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20 November 2020 afternoon

2020 - November Standing Committee Print sitting

Sitting video(s) 1 / 1

Opening of the meeting of the Standing Committee (afternoon)

Debate: Modification of the Assembly’s Rules of Procedure on alternative arrangements for the organisation of Parliamentary Assembly part-sessions

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

14:33:37

Dear colleagues, let's start our afternoon session of the standing committee.

We've got a number of reports on our agenda, so I hope that we can work on all of them. If not, if we are not able to address a number of reports, they will be postponed and put on the agenda of the plenary session or another session later on.

Point 12 of our agenda are "Rules of procedure, immunities and institutional affairs" with rapporteur Mr Frank SCHWABE. The other report is with rapporteur Ms Ingjerd SCHOU.

The first a report is "Modification of the Assembly’s Rules of Procedure on alternative arrangements for the organisation of Parliamentary Assembly part-sessions", that is presented by the Committee on Rules of Procedure. The report will be presented by the rapporteur Mr Frank SCHWABE. Do we have time limits on the debate? Is that 10 minutes and 3 minutes? Same apply? So, I propose that we apply the same time limits. Of course, if you can be shorter we would very much appreciate that. The rapporteur in total has got 10 minutes and anyone who wishes to intervene has got 3 minutes.

We'll start now with the first one. Rapporteur Mr Frank SCHWABE.

Frank, you have the floor.

Please, Frank, you have to put your mic on.

Frank, we still don't hear you. Maybe if you could reconnect. It will take us 30 seconds but reconnect and let's hope that it works.

Okay. Frank, you have the floor.

Mr Frank SCHWABE

Germany, SOC, Rapporteur

14:37:06

Can you hear me now ?

Mr Frank SCHWABE

Germany, SOC

14:37:09

Sorry, when I'm at home it worked, when I'm in the Parliament it doesn't work. But whatever, thank you so much, Mister President.

Mr Frank SCHWABE

Germany, SOC

14:37:19

I will speak in German.

We had the last plenary session in January of this year, so it's long past. The goal is, of course, to meet again physically as soon as possible so that we can all start talking to each other.

In the meantime, however, it is necessary to prepare ourselves to ensure that our organization remains fully capable of acting, and that includes elections, for example. With this report, we are creating the conditions for us to meet in video mode or in hybrid mode, but again, the aim is of course to meet again as soon as possible and to meet in Strasbourg accordingly.

We have ensured that the technical prerequisites are in place. I have reached agreement on this and am also talking to those in our organisation who are responsible for this. It is a challenge to do this, I have learnt, but everything will probably be possible. We can assume that, if we change the rules here accordingly, we will be able to meet according to these new rules.

How will we meet or how can we meet. First of all, physically, which is still the preferred way, secondly in a video format, so now remotely, and the third possibility is a hybrid form of meeting. But this hybrid form of meeting should not be what we are aiming for, because we should have a level playing field if possible. But this version has been included to prevent the possibility of abuse, that some people might get the idea that we can't come to Strasbourg and that we could run it for a very long time. And in order to prevent this, if in the end it would only be up to one, two or three states, then we could also consider such a hybrid form. It is expressly not the aim.

If we adopt the report today - and this is particularly important to me to emphasise once again - we will then have to take the appropriate decisions in December in the office, in the Bureau, whether we should then, for example, make a video version of the report on the appropriate days. We will also have to decide how elections are to be conducted. Whether we do it by postal vote or by electronic voting. In any case, I would prefer electronic voting because of its practicability and the feasibility and speed of results, and I think that is a broad opinion in our organisation.

What I want to emphasise, for all of us - in order to make this clear to ourselves, in order to make it clear in our national parliaments, in order to make it clear to our colleagues in the delegations - is that we must do everything possible, in terms of procedure and rules of procedure, to prepare for this sitting in January. But we must also do this for ourselves personally in organisational terms. It will not work if the normal meetings in the national parliaments all run in parallel. We have often done that now, and so have I myself, I am sitting in the German Bundestag here in Berlin. But I am sure we will not be able to organise a proper meeting in January if we do everything in parallel. It will not be possible to have a whole week of sensible committee meetings, group meetings, reports, important guests with whom we want to talk, and to do all this at the same time as the parliamentary procedure at national level. So please, please make sure that we really do prepare this week only for the Council of Europe.

That is what we can do today in the Rules of Procedure and then, as I said, we must also implement it in real terms in the end.

Finally, I would just like to say something about the practicability and capacity for action of the committees. My main intention is to make it possible for the Assembly to meet in all forms, including the committees. My basic opinion is that we do not need any special additional quorums - this has not proved to be impracticable in one committee meeting or another where certain decisions have not been taken in the past. That is why my original proposal - and this is again laid down in an amendment - was that we should no longer have any quorums at all, at any rate no additional forums for video formats. I have learnt, though, that some people do have concerns about no longer having any form of quorum at all, which is why there will subsequently be an amendment proposing not to have no more quorums at all, but to reduce them from one third to one quarter. From what I have seen in the past few months' sittings, this one quarter has actually always been achieved, and so I believe that this is a practicable compromise proposal that everyone should actually be able to live with. That is why I, for my part at least, will accept this compromise proposal at the end, and in the meantime, thank you very much for your attention.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

14:43:06

Thank you, Mr Frank SCHWABE.

I now open the floor. One more remark, you are completely right when you say that come January, or whatever other committee meeting, you should have your time exclusively dedicated to the Parliamentary Assembly because otherwise, if you go on parallel activities it just doesn't work.

I open now the discussions. We start with the representatives of the political groups.

First on my list for the Socialists, Democrats and Greens Group is Ms Marina BERLINGHIERI.

You have the floor.

 

Ms Marina BERLINGHIERI

Italy, SOC

14:44:03

Yes, thank you. You understand the name. Thank you.

The pandemic has also had a heavy impact on the activities of our assembly. We were able to react quickly by allowing meetings to be held remotely and still ensure continuity in the work. However, it is undeniable that there are some problematic profiles. First of all, replacing the sessions with meetings of the enlarged standing committee created a problem of representativeness. Because only the members of the committee can vote.

Then we failed to elect some very important positions for the life of the Council of Europe. It is therefore with great satisfaction that we welcome the report presented by Frank SCHWABE, which introduces amendments to the Rules of Procedure to allow the Assembly to hold plenary sessions in hybrid or remote mode in exceptional circumstances.

It is very important to take this opportunity to introduce useful rules that will safeguard the functioning of the institution even in the event of future problems or emergencies.

I would like to highlight two elements that I think are useful. The first is that the structure of the regulation is not altered. Alongside the ordinary rules, there is a rule applicable in exceptional situations. The other element, which is very important, is that the application of these special rules must be established by the Bureau for defined timescales, from time to time for sessions and for precise timescales for commissions.

So, if the hybrid mode is chosen, I am fully aware that delegations that cannot be physically present in Strasbourg will have fewer opportunities to report than those who will be present. However, the working methods will be the same for those who work remotely and those who work in attendance. I therefore feel I can reassure some of my fellow Members who expressed concerns about the democratic nature of the new system during the examination in the Committee on Rules of Procedure.

I believe that accepting meetings in hybrid mode does not weaken our organisation but, on the contrary, strengthens it.

We are living in a time of great urgency and uncertainty, we have a duty to show the citizens of Europe that we are doing our job to the full. We all prefer to work in presence and meet. However, until this is possible, we must not block the institution or suffer the blackmail of easy exploitation.

It is certainly a very strong and very important challenge. Frank SCHWABE's proposal allows us to take up this challenge in an intelligent and balanced way. That is why the whole of the Socialist Group fully supports it both in the amendments and in the recommendations it made to us in its introduction.

Thank you.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

14:47:21

You're onboard, Mr Andreas NICK. You can go.

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD

14:47:44

Thank you, Mister President.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am very glad that we can discuss these reports today. I was one of the first, I believe, who, in the summer when it was foreseeable that we would not be able to return to our regular operations in September or October either, urged that we should create the conditions to enable us to continue our work under online conditions.

We have been working very effectively in the committees since spring, also online, in terms of content. As I said, we have now reached the point where we have to ensure that we can reconstitute our Assembly next year, 2021. We do this in January every year in order to maintain the functioning of the Parliamentary Assembly, and we must ensure that we as a Parliamentary Assembly can fulfil our statutory rights and obligations as an organ of the Council of Europe. This applies in particular to the elections for judges at the Court of Human Rights and the elections of the Council of Europe's officials. We cannot delegate these to any other body, unlike we can do for reports or other matters. In this respect, this report is of central importance for the future ability of the Assembly and the whole organisation to act.

I would like to thank Mr Frank SCHWABE and his colleagues on the Rules Committee for preparing it in this way. We will do so today, under whatever conditions, so that in January we can convene our Assembly in plenary mode and fulfil our statutory rights and obligations.

I believe it is particularly important that, when we hold elections, it should be ensured, even in hybrid or online mode, that only those who are genuinely entitled to vote cast their votes and, at the same time, that secret elections can also be held in secret. In particular, we must also ensure that we do not conduct split procedures, for example in a hybrid session between those who are physically present and those who vote online, but we must also ensure a level playing field there. If we do this today, I believe we have created the best conditions for us as an assembly to continue to be able to carry out our task, our function.

I believe that the proposal announced by Mr Frank SCHWABE for a reduced quorum for the committees is appropriate, and I, too, would support it if we were to follow this proposal afterwards, as well as approving the report as a whole today so that we can decide on its practical implementation in December and meet virtually or physically in Strasbourg in January in whatever appropriate form under the pandemic conditions.

Thank you very much.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

14:50:34

I call the ALDE Group representative, Ms Nicole TRISSE.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE

14:50:50

Good morning everyone and thank you for today and for this report, dear Frank.

We do indeed need to have this important reform of the Rules of Procedure because we really must adapt our procedures, otherwise we will simply condemn the Parliamentary Assembly to stagnation.

The ALDE Group therefore supports the draft resolution adopted by the Committee on Rules of Procedure, which is truly the fruit of serious and constructive work. I congratulate Mr Frank Schwabe once again on the quality of this report.

We need to consider a new type of plenary session because it is indeed necessary to adapt. We need to be able to debate and make appointments that are long overdue. Like many, I would much prefer it if we could be sure that we will be able to meet in Strasbourg in the coming weeks as before, but, even if encouraging signals are coming our way about the development of vaccines, it would be inconsistent for us to wait for months on end for a normalisation of the health situation in Europe to take place "gently".

The options opened up by the resolution and adopted by a large majority may not be exciting, but they are, in any case, realistic and relevant. They offer a glimpse - at last - of the Parliamentary Assembly taking back control of its prerogatives. As far as I am concerned, and I am not the only one to think so, the prospect of hybrid sessions allowing even partial resumption of what is at the heart of our Assembly is the option that we should favour. It will not lead, contrary to what one sometimes hears, to the creation of delegations with differentiated statuses, except to consider that in normal times the members present and those not coming to Strasbourg have different statuses.

The proposed amendments will enable everyone to exercise their right to speak and vote, whether they are in Strasbourg or in front of their screens. This is really a positive contribution of technology to the continuity of parliamentary life, especially as we will all vote the same way - Mr SCHWABE mentioned that when he mentioned electronic voting.

Ladies and gentlemen, the choice before us today is that of an alternative between, on the one hand, adaptability to particular circumstances for a given but necessary period of time for parliamentary debate and, on the other hand, procedural conservatism synonymous with immobility and delegitimisation over time, or even the disappearance of what we represent. I would also like to say, in this connection, that I agree with Mr SCHWABE that we should really be in PACE, whether we are face-to-face or virtual, and I also agree with the principle of the quorum, which should be lowered when we have virtual meetings.

Also, true to our principles, we in the ALDE group support the will to make PACE work again on a collegial and deliberative basis, while adapting to the health context. We will of course vote in favour of this resolution and we thank Mr Schwabe again for everything he has written.

Thank you.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

14:53:59

 We now move to the European Conservatives, Mr Ian LIDDELL-GRAINGER. Ian, you've got the floor.

Mr Ian LIDDELL-GRAINGER

United Kingdom, EC/DA

14:54:09

Thank you, Mister President.

This has been fascinating just listening to my colleagues.

The first thing I would like to say is that anybody who's a parliamentarian would like to come to Strasbourg in January. One of the biggest problems we will face is that at the moment all British MPs are banned from travelling, not by the government, but by the speaker of the House of Commons. Therefore, at this precise moment it would be impossible for us to come. We would like to be there, but we can't. A hybrid system for us is basically the only way forward. Now, there is nothing in what Mr Frank SCHWABE has put forward that parliaments are by large not doing. Most parliaments are voting online, most parts are doing committees online, most parliaments are actually doing the job of the parliament online as we at the moment seem to be doing as well.

I come onto the voting as the voting is crucial. We do have two sets of facts or three technically which we've got to get through. I will check with others to make sure this happens. It is nothing clever about this. There are plenty of ways of doing it. It isn't difficult, and therefore I'm delighted we're going to have it. Also on the format in the future, there is no guarantee as Ms Nicole TRISSE said that the vaccine will be ready in time for anything. It is going to take an enormous amount of time to vaccinate enough people across Europe to make this work well. If we set up the parameters now, it means that whatever happens in the future, it can be January, it can be the next session in April, at least we have an opportunity to have some sort of realism in this. I think that's the most important thing because the quorum and all the rest of it is right. I didn't have any problems with this. I think the most important thing is to give the flexibility to parliamentarians.

None of us have a crystal ball, Mister President. If you'd said to any of us in February this year, would we be in this position? Of course we would say no, absolutely not a chance, we would just carry on doing what we're doing. Look at us now. You cannot believe in that small amount of time everything that we have tried to work for through democracy, through rule of law, etc., has changed so dramatically in that period of time. Therefore, I would say that this is absolutely right. Please don't, Mister President or anyone else, just presume that countries who want to be there and can't be are using it as an excuse not to be. I'm afraid that's not always the case and certainly not in our case. Therefore, flexibility must be there to be able to do both systems. There's nothing clever about this. Actually if at the end of the day if there is political will, the secretariat under Wojciech can supply all the rooms and all the spaces that they have safely to do so, then we must have that flexibility.

Thank you, Mr President.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

14:57:06

Thank you, Ian.

Obviously, we will welcome whoever of our colleagues who can and is allowed to come to be here. Maybe there's just one small detail: the rules were making are for the exceptional situation. So, from the moment we do not have an exceptional situation, we go physical full-fledged. I'm saying this because I wish to avoid it at the end of the day in the future we might have a situation where certain delegations would like to be in a hybrid model, though it's not necessary. This being said we have now the United Left.

Mr Tiny KOX.

Tiny, you have the floor.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL

14:57:48

Thank you very much and great to see you at least, Mister President, there are in the hemicycle. We all envy you and want to be with you as soon as possible. Let me first compliment ourselves for all the good work done in the past months of this year under your presidency, Mister President, and with tremendous support and hard and creative work of our Secretary General and the whole of this team. My compliments also includes our committees and especially our Committee Chairs and our excellent staff, who manage to do our work in times of COVID-19. That's a great thing. Well done, I say congratulations to everybody, Mister President.

Nevertheless, it's now time to look forward as well and therefore we have to modify our rules of procedure with regards to hybrid or remote meetings of our Assembly and its committees. Proposals are presented by Mr Frank SCHWABE and we as the UEL group fully adhere to his proposal. The same goes for the additional modification of some rules proposed by Ms Ingjerd SCHOU. We do endorse her proposals wholeheartedly.

I thank both reporteurs for the work done in such a short time. Being so creative and so practical deserves our applause, I think. At the end of the debate I intend to propose, Mister President, an oral sub-amendment to the only amendment made with regards to Mr Frank SCHWABE's resolution and that oral sub-amendment intends to lower the Quorum from 33, which is at this moment our rule to a 25%. I'm very happy that Mr Frank SCHWABE is agreeing to this proposal. This proposal will be made by me on behalf of the whole of the Presidential Committee. We reached, I think, a practical agreement on this.

That being said, Mister President, I hope we will endorse these two resolutions, if possible, unanimously. Thank you very much.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

15:00:00

Thank you, Tiny.

We now move on to the colleagues. I've got one, two, three, four, five, six, seven on my list.

May I request our colleagues that in the future as of now to inscribe yourselves, please, before the last speaker of the political groups. That will facilitate the functioning. So, the speaker's list is now seven people.

First on the list is Ms Ingjerd SCHOU.

Madam Ingjerd SCHOU, you have the floor.

Ms Ingjerd SCHOU

Norway, EPP/CD

15:00:33

Dear president, dear colleagues.

COVID-19 has, once again, shown how fragile democracy, rule of law and also human rights are. As of the crisis we also see fundamental values and principles being challenged. We have seen political leaders using the ongoing crisis to extend their power and also influence, sidestepping democratic processes. We have also seen basic human rights, such as freedom of expression and assembly, being challenged and limited, explained by the need to protect public health. We also have seen that in times of crisis the work of the Council of Europe as watchdog of democracy is of utmost importance. President, it is therefore our duty to do what we can to enable the assembly to meet internally and ensure that the organization is able to fulfill its statutory obligations.

Due to the exceptional circumstances of COVID-19, the assembly has not met in the plenary since last January. The modifications of the Rules of Procedure as proposed by Mr Frank SCHWABE in this report will enable the assembly to hold a remote or hybrid plenary session in January as well as the extraordinary situations in the future. With the adoption of Mr Frank SCHWABE's report we are well on our way to open the 2021 session in January and hence also elect judges to the court, as well as high ranking officials of the Council of Europe.

I congratulate Mr Frank SCHWABE on his excellent work. As chair of the Rules Committee I have witnessed great dedication from him and from the Secretariat, a clear focus on detail and the utmost respect for the serious and complicated nature of the questions, and I strongly encourage you to vote in favor of Mr Frank SCHWABE's draft resolution. 

Thank you, Mister President.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

15:02:55

Thank you, Ms Ingjerd SCHOU. We now move to Mr Sergey KISLYAK, you have the floor.

Mr Sergey KISLYAK

Russian Federation, NR

15:03:23

Thank you, Mister Chairman.

I will try to keep my comments brief. I'm also very grateful to Mr SCHWABE for the great deal of work he put into introducing these exceptional rules of procedure for our work. However, I do harbour a number of doubts, which mean that I will have difficulty supporting these rules as set out in the report. 

First of all, the circumstances we find ourselves in are indeed exceptional, and this means we must adopt exceptional working methods. More or less, we figured out how to work in this context. However, the report and the draft resolution are based on the idea that these rules can be used in any exceptional circumstances and the definition of such a situation is rather broad. It includes natural disasters, political unrest, and acts of terrorism. Thus, I wish to underscore just how exceptional this emergency is. After all, we all find ourselves in almost the same boat. In terms of the impact it has had on us, our ability to travel, including travel to Strasbourg. So, for this, for the current situation, these rules are workable, in my opinion. 

Next, I have a lot of doubt about the hybrid mode and whether the hybrid mode can allow equal working conditions for all members of our organisations: those who are going to be in the room versus those who are going to be working remotely. Mister Chairman, this is not the first time we've discussed the issue of elections. Every single time I hear different versions of how the voting is going to take place. The root of this problem is the report because the report does not contain the principle of equality, equality of participation for all members of our organisation, be it via hybrid or remote mode or any other mode. That's the second thing. 

The third source of concern, in my view is the fact that we are lowering the quorum threshold because the legitimacy and the quality of the decisions we are taking under these exceptional circumstances is dropping. We understand that and if we lower the quorum threshold, quality will fall further and we will lose legitimacy in the eyes of our constituents. Thank you. 

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

15:06:35

Thank you, Mister Sergey KISLYAK.

We now go to Lord Richard BALFE. You have the floor.

Lord Richard BALFE

United Kingdom, NR

15:06:44

Can I firstly say that we're in a transition phase and at the beginning of next year we might still face a situation in which different countries have different rules, both for travel and the quarantining after travel. So, we have to look at the transition period and that means that some people will work remotely and others will be able to be there.

Now, we've had this situation in the House of Lords for the last two months and we can be made to work and you can as remote voting works. I think we have to concentrate on having an interim system, shall we say. If I could make one positive suggestion: if we're going to stick to people in the Chamber, are we going to have a distance between them which is greater than it is at the moment? If so, I wonder whether the Secretary General would like to talk to the European Parliament, because their hemicycle is almost twice the size of ours. It would be possible to get many more people in there with a greater distance.

Before we get too proud of things, may I remind the members of the European Parliament met in the Council of Europe Chamber right up until the turn of the century. So there is a question. The next point I'd like to make is some people will want to shield longer than others. I think we have to allow a certain amount of discretion certainly in the first meeting or two that people can choose whether they take part in a hybrid or other things.

I'm fairly clear that the Speaker of the House of Lords, if there was going be a meeting in Strasbourg of the Council, would allow the UK delegation to attend. I know that he has wound up frustrated with the whole business, but, clearly, he wants to keep things going.

My very final point: Lord Simon Russell, who is one of our delegation has been taking charge of an overseas procedure during the pandemic. I'm sure if he did, he'd be very happy to talk to the authorities of the Council about actors in other countries, that is if you don't already have the information. Thank you.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

15:09:51

Thank you.

We now move on to our next speaker, who is Mr Aleksander POCIEJ.

You have the floor.

 

Mr Aleksander POCIEJ

Poland, EPP/CD

15:10:00

Thank you President.

Many things for Mr Frank SCHWABE. This is very quick, excellent work. Of course possible due to excellent work of the staff of the Committee. I must also underline the excellent cooperation of the Presidential Committee and the excellent atmosphere which allowed us to react quickly.

I was probably the first one during the Presidential Committee as the President of the Group of the European People's Party to put forward this idea of a hybrid meeting. Of course I fully support this report and the ideas that we can find in this report. Of course as Mr Rik DAEMS just underlined, this shall be the ultimate and temporary remedy, but we have to have it. For that reason I call to all parliamentarians to do their utmost in their respective countries to so everything to allow as many as possible parliamentarians to come to Strasbourg. That also, and this is probably the call to our German colleagues, is to allow anybody who wishes to go to Strasbourg by car to be allowed to go there.

I must underline once again that for example in Poland because I heard what our British colleagues and our Russian colleagues are saying, but any holder of a diplomatic passport can travel without any restriction. Just a few days ago we had a summit of the European Union, and it was absolutely not a problem to gather people who are running the European Union together because this is so important. Human rights and democracy are as important as the economy and political decisions. We shall gather together physically, everybody who can.

Thank you very much.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

15:13:00

Thank you, Alex.

We now have Mr Antonio GUTIÉRREZ.

Antonio, you have the floor.

Mr Antonio GUTIÉRREZ

Spain, SOC

15:13:06

Thank you Mr President.

I would like to speak in Spanish.

We are in a time of crisis. All our national parliaments have had to take measures. Measures that allow us to continue with our parliamentary work. Similarly, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe must do the same. We gave Mr Frank SCHWABE a task. This task was not an easy one by any means. We're talking about modifying the rules in order to allow us to continue with our work. And as for the outcome of that work, I would like to commend Frank. It really is a fantastic work he has done on this. The proposal is balanced. It is very structured. It is very clear. I think it will allow us to move forward and to continue with our work as a Parliamentary Assembly.

On behalf of the Spanish delegation I would also like to make a further comment. We are referring to the possibility of simultaneous interpretation into languages other than the working languages or official languages of the Council of Europe. This might be a technical issue but we would really, as the Spanish delegation, like to make sure that this can be organised and that we can have simultaneous interpretation into these other languages too. It is very important for us and for our work. The Spanish delegation will, with that in mind, support these proposals, this report.

Once again we would like to thank the committee and the rapporteur for this excellent work.

Thank you.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

15:14:50

Thank you, Antonio.

We now have Mr Piero FASSINO.

Piero, you have the floor.

We lost your image.

Mr Piero FASSINO

Italy, SOC

15:15:24

Hello? Are you listening to me?

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

15:15:27

Yeah. Perfect, perfect. You can go ahead.

Mr Piero FASSINO

Italy, SOC

15:15:29

So, I would also like to thank Mr Frank SCHWABE who has done a really excellent job.

Now, it is clear that all of us would like to do the assembly in attendance as soon as possible and we hope to be able to do it in January. However, this is not in our hands. It is clear that, if the epidemic continues at the current rate, we are not sure whether the conditions are in place to attend the assembly in January, and we must therefore have flexibility.

I think that the proposals that Frank has put forward are very timely and appropriate. They take account of an exceptional situation and, in some respects, they also structurally correct the limitations of our work. And so I believe that we must stick to these proposals and we must, with sufficient flexibility, ensure that the work of the Council continues to work, as the President, I thank him, has endeavoured to do in recent months.

And in relation to the events, then consider whether we are able to call a meeting in the presence of the assembly or whether we should go to a meeting that adopts a hybrid system and allows those who can be there and those who cannot, through digital links, to be there.

The only doubt, not a certainty, the only doubt I have, concerns the lowering of the quorum in decisions. Because the lowering of the quorum risks offering the right to those who want to challenge them. If a member country of the Council of Europe violates human rights and we adopt a resolution of reprobation or at any rate of censorship that calls on it to respect human rights and change its behaviour and is adopted with a quorum that is not the majority of the assembly, it will be easy to say to the authority of that government that this resolution does not interest us and we are not bound to respect it because it does not even have a majority of the assembly that has expressed it.

Therefore, in this sense, I would still evaluate the question of the quorum very carefully, checking exactly how we can ensure that our decisions have a strong value and no one can challenge their legitimacy and at the same time, of course, take into account the fact that we take these decisions in a more complicated regime, also from the point of view of numbers.

So I would just ask for more from Frank and everyone on this point. Today, I believe that the resolution will be adopted, I hope that it will be adopted. It contains some very useful proposals, so we must approve it.

Let us check the quorum again to see if there are any other ways in which we can mitigate the risk that I have mentioned.

Thank you, Mr President.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

15:18:48

Grazie, Piero.

We now go to Ms Petra STIENEN.

Petra, you have the floor.

Ms Petra STIENEN

Netherlands, ALDE

15:18:57

Yes, thank you, Mister President.

As the leader of the Netherlands delegation, I am very pleased with the work of Mr Frank SCHWABE and Ms Ingjerd SCHOU. This is giving us a road map for the next coming months. I hope it's not longer than the next coming months. In Arabic there's a beautiful saying that says "trust in God, but tie your camel".

So, I think we are working with a very good base to be secure that we can continue our important work and many speakers before me have complimented the team in Strasbourg, the rapporteurs. I would also extend my compliments to you, Mister President, the team, the Secretary General, all the interpreters because of what task you have and had over the past couple of months and will in the next coming months.

Depending on Corona, we will be able to meet, hopefully, in a hybrid form. I think that's the maximum we can aim for. There are two issues which are of concern to my delegation. Like in the UK, our Parliament has issued a decree that members of parliament are not allowed to travel under the present circumstances. Members of the Senate are allowed to travel for necessary travel. So, we will benefit from a hybrid solution. I think, Mr President, it might be helpful, after we have accepted both the draft resolutions, if maybe you can inform the speakers of our parliament about this decision and encourage them to be as flexible as possible in allowing the members of our parliaments to travel.

It might be helpful for us also as delegation leaders to negotiate manoeuvering space for our delegation members.

Thank you.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

15:20:54

Thank you Ms Petra STIENEN.

Definitely we will reach out to the speakers of the parliaments and urge them to allow the members to head out to Strasbourg.

Last on my list at this stage is Sir Roger GALE. You have the floor.

Sir Roger GALE

United Kingdom, EC/DA

15:21:11

Thanks very much. Congratulations to Frank, he's done a tremendous amount of work. I know I am going to have to disagree with some of it. It's surprising and it's probably the first and maybe the last time it's ever happened to say that Frank has managed to unite myself and Mr Sergey KISLYAK.

I am concerned about the qualification for exceptional circumstances. I think that one of the things that we need to look at is putting a sunset clause into this so that it is applicable for the pandemic, but not necessarily ongoing although we, of course, can learn from the experience.

My second concern relates to the hybrid meeting in January. Mister President, if I could have your attention please as well, I don't think that there is a reasonable chance of a lot of us being able to attend Strasbourg in January. I'm concerned about the fact that if we do, and people come from all over the wider Europe to Strasbourg, what happens if as happened to you when you went to Moscow, there is a an outbreak of COVID within the delegation? Is the entire Assembly going to be quarantined? How are you going to handle this? If a lot of people decide they can turn up and do turn up, how are you going to socially distance in a Chamber that is too small already anyway?

I'm not certain that this is going to work and I agree with Mr Piero FASSINO. I think we have to maintain flexibility and be prepared to say, and not be too grand to say: actually we can't do this physically in January. In the hope and expectation that with vaccinations we might be able to do it in April. I think we have to be ready to pull the plug in January.

The final issue, and again I agree with Mr Sergey KISLYAK on this, and others with whom I have spoken, I don't believe we should lower the Quorum.

I do think that would be a retrograde step, and I think we must maintain the Quorum it is. With those fairly severe caveats, I nevertheless thank Frank, and I hope that we can make some, if not all of this, work. Thank you.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

15:23:44

Thank you, Sir Roger GALE.

It's always nice to see that the Council of Europe allows people to agree, even you and Mr Sergey KISLYAK, lovely.

Maybe there are a few remarks on the sunset clause. It is indeed in there because the Bureau of the Assembly has to decide in every instance which mode of convening will be used. So, it is basically a continuous sunset clause in there for the simple reason, again, that the Bureau of the Assembly has to decide at any instance.

The outbreak of COVID-19 in Russia, just for the information of the colleagues, there was a suspicion of potential infection of one of the Russian colleagues. He proved to be negative twice afterwards, so it was a false alarm. Again it is right for you to mention it in terms of how safe between brackets it is to come down here. I don't know whether we can show the hemicycle and you can see that the social distancing is already organised. There is pretesting for any colleague and staff coming in, so basically you would have to have a test before you would be allowed into the meetings and the test obviously has to be negative. Heading back home, we offer a test again in order to comfort homebase that you didn't get anything down here. Is it 100% foolproof? Nothing is. Again, these are the elements that we are working on and are already in place, but we will view more information coming January.

The speaker's list as far as I can see is completed. Now I have the rapporteur Mr Frank SCHWABE to respond.

Mister Frank SCHWABE, you have the floor.

Mr Frank SCHWABE

Germany, SOC, Rapporteur

15:25:31

Thank you very much Mr President.

I hope you can hear me.

I would like to thank all of you. It is maybe not the most important report in our Assembly but for sure it is a necessary report because it brings us into the situation to deal with the COVID-19 situation and with whatever will happen. I'm quite sure that we will not misuse it.

It was especially Mr Sergey KISLYAK who raised some concerns about it. I think that's the normal risk of misusing it.

For sure I would like to say as well thank you to the President, the chairs, to the Secretariat and all the staff and the interpreters. We did it very well in this specific situation and there are some other international organisations that have more problems to proceed with their work. Like Mr Aleksander POCIEJ and others mentioned I would like to thank the Presidential Committee as well for agreeing on this including the question of the quorum. We just tried to balance it between those who think like me, we should not have a special quorum in remote meetings, and others who think we should have quite a high one. So I think 25%, one-fourth, is really a good compromise that lets us work very well due to the experience we had in past months.

Mr Sergey KISLYAK raised some concerns. I mentioned it already, but I really think we will not misuse it. I think it's not too broad what we describe as an extraordinary situation. I think if there were really a majority to misuse this, to have a kind of remote meeting when it's not necessary, then we have other problems with this organisation when there was a majority for this. About the quorum I spoke already. It's based, I think, just on the experience of the last month. To make it possible to work and to prevent that kind of misuse. A lot was mentioned as well. Lord Richard BALFE, you spoke about the EU Parliament. For sure, Mr Aleksander POCIEJ, the Secretary General and others always prove it but the problem is we are always depending on the decision from the EU Parliament, not from the president of the parliament there. At the end we should try to be, in a way, as independent as possible, if it's necessary in a specific situation. We are prepared to check it, for sure. You spoke about the health situation of some members and for sure for this we will provide as well a kind of hybrid meeting possibility. On the sunset I think the President clarified already. Sir Roger GALE mentioned we already have a kind of sunset situation because we always have to decide on whether the next plenary session should be in a remote way or just in a normal way like before. So at the end, again thank you so much and I hope we can agree as well on the question of one-fourth so we have a very broad agreement in our Standing Committee.

Again thank you very much.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

15:29:15

Thank you, Frank.

That was the chairperson of the Committee. Do you wish to add something, Miss Ingjerd SCHOU? Do you wish to have the floor?

Miss Ingjerd SCHOU, you have the floor. 3 minutes maximum.

Ms Ingjerd SCHOU

Norway, EPP/CD

15:29:29

Mister President,

Mr Frank SCHWABE has done an excellent work on this complex report on a very complex issue.

The report has been debated twice in the Committee and Mr Frank SCHWABE has received strong support of a majority of Committee members.

Adopting this report is crucial for us to fulfil our obligations.

As we are entering 2021 and as Chair of the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs, I strongly encourage you to vote in favour of this draft resolution.

 

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

15:30:09

Thank you, Madam Chair, the debate is closed. We have to close the microphones.

The bill is closed, we shall now proceed to the vote.

I would like to remind our colleagues around the virtual table that only members of the standing committee are entitled to vote. We are in the amendment to the draft resolution document 15178.

The Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs presented a draft resolution with one amendment and only one has been tabled. You have this in your compendium. I remind you that speeches on amendments are limited to one minute. I will see who wishes to support the amendment, but I also understand Mr Tiny KOX has informed me that he presents an oral sub-amendment to Amendment number one.

Ttherefore, I think it would be wise to first go to Mr Luís LEITE RAMOS, to explain his amendment. Then we can go to Mr Tiny KOX to explain his sub-amendment, if one or both wish to have the floor.

I will start with Mr Luís LEITE RAMOS because this is the main amendment. Let's see if Mr Luís LEITE RAMOS wishes to have the floor. I don't see it.

Then I immediately move to Mr Tiny KOX. In the sub-amendment, maybe if I can clarify, in the amendment of Mr Luís LEITE RAMOS it says a committee... Is Mr RAMOS there? OK. Then I will give the floor, first, to Mr Luís LEITE RAMOS.

Mister Luís LEITE RAMOS, you have the floor.

Mister Luís LEITE RAMOS, you have to take the floor if you wish your amendment to be tabled.

Okay, I see that Mr Luís LEITE RAMOS has a problem connecting or otherwise, so I declare the amendment by Mr Luís LEITE RAMOS being moved.

So then I come to Mr Tiny KOX, who presents an oral sub-amendment. It reads as follows: in the amendment number one of Mr Luís LEITE RAMOS the sentence goes "a committee may deliberate and take decisions when one third of its members are present at the beginning of the meeting". Mr Tiny KOX has informed me that he wishes to change that sentence into "a committee may take decisions when one fourth or 25% of its members are present". So,the change is between one third of its members present at the beginning of the meeting, and Mr Tiny KOX proposes to change that to "taking decision when one fourth of its members are present".

Tiny, you have the floor.

Vote: Modification of the Assembly’s Rules of Procedure on alternative arrangements for the organisation of Parliamentary Assembly part-sessions

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL

15:33:18

Thank you very much Mr President.

I indeed already said what I wanted to propose. My proposal is based on the compromise that was reached between the leaders of the political groups last Sunday in our meeting of the Presidential Committee.

I think it's for the record important that I read the oral sub-amendment completely so that it is stated in the record what we change in the rules. The sub-amendment reads as follows. In amendment number one replace the words: "second, fourth and fifth sentences of rule 42.7 and rule 40.3 shall not apply. A committee may deliberate and take decisions when one third of its members are present at the beginning of the meeting".

To replace these words with the following words, "second, fourth and fifth sentence of rule for 47.2, rule 47.3 and rule 47.4 shall not apply. A committee may take decisions when one-fourth of its members are present".  And as said this is a compromise between a very high quorum and no quorum. I think that almost all colleagues will be able to live with this one-fourth quorum.

Thank you very much President.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

15:34:41

Thank you, Tiny.

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

Can I then - I'm trying to follow here - can I then have the opinion of the mover of the main amendment, Mr LEITE RAMOS? Mr LEITE RAMOS, you have the floor.

Mr Luís LEITE RAMOS

Portugal, EPP/CD

15:35:10

I'm sorry, but I'm on a train trip and I'm having trouble connecting.

Our original idea was to maintain the same rules for physical meetings in remote or hybrid meetings. And so, like in physical meetings, we have a quorum check at the beginning of the meetings. If we don't have a quorum, we close and reopen the meeting. We do not oppose this subamendment. 

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

15:36:09

Okay so I understand that the author of the basic amendment does not oppose the sub-amendment. Do we have any opinion against? It is the moment to do so. No.

Okay, then we will now move to vote on this oral sub-amendment. So to be clear we are voting now on the oral sub-amendment of Mr Tiny KOX which reads:

"in amendment one replace the words 'second, fourth and fifth sentence of Rule 47.2 and Rule 47.3 shall not apply. A committee made deliberate and take decisions when one third of its members are present at the beginning of the meeting.'

To be replaced by 'second, fourth and fifth sentence of Rule 47.2, Rule 47.3 and Rule 47.4 shall not apply a committee may take decisions when one fourth of its members are present.'"

We now will move to the vote. Is the voting ready Mr Wojciech SAWICKI?

The vote is open.

15 seconds. Hurry up.

Voting is closed. Can we have the results please?

Can you read the result Mr Wojciech SAWICKI? It is too far and too small for me to see. I just don't see that.

I see the results but it's a bit too far.

Mr Wojciech SAWICKI

Council of Europe

15:38:18

The results are the following: 21 members voted in favour of the sub-amendment, five members against and three abstentions.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

15:38:28

Okay, then the oral sub-amendment is accepted.

Then, we will now consider the main amendment as amended by the sub-amendment. Does anyone wish to express him or herself against?

Since the Committee was not able to consider the amendment, I therefore invite rapporteur to give his opinion, Mr SCHWABE.

Mr Frank SCHWABE

Germany, SOC, Rapporteur

15:38:56

I really thank Luis and Tiny, I think it's a very good compromise. So I'm in favor of this amendment as supplemented.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

15:39:05

Then we now will vote on this amendment as it has been amended.

The vote is open.

Fifteen seconds.

Vote is closed.

Please, read out the results, Mr Wojciech SAWICKI.

Mr Wojciech SAWICKI

Council of Europe

15:39:50

Mr President, the result is the following: 26 members voted in favour of Amendment 1 as sub-amended, three members voted against and there are three abstentions.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

15:40:02

Thank you very much.

Then this amendment as amended is accepted.

We shall now proceed to vote on the draft resolution contained in document 15178 as amended.

I recall, dear colleagues, that in order to be adopted a simple majority is required.

So we now vote on the draft resolution.

The vote is open.

Okay, just a second. The vote is not yet open. Just a second, colleagues.

Okay, the vote is open. Please vote.

Fifteen seconds.

Vote is closed.

Wojciech, if you can read out the results.

Mr Wojciech SAWICKI

Council of Europe

15:41:22

Mr President, the resolution has been adopted with 29 votes in favor, no one against, and five abstentions.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

15:41:32

Well, it's a nice result.

Therefore, the resolution has been adopted.

My congratulations to all of you and, more specifically, to the rapporteur and the committee. It does allow us to be able to work in a very good way as from now because the rules apply immediately if I understand.

But then we have report number two of the committee modification of the Assembly's rules of procedure. This is the report modification of the Assembly's rules of procedure document 15179 presented by the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional affairs.

The report will be presented by the rapporteur Ms Ingjerd SCHOU. You know the rules, you've got 10 minutes as rapporteur and then the interventions are limited to 3 minutes. When we have amendments or not, I mean, then we'll tackle that one. As of now I have not received any amendments.

Ms Ingjerd SCHOU, you have the floor.

 

Debate: Modification of the Assembly's Rules of Procedure

Ms Ingjerd SCHOU

Norway, EPP/CD, Rapporteur

15:42:39

Mr President and colleagues, today I have the honour to present the conclusions of the reflections of the Committee on Rules of Procedure on some simple proposals to improve our procedures during plenary sittings and committee meetings. None of these proposals contain any radical changes.

They simply intend to amend those provisions in the Rules of Procedure which need to be supplemented or reviewed in order to better correspond to our parliamentary practice. I therefore hope that the members of the Standing Committee will support them.

The draft resolution presented today contains proposals regarding:

– the procedure of periodic review on member States' compliance with their obligations as implemented by the Monitoring Committee;

– the procedure for examining amendments in committee and plenary sittings;

– the procedure for electing the President and the Vice-Presidents of the Assembly:

– the criteria applicable to the re-election of committee vice-chairpersons;

– the number of current affairs debates allowed during a part-session or a Standing Committee meeting.

I will now mention five issues. The first and most important issue relates to the procedures implemented by the Monitoring Committee. The Monitoring Committee's terms of reference were changed by Resolution 2261 in 2019 and Resolution 2325 in 2020. This was in order to strengthen the periodic review procedure of member States’ compliance with the Council of Europe's obligations, as a complementary mechanism to the full monitoring procedure and the post-monitoring dialogue.

The Rules Committee was invited by the Bureau of the Assembly to assess the conformity of this new periodic review procedure with the Rules. And in January 2020, the Committee approved an opinion to the Bureau and made critical comments with regard to this periodic review procedure. In particular, it considered that the same procedural formalities should apply in an identical manner to all procedures covered by the terms of reference of the Monitoring Committee. A reference to the Committee should be validated by the Assembly when it prepares a periodic review report, in the same way as a report on a “classic” monitoring procedure or a report on the functioning of democratic institutions in a member State.

On 5 March this year, the Bureau took note of the Committee's opinion and asked the Committee to make changes to the Monitoring Committee's terms of reference accordingly. Paragraph 3.1 on the draft resolution presented today proposes to harmonise the relevant provisions of the terms of reference of the Monitoring Committee. This is to make it clear that any decision on the Monitoring Committee to open a periodic review procedure in respect of certain member States shall require the approval of the Bureau in accordance with Rule 26 of the Rules of Procedure and ratification by the Assembly.

The same clarification shall also apply to another procedure mentioned in the Monitoring Committee’s terms of reference: that of the issue-based, cross-country monitoring. Any reference to the Monitoring Committee for a report on a cross-country thematic issue must also be validated by the Bureau and the Assembly.

The second issue dealt with in my report relates to the procedure for examining amendments in committee and in plenary sittings. Members might recall that at the June 2019 part-session, the Assembly and the Rules Committee had to reorganise their work due to a considerable number of amendments tabled for one particular report. In addition, members of the Assembly regularly express their dissatisfaction with the limitation of the number of speakers able to speak in a debate because of the large number of amendments tabled, forcing the list of speakers to be cut thoroughly. It is therefore proposed that Rule 34 on the procedure for examining amendments in committee and in plenary sitting be modified in order to strengthen the competence of committees when taking a position on amendments tabled.

And paragraph 3.2 on the draft resolution proposes that amendments rejected by the Committee seized for a report by a two-thirds majority shall not be taken up in plenary and shall be declared as definitively rejected, unless ten or more members of the Assembly object.

And three, the third issue. It is also proposed to simplify the procedures for the election of the President and Vice-Presidents of the Assembly. These procedures should follow the Assembly's ordinary election procedure, as applied to the election of judges to the European Court of Human Rights and high-ranking officials of the Council of Europe. The procedure laid down for the election of the Vice-Presidents, which was unused for a very long time, was implemented on the occasion of the ballots held during the October 2019 and January 2020 part-sessions. This experience has shown that the procedure is unnecessarily complicated and no longer appropriate in view of the Assembly's practice. The procedure for electing the President of the Assembly is also the subject of the same remark. Proposed changes are suggested under paragraph 3.3 of the draft resolution.

And so the fourth issue. Another proposal relates to the candidatures for the office of chairperson or vice-chairperson of the Committee with regard to members who have already held such offices. Current Rules provide for a period during which a former chairperson may not stand for re-election to the same office. However, while former committee chairpersons are permitted to stand for election as chairperson or vice-chairperson (subject to a four-year waiting period for the same committee or after the expiry of a two-year period to stand for election to another committee), these conditions do not apply to outgoing vice-chairpersons. The criteria applicable to the re-election of committee vice-chairpersons has led to misunderstandings in some committees which had difficulty in finding candidates who met the regulatory requirements.

Paragraph 3.4 of the draft resolution suggests that outgoing committee vice-chairpersons are given the same waiting periods as outgoing committee chairpersons.

And lastly, the fifth issue. The Rules stipulate that the Assembly or the Standing Committee may hold only one current affairs debate during an Assembly part-session or a Standing Committee meeting. The flow of events of recent months has mobilised members' attention, and several proposals for current affairs debates were made so that the current issue could be debated at the meetings of the Standing Committee. In this context, the limit of one debate per Assembly part-session or Standing Committee meeting imposed by the Rules of Procedure appeared to hinder the possibility to discuss a greater number of subjects. Paragraph 3.5 of the draft resolution aims at allowing the Assembly and the Standing Committee to hold more than one current affairs debate during a part-session or a meeting.

And lastly, I would like to mention that since my report was released, some members had made additional proposals – some interesting ideas indeed – but these ideas have not yet been presented to the Rules Committee and I would like to thank in particular Mr Yildiz for his interest in our work.

The Rules Committee should be able to properly debate the pros and cons of any new suggestions before making proposals to the Assembly. The Committee will no doubt follow up on these ideas in the framework of a next report on the modification of the Rules of Procedure. I look forward to hearing your comments and I call on you to support the draft resolution presented by the Rules Committee and thank you for your attention. Thank you, Mr President.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

15:53:03

Thank you, Madame Chair.

We now go into the discussion first. In principle we've got the representatives of the political groups. If there are any representative of political groups, please, ask for the floor.

I see one at this stage. Mr Stefan SCHENNACH.

Stefan, you have the floor.

 

Mr Stefan SCHENNACH

Austria, SOC

15:53:45

President,

I hope everything works.

Mister President, on behalf of my group I would like to thank the rapporteur, Ms Ingjerd SCHOU, very much for this report. I think it is a further development, and it also brings clarity. As the former chairman of the Monitoring Committee, I can only say that these clarifications will strengthen the Monitoring Committee and clarify a number of things, because we have had a few debates on this over the past two years. This is therefore a good solution, and even if decisions of the Monitoring Committee are also supported by the Office and the Bureau, I think that is right and proper.

Secondly, this is the area concerning the changes in the President and Vice-President in the Assembly. I think that is also very right and proper, a good clarification. It is a good thing that paragraph 3 5 will also enable us to have various current affairs debates in future. I think that is often referred to the political situation and its current affairs. As far as the elections to the office and to the offices and committees are concerned, it is also a clarification of how things stand with the chairpersons and vice-chairpersons.

With this in mind, my dear Ingjerd, our group will fully support your motion and I hope that it will be voted on today on a broad basis.

Thank you very much.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

15:55:51

Thank you Mr Stefan SCHENNACH.

We move to Mr Aleksander POCIEJ on behalf of the Group of the European People's Party.

You have the floor.

Mr Aleksander POCIEJ

Poland, EPP/CD

15:56:01

Mr President, Dear Colleagues,

On behalf of the PPE Group, I would like to thank my colleague, Mrs Ingjerd SCHOU, for the quality of her work and her proposals and I also congratulate the work of the Commission secretariat.

This report deals with an issue that is at the heart of our concerns as Members of this House. I fully share the objectives sought: performance, efficiency and clarity of the rules. The Monitoring Committee will have greater autonomy to carry out a periodic review.

I agree with the proposal to unify the four procedures: the monitoring procedure stricto sensu, the post-monitoring dialogue, our reports on the functioning of democratic institutions in member states and the periodic reviews. I consider that the Assembly must play a central role in this process. I also agree with the proposal regarding transnational thematic monitoring.

I think it is an excellent idea to engage the Bureau of the Assembly, which could refer the matter to the Monitoring Committee to prepare a report on a transnational theme. We have many cases in which such a procedure could be very effective. The procedure for considering amendments in committee and in plenary is a key issue from the point of view of efficiency. Indeed, the massive tabling of amendments leads to obstruction. In view of the timetable and the very limited number of sessions, the best solution must be found to deal with the subjects in an efficient way and to guarantee the quality of the work delivered.

I also fully agree with the current affairs debates. We cannot limit ourselves to a debate on the situation in the world.

The rules on the election of the President and Vice-Presidents of the Assembly should be regulated. We all agree that elections take too much time.

Finally, I thank the rapporteur for raising the issue of elections of committee chairpersons and vice-chairpersons. The rules are so complicated that it often causes hesitation or confusion.

On behalf of the Group of the European People's Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats, we are in favour of adopting this report.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

15:59:05

Merci, Alexandre.

I now have on behalf of ALDE, Mr Iulian BULAI.

You have the floor.

Iulian, you have the floor.

Mr Iulian BULAI

Romania, ALDE

15:59:52

Mr President.

Ms Ingjerd SCHOU.

We, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe in the PACE, support the follwing elements of the report. The election of President and vice-Presidents, the election of vice-chairpersons of committees and the number of the current affair debates.

However, we, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe have reservations on the proposed proposal concerning the Committee on the Honouring of Obligations and Commitments by Member States of the Council of Europe (Monitoring Committee). So let me be very clear. We, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe strongly believe that monitoring of the respect of commitments by member states that we all call country monitoring is one of our biggest and most important tasks in the Assembly. I'm continuously surprised by the fact that such a useful instrument of parliamentary overview and assistance has come to be portrayed by some colleagues as a punishment against a member state. It's not a punishment dear colleagues.

Our monitoring procedure has greatly evolved since its creation. Today we believe that being part of the Assembly means accepting the monitoring procedure. No state should seek to be shielded be it by its status, size or financial contribution. That is why the Committee has introduced periodic monitoring. That is also why the Committee seeks to evolve more committee members into this exercise. As many of us as possible should be aware of what it takes to be the monitoring rapporteur and represent the monitored country. While we hear the rapporteur who declares a wish to avoid the risk to see a development where the periodic review procedure may replace the strict monitoring procedure, we believe that the rapporteur's proposal creates new and perhaps greater risks.

Indeed the Committee on the Honouring of Obligations and Commitments by Member States of the Council of Europe (Monitoring Committee) has now quite a detailed description of the selection procedure it intends to follow. This includes input from other committees and Council of Europe monitoring bodies as well as a very concrete procedure of vote and establishing the list of countries that will be invited for a periodic monitoring. The rapporteur now proposes to subject the decisions taken through such a multi-step and multi-level procedure to the Bureau of the Assembly's political approval. Yet this political theatre goes against the Committee's effort to take its selection procedure into a more criteria based drill. Because the Bureau of the Assembly and our Assembly are highly political in nature we are afraid that our decisions with regard to the monitoring will depend not so much on objective criteria but on political and geopolitical concerns, on alliances the countries will be able or unable to build during development.

I will finish by saying that the monitoring procedure is not at all a punishment but an opportunity to all of us, so the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe will abstain.

Thank you.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:03:08

Thank you very much.

I now call the chair, Ms Ingjerd SCHOU, rapporteur I mean, to respond.

Ms Ingjerd SCHOU, you have the floor.

Oh, I do apologize. This is unforgivable! I skipped Baroness Doreen MASSEY.

Baroness Doreen MASSEY, you have the floor. With all my apologies, please do take the floor.

She has disappeared. She must be angry at me. I hope not.

Baroness Doreen MASSEY, if you can ask for the floor again, please.

Okay, you have the floor.

Baroness Doreen MASSEY

United Kingdom, SOC

16:04:00

Can you hear me?

Yes?

Okay, thank you. Thank you so much.

I shall be speaking briefly about my support for the report done by Ms Sevinj FATALIYEVA. I'm speaking on behalf of the Socialist Group.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:04:20

Baroness, this is another report. You're a little bit too early, I'm afraid.

Baroness Doreen MASSEY

United Kingdom, SOC

16:04:26

What? So, what am I speaking on then? No, I'm not speaking on that then.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:04:30

You are speaking on rules and regulations and all that.

Baroness Doreen MASSEY

United Kingdom, SOC

16:04:33

I am not speaking on that.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:04:35

Okay, then we'll get back to you later, when we have this report that you mentioned on the table.

Baroness Doreen MASSEY

United Kingdom, SOC

16:04:44

Thank you. I'm not cross with you. I'm fine.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:04:49

Okay, thank you Baroness, we'll have you later on.

Now I call Ms Ingjerd SCHOU to respond, please.

Ingjerd, you've got the floor.

Ms Ingjerd SCHOU

Norway, EPP/CD, Rapporteur

16:05:12

I would like to make a few comments. Thanks for the comments and also the affection from my colleagues.

It's very necessary to holdd this periodic monitoring and it's also a help for the countries, not a punishment... and still there is a possibility to decide on the monitoring, but it has to be agreed by the assembly and the Standing Committee.

So that's my only comments and I appreciate what my colleagues have said and I would like to end my remarks. Thank you.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:06:06

Thank you, Ms Ingjerd SCHOU. Then the debate is closed. First close your account. Okay, thank you.

We will now proceed to the vote. I again would like to remind each and every one of you on board that only members of the standing committee are entitled to vote.

We will vote on the draft resolution. A simple majority is required. The committee on rules of procedure, immunities and institution affairs has presented a draft resolution to which no amendments have been tabled.

We shall now proceed to vote on the draft resolution contained painting document 15179 and to be adopted a simple majority is required, as I already said.

Is the vote enabled, Mr Wojciech SAWICKI?

Just give me a thumbs-up if it's open.

The vote is open.

Fifteen seconds.

Please, vote.

The vote is closed.

Mr Wojciech SAWICKI, if you can give us the results, please.

Vote: Modification of the Assembly's Rules of Procedure

Mr Wojciech SAWICKI

Council of Europe

16:07:50

Mister President, 22 members voted in favour of the resolution. There was no vote against, and six abstentions.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:07:59

Therefore, the resolution is adopted.

Congratulations to the rapporteur and the Committee.

This concludes the modifications to our rules in order to enable us to function full-fledged as from January also in plenary mode.

Thank you very much for the excellent work to the rapporteurs, to the committees and to all members on board. Please stay on board, we've still got some reports to do.

We now come to the next report: Equality and Non-Discrimination, the gender dimension of foreign policy. This is document 15122, presented by the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination.

I would like to remind you that due to a lack of time the Standing Committee could not debate this report at its October meeting and had to postpone this debate to our meeting of today.

The report will be presented by the reporter Ms Petra STIENEN from the Netherlands.

Madam Petra STIENEN, you have the floor.

Debate: The gender dimension of foreign policy

Ms Petra STIENEN

Netherlands, ALDE, Rapporteure

16:09:05

Yes, thank you, Mr President.

Good afternoon, dear colleagues. Let me start with a quote by Margareta Wahlström, the former Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs, who led the way with Swedish feminist foreign policy.

I quote: "Gender equality is not a separate women's issue, it benefits everyone. Research shows that gender-equal societies enjoy better health, stronger economic growth, and higher security. It also shows that gender equality contributes to peace and that peace negotiations in which women have taken part have a better chance of being sustainable."

2020, my dear colleagues, was supposed to be the year of big anniversaries of events that were crucial in the work for the promotion and protection of women's rights, equality and non-discrimination. Indeed, the key elements of the 2030 agenda for sustainable development, with of course most notably SDG 5 that calls for achieving gender equality and to empower all women and girls worldwide.

In 2020 we are celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Beijing platform for action for gender equality. We are also celebrating the 20th anniversary of UN Security Council 1325, the normative framework for women, peace and the security agenda.

Well, when I say celebrating, indeed some progress has been achieved in the fields of education for girls, better healthcare, more job opportunities for women and political participation. But it's not a complete celebration because in the 21st century no country has achieved full gender equality and the 2020 context shows a lot of reasons for concern as well. We see attacks against women's rights worldwide. There is a going backlash throughout the world, and a continued threat against sexual and reproductive health and rights. And the COVID-19 pandemic has seen an increase of violence against women. Therefore it saddens me that even in this organization we hear voices against the Istanbul convention, a legal framework that is designed to prevent and combat this horrible terror behind the front door.

So looking at the state of affairs, looking at the backlash, and the impact of the pandemic, it is clear that we need an inclusive and coordinated international response that reaffirms the importance of women's rights as human rights. In my report "The gender dimension of foreign policy", you will see that including a gender dimension in foreign policy is instrumental in dealing with that backlash and improving gender equality and ending discrimination.

Dear colleagues, we base our findings on extensive research on countries that are, like Sweden, leading the way and including gender dimensions of foreign policy. Think of Canada, Finland, France, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the UK. We met with a delegation from Japan. We also had a number of hearings, webinars, and a country visit to Sweden and the Netherlands. I would like to thank the support and inspiration of the members of the PACE Equality Committee, the Secretariat of the PACE Equality Committee, and especially Elodie Fischer for her insightful work on this report.

Dear colleagues, there are 3 key messages that we can take away from my report.

The first message or lesson rather is that the gender dimension of foreign policy is a question of power and leadership. Giving priority to the promotion of equality and inclusion and ensuring a diverse participation in decision-making depend on political will and courage.

I think Margareta Wahlström has really shown this as well. Making gender equality a priority in foreign policy sends a powerful message. It reaffirms that women's rights are human rights. It sets the tone for making equality a political priority at international and national levels, because to promote gender equality abroad, but to forget about this at home, is not walking the talk.

And this demands leadership by women and man at all levels, also here in our own organization. And I'm happy to see more and more male leaders who proudly call themselves feminists, like Minister ROTH did this morning, when he set out the priorities of the German presidency of the committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.

The second message we can take away from my report is policies and responses to international crisis will be more efficient and beneficial and sustainable to all, when a gender dimension is included in foreign policy decisions. As long as full equality is not a reality, we need to take specific measures. This is essential to ensure the participation of women in decision-making, crisis management, and peace operations.

And, Mr President, I think this will also be relevant for upcoming work in the PACE on climate and human rights. And we should be aware that gender is not only about women. As I already mentioned this morning, yesterday, the 19th of November, was international men's day. I noticed that not everybody was aware of this. The 8th of March, international women's day, is on our agenda. But the international men's day should be an important day as well, because it's a day that is celebrating the positive value men bring to the world, to their families, and communities.

But this day also reminds us of the importance to look at all what we call harmful norms of masculinity that are hindering gender equality and good crisis responses. And as the minister said this morning, gender equality is not about replacing a patriarchal system with a matriarchal system. No it's about a society that is inclusive and equal for all genders.

The third lesson, the third message is: a gendered foreign policy or feminist foreign policy should be inclusive and intersectional. The diplomatic world should not and must not be accessible only to the "boys clubs", or only to the white women from middle and high-income families who have access to political and diplomatic networks.

Promoting the participation and inclusion of persons from multiple backgrounds in all sectors of foreign policy, including in the diplomatic service and international organizations, should be at the core of the gender dimensions of foreign policy.

So how can we implement these lessons?

From the case study and country visits, we can list a number of good practices and measures to ensure a gender dimensions and foreign policy. In a way they're very similar to the four R's of the Swedish feminist foreign policy: rights, resources, representation, and realism.

I will give you my shopping list and I think I hope that the shopping list will inspire all of us in the next coming years. What we need is an implementation of the assisting human rights frameworks, including the Istanbul Convention. We call for a targeted allocation of resources and gender budgeting. We need to ensure diversity in panels, we need to provide trainings on gender equality, diversity, and inclusion.

We also emphasized the need for the institutionalizing of gender mainstreaming. We should strive for the equal participation of women and men in diplomatic services, but also in trade missions, and promote networking and mentoring between women leaders and politicians, including young women in politics and leadership. We need to develop policies and legal measures to support a work-life balance, also in international organizations, also at the Council of Europe.

We need to promote balanced participation in political and public decision-making. And we need, and I emphasize on this point, we need to proactively engage men and boys in these transformative policies and to work closely with male role models and champions for gender equality.

To conclude, we also believe that a real gender impact assessment can be a useful tool to evaluate the progress in implementing the gender dimension in foreign policy.

Mr President, dear Rick, I will leave it at this and I'm very curious to hear the questions and reactions of our colleagues.

Thank you.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:17:44

Thank you, Miss Petra STIENEN.

We now move to the representatives of the political groups.

First on my list is Ms Selin SAYEK BÖKE for the Socialists, Democrats and Greens Group.

Miss Selin SAYEK BÖKE, you have the floor.

Ms Selin SAYEK BÖKE

Turkey, SOC

16:18:02

Mr President,

On behalf of the Socialists, Democrats and Greens Group I would like to congratulate the rapporteur for this very diligent work.

As was noted, these are dire times for gender equality. Indeed gender inequality has been and continues to be a major barrier to human progress and unfortunately the COVID-19 pandemic has only made it worse. A backlash to women's rights is on the rise. We need deliberate efforts to overcome this barrier and we need to counter the backlash.

Gender-based discrimination in health, in education and political representation, in labour markets, is pervasive as was noted. Violence in a patriarchal system is on the rise and continues to hit women hard in their most intimate relations. Therefore this clearly points out to the need for a comprehensive and holistic approach to tackle this issue. We need to bring gender equality into the forefront of all of our policy frameworks: economic policy, social policy, political security, political systems, foreign policy. A comprehensive framework is needed and I think this is why this report that we are now debating is very critical.

A feminist foreign policy first and foremost acknowledges the need for this comprehensive policy framework, and it says that we need to put that gender equality into perspective in whatever we're dealing with. It acknowledges that gender inequality is not a problem in vacuum, it's indeed intertwined with what we would call hard foreign policy, such as issues of national security. But it also acknowledges that foreign policies are also a political tool to promote equality, inclusiveness and a rights-based world order.

I'd like us all to think of foreign policy for a second. It includes trade policies, it includes humanitarian aid, it includes migration, it includes defence efforts, and all of these clearly have implications for gender equality and therefore should be tackling the issue. All experiences point to the need for a strong political leadership in this matter. This is where our organisation plays a critical role. As Ms Petra STIENEN has rightfully mentioned, this cannot be only an issue of women's leadership. It has to be one where womens rights are acknowledged as human rights and where the quest for equality becomes a common goal for all of us.

We need to walk the talk. We need to ensure that equal gender representation is indeed applied in policymaking and in representation. Only 15% of the world's ambassadors are women. Out of the 47 Council of Europe member states only eight have women as foreign ministers. Clearly we need change and we need to break the glass ceiling together. We need not only to make foreign policy content gender-equal but we need to ensure equal representation in foreign policymaking.

On behalf of our group and in light of this these comments I congratulate the rapporteur and all who have contributed to this report.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:21:18

Thank you very much.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:21:20

Mrs TRASTOUR-ISNART has the floor for the EPP Group.

We have a small problem, so we move on to the next speaker, Mrs FRESKO-ROLFO for the ALDE Group.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:22:32

Colleagues please, bear with me a second because I'm seeing a lot of people here. Okay.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:22:38

Mrs FRESKO-ROLFO, you have the floor.

Ms Béatrice FRESKO-ROLFO

Monaco, ALDE

16:22:40

Thank you, Mr Speaker, I had a little problem with the screen.

Ladies and gentlemen, rapporteur, the ALDE Group and I would like to thank you for this report. This work is of great importance since it is in line with our work. Indeed, when we talk about the gender dimension, we are referring to an inclusive and non-discriminatory policy and, beyond that, a policy that respects human rights, a concept that is dear to the Council of Europe.

You mentioned feminist diplomacy, and I wanted to recall its definition: to promote, through diplomatic relations, ideals and good practices to achieve gender equality and to guarantee all women and girls the enjoyment of their fundamental rights. When we look at what many women around the world are facing, we can only welcome the fact that some countries, and you mentioned them, have decided to devote energy and financial resources to them. Celebrations of international days, such as the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation on 6 February, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on 25 November. And finally, International Girls' Day on 10 October shows the interest that we all, leaders and parliamentarians alike, have in these issues. But we still need to give them meaning through strong actions.

Integrating a gender dimension into foreign policy means giving importance to the promotion of women's rights through our diplomatic representations. Signing inclusive conventions means considering that equal access to education, fair respect for women's bodies, professional equality, the right to live in peace in a favourable environment should be the norm, and allocating budgets to NGOs or government programs that respect the rights of women and girls means building a future for them and ensuring a better world for future generations.

Finally, awarding Nobel prizes to actors in the struggle for the respect of women and girls, such as in 2014 to Malala Yousafzai for her actions in favour of girls' education, and in 2018 to Mrs Murad and Dr Mukwege for the protection of women during conflicts, is a clear sign that international bodies wish to be proactive in these areas.

As you have pointed out, Madame Rapporteur, in order to apply the gender dimension principle to foreign policy, it is first necessary to apply it internally, by giving positions of responsibility to women whose appointment is relevant. Allow me to point out that Monaco has appointed eight ambassadors and ten women ambassadors. You said, and this will be my conclusion: "It is not a question of excluding men, but of sharing responsibilities, influence and decision-making power, and ultimately working to make gender equality a global reality".

Thank you very much.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:25:33

Thank you. Thank you.

I now give the floor to the representative of the EPP, Mrs Laurence TRASTOUR-ISNART.

Ms Laurence TRASTOUR-ISNART

France, EPP/CD

16:25:45

Does it work now? Yes, flawless. Thank you, Mr President.

Madam rapporteur, ladies and gentlemen,

On behalf of the Group of the European People's Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats, thank you for this report.

The 21st Century must finally be the century of equality between men and women, but gender equality is far from being a reality today. Inequalities remain, whether at school, at work, in politics or in families. Violence against women is still as high as ever; violations of women's rights are still as numerous as ever. Much work remains to be done, so this motion for a resolution calling on states to launch foreign policies that promote gender equality and inclusion is a step in the right direction.

I would like to thank the rapporteur for her work and welcome her initiative, which makes both precise and broad recommendations. One of the major recommendations in this text is to promote women's access to diplomatic careers. As was pointed out in the report in 2016, the Council of Europe's Committee on Gender Equality noted that the number of countries that had reached the minimum target of 40% of women diplomats was still very low. On average, only 12% or even 13% of ambassadors are women. There is a glass ceiling in the diplomatic sector, especially as women working in the diplomatic sector are still often confined to lower-ranking positions. However, they must be able to access the positions of public decision-makers, without any distinction other than that of merit and talent. They all have their place in governance and political action in order to contribute their contribution, skills and qualities.

The report has also rightly noted the pernicious consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic on women, not only because they represent the majority of health professionals but also in terms of economic well-being, safety and security. In several countries, violence against women and domestic violence had increased significantly during confinement. Preventing violence against women, protecting victims and prosecuting perpetrators is essential.

In this respect, the ratification and implementation of the Istanbul Convention, which is one of the most advanced treaties on violence against women in Europe, must be promoted. The motion for a resolution proposes this and it is a very good thing. Equality between women and men is essential so that everyone can benefit from a balance and so that all human rights are respected.

Thank you.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:28:40

Merci Beaucoup, now we come to the representative of UEL, Ms Rósa Björk BRYNJÓLFSDÓTTIR. Rósa, you have the floor.

Ms Rósa Björk BRYNJÓLFSDÓTTIR

Iceland, UEL

16:28:55

Dear colleagues, I want to congratulate the rapporteur Ms Petra STIENEN for her report and I fully agree with the rapporteur that this report is very timely. Of course it's always timely and necessary to address the gender issues here in the Assembly as elsewhere, but in the year 2020 we are remembering many international milestones of the fight for gender equality as the rapporteur mentioned: the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action for Gender Equality, and 20 years since the 1325 resolution Women, Peace and Security agenda was adopted.

As the rapporteur mentioned women's rights are unfortunately under attack and there is a growing backlash against women's rights both worldwide and in the Council of Europe's Member States. As both the rapporteur and Mr Michael ROTH mentioned today, COVID-19 has brought to light an increase of violence against women. And as both a representative of my political group and also head of the Icelandic delegation I must mention the Scandinavian way, or the Nordic countries's way, because when it comes to gender equality Scandinavia is often praised for leading the way towards greater equality between women and men in different fields.

As of 2020 Iceland, Norway, Finland and Sweden were leading (...)

[Transmission is cut]

(...) the fact that the strong position of the Nordic countries when it comes to gender equality is not a coincidence. The Nordic countries' model of its societies are in general based on a strong culture of welfare state politics and that is one of the main reasons why the Nordic countries have been historically, culturally and socially frontrunners when it comes to implementing gender equality.

Those are strong welfare states where everyone should have the same opportunities in life. I am very happy to see the quote of the rapporteur to Margot Wallström, the former Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs, who led the way with framing the Swedish feminist foreign policy which I have been very impressed by and have talked about and suggested here in the Icelandic Parliament that we should adopt in our foreign policy in a more precise manner. I want also to mention as a Vice-Chair of the Committee of Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons that the need for a gender dimension in foreign policy whereas it comes to women as migrants, is necessary and my upcoming report on gender mainstreaming of migration policies is about that, so there we have a common ground of these two reports.

But, dear colleagues, women's rights have never been given to women, they have had to fight for them. Gender equality does not come by its own, there has to be a collective action and solidarity of women and human rights defenders as we are here in the Assembly and there must be a political will and tools such as legislation and gender budgeting and quotas. Also I fully agree with the rapporteur on her report that bringing more women and more equality to the table when it comes to conflicts and peace resolution always brings about more effective solutions. That I want to agree upon and congratulations to the rapporteur once again for her good report and I suggest we agree upon the report. 

Thank you.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:32:53

Thank you Ms Rósa Björk BRYNJÓLFSDÓTTIR.

We now move to Mr Ahmet YILDIZ.

After four ladies the first man.

Mr Ahmet YILDIZ you have the floor.

Mr Ahmet YILDIZ

Turkey, NR

16:33:05

Thank you Mr President.

Dear Ms Petra STIENEN congratulations for the report.

I wish you had come to Turkey when I was deputy foreign minister to give an opinion about the Turkish example on diplomacy.

Let me give you some numbers and ratios. The ratio of political officers in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkey is 34%. The number of mid-level diplomats is 31%. The rate of ambassadors, lady ambassadors, 25%, and the number of young female diplomats is increasing year by year.

Mr President, dear rapporteur, I am also in NATO, but I hear the reports there about the participation of women in peacekeeping missions as a success story. They are wanted very much. We have the same same experience as Turkey when we expanded our diplomatic missions to Africa. We are now I think the fourth biggest diplomatic representation in the world. When we appoint lady ambassadors and other lady diplomats to Africa, they are very successful in reaching out to disadvantaged communities, to the roots of the communities and prove to better communicate on technical assistance and humanitarian assistance. It is really a success story. This encouraged young students to prefer diplomacy.

Thank you very much for your attention.

I wish to talk about this later.

Ms Petra STIENEN, thank you.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:35:17

Thank you Mr Mr Ahmet YILDIZ.

We now move to Ms Alma ČOLO.

You have the floor, Miss Alma ČOLO.

Ms Alma ČOLO

Bosnia and Herzegovina, EPP/CD

16:35:36

Mr President.

Thank you Ms Petra STIENEN for this comprehensive and excellent report.

Reading this document I was proud because I'm a woman, I'm a parliamentarian and I have an opportunity to vote for this report today.

No Bosnian woman had a chance to participate in the peace negotiation process after the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. No Bosnian woman participated in the process of creating our constitution which is a part of the Dayton Peace Agreement.

I agree with Ms Petra STIENEN that women rights are human rights. Equal participation of women in decision-making, peace operation negotiation, crisis management, is the key to achieving a just society. Men and women and our our children deserve a just society. I think that gender equality is not only related to women.

Thank you Ms Petra STIENEN.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:36:48

Thank you very much. 

I now call Mr Jacques MAIRE. Jacques, you have the floor, Sir.

Mr Jacques MAIRE

France, ALDE

16:37:02

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

Mrs Petra STIENEN of course has my full support for this excellent and important report. I want to say that I myself, as a former diplomat, when I returned to the Quai d'Orsay in the early 1990s, there were women colleagues but very few women ambassadors, perhaps one or two at the time. Today, there are 40% of them in French Foreign Affairs and this has fundamentally changed the face of our diplomacy.

What I can tell you is that, when we send, for example, a mission of women in parliamentary diplomacy, as I recently did to Niger - where I am the chairman of the friendship group - this parliamentary mission of French women MPs who go to an African country does not have the same mission, or even the same meetings, as a male mission or a mixed mission. There is really, I would say, a low visibility or an under-visibility of women as actors of change in many countries. And from this point of view, indeed, if women do not play a role in this diplomatic action, I would say that it is diplomacy that is hemiplegic.

Another element that is mentioned, to which I am extremely attentive, is the question of development aid. As you probably know, one of the very important issues is still the education of young girls in many countries. We know very well that early pregnancies lead to poverty, malnutrition, underemployment and migration. The education of young girls is obviously an absolutely central issue. The fact that, as you have mentioned once again, 50% of the funding of the French Development Agency by 2022 will be directed with a gender component is an essential element.

For all these reasons, the notion of feminist diplomacy must not be perceived as a form of provocation or a posture, I would say, of distancing oneself. It is really a consideration of what the different means and channels of evolution today must be for diplomacy, for development aid, to ensure that we are more effective and that we can address 100% of the world's population.

This is an important milestone and I hope there will be many more afterwards.

Thank you.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:39:34

We now go to Mr Momodou Malcolm JALLOW from Sweeden.

Mr Momodou Malcolm JALLOW you have the floor.

Mr Momodou Malcolm JALLOW

Sweden, UEL

16:39:40

Thank you very much, Miss Petra STIENEN. I want to really congratulate you for this great draft report on the gender dimension of foreign policy.

I'm very proud to be part of the Swedish delegation, where in Sweden we have this gender dimension in foreign policy, and have inspired this report, too. 

As we have seen, and as many of you have said, there are growing attacks and backlash against women's rights in many of our member States. That's why this report is timely and urgent.

Feminism. My daughter once told me feminism is the radical idea that men are equal to woman. She emphasizes "radical" because she was being ironic. Adopting a gender dimension to foreign policy reaffirms that women's rights are human rights. How radical is that? That's supposed to be obvious for all of us in this Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly. It means building a society that is inclusive, that provides possibilities for all genders. This should be obvious. It also means that we as members of this Parliamentary Assembly would do our job, because that is our job: promoting human rights.

I want to thank Ms Petra STIENEN for this initiative. It is long overdue. I hope those of us that identify as men would play our part in achieving this goal. We need to go from words to action. It is time and it is long overdue.

Thank you.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:41:13

Thank you Mr Momodou Malcolm JALLOW.

We now go to Ms Danuta JAZŁOWIECKA from Poland.

You have the floor.

Ms Danuta JAZŁOWIECKA disappeared.

Ms Danuta JAZŁOWIECKA you have the floor.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:42:23

You have the floor.

Go ahead.

Ms Danuta JAZŁOWIECKA

Poland, EPP/CD

16:42:26

Thank you very much.

Mister President, dear colleagues, on the behalf of EPP group I would like to congratulate Ms Rósa Björk BRYNJÓLFSDÓTTIR and I'm not sure if we are if we are on this point, because I was asking for speaking time on the report of Ms Rósa Björk BRYNJÓLFSDÓTTIR.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:42:49

We will have to get you back a little bit later.

I've been training so hard to get your name right. Now I got it right.

We will have you later.

Thank you.

Ms Danuta JAZŁOWIECKA

Poland, EPP/CD

16:42:59

Thank you very much.

This being said, the speakers list is closed.

I now call on Ms Petra STIENEN to respond.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:42:59

So we will have you later, thank you. This being said, the speaker's list is closed. Now I call on Ms Petra STIENEN to respond, Petra.

Ms Petra STIENEN

Netherlands, ALDE, Rapporteur

16:43:23

Thank you dear colleagues.

This was wonderful to listen to and there were so many new ideas and observations. I will pick two.

One, Mr Ahmet YILDIZ, thank you very much for pointing out about the Turkish situation.

When I was a young diplomat I did my internship in the embassy in Ankara and I actually had to write a report on the directorate general on women's affairs, in 1992. So I learned a bit of my feminism in Istanbul. Maybe this is why I'm such a big fan of the Istanbul Convention.

Ms Rósa Björk BRYNJÓLFSDÓTTIR, I once interviewed an ambassador from Iceland, a female ambassador. She told me that her young son asked her after 17 years of a female president: "Mummy can a man become a president as well?" You can't be what you can't see. This was a very important example.

I would like to conclude with a quote from a friend of mine who was also a member of the European Parliament. As you might know the European Parliament recently adopted a resolution on gender equality in the EU foreign security policy. Samira Rafaela, a member of the Renew group in the European Parliament made a very important comment about the place where we now are on the gender dimension of foreign policy in response to COVID-19. I quote. "Women are different. There is not one group of women. Women are facing different challenges because of who they are and where they come from. Intersectionality in our policy proposals and legislation is extremely important so that we leave no one behind". End of quote. So with this in mind I want to conclude, Mr President, rather than a feminist foreign policy I think we could go even further and call for an inclusive foreign policy. Indeed a policy that will be instrumental in protecting the human rights of all of our citizens of all genders.

Thank you.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:45:23

Thank you very much, we now go to the Chair of the committee. Ms Petra BAYR, do you wish to have the floor? If so, you have the floor.

Ms Petra BAYR

Austria, SOC

16:45:33

Thank you very much,

A policy that puts equal treatment, inclusion and the protection of human rights, including women's rights of course, high on the agenda is not a policy for fair weather. If we have no other problems, then let us just do equal rights; no, this is a policy for every day, a very important policy. Gender equality, the guarantee that women can live free from violence, that they are empowered, must be a central basis for all political action and must go hand in hand with shared power and shared positions.

This means that women and men must also have equal influence in society, equal opportunities, equal power in the end. It must go hand in hand with inclusion and permeability. Of course, this also applies to such important policy areas as foreign policy, because the proportion of women at the negotiating table, especially in peace negotiations. Ms Alma ČOLO of Bosnia-Herzegovina said it first. It is precisely the proportion of women in negotiations that is absolutely essential to the outcome, who represents a country, what data is obtained in the course of foreign policy, is decisive. Also who implements international law, who evaluates the effects of law, of politics on weaker groups, is absolutely decisive for the result of how politics reaches the people, women and men alike.

To conclude, I think that feminist or gender-sensitive policies are essential to ensure that everyone really does have a right and that all rights are really respected. I would also like to thank Petra STIENEN very much for this wonderful report, which has opened up a whole new dimension for many.

I hope that many more reports of this kind and quality will follow. I would also like to thank the Secretariat of the Committee on Equality for the great work and cooperation, and also the whole committee. We had many hearings and discussions. There was a great deal of impact and a great many ideas, all of which Petra has put into this report. Thank you for that, and I hope that we will now implement it in as many countries and at as many levels as possible together.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:48:18

Now we come to the conclusion of the report. I would like to remind members that only the members of the Standing Committee are entitled to vote.

We vote on the draft resolution, Document 15222. To be adopted a simple majority is required.

Do we have the vote open, Wojciech? Yes, the vote is open, please vote.

Apparently we are experiencing a little technical hiccup. If you're able to vote please vote, we're having a little bit of a small issue here.

Ten seconds.

The vote is closed

Wojciech, if I can have the result please.

Vote: The gender dimension of foreign policy

Mr Wojciech SAWICKI

Council of Europe

16:50:21

 Mr President, 26 members who voted in favour of the resolution. No abstentions, no votes against.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:50:29

Okay, so this is then unanimously carried by 26.

The resolution is adopted.

My congratulations to the rapporteur and the committees. I think we might even say they were a little bit proud of this to say it in Dutch.

(The President said a few words in Dutch.)

Okay, let's go to our next point of the meeting which is number 14. Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media the debate on the report Threats to academic freedom and autonomy of higher education institutions in Europe. This is the document 15167 tabled by the Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media.

Due to the lack of time the Standing Committee couldn't debate this report at its October meeting and had to postpone this debate to our meeting today.

The report will be presented by the rapporteur Mr Koloman BRENNER.

I have been informed that Mr Olivier BECHT has some agenda issues so I hope that he can still be onboard after Mr Koloman BRENNER to take the floor at some stage and to maybe also enlighten us about some oral amendments. We will see how we take that.

At this stage, Mr Koloman BRENNER, the floor is yours.

Debate: Threats to academic freedom and autonomy of higher education institutions in Europe

Mr Koloman BRENNER

Hungary, NR, Rapporteur

16:51:58

Dear Mr President,

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a particular pleasure and honour for me to present this report here today, because I believe that academic freedom is a very important issue. Admittedly, I am somewhat biased as a long-standing academic director of the University of Budapest and a linguist myself. But I think that in the 21st century, in the century of knowledge and information, academic freedom and autonomy in higher education is a particularly important issue. Admittedly also because, in my opinion, it is particularly important for the Council of Europe, because it is also in some way a mirror of the extent to which democratic conditions are reflected in society. Similarly, for example, in the area of freedom of the media, freedom of the press or freedom of assembly. Education in general and higher education in particular are, as I have said, actually a mirror of society and they are common goods that should then be accessible to the whole of society.

Unfortunately, I also have to note in my report that there are still a number of Member States of the Council of Europe that have perhaps not yet realised the special and irreplaceable importance of education and higher education. And I would like to point out that in March the Global Public Policy Institute, the Friedrich-Alexander University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Scholars at Risk Network and V-Dem Institute then published a new Academic Freedom Index.

The states mentioned by name in my report, namely Russia, Turkey and Azerbaijan, unfortunately rank at the bottom of this Academic Freedom Index, Annex 113, 135 and 137. And my country, Hungary, has the worst ranking among the EU Member States, I am sorry to say. And these facts underline the importance of this report, which is very broad, that would be my next thought.

The subject is incredibly complex, and I would like to urge the honourable Members to read this report in detail, I hope you have read it in detail, because it is a very complex subject. Namely, the dangers that academic freedom and university autonomy are facing. These dangers are not only necessarily to be found in undemocratic tendencies, but also in those tendencies, of course; however, in my report I have refrained from calling on individual states to take certain measures. Not because I do not believe that this is necessary, but because I believe that we should first create a generally applicable umbrella organisation for this issue. We must ensure that monitoring academic freedom and a corresponding set of sanctions rules are in place, and then it would be fair to call on certain individual Member States.

I would like to emphasise that there are very many kinds of danger here in my report, for example the commercialisation of higher education to the greatest possible extent or the pressure of public opinion on academic researchers and professors, which very often leads, for example, to self-censorship by university lecturers and so on and so forth.

The next point I would like to emphasise is that I particularly welcome the fact that, after 20 years of the first measures in these areas for the academic freedoms of the institutional order in higher education institutions, we have now finally, on 19 November, been given a valid definition by the Council of Ministers of the European Higher Education Area; what is academic freedom? Proposals for amendments to this effect will then be available for my report. It is also important because otherwise, until now, we have only had certain decisions from the European Court of Justice, which have formed a certain legal basis here, but I would like to emphasise that this decision by the European Court of Justice was of course based on Article 10, namely on freedom of expression, in other words not directly on academic freedom. I believe that we in the Council of Europe must now take the first step and at last really draw up a European Convention together for the academic freedom and institutional autonomy of higher education institutions. And I think that this report already contains a small specification, and I think that we have a modest contribution to make to this great body of rules.

I believe that one particular problem is the problem of commercialisation, which has already been mentioned. I would like to briefly explain this point. For a long time, in the European tradition, science and research were a joint journey by professors with their students, their students. Most classically represented in German culture by Humboldt. In recent decades we have unfortunately observed that commercialisation has increasingly taken place, where students simply appear as buyers of a diploma, so to speak. I believe that this has led to negative tendencies, especially in the humanities, for example, as is also described in detail in my report.

I am gradually coming to the end, and I would like to mention another important subject, namely the subject of university rankings. We have to note that the quality of university education is not always congruent with the democratic conditions in the country or university institution concerned, and I believe that we, as the Council of Europe, as the institution which wishes to preserve human rights and democratic foundations in our Member States, must take this into account.

I would like once again to express my thanks to all the experts who have worked on this, and I would particularly like to mention Professor KARAM's excellent empirical contribution here, which I commend to you. I would also like to emphasise that I myself have carried out a great many fact-finding missions to Croatia, to Romania, in Hungary myself I have held talks; and I am really sincerely sorry that my approved and planned fact-finding mission to Russia could not take place because of the pandemic. But I think that those who have read this entire report, including the annex, have hopefully found that it is a balanced report that is fair to the complex issue.

I would like to ask the members of the Permanent Commission and my fellow Members not to attempt to defend the states mentioned in the discussion because, as I said I did not even include individual states with my recommendations and requirements in my report, I think it is important to hold up this mirror in front of us now and support this enormously important issue for Europe and for the world, academic freedom and university autonomy.

Thank you very much for your attention.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:01:45

Thank you Mr Koloman BRENNER.

I understand that Mr Sergey KISLYAK wants to raise a point of order.

You have the floor.

Mr Sergey KISLYAK

Russian Federation, NR

17:02:06

Thank you for giving me the floor. I actually have something to say about the previous vote. I wanted to abstain, but my vote was registered as being in support of the previous resolution. I tried to ask for the floor just after the vote. Unfortunately, that request went unnoticed. That is why I asked for the floor now. I imagine it was some sort of technical glitch. Therefore I just wanted to have it reflected that I abstained on that previous item. My apologies for taking the floor at this point, thank you.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:02:53

No problem.

Let it be noted that Mr Sergey KISLYAK made his point regarding the former report.

Obviously abstaining doesn't make any difference in terms of the unanimity of the accepted report if I may say so.

Then we come to the political groups in the debate.

After the political groups I will give the floor to the chair of the committee because he has an agenda problem and I think it is important he could address us.

But we need to follow the rules, so the first in my list is Mr Stefan SCHENNACH from the Socialists, Democrats and Greens Group.

Mr Stefan SCHENNACH, you have the floor.

Mr Stefan SCHENNACH please come on board.

Apparently we have a problem with Mr Stefan SCHENNACH.

I will then take now Mr Frédéric REISS.

The floor is yours.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:04:07

Mr REISS, you have the floor.

Mr Frédéric REISS

France, EPP/CD

17:04:21

Hello? Can you hear me?

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:04:24

That's fine, go ahead.

Mr Frédéric REISS

France, EPP/CD

17:04:26

Thank you.

Mr President, ladies and gentlemen,

It is with interest that I have taken note of the report by Mr Koloman BRENNER and his draft resolution and recommendation. On behalf of the Group of the European People's Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats, I should like to congratulate him on this excellent work on a subject that is crucial to the future of our young people. Academic freedom and university autonomy are indeed signs of a healthy democracy.

I would like to thank the rapporteur for having been able to adapt his words, taking into account the effects of the 2019 pandemic, a crisis of unprecedented violence at global level. This is where we realise how important it is for our researchers to work together, as mentioned in the report. I fully agree with the flexibility of adaptation needed so that, for example, basic and clinical research can dialogue for greater effectiveness. Hence the importance of cooperation and transparency, as emphasised by the rapporteur. The autonomy of higher education institutions and their responsiveness enabled teachers to keep in touch with their students at the height of the crisis, especially the most vulnerable or those who could not afford to follow online teaching. The rapporteur has rightly emphasised the human relationships that are irreplaceable in learning courses, and all this has been done in accordance with the instructions and constraints of our respective governments. COVID-19 has caused deep trauma and we will no doubt have to devise resilience mechanisms for young people, left to their own devices, sometimes far from their families, sometimes in another country. Today we are in the midst of the second wave and it calls for great vigilance.

I have noted how much our rapporteur was concerned about freedom of expression, and that is why I would like to take this opportunity to say a moving thought about the teacher who was beheaded in France while giving a lecture on freedom of expression. The social networks that linked this atrocious crime are incriminated, but we all know that on the Internet the best rubs shoulders with the worst. To come back to our subject, institutions must be able to organise their research activity according to their own organisation, which can sometimes prove to be complex. Here again, it is a question of dialogue, of getting the best out of each other, and at the same time, of simplifying. Cooperation between institutions must be facilitated, but not at the expense of the principle of autonomy and free organisation, according to which the scientific strategy of institutions is determined by their board and governance. All academics must have access to the best training to protect their rights in terms of academic freedom, so that they can work serenely for the success of as many students as possible.

Congratulations on this report.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:07:41

Thank you very much. Thank you very much.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:07:42

I now return to the Socialist group, Mr Stefan SCHENNACH. Stefan, you have the floor.

Apparently we have a problem with Stefan. No, here we go.