Logo Assembly Logo Hemicycle

21 June 2021 afternoon

2021 - Third part-session Print sitting

Sitting video(s) 1 / 1

Opening of the sitting No. 16

Debate: Progress report of the Bureau and the Standing Committee (continued)

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:03:39

Please, be seated.

Dear colleagues, we will start. Please, be seated. Thank you.

The sitting is open. Can I remind members that it is a legal requirement for everyone here to wear a mask, even when taking the floor and to have the mask over the nose because it sometimes slips down. I see we are controlled from the governmental side. So, don't.. I see some without the mask, please. Otherwise, I will send in the police, or worse, the ambassador!

Voilà, everyone got his mask on? Okay.

Colleagues, the next item on the agenda is the continuation of the debate on the Progress report of the Bureau and Standing Committee (Doc. 15318, Add. 1 to 3). I remind members that speaking time in this debate will be limited to three minutes. The debate must conclude at 4:30 p.m. Maybe we might run a little bit of overtime given that the minister's arriving at 4:10 at the airport. I don't know at which speed he will be flying over here, but we will continue until we get notified that the minister is arriving, and then we will conclude with the rapporteur.

On my speakers list I have first Mr Ervin BUSHATI, who will be followed by Mr Andreas NICK.

Mister BUSHATI, you have the floor. Three minutes.

Mr Ervin BUSHATI

Albania, SOC

16:05:41

Mask on.

Dear Mister President, dear colleagues,

As you are aware, on the 25 April 2021, the Parliament held elections in Albania. More than 3,000 people were accredited by the CEC from different International domestic organisations contributing to a broader coverage of observing the Parliamentary elections in Albania. I would like to thank all the colleagues who spoke before me, all the rapporteurs and especially the head of the delegation, Mr Aleksander POCIEJ.

We welcome the findings of the joint preliminary report and we are grateful for the professional and detailed manner in which the joint observation mission conducted its work. We are particularly pleased with the overall conclusion of the joint observer mission that the voting was called and secured. The legal framework in Albania ensured the respect for fundamental freedoms, and it is an adequate basis for democratic elections. It also concluded that the reform Central Election Commission oversaw the election process in an organised and transparent manner, including the successful implementation of new technologies, such as electronic validation and electronic voting in a pilot constituency, while contributing to strengthening trust in the election process.

These parliamentary elections were also a good test for the electoral reform that was carried out last year, a reform undertaken and based on a political agreement among the main political parties aimed at making the electoral process more transparent and democratic. The campaigning phase, the voting of the counting process were carried out in an orderly manner, making them the best elections ever held in the post-transition period. The Albanian government met its commitments in holding peaceful, equal, free and fair elections in accordance with advanced international standards and domestic electoral legislation. The counting process was fast and the final result delivered within itself a new achievement. The contest from the political forces will be addressed with the respective institutions. Measures to make it mandatory for the political parties, the application of gender representation for no less than one-third of the candidates' list are a case in point.

The new parliament of one hundred forty seats will be constituted in September this year. It is expected to have 47 women MPs or 34% of them. Albania considers free and fair election as a pillar of democracy, and we remain particularly attentive in guaranteeing that this right is exercised in full and without hindrance by all segments of society. A healthy and firm democracy can only be built when people are free to choose their own government and political representatives.

On behalf of the Albanian Parliament I would like to express once more the appreciation to the Venice Commission OSCE/ODIHR for the valuable assistance provided during the improvement of electoral process.

Thank you. 

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:08:42

Thank you very much.

Our next speaker is Mr Andreas NICK, who will be followed by Mr Edmon MARUKYAN.

Mister Andreas NICK, you have the floor.

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD

16:08:51

Monsieur le Président, chers collègues,

Allow me to take this opportunity, dear Mister Rik DAEMS, to say thank you again very much for visiting my constituency, my home, last week. It was a great honour to have the President of the Parliamentary Assembly with us. You received and brought back to Strasbourg the bell that had been kept there for 70 years, which Mr Paul-Henri SPAAK left there as a gift on the occasion of the opening of the Europa-Haus in Marienberg in 1951. It was, I think, a worthy occasion. Many thanks also to Gerhard Krempel, who returned this gift to Strasbourg, so that it keeps the historical memory here alive, also the historical memory of the fact that the idea of a united Europe in its awakening was a youth movement, a citizens' movement. We want to carry this spirit, this dynamism back into the present and the future.

It was a meeting for the 70 years of Europa-Haus Marienberg and 70 years of German membership in the Council of Europe. I would also like to thank the Permanent Representation of the Federal Republic of Germany for making the exhibition on 70 years of German membership available for the Europa-Haus on this occasion.

This brings me to the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers, which Germany has exercised on this occasion. I would like to thank all those involved – in particular our outgoing Ambassador Rolf MAFAEL here on the spot – very warmly for the work that has been done, even under the difficult conditions of the pandemic. Not everything that was planned in the cultural programme could take place. However, I believe that the political priorities have been achieved both in terms of issues ranging from the regulation of artificial intelligence to the fight against hate speech on the Internet, the strengthening of work with minorities, such as the Roma, and also dialogue with young people. We have been able to make some progress on the European Union's accession to the Convention on Human Rights and, in particular, we have placed an emphasis on strengthening the European Court of Human Rights, on compliance with and implementation of its judgments, which is the core of the protection mechanism for human rights that we have launched in the Council of Europe and with the Convention on Human Rights. This work must also be continued with this consistency.

Let me make a comment on the human rights situation and the work of the Judicial Selection Committee. I believe that we have a common interest in not creating a situation that could allow someone to question the legitimacy of the Human Rights Court on formal grounds. That is why it is good and right that we pay attention to compliance with standards in the selection procedure, that we pay attention to the quality of the candidates. It is also important for this acceptance and legitimacy that every country in this Assembly be treated equally in the Judicial Selection Committee. No one should be treated better, but no one should be treated worse either. It is good that the Committee is meeting again this week to discuss the further procedure on the Russian Federation.

Thank you very much for your attention.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:12:12

Thank you, Mister Andreas NICK.

We would normally go to Mr Edmon MARUKYAN.

He is not connected nor asking... He is connected but not asking for the floor.

Mister Edmon MARUKYAN, if you could ask for the floor.

Here we go.

You have the floor if it works.

Mr Edmon MARUKYAN

Armenia, ALDE

16:12:29

Thank you.

Dear colleagues, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that after the ceasefire statement of the 9th of November Azerbaijani authorities haven't yet released Armenian prisoners of war including civilians. Today 13 Armenian POWs have trials in Azerbaijan. They are false criminal proceedings against the Armenian POW's in Azerbaijan, which violates the international humanitarian law.

President Aliyev states that he will not release our POWs unless he receives the mine maps, thus he politicises a pure humanitarian issue and makes clear that the Armenian POW's are hostages in Azerbaijan. They have also received information about several Armenian POWs including women tortured to death in Azerbaijani prisons.

As you may already know on 12 May 2021 Azerbaijani armed forces illegally crossed the state border of the Republic of Armenia and advanced as far as 3.5 kilometres in that section. Such kind of illegal advancement is aimed at surrounding and seizing the Black Lake in this unique region of Armenia.

The illegal presence of the Azerbaijani military forces in the territory surrounding the Black Lake is unacceptable to the Republic of Armenia and grossly violates the UN Charter. Such consistent and deliberate violations of the trilateral statement by Azerbaijan seriously undermine the full implementation of the statement and poses new challenges for regional security and peace.

We call on our European colleagues to unequivocally and clearly address Azerbaijan's actions: particularly to impose sanctions against the Azerbaijani military and political dictatorship, make joint efforts with us to complete immediately the exchange of POWs and other detained persons without any preconditions and artificial obstacles such as the fabricated criminal proceedings as well as to reaffirm its commitment to the territorial integrity of the Republic of Armenia, urging Azerbaijani military authorities to immediately withdraw its troops.

Thank you, dear colleagues. Let's not be silent and let's push Azerbaijan to implement its own obligations towards European society and the Council of Europe.

Thank you very much.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:14:45

Thank you Edmon, we will move now to Ms Nigar ARPADARAI, who will be followed by Lord George FOULKES.

In the room, Nigar, you have the floor.

Ms Nigar ARPADARAI

Azerbaijan, EC/DA

16:14:55

Thank you very much.

Dear colleagues, before going back to my speech I would like to refer to the speech of our Armenian member of parliament, Ms Tatevik HAYRAPETYAN, who spoken about the brief conversation between Mr Aliyev and Mr Erdogan.

I would like to say that this is completely unacceptable because what she said is completely taken out of context and distorted. This rhetoric is unacceptable and it's not in line with the code of conduct expected from members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. We are here, parliamentarians, and we speak the language of respect and law, not hate speech and insults.

Now, going back to my speech, dear colleagues, yesterday on 20 June the world has been marking the World Refugee Day. As a representative of a country which has one of the largest population to refugee ratios in the whole Council of Europe space, technically in the whole of Europe, I want to remind you that around 1 million Azerbaijanis are ethnically cleansed from their homes in Western Azerbaijan and became refugees and IDPs in the early 90s.

Today, even despite the fact that the occupying Armenian Army was made to leave Azerbaijan, the problem of Azerbaijani IDPs is far from being over. Most of the refugees still cannot get back because their territories are unlivable and dangerous, towns and villages are razed to the ground and most of the territory is planted with hundreds of thousands of landmines.

This calls for immediate and urgent action from the Council of Europe.

Dear colleagues, on 4 June a land mine explosion in Azerbaijan's Kalbajar region has killed two well-known Azerbaijani journalists and an official. We've been calling Armenia's leadership to provide Azerbaijan with landmines maps from every possible platform, including this distinguished organisation, but no result.

On 12 June, Armenia handed over maps of 97,000 mines in the Agdam region. Dear colleagues, just imagine: 97,000 mines only in one Agdam region!

And acting Prime Minister Pashinyan has proudly stated that this was a small portion of landmine maps. These minefields are a terrorist weapon and Mr Pashinyan's admission is a crime evidence, and I'm extremely surprised by the total lack of reaction in the Council of Europe about it.

Dear colleagues, Azerbaijan has openly declared its readiness to sign a peace treaty with Armenia. Of course, the treaty presupposes the recognition of the territorial integrity of both countries and we are ready to do this, we are ready to openly recognise the territorial integrity of Armenia. And of course Armenia in its turn must recognise the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.

I must state with remorse that despite the fact that this statement from Azerbaijani side has been widely broadcasted internationally, no reaction from Armenian side yet.

Because the reason is simple: Armenian political establishment continues to have territorial claims to Azerbaijan and is not ready to get over it.

I call on the Council of Europe to ask Armenia very openly and clearly: is it ready to recognise Azerbaijan's territorial integrity as an obvious step towards lasting peace.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:18:05

Thank you, Nigar. We now go to Lord George FOULKES who will be followed by Mr Aleksandar NIKOLOSKI.

George is online. George, you have the floor.

Lord George FOULKES

United Kingdom, SOC

16:18:19

Mr Tiny KOX said at the Parliamentary Assembly is returning at a normal hour, from the recovering from Covid-19. Sadly the British delegation isn't able to attend in person, and I first ask you Mr President, if you would write again, as you've done before, to our Speaker and indeed to our Lord Speaker, supporting the excellent letter that our delegation leader Mr John HOWELL has put to them, asking for us to be able to attend and pointing out that we do have the same kind of diplomatic immunity that members of the European Parliament have, and I think that would enable us to participate fully with you in Strasbourg.

But the main point I want to raise is in relation to Belarus. Can I welcome very, very much the fact that we're going to have a current affairs debate on Belarus because the situation has worsened tremendously, as we saw with the unbelievable, unprecedented state hijacking of an aeroplane, which is really an enormous situation, a disgraceful situation, that any country should undertake.

But I want particularly also to mention the political prisoners. When I last spoke at the Parliamentary Assembly, I said that I had participated in the scheme for adopting prisoners and I've adopted a young man, Stsiapan Latypau, who has been improperly arrested. And since then, he's attempted suicide because his family was threatened if he didn't give a confession. And another prisoner has died in custody in the same prison: a teenager there, jumped to his death.

The situation is really appalling and we need to intensify our protest here at the Parliamentary Assembly and in national parliaments, but above all we need to extend, to intensify, to widen the adoption of  prisoners. They are there lonely, under pressure, under threat and they need to know they are not forgotten. And if we extend this arrangement for adoption, if we contact them, we write to them, we get messages to them, they will know they are not forgotten and then hopefully, we will start to move Belarus towards some form of reasonable situation and democracy.

Thank you, Mr President.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:21:00

Thank you, Lord George FOULKES.

Obviously, I will do whatever is within my might to get you colleagues down here. As I understand my efforts are not enough, and there are some specific rules from your side which are not exactly ideal for you to head out. Take a plane or a train come on, you're welcome.

Thank you very much. Thank you Lord George FOULKES.

We will now move to Mr Aleksandar NIKOLOSKI, who will be followed by Mr Andrej HUNKO, both of them in the room.

Mr Aleksandar NIKOLOSKI, you have the floor.

Mr Aleksandar NIKOLOSKI

North Macedonia, EPP/CD

16:21:33

Thank you very much, Mister President.

I will speak mainly about the report regarding the recent parliamentary elections in Bulgaria. I think in general, the report is good. It is specifying most of the shortcomings in the elections and as well misconduct and wrongdoings, such as, I quote "the long-standing problems, such as allegation of vote buying, controlled voting and voter intimidation" attempted particularly among economically and socially vulnerable categories.

As well, the report says that the elections were marked by public disillusionment and mistrust in the political establishment and held in the wake of prolonged street protests, which included requests to early parliamentary elections and for the resignation of the prosecutor general.

As well, the report says that the protests took place from July to October 2020 and led to the resignation of five ministers and that they were fuelled by allegations for corruption, lack of rule of law, erosion of the democracy.

As well the report says that many assembly delegation interlocutors during the pre-electoral missions, underlined the corruption and independence of judiciary, which is recognising the corruption perception index by Transparency International for 2020 which is marking Bulgaria as the lowest country in the European Union, 69th in the world.

In same time, the overall report is not that strong as these words that are used here and I think that the overall report should, and the overall conclusions, should undertake and should include these findings by the observers. One thing that is also mentioned is the hate speech and one thing that we are witnessing, is that since the protests started in Bulgaria, the hate speech rose. As well, the second thing is attack against my country, against Macedonia and against Macedonians, because Bulgaria, for political reasons, and if you want for electoral reasons, is blocking the opening of accession talks and the first intergovernmental conference with Macedonia in the past two years mainly for political reasons. They continue to do that violating basic human rights of Macedonians like self-identification, then nomination of our language, of our history and our heritage. They are a step away of doing that again tomorrow on the General Affairs Council of the European Union, where most probably again they will block opening accession talks.

I have only one thing to say to them and that is that we know who we are: we are Macedonians. We know which language we speak: we speak Macedonian language. We know our heritage and our history, and nevertheless, what kind of decision they will make tomorrow, all of Europe knows who we are and what we are and they should face the shame of the consequences of the decision they're making.

Thank you very much.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:24:50

Thank you, Aleksandar.

We now move to Mr Andrej HUNKO, who will be followed by Mr Emanuelis ZINGERIS, both of them in the room.

Andrej, you have the floor.

Mr Andrej HUNKO

Germany, UEL

16:25:05

Thank you, Mister President.

Dear colleagues,

I will speak in German.

I would like to say a few words about the elections in Albania. We were there as a delegation in April and I think that Mr Aleksander POCIEJ's report is very good and I congratulate him on it.

However, I would like to highlight two things. The first is the problem of vote buying, not only in Albania but also in other countries where sections of the population are very, very poor. This was also a big problem in Albania in this election, and it even led to a death when there were disputes there. I think it is very important that we also address this clearly. Because the greater the inequality, the more money can be invested into this kind of thing, because there is so much terrible poverty in parts of the population. This creates a problem for democracy.

The second thing I want to address is the different application of the Covid-19 measures, which is also mentioned in the report. I have observed one case very closely. A miner from the region of Dibra, who ran as an independent candidate, was fined 5 000 000 Lek for an alleged violation of Covid-19 requirements, which is more than 100 times a month's salary. While, at the same time, I have seen large gatherings of the major parties there, where the rules were not followed and there is no penalty. That is not only devastating for this case, but every abuse, political abuse of anti-corona rules for political purposes is, so to speak, grist to the mill of what Mr Tiny KOX also mentioned this morning. The virus that comes, so to speak, after the Covid-19 virus, the virus to democracy and the rule of law. Every abuse, every wrongful use of these rules is, I think, very devastating and that is why I think it is very good that this is also mentioned here.

Let me conclude by saying something about the Future of Europe Conference that the European Union is currently organising. We have also heard today that the Secretary General of the Council of Europe also spoke there, which is very good. I also think that this Assembly should have a say there, because Europe is bigger than just the European Union and that is why it would be nice if this Assembly could also be involved there.

Thank you very much, Mister President.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:28:14

We now move to Mr Emanuelis ZINGERIS, who will be followed by Mr Jean-Pierre GRIN.

I'm not sure that I see Mr Emanuelis ZINGERIS.

Ah, so he is connected.

You have the floor.

Mr Emanuelis ZINGERIS

Lithuania, EPP/CD

16:28:32

Thank you, Mr Chairman,

I would just like to say this, I am happy if we have a widespread family of European value system.

But when it comes to Albania, I did not participate in the elections in Albania and therefore I could not give an opinion on how all this happened. But I would like to support all colleagues who were there and Mr Andrej HUNKO, his positive statement and others, and our EPP Group also. And about that I would have to say, I did not take part in the Albanian elections, therefore all I can say is that it is important for Albania to make progress in democracy and the electoral system, but I could not say exactly what happened in this area, because I was not able to take part this time.

Thank you very much and this time I will be very short.

Thank you.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:29:58

Thank you, Mr ZINGERIS.

We now move on to Mr Jean-Pierre GRIN in the room, followed by Ms Naira ZOHRABYAN.

Mr GRIN, are you in the room? You have the floor.

Mr Jean-Pierre GRIN

Switzerland, ALDE

16:30:08

Thank you, Mister President.

Dear colleagues,

I shall speak about the elections in Albania. On 25 April of this year, together with a Council of Europe delegation, I took part in the observation of the elections in Albania. The parliamentary elections were characterised by a lively and inclusive campaign thanks to a legal framework that helped to ensure respect for fundamental freedoms, although there was still some concern about the somewhat abusive use of state resources. At the same time, the authorities have taken advantage of their position.

Personally, having visited 11 polling stations, the voting in these stations was generally calm and the election procedures were well observed and well organised by the polling stations. The new electronic voter identification system introduced in all polling stations is aimed at reducing electoral fraud.

On the other hand, the preventive measures related to Covid-19 were not always properly applied and social distancing was not always observed among voters, except for polling station staff, who had to wear masks. Access to some polling stations in the countryside was still not very secure, but this did not hamper the voting process. We were informed that the fundamental right to freedom of assembly had been respected during the election campaign and that campaigners had been able to campaign freely despite the restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

On the other hand, and unfortunately, no televised debates between the political leaders were held. This may have influenced the rather low turnout of just 46% of the electorate. Our delegation also expressed its concern about allegations of widespread vote-buying by political parties during the campaign. We noted that investigations have been launched in this regard. We also noted that the party in power took significant advantage of its position, as is often the case in parliamentary elections elsewhere.

These are just a few of the findings I have made during my observations of the elections in Albania, which went well. The report was excellent, but it was not enough to say that the elections had been well conducted.

Thank you for your attention.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:32:57

Thank you, Jean-Pierre.

We now move on to Ms Naira ZOHRABYAN, who will be followed by our last speaker Mr Tural GANJALIYEV.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:33:08

Ms Naira ZOHRABYAN, where are you?

You have the floor.

Ms Naira ZOHRABYAN

Armenia, EC/DA

16:33:14

Thank you, dear colleagues.

It seems to me that eight months after the devastating war in Artsakh, today, in this very room, I should not have been obliged to speak about the hundreds of prisoners of the civil war and the captives. I should not have had to say that Azerbaijan, as a member of the Council of Europe, continues to disregard international law, continues to disregard both our Organisation and all the European institutions that insist and demand that Azerbaijan immediately releases all prisoners of war and captives. At the same time, as this Organisation, the European Parliament, international human rights organisations, the co-chair of the Minsk Group have made dozens of statements and demand the release of prisoners of war.

Since 12 May, about 1 000 Azerbaijani soldiers have invaded the sovereign territory of Armenia, taken up positions, killed Armenian soldiers, captured six Armenian soldiers from the territory of protection of the Armenian armed forces, provoked daily border incidents and clashes with soldiers and inhabitants of border settlements. An Armenian peasant living on the border has no guarantee that he will leave his home and not be captured or killed.

And then, colleagues, how many unsuccessful statements and appeals should our institution make to finally understand that Azerbaijan does not understand the language of civilized rights and that it is necessary to apply concrete actions against this country? Do not forget that Azerbaijan has already brutally killed 19 captured Armenians. Have you counted how many days and nights there are in eight months? And for how many days and nights Armenian mothers have been waiting for their captive sons.14 of whom, as terrorists and saboteurs, have already passed verdicts and sent the cases to court.

Colleagues, if your concern for the return of prisoners of war is sincere, then our Assembly should impose concrete sanctions on Azerbaijan, suspend the powers of that country's delegation, demand a reduction in the European bank accounts of Aliyev, his family and the leading politicians of that country. Stop this eight-month nightmare.

Thank you.

Mr Tural GANJALIYEV

Azerbaijan, EC/DA

16:36:23

Thank you, dear colleagues.

The trilateral statement of the leaders of Azerbaijan, the Russian Federation, and Armenia signed on the 10th of November last year, created a ground for putting an end to the almost three-decade-long armed conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, on the basis of mutual recognition of sovereignty, territorial integrity, and inviolability of the borders. Of course, it is disappointing to hear some of my colleagues from neighbouring countries in the hemicycle putting, sounding, unjustified accusations against my country, just missing the basic knowledge of the international law. They forget that as a member of the Council of Europe, both Armenia and Azerbaijan, when we were accepted to this very organisation, we were accepted within already internationally recognised borders. What happened last year was the restoration of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, law and order was restored and finally security peace has arrived.

Unfortunately, the speaker before me, Ms Naira ZOHRABYAN, speaking about the situation, was the same person who on her official Facebook and Twitter accounts called for the bombing of Azerbaijani city of Mingachevir with the biggest water reservoir and called for killing hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis. This kind of hate speech does not help at all. It must be eliminated and prevented if we would like to see the conflict as being past history.

I would like to invite my colleagues from the neighbouring country to advise and to get some recommendations from the senior Armenian diplomat with whom I had a chance to meet last week in the Antalya Diplomacy Forum, Mr Gerard Libaridian. Even though we had some disagreements on some details regarding the post-conflict situation, he has pragmatic, constructive views about the future of our region, which of course, accepts the mutual recognition of territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and Armenia. These childish statements that we hear from from our Armenian colleagues in the hemicycle, again, do not help. If we would like to see the better future for our region, if we would like to see human rights, democracy that will be cherished in our region, we have to take into account that this platform is provided for us not to misuse it. We have to take it, not just for granted, we have to make efforts ourselves to bring some contribution. Once again, I would like to invite all my colleagues not to accept the hate speech that we hear in the hemicycle.

Thank you. 

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:39:28

Thank you very much.

We conclude the speaker's list.

Dear rapporteur, do you wish to have a short reply?

Ms Petra BAYR

Austria, SOC, Rapporteur

16:39:38

Yes I do.

Thank you very much.

I would like to respond to some selected issues.

When Ms Yevheniia KRAVCHUK from Ukraine applauds Liechtenstein for ratification of the Istanbul Convention I very much hope that we can be the next to congratulate Ukraine for the ratification. We very much appreciate the steps forward you are doing in the signing and ratification of the Convention.

The GREVIO was mentioned as a the body who monitors the implementation. I also can inform you that GREVIO will do a next step of quality in following up with the implementation because there have already been recommendations for mostly all countries ratified. The next step will be to watch whether the suggestions and recommendations really have been implemented. So I really applaud for this next qualitative step in the implementation.

Mr Tiny KOX mentions the gender balance among us and in the Assembly. I hope that in the course of the year we will be able to adopt a report prepared by Ms Nicole TRISSE on exactly that issue. I think it's really time to have clear rules on how our Assembly should be composed and how the balance should look like. I also want to applaud Albania for gaining a third of women in their Parliament.

Mr Tiny KOX also mentioned rule of law, democracy and institutions. We also face a crisis on that after we overcame the pandemic crisis. I think we really should maybe work more closely in following the Sustainable Development Goal 16 on justice and strong institutions. Institutions like parliaments as well, and that could maybe give us some inspiration on how fostering our work.

To come to an end, I have a dream as well as many of you. A dream that we live in a future Europe that is not built upon hostile reflexes. Russia against Ukraine. Ukraine against Russia. Armenia against Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan against Armenia. Turkey versus Greece. Greece versus Turkey. That is not very creative. That really doesn't offer any productive solutions.

I really hope that we all can follow the rule of law and democracy but also especially human rights and to guarantee, that should be the biggest goal of all of us: guarantee human rights to all our citizens, to all people who live in the member countries of the Council of Europe and make the liberty bell ring to all of us.

I very much hope that we will build forward better, and not back. Because I think forward is the way we have to go.

Thank you.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:42:51

Thank you, Petra.

The debate is closed.

In the meantime we welcome Minister Péter SZIJJÁRTÓ.

We will be with you, Minister, in a couple of seconds. We have to work through a couple of elements. I hear that you flew in but that from the airport to here you also flew more or less. Again, thank you for being here, but just bear with us a couple of minutes.

The Bureau has proposed a number of references to committees for ratification by the Assembly, set out in Doc. 15318.

I don't suppose there are any objections. No, then they are approved.

Then we've got the other elements from the report. If there are no objections, then these are also approved and then I invite the Assembly to approve the other decisions of the Bureau, as set out in the Progress report. I'm going fast here, as fast as the minister came from the airport down here.

Any objections. No. Then all of this has been approved. Thank you for that.

Our next item of business is the communication from the Committee of Ministers to the Assembly, presented by Mr Péter SZIJJÁRTÓ (I always have difficulties with names, I hope that was close enough), Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade of Hungary, Chair of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. This will be followed by questions to you, Mr SZIJJÁRTÓ. If I might ask you not to take the whole hour so people can ask you some questions and if I may invite you to address the Assembly here.

Thank you very much.

Vote: Progress report of the Bureau and the Standing Committee (continued)

Address: Communication from the Committee of Ministers

Mr Péter SZIJJÁRTÓ

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade of Hungary, Chair of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe

16:44:44

Mister Speaker,

Madam Secretary General,

Dear Colleagues of the National Parliaments and Members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe,

First of all I would like to express my appreciation to you to make it possible for me to...

 

<he is interrupted by DAEMS who asks him to wear the mask>

 

I would like to express my appreciation to you for letting me come and address the Assembly under an historic period of time since we have been faced with tremendous challenges because of the global pandemic. We consider it extremely important to take the chance to draw the conclusions and draw the lessons to be learned as well. I'd like to put forward here four points if you don't mind.

First, I think it's one of the most important lessons we have to learn from the crisis is that it's extremely important to maintain the capacities and capabilities on a national level and to have those strategic capacities in the member states of ours, which might seem to be illogical and expensive under peaceful circumstances. When it comes to crisis, these strategic capacities can save lives. In order to avoid a defenceless position, the national strategic strategic capacities should be maintained.

The second lesson we should learn is that saving people's lives must not be taken into consideration as it was an issue either of ideological or geopolitical nature. That issue is very important from the perspective of vaccines, about which we do have the common understanding that they can save lives and that they can provide us with the solution for the healthcare aspects of this crisis. We in Hungary have never considered vaccines as if they were either of ideological or geopolitical nature. We looked at them as tools to save lives of the people. So far, we have been able to vaccinate more than 65% of the adult population in the country, and we were the first country in all of Europe, basically, to open up the economy and come back to normality. This also can be seen on the screens when you watch the summaries of the games of the European Championship, you see 68,000 people in the National Stadium of Budapest having fun and enjoying time spent together.

The third aspect which we have to take into consideration from now on is that a healthcare crisis can have, as it did have very serious economic impacts as well. Tens or even hundreds of thousands of European citizens have lost their jobs. Now we have to make sure that the states enjoy a more flexible regulation when it comes to incentivising investment, which is the only way we can create jobs for people.

Fourth. Last but not least, I think that there cannot be a clearer or more evident reason based on which we can finally understand how interdependent we are and how high the rate of the interdependence is in the global political arena. Here I would like to argue in favour of a co-operation between East and West, based on mutual respect and mutual trust.

Dear colleagues, we should not be hypocritical. Last spring the whole world lined up in the East, in China, to be able to buy equipment to protect ourselves from the first wave of the crisis. A number of countries in Europe, I speak about the entire continent, have been using either Chinese or Russian vaccines to save the lives of their people. We, coming from Central Europe, have a very clear experience from history which says that whenever there was conflict between East and West, we, Central Europeans, have always lost, and we don't want to be losers anymore. When we argue in favour of East to West dialogue to be relaunched under, let's say, trustful circumstances, then we don't do it because we would be playing to one or the other side. We do it because it is our interest of national security and national strategy. Definitely, a cold war is not something that we would like to see to be launched in the future.

Dear colleagues, under these historic challenges and circumstances we took over the presidency. I would like to brief you about the four points, again four points, which summarized the priorities of the upcoming months ahead of us.

The first point is the protection of the rights of the national communities, national minorities here in Europe. Based on history, based on decisions made in history, there are a lot of national communities who live as a minority in those countries where they live. There are people who were citizens of many countries during history without leaving that given village or city where they were born.

I think that here in Europe we all know that respecting the rights which are necessary from the perspective of preserving national identity is extremely important. That's why guarantees should be given to national minorities to enable them to preserve their identity, their culture, their religion, and to use their language in public administration, in education, and in media as well. Unfortunately, we see that there are regulations being passed in many countries which diminish or sometimes even delete the rights of national minorities' access to education, public administration, culture, media in their own native language. Sometimes even secret services are involved in steps against national minorities. National members of national minorities happened to be threatened, and this something that we definitely have to prevent and avoid.

We are going to host some four conferences during our presidency where we are going to promote the rights of national minorities in order to prove that in case a country considers a national minority living on its territory as a source of strength, then they can benefit from it, both the minority, both the host country, and both the neighbouring country in the region. We shouldn't be naive. We hear a lot of arguments in favour of the world being colourful. When I listen to these promotions, however, I never hear those who speak in favour that they would mention the rights of national minorities to be protected.

The second point of our second priority is the protection of families, especially children under these totally new circumstances caused by the pandemic. Because of the pandemic, lives of individuals, children, and families have been shifted from reality more to virtuality through digital education, through teleworking, through home offices. This phenomenon created a large number of inexperienced users of the virtual world. That's why this large group of inexperienced users became defenceless towards cybercrime, towards those who commit sexual crimes or economic crimes against these communities.

Children and families have to be protected both in the real and virtual worlds. Therefore, we need to make regulations that make it clear for those who would like to commit crimes against this defenceless group that it's not without serious risk and that these kind of crimes committed should be penalized very seriously. We understand that new technologies including artificial intelligence make our lives easier, no question. Smart solutions help very much, but we do have to govern artificial intelligence. Otherwise, artificial intelligence will govern us.

We have to make sure that this modern technology helps us to face and tackle this crisis we are in. We have to make sure that technology does not deepen the crisis further. Artificial intelligence and technology must not endanger democracy. We do have to ensure that it is not the big technological companies or that leaders who make a decision which democratically elected politician has access to voters to whom and to what extent. We have to make sure that decisions would be made by those who have received the authorisation from their peoples during elections. We have to make sure that it is not actors without any authorisation from anyone who decide which news is real or which news is fake.

Over the next month we will strive to support the work within the ad hoc committee on artificial intelligence on the development and application of artificial intelligence based on the Council of Europe standards on human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. As one of the leading events of our chairmanship, the conference of the Ministers of justice of our member states will take place in Budapest as the follow-up of the ministerial conference hosted and organized by the French presidency back in October 2019.

Speaking of digital development and artificial intelligence, I'm delighted to inform you that last time in Hamburg the ministers called for an acceleration of the work to prepare a second additional protocol to the Budapest convention on cybercrime. This new protocol is intended to enhance the efficiency of co-operation between the member states on cybercrime and electronic evidence. We do have good hope that we will be ready with this work by November so that we can pass these resolutions on the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the Budapest convention, which is also going to be remembered by a major international conference about cybersecurity called "Octopus" in October in Budapest.

The third out of the four priorities is the protection of the equal rights of all individuals to practice religion. We see two dangers in Europe and in the direct neighbourhood. One is the persecution of Christians. Christianity became the most persecuted region on earth. We Europeans cannot and must not leave this out of consideration since Europe has been built on Christian values. That's why we have to stand up for the Christians in need and we have to stand up against persecution. There's another alarming development in this regard: modern-age antisemitism.

For a long time it was reflected in the resolutions and documents passed by big international organizations, including the multilateral ones. But now right after Hamas, meaning a terrorist organization, had attacked Israel and Israel responded and protected themselves, openly antisemitic rallies took place in the western part of Europe, in the big cities of Western Europe. This is unacceptable. That's why we have to strengthen our fight and our efforts against christianophobia and against anti-Semitism.

The fourth priority of ours is to protect the environment and preserve our planet for our children. Believe me, it's not an exaggeration to say that Hungary can be considered a champion of Environmental Protection since we were the first country to sign up to and to ratify the Paris Agreement. Before the pandemic we were among those 21 countries on earth that could perform economic growth while simultaneously reducing emissions. We do believe that improving competitiveness and protecting nature can and must go hand in hand.

We also would like to promote the implementation of the Council of Europe's European landscape convention which will be opened for accession also to non-European countries. Landscapes do reflect human interventions and decisions, ts. Therefore, we definitely should pay particular attention to the member states' landscape policies. Another important goal of our presidency is to promote International cooperation and mutual assistance to ensure the fundamental right to a healthy environment.

Dear colleagues, I've been serving as a member of the Hungarian Parliament for my 20th year now. Tt will be my honour to work together with you, parliamentarians, members of the national parliaments. We will do our best in order to fulfil our goals and fulfil the expectations of the Parliamentary Assembly in the ministerial commission.

Dear Mister Speaker, I tried to satisfy your wish to speak short and leave more time for the questions. If you want to rush with your reactions, your remarks, and questions, I would be most happy and honoured to reply to all of them.

Mister Speaker, thank you very much for this opportunity.

 

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:01:12

Thank you very much Mister Minister.

We will now move to the questions.

The way we handle this is that each political group can put a question after which you can respond.

Then we will take three speakers at a time.

So the political groups one by one and then three at a time.

We've got half an hour. That's basically a long time that we've got.

Normally it's a bit shorter, so thank you for having been short, allowing our colleagues to put questions.

First on my list is Ms Petra BAYR on behalf of the Socialist Group.

One minute please.

Ms Petra BAYR

Austria, SOC, Spokesperson for the group

17:02:00

Thank you very much, Mr Rik DAEMS.

Mr Minister, when an Austrian journalist is posing three written questions to a Hungarian member of th European Parliament, it can happen that the fact that the journalist is doing her job ends up at the public Hungarian TV, where in five broadcasts, the journalist is denigrated as incompetent, amateur, spreading fake news about Hungary. And it can happen that the Minister for Foreign Affairs is not calming down this artificial conflict but is fuelling the fire. Could you please elaborate about your and your country's understanding of freedom of speech?

And my second question according to a decision of parliament recently, Hungary will punish any information addressed to young people that shows same-sex relation or information about gender identity different from your sex at birth. Could you please elaborate about your and your country's understanding of Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights prohibiting discrimination, because I'm quite sure that LGBTI persons are not criminals.

Thank you very much.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:03:08

Thank you.

Mister Minister?

Question after question with the groups and then you get three at a time. So you're getting a treat here.

No you're not so inexperienced.

You have the floor Mister Minister.

Mr Péter SZIJJÁRTÓ

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade of Hungary, Chair of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe

17:03:22

Thank you, Mister Speaker, and thank you very much, dear colleague, for the questions you have raised.

My opinion is the following. Freedom of expression and freedom of media must be applied to all. I don't think that we should challenge or doubt this right or anyone, be it a media outlet, be it individual person, be it a politician who happens to criticise a liberal journalist.

We do believe in the colourfulness of opinions, but we do not believe in the hegemony of the opinions. Many times you have the feeling that you are brave enough to criticise someone who happens to be part of liberal mainstream your immediately attacked. You are immediately attacked. Our feeling is that freedom of expression, freedom of media, freedom of expressing your own opinion is only applied to you if you comply with some international liberal standards.

My question is, if a media outlet thinks that another journalist did a bad job, let's put it this way, it's their opinion. How and who should keep them from saying this? What kind of restriction or regulation should be made on saying that a journalist cannot express its opinion about another journalist?

I think that will definitely violate the right to speak and express your opinion freely.

We who are in this job, and I'm pretty sure that you know it much better than I do, we who are in this job in public life we have to understand that we might be under criticism. We have to accept that otherwise it would be a very complicated job. I think that should be applied to everybody who takes part in public life.

Now regarding one of the recent pieces of legislation you were kind enough, Madam colleague, to refer to, I'm not quite sure you have read the law. I just put it here because I have been faced with many criticisms on that. When I raise the question "have you yourself read the law", the answer was usually no. Regardless of the fact that those who criticised us never read the law, they were very self-confident, which is good because this is part of the job as well, you have to say things in a very self-confident way. I'm afraid that the interpretation of the law which has been circulated by media and by politicians is false. It's fake; it's fake.

This law, which you were kind enough to refer to, Madam colleague, doesn't say a word about your sexual identity above the age of 18. It says only one thing. Children have to be protected. It is the exclusive right of the parents to conduct education about sexual orientation to their children as long as they are under 18. That's what the law says. It doesn't criminalise anybody. It doesn't say anything about what you can do after you are 18. It says only that as long as you are not 18, your parents do have the exclusive right to conduct your education regarding sexual orientation. I believe that is good. It had an overwhelming majority in the Hungarian Parliament and that reflects the results of the latest Parliament election. Parliamentary elections reflect the opinion of the people.

Here I would like to ask everybody first to read the law and then criticise. You might be misled if you only read short summaries and interpretations in international media.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:08:19

Thank you, Mister Minister.

We will now move to our second question.

For the Group of the European People's Party, the group's leader Mr Aleksander POCIEJ.

Aleksander, you have the floor.

You have one minute for your question.

Mr Aleksander POCIEJ

Poland, EPP/CD, Spokesperson for the group

17:08:40

Mister Minister,

I totally agree with you about the mask. We are all tested, apparently everyone is safe here, so there is no problem.

First of all, on behalf of the EPP Group, I would like to take this opportunity to commend you on your chairmanship. Your country, Hungary, which has always been very close to Poland in the past, played a major role in the fall of the Iron Curtain alongside other Central European countries. We were together.

I heard you very carefully. I find that many of your words, in which you present your ideas, are different from what we heard here from your predecessor. However, we know very well that there are differences between Hungary and many countries in the Council of Europe and the European Union.

Hungary is taking over the presidency from Germany. In two days' time, you will be playing against the Germans and the fans are already preparing for an ideological confrontation. What do you intend to do to ensure that this succession does not change, does not turn into a sporting confrontation or even more serious? How can we find the things that unite us when there are so many things that separate us?

Thank you.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:10:34

Thank you, Mister POCIEJ.

Out of respect for the group and for the others, I let you do that, but normally there is only one minute, which you have largely exceeded. I will find the opportunity somewhere to take it away from you. There you have it, everyone is equal.

Minister, you have the floor.

Mr Péter SZIJJÁRTÓ

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade of Hungary, Chair of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe

17:11:11

Well, thank you. Thank you very much, dear colleagues.

I'm very happy that we have one common point for sure, that we shouldn't wear masks, but I hope that we will have some, let's say, more important issues on which we can agree, given the fact that we represent nations which are not in friendship but in brotherhood for many reasons. You can be sure that this is a very strong feeling in the heart of the Hungarians.

You have referred to the football example. I just would like to tell you that on both games we have hosted so far in Budapest, Hungarian fans often chanted "Polska, Polska" showing the brotherhood between the two countries. When it comes to sports and politics, I do have to say, dear colleague, that I think that there's a very, very long list of sad impacts and consequences of confusion between sports and politics in the recent, let's say, century. I hope, and I hope that everybody, who now would like to confuse sports ⁠–football⁠– with politics are aware of the bad examples from the past. I don't think that a soccer game should be about anything more than who scores more goals. Hopefully, in the end it's going to be us. We have to say that the chances are not on our side, but the chances were not on our side when we played against France two days ago either and then what happened happened.

When it comes to points on which we can agree, let me ⁠–since it's a principal question⁠– let me answer you in the same way and not to go into too many practicalities. It's very complicated to speak about practicalities, and the question is about, you know, perception. I think if international politics can come back to mutual respect, then it will be much easier to identify those points on which we agree. Currently, instead of mutual respect, what we experience is constant judgment, lecturing each other and criticising each other based on fake news, on misinterpretations, which is definitely not the way things should go forward. From my side, dear colleagues, you can be sure that I will concentrate on mutual respect to be given to each other. I hope that it's not going to be solely my effort but mutual trust and mutual respect could come back to the international political arena in the future. Believe me, even if you are not representing a political family which we have left recently, out of ten we might agree on seven points, but now what usually we concentrate on, is free, where we definitely disagree, but I think this is a matter of democracy. If you really do believe in democracy then you cannot expect others to agree on everything with you but you can respect the position of the others. If you can respect, then it's easier to find those points where we we might also agree.

Good luck with your last game on the group stage, by the way. 

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:14:34

We now move on to Mr Damien COTTIER, on behalf of the ALDE Group.

Mister COTTIER, I think you are in the room.

You have the floor, one minute please.

Mr Damien COTTIER

Switzerland, ALDE, Spokesperson for the group

17:14:45

Thank you, Mister Chairman.

Minister,

On behalf of the ALDE Group, we would like to congratulate Hungary on taking over the Presidency and wish you a successful Presidency.

On 11 June, European media ministers discussed the decline in the safety of journalists, recalling that violence against the media was an attack on democracy. They called on the Council of Europe to prepare the ground for national action plans on the safety of journalists and to lead a European campaign to protect journalism. What will the Hungarian chairmanship do to support this work?

Also, in view of the unfavourable developments in legislation and policies in several countries regarding the protection of another minority, the LGBTI people: can you tell us whether and how the Hungarian Presidency intends to commit itself to ensuring greater respect for the rights of this minority — to which, by the way, the speaker belongs?

Thank you.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:15:44

Thank you, Mister Damien COTTIER.

Mister Minister, you have the floor.

Mr Péter SZIJJÁRTÓ

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade of Hungary, Chair of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe

17:15:56

Dear colleague, thank you very much for the questions you have raised.

I myself have definitely participated in the recent meeting of ours in Cyprus, although it unfortunately took place in a hybrid but rather virtual format which I think we should leave behind finally as we were able to come together here in person as well. I do believe that if you have a common understanding that the vaccination does protect ourselves and more and more people are being vaccinated, we should get rid of the virtual meetings and finally come together in person. This is how you can achieve some results.

Those virtual meetings, let's say, have a very strong limitation on whether they make sense or not. Whether they can bring some deliverables.

When it comes to freedom of media and safety of journalists you can definitely count on us Hungarians. You might know our history, it's similar to the Polish. We had to fight against communist oppression even 31 years ago. That's when we got back our freedom, a part of which is freedom of expression, freedom of media.

So you can definitely be sure that we will be true allies of yours in these efforts.

When it comes to the rights of minorities I can just refer to our own example in Hungary.

In Hungary according to the legislation you cannot be discriminated based on a group or identity or minority you belong to. This should be ensured and secured all over Europe, that it doesn't matter what kind of group you belong to, to what aspect and under any categories or circumstances, you must not be discriminated. That's the most important task we have to ensure.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:18:18

Thank you for the answer. If you'll allow me to say that this means you cannot be discriminated on the basis of your sexual orientation, I'd I understand it well. Thank you for confirming that, Mister Minister.

We now go to our fourth group speaker, who is Mr Barna Pál ZSIGMOND. I hope I said that right, Zoltan, looking at you, I hope I said it right. Online.

You have the floor. One minute. Is he... I do apologise, Sir. You have the floor. One minute.

Mr Barna Pál ZSIGMOND

Hungary, EC/DA, Spokesperson for the group

17:18:51

Excellency, thank you very much for your very interesting speech.

There are many debates on the challenges faced by Europe. One of them is on the protection of national minorities. The importance of the effective protection of national minorities in Europe, as we have heard, is high on the agenda of the Hungarian presidency. As a concrete example, I would like to raise the situation of the national minorities in Ukraine. The European and Transatlantic institutions and Ukraine are seeking an increasingly close relationship with each other. We're saying that Ukraine is part of the European future. We support the territorial integrity of the country, but we see some violations of the principles of the rule of law especially cases of discrimination against national minorities.

Mister Minister, in your view, how could the Council of Europe contribute to your –our– efforts in achieving tangible results in a constructive way? Also in this context, would you reflect on the situation of national minorities in Ukraine?

Thank you. 

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:19:47

Thank you very much.

Mister Minister, you have the floor.

Mr Péter SZIJJÁRTÓ

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade of Hungary, Chair of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe

17:19:51

Thank you, Mister Speaker, and thank you, dear colleague, for your question.

You know we, as the neighbouring country of Ukraine, are definitely interested in Ukraine being strong and democratic. We lend our support to Ukraine, not only from the perspective of territorial integrity and sovereignty but from the perspective of economy, energy supply, water management and many other areas. Of course, it was a big disappointment for us when, after supporting the European aspirations of Ukraine, the Ukrainian parliament passed legislation which violated the rights of the national minorities when it comes to using their own native language in education, media, and public administration.

I myself have had many personal negotiations with the foreign ministers of Ukraine and, to be honest, we have not been able to reach a breakthrough in this regard. There are continuously some new measures, which continue to challenge the rights of minorities when it comes to using their own native language. There, we don't ask for anything extra, anything additional, we just ask the Ukrainian authorities to come back to that situation that used to be the case. The national minorities did have the rights to a certain extent from which a big step back has taken place. Once again, I want to underline that we're not asking for extra, we're not asking for additional rights, what we're asking the Ukrainian authorities for is to come back to that situation, which already existed. I think here it should not be asked to say what concretely they should do. What we should ask them for, I mean the Ukrainian authorities, to consult with the national minorities and act according to what they asked for. In case the minorities certify that they received back those rights they used to have, then we can be can be satisfied. Otherwise, we have to keep on urging the Ukrainian authorities to give back those rights to the national minorities.

What I have to stress here, that in involving secret services in efforts against the national minorities is totally unacceptable. It should not happen again.

I'll give you another example, there is a web page called Myrotvorets in Ukraine where extremists have put together a list of those who prove to be enemies of Ukraine and who should be afraid for this. I myself am on the list. You know for me it's less problematic since I don't live in that country and I'm protected by a counter-terrorist agency in Hungary. Those who live in Ukraine and are not protected by counterterrorism agents, it's not as frightening for them. A member of the European Parliament, a Hungarian one, who happens to have a Ukrainian background, was afraid of going back home during the Christmas break because she is on that list. We then asked the Ukrainian authorities to to do something, you know, against this phenomenon. The answer we received is that they can't because it is not state-run. I think that the state should make sure that no such kind of lists should be put together and promoted. As the Council of Europe is the best institute for promoting rights of national minorities, we will continue to consult and to be in dialogue with the Ukrainian authorities to improve the situation.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:24:17

Thank you, Mister Minister.

We now come to our fifth group represented by Mr Tiny KOX, Group of the Unified European Left.

You have the floor, one minute.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, Spokesperson for the group

17:24:26

Thank you very much, Mister President.

Thank you very much, Mister President of the Committee of Ministers. You have taken over in challenging times which we might recover from Covid-19. But our democracy is in distress as the the Secretary General of the Council of Europe has reminded us in the last report.

Mister Minister, the Committee of Ministers is the part of the organisation that has to take care that the verdicts of the Court are executed.

Three of these cases are now in their final stage. The cases in regard to Turkey of Mr Khavala and Mr Demirtas, and the case against Russia with regard to Mr Navalny. I'm informed that the Committee of Ministers is working hard on this.

What can you say to this Assembly. In what way, you as the President and the Committee of Ministers as such, are working to make these three major cases come to an end and that verdicts of the Court will be executed?

Thank you very much.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:25:30

Mister Minister, you have the floor.

Mr Péter SZIJJÁRTÓ

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade of Hungary, Chair of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe

17:25:34

Thank you dear colleague for raising this very important issue.

I can answer very shortly, and please do not take it as a signal of impoliteness, but take it as a signal of commitment and determination.

The verdicts, the rulings of the Court must be respected, fulfilled and implemented. We do not consider it a question. We do consider it as a fact.

The Committee of Ministers will act accordingly. Here I will ask for the cooperation of the Assembly including you yourself dear colleague to lend a hand of support in this regard and if you feel that we should act differently please let us know. Definitely our ears and eyes will be open to you.

Thank you very much for raising this very important question.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:26:34

Thank you, Mister Minister. Given the time, we still have time for three questions together. In order, they will be from Mr Titus CORLĂŢEAN,  Mr Emanuelis ZINGERIS and Mr John HOWELL. Mr John HOWELL will be online, so, John, please request for the floor.

First on my list is Mr Titus CORLĂŢEAN. Titus, you have the floor. 

Mr Titus CORLĂŢEAN

Romania, SOC

17:26:53

Jó napot kívánok [Good afternoon in Hungarian]

Minister, I have two questions. Starting with the first one, while fully sharing the objective to assure the respect of the rights of persons belonging to the national minorities, I want to ask you how do you intend to conciliate your national position? Because the Fidesz government promotes constantly the concept of the so-called collective rights and territorial autonomy based on ethnic grounds for some other countries. Of course, which contradicts the European standards, the Framework Convention and sometimes some bilateral treaties including with my own country Romania, on one side, with your current European responsibilities and the European standards.

Secondly, how do you intend to celebrate? Maybe you intend to celebrate the Hungarian presidency by finally granting, after all these years, a real representation in the parliament to the national minorities from Hungary, including for the Romanian national minority. Not through this so-called spokesperson of national minorities, which is not a member of the parliament and has no real rights. Köszönöm szépen [Thank you very much in Hungarian].

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:27:59

Second on my list is Mr Emanuelis ZINGERIS, he is in the room? No, online.

Ah, Emanuelis, we always expect you here, now you're online. Emanuelis, you have the floor. One minute, please. I know you, one minute.

Mr Emanuelis ZINGERIS

Lithuania, EPP/CD

17:28:17

Thank you, Mister President.

Minister, thank you for a perspective on the one footnote, we always respected that Hungary and middle Europeans people, like Polish people on the Baltic, are not in the middle between west and east, but they belong to the Western culture and Western democracies.

So my question is about Belarus, who continues to be like a continuation of Soviet regime and has more like 500 political prisoners, takes over and kidnaps a Ryanair plane from Athens to Vilnius and incredibly becomes a Gulag in the middle of Europe, becomes a concentration camp with the support of the Kremlin. How we can react to that?

We will have the current debates the day after tomorrow, but from your perspective, please tell us how to deal with a non-member country of the Council of Europe who has established a Stalin-type concentration camp in the middle of Europe. It is now dangerous for our European countries as neighbouring countries. 

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:29:28

Thank you, Emanuelis.

We now go to Mr John HOWELL, online also. John, you have the floor.

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC/DA

17:29:38

Thank you very much, Mr President.

Minister, welcome. The Council today, which you are attending, has a very distinctive voice.

How would you ensure that that distinctive voice is heard in the discussions that are taking place about the future of Europe?

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:29:59

Thank you, John, as always short and sharp.

Mister Minister, you have the floor.

Mr Péter SZIJJÁRTÓ

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade of Hungary, Chair of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe

17:30:07

I have to start with an apology Mr Speaker.

I hope that next time when I come I will be more experienced. I definitely learned a lesson but I was just informed, which I could have and should have seen by the way, that I should respond standing.

So I'd like to ask all the five leaders of the five political groups not to consider this as being impolite and if you want me I can repeat my answer standing as well. If it was enough we can leave it for the next session.

First I'd like to respond to the question of the Minister, great to see you again. We only had just a very short period of time to serve our countries together but I definitely have good memories about that short period of time as well when it comes to building the cooperation between the two of us personally and generally between our countries.

I can tell you that, and maybe hopefully you will understand and you don't take it as a an exaggeration, but currently our two countries enjoy a very good relationship. We have all put a lot of emphasis and a lot of effort into that. Both of us have made compromises which might have been unimaginable a couple years ago and the fact that the party of the Hungarian minority is part of the currently ruling coalition in Bucharest, that shows that we have understood on both sides of the border that if we consider the national minorities as a source of strength than we both can take the profit out of them.

I just would like to inform you that I have had the honour to host your successor, the current Foreign Minister of Romania, Mr Aurescu, very recently. We were finally successful in signing the protocol of the Joint Commission for National Minorities which already ended before we took office a long time ago, but it was impossible to sign. Now that has been resolved. We also agreed on new border crossings.

I really do believe that the improvement of the bilateral relations between Romania and Hungary, which was not an easy issue, colleagues you can believe based on history, they can they can be a good example of how neighbouring countries can improve their relationship based on mutual respect and consensus on important issues.

I have to tell you that we put a lot of emphasis on helping the Romanian community in Hungary to be able to preserve their culture, their heritage, their religion. As a clear signal of that, together with your colleague, we have visited the Church of the Romanians right after our meeting in a Hungarian town where you have a significant community.

On the other hand I have to tell you Mr Minister that you know that our constitution says it very clearly, that there are so-called spokespersons as you say, which is not the exact translation but there's no better one. So you applied it rightly. The so-called spokespersons do represent the opinion of national minorities in Hungary, and so far to be honest according to our understanding that proved to be a successful system since the needs or the requests of the minorities became heard. We always try to comply with them, to fulfil them.

When it comes to the conference on the future of Europe Mr Speaker, I can tell you that the name is telling: Future of Europe. It's not future of the European Union. So I do believe that all those countries who play an important role in our everyday life when it comes to the European Union, all those countries who have a special relationship to us, all those countries who are important for us, all those countries who would like to join once the European Union should be included in this conference.

I definitely do believe that the UK should have a say in this regard as well. The UK is maybe the tightest ally of ours because of geography, because of history, because of the fact that they used to be members of the European Union. They are a European power. We cannot leave their aspects out of consideration when we speak about the the future of Europe.

Last but not least Mr Speaker, I'd like to address the question, or reply to the question of our Lithuanian colleague about Belarus.

We have had this issue on the agenda of the Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels today and there we have made additional decisions on sanctions. We have put persons and entities on the sanctions list, through which we expect that the current leadership of Belarus will be more open and more ready to be engaged in an open, frank and successful dialogue with counterparts like ourselves.

But in the meantime I do believe that the channels of dialogue should be maintained as well. Otherwise we will not be able to speak to each other. I have informed my colleagues in Brussels today that I was reached out to by the colleague, by the foreign minister, Vladimir Mákei from Belarus, yesterday evening. He also told me that he is committed to keeping this dialogue. In the meantime today we have decided in favour of those sanctions and now we can just cross fingers or trust that this decision will finally be successful.

Thank you.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:36:22

Thank you, Mister Minister. I think we can squeeze in two more questions if you agree to that. Because we're running a little bit over time but, I mean, since the programme includes us meeting, so we'll squeeze out a couple of minutes to take these two on board.

So I've still got so people on my list, I do apologise. You know that you can put your questions afterwards, but I have Mr Andreas NICK and Ms Ingjerd SCHOU.

So, thank you for allowing going a bit over time.

Andreas, you have the floor. Please stick to the one minute, and Ingjerd afterwards, please stick to the one minute, so we can have your two questions in there. 

Andreas. 

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD

17:36:57

Thank you, Mister President.

Mister Minister, we wish you all success in the Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers, let me ask one question relating to your approach to the freedom of science, research and education. We have seen two very diverging policies by your government, on the one hand, forcing Central European University out of your country by a law that has been described by the Venice Commission as highly problematic. On the other hand, you are inviting in a state-run Chinese University with significant financial commitment by the Hungarian government to relocate activities to Budapest. How can you reconcile that also with our common approach on the freedom of science and education in our member states? 

Thank you very much. 

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:37:53

Thank you, Andreas.

We now have our last question by Ms Ingjerd SCHOU, which will have our total to 10; five of the groups and five of the members. Ingjerd, one minute.

Ms Ingjerd SCHOU

Norway, EPP/CD

17:38:07

Yes, I am here.

In his last speech to PACE, Mr Michael ROTH, the Special Representative of the Federal Government for the German Presidency of the Council of Europe, underlined the importance of the Istanbul Convention. It was especially important now, he said, when we see that the pandemic has resulted in a dramatic increase in domestic violence against women and children. He considered the Istanbul Convention to be a very central instrument in this respect and strongly regretted that a country like Turkey has left the convention and that others are still reluctant to ratify it.

Knowing that the Hungarian Parliament last year voted not to ratify the Istanbul Convention, how will you promote it?Are there any moves in Hungary with regard to a possible ratification in the near future?

Thank you, President.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:39:04

Thank you, Ingjerd.

This concludes the questions.

Now we come to the answers, Mister Minister.

Mr Péter SZIJJÁRTÓ

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade of Hungary, Chair of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe

17:39:14

Thank you very much for the questions.

First, I'd like to address the question regarding the freedom of academia, and I don't want to be impolite here, with all my respect towards the institution and the members, I have to say that it is absolutely not true that we would have pushed any University out of Hungary. And it's very easy to judge this question, because it's black and white. Either it is there or not. The Central European University is there in Budapest. I don't know whether you've been to Budapest already, but the cathedral is very easy to be found and a couple meters of the Cathedral, on the right-hand side, if you are going to the direction of the Danube you will find a big building which is a Central European University.

So saying that Hungary, the Hungarian government, has pushed out a University from the country, has forced the Central European University to leave is not true, it's a lie, it is fake. The Central European University is there and it has been operational. And to be honest I don't understand those who lie about this thing because it's very easy to see and judge. I mean, you know it's not whether we like this drink or that food or not, because it's a matter of individual judgment, but if there's a university there or not, that's the kind of question that is black and white.

The Hungarian accreditation of the Central European University has never been challenged, never been challenged. They can operate under Hungarian legislation, they can operate with the Hungarian accreditation and they can issue Hungarian diplomas, Hungarian graduation. That has never been challenged. But what the Hungarian law on higher education says is the following: in case of a foreign university, that given university is only allowed to issue a diploma or graduation of an other country in case it has a school there as well. We have another American university in Hungary: McDaniel College. Now, McDaniel College has a school in Maryland, so McDaniel College can issue two diplomas in Hungary, an American one because they have a school there and the Hungarian one because they operate under Hungarian accreditation. But the Central European University can only issue Hungarian diplomas because they do not have a school in the US. It's so easy and so simple. I understand that it was a political scandal because of Mr George Soros and he was able to motivate politicians and media outlets and NGOs to make a scandal out of this. But it is a lie that this school was forced to leave Hungary, because if it had been forced to leave it wouldn't be there. But it is there.

Now on the on the second part of your question: Fudan University is ranked as number 34 globally. It has very good cooperation with American universities, it has very good cooperation with European universities, maybe including Germans, I don't know. And so far, when Fudan cooperated with the American universities it was not a problem and I think it's right that it was not a problem because if we speak about freedom of science, freedom of research, freedom of academia, why should we hinder international cooperation between universities. And do you think it's realistic that, if the world's 34th best university would like to establish a school — they don't want to relocate themselves, they just want to establish a school — in Budapest, should we reject that? On what basis? Or on what reason? We are happy that we could make an agreement. We are happy that the university which ranks number 34 in the world will have a school in Budapest and if any internationally highly ranked university would like to come to Budapest, we are happy to agree.

On the Istanbul Convention, dear colleagues, the Hungarian legislative system is more disciplined or more serious on the protection of children, women, and families than the Istanbul Convention. So, ratifying the Istanbul Convention would not have any kind of added value in our legislative system. Because our legislative system penalizes the violation of the rights, or any kind of abuse, or any kind of insight against children, women, families. Why the Hungarian Parliament has decided not to ratify, and I think that was a right decision, is that when it comes to migration our policy is totally different compared to what is being written in the Istanbul Convention.

You might know that we are a country where there was a referendum, where people made it very clear that they don't want illegal migrants to come to the country based on this obligatory quota system. And you might know that we stick to our own right to make a decision whom we allow to enter to Hungary and with whom we would like to live together and with who no. So in this regard, the Istanbul Convention would be totally contradicting the outcome of this referendum and the policies of the government based on which we won the recent election. And when it comes to gender, this progressive interpretation of expression gender is definitely against what we think. So that's why, for example, when there are documents passed in the European Union and gender equality is being mentioned, then we always put a national remark there saying that under gender equality Hungary understands equality between men and women. And this is something that again contradicts the understanding or interpretation of the gender expression or phenomenon gender in the Istanbul Convention.

Thank you.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:45:55

Thank you, Mister Minister.

I understand that the word misunderstanding has been used a number of times by yourself, so you will allow me to have an effort to try to get rid of some misunderstandings concerning the Istanbul Convention also with you. But we will discuss it in the coming hours and we will have a big event on the issue also on Wednesday, where I do believe that we might convince those who today do not see an added value to the Istanbul Convention that there is an added value. But again, we have the right not to agree, but we also have the right to try to convince each other, which is an opportunity that I will largely take as with regard to you, in full respect during your presidency.

Having said this, thank you very much for your responses, thanks to the colleagues for their questions. We will take a five minute break for some technical issues that have to be resolved and may I ask my dear Vice-Chair, Ms Nicole TRISSE, to take over the meeting while I accompany the Minister in the following hour.

Thank you very much. 

Debate: Should politicians be prosecuted for statements made in the exercise of their mandate?

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:54:33

So, the next item of business... the break is over, so let's get back to work.

The next item of business is the debate on the report entitled "Should politicians be prosecuted for statements made in the exercise of their mandate?" presented by Mr Boriss CILEVIČS on behalf of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights.

We shall also hear an opinion from Mr Pere LÓPEZ on behalf of the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination.

The debate must conclude at 7:00pm so I propose to interrupt the list of speakers at about 6:55pm to allow time for the replies and the vote on the amendments and the draft resolution.

The rapporteur has seven minutes to present the report and then will have a further three minutes to reply to the debate at the end on the general discussion.

Mr Boriss CILEVIČS, you have the floor.

Mr Boriss CILEVIČS

Latvia, SOC, Rapporteur

17:55:36

Madam president, this report before you deals with the core principles upheld by the Council of Europe: freedom of speech and assembly of democratically elected politicians. The first question is why just Spain and Turkey? The choice of countries covered in this report was made in the motion for a resolution underlined by my mandate, not by myself. Spain and Turkey are obviously two very different countries, with different legal cultures and problems, but they have something in common: a number of well-known politicians, colleagues of ours, have been sent to prison for many years for statements they made in the exercise of their mandates. No similar cases are observed elsewhere in Europe, in the Council of Europe member states.

I understand that neither the Spanish and the Turkish governments, nor the Turkish opposition and the Catalan authorities, are a fully satisfied with this report and I take it as a good sign. My intention has always been to present a balanced text, to strongly uphold the principles of rule of law and human rights, but also not to give in to those who might try to make use of this report to promote separatism. Regarding human rights, the main issue is freedom of speech and assembly. In this case, our own, as politicians. The Strasburg Court's case law is clear: we as politicians are allowed to make statements advocated even for objectives that go against the constitution as it stands, provided that these objectives do not violate fundamental principles of democracy, human rights and rule of law, and provided that means advocated are not violent.

This is also the law in almost all of our member states. The court allows proportionate sanctions when these limits are transgressed, but even then it rarely accepts prison sentences, let alone such long ones. Both in Spain and in Turkey, politicians have been sentenced to very long prison terms, similar to those handed down for murderers and rapists, for the peaceful exercise of their political mandates, including votes in parliament and calling for peaceful protests.

It is true that in Spain some of the incriminated statements led onto unconstitutional actions that clearly dissipate injunctions of the constitutional court, such as holding an illegal referendum on the independence of Catalonia. However, the crime of holding an illegal referendum punishable by up to five years in prison, had been deleted from the Spanish criminal code a few years earlier. Instead, the Catalan leaders were sentenced to much longer prison sentences for the crime of sedition, but this crime requires an element of violence, of which there was none. The Spanish Supreme Court had to interpret violence very broadly. In short, the sheer number of hundreds of thousands of peaceful demonstrators created some form of psychological violence without violence and this prevented the police from stopping the illegal referendum. But can exercising a fundamental right, calling for peaceful protests become a very serious crime, just because a lot of people exercise it at the same time? I have serious doubts.

Some of our Spanish and Turkish colleagues believe that the Assembly should not comment on the decisions of the judiciary so that we do not endanger their independence. But commenting on judgments is what the Assembly does on a regular basis as part of our democratic debates we participate in. Courts are not above comments or even criticism. For example, the Assembly has found several times, lastly in April this year, the Turkish courts gives a notion of support for terrorism an overly broad interpretation and I must say this once again in this report. We have also stated in a recent report that Azerbaijani courts do not give enough space to freedom of expression or journalists. Very recently we concluded that the Russian courts have failed to properly apply the judgments of the Strasbourg Court. There are many more examples and in most of these cases, the Strasbourg Court later came to similar conclusions. In this report too, I stress that it is up to the competent courts to take the final decision.

I do not say that the organisation of the illegal referendum by the Catalan leaders, who are now in prison, cannot be sanctioned at all. They clearly disobeyed the injunctions of the constitutional court, and as I understand, such disobedience is a crime in Spanish law, but with much milder sanctions. The long prison terms imposed on the nine leaders in prison are clearly disproportionate and therefore do not comply with the rule of law. These convictions, as well as ongoing persecution of hundreds of other Catalan officials, do not reflect well on Spain as a living democracy. There are many ways to solve this problem. Individual pardons by the government and amnesty law, with the reform of the provisions on rebellion and sedition by parliament. The government found a way to pardon the colonels who attempted the putsch in 1981 with guns and tanks, then now it should be feasible too.

Let us go back to Turkey. The cases described in the memorandum speak for themselves. The situation of opposition politicians, in particular those of the HDP and the CHP, has become truly untenable. The Assembly stressed this only recently, during the urgent debate in April. Opposition MPs are constantly under threat of prosecution and imprisonment. They're convicted for statements made many years earlier taken out of context. MPs have even been condemned to prison for asking parliamentary questions to the government. Parliamentary immunity was withdrawn from hundreds of MPs in a collective procedure based on the temporary change of the constitution. The Turkish courts ignore very clear verdicts of the Strasbourg Court by refusing to free some of our fellow politicians, in particular the HDP co-chair, Selahattin Demirtaş. This is simply unacceptable and we should say this loudly and clearly.

The main message of this report is clear: a call for cancellation and compromise, instead of heavy-handed use of criminal sanctions to deal with sensitive political issues in full respect to rule of law and human rights.

Thank you, Madam President.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:02:45

Thank you.

I now call Mr Pere LÓPEZ to present the opinion of the Committee on Equality.

I call Mr Pere LÓPEZ to present the opinion of the Committee on Equality.

Mr Pere LÓPEZ

Andorra, SOC, Rapporteur for opinion

18:02:56

Thank you Ms President.

Notwithstanding the fact that I have very little time to present my opinion, I want to seize this moment to draw attention to something that we looked at in the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination, namely the whole process of presenting, preparing this report. It was my first experience of this type at the Council of Europe and t's a bittersweet experience, if I may put it that way.

This opinion is an opinion that aims to be balanced. Once again I would like to make it quite clear, and I here turn to the main and other rapporteurs, that these individuals need to have the necessary time and the necessary means in order to exchange with all the parties involved. With all the interlocutors. That was certainly my intention. I do apologise to all those of you who I was not able to speak to simply due to a lack of time.

In terms of the opinion drawn up by the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination, our main conclusion really was a great concern about systematic persecution of elected politicians in Turkey. Not just in the Kurdish region and not only when it comes to pro-Kurdish parties. Practically across the board in fact, all the different political parties in opposition. It seems to me that they have been subject to some problems.

In terms of the contributions that we have made through our opinion to the report drawn up by Mr Boriss CILEVIČS, basically we are picking up on a couple of points that have not been mentioned in the report proper.

For instance, very serious facts and events that took place after the local elections that we refer to in the opinion. The 47 mayors that were removed from office. The fact that some of these were imprisoned. These are very very serious events and have serious ramifications democratically speaking.

In addition to that we have seen some strict budget cuts happening as well. Cuts in public services. This is very very important indeed, especially as it's been happening under a pandemic situation, with the pandemic as a backdrop. These cuts have had an impact on all services across the board. They led to the closing of shelters which are supposed to welcome women who are facing difficulties particularly at a time when Turkey is opting out of the Istanbul Convention.

That is something we mentioned.

I think even with the amendments it is important for us therefore to really reflect carefully about the real situation as it stands right now in Turkey. Elected politicians of different parties and of different political families. We have therefore submitted a motion in the hope that we will be able to deal with this in greater detail in the future.

Now turning to Spain: the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination discussed this at great length and we had some really interesting exchanges. We wanted to basically talk about the definition of the term of sedition, and make sure that that definition is brought up to date, especially in the case of non-violent events. We know that the penalties in Spain are actually higher than the penalties that might be meted out in other member states of the Council of Europe.

I thank you for your kind attention and for supporting the amendments.

 

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:06:14

Thank you, Mr rapporteur, for the opinion.

I call Ms Theodora BAKOYANNIS, who will speak on behalf of the Group of the European People's Party.

Ms Theodora BAKOYANNIS

Greece, EPP/CD, Spokesperson for the group

18:06:34

Let me start by saying that this report confuses me a little bit.

It confuses me for the simple reason that, as that as the rapporteur rightly said, you cannot put Spain and Turkey in the same report.

The truth is that these are two completely different situations, but completely different situations.

It is indeed the case, as this Assembly has said again and again, that Turkey has a rule of law issue. We all remember our position last year when, without proper judicial proceedings, Mr Kavala and Mr Demirtas were thrown in jail along with many other activists. When 42 opposition mayors, as Mr Pere LÓPEZ already said, were arrested, removed from office, before even judicial decisions were ended.

Just two weeks ago Mr Demirtas received an addition of 2.5 years of sentence for insulting the chief Ankara prosecutor. While the HDP, the political party, has been consecutively targeted and pushed to political elimination. Now they're preparing to close it completely.

There are issues this report correctly deals with and reflects the problem of prosecution outside the scope of the rule of law in Turkey.

However dear colleagues. This is not the case in Spain. If we support the report as it is we create a problem rather than a solution.

In Spain there was no prosecution on statements but prosecution on illegal acts.

Territorial integrity in a state is one of the most precious values for a nation. A democracy acting against it cannot be downgraded.

Prosecution and conviction in Spain followed concrete illegal acts such as sedition, misuse of public funds and non-compliance with court orders. They were proper rule of law proceedings. Several judicial decisions, including of the high court in accordance with the European Court of Human Rights May 2019 decision, as well as the May 2017 Venice Commission opinion.

In Spain we had elections and the Catalan autonomists are governing Catalonia today. So you cannot compare it with the situation which we have in Turkey.

The EPP discussed this report thoroughly. We support it, but as long as we can amend it and the Amendments 9, 10, 11 and 12, which were put forward are voted for. I urge you dear colleagues, vote for these amendments. It is important that we don't send the wrong message to the separatists.

Thank you very much.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:09:43

Thank you.

I now give the floor to Mr Jacques MAIRE for the ALDE Group.

Mr Jacques MAIRE

France, ALDE, Spokesperson for the group

18:09:56

Thank you, Madam President.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to begin by warmly thanking our colleagues Mr Boriss CILEVIČS and Mr Pere LÓPEZ for the quality, precision and balance of their work as rapporteurs on a truly sensitive subject, as we know. The Council of Europe had to be aware of the fact that the Council of Europe had a responsibility to defend the values of democracy, the rule of law and human rights.

In your report, Mr CILEVIČS, you focus on two specific cases: Turkey and Spain. I think it is a bit, how shall I put it, "misleading", when a very all-encompassing title like that lands on two particular subjects; I think we have to be careful about the communications and the titles we use.

This being the case, we have already had very interesting debates in the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights on 3 June, and again very lively and interesting debates at this afternoon's meeting, and I think that we were keen to listen to the extremely fair tone of our Spanish colleagues, who stated and demonstrated on many occasions that Spain is one of the strongest and most important democracies on our continent, and that it is based on a constitution according to which the unity of the country is a cardinal principle, and we fully recognise this.

You have also mentioned, rapporteur, that Spain is a living democracy with a culture of open and public debate, and what we have experienced together with the different parts of Spain represented in the debate has shown this.

That said, we also recognise that illegal actions, including against the Spanish Constitution, were committed by the Catalan leaders in October 2017, that is a fact. However, we would like to emphasise, in line with your resolution, that the sentences are disproportionate, compared to the actions carried out, whether they are inflicted on elected representatives or on people from civil society.

In your resolution, we support in particular the proposal in paragraph 9.3.2. which states, and I quote: "to consider pardoning or otherwise releasing those Catalan politicians convicted for their role in the organisation of an unconstitutional referendum in October 2017 and the peaceful demonstrations - they were indeed peaceful - that accompanied it".

Therefore, the ALDE group expects the Spanish authorities to reduce the sentences of the Catalan leaders. We are encouraged by the latest changes in the Spanish Government, and I believe that the work you have done is not entirely irrelevant to this development. We have every confidence in the Spanish democracy and in all its representatives to find a peaceful solution to this difficulty in the near future.

Finally, I obviously support the part of the resolution that concerns Turkey, where the ALDE Group fully supports the observations and proposals.

Thank you.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:13:01

Thank you, gentlemen.

Now, online, I call Mr John HOWELL for the Conservative Group.

Mister HOWELL, you asked for the floor? Yes.

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC/DA, Spokesperson for the group

18:13:15

Thank you, Madam President.

It is interesting that we have created so much controversy over this report. I agree that we, as politicians, need to be able to express our mandates as fully as possible, but there is also a limit on what can be said in many countries as the report points out. In my own country, for example, we are not allowed to speak about a court case that is being sent to trial or is on trial. This is sensible to prevent political interference in a judicial matter and that we do not influence the outcome of the case. So important is the rule of law and the independence of the courts.

But this report also points out that there are countries which merge criminal and political activities. The report singles out Turkey, where the situation, quite honestly leaves a lot to be desired. As the co-rapporteur for Turkey, I understand this and I too call for the release of Mr Demirtaş and for the country to follow the line set by the European Court of Human Rights, which is all important here.

But this is not the same as the situation in Spain in relation to Catalonia, although it may require more work to see this. Here, we are talking about a state with a strong rule of law principle, where the Supreme Court has been involved. Also we are talking about serious crimes being committed: sedition and embezzlement. The distinction we have to make is between what the individuals who were arrested thought and said, and what they actually did. They do not appear to have been convicted for what they thought and said. It should be noted that the Supreme Court actually acquitted some individuals, and we need to look at this from the point of view of a country with the primacy of the rule of law. After all, the separatists, as has been pointed out, still govern the region of Catalonia and are supporting the central government in Madrid, so there is a strong difference between Turkey and Spain.

We have monitoring procedures to look at these issues in this Council, and quite honestly, I've been appalled by the extent to which some countries in Western Europe seek to wriggle out of Periodic Reviews. Monitoring is not just for new countries and will certainly add clarity to a situation.

If the rule of law means anything in this context, and I believe that it should, it is to understand that politicians are not above the law. The freest of speech though, hurts no one and should we should encourage that as much as possible.

Thank you.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:15:59

Thank you, Mister HOWELL.

I now call Mr Tiny KOX for the Group of the Unified European Left.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, Spokesperson for the group

18:16:11

Thank you Miss President, I'm very happy to see you for this very interesting debate.

Democracy is of crucial importance that politicians are able to freely exercise their mandate.

I quote the rapporteur where he emphasises in this first paragraph. This issue is most important in the resolution.

On behalf of the Group of the Unified European Left I fully agree that freedom of speech and assembly both in parliament and when speaking in public meetings or through the media, including social media, are fundamental for a living democracy.

We therefore fully agree with a call that this resolution makes to all member states of the Council of Europe, that they have to ensure freedom of speech and assembly to their citizens and to their politicians.

The resolution focuses on, as the rapporteur tells us, two member states: Turkey and Spain. That is perhaps indeed a bit confusing. But, on the other hand, these issues have to be addressed. The resolution addresses the authorities of these two member states explicitly and we, the Group of the Unified European Left, back the calls this resolution makes to Turkey and Spain be it that they are two completely different states.

Turkey is on its way to an authoritarian regime and rule, and Spain has a full-fledged democracy.

In Turkey the situation of politicians deteriorates by the day. Madam President, just today the Constitutional Court opened the procedure which could lead to the banning of the third biggest party in the parliament, the HDP. That could lead to the killing of the freedom expression and assembly of elected parliamentarians. Some of them are esteemed members of this Assembly. This is really something that must worry us all and therefore the calls of the rapporteur in the resolution are more than justified.

In Spain, as said, a full-fledged democracy, things are completely different. But on the other hand there are problems and the rapporteur rightly addresses these problems. The news that comes today from Spain is far better than the news from Turkey, because the government seems to intend to pardon those who are imprisoned or prosecuted in the near future. If our report is a small contribution to that we should cherish that.

Our group, the Group of the Unified European Left, would very much be in favour of indeed a pardon or an amnesty or any other measure which could lead to the end of the imprisonment of and prosecution of these these politicians.

Finally, I hope that the rapporteur will use this year to closely follow the development in all 47 member states because as said, we have problems in Turkey, we have problems in in Spain, but we have problems in far more countries. It's the task of this Assembly to follow that.

Thank you very much, Madam President.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:19:33

Thank you.

The last speaker from the political groups is Mrs Thorhildur Sunna ÆVARSDÓTTIR for the Socialist Group.

Ms Thorhildur Sunna ÆVARSDÓTTIR

Iceland, SOC, Spokesperson for the group

18:19:43

Merci, Madame la Présidente.

Dear colleagues, first of all I would like to thank the rapporteur, Mr Boriss CILEVIČS, for his excellent report.

We fully support our rapporteur who has worked very diligently on this report. He has worked very hard to listen to all parties involved and to bring us a very well-founded and well-researched report. I want to thank him very much for that.

I'd also like to welcome the recent development where we see that we are looking to and we're hoping to see that 9 prisoners will be pardoned in Spain out of these politicians that this report is covering. Those are very welcome developments. I think they're incredibly important steps towards the reconciliation and resolution of this very delicate and difficult situation in Spain.

I would also like to use this opportunity on behalf of our group to encourage the Turkish authorities to follow the example of their Spanish colleagues and release all opposition politicians from detention.

Dear colleagues, this report is important for several reasons firstly because it aims to protect one of the core functions of democracy, that is the freedom of expression of elected representatives. Without this freedom, democracy cannot function. Practically speaking, it cannot function.

Secondly, this report is important because it underlies the significance of upholding the rule of law in all cases and especially when it is hard to uphold the rule of law. The rule of law also means that even though you do something that is illegal, the punishment cannot be disproportionate to the actual action that you committed. This is a very important principle that I believe to be violated in the case of the Catalonian politicians. By far, in the case of the Turkish politicians, but I think that just goes far beyond.

Finally, this report is important because it contains friendly advice from a friend to friends. In Iceland we say "a friend is one who tells you when you are wrong". This is what the Assembly will be doing by adopting this report. We are telling as a friend to our friends that they are wrong, and we are encouraging them to do better. It should be taken in this way. On that note and because of this reason, I encourage you all, dear colleagues, to support this report and to vote for it later on during the vote.

Thank you very much, Madam President.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:22:46

Thank you, Miss ÆVARSDÓTTIR.

We continue the list of speakers with Mr Antonio GUTIÉRREZ from Spain.

Mr Antonio GUTIÉRREZ

Spain, SOC

18:22:57

Many thanks, Madam Chair.

Let me thank you for their efforts and dedication and their openness to dialogue the two rapporteurs, Mr Boriss CILEVIČS and Mr Pere LOPEZ.

The question I would like to ask you is very simple:

In each of your countries, if a part of your territory wish to become independent without an agreed and unilateral referendum, does your legal order consider that there should be penal consequences for the perpetrators of this act of sedition?

The answer is: yes. The Spanish legal system and its courts have enforced the law when illegal and unconstitutional actions were committed. And the report recognises that Spain is a country with rule of law and has always acted in accordance with its law.

And this is the heart of the matter. If there is a conflict of a political nature it must be dealt with politically. But first the law is equal for everyone, it is a basic principle of the rule of law.

In Spain, the right for politicians to express their political opinions is never limited. Our constitution protects them and does not oblige them to adhere to its principles, one cannot simply diverge from them. The Courts state clearly that the Catalan politicians were not found guilty for calling a referendum, which is not a crime in our country, but rather for their sedition, disobedience and embezzlement of public funds.

What cannot be done is to try to change the rules of coexistence without using the legal frameworks.

The report makes it clear that Spain is a state governed by the rule of law, a full and vibrant democracy, which respects the separation of powers, that Catalan politicians have not respected the laws and the Constitution and the legal action was transparent and exemplary.

But there are two types of recommendations. In the first, it asks the Spanish government to open a process of dialogue with the Catalan institutions, it requests pardons for those who have been sentenced and a review of the crime of sedition. And just a few hours ago the Prime Minister announced that tomorrow's Council of Ministers will grant these pardons and reform the sedition definition. This is in the government's power and we can do it.

Now, the second recommendation however, asks the Spanish government to paralyse extraditions and not to continue with the court cases that are under way. And this is not something that the government can do because it is a judicial power, it would be contrary to the independence of the judiciary, to the separation of powers. The government cannot overturn a sentence or decision that has been handed down by a court.

Dear Boriss, can the PACE give an opinion or evaluate or comment in a critical way on a sentence of a national court of justice? Of course it can, always. What it cannot do is to order the government not to respect such a ruling or judicial order because would be a breach of the rule of law and democracy.

And for this reason we have presented only two amendments.

Dear colleagues, the Council of Europe was key to the democratisation of Spain when it joined in 1977. It was part of the solution that allowed our return to democracy. Today I would request that, 44 years later, the Council of Europe still be part of the solution with fair recommendations in accordance with the law.

You should want for Spain what you want for your own countries: everything should happen within the law and through legal channels, and nothing should be done against the law.

Thank you.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:26:39

Thank you. I would like to give the floor to Mr François CALVET from France.

I wanted to give the floor to Mr François CALVET from France, but I do not see him. He is not sitting elsewhere... No.

In that case, I will give the floor to Mr Ahmet YILDIZ from Turkey.

He is here. Is he online? Ah, is he online? Okay, excuse me. Mister CALVET, you are on the line, I did not look at the computer. It's your turn. Thank you, Sir.

Mr François CALVET

France, EPP/CD

18:27:13

Madam President,

Ladies and gentlemen,

First of all, I would like to thank our colleagues Mr Boriss CILEVIČS and Mr Pere LÓPEZ for their analysis of a very important subject.

As Mr Boriss CILEVIČS' report points out, in a living democracy, politicians must be able to exercise their mandate freely. Our Assembly has worked on these issues in the past and must again call on Council of Europe member states to defend the freedom of expression as well as the freedom of assembly of political leaders.

I shall confine myself to the Spanish situation. The Catalan situation is creating unease because several Catalan politicians have been sentenced to long prison terms for sedition and other crimes, among other things, for statements made in the exercise of their political mandate in favour of the referendum on Catalan independence held in October 2017.

Last January, before the Senate's Committee on European Affairs, I questioned the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights on her action in this highly sensitive political matter.

I have carefully read the divergent opinions tabled by some of our Spanish colleagues, who dispute the analysis of our rapporteur. For my part, I fully support it and I believe that the Spanish Government's approach needs to change. I say this quite frankly.

The Spanish Government has to change its approach. Let us be clear: it is not our place to comment on the merits of political action in favour of independence for Catalonia. The Spanish judicial process, which has led to the sentencing of nine prominent politicians to prison terms of between 9 and 13 years, deserves our attention in the name of defending human rights and the democratic values that we share in the Council of Europe.

The concept of sedition has been interpreted very broadly. I support his call for the reform of the criminal law provisions on sedition and I strongly support his call for a pardon for convicted Catalan politicians, for a halt to extradition proceedings against Catalan politicians living abroad and to drop charges against lower-ranking officials.

The result of the last regional elections in Catalonia has shown once again that there will be no lasting solution without an open and constructive dialogue from Madrid. I therefore welcome the fact that, a few hours before our debate, the Head of the Spanish Government announced his intention to pardon the nine Catalan politicians sentenced to prison. This shows the importance and significance of our debates.

Thank you.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:30:08

Thank you very much.

I now give the floor to Mr Ahmet YILDIZ of Turkey.

Mr Ahmet YILDIZ

Turkey, NR

18:30:14

With all due respect to the rapporteur Mr Boriss CILEVIČS, we found a lot of discrepancies and mistakes in this report.

We thought that it would not be possible to correct them with amendments. That's why we just gave a dissenting opinion in the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights and we will continue that way.

I will give a specific example about it and I am insisting on this: paragraph 7.1 says that politicians are criminalised in Turkey for just referring to the inhabitants of the southeastern region of turkey as Kurds. Saying Kurds as Turks is a crime in Turkey. I have never heard such a thing in Turkey. I never remember neither in my capacity as an individual citizen, nor a bureaucrat before jumping into politics, nor as an MP, neither in my capacity as chairperson of this commission. Not from our MPs, Kurdish MPs in my party – they are more than 50. Not from any opposition MPs in the parliament.

I think it is a factual mistake written from another written text. I urge the rapporteur Mr Boriss CILEVIČS to correct it in any possible way, procedural way, maybe with an oral amendment.

To my amazement I heard from the statements here a lot of stereotypes on my country. Even discriminating among the judiciaries of the countries. If anybody of course is dissenting from what is very clear, especially about the decisions of the Turkish constitutional courts and the Spanish courts. Yes, the HDP case is before the constitutional court. We never know. We can never prejudge the conclusion.

But in Spain the constitutional court closed the party a long time ago, rightfully, because of separatism, because of legal actions. So this double standard is really bothering and really making my motivation less and less day by day here. The Monitoring Committee still, everybody gives us here examples of court decisions, but many court decisions are not implemented, even on the PKK terrorism. That's why we will continue on this inserting opinion to these reports. And I still urge the rapporteur to correct this sentence I mentioned because whoever hears these in Turkey, they will ask "are you kidding?".

Thank you.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:33:28

Thank you, Mister President.

I now give the floor to Mr Damien COTTIER from Switzerland.

Mr Damien COTTIER

Switzerland, ALDE

18:33:34

Thank you, Madam President.

I would like to thank the rapporteur, Mr Boriss CILEVIČS, for the work he has done. His report has the merit of reminding us of the rules of freedom of expression, especially for politicians. However, it also points out the limits and what it does not allow, including incitement to hatred or violence or the overthrow of the constitutional order by violence or illegal means.

The Council of Europe is a guarantor of democracy, and our Assembly is therefore right – indeed, it has a duty – to point out that political debate, however heated, must be allowed to take place without fear of disproportionate legal reprisals. Debate is basically the blood that runs through the veins of our democracies.

My country, Switzerland, which is often cited as a model of cohabitation between regions, languages and cultures, has also experienced tensions around what was called the "Jura question", which led, in 1979, to the birth of a 26th canton, that of Jura. Some members of our Assembly will tell you about this much better than I can. But this discussion did not end in 1979: it continued for some fifty years until very recently, concerning the future of the southern part of the Jura, which remained attached to the canton of Bern. Several votes have been held, the last one a few weeks ago, in which a municipality, the town of Moutier, decided to change canton following a popular referendum whose result was recognised by all parties. This process of settling a territorial dispute, which is now coming to an end, has thus spanned 50 years. It has had many ups and downs and periods of great tension. It has resulted in solutions acceptable to all when a constructive political dialogue has been established and political processes have been initiated, in accordance with the law and within the framework of existing democratic institutions.

All situations are different and, obviously, cannot be compared. The key is certainly this: the institution of a constructive political dialogue. This takes time, courage and a strong political will. It is an often long and often winding road. Frustrating at times, it is the only way.

The report is therefore right to call on all Council of Europe states to be attentive to this and not to muzzle the legitimate political expression of differences. The report again expresses concern about the situation in Turkey, and our Assembly had the opportunity to debate it in detail earlier this year. It makes recommendations that we think are reasonable with regard to Spain, a country with a vibrant democracy that is in a very different situation. It is true that there is something peculiar about seeing these two countries in the same report. Nevertheless, we will have the opportunity to debate the recommendations in detail, with the amendments that have been proposed to us. On the whole, however, our Assembly will be right to stress the importance of proportionality of penalties, while recalling the illegality of certain actions and calling on the Spanish Government to seek dialogue. Moreover, we can be pleased with what we have heard today from the Spanish Prime Minister, who seems to be moving in that direction.

I thank you for this.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:36:52

Thank you.

I now call Ms Naira ZOHRABYAN of Armenia.

Ms Naira ZOHRABYAN

Armenia, EC/DA

18:36:59

Thank you, Madam President.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Especially today, when hatred and intolerance have become a serious problem in Europe and politicians have a great responsibility to protect the political culture from populism, lies, manipulations and unacceptable tools in the fight against political opponents, our discussion today is more relevant than ever. Yes, a politician must have a mandate to exercise his or her right to freedom of expression which, however, cannot have a red line. When the President of Azerbaijan calls Armenians "liars" and says that for 30 years Artsakh has been in the hands of monsters, wild beasts and jackals, when he declares that Armenians will be expelled from Artsakh like dogs. When, in the trophy park in Baku where there are mannequins of Armenian soldiers, the representatives of the political elite of this country take schoolchildren on a tour and feed them with hatred, I am certain that racism and Armenophobia cannot be considered as freedom of expression and must be avoided.

Dear colleagues, on 13 June, Azerbaijan returned 15 prisoners of war to Armenia, exchanging them for maps of minefields. The Armenian authorities were obliged to demand all our prisoners of war and I do not know what Azerbaijan will now demand for the return of the other prisoners of war. If our institution does not apply specific sanctions to that country, I fear that many Armenian mothers will no longer see their sons. Why don't you suspend the voting rights of the Azerbaijani delegation? Why don't you demand that international institutions seize the European bank accounts of the Aliyev family and its clan? I spoke to the boys who returned to the country two weeks ago: they saw the other side of the prison in Baku. They were in hell. Concrete sanctions are needed, otherwise Azerbaijan could become the last graveyard for Europe and European values.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:39:41

Thank you, Madam.

I would like to come back to the report, because we are getting away from it somewhat.

I will now give the floor to Mr Oleksandr MEREZHKO from Ukraine who, I think, will speak and Mr Boriss CILEVIČS's report.

Mr Oleksandr MEREZHKO

Ukraine, SOC

18:39:55

Dear colleagues, first of all I would like to congratulate the rapporteur for having prepared such an important and interesting report raising serious issues of political and public life.

As a matter of principle, the politicians should be guaranteed freedom of speech and expression in the course of implementing their political mandate. Without this freedom they would be unable to adequately express their own political views as well as convey the views of their constituencies.

Let me quote American President Harry Truman who once said "once the government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of the opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear".

Of course, freedom of speech cannot be absolute and unlimited. Let me give you just one almost hypothetical example. Imagine that a politician who has thousands of supporters called upon his supporters to storm a building of parliament. In this regard, his freedom of expression, his words can cause serious problems.

Dear colleagues, what are the boundaries of freedom of speech and expression for politicians?

I believe that there are several kinds of these boundaries and correspondingly several kinds of responsibilities. Political, ethical and legal.

Political boundaries are relatively easy to define because when a politician abuses his freedom of speech and expression he can be not re-elected next time when he runs for office.

Ethical boundaries, about a code of ethics or unwritten ethical rules for the members of parliament. In this regard it is expedient to consider developing uniform minimal standards of ethical rules, so-called uniform code of ethics, for the parliaments of the Council of Europe member states.

As for the legal responsibility for the abuse of freedom of speech by politicians, it is a rather complicated matter and depends upon the level of political culture and democracy in a given society. Perhaps we here need clear and objective criteria allowing us to distinguish freedom of speech, necessary in political discourse, from its abuse.

We also need to take into account a context in which freedom of speech is being exercised. For instance, in times of war the scope of freedom of speech might be narrower than in times of peace.

As a hypothesis I'd like to suggest that we need to analyse the causal link between words uttered by politicians and their social consequences. If the words of a politician inevitably lead to such an effect in the minds of listeners which causes them to commit a crime against legitimate state institutions or rights of other people, then we might be dealing with abuse of freedom of speech.

On the other hand, in each concrete case we need to weigh carefully against each other such values as freedom of speech and thought, free exchange of views in a democratic and open society on the one hand, and law and order as well as the need to protect human rights, human dignity and democratic institutions on the other hand. Striking a balance between these values is not an easy task, which can be solved by a truly independent court in a democratic, open and free society firmly based on the rule of law principle.

Thank you.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:43:14

Thank you.

I now give the floor to Ms María Valentina MARTÍNEZ FERRO from Spain.

Ms María Valentina MARTÍNEZ FERRO

Spain, EPP/CD

18:43:23

Thank you. 

Should politicians be prosecuted for statements made in the exercise of their mandate? That is the question here and I think we would all have to vote no. The freedom of expression is a basic right on which all of our political activities are based but in the case of Spain, there is a misleading and false question, no Spanish politician has been found guilty for freedom of expression being violated.

Here, the idea is whether they are guilty of using government resources for a coup d'état against that government: the politicians that have been imprisoned in Spain have been imprisoned for using public resources to promote the independence of a territory using structures against the central government, which is a crime in most countries of the Council of Europe and is against the recommendations of the Venice Commission and GRECO.

Public representatives have one mandate which is subject to the law. All Spanish members of parliament when they their take the oath, subject themselves to the constitution. They promise to uphold it and to have it be upheld. A constitution which is derived from a consensus which has allowed Spain to have the best 40 years in its history and it's against that institution that the imprisoned politicians have been sentenced at the end of a long trial that gave them all guarantees. In 2017 independentist Catalan politicians tried to lead a rebellion against the country, against its law so as to impose their own law. Independentist politicians have risen to a challenge knowing the consequences of their actions but thinking no one would dare enforce them. 

They challenged Spain's unity and Spain has defended itself with a clean, fair and transparent trial that was the result that they had, they were sentenced for, and please listen, Mr Boriss CILEVIČS, sedition, embezzlement of public funds, this is corruption and disobedience. These have nothing to do with freedom of expression, nothing to do with freedom of expression.

Today, we're being asked for a presidential, unilateral pardon, which does not correspond to any of those conditions; the Supreme Court could hand the pardon out but the prisoners not only have not asked for this pardon, they have not said they were sorry and they have promised they would reoffend. 

So we are talking about the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, the Venice Commission and GRECO, these are decisions in addition to being entirely biased and also including very dangerous precedent for all member states who have politicians who decide to ignore their own law. Here, if we are talking about having a revolution simply to break the law to undermine institutional stability and the rule of law, for that reason, ladies and gentlemen, I would ask you to vote against this report. 

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:46:29

Thank you, Madam.

I now call Mr Sos AVETISYAN of Armenia.

Mr Sos AVETISYAN

Armenia, SOC

18:46:38

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I also want to thank the rapporteur for his work, which we have also discussed in our party.

The thing with comparing Spain and Turkey is very difficult for me because, as an observer, for me, it is clear that Spain is a much more democratic country than Turkey, at this stage, at least, can ever aspire to. But a problem of the understanding is that, we say, should the politicians be held accountable for their speeches or actions? Which politicians? It is always from the central or higher government looking onto the just politicians.

Should the leaders of the state be responsible for what they are saying? Often times, this is the focus that we do not see, that it is usually a repressive mechanism that is used. For example, in Turkey, it is not only problematic with the issue of the Kurds, that is another matter, it is problematic even to talk about the Armenian genocide and people can be punished for that, there could be people who can be jailed for that. And that is somehow the way a country is protecting their unity or certain societal fabric.

The Swiss example, I think, is one of the best ones in that case because that is the only way where the dialogues between different groups is happening. I think that the best way of actually guaranteeing certain societal cohesion is the dialogue. It is actually more inclusion. The more pressing we are on this issue, less likely that that part is going to remain with the country. Of course, if you are denying people their identity, it is likely that they are going to say it. If they are having a physical threat to their life for being what they are, if they were born like that, I mean, it is not like it is their choice, they are going to do something. But I really think that we should carefully measure when we talk about these issues and I think that the argument should be taken as more of an advice. I think that Spain should be really differentiated from Turkey on this matter for sure.

Thank you very much. 

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:48:53

Thank you.

I now call Mr Pablo HISPÁN from Spain.

Mr Pablo HISPÁN

Spain, EPP/CD

18:49:01

President, the report hides that the politicians were prosecuted because of their acts, not because of their statements. Their acts against the law. Not because of their statements. 

Politicians in prison are also in Latvia ,Mr Boriss CILEVIČS. In Latvia there are politicians in prison.

The report accepts that the territorial unity of a country could be broken by an elected authority against the constitution and against the rule of law.

The report is against the Venice Commission that said that referendums are only legal if they are approved following the constitution.

The report is against the European Court of Human Rights because in the 2019 decision the European Court of Human Rights rejected the appeal of the Catalan politicians and stated that the Spanish Constitutional Court's requirements should be obeyed.

The report is also against the European Court of Human Rights that established that the doctrine of the margin of appreciation. We have different legal systems. Opening a debate about the penalties that we have in our codes could be an unfinished debate. That's why the court stated this decision.

The report is also against the GRECO decisions. The politicians were also condemned because of corruption. They bribed and they wasted public money in an illegal referendum. They were condemned also for embezzlement.

The report is also against common sense. The politicians that have been condemned have said that they will do it again. They don't regret anything. So why do you want a pardon, a presidential pardon, for those politicians that want to do the same again?

The Spanish high court has also said that because of this they don't deserve any kind of privilege that you want to give to them.

The report is also against the spirit of this Assembly. The non-nationalist minority of Catalonia, from the right to the extreme left, was crushed by the majority. The answer of Mr Boriss CILEVIČS is that this Assembly does not have anything to say about the right of parliamentary minorities.

The report is also against what this chamber means, what we represent and what we ask for here.

Spain is a strong democracy, a decentralised country with independent courts of justice.

Spain has nothing to do and is completely different from what Mr Boriss CILEVIČS shows in this report.

Thank you very much.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:52:12

Thank you.

I call Ms Laura Ms Laura CASTEL from Spain.

Ms Laura CASTEL

Spain, NR

18:52:18

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Today I am speaking on behalf of those retaliated against. Today I am speaking on behalf of the leaders in jail and on behalf of those in exile.

On the 1st of October of 2017, Catalonia voted in a referendum. Voting can never be a crime, the more so when done pacificly. Dialogue, negotiation, and voting crystallise democracy. Do you know how many Catalans today want to decide their future through a referendum? 80%, colleagues. 80%. Do you know how many times Catalans have asked for a referendum agreed with Spain? 18 times. Not once has the Spanish government wanted to negotiate.

What is the solution here, dear colleagues? The president of my party is in jail for organising a referendum: 13 years. Hear this. In Spain the sentence for rape is between one and five years prison time. Setting up ballot boxes by democratically elected leaders after demands of citizenship: 13 years.

I want to share with you some examples of how Spanish institutions have been used to persecute us. Patriotic police and political espionage, organised from inside the ministry of interior. Economical harassment, launched by the court of audits with millions in bails to this year's harassment with over 105 criminal cases against us. The unconstitutional suspension of Catalonia's autonomy criticized even by the United Nations special rapporteur.

Because of all of the above, dear colleagues, I proposed to insert specifically the word amnesty in this report as one of the options of course. Because the pardon proposed is only the first step of course, but only helps 9 of them not one hundred five criminal cases against pro-independence supporters. It is partial. The leaders will not be able to run for public office. Pardons are subject to appeal and challenge. What will happen if the government changes? For all the above, amnesty is the solution because it returns in the political arena what is a political case.

I finalize. I conclude. We celebrate the recommendations of the rapporteur, whom we thank for this work and we encourage you to support it. This situation, dear colleagues, only will be solved with dialogue, negotiation, amnesty, and referendum. We have been and always will be at the negotiation table.

Thank you very much.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:55:46

Thank you, Madam.

Last speaker, given the time, Mr. Ahmet Ünal ÇEVİKÖZ from Turkey.

Mr Ahmet Ünal ÇEVİKÖZ

Turkey, SOC

18:56:01

Thank you, Madam President, distinguished members of the Parliamentary Assembly.

Allow me, first and foremost, to express my appreciation to the rapporteur Mr Boriss CILEVIČS for this report and also Mr Pere LÓPEZ for his opinion on the report.

The report shows with substantial evidence and solid argumentation, including references to the case law of the European Court of Human Rights, to previous resolutions of the Assembly relevant to the topic in discussion, to the Constitutions and the decisions of the Constitutional courts of the countries dealt with in the report and also to the principles depicted in the several appropriate decisions of the Venice Commission that politicians should not be prosecuted for statements made in the exercise of their mandate. With its evidence, the report is hardly disputable.

In the case of Turkey, however, I would like to flag one hesitation of mine. The report goes too far in identifying the use of words "Kurds" or "Kurdish region" as a cause of criminal offense and mentions them as a justification for prosecution. I would not deny the fact that this used to be the case in the past in Turkey. However, it seems no longer to continue. With this caveat, and without reservation to article 7.1 and 9.2.3 we support this report, but there is another aspect of this question that I am willing to share with you today. On 17 June, the provincial party headquarters of HDP in İzmir faced the brutal attack which ended with the death of a woman who was in the party's building. Her name was Deniz Poyraz. She was 38 years old. Deniz Poyraz was not an employee in the building, she was covering a shift for her mother on that specific day because her mother was ill and could not go to work. The assassin, who does not deserve to be named, appears to be an ultra-nationalist who believed in false allegations that the building was filled with PKK terrorists, because in Turkey the political authorities who belong to the parties of the governing alliance try to identify the HDP and also my party, the Republican People's Party, as collaborators with terrorist organisations.

Whenever the ruling authority feels challenged by the opinions of the opposition on policy matters, they simply blame the dissenting views as terrorist propaganda or accused owners of such opinions as terrorists. There are people who believe in that unjustified and utterly brutal propaganda. They simply draw the conclusion that they should kill those alleged terrorists so that they would be considered as heroes. They fail to grasp the fact that they are actually being manipulated by means of a calculated systematic hate speech, which by itself is a crime. Politicians should not be prosecuted for statements made in the exercise of their mandate but politicians who use hate speech to consolidate their power, who condone violence against certain persons or groups of persons on the grounds of race, origin, religion or political opinions, and who provoked potential assassins to brutally murder innocent people should be prosecuted. They should be prosecuted in order not to have other victims like Deniz Poyraz.

Thank you. 

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:59:02

Thank you, sir.

I must now interrupt the list of speakers. All speakers on the list who are present during the debate or who are connected by telephone may, within four hours, submit their typed contributions to the Table Office for publication in the official report, provided that the speakers who are connected by telephone can prove that they are actually present when the debate is closed. I call Mr José MENDES BOTA to support Amendment No. 1.

You have three minutes to reply to the speakers. You have three minutes to reply.

Mr Boriss CILEVIČS

Latvia, SOC, Rapporteur

18:59:42

Dear Madam President, I will try to be as brief as possible.

Madam BAKOYANNIS and Mister HOWELL, I never said that the situation in Spain and Turkey is identical. It's absolutely clear, both from the text of my explanatory memorandum and from the text of suggested draft resolution. Words or deeds, statements or deeds, sorry colleagues, what are our deeds as politicians?

These are statements and votes and nothing else. This is what we are doing on a daily basis. Everybody agrees that convicted Catalan leaders did not use violence. They did not organise terrorist acts. They were just talking and voting, that's all. And for this they were convicted. So I cannot accept these criticisms that they were convicted for deeds but not statements.

Mr YILDIZ and Mr ÇEVİKÖZ, thank you for your information, it's really very good to hear that people are not anymore convicted for using the words Kurds and Kurdish. I will double check the list of cases which are mentioned in the annex to this report and this is certainly an improvement and I wish to see more news of the current coming from Turkey.

Madame MARTÍNEZ FERRO and Mr HISPÁN, corruption has nothing to do at all with the issue we are discussing now. Corruption is not mentioned in the verdicts of the Spanish courts, corruption is not mentioned in the indictment. These people were never accused of corruption. Why are you talking about corruption? Do you know what your own Spanish courts have decided about this?

Mr HISPÁN and also Madam BAKOYANNIS, you referred to the Venice Commission. We requested the opinion of the Venice Commission and it's crystal clear. These judgments are disproportional, they are against the rule of law. Why are you referring to the Venice Commission? The Venice Commission fully confirms what is written in this report. One hundred percent. The European Court of Human Rights has never considered any convictions. The European Court of Human Rights considered inadmissible a different complaint by Catalan politicians.

Yes, indeed the Constitutional Court had the right to stop putting on the agenda this issue of independence and referendum. This is right and this said in the report. So you cannot refer to the European Court of Human Rights to prove your position.

And finally, Madam CASTEL, I would like to remind you that this report is not about the status of Catalonia. The referendum was illegal, yes. We have to accept this. This was against the Constitution. The problem is that the punishment is disproportional and what is disproportional is clearly against the rule of law.

And my final point, Mr HISPÁN, yes of course legal systems are very different, but we are here in this hemicycle because we believe in common standard of human rights and rule of law and any diverse legal systems must respect these basic principles.

And this is my main message to our Spanish friends and Turkish friends. Yes, indeed, let's stay diverse but let's respect these basic standards of rule of law.

Thank you, Madam President.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

19:03:17

Thank you, Mister KAIRIDIS.

Mister KAIRIDIS, as Vice-Chairman of the committee, do you wish to speak?

Thank you.

Mr Dimitrios KAIRIDIS

Greece, EPP/CD, Vice chairman of the committee

19:03:25

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I had the honour to preside over the debate as the vice-Chairman of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights and try to fit in the very big shoes of my esteemed colleague Mr Boriss CILEVIČS who was the rapporteur.

My job here is just to give you a subjective a flavour of what went on in the proceedings of the Committee. You already have got a very big flavour of that in the debate here. I have some very strong views about the matters that were hotly debated which I could not of course express, and I will try to stick to my objectivity and dispassionate reporting as much as possible.

Five points.

Point number one. We invested a lot of time in this report: disproportionate to what has happened in the past and much more than the usual. We had two debates. One on June 3rd for three and a half hours, and one today for another hour and a half. A total of five hours. There was no major or any even minor disagreement on the general principles of the report in regards to the need for full freedom of politicians to express their views and statements.

Point number three. There was some disagreement but not really much in regards to the case of Turkey.

Point number four. There was much more of a disagreement when the matter came to Spain as it is expected.

Let me just describe this disagreement very briefly. It can be analysed in three or four points. There was a lot of reaction to the confusion of quote-unquote Spain with Turkey. The fact if there was an act or statement and words. The criminal offence of sedition and the matter of violence. If there was violence, how much violence, etc, etc. Arguments that you have heard here in the hemisphere.

I'm concluding with the following statement.

My fifth point.

To complete the picture I have to say that no management was carried, was voted, without the support of the rapporteur. In other words, any amendment that was rejected by the rapporteur was rejected by the Committee itself, a sign of the great esteem and respect that the members of the Committee hold our esteemed colleague, our Chairman.

I will give you the details of the exact voting when the time comes with the amendments.

Thank you very much.

Ms Nerea AHEDO