Interior and Foreign Affairs Ministers, together with UNHCR and IOM, came together to condemn the strikes against refugee camps while at the same time, as we did at the end of 2017, establishing conditions to make it possible for those whose request for asylum was received to return safely to their country of origin, together with the support they needed. This initiative we launched on 28 August 2017, working together with a series of transit countries from Africa. Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister Gentiloni and several other European leaders supported this. The most important priority is to support those who are entitled to asylum and we have to ensure they have a safe place in transit countries. This is what we did with Niger.

When it comes to mechanisms for rescue at sea, in many ways it's too late. That is, once refugees try to cross the sea, it's too late. However, we've adopted a series of simple principles. The right to assistance and international maritime law must be respected in the sense that the nearest port should receive those boats. France has taken its share of refugees in recent months. Moreover, we've taken more than anybody else despite the fact that our ports aren't necessarily the nearest or the safest. I refuse to abandon that rule.

This is the rule which has prevailed over the last few months, despite efforts to play political games with this. So we adopted a mechanism, which was established back in July by the ministers – first in Helsinki and then in Paris – regarding maritime search and rescue operations. And this is what Chancellor Merkel supported, as well as eight other countries. Some of the countries have refused to live up to their political commitments, I want to emphasise that. So, as far as this European maritime rescue operation is concerned, we have to share responsibility via the Commission. That's what we agreed on in July and that's the only way to solve this humanitarian problem.

As I said, once again, if things reach that stage it's already too late.  If we do find an effective way of sharing responsibility and sharing the burden when it comes to helping and dealing with refugees, that problem of distributing refugees will no longer arise; it will be solved by shared responsibility and solidarity.

At the same time, we also have to find a way of finding permanent settlement for those entitled to asylum. This requires, once again, solidarity within the Schengen area. My personal belief is those who do not want to comply with this duty of solidarity should be excluded from the Schengen zone. That makes perfect sense in my view. The Schengen zone is an area of freedom of movement, which brings with it certain obligations. 

As far as your next question is concerned – in fact, several of your questions were quite similar – the next two questions pertained to Russia. The first question, Sir, was related to limitations. I don't for a moment underestimate the indignation which many feel when a member state of this Council invades another member. The question we have to ask ourselves is what we can achieve with our decisions. We should never forget that. So the decisions we take must be legally watertight. So, would a decision taken by the Parliamentary Assembly alone have been fully watertight, legally speaking? I think probably not.

Secondly, we have to evaluate the consequences. Would any such decision have an impact on Russia's invasion of Ukraine or potential consequences elsewhere? I think it's clear that it wouldn't. One of the consequences might have been Russia simply leaving the Council of Europe. And that, in my view, would have been very much against the intentions of those taking such a decision. If the Russian Federation were to have left the Council of Europe, that would have meant that Russian nationals would no longer be able to access the European Court to defend their rights, including against their government.

So, let me say that I understand your indignation, but I think that the decision initially made wouldn't have actually been effective in translating that indignation into reality. As a result, I think you made the right choice.

Now, the question of limits – and clearly the new joint approach will be subject to limits – which I can tell you I support fully, as I said. The question we have to ask is what will be instigated. We have to ensure the limits are directly connected to the effective consequences of what we do. Otherwise, this does not make sense. If sanctions mean that countries would no longer pay and those countries would no longer be able to enforce their rights, that's surely not what we're trying to achieve with a country that is not cooperating.

Therefore, I believe that the sovereignty of member states, members of the Council of Europe, is inviolable. And, in practical terms, the limit has already been crossed, and so the question now is what can we do to ensure our legal and political decisions are watertight? I think that we can do this, that we have the institutions, we have the work of the Parliamentary Assembly, the work of the Committee of Ministers, the work of the Court and, of course, the role of the European Union.

In this specific case, France wanted to use the European Union and its bilateral agreements to establish mechanisms to sanction the country in question. We believe that's more effective. And that's also what we decided to do via the Minsk Agreements and the Normandy Process, which I believe is the most effective way forward. But that does not mean that we are neither naive nor that we're turning a blind eye or pretending that a red line hasn't been crossed. But I would apply the same logic here as I would for other borderline cases. How can we act effectively and efficiently? There's no point in taking ineffective or counterproductive action.

On the other question regarding Ukraine: the Minsk Agreements, and nothing more. Our position has not changed at all. Our position, when it comes to reinitiating dialogue with Russia, is also the direct result of our historical and geographic circumstances, but we can't establish a dialogue of confidence if we're not honest and lucid. This is why we have a need for the Minsk Agreements. We've continued to try to secure progress with Chancellor Merkel and Presidents Zelenski and Putin. In the coming weeks, we will have a summit with Heads of State and Government in Normandy, and hopefully, that meeting will enable us to further build on the agreement we reached this summer. We reached an important agreement on a prisoner exchange.

We now need to move forward on the basis of the so-called Steinmeier compromise, or formula, so as to move towards the implementation of these Minsk agreements, on the contact line, Donbas, Crimea, and other topics. And I think that's a decision we have a duty to take. 

Finally, I'd like to confirm the full support of France for EU accession to the Convention. This is something I touched on in my speech and, as a minister underlined yesterday, we fully support this process – without ambiguity.


Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly


Thank you, Mr. President,

Many thanks for these answers and, once again, for the time you have taken to address this Assembly.

Unfortunately, we have to interrupt the series of questions here. I would like to point out to my colleagues that, of course, we will meet again this afternoon for the 70th anniversary ceremony, but that the next sitting of the Assembly will be held tomorrow morning at 10 o'clock, in accordance with the order of the day of this part-session.

The meeting is adjourned.

The sitting was closed at 13:30