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20 November 2020 morning

2020 - November Standing Committee Print sitting

Sitting video(s) 1 / 1

Meeting of the Standing Committee (morning)

Opening of the meeting by the President of the Parliamntary Assembly

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

09:34:35

Good morning to all of you from the Chamber in Strasbourg.

I am particularly pleased, after almost a year, to be back here in the Chamber. You know that one of the great ambitions on my part and on the part of all of us is to be able to come back in person. When we are going to deal with the changes to the Rules of Procedure to enable us to have the plenary meeting from January onwards, we all hope that it will be in person as far as possible. Members of the Bureau and the Standing Committee know, in my personal definition of face-to-face, that means that those who can be with us physically in Strasbourg are welcome. The French authorities are making every effort to ensure that this can be done. All the rules, but you will see in the afternoon, have been drawn up in that context, and those who will not be able to join us physically in January will be able, on an equal basis, to join us by distance. It is therefore, somewhere, a face-to-face meeting today, since I am here in the Chamber and our colleagues are connected via the KUDO system.

First of all, I would like to thank the whole team here in Strasbourg and the Secretary-General for making our meeting possible. Thank you to the whole team. Thank you all for being online, because I see that there are quite a few people.

With this little statement, I therefore declare the meeting of the Standing Committee open.

I will now switch to English so that the lives of our translators and interpreters will not be too difficult, and I will continue the meeting in English. Although when colleagues speak in French, I will, of course, address them in French.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

09:37:14

I will continue the meeting in English. The first point on our agenda is the exchange of views with Michael ROTH, Minister of State for Europe at the Federal Foreign Office of Germany, Special Representative of the Federal Government for the German Presidency of theCommittee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, Willkommen,  Herr ROTH. I think it is a great opportunity to have you on board at the start of the Presidency of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. It is the first opportunity in which we can discuss our cooperation and the synergies, the synchronization, the cooperation with the Assembly. You know that I have been informed that we've got a number of ways of doing that. One of them is the so-called trilogue, where, together with the Secretary-General, we seek to find solutions in a cooperative way to political issues.

Now your Presidency of the Committee of Ministers, the German presidency, also coincides - at least in part - with your Presidency of the Council of the European Union. Now, we all know know that these are challenging times. Also, as you know, since one of the core elements that is on the table at European Union is how we address human rights, how we address specifically the rule of law and democracy, I am sure that we can in some way have our works coordinated in order to the extent of the possible to support you also in your a Presidency of the European Union, specifically given the fact that one of your priorities is making the very, very hard effort to have the European Union accede to the European Convention of Human Rights. You also know, without any doubt, that the we way work at the Assembly, we have changed a little bit our fashion of working in the sense that we try to deliver some substance to the Presidency. So, we've done so already concerning artificial intelligence, which is one of your priorities in your Presidency. We have taken on a way of working where we, on certain themes, adapt or adopt a holistic approach, so we look at certain elements from different angles, which has been the case in one of our Standing Committees concerning artificial intelligence and we delivered those reports to you. We do hope that they will be, or that they will have, an added value in the work that you want to do creating a binding legal instrument concerning artificial intelligence, which is obviously the work that has to be done in the CAHAI. Moreover, in our January session, we also know that the implementation of judgments of the court is one of your priorities, well we will have a number of reports on the implementation and, more specifically, the report on the implementation of judgments of the European Court on our Agenda, so we hope that this will feed in also into your Presidency.

And last but not least, or maybe two elements, although it might not be so visible in your priorities, it is an ours, namely the connection between the environment and human rights, we will have a full-fledged, holistic approach to that in our April session. Reports are, at this stage, in preparation for that, so the April session will be an environment and human rights session. On top of that, one of our priorities, obviously, is addressing and combatting violence against women. I also have seen that this is one of your top priorities and, if I'm not mistaken, next year, we will have the 10th anniversary of the Istanbul Convention and so I suppose that this will be taken on board.

Now I hope I didn't take away too much of your speech because, of course, I read already your priorities because I was at the Committee of Ministers with the transfer of the Greek to the German Presidency. Nevertheless, we are very pleased to have you on board. We hope that we can work very intensely together in order to achieve results because this is something that we from the Parliamentary Assembly think of being of paramount importance. It's not about just talking and exchanging views, it is also about delivering substance from the Parliamentary Assembly to the national parliaments and, more specifically, from the Parliamentary Assembly to the Chairmanship, which for the next six months, will be yours.

Having said all of this, I am extremely pleased that I can, at this stage, give you the floor, Herr HOTH. We're very happy to listen to your comments and your elements of the Presidency after which we will be taking questions from members of our Assembly. You have the floor and welcome again. 

Exchange of views with Mr Michael Roth, Minister of State for Europe at the Federal Foreign Office of Germany, Special Representative of the Federal Government for the German Presidency of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe

Mr Michael Roth

Minister of State for Europe at the Federal Foreign Office of Germany, Special Representative of the Federal Government for the German Presidency of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe

09:42:42

Yes, good morning, Mister President, ladies and gentlemen. I am a little surprised because the President actually gave my speech, but perhaps the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe always works so efficiently that the Chairman assumes all the roles. In any case, I am looking forward to working together.

It has been a long time since I myself was allowed to work in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. That was an important experience for me as a young member of the German Bundestag. You will also know from my comrades-in-arms in the German Bundestag how important the Federal Republic of Germany considers the work of the Council of Europe. This at a time when authoritarianism is growing, when nationalism is becoming stronger and democracy is coming under pressure. It is important that we strengthen the forums and institutions committed to strengthening and defending human rights, the rule of law and democracy. Please, ladies and gentlemen, take us at our word.

How difficult this is, as the President pointed out, is what we are currently experiencing in the European Union. It has been experiencing conflicts for years in the Council of Europe, because here too cooperation on the basis of common values, common principles has become much more difficult than it was perhaps a number of years ago. That is why our main concern is also to strengthen the Council of Europe in its core competence. For despite all the criticism, the Council of Europe has important instruments at its disposal, above all the European Court of Human Rights, to protect citizens from arbitrariness in very concrete terms. I say this because the Council of Europe has been arguing for years about how we actually deal with the more difficult partners, where there are also problems in implementing the judgments of the Court of Human Rights. That is precisely why it is so important that we keep these difficult partners in our team, because that will bring added value for the citizens. I would also like to thank you personally, because I know, of course, that human rights monitoring is also very much the responsibility of the Parliamentary Assembly, of many highly committed Members of Parliament who are also facing up to difficult missions. I cannot imagine the work on human rights without the commitment of many Members of this House.

And just how difficult it is, we are experiencing right now, especially these days, you mentioned the Athens Declaration, because, believe me, I would rather be in Strasbourg right now and physically be with you, I find these video conferences terribly annoying. You are probably feeling the same way, Mister President, and so are most of the Honourable Members. But we have a state of health emergency, we have a serious crisis, we have a serious pandemic which is raging throughout the world, but above all in Europe. What does that mean for us? It not only changes our meeting and our cooperation, which is incomparably more difficult. I could tell you long stories about how difficult this is, especially in the European Union, where many things cannot take place at all in the Council, for example, unless we come together physically. You are affected by this in exactly the same way. I hope that you will be able to meet again in January, in whatever format - hybrid or physical or virtual - because we need you. It is very important because we need you.

We will certainly talk about the new sanctions mechanism again this morning. We want to take it forward, even after many controversial discussions in recent months. But of course we also need the Rules of Procedure to be amended, and for that we need a corresponding vote in the Parliamentary Assembly. I am naturally disappointed, as is my esteemed Greek colleague. I know that our Greek friends also wanted to cope with the Presidency with great commitment and that they too have been slowed down in part by the virus. Of course I would also have liked us to really get the Athens Declaration off the ground unanimously, because it also makes it clear that the pandemic also has serious economic and social consequences.

Of course, the issue also has implications for the protection of human rights, for the role of families and for citizens. The question is, how responsibly do states deal with their human rights and democratic obligations even during the pandemic? What exactly do we have in mind? I will only mention a few points, because I am looking forward to your questions. As a convinced European, I have been working for years to ensure that the obligations arising from the Lisbon Treaty for the European Union, namely also to accede to the Convention on Human Rights, are now finally brought to a successful conclusion. I know how complicated this is, and I also know that there are reservations in the Council of Europe along the lines of: now we have to create special rules for the European Union. Ladies and gentlemen, Mister President, I am very much convinced that it is also in the interests of those states that are not or not yet members of the European Union to accede to the Convention on Human Rights. We also want to give these negotiations 47 + 1 a new dynamic and we want to make every effort to move closer to the accession of the European Union. To achieve this, we need to create flexibility in the European Union, but we also need a constructive spirit in the Council of Europe as a whole, and if we can make a contribution there as bridge-builders, as moderators and as promoters, we naturally want to do so. We will also be holding a series of conferences in order to make it clear what our core concerns are.

On 9 December we will be holding a major conference in Berlin to mark the 70th anniversary of the European Convention on Human Rights. I am quite sure that we will also have to talk about where the problems actually lie. The main one is that judgments of the European Court of Human Rights are not always implemented. That weakens us all, and the question arises as to what contribution we can make. Here, too, I want to make it clear once again that we will of course always try, within the bounds of our possibilities, to help states to meet their obligations. What are the great tests that we are currently facing, and you, Misterr President, have already mentioned some important points, as is your custom - you also provide services for me. What does it actually mean to enforce human rights in the digital age? We want to make good progress on this, because ethical principles are also at stake and the nation state cannot regulate anything on its own. You mentioned one, that is artificial intelligence. We need a legal framework, a legal instrument, preferably a framework convention. That is what we want to work towards, a framework convention which commits all the member States of the Council of Europe accordingly. We also want to organise a conference on this in January. A second important point with which you have all no doubt had your own experiences, painful experiences, is hatred and lies on the Net. So how do we deal with hate speech? Here too we need appropriate protection. Because you also mentioned the pandemic and the Istanbul Convention, we are concerned that states that support the Istanbul Convention and have acceded to it are considering withdrawing from it. On the other hand, we also want to encourage other states to accede to the important Istanbul Convention. It has been in force since 2017 and it is a very, very important benchmark, yet we all note the appalling figures. In times of a pandemic, domestic violence against women has increased significantly and we cannot, ladies and gentlemen, close our eyes to this.

Then I would like to conclude with another point, because Europe is supposed to be the place where we can all be different without fear, but unfortunately we are not. We do not live up to our own aspirations and that is why human rights policy is always minority policy. As a rule, the majority society need not have much to worry about. But minorities are in demand, and there are two priorities for us. We focus on the minorities, who are almost always among the losers, who are almost always the first to fall victim to discrimination and exclusion. These are LGBTI, and there is still a great deal to be done in the Council of Europe. We must make it clear here that LGBTI rights are not special rights or privileges; they are human rights. Then we will put special emphasis on the largest ethnic minority in Europe, the Roma - and twelve million people who are exposed to exclusion and oppression almost everywhere in Europe. We need a new start here. And here I would like to include the young Roma in particular.

Now, I come to the next point that is important to me. The Council of Europe is not just an invitation to politicians or to non-governmental organisations. Above all, we see a special responsibility here to involve young people more closely. We are also in close contact with the Council of Europe's Youth Advisory Council to this end. We want to involve young people more in our work because we want to win young people over to commitment and to a fight for human rights, democracy and the rule of law. The Council of Europe should once again become the conscience of Europe in matters of human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

Many will say that now he has been spouting or shooting his mouth off. It's true as it's my nature. But of course, I also admit very self-critically and you know this better than I do that in six months we will not be able to change Europe from the bottom up. You should be able to rely on us making our contribution to making things work better by being available as interlocutors, always trying to build bridges between the various institutions of the Council of Europe and by promoting ideas that are important to us.

We do not only want to meet our financial obligations. We also want to make a clearer financial contribution, but to be honest, we should not talk about the financial points in this way, because for me it is also a matter of course. Build on us, bet on us. Because I am my government's representative for this presidency, we will have to deal with each other more often in the coming months. I look forward to working with you. I am very curious. I am looking forward to what I can learn anew. I have already been briefed very well by my colleagues from my German delegation and in this respect I feel very secure today. I am now also looking forward to the discussion and exchange with you. Thank you very much, Mister President.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

09:55:52

Thank you Mr Michael ROTH for your interesting and comprehensive statement. You do touch a sensitive point, namely the fact that only meeting by video is not exactly the way that we can in a very efficient way have things move forward, for the simple reason that the essence of political debate is seeing each other physically and being able to persuade colleagues or be persuaded by colleagues, because this is the way that we function. And we do see there is some kind of a video fatigue that might come up which is why we absolutely are prepared already, as of this instant, to have a physical meeting as of January. Obviously it is not probably possible for all delegations to be able to be here, but again, those who wish to be present will be able to do so.

You do touch on another issue which is very important to us, namely the fact that the issue of human rights is not an issue of the majority. You might call it, in maybe a bit of a controversial way, but there is no such thing as the dictatorship of the majority. I say it a bit harshly, but we do see in certain instances that a majority abuses its power, neglecting the rights of minorities – however you might define them – so this is certainly an issue that we have on board in our work. It is true that you cannot change or build up Europe in a six-month period, but you can put a number of pebbles in the river that have the course of the river change slightly and if we build on that we do have an impact in a six-month period. We've seen that before you.

Just to give you one example, we believe that the Athens Declaration which has been forwarded by the Greek presidency is of paramount importance even in the sense that we have it on our agenda today. You touched upon the finances, we're not going to go into that, but obviously I think that many of our members ears became bigger when you touched upon it. So let's not dig into it, we will see what it means afterwards, but it is interesting to hear this.

Let me now go immediately to the questions. We will limit, dear colleagues, the questions to one minute. I have 25 people on the list which means that many of us are very interested in what you have to say. We will start off with the representatives of the political groups, we've got five political groups, Mr ROTH. I will take those five in one batch, I will allow you then to respond. If you could be concise, because I would like to cater to as many people as possible and we already have half of our time being done. Maybe we can go over time a few minutes because it is important enough.

So let's head out now to the representatives of the political groups, again I´ll take all five at once, after which I will give you the floor. For the Socialist Democrats and Greens I have Ms Selin SAYEK BÖKE. You have the floor.

Miss Selin SAYEK BÖKE, if you can ask for the floor again. Of course, since we are for the first in the hemicycle we might have a few bugs as they say. She disappeared. Okay, let me go then to Mr Aleksander POCIEJ... No, we've got Ms Selin SAYEK BÖKE. You've got the floor

Ms Selin SAYEK BÖKE

Turkey, SOC

10:00:30

Thank you very much.

So, Mr Michael ROTH, you mentioned AI is already sweeping into our lives with very huge potential, but also bearing risks.

So the first question is "can you give us a timeline of the progress you foresee for CAHAI's work on this legal binding instrument regarding AI?".

And the second question is, there is a fine line regarding personal data involved in AI and so the data governance structures are very critical. How how will the data governance structures be made an integral part of democratic governance structures? So that we ensure that political pressures from states do not interfere with privacy of data? And also of interference by big firms?

And the third question is: the Council of Europe clearly has a value added in the areas of democracy and human rights and rule of law, can you give us a sense of how the collaboration is going across international organizations regarding AI?

And lastly, the youth initiatives is extremely critical, is there any plans for integrating the youth in terms of the AI work that the Council will be progressing on?

Thank you very much.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

10:01:41

Thank you very much, we now have for EPP Mr Aleksander POCIEJ.

Alex, you've got the floor.

Mr Aleksander POCIEJ

Poland, EPP/CD

10:01:49

Minister,

On behalf of the PPE Group, I would like to thank you for this presentation. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Greek President, who has done an outstanding job despite the many challenges we have faced.

We all very much regret not being able to work in Greece surrounded by the cultural actors and actresses of Europe.

Mr Minister,

It should be noted that the management of the crisis by some States is leading to the weakening of democratic systems. It is time to strengthen the implementation of the rights and obligations enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights. In this respect, the inclusion of the Court's judgments among your priorities is very important. But now the question must be asked: how could the Council of Ministers, which has real power in our Organisation, better give life to our recommendations and how could it enjoin countries to exercise their duties. Thank you very much!

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

10:03:19

Thank you, Aleksander. Thank you for keeping to the minute, please.

The next speaker on the list for the ALDE is Mr Jacques MAIRE.

Mr Jacques MAIRE

France, ALDE

10:03:36

Yes, thank you, Mr President.

Minister, first of all, bravo and thank you for your commitment. You know that the Council of Europe needs more than ever a dynamic and involved presidency of the Council of Ministers, because this period is both a context of weakening of our meetings and our collective dynamic, but also a context of increasing risk.

We were very concerned about what happened with all the efforts of the excellent Greek presidency when the last Athens Declaration was adopted. We think that this is a bad signal, at a time when we need even more commitment from the Council of Ministers, both in terms of safeguarding the acquis of the Council of Europe but also in terms of the way in which this is applied. We really saw a major difficulty.

So my question is: what are the political and practical consequences that you draw from the divisions within the Council revealed in the Athens Declaration?

Thank you.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

10:04:40

Mercy, Mr Jacques MAIRE.

Next on my list for the European Conservatives is Mr John HOWELL.

Mr John HOWELL, you got the floor.

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC/DA

10:04:57

Thank you, Mr President.

Mr Michael ROTH, it's lovely to see you. You've set out very clearly some of the challenges faced by the Council of Europe and I appreciate the points that you've made there. But a number of us have been struggling to ensure that what the Council of Europe does is much more relevant to the lives of ordinary people across the wider Europe.

You have suggested that we bring young people in, which is a suggestion that I agree with. But could you set out much more clearly how you think that we are going to make the Council of Europe much more relevant across the whole of Europe?

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

10:05:38

Thank you, Mr John HOWELL.

We now go to the representative of the United European Left, Mr Tiny KOX.

Tiny, you have the floor.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL

10:05:50

Thank you, Mr Minister. It's great to hear you and I very much agree with you that we should do our utmost to keep problematic members, too, in the organization, because it's in the benefit of their citizens. I very much agree with you. We have a lot of them, but one of them is Turkey with record numbers of arrested imprisoned journalists, politicians, academics and with a clear refusal to execute verdicts of the courts, for example in the case of Mr Kavala and Mr Demirtas. How, Mr Minister, how will you try to convince this problematic member State to live up to its obligation? We want to keep them with us these problematic member states, but they should also deliver something. You cannot be a member State of the Council of Europe for free. You have to implement the verdicts of the courts and you have to respect fundamental rights and freedoms that are enshrined in our convention. So, could you please tell us how in practice you will operate with these problematic member States? Thank you very much.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

10:07:01

Thank you, Tiny.

Mr Michael ROTH, you have the floor.

Mr Michael Roth

Minister of State for Europe at the Federal Foreign Office of Germany, Special Representative of the Federal Government for the German Presidency of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe

10:07:08

Thank you very much, Mister President, and also a warm thank you to the chairmen of the political groups for your questions and for your comments. I will be very brief. Our time is limited and this is only the beginning of a discussion that I hope can be continued as soon as possible.

The big one-trillion-euro question is the one about the significance of the Council of Europe and how the Council of Europe can be strengthened as an instrument and as a forum for human rights and democracy and the rule of law. Of course, we also want to contribute with our chairmanship to increasing the visibility of the Council of Europe, also through public events. That is why, I know that some people are always very sceptical about conferences, but we want to organise a whole series of events. I readily admit that under the most difficult circumstances, but also to make it clear, that the Council of Europe is needed now. Perhaps more urgently than ever because we are also losing certainties in states which have always been regarded as unquestionably democratic and committed to the rule of law. We no longer have these certainties in this world today, and that applies not only at international level, but above all throughout Europe.

The role of young people has been mentioned. We will of course invite young people accordingly. We have also once again increased the Council of Europe's resources for youth work in order to find ways of involving young people more closely in our work. We must take them seriously, and we must invite them. Above all we must listen to them. When it comes to young people and this is the work that has been mentioned in connection with artificial intelligence, there is a feasibility study on the subject, which is to be adopted by the committee in December, and then we hope for a clever mix of legally binding means and recommendations. You know what that means, and I believe that this mix will also help us to become much better than we have been up to now. Young people are of course much more affine in this digital era. They are also much more natural in dealing with the tests of endurance, which is why we would be stupid if we did not make young people the focus of our commitment here, too. What may still be alienating to some of you, digitalisation, including the new technologies, is for most young people a pure matter of course. The most important question you have asked, though, is whether we are actually dealing with those states that do not implement the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights in the way they should actually be obliged to.

Germany - and I would like to point this out - has already chaired the relevant Committee of Ministers' format for human rights in the past six months. The marches have made us very, very much aware of the implementation of judgments. Progress has been made in some cases, but there are also prominent cases such as Kavala, who has been mentioned, which is not being implemented. For us that means that we will not tire of this. We will not keep quiet. Instead we will always bring these cases to the attention of the public. We will also hold talks behind the scenes. Just to illustrate once again how things stand at the moment, I rarely deal with figures like this. Perhaps it will help to illustrate a bit how the situation is at present in the Council of Europe. Turkey is currently implementing 80% of the judgments while Russia is currently implementing 40% of the judgments. Perhaps this will help a little bit to set the situation straight. Every judgment, every single judgment - I do not want to quantify it - every judgment that is not implemented is one too few.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

10:11:25

Ok, Minister, we now go to the next questions. As you know, I take the questions in the order of people asking for the floor and always giving priority to one country. When I have more than one speaker of the same country, I have to put them below, having different countries first.

I will take the questions three by three, Minister, after which I request to have a concise answer.

The first three ones I have on my list are Mr Nicos TORNARITIS from Cyprus, Mr Tony LLOYD from the UK, and Mr Akif Çağatay KILIÇ from Turkey.

Mr Nicos TORNARITIS, you have the floor.

Mr Nicos TORNARITIS

Cyprus, EPP/CD

10:12:16

Thank you very much, Mr President. Dear Chairman, I wish you a very successful chairmanship, first of all. Many challenges remain. Of serious concern are Turkish illegal actions in the Eastern Mediterranean, the recent moves of Mr Erdogan in the city of Famagusta are unacceptable and deplorable. Greek Cypriots, but also many Turkish Cypriots, have condemned this act. Turkey must abandon its expansionist policies in Cyprus and let the two communities build their common future on the basis of the agreed UN framework without interference. Minister Jebel Ali has bitter experiences from the past, but has also achieved reunification. How can the German presidency urge Turkey to give peace a chance in Cyprus?

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

10:13:23

Thank you very much, I'll now go to Mr Tony LLOYD from the UK.

 

Mr Tony LLOYD

United Kingdom, SOC

10:13:37

Mr President, can I give a big thanks to Mr Michael ROTH for his presence, but also his early remarks on the the Roma, a group of people who are at a massive disadvantage across our continent.

But can I turn briefly to Belarus: we know that the recent election was fraudulent and I pay tribute to the opposition voices led by Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya. I also very strongly welcome the decision of the European Union and my own country on the sanctions regime.

But the two questions that I want to ask to the Minister would be: how far can he in this present role lead, beyond the European Union, those willing in the Council of Europe to bring proper pressure on Belarus for change? And whether Belarus would be a good example of one of those issues in Europe that would warrant the the kind of conference that the minister spoke about leading over the next six months?

Thank you

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

10:14:42

Thank you very much. Next on my list is Mr Akif Çağatay KILIÇ from Turkey, you have the floor.

Mr Akif Çağatay KILIÇ

Turkey, NR

10:14:58

Good morning from Ankara and good morning, Herr HOTH.

We know each other well, so I'm just going to go to the questions of my remarks straight on to save time. Sharing intelligence, the deplorable terrorist attacks that happened in Austria, and unfortunately, some of which happened before in France: now we have information that the perpetrators of these terrorist attacks, these murderers, were sent back from Turkey, from the border, to European countries with the information that they affiliate themselves a terrorist organisations. However, they went into the streets and were able to do these attacks, so I think the security intelligence approaches of the European continent have to be looked at, what are your thoughts on that? 

And my second very quick question, Germany has been able to develop a vaccine, as we hear from the press, for coronavirus. How do you think that we will be able to share this this vaccine with other countries? Thank you very much. 

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

10:16:03

Thank you very much, we now go to the Minister.

Mr Michael ROTH, you have the floor.

Mr Michael Roth

Minister of State for Europe at the Federal Foreign Office of Germany, Special Representative of the Federal Government for the German Presidency of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe

10:16:11

Thank you very much.

Regarding the first question, namely the conflict in the eastern Mediterranean, the European Union is very closely involved in this issue. It has made it clear that there will be no military solution, but that there must be a political resolution of this conflict. And as part of its Presidency, Germany has also taken on a special task here, namely to develop a political thread of dialogue between the actors which will help to solve these problems diplomatically and politically. That does not mean, however, that we have nothing to say, but there are clear declarations of solidarity by the European Union, including towards Greece and Cyprus. We, of course, have an advantage in the Council of Europe because both Cyprus and Greece, as well as Turkey, are members of the Council of Europe. That means that we can come together within one institution to engage in the necessary dialogue. Once again, we view this situation with great concern, and we are always mindful of the dangers involved in one country not abiding by the rules. If we see provocation, then we all need to sit around the negotiating table and try to find a practicable solution.

 

Moving on to the second question, namely Belarus. This is very close to my heart so I am very grateful for the question. Regardless of the clear desire of the people of Belarus for freedom, democracy, the rule of law and human rights, it is clearly in Europe's interest to find a way forward. That Council of Europe has repeatedly made it clear that we stand alongside those people who stand for freedom, who stand for peace, who stand for understanding and for human rights. After all, in our declaration, we stated that the elections were fraudulent and that we do not recognise the president of the country. I am also very grateful that the outstanding representatives of the Council of Europe have condemned the developments there and have made it clear that violence against peaceful demonstrators must cease. I would like to single out the Commissioner for Human Rights and the Secretary-General, who has made a number of clear statements in this regard. We hope that the protests in the streets will lead to a political process that will culminate in democracy, the rule of law, and human rights in Belarus. The Council of Europe, of course, has a particular role to play in this. We want to see a round table, as well as a constitutional process, involving both the opposition and civil society. The expertise of the Venice Commission could make a very important contribution here.

 

Reference has been made to the problem of returnees, i.e. those with an Islamist background. That is a test, a great danger for all of us in Europe. My second point, which I would like to touch on briefly, is vaccination. We are delighted that we may well have an opportunity as early as December to protect people better with a high-quality vaccine, and our efforts, as well as those of the European Union, are geared towards ensuring that people everywhere have access to the vaccines. The European Commission has secured hundreds of millions of doses so that people everywhere have access to them, and so that it is not a question of money or postcode whether one gets this protection. We will support this process because we all know that the virus has no passport and that it does not care about national borders. In other words, it is in our best interest for people everywhere to be protected, and we will do everything we can to make that a reality.

Thank you.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

10:21:16

Danke. If the Minister agrees, we will go until 10:45, because otherwise we have too many members that cannot have a question out, knowing that we will not be able to have all of them. Again, I will make sure that every country gets its question out.

The next three on my list is Ms SCHOU, followed by Mr KATROUGKALOS, followed by Ms BAYR. Ms SCHOU, you have the floor.

Ms Ingjerd SCHOU

Norway, EPP/CD

10:21:55

Minister Michael ROTH, good to see you and here's a question from Norway. As you are taking over the chairmanship from Greece you are about to lose the German EU presidency. What is the potential, do you think, for closer cooperation between the two organizations with regard to the common values, human rights and rule of law and democracy? And more specifically now, could you update us on the status of the negotiations on accession to the European Convention on Human Rights?

Thank you

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

10:22:38

Thank you Ms Ingjerd SCHOU. We now have Mr Georgios KATROUGKALOS from Greece. Mr Georgios KATROUGKALOS, you have the floor.

Mr Georgios KATROUGKALOS

Greece, UEL

10:22:53

Mr Minister, dear Michael, first of all I would like to comment on your position regarding the adhesion of the European Union to the European Convention of Human Rights. And my first question will be: how would you think also annexation to the European Social Charter? You have recently ratified the revised charter, social inequalities have risen during the pandemic. I think that it is a very necessary step for the European Union.

My second question is that you have very rightly said that conflicts should be resolved through dialogue. But dialogue, like tango, needs two. How are we supposed to react with players who do not abide by the rules and violate the national legality. Turkey is a first example, but it is not the only one.

Thank you, Michael. 

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

10:23:52

Thank you, we now go to Ms Petra BAYR from Austria.

You have the floor.

Ms Petra BAYR

Austria, SOC

10:24:00

Thank you, Rick. Good morning, Minister of State ROTH.

I think it is very important that you mentioned the Istanbul Convention, which is the most effective instrument we have to avert violence against women, and also the fact that you mentioned the rights of LGBTI persons.

I would be interested to know what kinds of resources and strategies Germany plans to use in this fight, and what we can do as the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to best support you in ensuring that these human rights are not undermined. Thank you very much.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

10:24:40

Thank you. Mr Minister, you have the floor.

Mr Michael Roth

Minister of State for Europe at the Federal Foreign Office of Germany, Special Representative of the Federal Government for the German Presidency of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe

10:24:44

Yes, thank you very much to all colleagues.

Cooperation between the European Union and the Council of Europe, as we have already indicated, is a central focus for us in the European Union -- one that is reflected in the Lisbon Treaty -- and the EU is poised to accede to the European Court of Human Rights. I believe there are two problems here.

Firstly, the Court of Human Rights has created a hurdle with regard to the Common Foreign and Security Policy. Secondly, there is concern among the non-EU Member States of the Council of Europe, who believe that special rules will have to be created for the EU. I believe that we can go some way to allaying those concerns, and it is in all of our interest, in addition to being a benefit to the European Union. We want to make sure we put a date on accession, not at some point in the future but as soon as possible. And then there are other forms of cooperation, which are often going on in the background but which are extremely important. For example, the Venice Commission, which is highly regarded for its expertise, it is not true that it only operates in countries that are not members of the EU.

I can recall a number of conflicts concerning the independence of the judiciary or constitutional processes, and EU member States have turned to the Venice Commission to arbitrate. They have come forward with mediation remedies and with recommendations, so the Venice Commission is an extremely important instrument for members of the European Union as well.

I can only agree with the wording of the Social Charter, as the social consequences of the pandemic cannot yet be assessed. That is why we hold the work of the Development Bank in high regard and also very much support its work. It provides financial assistance to many social projects, especially in those countries and regions which do not have much in the way of financial resources.

Since you probably also insinuated a bit with your question about how things actually stand in Germany, I would like to pass on the good news that the Bundestag has been ratifying the revised Social Charter for some time now, but a few days ago the Bundesrat, Germany's second chamber, also ratified it, which means that we are now on the verge of concluding this very complicated and very lengthy ratification process in Germany.

Then a very central question was raised again, to which I am probably not able to give a fully satisfactory answer: what do we do about States that do not fulfil their obligations? And here we have been intensely discussing a new sanction mechanism in recent months. Germany has participated very actively in this process and we hope that the sanctions mechanism can be adopted at the January meeting. We also believe this new sanctions mechanism should be applied where valid, and we will help to ensure its application. As you all know, Article 46 is a very heavy-handed instrument. I am not going to characterise it as being some kind of a nuclear weapon, but I believe it is more of a theoretical construct, but it is an option. That is why we hope that the sanctions mechanism will also lead to greater discipline on behalf of the countries in sticking to their commitments.

The last question regards minorities. It is important, first of all, that we give minorities a platform, that we take their concerns seriously, that we treat them as equals, that we show them respect, and that we make it clear that the Council of Europe is taking care of them. Not in any kind of paternalistic way, though, but as a matter of course. They are citizens. And minority rights always mean protecting people, no matter who they believe in or whether they believe at all, and regardless of where they come from or where they live. It might sound provocative to some, but this is the basis on which the Council of Europe is built. We are in the 21st century and it is time that we perhaps fine-tuned the instruments we already have to improve the protection of minorities. This is a vast undertaking, of course, which we will certainly not complete in six months, but we want to breathe new life into the process.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

10:30:06

Thank you.

The next three speakers are Ms BERLINGHIERI from Italy, Mr SCHWABE of Germany and Mr JALLOW from Sweden.

Ms BERLINGHIERI you have the floor. Okay, Ms BERLINGHIERI, if you can ask for the floor again. If not we now will go to Mr SCHWABE and we come back to you afterwards. Mr SCHWABE, okay Ms BERLINGHIERI is there. Okay, SCHWABE please wait. Frank, gone again. Okay, let's go for Ms BERLINGHIERI, Marina. Is it working?

Ms Marina BERLINGHIERI

Italy, SOC

10:31:03

Excuse me.

Good morning everyone, it's a pleasure to meet Minister Michael ROTH here too.

I wanted to return to the question of the rule of law.

We have seen that the rule of law has now become central to the fight against the pandemic.

My question is very brief and quick. Is it possible to think about a greater link between the European institutions, the Council and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to elaborate a reflection on how respect for the rule of law can really be a direct point...

[the sound is cut]

Thank you.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

10:31:56

Thank you, may I remind our colleagues to put your laptop on "floor", down left. Because if you keep it on "language" we get a double sound. So down left, please, put it on "floor" when you get the floor.

Mr Frank SCHWABE, you have the floor.

Mr Frank SCHWABE

Germany, SOC

10:32:16

Thank you, Mr President, Minister of State. Dear Michael, you have described the difficult situation of human rights that we have overall. But I believe that there are also opportunities to achieve a turnaround, perhaps now, against the background of the developments in the United States, and I believe that it would be a very encouraging situation for the Council of Europe if we did not lose Member States, but actually gained them. And I think Belarus could become the 48th Member State, of course under certain conditions. And I think it would be a good thing if the German Presidency could perhaps call it that and push it forward accordingly.

The second thing is that the organisation's red lines have been addressed and we do not want to lose anyone, but the red lines are to allow access to the country, to make monitoring possible and to implement the court rulings. We had the Article 46(4) procedure against Azerbaijan in the Mammadov case and it has certainly had some effect and it is no use if there are Member States that do not want to implement definitive centralised rulings, then I encourage the Presidency to talk about these variants.

One last request: please take a look at the financial situation of the Council of Europe, this important institution, and do everything you can to strengthen it financially.

Thank you, all the best.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

10:33:35

Thank you.

We now go to Mr Momodou Malcolm JALLOW from Sweden.

We need to speed up a little bit, dear colleagues.

Mr Momodou Malcolm JALLOW, you have the floor.

Mr Momodou Malcolm JALLOW

Sweden, UEL

10:33:49

Thank you very much, Mr President, and thank you very much, honourable Minister, and congratulations for the Presidency.

I was very happy to hear some of the priorities that were mentioned especially when it comes to the priority on focusing on minorities and minority rights. I'm very happy that we're lifting the Roma because I think that's that's extremely important. But, I also wanted to ask, in light of all the discussions that are taking place in regards to the Black Lives Matters movement and all the demonstrations that we've been having in Europe, do you the Minister, during your Presidency, have any plans on focusing also on people of African descent, even though throughout all these years there is a history of neglect, generations after generations, who were 14 or15 million black people living in Europe with a large number of them living in Germany. What are the plans? Are there any plans on making sure that this particular group is also - the protection of their rights - is also a part of your Presidency?

And then lastly I wanted to ask...

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

10:35:01

You are going over your minute. I'm sorry I have to interrupt you.

Mr Minister, you have the floor.

Otherwise we've got so many colleagues asking questions. Sir, I do apologize.

Mr Minister.

Mr Michael Roth

Minister of State for Europe at the Federal Foreign Office of Germany, Special Representative of the Federal Government for the German Presidency of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe

10:35:13

I'll make it short and sweet.

First of all, I am also grateful for the comment "what else are we doing for other minorities", racism is one of the central hostages of the 21st century. After all, we all had the somewhat naive hope that racism would decline in a globalised world in which borders would also become less important. But we experience institutional racism, we experience social racism almost everywhere, that is a heavy burden and it is of course also directed at people who come from other continents, who look different and I think that we have to make it clear here that these issues are in principle the common thread running through the whole work of the Council of Europe.

Once again, human rights policy accepts, defends and strengthens the dignity of every individual human being, irrespective of his or her ethnicity, religiousness, sexual orientation and origin. I think we have to do this as strongly as we can, and perhaps you can help us in this.

Belarus is my great dream, but not just today and not just since the peaceful demonstration in Belarus; I was in the country several times when the EU lifted the sanctions against Belarus, and I was the first German government representative to travel to Belarus in the hope that we would also make progress in abolishing the death penalty. After all, we had the moratorium, and you all know that a country that still uses the death penalty as a punishment cannot join the Council of Europe. And that is of course one of the central demands, one of the central expectations, of a democratised, liberated Belarusian society, a Belarusian society committed to human rights. And politics should of course also refrain from this, and if in the coming weeks and months we were to enter into this dynamic of a constitutional process, I of course also see an important role for the Council of Europe, then we could all become godfathers and godmothers of more democracy in Europe, and if we can make a contribution to this, that would of course be quite wonderful.

Frank, you of course mentioned the difficult financial situation of the Council of Europe, and I know that there is a strict austerity policy. There is now the moderate increase with this technical term zero real growth, you know that much better than I do, and we will of course continue to work to ensure that the Council of Europe is adequately funded. On the one hand, we need the reforms to be continued, so that the Council of Europe really does concentrate on its central tasks and becomes more effective and checks everything. It is already doing so to some extent. On the other hand, the relatively modest sums of money that are also made available to the Council of Europe by the Member States should always be viewed very favourably. Germany does not want to rise above others here, we are just as good and just as bad as others, I always dislike it when I talk so proudly about our own resources, but after all we have had voluntary additional contributions for years. Over the years they were one million, now they are two million, and we want to increase them significantly again next year. I have also spoken again about youth work, which is very close to my heart, where we want to make an extra €400 000 available for the European Youth Centre with its locations in Strasbourg and Budapest and for the European Youth Office. These are all small contributions, but if other states perhaps also participate, we could improve the difficult financial situation.

The last question, on which I have already spoken several times, is the question of the rule of law. Yes, as a representative of the European Union, of which I am also currently a member, I have to say that in a very self-critical way; who could have imagined that we would one day have a serious discussion within the EU about how the principles of the rule of law could be better observed? We now have in the German Presidency of the Council, we will introduce two new instruments. We have just introduced the rule of law check, the dialogue on the rule of law, which all EU Member States must undergo by checking the state of the rule of law everywhere, looking to see where things are going well, where things are going less well and where there are corresponding gravamas and - this is still a matter of controversy at present - also the rule of law mechanism, that is to say the possible reduction of EU funds if the principles of the rule of law are not observed.

I have already referred to the beneficial work of the Venice Commission, and I can well imagine that we might perhaps take a rather more systematic look again at how the two institutions, the two forums of democracy, can cooperate even more closely and interlink their work in a way that is also respectful of each other.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

10:40:32

Thank you.

We have time for four more questions, which means that I will then have had every country who requested the floor on board. This means that I have first Ms Petra STIENEN from the Netherlands, then Mr Hovhannes IGITYAN from Armenia, Mr Samad SEYIDOV from Azerbaijan, and Ms Maria JUFEREVA-SKURATOVSKI from Estonia.

Ms Petra STIENEN, you have the floor.

Ms Petra STIENEN

Netherlands, ALDE

10:41:03

Yes, good morning everybody.

Dear Minister Minister, I am very pleased to hear your priorities for LGBT Roma rights and especially the focus on the Istanbul Convention and gender equality. I've been the rapporteur for the COVID report on human rights, equality and non-discrimination and I'm also the rapporteur for the Gender Dimensions of Foreign Policy. And, indeed, women's rights are human rights and no country can celebrate equality when the rights of minorities are not fully respected. But my question is about yesterday. Yesterday was International Men's Day. It's not as famous as International Women's day, yes, I see Mr Rik DAEMS smiling, the 19th of November, indeed. The focus was on better health for men and boys with the aim to make practical improvements for the health and well-being of the male population. I think this is very relevant because there is an over representation of men and boys, with many dying and suffering from COVID-19. My question is, in your presidency, how will you include in your focus on gender equality, the role, rights and responsibilities of men and boys in gender equality and how can we as PACE, and especially the PACE Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination, be of assistance.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

10:42:25

Thank you. Thank you very much. We now have Mr Hovhannes IGITYAN from Armenia. One minute please.

Mr Hovhannes IGITYAN

Armenia, ALDE, President of the Assembly

10:42:43

Dear President, dear Minister, thank you.

So you already answered a lot of questions I would like to announce, but one other very important thing, how we can restore the reputation of Council of Europe? I mean per se and the Committee of Ministers. I think we need very, very urgently one success story. Look, we are not a club, we are not NGO, we have a lot of resolutions, we discuss these resolutions, we make them urgent but it doesn't work. You talk to the Minister about the mechanism of implementation: that's very important, but we need very urgently a success story. For example, how we can stop Turkey, how we can force Turkey to respect human rights, not only inside of this country but also outside. Thank you very much.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

10:43:49

Thank you.

Now we go to Mr Samad SEYIDOV from Azerbaijan.

One minute sharp, please.

Mr Samad SEYIDOV

Azerbaijan, EC/DA

10:44:01

Thank you very much Mr President. I will be very brief. Let me first of all congratulate you on this presentation, Mr Minister, and express my gratitude. And at the same time, as a representative of the country in which we just recently restored internationally recognized bodies, we quite clearly understand what terror occupation means along with other difficulties and problems. Unfortunately, we observed a great deal of violation of human rights in Armenia. How will the committee of ministers activate their efforts in order to preserve human rights and other issues in our neighboring country? After all, this is extremely important for the peace that we try to import to our region. Thank you very much, Mr President.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

10:45:01

Thank you very much.

We now have Ms Maria JUFEREVA-SKURATOVSKI, and I see that Ms Yelyzaveta YASKO from Ukraine also asked for the floor. So we'll give both the floor so every country has had the opportunity.

Ms Maria JUFEREVA-SKURATOVSKI, one minute sharp, please.

Ms Maria JUFEREVA-SKURATOVSKI

Estonia, ALDE

10:45:16

Mr President, Minister, I'm really happy about the presidency of Germany and I can see that the priorities that you have outlined are very very important. I also would like to stress the topic of youth. In Estonia for example, and in all of Europe, we have such a problem that many young people are not involved in employment and training and education. And I also want to support you in your intention to provide such young people with some kind of possibility to take part in such a process. And I think that the aim of members of PACE is to give appropriate information to young people in their countries.

Thank you.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

10:46:21

Thank you Ms YASKO, and this concludes the list. Ms YASKO, one minute sharp.

Ms Yelyzaveta YASKO

Ukraine, EPP/CD

10:46:40

Good morning or good afternoon, I have quite a rhetorical and quite a hard question about the world of international organizations. We know that International organizations, many of them, including PACE and the Council of Europe, are in crisis because the things that we decide are not implemented sometimes at the member states.

So, what mechanisms could, short-term and long-term actually, really ensure that the human rights protection is happening in the member states?

Thank you.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

10:47:24

Thank you, Mr Minister.

Mr Michael Roth

Minister of State for Europe at the Federal Foreign Office of Germany, Special Representative of the Federal Government for the German Presidency of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe

10:47:27

I will be very frank, Mr President and ladies and gentlemen, because I have been astonished by some of the questions.

To be quite honest, do you seriously believe that the Council of Europe can stop massive human rights violations? The Council of Europe can stop the constant breaches of international law on its own? I cannot answer this question in this way. After all, something would be done if all the Member States of the European Union were to adhere to exactly what they have committed themselves to. This is not a kindergarten event.

I must tell you quite honestly that we cannot, we have no military capabilities. At the end of the day, there is only one thing left for us, and that is the word, that is the conversation, that is the exchange. And we have also found that in the end that is not quite enough. That is why you and all of us have tried to create new instruments through the new sanctions mechanism, which we hope will also come into force at the beginning of next year. But I do not expect that this will solve all the problems. Something must change up here. The attitude must change. We are decomposed by authoritarianism, by nationalism, by populism. This is a worldwide movement. If you think that you can satisfy nationalism by creating military conflicts, yes, then in the end the people suffer.

It's the same with young people; when I talk to young people, wherever they are, they don't just want jobs. They want freedom, they want to be able to live in dignity, they want to live as they see fit, they do not want to be constantly bullied, oppressed and marginalised. I could tell you quite honestly and cynically that we in Germany benefit from the brain training, but that cannot be our answer.

Without the young generation, no state can build a promising future for itself, which is why you need the people in your own countries. And democracy and the rule of law are also the prerequisites for financial commitment, for investment, for greater competitiveness, for social stability, for prosperity for as many citizens as possible. If the poison of corruption no longer flows as it does at present, if we fight corruption more vigorously, then young people will also regain confidence in their home countries, and that too should be an important aspect of the Council of Europe's work.

When I was asked about Men's Day, I was a bit surprised, yes, men are of course just as much facing up to the dangers and risks of this pandemic. But I also have a quite different focus. As a feminist and also as someone who is committed to gender justice, I am currently fighting to take away people's concern that gender is a fighting concept. Gender is not a fighting term. We are currently having a discussion in the European Union about the fact that the term gender must no longer appear in documents. Gender does not mean that we leave patriarchy and then introduce matriarchy. Gender equality means that everyone is equally involved, that there is equality of rights and social equality.

We can be glad that the Council of Europe has the Istanbul Convention, which obviously still does not seem to be a matter of course in the 21st century, because violence against women, especially in the family and private sphere, is still not being outlawed, which is something we urgently need. But that too is a test and an obligation for all of us. I fear that - I did not want to provoke you now, I just wanted to point out the limitations of the Council of Europe. Because we too do not have a button we can press according to the motto "but now human rights apply everywhere, now everyone sticks to the rules, now we can pacify all conflicts". And the tragedy which took place between Azerbaijan and Armenia I could not look at in detail now. But I like to do it also on occasion.

I thank you from the bottom of my heart for the invitation, for the very open discussion, for the many questions and I am at your service.

Exchange of views with Mr Robert Spano, President of the European Court of Human Rights

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

10:52:17

Thank you, Mr Minister.

It is always good to see a person with a passion. Why? Because it is only with conviction that we can move forward, and you rightfully stress the fact that we do see a rise of authoritarianism and populism and extremism, and we have to fight against it from the Council of Europe, as from so many other instances, so thank you for your answers. We will see each other again, and as you see, we still have more than I think 12 people wanting to put questions to you, so we'll need to zoom in somewhere a new opportunity for all these colleagues to put them to you. Can I ask you whether you would be prepared Mr Minister to answer questions that would be forwarded in writing? And if so, can I ask you whether you would agree to answer in writing? Yes. In that case I invite all of the colleagues.

Sure, we can do that definitely. 

Thank you, in that case I propose to all the members who unfortunately were not able to get the floor to send their questions to the table office, we will then forward them to the Minister, who will then answer them, and then we have those answers publicly too.

I really thank you I'm looking forward to having you on board in Strasbourg or in Germany somewhere and if I may end by maybe a very simple word: keep the passion, because this is what we need Mr Minister.

Now I've been very calm here but you know some of the people around me know me that this is something that we will, without any doubt, will share on many issues. So thank you very much for being on board. We are sure that your Presidency will be successful provided that we all work at it. Thank you very much and see you very, very soon.

Colleagues, we now go to the exchange of views with Mr Robert SPANO. We did go over time, but when it's interesting, I mean we have to be flexible and I'm sure that our next guest will be as interesting as the Minister from Germany. I have the great pleasure of welcoming Mr Robert SPANO, President of the European Court of Human Rights. My colleagues in the private office and around have given me a big introduction. I'll skip it it because I think that my introduction is far from being as interesting and important as the message that you will give us. So without any due delay, I give you the floor.

Mr Robert Spano

President of the European Court of Human Rights

10:55:00

Thank you very much indeed.

Dear President Mister Rik DAEMS, Honourable Members of the Parliamentary Assembly, far and wide.

Allow me to begin by warmly thanking you for inviting me to take part in this exchange of views with your Standing Committee today.

I recently spoke before the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. However, this is the first time that I've had the honour of meeting representatives of the Council of Europe's parliamentary body, and I have, of course, already had the opportunity to exchange views with you, Mister President, on several occasions, most recently in Athens during the ministerial session.

Let me begin with this. The court is not and must not be an ivory tower. It is essential that the court and its president have regular contact with all of the 47 member States and the bodies in the European human rights protection system. The Parliamentary Assembly is among the most important of these bodies.

Allow me to structure my sort of initial remarks into three brief parts.

First, I will say a few words more about the importance of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe for the convention system, as seen through the lens of the court and myself as its president.

I will then, secondly, give you an overview of the way in which the court has functioned over these past few months, facing the challenges confronted by the pandemic.

Thirdly and finally, I will include some remarks about the risks facing the convention system moving forward in safeguarding the convention's fundamental rights and values.

Now to my first part. The Parliamentary Assembly is the fundamental cornerstone of the Council of Europe's institutional manifestation of democracy, which is the only system of governance recognized under the European Convention on Human Rights. Therefore, allow me to explain it in this way: the Parliamentary Assembly is the Council of Europe's beating democratic heart, due to its direct representation by parliamentarians elected by the peoples of Europe to national parliaments.

I must say I've been very impressed with the Assembly's endeavors during its recent meetings. The resolutions and recommendations promulgated under the leadership of President DAEMS, such as the recommendation of this, I want to highlight, on the principles and guarantees of advocates, which is crucial for the convention system and your important monitoring reports. This has demonstrated your resolve and determination not to allow the pandemic to halt your important work.

Of course, from the perspective of the Court, the Parliamentary Assembly plays a particularly crucial and direct role in electing the judges of the Court, a task which you carry out under article 22 of the convention. The procedure for appointing judges to the European Court of Human Rights is long and complex, particularly at the domestic level. But without a doubt the most important stages in this process are first the important examination of candidates by the advisory panel for the election of judges and the hearing of the three candidates by the PACE Commission on the election of Judges, which makes a recommendation. Then, finally, with your Assembly, which has the last word and which proceeds with the election as such. It cannot be said often enough: the quality of the Court depends on the quality of the judges who make up its composition.

At your next session in January 2021, I understand that arrangements have been made to fill the two judge posts that are and will become vacant. These are the judges elected in respect of Greece and Switzerland. For the well-functioning of the Court it is important that these elections take place one way or another, given the sanitary situation.

The role of the Assembly is by no means limited to the election of judges. Indeed, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe is an important and very effective link between the Court and the national parliaments. What makes you special, your dual membership of a European Assembly and a national parliament, is absolutely essential. It is you, ladies and gentlemen, who are best placed to provide the link between the organs of the Council of Europe and your national parliaments.

We all know the importance of national parliaments in the implementation of the European Convention on Human Rights. This role is relatively recent, but it has grown considerably in recent years. It is at least a two-tier role. Firstly, an increasing number of parliaments have set up committees to examine the compatibility of draft legislation with the European Convention on Human Rights. Whether they are committees dealing specifically with human rights or committees dealing with traditional legislation, these bodies are indispensable if the convention and, above all, our case law is to be taken into account in order to prevent future violations. It goes without saying that for these committees to function, a special effort must be made to disseminate case law to national parliaments and to parliamentarians and train officials in parliaments.

I know that the Assembly has taken up this task and the Court has been pleased to be associated with these efforts to disseminate case law. This is essential and I attach great importance to them.

The second aspect of the role of parliaments is downstream of our judgments. A number of these judgments make legislative changes necessary. This is particularly the case when it is on law, that is at the root of the violation found. Who is then better placed than Parliament to remedy this violation?

To sum up this second part, the role of parliaments is now crucial both upstream in preventing violations and downstream in ensuring that judgments are properly executed. The same goes for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe which is a sounding board for our judgments. Although under the convention supervision of the execution of the Court's judgment falls within the competence of the committee of ministers, the Assembly plays as well well an essential role in this process.

Allow me then to turn to my second part. The current situation in the court. I begin by informing you of how the court has adapted to the unprecedented situation created by the crisis that has arisen from COVID-19. A number of adjustments have been necessary from the very beginning of the first lockdown in March. We took exceptional measures to extend the time limits for bringing cases before our court. Our aim was to take account of the difficulties faced by parties while continuing to carry out our core activities.

I'm pleased to say and pleased to report that all the courts service has worked very well. From the beginning of the lockdown, teams were put in place to ensure the continuity of requests for interim measures under rule 39 of the rules of Court. The work was done entirely remotely. It is interesting to note that more than 80% of the interim requests concerned issues related to the COVID-19 crisis.

As ours is an international court, an important feature was the organization of grand chamber hearings, which took place by video conference and which the outside world was able to watch online. This was a major technical challenge for us. We held four hearings in June and July and two in October. For most of these hearings the parties were not on site and yet everything went well. We were also able to guarantee the public nature of these hearings, thanks to their re-transmission on the internet. I know that they were very widely watched and we received positive feedback particularly from the national courts, which asked us about our way of working in this exceptional situation.

During this period, new technologies have demonstrated how indispensable they have become. They have enabled us to continue working at a distance adopting judgments and decisions. By way of example, we have decided more than 33 200 applications since the beginning of the year. If we look only at the number of applications concluded with a judgment delivered by the grand chamber and the chambers, there has been an increase of 23% compared to last year.

However, dear parliamentarians, allow me to put our work in a broader perspective. We are a court of only 47 judges with approximately 270 lawyers, but the number of pending cases currently stands at 61 250. Seventy-five percent of these concern five countries. First of all, the Russian Federation is our largest provider of cases, with just over 15 000 applications, followed by Ukraine and Turkey, with around 10 000 applications each. Next come Romania with 8 200 applications and Italy with 3 500 pending applications.

If I have to take stock of this extraordinary period of late, I can justify the claim that in these dramatic circumstances the Court has been able to adapt. This has been made possible thanks to the dedication of the judges and staff of the Court who have been able to cope with the situation. Their commitment has been exceptional. However, dear parliamentarians, it is clear that with our considerable backlog of cases, the pandemic has caused delays in some cases. Including at the Grand Chamber level, but we are working as hard and fast as we can. The Court is a human institution. It can't perform miracles and it can't solve all evils. It is first and foremost a court of law. It is not a policy or a political institution.

Mister President, ladies and gentlemen, allow me then to turn to my final part where I wish to deal with some elements related to the substantive challenges to the court. When we are facing now moving forward with a heavy pending case load but also external risks to the convention system and its fundamental rights and values.

Let me first begin with an issue of primordial concern. An efficient, impartial, and independent judiciary is the cornerstone of a well-functioning system of democratic checks and balances. The judiciary's role in a democracy is to guarantee the very existence of the rule of law. In a democracy, all persons and state authorities are bound by the law. Without the rule of the law there can be no effective democracy. These are the constitutional cornerstones of the convention system. This is a message I have consistently disseminated in my public speeches and during my discussions with those in power. No one, no man is above the law.

Allow me to clear up a misunderstanding I often hear. It is to consider judicial independence as sufficiently guaranteed under the convention by formal legal independence. No, ladies and gentlemen, that is not sufficient. No less important is the actual or de facto independence of judges. Now, what does this mean? It means that governments cannot control the courts. The convention does not tolerate such actions. No external pressure can be placed on judges while exercising their legitimate and constitutionally mandated functions. That includes political pressure and media campaigns against judges, as the Court has made clear in a number of judgments.

Dear parliamentarians, to conclude I think it is safe to say that none of us will ever forget the year 2020, mostly due to the unprecedented circumstances the pandemic has brought about, but also for other reasons. However, this year has been very important for the convention system culminating in the celebration of the 70 years since the European convention on Human Rights was signed in Rome on the 4th of November 1950.

But we live in uncertain times. We face dire challenges to the rule of law, human rights, and judicial Independence, as I mentioned.

I therefore use this opportunity to state the following in no uncertain terms: it is the duty, the responsibility of every member State of the Council of Europe to secure the fundamental values of the convention system. The European Court of Human Rights, the judicial body of the Council of Europe, your judicial body, serves all the peoples of the member States, all of them, without question and has protected their human rights and fundamental freedoms for the last 60 years independently and impartially.

Be sure that the court will continue to do so.

Thank you very much, Mister President.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

11:09:00

Thank you President Spano for your interesting intervention.

We now move to the questions. We first move to the representatives of the five political groups. Please ask for the floor Mr Frank SCHWABE, Mr Aleksander POCIEJ, Mr Olivier BECHT, Sir Roger GALE, Mr Tiny KOX. So, please ask for the floor. After this we will go by three, as we did in the first discussion. We have to limit, unfortunately, really to one hour here. We will have to finish this at 11:00 sharp, if I get it right, or 11:15. We will see. 11h50, sorry about that. We will go by three. As last time I need to give priority to different countries when more colleagues from the same country have asked for the floor, then they will come after that. It's a bit of a run to get first on board, but these are the rules.

Let's first get to the representatives of the five political groups. I will take all five of them, President Spano, after which I will give you the floor and then we will go by three. Please, colleagues, be concise. If you can do it in less than one minute, that will be lovely, because again, we have enormous interest in having questions for President Spano. We start with the Socialists, Democrats and Greens Group. Mr Frank SCHWABE, you have the floor.

Mr Frank SCHWABE

Germany, SOC

11:10:23

Thank you very much, Mr President.

President SPANO, thank you very much that you underlined the importance of our Assembly. As I always say, our Assembly is not so important: it's very important because we have to defend and support the court. This is the heart of the organization; that's what we have to do. As I always mention, we have some red lines, and one red line is the fulfillment of the judgments. So, I will ask you what you think about the situation in Russia. What do you think about the decisions in the Constitution which in the end do not respect International judgments? What do you think about the situation in Turkey? When can we expect new judgments on the cases of Kavala, Demirtas, and others concerning Turkey? I have to ask this, and we have to respect the independence of our Judiciary as well, because of this is not a comment but a question. There was some criticism about your visit in Turkey. Maybe you can give us some explanations to understand the purpose of your visit. Thank you. 

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

11:11:27

Thank you very much. We now have on behalf of the EPP Mr Aleksander POCIEJ. Alex, you got the floor.

Mr Aleksander POCIEJ

Poland, EPP/CD

11:11:35

Hello and thank you very much.

Mr President,

The issue of the proper execution of the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights is not new and, of course, it is very important. However, it is rather a subject for the Parliamentary Assembly and especially for the Committee of Ministers.

For you, Mr President, I have questions about the functioning of the Court. For nine months, since 5 February 2020, we have been waiting for the verdict in the case of Andri Ástráðsson against Iceland. This is a very important, fundamental case about the abuse of executive power and its illegal influence in the procedures for appointing the judge. Why is it taking so long? For two years you have had complaints from Polish judges that are not being dealt with. Perhaps Rule 39 needs to be applied.

Thank you. 

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

11:12:42

Thank you, Alex. Right on time.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

11:12:45

We now have for ALDE, Mr Olivier BECHT.

Olivier, you have the floor.

Mr Olivier BECHT

France, ALDE

11:13:00

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

On behalf of the ALDE Group, I should like to thank the Court for the high-quality work it has done throughout the year and to thank President SPANO for the presentation he has just made. My question is very simple: in the case of the COVID-19 crisis, are there any derogations under Article 15 of the European Convention on Human Rights and what is the Court's opinion today on freedoms that could be suspended as a result of the health crisis we are facing?

Thank you.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

11:13:48

We now go to Sir Roger GALE for the European Conservatives. Sir Roger, you have the floor.

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA

11:14:00

Thank you, President SPANO, in your opening remarks you pointed out, quite correctly, that there are a number of countries that fail to execute findings of the European Court on a serial basis. You also suggested that parliaments have a role to play in this, and I accept that entirely, except that, of course that is like asking the fox to look after the chicken coop, because the countries that are not implementing your findings, are the countries that are also controlling their Parliamentary members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Is it not down to the Committee of Ministers, as well as the Parliamentary Assembly, to get to grips with this and take sanctions against countries that will not - because they choose not to - implement the findings?

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

11:14:54

Thank you Sir Roger GALE, we now go to the UEL, Mr Tiny KOX. Tiny you have the floor.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL

11:15:01

Thank you, President SPANO, for your introduction.

You spoke about more than 61 000 pending cases at this moment, the greater part coming from only five of our member States. Behind these numbers there are always people. One of these people is Selahattin Demirtas, who has been imprisoned in Turkey for four years now and as the leader of the third biggest party in the Turkish Parliament with millions of voters behind him. For him, Selahattin Demirtas, it means if you have to wait so long, it is sad that justice delayed is justice denied. For him and for so many other people who are waiting before the court takes a decision upon them, it becomes even clearer that that justice is delayed and therefore denied. What, President SPANO, should we all do together in order to give justice in time to all these people? To Selahattin Demirtas, yet also to all these other people who are waiting for a verdict from the Court. Thank you very much.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

11:16:12

Thank you, Tiny. Mr President, you've got the floor.

Mr Robert Spano

President of the European Court of Human Rights

11:16:17

Thank you very much indeed for these questions. Let me first make the following caveat: I am a president of a court. As a president of a court there are limits to the extent to which I can discuss pending cases. I hope the parliamentarians will accept that, but let me try to give an answer to all the questions that have been raised to the extent that I can.

The first answer to Mr Frank SCHWABE, and it goes to a question raised by others as well: the execution of the Court's judgments is a primordial concern of the Council of Europe. It is one of the bigger issues, and I also echo what was also mentioned by Sir Roger GALE, it is a fundamental issue for the legitimacy and authority of the Council of Europe.

It is under the convention the role of the Committee of Ministers to see to it, using the mechanisms at hand, that judgments rendered by the Court are executed in a timely manner. But here I have to be careful – under the convention system, the execution of judgments is a political process. That is why it's in the Committee of Ministers and not in the hands of the Court, like for example in the Inter-American system. I am not in a position, and it would not be appropriate for the President of the Court, to give indications to you or to members of the Committee of Ministers on how that process should unfold.

My only message is: every member state of the Council of Europe has an unequivocal, unconditional obligation under international law to execute the judgments of the Court. There are no prevarications, this is not an à la carte system, you cannot pick and choose the judgments you want to execute – all of them have to be executed if you intend to show good faith to the system.

Question related to my visit to Turkey: let me say again, and again be very clear, the President of the Court is a president of a court not for five states, not for 20 states, not for 25 states, but for 47 member states.

It requires the President of the Court, which the President has done for decades, to have official visits within the member states to deliver robust messages about the work of the Council of Europe and the judgments of the Court. It goes without saying that the messages then produced are messages which derive from the case law of the Court. That was the purpose of the visit to Turkey and those messages were made clear. It is of course for others to determine how they perceive that to have happened, but that was the purpose of the visit and it was made with the full intention of bringing to bear and to make clear the problematic aspects of the judgments, and judgments which have not been executed by the member state in question.

Mr Robert Spano

President of the European Court of Human Rights

11:19:33

On the issue of the independence of the judiciary, Mr Aleksander POCIEJ referred to the Icelandic case Ástráðsson v. Iceland. Judgment will be delivered on 1 December, in 10 days' time. The judgment will be delivered in the Grand Chamber. The Polish cases referred to and cited by Mr POCIEJ have already been communicated. About ten cases on the independence of the judiciary were communicated a few weeks ago, a few months ago. I hope that our judgement in those cases will be delivered next year.

With regard to Mr Becht's question, ten Member States have now notified the Secretary-General of a derogation on the basis of Article 15, but the Court has not, at this time, delivered a judgment or has our Court given a framework of the principles that are being applied on the basis of Article 15 in the context of the pandemic. That takes time. It is now up to the national judges to decide, to deal with cases on the basis of Article 15 in their own countries.

Mr Robert Spano

President of the European Court of Human Rights

11:21:22

I've already mentioned as to Roger GALE's question the issue of the execution of judgments and I do not have much to add really in relation to that.

In relation to the question by representative Tiny KOX, let me just say again, I'm not in a position to discuss pending cases before the Court, but let me make a general observation, I can do that in relation to the case of Selahattin Demirtaş because I decided that case in chamber, where we found a violation of the Convention and required the release of the parliamentarian in question. The case was referred to the grand chamber. I am not in the grand chamber, as you can imagine, because I decided the case in chamber. The case is moving as fast as possible. There have been delays in the case due to the pandemic but we hope that a judgment will be rendered as soon as possible. Sixty-one thousand cases in the court, as I tried to demonstrate during my intervention at the outset, in a human institution of limited resources, has an impact on how fast we can proceed. We are not miracle workers but we're doing the best we can to deliver justice to all the applicants before us in an expeditious manner. Thank you very much, Mr President.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

11:22:48

Thank you President.

Now we move to questions from our colleagues. I take them three by three, please stick to the one minute rule.

The first three on my list are Ms Kamila GASIUK-PIHOWICZ from Poland, Ms Laura CASTEL from Spain and Ms Ingjerd SCHOU from Norway. Ms GASIUK-PIHOWICZ from Poland, you have the floor.

Ms Kamila GASIUK-PIHOWICZ

Poland, EPP/CD

11:23:09

The Court plays a fundamental role in protecting human rights not only during the pandemic, therefore I would like to ask you to clarify your former statement, Mr President: when can we expect judgments in some key cases of fundamental importance for the Polish judiciary system? And actually for the European judiciary system too?

I mean in particular the Judge Tuleya case against Poland. Just two days ago, Judge Tuleya lost his immunity as part of political repressions against the judiciary and he may soon end up in prison just because of rendering a judgment that didn't please the government.

I have a second question for Mr President, when can we expect the judgment in case Xero Flor against Poland? It concerns the status of the so-called standings of the Constitutional Tribunal's members, appointed unlawfully by the governing party for a post already occupied. The Constitutional Tribunal issued a month ago a barbaric judgment effectively banning legal abortion in Poland. Thank you in advance for your answers.

The Polish judiciary is really counting on these judgments.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

11:24:19

Perfect, one minute, thank you.

Ms Laura CASTEL, from Spain, you have the floor.

Ms Laura CASTEL

Spain, NR

11:24:27

Thank you, Mr President.

Mr SPANO, thank you for your intervention. I'll be brief.

We fear there is a disparity of criteria among Council of Europe member states concerning the length and timings of high instances at national level, which delays access to justice before the European Court of Human Rights for the victims. Some constitutional courts, for instance, often keep appeals for protection of fundamental rights ceased and forgotten, pending a decision several years, which blocks access to Strasbourg. This is particularly anguishing for victims in prison. Indeed the rule of exhaustion of domestic remedies is a requisite to lodge an application.

So I wanted to ask you, what could we parliamentarians do from the Parliamentary Assembly in order to harmonise these criteria for preventing procedural abuses, considering that justice delayed is justice denied? Thank you very much.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

11:25:37

Well, perfectly one minute, too. So, Madam SCHOU, Norway, you have the floor.

Ms Ingjerd SCHOU

Norway, EPP/CD

11:25:46

Thank you. Mister SPANO, do you think the Court of Human Rights is the cornerstone, as you mentioned, of our organization and reforming the Court has been important in order to reduce the number of cases pending before the Court? However the caseload is still substantial, you mentioned more than 60 000 still pending. So my question is what is being done to reduce and how can we parliamentarians contribute to this. Thank you.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

11:26:27

Thank you Mr President, you have the floor.

Mr Robert Spano

President of the European Court of Human Rights

11:26:31

Thank you very much again.

First, as regards the question from the Polish representative, I would revert again to the answer I just gave. We have in the past few months communicated a number of cases dealing with complaints related to the independence and impartiality of members of the Polish judicial system. They are now being dealt with as a matter of priority in the Court and hopefully, as soon as observations from parties have been delivered to the Court, the Court will begin dealing with each and every of these cases in the coming months. Now, actual timelines are of course difficult to give in individual cases. And as I mentioned before, with with all due respect, I am of course not able to discuss individual pending cases, but in a general manner my message is this: cases that are being dealt with and communicated in relation to the question of the independence of the justice system in Poland are being dealt with as a matter of priority in the Court under our case processing mechanism.

Second question from the representative of Spain: the effectiveness of domestic remedies is a crucial aspect of domestic law and practice. If a remedy, like a constitutional court appellate system or a supreme court appellate system, contains backlogs and clogging in the system then it is of course for the national legislature and the national parliaments to reflect on how to make a remedy at national level more effective. There parliamentarians have a direct role. It is a perennial feature of most judicial systems today that are faced with mounting backlogs of cases. And there it is extremely important to identify the problem and to try to find ways with changes in legislation, changes in practice, to try to accommodate and find ways to open up more ready access.

As regards the third question presented by the parliamentarian from Norway: the backlog of cases in the Court has been a perennial problem for a decade. As you know, under the interlocking process, which is now culminating and just recently was the subject of a declaration by the Committee of Ministers in Athens, we are now moving into the second phase of our reform process in the Court. Now what will that mean? That will mean that we will now try to focus as much as possible on immediate identification of priority cases, impact cases, cases that are relevant now at this moment for the European citizenry, so we can deal with them as fast as possible. But that, ladies and gentlemen, we have to realise, will have an impact on other cases which are not identified as being of the same level of importance. This goes back to the Court's prioritisation policy which has been in place for 12 years and that we are now in the in the midst of reformulating, so as to make the Court as impactful and relevant as possible for all of Europe moving forward.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

11:30:12

Thank you, Mister President. We now go to our three next speakers. First in my list is Mr Ahmet YILDIZ from Turkey, followed by Mr Zsolt NÉMETH from Hungary and then by Mr Georgios KATROUGKALOS from Greece. Mr Ahmet YILDIZ you have the floor.

Mr Ahmet YILDIZ

Turkey, NR

11:30:33

Dear Mr Chairman, Mr President. I am so happy to listen your statements, it is very important to me as new member of PACE.

I was in your meeting with the speaker of the parliament in Ankara. Your remarks were really educating to me, as I say, as a new member of PACE. Some colleagues mention Turkey repeatedly about non-implementation. I respect that, but you mentioned the case of Demirtaş, you explained... but I urge the colleagues to remember that Greece does not implement a decision of the Court for more than one decade. This could be partially, at least when we are speaking about the court and court jurisdiction or verdict. Mr President, on interstate applications: they are increasing and the vast decision on the application by Armenia was perceived in my country as kind of biased, politically. Do you have any plan to limit these interstate applications through legal criteria.

Thank you.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

11:31:58

Next on my list is Mr Zsolt NÉMETH. May I please ask you really to stick within the one minute because you are limiting the time for colleagues.

Mr NÉMETH, you have the floor.

Mr Zsolt NÉMETH

Hungary, EPP/CD

11:32:09

Thank you, Mister President.

And I would like to express my gratitude to Mr SPANO. We were very glad to be received by you with the Hungarian foreign minister recently, and we have enjoyed discussion with you very much in the context of our preparation for the Hungarian Presidency following the German Presidency in the course of next year.

My question would be a bit more theoretical. We have discussed with Mr Michael ROTH that Council of Europe's intention is strong, that the European Union should accede to the European Convention on Human Rights. How do you foresee that? What do you expect from that process? Do you expect that the European Union is becoming more sensitive to Human Rights especially in those those fields where they have not been until now, for example, the issue of national minorities? Thank you very much for your discussion and the possibility to talk to you. Thank you. 

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

11:33:14

Thank you Mr Zsolt NÉMETH. I now have Mr Georgios KATROUGKALOS from Greece.

You have the floor.

Mr Georgios KATROUGKALOS

Greece, UEL

11:33:24

Thank you, Rick, and thank you, President SPANO, for a very good presentation. My question is a follow-up on the last one. It regards the accession of the European Union of the convention. I would like to ask you if there are remaining legal, not political problems, taking into account former reticences of the Court of Justice for the European Union. And secondly, I would like to ask your opinion as a jurist, not as President of the Court since you lack the competence, regarding an eventual accession of the European Union also to the European Social Charter. Thank you.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

11:34:07

Thank you. Mr President.

Mr Robert Spano

President of the European Court of Human Rights

11:34:12

Thank you very much again, Mr President DAEMS.

The first issue in relation to the question posed by the Turkish parliamentarian Mr Ahmet YILDIZ. It relates as I understand to the recent decisions of the Court under rule 39 of the rules of court in interstate applications or in relation to the interstate conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. It is not for me to explain individual decisions of that sort. Only to say this: the court has had a consistent practice going back to Georgia v Russia in 2008 of being in a position to take a view on whether rule-39 measures should be imposed so as to alleviate possible suffering during an interstate conflict.

The legal basis is rule 39 of the Rules of court and article 34 of the Convention, the right to individual application, as has been been held into Grand chamber judgments of the Court. Those are the binding legal precedents for the imposition of rule 39 in these types of situations. And rule 39 measures are to be implemented and executed by all concerned parties.

As regards to the question posed on the EU accession issue by the parliamentarian Mr Zsolt NÉMETH from Hungary, here I have to be careful because here I tread into a politically sensitive issue. I would then perhaps use this opportunity to answer Mr Zsolt NÉMETH's question also in relation to the question posed by Mr Georgios KATROUGKALOS, which is a bit of the same.

Are there from the perspective of the European Convention on Human Rights any legal problems for the EU acceeding to the Convention? My answer is no. From our perspective, the EU acceeding to the C is, as such, not problematic from the perspective of the application of convention rules. Now, whether there are considered to be constitutional or technical problems on the EU side as viewed through the lens of opinion 213 by the European Court of Justice, that is for the European Union to assess, and I would not like to enter that terrain which is not for me.

As regards the EU accession to the European Social Charter, again, that is an issue which I would not like to comment on simply because of two things first: the European Social Charter is not a norm the court is directly applying. As you may know it does so through the vehicle of the European Convention on Human Rights with its harmonious interpretation, but it is not as such a norm which we are competent to apply and interpret independently.

So I would not take a view on EU accession to the European social Charter.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

11:37:08

Thank you very much.

We've now come to our four last people, colleagues, in order this is Ms Alma ČOLO from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mr Aleksandr BASHKIN from Russia, Ms Rósa BRYNJÓLFSDÓTTIR from Iceland and Mr Tony LLOYD from the UK, in that order, in this fashion, I have all the different countries on board. We'll see if we have time, I doubt it, but if not, colleagues who did not get the floor now can have written questions, I suppose, to President SPANO, that he will answer in writing.

So let's now head on with the first questioner, who is Ms Alma ČOLO from Bosnia-Herzegovina, you have the floor.

 

PRESIDENT SPANO: I can't hear you, could you raise your volume please? I can't hear you.

 

Mr Rik DAEMS: You are on mute. You have to unmute, yes.

 

Ms Alma ČOLO: Is it okay now?

 

Yes, go ahead.

Ms Alma ČOLO

Bosnia and Herzegovina, EPP/CD

11:38:17

Thank you very much for your addressing this day, it was excellent. I think that the European Court of Human Rights has an excellent role in the field of protecting Human Rights and fundamental freedoms.

I have one question about protocol 16 from 2013. In your last report I saw it is the protocol which gives the Court power to give an advisory opinion. I saw in your last report that you delivered only one advisory opinion on the request of the French cassation Court. Do you think that a larger number of requests from the highest judicial authorities from the high convention parties will enhance the cooperation between National Courts and European Court of Human Rights, and will reinforce the implementation of the Convention and a better understanding of the Human Rights and the right for freedom?

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

11:39:42

Thank you very much. Please stick to the one minute. We now have Mr Aleksandr BASHKIN from Russia.

Mr Aleksandr BASHKIN

Russian Federation, NR

11:39:54

Dear Colleagues, good morning.

President SPANO, I would like to thank you very much indeed. I would like to thank you for the comments that you made with regards the rights and guarantees of lawyers. My question is of as follows: how are we going to be able to come up with a solution to the problems mentioned with regard to the issue of the conflict of interest of judges at the European Court of Human Rights given the influence that is being exerted on them by some NGOs, which are political ones, for instance, George Soros' foundation? Thank you. 

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

11:40:45

Thank you very much. We now have Ms Rósa Björk BRYNJÓLFSDÓTTIR from Island. Rosa, you have the floor.

Ms Rósa Björk BRYNJÓLFSDÓTTIR

Iceland, UEL

11:41:01

Dear President, first of all since this is the first standing committee with you I want to use the opportunity here from Reykjavik, Iceland to congratulate you with your nomination in April, which is a great honor for Iceland. Thank you for your intervention and I, like many other members of PACE, are extremely worried about the backlash of women's rights in the Council's of Europe Member States. We see that firmly with the rulings of the Constitutional Court in Bulgaria on the Istanbul convention and the opposition on that same convention in Russia. But the most recent ruling of the Polish Constitutional Court or women's rights access to abortion is a serious threat to women's rights and life and health.

I would like to hear from you if you can, speak about how the Court of Human Rights in any way can deal with those rulings in other ways than wait for formal cases from the citizens of Poland to the Court. Or, can the Court give some other direct messages to the Member States to fulfill their obligation to the convention they've undergone, since you mentioned they communicated to the members of the judiciary system in Poland regarding the independence of the Polish Courts. So, if you can develop a little bit on that issue, thank you.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

11:42:18

Thank you. We now have our last speaker. Mr Tony LLOYD from the UK. Mister LLOYD, you've got the floor.

Mr Tony LLOYD

United Kingdom, SOC

11:42:28

Profound and wise words this morning.

Is the sound OK? (I really don't hear very well. Could you put your microphone closer to yourself?)

I'll try to do this. Thank you.

First of all, thank you for your very wise and profound words this morning. They're very helpful.

On the subject of prioritization of cases, could you talk us through how this is working in practice? Because, of course, the fundamental importance of your court is that it does establish the regime for recognition of human rights across the whole of the European family. But could you also tell us what we can do to help you with this enormous backlog? Is justice delay, justice denied?

Money of course is difficult at the moment as are the resource of more lawyers, more judges. What are the things that would materially help you and your court to deliver the justice that we all want to see you deliver?

Thank you.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

11:43:41

Thank you very much. President SPANO you have the floor. 

Mr Robert Spano

President of the European Court of Human Rights

11:43:44

Thank you very much, I hope you hear me well.

First, as regards to the question posed by the parliamentarian Ms Alma ČOLO from Bosnia and Herzegovina, actually we have now delivered two advisory opinions under Protocol 16. As you mentioned the first was a request by the French Court of Cassation, a very busy case that we have delivered, and also recently a request from the Armenian Constitutional Court in which we have already delivered an advisory opinion. We now have two pending Protocol 16 requests from the Slovak Constitutional Court and also from the Supreme Administrative Court of Lithuania. So, all in all, four advisory opinions that are being dealt with. I think that shows that the system is up and running and it is one in which, in my view – I'm a strong supporter of the Protocol 16 mechanism – allows us to give advisory opinions on general issues of conventional law within a reasonable time to assist the national authorities.

As regards the question posed by parliamentarian Mr Aleksandr BASHKIN, I give the same answer that I have given and my predecessor Alexandre Sicilianos gave to the Committee of Ministers in May: there is no allegation which is credible, in our view, on any influence by non-governmental organisations on the work of this court. The fact that judges of the court may have in their previous professional lives have had experience and have training in the field of human rights law through work in non-government organisations shows the diversity of background that is necessary for an international court. But the main issue here, I direct to the Parliamentary Assembly, is that the Parliamentary Assembly elects the judges. The judges' Curriculum Vitae, with all of the background information about their life's work, is before you when you make these determinations. It is for you to decide the diversity of the group that is within this court. I would simply say, I do not accept, and I made that very clear, I do not accept the allegations that have been made in this report and that is the same opinion that has been presented by my predecessor Alexandre Sicilianos. 

As regards the question posed by my Icelandic colleague Ms Rósa Björk BRYNJÓLFSDÓTTIR, it is true that judgments are being rendered across Europe which you may as politicians find problematic. You must accept, I hope that I'm not in a position to take any deal on judgments that have recently been rendered by some constitutional court. I would say as a general matter, under the convention system an application can be lodged with the court and it has to be an application that is lodged by a person or a group of persons that have standing as victims, to be able to allege the violation of the Convention. Now if that violation is alleged to transpire from a judgment of the Constitutional Court, that is perfectly possible, and when such an application, if and when, such an application arrives at the court, it will be dealt with as fast as possible.

The final question from the representative from the UK, Mr Tony LLOYD, I will again go to an answer that I gave some of your previous colleagues: how can parliamentarians assist the court when it comes to reducing the backlog? That is by doing the job that member states are meant to do, and that is to protect human rights at the national level. That is done through legislation at national level that provides for an ability to deal with the human rights problem immediately in its infancy, to provide tools to protect victims of human rights violations, with reparations, with effective remedies. All of this is for national governments to create. The more national parliaments create a culture of human rights where the national parliaments take their duties of upholding the constellation of rights and values under the convention meaningfully, the more it will reduce the backlog in the long run. The work has to be done at national level. That is where the people require the actual protection take place. That of course requires often a struggle at a national level between political forces. I understand that. But the final resolution of the evils of human rights violations can only, to a limited extent, be done many years later in the European Court of Human Rights. But when we get the cases you can be sure we deal with them as quickly and fast as possible.

Thank you very much, President.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

11:49:02

Thank you very much, President SPANO, for the interesting information that you've given us and also the questions answered by yourself. Obviously, we will meet each other again and I hope that you will be available to respond to more questions. We do have a number of colleagues still on the list. Unfortunately, we are not able to cater to them. I suppose that you agree to answer any questions in writing, which allows us to have the questions gone to the table office. They will send them to you and, if you are so kind, to answer them in writing, of course, within the limits of what you're allowed to do.

 

Mr Robert Spano

President of the European Court of Human Rights

11:49:46

I will add, questions can be posed to me in writing but I will take a position on whether and to what extent I can give an answer, as you mentioned.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

11:49:55

Obviously, obviously. I mean and we do understand that you cannot go into any particular case, which is quite logical. Anyway, thank you very much for your presence. I hope to see you again soon. Greece was a nice experience with the necessary distancing, but still it was very interesting to get to know each other a little bit more. So, you're always welcome in the house of human rights, rule of law and democracy. Thank you very much.

Mr Robert Spano

President of the European Court of Human Rights

11:50:27

Thank you very much.

Examination of new credentials

Modifications in the composition of committees

Request for a current affairs debate (under Rule 53 of the Rules of Procedure)

Agenda

Minutes

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

11:50:28

Thank you.

Before we proceed with the agenda, maybe a few words of introduction. Items four to nine of our Agenda are procedural items. Now this means that only members of the Standing Committee are entitled to take the floor, should they have any comments. Four to nine is procedure so this is basically an issue for the members of the Standing Committee. We have another colleague on board there, I see. I also should remind you that should I vote take place it's only the members of the Standing Committee who are allowed to vote. You'll find the documents on the right hand of your screen under documents. And with regard to our debates today, the speaking time is limited to three minutes in the debates of substance, when it is on procedural grounds the speaking time limit is one minute.

This being said, let's move on, in order to have our quite extensive agenda being treated. Number four I see is examination of new credentials. Are there any remarks as to these credentials to be ratified? If so, please ask for the floor.

I don't see any. In that case, I consider these credentials as approved. Do we need to formally vote on that, no? Thank you.

Then, we go to number five, which is the modification in the composition of committees. The modifications as proposed, you have them in your documents. Is there any objection or remark as to this? If so, please take the floor.

I do not see any. Thank you, then this is approved.

Number six is the request for a current affairs debate under Rule 53 of the Rules of Procedure. We have a request for a current affairs debate on the Athens Declaration by the Committee of Ministers Presidency. The Bureau agreed to recommend holding this current affairs debate with Mr Jacques MAIRE, who would open the debate. It will be held under the number item 10 of the Agenda and it will be limited to one hour.

Are there any objections or remarks as to this request? I do not see any, so this is approved.

Then we go to our Agenda. Are there any objections to the revised Draft Agenda? If so, please ask for the floor. I don't see any, then the Agenda is approved. We go to number eight, which are the minutes of the Standing Committee on 12, 13, 22 and 23 October. Are they any remarks or objections to the minutes? I do not see any. I do mention that yesterday in the Bureau we had some remarks that might be... Okay, I see Ms STIENEN asks for the floor. Ms STIENEN, you have the floor.

No. So probably this was a little bit too fast because she wanted to be first in the debate, maybe? I don't know! Okay, Petra, you have the floor if it is on the minutes of the Standing Committee.

Ms Petra STIENEN

Netherlands, ALDE

11:53:59

Yes. Thank you, Mr President. I have just one small alteration in the minutes of my speech on the COVID report. The word is "older people" and it shouldn't be "older" but "all the people". It's a very important change. Of course, the prime minister of the Netherlands wants to make a balance between the health of all the people and human rights, not only the older people.

Thank you.

References to committees

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

11:54:27

Well, thank you for catering to the young ones among us, that's very nice of you Petra.

This will be adapted as requested.

Thank you.

Are there any other remarks?

I do not see any.

Then the minutes are approved. Again, I make mention of the fact that a mention by a colleague has been made in the bureau yesterday as to this effect.

Number nine: we have the references to committees, you have the document. Maybe one remark, in the document you will see that we have reference to reports in the committees. There is one report that yesterday in the Bureau was not accepted. The colleague who presented the report, Mr Pieter OMTZIGT, has been contacted by me in person. I had him on the line this morning. He will rephrase some wording in this report and, as agreed in the Bureau, this proposal will be in the Bureau on December 9.

Having giving you this information, is there any other remark concerning the references to committees?

I see none. In that case we go to number 10. We have two more items on our agenda, dear colleagues. Number 10 is the current affairs debate and number 11 is the draft declaration on the parliamentary contribution to the Athens Declaration. I count on the fact that basically the current affairs debate will treat both as to the substance.

Now the way we treat this is: as you know we've got a colleague who will open the debate. In this case we agreed that this would be Mr Jacques MAIRE. After that we will have the representatives of the political groups, and after that any colleague who wishes to take the floor with the same rule that one country.. this is not the same rule? Okay. So first come, first go. So you better run to try to have the floor.

Okay, we will start with Mr Jacques MAIRE. You have 10 minutes. You have the floor.

Debate: Draft declaration on the parliamentary contribution to the Athens Declaration by the Committee of Ministers Chairmanship on: “Effectively responding to a public health crisis in full respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law”

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

11:56:28

Mister Jacques MAIRE, you have 10 minutes, the floor is yours. Jacques, you have to ask for the floor. That's it. You have the floor.

Mr Jacques MAIRE

France, ALDE

11:56:44

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

I think that this debate is very important. It concludes months and months of work, both on the side of the Parliamentary Assembly and on the side of the Council of Ministers. It is very important to see that, at a time when the pandemic crisis is putting all the institutions under a bit of general anaesthesia, the Council of Europe is responding, and this statement by the Committee is really quite powerful testimony to that.

I would first like to draw your attention to what I think are the key points of this statement.

First of all, and this is important, our standards, those of the Council of Europe, are recalled very clearly as principles to which the action of states in an emergency situation must adhere. That is important because they are fairly simple principles, but they are really being undermined during this period. The measures that are taken during such states of emergency must be strictly necessary, proportionate, non-discriminatory, as the declaration states, applied only for the period of time necessary, must end once the situation is normalised and must be fully in line with the European Convention on Human Rights and other human rights obligations, and must be constantly reviewed. This reminder of the declaration is important because we note that these principles are not applied in a homogeneous or satisfactory manner in the territory of member states.

I would also like to share with you the key political messages of this declaration. First, the commitment of member states to the system of the European Convention on Human Rights. Indeed, this period justifies highlighting a real threat, and the declaration rightly points out that this threat affects certain categories of people in particular, not all of whom are affected in the same way. Some groups, such as young people, the elderly or the disabled, migrants or minorities, are more at risk than others, for various reasons, as the representative of the German presidency had just presented.

The response to the crisis will take into account this diversity of impact and, if not, it is likely that the risks of major human rights violations, which are already present in daily life, may take on the form of even more acute risks and realities for these categories.

Furthermore, the declaration addresses an important point which is disinformation or manipulation of information. As you know, this manipulation is now developing with COVID-19. Access to reliable information is crucial in the face of the fake news that is developing.

Another problem is the issue of new digital technologies and artificial intelligence, which is a challenge. It is like Aesopian language: it is both the worst and the best of things. They help us, in many countries, to fight the pandemic, but they also regularly harm our democracies.

Finally, we share the plea in the declaration for multilateral cooperation to combat the pandemic and its effects. We will see that very importantly through the work that we are going to carry out on access to vaccines, but also in addressing other contemporary challenges, such as the environmental crisis.

Overall, therefore, this is an excellent statement. We fully recognise it because it is also the result of active intra- and inter-institutional co-operation within the Council of Europe. We can, as a Parliamentary Assembly, welcome it, because we have fed into the thinking of our governments. I think it is clear to everyone that almost all the evidence I have just mentioned is relevant to the subject of the reports we have debated and adopted this year. I am therefore pleased that the work of our fellow rapporteurs has found political recognition from our governments.

Unfortunately, this declaration also reveals a major problem with our organisation: we present the Council of Europe as an organisation based on common values and a shared vision of them, and from this point of view, the Athens Declaration is by no means a revolution. It is a clear and lucid analysis of the application of our principles in a context of crisis and yet this declaration has not been signed by all our member states. The point of disagreement lies in the reference to the Istanbul Convention. This is all the more deplorable given that violence against women is increasing dramatically in many countries with the health crisis. We therefore collectively renew our support for this convention, which represents one of the pillars of the Council of Europe's values and which cannot be denied.

Of course, this is not the first time that the Committee of Ministers has not unanimously agreed to adopt a common text. However, a growing number of disagreements on such fundamental issues raises the question of the sharing of our values and the vision of human rights by all our member states. It seems unacceptable to us that some states should call into question such important achievements of our institutions. Do we still have enough will and courage to rise above electoral considerations and populist temptations to renew our commitment to these common values?

When a government decides to play with the institution to provoke a crisis, it is not seeking to defend the interests of its people; it is not seeking to move the Council of Europe in a particular direction in terms of the protection of rights: it simply wishes to use the Council of Europe for its own domestic policy debate. That is regrettable and I very much fear that we may meet again in a very forthcoming presidency.

Finally, I wish to reiterate our support, including on behalf of the ALDE Group, for the initiative of our President, Mr DAEMS, for the parliamentary contribution to the Athens Declaration. This declaration is a useful exercise for us. First, it helps to situate our Parliamentary Assembly in the decision-making process within the Council of Europe. Secondly, it makes clear our contribution to the discussions at the level of the governments of our member states. Thirdly, we believe that this approach should be systematic in the work of our Assembly, including on other flagship subjects such as the link between human rights and the environment or the human rights dimension in the context of the development of artificial intelligence.

Thank you, Dear Colleagues.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

12:03:59

Thank you, Mister Jacques MAIRE, for this introduction.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

12:04:03

Thank you Mr MAIRE for the introduction. We now call the representatives of the political groups. First I have Ms Petra BAYR for the Socialdemocrats and Greens. Petra, you have the floor.

Ms Petra BAYR

Austria, SOC

12:04:18

Thank you very much. The debate about the Athens Declaration is a source of worry, of doubt and of consternation not only because some countries used, or maybe I better say misused, the pandemic to declare a state of emergency and thus weaken parliamentary democracy and rule of law.

It is also alarming as it puts spotlights on shortcomings of these countries to misuse the virus to further put particular human rights under pressure. I think about Poland and Turkey, who loudly discussed resigning from the Istanbul Convention, who want to extinguish LGBTI rights, and especially Poland, who puts additional pressure on women's rights by further diminishing their self-determination.

I think about Hungary, who refused to vote for the Athens Declaration, together with Turkey and Azerbaijan, because of its reference to the Istanbul Convention. What does that mean for a country that wants to take the chairmanship of the Council of Europe next year? I do not expect Hungary to ignore women's rights, not to recognize the Istanbul Convention as the most effective legal protection for women from violence we have. I do not expect this country to make LGBTI rights vanish by changing its constitution.

We will not accept that member States do not uphold the core values, the basic principles and the fundamental human rights enshrined in the European Convention of Human Rights. Especially, we will not accept that from a country that wants to be taken seriously in its chairmanship of the Council of Europe next year. Hungary, please rethink your attitudes, please rethink your attitudes. Thank you very much.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

12:06:49

Thank you Petra.

Now we go to the colleague of EPP, Ms Kamila GASIUK-PIHOWICZ. You have the floor.

Ms Kamila GASIUK-PIHOWICZ

Poland, EPP/CD

12:06:59

Mr President,

Democracy dies in darkness. Now it dies in the darkness of the worldwide pandemic. Today not only people's health and lives are at risk, but in some countries also human rights and democratic institutions. COVID-19 is an unprecedented challenge for human rights, for democracy and the rule of law. During the pandemic we are celebrating the 70th anniversary of the European Convention on Human Rights. The convention obliges countries to take measures aiming to protect human lives. This imperative however is not a permission for countries to trample rights, suppress freedoms, dismantle democracy or violate the rule of law. Especially in my country, in Poland, a government with a solid record in violating the rule of law starts to enforce new bills that threaten civil and human rights. Within just a few months we faced an attempt to cripple presidential elections, a political campaign against the LGBTQ community, hundreds of new prosecutions against independent judges, ongoing illegal efforts to take control over the Ombudsman office, and last but not least, unprecedented barbaric rulings of the constitutional tribunal with unlawful elected judges that ban abortion in case of lethal fetal defects, and violence of police against women who peacefully demonstrated against it on the streets.

Abusing women's rights is not a Polish issue only. Tackling increased risk of violence against women and their dignity is a serious challenge for all Member states. The Convention shall protect and guarantee the dignity and identity of all human beings without discrimination and it shall promote respect for the integrity and other rights and fundamental freedoms of all individuals. On the other hand it is very important that we raise the ethical, legal and practical considerations concerning the health of citizens. The COVID-19 pandemic and other potential similar crisis that may occur in the future should not be taken as a justification for the adoption of emergency legislation introducing restrictions on freedom of information that go beyond what is lawful, necessary, proportionate and non-discriminatory. Citizens confidence in public authorities and democratic institutions and process is essential in times of crisis. Curtailing public debate and restricting the functioning of the democratic system may not only undermine democracy as such but also damage people's utterance to it and reduce the effectiveness of any emergency action taken to address the causes of the crisis and protect the population. Let me close by quoting the words of Poland's first non-communist prime minister, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, leader of the Polish democratic opposition and the United Nations special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the territory of the former Yugoslavia. This exceptional man said one time "freedom is like air, we appreciate it mostly when we start being short of it". In the last months we have witnessed how true these words are. We need to make all possible efforts so that our acquired freedoms and human rights do not erode and their applicability returns back to normal as soon as possible. On behalf of the EPP I would like to express our support for the work of the Assembly.

Thank you.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

12:10:44

Thank you very much, Madam. We all welcome your intervention but I have to say, please all colleagues stick within the three minutes because otherwise you are taking away time from others. I do apologise for being severe but this is the job I have to do.

We now come to the European Conservatives, Mr Ian LIDDELL-GRAINGER. Ian, you've got the floor. Three minutes please.

Mr Ian LIDDELL-GRAINGER

United Kingdom, EC/DA

12:11:14

Good morning!

And can I just say your lost intervention's right: if you can't say it in three minutes, don't say it.

But the point I want to make is this: Mr Jacques MAIRE put a very clear message across to us. These pandemics will continue to happen. Crises will continue to happen. They have always happened and they will happen again. The Athens Declaration sets out in many ways what we have to do in a crisis. Every country in Europe in some way, some more than others, we have heard from speakers, has had to suspend part of their democracy. They have put back elections, big changes in the way that parliaments operate, whatever it may be. And I think that is acceptable. What is quite rightly not acceptable is when we get a draconian way of certain countries using it to either subject minorities to unfair procedures, or they use it to affect their entire population.

A point that was also made is the role of social media. You can call this AI, you can call it whatever you want, but the false and fake news that we now get is endemic: anti-vaccination, people who believe in conspiracy theories, these are not just within the Council of Europe, this is across the world. And they are incredibly dangerous. And they undermine not just countries, they undermine people.

And the situation we have with the vaccine, Mr President, which will affect every country in Europe and every country in the world, regardless of size or where it is, is crucial. We must make sure that the vaccinations, when they are available, by whatever country, by whatever company and by whatever means, are distributed equally across not only Europe but the world. And if we don't, not only do we let down our own people, we let down the people of the world. And that is something we have to be absolutely, we have to be hard on.

On the Court of Human Rights, it is the right of every human to be able to have a life that they wish to lead within the parameters of government of their country. What we need under the Athens Declaration, which I think is being put forward, is that this ability is not only just enshrined for the short term, but I think we need to look enshrining more for the longer term.

The point of what has happened is that in these eight months we've had to change the way we operate. At no time in human nature has this gone the way it has, because of the speed of communications, because of our ability to communicate as we are now: instantly. We need to be able to enshrine much more this, and human rights needs to take that on board. Not only we did hear from the German Minister, although I couldn't hear most of what he said because of the translation problems, but also we heard from the President of the Court of Human Rights, that respect comes with a responsibility, not just of the citizen but of the people.

Thank you very much indeed, Mr President.