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26 January 2021 afternoon

2021 - First part-session Print sitting

Sitting video(s) 1 / 1

Opening of the sitting num 4

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:02:02

Dear colleagues, if I may ask you to regain your seats.

If you wish to have some parlay as they say, please do it outside. I know that there's like a common expression saying 'take it outside', but that means something different, obviously. If I may ask everyone to take his or her seat, also the colleagues who are discussing right in front of me.

I hope I do not have to send the master of the arms to organise that.

Could someone please tell our colleagues to sit down. You did elect me to be the President of the Assembly, so I have to exercise my duties!

Thank you very much.

The sitting is open.

Of course I welcome Secretary General, Deputy Secretary General.

I also welcome the Chair of the Committee of Ministers. Thank you, Rolf, for being with us.

The first task I have to complete is the results of the different elections that we have had. I've been told to read out, very specifically, the papers that I have received. As far as I have been informed, all of the elections have been cleared. We have five tellers who controlled it. 

By having said this, the results I will announce are:

First, the election of a judge to the European Court of Human Rights with respect to Switzerland, results:

Members voting 300, spoilt or blank ballots 22, votes cast 278, votes for an absolute majority 140.

The results are as follows: 

Mme Marianne Ryter 63, Mr Nicolas von Werdt 48, Mr Andreas Zünd 167.

Mr Zünd having obtained an absolute majority of votes cast is elected a judge to the European Court of Human Rights for a term of office of nine years, which shall commence no later than three months after his election.

Congratulations to the elected judge.

Second paper: election of a judge to the European Court of Human Rights with respect to Greece, results:

Members voting 300, spoilt or blank ballots 24, votes cast 276, votes for an absolute majority 139.

The votes were cast as follows:

Mr Ioannis Ktistakis 145, Ms Photini Pazartzis 89, Mr Michail Pikramenos 42.

Therefore Mr Ktistakis (difficult name) having obtained an absolute majority of votes cast is elected as judge to the European Court of Human Rights for a term of office of nine years, which shall commence no later than three months after his election.

We now come to the election of the Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe.

I suppose that the Secretary General and the Deputy Secretary General are very eager to know this.

Let me do it again because I wouldn't want to make a procedural mistake.

So, election of the Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe, results:

Members voting 300, spoilt or blank ballots 3, votes cast 297, votes for an absolute majority 149.

Just keeping it up a bit.

Mr Bjørn Berge 185, Ms Leyla Kayacik 112.

Mr Bjørn Berge having obtained an absolute majority of votes cast is elected deputy secretary general of the Council of Europe for a term of office of five years starting on the first of March 2021, and ending on 28 February 2026.

Congratulations, Mr Berge, on your election.

(Applause).

Thanks to Ms Kayacik for the very fair campaign that we have seen.

Let me now turn to our own election.

Election of the Secretary General of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, results:

Members voting 300, spoilt or blank ballots 0, votes cast 300, votes for an absolute majority 151.

The votes were cast as follows:

Ms Despina Chatzivassiliou-Tsovilis 240, Mr Wojciech Sawicki 60.

So Ms Despina Chatzivassiliou-Tsovilis having obtained an absolute majority of votes cast, is elected secretary general of the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe for a term of office of five years, starting on the first of March 2021 and ending on February 28, 2026.

(Applause)

Since this is an election about our Assembly allow me to just say a few words briefly because we've got a lot of work to be done.  I wish to congratulate obviously Despina for her election. Please note colleagues that this is the first female Secretary General of our Assembly. We all know Despina very well. So we welcome working with her as of March 1st 2021.

As far as our Secretary General is concerned, I wish to state the following:

Within my 30 plus years of parliamentary and other functions I've been a mayor, I've been a minister, I've been a faisant-fonction vice president, I've been a member of parliament, I have been a groups leader, I even have been a speaker as I am here.

I just would like you to know colleagues that Wojciech is one of the greatest professionals I have had the honour of working with. If anyone of you is asking yourself still why Wojciech was a candidate, well I can tell you, Wojciech, I know: it's because you care.

Dear colleagues, this being said, let's get to work, because that is why we are here. 

 

Communication from the Committee of Ministers

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:09:17

The next item of business this morning is the debate on the communication from the Committee of Ministers to the Assembly to be presented by Mr Heiko MAAS, Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs of Germany, representing the German Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.

After his communication, Mr Heiko MAAS will answer questions from members of our Assembly.

Minister, I hope that you are on board somewhere.

Do we have Mr MAAS?

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:09:57

Mr Minister, you have to ask for the floor. You don't get it automatically in here. You have to ask for it.

It's done? So where is the minister? Connecting.

I'm looking at Rolf asking myself about the so-called and well known Deutsche Grundlichkeit.

Yeah... where is the minister?

We're waiting.

Please, bear with me colleagues. I see the screen coming up. Just a second. I would like to see Mr Heiko MAAS before giving him the floor.

The camera should be on. I hear something. There is a second colleague for this to solve.

Mr Heiko MAAS

Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs of Germany, Chair of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe

16:11:58

Mr President, I can see you and I can hear you.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:12:01

In that case without seeing you.

Thank you very much for being on board.

I suppose that you can speak without us seeing you, and if it comes on, fine.

Just one small remark dear Minister. We have one hour for this debate, so if I could invite you to be brief in your introduction allowing as many of our colleagues as possible to put the difficult questions to you. Of course, if you don't like difficult questions then you have to go on for a long time. But I hope you will be brief because we have almost 40 people wanting to put a question to you.

So without any delay Mr Minister, thank you again for being with us, and I give you the floor.

You have the floor.

Mr Heiko MAAS

Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs of Germany, Chair of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe

16:12:43

Thank you very much.

Dear President Mr Rik DAEMS,

Dear Members of the Parliamentary Assembly,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In his opening address to the first Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on 10 August 1949, its then President Édouard HERRIOT raised, as he said, an extremely delicate question. The question of Germany's future in Europe. And as a former French prime minister, Mr HERRIOT emphasised the trepidation of Germany's neighbours, their memories of torture, execution, and deportations committed by the Germans just a few years earlier in World War II. Nevertheless, Mr HERRIOT offered reconciliation and cooperation to the newly founded Federal Republic of Germany, for the common goal of what he called a liberal Europe.

Ladies and gentlemen, I think Mr HERRIOT would have been pleased to look at our Europe today. A largely united continent of law and human dignity with a democratic Germany living in peace and friendship with its neighbours. And we owe this to strong institutions like the Council of Europe.

Almost 72 years after its foundation, it is now an institutional pillar of our united continent, and with the European Convention on Human Rights it sets global standards in human rights protection. At the same time, however, we have also had to come to a conclusion in recent years: Our peaceful and tolerant Europe cannot be taken for granted.

Violence and war have unfortunately flared up again, most recently in Nagorno-Karabakh, but also still in eastern Ukraine. Democracy, the rule of law and human rights are under pressure. Images such as those that reached us at the weekend from the many Russian cities, of police beating up, dragging away and arresting peaceful demonstrators, all this is in stark contrast to the commitments we have all made as members of the Council of Europe.

Let us demand from Russia the immediate release of the arrested demonstrators and let us expect the immediate release of Alexei Navalny, whose rights Russia has already violated in previous proceedings, as the European Court of Human Rights has established beyond doubt. Events such as these undermine the achievements of the rule of law of which we, as members of the Council of Europe, can be justifiably proud.

We must all stand united against the erosion of our European human rights architecture. As Chair of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, we have therefore set ourselves three priorities. Firstly, we are working for a uniform protection of human rights throughout Europe, which means that all member states of the Council of Europe must abide by legally binding judgments of the European Court of Human Rights. National rules are no justification for not implementing these judgments in full or not at all, and thus for breaking international law. We are strongly committed to the rapid accession of the European Union to the Convention - at long last. And between now and our ministerial meeting in May, we intend to press ahead with the accession agreement using all the means at our disposal.

We stand up for people whose rights are particularly threatened in the pandemic. Women and children in particular suffer, for example, from increasing domestic violence. We therefore call on all member states to accede to the Istanbul Convention.

Finally, we should work together to ensure that restrictions on personal freedoms to protect our health in the pandemic remain proportionate and, above all, limited in time. The Secretary-General's toolkit on respect for human rights and the rule of law in the pandemic makes valuable recommendations in this regard, but we must implement them.

Secondly, we want to make the European human rights architecture fit for the digital age. Artificial intelligence is Janus-faced; it harbours new opportunities, but also many risks. If we do not want the internet to become a human rights-free space, then the Council of Europe must set standards here, for example with a new framework convention. The relevant committee of the Committee of Ministers adopted an important feasibility study on this in December, and last week we already discussed it at our virtual conference on artificial intelligence. On this basis, we should take further decisions at our ministerial meeting in May.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is not only in the United States that we see hate speech on the internet exacerbating discrimination and unleashing violence. That is why we need better rules against online hate speech and anti-discrimination strategies for the digital space, which are long overdue. We will be discussing how to make progress on this as early as February at a Presidency conference on combating hate speech on the internet.

Ladies and gentlemen, the third major priority of our Presidency is to bring the Council of Europe closer to the citizens of Europe. We are working closely with the Youth Consultative Committee and the European Youth Office to attract more young people in particular to the Council's work. The expectations they have for the future of our continent have already been shown at the "Third European Youth Work Convention" in December.

We also need to involve minorities even more in our discussions. We are focusing on Europe's largest minority - Roma and travellers. After a concert in Berlin in December, the Institute will organise a youth conference in Strasbourg in April to mark International Roma Day. Ladies and gentlemen, in his inauguration speech a few days ago, the new American President called on his fellow countrymen to see not only what divides others, but what unites them, and to see diversity as an opportunity.

How much more must this apply to Europe and to the Council of Europe, which unites the diversity of 47 nations. Of course, there will always be disagreements among us. But you, as parliamentarians, all of us, as democrats, ultimately have a duty to resolve these differences with one another - above all respectfully, in a spirit of compromise and humanity.

I say this quite deliberately in view of the debate on the participation of some Russian parliamentarians today. The Council of Europe has always stood for exchange across ideological boundaries. That also means expressing criticism openly - and bearing it. But burning bridges is always the worst option, in my view.

Only if we remain in open dialogue with each other will we be able to preserve what was at best a distant goal for Mr HERTIOT in 1949: a Europe of peace, cooperation and human rights.

Thank you very much so far and now I look forward to your questions.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:20:57

Thank you very much Mr Minister for your brief introduction.

We now will move to the list of speakers.

We have the habit of having five colleagues putting the question after which I will give you the floor Mr Minister.

And again, the more concise you can be in your answers the more colleagues we will be able to give the floor to.

The five first colleagues who put a question are designated by the political groups.

First in the row is our colleague from the Socialist Group from Turkey Ms Selin SAYEK BÖKE. You have the floor.

Ms Selin SAYEK BÖKE

Turkey, on behalf of SOC

16:21:43

Minister, thank you for the presentation.

So, the slide in democracy throughout the world has meant that oppositions find their voice heard less. How can we, as an organization, ensure that opposition is not only visible to the parliamentary assembly, but is also part of the communication with other parts of our organization as well?

And, secondly, could you further elaborate on your evaluation as a committee of ministers regarding the arrest of Alexei Navalny, his wife, and the disproportionate use of force to crack down on demonstrations?

And finally, would you be able to elaborate on concrete steps the committee might be discussing to enhance the effectiveness of our existing instruments such as the Istanbul convention, the court judgments, and the European Social Charter given the extensive effects of the pandemic on socio-economic inequalities?

Thank you very much.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:22:41

Thank you very much.

We now move to the Group of the European People's Party.

Group leader Mr Aleksander POCIEJ you have the floor. One minute maximum.

Mr Aleksander POCIEJ

Poland, on behalf of EPP/CD

16:22:53

Minister,

On behalf of the Group of the European People's Party, thank you for your presentation. Over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has turned our lives upside down. But the health crisis should not make us forget the other challenges we are currently facing, such as global warming, the terrorist threat or the related migration challenge.

At a time when democracy and human rights are being called into question, including in Europe, the German presidency has made these issues its top priority, and I welcome this. But what concrete measures have you put in place to achieve this? I am thinking in particular of the challenge of migration and the conditions of migrants, especially in the Balkans, such as Bosnia. In your view, should the Council of Europe not work more closely with the European Union and the Frontex agency on this issue? What do you intend to do for the countries that are most at risk, namely Greece and Italy?

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:24:07

Thank you Mr Aleksander POCIEJ.

We now move to the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.

Mr Damien COTTIER, the floor is yours.

Mr Damien COTTIER

Switzerland, on behalf of ALDE

16:24:13

Federal Minister, Mr President, on behalf of the ALDE Group, I would like to congratulate the German Presidency of the Committee of Ministers and thank it for the proactive commitment and ambitious work programme.

Mr Damien COTTIER

Switzerland, on behalf of ALDE

16:24:27

I have three questions for you, Minister.

First of all, we would be interested to hear more from you about the progress of the European Union's accession to the European Convention on Human Rights: what is your prognosis on this matter?

Secondly, could you tell us more about the objectives and the results you expect from the multi-stakeholder conference on "No Hate Speech" that the Presidency of Germany will be organising in Berlin in February, which we are looking forward to, a conference you mentioned in your speech?

Thirdly, what is your analysis of the medium-term impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the rule of law and freedoms in Europe? What, in your view, are the elements to which our Assembly will have to pay particular attention in the coming months?

Thank you.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:25:15

Right on time.

Now, we go to the European Conservatives Mr Oleksii GONCHARENKO. Oleksii, you have the floor.

Mr Oleksii GONCHARENKO

Ukraine, on behalf of EC/DA

16:25:24

Thank you.

Dear Mr MAAS, we have a very difficult situation in Belarus. You know that in August Lukashenko falsified presidential elections, then self-proclaimed himself President of Belarus, and now he is constantly using violence against peaceful protesters. At least four people have been killed but probably much more than this number. Thousands are wounded.

What will be done during your Chairmanship of Germany in the Committee of Ministers in order to influence Lukashenko's regime? What new sanctions will be approved? And I would like to propose you to initiate permanently working groups - special Strasbourg format - between the Council of Europe and the Belarus opposition. I think we need this permanently working body. Thank you. 

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:26:27

Nicely within the time limit.

Now we move to the fifth question of this row for United Left: Ms Nina KASIMATI.

You have the floor.

Please, put your system on floor and not on translation. It is normally down on the left on your screen.

One minute.

Ms Nina KASIMATI

Greece, on behalf of UEL

16:27:12

Mr Maas, welcome to our Assembly.

I believe we can all agree that Turkey has been for a long time in the crosshairs of international legality. To name but a few, and as far as this organisation is concerned, Turkey's most recent and concrete acts on the opening of Varosha, Cyprus, the status of which has been safeguarded by the European Court of Human Rights as well as by the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers on numerous occasions, or on the refusal to implement the European Court of Human Rights Grand Chamber's judgment on the case of Selahattin Demirtaş, undermine indeed blatantly the very principles of democracy, human rights and rule of law.

What has the German chairmanship of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers foreseen as a proper course of action in order to tackle efficiently and in a timely manner these sad developments, apart from calling the victims of the said and similar violations to sit and discuss with the very perpetrators of these violations in question?

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:28:18

Thank you very much, Mr Minister you have the floor.

Mr Heiko MAAS

Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs of Germany, Chair of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe

16:28:24

Thank you very much.

Mister President,

I will try to answer the questions in detail and I will start with the question that was put to me after Alexei NAVALNY. Russia - and I have already said this in my opening statement - is bound by its own constitution, but also by international obligations, to the principle of the rule of law and the protection of civil rights. Of course, these also apply to Alexei NAVALNY, and they apply just as much to those who demonstrated peacefully at the weekend. In this respect, this is the position not only of Germany, but it is also the position of many other countries which we have made it clear in the past. We demand the immediate release of Alexei NAVALNY, but also of the demonstrators. We will look very closely in the coming weeks, in particular, at the court hearing that will take place, which will be decisive for Mr. NAVALNY's future, and we will then also have to talk within the bodies of the Council of Europe about how we will deal with this.

I also welcome the fact that the Parliamentary Assembly is making an important contribution to the joint international process of coming to terms with this, including with regard to the poisoning of Mr NAVALNY. The report, in particular the one prepared by the rapporteur, Mr Jacques MAIRE, will play an important role in this. The question of the visibility of the opposition, not only in parliaments, is also an important issue, because in far too many countries we are witnessing so-called shrinking spaces. It is therefore right that the role and status of opposition, both parliamentary and extra-parliamentary, has always been the subject of the Council of Europe's work. I would just refer to the Venice Commission study on the role of the position in a democratic parliament and the Council of Europe's programmes for strengthening democracy, which always include the opposition, and the Council of Europe, which also works with extra-parliamentary groups and NGOs. They all know that as well as I do, and they try to incorporate that into our work and our activities.

The question about the instruments that we have but also the effectiveness of them, I think the instruments of the Council of Europe are good, starting from the Convention on Human Rights, its review in disputes by the Court of Justice, to the conventions with their respective monitoring bodies that exist. Nevertheless, there is always room for reform and increased efficiency. At the Court, the reforms of recent years, such as the pilot procedure, have led to a reduction in the high number of pending cases and in the monitoring procedures, too. We want to examine, by means of a working group in the Committee of Ministers, whether there also are possibilities or not here for really working even more efficiently.

It is also better to inform. That is extremely important in a democracy. There are, for example, many rumours about the Istanbul Convention, about all the things it has introduced or imposed. The objective is quite clear: to prevent domestic violence against women in particular. All this will certainly play a role in the work processes, but let me also make it clear that the Council of Europe is based on the express will of its members to uphold and implement the common principles, and without this will, even the best instruments cannot always be fully effective. In many cases, therefore, it is always a question of political will, and there, too, we must keep up the pressure.

The question or the reference to the fact that even in the pandemic we must not neglect important issues such as climate, terrorism, and migration is absolutely right. I believe that the international bodies and the organisation are making this very clear not only in Europe, but also far beyond, right up to the United Nations.

Particularly on the issue of migration, that is a European issue and, of course, it is also one within the European Union. We know that there will continue to be refugees in the future and we advocate an attitude of solidarity in Europe, that we combat the causes of flight and increase our commitment there and, where people come to us, also find mechanisms for these people to find a place in Europe and that the procedures that exist to check whether or not they are given a residence status are also coordinated internationally so that they do not become a problem. The question of progress in terms of the number of people arriving in Europe and the procedures that are in place to check whether they are given residence status or not, and that these are coordinated internationally so that the burden on those at the external borders, such as Greece and Italy, but also others, does not become ever greater, is where European solidarity plays a major role.

The question of progress on the European Union's accession to the Convention on Human Rights is one that I, as German Justice Minister, have already addressed in all its facets, including, incidentally, the two courts, which do not play an insignificant role in this. We will be working on this issue with great commitment during our Presidency. The EU Treaty obliges the EU to accede quickly, and so we are glad that the EU's negotiations with the Council of Europe on accession to the Convention will be resumed in September during the German Presidency of the Council of the EU and will now be continued. We will see to it that this is pursued with great commitment. At the ministerial meeting in May, we want to take a clear decision on the implementation of the accession process, and we want to give this an additional political impetus.

As for the question of the multi-stakeholder conference on dealing with hate speech from a European perspective, we think it is a major issue that human rights must also be taken into account on the Internet and that, unfortunately, this is not the case everywhere. We must look for instruments to work on this issue. We aim to actively support the work of the Council of Europe in developing recommendations to combat hate speech. Our conference Unboxing Hate-Speech - European momentum for respect and solidarity online will take place on 17 and 18 February and will give us the opportunity to discuss from many angles what can be done to combat hate and incitement online and how to strengthen human rights protection online in the process. Raising public awareness will also be a major topic, but also what regulations there are, for example, for the operators of social networks and also what the consequences under criminal law are for those who use the Internet to spread hate speech.

Finally, on the question of human rights, particularly with regard to the pandemic and the fight against the pandemic; I think we all know that the pandemic poses enormous challenges not only to our health systems but also to our political institutions, which is why it was all the more important to clarify once again the guidelines for Council of Europe Member States on the exercise of human rights even in a state of emergency during the pandemic. The Secretary General already provided many important impulses in this regard in April, which will also guide our work.

Ultimately, it remains essential that the health authorities always provide factual and comprehensible information about the COVID-19 pandemic, but we can also all make a contribution when it comes to putting an end to conspiracy theories and disinformation, which are unfortunately becoming more and more widespread. In the spirit of the rule of law, the states must be very careful to ensure that their measures are always proportionate and limited. Limited in time - because anything else would, I believe, lead to a great loss of credibility. We must also make it clear to those who are trying to abuse this pandemic in order to restrict rights that we are not prepared to accept that.

Concerning the question that has been asked about Belarus, we can see how it is developing. We can also see that, unfortunately, things have not got any better in recent months, and that has to be said in all honesty. That is why our Belarus policy is based on three pillars. Firstly, active support for civil society in the country itself, which is under considerable pressure, with various possibilities from different countries, including European countries, which have already been implemented. Secondly, political support for the democracy movement and its representatives, including those in exile. Thirdly, the gradual exertion of pressure on Lukashenko's regime, including sanctions against those responsible for human rights violations and electoral fraud, something that representatives of the opposition have told us time and again is effective.

There is a large number of groups in intensive exchange - both from individual European states, but also from the European Union. Of course, I would have nothing at all if, even if Strasbourg, there were a working group that was very much involved with the opposition in Belarus because it will be very important to keep this issue on the political agenda. We must not allow Lukashenko to make us simply resign ourselves at some point to the conditions that exist there.

The issue of Greece and Turkey and the disputes we see there, especially in Cyprus and what has happened in Varosha in recent months, but also the dispute that exists with Greece in the eastern Mediterranean. We have always been very clear that we want the law to be respected and that all members of the Council of Europe should, of course, abide by it. I am very pleased that there are currently some signs of détente, that initial talks have been started between Turkey and Greece on the disputes in the Mediterranean. We will also make it clear to Turkey that we are heading for a diplomatic solution to the Cyprus issue. We will also have to ensure that, where there are rulings by the European Court of Human Rights, they are implemented. That is one of the key points of our Presidency. We know that there are deficits there. One of the issues you are dealing with is how to implement the mechanisms that can be used. In the coming weeks, however, we will also use all the diplomatic means at our disposal to work towards implementing the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, also vis-à-vis Turkey. In particular, to give just one example, the judgment in the Osman KAVALA case.

Perhaps I can answer the first questions that have been asked.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:41:15

Thank you Mr Minister.

We now go to the next five questions.

First in the row is Ms Zita GURMAI who is going to be followed by Mr Alain MILON.

Ms GURMAI, you have the floor.

Ms Zita GURMAI

Hungary, SOC

16:41:34

[Inaudible] and emerging areas are making the standards globally important points of reference, for example, in the field of data protection and in the Budapest Convention concerning the area of cyber crime. But what role can the Council of Europe play in the field of artificial intelligence? Where do you see the added value of the Council of Europe instrument in this field?

And, of course, I have another question for the Minister of Youth Policies, which is an issue which is very close to my heart, and of course, the European Youth Centre is in Budapest and this topic will be a priority for the Hungarian CM presidency – you already had the key event on this issue focusing on the very timely topic of youth – can you inform us about the outcome of this event?

And I also would like to congratulate the newly elected the first woman ever Secretary General and the Deputy Secretary General and I wish you good luck and thanks for the great job during the presidency and, as a Hungarian, I'm very thankful for what you said.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:42:31

We now come to the question by Mr Alain MILON, which will be followed by Ms Serap YAŞAR.

Alain, you have the floor.

Mr Alain MILON

France, EPP/CD

16:42:43

Thank you, Mister Speaker.

Mister Chairman of the Committee of Ministers,

Ladies and gentlemen,

In a context of health restrictions which have a particular impact on the younger generations, especially students and young workers, Germany has chosen to place the link with youth at the heart of the priorities of its chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers.

Could you give us an initial assessment of the Third European Convention on Youth Work, which was held last December, and above all tell us what your objectives in this field are in the coming months?

Thank you for listening.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:43:21

Merci.

We now come to Ms Serap YAŞAR, who will be followed by Mr Andrej HUNKO.

Ms YAŞAR, you have the floor.

Ms Serap YAŞAR

Turkey, NR

16:43:33

Thank you, Mister Speaker.

Mister Minister,

Migration is one of the most difficult challenges we have faced in the last decade as some Member States refrain from sharing the responsibility for certain countries. Some countries bear enormous burdens and difficulties in protecting the rights of migrants and refugees.

What concrete steps do you envisage to take to share this burden fairly and to protect the rights of migrants and refugees in accordance with the resolutions of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the judgments of the Court?

Thank you.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:44:21

Thank you.

Now Mr Andrej HUNKO, who will be followed by Ms Laura CASTEL.

Mr HUNKO you have the floor.

Mr Andrej HUNKO

Germany, UEL

16:44:32

Mr Minister,

At the beginning of your speech, however, you referred to the urgent need to implement the rulings of the Human Rights Court and also said in response to my colleague Ms Nina KASIMATI that all diplomatic options must be exploited. A little more than a week ago, you met the Turkish Foreign Minister, Mr Mevlüt ÇAVUŞOĞLU, who was also Speaker of the Parliament here in the Assembly from 2010 to 2012. I would be interested to know to what extent you asked him about the urgent need to implement the Demirtaş and Kavala judgments and how he reacted, what his response was, what the conversation was like, so to speak.

Thank you very much.

Ms Laura CASTEL

Spain, NR

16:45:34

Thank you, Mister Chair.

We do agree that the lack of execution of judgements of the European Court of Human Rights is a worrisome problem.

It creates a sense of impunity, fosters a lack of respect of Council of Europe values, gives powers to irresponsible states to continue their systemic violations. But what is most disturbing is that it empowers other states to not comply with judgements in the future.

I would like to ask you whether stronger sanctions on immediate measures will be proposed by the German presidency of the Committee in order to at least rapidly address cases of arbitrary deprivation of liberty, which today strikes our Member States.

Arbitrary detention of political opponents or civil society members is a red line that we should not allow.

Thank you every much.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:46:37

Thank you very much.

Now we come to the Minister.

Minister MAAS, you have the floor.

Mr Heiko MAAS

Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs of Germany, Chair of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe

16:46:44

Thank you very much, Mr President,

I would perhaps like to return to the subject of implementing the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, which has been raised several times. I have pointed out that this will be one of our priorities and, of course, what we have all agreed with each other and the standards laid down in the Convention in particular are for us the litmus test for our credibility too. That applies to us as an institution, but it applies, of course, to each and every member country, and that is why we will use all the means at our disposal to continue to press for the implementation of the rulings that are there. And in addition, in the course of our Presidency, we will also have to deal with those cases where we find that it is not likely that judgments will be implemented either. We will also have to consider what options we will take and what instruments we will use.

But we have to make it very clear that we have a great interest in ensuring that the credibility of the Council of Europe and all its member states is always damaged if we do not manage to implement what the Court decides. We had to make that very clear once again to all those who are guided by our standards and who have committed themselves accordingly.

In response to the question about Turkey, this issue is, of course, one that comes up regularly in the bilateral talks that take place. That was also the case during my last visit. And as it is, there are some cases in Germany, also consular cases, which we are in charge of and which are brought up in such a topic; also so the Demirtaş and Kavala cases, which have a significance beyond that because of the relevant rulings that there are by the Court. We have made it very clear in our position there that we expect all countries, including Turkey, to implement the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights and we will maintain this pressure and I hope that the current signs of détente at least in one or other political area in the relationship between Europe and Turkey will also lead to more willingness on the Turkish side to talk to each other about these issues.

On the question of the Budapest Convention. As I have already mentioned, this is also an important issue in view of all the technical innovations and possibilities that exist. The Council of Europe has the highest human rights standard worldwide and is therefore also predestined to uphold human rights aspects in the field of new technologies. This means that new technologies such as artificial intelligence must not endanger democracy and human rights, but should actually help to strengthen them, and we know that artificial intelligence and its applications are on the rise worldwide, some also use them for surveillance and repression purposes and make them useful for this. Others are leaving the development to a few large corporations and market forces, which may well mean that at some point we also lose the ability to regulate completely.

As Europeans, we want a different model, one in which people are at the centre of all development, but which is open to international cooperation and protects our values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law, and there is no time to lose here, because technological development is rapid and that is why we also support the Council of Europe and the work of the competent committee, which last December adopted a feasibility study for a legal instrument on artificial intelligence, and with our presidency conference last week, which attracted a great deal of interest, we have, I think, given further impetus to the speedy progress of this work.

As far as the European Youth Work Convention is concerned; I believe that the third convention was already the kick-off for the implementation of the youth work agenda, the so-called Bonn process, and it even brought together about 1000 participants from the different areas of youth work. Thereby, the European Youth Agenda elaborated by the German Presidency was confirmed and in particular also the establishment of a network for the development of youth work in Europe, which we urgently need in our opinion, and further essential demands there are, for example, the strengthening of youth work structures on the local level, in particular through sustainable financing, as well as the demand for an intensified cooperation between the EU and the Council of Europe to strengthen youth work, which we support. These are in part very specific issues and work processes that we are dealing with, but which I think should also be the subject of the Council of Europe's work.

On the subject of migration, which has been mentioned, and burden-sharing; I have already mentioned this once, I am firmly convinced that combating the causes of flight is not the task of nations, but in particular of the international community of states. We must assume responsibility there together, that applies to combating the causes of flight, that applies to the reception of refugees and that applies above all to the consideration of human rights in connection with migration policy. Here, too, we will only be able to find international solutions, and here, too, the Council of Europe can make important contributions.

Thank you very much.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:53:26

Thank you Mr Minister.

We now come to the five following questions.

First in my row is Ms Ingjerd SCHOU who will be followed by Mr Rafael HUSEYNOV.

Ms SCHOU you have the floor.

Ms Ingjerd SCHOU

Norway, EPP/CD

16:53:42

The poisoning of Aleksei Navalny and his arrest on his return shows how dangerous it is today to be a vocal opposition politician in Russia.

We all know that this is also the case in other member states.

What can the Committee of Ministers do to prevent such developments?

And how can the Committee of Ministers and the European Council better support legal opposition parties and politicians and protect their fundamental right to freedom of speech and assembly?

Thank you very much.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:54:31

Thank you, next in my list is Mr Rafael HUSEYNOV, who will be followed by Ms Mariia MEZENTSEVA. Rafael, you have the floor.

Mr Rafael HUSEYNOV

Azerbaijan, ALDE

16:54:40

Dear Minister,

In the wake of the well-known developments in the South Caucasus, ending on the one hand, almost 30-year occupation of Azerbaijani territories, and opening up, on another hand, new opportunities for lasting peace and sustainable cooperation in the region, how do you assess the perspectives of establishing good neighborly relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia, two member states of the Council of Europe? And in your capacity of Minister of Foreign Affairs of Germany, do you consider a renewed and reinforced engagement of Germany in our part of the world?

Thank you.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:55:21

Thank you very much.

Next on my list is Maria Mezentseva who will be followed by Mr Ruben RUBINYAN.

Ms Mariia MEZENTSEVA

Ukraine, EPP/CD

16:55:30

Dear Minister,

The issue of non-enforcement of European Court of Human Rights decisions is extremely serious and relevant and I think many members have already raised this questions. And having read your priorities for the chairing the committee of ministers, we can see that it is definitely in your agenda.

Therefore I have this question: what would be your actions in the need of strengthening the control of the non-enforcement of the Council of Europe of the European Court of Human Rights decisions? Do you think we can go for some statutory changes? And would be Germany ready for that?

Vielen Dank.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:56:17

Thank you very much.

Now I have Mr Ruben RUBINYAN that will be followed by Ms Sabrina DE CARLO.

Mr RUBINYAN.

Mr Ruben RUBINYAN

Armenia, EPP/CD

16:56:29

Thank you, Minister.

It's well-established that during the war in Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan extensively used mercenaries and foreign fighters from Syria. Turkey has been instrumental in the recruitment and deployment of the terrorist fighters to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone.

Does the German presidency intend to address this worrying subject that can have serious repercussions in the whole region?

Thank you.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:56:57

Thank you very much.

Last on my list, and it also will conclude the whole list given the time restraints, is Ms Sabrina DE CARLO.

Ms DE CARLO, you have the floor.

We do not see Ms DE CARLO. Double check Wojciech.

In that case I take the next one on my list who is Mr Emanuelis ZINGERIS.

Mr ZINGERIS you have the floor. One minute Mr ZINGERIS, I know you, one minute.

Mr Emanuelis ZINGERIS

Lithuania, EPP/CD

16:57:32

Thank you Mr Speaker, you are always so kind to amend my statements.

I would now like to use my mother tongue German and also Yiddish to say, Mr Minister be healthy, and all of us remain healthy.

And of course I will ask myself, what do you do? We are on the verge of Holocaust Memorial Day and radicalism is spreading in Europe, what is the German side doing to combat radicalism in Europe?

Secondly, we talked about Navalny, but we shouldn't forget Boris Nemstov, what do you think: do we have to take a new look at the NEMTSOV thing?

Thirdly, in Belarus, we have Svetlana TIKHANOVSKAIA and of course it would be interesting to have information and official confirmation about the German role in this.

Thank you very much.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:58:42

Thank you, Emanuelis.

Mr Minister you have the floor.

Mr Heiko MAAS

Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs of Germany, Chair of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe

16:58:46

Thank you very much, Mister President,

I would like to begin once again with the subject of Alexei NAVALNY and the point that, in addition to this specific case, it is becoming increasingly common to see non-governmental organisations and the oppositions in a country being deprived of their fundamental right. Unfortunately, there are more and more countries in the world where legal action is also being taken, and laws are being tightened up, which make the work of non-governmental organisations much more difficult.

We will work in the Council of Europe to ensure that, with regard to Russia and also because of the legal developments that have taken place there, Russia enables and does not hinder the work of non-governmental organisations in accordance with its international obligations.

The European Court of Human Rights and the various monitoring bodies monitor Russia's compliance with these obligations. In doing so, they will receive the best possible support from our Presidency, and here we also want to closely involve the Parliamentary Assembly, because it can play an important role there. In addition, we will have to think about how we as the Council of Europe, but also the Member States of the Council of Europe, can check how civil society can be supported in different countries where there are more and more restrictions. I have just mentioned the example of Belarus, where support and contacts with civil society have made it clear that we cannot accept the developments there, the violations of human rights there and, above all, the violations of free and fair elections.

The question of Germany's role, especially with regard to good neighbourly relations - which hopefully will be restored at some point - between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the rapprochement of Armenia and Azerbaijan, including an amicable and lasting solution to the conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, is one of the main lines of our relationship with both countries, this is always made very clear to both countries, and as a member of the OSCE Minsk Group, Germany is also prepared to make a contribution. In particular, in order to resolve this difficult conflict, which has been going on for a long time, which could not be resolved and has now ended in a military confrontation, for this conflict. Here we think that the OSCE Minsk Group is still the right forum and the right platform to make this contribution, linked with our EU partners in the framework of the Eastern Partnership. This is another way in which we can work to ensure that the two countries get on as we would all like them to. Both countries - and this too must be said - face major challenges following the end of the armed conflicts that took place there. These challenges and how they are overcome will also depend on the will of both countries to engage in dialogue and cooperation. We want to promote this dialogue in the interests of the stability of both countries although we must, of course, be aware that stability affects the whole region there.

The question once again - and this is an issue that concerns many of you and I can assure you it will also occupy us extraordinarily throughout our Presidency - is once again the implementation of the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights. We are committed to ensuring that all Member States implement the Court's judgments fully and without delay. We will remind everyone that they have committed themselves to this in the ECHR and we will deal in particular with those where there are obvious shortcomings. As the Presidency of the Strasbourg bodies, we are pursuing this issue as a priority, and we will do so with vigour. The entire German Government will also commit itself to this. Last year, Germany already chaired the committee that monitors the implementation of the judgments. There was some progress, but not nearly enough for us. Therefore, the issue and the problems related to it will continue to play a major role in discussions and public statements. We will have to keep open all the other options we have to increase the pressure on defaulting Member States and we will also work towards their application if necessary.

On the question of Syrian fighters in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict; we are aware of the reports that Syrian fighters are being used in the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. We must also note that this is not the only conflict in which Syrian fighters appear to be playing a role at the moment; we already know this from the civil war in Libya. With regard to Nagorno-Karabakh, based on current intelligence, we have to assume that a certain number of these Syrian fighters are indeed still in the crisis area. There are many international efforts to clarify how they are being used there, how large their numbers are, and who is responsible for this. However, this has not been conclusively achieved so far. Turkey plays an important role in this conflict in view of its influence on Azerbaijan. We have already made it clear to the Turkish Government in talks that Turkey can use this influence in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict to make a responsible contribution to securing and increasing stability in the region.

With regard to the Remember Alliance and the issue of anti-Semitism, this is another topic that we in the Government of Germany are, of course, constantly and intensively addressing, not least because of the events that have taken place in Germany.

We will use this time also to work here against extremism and racism, and in Germany, particularly on the issue of anti-Semitism, to ensure that this topic remains high on the political agenda, not only in Germany. We have launched various initiatives with the aim of working towards ensuring that we pay much more attention to what is also being disseminated on social networks and that we also look for ways in which we can oppose it. Above all, not only at government or parliamentary levels, but especially at the level of civil society, because this is an issue that ultimately concerns us all.

As for the question of the office for the opposition from Belarus in Berlin, there have been many discussions, also in Berlin, also in Brussels. We are supporting the opposition in Belarus at various levels. We are also discussing this with other states that are also very active there, such as the Baltic states, but also Poland. I am quite sure that the representatives of the opposition in Belarus, who have since had to go into exile, have a large number of contact points in European countries. We will also ensure that they can use these.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:07:49

Thank you very much Mr Minister.

This will conclude our discussion with you I would sincerely wish to thank you for all the very clear answers that you have offered us.

I invite the colleagues who unfortunately were not able to put their questions, to have them sent in writing to the table office. We will forward them to the Minister, and if he chooses to do so he can then answer them in writing.

I also hope to see you soon in Germany. I know your ambassador Rolf is convincing me during the presidency to still be, or try to come to Germany. And just to tell you a small secret, Mr Andreas NICK has made me some kind of a proposal which is very difficult to refuse. But I will not elaborate on that one. It's just between Mr NICK and myself. It doesn't concern me personally, colleagues, it concerns the Assembly. Just for you to know.

Having said this, Minister Maas, many thanks to you for being with us, and I sincerely hope to see you in Germany one of these weeks. Thank you very much, and this concludes questions and answers of Mr Heiko Maas Minister of Foreign Affairs of Germany.

(See below for written questions and replies)

Mr Joseph O'REILLY

Ireland, EPP/CD

19:06:00

Written question

As you know we’re all currently involved in a concerted effort to get our people vaccinated. Without developing countries, impoverished areas and all the global south included, it will fail both worlds. Variants and mutations will develop otherwise. It’s morally right but it’s also practically right that we vaccinate everybody. What does the Minister think can be done about this?

Mr Heiko MAAS

Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs of Germany, Chair of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe

19:06:00

Written reply

Germany is convinced that access to Covid‑19 vaccinations must be globally fair and be made a global public good. That is why, in cooperation with the European Union, we are supporting the multilateral COVAX platform, which will make vaccinations available to 92 countries with low or medium incomes. Germany is a significant contributor to COVAX. It is providing 100 million euro as a national contribution and a further 500 million euro as part of Team Europe. Furthermore, we are working with our EU partners on a joint approach towards sharing vaccines from the EU’s contingent. Against this backdrop, we welcome the recent proposal from the European Commission to establish a special mechanism which will also co-operate with COVAX.

Ms Fiona O'LOUGHLIN

Ireland, ALDE

19:06:00

Written question

What impact will the change of leadership in the CDU Party have on human rights issues around the world. Do you expect Armin Laschet to follow in Chancellor Merkel’s footsteps or do you anticipate change when the new leader comes on board?

Mr Heiko MAAS

Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs of Germany, Chair of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe

19:06:00

Written reply

I hope you will understand that I cannot comment on internal decisions taken by the Christian Democratic Union of Germany.

Mr André GATTOLIN

France, ALDE

19:06:00

Written question

Ten years ago the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance came into force, following its adoption in 2006 by the United Nations General Assembly. This convention is now in force in 63 States across the world.

In a resolution of 2012, the Parliamentary Assembly invited Council of Europe member States which had not yet done so to sign and ratify this convention.

Unfortunately there is no overlooking the fact that, eight years on, the convention is still not in force in 26 of the 47 member States. Only 21 have ratified it, while 17 have merely signed it and 9 have not signed it yet.

What strategy does the Committee of Ministers intend to adopt to encourage Council of Europe member States to set an example by signing and ratifying this convention?

Mr Heiko MAAS

Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs of Germany, Chair of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe

19:06:00

Written reply

In the context of its Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers, Germany is working to intensify co-operation between the Council of Europe and the United Nations, particularly with regard to the protection of human rights. That includes the signing and ratification of the convention mentioned and other relevant UN conventions by the member States of the Council of Europe. Germany has signed and ratified this convention and invites other member States to do likewise. We support the work of Ms Barbara Lochbihler, who is a member of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances. In the UN Human Rights Council, we address the issue in our national declarations in the context of the Universal Periodic Review and recommend that the member States ratify the convention.

Ms Iwona ARENT

Poland, EC/DA

19:06:00

Written question

During the German Presidency of the European Council a German Court has ruled that the German public television channel does not have to apologise to Mr Karol Tendera – the prisoner of German Auschwitz death camp for using a deceitful and hurtful phrase for him and other prisoners.

The German Court acted against European law. You were obliged by European Union law to recognise the Polish court’s judgment in this case ordering an apology.

Does the rule of law and the recognition of judgments also apply to Germany?

A man who was tortured in Auschwitz by Germans can be insulted with impunity years later on German public television.

Is this justice and rule of law?

Mr Heiko MAAS

Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs of Germany, Chair of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe

19:06:00

Written reply

For the Federal Government, the injustices perpetrated by Germany during the period of National Socialism are indisputable. The Federal Republic of Germany embraces its historical responsibility for the victims of the National Socialist tyranny and acknowledges their suffering. The Federal Government also highly values Karol Tenderas’ personal commitment to imparting knowledge about the Holocaust and raising awareness of the concerns of Auschwitz survivors. He initiated regular historical-witness discussions, such as the event with young German diplomats held at the Centre for Dialogue and Prayer in Auschwitz in January 2018. Keeping the memory alive remains a top priority, as the speech by Federal President Dr Steinmeier on 1 September 2019 in Wieluń to commemorate the outbreak of the Second World War illustrates.

In the case you describe concerning a text on the website of the ZDF television broadcaster (in connection with a programme on the liberation of concentration and extermination camps in 1945), ZDF corrected the text concerned immediately, published an apology on its website and apologised to the plaintiff in two personal letters. The Federal Court of Justice took all this into account in its decision rejecting the enforceability of a judgement by the Kraków Court of Appeal. This decision by the Federal Court of Justice was taken pursuant to the regulation on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgements in civil and commercial matters (Regulation (EU) No 1215/2012 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 12 December 2012). There is no evidence that European law was breached by the verdict of the Federal Court of Justice, neither was there criticism to this effect from the competent European institutions.

Mr Yury OLEINIKOV

Russian Federation, NR

19:06:00

Written question

During the German presidency of the Council of Europe, the issue of protecting the rights of the Russian and Russian-speaking population, as well as linguistic and ethnic minorities in the Baltic States and Ukraine, was not raised. Their native languages are regarded there as a threat to statehood.

In my opinion, the Council of Europe needs to pay more attention to this problem.

Do you share my concern?

Mr Heiko MAAS

Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs of Germany, Chair of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe

19:06:00

Written reply

The Council of Europe has long been committed to protecting ethnic and linguistic minorities. The Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities has been ratified by the vast majority of member States, including Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia and Ukraine. The implementation of the obligations deriving from this Convention is continually verified by the competent Council of Europe bodies. The effective implementation of their recommendations is important and in the interests of all member States.

Mr Arkadiusz MULARCZYK

Poland, EC/DA

19:06:00

Written question

The right to a fair trial is one of the most important rights granted by the European Convention on Human Rights.

In Poland, there are still people who are the victims of World War II. I personally know many such people, often they are elderly and disabled.

Despite the lapse of more than 80 years since the end of the war, citizens of our country have no legal path – under Polish, German or international law – to pursue court claims against a State that violated a number of values, such as the right to life, the right to property, or the right to dignity.

Due to immunity from jurisdiction, these persons do not have the right to a fair trial.

Do you not think that a modern democratic Germany should approach the solution of this problem in a honest and lawful manner?

Mr Heiko MAAS

Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs of Germany, Chair of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe

19:06:00

Written reply

In reparation for war damage, international humanitarian law only provides for claims between States, not reparation claims by individuals. The individual State is responsible for passing on the compensation it has achieved to its citizens in an appropriate form. This system of State compensation has proved effective. It has made lasting and stable peace agreements possible. With regard to the Second World War, the question of reparation and thus also the individual compensation of bodily harm and financial loss as a general consequence of war has been settled both legally and politically.

Germany acknowledges its responsibility for the victims of National Socialist injustice and has created a wide range of legal and extra-legal provisions for individual compensation, on the basis of which payments totalling more than 78 billion euro have been made to date. Germany has also paid significant contributions to Poland in reparation for National Socialist injustices (in total around 2 billion euro: 140 million Deutsche Mark for victims of medical experiments, 1.3 billion Deutsche Mark for social security agreements, 500 million Deutsche Mark for the Foundation for Polish-German Reconciliation, 15 million euro as a contribution to pension payments from the Jewish Claims Conference (JCC), 979 million euro in contributions from the Foundation “Remembrance, Responsibility and Future” to Polish former forced labourers).

Working to keep the memory alive, assuming historical responsibility and recognising the suffering of the victims of the crimes of National Socialist Germany continues to be a top priority for the Federal Government.

Address: Mr Didier REYNDERS, European Commissioner for Justice

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:09:10

The speech of Mr Didier REYNDERS, European Commissioner for Justice, is now on the agenda.

Dear Didier, welcome

I hope Didier is on board. We need to log on, therefore, and we need to ask for the floor. With the German minister, Commissioner, we only had sound. Now we have sound and image, so we are very happy.

We work as follows: we have one hour and we have 23 colleagues who want to ask you a question, Commissioner. So, the briefer you are in your introduction, the more questions it will be possible to answer. I am delighted to see you again, even only on-screen, and for the record, dear colleagues, dear friends, we became ministers at the same time some time ago.

It is with great pleasure that I give you the floor.

Didier REYNDERS

European Commissioner for Justice

17:10:19

Thank you very much, Mister President. Dear Rik, I really wanted the video to be present because, as you know, hairdressers have been closed for a long time in Belgium and this was an opportunity to show what happens when hairdressers are closed in a country.

Ladies and gentlemen, first of all, of course, I would like to thank you and your President for your invitation to exchange views with you today on respect for the rule of law and co-operation, above all, between the Council of Europe and the European Union in this field.

The Union and the Council of Europe have a long and fruitful history of co-operation. The Council of Europe's seventy years of experience give it essential authority in setting standards, particularly with regard to the rule of law, human rights, and democracy.

Our commitment to cooperate closely in these areas was recently reaffirmed in the Union's priorities for cooperation with the Council of Europe for the period 2020-2022.

You can also be assured of my personal commitment to the rule of law. Before becoming Commissioner for Justice, I was for a long time involved in the work of the Council of the European Union, particularly on these rule of law issues. In recent years, we have also had the opportunity to raise this issue on several occasions in the General Affairs Council.

This increased interest on the part of the European institutions reflects the importance of the rule of law for the future of the Union. Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union recalls that the rule of law, together with democracy and respect for fundamental rights, is one of the values on which the Union is founded. As you know, the rule of law is of fundamental importance because it guarantees the protection of all other values, including democracy, and respect for fundamental rights.

Unfortunately, respect for the rule of law cannot be taken for granted, even within the Union. In recent years, the situation of the rule of law in some Member States has raised concerns. These developments have only increased the European Commission's conviction of the importance of using all the instruments at its disposal to defend the rule of law.

Didier REYNDERS

European Commissioner for Justice

17:12:37

As an important step to protect our common values, and as a response to emerging challenges to the rule of law in the European Union, the Commission published in 2020 its first annual Rule of Law Report.

This is conceived as a yearly process, aimed at preventing problems from emerging or deepening. It aims at creating joint awareness of the situation of the rule of law across the European Union. It will stimulate a permanent discussion on the rule of law, year after year.

The 2020 Rule of Law Report provides a synthesis of significant rule of law developments in the European Union. It also provides country-specific assessments for all the 27 Member States.

It presents both positive and negative developments covering four pillars: Justice systems; The anti-corruption frameworks; Media pluralism and freedom; and other institutional issues related to checks and balances.

We have worked in close collaboration with the Council of Europe to prepare the report. It was very important to do that.

I want to particularly thank the Council of Europe for having designated a contact point, who provided very valuable country-specific input for the Report.

The Report has further taken into account existing instruments and expertise of the Council of Europe, including the case law of the European Court of Human Rights, and the work and recommendations from Council of Europe bodies such as the Venice Commission or the GRECO.

I would like to use this opportunity to thank you again for this excellent cooperation.

I look forward to continuing on this path.

Didier REYNDERS

European Commissioner for Justice

17:14:38

This brings me to the report itself and to these main conclusions.

Firstly, on justice systems: as a positive development, a number of Member States are making efforts to strengthen the independence of the judiciary and reduce the influence of the executive and legislative branches on the judiciary. But the independence of the judiciary remains a matter of concern in some Member States. For example, there are concerns related to structural issues concerning the increasing influence of the executive and legislative powers on the functioning of the justice systems.

As regards the quality of justice, the current pandemic has highlighted the importance of accelerating the digitilisation of justice. Investing in justice is also more necessary than ever. It is reassuring to see that some Member States have decided to increase the resources devoted to this area.

As regards the framework for the fight against corruption, the second chapter of the report, I welcome the fact that several Member States have recently adopted new comprehensive anti-corruption strategies, or have revised existing ones. It is essential that these strategies be effectively implemented and monitored to ensure that progress is made on the ground.

At the same time, the report mentions concerns in several Member States about the effectiveness of investigations and prosecutions of corruption cases.

Didier REYNDERS

European Commissioner for Justice

17:16:20

Thirdly, on media pluralism and media freedom, an encouraging finding is that the independence of media authorities is enshrined in law in every member state.

That being said, there are also worrying signs in some of them with regards to the political influence on the media, the lack of transparency when it comes to media ownership, and risks to journalists and other media actors.

The fourth area of the report concerns institutionalised checks and balances.

The COVID-19 pandemic has sometimes provided good examples of functioning checks and balances.

Parliamentary scrutiny helped frame certain emergency responses and these measures were often reviewed by national courts.

So we have seen an oversight of all the measures, not only by the courts and tribunals, but also by the different national parliaments.

However we also identify a number of concerns with regard to checks and balances.

In a few member states, we see repeated recourse to expedited legislation in parliament or to emergency ordinances from the government.

These situations raise concerns and across the European Union at the same moment civil society continues to be a key actor in defending the rule of law.

However, in some member states again, it operates in an unstable environment and is facing challenges such as legislation limiting access to foreign funding or smear campaigns.

Didier REYNDERS

European Commissioner for Justice

17:18:14

The Rule of Law Report is not just a report to add to your libraries. What we want to establish is a deeper political dialogue to help promote a culture of the rule of law in the Member States as well as outside the Union. We need such a dialogue at European Union level, with the European Parliament and the Council, as well as at national level. There is the political will to move in this direction. A dialogue in the Council on the basis of our report - our first report - has already taken place under the German Council Presidency at European Union level.

In October we had a very constructive debate in the General Affairs Council on general developments relating to the rule of law. In November, a country-specific discussion took place on the main developments in five specific Member States, following the protocol alphabetical order within the Union. I am counting on future Council Presidencies to continue this dialogue and look forward to continuing the work with the Portuguese presidency, which has already scheduled a debate on the next five Member States in the same protocol alphabetical order in April.

I have also already presented the report to the European Parliament and to eight national parliaments because it is important that the debate take place in all the national parliaments. I will therefore try to continue these debates by video during the pandemic in all 27 Member States, sometimes with a possible physical presence in one or other Assembly.

The Council of Europe can undoubtedly also play an important role in these debates. That is why I welcome the opportunity to discuss with you today. But perhaps there are still other opportunities to promote dialogue on the rule of law together. Your ideas in this respect are of course welcome. I would like to thank once again all the actors within the Council of Europe, who really contributed to the first report and are already contributing to the preparation of the second report that we intend to adopt in July this year.

Didier REYNDERS

European Commissioner for Justice

17:20:29

Looking forward, as you know, the Rule of Law Report is an annual exercise and the cycle for the 2021 Rule of Law Report is, as I said already, starting.

We will follow the same process as last year, involving Member States and stakeholders by asking them for written inputs and by organising country visits.

We are also already in touch with the Council of Europe’s contact point for preparing your input. We look forward to continuing and further strengthening our cooperation. Your ideas on how to advance together are most welcome.

The Commission will continue to play its role as guardian of the Treaties, and use all the tools at its disposal to react to threats to the rule of law, whenever necessary.

Let me conclude with a broader reflection. This work within the European Union that I have just described is also essential for our credibility abroad. When we promote the rule of law in our neighbourhood and with other international partners, we must be credible internally.

We need to do the job at home in order to be able discuss it with neighbour countries and with other partners.

This also underlines the importance of our rule of law report, which will increasingly inspire our work with our European partners, members of the Council of Europe.

This is the reason why I tried to be not longer than this President, and I thank you for your attention of course and I am now looking forward to hearing the 23, maybe, questions and remarks that you have added.

So thanks again for this opportunity to present the situation about the rule of law report.

It will be possible to discuss year after year about this rule of law situation in the European Union.

Not only inside the European Union, but also with you at the Council of Europe level.

Thanks again.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:22:26

Thank you very much Mr REYNDERS.

We now head into the questions, so obviously time constraints will not allow us to have all 23 put to you today, but we have this kind of a system where those who cannot put their questions are allowed to send them in writing so I suppose and I hope that you will be willing to respond to them in writing.

Let's not waste any more time. We have the first five questions, so we put five questions: you will have the opportunity to answer and then again five questions.

The first five questions are for the political groups.

First on my list is Ms Petra BAYR who will be followed by Mr Aleksander POCIEJ.

Ms BAYR you have the floor.

Ms Petra BAYR

Austria, SOC

17:23:06

Good afternoon, Mister Commissioner.

The first question I would like to raise on behalf of my colleague Mr Fourat BEN CHIKHA who is our General Rapporteur on LGBTQI Persons.

Governments with undemocratic goals are scapegoating LGBTQI people in order to win majority votes with the effect and aim of weakening the rule of law.

How will the European Commission engage with LGBTQI civil society at a national level and draw up the European Commission's rule of law report, and how will you engage during the follow-up process with national governments?

My question is: I very much appreciate your efforts to establish a European Union corporate due diligence legislation, and we see strong resistance with similar struggles, for instance in Germany, or at the United Nations Human Rights Commission.

Where do you localise the main opponents against the strong legal human rights obligations of the private sector, and how will you overcome the hurdles or convince your opponents?

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:24:12

Thank you, Ms Petra BAYR.

Next on my list is Mr Aleksander POCIEJ, who will be followed by Mr Hovhannes IGITYAN.

Mr POCIEJ, you have the floor.

Mr Aleksander POCIEJ

Poland, on behalf of EPP/CD

17:24:19

Mister Commissioner, dear Didier, if I may say so,

Democracy, the rule of law and human rights are fundamental values that are the very essence of the European project. In this respect, I welcome your efforts with regard to my country, Poland.

Although the Council of Europe has gained recognised experience in this field, with the mechanism of the European Convention on Human Rights, the European Union also has an important role to play in this area. In this respect, I welcome the willingness of the President of the European Commission to establish a new European mechanism for the protection of the rule of law.

In this connection, I would like to ask you about the link between the action of the European Union and the role of the Council of Europe. I am thinking in particular of the European Union's accession to the European Convention on Human Rights and the dialogue between judges in Strasbourg and Luxembourg. How possible competition, or even divergence, in the interpretation of fundamental values be avoided?

Thank you very much.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:25:36

Thank you, Mister Aleksander POCIEJ.

We now move to Mr Hovhannes IGITYAN, who will be followed by Ms Olena KHOMENKO.

Misterr IGITYAN, you have the floor.

Mr Hovhannes IGITYAN

Armenia, on behalf of ALDE

17:25:51

Dear Mister REYNDERS,

As you see, we have the same questions from many political groups. They are all about possible cooperation because we and you are covering the same tasks. They are very important human rights and fundamental freedoms. They cannot be limited by position or by borders.

As you see, we have Member State countries which systematically ignore all our calls and resolutions and recommendations. What more we can do together with you? What is your vision of more efficient cooperation on this issue?

Thank you very much.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:26:47

Thank you, Mister Hovhannes IGITYAN.

We now move to Ms Olena KHOMENKO in the room.

Ms Olena KHOMENKO, you have the floor.

Ms Olena KHOMENKO

Ukraine, EC/DA

17:27:04

Dear Commissioner, Mr Reynders,

As we all know the Eastern Partnership Summit will soon take place at which the initiative should be given a new mandate and new thematic horizons.

Also, one of the Council of Europe's goals is to enhance the right to data protection by working in close cooperation with several countries.

Given the scope of your mandate, namely ensuring full implementation and enforcement of the General Data Protection Regulation, please indicate whether any new initiatives are envisaged to promote, support and implement the General Data Protection Regulation for Eastern Partnership countries, or in particular, in those countries that have signed the Association Agreement and directive members of the Council of Europe and the PACE. 

Will such project be joint between the EU and the Council of Europe?

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:28:04

Thank you, Miss Olena, we now come to the last in this first list, which is Mr Georgios KATROUGKALOS. You have the floor.

Mr Georgios KATROUGKALOS

Greece, UEL

17:28:14

Thank you, Mister Chair.

Mister Commissioner, dear Didier, I know that you are a fervent proponent of the accession of the European Union to the system of the of the European Convention of Human Rights. I'd like to ask you, what are the last remaining obstacles to that? After the completion of the accession, do you think that we can start discussing about the accession of the European Union to the European social Charter as well? Because it is not just the traditional freedoms and political rights in challenge, but also, and maybe even more critically, social rights on our continent.

Thank you, and I wish you all the best luck and success [unintelligible].

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:29:06

Thank you, Mister Georgios. Now I give the floor to Mr Commissioner. Mister Didier, you have the floor. 

Didier REYNDERS

European Commissioner for Justice

17:29:14

Thank you, Mister Speaker.

I recognise many familiar faces from the many meetings we have had here in the Council of Europe. To quickly take up the questions in order, I will start with the one that was asked by Ms Petra BAYR, concerning the LGBTQI+ community and the way of working with civil society, not only concerning this group but also concerning all civil society actors. In the preparation of the annual reports, we work with elements of civil society in each of the Member States and at European level, therefore not only with governments, not only with public actors, but with many associations, including those representing minorities.

We also work in the same way in analysing the content of the report itself and, therefore, in the way we organise a culture of the rule of law in the various Member States. I cannot respond to you without pointing out that we have also adopted a strategy at European level concerning the LGBTQI+ community and I think that, here too, we need to see how we can be in contact with civil society actors who are very much present in many Member States, indeed in all the Member States throughout the Union. I can therefore reassure you that the work on the rule of law and also on specific groups is really being done in cooperation with civil society actors.

Thank you for your support for the legislative initiative on sustainable governance, Sustainable corporate governance . The way forward here is to have, here too, the support of many parliamentarians and parliamentary groups, of many civil society actors, and to try to demonstrate that it is better to have a common initiative at European Union level than initiatives in each of the Member States alone. I think that this is also a statement that came to Germany.

As regards the question - which has also been raised by other speakers - of the European Union's relations with its members, I will not repeat what I have already said about our cooperation in the context of the report on the rule of law. This cooperation with the Council and with the various Council bodies is excellent, but on accession it is an objective. We really want to relaunch the debate on the European Union's accession to the European Convention on Human Rights, because this would bring all the European institutions within the jurisdiction of the Convention at the end of the day. This is one of the major issues at stake. We know that there have been discussions on this subject, particularly on the basis of the various requests made by the Court of Justice of the Union in its opinion of December 2014, but we have resumed the path of negotiations. There have already been two new rounds of negotiations in September, October, and November. The first round straddled September and October and the second in November. I hope that we will have the opportunity to continue this work with a new round of negotiations scheduled for early February.

The objective is really to be able to achieve this accession because, I repeat, the will when we ask for technical obstacles is obviously to respond to the requests that have been made by the Court of Justice. However, in contacts with the two Courts, the Court of Justice in Luxembourg and the Court of Justice in Strasbourg, it is clear that there is already a willingness to try to resolve the difficulties that have been mentioned in 2014. These are complex matters, but I would like to see, in addition to cooperation and development as a regular feature of our work, a real opportunity for the Union as such to participate. For many Council of Europe instruments, very often there is a desire to move forward with the accession of the Union and therefore the accession of all the Member States. It is obvious that when the accession of all the Member States is not possible, this poses problems within the Union itself.

I would just like to mention, in particular, the difficulty of ratifying the Istanbul Convention, which sometimes leads us to consider new instruments within the Union itself. I really want to support the idea of working together. As far as the European Social Charter is concerned, that is yet another approach. But we must first make progress on accession to the Convention on Human Rights in order to try to lay very solid foundations for the Union's participation in all of the Council's instruments.

Finally, on the general regulation on data protection, I would like to confirm the desire to continue to help the countries of the Eastern Partnership to make progress in implementing rules comparable to those of the general regulation. At the end of the day, decisions on adequacy would, of course, be possible at European Union level in order to have a completely fluid exchange of data with all the partners. But the will to continue to support the actions undertaken in the Eastern Partnership States is very much present and we will continue to work, including in the field of my competences or in the relations between the national data protection authorities at European level and the authorities present in the Eastern Partnership States.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:34:36

Thank you, Mister Commissioner.

We now begin the second round of five questions.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:34:43

The first on my list is Mr Paul GAVAN from Ireland, who will be followed by Mr Titus CORLĂŢEAN.

Mister Paul GAVAN, you've got the floor.

Mr Paul GAVAN

Ireland, UEL

17:34:59

Good afternoon Commissioner from the west of Ireland.

Thank you for your time today.

The European Commission recently presented a new strategy to strengthen the application of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.

Article 28 of this Charter cites the right to collective bargaining.

Commissioner, I come from a state, Ireland, where we still do not have a right in law to the human right to collectively bargain.

Could you outline what plans the Commission has to ensure that all workers within the European Union can apply this right in practice?

Thank you.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:35:34

Thank you very much Mr GAVAN.

Now we move to Mr Titus CORLĂŢEAN who will be followed by Mr Ruben RUBINYAN.

Mr CORLĂŢEAN you have the floor.

Mr Titus CORLĂŢEAN

Romania, SOC

17:35:43

Dear Commissioner, cher Didier,

On the rule of law topic I'm not happy at all, but I'm obliged to ask you to look very carefully to act and to react to extremely concerning developments that have already been taking place in my country, Romania, for too long. I will describe this as a syndrome of absolute power. While discussing CVM, you should look at the constant tough and totally undemocratic attacks coming from the government, the president, and politicians in power against, first of all, the ombudsman while the last one was fighting for the preservation of fundamental rights during the pandemic. Attacks against the Constitutional Court, while this one was ruling to ensure the respect of the constitution during the pandemic. Also within the judiciary, we saw, once again, abuse coming from some prosecutors against judges and lawyers with the recent shocking, for the public opinion, case against the lawyer Robert Rocha and two other judges and finally the blatant violation of the constitution coming from the president during the electoral campaign and establishing later the new government according to his will and not the will of the Romanian people that voted in a different way.

Thank you very much. 

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:37:00

Thank you, Mr CORLĂŢEAN.

We now go to Mr Ruben RUBINYAN who will be followed by Mr Oleksii GONCHARENKO.

Mr RUBINYAN, you have the floor.

I do not see Mr Ruben RUBINYAN. If you're not here I will be forced to skip you.

Okay, then we move to Mr Oleksii GONCHARENKO. Not in the room. I thought the bar was closed.. no, it's open.

Ok, then we move on to the next one, Mr Arkadiusz MULARCZYK.

Mr MULARCZYK, you have the floor.

Mr Arkadiusz MULARCZYK

Poland, EC/DA

17:37:35

Thank you.

Good evening Commissioner.

In the member countries of the Council of Europe and the European Union, there should be no room for xenophobia, nationalism and double standards against peoples and countries in other parts of Europe.

Our countries can develop, if human rights, but also the freedom of enterprise and the movement of capital, are on an equal footing and are respected.

More and more Polish companies and employees are aware of the discriminatory practices and legal solutions of the French state services.

On the other hand, French companies use free market without any problems in Poland.

What do you intend to do so that companies from Central and Eastern Europe are not discriminated against in France and other markets of Western Europe?

Thank you.

 

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:38:29

We will take five questions.

The next on my list is Mr. Damien COTTIER.

Damien, you have the floor.

Mr Damien COTTIER

Switzerland, ALDE

17:38:38

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mister Commissioner,

Thank you for your presentation and for this dialogue with our Assembly. Co-operation between the Council of Europe and the European Union is important to me, and I say that coming from a country, Switzerland, which is not a member of the EU. However, co-operation or co-ordination between the two organisations, with all their differences and all their commonalities, seems to me to be important in order to advance the values on which the Council of Europe is based.

Your work in the European Commission is aimed at strengthening the rule of law in the member countries of the European Union and, in doing so, it supports the aims of the Council of Europe.

I have two more specific questions for you.

First, I would be interested to hear your views on the medium-term consequences, in your opinion, of the COVID crisis on the rule of law and, basically, what are the issues related to this that our Assembly will have to pay attention to.

The second question concerns the proposal by the German Presidency of the Council of the European Union, which Mr MAAS also mentioned earlier, to have a binding Council of Europe convention on the subject of artificial intelligence, a subject that our Assembly has also been dealing with for quite some time.

Thank you.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:39:44

Thank you, Damien.

Next and last on this list is Mr François CALVET.

François, you have the floor.

Mr François CALVET

France, EPP/CD

17:39:54

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

Commissioner,

My dear colleagues,

The challenge to the rule of law in some European countries is a worrying problem for both the European Union and the Council of Europe. How can the two organisations work together on this issue?

When will all the principles set out in Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, concerning fair trial, really be applied throughout the Union?

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:40:27

Thank you, François.

Commissioner, you have the floor.

Didier REYNDERS

European Commissioner for Justice

17:40:34

I will try first to answer the question about the collective convention that it is possible to apply in all the Member States on the basis of a charter.

I would say that we have start a new process about the charter. We will organise a new annual report on the charter year after year. For the first year, this year, it will be about the digital evolution in the European Union. It will be possible to pay attention to a specific situation like Article 28, and to see how the situation is in all the Member States. I want to confirm that we are trying to apply the same mechanism to verify the situation in the entire European Union about the correct application of the charter. If there are some concerns on some specific issues with all the time possible to engage a real dialogue with the authorities, we will do that maybe with the government in Ireland about the situation related to the collective convention.

About the situation in Romania to decide, we have had many discussions before. I just want to say that we continue to apply the CVM and the rule of law report. Those are very important. About Romania, it's very important to verify that it's possible for the government in Romania to apply different reform proposals. We have received a package of initiatives to modernise the justice system in Romania, but now the problem is to have a real implementation of this. I must say that we are very committed to analysing the different responses given to the CVM, to analyse the different responses given to the rule of law we brought, and on such a basis to verify that the different proposals for reforms are in application. There are different proposals coming from the government in Romania about the justice system. But again, the problem is not just to exchange on the reforms; it's to see the kind of implementation. I want to repeat that we will be very attentive to a correct implementation of the reform going in a good direction for the improvement of the rule of law. It's very important due to the situation in the past years or so in Romania.

About the discrimination against the different companies in Europe: we are taking care of the internal market. We try to verify that there's no discrimination for the different companies that work in the different Member States. For Polish companies, like for the all the owners, we are very open to receiving at the Commission level the different remarks concerning the possible discriminations of the possible difficulties in some Member States.

I want to say that we are very open to discussing this and to seeing what kind of actions are needed to give a response to such a potential situation. We don't avoid any action because we are working for the rule of law, for the citizens, but we are also working on the very correct functioning of the internal market result and possible discrimination.

 

Didier REYNDERS

European Commissioner for Justice

17:43:43

With regard to the development of the rule of law after the pandemic, I would like to say that we have already been very attentive because, as I said, there has been a certain amount of recourse to legislation, perhaps a little too quickly, in parliaments, or to systems of ordinance, and we have followed all the measures taken during the pandemic. However, once the pandemic is over, it is true, the first concern will be to return to a normal balance of power. What does that mean? I would say a balance in which Parliament regains full jurisdiction over important legislative measures and the government regains its role in day-to-day implementation and management measures.

I believe that this balance of power will have to be recalibrated as we gradually emerge from this pandemic. That is true in most states, not only of the European Union but probably also of the Council of Europe. There has been a shift, linked to the urgency of the measures to be taken, towards governments. I think that is a first concern.

The second, of course, is the digital transition. We also saw during the pandemic that the use of digital tools has been stepped up. This is sometimes regrettable because we would prefer to be in a discussion in the physical presence of the various players, and it is sometimes very useful in order to move a number of trials forward. But, here too, there is a need to pay attention to the rule of law in the use of digital tools, particularly in the judicial systems that will use them more and more. That is why I also say, on the subject of artificial intelligence, that we are obviously well aware of the developments and initiatives taken at the level of the Council of Europe.

It would be very interesting to have some joint work because we are now working on a horizontal initiative on artificial intelligence within the European Union, with a human-centred vision and trying to ensure that what has been done in data protection is, in a way, duplicated in the way fundamental rights are protected in the use that can be made of artificial intelligence.

I think it would be really important to see how we can exchange views on these issues with a willingness to work in the same direction. We will also have work to do at European Union level on the responsibility of those who use artificial intelligence. But I am thinking in particular of digital crime and cyber-crime, and I think that there is perhaps also work that we can do together. I hope that our work will in any case go in the same direction, because there is enough to do together to have an impact on the international scene and to be the basis of international standards, as the Council of Europe has often been and as the European Union has been.

I cannot give you a date when all trials will be fair across the European Union and perhaps more widely. We are working on that. I think it is an ongoing task to see how to improve the situation of the judicial systems. This is one of the chapters, it is the first chapter of the report on the rule of law that we publish every year, but it is also the subject, in a way, of the presentation of the results on the efficiency of justice systems. Because when we talk about a fair trial or the proper functioning of justice, there is obviously the independence of the judicial system, but there is also the quality; it is indeed very useful to have an independent judge, but it is even more useful to have an independent judge who is qualified and who can work effectively, that is to say by delivering justice within a completely reasonable time. We are working on these various aspects, both within the framework of the justice scoreboard in the Union and also within the framework of the report on the rule of law, but unfortunately I cannot give you a date when all judgments and all trials will be fair.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:47:47

Thank you.

Now Ms Laura CASTEL, who will be followed by Ms Irina RUKAVISHNIKOVA.

Ms CASTEL, you have the floor.

 

Ms Laura CASTEL

Spain, NR

17:48:03

Thank you, Mr Commissioner.

As the Commissioner in charge of the rule of law, I would ask you what specific steps will you take in respect of the violations of human rights perpetrated by a member state?

Don't answer me that is an internal affair, as with respect to the member states who are parties to the European conventions on human right, violations of human rights protected under the Convention cannot be regarded as internal affairs.

I am talking about political prisoners. I am talking about 3 000 Catalans retaliated against: public officials, civil society, journalists, lawyers, the last president of the government removed from office, my president in prison, my secretary general in exile.

So, in view of those human rights violations, what steps will you take to address that situation in Spain?

Thank you very much.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:49:01

Gracias, Laura.

Now we have Ms Irina RUKAVISHNIKOVA. I hope I said that right.

Irina, you have the floor.

We can't hear you, Irina.

Maybe your speaker is not in front of your mouth? I don't know. You have your mic on top of your head, bring it down, like that. I am not describing it very well.

Ah, voilà! More, more.

Ms Irina RUKAVISHNIKOVA

Russian Federation, NR

17:50:09

Commissioner, the principle of the premise of rule of law is, of course, important in the context of the EU and several control mechanisms that do exist and the possibility of disciplinary measures against any States contravening the rule of law. I'd like to know what you are doing to eliminate the discriminatory policies in the Baltic States which are members of the EU and that are attempting deliberately to sweep away any trace of the Russian language? We're seeing arbitrary measures taken vis-à-vis stateless persons and the economic and social rights that they enjoy.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:51:01

Thank you very much. I hope you didn't take any offence for doing this stuff with my.. whatever.

Okay, we come to the next speaker, Mr Dimitrios KAIRIDIS, who will be followed by Mr Fourat BEN CHIKHA.

Mr KAIRIDIS, you have the floor.

Mr Dimitrios KAIRIDIS

Greece, EPP/CD

17:51:36

Hi, Mister Commissioner. Good evening from Athens. I hope you can hear me well.

My question has to do with social media platforms.

Recent events in the United States have highlighted the question and challenge posed by the dominant position and extraordinary role played by a number of social media platforms such as Twitter in our democracy.

On the other hand, autocrats the world over would love to see these platforms restricted or done away with. So, I wondered and would like to hear your view, your opinion, on how to proceed with regards to regulating the social media behemoths that can be great tools in expanding our democracies, but occasionally they can be weapons undermining our democracy.

Thank you.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:52:29

Thank you very much, we now come to Mr Fourat BEN CHIKHA.

Mr BEN CHIKHA, you have the floor.

Mr Fourat BEN CHIKHA

Belgium, SOC

17:52:40

Dear Mister Commissioner, how will the European Commission and Council include civil society organisation and follow-up dialogues and process with Member States after the publication of the annual Rule of Law Report?

Thank you.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:52:57

Thank you very much.

We now come to Mr Momodou Malcolm JALLOW.

Mister JALLOW, you have the floor.

Mr Momodou Malcolm JALLOW

Sweden, UEL

17:53:05

Thank you very much, Mister Commissioner REYNDERS.

It is said that crisis doesn't create character, it reveasl it.

The current public health crisis and the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement revealed the long-standing structural, institutional, and socio-economic inequalities which are a product of systematic, institutional and structural racism in Europe.

People across the EU continue to be targeted by racism, xenophobia, and other forms of intolerance just because of how they look, their race and their colour, religion and so on, far-right extremism, and exploding ethnic profiling police brutality.

It is said that to deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.

What specific measures can you commit yourself to taking in combating structural and institutional racism and far-right extremism in order to safeguard people's human rights?

Thank you.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:54:04

Thank you very much, Mister Momodou Malcolm JALLOW.

I'll take one more question because this is the last list. I'll take on board Mr Joseph O'REILLY from Ireland.

Mister O'REILLY, you have the floor.

We do not see Mr O'REILLY.

In that case we have Ms Fiona O'LOUGHLIN. Is Ms O'LOUGHLIN on board? She was.

No?

Then we have Mr Dara CALLEARY. Luckily all three are from Ireland, Mister Commissioner, so that should work.

Mister CALLEARY.

Mr Dara CALLEARY

Ireland, ALDE

17:55:11

Thank you, Mister Speaker. Thank you, Mister Commissioner.

Commissioner, we all agree with cooperation as a basis of progress and of our work. However, it strikes me that there are many governments that are immune to the compromise that cooperation requires.

You stated in your remarks that you do not want the annual report on the rule of law to be one for our libraries. However, without enforcement, that's what it will be, and it will gather dust. It will be very finely worded, very well-intentioned, but it will have no impact.

What are your views on the enforcement mechanisms that will be necessary to make the Annual Report meaningful and realistic?

Thank you, Mister Chairman.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:55:58

Tthank you very much. Now we go to the Commissioner, Mr Didier REYNDERS. You have the floor.

Didier REYNDERS

European Commissioner for Justice

17:56:04

Thank you, President.

First of all, about the situation the basis of the rule of law and the discussions that we have had in the different Member States. In Spain, as with other Member States in the European Union, we have to take care of the different standards that we are using to analyse the situation about the rule of law. The first element of course is to earn full respect for the constitutional order in the different Member States, not only in Spain but its orders. If there are some discussions about an evolution of the incision framework in one Member State, it must be in full compliance with the constitution.

We have seen that in the past in other parts of Europe. I remember, to give an example, a consultation in Scotland about the possibility of leaving the United Kingdom, but it was in full agreement with London. So, it was really a discussion inside the constitutional order.

We try also to have full respect for the independence of the justice systems in the different Member States. We are analysing the situation of the Spanish justice system, like all the others. We have also paid attention to the evolution of the implementation of one specific instrument at the European Union level. I'm thinking about the European arrest warrant. There also we have to look to its application in all the Member States. We now have discussions with the parliament about the evaluation of the implementation. But again, it is very important to pay attention to the constitutional order in all the Member States, in Spain, like in many other situations in Europe.

About the situation in the Baltic States, like in many other members of the European Union, and maybe members of the Council of Europe in the broader sense, we pay attention to the regional or minority languages scenario. There's a charter also at the level of the Council of Europe about this, so we try to discuss how to give the same rights to all the different citizens of the Member States. National minorities are an element of a possible discussion. We have tried to put into place different actions for many years about the protection of the national minorities and of a Member State. However, there are very different situations in all the different members of the European Union, like in the broader sense again, the members of the Council of Europe. I know that all the different members of the Council of Europe are not taking part in the charter of regional or minority languages all the time. But it's a concern of course to work to give the same rights to all the citizens in the entire European Union.

About the platforms and the way to organise a regulation:

First of all, we are sure that we need to organise the functioning of the platforms in the digital world on the basis of some rules. It is the reason why, after one year of the new Commission, it was possible to come out with a digital market act and the digital services act to organise the market, and to give real access to new startups or new actors like SMEs to the different elements of the digital market. It is very important to not have a too high level of concentration as we have seen in recent years maybe; and also to organise the services, and to be concrete on your remark of course to organise the process to fight against some kind of messages on the platform.

So I'm thinking about hate speech. We try to see if it's possible to organise a crime at the level of the European Union when we are speaking about hate speech and hate crimes. But we try to fight against disinformation. It's very important to import some obligations on the platforms. If you look into the situation now it's not normal for us to be asking web platforms to do something without real regulation.

We have worked with some voluntary commitment but now it is time to go to real rules at the international level. We start with some proposals at the European Union level, but of course we will be, like for artificial intelligence, we will be very interested in working together with the Council of Europe in the definition of the next steps to have international standards on it. But it's very important to organise the functioning of the platforms and the access to the market and ways to provide services with rules. We have put some new acts to do that on the table of the Council at the European level, and of the parliaments.

About the participation of civil society and civil society organisations to the rule of law, not only report but to the rule of law description after the report, first of all we are taking all the civil society organisations on board of the preparatory works for the report. We continue to do that for the second report, so not only at the national level but the level of the European Union. We try not to start a dialogue in the Member States. I'm going I said to many parliaments but I try also to install a real culture of the rule of law with a real discussion at the European Union level but also at the national level, in the different Member States with civil society. We are very interested in the ways to organise better and better, year after year, such a common action with civil society, to discuss the Rule of Law Report, to prepare the next rule of law involvement, but more than that, to install a sense of real culture about the rule of law.

About racism and xenophobia, I would say first that we have a framework decision from the Council at the European level about racism and xenophobia. Our first action is to verify a correct implementation of such a kind of framework. If it's not, we are ready to go to the Court of Justice to insist on the fact that is very important to implement correctly the decision framework from the Council at the European Union level. More than that, it is very important to continue to work with concrete actions. We try to take some actions at the Commission level to organise a process inside the European Union institutions, but also to fight against different kind of behaviours at the national level. Again, the action about the fight against racism and xenophobia is a permanent action, day after day, at the European Union level and in the Member States. We have a strategy on that at the European Union level.

However, you spoke also about the far-right groups and sometimes some violent extremist groups. I said that we need to fight against hate speech, but we need to fight against many violent extremists. It's not just about fighting against terrorism. It¡s more than that. It's to start earlier and to have a concrete action plan against hate speech and against the development of this kind of behaviour in the European Union. So, we continue to work on it.

About the enforcement of the rule of law report, I confirm that it's not just to have a selection of new books with the report from the first year, the second year, the third year, in the library. We tried to have an ongoing process, firstly with a response coming from the Member States to implement new reforms. We'll verify if it's possible to organise a real follow-up of the reforms proposed by the Member States. I said, to give you an example, we have an action plan of Bulgaria about the report. It's very nice to discuss such an action plan, but it will be more important to verify that there is a real implementation. Year after year, we will explain in the next reports what it was possible to do to have positive developments in different Member States.

When it's impossible to have a positive development, we will use other instruments to enforce the rule of law. I'm thinking about the possible infringement proceedings before the Court of Justice. The Article 7 portion we have for the moment about Poland and Hungary on the table of the Council. Maybe we will also start discussions about how to implement the new regulation of the conditionality between the budget and the rule of law at the European Union level. We have a real toolbox with different instruments to enforce the rule of law and the conclusion of the different country-specific chapters of the rule of law report. We will use all the instruments at our disposal.

Thanks again for all of your questions.

I just want, Mister President, to confirm that we are working on many different issues in the same way between the Council of Europe and the European Union. I will be very pleased to continue such an exchange with you, to continue the cooperation that we have with many bodies of the Council of Europe, but certainly, with your help. Also, maybe, to continue to make progress in the rate we'll have a real accession of the European Union to the European Convention for Human Rights.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:05:22

Thank you very, Mr Commissioner.

Working together has got a name, it's called synergies: one plus one makes three. So let's put that into practice.

Thank you very much for having been with us. I am sure that we will probably have an occasion to meet in Belgium.

Sometimes I am in Belgium, you know. I am a lot in Strasbourg now, my family is not too happy about that, but okay. It takes what it takes.

But anyway, thanks very much for being on board and we will hear from each other a lot.

Thanks again and see you soon.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:05:59

Dear colleagues,

Our work now is asking for our next point on the agenda. Just give me a second here... Voilà: "Modification of the Assembly’s Rules of Procedure – follow-up to Resolution 2319 (2020) on the Complementary joint procedure between the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly in response to a serious violation by a member State of its statutory obligations".

So the next item of business this afternoon is a debate on the report which carries the title of "Modification of the Assembly’s Rules of Procedure – follow-up to Resolution 2319 (2020) on the Complementary joint procedure between the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly in response to a serious violation by a member State of its statutory obligations". This is document 15093. It will be presented by Sir Edward LEIGH on behalf of the Committee of Rules of Procedure Immunities and Institutional affairs. I recall the colleagues that this is a report. For it to pass will require a two-thirds majority. So please warn the colleagues who could be on board and wish to be on board, for this is a special majority report.

Now I call Sir Edward LEIGH, rapporteur, to take the floor. You have 10 minutes to present the report and three minutes to reply to the debate. Sir Edward LEIGH, are you on board? You have the floor.

Debate: Modification of the Assembly’s Rules of Procedure – follow-up to Resolution 2319 (2020) on the Complementary joint procedure between the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly in response to a serious violation by a member State of its statutory obligations

Sir Edward LEIGH

United Kingdom, EC/DA

18:07:34

Thank you very much, dear colleagues.

By introducing some modifications of a technical nature into the rules of procedure, my report concludes the work the Assembly started three years ago. In the report prepared by our colleague Mr KOX on behalf of the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy, we went through the numerous stages of drafting and the consultation process, given the importance of the procedure and the number of actors involved in the preparatory stage. Through this three year period, we worked hand in hand with the Committee of Ministers through the Finnish and French Chairmanships to set up a complementary joint procedure enabling us to bring a member state through constructive dialogue and cooperation in to compliance with the obligations and principles of the organisation and avoid imposing sanctions. I would wholeheartedly celebrate the spirit of cooperation between the two statutory bodies, which disagreed on some matters in the past, if there was a small area of concern. In November 2019, Ms Amélie de Montchalin, the French Secretary of State for European Affairs, transmitted to Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER, President of the Parliamentary Assembly, a decision by the Ministers' deputies on a joint complimentary procedure which was deemed to, "serve as a basis on which resolution 2319 of 2020 specifying the stages of the procedure was adopted by our Assembly in January 2020."

I now must say Mr President, and this is an important point, that I deeply regret and I think the Committee regrets, that the decision of the final procedure the Committee of Ministers transmitted to the Assembly in February last year, after the adoption of our resolution, differed significantly from the Committee of Ministers' November decision. In other words, the Committee of Ministers, without any consultation with the Assembly, just placed before the Assembly a revised text in which some points do not coincide with the previous version.

First it is striking to note that the term "joint", which has always characterised the procedure since the proposal had been made three years ago disappeared - disappeared from the Committee of Ministers' text - and we need to ask ourselves why.

Second. An amendment tabled by members of the Russian delegation to resolution 2319 of 2020, which had been rejected by the Political Affairs Committee by an overwhelming majority, and finally, withdrawn by the signatories in the pre-recession, reappeared in the latest Committee of Ministers version.

Thirdly, the basic principles, operative provisions, as well as the timetable, do not coincide with those contained in the document transmitted to the Assembly by Ms de Montchalin. Should a procedure be initiated soon? On what basis would it be implemented in view of the differences in approach? It's a question we have to ask ourselves. It seems that the Committee of Ministers did not want to make the procedure fully joint.

I would like to underline that the Assembly fully delivered its part of the contract. We did our job. Following the adoption of resolution 2319 in January, a product of multiple consultations between the two organs, I prepared a report to integrate the necessary modifications into the rules of procedure. The modifications mainly cover rules relating to tabling the motions, as well as conditions for voting. As the complementary joint procedure may only be initiated on the exclusive basis of a motion for recommendation, signed by least one fifth of the component members of the Assembly, belonging to and at least three political groups and 15 national organisations, it is necessary to introduce relevant modifications to rule 24, 25, 26 and 27. The motion will then be sent to the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy which would present to the Assembly a report containing a draft recommendation to be adopted, quote "by a majority of two-thirds of the votes cast and a number of votes in favour equivalent to at least one-third of the total number of members of the Assembly authorised to vote" end quote.

Rule 41 concerning the majorities requires for the adoption of Assembly decisions has to be amended accordingly. I welcome these new conditions concerning this setting in motion of the voting. They are intended to ensure that a decision that has such political importance enjoys unquestionable support and grants authority and legitimacy to the Assembly's decision.

Finally, I would like to reiterate the position, which has been explicit since the work on the joint complimentary procedure started and which has never been called into question. The new procedure only complements existing rules, mechanisms and procedures of Assembly and does not call them into question or effect their implementation. In practical terms, the procedure for a monitoring of the Assembly's obligations and commitments, as well as a procedure for challenging the credentials of national delegations on substantive grounds, are not affected by the joint complimentary procedure. Obviously for the sake of effectiveness and sincere co-operation, the Assembly and its competent committees resolve to take account of the joint complimentary procedures under way in order to decide how its own procedures have to be organised.

Dear colleagues, thank you for your attention.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:14:18

Thank you Sir Edward LEIGH, we will now go into the debate.

I have on my list nine speakers, plus the group speakers, that's 14, so we will start off with Mr Tiny KOX for UEL.

You have 3 minutes, Mr KOX.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, on behalf of UEL

18:14:37

Thank you, Mister President.

First, let me say thank you to the rapporteur, who presented his report that was endorsed by the Rules Committee as the final stage of a long process. It was aimed, this whole process, at giving this Assembly real influence in the future in cases of blatant violations of a member State of our statute or European Convention on Human Rights.

Mister President, we all are aware that until now this Assembly does not have a real means to ensure being involved in such blatant cases. All powers until now in this respect are with the inter-governmental part of the Council of Europe, the Committee of Ministers. This has caused many unpleasant confrontations between the Committee of Ministers and this Assembly.

After a long and often very complex process, finally an agreement was reached, first amongst us and later amongst PACE and the Committee of Ministers on a new joint complementary mechanism.

When I presented the report on the future role and mission of our Assembly we adopted with an overwhelming majority the principle of such a mechanism that would include Secretary General, the Committee of Ministers, and the Assembly in cases of blatant violations of obligations.

Then we have the report of our colleague Mr Frank SCHWABE, who took care that the modalities of how this mechanism should function are there. That report was adopted with a large majority. Now the final stage deals with the formalities. We have to adapt our rules of procedure to this new mechanism.

I hope, Mister President, that this Assembly again says with an overwhelming majority, "Yes, we are able and capable of playing this new role for the first time ever." As far as I can see, in the history of the Council of Europe, the Committee of Ministers gives away part of its powers to this Assembly so that we can also play our realistic role in the case that a Member State is blatantly violating its obligations.

That is unique. We have to say "thank you very much" to the Committee of Ministers. The Committee of Ministers also can say "thank you very much" to the Assembly because all together we created a new situation in which we can better deal with the cases as called in the report.

Once again, thank you very much to the rapporteur. I hope for an overwhelming majority for this resolution.

Thank you very much.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:17:38

Thank you, Mr KOX. We now move to Mr Frank SCHWABE, you've got floor.

Mr Frank SCHWABE

Germany, on behalf of SOC

18:17:44

Mister President,

Ladies and gentlemen,

What we are doing today - as has indeed just become clear - is actually, so to speak, finalising what we have discussed with each other for a long time, what has really taken many hours, days and nights to develop over the last few years. I almost said that the Secretary General of the Assembly has grown a few more grey hairs, but he already has a lot of grey hair. Mr Wojciech SAWICKI has done a lot of work, as well as the whole Secretariat of the Assembly, to bring forward appropriate things and in the end to make sure that we can implement and use them accordingly. Others as well, I would like to mention the newly elected Secretary General Ms Despina CHATZIVASSILIOU-TSOVILIS, who has also put in a lot of work, but many others as well. So, today it is actually something rather boring because we are translating the whole thing into the Rules of Procedure. This is actually the last step, so to speak, and the political course has actually been set accordingly, but this last step has to be taken. There is no other way than to take this last step, and that is why it is important to translate the whole thing into the Rules of Procedure by a large majority, even a two-thirds majority, so that we can use it accordingly.

Incidentally, this new procedure will be one that we hope we will never have to use. The idea of the new procedure is precisely to make it clear to many Member States that we now have something like this and that you should think carefully about whether or not you abide by the rules. What we are doing is nothing else - and I think this is almost revolutionary, that we are changing the architecture of this organisation.

This organization was founded. There was a kind of structure between the different organs and bodies of this organization. The Secretary General told me today that she herself was once in the NATO-PV, for example, and said, compared to NATO, but also to the OSCE, we as an assembly already have an incredible amount of rights within the organization, but we have expanded these rights. If we adopt this today, we will have won certain additional rights, so to speak, through an admittedly very difficult debate on the question of what you actually think about Russia in the end. In this respect, I think it is really important for our organisation, for the Assembly. I think what we have also learned is that it only works together. If you look outside at the organisation, you don't know what the difference is between the Committee of Ministers, the Secretary General, the Assembly, and many others. In the end there is the Council of Europe and we have learned to find a new form of cooperation, of collaboration. It was a bit difficult to continue this under Corona conditions, but tonight we are picking up where we left off.

So, this organisation has become stronger through this new mechanism. That is why I ask everyone to translate this new mechanism into the Rules of Procedure by a large majority.

Thank you very much, Mister President.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:20:46

Thank you, Mister SCHWABE.

We now move to Mr Andreas NICK.

Mister NICK, you have the floor.

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, on behalf of EPP/CD