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21 June 2021 morning

2021 - Third part-session Print sitting

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Opening of the third part-session

Opening of the sitting No. 15


Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly


Ladies and Gentlemen,

Dear colleagues,

I would like to welcome you all here in Strasbourg and to all of you who are connected to the Internet. The sun is out. We have, as always, excellent cooperation with the French authorities, who have asked me, once again, to tell you that you must keep your mask over your nose in the building, please. I know there's a nice lady to my left where it's always a bit of a rush, so please respect the health rules. I know we've put them in place a bit strictly but I think it's better to be careful than to have to be bothered afterwards. Thank you for respecting the health rules, and thank you again to the French authorities for their excellent cooperation. In principle, you are all tested, so that gives you a little bit of comfort, but please respect them.

I must tell you that this week is going to be a week of plenary sessions. In a way, it is like going back to school, because we are slowly coming out of Covid-19. We obviously have important debates where we are well aware, I hope, that this could give rise to some heated debates – and there is nothing wrong with that. However, I would like to start by asking you that, as we are in the atmosphere of the European Football Championship, when we play, we must respect the rules. Therefore, when the referee blows his or her whistle, whether it be mine or the Vice-President's, we must respect the rules. Be respectful of each other.

I would like to send you this little message at the beginning of this sitting since we know that there are important issues to be debated, which have already given rise to certain comments outside the House. I would like to make it very clear from the outset that this House is independent. We are entitled to our opinion. All of you outside are entitled to your opinion, but it is the House, in complete independence, influenced or not by opinions – there is nothing wrong with that – that will form its own idea. I would therefore like to say this very clearly at the outset, because by adopting rules and following our values, we are guided towards the future, because today is only the prologue to tomorrow.

All this will be managed under this European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. I would like to try and use, if I may, Madam Secretary General, this image of a large umbrella over the Europe of 47 which is supposed to protect us from an acid rain that wants to undermine our values and our freedoms. We must be honest, however, all of us, among ourselves, and say that yes, it is true that we must work harder, much harder, to protect our values and our principles. That is the task, that is the responsibility, that is the duty of the entire institution. As you are the institution's loudspeaker, the political loudspeaker, as it were, it is the duty of all of us to ensure that this umbrella does indeed protect us, from time to time, against an acid rain. This umbrella, for me, is the Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.


Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly


Which brings me to this small artifact, if you allow me to do so.

Welcome to our Secretary General, Assistant Secretary General? I don't know... is that the right title? Not assistant but deputy Secretary General, sorry about that.

President of the Congress. Obviously our own Secretary General, who manages to make sure that everything works well with all of our team. But it brings me to this small artifact. I don't know whether you can put it on the screen for a bit. It's a bell. Now, some of you know already, but many of you don't. This is the bell of freedom. At least this is how I baptize it at this instance. Dear colleagues, this is the bell that was used 70 years ago by the first elected President of this Assembly to open the very first sitting of this plenum.

Seventy years ago this bell was in the hands of Paul-Henri Spaak, the first President-Elect of the Assembly to open the session. Now you would say "okay, that's nice". This Bell only came back to Strasbourg a couple of days ago because the very first Europe House that was opened in Europe was in Germany, in Bad Marienberg. Mr Andreas NICK is there. He is guilty of this, well, at least in part. Seventy 70 years ago the very first Europe House was opened in Bad Marienberg and Paul-Henri Spaak was there. He opened that first Europe House, by the way a Europe House which is close to your heart, Madam Secretary general, because you were the boss of the Europe House in Zagreb. This is how you started your career within the context of the Council of Europe. In his speech he indeed mentioned that he would leave this bell as a symbol of the European Convention of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in this very first Europe House where we now have more than 100 throughout Europe.

As it goes, there was a gentleman, Mr Krempel, who was there at that very opening. After a couple of years, when it went from left to right, he took this bell home with him because no one was interested in it and he kept it with him. He basically protected it. As it goes, Andreas told me how Mr Krempel, who is now 90 years old, would like to return it to Strasbourg to come back home. As my wife always says in French "Il n'y a pas de hasard dans la vie.", there's no coincidence in life. Some way I've got this feeling that this bell organized itself so that it needed to come back because you've got this acid rain out there. This is how I feel it.

I believe that this bell coming back thanks to Mr Krempel and thanks to Mr NICK, coming back after 70 years, is a priceless artifact symbolising what we all should be doing more today than yesterday: protecting, upholding, developing human rights, fundamental freedoms, democracy, and rule of law.

I judge this artifact as being extremely important symbolically. I'm a bit wary of touching it because it was used by a great statesman, one of the founding fathers of the Council of Europe, Belgium, by the way. That makes it a little bit even more touching as far as I'm concerned. I do believe that this is the symbol should remind each of us every day again that this is why we are here. We are here because we are the sole institution that has the responsibility and the duty to protect more than 840 million citizens in 47 countries with regard to their rights and their freedoms.

Therefore, if you allow me quite symbolically restarting after a Covid, and, if you wish, starting slowly again after Covid-19, I will, Madam Secretary General, if you allow me, quite symbolically open this first session as Paul-Henri Spaak did 70 years ago.


The session is open.

(round of applause)

Now it went into the plexi-thing and whoever dares to touch it, I've got five of my "greffiers" here around who will protect it with their life. [in French: more or less. It will stay there.]

Voilà, dear colleagues.

For the first item, as you know, I will conduct a meeting in English in order to make the life of our translators easier.

The first item on the agenda is the examination of credentials of new members.

The names of the representatives and substitutes are in Doc. 15320. If no credentials are challenged, the credentials will be ratified.

Are any credentials challenged? If so, please ask for the floor. I don't see any, the credentials are ratified. I welcome all new colleagues.

We come then to the election of vice-presidents of the Assembly in respect of Italy and the Netherlands. It's one more reason why I'm happy to have our President of the Congress here with us, who is from the Netherlands. Good team, by the way. You know that you'll hear me speaking about football a lot this week because my team, by the way, is playing tonight against Finland. Sorry about that, Finland. Well, I have to be careful, though.

The next item on the agenda is the election of vice presidents of the Assembly in respect of Italy and the Netherlands.

The two candidates are, from the Italian delegation, Ms Marta GRANDE, and from the Netherlands delegation, Ms Ria OOMEN-RUIJTEN. If there is no request for a vote, Ms GRANDE and Ms OOMEN-RUIJTEN will be declared elected.

Is there such a request? I don't see any.

Therefore I declare both candidates elected as Vice-Presidents of the Assembly, and I congratulate them on their election.

By the way, I'll tell them immediately that I have myself replaced very often as President of the Assembly by a Vice-President. I will also call on both of you to assist in the good functioning of our Assembly.

Then we come to the changes in the membership of committees.

Our next business is to consider the changes proposed in the membership of committees. These are set out in document Commissions (2021) 06 and Add 1.

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

I don't see anyone asking for the floor, so they are. Thank you for that.

Now, before we examine the draft Agenda, the Assembly needs to consider requests for current affairs debates.

The Bureau has received the following requests:

One is a request for a current affairs debate on “The need for an effective solidarity mechanism between European countries to relieve migratory pressure on front line countries", requested by the Migration Committee.

A second request for a current affairs debate on "The situation in Belarus: a threat to the whole of Europe" requested by Mr Emanuelis ZINGERIS and 19 members of the Assembly.

The second of these debates was transferred from a request for an Urgent Procedure debate to a request for a current affairs debate. The Bureau agreed on Friday morning to the two current affairs debates. We will now consider each request for a current affairs debate individually.

The first request for a current affairs debate is “The need for an effective solidarity mechanism between European countries to relieve migratory pressure on front line countries”.

As I said, at its meeting on Friday the Bureau approved this request and therefore recommends to the Assembly that the matter be debated during this part-session.

Does the Assembly agree to this recommendation?

It does.

The Bureau’s recommendation is therefore accepted, and the request for a current affairs debate is therefore approved.

The debate will be opened by Mr Pierre-Alain FRIDEZ.

Then we come to a request for a current affairs debate on “The situation in Belarus: a threat to the whole of Europe”.

At its meeting again on Friday the Bureau approved this request and therefore recommends to the Assembly that the matter be debated during this part-session.

Does the Assembly agree to this recommendation?

I see that it does.

The Bureau’s recommendation is accepted, and the request for a current affairs debate is therefore approved.

The debate will be opened by Mr Emanuelis ZINGERIS. 

Then we come to the adoption of the agenda.

The next item of business is the adoption of the agenda for the third part of the 2021 ordinary session. The draft agenda submitted for the Assembly’s approval was drawn up by the Bureau on 27 May 2021 and updated on Friday (Doc. 15298 prov2).

Maybe a few elements. I do hope that each and every one of you can be in the hemicycle as often as much as possible. We have more than 200 members who were inscribed, so you're all welcome to be here. As it goes, aside from a number of important debates and reports, we also have the event with a high-level panel on Wednesday from 11:00 to 13:00. I would really appreciate all of you being present. We've got indeed very interesting panel members. We will have an opening by Ms Nadia Murad, who is a Nobel Prize winner and a Vaclav Havel Prize winner. We've got our own Secretary General, we've got the UN rapporteur on violence against women, Ms Dubravka Šimonović, and we've got my prime minister, Mr Alexander De Croo, who wrote a book on it. We've got Ms Élisabeth Moreno, who is the minister responsible for equality, and we've got the speaker of the Romanian Parliament. We have the whole Palais from the executive through the legislative to the holder of the convention to the UN onboard.

By the way, the person, Ms Šimonović, who is the UN rapporteur, is also one of the authors of the Istanbul Convention. The fight against violence against women is extremely important. We put it at the heart of our activity. I do hope that to the extent of the possible colleagues would be present in the hemicycle to do so and, of course, all colleagues outside too.

I also look to my right to the benches of the ambassadors. I hope that many of you and already many of you are here. Thank you for that. You will be present also on Wednesday.

I also remind you that we have just agreed to hold two current affairs debates. It is proposed that the current affairs debate on Belarus take place on the morning of Wednesday 23 June and that the current affairs debate on migration take place on the morning of Thursday 24 June.

One remark, since the Belarus current affairs debate is just before the event which has to start at 11:00, we will hold a debate if need be 10 minutes before. If need be, we will continue afterwards because obviously having these six persons on board, four of them online, means we absolutely need to respect the timing. We also need a little bit of time before to check that everything is going well technically.

I also would like to draw your attention to the revised end time of 8:00 p.m. for the sitting this afternoon. Finally, in view of the large number of speakers inscribed on the lists of the bureau, I propose that rapporteurs for report limit their presentation of reports to seven minutes and three minutes to the debate.

Is the agenda agreed to? I see that it is agreed to.

I have also, if I understand it well, a point of order which is requested by Mr Sergey KISLYAK.

I will now give the... I don't have this on my screen, but okay.

Mister KISLYAK, if you can ask for the floor, I will give you the floor for a point of order.


Russian Federation, NR


Thank you very much, Mr Chair.

You know I've had to take the floor as a point of order because during the voting process we were here remotely and we simply had a problem with the connection.

I would like to strongly disagree with the inclusion of the current affairs debate on Belarus, particularly under Covid-19 conditions.

There is no threat posed by Belarus to other European countries. This is an artificially contrived phrasing. It was simply an issue of external interference with domestic affairs of Belarus.

Our delegation would like to propose putting this issue to a vote. We technically were not able to intervene before due to technical problems. That was very disappointing.

In addition, Mr Chair, after we requested this point of order, you adopted the entire agenda. Once again, I was not able to express my opinion on that.

Thank you.


Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly


Thank you very much, Mr Sergey KISLYAK.

The Secretary General does confirm that Mr Sergey KISLYAK did ask for a point of order.

I did not see it, so I do apologise. It is true that the agenda has been adopted now, which puts me in a bit of an awkward situation. I an looking to my left, to the Secretary General.

Is it appropriate to still have a vote on this request? Is that possible?

Because of the technical connection problem, I judge it fair that whoever asked for the floor in time should be attended. I will have to go back to the proposal of the current affairs debate. Just a second. We heard Mr Sergey KISLYAK put his arguments out requesting not to have the current affairs debate.

Is there a colleague in the room who wishes to speak in favour of this Belarus debate?

Although it was quite unanimous, if I may say, at least from the people present in the room. No?

The Bureau has proposed to have the debate. Mr Sergey KISLYAK requests a vote.

We will test our system, which is not bad.

So, those who are in favour of holding the current affairs debate should vote "yes". If you vote "yes", it is in favour of holding the debate. If you vote "no", you oppose the holding the debate.

The vote is open.

If someone from the technical staff could come and fix my screen, please.

Results please, which we have to compile from inside the room and outside of the room.

We have 68 colleagues in favour, 11 against and 12 who abstained.

The current affairs debate is approved.

I am not going to go through the whole mechanics again if you allow me, Ms Secretary General, because it isn't modified in any instance.

We now come to the next point on the agenda, which is the progress report of the Bureau and the Standing Committee. As I said in the beginning I will make use of the very welcomed assistance of Vice-Presidents. On my little list I had Ms Theodora BAKOYANNIS, who would chair the meeting.

Is Ms Theodora BAKOYANNIS in the room?

My dear Ms Theodora BAKOYANNIS, if you would do me the honour and the pleasure of presiding over the session with a strong hand, as we know you are capable of...

I am lucky I have my Secretary General because I forgot to adopt the minutes of proceedings, which allows Ms Theodora BAKOYANNIS to come up here. The minutes of the meeting of the Standing Committee in Strasbourg on May 28 have been distributed. I invite the Assembly to take note of these minutes. You do not have to do anything about it.

The progress report of the Bureau and the Standing Committee is the next point.

I welcome Ms Theodora BAKOYANNIS, Vice-President, to take over the meeting.

One minute and we will proceed.

Thank you, Ms Theodora BAKOYANNIS.


Debate: Progress report of the Bureau and the Standing Committee

Observation of the parliamentary elections in Bulgaria (4 April 2021)

Observation of the parliamentary elections in Albania (25 April 2021)


Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly


Thank you very much.

The next item on the agenda is the debate on the progress report of the Bureau and Standing Committee, Doc. 15318, Doc. 15318 Add. 2 and Doc. 15318 Add. 3, presented by Ms Petra BAYR.

This will be combined with the consideration of the report of the ad hoc Committee of the Bureau on the observation of the parliamentary elections in Bulgaria on 4 April 2021, Doc. 15292, presented by Mr Alfred HEER, and the report of the ad hoc Committee of the Bureau on the observation of the parliamentary elections in Albania on 25 April 2021, Doc. 15293, presented by Mr Aleksander POCIEJ.

We will interrupt the debate at 1 o'clock and it will continue in you this afternoon at 4 p.m.

I call Ms Petra BAYR to present the progress report.

Ms Petra BAYR, you have seven minutes to present the report.

Ms Petra BAYR

Austria, SOC, Rapporteur


Thank you very much, Ms President.

Dear colleagues, this progress report covers the time span from 26 April to 18 June. From my point of view it's really two months of concern.

The pandemic is not over yet and the distribution of treatment and care is very uneven even globally.

The policies of some countries, especially richer European countries, prove that there is a priority for profits of the pharmaceutical industry over global health. That's the opposite of solidarity. That's the opposite of responsibility.

Within the Council of Europe we see disputes fuelled by hatred. The conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia has not vanished and the treatment of prisoners of war do not respect international humanitarian law.

Outside of the Council of Europe we witness worrisome developments with direct effects to the Council of Europe member states and Europe. The conflicts in the Middle East cause antisemitic attacks against Jews and people who are considered to be Jews and this is a frightening development because it feeds into the already risen anti-Semitism due to Covid-19 related conspiracy and racist othering of people.

Also the last dictatorship in Europe, Belarus, and I do not think that is an artificial problem, is a serious reason for concern. Constant infringement of human rights and the fact that Belarus is not a member of the Human Rights Convention and so Belarusian citizens do not enjoy the strong protection of the European Court of Human Rights, calls for our solidarity and for our political action to stand with all these brave people in Belarus who still are fighting for their fundamental rights. The right to assemble, the right to free speech, the right to fair elections, democracy and freedom.

By the way, freedom.

Let me also underline the importance of the right to live free from violence. One in three women and girls are at least once in their lifetimes victims of gender-based violence. With the Istanbul Convention we have an effective legal tool to protect them from violence, from any form of violence. To sign, ratify and implement the Convention is also a parliamentary expression of taking the security and lives of women and girls all over Europe seriously, to protect and council victims and to prosecute perpetrators.

The goal is quite clear, to legally condemn and eradicate sexual physical, psychological, economic and structural violence against women and girls. Not more and not less.

As PACE we will give a clear signal that this is a serious and regretfully still neglected task for us by pledging our parliamentary efforts to strengthen all our activities in combating and eradicating violence against women.

At the UN gender equality forum next week, the so-called generation equality, where the president of the Parliamentary Assembly will be there and focus on the importance of the ratification and implementation of the content of the Istanbul Convention. That is a good first step but it will not be enough. It really also calls for all our activities, for all our efforts to really take the Convention seriously. I'm very grateful that we will have on Wednesday the chance to have a more detailed debate on this urgent and burning issue.

Thank you very much.


Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly


Thank you very much Ms Petra BAYR.

Now I call Mr Alfred HEER to present the observation of the parliamentary elections in Bulgaria on 4 April 2021, Doc. 15292.

You have three minutes.

I don't see Mr Alfred HEER.

Apparently not.

So let me go to the next speaker.

I call Mr Aleksander POCIEJ to present the observation of the parliamentary elections in Albania 25 April 2021.

Aleksander you have three minutes.

Mister POCIEJ, you have the floor.

Mr Aleksander POCIEJ

Poland, EPP/CD, Rapporteur


Thank you very much Madam President.

Let me start with congratulations to you for chairing this Assembly meeting. It's an honour to see you in this place.

On 6 September 2020 the President of Albania called parliamentary elections for 25 April 2021.

On 22 January 2021 the Bureau of the Parliamentary Assembly decided to observe these elections subject of course to the receipt of an invitation to set up an ad hoc Committee composed of 20 members as well as the two co-rapporteurs of the Committee on the Honouring of Obligations and Commitments by Member States of the Council of Europe (Monitoring Committee).

The Assembly's ad hoc Committee worked in Albania from the 21st to the 26th of April.

The Assembly's delegation split into 11 teams and observed the voting process in a number of polling stations in Tirana, the capital and its surroundings, as well as in Elbasan, Durrës, Kavajë, Dibër, Fier and in the countryside.

The Assembly's election observation delegation concluded that the parliamentary elections were characterised by lively and inclusive campaigns thanks to a legal framework that helped ensure the respect of fundamental freedoms.

At the same time the campaign saw authorities, like in many other countries, taking advantage of public office.

The Assembly's observation delegation noted that on election day, in most voting centres visited by members of the delegation, the voting process was overall calm and the procedures were in general followed.

Our delegation noted that parliamentary elections were held following a breakthrough political agreement achieved in June 2020 which was followed by an electoral reform.

The Assembly's delegation found that, in spite of some ambiguities, the legal framework constitutes an adequate basis for conducting democratic elections.

The Assembly and the Venice Commission are ready to continue the collaboration with the Albanian authorities to further improve the legal framework and electoral process in the country.

Thank you very much.


Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly


Thank you, Mister POCIEJ.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have just been informed that Mr Alfred HEER is on the line.

Mister HEER, you have the floor.

Mr Alfred HEER

Switzerland, ALDE, Rapporteur


Sorry I forgot to press the right button.

I want to report to you, Ms Vice-President, dear colleagues, about our mission in Bulgaria.

We found that the elections were held in in a proper manner. They were well organised.

Of course we had this pandemic also in Bulgaria which made a bit difficult to organise it as normal.

A limited number of polling stations were opening late. We had some overcrowding in polling stations but this was mainly due to the pandemic situation and keeping of the distances.

We had a new thing: the voting by machines that was newly introduced in Bulgaria. This was working well, however we found that some of the machines were not put so that the secrecy of the vote was guaranteed, but this was not out of bad will. This was something which was known for the first time and which can be corrected.

All in all the voting process was transparent. What we saw as a long-standing problem is of course the vote-buying, mainly in vulnerable communities. This is still continuing and this is something we know and this is also something the Bulgarian authorities know. This should be improved and should also be prosecuted.

For the media environment it is clear we have the public service broadcasters and then we have private media. This is divided along political lines and of course is influenced by commercial and corporate interests. But all in all we have now social media which is around freely and this gives also the opportunity to new parties to make proper propaganda for their purposes.

The outcome of the results were disperse. The results were like that: that no government could be installed. This means that there will be again a second round of elections on 11 July and the Bureau of the Parliamentary Assembly has decided that the same delegation will observe those elections.

There was also one small point that was being said, that the ruling party had the favour of the spending money for the Covid-19 pandemic, that this gave them an advantage. But we have to say this is not a Bulgarian problem. I think all the ruling parties all over Europe or all over the world must spend money to tackle the pandemic.

All in all we can say it was transparent and it was fair, and there are still a few concerns but the Bulgarian authorities are working with our Assembly and also with the Venice Commission.

We want to also thank the Bulgarian authorities for the invitation.

Thank you.


Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly


Thank you very much, Mister HEER.

Let's start the debate. We start with the speakers of political groups.

First, Mr Stefan SCHENNACH, from the Socialist Group.

Mister SCHENNACH, you have the floor.


Austria, SOC, Spokesperson for the group


Thank you very much, Madam President.

First of all, I would like to thank all the rapporteurs for these reports that we have heard today. One thing is good: that our work is picking up momentum again, that we are going on so many election observation missions again and Albania – I was in Albania with Mr Aleksander POCIEJ – surprised us in that it was really calm, lively after all the problems that existed before the proposals of the Venice Commission were adopted. As far as electoral reform is concerned, a free campaign, but we recommended that the accusation of vote-buying and the self-censorship of the media should be looked at even more closely.

During the period covered by the rapporteur – Ms Petra BAYR herself pointed it out – there were also the fierce military clashes with the many many deaths between Israel and Palestine. What we must be particularly concerned about is the widespread anti-Semitism, which we have had to take note of in Europe and against which we must also take action. On the one hand, there are the Covid-19 deniers, some of whom are running around with yellow stars, and, on the other, there are groups who believe that they can use the conflict between Israel and Palestine to carry out anti-Semitic actions here in Europe. We must stand up to them.

Mr Daniel HÖLTGEN, Special Representative of the Council of Europe on Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, has been very critical of Austria, saying that this Islam map creates a general suspicion of Islam and could serve anti-Muslim resentment. Unfortunately, this is what happened.

I would also like to thank Mr Pierre-Alain FRIDEZ very much for his fact-finding mission to the Greek Islands. I think that was very important.

The election in Kosovo is also very welcome. It is a huge new opportunity for that country, and we now have a new delegation here with us.

In Armenia the election was held yesterday, in Moldova we have already been with a pre-electoral mission. That also looks good and I think here again we are coming back to areas where you can see where things are going.

As the General Rapporteur for Media Freedom, I want to thank again everyone who has been active here on Belarus so that we don't stop fighting for the release of Roman Protashevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega.

Thank you very much.


Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly


Thank you very much, Mister Stefan SCHENNACH.

Mister Aleksander POCIEJ, on behalf of the Group of the European People's Party, you have the floor.

Mr Aleksander POCIEJ

Poland, EPP/CD, Spokesperson for the group


Yes, thank you very much.

I agree totally with Mr Stefan SCHENNACH. Speaking about Albania, we were really surprised how this country had changed over few last years. I must also say that those parliamentary elections were generally very well organized by the administration.

We must also agree that in Bulgaria, for example, everybody was saying that this is a very important election that is going to change the country. The political verdict in Bulgaria, the public opinion is so split that we are going to participate in the new election in Bulgaria in a few weeks.

Very importantly in Armenia, I must agree that the government and the majority took a very courageous decision. They had the majority, but they wanted to the anticipate elections. This is a sign of democratic orientation of the Armenian leaders.

I cannot say more than what Ms Petra BAYR said about the troubles and the danger in Belarus. As somebody coming from Poland, I remember when we were revolting against communism and against the dictatorship in our country in the 80s. I remember when everybody on TV and our leaders were saying that we were working for foreign forces. I'm sure it's the same way in Belarus. The people there want changes and they deserve those changes. I'm very glad that we're having this debate during our parliamentary session, part session, because it's very important to send the signal to those people that we are with them and they can count on us.

Thank you very much.


Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly


Thank you very much, Mister Aleksander POCIEJ.

On behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe group, Ms Yevheniia KRAVCHUK, from Ukraine.


Ms Yevheniia KRAVCHUK

Ukraine, ALDE, Spokesperson for the group


Thank you, Madam Chair,

Dear colleagues,

First of all let me extend my congratulations to all three rapporteurs, Ms Petra BAYR, Mr Alfred HEER and Mr Aleksander POCIEJ, and also to our other colleagues who contributed to the very impressive work on the Progress Report.

I'd like to touch upon a few topics.

Firstly, in early April I had an opportunity to be a part of the election observation mission to Bulgaria. One of my take-aways was the exercise of the voting machines tested by 25% of voters and proved their overall efficiency in the digitalisation period. The results of the elections brought several political forces to search the compromise in forming the coalition, well, they failed, what ended up in the appointment of the early elections on 11 July. This looks like the evidence of the democratic process in the parliament and a proper exercise of his rights by the President. I also have the impression that Bulgerian society is tired of the pandemic restrictions and political processes that accompany them.

Secondly, I have to pay attention to the ongoing debates on the Istanbul Convention. I'd like to congratulate our Lichtenstein colleagues on the recent ratification of the Convention. I have to assure the Assembly members that the process of ratification and implementation of the Convention is being followed closely by many institutions from their respective spheres of expertise. In particular, a few days ago the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Group, which I represent, conducted an extended discussion on the monitoring of the ratification and the implementation of the Istanbul Convention.

Thirdly, I have to mention that the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe has also started the group reflection and the work on the link between human rights and the environment.

Last but not least, I want to underline the importance of the topics brought up for the current affairs debates in relation to the situation in Belarus and the need for the relief of the migratory pressure on frontline countries.

Thank you very much.


Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly


Thank you very much.

For the European Conservatives Group and Democratic Alliance Mr Samad SEYIDOV.


Azerbaijan, EC/DA, Spokesperson for the group


Thank you very much Madam President.

On behalf of the European Conservatives Group I am delighted that our group has become again the third largest group in the Assembly. From this point of view, I think it is very important to take into account that our group is always in favour of a balanced approach and an objective approach to all matters and to all questions which we have already discussed and that we are going to discuss.

As I understand, the progress report is the major report which should reflect the major events which happened since the last session. Since the last session we saw that a very important event had happened between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The agreement reached on 12 June, in exchange of providing Azerbaijan with maps of 97 000 anti-tank and anti-personnel mines in the Agdam region, which was just recently liberated, 15 Armenian detainees, Ms Rapporteur, were handed over to Armenia under the auspices of the United States of America, Georgia and the European institutions. It's really very strange that these very crucial developments which we've had weren't reflected in your report.

At the same time you have mentioned about detainees in Azerbaijan. It's really very strange that you said that they were treated not in line with international law. How come this information? All international organisations and especially the Red Cross, already came and already made statements about that.

That's why, on behalf of the group, I ask my colleagues to think about this bell which the President returned back to us. These are our core values. We shouldn't use democracy, rule of law, right to speech in order to present someone in not a right way, in not a good way.

I think we should return back to our values. We should think that it is much more important to unite people, to think about reconciliation between Azerbaijan and Armenia, to think about steps which the Council of Europe can do together.

As a representative of my group, I'm fully in favour of these kinds of steps, but not to present only a one sided position, only unilateral information and not create the real picture of the events.

Thank you very much.


Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly


Thank you very much, Mister SEYIDOV.

Last, but not least, from the political groups, Mr Tiny KOX from the UEL.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, Spokesperson for the group


Thank you very much, Madam president. It's great to see you in the chair.

When Ms Petra BAYR started her intervention, we had a full fledged female rostrum after the first intervention of a female rapporteur, so there is still hope for this Assembly in the future. I wish Ms Nicole TRISSE with her report, a more gender balance in this organization as well.

Let me start to thank the rapporteur for her work, but also the other rapporteurs on the election observation, Mr Alfred HEER and Mr Aleksander POCIEJ, because it shows that we are working, we are functioning. Election observation is an important part of our work and the other things that were mentioned by Ms Petra BAYR reflect that we are recovering as the whole continent is beginning to recover from COVID-19.

The presence of so many colleagues here shows that we are recovering. That is important and we should be proud of all those who made that possible, those who worked in the healthcare, those who worked in the administrations, the government's who — some quicker, some slower — in the end managed to deal with this huge challenge to all our societies. It showed also that we are united because when we are attacked by a virus, that has no plans but is nevertheless deadly and has so much influence for our society, that then we can cooperate. So, compliments for that.

But, Madam President, at the same time, when we are recovering from COVID-19, there is a new virus that is attacking us and that virus was mentioned in the report of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, in the report that she presented to the Committee of Ministers in May in Hamburg, and that has the title "Democracy in distress". And we know our Secretary General is not a woman of big words. So, if she says that democracy overall in the continent is in distress, we should take that warning very seriously. This virus affects the democratic structures from the north to the south, from the east to the west in our continent.

It makes the rule of law functioning less, it makes protection of human rights less, it makes the democracy of which we all should be so proud and which is the end of our organisation is functioning less. So I hope that we will be able, after we are recovering and while we are recovering from the COVID-19 virus, we as politicians, we would be able to also deal with this challenge. because if democracy in Europe is in distress it is our responsibility.

We cannot put the blame on others, we are the elected politicians, we are the ones who should take care that we fulfil the commitments under the Statute of the Council of Europe and the European Convention of Human Rights and European Social Charter.

So let us congratulate ourselves, Madam President, that we are able to recover from COVID-19.

Let us now commit ourselves to that we will recover from this attack on democracy and rule of law in Europe.

Thank you very much.


Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly


Thank you, Mister KOX.

Now I go to the list of speakers and we start with Mr Sos AVETISYAN, from Armenia.


Armenia, SOC


Ms President, thank you very much.

I also want to thank my colleagues Ms Petra BAYR and Mr Aleksander POCIEJ for noting Armenia's elections.

In a rather difficult period my people were able to wisely go to the elections and choose the government.

I'm glad that in Armenia democracy has won and that we remained on a democratic path, even after all of these hardships that were caused by the aggression of Azerbaijan against Artsakh or Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.

What I also want to thank you for is the discussion of Armenian POWs that we had in April. This is an important base that helped us to kind of have an international pressure and also dialogue with Azerbaijan to release the Armenian detainees. I hope that this work will be kept on. This is perhaps one of the last times I'm speaking in this hemicycle, but I am sure that you have those files to continue this conversation, this pressure, because that's something that helps: the necessity that we continue asking to have these people returned.

What Mr Samad SEYIDOV rightly mentioned was the international mediation, which was very important. What he also forgot to mention are two things.

In the progress report it should be noted that on 12 May for example Azerbaijani forces made an incursion on the sovereign territory of Armenia. All the international observers including the OSCE Minsk Group chairs such as Russia, US and France, called on withdrawing the Azerbaijani forces but they haven't. They still remain there. That doesn't help peace. That doesn't help to the understand of the territorial integrity that we have spoken so much about.

Another important issue that I want to mention: the POWs or the existence of detainees in Azerbaijan has been denied for a long time. Now we see that there are detainees. In fact in a recent rather provocative action, when Erdogan and Aliyev were visiting the occupied Shushi of Artsakh, they basically conversed about these detainees as if they were some kind of, you know, gambling chips. There's a conversation about that and my colleagues will speak more about it.

I really want us to remain humans and I really want to ask to have these humanitarian issues sorted out as fast as possible because that will help the region to gain some confidence in the peace and prosperity that shall come promptly.

Thank you very much.


Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly


Thank you very much, Mister Sos AVETISYAN.

May I, on behalf of our colleagues and all of us here, wish you happy birthday!

Now Ms Laima Liucija ANDRIKIENĖ has the floor. She has to ask for the floor. Please, Madam ANDRIKIENĖ, ask for the floor.

[in French: I cannot see her. Is she here?]


Yes, she is online. Wonderful, yes. I can see you now.

Ms Laima Liucija ANDRIKIENĖ

Lithuania, EPP/CD


Madam President, I was a member of the PACE's ad hoc committee to observe parliamentary elections in Albania.

I fully support the report presented by the head of our delegation, Mr Aleksander POCIEJ, and, in addition to what has been said by him, very few remarks.

Firstly, the decision to send an election observation delegation to Albania was really a right decision, even in the situation of the COVID-19 pandemic. I was observing collections in Tirana and its surroundings, it was clear from the reactions we saw that our presence there was well-received, appreciated and really important.

Secondly, the 140-member parliament was elected for a four-year term through an original proportional system. Candidates were elected from 12 multi-city electoral districts. While it is foreseen as a possibility in the electoral code, no out-of-country voting was offered to citizens. So we should not be surprised by the turnout: 46.32%.

Voters residing abroad will however return and vote. It is important to have this in mind because, in the case of Albania, more citizens live abroad than in Albania itself. Thirdly, for the first time an electronic voter identification system was installed in all voting centres on election day to mitigate the risk of double voting, family voting, etc. Additionally, the device can fingerprint, which may be used as evidence in possible complaints. So, elections were generally well organized by the election administration which, at all levels, overall enjoyed the trust of stakeholders.

Now let's come to the shortcomings. Of course there were some, and for instance one of them was the so called misuse of administrative resources. When, for instance, ministers continued official engagements around the campaign until the very last day wearing face masks or t-shirts with their political party's ballot number. And there's a very important fact that should be mentioned, that only one print and online media outlet and ten out of over 100 private TV and radio stations, in line with the law, submitted their price list for campaign advertisements to the central electoral commission. Thus, the experience of advertisement conditions was limited.

Nevertheless, it is undeniable that a remarkable progress has been made in Albania and we really observed democratic elections with international standards implemented.

Congratulations to Albania.

Thank you.


Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly


Thank you very much, Mr Kamal JAFAROV. You have the floor.

Thank you very much.


Azerbaijan, NR


Thank you very much Madam President.

Nothing bloomed in Nagorno-Karabakh for 30 years. Armenians destroyed everything, every single building, including 3,000 religious and cultural monuments.

All foreign visitors witnessed this unprecedented barbarism but look at the Karabakh now. It has become a centre for rising prosperity, destiny of hope for millions of Azerbaijani IDPs.

Billions of Euros were invested in the great reconstruction of the Karabakh. Foreign businesses from the United States, Italy, Israel, Turkey, UK, had already started to operate in different development phases of the Karabakh.

The master plan of the city of Agdam, which is referred to as a Hiroshima of the 21st century, was just recently approved. 

Shusha, the roads from Fizuli to Shusha, the victory road, those are roads from Fizuli to Jabrayil, Hadrut, are under construction.

International airports are being built in the cities of Fizuli, Zəngilan and Lachin.

President Aliyev personally laid down the foundation stone of the "smart village" in Zəngilan. This innovative project is one of the most effective tools in achieving the sustainable development goals of the United Nations.

But you should know that we are rebuilding the Karabakh from scratch. You should know that the size of the liberated territories are four times that of Luxembourg.

Once Pana-Ali Khan built the Karabakh, surely we will do it again. But the main challenge is the mines: recently with the mediation of United States and of Georgia, we successfully exchanged 15 detained Armenians with a 97,000 mine map of Agdam.

If you remember in our last session here, the Armenian delegation and authorities refused the existence of such kind of maps.

Just a few weeks ago these mines killed two journalists and one civil servant in Kalbajar. This is a war crime. This is a violation of the trilateral statement. This is a violation of international humanitarian law.

Therefore we should all together put pressure on Armenian to hand over the mine maps in time.

Thank you very much.


Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly


Thank you very much, Mr Rafael HUSEYNOV, you have the floor.


Azerbaijan, ALDE


Thank you, Madam President.

Dear colleagues, the last two years will be a difficult test in the history of the Council of Europe, as well as in the life of the whole world. Now, when we think about the next progress report, it is a fact that the Council of Europe is successfully passing this test. It did not lose its balance, it quickly adapted to the conditions of the pandemic period and even at this historical stage gained new experience to more effectively build its activities in the future.

I say all this now because our topic is progress from that part-session to this one, and at each new part-session we see more and more progress in terms of organising our work. In the post-pandemic future, it may be appropriate to hold intersessional meetings of certain committees, especially those that discuss sensitive reports and organise important votes, in a hybrid format.

Development is a process that needs to learn not only from good, but also from bad and unpleasant experiences. And I would like to draw your attention to one point, recalling the discussion during the reporting period. One of the main goals of the Council of Europe is to be a judge, to work towards fairness and objectivity in decisions and opinions, and to always maintain a balance. Unfortunately, however, these important conditions are not always respected, and any such exclusion causes dissatisfaction, as well as insufficiently balanced behaviour and words of individuals damage the reputation of our organisation. At the end of the last session, questions were traditionally posed to the Acting Chairman of the Committee of Ministers, Mr Michael Roth.

I asked one of these questions, and the answer was so biased, so far from the approach and statements of the Council of Europe, that it could not help but surprise. I noted that the liberated territories of Azerbaijan were completely mined and that more than 100 people were killed by mines, and asked how the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers could influence Armenia within its mandate to provide maps of mined areas. Having joined the meeting from his office, Mr Roth postponed the question and began to accuse Azerbaijan in incomprehensible stubbornness. What was the outcome? Less than a month later, Azerbaijani journalists were blown up by a mine in these areas, as a result of which two were killed and several wounded.

Such irresponsible, unfair and dubious statements trying to justify injustice from such high positions, each time led to new tragedies. Therefore, the ability to maintain balance in every word and action, rather than weighing the scales, can be the healthiest foundation for our future development.

Thank you.


Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly


Thank you, Mr Zsolt NÉMETH, you have the floor.


Hungary, EC/DA


Thank you, Dora.

Dear colleagues, the Hungarian presidency has started, along with the European football championship. The Hungarian public has to divide its attention between the Hungarian presidency and the European Championship.

As you all know, the Standing Committee and the Bureau had a kind of semi-hybrid meeting in Budapest. Our President and our Secretary General visited Budapest, plenty of events are coming up. Our priorities, the Hungarian foreign minister will introduce them in the afternoon: national minorities, inter-religious dialogue, future generations, digitalisation, and environmental matters and human rights.

I would draw your attention that we have published a booklet that is available to everybody. I would like to draw your attention to the exhibition here in front of the hemicycle and the Hungarian Parliament building on the development of our constitutional history. It is a really nice exhibition right to me and obviously the cooperation between the German outgoing and the incoming Italian presidency is good as it should be in the match tomorrow evening with Germany for Hungary.

Secondly, the future of Europe issue I would like to touch upon, the conference has started last Saturday here in Strasbourg and I would like to welcome the process then. We have to make clear, however, that Europe is not the European Union. The 27 states are just some half of the 50 countries of Europe. The Council of Europe cannot be sidelined and we should find the appropriate modalities to get involved in this process. The Western Balkan countries are finally invited into the future of Europe conference. I think it's a good step in the right direction.

And finally about Belarus: the current affairs debate is very important. I share the views of Mr Aleksander POCIEJ, on this subject. The downing of the flight was beyond imagination, and I think we have to condemn unequivocally this breach of European norms. And similarly, we have to condemn the intimidation of the Polish minority which is happening continuously and step up for human and minority rights of the Polish community. And inclusive dialogue, yes, it is important, and I believe that the Council of Europe will play an important role in this. We want Belarus back here in the family of European nations, but it is possible if basic principles are respected.

Thank you very much for your attention.


Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly


Mr Zsolt NÉMETH, I wish you every success both for the presidency and for the football, without taking of course any sides.

May I go to the next speaker and the next speaker is Mr Antonio GUTIÉRREZ.


Spain, SOC


Many thanks Madam Chair.

Dear colleagues, the Council of the European Union decided to open negotiations for membership with Albania and North Macedonia in May 2020, more than one year ago.

I was part of the observers mission from this Parliamentary Assembly in the legislative elections on 25 April.

Without doubt there were some deficiencies as our report reflects and as the head of our delegation, Mr Aleksander POCIEJ, has said.

These elections represented a qualitative leap forward for democracy in Albania. In such a way, the electoral reforms that had been kicked off showed that they were able to contribute to the resurgence of democratic confidence in Albania.

Albania had been carrying out the reforms that the European Union had been asking for for formal opening of negotiations. Reforms concerning the rule of law, judicial reforms and reforms of the electoral system. Much remains to be done of course, but we must recall that the first intergovernmental conference and the formal opening of negotiations for memberships are only the beginning of a path and in no case the end of a process.

We will have to go on converging in the rule of law, in rights and freedoms, but also in agriculture, energy, transport, labour standards and sustainability.

Dear colleagues, the Western Balkans are of strategic interest to the European Union. How many times have instabilities in this region led to instabilities in the whole of the European continent?

Albania and North Macedonia are a factor of stability in the region, because they promote relations of good neighbours with all countries whom they share boundaries with.

For all of these regions it is very urgent no longer to delay the formal opening of membership negotiations. We need to call a first intergovernmental conference with Albania and North Macedonia. It is urgent for the Council of the European Union to continue what it has been promising for over a year.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe must assist and support everything that is happening so that this happens. They need us, but we also need them.

Many thanks.


Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly


Thank you.

The last speaker for this session is Ms Tatevik HAYRAPETYAN.


Armenia, EPP/CD


Thank you very much, dear colleagues, ladies and gentlemen.

As colleagues mentioned before and also my Armenian colleague Mr Sos AVETISYAN said, Armenia has chosen the path of democracy. This is a fact, whatever it means for any of us. It's important that only our people can choose how to get out of the crisis in our country.

Now, I want to get back to the issue of prisoners of war. For your attention, I literally want to bring up the conversation which took place maybe a week ago between Ilham Aliyev and the wife of Erdogan, Emine. On their way to occupied Shushi, she asks Mr Aliyev: "Are there many Armenian prisoners of war in Baku?" He happily says "Yes, yes, there are so many prisoners of war." She says laughing, "Oh, so good. Return them in small portions".

This is literally what they said. The video is there on YouTube; you can see it. The countries, Azerbaijan and Turkey, are members of the Council of Europe and their leaders behave like that.

This not only contradicts the logic of international law but also is insane. It is inhuman.

Every time we come here the families of the prisoners of war ask us what Europe is doing and what you are doing while you go there. We say you know they discuss it, they judge, they condemn. As a result we have very little portions of prisoners of war and there are so many people, hundreds of people, and the families are suffering.

It has been more than half a year since the ceasefire statement was signed and Armenia has done its part of the deal. It's Azerbaijan which refuses, and they say, you know, we returned 15 prisoners of war. Thank you very much, but I want to remind you that it's your duty to immediately return all the prisoners of war which you have to do according to the 9th of November ceasefire statement.

I want to say that peace is not simply a beautiful word. We value peace more than anyone in the world because we know how it is to be in war, how it is to lose loved ones. But peace means action. Peace means hard work. The Azerbaijani way of peace is to enter the sovereign territory of Armenia, is to keep Armenian prisoners of war as hostages, is to dehumanise Armenians at a state level and then come to this hemicycle and beautifully talk about peace.

Dear Azerbaijani colleagues, if you really want peace, go back to your home country and make your dictator Aliyev act in accordance with international law. Return Armenian prisoners of war and leave our Armenia's sovereign territory.

We don't want war. No one wants war. But if you want peace, you need to act.

Thank you.


Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly


Thank you very much.

I have to close the list now.

Mister BUSHATI, you will be the first speaker this afternoon at 4 o'clock. 

Before I close it completely I would like to say happy birthday also to Mr Viorel-Riceard BADEA, Mrs María Valentina MARTÍNEZ FERRO and Mr Ivan TASOVAC.

Happy birthday to all of you and thank you very much.

See you this afternoon at 4 o'clock.

The sitting is closed at 1:00 p.m.

Next sitting at 4 p.m.