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Opening of the sitting No. 31

Mr Akif Çağatay KILIÇ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly 

10:08:11

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Morning colleagues, the sitting is now open.

This morning, the agenda calls for the election of a judge to the European Court of Human Rights in respect of Portugal.

I refer members to the list of candidates and the biographical notices which are to be found in Doc. 14954, and an opinion from the Committee on the Election of Judges to the European Court of Human Rights in Doc. 14968, Addendum 2.

The voting will take place in the area behind the President's Chair.

At 1 p.m. the ballot will be suspended. It will re-open at 3.30 p.m. and will close at 5 p.m. in order to allow the result to be announced before the end of this afternoon’s sitting. As usual, counting will then take place under the supervision of four tellers.

I shall now draw by lot the names of the four tellers who will supervise the counting of the votes.

This is going to be interesting...

Mr Yunus EMRE.

On seat 410 Mr Emanuelis ZINGERIS; he doesn't seem to be here.

Mr Bertrand BOUYX, seat number 73.

And Mr Vladimir KOZHIN. Is Mr KOZHIN here?  He doesn't seem to be. Two hundred and eighteen? Is he sitting there? 

One more. Two hundred and twenty one, Mr Konstantin KUHLE.

So we have four colleagues.

They should go to the back of the President’s chair at 5 p.m., please.

I expect to announce the results of the elections here in the Assembly Chamber before the end of this afternoon’s sitting.

In the event that none of the candidates secure an absolute majority, the second round of voting will be held on Thursday, in the morning and afternoon.

I now declare the ballots open.

Debate: Ombudsman institutions in Europe – the need for a set of common standards

Lord Richard BALFE

United Kingdom, EC, Rapporteur 

10:13:05

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Thank you Mr President and Colleagues,

The Council of Europe and the Parliamentary Assembly have consistently promoted the creation and strengthening of Ombudsman institutions, in particular, in its Resolution 1959 (2013) on ‘Strengthening the Institution of Ombudsman in Europe’. This called on member states which have set up institutions to ensure that they fulfil a number of criteria, in particular as regards independence. Maybe at this point I could make it clear we're talking about publicly appointed Ombudsmen. There are of course many ways of doing the job of an Ombudsman, particularly in the field of mediation. I speak as a trained mediator and I know there are others in this Assembly.

I'd like to recall that Council of Europe member states have established many different types of Ombudsman. There is no standardised model for this institution. An Ombudsman whose mandate involves examining cases of maladministration and in some cases also human rights defenders. It is therefore regrettable and reflected in the report that in recent years many of the Ombudsmen have found themselves confronted with threats to their effectiveness and independence. These have included legislative reforms aimed at weakening their institution, they have included unjustified cuts in the budget, and audits and obstacles to accessing the files and information they need to do their job. They've also been subject to verbal attacks by politicians, as of course have members of the judiciary who sometimes come to the wrong decisions as far as politicians are concerned.

In moving this motion for a resolution, I'd like to thank the staff of the committee who've helped enormously, and the chair of the committee. We had a hearing in her home country which was very successful when we listened to a number of Ombudsmen. The origin and the reason for this is to encourage the promotion of a set of principles, in close co-operation with the Venice Commission. These principles are inspired by the Paris Principles relating to the status of human rights institutions, which were adopted by the United Nations in 1993 and establish a basic set of principles for national human rights institutions. These principles, whilst not applicable to all types of Ombudsman, are applicable to what we would call the classical Ombudsman institutions.

In parallel with this report, the Venice Commission, one of the committees I serve on, started drafting a compilation of principles pertaining to the protection and promotion of the Ombudsman institution. They did this in cooperation with major international institutions including the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the International Ombudsman Institutions. These principles drawn together are known as the Venice Principles, and they were finally adopted on 15 March this year. They run ahead of us by a short time, and they were indeed endorsed by the Council of Ministers on 2 May this year.

My report focuses on the content of the Principles and the role they can play in promoting minimum standards.

The Principles recall the independence, objectivity, transparency, fairness and impartiality which are the core principles of Ombudsman institutions. They contain 25 basic principles aimed at carrying out these standards.

These minimum standards are aimed at promoting the efficiency of the institution, and indeed increasing its efficiency and helping parliaments, governments and public bodies to establish and consolidate such institutions, recognising their role in strengthening democracy, the rule of law and human rights.

It is therefore proposed in the draft resolution that the Assembly endorses the Venice Principles in the same way as it has endorsed the principles for the rule of law established by the Venice Commission in 2017. The Assembly should also call on member states of the Council to ensure that the Venice Principles are fully implemented in practice and that national parliaments and governments refer systematically to them. We should also encourage all member states of the Venice Commission that have not yet established classical Ombudsman institutions to do so, in line with these principles.

The preliminary recommendation proposes that the Council establish a mechanism for monitoring the way in which the Venice Principles are being implemented. The Council of Europe has a number of bodies co-operating on a regular basis with national Ombudsman institutions, and they would be well-placed to ensure such a follow-up.

On 5 September, the Committee of Ministers held an informal discussion on the role of Ombudsmen and national human rights institutions. In June, the Steering Committee for Human Rights approved a draft recommendation on the development of the Ombudsman institutions. This draft underlines the role of this institution for the promotion and protection of human rights in Europe, and it expresses grave concern about the challenging working conditions for many Ombudspersons and refers to the Venice Principles. It calls on the Council of Europe member states to “strengthen the Ombudsman institution and avoid any measures which might weaken it”, and more “to evaluate on a regular basis the effectiveness of the measures taken”.

As the Venice Principles and the Paris Principles supplement each other, cooperation between the Council of Europe and the UN should be enhanced.

To conclude, I am strongly encouraging the Assembly to endorse today the Venice Principles and to back the other proposals contained in the draft resolution and draft recommendation.

I thank the Chamber for listening to these introductory points. If there are points at the end I will of course refer to them in my closing remarks.

 

Mr Akif Çağatay KILIÇ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly 

10:20:28

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Thank you, Lord BALFE.

You have six minutes remaining. And in the debate that we are going to start there has been a request for a slight change in the list, because Mr POCIEJ of the EPP, as a spokesperson, has to be on another engagement, I will take him first.

And the floor is yours Mr POCIEJ, on behalf of the EPP.

Mr Aleksander POCIEJ

Poland, EPP/CD, Spokesperson for the group 

10:21:02

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Thank you, Chair.

Dear colleagues,

On behalf of the EPP, I would like to thank Lord Richard BALFE for an excellent report and, in my opinion, this carefully drafted report properly outlines challenges concerning the operation of ombudsmen institutions in Europe. I would like to support the adoption of the recommendation and the resolution included in the report, and the endorsement of the Venice Commission's principles on the protection and promotion of the ombudsman institution.

I would like to thank the Venice Commission as well as numerous international experts for undertaking the responsibility for preparing those principles. They come at a time when they are really needed for numerous ombudsmen institutions in Europe. The report correctly states that ombudsmen institutions are currently under threat. I would like to give thanks for the detailed enumeration of different examples and practices of abuses.

I agree that there is a need for the establishment of a special mechanism for monitoring the situation of ombudsmen institutions. But we should be aware that even the most sophisticated mechanism of benchmarking or annual reporting will not replace what could be really needed on a daily basis.

I claim that the ombudsman institution and the threat need to have an access to a mechanism of direct response and help. When they are under pressure they need to directly report and seek international allies that may help them to continue their work and to resist pressure from the government or the parliament.

Therefore, I would insist on keeping this mechanism with the direct powers of intervention, fact-finding visits, and monitoring. I strongly support the recommendation and the resolution but, at the same time, I would like to encourage the Committee of Ministers to start working on a real-life effective mechanism of support and solidarity with respect to ombudsmen institutions under threat. Referring to the famous anthem of Liverpool Football Club, and referring to the country of origin of Mr Rapporteur, they should never walk alone.

Thank you.

Mr Akif Çağatay KILIÇ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly 

10:24:21

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Thank you.

I now call on Mr John HOWELL on behalf of the European Conservatives.

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC, Spokesperson for the group 

10:24:30

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Thank you, Mr President.

I would like to start where Lord BALFE began and make a gentle criticism, because I think that this report only deals with half the issue, and the context of looking at this report is the context of alternative dispute resolution. Alternative dispute resolution exists to stop people having to take cases to court, which is both of long duration and expensive, and to be able to sort them out by means of arbitration, by means of mediation, by means of expert determination, and indeed, by the use of ombudsmen. Most of these are not set up to deal with maladministration on a national scale. The majority are in fact set up, not by governments, but by companies, or by groups of companies, or by bodies that represent groups of companies. That doesn't mean to say that they have no involvement in human rights. If you look at some of the ombudsmen that are also regulators, they too have a duty to be able to deal with issues that I would certainly classify as human rights.

Now the setting up of these ombudsmen in this way is not to try to hide the disputes, it's not to try to hide the disputes from people and from being able to settle them. It's to deal properly with them. These are genuine ombudsmen. They are independent individuals, although they are still open to the charge that they are acting on behalf of the company rather than on behalf of the individuals.

So, in this report, I think we have looked at only one facet of ombudsmen, and that is those that are set up by government. In the UK, we have a good example of one of these in the Parliamentary and Health Ombudsman, which does look at administration and particularly problems in the health service and with parliament. But I think that these two are rooted in alternative dispute resolution, they are still rooted in the ability of individuals to be able to take a case against any organisation that they think is holding out against them. And I think that that is an important point to bear in mind.

Also, within this context, there is, I think, an EU directive on alternative dispute resolution that I think has some bearing on this particular case and I would draw the rapporteur's attention to it. And most importantly, I would say that the world has moved on beyond the use of ombudsmen in this way to dispute avoidance, i.e. the dispute not becoming a dispute in the first place and that, I think, is an important phase to be able to take into account.

Thank you. 

Mr Akif Çağatay KILIÇ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly 

10:27:56

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Thank you.

I now call Mr Edmon MARUKYAN on behalf of the ALDE group.

Mr Edmon MARUKYAN

Armenia, ALDE, Spokesperson for the group 

10:28:04

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Thank you, Mr Chairman.

Dear colleagues,

Ladies and gentlemen,

First of all, on behalf of the ALDE group, let me thank the rapporteur Lord Richard BALFE for his valuable work and emphasise some important aspects. As a former human rights advocate, I must underline the importance of such mechanisms directed towards the empowerment and protection of ombudsmen institutions.

In a true democracy, it is critical that governments can be properly held accountable for their actions. But whom should a person address if the authorities violate his or her basic human rights, or if the authorities simply fail to do their jobs properly? Probably the simplest solution may be to seek the help of an ombudsman because it is costless and accessible for society. Ombudsmen exist in more than 140 states around the world working at different levels: national, regional, and local. And it is very important to secure both the prevention of threats and take all necessary measures to ensure the independence of ombudspersons.

In his speech in the European Forum on the topic of the role of ombudspersons and national human rights institutions, the ombudsman and the president of the International Ombudsman Institution, Peter Tyndall, referred to a number of threats against ombudspersons over the world. In particular, he has mentioned that last year, the ombudsman of Lesotho, Advocate Leshele Thoahlane, was publicly searched by the police in the room where he was conducting hearings, in the presence of citizens and journalists.

The National Council of Slovakia recently refused to discuss the report of the ombudsman for Slovakia, Dr Jana Dubovcová, on the placement of Roma children without intellectual disabilities into schools for children with special needs. Dr Adam Bodnar, Polish Ombudsman, was outspoken and the government sought to drastically reduce his budget. More recently, he spoke out about his speech following the killing of the Mayor of Gdansk. He was then shot as an individual by the state TV company.

Those are only some of the examples when legislation and lawful mechanisms have been used to put pressure on and limit the independence of ombudspersons worldwide, while new and effective mechanism should be taken to prevent such kind of practice over Europe. In the meantime, it is very important to address the issue of ombudspersons accessibility to grey zones, because it does not matter whether a part of the world has been recognised or not, it matters that everywhere human rights violations take place that the ombudsperson should have an unrestricted mandate to monitor and provide the necessary assistance in every single part of the globe. 

Taking into account the abovementioned, and the importance of these institutions, on behalf of the ALDE group, I state there is a need to establish a set of common standards for ombudsmen institutions in order to prevent any undue influence being exerted, and to contribute to the setting up of adequate legal frameworks to protect these important institutions, so ALDE group fully supports the report and the resolution.

Thank you.

Mr Akif Çağatay KILIÇ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly 

10:31:07

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Thank you.

I now call on Mr Mr Momodou Malcolm JALLOW on behalf of the United European Left.

Mr Momodou Malcolm JALLOW

Sweden, UEL, Spokesperson for the group 

10:31:20

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Thank you very much Mr Chair.

Please allow me on behalf of the United European Left to first of all thank the rapporteur for this very important report.

Ombudsman institutions are one of the guardians of democracy tasked with protecting individuals against maladministration and human rights violations. It is said that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. So in times when we increasingly see authoritarian regimes and the threats to our common democratic values, the role that the ombudsman institution plays in safeguarding and consolidating democracy, rule of law and human rights cannot be overemphasised.

Mr Chair, I'm proud to say that this institution, the ombudsman institution, has been in existence in Sweden for quite some time now and happy to see that the model has been adopted by a large majority of the countries in Europe and member states in this Council of Europe, with exception of course of Germany, that I have been informed about recently. The lack of standardised model for this institution across Europe is raised in the report and is deeply unfortunate and as a matter of fact a weakness. So I do agree with the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights that it would be useful to establish common standards governing the functioning of the ombudsman institutions.

Mr Chair, an effective and well-functioning ombudsman institution is often a strong indicator of the level of democracy and rule of law that prevails within our societies. The ability to protect ordinary people from the abuse of power, often by powerful institutions, is exactly what separates democratic rule from authoritarian rule. Mr Chair, because in democracies power belongs to the people, not only rich and powerful people and institutions, but to all the people.

An area of concern that we most highlight however is the lack of independence by ombudsman institutions and as they are often in some cases, and in some cases public institutions, financed by the government. This state of dependency can in some cases transform ombudsman institutions either to be repressive puppets of repressive regimes, or just toothless institutions in name.

We must also raise the concern that in many Council of Europe member states ombudspersons have been subjected to threats due to the work they do and when they speak truth to power, and hold their feet on the fire. Let us be very clear Mr Chair, we must condemn any attack or threat against ombudsman institutions coming from the authorities of a Council of Europe member state. This is why it is incumbent upon us to take all necessary measures to promote the principles and the protection and promotion of the ombudsman institution as it is in the Venice Principles, and their implementation by member states of the Council of Europe.

There are over 140 ombudsman institutions in the world tasked with protecting individuals against maladministration and human rights violations. Such institutions should therefore have a broad but clearly defined mandate and be governed by the principles of independence, impartiality and neutrality. Then and only then will we have an effective ombudsman institution that can hold authorities accountable without fear. Thank you very much.

Mr Akif Çağatay KILIÇ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly 

10:34:53

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I now call on Ms Zita GURMAI on behalf of the Socialist group.

Ms Zita GURMAI

Hungary, SOC, Spokesperson for the group 

10:35:02

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Thank you very much.

Dear colleagues,

Dear rapporteurs,

As you know, ombudsmen institutions are important for democracy. Their services are free and they are accessible to individuals who cannot afford to pursue their complaints through the courts. They can take action independently against maladministration and violation of human rights. As an interface between the administration and the citizens, they are working to redress human rights violations.

Most member states of the Council of Europe have established ombudsmen institutions and these have a crucial role to play in consolidating democracy, the rule of law and human rights. However, there is no standardised model for this institution. It would be useful to establish common standards governing the functioning of an ombudsmen institution, so thanks for the rapporteur for this idea.

The draft resolution highlights that, in many Council of Europe member states, ombudsmen institutions have been confronted with threats to their effectiveness and independence. Some of these attacks were masqueraded as legal procedures and difficulties but, in some countries, ombudspersons have been subject to verbal attacks by politicians, including members of government.

For these reasons, there is an urgent need to establish common norms governing the functioning of ombudsmen institutions and in particular ways in which their independence should be ensured. As an example, I would like to present how the governing party restricted ombudsmen in my country: Hungary.

In 2011, the new law on the commissioners for fundamental rights fundamentally reformed the former commissioner system. The previously independent ombudsperson, the commissioners have lost their independence and a single commissioner system was created, whose deputy commissioners deal with issues that previously belonged to an independent ombudsman. Deputy commissioners can no longer conduct an independent inquiry, only the commissioner is entitled to do so.

In the annual report of the lawsuit activities of the Hungarian commissioner for fundamental rights is the following sentence: "The salaries of the office staff are so low that they are not competitive with the payment of classical legal courses and they do not reach even the salaries of the civil servants working in certain middle-level administrative bodies." Not only is financial esteem a problem we want to remark, but they also wanted to relocate the commissioner's office to a place that the commissioner and all his employees work in one airspace, enforcing the open-office ideology. However, the commissioner regularly receives special, sensitive data or classified information, so this is completely unrealisable in this place.

Finally, I have to talk about the election of the new commissioner, who took his office this year. Thirty-five NGOs have asked that the next commissioner be nominated in the public competition in consultation with NGOs to find an acceptable consensual candidate. Of course, the new ombudsman was chosen without any consultation, so that's why I strongly support the report. So let's make a new possibility for all of us.

Thank you. 

Mr Akif Çağatay KILIÇ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly 

10:38:03

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Thank you.

That brings us to the end of the group list.

The rapporteur will reply at the end of the debate. But does Lord Richard BALFE wish to respond at this stage?

We now move on to the speakers list. We start with Mr Vladimir VARDANYAN.

Sir, you have the floor.

Mr Vladimir VARDANYAN

Armenia, EPP/CD 

10:38:31

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Honourable Chair,

Dear colleagues,

Ladies and gentlemen.

The ombudsman institution is a relatively new phenomenon in our contemporary political life. Well-established and functioning in some Western democracies -- and for sure in Scandinavia -- we are new members for the Eastern Europe and post-Soviet area. Nevertheless, despite the short history of ombudsmen institutions, it became the crucial pillar for the protection of human rights in those countries.

Armenia is not an exception here. The ombudsman institution plays a vital role for the creation of an atmosphere of human rights protection within the country. What do we need to have a successful ombudsman institution in the respective country? The respective constitutional status, the relevant authorities, guarantees, and respect by all the other state bodies. But are the constitutional powers, necessary authorities and guarantees for implementing the activities of ombudsmen enough to state the existence of a successful ombudsman institution. Those factors are necessary but not enough.

The personal approaches and capacities of an ombudsperson, his or her courage and bravery are the essential elements for the proper functioning of ombudsman institutions. The courage and bravery to face the resistance of other state bodies, to overcome their reluctance and act in accordance with their constitution -- that is, implement his or her mission.

Unfortunately, dear colleagues, in several countries, a substantial number of approaches towards the ombudsman institution is substituted with the formalistic one. We have ombudsmen institutions working properly on paper, but not in reality. We have an ombudsperson institution claiming to be a watchdog of human rights protection worldwide, but which turns a blind eye to gross violations in our respective countries.

Ladies and gentlemen, do we have a common understanding of what the ombudsman institution is? Do we have common standards... Do we have a single set of requirements in real life? Here we need to be more proactive. We need to be not only a mere watchdog, but rather a forerunner for implementation of the Venice principles, elaboration of single standards, and to make the ombudsman institution a living reality now.

Thank you.

Mr Akif Çağatay KILIÇ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly 

10:41:02

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Thank you.

I now call on Mr André VALLINI.

Mr André VALLINI

France, SOC 

10:41:10

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Mister President,

My dear colleagues,

Our organization has always supported the establishment of the institution of ombudsmen as they provide additional protection for citizens and help to strengthen the Rule of Law.

While the form this institution takes may vary from state to state, there is a need for certain principles to be respected to ensure the ombudsman´s independence and effectiveness.

Our Assembly must approve these principles today. This is the purpose of the resolution we are discussing, because not all ombudsmen have the essential guarantees for their mission.

Indeed, the rise of increasingly authoritarian populist governments is threatening our ombudsmen and some of the Member states of our organization are putting pressure on their ombudsmen and hindering their action. They even go so far as to refuse to provide the ombudsman with the information he needs to fulfill his mission, reduce his budget to limit his capacity for action, or publicly engage ombudsmen.

In France, even the Minister of the Interior has also publicly criticized the comments of the ombudsman on the use of non-lethal weapons by the police during demonstrations of the yellow vests.

The status of the ombudsman institutions must therefore respect certain clear principles: a rigorous and transparent appointment procedure, total financial independence, genuine on-site control and a clearly defined field of competences.

Only then the institutions of ombudsmen will really be useful to our fellow citizens.

In conclusion, I would like to encourage our colleagues who do not have an ombudsman in their country to promote the creation of such an institution. It is an effective tool, first to correct the abuses of power and lacks of public administrations, then to fight against discrimination, to preserve the rights of users of public services, and finally –and most importantly– to better protect citizens in our democracies, and to uphold the Rule of Law.

Thank you.

Mr Akif Çağatay KILIÇ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly 

10:43:25

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Thank you.

I now call on Mr Frédéric REISS.

Mr Frédéric REISS

France, EPP/CD 

10:43:32

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Mr Rapporteur, thank you for your work, which has the merit of stressing the importance of the institution of the Ombudsman.

Indeed, the Ombudsman is a mechanism that is particularly widespread among Council of Europe member states. However, this wide dissemination of the Ombudsman model, well known to our colleagues in Northern Europe, makes us almost forget that this mechanism is relatively recent.

Thus, in France, the "Mediator of the Republic" (Ombudsman) has slowly emerged since 1973. The Ombudsman has indeed modified many habits, many practices, in states in which the judge seems to be the only one able to enforce the rule of law.

However, to stick to France, it is clear that it is a success!

I would like to mention the "national credit Ombudsman" who is responsible for listening to and being available to French companies experiencing financing difficulties. Very concretely, 900 companies employing 11,000 people were "rescued" to use the language of bankers, that is to say simply "saved", as noted in the 2017 annual report of this institution.

I would also like to mention the law passed in August 2018 entitled "For a State in the Service of a Society of Trust". In this text, the complex disputes in the field of social protection can be brought before a mediator who will try to ensure payment, quickly and without costs.

But, be careful, and this is one of the contributions of the report presented by Lord BALFE: the institution of Ombudsman, which was believed to be supported, even commonplace, seems sometimes to be threatened. Not necessarily directly and visibly, but in more subtle ways: budget restrictions, unjustified audits, delays in appointments.

Moreover, I am convinced that referral to the Ombudsman needs to be improved. It must be constituted as a real and effective alternative dispute resolution, concretely, a way to avoid the often long and costly referral to a judge. Thus, allowing the referral of the mediator to "suspend" the time limits for referral to court seems to me to contribute to strengthening the role of mediation in our various procedures.

Thus, I fully support the ambition of this report: to impose common standards for all the institutions providing this difficult service of mediation. Our Parliamentary Assembly, in adopting this resolution, once again will build on the remarkable progress made by the work of the Venice Commission. As stated in the title of the report, the Venice Principles must be extended to further strengthen the foundations of the rule of law.

In conclusion, I would like to stress that these Venice Principles will provide a basis for future Ombudsman institutions, such as those that may be responsible for Internet-related issues, on which I will soon have the opportunity to present a report to our Assembly in Strasbourg.

I fully support this work.

Mr Akif Çağatay KILIÇ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly 

10:46:38

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Thank you very much.

I now call on Ms Petra BAYR.

Ms Petra BAYR

Austria, SOC 

10:46:51

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Thank you very much, Mr President.

Ombudsman institutions are important bodies to provide people with their individual access to human rights and fundamental freedoms.

I would like to make three points. First of all, I would like to mention that Mr Werner AMON, who was until recently the head of the Austrian delegation here in the Parliamentary Assembly, has been elected to one out of the three Ombudsman we have in Austria, the so-called Volksanwalts. As he was a long-standing parliamentarian, I'm quite sure that we will have very good cooperation between the Austrian Ombudsman institution, which is enacted for six years, and the Austrian Parliament. Of course, it's key that we also go through the conclusions of the reports we get from the Ombudsman. It's up to us to change laws or to change practices of administration where they don't work well.

The second point I wanted to make is just to remind you that the International Ombudsman Institution, which is the umbrella organisation of about 140 national and also regional Ombudsman institutions all over the world, also exists. I think that their work is so important because they could also provide other Ombudsman institutions in other regions of the world with support, with knowledge, with ideas on how to deal with their tasks.

If I think, for instance, in Latin American and Caribbean regions, these Ombudsman institutions are very often the very last peak for people when they seek access to human rights or justice. Also, in other countries where human rights are under pressure, and there are also some in our region as we know. I think it's important to foster these bodies, to foster these institutions and to give them also international support. I'm very proud that the IOI is based in Vienna. It's always great to have such an important institution in your home town.

Third of all, I wanted to also outline that it's so important to really allocate these institutions with the resources they need. On the one hand, personnel, because of course they have to do their work. When there is more pressure for human rights or rule of law or access to justice, the more resources in personnel they need. But it's also important -- and that's often up to us as parliamentarians -- to provide them with the necessary financial resources. They can also, for instance, advertise for their important work.

In Austria we have, I think, 30 minutes every Saturday afternoon, which is quite a good TV time, for the Austrian Ombudsman institution to present recent cases and to raise awareness in people's heads that there is a place where they can come to and address if they have problems like that. And third of all, it's also a question of accountability. It's up to us to take them seriously and to really foster their important work.

I want to thank Lord Richard BALFE for this report. I will, of course, support it. I just want to remind that it's often up to us to improve the quality of the important work that Ombudsman institutions do.

Thank you very much.

Mr Akif Çağatay KILIÇ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly 

10:50:21

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Thank you.

I now call on Ms Hilkka KEMPPI.

Ms Hilkka KEMPPI

Finland, ALDE 

10:50:30

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Thank you Mr President and dear colleagues.

As pointed out in Lord BALFE’s timely report, ombudsman institutions play a crucial role all over Europe. Their task is to protect people from poor governance and violations of human rights and uphold democracy. As a member of the constitutional law committee in the parliament of Finland, I am personally interested in this topic.

We are living also in interesting times now. The constitutional state and the rule of law are being questioned all over the world. Recent developments in the United States, Asia and here in Europe worry me. It is crucial to support the rule of law, advance elements in society and achieve equal human rights.

Finland has two supreme guardians of legality: the Chancellor of Justice and the Parliamentary Ombudsman. Their tasks and powers are largely the same, as both oversee the legality of the actions of authorities and officials. Complaints can be addressed to both. I also welcome that the ombudsman can make statements or be heard in parliamentary committees. This excellent practice allows lawmakers to consider fundamental rights at an early stage and it makes it possible to examine issues faster and in a broader way.

Therefore, we must recognise that any complaint to the ombudsman is a failure of us as lawmakers. The Parliamentary Ombudsman of Finland supervises, for example, children's rights, and recent developments worry me. Complaints regarding the education sector are on the rise in Finland. There are justified concerns about pupil support in schools, home-school dialogue and indoor air problems. Although the figures are small compared to internationally, as a legislator I must take this seriously. The current legislation is not sufficient. We must develop early warning and monitoring mechanisms to move away from the current situation where authorities can investigate only once a complaint has been filed. This is too late, way too late from the point of view of the best interests of the child or any person.

It is difficult to compare ombudsman institutions globally, as structures and practices vary. However, I think the most important aspect is to ensure the independence of the institution and sufficient funding in order to spot and correct flaws in our systems.

Thank you.

Mr Akif Çağatay KILIÇ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly 

10:53:28

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Thank you.

I now call on Mr Carmelo MIFSUD BONNICI.

Mr Carmelo MIFSUD BONNICI

Malta, EPP/CD 

10:53:38

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Thank you, Chair. 

This is an important report to which I adhere. The ombudsman has, in today’s society, become for most countries an essential and indispensable tool for social justice and strengthening the rule of law.

As politicians, we must admit that we are not always aware of the difficulties and injustices our citizens encounter in the day-to-day administration. There are, unfortunately, instances of violations of human rights, and on these issues, it is the ombudsman which has served and continues to be of service to our constituents. Thus, this report is an important step in the needed direction to strengthen the ombudsman in its different fields of activity.

Common standards are vital across Europe. There are and definitely will be instances where its work is hindered. To create an ombudsman-friendly climate does take time because not all administrations and politicians are aware of the benefits it has at the end of the day.

And it is certainly vital that the ombudsman is secured in a constitutional role, in security of tenure and independence in office. We, in Malta, have seen advantages as a country in this respect. The ombudsman is selected by a two-thirds majority of parliamentarians and is part and parcel of our constitution.

Therefore, I do commend the work which the Venice Commission has once again provided us, and that of our rapporteur.

Including on our agenda in this session both the whistle-blower and the ombudsman was truly a positive step. As we should admit that there are advantages for our European citizens to having the same principles and laws applicable in all 47 member states.

Thank you. 

Mr Akif Çağatay KILIÇ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly 

10:56:04

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Thank you.

I now call on Mr Betian KITEV.

Mr Betian KITEV

North Macedonia, SOC 

10:56:13

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Thank you, dear Colleagues.

First of all, I would like to thank Lord Richard BALFE for his comprehensive report. I support the proposal to establish common standards governing the functioning of ombudsman institutions in line with the Venice Principles.

In any society where an institution of this kind exists, it is a mechanism that contributes substantially to the functioning of the rule of law and is one of the key indicators of the development of the country's democratic processes.

The ombudsman represents a control mechanism that intervenes through suggestions, indicators, remarks and recommendations. Faced with the constant challenge of gaining citizens' trust, the ombudsman continues to strive to justify its role in society and to persuade the organs and bodies of the executive branch that it is a corrector of their work with the aim of advancing the rights and freedoms of all citizens.

I would like to share our experience in this regard. In the Republic of North Macedonia the institution was established in 1998, however by the adoption of amendments to the Law on the Ombudsman, we have allocated sufficient financial and human resources to strengthen the institution. In addition to being the national preventive mechanism of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT), the Ombudsman is now mandated to oversee action by the police and prison police officers. The ombudsman now serves as a civil control mechanism and ensures protection and assistance for victims. The ombudsman is also responsible for monitoring the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol.

With the latest amendments, the ombudsman is given two additional competences, namely supervision over the legality of the activities undertaken in dealing with measures for interception of communications in terms of protection of human rights and freedoms, and an external mechanism to control the work of the police and prison police members.

Ombudsman institutions have a crucial role in consolidating democracy, the rule of law and human rights and therefore, I welcome all proposals that promote their work.

Thank you for your attention.

Mr Akif Çağatay KILIÇ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly 

10:59:08

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Thank you.

I now call on Mr Rafael HUSEYNOV.

Mr Rafael HUSEYNOV

Azerbaijan, ALDE 

10:59:14

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Thank you Chair, dear colleagues.

Although the terms ombudsman and institution were first established in the 19th century, and formed in the 20th century, in essence, this concept appears to be ancient.

Today in Europe and in the world, the institution of the ombudsman is becoming more and more important as a special institution that provides regulation in the network of public administration. Thus there is a growing need for the ombudsman and its institution, as well as a greater need for the consideration of complaints from the population in areas under state control.

Paradoxically, the institution of the ombudsman, whose mission is to protect the rights of its citizens, needs protection and therefore continuous improvement as well. The way to become a better protected, influential, and more advanced institution correlates to the expansion of cooperation within the global network of the ombudsman.

Closer collaboration will foster the exchange of experience as well as enhance common standards in member countries. Moreover, this active cooperation protects the institution of the ombudsman more than restrictions that it may face, and provides a reliable basis for its wider independence.

The ombudsman institution in my country, Azerbaijan, is 70 years old. However significant progress has been made in this relatively short period of time, and the positive change and progress that we observe from year to year becomes apparent, at least annually, by listening to the annual report of the ombudsman in the national parliament, and comparing it with the past. I would like to note with such sections that, in addition to studying and assimilating the experience of the European and world concerning the ombudsman, Azerbaijan also shares its positive experience, which can serve as an example for other countries.

It is no coincidence that at the 21st meeting of the board of directors of the Asian Association of Ombudsmen in Baku on October 13, 2018, the successful activity of Azerbaijan to implement the sustainable development goals based on close cooperation at the national and international levels was presented as an honourable example. Unfortunately the tragedy of refugees and IDPs is becoming increasingly widespread in Europe and around the world. This area is one of the main priorities of the ombudsman institution in Azerbaijan, which has been dealing with difficult concerns of over 1 million refugees and IDPs for the past 30 years. The experience of the Azerbaijani ombudsman, which has been an institution from the very beginning, was closely connected with the problems of this vulnerable group. This is useful for countries facing similar problems.

The basic idea and goal of all of us is to build a more livable European home. This is a very useful report that we share today and its philosophy directly serves this idea and goal.

Thank you.

Mr Akif Çağatay KILIÇ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly 

11:02:27

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Thank you.

I now call on Ms Ann-Britt ÅSEBOL.

Ms Ann-Britt ÅSEBOL

Sweden, EPP/CD 

11:02:33

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Thank you to the Chair and dear colleagues,

As coming from Sweden, I'm very proud of this institution of ombudsmen. It goes back in our history a very long time. Already in the 13th century, the word 'ombudsman' was used in the Scandinavian languages, actually in 1241 from a law at that time. So after a couple of hundred years, there was an institution already in 1809 telling that we should have the ombudsman institution.

The office was modelled after a Chancellor of Justice and according to the principle of separations of powers and, actually, the Chancellor of Justice was installed already in 1714 as a proxy for King Charles XII of Sweden to act as his representative for the royal government. Charles XII was one of our war heroes in our history, and he was in exile in Turkey and needed a representative in Sweden to ensure the justice and civil servants acted in accordance with the laws and with their duties. If they did not do so, the Supreme Ombudsman had the right to prosecute them for neglect. In 1719, the Swedish office of Supreme Ombudsman became the Chancellor of Justice. That's history.

Today, the acts of an ombudsman are mainly to oversee that Swedish authorities comply with laws on behalf of the government but also to handle indemnity claims from persons suffering from imprisonment but later acquitted, or other damages caused by authorities.

With growing attention to discrimination issues in the latter part of the 20th century, a number of new and discriminatory ombudsmen were appointed to later be gathered under one roof with the establishment of the Equality Ombudsman in 2009. The Ombudsman for Children was established in 1993 and is tasked with matters affecting the rights and interests of children and young people. We also have non-governmental appointed entities as a Press Ombudsman supervising the compliance with the code of ethics of the Swedish printed media industry and the Saami Ombudsman that advocates for the rights of the native Saami minority in Sweden and he was appointed into the Saami Council in 1997.

As you probably understand, we are, in the Scandinavian countries, very proud of this institution and we are happy that we could have exported it to other countries. And, therefore, of course, I am very interested in this report and that we will have common standards for the institutions. 

Thank you. 

Mr Akif Çağatay KILIÇ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly 

11:05:51

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Thank you.

I now call on Ms Naira ZOHRABYAN.

Ms Naira ZOHRABYAN

Armenia, EC 

11:05:58

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Thank you, colleagues

The Human Rights Defender of Armenia, as a national Human Rights institution and independent constitutional body, is responsible for promoting the effective respect and full enjoyment of Human Rights in Armenia .

As a result of recent major legislative reforms, the advocacy mandate has been significantly strengthened and expanded. It allows individuals not only to complain of maladministration and violation of their Human Rights and fundamental freedoms, but also to promote them in all their aspects.

The activities of the Human Rights Defender for 2018 and several of these previous years have been examined in terms of its compliance with the Paris Principles, which define the standards applicable to national Human Rights institutions. As a result of this review, the Armenian defenders have been granted "A" status by the United Nations.

The advocate establishes close cooperation and regular contacts, not only with governmental and national agencies, but also internationally, including the European Court of Human Rights, by providing the latter with objective and impartial information through third-party interventions in proceedings against Armenia. In addition it should be stressed that there is effective cooperation established between the institution of Human Rights defenders in the Republic of Armenia and the Republick of Artsakh. As for the Human Rights Defender of Artsakh it is a well established institution. It has been a full member of the European Ombudsman Institution for more than 10 years.

On Artsakh´s Human Rights Defender Mr Artak Beglaryan was yesterday in the discussion on "The gray areas in Europe, the cases of forgotten areas". His presence at such a discussion is very important to our assembly. On several occasions we have heard from this rostrum that there should be no gray areas in Europe, that Human Rights should not be limited because of the politico-legal status of the territory of which a person is a national.

One year ago, our Assembly adopted Resolution 2240, according to which the Human Rights monitoring bodies of the Council of Europe and the United Nations have unrestricted access to the Member States and to the gray areas. With this resolution, the Assembly reaffirmed the legal obligations of Member States of the Council of Europe to cooperate fully and in good faith with international Human Rights monitoring mechanisms, including in relation to access to areas of conflict. I very much hope that we will not have a frozen resolution, like a frozen conflict, given that, unfortunately, our Assembly has seen a good number of examples of frozen resolutions.

Mr Akif Çağatay KILIÇ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly 

11:09:16

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Thank you.

I now call on Mr Ian MURRAY.

Mr Ian MURRAY

United Kingdom, SOC 

11:09:25

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Thank you to Lord BALFE for this very important report.

May I start my remarks by referring the Assembly to point 43 of the report where it reminds us of the Venice Convention when it says "ministerial and governmental decisions directly affecting individuals should be open to control by the ombudsperson". The reason I read that part of the report is to highlight a particular case of an issue that's happening in the United Kingdom that is requiring the intervention of the ombudsman. Whether or not that is a fit for purpose system and whether or not they report in terms of having some common standards reflecting on the Venice Convention is the important part of where we should be going.

The issue I want to raise is the what's called the WASPI women, which stands for the Women Against State Pension Inequality. The issue of the WASPI women started when the 1995 and 2011 pension acts were passed by the UK Parliament. They essentially increased the pension age for women from 60 to 66 and 67. The reason that the campaign has started is not against the equalisation of the state pension age for women but because many of those women who were born in the early part of the 1950s or indeed throughout the 1950s were either not informed of the changes to the pension age or indeed were informed when they were 59 and due to retire when they were 60. They were unable to create any financial cushion for when they would receive their UK state pension. They are campaigning for the government to provide them with the transitional and compensation elements of the year pension that they were promised at the time that those pieces of legislation were passed. Indeed subsequent pension ministers have said it's an injustice and should be rectified.

The reason I refer to this particular example in the relation to the report from Lord BALFE is purely because they've tried everywhere else to seek redress. They've been to the government, who said no. They've taken a case to the highest court in the United Kingdom who will report incidentally at 10 a.m. tomorrow morning. They've taken their cases to the Department of Work and Pensions for maladministration. Those cases have not then been followed through due to the High Court case. So the final place they've gone is to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman which is now looking at their cases to see whether or not there has been some kind of maladministration that the government will have to rectify.

I think the report here that Lord BALFE has produced in terms of providing some consistency across ombudsman services is incredibly important. In this case for two reasons: one, ombudsman services are very confusing to the public; two, they're almost impenetrable when the public wish to use those service and what we need is easily accessible, easily understandable and effective ombudsman services across Europe in order for the public to seek redress to uphold both the rule of law and their own human rights.

Thank you.

Mr Akif Çağatay KILIÇ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly 

11:12:42

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Thank you.

I now call on Mr Thomas PRINGLE.

He doesn't seem to be here.

The next speaker on the list is Ms Tatevik HAYRAPETYAN.

You have the floor.

Ms Tatevik HAYRAPETYAN

Armenia, EPP/CD 

11:13:01

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Dear Chairperson,

Ladies and gentlemen,

We all know that the ombudsman office plays a huge and crucial role not only in defending and guaranteeing the protection of human rights, but also in breaking stereotypes and changing the mindset within society. The Armenian ombudsman office, which has the highest status of A class for independent impartial and efficient activity, has recently come up with an important initiative in the scope of the fight against domestic violence.

To combat discrimination, stereotypes and target the named issues, the human rights defender conducts and continues to initiate various projects with the support of partners such as the Council of Europe, the UNFPA, USAID and the EU, as well as grassroots civil society organisations. The main goal is changing mindsets in regards to women's role and promoting women's full participation in decision-making processes. At the same time, the human rights defender of Armenia started an awareness-raising campaign on preventing violence against women and in the family as well as our respective laws with the #againstviolence call.

By combating violence against women and domestic violence we create a strong family, a safe environment and a healthy society. In Armenian society family is very crucial. But there can't be a happy family when there is violence. The initiators are mostly focused on regions and actively use new technologies as well as social media. Simultaneously many celebrities are actively involved in the campaign, and most importantly male doctors showed great interest. Why do I mention this? Because I do believe that men should equally fight against domestic violence and breaking the stereotypes about women. Only with joint efforts can we achieve the desired results. As a result, we obviously see the fruitful cooperation of the ombudsman office, international organisations, civil society representatives, celebrities and of course government.

To sum up, I would like to restate that both the government of Armenia and National Assembly are determined to further strengthen the institution of the human rights defender because the protection of human rights is a core value for us.

Thank you for your attention.

Mr Akif Çağatay KILIÇ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly 

11:15:29

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Thank you.

I now call on Ms Jette CHRISTENSEN.

Ms Jette CHRISTENSEN

Norway, SOC 

11:15:36

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Thank you Mr Chairperson.

The irony of this report is that the ombudsman is here to protect us as citizens and our rights, but now it is our turn to protect the ombudsman and to look after the ombudsman institution, and protect the ombudsman in persona.

Mr Chairperson, witnessing governments across our continent actually working against their own ombudsman is both scary and sad. The legislation reforms that aim to weaken the institution, rejection of the annual report, and unjustified cuts in the budget are just some examples. Governments who don't facilitate control and scrutiny over how they treat their own citizens send a signal that they have something to hide.

I have had the pleasure of being responsible for the Norwegian Parliament's ombudsman reports for many years. Sometimes it is hard to be criticised, but that is when need it the most. Not giving the ombudsman institution the possibility to perform their duty is in itself a sign of maladministration. The very state the ombudsman is there to combat.

The report mentions several examples of several member states and how they fight against their own ombudsman. The situation in Poland made the Rafto Prize for human rights go to the Polish ombudsman. Take a moment to reflect upon that. This is a prize that usually only goes to a person that fight for human rights, because of their own personal risk, now it has been given to a state institution. That is very frightening. It is uncommon but it is very much needed. This is also why the Venice Principles admission is so crucial.

But principles aren't worth much without implementation and we all have a responsibility for that. That is why I would like to thank you very much for this very important report and we all have a big responsibility to fight for the long boring institutions that are there to protect us as citizens and protect the world order as we know it since the Second World War.

Thank you.

Mr Akif Çağatay KILIÇ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly 

11:18:14

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Thank you.

I now call on Ms Inka HOPSU.

Ms Inka HOPSU

Finland, SOC 

11:18:21

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Thank you, Mr Chair.

As Finland’s ombudsman institution will celebrate its 100-year anniversary next year, I welcome this report by our British colleague. As a result of the recent adoption of the Venice Principles, this is a good time for us to reflect on the need for a set of common standards for the ombudsmen institutions in our countries.

The ombudsman institution exists in many of our countries but differs in terms of mandate and scope. Many have parliamentary ombudsmen, whereas others have opted for more local versions of the institution.

In Finland, the mandate of the ombudsman has evolved over time. Today, its main purpose is to set conditions for administrative procedures and to demand good governance. In addition to this, the ombudsman in Finland is the main guardian of respect for fundamental and human rights and a strong promoter of such rights.

We have a responsibility to protect and safeguard this important institution and it is in all of our interests that the ombudsman institution is truly independent, well-functioning and sufficiently funded. We cannot be serious about defending the human rights of our people if we cannot allow a neutral body to inspect our actions and demand change, where intentional or unintentional flaws and abuses are detected.

A large group of experienced constitutional experts has drafted the Venice Principles. They set out the minimum standards of ombudsman institutions in a clear and comprehensive way. The draft recommendations call on our governments to consider establishing a mechanism to report on the state of implementation of the Venice standards or principles. Some sort of international mechanism would be a useful tool, especially in cases where the independence of the position of the ombudsman institution is under threat because of the measures taken by the state. Any attempts at weakening the ombudsman institution directly weakens citizens' constitutional rights. When putting in place mechanisms of the supervisor, one must be careful not to compromise the constitution of an independent status for the ombudsman institution.

Thank you for the very important report.

Mr Akif Çağatay KILIÇ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly 

11:21:03

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Thank you.

I now call on Ms Selin SAYEK BÖKE.

You have the floor Madam.

Ms Selin SAYEK BÖKE

Turkey, SOC 

11:21:10

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Thank you, Mr Chairman. 

As everybody has said, this is an extremely timely report so I'd like to congratulate the rapporteur. It's timely because we're going through times of erosion in democratic institutions and human rights violations are on the rise -- though at different degrees across Europe -- so we do need a common set of standards, and we have to ensure that the institutions are functional in actually protecting human rights. So in this regard, I not only commend and welcome this report but also the Venice Principles that this report is based on that seek to create these standards.

Now, I think we have to remind ourselves of the main principles the Venice Principles actually rely on and these include impartiality, independence, objectivity, transparency, and fairness. Now, when we think of independence and objectivity, they're extremely critical, especially given the attacks of centralised power forces on democratic institutions. So for this, we have to, I think, underline that just jurisdictional or legal changes are not sufficient -- they're clearly necessary -- but we have to ensure a de facto implementation of any legal force that we have.

As such, I welcome that this draft recommendation does call for a consideration of such a mechanism for regular reporting and a clear monitoring mechanism of the Venice Principles. I think we have to ensure laws are actually implemented. The principles suggest that the ombudsman is elected by parliaments at times. Now, this requires that we ensure we have strong parliaments across the whole geography of Europe.  So, it requires that parliaments actually have powers to create checks and balances against stronger and stronger executives. This requires that parliaments are not only a headcount but that they're an effective representation with a true separation of powers. This is to say, a true democracy without an ombudsman is not possible, but an ombudsman institution is not possible if we truly don't have a representative and parliamentary democracy.

So, firstly I think we have to ensure that the ombudsman is appointed through a mechanism that's based not on majoritarian logic, but it reflects a pluralism. And secondly, it should be ensured that the government cannot cherry-pick the decisions of the ombudsman. So, indeed, to the contrary, the government should be held accountable to the parliament when they choose to overlook the ombudsman decision. Fairness and impartiality are also critical, I think, especially at these times when we're polarised through our identities and demonised based on what makes us, us.

The same warning has to go for transparency. Ombudsmen should have access to all data, unless data are protected with concrete law. The concept of 'sensitive data' is abused and instrumentalised by the executives to cover up rights violations, so we have to ensure transparency of data.

All in all, I once again congratulate the rapporteur and look forward to the monitoring mechanism build-up.

Mr Akif Çağatay KILIÇ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly 

11:24:25

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Thank you.

I now give the floor to Mr Ziya ALTUNYALDIZ.

Mr Ziya ALTUNYALDIZ

Turkey, NR 

11:24:33

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I thank you Mr Chair. Let me start by thanking the rapporteur Mr Lord BALFE for this timely, comprehensive and excellent report.  

As stated in the report, the duties of ombudsman institutions have a crucial role in advancing democracy, the Rule of Law and Human Rights. Protection of Human Rights would be jeopardised if the independence of these institutions was not sufficiently safeguarded.

In addition, taking all necessary steps to ensure access to these two institutions by citizens is crucial for the protection and promotion of Human Rights as a whole.

I would like to underline the importance of the Venice Commission, and the adoption of the Venice Principles on the Protection and Promotion of Ombudsmen, which would set a guideline for national legislative bodies to act. These principles rightly emphasised that independence, objectivity, transparency, fairness and impartiality are a must for successful ombudsmen institutions, which are supposed to and assigned to protect individuals against maladministration.

Being aware of this ultimate importance of ombudsman institutions for democracy, Rule of Law and protection of Human Rights, Turkey has taken a number of steps, which are parallel with the recommendations of this report. The compliance rate of public authorities to these decisions, to the Turkish Ombudsman, which was initially 20% in 2013, now reached 70% in 2018. To bolster the access of children to the ombudsman institution, a child-friendly application portal was set up and promoted to be used widely.

Despite all of these implementations and success, there is room for further improvement of the ombudsman institutions for all members of the Council of Europe. That is why this report is –I think, as I said before– timely and comprehensive, provides important recommendations for all relevant stakeholders to ensure that these institutions are and remain independent and impartial, to function in the interest of the whole society.

As members of the Assembly, we should work as much as possible to that end.

Thank you for your attention.

Mr Akif Çağatay KILIÇ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly 

11:27:51

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Thank you.

I now call on Mr RAMÍREZ BARBA.

Mr Éctor Jaime RAMÍREZ BARBA

Mexico 

11:27:58

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Ladies and gentlemen,

The main way to protect people's rights is to use judicial powers or the constitutional courts of each country. As multi-jurisdictional entities they are able to exercise powers of coercion to make sure their resolutions are respected and that the legal protection of persons is restored. In the interest of extending access to justice, the position of the ombudsman emerged for the first time in the Swedish constitution and has served to strengthen the rule of law and work towards a quality public administration focused on human rights.

On behalf of the National Action Party in the Mexican parliament, I would like to signal our recognition and support for the motion to strengthen the role of the ombudsman by adopting the Venice Principles designed to guarantee the continuity of the ombudsman in Europe and to strengthen the office's independence, objectivity and impartiality. I feel that if we fail to do this, we will have ombudsmen without the ability to act and mechanisms to interact with citizens, in other words, ineffective.

We don't want ombudsmen anywhere in the world who suffer from the Cotard syndrome: people who believe that they are dead, that their organs do not work, that their hearts do not beat and that their brains and blood circulation serve no purpose although they are alive. So we need to adopt these principles. We need to strengthen the economic independence, autonomy and respect for all the recommendations of the ombudsman. In a word, ensure they are effective.

In Mexico, our president López Obrador and the associated parties continue to undermine our institutions, including the national human rights commission and the ombudsman Luis Raúl González Pérez. They have tried to undermine recommendation 29/2019 that have been made in the case of violation of the human rights of people who use and benefit from a programme of child care to support working mothers, on 31 May 2019. The standing committee of the union congress called for an explanation in terms of our constitution, but the majority governing party prevented it. The national human rights committee has criticised the fact that the executive and its parliamentarians are publicly disqualifying the work of the ombudsman, and also the rights of children and working mothers and fathers. The National Action Party will not accept the silencing of the work of the ombudsman, particularly by authorities claiming to be democratic. We will work to ensure that the ombudsman doesn't suffer from the Cotard syndrome.

Thank you very much.

Mr Akif Çağatay KILIÇ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly 

11:30:56

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Thank you.

I now call on Mr Koloman BRENNER.

Mr Koloman BRENNER

Hungary, NR 

11:31:06

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Thank you, Mr President.

Ladies and gentlemen,

There is an excellent report in front of us. I would once again like to express sincere thanks to Mr Rapporteur Lord Richard BALFE, and to all the experts who have contributed to this great report, and of course to all my fellow Members.

It is worth reading this report so that we can actually review the whole development of the Ombudsman institution a bit. I think that, especially for the countries that have introduced this new institution of the Ombudsman –very often after the Soviet Union's occupation in the East-Central European countries, after the political change– these countries are very nice to see how important this institution is, since the former authoritarian ways of thinking are still partially observed to this day in local authorities, but also in national state agencies,

Let me give you some reaction to the question. There is a tendency very well described in the report that, on the one hand, in many Member States of the Council of Europe there is a general ombudsman who can act in general on the basis of Human Rights; and in some Member States there are specialized ombudsmen.

Let me give you an example from my native Hungary: we used to have an ombudsman who had the specific task of defending the rights of national and ethnic minorities. It was a very good example. Here in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, I do not need to emphasize the importance of this issue for the classical, national and ethnic minorities and indigenous communities. According to estimates, every seventh European belongs to such minority groups. Personally I belong to the German minority in Hungary, so I think that it may be worthwhile to work out recommendations in this direction as we have seen negative tendencies in Hungary in recent years, where instead of having a specialized ombudsman, there is only a more general one; this has been accompanied by certain –yes– negative effects in terms of the rights and independence of these ombudsmen. Last but not least, I would really like to applaud the Venice principles and I would also like to support the introduction of a monitoring system here in the Council of Europe.

Thank you very much for the excellent report, thank you.

Mr Akif Çağatay KILIÇ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly 

11:34:11

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Thank you.

I now call on Ms HERNÁNDEZ RAMOS.

Ms Minerva HERNÁNDEZ RAMOS

Mexico 

11:34:17

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Good morning.

I'm very honoured to share my thoughts with you this morning.

Under the Mexican constitution, the executive, legislative and judicial authorities are not only required to promote, respect and guarantee human rights but to also prevent, investigate, sanction and remedy human rights violations. Accordingly, the Ombudsmen in Mexico, both at national and state levels, operate a mechanism that can oversee legal and political powers and make sure that our public authorities seeking to be efficient and effective, do not violate the human rights of citizens.

Across the world we have seen in recent years the rise of charismatic leaders who have huge popular backing and majorities in favour of their projects and have won big majorities in their parliaments. Many of these leaders have shown their contempt for globalisation and have come out in favour of measure which allow them to return to an idealised past, assuring everybody that everything was better then. But these leaders are a paradox: they are supported by the power which is given to them by the majorities, but they show complete contempt for institutional checks and balances, and prefer direct plebiscites over building consensus within their legislatures. These leaders therefore endanger the concepts and institutions which have been built in the modern age and established following the world wars, such as respect for the democratic process and the solidity rule of law. The role of ombudsmen is essential as they complement the checks and balances of the jurisdictional entities.

As a member of the Mexican delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly, I would like to signal my support for the standardisation of the powers, objectives and principles of the Ombudsmen in Europe. In doing so, we should emphasise protection of human rights and the exchange of information between institutions and guarantee the full respect and observance of the recomendations they make.

Thank you very much.

Mr Akif Çağatay KILIÇ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly 

11:36:45

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Thank you.

That concludes the list of speakers and I would like to remind you that the vote is in progress to elect the judge in respect of Portugal to the European Court of Human Rights.

At 1:00 p.m. the ballot will be suspended. It will re-open at 3:30 p.m. and it will close at 5:00 p.m. Those who have not yet voted may still do so by going to the area behind the President's Chair.

I call Lord BALFE, rapporteur, to reply. You have six minutes.

Lord Richard BALFE

United Kingdom, EC, Rapporteur 

11:37:25

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Thank you Mr President. 

Let me first thank everybody who is taking part in this debate. There has been a large number of extremely useful points. I won't be able to deal with them all in my six minutes, but I'm here for the rest of the week if any members want to come up and speak to me privately: I'm delighted to talk to them.

Among the valuable points made which I will refer to, I'd like to start with my friend and colleague John Howell. I fully acknowledge that the report doesn't, as he says, deal with alternative dispute resolution. But that's because there had to be a limit on how many things we could get into it. But what I will say to him is that if he sponsors a resolution and gets it signed and it comes to the Legal Affairs Committee, I'd be very happy to support us drawing up a report on that subject, because it clearly does run alongside, and I myself as a commercial mediator, so if you ever want land or property things sorting out I'm at your service – for a fee of course.

There was a very good example from Mr Marukjan of ALDE about the examples of pressure on the Ombudsman, and this came up in a number of later speeches. The fact of the matter is that, in a hostile environment, it is very difficult to act as an Ombudsman. I was interested in the fact that the Polish Ombudsman has been given a prize as a defender of human rights. Of course the lesson we draw from that is not that Poland is perfect, but that the Polish Ombudsman is under such pressure that he needs to get a prize for defending what is essentially his job.

Mr Jallow spoke about the strong underlying principles and the need for a standard model. I don't think we do need a standard model because different countries are different, but we clearly do need strong underlying principles and they've been mentioned; the key ones are independence and budgetary independence, the ability not to be interfered with by the state and by the organs of the state.

We all know how popular it is when the official organs of the state make what is seen as the wrong decision. Last week in the high Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, the judges ruled by 11 to 0, you can't get more than that, it's the highest number of judges that can sit, and none of them agreed with the government. They decided to strike down something the government had done. The press of course immediately decided that the Supreme Court were not the competent body, then unfortunately they came up with the most ludicrous idea, which was that the House of Lords should make these decisions. That is bordering on humour frankly, but you do get this situation in which people turn against the institutions if they don't like what they're doing.

I did think one of the most interesting observations came from our Austrian colleague Ms Bayr, to have a television slot, and it's not quite as odd as it sounds. I mean in Britain we have television slots where the local police show filming of chasing criminals down the road, and the hospital show pictures of their A&E, or accident and emergency departments. So I think that was a very important and interesting observation that she came up with.

I was also fascinated by Ms Ann-Britt Asebol's history of the Ombudsman. I'm afraid colleagues, we don't have as many years as Sweden has had to develop theirs. We need, even by Venice Commission standards, to act a little more promptly. Now I notice that King Charles the Twelfth was exiled in Turkey, a country I know and like very much. I wonder why he was there. Could it be the weather? It is a bit different there to Turkey isn't it, to Sweden.

Finally I'd like to thank our two Turkish colleagues, Ms Sayek Boke and Mr Altunyaldiz . I will be in Istanbul on at least two occasions later this year and I'd welcome the opportunity of following up with them some of the Turkish experience. And indeed the point that was made by Ms Sayek Boke, it absolutely gets to the heart of things. You can't have a true democracy without an Ombudsman, and you can't have an Ombudsman without a true democracy. They march hand in hand with each other and that has to be the lesson that we take from this report.

The Council of Europe's fundamental job, I've always argued, is to enable people to talk to each other. We have different standards, we have different levels of doing things, but the most important thing that we can do is to have a quite direct dialogue. We can say to each other, look you've got it wrong. But before you say that, you have to be prepared to accept the fact that in your own country you can also get it wrong. None of us are perfect, we all have our faults and failings. One of the jobs of the Ombudsman is to keep the playing field level to make sure that prejudice does not overcome administrative convenience. That is the job of Ombudsmen, however you define the principles, that has to be the fundamental principle to make it work.

I commend this report to the house.

Mr Akif Çağatay KILIÇ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly 

11:43:29

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Thank you.

Does the chairperson of the Committee wish to speak?

You have three minutes.

Ms Thorhildur Sunna ÆVARSDÓTTIR

Iceland, SOC 

11:43:37

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Thank you Mr President, dear colleagues.

I fully support the report by Lord BALFE, and the idea of endorsing the Venice Principles.

The Assembly has consistently promoted the creation of strengthening of Ombudsman institutions and has always stressed the need to ensure their independence. Now I have to say in my experience from my home country, Iceland, the Parliamentarian Ombudsman we have there is one of the strongest defenders of human rights that we have in that country. Most of the advancements that we have seen when it comes to the progression of the state organs understanding how to protect the rights of their citizens comes from guidelines or decisions made by the Parliamentary Ombudsman, who we were lucky enough to meet in Reykjavik after a committee meeting there. He is a guiding light. He is someone who pushes forward the protection of the rights of citizens in Iceland, and I would like to commend him for it and all the other Ombudsmen that protect the rights of their citizens.

Truly independent and fearless Ombudsmen are crucial I think to protecting the rights of citizens. I think they have this core mission which is so important, and which the executive sometimes forgets. Which is why we need them. We need them to talk to the executive which sometimes thinks that it is more important to protect the finances of the state than the rights of the citizens. Or that it is more important to push through a few more files than to delicately and with dedication consider each and every case of each and every individual citizen. It is this their guidelines that we need to progress in the protection of human rights in our member states.

Now although there is no standardised model for the Ombudsman institution, it is very useful to establish a compilation of principles pertaining to the protection and promotion of this institution, this very important institution. The Venice Principles go in this direction and we should fully support them and call on member states of the Council of Europe to implement them. We should also condemn any threats against Ombudspersons, as regrettably attacks against them and impediments to their work have become more frequent in the last years. Therefore dear colleagues we should confirm our commitment to protect and promote the Ombudsman institutions in all Council of Europe member states, and even outside of its geographical scope, because as we know and as we've heard in this debate today, their role is crucial, it is important and it is important for us to continue to stand guard around their important democratic role.

Thank you.

Vote: Ombudsman institutions in Europe – the need for a set of common standards

Mr Akif Çağatay KILIÇ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly 

11:46:36

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Thank you.

The debate is closed. The Legal Affairs and Human Rights Committee has presented a draft resolution to which one amendment has been tabled.

The Legal Affairs and Human Rights Committee has also presented a draft recommendation to which one amendment has been tabled.

We will now consider the draft resolution contained in document 14-953.

I call Ms Irina RUKAVISHNIKOVA to support amendment No. 1.

You have 30 seconds.

Ms Irina RUKAVISHNIKOVA

Russian Federation, NR 

11:47:17

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Thank you, President.

President, colleagues, we support the text of this report. Our amendments were to provide legal clarification of some wording. However, following the discussion yesterday in the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights we are now withdrawing those amendments.

Thank you.

Mr Akif Çağatay KILIÇ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly 

11:47:36

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Ms RUKAVISHNIKOVA has asked to withdraw the amendment under Rule 34.9. Any other member of the assembly may move the amendment if they wish, otherwise, it can withdrawn. Does anyone else wish to move the amendment?

That is not the case, so Amendment No. 1 is withdrawn. We will now proceed to vote on the draft resolution contained in Document 14-953.

The vote is open. 

The vote is closed.

Call for the results to be displayed. So the draft resolution in Document 14-953 is adopted.

We now come to the consideration of the draft recommendation in Document 14-953.

I call Ms RUKAVISHNIKOVA to support Amendment No. 2. 

You have 30 seconds.

Ms Irina RUKAVISHNIKOVA

Russian Federation, NR 

11:49:18

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President.

We are also withdrawing this amendment.

Thank you.

Mr Akif Çağatay KILIÇ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly 

11:49:27

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So on Rule 34.9, any other member of the assembly may move the amendment if they wish. Otherwise, it can be withdrawn. Does anyone else wish to move Amendment No.2?

That is not the case, so Amendment No. 2 is withdrawn.

We will now proceed to vote on the draft recommendation contained in Document 14-953.

The vote is open.

The vote is closed.

I call for the results to be displayed. So the draft recommendation in Document 14-953 is adopted.

Congratulations on the adoption.

I must remind you that the vote is in progress to elect a judge in respect of Portugal to the European Court of Human Rights. At 1:00 p.m. the ballot will be suspended. It will reopen at 3:30 p.m. and will close at 5:00 p.m. Those who have not yet voted may still do so by going to the area behind the president's chair.

Address by Ms Marija PEJČINOVIĆ BURIĆ, Secretary General of the Council of Europe

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER

Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly 

11:51:37

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The next item on the agenda is the statement by Ms Marija PEJČINOVIĆ BURIĆ, Secretary General of the Council of Europe.

As Ms Marija PEJČINOVIĆ BURIĆ has recently taken up her post, her presentation will be followed by statements by members of the Assembly and not questions.

Madam Secretary General,

It is a great pleasure for me to welcome you here today, for your first speech to the Parliamentary Assembly, in your new role.

Indeed, we are all excited to discover your vision for the future of the Council of Europe and your priorities for the next five years.

When you were elected in June 2019, we assured you of our full support and willingness to actively work with you during your term. This collaboration has already begun in the format of the Presidential Committee and I am particularly pleased with the atmosphere of open and friendly dialogue that has immediately taken hold in our relations.

The Committee of Ministers, the Parliamentary Assembly and the Secretary General of our organisation are the main institutional pillars on which the Council of Europe building is based.

Each of these pillars has its own functions and specific tools, but together we pursue the same objective: to guarantee the respect of the fundamental rights and freedoms of the 830 million Europeans.

In this context, Madam Secretary-General, you have an important role to play: maintaining engagement and political dialogue with all our Member States; facilitating good collaboration between the statutory bodies and the various institutions and mechanisms of the Council of Europe in order to make the most of our specific expertise and our respective strengths; and finally, proposing concrete actions and solutions to respond to crisis situations and the new challenges facing human rights, our democratic institutions and the rule of law. We are all listening to your ideas and proposals.

Finally, on a more personal level, allow me to express my support as President of the Assembly and as a female politician. Your election as the second woman elected Secretary General in the history of the Council of Europe particularly touches me and I look forward to a collaboration that I already know will be open and close with you in the coming months.

Madam Secretary General, you have the floor.

Ms Marija PEJČINOVIĆ BURIĆ

Secretary General of the Council of Europe 

11:54:17

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Madam President of the Parliamentary Assembly,

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great privilege for me and a pleasure to be here today. Allow me, firstly, to express my sincere gratitude to the members of the Parliamentary Assembly for strongly supporting my election as Secretary General.

As you know, I was a member of this Assembly a few years ago and I have the greatest respect for this institution and the work that it does.

I would like to express my gratitude to the outgoing Secretary General, Thorbjørn JAGLAND, and express my admiration and gratitude for all the reforms, work and activities he has carried out over the last 10 years.

Today, I would like to make a number of general remarks about my priorities for the coming period. I start in French because I want to use both official languages in my communications and speeches to the Council.

First, the role of the organisation:

I believe that as we mark its 70th anniversary, our organisation must remain, for its members, a unique pan-European platform for constructive dialogue and cooperation.

The Council of Europe must also remain the reference when it comes to the promotion and protection of democracy, human rights and the rule of law on our continent. In reality, this role must even be expanded. This is the path I intend to pursue.

It is also clear from the Statute that respect for these fundamental values is an obligation for all member states, and I intend to insist on the full, unconditional and credible implementation of the commitments that have been made by our states.

Both rights and responsibilities must be observed.

We all know that the debate on how to achieve this has been pressing in the Council of Europe in recent months and years, and I have no doubt that this is on your mind today; I intend to return to it in my closing remarks after you have made your own contributions.

Concerning the financing of the organisation, allow me first of all to express my satisfaction because the financial crisis caused by the prolonged suspension of the payment by a member state of its financial contribution has ended. In these circumstances, I begin my mandate with an "almost clean slate", if I may say, with regard to our financial resources. However, the crisis that we have behind us and the budget cuts that the organisation has faced in recent years lead me to conclude that we need to find a way to further stabilise and sustain the long-term funding of the Council of Europe. Europe.

It is imperative to find a way to ensure that all member states cooperate fully with, and take part in, the work of the statutory bodies of our organisation, but also that they fulfill their financial obligations. The Statute defines very clearly the rights and obligations of all member states. I will play close attention to this question.

In the longer term, the Committee of Ministers will have to agree on further measures to ensure the financial stability and sustainability of the organisation, including through a number of innovative sources and modalities of funding. The expertise of our organisation is widely regarded as constituting its added value; the need to preserve it, to ensure the continued relevance and impact of the Council of Europe, is therefore evident.

Finally, I am convinced that only by returning to zero real growth will we be able to fully exercise our mandate and our most important activities: those on which the stature, the role and the relevance of the Council of Europe depend.

I will actively cooperate with member states on this issue and I will present concrete and tangible proposals in due course.

Ms Marija PEJČINOVIĆ BURIĆ

Secretary General of the Council of Europe 

11:59:59

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Now in English, on reforms. When it comes to reforms, let me express my sincere appreciation for the significant measures that the Council of Europe has already undertaken over the last 10 years. This provides a proper basis on which to build. I am committed to continuing with these reforms, including those aimed at further streamlining the secretariat structures and the way we work.

In this process, I might also make recourse to external evaluation.

But of course, the reason for undertaking institutional reform is to ensure our capacity to act, and there are plenty of substantial challenges ahead, both ongoing and new.

Let me put this in context.

Substantial challenges: member states and Council of Europe bodies must demonstrate complete and unconditional respect for legal standards and obligations under international law, including the European Convention on Human Rights. This will be crucial to safeguard our common area of shared values and restore the full credibility and relevance of our organisation.

The Court remains a central pillar of the Convention system, and its exclusive role as the guardian of the rights enshrined in the Convention must be preserved.

The unique feature of the Convention system, the right of individual application, should also be sustained.

But the effectiveness and credibility of the Convention system depends also on the execution of judgments by member states. Rest assured that I will engage with national authorities, notably with those that have experienced some problems in the execution of judgments, to ensure steps towards their smooth execution.

I will also not shy away from possible recourse to my powers under Article 52 of the Convention, seeking explanations for systemic and persistent problems related to the implementation of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Equally, I intend to exercise my prerogatives related to other instruments of the Council of Europe, including asking for opinions by the Venice Commission, whenever the need arises.

Similarly, there is the important question of what we can do to better protect and promote human rights and the rule of law in unresolved conflict areas and so-called grey zones. I know it is a difficult subject for some member states, but I hope that together we can find a constructive way forward.

It is of utmost importance to find a way to enable access by human rights monitoring bodies to such areas: all citizens of our member states should be fully protected by the Convention, regardless of de facto control in those areas or their status.

After all, it is a responsibility of the Secretary General to seek access for relevant Council of Europe bodies to those areas, in close contact with all parties involved, including legal authorities of a member state and de facto authorities,  and with any member state that could facilitate unconditional monitoring.

More widely, greater focus is needed on some long-term recurring negative trends in our member states. These include corruption, threats to the independent judiciary, and to journalists and the free media, restrictions on civil society and human rights defenders, persistent gender inequality and gender-based violence, and the surge in hate speech and populist rhetoric that aims to generate support by appealing to prejudice and fear, and which is often enhanced by new technologies.

Persistent and sometimes increasing poverty and inequality mean that we should also consider how we can better promote the Social Charter and social rights in Europe.

New challenges also arise of course, and we are witnessing this today with the rapid emergence of new technologies. Their influence poses important questions about the application of human rights.

Artificial intelligence has already made a significant impact on some sectors of employment, with a disproportionate impact on the female workforce.

Immediate attention is therefore required to explore carefully how artificial intelligence and other new technology can impact on human rights and what guidelines or other tools we should therefore develop. I am pleased that the Committe of Ministers has recently come to an agreement on the terms of reference for a new intergovernmental steering committee in this area. This is an important step forward.

It is also an example of an area in which we can co-operate with other international organisations and avoid duplication.

Working alongside the OSCE, the UN, the EU and others can often be the best way to progress and use resources efficiently.

So, while the abolition of the death penalty in Europe, with the regrettable exception of Belarus, is among the Council of Europe’s greatest achievements, we must continue promoting this work in co-operation with the UN and other international organisations.

More broadly, the European Union is the largest voluntary contributor to the budget of our organisation. A good institutional framework for co-operation with the EU is in place, but we must deepen that co-operation.

One of the highest priorities of course remains the accession of the EU to the European Convention on Human Rights. This intention was stated in the Treaty of Lisbon, and it should happen as soon as possible.

Now on streamlining monitoring mechanisms:

When it comes to existing monitoring mechanisms within the organisation there is a clear need for further streamlining. This should also help to avoid overlaps and duplications both within our organisation and with others: this is welcome given our limited financial resources.

I intend to make concrete proposals in this regard, considering the respective competencies of the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly vis-a-vis political monitoring. At the same time, we must preserve the independence of expert monitoring mechanisms based on international legal instruments.

Regarding visibility and communications: the Council of Europe has some very good tools. For example, the annual report introduced by the outgoing Secretary General several years ago, which helps identify and highlight trends in Europe and enables the organisation to establish priorities and activities. I intend to continue this good practice.

Nonetheless, public visibility remains one of the serious shortcomings of our organisation. I am determined to remedy this, including through better presentation of our activities in our member states and to the public at large.

This is not just a PR issue. The organisation currently sends too many public messages that are neither coherent nor easily attributable. This practice, as well as diverging or even conflicting messages coming from the organisation and its statutory and monitoring bodies, should be avoided. It is my responsibility to come forward with relevant proposals and I will do so, while fully respecting the independence of this Assembly.

And finally, there is of course more that I could say, but I want sufficient time to hear your views on the challenges we face as we reaffirm our position as Europe’s watchdog for human rights, democracy and the rule of law, and reinforce the unique, standard-setting role that has served the organisation so well over the past 70 years.

Ms Marija PEJČINOVIĆ BURIĆ

Secretary General of the Council of Europe 

12:09:21

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I am taking up my duties at a difficult time for the Council of Europe.

I have no illusions: exercising my mandate will not be easy, and I count on the support and cooperation of this House and all the structures of the Council of Europe.

Thank you.

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER

Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly 

12:09:46

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Thank you very much, Madame Secretary General, for sharing with us your visions, your plans and your intentions. I have no doubt that our colleagues have listened with interest and will now turn to a number of ideas that you have expressed.

We have a significant number of colleagues who have expressed their interest in responding to your communication, and I advise that your interventions should not exceed one minute, which should allow all registrants to speak.

To begin, I give the floor to Mr Francis POCIEJ for the EPP Group.

Questions to Ms Marija PEJČINOVIĆ BURIĆ, Secretary General of the Council of Europe

Mr Aleksander POCIEJ

Poland, EPP/CD, Spokesperson for the group 

12:10:40

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Madame Secretary General,

Dear Marija,

You probably know how pleased I am with your success, as an EPP President for our political family. It is a huge success to see you here, you deserved this success, not because you are a woman but because you are a national of Central Europe. You have won against very good candidates thanks to your merits, thanks to your work, thanks to your sanitation plan of our institution.

I will not talk about values, without sharing the values of the majority of us, you would not have been elected. The events of recent months have shown that to defend our values, freedom and democracy, we must have the means.

During your election campaign you made some promises in this regard, you said in particular that the means at our disposal could be used in a more efficient way, you mentioned the problem of zero nominal growth as well as the problems of the contributions of the Russian Federation and the interests owed by that delegation. What are you going to do to ensure that our institution never again undergoes financial blackmail?

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER

Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly 

12:12:13

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The next speaker is Mr SCHWABE, for the group of Socialist Democrats and Greens.

Mr Frank SCHWABE

Germany, SOC, Spokesperson for the group 

12:12:20

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Madame President,

Ms Secretary General,

Also from my group once again the warmest congratulations on your choice in this really –I do not know– fateful seventieth year. We are really in a phase where we can re-develop and re-deploy this organization. That is why, I think, it is a good opportunity to do that together. This starts now, first of all with this new procedure, which we have agreed upon together and where we now have to come to a credible mechanism in a reasonable period of time.

You have mentioned the relationship with the European Union, where, indeed, we must insist that the European Union very quickly accedes to the European Convention on Human Rights. I want to address two other issues that you know I have always asked when you were in your campaign, so to speak. One is the question of anti-corruption. We had a difficult time here, but tackled the topic. But I am firmly convinced that we need a credible, lasting mechanism. Not just for this gathering, but for this entire institution.

The second issue is what the EPP colleague has already mentioned: the question of funding for this organization. It's good that Russia is paying now, but in the end I always look at these premises here. The premises do not correspond to the dignity of this organization. I think we have to get away from this Zero Nominal Gross and we also need extra contributions to be able to repair our infrastructure profoundly. We need a perspective for the good employees of this organization.

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER

Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly 

12:13:54

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I call Mr DUNDEE.

Lord Alexander DUNDEE

United Kingdom, EC, Spokesperson for the group 

12:14:00

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Secretary General,

A key issue, as we will agree, is the strength and consolidation of our culture and education. For, in feeding hearts and minds, it is these which produce a collective resolve to dissuade racism and intolerance, an ability together to prevent the violation of human rights in all its forms, and a conviction that our shared values and standards transcend national boundaries.

Then, the positive corollary to that: This is that success at local levels best protects national and international stability. Hence not least the desirability of the further growth of direct cultural exchanges and working partnerships between our cities and regions.

With much respect for your own vision and existing treatments, all of us greatly welcomed your appointment as Secretary General, and with your guidance and leadership, we look forward to facing the challenges confronting the Council of Europe with integrity and confidence.

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER

Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly 

12:15:06

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Thank you.

I call Mr DAEMS, for the Liberal Group.

Mr Hendrik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, Spokesperson for the group 

12:15:13

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Madame Secretary General,

You just told us that you wanted to hear from the Assembly what we wanted. I'm inclined to say: "Do you have a minute?" Well, that's exactly what we've got, one minute. It's not enough, but still, a few elements:

One, I totally agree with the fact that we should focus. We should focus on what? We should focus on empowering people, empowering governments, empowering countries to comply fully with the values that we stand for and this is not the case today. So that, indeed, should be the focus.

Secondly, we should not forget that the Council of Europe is not only the Assembly, is not only the Committee of Ministers — with all due respect to the ambassadors — it's not only you, it's so much more. I mean there's more than two hundred conventions that indeed have an influence on daily life of more than so many hundreds of millions of people within the context of the Council of Europe and even outside of that.

So we, I think, we should also focus a little bit on that and reach out, instead of staying within. Reach out and have all these people, these countries, know what the value in the daily life of the Council of Europe represents. 

Mr Hendrik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, Spokesperson for the group 

12:16:16

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One last thought, a little French proverb, Mr Olivier BECHT told it to me: "we hear that the tree that falls and we forget the forest that grows". I would say, listen, we must of course avoid falling trees, but let's focus on the forest to grow it, thank you.

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER

Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly 

12:16:37

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I call Mr KALASHNIKOV for the Group of the European United Left.

Mr Leonid KALASHNIKOV

Russian Federation, UEL, Spokesperson for the group 

12:16:44

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This group also congratulates you on your appointment and your election.

But I would like to concentrate on the following: more than one million people who are members of states that are part of our Federation are not able to take advantage of the protection of Human Rights afforded by the Council of Europe. And I am thinking of people in Donetsk, Luhansk, and Crimea. So what about their rights?

A second question. At the present time, there is a civil war in Ukraine, there are some regions that are calling for special status. We had the same war in the Russian Federation many years ago, the Chechen Republic wanted special status and the Parliamentary Assembly and other organisations imposed sanctions on us at the time, and we agreed, we gave special status to the Chechens, although our nationalists were opposed to that. And now we have the same situation for some five years in Ukraine. There is the same situation: there is a group that wants a special status but the Parliamentary Assembly is not imposing any sanctions. 

So why is there imbalance in the approach to two analogous situations? I think the time has come to correct that. 

Thank you. 

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER

Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly 

12:18:00

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The next speaker is Ms KARAMANLI.

Ms Marietta KARAMANLI

France, SOC 

12:18:05

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Madame President,

Madame Secretary General,

The Council of Europe has 47 states and more than 800 million citizens. One of the challenges is to make the latter aware of their shared history, of improvement in Human Rights and democracy. We are in a moment, it is true, of potential bifurcation, where global inequalities and the climate challenge are new sources of tension in and between states.

What initiatives must our Council –I know, with limited means– could take to reach out more and better to the youth of our various states, to strengthen this awareness of law and rights? While the 70th anniversary is an opportunity, could we not, in partnership with major foundations, and with the support of our representatives in the States, engage in a sustained campaign with the youth so that it is, as says the historian Patrick Boucheron, "vigilant and inventive" in this regard? In any case, all my wishes of success in your mission.

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER

Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly 

12:19:13

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I call Mr TROY.

Mr Robert TROY

Ireland, ALDE 

12:19:18

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Thank you, Madame President.

Madame Secretary General, firstly, I congratulate you on your recent election.

Yesterday, we had a magnificent day when we all celebrated the 70th anniversary of this magnificent body and all its achievements in that period. Now, we must certainly focus on the challenges that are facing us all, and for that mind, I want to put on the record that, from my belief, the challenges facing us and what we must be focusing on as a Parliamentary Assembly is climate change, immigration.

We have a policy that's failing in relation to immigration. We have countries who are resisting to fulfil their obligations, while other countries are over meeting their obligations and it is causing serious hardship. We need to look at focusing on rebalancing our wealth to ensure that all our citizens maintain and can have a basic standard of life.

I believe they are our priorities and I look forward as a member of this Assembly to working with you in addressing those issues.

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER

Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly 

12:20:26

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The next speaker is Mr KITEV.

Mr Betian KITEV

North Macedonia, SOC 

12:20:32

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Thank you.

Dear Madam Secretary General,

First of all, I would like to congratulate you on your new function and to wish you every success.

Recently, France announced the creation of a new project: a history observatory for peace in Europe, aimed at providing a neutral assessment of how history is taught in schools. I hope at your next address we will hear more about this from your side.

Thank you.

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER

Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly 

12:21:04

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Thank you.

I give the floor to Mr NICK.

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD 

12:21:10

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Madame President,

Mrs Secretary General,

I would like to wish you a very warm welcome on behalf of the German delegation. We wish you luck and much success in this task.

A key issue in this House over the last few months has been how to avert an institutional conflict  –which threatened to unfold–between the Parliamentary Assembly and the Committee of Ministers. We have made good progress there. We are also experiencing these days that progress is also being made in the conflict in Ukraine. Yesterday also in the contact group regarding the implementation of the Minsk agreement. I sincerely hope that the new composition of the Ukrainian delegation will return to this meeting in January and will contribute to this process together with the representatives of the Russian delegation. But I am concerned that we may need to avert a new institutional conflict. Georgia will take over the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers in November. We will travel to the standing committee at the end of November in Tbilisi. At the same time, however, the Georgian delegation is boycotting the meeting of this assembly.

I hope that together we will find a way to avert further complication of our work at this point. Thank you very much.

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER

Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly 

12:22:31

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I call Mr HOWELL.

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC 

12:22:35

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Madam Secretary General, I too offer my congratulations to you on your election.

You spoke about the need to get the funding for this organisation right. That's not just about the money coming in, it's about what the Council does.

Would you like to say when we are going to see your proposals for how the Council is going to be reorganised as part of that that review?

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER

Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly 

12:23:02

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I give the floor to Mr ESSL.

Mr Franz Leonhard ESSL

Austria, EPP/CD 

12:23:07

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Thank you, Madam President.

Dear Secretary-General,

Also, I would like to congratulate you on your election to this post.

The topic of human rights is of course the central issue here in the Council of Europe, but there is a whole range of topics to be dealt with.

The question for you: you have mentioned you will give priority to a number of issues in the coming months. For me, the issue of migrants and asylum seekers is important, with a clear distinction between the two. In my view, it is not enough to save people in the high seas and then distribute them across Europe. But we should ensure we support potentialmigrants in the countries of origin, so that they do not even embark on their journey. Maybe you already have some ideas or approaches to make that happen.

Finally, another question: you mentioned that you will be looking for alternative sources of funding for the Council of Europe. Is there not a danger that the organisation's independence could be called into question, donors might want something in return?

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER

Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly 

12:24:31

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Thank you.

Ms CSÖBÖR has the floor.

Ms Katalin CSÖBÖR

Hungary, EPP/CD 

12:24:35

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Thank you, His Excellency.

Congratulations, for starters, on your new term as Secretary General of our organization.

The fight against discrimination is an important matter for the Council of Europe. Today, minority groups still face many challenges, particularly with regard to language rights, hate speech and the right to education.

I appeal to the Organization and your personal intervention to protect the rights of minority groups more effectively.

Thank you.

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER

Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly 

12:25:23

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Ms BRYNJÓLFSDÓTTIR has the floor.

Ms Rósa Björk BRYNJÓLFSDÓTTIR

Iceland, UEL 

12:25:28

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First of all, I want to congratulate you on your appointment and wish you all the best in your work on behalf of the Icelandic delegation.

I would like to use the time here to encourage you to act during your chairmanship to use your mandate decisively on certain issues.

First of all, I think it is very important that gender issues are ongoing here in the Council of Europe. We see and observe backlash when it comes to women's rights; for example, reproductive rights and domestic violence.

PACE has among IPU conducted a thorough and very important report on sexual harassment and sexual violence in parliaments and the results are striking. We must continue to tackle that problem decisively and, with firm action, work together on both implementing the Istanbul Convention but also monitoring how member states are fulfilling their obligations regarding the Istanbul Convention. Also, ensuring and upholding the LGBTI rights that both you and Madam Speaker talked about at the 70th-anniversary session yesterday. Also, the migrant and refugee issues and the rights of journalistic rights.

I encourage you, Madam Secretary, to work with us here in the Council on these issues and to wish you all the best and you have very good coverage on this issue here in the hemisphere.

Thank you.

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER

Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly 

12:26:53

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The next speaker is Ms TOMIĆ.

Ms Violeta TOMIĆ

Slovenia, UEL 

12:26:57

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Thank you, Madam President.

Madam Secretary General,

What concrete actions will you take in relation to serious violations of human rights of women in some -- both socialist, mostly Catholic -- states like Slovenia, Poland, Slovakia, and also your home country Croatia, where medical doctors and hospital staff refuse assistance to women in need of abortion due to their appeal of conscience, and where they sadistically even conduct surgical procedure without anaesthesia, as reported also in the Croatian Parliament?

Thank you.

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER

Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly 

12:27:37

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The next speaker is Mr ABUSHAHLA.

Mr Mohammedfaisal ABUSHAHLA

Palestine 

12:27:44

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Congratulations, Madam Secretary General. I wish you the best.

Actually, I'm saying that we are Palestinians who have shared in the Council of Europe meetings for more than 10 years now. We have been partners of democracy since 2011. For us, we feel that the principles and values of the Council of Europe will be the cornerstone of our future state. But the continuation of the Israeli occupation of our land, according to the two-state solution which is allocated for us, isn't this a violation of human rights? Occupation, the continuation of occupation, and the 21st century -- the last occupation there.

So we feel that we need the interference of the Council of Europe for whatever activities you can carry out to support the Palestinians to gain their rights and for the liberation of their lands.

Thank you.

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER

Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly 

12:29:06

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Mr HUSEYNOV has the floor.

Mr Rafael HUSEYNOV

Azerbaijan, ALDE 

12:29:10

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Thank you.

Madam Secretary General,

I also congratulate you on your appointment on behalf of the Azerbaijani delegation.

In 2014, your predecessor called on Armenia to return Dilgam Askarov and Shahbaz Guliyev, who were taken hostage and illegally convicted in the occupied Kalbajar district of Azerbaijan. Last month, my country officially announced to international organisations that it was ready to exchange these two hostages with two Armenian soldiers arrested for terrorist activities in Azerbaijan.

Can you attempt to contribute to a positive solution to this issue, which used to be on the agenda of the Secretary General, by continuing the noble work of your predecessor in this direction?

Thank you.

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER

Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly 

12:30:04

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I give the floor to Mr SANER.

Mr Hamza Ersan SANER

Cyprus 

12:30:07

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Let me congratulate you and wish you all the best for your mandate.

I would like to address the issue of human rights protection in conflict regions in Europe. In his report,  "Ready for the future challenges: reinforcing the Council of Europe", former Secretary General Mr JAGLAND addressed the challenge of addressing human rights issues in conflict regions, emphasising that the fundamental rights of every European should be protected equally and that people living in the regions with frozen or protracted conflicts are no exception.

I welcome that you will follow a similar approach and we'll be able to find means and ways to bring the Council of Europe closer to every European, regardless of any political conflicts.

In Cyprus, the lack of a settlement is affecting our lives deeply on a daily basis. As Turkish Cypriots, we continue to live under political, economic and cultural isolations. I believe it is high time that the international community stops turning a blind eye on the fact that Turkish Cypriots have been suffering from all-encompassing isolations for the last 45 years on a daily basis, which amounts to human rights violations. 

Thank you. 

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER

Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly 

12:31:33

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The next speaker is Mr FASSINO.

Mr Piero FASSINO

Italy, SOC 

12:31:37

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Hello, Madame Secretary General.

The Italian delegation is also happy about your election.

I want to ask you a question. Among the institutions of the Council of Europe, there is the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities. We know that we live in a period of mistrust between citizens and powers, politics and institutions. Local institutions are an essential bridge to rebuild trust.

When you think of strengthening the activity of the Congress I am surprised, for example, that yesterday, during the ceremony for the anniversary of the Council of Europe, the Congress was not mentioned and among the speakers there was not the President of the Congress. I think it was not a good decision. In any case you, as Secretary General, how do you intend to strengthen and support the activity of the Congress?

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER

Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly 

12:32:43

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The next speaker is Ms CORCORAN KENNEDY.

Ms Marcella CORCORAN KENNEDY

Ireland, EPP/CD 

12:32:48

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Good afternoon colleagues,

It gives me great pleasure to congratulate you, Ms Doris BURES, on your elevation to the important role of Secretary General of the Council of Europe. Your extensive experience and commitment to public service equip you well to meet the challenging five years ahead. In my role as Vice-chair of the Irish Women's Parliamentary Caucus, I want to especially wish you and Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER well.

As you make history in this the 70th anniversary since the foundation of the Council of Europe by virtue of the fact that you're both women. You will be role models for young women across Europe and beyond. Indeed, the development of the #NotInMyParliament initiative and its successful uptake across parliaments will make working in the political environment an attractive option for young women.

The Irish Parliament is undertaking a bullying and harassment survey proposed by our women's caucus, the results of which will ensure effective implementation of our new dignity and respect policy in the workplace. Unless we have 50/50 gender representation across all parliaments who are members of the Council of Europe and beyond, we must consider our democracies to be unfinished.

Thank you for your leadership and the Irish delegation extends warm good wishes for a successful term.

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER

Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly 

12:34:00

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Mr KUHLE has the floor.

Mr Konstantin KUHLE

Germany, ALDE 

12:34:04

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Yes, Madam Secretary-General,

Thank you very much for your statement and especially for the fact that you have particularly addressed the issue of public relations at the Council of Europe.

It is nice that many members of the British delegation and also many members of the Conservative Group said that Brexit, the departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union, does not mean that the UK is leaving Europe. But how do we know that the contempt that has been expressed in the Brexit discussion about international organisations in general does not turn into contempt for the Council of Europe?

How can we ensure that the lies told to the population in connection with the Brexit referendum do not turn into untruths about the Council of Europe?

I feel that the lack of knowledge about the European Convention on Human Rights could turn into a rejection of the court here. The rejection of the European Court of Justice can easily turn into a rejection of the European Court of Human Rights.

That is why I encourage you to be robust in the Council of Europe's public relations work to counter this rejection of international organizations; counter these lies, these untruths, this contempt for important European institutions in the press. You have our support if you do so.

Many many thanks.

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER

Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly 

12:35:36

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I call Mr HUNKO.

Mr Andrej HUNKO

Germany, UEL 

12:35:38

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Thank you very much, Madam President.

Now, for my part, I would first of all like to congratulate you, Ms Burić. Your predecessor, Thorbjørn Jagland, announced in his second term of office that he wanted to bring the European Social Charter and the question of social rights center stage.

We had, of course, many other problems to contend with over the last few years so not much could happen. But I would like to encourage you to perhaps pay greater attention to the process of the European Social Charter. Many countries here have not signed the revised Social Charter, nor have they signed the many additional protocols. I believe that the concept of human rights is only complete if human rights are also guaranteed.

I believe that there is a great deal still to be done in the Council of Europe --right here, right now -- and that is why I would appeal to you, as a matter of urgency, to make sure that we give greater prominence to the European Social Charter than has been the case in the past. 

Thank you very much.

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER

Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly 

12:36:51

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Thank you. I call Mr BALFE.

 

Lord Richard BALFE

United Kingdom, EC 

12:36:55

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Thank you, President.

Can I add my congratulations to the new Secretary General?

I've often argued in lectures that I give that you can change your history, you can rewrite it -- but you can't change your geography. This Assembly has recently readmitted the Russian delegation, which I voted for and welcome, but that has given rise to yet more problems.

To my view, there are many many hatreds running around Europe and not enough understanding. But unless we get the understanding, we will never cure the hatred. So what I want to ask Secretary General is: What plans does she have for the old British saying of 'Keep Calm and Carry On' and encouraging people to work together and, in particular, to encourage Belarus to see that it's not worth being outside Europe just for the sake of being able to hang a few people each year?

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER

Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly 

12:38:00

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Thank you.

I call Mr JURATOVIC.

Mr Josip JURATOVIC

Germany, SOC 

12:38:05

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Madame President,

Congratulations also, Ms General Secretary.

You raised an important issue today, and yesterday too, President Macron raised an important issue, namely the situation of democracy, the strengthening of democracy, as it is the cornerstone of Human Rights protection. We have a situation where, in my opinion, democracy can only be strengthened if we also strengthen democratic institutions. We have now adopted in the German Bundestag a recommendation for the admission of Albania and North Macedonia; just after many discrepancies, which were legitimately in the discussion. But in the end, we have come to the realization that we can only strengthen democracy back up democrats and support their institutions.

My question is to you and to this House: how do we strengthen these countries and their democratic institutions? What do we do as an organization to support national parliamentarians in the field?

Thank you very much.

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER

Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly 

12:39:23

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Ms DALLOZ has the floor.

Ms Marie-Christine DALLOZ

France, EPP/CD 

12:39:27

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Thank you, Madame President.

Madame Secretary General, I would like to express to you formally and publicly my sincere congratulations on your election.

I listened carefully to your speech and I would like to thank you because you have taken the full measure of the difficulties facing our Assembly, challenges that we collectively need to address. We will be with you in your task, but I am confident in your ability, your capacity to federate and bring modern, concrete solutions and resolutely confirm the place of the Council of Europe in the respect of our common values. I want to emphasize one mission, especially one that I think is essential: election observation. I think that you will be careful to preserve those actions which somehow guarantee the good democratic functioning.

Thank you.

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER

Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly 

12:40:34

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The next speaker is Mr FOULKES.

Lord George FOULKES

United Kingdom, SOC 

12:40:38

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Congratulations on your election and on your excellent speech today.

Can I return to the point you raised about your need to improve the awareness and the visibility of the work of the Council of Europe and, particularly, differentiating it from the European community?

I've been going around as general rapporteur on media freedom and the safety of journalists and telling everyone of the work that we are doing in this area under Article 10 and getting a very positive response in relation to that. I think that's an area where you can particularly advocate what we're doing on the platform, where people and our partners can name and shame violations of media freedom and attacks on journalists. I think that's a very good area.

Can I thank you, in particular, that you on Monday meet with representatives of the campaign to get justice for Daphne Caruana Galizia? That was a very significant thing that you did in one of the first days of your office.

Thank you very much indeed.

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER

Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly 

12:41:46

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I call Mr André GATTOLIN.

Mr André GATTOLIN

France, ALDE 

12:41:51

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Thank you, Madame President.

Madame Secretary General,

Congratulations on your election.

You mentioned it briefly in your opening address: one of the important issues at the moment is still the question of the accession of the European Union to the European Convention on Human Rights. Yesterday, as part of the very beautiful ceremonies held at the Strasbourg Opera House to commemorate the 70th anniversary of this great institution, some have discovered –but, above all, recalled– that if the European Union had today an anthem and a flag it is because it had borrowed them from the Council of Europe. Today, it seems astonishing, as the European Union begins to worry more and more about the question of Human Rights, that two competing legal orders emerge in this area.

I would simply like to remind you here that the Lisbon Treaty has been democratically ratified by the states. The European Union must be reminded of its commitments, rather than falling into very literal interpretations of the law, such as the one adopted by the Court of Justice of the European Union in 2014.

 

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER

Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly 

12:43:07

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Mr SABELLA, you have the floor.

Mr Bernard SABELLA

Palestine 

12:43:24

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Thank you and congratulations.

I do not need to repeat what my colleague in the delegation of Palestine Partners for Democracy has mentioned. But I see that there is a need in this Assembly really to come together and to understand each other, and the same applies to Partners for Democracy.

Yes, we as Palestine need our liberation. Yes, we need to be a normal state. But listening to colleagues here in the Parliamentary Assembly, I feel that most take a kind of exclusive view that cannot really promote the values of the Council of Europe. We all need to be working together in order to apply the values of the Council of Europe. Not only in the European continent but to neighbouring southern partners.

And all the best in the challenge awaiting you as Secretary General.

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER

Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly 

12:44:44

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Thank you very much.

I give the floor again to the Secretary General, Ms PEJČINOVIĆ BURIĆ, to share her conclusions and, possibly, her replies to the comments she has received from you.

Thank you.

Ms Marija PEJČINOVIĆ BURIĆ

Secretary General of the Council of Europe 

12:45:02

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Merci, Madame la Président.

Well, many thanks to all of you who spoke here today. I think I can say almost all of what you said was, some how, synthetically, already in my speech at the beginning. And as I said, as a first appearance in my very first days here, I was, in this today, exactly two weeks of my function. Also I had a week away in New York, so, in fact, I'm really at the very beginning.

I listened very carefully to what you said and, as I told you, it will be a source of inspiration, what you said here. You reminded me, sometimes, about very broad issues, and sometimes about very particular ones. I take both as being very important, though I will just address a few, that I think are more on general nature. Because I think, at this very point in my function, this is more appropriate. And, certainly, about the number of issues that were of a very particular nature, we will continue talking, because —as I said at the beginning— my firm conviction is that, as a forum of dialogue, as a forum of cooperation, as a kind of organisation that relies on its statutes, I think it is only natural for the Secretary General to follow the same rules. So, I promised, and I will follow very closely, and if I'm not doing so please remind me in the future. I would really want to have this as a two-way exercise. I think the Assembly has a very important role to play in the organisation, and I think the recent crisis we experienced also showed the importance of this dialogue and cooperation. So, saying that I think it goes only natural for the Secretary General to participate in the dialogue and, as I said, I'm open absolutely and completely to all fora that can be within the format of the Assembly and the Secretary General dialogue. And, if they are new, I will be open also to walk a further mile if that is necessary, and it might be the case, so I will be very glad to follow that path on. 

Let me just answer a few. On financing, which I think, the recent political crisis became also a financial crisis for the organisation, and it has impacted —some of you asked how much, I will invest into forging in certain areas. Believe me, all that you raised are important issues. From congress work, from grassroots democracy that comes from the colleagues working in the congress. And forgive the fact that yesterday not all the institutions and bodies in the Council of Europe were able to speak at the conference, but that was not out of disrespect. Congress is certainly one of those. So starting from the work of congress, you know, whenever you want to enlarge or sustain, or even go a mile further, when you want to do more, usually it also is a matter of finance. So that's why I start with finance. Not because I think finance comes before the values and the standards. Of course, this is something that goes without saying, we are here to uphold the standards and the values. But, to do so, and to do it properly, I think from one way —and this is the answer to you— the reforms, yes, as I said, many things have been done in this respect, but I intend to do many. And I think if you listened carefully to what I said, there is a lot to do about some of those things. To answer your question in more detail, I will really need to rely on more analysis and, probably, as I mentioned, of some outside of the organisation, so I might be more in a position to answer this in the future. But saying so, I think equally that, I, as a Secretary General, need to insist on reforming further, aligning to what the needs are, but also insisting on financing. And I think zero real growth is just one way that our member states should respond to assist this organisation, to be able to effectively answer the needs of today, which are to strengthen more work of this organisation. And my role as the Secretary General will be to insist at every occasion on that.

And that also answers partly the question of whether going to more resources, to more financing in different possible ways of getting it for the budget of the Council of Europe, of course, I value greatly the voluntary contribution from the member states. I value greatly, also, the contributions that we have through other channels —the EU being one of the biggest ones, or the biggest voluntary contributor— but I firmly believe that, if we want our rights, freedoms, to be respected and safeguarded by the Council of Europe's point of view, we need to sustain financing. And this is, first and utmost, the responsibility of the member states. That's why I think the zero real growth is the one and first answers to how we get better work done and how to not to be dependent on others. Not to be dependent means that the ordinary budget should be supported by the member states, starting with applying again real zero growth.

Just to mention, some of you might know, but some won't. This policy of zero nominal growth means that you don't align the contributions to the inflation, which meant, for the last 10 years, losing almost 10% of the budget. So having in mind that the whole organisation, compared to other international organisations, the budget is not so big, that 10% matters a lot. So that's why I insist on that and if we... I think at the end of the day is how much we value the human rights, democracy and the rule of law. This is investing in that, and honestly, in my former capacity, when I was assessing what that would mean for my own country, I can tell you in nominal numbers this is for any of our governments a no-problem. It's for this—I hope— that we will easily pursue the governments to follow that path. But some may raise issues of reforming the organisation and I think I was very clear on that point.

So with what reforms I come later, financing, and then there was also a question related to financing. At the beginning of this year we were really deeply concerned about the financing. Because non-paying for three consecutive years the contribution, one of the biggest contributors, meant for the organisation a loss of a huge amount of money. So, let me inform you that for all three years, the contribution has been paid except for a small number related to some partial agreements, but it's a really small number, so practically one can say that the contribution per se was was paid. But there is a question of interest and on that —I think— the regulation is very clear. So, as a rule of law organisation, we can only say we should apply what implies the financial regulation. The only thing is to see how we go about that and I will certainly engage in dialogue. So it's not a matter of whether it's due —it is due— but it's a matter of how we will go about the exact amount and how the payment might be done.

So, in general, a number of issues were raised here. I think, mostly in my introductory speech I really related to all of them. I think values, standards and what our statute provides for are not negotiable. I mainly refer to the European Convention on Human Rights, which is the convention for us. Although we have 220 that, over last 70 years, have originated from the Council of Europe. So, for sure, the execution of the European Court of Human Rights decisions is at the core of what we are doing here. It is about, again, the rule of law. If we accept it, and we have by exceeding to the Council of Europe, that the European Court of Human Rights is final, more or less, in all of our member states. I think we can only make sure that, once the court decided, we make sure that we follow the execution and it's done properly.

So, sorry, I'm not sure I answered everything. I think some of the questions referred to are the recent political crisis that we had. I just came from one of the meetings, one of many, fortunately, in the last few months, concerning the new mechanism that was actually proposed as one way of solving a long due issue among how we go about the political crisis. I think we made commitments —very clear ones— that was on the part of the Parliamentary Assembly through the recommendation, through the work you've done during the first six months of this of this year. On its side, the Committee of Ministers also took some decisions. I was —at that time— part of that body and I voted very clearly and with a good conscience of what that means and why we need that. So I believe also the Committee of Ministers will follow. And, I think, the discussion that we had just half an hour ago and the discussion we will have also tomorrow in the Joint Committee will go further.

And let me be very clear on that, and I think that's what is important. There is something new that we are making. We are making it with full political consciousness for preserving the values, on one side, but also the Pan-European character of this organisation. So, I think with this in mind, and with this spirit of cooperation, and if some of you look at what Paul-Henri Spaak said at one of the films we saw. He said that what dialogue and cooperation may make, —and he said it 50 or 60 years ago— cannot replace any legal basis. So, more or less, if I got it right, it was that this dialogue and political cooperation can do much more than what only some mechanism that we put in place.

So it is with this spirit that I see resolving the problem, that would —I hope— reply to some issues that were raised here. Because some concerns are that, probably, we made it half the way through. Are we now —and this is really the question— making another mile and resolving it how we promised ourselves in different bodies to do? Or are we stuck again with the same kind of problems that we experienced the last couple of years?

I hope we all work in a good spirit, and I think it's not about sanctioning, it's about making member states, if in the future, we counter —and I hope we are not, but apparently we need to have this safeguard measure— so, if in the future, there is a really blatant problem with breaching the statutes and values and standards, then we need to embark on that. But the first and utmost idea is to give a hand, give a push, if you want, sometimes, if the hand is not enough, to a member state to comply. And, only then, if after that procedure it is not the case, then we go for what we already have written in our statutes, in Articles 6, 7 and 8.

So, we already have the means to deal with that, but apparently, it was not enough. So I hope by agreeing on this procedure, which will be a process, and I'm very glad that a number of meetings took place, we will find a way to solve this issue. I think it is our political responsibility to do so, because what we are hearing in this 70th anniversary of the Council of Europe, I think it's, as would say, noblesse oblige, we need to really prove that what we achieved in the last 70 years is a basis, and is a really good legacy and heritage for the years to come.

Someone mentioned young people. Yes, I completely agree. Whatever we do here, my understanding is that we do it for the youth, for our children, for our friends, who are young. And I was very glad to see here yesterday, at our ceremony, young European youth coming from all parts of Europe, with excellent contributions. Be it from photography, you know, culture is the best way to get to someone's heart. You know, it doesn't need translation, you just see it and you feel it. So they did it, they did it very well, and with the essays. And I think that, from this, I will do whatever I can so we include as much as we can. And I hope through INGOs or some other platforms that we will be able to also let young people participate in our work, and influence it, because it is our future, but it is their future too.

So thank you very much.

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER

Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly 

13:01:27

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Thank you very much, Madame Secretary General.

We conclude your communication.

Ladies and gentlemen, the vote to elect a judge to the European Court of Human Rights in respect of Portugal is suspended. It will resume this afternoon from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.

The next meeting will take place this afternoon at 3:30 p.m.

The meeting is adjourned.

Enjoy your meal.

The sitting was closed at 1pm