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Opening of the sitting No. 2

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

15:03:22

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The sitting is open.

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen.

There has been a change to the proposed memberships of committees.

These are set out in document Commissions (2020) 01 Addendum #2.

Are the proposed changes in the membership of the Assembly's Committees agreed to?

I hear no dissent so I'll take that as a yes.

The changes are agreed to.

The vote is now open to elect a Vice-President of the Assembly in respect of the Russian Federation. The ballot will close at the end of the sitting. The Vice-President is elected by secret ballot so we need two tellers chosen by lot.

The sole candidate is Mr Piotr TOLSTOY.

I remind members of Rule 16.5 that the candidate needs an absolute majority of the representatives of the Assembly to be elected after the first round. If the candidate hasn't received such a majority out of the first ballot the Vice-President will be elected by an absolute majority of the votes cast with more than half the number of representatives having voted in the second ballot.

I now have the duty to choose the tellers.

So the tellers chosen by lot are Ms Annicka ENGBLOM and, can't stand the suspense, Ms Tatevik HAYRAPETYAN please.

Could those two tellers please come forward to the desk?

Slight confusion.  Not used to this level of excitement.

To vote please go to the area behind the President's chair and can I remind the tellers that they should meet behind the President's chair at the end of this sitting.

The next item on the agenda is the continuation of the debate on the Progress Report of the Bureau and the Standing Committee Document 15036 and Addendum #1 and #2 and Document 15038, and the observation of early parliamentary elections in Belarus which is Document 15012. Can I remind colleagues that speaking time in this debate will be limited to three minutes. The debate has to conclude by 4:00 p.m. so I propose to interrupt the list of speakers at about 3:50 p.m.

You got lucky twice, Ms Tatevik HAYRAPETYAN, the floor is yours.

Ms Tatevik HAYRAPETYAN please.

Sorry, I apologise for the confusion, you're being asked to do all sorts of things at once. But you are now entitled to take the floor and speak in the debate.

Thank you.

Debate (continued): Progress report of the Bureau and the Standing Committee / Observation of the early parliamentary elections in Belarus (17 November 2019)

Ms Tatevik HAYRAPETYAN

Armenia, EPP/CD 

15:07:08

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Thank you very much.

First of all let me congratulate the newly elected president and wish him good luck, and I also want to mention that Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER was a great motivation for me as a young female representative.

And dear colleagues, since we mark the 75th anniversary of International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the Liberation of Auschwitz, I would like to bring your attention to some xenophobic expressions in the space of the Council of Europe. Particularly, I want to talk about the horrible events which took place in January 1990 against the Armenian population in the capital of Azerbaijan, Baku. This was actually the continuation of the extermination policy of Azerbaijan, which Armenian population witnessed starting from the 20th century. Under international law, the brutal crimes committed by authorities of Soviet Azerbaijan and Azerbaijani Popular Front Opposition Movement against the Armenian population fall under the classification of crimes against humanity.

I find it important to mention that there were also a few Azerbaijanis who dared to be against such actions and helped Armenians to escape. They also need to speak up about these events. I want to mention that these pogroms were condemned by international organisations and the European Parliament, which issued three resolutions on that occasion. With a resolution of 7 July 1988, the European Parliament called upon the Azerbaijani Soviet authorities to ensure the safety of five hundred thousand Armenians living in Soviet Azerbaijan and ensure that those who were found guilty of having incited or taken part in the pogroms against the Armenians are punished according to Soviet law.

And on 18 January 1990, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the situation in Armenia, calling on the European Council and European Commission to stand up for the Armenians. The first criticising resolution was adopted on 14 March 1991. The organisers and perpetrators of the pogroms have not yet been brought to justice, and that's why unfortunately Azerbaijan continues to pursue xenophobic policies, which was reflected in 2004 during the training courses organised by NATO in Hungary, where sleeping Armenian officer Gurgen Markarian was axed to death by his fellow participant Azerbaijan Lieutenant Ramil Safarov, who is currently considered a hero in Azerbaijan. As well as in the case of torture and brutal murder of civilians in Talish Village in April 2016.

To sum up I would like to highlight that peace has a lot to do to fight against xenophobia and hatred. There are many conflicts in the space of the Council of Europe, and I hope all of them will be solved with peaceful manners. However, the most important guarantee for that is our permanent struggle and ongoing criticism against discrimination, hatred and xenophobia.

Thank you.

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

15:09:58

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Thank you very much.

Mr HUSEYNOV next, please. You have the floor.

Mr Rafael HUSEYNOV

Azerbaijan, ALDE 

15:10:05

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Thank you, Chair.

Initially, I'd like to reject the full of lies hate speech our Armenian colleague. We are all standing on the border now. The border that we stand between vary in content and quality. Above all, we are on the verge of time. The last year of the second decade of the new century is starting. The events of the first day of the New Year promised the beginning of a separate year, which promises systematic change in the political life of the world. The cessation of long-term uncertainty in both the Middle East and Europe, as well as around the world, is leading to major changes.

The second time border accompanying us is directly connected with the Council of Europe. The 70 years period in the life of the organisation is over. How long does it take to go to the next level? No one can say it yet. The key consideration is that if the Council of Europe wishes to continue to live as a successful organisation, which will be supporting democratic development of the continent and the world, it needs to fundamentally change many of its functioning methods and governance principles.

We will continue to live and prosper if at this session we give up many big habits, double, triple standards and different approach to individual countries as well as demonstrating the work instead of real working. We will live and prosper if we immediately assess the invasion of one Member State against another, without any ignorance, not voluntarily subordinate the organisation to certain powers and do not hesitate to express the most severe rules regarding democracy, justice and objectivity. We will live and move forward if we simply do not keep the resolutions on paper, give the advantage to self-criticism in a Progress report at the beginning of each new session. Try to much more demonstrate our actions impeding the progress over the past several months and if our words and actions coincide.

If we prove through our actions that the Council of Europe is a single-family, put an end to biased reports and documents organised with bad intention in the Assembly as well as deliberately misleading speech, treat everyone to same criteria and destroy groups working with unclean intentions against individual countries, then we will live and be stronger than we used to be. If these principles are equally applicable to everyone, each Member State will strive to get rid of its shortcomings and become worthy of the Council of Europe family. A completely fair environment is a place where you can find complete equality and solidarity.

Today, the Council of Europe is on the verge of becoming such place. Our destiny is in our hands. Let's not miss the opportunity that time is offering to us. 

Thank you. 

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

15:13:13

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Thank you Mr Rafael HUSEYNOV.

Is Ms Laurence TRASTOUR-ISNART here please?

Ms Laurence TRASTOUR-ISNART

France, EPP/CD 

15:13:19

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Thank you, Mr. President.

Mr. Rapporteur,

Dear colleagues,

The organization by a State of a legislative election is one of the thermometers of its good democratic health and its respect for fundamental freedoms.

The observation report on the early parliamentary elections of November 2019 in Belarus, which we are examining today, finds that it does not meet all democratic commitments and international electoral standards.

When I visited Belarus as part of the Assembly's delegation to observe the elections, two things surprised me.

First of all, I was surprised by the provisions of the electoral code that allowed the administration to refuse or cancel the registration of candidates for minor formal defects. I am afraid that this could allow the electoral administration, which enjoys a wide margin of discretion and is close to the ruling power, to prevent candidates from competing for universal suffrage.

Secondly, I noticed shortcomings and irregularities during the voting day. There were identical sets of signatures on the voting lists. The secrecy of the vote was not always respected; ballot papers were not folded by voters before being put into the ballot box. There were signs of ballot box stuffing; many ballots in the ballot boxes and few voters in the polling stations.

All these elements make me doubtful about the announced participation rate of 77.4%. I have the impression that, in view of the number of voters I was able to count in the different offices and at different times, Belarusians do not participate much in the elections because they no longer believe they can influence the behaviour and composition of Parliament.

Moreover, there is no real opposition in Parliament. In September 2016, two members of the opposition were able to sit in the Parliament for the first time in recent history. But they were excluded from last November's election. The elected deputies are all in favour of the President of the Republic: they come from the party administration and organisations supporting him.

The Belarusian electoral law must therefore be improved with a view to achieving lasting democratic change. The invitation from the Belarusian authorities to the Council of Europe to observe its elections is welcome. But I hope that Belarus will follow the recommendations made by the Council of Europe, for its citizens and for more democracy.

Thank you.

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

15:16:05

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Thank you very much.

Now Ms Edite ESTRELA please from Portugal.

Ms Edite ESTRELA

Portugal, SOC 

15:16:10

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Thank you, Chair.

As a member of the BAC delegation to observe the elections in Belarus I would like to thank Lord David BLENCATHRA, head of the delegation and all the members of the team who supported us in the observation mission. I followed the electoral process in Minsk and Krupki and in some rural areas surrounding the capital. The reception was friendly except at the polling station where we observed the closing and counting procedures, where clearly we weren't expected or welcome. 

Lord BLENCATHRA's report is very clear about what happened in the last parliamentary elections and about what we were able to observe and what we could not. What did we observe? We observed that local authorities and members of the polling stations created a party atmosphere with music, dance, exhibition of crafts, regional customs and products. We observed that turnout was very low. I'm convinced that the turnout was much lower than the official figures show. In fact, the official data do not correspond to my perception based on the observed reality. At the close of the polls, we did not have access to most of the information, namely to the electoral rolls and the results of each candidate. It was not possible to access the electoral roll and the results of early voting and the household votes were kept in separate ballot boxes.

We conclude that the possibility of early voting without international observers and home voting requested on the same day and collected by elements of the polling station without any control contributed to increasing the opacity of the process.

We conclude that the elections demonstrated a total lack of transparency and respect for democratic commitments. The results show that there is no opposition MEP who has been elected. It was clear to me that the results posted were previously defined regardless of what happened in reality. 

Thank you. 

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

15:19:07

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Thank you Ms Edite ESTRELA.

Mr Samad SEYIDOV from Azerbaijan.

Mr Samad SEYIDOV

Azerbaijan, EC/DA 

15:19:12

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Thank you very much, Mr President.

Of course, first of all, I want to congratulate the new President of the Parliamentary Assembly and wish him success in his essential work for the future of this organisation.

At the same time, dear friends, let me express my condolences to Turkey, to the family of those who lost their lives in this terrible earthquake. We wish the soonest recovery for the wounded.

Today, early in the morning, I have seen, for the first time actually, eight country's delegations challenged. This is a vivid example that we are in crisis. I think that the major reason for that is a lack of mutual respect and mutual understanding within the Member States. Just a couple of minutes ago, my colleague from Armenia mentioned my country in a very unacceptable way for this organisation. Because a country which occupied another one, which made the Khojaly massacre and killed just kids and women, shouldn't do these kind of statements or speeches.

We are today, as Azerbaijan, on the eve of parliamentary elections. Our campaign just started. More than 1 400 members, actually candidates, have been registered. More than 400 international observers have been invited to observe the elections in Azerbaijan. And just recently, a couple of days ago, the pre-election mission came to Azerbaijan, which is according the invitation which we have sent to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

The statement was not so easy actually, it was a critical one, but without insulting. Without undermining the country, which I can't say about the statement of the rapporteur to Azerbaijan, Ms Thorhildur Sunna ÆVARSDÓTTIR. She expressed her opinion in a very unacceptable way for this organisation. That's why I just now understood why we're in crisis.

If you are not able to respect, if you are not able to speak in an acceptable way, the crisis will be. That's why I invite all my friends and colleagues to stand out of this kind of behaviour. Armenian colleagues, those who have responsibility within this organisation, those who are thinking about the future of this organisation, only in this way we will be able to manage the future of this Parliamentary Assembly.

Thank you very much.

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

15:22:31

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Thank you Mr Samad SEYIDOV, could I gently remind colleagues that this is actually a debate about Belarus, not about Azerbaijan or any other country.

Mr Egidijus VAREIKIS please from Lithuania. You have the floor.

Mr Egidijus VAREIKIS

Lithuania, EPP/CD 

15:22:43

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Thank you, Mister Chairman.

I would like to start from the sheet of paper, the written observation of early parliamentary elections in Belarus. I think there is a mistake, they had to be the word parliamentary "selection" in Belarus. Because, really, we are not observing who is elected, but what the election commission selects before you can elect. So, probably, we cannot speak about the freedom of election, that's one.

The second thing. With time I was not observing these elections, I have to say that I like to observe elections. I did not observe because, previously, the few times I wanted to go to this country, I received no permission to enter Belarus. It looks like I am a persona non grata, because many years ago I wrote a report about their election.

What do we really want to expect from this country? I know there are talks in the Council of Europe. Do we need to accept this country as a Member State or not? Now Belarus has a very strange status, somehow a free status of special guest. Do we need to refreeze it or still not? The problem is, the question is, who we are. Are we the organization? I'm asking the question of why we need this country.

People give the general answer: because we are a European organisation and we need to have all the European countries on board. But my counter question is: do we have here the European Geographic Society or do we have the Organization of Human Rights? Of course, I understand that the European geography is very flexible. There are many maps of Europe. We can have Europe from Vancouver to Vladivostok. We have Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals. We get Eurozone and many more Europes.

So, does Belarus fit into any of these Europes? Do we need this country, or does this country needs the Council of Europe? So my question is, if Europe is only geography, so in that European geography we have mountains, rivers, cities, but we have no death penalty, we have transfer of power, we have many things, but unfortunately there is not in Belarus.

So, it's a very serious question: what do we really want to do with this country? Allow it to continue, to refreeze or something else? I have no answer, really.

Thank you.

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

15:25:44

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Thank you.

Mr Antonio GUTIÉRREZ please, from Spain.

Mr Antonio GUTIÉRREZ

Spain, SOC 

15:25:49

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Thank you, Mr President, I would like to speak in Spanish.

Distinguished colleagues.

The first thing I must do is congratulate Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER our outgoing President because I think that she has done a great job over the last couple of years, and improved the Assembly and each one of us. I should like to thank her, as well as the incoming President, and express the hope that we continue to pull in the same direction. 

And now, about the terrific report by Mr Tiny KOX, I want to make three points.

The first is that I believe that it is absolutely crucial that gender equality should apply across the board in the Council of Europe and I don't think we should be focusing exclusively on the delegations, or credentials, rather we should be looking at all the different bodies that make up the organisation. I mean just look at the new Committee Bureaus, there was no parity there.

Secondly, I think we should also tackle another existing inequality and I venture to say that is territorial inequality, in January we have lots of new bodies and we should look at having a balance across all Council of Europe bodies because most posts, most presidential posts, are occupied by members who come from Northern European countries. I think we should look a little more closely at the situation and try and strike a better balance and make sure that we look at geographical balance and geographical equality, with more participation from the south.

Finally, I think that we should also consider the social aspect. I think this is the right time for the Council of Europe and the Parliamentary Assembly to realise that what Europe is essentially is the men and women who make it up and that is why we have to have the consent of the people. We have to have societal backing.

To finish, we had elections recently in Spain and after a year and a half of institutional deadlock, at long last, after two elections we have a government; this is the first coalition government we've had since before the Spanish Civil War and its first decision was to declare a climate emergency and to raise in pensions as well as the minimum wage. It's very much in tune with European agenda for the next decade and Spain will certainly always be working for a Europe for all. 

Thank you. 

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

15:28:45

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Thank you, Mr GUTIÉRREZ.

Madame DURANTON, s'il vous plait

Ms Nicole DURANTON

France, EPP/CD 

15:28:49

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Mr Speaker,

First of all, I would like to congratulate Mrs MAURY-PASQUIER on the remarkable work she has done for our institution, which is not an easy job. And congratulations to our new President. I would like to welcome the very comprehensive and balanced report by our colleague, Tiny KOX and Lord David BLENCATHRA, on behalf of the ad hoc committee, which observed the early parliamentary elections held in Belarus on 17 November 2019, following President Lukashenko's decision to dissolve the House of Representatives one year before the expiry of his term of office.

This is not the first time that our Assembly has taken part in an election observation mission to that country, whose special guest status was suspended in 1997. In the previous elections in 2016, the observation delegation had pointed out a number of problems that needed to be addressed. In 2017, in Resolution 2172, our Assembly called on the Belarusian Government to ensure genuine political pluralism and free and fair elections.

The report that has just been presented to us by Lord David BLENCATHRA shows us that there is still a long way to go. Of course, it is to be welcomed that the elections took place in a calm atmosphere and that polling station members showed a spirit of openness and co-operation towards international observers. The invitation of the Belarusian authorities to observe the elections can indeed be seen as a sign of openness and a political will to cooperate with our Assembly, although I note that President Lukashenko had very harsh words against some observers described as "provocative" on election day.

However, the findings of our Assembly's observation delegation are particularly severe: unbalanced composition of electoral committees, restrictions on the rights of voters and candidates, discretionary de-registration of opposition candidates on minor grounds, intimidation of journalists, insufficient guarantees surrounding the voting and counting of votes, and so on.

Fundamental freedoms have thus been violated and the integrity of the electoral process is not guaranteed.

Of course, the choice of the political and electoral system is a matter of Belarusian sovereignty. Of course, our Assembly, like the Venice Commission, stands ready to work in partnership with the Belarusian authorities to bring about lasting democratic change and to consolidate the democratic process in that country. Just as we were prepared in 2016 to enable Belarus to take its place in the family of European democracies!

But as things stand, I fear that this offer of services is not really being seized. I believe that this House will have to follow developments in that country with the greatest attention over the coming months and years.

Thank you.

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

15:32:01

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Thank you, madam DURANTON.

Kerry McCARTHY, I understand that you were unavoidably delayed, do you wish to take floor?

No. Okay. Thank you very much. Madame ZOHRABYAN from Armenia. Is she here? 

Ms Naira ZOHRABYAN

Armenia, EC/DA 

15:32:16

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Thank you. Thank you.

As always, the Azerbaijani delegation falsifies all the facts.

Dear colleagues, 30 years ago the massacre and pogrom of the Armenian population in the capital of Azerbaijan in Baku lasted seven days. The Baku massacre was well planned and organized by the Azerbaijani authorities with a single objective: to assassinate and exterminate the Armenians. The Armenians in Baku were killed just because of their Armenian origin, because armenophobia is a state policy in Azerbaijan. Until today, the genocidal actions against Armenians in Azerbaijan have not received an adequate, political and, most importantly, legal assessment from the international community.

We do not have the right to overlook these crimes, which are more than 30 years old, based on ethnic motives, and close this chapter of history. I assure you that the factual data on the pogroms of Armenians in Baku, Sumgait, Maraga and other Armenian localities in Azerbaijan and the documentary base of memory of survivors of this hell are certainly not inferior to those of the crimes of the Nazis during the Second World War. I assure you that Azerbaijani fascism does not give in to Hitler's fascism with its cruelty. One of the witnesses to the hell of Baku said that during those dark days in January, there were butchers in the many streets of Baku; people were burned alive, tortured and murdered simply because of their Armenian origin.

Dear Colleagues, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance had published a report in which it was stated that the political elite of Azerbaijan, educational institutions and the media preached hatred against Armenians, thus raising a whole generation with a feeling of intolerance against Armenians. Unfortunately, apart from the declaratory protocol, no clear legal assessment has been made of Azerbaijan's genocidal actions and this impunity will lead to new crimes, new Ramil Safarov, new violence in the spirit of Daech as on the first day of April 2016. In Azerbaijan, armenophobia has reached such a high level that it has become one of the main threats to regional stability and security.

Silence always works in favour of criminals. It's time to bring a Nuremberg lawsuit to Baku.

Thank you. Thank you.

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

15:35:31

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Thank you. Is Mr Leonid KALASHNIKOV here please? No? Mr Leonid SLUTSKIY please.

Mr Leonid SLUTSKIY

Russian Federation, NR 

15:35:43

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Thank you very much, President. I shall speak in Russian because that is a language that my colleagues from the Republic of Belarus can understand. 

Dear colleagues, I have once again been hearing out a discussion here on Belarus, unfortunately it does not differ much from what we heard from not so long ago in this same hall concerning the progress of democratic institutions in this country. And I would like to answer to Mr VAREIKIS that yes, we are not a geographic society, we are an organisation that deals with the rule of law, with human rights, with the protection of human rights. If in politics one is to compare one's present situation with the past, as one does in sport, I mean sportsmen always want to do better, that's what we must do, and if we do that we see some very serious progress when it comes to parliamentarianism, to making sure that in Belarus the elected officials do in fact represent the population. If we do all of this, I certainly cannot agree with Ms Edite ESTRELA when she claims that election results are falsified.

In Belarus, the population very willingly participates in parliamentary and presidential elections, this is a country with a very high level of political activity and those publications that talk about a low rate of participation are simply not reflecting the reality. We don't always agree with our colleagues from Belarus, we don't support one another automatically without some careful thought, but we really must be objective in our assessments of one another. The Russian delegation, Russian issues have often been assessed in a non-objective manner here in this hemicycle and today we are coming back to common sense and to healthy cooperation and exchange amongst one another. 

So, dear colleagues, do take an objective, healthy look at the progress being made by the Belarus authorities to achieve the high standards of our organisation: the powers of the parliament in Belarus have risen to a qualitatively new level and I think that Belarus is quite worthy of having special guest status in our organisation. That doesn't mean that they should necessarily become members right away but we should take the step that has been awaited in Minsk for a long time. The society of Belarus, the civil society of Belarus has reached the point where it deserves this so let us assess the situation in Belarus in an objective way and may this report be a turning point in the Parliamentary Assembly's treatment of Belarus.

Thank you.  

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

15:39:03

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Mr Birgir THÓRARINSSON, please, from Iceland.

Mr Birgir THÓRARINSSON

Iceland, EPP/CD 

15:39:07

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Mr President.

When I arrived in Minsk shortly before the election a day in last Novembe,r I was optimistic for the people of Belarus and excited about the elections because Belarus has been showing signs that it wants to draw closer to the EU.

I left the country with great disappointment. I have never seen elections like this before. They were non-free, non-transparent and, undemocratic.

The people of Belarus are friendly, honest and polite. They deserve better.

Sadly to say, the locals whom I spoke with during my mission had no confidence in the elections.

The report speaks for itself.

Obstacles to party registrations, deregistrastion of candidates, the integrity of the early voting process, non-transparent and non-verifiable vote tabulation, criminal sanctions for defamation and a restrictive media environment and legal framework.

Witnessing the counting process in one polling station, was particularly interesting. It was not open, nor transparent.

The protocol was only on display for few minutes. When counting was completed, the Chairperson rushed away, guarded by three policemen, with the ballots, without giving us opportunity to discuss our concerns.

Early voting was the state of the art in all this process. People who are dependent on the government, for education or jobs were forced to vote early, and serious discrepancy was found between the numbers with overstated and impossible turnout.

An opposition-free parliament says it all. Not a single opposition candidate had won a seat. This is simply too obvious.

Perhaps there was no true will from the Belarus president behind the bid to normalise relations with the West.

Perhaps the Belarusian authorities may calculate that they are doing enough to satisfy the West.

Perhaps they may have concluded that geopolitical security now takes over democratic values for the West and that the costs of rowing back on improved relations with Belarus would prove too high.

The parliamentary elections come as a test for the West.

The question remaining is:

Are we still ready to negotiate and make deals with Minsk?

Thank you.

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

15:41:44

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Thank you.

Mr Serhii SOBOLEV, please, from Ukraine.

Mr Serhii SOBOLEV

Ukraine, EPP/CD 

15:41:50

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Thank you, Mister President. I think that a serious discussion of the situation in Belarus and the situation especially with the election process shows that it's very important to analyze the main principles of the ability of our organization to have a very close and quick reaction on everything. Belarus is our neighbor. It's a neighbor with whom we have been living in peace for a long period of time and, even in the period of Russian aggression, the decision of the Belarus Parliament and President not to interfere in the Ukrainian events was a serious support of our country and we want to thank them for this. Another process is the process of their democracy, the democracy of their electoral system. When we can see their good figures with their final analyzing of the work of the standing committee and bureau for the previous period, it's an interesting comparison that we can't find Belarus in these figures because they are not the members of this organization. But there is another very interesting fact. Look: you can't find Ukraine in these figures. How many delegates represent Ukraine? How many women? Men? What is the percentage? Why is this so? Are there some special rules to exclude a country or its delegation from this hemisphere. I think it's not right. Maybe we have special voting on the rights of the Ukrainian delegation. It's not true. It was a voluntary decision of the previous president of this Parliamentary Assembly to dismiss the Ukrainian delegation without any decision, without any rules, because of the only fact that can approve this is a letter from a national parliament or letter from the speaker of a national parliament. And when in the November session, our speaker Mr Razumkov directly said that there was no such letter, how could you dismiss the previous delegation without any voting? I think it's very serious. It concerns each delegation in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europeand I think for the future it must be a very close and quick reaction of the Bureau Standing Committee on such actions of the President of Assembly. Thank you.

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

15:44:53

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Thank you. I can't see Mr Mikayel MELKUMYAN in his seat. Is he here?

Mr Mikayel MELKUMYAN

Armenia, EC/DA 

15:44:57

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Thank you, Mr President,

First of all, I would like to offer my congratulations to the new President of our Assembly.

Secondly, I would like to say that Mr SEYIDOV's presentation is total disinformation. For in Azerbaijan there is no progress on xenophobia.

But I think very sincerely that in today's world, problems related to security, to global warming, are apparently more important.

Today, I am going to talk about global warming. The uncontrolled growth of the economy has shown that States and the world community have been very slow to find radical solutions to these problems. And there are some.

If every year one third of the 80 to 100 coal mines, thermal power stations or other industrial enterprises that emit greenhouse gases are exploited worldwide, what solution can then be proposed?

It overlooks the fact that, over time, coal emission ceilings are reached more quickly. In order to prevent the temperature from rising by 1.5° Celsius - a likely 67% - we must take into account the special report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Global Warming. According to the latter, in January 2018 there was only a limit of 82 Giga tonnes of CO2 emissions left, and now even less, as about 45 Giga tonnes of CO2 are emitted each year. At the current rate of emissions, the allowable threshold will expire in approximately eight years.

The main concern now is how to solve this problem for which the Paris Agreement was signed. The key to the solution lies in the hands of the developed world and the thousands of companies responsible for 70% of global emissions.

The G20 countries are responsible for 80% of emissions and the richest 10% of the world's population is responsible for half of the CO2 emissions. While 50% of the poorest population is responsible for only 10% of emissions. In the near future, urgent investments must be made for the efficient removal of these emissions to the air. Yes, we must force the big guys to commit funds for scientific research to develop this extraction technology. In my opinion, we should also have a debate in this House to establish our rights and responsibilities. Global warming of one degree would result in the death of tens of thousands of people. We have to understand that CO2 will also remain in the soil, which will make it much more difficult to neutralise it. We're running out of time.

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

15:48:19

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Your time is up.

Mr Giorgi KANDELAKI, please, you have the floor.

Mr Giorgi KANDELAKI

Georgia, EPP/CD 

15:48:29

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Thank you, Chair.

Some of the colleagues this morning voiced optimism on the dynamics of the behaviour of the Russian Federation in Ukraine. A lot of Members of this Assembly do not share this optimism. It was for that reason that we rose this morning to challenge the credentials of the Russian Federation on various grounds.

One angle on which I want to draw your attention today is the track record of the Russian Federation specifically in the context of the resolutions that this Assembly has adopted, in relation to Ukraine and in relation to Georgia. We scrutinise Member States through resolutions and concrete demands that are imposed on Member States.

The resolutions that the Assembly has adopted on Ukraine, specifically, Resolution 1990 in 2014, 2034 in 2015 and 2063 also in 2015, impose concrete obligations and demands. The situation hasn't gone forward, it has gone backwards. For example, only during the last year, around a hundred and eighty Ukrainian soldiers have been killed at the hands of the Russian military essentially.

In Georgia we have three resolutions. Resolution 1633 2008, Resolution 1647 2009 and Resolution 1683 2010, which also impose concrete demands. For example, to reverse the ethnic cleansing that the Russian Federation has committed in the occupied territories of Georgia; to allow the European Union monitoring mission into the occupied territories; or indeed to comply with the EU brokered ceasefire agreement that the President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, acting as the President of the European Union, signed in August of 2008. Let me remind you that the international legal status of that agreement is rather high. Even, for example, comparing it with the Minsk agreement, because it was brokered and signed on behalf of the entire European Union.

The Russian Federation continues to kidnap Georgian citizens from unoccupied Georgian territories, move territory, move the occupation line deeper into unoccupied Georgia and also kill our citizens. Giga Otkhozoria and Archil Tatunashvili were kidnapped and killed by the occupying forces.

What is the way out? The track record is clear, and I think that the demand to comply with these documents and the EU brokered ceasefire agreement, in the first place, has to become part of the EU and US sanctions that are imposed upon Russia.

Finally, the property of victims of ethnic cleansing in the occupied territories. Some Western European companies are renting out properties that are illegally expropriated and that practice also cannot continue.

Thank you.

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

15:51:32

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Thank you. Thank you.

Final speaker from the floor, Lord RUSSELL please.

Lord Simon RUSSELL

United Kingdom, EC/DA 

15:51:40

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I had the great privilege to be part of the monitoring team to Belarus and I'd like to thank  my fellow monitors, the support team and my noble friend, Lord BLENCATHRA.

This was the second monitoring mission I've had the privilege of being on in 2019 and they couldn't be more different. The first was the Ukraine, the presidential election, President TRUMP's new telephone pal. There was a high level of engagement, it was a genuine contest and there was a real sense of change. Belarus, by contrast, was lackluster, low-key, there was a lack of enthusiasm, one felt people were simply going through the motions. There was a low turnout and it felt like an exercise in bureaucracy rather than an exercise in democracy. It was an exercise in post-USSR diplomacy. Playing the West and Russia off against one another and inviting international monitors in to observe an election is a way of telling Russia not to push Belarus too hard. Our observation report is very accurate. And its accuracy was unwittingly endorsed by President LUKASHENKO himself in a speech he made to the Serbian parliament on the 3 December. Mr SLUTSKIY might possibly view LUKASHENKO's view as healthy and objective. What President said, "I guess we just cannot hold elections in a better way. Some were amazed by the election outcome. I wanted to see three, five or ten opposition members going into parliament, but how on Earth could that happen when they only get 3.5 per cent of the vote? It was even impossible to take the opposition by the hand and walk them to the parliament," end of quote. And to show how much he appreciated our presence, the monitoring team, he said, "Western observers had prepared negative reports on the election observation findings in advance to just sign them later." Well, thank you very much for all the work we did. He might equally have said, "I decided in advance exactly what the election results would be and that was what came to pass."

To show democracy in action I would like to highlight one particular, rather unusual candidate. My Armenian colleague and I finished election day in a Minsk polling station where the five candidates were standing; four of them were men and the fifth was a 22-year-old woman described as a journalist for the state TV channel. She came first and was duly elected. It turns out she is an ex-Miss Belarus and she is part of the 65-year-old president's personal team. She also happens to be his current mistress. Miss Maria VASILEVICH was clearly what the president had in mind when he said in his speech, "I'm convinced people voted for those candidates who work hard and benefit the society." I think even George Orwell, the author of 1984, would have raised an eyebrow.

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

15:54:48

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Thank you.

We have one speaker left on the list.

Mister KALASHNIKOV, if you can try and confine your remarks to 2 minutes, that would be helpful.

I don't want to cut everybody or anybody off, if I can avoid it.

Is Mr KALASHNIKOV, here?

Oh, that makes life easier, he's not.

In that case Mister Thomas COX, you have one minute if you wish to take it.

Mr Tiny KOX

Rapporteur, Netherlands, UEL 

15:55:09

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Thank you very much, Mr President. Thank you very much to the colleagues who contributed in the debate.

To sum up, I heard that many of us are very satisfied with the good work done by Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER. I will pass the compliments that you gave.

Many of you are also very satisfied with the fact that we improved the relation with the Committee of Ministers and Secretary General, the trilogue, as our new president calls it. And I think that the new joint mechanism that we will decide later on this week is a clear example of this better cooperation.

You are far less satisfied about the gender balance throughout our organization. I think of that as a follow-up of this progress report. We need to report on gender balance and perhaps also there is a whole deal to be said about geographical balance.

Many of you said that you are satisfied that the EU accession to the European Court of Human Rights is finally back on track again. Let's take care of this year that we really keep the speed going.

And a last remark to what my colleague Mr Ian LIDDELL-GRAINGER said: perhaps this Assembly should do less but better. Well, I have good news for Ian. We decided already in April, when we adopted my report on the role and mission of the Council of Europe and our major challenges, that this assembly should do indeed less but better. In that report that we adopted in April, many proposals got the support of you all, at least three quarters of the Assembly. So I think this year is the year where we have to follow up the decisions that we took already in April and then we will get less but better decisions. Thank you very much.

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

15:56:58

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Mr Oleksii GONCHARENKO, we were under the impression that you weren't here.

I apologise.

Exceptionally, and it is exceptional, you have two minutes. And I mean two minutes, please.

Mr Oleksii GONCHARENKO

Ukraine, EC/DA 

15:57:10

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Thank you very much. Two minutes, okay. Thank you.

I want to speak about last year. Remember the question which we were discussing about, whether to give back the Russian delegation credentials here in the hemicycle, in the Assembly, without them fulfilling any of the resolutions of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

And I would like to remind you that one of the main reasons to give them back, people who were supporting it told us "we are doing it not for Putin, not for the Russian delegation, we are doing it for 140 million of Russian citizens, to respect them and to give them defence from the European Court of Human Rights". That was really a strong argument and many people believed in this. But I just want to stress your attention. What is happening now? Putin sent to the Parliament of the Russian Federation the amendments to the Constitution of the Russian Federation. Why? Because he wants to be Tzar Emperor forever after 2024? He is more than 20 years in power, he wants to be more. But also he sent the amendment to the Russian Constitution to put the Russian Constitution over any international law and international obligation of the Russian Federation.

It means that this argument, that it will be a defence for the Russian citizens by the European Court of Human Rights, was a false argument. They lied like always. They said "we will give this defence to people" but in reality they will not have this defence from the European Court of Human Rights. Russia will fulfil only the decisions of the Court which they agree with, which they like. Anything else they will say no.

I just want you to always remember this, how we were all made fools here. Just remember this and don't listen to what Russia says, just please watch what Russia is doing.

Thank you very much.

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

15:59:20

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Thank you, Mister GONCHARENKO, that really does conclude this debate.

Can I remind members that the vote is open to elect a vice president of the assembly in respect of the Russian Federation. The ballot will close at the end of this sitting, which I think I'm right in saying is 5 p.m., and those who have not voted may still do so by going to the area behind the president's chair. The Bureau has proposed a number of references to committee for ratification by the assembly, set out in document 0165086 and addendum 1.

I've received no objections to that reference from the committee. I trust that that is in order. Thank you.

There is no objection, so the references are approved.

May I invite the assembly to approve the other decisions of the Bureau laid out in the progress report and addendums 1 and 2 and the further document.

No objection. The progress report of the Bureau and the Standing Committee is approved.

Mr Hendrik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly 

16:01:00

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Dear colleagues, the next item of business is the communication from the Committee of Ministers to the Assembly presented by Mr David ZALKALIANI, Minister of Foreign Affairs on Georgia. Welcome, President of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.

This will be followed as usual by questions to Mr ZALKALIANI and I invite Mr ZALKALIANI to address the Assembly.

Please do so, Sir.

Communication from the Committee of Ministers

Mr David ZALKALIANI

Minister for Foreign Affairs of Georgia, President of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe 

16:01:46

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Mr President of the Parliamentary Assembly,

Madame Secretary General,

Honorable members of the Assembly,

At the outset, I would like to start my intervention by thanking Ms Liliane MAURY-PASQUIER for the remarkable work she has done over the past two years and congratulate Mr Hendrik DAEMS on his election. Mr President, I am sure, your able leadership will successfully guide the work of the Parliamentary Assembly in the years to come.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today, I have the honour to continue dialogue with the Parliamentary Assembly, which started with the exchange of views at the Standing Committee last November. I am honoured, and my country is particularly proud, to hold the Presidency for the first time since joining the Organisation more than 20 years ago.

Last year, we celebrated the 70 years’ anniversary of the Council of Europe, the founding of which was the first attempt towards a united European action to promote peaceful and prosperous coexistence and prevent conflicts among nations. This year, we mark the 70th anniversary of the European Convention on Human Rights, a unique, legally-binding treaty, overseen by an independent international court, which safeguards people’s basic rights and fundamental freedoms. It has enabled the setting-up of a human rights protection system, which is unique and constitutes the anchor of European co-operation, both at governmental and parliamentary level. I hope that the new decade will bring us the same determination to defend human rights as that of the authors of the Convention 70 years ago.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

On this very day 75 years ago, the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp was liberated. Today, we remember all those who perished in the Holocaust. It is important to ensure that people across the globe understand the lessons of the Holocaust and that we double our efforts to generate respect for diversity and human rights in generations to come.

Distinguished members of the Assembly,

A written report on the activities and decisions adopted by the Committee of Ministers since your meeting last October has been made available to you. Before highlighting some key elements of this report, allow me to underline shortly what Georgian Presidency would like to bring to the agenda through our priorities.

Through our priority “Human Rights and Environmental Protection”, the Georgian Presidency would like to highlight the connection between the two concepts. We are delighted that this is the first time that environmental protection is being identified as a clear priority as such.

The interconnection between environmental protection and human rights is undeniable. We wish to encourage the Council of Europe to be more active in this area. We also believe that the relevant provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights, as interpreted by the European Court of Human Rights, could be used more extensively in member States as a tool for the protection of individuals and communities against environmental harm.

To reflect and raise awareness on the human rights implications of environmental problems, as well as environmental implications of human rights issues, we will be organising two major high-level conferences during our Presidency.

They will take place in Strasbourg respectively on 27 February and 9 April 2020. The Assembly has played a pioneering role in raising public awareness of environmental issues. We would very much value your participation in these events, as well as in the other events to be organised under our Presidency.

Together, we can make a difference and raise this issue at its appropriate political level.

“Civil Participation in the Decision-Making Process” was identified as another priority by the Georgian Presidency. Civil participation in decision-making processes requires a society-wide dialogue on critical issues and is fundamental for the functioning of a truly democratic society. We believe that more efforts could be done in order to increase the level of input from civil society and citizens in the decision-making process. This would help in strengthening and, sometimes, regaining trust in and credibility of our democratic institutions.

On 6 March 2020, the Georgian Presidency will organise an International Conference on Civil Participation to identify useful and innovative experiences of successful engagement of civil society at local, regional and national level. The Conference will mark the World NGO Day, which is on 28 February.

The creation of a child-friendly justice system is a top priority for the Government of Georgia, which we also identified as a priority for our Presidency. We believe that a child-friendly justice system should be focused on the needs and rights of the child.

Our aim is to promote Council of Europe standards on child-friendly justice systems as well as to share Georgia’s experience and achievements in this area. With this in mind, on 23 March, the Georgian Presidency will hold a Round Table on restorative justice in Europe. The conference will support and encourage member states to discuss and review national experiences of juvenile justice systems in the light of European and international standards for human rights protection of the child, to identify existing challenges and to design more child-friendly policy solutions.

The Georgian Presidency also wishes to promote one of the core values of the Council of Europe – democracy – through education, culture and youth engagement. We will be promoting quality and inclusive education that is free from discrimination and provides a safe and secure learning environment.

During our Presidency, Georgia will organise a number of events aiming in particular to promote the work of the Education Policy Advisers Network (EPAN) and the implementation of the Council of Europe Charter on Education for Democratic Citizenship and Human Rights Education. In addition to this, the round table on Strengthening Democracy through Education and Culture will be organised in March 2020.

The Georgian Presidency attaches the highest importance to the full and meaningful participation of young people in European societies. In this connection and in line with our priorities, last week we held an Informal Exchange of Views of the Ministers’ Deputies together with main stakeholders in the youth field, to explore concrete ways of “Strengthening democracy through youth engagement in the Council of Europe and its Member States”.

This event was followed by the official launching of the new Youth Sector Strategy that we warmly welcome.

In the youth sector, the Georgian Presidency will in particular seek to promote the development of quality youth work practices in Member States. We will also continue to support the efforts regarding the “No Hate Speech Movement” youth campaign.

I would like to point out the conference on “Diasporas" which was aimed to address the active participation in state-building processes, that took place in Tbilisi, December last year, and was co-organised by the Parliamentary Assembly and the Parliament of Georgia. The conference discussed relations with their diasporas and ways to improve such work. Diaspora engagement strategies differ from country to country, depending on their goals and motivations. Therefore, the conference proved to be valuable to exchange the best practices.

Finally, we are pleased to hold the 130th ministerial meeting in Tbilisi, 14-15 May, 2020.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me now move on to some important issues which have featured prominently on the Agenda of the Committee of Ministers since October.

First and foremost, on the complementary joint procedure between the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly. The Georgian Presidency continued the work, which started during the Finnish and French Presidencies. Just before the end of the French Presidency, a letter was sent to the President of the Assembly, by the French Secretary of State for European Affairs, containing a draft Committee of Ministers’ decision, with the aim to serve as a basis for an agreement with the Parliamentary Assembly. The proposal sent to you was of course a result of the dialogue we have had between the Assembly and the Committee of Ministers on the implementation of the Helsinki decisions.

We will follow your debate and decisions on this subject tomorrow with great interest and later this week our two bodies will have the possibility for further discussion on this subject in the Joint Committee.

For our part, the next step would be a decision on the complementary procedure, with its basic principles and various steps, on 5 February.

In the midst of the challenges we faced last year, positive development took place last November when the Committee of Ministers adopted the Programme and Budget for 2020-2021. The new Budget reflects a move to zero real growth for the first time in six years, thereby adjusting the budget for inflation.

This is a timely decision against the backdrop of the 70th anniversary of our Organisation and sends an important political message of commitment. I appeal to all member states to fully comply with the obligations, including the financial one.

On approving the budget decisions, the Committee of Ministers also adopted a comprehensive reform programme aiming at improving the Council of Europe’s working methods and ensuring its long-term financial sustainability.

These budgetary and programmatic decisions are important, as they provide our Organisation with some perspective which is essential to the continuation of the work carried out by the Council of Europe to uphold its important mandate.

With regard to the rights of the child, last December, the Committee of Ministers adopted a Recommendation to member states on effective guardianship for unaccompanied and separate children in the context of migration. This Recommendation seeks to ensure that the rights and best interests of such children are respected in line with international and European standards, taking into account the specific needs of the children concerned. I understand that, later this week, your Assembly will hold a joint debate on the smuggling of migrants and missing migrant children. I very much welcome this initiative and would like to stress the importance for the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly to pursue their activities in this field in a coordinated manner. From this perspective, I would like to recall that, last December, the Committee of Ministers also adopted a reply to your Recommendation “Stop violence against, and exploitation of, migrant children”.

Cyber-violence against women and girls constitutes another growing concern for our modern societies. It is one of the new phenomena which affect significantly our societies across Europe and beyond. On 12 December of last year, the Georgian Presidency organised an informal exchange of views on this question.

This event offered a useful opportunity to gather experience and good practice from stakeholders active in this field and contributed to a better understanding of the different forms of cyber-violence and their impact on women and girls. Furthermore, it highlighted the importance of a combined implementation of the various Council of Europe instruments for ensuring a comprehensive and effective answer to such violence, in particular, the Istanbul Convention. Hereby, I would like to use this opportunity and ask all members states to consider joining the Convention.

In addition to this, the Georgian Presidency will organise an event on the Digital Dimension of violence against women, within the framework of the 64th session of the Commission on Status of Women, planned in New York, in March this year.

The mission of the Council of Europe includes promoting and protecting the fundamental rights of all individuals in Europe, without exception. Nevertheless, we continue to witness grave human rights violations in the areas remaining outside of the control of national authorities and population is deprived of their basic rights, guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights. These areas remain inaccessible by the International Organisations, including the Council of Europe.

The Committee of Ministers continues to closely follow the conflict in Ukraine. On many occasions, the Committee of Ministers called for full respect of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognised borders. It is important to fully implement the Minsk Agreements and fulfil international obligations undertaken. There have been some encouraging steps, such as the new dynamics within the Normandy Format and the exchange of prisoners in December. On the other hand, we remain concerned by reports on the deteriorating human rights situation in Crimea, in particular as far as members of minorities are concerned.

As you are well aware, the President of Georgia will address the Assembly tomorrow on the developments in Georgia, including in the conflict areas. In this regard, let me briefly focus on the relevant activities of the Committee of Ministers. With regard to the conflict in Georgia, the Committee is continuing to closely monitor the situation on the ground, in particular by means of the valuable information provided by the Secretary General in her twice-yearly reports. Last November, the Committee held a discussion on the basis of the Secretary General’s latest report. On this occasion, delegations reiterated their support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia within its internationally recognised borders.

It is essential that International Organisations, including the Council of Europe, have access to the conflict zones to ensure that human rights are respected in those areas of Georgia. At the same time, it should be recalled that the Ministers’ Deputies adopts, on a yearly basis, a set of decisions within the frame of the Agenda issue “the Council of Europe and Conflict in Georgia”. The above-mentioned decisions are an important legal and political document, which gives the international community possibility to assess the difficult situation on the ground, which is really extremely deteriorating. The Committee of Ministers will continue to pay the greatest possible attention to the conflict in Georgia, ,which will remain a standing item on the agenda of the weekly meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The supervision of the execution of judgements and decisions of the European Court of Human Rights continues to be among the most important tasks and responsibilities of the Ministers’ Deputies. At their Human Rights meeting in December, the Deputies decided to close the examination of 135 decisions and judgements of the Court, which brings the overall figures of cases closed last year to 2,048.

I would like to emphasise here, once again, the unconditional nature of the obligation for each Member State to fully execute the judgements of the Court rendered against them. This is at the heart of Article 46 of the Convention.

Now, I would like to refer briefly to Belarus, which also appears on the Agenda of your Part-Session. Like the Parliamentary Assembly, the Committee of Ministers has on several occasions called on Belarus to establish a moratorium as the first step towards the full abolition of death penalty. My sincere hope is to see progress in this field.

With regard to the co-operation with international organisations, we will continue close relations in the areas of mutual interest. I am very pleased to inform you that we are in the process of resuming negotiations for the accession of the European Union to the European Convention of Human Rights. The Committee of Ministers has recently approved the mandate of its Steering Committee for Human Rights to finalise, as a matter of priority and in co-operation with representatives of the European Union, the legal instruments setting out the modalities of the accession. I very much hope that this work will be concluded successfully and as rapidly as possible. It is essential that the Council of Europe and the European Union ensure the coherence of the human rights protection system in Europe.

Regarding our co-operation with the OSCE, I should refer to the 30th meeting of the Co-ordination Group between the Council of Europe and the OSCE, held in Vienna last November. The Group reviewed the state of co-operation between the two organisations regarding the fight against terrorism and trafficking in human beings. The Group will meet again in Strasbourg to examine co-operation in the areas of the promotion of tolerance and non-discrimination and the protection of the rights of persons belonging to national minorities. In line with our commitment to continue close co-operation with the OSCE, in three days I will have the opportunity to address the OSCE Permanent Council in my capacity as a President of the Committee of Ministers. To conclude, let me wish you every success in your future work to the benefit of European citizens.

I very much look forward to continue the constructive co-operation with you, Mr President, and the Assembly.

Thank you.

Mr Hendrik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly 

16:24:39

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Thank you, Mr David ZALKALIANI.

I remind colleagues that questions must be limited to 30 seconds. Please ask questions, do not make statements, but the chair always says that.

The first question is from Mr Fourat BEN CHIKHA from the Socialist Group. You have the floor.

Mr Fourat BEN CHIKHA

Belgium, SOC 

16:25:01

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Congratulations.

LGBT issues are systemically instrumentalised, which fuels hatred among different groups of Georgians. For example, at the last Pride in July and showing of the film And Then We Danced in November make for a divided society. How does the state intend to protect the rights of the LGBT citizens and tackle homophobia and the instrumentalization of the LGBT people more generally in Georgia especially in the context of the election later this year. Thank you. 

Mr David ZALKALIANI

Minister for Foreign Affairs of Georgia, President of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe 

16:25:43

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Thank you.

Thank you for this question.

Of course, discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights. However, respect for the rights of LGBTI persons is still very weak in several European countries.

Member States, we believe they must abide by their commitments under the Convention and prevent such discrimination. We believe that they must also execute the relevant judgments of the European Court of Human Rights.

We all know that in 2010 the Committee of Ministers adopted a recommendation to Member States on measures to combat discrimination on sexual orientation and gender identity. This Recommendation constitutes a common base for European countries with no equivalence at a global level.

The Committee of Ministers will examine a new report in mid-February on the implementation of the Recommendation and the report will then become public.

The situation in Georgia is also covered by this report and we have revised our anti-discrimination legislation by enlarging the scope of expressly prohibited grounds of discrimination to include sexual orientation and gender identity. These measures have been accompanied by the setting up of an implementation body tasked, inter alia, with conducting surveys and awareness raising campaigns.

Recently pride events could safely take place in Tbilisi, despite threats. And there has always been increased attention of authorities, politicians and public figures, publicly condemning attacks and other infringement of the rights of freedom of expression and assembly of LGBTI groups.

Thank you.

Mr Hendrik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly 

16:28:19

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Thank you.

The next question is by Martin POLIAČIK for ALDE but I do not see him in the room at this stage. Then we will move to the next question by Sir Christopher CHOPE for EC. 

Sir Christopher, you have got the floor.

Sir Christopher CHOPE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, Spokesperson for the group 

16:28:39

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Thank you, Minister, for talking about the accession of the EU to the convention. Can you assure us that the Committee of Ministers will not be held to ransom by the European Union and allow the European Union to accede to the Convention on a basis which doesn't require the European Union to comply fully with all the Rules of the Convention?

Mr David ZALKALIANI

Minister for Foreign Affairs of Georgia, President of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe 

16:29:05

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Thank you for this question.

Of course, I have talked about this issue in my intervention and I want to reiterate it again. The accession to the European Convention on Human Rights is laid down in the Treaty of Lisbon and we welcome the commitment of the EU to make this happen. So we welcome the recent resumption of the EU accession negotiations and hope that they can be concluded quickly.

The EU accession to the European Convention on Human Rights is crucial to ensure the coherence of the system of protection of human rights in Europe. So, once again, let me reiterate our position expressed in my intervention, that we will do everything possible in our capacity as President to encourage our European partners to speed up this process. 

Thank you. 

Mr Hendrik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly 

16:29:59

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Thank you, the next question is by Mr KALASHNIKOV from the UEL.

Mr Sergey KALASHNIKOV

Russian Federation, UEL, Spokesperson for the group 

16:30:09

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Thank you President.

Mr Minister, as you know in the course of your term of office we will be celebrating the 70th anniversary of the victory over fascism.

We know that in fact this was something that involved all the peoples of Europe and allowed us to create the pan-European home that we have today.

However, we now see that there are attempts being made to distort history and to rehabilitate those who were on the other side in many countries. I would ask you, what you, as the Chair of the Committee of Ministers intend to do to combat such shameful trends as those that we see today, and are you thinking of any possible Convention in that regard?

Thank you.

 

Mr David ZALKALIANI

Minister for Foreign Affairs of Georgia, President of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe 

16:30:59

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Thank you.

The historical dimension is an important element of this organization and the way history is taught can foster reconciliation between nations.

The conference of Ministers of Education in November, under the French presidency, expressed interest in promoting cooperation between European states in the field of history teaching. And it was an interesting idea which was proposed during the French presidency to establish a European Observatory and this is, I believe, an important and interesting suggestion, and we're going to continue this discussion within the framework of the Committee of Ministers.

We would welcome the feedback and position from Member States with regard to the history dimension of this organization.

Mr Hendrik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly 

16:32:10

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Thank you, Mr Minister.

We now go through the list of speakers, not on behalf of the groups as such. We will take three questions at the same time, allowing the Minister to answer to all three questions at once.

First, of the three is Madame Nicole TRISSE, the Alde.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE 

16:32:33

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Thank you, Mr President,

Minister, you have indeed chosen to make education, culture and youth involvement one of the priorities of your six-month presidency.

You have indeed just said that you thought your predecessor's idea of setting up an Observatory for the teaching of history, to promote the teaching of peace and the values that unite, rather than the narrative of wars and conflicts that have divided in the past, was a wise one. How do you actually intend to make progress on this issue during the Georgian Presidency? If you could give a little more concrete evidence, please.

Thank you.

Mr Hendrik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly 

16:33:15

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We will have the second question of the three by Mr Titus CORLĂŢEAN.

Mr Titus CORLĂŢEAN

Romania, SOC 

16:33:22

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Thank you.

Minister, wishing a successful mandate for the Georgian presidency I want to ask you what are the intentions of the Presidency to take action in relation with a very concerning subject: the constant lack of political will of the Ukrainian authorities to implement the resolutions and the recommendations of our Assembly and the Venice Commission recommendations concerning the very restrictive legislation adopted previously in the field of education in the mother tongue of the national minorities from Ukraine, including the ethnic Romanians or Hungarians. The very recent adopted education law in the high school secondary level didn't help too much. So my question is what are your concrete intentions to take action to ensure the European standards are to be respected in this field?

Thank you

Mr Hendrik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly 

16:34:10

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The next question is by John HOWELL, EC.

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC/DA 

16:34:15

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Thank you.

In 2017, the Committee of Ministers agreed to the Council's action plan for dealing with refugee children, which puts particular emphasis on their integration into the societies to which they were transferring. What mechanisms did you put in place to monitor this and how do you think it's going?

Mr Hendrik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly 

16:34:37

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Thank you, Mr Minister.

One second. By exception, since I see that the ALDE representative has come into the room, may I ask to any representative to be on time next time but I will allow exceptionally to add your question to the three former ones and allowing the Minister to answer all four. Mr POLIAČIK on behalf of the ALDE group.

Mr Martin POLIAČIK

Slovak Republic, ALDE 

16:34:56

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Thank you very much. I'm very sorry.

I have two very simple questions. The first one is concerning many attacks from either foreign or interior bodies concerning either elections or opposition or civic workers on Facebook and whether the Committee of Ministers is taking this into account.

The second one is about the joint procedure that wants to be proposed, whether the voting of the Committee of Ministers is going to have a fixed time frame? 

Thank you very much.

Mr Hendrik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly 

16:35:36

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Thank you. Mr Minister, for the four questions.

Mr David ZALKALIANI

Minister for Foreign Affairs of Georgia, President of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe 

16:35:50

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Thank you very much.

The question regarding the attack on Facebook is a very important issue. Unfortunately, for the time being, it's not a subject of consideration of the Committee of Ministers. But if there is a proposal coming from the respective Member States, one cannot exclude that this can be considered in the framework of the Deputy of Committee of Ministers meeting.

Regarding the complimentary procedure between the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly, I have already addressed this issue in my intervention. But, once again, to reiterate that, following the decisions taken at the Helsinki ministerial session in 2019 on May 17 this year, the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly have been working on a complimentary procedure for the application of Article 8 of the Statute of the Council of Europe in serious cases of violation by Member States of fundamental principles and values of this organisation, like Article 3.

The French Secretary of State, Madame Amélie de Montchalin, transmitted the results of the deputy's discussions to your President by letter, dated November 21st 2019, and asked for the text to be distributed to the Members of the Assembly for information. The text that she sent to you, I believe, enjoys a very large support among the Member States and could thus be a basis for our further discussions. The deputies are now waiting for the final adoption by the Assembly of the report of the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy before reaching a decision.

So it will be of utmost importance for the Georgian presidency to continue dialogue with your Assembly. We believe such joint efforts are highly beneficial for the Organisation.

Now, with your permission Mr President, I will move to the questions followed.

The first one was, again, on history and the youth engagement. I believe that history teaching constitutes an integral part of education for democratic citizenship and also contributes to the emergence of a common European sense of belonging. The way history is taught, I want to repeat it again, can foster reconciliation within and between nations. The proposal for the creation of a European observatory is really a very important proposal and we are ready to consider it. There was an important discussion during the French presidency in Paris on this very interesting proposal. I know that a number of member states are keen to follow up on this project and I welcome this initiative, which has a direct link with our presidency's priorities to promote democracy through education, culture and youth engagement. The Committee of Ministers will follow work underway on this issue for establishing a partial agreement on a European observatory on history teaching.

The second question was regarding the Ukraine. The issue you have raised is the subject of the monitoring of the Committee of Ministers under the relevant treaty of minority rights: the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages and the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. A new monitoring exercise under the language charter is set to begin in the near future and I will allow an in-depth and expert assessment of the situation. Most importantly the Venice Commission has very recently published a detailed analysis of the state language low identifying the certain aspects and proposing required amendments. In addition, the expert assistance of the Council of Europe in this area is also available to our Ukrainian colleagues, via the action plan of 2018-2021.

Also, the question regarding protecting the refugees and migrant children in Europe. The protection of refugees and migrant children is a priority of this Organisation and all members of the Council of Europe endorsed in 2017 an Action Plan on Protecting Refugees and Migrant Children in Europe. It also proposes concrete support to Member States at all stages of the migration process and also with respect to focus on unaccompanied children.

It has three main pillars. First of all, ensuring access to rights and child-friendly procedures, providing also effective protection and enhancing the integration of children who would remain in Europe. Just some concrete examples I want to bring to your attention. The first is a handbook on promoting child-friendly information for refugees and migrant children on access to rights and relevant procedures, including good practices. Another one is a compilation of good practices on migrant related child-friendly procedures. Also, identifying solutions to avoid statelessness for child migrants through help, which is human rights education for legal professionals, courses on the rights of refugees and migrant children.

Of course, the Committee of Ministers will examine the final report on the implementation of the Action Plan in the coming weeks, together with the newly nominated special representative of the Secretary-General on migration issues, with a view of deciding on a possible follow-up of this plan.

Thank you.

Mr Hendrik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly 

16:43:09

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Thank you.

Then we go through the next three questions, first of them being by Mr RUBINYAN from EPP. Mr RUBINYAN.

Mr Ruben RUBINYAN

Armenia, EPP/CD 

16:43:19

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Thank you, Minister, warm congratulations on your first presidency in the Committee of Ministers.

Your priority of strengthening democracy through education, culture and youth engagement is of very high importance. My question is what more can be done to engage young people in decision-making processes, and what will be the input of your presidency in outlining the relevant standards? 

Thank you. 

Mr Hendrik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly 

16:43:40

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Thank you.

Next question by Ms Ingjerd SCHOU from EPP.

Ms Ingjerd SCHOU

Norway, EPP/CD 

16:43:45

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Thank you President and Minister.

It is my impression that the cooperation between the Committee of Ministers and the Assembly on the complimentary procedure has been good and constructive. What is the opinion of the Committee of Ministers on the current draft outline of the procedure and what does the Committee of Ministers see as important in order to maintain the good progress and constructive cooperation? 

Thank you. 

Mr Hendrik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly 

16:44:14

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Thank you.

Next question, number three, is by Mr Andrej HUNKO, UEL.

You've got the floor.

Mr Andrej HUNKO

Germany, UEL 

16:44:19

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Thank you very much, Mr President, Mr Chairman.

The system of the Commission on Human Rights is also repeatedly subject to attacks by individual member states. The Copenhagen Declaration therefore proposed a timetable for necessary changes. This should be submitted by the end of 2019. Could you inform us about the current state of affairs, what discussions are taking place and what preparations are being made in this direction? Thank you very much.

Mr Hendrik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly 

16:44:54

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Thank you.

Mr Minister.

Mr David ZALKALIANI

Minister for Foreign Affairs of Georgia, President of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe 

16:44:58

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Thank you very much for these new three questions.

I will start with the first one regarding youth engagement and thank you very much for your kind words and for your question as well.

The sustainability of any democratic society relies to a large extent on the involvement of social commitment and competencies of young people. Therefore we attach high importance to meaningful youth participation in European societies.

I would like to commend the excellent work of the youth sector of the Council of Europe and emphasise the role of its unique structure of co-management. Thanks to this, young people can act as a powerful catalyst for positive change.

What will be our future action? Just a few days ago the Committee of Ministers adopted the new Council of Europe youth sector strategy for 2030. I believe that the strategy will provide policy guidance in the field of youth for the coming decade. The main aim of the strategy is to associate young people with the organisation's values, re-enforce their contribution to the objectives of the Council of Europe as well as their capacity to develop appropriate responses to new situations and challenges.

Last week we also organised and informal exchange of views of the Committee of Ministers with the head of the Georgian youth agency and several youth sectors to further highlight the key role of young people for safeguarding sustainable democratic societies and promoting the visibility of the Council of Europe youth sector.

And last but not least, our organisation works for and with young people, and this is a principle which should be applied at all levels of governance in our Member States. As one of my main priority of Georgia's and presidency of course, this will be the one of the important issues during the upcoming months. We are planning to organise another event and we more than welcome the new initiatives and feedbacks and innovative approaches with regard of how to address this issue. This is a really important issue which currently all of us, the Members of the Council of Europe are facing domestically as well.

The second question, first of all I would like to once again reiterate that the joint work between the Assembly and the Committee of Ministers on the joint complimentary procedure has been successful and a worthwhile process beneficial to the whole organisation. My intention now is to secure a decision on the complementary procedure in the next meeting of the Committee of Ministers which will take place on February 5th. Secondly, there is as I see a vast potential also in light of new challenges and future work if the two main institutions of this organisation, together with the secretary-general, can come together agreeing on one common objective. And as a matter of fact, the whole idea behind the initiative of the new complementary procedure was the need for the two statutory organs and the Secretary General to identify a common approach on how we can together respond to a new major crisis.

I am convinced that there is today a willingness and goodwill among you as party leaders and individual Members of the Assembly and on the other side of ambassadors of the Committee of Ministers and the governments, to find ways to stimulate the contacts and cooperation between the two statutory organs of these organisations. Of course we will not always agree on everything. Rather the contrary. But there are moments and also issues that can be greatly enhanced. If we discuss, cooperate and work together solving them I think that we will come to the common solution.

The question to all of us today is therefore the following. How can we together help define the next steps and what should be the common priorities of our organisation in this important area? From our side, the Presidency, I can assure you that we will do everything possible in the spirit of cooperation in the framework of the Committee of Ministers framework and meetings.

The third question with regard of the Copenhagen Declaration. Of course the Committee of Ministers has received the report from the Steering Committee for Human Rights evaluating the implementation of the internal process on the future of the system of the European Convention on Human Rights. This report has been sent to the European Court of Human Rights for an opinion and the Committee will examine the report in the nearest future with a view to deciding on how to follow up. The Georgian chairmanship will keep your Assembly informed on the latest developments in this regard and will be in close contact with you in order to brief you about the recent developments with regard to this topic.

Thank you.

Mr Hendrik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly 

16:51:48

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Thank you.

We will have time for three more questions. First of them being by Mr Egidijus VAREIKIS from EPP. You've got the floor.

Oh, I'm sorry I skipped three of them, I do apologise. No, it's your turn Mr Rafael HUSEYNOV. So the first will be Rafael Huseynov from ALDE.

Mr Rafael HUSEYNOV

Azerbaijan, ALDE 

16:52:06

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Minister, the Council of Europe has consistently rejected the illegal occupation, violent separatism and as well as unfounded territorial claims of one Member State against another while supporting the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of its Member states.

Unfortunately, by simply referring to efforts by other international bodies, the Council of Europe has failed so far to take efficient measures that would contribute to elimination of unresolved conflicts. What should be done to change this situation and to enable the Council of Europe to more actively and effectively contribute to the efforts of the international community to settle their unresolved conflicts on the European continent? 

Thank you. 

Mr Hendrik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly 

16:52:51

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Thank you.

Now we have Ms Mónika BARTOS from EPP.

Ms Mónika BARTOS

Hungary, EPP/CD 

16:52:56

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Thank you, Excellency.

The protection of our climate is high on the European Agenda. The Hungarian government has adopted a national energy and climate protection strategy. The development of a climate and environmental protection action plan with specific measures is underway. How do you see the role of the Council of Europe at the pan-European level in this important topic?

Thank you for your answer.

Mr Hendrik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly 

16:53:24

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Thank you next question will be by Mr Betian KITEV from the socialist group if he is present. If not, then we move on to the next one for the third question by Mr Egidijus VAREIKIS from EPP.

Mr Egidijus VAREIKIS

Lithuania, EPP/CD 

16:53:37

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Thank you Mr Chairman, finally.

My question is, Mr Minister, you mentioned that there are some problems in South Caucasus, some problems in Ukraine, means that we Council of Europe we adopted resolutions which are not implemented yet and it looks like we have no mechanism to force countries to implement them. You are a very, how to say, inventive person, so how you would propose to implement these resolutions that are still not implemented?

Mr Hendrik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly 

16:54:14

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Thank you.

Mr Minister.

Mr David ZALKALIANI

Minister for Foreign Affairs of Georgia, President of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe 

16:54:19

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Thank you very much.

First of all, the question concerning the unresolved conflicts. Of course, the Committee of Ministers remains highly concerned by the unresolved conflicts that affect various parts of our continent.

Each of these conflicts has their particular characteristics and political solutions. We believe that the political solutions must be found in the framework of the respective internationally agreed format.

Two weeks ago the Committee of Ministers adopted a reply to the recommendations you have addressed to it on this subject. In its reply, it recalled that the Council of Europe's treaties are applicable on the whole territory of each contracting party. It also recalled the fundamental role of the Commissioner for Human Rights who shall have full and free access to all Member States.

Unresolved conflicts prevent the Council of Europe from ensuring respect for fundamental rights to all individuals in Europe. The organisation will therefore continue its efforts with a view to ensuring access of each relevant monitoring body everywhere in Europe in agreement with all relevant stakeholders. It's important that Member States work together for reconciliation and political solutions. The Council of Europe also contributes to the conflict resolution process through the development of confidence-building measures with interested parties.

And here let me, in my national capacity, Mr President, also equal what was asked by our colleague from Lithuania, and also combine it with the question coming from the colleague from Azerbaijan about the unresolved conflict, and to brief you about the current situation in the occupied regions of Georgia, Abkhazia and Tskhinvali Region, which significantly deteriorated. Recently, unfortunately, the process of factual annexation is going on. The process of occupation is going on. Installation of barbed wire fences and artificial barriers is in progress. Even as we speak right now this process is going on. The recent example of the kidnapping and detention of the doctor who was visiting a patient across the occupation line was an outrageous fact.

The only instrument which we have in our hands is the consolidation or support of the international community. What we are doing consistently with your support through different instruments, through different frameworks, is really to continue this; to increase pressure on the force who is controlling and who is entertaining effective control of these territories.

The issue of access to this seized territory is another important challenge we are facing on a daily basis. The recent example of Akhalgori District‎ of Tskhinvali Region in South Ossetia, which was again a fact of fundamental violation of fundamental principles of international law, freedom of movement and the right of people to exercise their right, which we again face on a daily basis in those regions occupied regions of Georgia, in Abkhazia in Tskhinvali Region.

It's the case with regard to the ethnic Georgian population in the Gali region, which sporadically returned back to their permanent places of residence. They are forced to abandon their Georgian citizenship. They have no access to get an education in their native language. They are denied to get immediate medical treatment and supply. They have no access to work in their agricultural land. And this is happening in the 21st century, which is an unacceptable fact. This has to be considered very carefully at all international levels and all international frameworks. And as I have mentioned, the only instrument is the constant raising of this issue to the attention of the international community and constantly attracting this. Not to turn a blind eye to all these illegal activities. Otherwise, it will further encourage the occupying force -- in this case, the Russian Federation -- to continue all this illegal activity. This statement was in my national capacity.

The last question was the question from Hungary. Thank you for highlighting the measures taken in your country for climate environmental protection. Each initiative in this direction is, of course, valuable and we must work together to safeguard a viable and healthy environment for future generations.

I have already mentioned that treaties and other tools of the Council of Europe which are devoted to human rights and environmental protection. They constitute the basis of our presidency's priority. In this connection, as I mentioned in my speech, we are organising two important events in Strasbourg. The first one will be on 27 February. An international high-level conference on environmental protection and human rights. And secondly, on 9 April, at the European Court of Human Rights, an international conference on human rights and environmental protection. Human Rights for the Planet: the title of this conference.

This event should be an excellent opportunity to explore what further steps should be taken at a pan-European level and what could be the Council of Europe's role in this connection. We also very much appreciate the new initiative taken by the President of the Assembly to call for an additional protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights. This is an initiative on the environment and on human rights we will need to reflect upon and discuss further.

Thank you.

Mr Hendrik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly 

17:01:00

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Thank you very much.

This brings to an end the questions to Mr ZALKALIANI. I wish to thank you warmly on behalf of the Assembly for your answers this afternoon.

So we will now conclude the questions to Mr ZALKALIANI and again I hope that we will meet in the near future because we got some elements to discuss.

The Assembly will hold its next sitting tomorrow morning at 10 am with the Agenda that you approved and I also wish to inform you that it is 5:01 p.m. which means that the vote for Vice Chair for the Russian Federation is closed, asking the tellers to go and do their job.

Voilá, this is my first day, was a nice one, I thank you all for still of being here, and the sitting is adjourned.

Closing of the sitting at 5:00pm