Logo Assembly Logo Hemicycle

Opening of the sitting No. 5

Mr Antonio GUTIÉRREZ

Spain, SOC, President of the Assembly 

10:06:24

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

There has been a change in the proposed membership of committees.

These are setup in Document Commission 1 Addendum 4.

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

They are agreed to.

Report on the challenge of credentials.

The credentials of the Spanish delegation were challenged on procedural grounds. Under rule 7.2, the Assembly referred the credential to the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs. I have received a letter from the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs which I shall now read up.

"On 27 January 2020, at the opening of the session of the Parliamentary Assembly, the still unratified credentials of the Spanish parliamentary delegation were challenged on procedural grounds in accordance with rule 7.1 of the Assembly's Rules of Procedure on the grounds that the delegation would not include any representative of the VOX party, whereas the other main political parties represented in the Spanish parliament were included.

Rule 6.2.a of the Rules of Procedure guarantee the principle of fair representation of political parties or groups. At its meeting on 28 January 2020, the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs examined the options raised. It noted the explanation provided by the chairperson of the Spanish delegation, and notably the fact that the parliament has appointed a provisional delegation which has three vacant substitute seats which will be filled as soon as possible in compliance with rule 6.2 of the Assembly's Rules of Procedure.

The Committee knows that the VOX party is the third ranking political force in the country. The other main political quorum present in the Cortes Generales are represented in the delegation, including the opposition parties. The fact that there are vacant seats in the Spanish delegation implies that members of the VOX group currently not represented in the delegation will be able to join it.

The Committee considers, in the light of article 25 of the Statute of the Council of Europe and rule 6 of the Assembly's Rules of Procedure, and also Assembly resolutions 1798 on the Fair representation of the political parties or groups of national parliaments in their delegations to the Parliamentary Assembly, and bearing in mind the assurance given by the Spanish parliament that the composition of its delegation will be modified as soon as possible, that there are insufficient grounds not to ratify the credentials of the Spanish delegation.

The Committee therefore, concludes that the credentials of the Spanish parliamentary delegation should be ratified."

The credentials of the delegation from Spain are ratified accordingly.

The credentials of the Moldavian delegation were challenged on procedural grounds under rule 7.2. The Assembly referred the credentials to the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs. Having received a letter from the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs which I shall now read out.

"On 27 January 2020 at the opening of the Parliamentary Assembly's session, the unratified credentials of the Republic of Moldova were challenged on procedural grounds in accordance to rule 7.1 of the Assembly's Rules of Procedure, namely on the grounds that the Șor Party, unlike the other parties in the Moldovan parliament, was not represented.

At its meeting on 28 January 2020, the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs examined the objections raised. It noted that the parliamentary opposition held a substantial majority of seats on the delegation with the three main opposition factions occupying six of the nine seats available and that one vacant substitute seat was in principle allocated to the Șor Party.

It is clear that the information provided to the Committee that the Șor Party refused to designate its member in its delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly on the grounds that it demands to be allocated one representative seat and one substitute seat.

The fact that the political parties of the opposition have not submitted a candidate for the seat it is supposed to fill on the Moldovan delegation should not be taken as a violation of the principle of fair representation of political groups in the Moldovan delegation.

The Committee considers in the light of article 25 of the Statute of the Council of Europe and rule 6 of the Assembly's Rules of Procedure, as well as resolution 1798 on Fair representation of the political parties or groups of national parliaments in their delegations to the Parliamentary Assembly, that there are no sufficient grounds for not ratifying the credentials of the Moldovan delegation.

The Committee therefore concludes that the credentials of the Moldovan parliamentary delegation should be ratified."

The credentials of the delegation from Moldova are ratified accordingly.

The credentials of the Russian delegation were also challenged on procedural grounds. Under rule 7.2 the Assembly referred the credentials to the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs. I have received a letter from the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs which I shall now read out.

"On 27 January 2020 the still unratified credentials of the parliamentary delegation of the Russian Federation were challenged on procedural grounds.

In accordance with rule 7.1.a of the Rules of Procedure of the Assembly, on the grounds, firstly, that the delegation comprises members elected on an illegal basis as the election of parliamentarians from the list of the National Party in Russia includes those of illegally occupied and annexed territory of Crimea.

Secondly, that members of the Russian delegation have been the subject of European Union sanctions for actively supporting the annexation of Crimea and for voting in favour of the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia.

The Committee concludes that the credentials of the Russian parliamentary delegation should be ratified.

The credentials of the Russian parliamentary delegation are no longer challenged under rule 7."

The next item this morning is the debate on the report titled "The protection of freedom of religion or belief in the workplace" presented by Mr Davor Ivo STIER on behalf of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights. The Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination was not able to agree an opinion on this matter. The debate will only be on the report from the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights.

In order to finish by noon to hear the address from the President of the Republic of Moldova, I will interrupt the list of speakers at 11:30 a.m. to allow time for the replies and votes.

I call Mr Davor Ivo STIER, the rapporteur. You have 30 minutes in total which you may divide between the presentation of the report and reply to the debate.

You have the floor.

Debate: The protection of freedom of religion or belief in the workplace

Mr Davor Ivo STIER

Croatia, EPP/CD, Rapporteur 

10:15:28

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Today I have the pleasure to present to you a report on a very important subject.

As stressed in the motion for resolution, the objective of this report is to give a follow-up to the Assembly's resolution 2036 which was adopted by you in January 2015. That resolution called upon the member states of the Council of Europe to promote reasonable accommodations so as to ensure that the right of all individuals to freedom of religion and belief is respected.

We can say that historically Europe might be described as a stronghold of Christianity. Today it is a fact that the continent is becoming more secular and religiously diverse. This situation can therefore create certain conflicts and tensions that may appear in the workplace in relation to wearing religious symbols, working days, holidays, dietary restrictions, etc. Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights is considered as one of the foundations of a Democratic Society and protects all religious groups as well as non-believers. It enshrines the right to hold a belief, which is an absolute right. But also the right to manifest that belief, which can be, however, subject to limitations. Such limitations, of course, must be prescribed by law and should be necessary in a democratic society in the interest of pursuing a legitimate public aim. Discrimination on the grounds of religion is prohibited under article 14 of the Convention.

The notion of reasonable accommodation refers to that of indirect discrimination, which occurs when an apparently neutral rule causes particular disadvantages to a person or a group of persons. Reasonable accommodation means that in certain cases it will be necessary to adopt appropriate measures to prevent superficially neutral rules from being discriminatory in effect. So far as freedom of religion is concerned this concept may be applied to religious prescriptions concerning annual leave, working hours, the wearing of religious clothing or symbols, specific dietary needs, etc. It first emerged in Canada and in the United States, inequality laws as means of handling multicultural diversity. In Europe, the European Court of Human Rights has applied it in a few cases concerning other freedoms and rights, but it has not referred to it as such. However, the European Union's directive 2078 clearly refers to it to tackle discrimination against people with disabilities. At the UN level, the former and the current special rapporteurs on freedom of religion or belief have promoted this concept and advocated his incorporation into national laws as an obligation legally binding on employers. Mr Heiner Bielefeldt, the previous special rapporteur, stresses that such an obligation would contribute to the realisation of substantive equality.

However, there are pros and cons as regards introducing a legal obligation of reasonable accommodation which must be cautiously then assessed. Especially in the United Kingdom, the supporters of this idea believe that it would be easier to bring claims of discrimination for employees and that they will feel more comfortable and less confrontational in making their request. However, the creation of a right to request accommodation could impose a heavy burden on employers, especially small and medium enterprises. Therefore, it should be stressed the notion of "reasonable" in the concept of reasonable accommodation, which in this report we are foreseeing more as a pragmatical measure rather than a legal obligation.

With this resolution based on already adopted resolutions calling for reasonable accommodation, we want to contribute to a more plural and a more tolerant society. Individuals with religious or non-religious beliefs should not be forced by the state or by a private employer to choose between his or her job position and her or his religion or belief. Indeed, the individual right to religion should be understood in the framework of the European Convention, and therefore it cannot be misused as a pretext to neglect the rights of others. Having said that, it is also important to say that in an inclusive society, we can surely find ways to guarantee that there is room for everyone, and that individuals will not be fired or sanctioned at the workplace because of their observation of their religion, all in accordance and within the boundaries established by the European Convention. This is the aim of this report and in this sense we have debated that in the Committee in a very constructive way and I look forward now to our debate.

Thank you.

Mr Antonio GUTIÉRREZ

Spain, SOC, President of the Assembly 

10:20:52

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you.

Mr Davor Ivo STIER, you have seven and a half minutes remaining. In the debate I call first Ms Thorhildur Sunna ÆVARSDÓTTIR.

Ms Thorhildur Sunna ÆVARSDÓTTIR, you have the floor.

Ms Thorhildur Sunna ÆVARSDÓTTIR

Iceland, SOC 

10:21:09

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you, Mr President.

Dear colleagues,

Freedom of religion or belief is an important right, enshrined in article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Socialists, Democrats and Greens Group deeply respects everyone's freedom to manifest their religion.

Religious persons or believers have the right not to be discriminated against in equal measure to everyone else. Nevertheless, we fear that this report tries to justify that one's religion or belief can give you the right to discriminate against other people because of your beliefs. The report's use of the term "reasonable accommodation" in the context of freedom of religion or belief underpins that fear.

As a woman, I am concerned that this report jeopardises my reproductive rights and the rights of my LGBTI friends and family. So already on these grounds, the Socialist Group cannot support this report. Moreover, the language of the report contradicts the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights, because, in cases where the court has suggested an approach of a similar nature as reasonable accommodation (without specifically using these words), that is to say concerning for instance military service and wearing religious clothing, there has been no clash with the fundamental rights of others. Where there is a clash with the rights of others, the court has been reluctant to find a violation of Article 9. Furthermore, as mentioned in the explanatory memorandum, one criticism of the concept of reasonable accommodation is that it leads to the prioritisation of freedom of religion and belief above all other rights and interests.

The European Court of Human Rights has consistently declined to take up the concept of reasonable accommodation as a tool for balancing rights. In light of this, this resolution is not appropriate. Reasonable accommodation, dear colleagues, is a tool, and it's one of many available, and it should not be considered or established as a principle. The principles are the fundamental rights themselves.

The preliminary draft resolution, as well as the report, lacks specific guidance and detailed elaboration to prevent the resolution from acknowledging that the ”reasonableness” of this accommodation should not go beyond the limit of not violating the rights of others. Conversely, actually, reasonable accommodation is presented as the suggested principle. Our group cannot support that principle, and we therefore ask you, dear colleagues, in solidarity with women and with LGBTI persons, to reject this recommendation and this resolution.

Mr Antonio GUTIÉRREZ

Spain, SOC, President of the Assembly 

10:24:02

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you, Ms Thorhildur Sunna ÆVARSDÓTTIR.

Ms Petra STIENEN, you have the floor.

Ms Petra STIENEN

Netherlands, ALDE 

10:24:12

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Dear President,

Freedom of thought, conscience, and religion as enshrined in article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights is one of the pillars of democratic pluralistic societies.

At the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe group, we believe that this freedom is an essential element of the identity of individuals, and can be important for believers, atheists, agnostics, or secular citizens alike.

Or, in other words, this freedom is a freedom to hold religious beliefs, to hold or not to hold a belief, and to change religion and to practise or not to practise religion. And indeed it sounds perfectly reasonable to have this freedom at one’s workplace as well.

But I would like to raise serious concerns about this report, as it tries to introduce the concept of “reasonable accommodation“ to freedom of religion or belief without deference to non-discrimination law. This concept is taken from the Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities and is applied in the employment context. The reasonable accommodation duty requires an analysis of the individual situation of a person with disabilities.

Accommodation of freedom of religion or belief would mistakenly shift the focus from the individual to the group. And the creation of a right to request accommodation would privilege religion over other protected characteristics. This could have, dear colleagues, significantly harmful implications for the rights of individuals, to gender equality and non-discrimination on prohibited grounds such as sex, gender, or sexual orientation.

For members of the ALDE group, the freedom to manifest one’s religion or belief does not justify discrimination of the fundamental rights and freedoms of others. This is applicable to the workplace as well. Because that is enshrined in article 9 as well: "Freedom to manifest one's religion - I just want to repeat - freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health, or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others."

We read this article as a prohibition of discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation and a requirement of states to provide goods and services to the public in a non discriminatory way. In addition, international human rights law does not recognize refusals of health care (including reproductive healthcare) as a manifestation of freedom of religion.

Therefore we strongly object to the notion in the report of Mr Davor Ivo STIER that this concept of “reasonable accommodation“ can be applied to the freedom of religion or belief in the workplace, as it can be used as a basis on which to legitimize discrimination or refusals to provide goods or services to women, LGBTI individuals, or non-believers.

Therefore, dear colleagues, we urge you to vote against this report and its recommendations.

 

Mr Antonio GUTIÉRREZ

Spain, SOC, President of the Assembly 

10:27:13

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you Ms Petra STIENEN.

Sir Edward LEIGH the floor is yours.

Sir Edward LEIGH

United Kingdom, EC/DA 

10:27:19

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

On behalf of the European Conservatives Group, I would like to say that we support this report and we believe in the concept of reasonable accommodation.

In reply to the Socialist spokesman, reasonable accommodation does not mean that you take away the rights of other people. Let me just give you one example in a hospital, for instance. If you wish to require or have an abortion in a hospital, under the law of most countries in the world, you are entitled to receive that service. What we should not be doing is forcing a member of staff to take part in that particular procedure against their religious beliefs, as long as it can be provided by somebody else.

Therefore, this is a moderate, sensible compromise. And I believe that the purpose of the Council of Europe is to protect minorities, religious or other minorities. We cannot just have a drab conformity, as sort of an overarching liberalism, so that everything reads like a Council of Europe report, worthy as they are.

Now I personally feel a bit, sometimes, in a minority in this place. I feel in a minority as a Eurosceptic, as a Thatcherite, and a religious person. But I'm moderate in my religious beliefs, I believe in rubbing along with other people and I believe in accommodating my beliefs to other people, but I respect the right of devout Orthodox Jews, of devout Muslims, of devout Evangelical Christians to be able to hold a job and to carry out their life without their workplace being a battleground.

I believe that freedom of religion is not an empty slogan, which we just pay lip service to, it is a fundamental right. So I very much hope that people will take the view that, in the 21st century, you should be able to have a career and remain loyal to your religious beliefs. That I would have thought is a fundamental purpose of this Assembly and, therefore, I hope that we can pass this report today.

Thank you. 

Mr Antonio GUTIÉRREZ

Spain, SOC, President of the Assembly 

10:30:01

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you, Sir Edward LEIGH.

Mr Momodou Malcolm JALLOW, you have the floor.

Mr Momodou Malcolm JALLOW

Sweden, UEL 

10:30:15

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you very much, Mr President.

On behalf of the United European Left, I would like to express how complicated this report is. Because it's like a double-edged sword. Freedom of religion is extremely important, especially today. It has never been as important to protect that freedom as it is today. On the one hand. On the other hand, we have to also take into consideration that nobody should be discriminated based on their sex or their sexual preference. So it is a complicated report.

Today we see, for example, islamophobia in every corner of Europe. We see how Muslims are treated like second-class citizens. We see people being fired because they have a head scarf, as if knowledge and your competence is based on the clothes or the clothing that you wear rather than your mind and your brain. We see in certain countries in Europe how people are proposing to even ban immigrants that come from Muslim countries. So that is why it's important for us to do everything possible to protect that freedom.

But on the other hand, it is also as important to make sure that nobody should be discriminated because of their gender. As it is mentioned here today, the concept of reasonable accommodation is a complicated concept, because what happens is that when nobody's freedom... My freedom stops, where somebody else's freedom starts. Just because we have to restrict my freedom of religion, it doesn't mean that I have to infringe on other people's freedom. That means that if we end up in a situation where a doctor refuses to provide a service to somebody, a woman, let's say abortion, or somebody that is a homosexual, that is not acceptable.

So for the left, we work to protect all freedoms equally. Because it's important that we protect and respect all freedoms. So that is why for us this is a very complicated report that needs to be looked at, maybe at a later point. But for now, our point of view is we have to work in this Assembly to make sure that every freedom, whether freedom of religion or non-discrimination based on your sexual preference or your sex, all of them must be respected equally. And we cannot use the one to infringe upon the other.

Thank you.

Mr Antonio GUTIÉRREZ

Spain, SOC, President of the Assembly 

10:33:17

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you Mr Momodou Malcolm JALLOW.

Now Mr Barna Pál ZSIGMOND, you have the floor.

Mr Barna Pál ZSIGMOND

Hungary, EPP/CD 

10:33:30

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

First of all, I would like to congratulate the rapporteur for this excellent report which is on a very complicated issue, as we have heard from the previous speeches. 

The Group of the European People's Party, on behalf of whom I am speaking right now, is behind the report, which is an excellent legal argumentation on the aspects of the freedom of religion.

The report has an excellent overview of the case law of the European Court of Human Rights and the Court of Justice of the European Union, which demonstrates the complexity of article 9 of freedom of thought, conscience and religion and article 14 of prohibition of discrimination.

The religious identity of a person is a very important factor. Religious identity is part of the religious heritage and represents a significant share of Europe's cultural heritage. Historically, Europe can be characterised as a stronghold of Christianity, with long-standing Jewish communities. Today, we have an increasingly secular continent with greater religious diversity. Today our societies are more secular than they were in the past. In today's Europe the coexistence of different religious communities and atheists, has become an issue of vital importance.

Policy makers are facing situations when we have to find solutions to accommodate religious belief in the workplace. The wearing of religious symbols has caused controversy is some countries. We have to find ways how to avoid the conflict, and we need legal instruments to solve the concrete situations in a legally acceptable way.

We agree that the freedom to manifest the religion also applies to the workplace but we realise that we are walking on thin ice when it comes to the two basic rights: the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and the right to non-discrimination.

The accommodation of religious diversity requires a degree of flexibility from both employers and employees as well as tolerance from third parties and the society at large.

The Parliamentary Assembly already in 2015 introduced the idea of reasonable accommodation, which is also a central idea of this report.

In certain circumstances, employers' reasonable accommodation of their employees religious practices may be an appropriate way of avoiding any discrimination and of ensuring the proportionality of any interference in the right of freedom of religion.

The scope of this report is to build an inclusive society in which Europeans do not have to choose between jobs and the freedom of religion, and to respect both the right of non-discrimination and the right of freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

The draft resolution is also promoting the culture of tolerance and living together in a pluralist society in accordance with the European Convention on Human rights and other international instruments. That's why the Group of the European People's Party is behind the report.

Thank you for your attention.

Mr Antonio GUTIÉRREZ

Spain, SOC, President of the Assembly 

10:36:17

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you Mr Barna Pál ZSIGMOND.

The rapporteur will reply at the end of the debate. But does Mr Davor Ivo STIER wish to respond at this stage?

At the end. Ok.

So we go to the next speaker, Mr Pieter OMTZIGT.

I don't see him in the plenary, so I'll go to the next speaker, Mr Jacques LE NAY.

Mr Jacques LE NAY

France, ALDE 

10:36:51

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Mr Speaker,

Ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to begin by thanking our rapporteur for allowing us to address today this sensitive subject of the protection of freedom of religion or belief in the workplace. It must be approached with great vigilance, whereas there is a retreat in identity and an affirmation or “rebirth“ of the religious fact in some states.

It is not a question of dealing with this subject in an abstract way, but by taking into account the culture of each state, its history, its political traditions.

In France, as you know, we have a principle, secularism, which has been the basis of our social contract since the law of 1905. One corollary of this is the neutrality of public services.

Article 1 of our Constitution states that “France is an indivisible, secular, democratic and social Republic. It ensures the equality before the law of all citizens without distinction as to origin, race or religion. It respects all beliefs“.

The European Court of Human Rights has been called upon on several occasions to examine these issues, including, in the case of France, in the Drogu case and, more recently, in the case of Ebrahimian v. France, in which it affirmed that the strict implementation of the principle of secularism and neutrality is a “founding principle of the State“.

I would also remind you that in the Leyla Şahin judgement , the European Court of Human Rights recalled that “while freedom of conscience and religion is one of the foundations of a democratic society, article 9 of the Convention does not protect any act motivated or inspired by religion or belief. In a democratic society, where several religions coexist in the same population, it may be necessary to impose limitations on the freedom to manifest one's religion or belief in order to reconcile the interests of various groups and to ensure respect for the beliefs of each.“

I obviously share the wish expressed by our rapporteur to promote a culture of tolerance and living together in a society of religious pluralism. I am also convinced that we must fight discrimination in recruitment, which is real.

But I do not agree with the proposal to advocate reasonable accommodation and I warn against the risk of the rise of communitarianism.

Mr Antonio GUTIÉRREZ

Spain, SOC, President of the Assembly 

10:39:28

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you Mr Jacques LE NAY.

In the debate, I next call Ms Maria RIZZOTTI.

Ms Maria RIZZOTTI

Italy, EPP/CD 

10:39:38

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Religious freedom is now protected through new juridical formulas rich in multiple and, at times, conflicting content. It is the overall fruit of civilisation, with the inherent right of conscience that elevates people's culture, and this effect is bound to affect not only the state but also citizens. Everyone has the right to the expression of his or her personality to the full, but this right must be reconciled with other measures in certain areas, such as the workplace. And this is a hot, controversial button. In the Western context it seems quite natural to us that a person can express his or her religious affiliation without exceeding the limits of respect for the freedom of others. But in recent years more and more cases have also ended up before the European Court of Justice. We need a fairly precise regulation, which allows people to know what is lawful and what is not lawful to do, and which balances the rights of the employee and the employer.

Article 9 of the ECHR enshrines the right to exercise religious freedom and the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of religious affiliation is in Article 14. This is an inalienable principle, it is a true human right, but we have to see how the it works in practice, from the case law. We can start, for example, from the French Supreme Court, which was among the first to deal with the issue, arousing a lot of controversy, and has made a disctinction between public and private work. According to the Supreme Judge, where the service performed is public, representing the worker as the image of the secular republic, they must not wear religious symbols identifying them as being of a certain faith. In this case, the limitation is only to achieve the legitimate objective and where the means is proportionate, in compliance with European anti-discrimination rules.

In a very recent ruling, the Court of Justice of the European Union has held that European companies may prohibit employees from wearing religious, political and philosophical symbols. The case started with two women, one French and one Belgian, who wanted to wear the Islamic veil at work. According to the judgment, the ban on wearing the veil in the context of work does not constitute discrimination. However, it has established the framework within which the prohibition on wearing the veil is not discrimination, so it is necessary that this rule derives from an internal rule of a private company, by which no political, religious or philosophical sign can be worn in a visible way. It is therefore not a matter of discrimination against a religion but of a neutral corporate status.

Where the grounds of objectivity and proportionality are lacking, the decision may be discriminatory, and as such is prohibited. I remember the case of the important ruling that the Court of Justice gave on the British Airways company where a stewardess was wearing a small cross. The Court found the dismissal inadmissible and disproportionate, as the company allowed Muslim staff to wear the veil and Sikh staff to wear the turban.

Thank you.

Mr Antonio GUTIÉRREZ

Spain, SOC, President of the Assembly 

10:42:58

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you Ms Maria RIZZOTTI.

The next speaker is Mr Sos AVETISYAN.

Mr Sos AVETISYAN

Armenia, SOC 

10:43:08

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you very much.

I also would like to thank the rapporteur for thinking about religious freedom, of thought and conscience.

At the same time, we are speaking about balancing the rights. The only balancing actor between the fundamental rights is to remain the European Court of Human Rights and its decisions. I think that this report, although it is using a language that is interesting and is taken away from somewhere else, can open a Pandora's box for discriminatory policies against minorities.

It is important that we leave the private space as a private one and the public one as a secular one as the previous speaker was saying. I think it is important that we leave only to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights, with its margin of appreciation and understanding of the customs and the culture of the the member countries, to decide upon whether it is a religious freedom issue or right of discrimination. Here we shouldn't be taking that role and inserting new legal terms which might jeopardise the overall..., which might create this parallel legal understanding of the situation.

So I think that we should be very careful when we are using new terminology and we should abstain from that.

Thank you very much.

Mr Antonio GUTIÉRREZ

Spain, SOC, President of the Assembly 

10:44:35

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you, Mr Sos AVETISYAN.

And now the floor is for Mr Asim MOLLAZADE.

Mr Asim MOLLAZADE

Azerbaijan, EC/DA 

10:44:43

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you very much.

One of the biggest achievements of civilization is a model of secular state. It means that all citizens have equal right and religious out of state policy, but, at the same time, religion is free.

My country became the first secular state in the Eastern part of the world, and we have traditions which are a little bit different than in Europe. What we have in Europe? Tolerance. It means that I don't like you but I'm patient in behavior with you.

Our tradition is based on mutual respect to all religions. For thousands of years, Jews, Muslims, and Christians lived in peace and brotherhood because of this respect to religion of people.

I think that when we speak about the working place we should take a look to a more wide situation. If in Europe now people are afraid to wear a kippah, to have a hijab on the street and becoming the target of attack, it's a really dangerous signal in Europe.

Mr Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German president, just recently at the commemoration of Holocaust said that anti-Semitism is rising. But not only anti-Semitism, anti-Islamism: 40 mosques in Germany where attacked.

Here in Strasbourg, to go to the synagogue when I'm visiting my friend Rabbi of Strasbourg is something like entering Fort Knox of security measures which are in place here. And I think that the situation should change.

My people lost 350 000 during the war against fascism. Rise of anti-Semitism, anti-Islamism, racism, and xenophobia which is existing now in Europe is unacceptable. We have to move and discuss this issue, this topic, every time. And I appreciate this report and I think that we should be careful not only in working places. Freedom of people, freedom of religion, but here in society.

Maybe we should have done a lot of things: more respect to different religious, different ethnic representative, representative of different races. No to racism. No to anti-Islamism, anti-Semitism in Europe.

Thank you.

Mr Antonio GUTIÉRREZ

Spain, SOC, President of the Assembly 

10:47:27

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you Mr Asim MOLLAZADE.

In the debate I'll call next Ms Hajnalka JUHÁSZ.

Ms Hajnalka JUHÁSZ

Hungary, EPP/CD 

10:47:37

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

The report entitled calls for stricter regulations that enforce reasonable accommodation on the employers in order to prevent indirect discrimination of representatives of certain religious groups.

I would like to congratulate the rapporteur for raising the significance of the issue of freedom of religious belief.

The explanatory memorandum has an excellent overview of the case law of the European Court of Human Rights and the Court of Justice of the European Union, which demonstrates the complexity of Article 9 on freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and Article 14 on prohibition of discrimination.

According to Article 9 I would like to focus on the freedom of religious belief, which contains the most important factor namely religious identity. Religious identity is part of the religious heritage, and represents a significant share of Europe's cultural heritage. This rich heritage is a cornerstone of Europe's history raising the importance of the historical prevalence of the Judeo-Christian tradition in Europe. For me as a Christian politician preserving our common Judeo-Christian religious tradition, heritage and identity is of utmost importance. Without religious identity and its distinct characteristics there is no appropriate protection of religious belief.

The struggle for tolerance and non-discrimination encompasses a wide range of measures, negative as well as positive.

Since most members of diverse societies have to work together and raise their families, this state of affairs confronts us with delicate issues regarding the presence of religion in the workplace.

We fully support the reasonable approach because it reacts with appropriate protection of the challenge of different religious identities in the workplace. When somebody would like to preserve their religious identity, they should not have to chose between religion or workplace according to the report. In the recent approach we had appropriate requirement of Article 9.2 of the Convention, especially of its nature not being an absolute right and shall be subject only to such limitations as prescribed by the law, and are necessary in a democratic society in the interest of public safety, for the protection of public order, health and morals or for the protection of rights or freedoms of others.

The Council of Europe has achieved a significant contribution through Article 9 for the freedom of religious belief, and this report means added value on this path. We fully support it.

Thank you.

Mr Antonio GUTIÉRREZ

Spain, SOC, President of the Assembly 

10:50:19

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you. Now the floor is for Ms Susana SUMELZO.

Ms Susana SUMELZO

Spain, SOC 

10:50:27

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you, Mr President.

Freedom of thought, of belief, and of religion is a universal human right which is consecrated in article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

This freedom of belief needs to be respected in work places. In Spain, article 14 of the Spanish Constitution establishes that Spanish people are equal before the law without any form of discrimination for reasons of birth, race, sex, religion, opinion, or any other condition or circumstance, be it personal or social.

This is a very reasonable concept that we are debating here today, but it is casting danger upon this freedom of religion and belief. And opens the door to other forms of discrimination or rights that workers might have. This term could undermine freedoms of other communities and other persons which might be women, LGBT communities, or any other minority on which we spent a long time working, precisely to prevent such things from happening.

Here at the Council of Europe we need to concentrate on the idea of building truly respectful states that are truly neutral vis-a-vis different religious faiths or forms of private ethics. We need to establish respect of a mutual nature for pluralism. With moral autonomy for all the persons concerned, in workplaces as well. We need to encourage freedom of belief and of conviction, which encourages the development of different forms of private ethics, be they religious, political, moral, or ethical. And all of these individual freedoms and basic freedoms must be guaranteed. Including the freedom of religion in the private sphere. In the social sphere the government needs to be neutral and in work places the same is true.

That's why we need to recognize the value of pluralism once again and of diversity as a form of cultural wealth in genuinely democratic societies. And for this reason we are all working here today.

We need to make progress in countries that need to be respectful in terms of policy and full respect of freedom of religion. All persons need to have the right to decide what their plan is to live their lives freely. The only limit being respecting other people's freedom and laws.

A state needs to be able to combine neutrality, reality, and freedom.

Thank you very much.

Mr Antonio GUTIÉRREZ

Spain, SOC, President of the Assembly 

10:53:19

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you Ms Susana SUMELZO.

I call next Ms Martine WONNER.

Ms Martine WONNER

France, ALDE 

10:53:27

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you, Mr President,

Dear colleagues,

Once again, we are facing, with this debate, one of the thorniest issues of our time in terms of living together. Our societies are diverse, protean, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and are religious mosaics. I believe that all of us here agree to affirm, without passing judgment, that these characteristics build a framework where everyone can find their place, where everyone can flourish in what they believe, while agreeing, of course, to participate in the social pact embodied by our democracies.

The context of our times is troubled. At a time of social media and political use or even instrumentalisation of certain religions, our fellow citizens are afraid. And it's okay to be scared. They have a tendency, often out of emotion, to cut corners, to reduce the debate to the only dubious things we would like to believe are the causes of our ills. Thus, it is "religion" that is deemed guilty, not those who hijack it.

Freedom of belief is, of course, protected and established as a cardinal principle of our modern societies in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. But all this cannot, of course, erase the specificities of our different states: each has its own history, culture and legislation.

Our colleagues' work reminds us that it is not so much a question of our Assembly defining or specifying rules, but rather of refining our collective perception of the so-called principle of reasonable accommodation. In its Resolution 1846, entitled "Combating all forms of discrimination based on religion", our Assembly called on member states "to strive to meet the needs of different religions and beliefs in a pluralistic society, provided that such measures do not infringe on the rights of others".

In that sense, I endorse the final words of the report, when it urges states to consider the establishment of a legal duty to accommodate, taking into account existing redress mechanisms, the effectiveness of anti-discrimination or equal treatment legislation and the religious needs of employees.

I believe once again that it is the role of our Assembly to encourage and urge states to adopt effective anti-discrimination legislation, which includes the prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief, and to put in place adequate monitoring mechanisms to assess the implementation of this obligation, if this has not already been done.

Thank you.

Mr Antonio GUTIÉRREZ

Spain, SOC, President of the Assembly 

10:56:13

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you Ms Martine WONNER.

The next speaker will be Ms Biljana PANTIĆ PILJA.

I think she's not here, so we'll go to the next speaker who will be Lord Don TOUHIG.

Mr Antonio GUTIÉRREZ

Spain, SOC, President of the Assembly 

10:59:11

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you Lord Don TOUHIG.

Our next speaker is Mr John HOWELL.

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC/DA 

10:59:18

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you Mr President.

I welcome this report and the resolution and recommendations.

Let me start by raising two points. First the right to freedom of thought conscience and religion is a fundamental right that requires comprehensive protection. Religion of belief are crucial to our identity. Asking one not to act in accordance to one's religion or belief is contrary to existing international legal standards. A soldier may kill in accordance with existing laws of war and armed conflict but it is contrary to existing international legal standards to ask someone to carry a weapon in the military and kill if this is against their religion or belief. A woman may have the right to access abortion in accordance with the laws of the country but it is contrary to existing international legal norms to ask a midwife or a nurse to conduct the abortion if it is contrary to their religion or belief. Forcing anyone to act against their religion or belief is also contrary to their human dignity.

Second, manifesting appropriate respect for the freedom of religion or belief in the workplace has always been important. Not least because we spend so much time at work. Ensuring that an employee can exercise their right to freedom of religion or belief in the workplace is not only a good practice, it is a good practice that reinforces the right to freedom of thought, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion.

There are two important factors that that have a bearing on this. On the one hand, as identified in the draft resolution, it is crucial that member states adopt effective anti-discrimination legislation which covers prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion or belief and that they establish appropriate monitoring mechanisms to assess its implementation.

On the other hand it is also crucial to consider taking the legislative or any other appropriate measures in order to ensure that employees may lodge requests for reasonable accommodation of their religion or belief. This is helpful for two reasons. First, it encourages those member states that have not embraced the discipline of reasonable accommodation to consider this mechanism to show that the more effective protection of the right to freedom of religion or belief exists in the workplace. And second, it will help those member states that have developed informal reasonable accommodation mechanisms to seek to regularise them.

We must consider what society we want to live in and what society we want to leave for our children and generations to come. If we want our society to be inclusive and one that cherishes pluralism we need to find ways to accommodate such pluralism. Forcing others to comply with anything we impose on them is not the way forward.

Mr Antonio GUTIÉRREZ

Spain, SOC, President of the Assembly 

11:02:20

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you so Mr John HOWELL.

Mr Ziya ALTUNYALDIZ from Turkey. You have the floor.

Mr Ziya ALTUNYALDIZ

Turkey, NR 

11:02:24

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Dear President and colleagues,

I would like to congratulate the rapporteur for his well-prepared report which will pave the way for establishing much-needed Council of Europe standards and providing guidelines on the protection of freedom of religion and belief in the workplace. This issue carries utmost importance especially if you take into account the mounting Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and other forms of religion-based discrimination in Europe.

The right to freedom of religion or belief extends to the workplace and the European Court of Human Rights has developed an extensive case law on this issue. It is important that employers must take a zero-tolerance approach to harassment towards all religious employees. It is illegal to hire someone at work on the grounds of their religion and a zero-tolerance policy on such behaviour should be clear from the outset. From a legal perspective, despite the protection of Article 9 of the Convention, unfortunately in the last 15 years the number of cases examined by the European [Court of] Human Rights and under Article 9 has been continuously increasing.

Council of Europe member states should exert more effort to ensure that freedom of religion or belief in the workplace is duly protected. In recent years, there have been worrying developments in some European countries, unfortunately, which targeted a particular religious group, even the requirements of their beliefs, their ways of life and their style of clothing. These restrictions have not only damaged these persons' right to live in accordance to essential human values, but also weakened their sensibilities regarding freedom of religion and belief in the workplace.

Therefore, my dear colleagues, I would like to underline that it is essential for all European countries to abolish such fabricated and unfounded practices without any reservations. The important issue here is to minimise elements that feed the negative climate in order to foster and support a positive climate and understanding that will serve a way of life compatible with human dignity. And I fully agree when it is said we shall never tolerate the intolerant. 

Thank you. 

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

11:05:18

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you very much indeed.

Ms Minerva HERNÁNDEZ RAMOS from Mexico.

Ms Minerva HERNÁNDEZ RAMOS

Mexico 

11:05:28

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Good morning ladies and gentlemen.

The various facets of multicultural integration mean that states must strive to build an equitable relationship between the different cultures that make it up, and that they opt for differential treatment in order to cater to it. Neutrality is a powerful instrument which favours the dominant culture, which is prejudicial to minorities as many academics have pointed out. That is why constitutional recognition of freedom of belief and religion can in no way mean that it can be imposed on other. All the population must respect the convictions, beliefs and creeds that exist in our societies.

On top of all that, safeguarding each individual's right to its own religious beliefs requires that democratic states which have to watch over a community that makes it up, will have certain limits on those who have voluntarily adopted such beliefs. That is why when it comes to outward signs of religious beliefs, the state should take legislative as well as public policy steps designed to guarantee that individuals can respect their faiths in a climate of respect and non-discrimination at work as well as in the public and private sectors. That is why when it comes to public servants it's important that they engage in self-regulation, when it comes to public affairs, in line with the legal order and not on the basis of their personal convictions or of that of their community.

One of the members of our supreme court has ruled quite clearly that we cannot have a situation in which the state remains neutral without taking action or speaking out. It is precisely this attitude... And let's not forget this. On many occasions it is this failure to act that validates the state of affairs which is deeply asymmetrical from the point of view of rights and freedoms. That is why we believe that the legal structure of each state should see to it that people can exercise their beliefs freely but not in a situation of profound inequality.

Thank you very much indeed.

 

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

11:08:07

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you, Ms Minerva HERNÁNDEZ RAMOS.

Now we hear from Mr Birgir THÓRARINSSON from Iceland. The floor is yours.

Mr Birgir THÓRARINSSON

Iceland, EPP/CD 

11:08:15

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Mr President, I welcome the report of the Rapporteur, Mr Davor STIER, his resolution and recommendations.

The formal mechanism of reasonable accommodation, would be beneficial for employees and employers. Allowing employees to manifest their religious belief could improve employee well-being, improve a company's public image, and help with the recruitment and retention of staff, resulting in a better quality of working life and higher work satisfaction.

Over the recent years, there has been more focus on mental health and well-being. However, we appear to continue to ignore the elephant in the room: neglecting the fact that forcing people to act against their religion or beliefs will have a negative effect on their mental health and well-being. If we are serious about addressing the issue of mental health and well-being of employees, we need to consider the issue of reasonable accommodation and explore how such accommodation could improve the employee's well-being.

Furthermore, a formal mechanism of reasonable accommodation of religious beliefs in the workplace could help with the efficiency of the business and prevent conflicts. It would allow the employer to plan their business in a way that ensures smooth service provision for customers, while not unnecessarily placing employees in a situation where they have to choose between acting in violation of their faith identity or losing their livelihood. Given that a formal mechanism of religious belief in the workplace is beneficial for the employee, employer and the customer, member states should seriously consider the option.

Again, it is crucial to emphasize that such an informal mechanism of reasonable accommodation of religious belief in the workplace is already in use in several countries, including in member states of the Council of Europe. However, at this stage such accommodation is left to the goodwill of the employer. Member states should introduce a formal mechanism of guidance to assist employers with responding to such requests.

I strongly support the resolution and the recommendations. We vote for both and would encourage other members to do the same.

Thank you.

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

11:10:54

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you very much.

Now Mr Christophe LACROIX please, from Belgium.

Mr Christophe LACROIX

Belgium, SOC 

11:10:59

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you, Mr President,

Freedom of opinion, freedom of conscience and freedom of expression are enshrined in the constitution of my country, Belgium. At the heart of these fundamental freedoms is the non-derogable right to adhere or not to adhere to a non-denominational religion or philosophy, enshrined in provisions that leave no room for doubt. And with this knowledge, which is dear to me, I read your report with great interest.

I would therefore like to remind you that secularism is a founding principle of any democracy. The term secularism must be understood as a secularism that liberates, as a secularism that emancipates, that treats every citizen as an equal, that is committed to non-discrimination and non-coercion. Secularism is the best protection of freedom for all. The freedom to believe or not to believe in a religion or philosophical movement. Indeed, secularism also ensures relations between the State, religions and individuals and enshrines the principle of separation between the State and religion, so that the State does not interfere with the conscience of individuals. Philosophical choices and religious practices are exclusively a private matter.

For me, respect for freedom of belief cannot call into question the primacy of the rule of law over religious law. What is being proposed to us here in the recommendation and the resolution, however, threatens this balance, which has been difficult to achieve for years, by asking the Member States to legislate to oblige employers to introduce what is known as reasonable accommodation, linked to the religion or beliefs of their employees, as set out in point 9.2 of your resolution. You are therefore putting a belief before respect for impartiality and neutrality, which are the guarantors of equality. Equality is the basis of public services and non-discrimination.

I therefore wonder: in your logic, for example, would a public servant whose belief does not accept same-sex marriage be able to avail himself of reasonable accommodation to refuse such a union? I guess not. But your text dangerously opens the door, and I am even more concerned about sexual reproductive rights and the rights of LGBTI people who are thus threatened by religious conservatism.

This would create a kind of privilege and dangerous precedents which would ultimately lead to more inward-looking and extreme behaviour, and we are therefore a long way from the living together advocated in point 8.

Ladies and gentlemen, for all these reasons, you will understand that I will therefore be opposing the adoption of this resolution.

Thank you.

 

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

11:14:07

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you Mr Christophe LACROIX.

Mr Evripidis STYLIANIDIS from Greece.

Mr Evripidis STYLIANIDIS

Greece, EPP/CD 

11:14:11

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you. Thank you very much President,

The report of our colleague raises an important question that we will be dealing with more and more in Europe. Where people, cultures, religions are all being melted as people move. So we'll have to wonder how to deal with this. Will our societies turn into places of conflict between cultures, or rather, places of mutual respect and peaceful living together? Exchanges with individuals who have different religious backgrounds, different ways of dressing, different ways of eating can be enriching but it can also result in conflict. 

I'm from a region of Thrace, which I have represented in the Greek parliament since the year 2000. This is a good example of a democratic society and a model of a peaceful coexistence, among the majority Christians and the minority Muslims, and this works in all walks of life, places of work, banks, schools, etc. So we have some positive experiences in this coexistence, we have managed to avoid extremism.

The democratic practice functions, we have done away with manifestations of fundamentalism, of racism, of xenophobia, and I must say that Greece, through what it has done in the region of Thrace, really does apply Article 18 of the Human Rights Declaration. I am talking about Articles 18 and 26 of the International Covenant on Public Law and also the corresponding articles of the European Convention of Human Rights. And it has also provided a framework in which religions are respected.

There isn't a religious indifference, Greece has not prohibited difference, but rather promoted coexistence. In a country where 97 per cent of the population is Christian, it is really quite remarkable to see how well the 3 per cent of Muslims can work together and even study together. There are these touching images of little girls, one wearing a cross and another one wearing a head scarf, studying together in school. And the problems of the past, the weaknesses and shortcomings of the past, have been turned into something positive. I think this is the kind of approach that is being promoted in the report.

So I think that we have really applied the principles of the Council of Europe in this regard. 

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

11:17:16

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you.

Mr Krzysztof ŚMISZEK please, from Poland.

Mr Krzysztof ŚMISZEK

Poland, SOC 

11:17:19

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you, Mr Chair.

Freedom of religion or belief is one of the fundamental values within the Council of Europe's legal space. There is no doubt about it. Believing in whatever we want is our basic human right which cannot be undermined or interfered. It is guaranteed not only by the European Convention of Human Rights but also by most of the constitutions around the world.

It is an indisputable issue!

However, when debating freedom of religion we need to remember, that according to the human rights standards, religious freedom has two dimensions: internal and external.

The internal one is indisputable. No one, including the state or the employer has the right to step into our beliefs. No one has the right to say what is right or what is wrong with our system of values. And this kind of freedom should be absolutely protected, without any exceptions.

The challenge appears when we talk about the external dimension of the enjoyment of religious freedom. There are several questions as to how far we, as individuals, can go in manifesting our religion, or influencing lives of other individuals by our beliefs.

The European Court of Human Rights has already set its standards in this field. The famous cases of Eweida, Ladele, Chaplin, McFarlane paved the path of proper understanding where are the limits of religious freedom in the workplace. Also, these rulings also indicated where are the limits of accommodating the religious needs of employees.

When discussing the issue of discrimination based on religion in the workplace we have to be open and honest about a few important aspects.

First of all, we need to ask a fundamental question. Do we really need to use the language of "reasonable accommodation" for religious purposes? We all know that the term of "reasonable accommodation" is mostly used to meet special needs of employees with disabilities.

Secondly, when we debate non-discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief at the workplace we always need to remember that this kind of prohibition cannot lead to unfavourable treatment of others.

How far can we go in securing the ban on religious discrimination? Aren't we putting women's rights in peril?

I come from Poland and I know very well what it means in practice when medical professionals put their religious needs before the lives and health of women. In my country there are not only entire hospitals, but also entire regions where the conscience clause wins over the needs of women to legal and safe abortion.

In my country there are more and more pharmacies' employees refusing the selling of contraception to men and women on religious grounds.

In my country there are more and more examples of homophobic debates at universities, where academic employees spread their harmful information. When banned or protested they evoke their freedom of religion in the workplace.

Dear colleagues,

As mentioned at the beginning, we need to be firm when it comes to protection of rights of employees. Religious rights are one of them. However, we have to remember that the right to religion, contrary to the right to life or right to be free from torture, is not an absolute right. They have to be accommodated to other rights guaranteed by the European Convention of Human Rights

Thank you very much!

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

11:20:40

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you.

Ms Sevinj FATALIYEVA please, from Azerbaijan.

Ms Sevinj FATALIYEVA

Azerbaijan, EC/DA 

11:20:46

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Mister President, Ladies and gentlemen,

Religion gives billions of people in our planet hope and brings peace to their souls. However, the history of mankind knows many cases when religion become a source of disagreement, conflict, and war. As a result of which, many people and even nations were infringed over the right of religion.

In Azerbaijan, located at the crossroads of various civilizations, the traditions of tolerance and multiculturalism have been formed for centuries. For centuries, Azerbaijan has developed a tolerance and religious tolerance, becoming a home for representatives of many cultures and religions. Our success in the state religious relations at the present stage is based on the correctness of the religion policy chosen by the country's leadership.

Over the short period of independence a lot of work has been done to regulate relations in this area in accordance with international law. Absolute stability was achieved in the matter of religious freedom. The necessary conditions were created for the activities of religious communities.

If until recently our country was a member of inter-religious, intercultural and inter-civilizational dialogue, now Azerbaijan has become a moving force in the profession of confrontation on religious grounds, which in its turn poses a more than serious threat to international security.

In our country, 2016 was declared the year of multiculturalism, 2017 the year of Islamic solidarity. This steps have become a call of goodwill encouraging mutual respect and understanding dialogue between people and cultures of the world.

Azerbaijan is the only country in the world where the unique Baku International Multiculturalism Centre was created. In 2019, the Forum on intercultural dialogue was held in Baku designed to become an international platform to provide an opportunity for people, countries, and organizations around the world to take concrete measures to support diversity dialogue and mutual understanding, which serve as a basis for sustainable peace and development.

Most of the population of Azerbaijan is Muslim. Despite this, the state doesn't allow any discrimination between religions. The state provides the necessary assistance, including financial assistance, to all religious communities, along with most Christian and Jewish religious churches and even despite the fact that Azerbaijan is staying in the state of war with Armenia. Even Armenian Churches are under the patronage of the state.

Opening the fifth summit of religious leaders of the world held in Baku in November 2019, president Ilham Aliyev said: "one of the main directions is to prevent religious discrimination, the use of religion for political purposes, imparting religious coloring to conflicts, and the destruction of historical and religious monuments during conflicts. Join the struggle against xenophobia, islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and to promote traditional values."

So, aren't these words a clear example of the fact that modern Azerbaijan is a secular state in which representatives of all religious faiths live in complete peace and absolute harmony and their security is guaranteed by the state?

Thank you.

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

11:23:38

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you.

And I'm afraid that the final speaker from the floor is going to have to be Ms Linda OZOLA from Latvia please.

Ms Linda OZOLA

Latvia, EPP/CD 

11:23:47

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Dear colleagues,

I think this is a very timely report and I welcome it very much. Let's not forget that the fundamental values and freedoms that our organisation protects are rooted in the Christian culture. Our continent has benefited a lot and prospered thanks to these values and one of them indeed refers to the freedom of belief and conscience.

And I will mention only one aspect in connection with this report. So in this regard, I guess one of the most controversial aspects or issues is linked to the medical sector and reproductive choices, namely the rights of doctors not to perform abortions, based on their right to the freedom of conscience. I think it is of utmost importance to protect this right to the freedom of conscience at work in our societies as the opposite would put us under the conditions of dictatorship where certain convictions are forcefully imposed on others who turn out to be in minority. The reproductive rights of one party have to be in balance with the right to the freedom of conscience of the other party. It is only this way that we will protect and further nurture our European culture of mutual respect between different social groups and I sincerely encourage colleagues to support this report. 

Thank you. 

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

11:25:10

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you very much Ms Linda OZOLA.

I'm desperately sorry but we have a lot of amendments, so I now have to interrupt the list of speakers.

The speeches of members on the speaker's list who have been present during the debate but haven't been able to speak may be given to the table office for publication in the official report.

Can I remind colleagues that typewritten text can be submitted electronically if possible, but either way no later than four hours after the list of speakers is interrupted, which is now.

That concludes the list of speakers.

Before I return to the rapporteur, because of the late delivery of the report on “International obligations concerning the repatriation of children from war and conflict zones“, exceptionally, the timetable for tabling of amendments has been extended from 10:30 this morning - when the report wasn't ready of course - until four o'clock this afternoon. So if any colleagues wish to table amendments to that report, which is now available, they can be tabled before four o'clock please.

Mr Davor Ivo STIER, as rapporteur you have seven minutes.

Mr Davor Ivo STIER

Croatia, EPP/CD, Rapporteur 

11:26:19

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you, Mr Chairman.

And thank you to everyone who participated in this debate.

Many mentioned rights of non-discrimination on religious ground and this is indeed a legal concept which is in no contradiction with reasonable accommodation. Reasonable accommodation in this sense is just a practical way on how to implement and how to facilitate employers to observe the right of no discrimination on religious grounds. Of course that in the amendments that clarification, and we have about nine amendments, can be further explicited. But this is actually the way we were proceeding.

The notion of reasonable accommodation is not something new in this Parliamentary Assembly. It has been mentioned in 2011 in a report done by a member of the Socialist Group. It has been approved already in a resolution of 2015 by this Parliamentary Assembly. The mandate that the Committee gave to me as a rapporteur included, of course, this notion which was elaborated in the explanatory memorandum. Then the Committee, in a very constructive way, approved this report with only one abstention. All of the members, regardless of political affiliation, approved the report. Our chairman as well as our former chairperson can testify to that in our Committee in Paris. So of course now with the amendments we can even clarify if there is a need for what the boundaries are. I think that it's important to recall how we got to this point. Why we are debating this very important matter, which I think was a very healthy debate.

Many mention objection of conscience. We are not dealing with that in this report. Objection of conscience is, indeed, a right. Yet, it's not an absolute right, so there could be limitations to that. Provided that an individual has that right guaranteed with all the limitations, what we are just saying is that he or she should not be discriminated against. He should not be in the position to choose between the job position or observation of his conscience, his belief, religious or non-religious belief.

This is not a report where we are debating objection of conscious. This is not a report where we are actually redefining what already was adopted by this Parliamentary Assembly regarding the concept of reasonable accommodation. What we are really debating here is how inclusive we want our societies to be. This is what we are really debating here. Do we really want an inclusive society where we are not sanctioning individuals by putting them in the position where they need to choose between their conscience or the job position. There are of course limits. There are boundaries. The European Convention is the framework for that. We are very explicit about that in the report. Provided that we are within those boundaries, within that framework of the European Convention we need to reaffirm these freedoms. We need to reaffirm that we want, in Europe, a real inclusive society. So what we are really deciding here, dear colleagues, is how inclusive we want our societies to be.

Thank you very much.

Ms Darya SAFAI

Belgium, NR 

13:04:16

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

This resolution is unacceptable and the demand is too far-reaching.

The author believes that neutrality can lead to discrimination against certain employees and therefore advocates an extreme opinion with a far-reaching resolution that will just disrupt a healthy working atmosphere. Neutrality is the only way to provide people with a right working environment in which everyone, regardless of their religion, can carry out their work.

In this way everyone can believe in what they want, or not believe, without the work being disturbed or influenced by others.

A lot of Muslim women wear the hijab because of pressure from their families and/or communities. This resolution leaves the door open for these women, even in the workplace, to remain under pressure from their families or communities concerning the choice of clothing. In addition, for some religious communities the only hijab accepted is the chador or burqa. This resolution opens the door to all excesses.

This resolution may, in time, oblige employers to have several prayer chambers, depending on the different religions; especially since the prayer chamber of the followers of some religions is considered untouchable by the followers of some other religions; this may even discourage some employers from hiring people of other religions.

In the West we have come a long way to obtain the achievements we can now enjoy. These achievements, such as gender equality, can be threatened by the practice of religion in the workplace.

Faith is a personal matter, you should keep it to yourself.

The measures proposed in the resolution divide the population into different religious communities and create segregation in society and are unhealthy for a progressive society such as ours here in the West.

Instead of always focusing on the differences, it would be better to try to highlight the common points.

We advocate keeping our work floors neutral in order to make a better connection with the employer, employees, as well as the client.

Vote: The protection of freedom of religion or belief in the workplace

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

11:30:29

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you.

Does the Chairman wish to speak? Mr Boriss CILEVIČS you have three minutes.

Mr Boriss CILEVIČS

Latvia, SOC 

11:30:35

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you, Mr President,

Indeed, non-discrimination and equality are at the very heart of modern human rights. All human beings are born free and equal in their dignity and rights; "all" is the keyword. And modern understanding and interpretation of equality goes far beyond formally equal treatment. Moreover, formal equal treatment may appear discriminatory if the persons who are subjected to this treatment are in substantially different situations. This is first established by our European Court of Human Rights in the Thilmmenos case.

So existing linguistic, cultural and religious diversity must be taken into account and accommodated. And I would like to single out two important issues, which actually came to the floor during this debate. First, it is private versus public. Indeed, whether this obligation not to discriminate and the positive obligation to ensure equality exists only for public areas, what about private actors? Our own protocol number 12 to the European Convention of Human Rights, indeed, speaks only about the private area. In the meantime, the European Union's non-discrimination acquis is also in force for private actors. Although, on the other hand, for the EU's non-discrimination acquis, the areas of applications are much more limited and our protocol is actually universal. So, in my view, in a democratic society, private actors also have certain obligations and cannot be allowed to violate human rights, including the right to equality.

And a second important issue is about reasonable accommodation. Probably, this is the most complicated issue from the legal point of view. I fully agree with our distinguished rapporteur that this is already a widely used notion, including in our own Assembly. On the other hand, the concept of reasonable accommodation was developed for the equality of people with disabilities, taking into account that full accommodation and full equality are really extremely costly. Whether this concept of reasonable accommodation is applicable also to non-discrimination on the basis of cultural and religious grounds, this issue indeed is still unclear and I see is a point in objections raised by some of our colleagues.

So, I would like to thank our rapporteur for very diligently tackling this complicated issue. I'm thankful, also, to our colleagues who are active in the legal Affairs Committee, in the debate and tabling amendments. I believe that we should continue our work with this very important issue. 

Thank you, Mr President.

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

11:33:43

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you Mr Boriss CILEVIČS.

The Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights has presented a draft resolution to which seven amendments have been tabled.

The Committee has also presented a draft recommendation to which two amendments have been tabled.

We will consider first the amendments of the draft resolution and then the amendments to the draft recommendation. They will be taken in the order that they appear in the compendium.

May I remind colleagues that speeches on amendments are limited to 30 seconds only.

We move first in the order of the compendium to amendment number 6.

It's Ms Petra STIENEN to support amendment 6.

Ms Petra STIENEN you have 30 seconds

Ms Petra STIENEN

Netherlands, ALDE 

11:34:25

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Yes. Thank you, Mr President. This amendment explicitly states the legitimate aims for restricting freedom to manifest one's religion or belief as they are articulated in Article 9, Paragraph 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights and in Article 18, Paragraph 3 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights.

Thank you.

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

11:34:45

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you.

Does anybody wish to speak against the amendment?

Mr Norbert KLEINWAECHTER

Germany, EC/DA 

11:34:52

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Mr President, I think it is a wrong amendment to try to define legitimate aims, because legitimate aims, especially in the workplace, can also consist of maintaining good customer relations, good traditions, etcetera. So we need to be very careful as to when we limit also the rights to define what happens in the workplace. We should not define the legitimate aims that are named here in order to provide for a larger scope of opportunities.

Thank you.

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

11:35:25

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

What is the opinion of the Committee on the amendment?

Mr Boriss CILEVIČS

Latvia, SOC 

11:35:28

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

The Committee is in favour with a large majority.

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

11:35:32

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

The Committee is in favour of the amendment.

I put the amendment to the vote.

The vote is open.

There are 15 people who have registered but have not voted.

The vote is closed.

Display the results please.

The amendment is agreed to.

Amendment number 8.

Mr Simon MOUTQUIN to support amendment 8.

Mr Simon MOUTQUIN you have 30 seconds.

Mr Simon MOUTQUIN

Belgium, SOC 

11:36:29

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you, Mr. President.

Dear colleagues,

In the draft resolution, paragraph 5, we wish to replace the words "the issue of accommodating the manifestation of religion and beliefs of employees" with the following words: "the guarantee of non-discrimination against employees on the grounds of their religion or beliefs".

International law does not provide the concept of reasonable accommodation, but we has enough anti-discrimination laws to do so.

Thank you. Thank you.

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

11:36:52

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Does anybody wish to speak against the amendment?

I see no one standing.

What is the opinion of the Committee on the amendment?

Mr Boriss CILEVIČS

Latvia, SOC 

11:37:02

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

The Committee was in favour of the amendment.

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

11:37:05

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

The Committee is in favour.

The vote is open.

The vote is closed.

Amendment 8 is agreed to.

Amendment 5.

Mr Fourat BEN CHIKHA.

To support amendment 5, Mr Fourat BEN CHIKHA, you have 30 seconds.

Mr Fourat BEN CHIKHA

Belgium, SOC 

11:37:41

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you, Mr President.

As a Muslim you would expect that I would be in favour of this report. I don't really want to dismiss the work of the rapporteur. But as a gay man I know that this kind of report would open a door that other minorities will receive a negative impact. So, I would kindly ask you all to support this amendment.

Thank you.

Mr Norbert KLEINWAECHTER

Germany, EC/DA 

11:38:18

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Well, thank you very much, Mr President.

Actually, the amendment proposes to make the form much stricter but I think the original way this is phrased: "the Assembly concludes that in certain circumstances, "reasonable accommodation" by employers of their employees' religious practices may be a practical approach", is a very, very good way of putting it because we cannot now define that anything that restricts it is illegal. I think that would be wrong, that would go way too far and I really urge you to vote against this amendment.

Thank you very much.

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

11:38:51

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you Mr Norbert KLEINWAECHTER.

On the assumption that the rapporteur's opinion is the opinion of the Committee, I will call the rapporteur.

It isn't.

Rapporteur?

Mr Rapporteur.

One moment, point of order.

Mr Aleksander POCIEJ

Poland, EPP/CD 

11:39:09

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Yes.

Thank you Mr President.

If I'm not mistaken, normally, always before going to the vote, we are asking for the rapporteur's opinion.

Am I wrong?

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

11:39:30

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you for the intervention. It helps to clarify the position for the whole Assembly. It is the opinion of the Committee, not the rapporteur, that is sought.

The opinion of the Committee, Mr Boriss CILEVIČS.

Mr Boriss CILEVIČS

Latvia, SOC, Chairperson of the Committee 

11:39:42

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

The Committee was in favour of this amendment, but the rapporteur was going to speak again, but simply gave the floor to somebody else.

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

11:39:53

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

I'm afraid that is the luck of the draw, but the point was made by Mr Norbert KLEINWAECHTER.

The vote is open.

The vote is closed.

Display the result please.

Amendment number 5 is agreed.

Amendment number 9.

Ms Thorhildur Sunna ÆVARSDÓTTIR to support amendment 9.

You have 30 seconds.

Ms Thorhildur Sunna ÆVARSDÓTTIR

Iceland, SOC 

11:40:37

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you, Mr President.

This is a very important amendment. It emphasises the fact that freedom of religion and belief cannot be used to discriminate against persons on other grounds, for instance sexual orientation or gender. I think it's very vital to put this into the report to make it absolutely clear that the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe is not recommending that one's religion can justify discrimination against other persons based on gender, sexual orientation or other prohibited reasons.

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

11:41:12

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you Ms Thorhildur Sunna ÆVARSDÓTTIR.

Does anyone wish to speak against this amendment?

Sir Edward LEIGH.

Sir Edward LEIGH

United Kingdom, EC/DA 

11:41:20

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

This amendment is unnecessary. The whole point of reasonable accommodation is based on previous Council of Europe recommendations. It's moderate. It does not affect the rights of anybody else. It ensures services have to continue to be provided to everybody. It simply allows reasonable accommodation for people of religious belief and therefore this amendment is unnecessary and indeed mitigates against the entire purpose of the report.

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

11:41:48

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

The opinion of the Committee please?

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

11:42:05

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Strictly speaking, that's out of order because the rapporteur is not allowed to speak on behalf of the Committee. The rapporteur can speak against an amendment to clarify the position again. I mean Mr Aleksander POCIEJ was absolutely right to raise the issue. It is the Chairman of the Committee whose opinion is sought, while I understand that the rapporteur is an extremely important person.

The vote is open.

The vote is closed.

The amendment is carried.

Amendment number 2. Ms Yuliya LOVOCHKINA to support Amendment 2. Ms Yuliya LOVOCHKINA you have 30 seconds.

She's not here? I can't see her. Does anybody else wish to support this amendment?

Ms Thorhildur Sunna ÆVARSDÓTTIR you are rising. Are you seeking to support the amendment?

Ms Thorhildur Sunna ÆVARSDÓTTIR

Iceland, SOC 

11:43:25

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Yes.

Thank you Mr President.

 

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

11:43:26

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

It would be helpful if you could indicate that.

Ms Thorhildur Sunna ÆVARSDÓTTIR

Iceland, SOC 

11:43:29

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

I wasn't aware that our colleague was missing from the room.

Dear colleagues, I'm happy to move this amendment on behalf of my colleague. This simply aims to clarify that we do not wish to put a legal obligation on employees to give a conflict resolution measure on religious grounds only. That is to say whether or not not reasonable accommodation has been met on religious grounds or reasons.

We don't think that this is an appropriate instruction coming from this Assembly and therefore we are correcting the language that is in this paragraph to reflect the fact that we cannot put a legal obligation on our member states to set up this kind of conflict resolution mechanism based on religion alone.

Thank you.

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

11:44:14

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Because the rapporteur does have some priority, does the rapporteur wish to speak against the amendment?

Mr Davor Ivo STIER

Croatia, EPP/CD, Rapporteur 

11:44:23

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you, Mr Chairman.

When we agreed on that, the Committee meeting in Paris, it was already a compromise that I think was in the spirit of what a constructive approach should be. So we have no legal obligations here but rather ensuring ways of how to deal with non-discrimination. In this case, I think this amendment isn´t necessary.

Thank you. 

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

11:44:50

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

We got there in the end. That was a speech against the amendment. And the opinion of the Committee?

Mr Boriss CILEVIČS

Latvia, SOC, Chairperson of the Committee 

11:44:55

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

The Committee was in favour of the amendment. 

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

11:44:59

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you Mr Boriss CILEVIČS.

The vote is open.

The vote is closed.

Display the result please.

The amendment is agreed to.

Amendment 3. We have established that Ms Yuliya LOVOCHKINA is not here.

Ms Thorhildur Sunna ÆVARSDÓTTIR to move amendment 3. You have 30 seconds.

Ms Thorhildur Sunna ÆVARSDÓTTIR

Iceland, SOC 

11:45:42

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you, Chair.

Although, of course, we always attempt to achieve compromise, sometimes people can also change their minds and have a rethought about what things are really about. The background of this report the backdrop of this report is to set up special mechanisms based on freedom of religion and belief that go beyond what other groups that are supposed to be protected from discrimination actually have in their workplace. We don't think that this is just or fair so this is why we move this amendment.

Please support the amendment.

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

11:46:19

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Does the rapporteur wish to speak against the amendment?

Mr Davor Ivo STIER

Croatia, EPP/CD, Rapporteur 

11:46:25

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Yes again, Mr Chairman.

This amendment again tries to put a contradiction between the idea of accommodation with non-discrimination.

It's not such a contradiction and actually the majority in the Committee, as you will hear, rejected the amendment. So I will ask you to reject it again here.

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

11:46:46

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

What is the opinion of the Committee?

Mr Boriss CILEVIČS

Latvia, SOC, Chairperson of the Committee 

11:46:48

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

The Committee was against this amendment.

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

11:46:51

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

The Committee is against.

The vote is open.

The vote is closed.

Display the result please.

Amendment number 3 is carried.

I had to look twice.

We now come to a slightly complicated process, which is one of the reasons why we terminated the debate slightly early. I will endeavour to explain because I think I've just about grasped what we are supposed to do.

We have received an oral amendment which reads as follows.

In the draft resolution paragraph 9.4, after the words "religious diversity" insert "the right to non-discrimination as well as".

If the oral amendment were to be agreed to, this part of the paragraph would then read "provide training and advice to public and private employers in order to heighten their awareness of the notions of religion and religious diversity the right to non-discrimination as well as", which is something approximate in English.

The president may accept an oral amendment on the grounds of promoting clarity, accuracy or conciliation, and if there is not opposition from ten or more members to it being debated.

It is my opinion that the oral amendment does meet the criteria of Rule 34.7.a.

Is there any opposition to this amendment being debated? And if so it will require ten or more members to stand in their places.

That is not the case, so I'm now not clear who is going to support the oral amendment.

Who wishes to support the oral amendment that has been put forward?

It cannot be the rapporteur.

Mr Barna Pál ZSIGMOND

Hungary, EPP/CD 

11:49:16

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Mr President,

As we said yesterday we voted this sub-amendment in the Committee with a large majority. Therefore, I consider it a technical matter to vote it again. This whole amendment was for conciliatory purposes and it reflected the opinion of everybody in the group and it's really finding good compromise in this very complicated issue, which we have discussed.

Thank you. 

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

11:49:43

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you, Mr Barna Pál ZSIGMOND.

That was a generous 30 seconds but we got there in the end. Does anyone wish to speak against the oral amendment?

Yes? You have the floor.

Ms Margreet De BOER

Netherlands, SOC 

11:49:54

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

I do not want to speak against but....

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

11:49:57

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

I'm sorry.

Order. Order!

The invitation is to speak only against the amendment. You cannot speak on the amendment. You can only use the opportunity to speak against it. If you wish to speak against the amendment you have the floor.

Sorry, that's what the rules say.

So the Committee I take it is in favour.

The vote is open.

The vote is closed.

Call for the result to be displayed.

The oral amendment is agreed to.

Ms Margreet De BOER please, to support Amendment 7.

You have 30 seconds.

Is Ms Margreet De BOER here? No?

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

11:51:32

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Yes, Amendment 7.

Ms Margreet De BOER

Netherlands, SOC 

11:51:33

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

That was the one altered by the oral amendment, I think.

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

11:51:37

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

No, they're complementary.

Order!

Ms Margreet De BOER

Netherlands, SOC 

11:51:44

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Okay, I'm sorry. It's my first time in Plenary, so....

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

11:51:48

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

It's not a problem.

Ms Margreet De BOER

Netherlands, SOC 

11:51:50

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

I speak in favour of the oral amendment.

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

11:51:52

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Like the man from the tax office we are here to help!

Ms Margreet De BOER

Netherlands, SOC 

11:51:54

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Yes. I think it's very important to add the legal point of the non-discrimination to the text as it is now still in the text and that was the most important thing of the amendment.

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

11:52:11

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you, Ms Margreet De BOER.

Does anybody wish to speak against the amendment? Amendment 7? No?

What is the opinion of the Committee?

Mr Boriss CILEVIČS

Latvia, SOC, Chairperson of the Committee 

11:52:22

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Mr President,

It's a bit complicated because the oral amendment just supported now was discussed at the Committee as sub-amendment Amendment 7, and Amendment 7 with this sub-amendment was adopted unanimously.

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

11:52:39

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Yes.

So the Committee is in favour. Thank you.

The vote is open.

The vote is closed.

Display the result please.

Amendment 7 is carried.

We now proceed to vote on the draft resolution contained in Document 15015 as amended.

The vote is open.

The vote is closed.

Display the result please.

The draft resolution is adopted.

We now consider the draft recommendation contained in Document 15015 to which two amendments have been tabled.

We first come to Amendment 4.

I call Ms Petra STIENEN to support Amendment 4.

Ms Petra STIENEN you have 30 seconds.

 

Ms Petra STIENEN

Netherlands, ALDE 

11:54:13

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Yes, Mr President,

We would like you to vote in favour of this amendment because in international women's human rights law, international human rights law does not apply reasonable accommodation to freedom of religion or belief. The concept of reasonable accommodation does not effectively combat discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief and can and will have harmful implications for the rights of others to equality and non-discrimination.

Thank you.

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

11:54:40

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment?

Rapporteur.

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

11:54:45

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Rapporteur.

Mr Davor Ivo STIER

Croatia, EPP/CD, Rapporteur 

11:54:46

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Dear colleagues, this idea of reasonable accommodation already adopted by this Parliamentary Assembly in 2011 and 2015 is not against the right of non-discrimination. There are some boundaries. We explained these boundaries adopting also some of the amendments in the resolution. It's very clear, so I will oppose this amendment and I will keep the original text.

Thank you.

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

11:55:12

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

The rapporteur is opposed.

What is the opinion of the Committee?

Mr Boriss CILEVIČS

Latvia, SOC, Chairperson of the Committee 

11:55:15

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

The Committee was against this amendment.

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

11:55:17

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

The Committee is also opposed.

I put the amendment to the vote.

The vote is open.

The vote is closed.

Display the result please.

Amendment number 4 is defeated.

Amendment number 1.

There's an oral sub-amendment proposed by the Committee at its meeting that was declared out of order.

An oral amendment has subsequently been tabled as a compromise.

The oral amendment reads as follows. Replace the words "reasonable accommodation in the workplace can be best introduced in order to ensure everyone's", with "the workplace can best ensure". If the oral amendment was agreed to, the paragraph would read "reflect on ways in which the workplace can best ensure freedom of religion or belief".

Ms Zita GURMAI, do you still wish to move Amendment number 1?

 

Ms Thorhildur Sunna ÆVARSDÓTTIR

Iceland, SOC 

11:56:38

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Mr President, I will speak on behalf of Ms Zita GURMAI.

I wish to withdraw Amendment No. 1 in the name of compromise so that the oral amendment can be moved.

Thank you.

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

11:56:52

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you. That's helpful.

That amendment is withdrawn.

I'm afraid this gets slightly repetitive but I need to read it again.

The oral amendment reads as follows. Replace the words "reasonable accommodation in the workplace can best be introduced in order to ensure everyone's" with "the workplace can best ensure".

The President can accept an oral amendment on the grounds of promoting clarity, accuracy or conciliation and if there is not opposition from ten or more members to it being debated.

In my opinion, the oral amendment meets the criteria of Rule 34.7.a. Is there any opposition to the amendment being debated?

I see none.

In that case, who is going to move this oral amendment?

Ms Thorhildur Sunna ÆVARSDÓTTIR.

 

Ms Thorhildur Sunna ÆVARSDÓTTIR

Iceland, SOC 

11:57:51

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Hello again, Mr President.

I can move the oral amendment.

This is a compromise so that we remove the language of "reasonable accommodation" in this context. We are willing to accept that of course we should seek ways to find ways to best protect everyone's right to freedom of religion and belief. This amendment is a compromise between what we originally wanted to put there and what the rapporteur wanted there, so I believe that this can an adequate solution for everyone.

Thank you, Mr President.

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

11:58:25

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you very much.

Does anyone wish to speak against the oral amendment?

The Committee is obviously in favour.

Mr Boriss CILEVIČS

Latvia, SOC, Chairperson of the Committee 

11:58:36

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Yes. The Committee voted for an identical text with a large majority.

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly 

11:58:40

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you very much.

I now put the oral amendment to the vote.

The vote is open.

The vote is closed.

Display the result please.

The oral amendment is carried.

We now proceed to vote on the draft recommendation contained in the Document 15015 as amended.

The vote is open.

The vote is closed

Display the result please.

The draft recommendation is not adopted.

Thank you very much.

His Excellence the President of the Republic of Moldova.

Mr Hendrik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly 

12:01:57

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Mr President, welcome to the Council of Europe and to our Parliamentary Assembly.

This chamber is not unknown to you, as you are one of our former colleagues so basically it's a little bit welcome back home.

But importantly it's an honour to see you today as the President of the Republic of Moldova, one of our member states, which will be celebrating its 25th anniversary on the Council of Europe.

During these 25 years we have developed excellent cooperation. Council of Europe institutions and especially the Venice Commission, as well as the Assembly rapporteurs, have followed and contributed to every stage of the consolidation of your country's democratic institutions.

Your visit to Strasbourg allows us to better focus the priorities of our cooperation. These include reform of the judiciary, electoral reform, fight against corruption and a number of other areas. We had a fruitful exchange, a very interesting one by the way, this morning about these. I am confident that we are moving in the right direction.

Of course Mr President we are extremely keen to hear your views today on issues and challenges of common interest to all Europeans. The Council of Europe as I see it is first of all a council of Europeans who come from different backgrounds and countries but are united by our commitment to the values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law, and by our desire to build a common future, a better future, for our continent and its citizens.

Therefore we need to work together in a spirit of constructive cooperation among all 47 member states and we are looking forward to hearing your ideas about how we could better achieve this objective. 

Mr President, you have the floor.

Address by Mr Igor DODON, President of the Republic of Moldova

Mr Igor DODON, President of the Republic of Moldova

 

12:03:51

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Mr President,

Madame Secretary General,

Mr Secretary General,

Distinguished Colleagues,

Excellencies,

It is an honour for me, to be back in this hall, as President of the Republic of Moldova, and to address the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Thank you, Mr. President, for inviting me here to share the views and the recent developments in my country.

At the outset, I would like to congratulate you, Mr DAEMS for your election as PACE President and to wish you energy and success in the new endeavours of such an important mandate.

 

Mr Igor DODON, President of the Republic of Moldova

 

12:04:30

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Respected audience, 

Last year, our organisation, the Council of Europe, celebrated 70 years since its establishment. A time that made us focus on historical reflections and common achievements. Over the last two decades, our continent faced more and more challenges. 

The system of international law is constantly subject to risks, whereas Europe has undergone essential geopolitical changes. In this context, in which the contemporary world order is changing, the future of this space depends on us, on the contribution of each member country and of every European citizen. From this perspective, I believe that the Council of Europe and its artisans, as catalysts for change, have the necessary expertise and levers, including legal ones, to continue the European project. 

In the case of the Republic of Moldova, the impact of belonging to the Council of Europe for 25 years has been an important step in strengthening the codes of democracy. This has been felt through a whole series of significant transformations. From the reform and the adjustment of the constitutional normative framework, to the creation of institutions and the formation of a new mentality. 

The accession of the Republic of Moldova to the Council of Europe has played an important role in initiating and carrying out, sometimes difficult, the transition process towards the consolidation to the rule of law. A state based on the rule of law, on respecting, guaranteeing and promoting the fundamental human rights and freedoms. 

Distinguished audience, with your indulgence, I will point out some important chapters to inform you as eloquently as possible about the current situation in the Republic of Moldova. About our vision on internal politics, external priorities, major agenda reforms, the most important reforms on the agenda of the Modolvan leadership, the next one is interethnic relations and the fifth one is progress in solving the Transnistrian problem.

I will start with the situation in internal policy. Over the whole period, since the proclamation of independence, elections as a basic institution of democracy have become a matter of pride for the political system of the Republic of Moldova. I can safely say that Moldova is among the countries where the state power passes from one political force to another only within the limits of legal and democratic norms and procedures. 

Over almost 30 years of independence, five presidents, eight legislators, over 15 heads of government have changed in Moldova. Of course, like any country, we are not immune to political crises and challenges. In 2009 and 2019, the citizens of the Republic of Moldova witnessed the so-called coup attempts. Fortunately, they did not destabilise the political system and did not throw the country into the chaos of civil conflict, as happened in other countries where similar events took place. The year 2019 was a very difficult one for the Republic of Moldova. We had three governments changed. We managed to avoid destabilising the political situation mainly due to internal political consensus and external support. 

In last June, the party of Socialists and the electoral block ACUM now formed a coalition government with an ambitious agenda of saving the country from oligarchs. We hoped that we would overcome the existing contradictions and implement a series of important reforms to stabilise the economic situation and restore constructive relations with our external partners in the West and East. We have succeeded in many things together but, unfortunately, the government was not a stable one, which led to its resignation, and appointment in November 2019 of a new cabinet of ministers. For the moment, the political situation is stable and the government is functioning efficiently. All these events represented a test for the entire political class and for the citizens of our country. Despite these difficult times, the political class, civil institutions and the entire Moldovan society have shown their maturity and their commitment to the rule of law. 

Overcoming the political crisis and the peaceful transfer of power, gave a new impetus to international cooperation and allowed the Republic of Moldova to follow firmly its path to democratic development. This year we will have another test of democracy. In October or November we will have presidential elections with a universal, direct vote of the citizens of the Republic of Moldova. I strongly believe that we will overcome successfully this test and the elections will be free and democratic according to all the international standards. 

The second point I would like to emphasise are the priorities of foreign policy. Since gaining its independence, the Republic of Moldova has always been divided between different geopolitical currents, most often created by politicians artificially to obtain electoral capital. We have had pro-European parties and politicians who had compromised the European course of our country. The geopolitical struggle between political parties has created confusion among citizens and has often blocked the country's progress. All of us who are involved in political activities must acknowledge their responsibility for the situation, learn from it and make necessary changes so that our country would be no longer divided between pro-Europeans, pro-Russians, pro-Americans, pro-Romanians, and so on. 

The priority of the president and the new government in Chisinau is the balanced foreign policy course. This implies efficient implementation of the Association Agreement with the EU, the restoration and development of the strategic partnership with the Russian Federation, with our neighbours Romania and Ukraine, with the United States, Turkey and other countries. The principle of balanced foreign policy offers openness to all international partners, both from the West and from the East. The Republic of Moldova is a European country and we support the idea of creating a united Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok.

We are firmly committed to building a developed, prosperous, modern rule of law, which will have its rightful place, not only in Europe but also in the entire world. I wish Moldova will no longer be classified as pro-Russian, pro-European, pro-American or pro-Romanian. We have citizens who can support all these directions or none at the same time. It is important not to generate geopolitical stereotypes, but to embrace democratic values. My goal and my greatest desire as president, is to unite the people, to combat this false geopolitical division created by political parties in their pursuit to obtain an electorate that they can control exclusively. That is why I am asking you to not support parties, but to support the citizens of the Republic of Moldova.

If we were to review now the names of the pro-European parties and the leaders of the Republic of Moldova for the last 10 years, who have enjoyed trust among European leaders, we would only all leave our eyes in shame. To be pro-European does not just mean being politically attached to a European political group, but first of all, having the ability to take over and implement European values in the Republic of Moldova. As president, I wish the important support that the EU countries give to Moldova could reach the citizens directly, be properly appreciated and promoted, but not used for the benefit of parties or politicians. I would very much like the European institutions not to give blank cheques to any political party in the Republic of Moldova. Past experiences show how strongly some political leaders managed to compromise the European assistance given to our country and they took advantage of the trust that the European leaders gave them. I assure you that, in this way, the citizens will be able to appreciate a fair value, the important support provided by EU countries. 

The third point is extremely important, it deals with reforms. Continuing reforms and transforming the Republic of Moldova is an irreversible process, necessary, first of all, for the country and its citizens. Building democracy is no simple solution. Reforms are necessary for the citizens of the Republic of Moldova. It is only possible under conditions of political and economic stability, through the proper functioning of democratic institutions, a number of them created with the support of the Council of Europe. At the present stage, it is important for politicians and partners to show tolerance, seriousness, in order to achieve the proposed reforms. The process of reforming the country is based on the government's activity programme for the years 2020-2023 and the provisions of the Association Agreement between the Republic of Moldova and the European Union. In this context, the recommendations of PACE and of the Monitoring Committees of the Council of Europe are also taken into account. At present, the main efforts of the president, parliament and government of our country are aimed at implementing several reforms, but I would like to highlight in particular our efforts in justice reform and the fight against corruption.

Through the complex justice reform, we aim to eradicate corruption among the magistrates, to ensure a professional and integrity judicial body, to restore citizens' confidence in the judicial system and justice in Moldova. This reform must be taken out of the political debate. In this context, I would like to thank Madame Secretary General of the Council of Europe for the immediate decision to establish an Ad Hoc Working Group on justice reform, and for the first visit of the Council officials to Chisinau last week. We do not want a reform for the sake of reform, or a copy of it at any price. We want a process based on trust and support. The justice reform is just one element of the overall reform of institutions. Here, I must recognise the reality as it is. The state institutions are extremely weak after so many years of political control over them. After a period when there was created a functioning model based on political subordination. That is why the justice reform is one of the most important challenges we face. Institutions must be reformed and function in the service of the citizens. This is the area where the support of the European institutions is crucial for us. Frankly speaking, the rule of law practically eroded over the last years in the Republic of Moldova. I think we have felt this many times, but we have felt it directly. 

Through the justice reform, we will overcome the deficiencies concerning the respect of human rights, which have been declining in Moldova in recent years. We have had hundreds of cases when people have been imprisoned, their right to defence or to a fair justice being violated. And this happened even during the period of time when the so-called pro-European parties ruled the country. They, in fact, abused this pro-European umbrella to take benefits for their group interests, even their criminal interests. The recent events, however, have shown how strongly the situation in Moldova degraded and that there has been no geopolitical behind. Nor any fight between Moscow and the EU, despite the oligarchic regime's allegations as it had being trying to cover up its abuses in country. 

It is really bad what has happened in the past years in the Republic of Moldova in terms of human rights. The state institutions must reveal the cases and bring those responsible to justice. While some politicians try to highlight geopolitical issues such as uniting with Romania, fighting against Moscow, fighting against Americans and other false issues, for me and the government team, the real threat to state security is the internal one. A real, and not a geopolitical one. It's the one against which no government has really fought up until now: corruption.

Hundreds and thousands of Moldovan citizens have left the country under previous governments, not because of the geopolitical orientation, but because of the corruption that led to poverty, social inequity and injustice. This is why the issue of corruption is on the agenda of every meeting of the supreme security council, which I lead as the country's president. That is why we have asked the government for deep reforms in the domain of justice in accordance with the recommendations of the Venice Commission and in close collaboration with the experts of this institution. We have some important developments in the fight against corruption. We have started learning the truth about bank fraud and its beneficiaries, the state institutions are finally heading for their referral to justice. We have important progress in clarifying the illegal concession of the airport, but also in other resonance files and this is possible because the politicians have let the free justice start working. 

The fourth point, interethnic relations and cooperation with regions. Here I will switch into Russian, because in Moldova it is a language of interetcnic communication. 

Mr Igor DODON, President of the Republic of Moldova

 

12:19:20

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Dear audience,

The Republic of Moldova is a multi-ethnic state in which more than 100 ethnic groups live peacefully. The Russian language in the Republic of Moldova has a status of a language of inter-ethnic communication. In this respect the situation has improved significantly thanks to the 2017 strategies for the consolidations of inter-ethnic relationships in the Republic of Moldova in the years 2017 through 2027. Changing the regulatory framework in the area of governance of local public authorities is based on full respect for the principle of local autonomy and decentralization in accordance with the provisions of the European Charter of Local Self-Government and the recommendations of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe. An example of this could be the development of relations between the central public authorities of the Republic of Moldova and regional authorities of the Autonomous Territorial Unit of Gagauzia. In this context I should note the active cooperation between member of the Moldovan parliament and the local assembly of the Gagauzia autonomy on drafting legislative initiatives related to the further improvement of Moldovan legislation regarding that autonomy status. Despite some difficulties, Gagauzia is successfully developing and acquiring the characteristics of a modern European style of autonomous region. The Moldovan leadership will continue to pay major attention to the residents of Gagauzia to support the socio-economic development of that region and its cultural diversity. This policy with respect to Gagauzia will certainly contribute to the consolidation of the Republic of Moldova as a multi-ethnic society. Let me move on to my 5th point, namely settlement of the Transnistrian problem. Now, the problem of the Transnistrian settlement in confidence building measures are one of the top priorities of Moldovan current leaders. Over the past three years I have personally had seven meetings with the leadership of the Transnistrian region where we discussed issues aimed at solving problems confronted by citizens of the Republic of Moldova on both sides of the Dnister River. We certainly support the progress achieved in the years 2017 through 2019 in implementing confidence building measures in the so-called Berlin Plus Package in the 5+2 format. I would like to note that out of eight confidence building measures six have been implemented or are in the process of being implemented. Among the most important ones are the issues of neutral license plates for cars. On the left bank of the Dnister river, where you have 100 000 residents, the recognition of diplomas of educational institutions of Transnistria in order for young people who study in Transnistrian to be able to work in other countries as well. Also the solution of the use of cell phones on both sides. That's something that we will really have to resolve definitively in the course of this year. It's been an outstanding problem for 20 years. Legal, economic, and humanitarian issues of human rights and freedom in the Transnistrian region remain a subject of close attention. In the presidential office, the parliament, and the government we believe that this issue could be discussed more actively in the 5+2 format with the help of the OSCE the Council of Europe. Another important task is to improve the dialogue on the Transnistrian problem by working on the main parameters of the special status of Transnistria as an integral part of the sovereign, independent, unitary, and indivisible Republic of Moldova within internationally recognised borders and with an appropriate mechanism guaranteeing human rights and fundamental freedoms. In our opinion, one of the key factors of a positive impact on the Transnistrian settlement process is the implementation of the strategy contributing to international recognition of the permanent neutral status of the Republic of Moldova which will, of course, strengthen security in this region of Europe. In this regard we welcome the initiative of the Russian Federation announcing in August of last year on its intention to resume the process of destruction of ammunition on the territory of the Republic of Moldova.

Dear colleagues,

One of the most important features of any civilized country is memory of the events that pushed the world to the edge of the abyss, that brought us so close to disaster. We must remember evil in the name of good. Our task today is to prevent the repetition of past wars, the Holocaust, genocide, and other catastrophes to prevent new forms of slavery, discrimination, and of oppression of individuals. Just a few days ago, on the 27th January, we  jointly marked 75 years since the Red Army freed the people who were imprisoned in Auschwitz-Birkenau. We have officially declared this a day of remembrance of the Holocaust, one of the worst crimes against humanity. During WWII in Moldova 300 000 Jews were killed. It is our collective responsibility to prevent the manifestation of violence based on ethnic criteria, on antisemitism, on xenophobia. Unfortunately, antisemitism has not been fully overcome. We must be vigilant. I would like to remind you, that this year on May 9 we will be celebrating an important historical day: the 75th Anniversary of the Victory in the Great Patriotic War. Large-scale events dedicated to Victory Day will be held in the Republic of Moldova. This will be another impetus to strengthen our national unity to help our society to unite, live together and for people to become friends and to work for the benefit of other people in the name of peace and justice. This year we will also be marking the 75th Anniversary of the United Nations, which has taken on the task of maintaining tolerance and peace in the entire world. It is not an east task but we know that, thanks to the UN, many large-scale wars have been prevented and that over the past few decades human rights provisions have been enshrined in a definitive way in the constitution of most countries. May these anniversary dates serve as a reminder..

Mr Igor DODON, President of the Republic of Moldova

 

12:25:56

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Honourable attendees,

Over time, the Council of Europe has become a catalyst for democratic change in the Republic of Moldova.

We consider that, despite all the difficulties that our country faces in forming a modern state with rule of law, the Republic of Moldova can count on support in achieving the objective of concluding the monitoring procedure by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

I assure you that the time has come to take this step and identify the arguments that support this natural desire. We want to be treated as a country capable of taking responsibility for its own actions and decisions. I would like to emphasise that, from the political, economic and humanitarian point of view, Moldova as a state has been and remains a European country.

We are entering a new decade. This is a good opportunity to reflect again on the reasons why the Council of Europe was created. I am sure that, despite the uncertainties, the European project of the common Assembly remains a project that inspires and mobilises. We must be aware that, whatever the national specificity and the languages spoken, we must act only together, for the values we share and for stability based on cooperation, human rights and the rule of law. This is the way to strengthen European stability and security.

Thank you and I look forward to your questions.

Mr Hendrik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly 

12:27:48

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you very much Mr President.

We will now get into the questions to be addressed to you. I remind all of us that questions are going to be limited at 30 seconds sharp please and no more. I would like to ask our colleagues to put a question and not make statements.

The first question is by Mr Egidijus VAREIKIS, Group of the European People's Party.

Questions to Mr Igor DODON, President of the Republic of Moldova

Mr Egidijus VAREIKIS

Lithuania, EPP/CD, Spokesperson for the group 

12:28:13

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you Mr Chairman.

Mr President, I want to continue on the note with which you finished.

Moldova has been an independent country for three decades, but we are still saying that Moldova is a country in transition. Many, many data on corruption, human development index, etcetera, is saying that it's still not a very happy country. There are still many things to do.

My question is a little bit theoretical. I know what the Council of Europe has to do for Moldova, but what is Moldova ready to do for the Council of Europe to make us happy about your development?

Thank you.

Mr Igor DODON, President of the Republic of Moldova

 

12:29:03

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you for your question.

The question is what can Moldova do for the Council of Europe.

I believe, first of all, we are partners. We are partners and, in my opinion, regardless of some disadvantages over 25 years of cooperation, I do believe that we are partners.

What can we propose here?

We can share our experience. Not probably the best one. With you I've had the possibility to discuss many times in Chisinau the experience of the captured state. The negative experience of the Republic of Moldova was analysed in detail by the experts of the Council of Europe. Maybe these conclusions will be helpful for cases in other countries. Our experience in the dialogue with Transnistria or Gagauzia is a unique experience. I've mentioned that for the first time in over many years, at least one decade, we have  had a very good discussion with the leader of Transnistria. This experience may be managed and taken into consideration in the case of other frozen conflicts.

The situation in Moldova is very uneasy. Over the past years, the citizens of Moldova have suffered very much. But we have overcome these challenges. We have overcome them with your support, together with you. In June last year there was a very complicated situation in Chisinau. There are colleagues here that were together in the building of the parliament when the light was switched off.

I'm optimistic in this sense. But please understand that without your support, including your criticism, it would be much more difficult for us.

This is the message I had to say in my speech. Please support the citizens of the Republic of Moldova.

If you see that politicians make mistakes, criticise them. The prime minister, the president, the government, the parliament. Criticise them.

We are members of the Council of Europe. We strongly believe that we have to move forward and we will move forward.

Thank you for your question.

 

Mr Hendrik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly 

12:31:40

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Question by Mrs BLONDIN of the Socialist Group.

Ms Maryvonne BLONDIN

France, SOC, Spokesperson for the group 

12:31:49

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Mr. Speaker,

You told me face to face, when we met last July, that you were committed to ratifying the Istanbul Convention, and I congratulated you on that, of course.

The discussion is ongoing in parliament, it is not a simple one, and you have the power to influence this process in the direction desired by this House and its values. Can we count on your support, full and complete, to protect your fellow citizens fairly and help them?

Thank you.

Mr Hendrik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly 

12:32:28

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Mr Speaker.

Mr Igor DODON, President of the Republic of Moldova

 

12:32:29

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you for the question. 

We are speaking about the Istanbul Convention that was discussed very much in the Republic of Moldova. I would like to mention that this Convention was signed by the Moldovan government many years ago but no single government which would call itself pro-European did not have the courage to approve it. Only this government, the current government, named two months ago. In January, the government approved this draft and sent it to the parliament.

Obviously there are some elements of this Convention that supposed to discussion by the citizens of the Republic of Moldova. I asked the colleagues from the parliament to start the public discussion on this point because there are some arguable moments in this Convention. There are different interpretations and decisions, namely from the Venice Commission. That this document that has passed the filter of the government will be largely discussed in the parliament. This is our position. 

Mr Hendrik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly 

12:33:51

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you.

We will now have Mr Iulian BULAI for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.

Mr Iulian BULAI

Romania, ALDE, Spokesperson for the group 

12:33:55

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Mr President, thank you so much for having taken the floor in Romanian and delivering your speech in Romanian.

Mr Iulian BULAI

Romania, ALDE, Spokesperson for the group 

12:34:02

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Last year recordings were made public in which you yourself admit receiving official Russian funds for the financing of the party you lead. This is of course illegal. The chief anti-corruption prosecutor opens an investigation into this. Then with a change in government he was dismissed and put under investigation himself.

Do you find appropriate for a president, a member of the executive power, to make such considerations about an anticorruption case in which he himself is suspected to be involved?

Thank you.

Mr Hendrik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly 

12:34:32

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Mr President.

Mr Igor DODON, President of the Republic of Moldova

 

12:34:33

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

This is a topic that is widely discussed in the Republic of Moldova and not only there. Many of the pro-presidential parties are socialist. We are speaking about different criminal cases started by the previous government of Plahotniuc back in 2016 especially created to blackmail a party of socialists. This is why the president and the pro-presidential party were those who broke down this regime in June 2019.  I strongly believe there are no violations of the legislation. However, I encourage an investigation with reference to any person, to the first persons, to the parties or the governing persons and every single investigation must be finished. We should achieve the results. This is the only way we can move forward. We should overcome what was selective justice before. I will give details about this later. We want an equal approach for everyone.

Mr Hendrik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly 

12:35:56

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you.

We now have Mr John HOWELL for the European Conservatives Group and Democratic Alliance.

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC/DA, Spokesperson for the group 

12:36:02

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you Mr President.

Several ministers, members of parliament, mayors, prosecutors and judges are under arrest and under investigation for corruption charges.

How can you ensure this Assembly that no amnesty will be given to them and how can you also ensure that they are not subject to political trials?

Mr Igor DODON, President of the Republic of Moldova

 

12:36:27

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

There are multiple cases of investigations that are being carried out in Moldova. Well, one important thing about this, that has been happening in the last few months, and my colleagues can agree with this, that starting in the month of June last year in the Republic of Moldova, people started breathing more easily, more freely. People feel more free.

I mentioned this in my speech. There were dozens, maybe hundreds of politically introduced cases. And we know which of those cases were. And even PACE opinions were expressed along these lines. Starting in June we have a new general prosecutor. He was appointed in December, in line with the procedures decided upon by the previous government. He is a professional, who, in our opinion, will set things straight.

There cannot be amnesties in important cases that are resonant with the people of the Republic of Moldova. And if you refer to legislation and to the imprisonment conditions for some politicians, like the former Prime Minister, for instance, who was already judged and sentenced. Well, that is the implementation of a law of 2018. And here, with my colleagues in the Government and the Minister of Justice, we are very careful and we will take all the steps necessary so that there won't be any amnesty for the people who were involved in cases of resonance.

But, once the new general prosecutor was appointed, well... the judicial reform... I can give you more details, I have discussed with Mister President of PACE and Madam Secretary General. I can give you more details of this reform, but I am persuaded that the general prosecutor and the reforms of justice will allow us in Moldova, in the future, to take preventive measures against such abuses.

How do we intend to go about this reform? Very quickly. Because I want you to know what we intend to do. We will have a three-pronged approach. We want to modify the constitution in the sense of the status of the magistrates. And this is a modification which, a few years ago, was promoted with the help of the experts of the Council of Europe. But it didn't gather all the necessary votes in parliament. We do hope that in March we will get the green light from the Venice Commission so that in April this initiative will be launched.

Secondly, the strengthening of the powers of the national integrity agency, in the sense of monitoring and surveying the judges, the prosecutors and the civil servants. We will follow the GRECO advice. We hope that these changes will be implemented within the next 3 or 4 months. And the third aspect, reform of justice, which happens at a conceptual level as well. We developed a detailed strategy which is now being debated upon by the civil society, by the experts of the Council of Europe. Last week we had the Ad Hoc group of experts, they came from Strasbourg as you should know.

In the next 5 or 6 months, if we find the consensus until the month of June, we will suggest these modifications to be analysed in the meeting of the Venice Commission in June, they will be approved in July. And if we don't have the consensus, maybe it will take us until autumn. But I am persuaded, and let me assure you, that everything to do with reform, especially judicial reform, will be implemented along the lines of the opinions expressed by the experts.

We will not repeat our previous mistakes. We have positive recommendations that are taken into account, we have the recommendations of the experts, we will move ahead. If we are not well prepared, we will still discuss and continue.

Maybe I have given you a too detailed answer, but this is my answer to your question.

Mr Hendrik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly 

12:41:11

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you.

We now have Mr Leonid KALASHNIKOV for the Group of the Unified European Left.

Mr Leonid KALASHNIKOV

Russian Federation, UEL, Spokesperson for the group 

12:41:15

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Mr President, you manage to conduct well balanced and reasonable policies externally. You have good relations with both the EU and the members of the CIS, the Commonwealth of Independent States. You have a strategic partnership with the Russian Federation and good trade relations with the Russian Federation.

How do you manage to do this in practice? Could this perhaps be a positive example from some other member states of your region or elsewhere in Europe? It seems that they have to do one or the other and can't balance the two.

Mr Igor DODON, President of the Republic of Moldova

 

12:41:59

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

So far as examples are concerned, we certainly wouldn't want to teach any lessons. Every state takes its own decisions. We don't think that we can be a model for others. Independent states always take into consideration their own national interests when they design their internal and foreign policies.

But insofar as the Republic of Moldova is concerned, let me share some important details with you. Moldova, like other states of the former Soviet Union, whether or not members of the CIS, have some specific characteristics.

First of all, the society is divided. I said that in my address. This geopolitical division has varied over time, but it's basically fifty-fifty: 50% of the population approximately would like closer relations with the Russian Federation, and 50% with the European Union. Sometimes it's been sixty-forty, and then turned around. But that's a rather special characteristic of my state.

So why am I in favour of a balanced foreign policy? Because any attempt to chose between the two will divide the society. We have regions in Moldova where 90% would like closer relations with Russia, such as Găgăuzia or Transnistria. That's 90%. Moldova is not a very big country. But there are other regions closer to the centre of the country where they want a full agreement with the EU, and they even want ultimately membership of the EU. So to put this society before a choice between the two would result in division, in conflict.

To preserve the unity of the country and to avoid destabilisation I do believe we must have a balanced foreign policy. We have an association agreement with the European Union. We need to implement that in order to improve the living standards of the Moldovan people which is still very low. We need to implement the association agreement in order to implement certain reforms. Reforms that are required for the implementation of the association agreement can be very positive for us.

We have a strategic partnership with Russia historically. I mean, we have more than a million probably of our citizens working in the Russian Federation. We only have a population of three million within the country. 28 years ago we had a population of four and a half million. We have lost a third of our population in 28 years, not because they've died but because they've gone to work elsewhere, because they have better living standards there. About a million of them, depending on the estimates maybe less maybe more, are working in the Russian Federation. So obviously we have to have good relations with the Russian Federation. We are rightly interested with what is happening within the CIS. We are interested in the new plans for further integration into the CIS.

In 2017 I called for us to receive observer status, observer, let me stress that. We're not members. We're observers. In May of 2018 we were given that status, and that is one more aspect of our balanced foreign policy. I don't want us to become friends of one large country to become enemies of another large country or another large block. Some large and powerful states want to bring smaller states into their fold. We don't want to be in the fold of anyone. We want to preserve a neutral status. That is something that could keep our country together to prevent the fragmentation of the country and conflict within the country. That really means that we must solve the Transnistrian problem which is a very complex problem. In my opinion we are closer to the resolution of that conflict than in the case of some other frozen conflicts.

In recent times, most of the political interests of the Moldovan people are more socio-economic. If we were to talk about either/or in the case of foreign policy, either Russia or the EU... No, no. We have observer status in the Eastern Partnership of the European Neighbourhood Policy and close relations at the same time with the Russian Federation and I don't think there is any other possible scenario for Moldova. To try to choose between the two would result in destabilisation and conflict, and we've had enough of those conflicts in Transnistria, in Găgăuzia. To keep stability is very important.

Now, if that is an experience that could be of interest to our neighbours or to other states? Then we could share our experience with them. But I can tell you that the current President and the current government will be working along those lines: a balanced foreign policy.

Mr Hendrik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly 

12:47:37

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you.

We will now have three questions in a row, after which, Mr President, I will invite you to answer all three of them.

First question, Mr Frédéric REISS.

Mr Frédéric REISS

France, EPP/CD 

12:47:49

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Mr. Speaker,

First of all, thank you for your intervention in French. As a member of the France-Moldova friendship group in the National Assembly, I can testify to the dynamism of your Parliament.

Mr. President, you stressed the many partnerships that Moldova has established with its neighbours.

Could you tell us, in 2020, what conditions are necessary to establish, promote and develop a lasting and sincere dialogue with the European Union and what the future of the Association Agreement that was signed in 2016 will be? This complements the previous question.

 

Mr Hendrik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly 

12:48:24

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Mr Viorel Riceard BADEA, of the EPP.

Mr Hendrik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly 

12:48:30

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

You get three questions and then you will have the opportunity to answer all three Mr President.

Mr Viorel Riceard BADEA.

Mr Viorel Riceard BADEA

Romania, EPP/CD 

12:48:41

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Good afternoon Mr President.

Welcome here in this hall.

You said a while ago that you wanted to consider the unionist parties in the Republic of Moldova as illegal.

My question to you and Mr Titus CORLĂŢEAN also. In the Republic of Moldova, unionism as a common spiritual identity is considered a conflict of opinion? And the fact that there, it is written Moldovan, is an insult to our common history.

Mr Hendrik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly 

12:49:18

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you.

Now we will have Mr Andrej HUNKO for the Group of the Unified European Left.

Mr Andrej HUNKO

Germany, UEL 

12:49:22

Video EN | OV
Print intervention

Thank you very much, Mr President.

At the end of your speech you pointed out the importance of the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War and the liberation from fascism. We are currently experiencing a partly, also irritating discussion about the interpretation of the Second World War. Also, in my view, an irritating resolution in Europe, in the EU Parliament, in September last year.

Perhaps you could say again what this means from Moldova's point of view, because you are, so to speak, particularly affected by this debate.

Mr Hendrik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly 

12:50:02

Video