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22 June 2021 afternoon

2021 - Third part-session Print sitting

Sitting video(s) 1 / 1

Opening of the sitting No 18

Question time: Ms Marija PEJČINOVIĆ BURIĆ, Secretary General of the Council of Europe

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:02:23

Dear colleagues, please be seated.

We will start. We already have a bit of a delay and we only have 30 minutes with our Secretary General, so I'd appreciate that we could start without any due delay.

I welcome the President of the Congress who is like a fixed guess to us.

Very welcome President. I like that. I like that very much.

The sitting is open dear colleagues.

The first point is the election of judges to the European Court of Human Rights in respect of Croatia.

I will announce the results:

Members voting 207.

Spoilt or blank ballots 4.

Votes cast 203.

Absolute majority being 102.

The votes were cast as followed: Mr Marin MRČELA 5, Ms Lovorka KUŠAN 65, Mr Davor Derenčinović, I hope I said that well, 133.

So Mr Davor Derenčinović having obtained an absolute majority of votes cast is elected judge of the European Court of Human Rights for a term of office of nine years which shall commence on 2 January 2022.

Congratulations and I hope you will do a fine job.

We then come to our next item on the agenda which is questions to our Secretary General Ms Marija PEJČINOVIĆ BURIĆ.

I remind the Assembly that questions must be limited to one minute. Colleagues should be asking a single question, not making speeches. I always have to repeat that.

Ms Secretary General, I'm not going to give a long introduction because half an hour is a bit too short. We work extremely well together so I'll leave it at that, and you have the floor.

Ms Marija PEJČINOVIĆ-BURIĆ

Croatia, Secretary General of the Council of Europe

16:04:11

Mr Chairman,

I understood that I was open to questions, so I await questions.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:04:29

That's great.

I thought you were going to make a big statement that would surprise us, but you didn't. So, that's great.

So, let's start with the questions from the political groups. We'll take one at a time in this case, one minute maximum.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:04:49

First, we have the Baroness Doreen MASSEY. So, she should be online.

In cannot control it from here, does she have the floor? Okay, good. 

Baroness Doreen MASSEY

United Kingdom, SOC, Spokesperson for the group

16:05:14

Madam Secretary General, thank you for being here. I want to ask you how you foresee development of co-operation and collaboration between the European Parliament, the European Commission and the Council of Europe? What would be your aims for such co-operation? 

Thank you. 

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:05:36

Madam Secretary General.

Ms Marija PEJČINOVIĆ-BURIĆ

Croatia, Secretary General of the Council of Europe

16:05:38

Thank you very much.

The Council of Europe and the European Union, including its institutions you mentioned, the European Parliament and European Commission, are long-standing cooperation partners with the Council of Europe and our more formal link dates back to 2007 or since when we have the specific memorandum of understanding. So, accordingly, we have shared values, as we mentioned very clearly in this memorandum of understanding, namely democracy, rule of law and human rights. And on that basis, in respect of our different mandates, we have cooperation in different levels.

One level is high political meetings, so that I can mention on my side that I met recently here in Strasbourg by video conference or in presence several commissioners, vice presidents of the Commission, Mr Borrell, Ms Šuica, Executive Vice President Vestager, and previously I also met some other commissioners that are pertinent to our work: Commissioner Reynders, Vice President Jourová, Commissioner Dalli, Commissioner Várhelyi, and wouldn't it be for the pandemic I think this number of meetings and these exchanges would be even higher than what it is.

So this is for the political dialogue. Of course the themes depend on the portfolio and on the themes that we choose mutually, but of course everything is how to enhance our mutual work in cooperation because other than high political dialogue we have legal cooperation, meaning cooperation among our specific bodies and specific organs or institutions within the European Union, and also cooperation projects.

And I must say that, within that particular part, the European Union is our biggest partner in terms of volume and value, but also in terms of number of activities that we have together, either in our member states or in our neighbourhood or in the European Union neighbourhood, be it on the east or on the south from European Union.

So I see that, and this is according also to the latest decision and discussion with the Committee of Ministers in Hamburg, they underline the importance that the Council of Europe has very intensive, and more intensive in the future, relations with a number of international organisations. I think all together in different fora we have almost a hundred with which we cooperate, but if we take a few that we really are very much working together it is UN, OSCE and EU.

So, the Committee of Ministers clearly asked that we work more together, that we try to avoid overlaps, and of course, it goes without saying, that all our members, all members of the European Union are our members, so I think for all those countries but also for other member states of the Council of Europe it is important that we avoid duplication and that when we do work in the same area that the work is done coherently, be it on artificial intelligence as a new area, environmental protection, or equality, anti-discrimination, and so on.

So I see our work as pertinent, more important than ever because I think today we all in multilateral fora realise how important the work of each of us is, but also how important it is to have this close interaction in order to fortify our works mutually when we work in similar areas and when our work is resting on the same shared values.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:10:24

Thank you, Madam Secretary General.

Next on the list is Ms Elvira KOVÁCS for EPP.

Elvira, you have the floor.

Ms Elvira KOVÁCS

Serbia, EPP/CD, Spokesperson for the group

16:10:30

Madam Secretary General,

It goes without saying that the number of challenges are endangering the capacity to protect the rights of persons belonging to national minorities in Europe.

Madam Secretary General,

How can it be ensured that states refrain from withdrawing already acquired Council of Europe standards in protecting minority rights and complete, wherever necessary, the adoption of comprehensive legislative framework for the protection of the rights of persons belonging to national minorities in full consultation with their representatives?

Thank you. 

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:11:04

Secretary General.

Ms Marija PEJČINOVIĆ-BURIĆ

Croatia, Secretary General of the Council of Europe

16:11:06

Thank you very much for this question.

National minorities is an important area of our work and as you heard from the new Chair of the Committee of Ministers, it is also the priority of the current Chair. So it goes without saying that when it comes to Covid-19 and how much Covid-19 has had an impact — unfortunately, very often, a negative impact — on several groups in society, several vulnerable groups, in some areas, that could be attributed to minorities has shown that relying on the standards that we at the Council of Europe have developed, which are two big conventions, one is the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and the other European Charter on Regional and National and Minority Languages, are the two big important instruments that a number of our member states have signed and ratified.

And these two conventions have their monitoring bodies that, in regular cycles, go to respective countries, then do their monitoring work and make recommendations on how to improve the situation. I think that very important work in this area by the Council of Europe and by the Committee of Ministers has been done in making these two monitoring bodies of the two conventions more efficient and more effective. I think with this reform of the mechanisms, I expect that in the future their work will be better to the benefit of minorities, but also to the respective countries that they belong to.

So I think that working and underlining the importance of the standards and making standards workable in each of our countries when it comes to national minorities is very important for their protection. Whether it is always said, you know, our societies and our member states are strong as much as their weakest parts are strong and sometimes in some of our member states, national minorities have quite a weak status. 

I think we all need to strengthen our work and more political will in order to implement all those standards and recommendations that are done by our conventions.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:13:39

Next on my list is Ms Yuliia OVCHYNNYKOVA, Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.

You have the floor.

Ms Yuliia OVCHYNNYKOVA

Ukraine, ALDE, Spokesperson for the group

16:13:50

Dear Madam Secretary General,

One of the key world priorities today is the environmental policy and action to deal with the climate and sustainable challenges. Human rights and environment is one of the key priorities of our President of the Assembly and also of our political group.

My question is what is the place of the environmental policy in the list of priorities of Council of Europe?

Can the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe group and the European citizens hope that the Council of Europe will actively engage in the creation of a legally binding instrument on the subject in the near future?

What is your position as Secretary-General and will you support this initiative?

Thank you.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:14:38

Miss Secretary General.

Ms Marija PEJČINOVIĆ-BURIĆ

Croatia, Secretary General of the Council of Europe

16:14:39

Thank you very much.

Actually, to answer by the end of your question, one of the priorities in the strategic framework that I have put together and sent to the deputies, to the Committee of Ministers, comprised an environment versus human rights as the new priority together with artificial intelligence.

Clearly, as I have put it as among the strategic priorities for the next four year term, this is speaking by itself. It's my clear priority as well that we work together to find a proper answer to one of the probably biggest challenges of our times.

Now coming back to the environment as such, I must confess when I came to the Council of Europe, this talking about environment and human rights and about possibly thinking of offering a specific legal instrument on that was, let's say, quite shy at the moment. Then came three presidencies one after the other. The Georgian first, Greek second and then German after that. All three embraced this policy. I think that was really at a very appropriate timing.

This is, I think, showing quite clearly when three presidencies one after the other are behind one important priority and when it's a new area where you need really to have all the stakeholders around, it is important that these priorities are upheld. I can only thank all three presidencies for their big work on that priority.

I must say that now no one questions whether we need to work on that. I know that the Parliamentary Assembly has been vocal as very often on many themes ahead of times or before because you have this capacity to think in the future, and then when time comes, to work together with the Committee of Ministers and others on that.

At this moment there were certain decisions that were taken in the Hamburg Ministerial. The work is underway for possibly finding elements for some legally binding and some non-legally binding parts of the future possible legal instrument.

Of course on that, the proper work needs to be done. This is also the work that has started. If I recall well, the rendez-vous clause is for the next Ministerial to see how we go with the environment. To say that the whole organisation embraces it was supposed to happen last year. It's happening 12 months since last November until this November. We will have the biggest event that we have in the Council of Europe, which is the Democracy Forum dedicated to "can democracies and save the environment?". Because of Covid-19, it couldn't take place last year. It was very, I would say, intelligently decided by the stakeholders, who are partners for the Forum, to have each month one theme related to this pertinent question.

I hope that the pandemic will be easing or going away and that in November we'll have a big Forum as we always do on a very pertinent issue.

I think we are on the right track. This shows how quickly we can all, when joining forces together, we can really put our forces and work. I think if I take two years back we really... I think we've gone quite a while and certainly the Parliamentary Assembly and the President who embraced that from the very outset certainly makes a part of that important stakeholder and they were in order to give an answer appropriate to our mandate which is how environmental issues are related to human rights.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:19:28

We now come to a Mr Barna Pál ZSIGMOND for EC/DA.

Mr Barna Pál ZSIGMOND

Hungary, EC/DA, Spokesperson for the group

16:19:34

Thank you, Mister President.

Madam Secretary General, the conference on the future of Europe is a unique and timely opportunity for European citizens to debate on Europe's challenges and priorities. The conference is a proposal of the European Commission and the European Parliament announced in the end of 2019 with the aim of looking at the future of the European Union. It is intended that the conference should involve citizens and European institutions as equal partners and last for 2 years.

We consider important that the Council of Europe, as the continent leading human rights organization, should make its opinion to be heard. In this organization we have member states which are not part of the European Union, but they might be in the near future, and also countries which are part of our European community.

Madam Secretary General, what is your view on the participation of the Council of Europe and its institutions in the process of shaping the future of the European Union and the future of Europe?

Thank you.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:20:29

Madam Secretary General.

Ms Marija PEJČINOVIĆ-BURIĆ

Croatia, Secretary General of the Council of Europe

16:20:31

Thank you very much for this opinion.

I think the real question is: future of Europe or future of the European Union? The name of the conference is the Future of Europe and, of course, I myself felt immediately invited to representing the Council of Europe, to try to find our institutional place there. I know that also the President of the Parliamentary Assembly talked to the President of the European Parliament, so I talked to the Vice-President who is in charge of this this very important coordination of this important work in the Commission.

Obviously Europe, in this sense, for the European Union, means European Union. But I still think, and when I discussed with the Vice-President Šuica on the substance, the way how they envisaged their work, of course, they did not think about our other international organisations, European organisations, how to be included. But when talking about it, as it happened just few days ago, the first Plenary of the Conference started here in Strasbourg and I think cannot be more than symbolic and important that it did start in Strasburg. Not only because this city is really a symbol of a new Europe after the Second World War and that our organisation was one of the first European organisations that was established here. Also later, the younger sister at a time, the European Union that was a little bit later established, also had one of the seats of its institutions here in Strasbourg. So I think, starting from Strasburg sends in itself a very important message.

And I got a possibility to address this very Plenary by video message, where my major statement to those who are part of this conference and those who will participate in its work, was that it is important because democracy should not be taken for granted. Our two respective organisations are, in a way guarantors — each different way — but guarantors of democracy, rule of law and and human rights.

I think that talking about the future of Europe without basic values would be lacking a very important part. So I think this message that we all need, that we all owe to Europe and to our citizens, to all the time engage for democracy, because for democracy to strive, we need to be very vigilant. We have seen to during the pandemic that it can very easily go the wrong way, unless you keep an eye on it and you remind what are the main and basic fundamental values.

So, my message was for the future of Europe, all Europe counts. That goes without saying we have almost all countries of geographical Europe as member states. The Belarus for the European Union, there is a neighbourhood policy or an enlargement policy, be it whatever, so they could encompass more or less, also the majority of Europe as a continent area. So I think from both sides, it is important that as many as possible citizens participate in this debate, and debate is open on their platform so everyone can give their voice through that. But formally, within the system that is conceived, it is of course the institutions of the European Union and the way how they conceive it.

But I think engaging in this dialogue, which is the future of Europe, but future of democratic Europe, I hope, it is important also for our stakeholders, our communities, be it member states of the European Union or our member states that are not members of the European Union, Europe is important for all of us. 

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:25:03

Thank you.

We now come to Mr Tiny KOX on behalf of UEL.

Tiny.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, Spokesperson for the group

16:25:11

Thank you very much, Madam Secretary General. It's great to have you here again.

While we should be grateful that the pandemic now seems that we are recovering from the pandemic, we have to be worried that another virus seems to infect the structures that should protect our rule of law, our human rights and our democracy.

In your annual report to the the Council of Europe, to the Committee of Ministers, that you presented to recently you say that democracy is in distress. From a person who does not like the use of big terms as you have, this means something I think.

Madam Secretary General, how could we find a vaccine against that threat to democracy, to the rule of law and human rights? Because if that were to disappear, these these core values of the Council of Europe in our 47 member states, the damage would even be bigger than the big damage of a pandemic.

Thank you very much.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:26:22

Secretary General.

Ms Marija PEJČINOVIĆ-BURIĆ

Croatia, Secretary General of the Council of Europe

16:26:24

Thank you very much for referring to the annual report because this is my first fully-fledged annual report.

Last year I reported through a smaller format which was on, one hand because I was not in the office for long for the whole year, but also because of the pandemic. It was called multilateralism partially oriented to the challenges to the multilateral fora and partially oriented to the Covid-19 and impact on the matters that we are dealing at the Council of Europe and our response to it.

You rightly said the virus, but unfortunately this virus is not new. We had the problems before pandemic. If you look it at very carefully through different angles that are covered by the annual report –I will not just mention all of them but look at freedom of expression, freedom of association, freedom of media expression, judiciary, or anti discrimination, or human dignity, or just name it, democratic participation– in all areas where we work, we noticed through the work. I should pay tribute here to all of our monitoring and advisory bodies and other organs of course, Parliamentary Assembly, Committee of Ministers, and others, because annual report is a status given in one point in time about what we all do together in our member states, what is the picture related to different topics, and how our different bodies have found the, if I could use your terms, how the status of health is there.

It covers actually the three last years and also shows the trends from before pandemic briefly because there is much very useful information in this report. I can say whatever was in difficulty before became many times more in difficulties during the pandemic. The pandemic really exacerbated the situation. Now to the remedy or vaccine there is no one because the areas are different. Again, if I am to take it on a very general term to respond to that. The good thing is that in the annual report you can also see good examples in our countries where not everything went backsliding and downhill. There are areas where certain member states really moved forward or in difficult situations found the way. Take violence against women, for instance, how some of our member states found really innovative ways to assist women when they were locked down and closed in with their perpetrators if they were living with the one.

Other LGBTI communities if they were closed in also, and their situation worsened in this respect. What each situation taken as it is after that you have kind of remedies or recommendations that are made based upon our standards. We don't need, as I would say, to shift gears, we need to change orientation, completely orientation if we are going the wrong way. I think standards are there to be respected. Recommendations are very clear. What I can only hope. I think when discussing it in different fora, I always called for the follow-up of the annual report because it doesn't serve its purpose in itself that it exists. It exists to show what the trends that we are living through are and how and when these trends are negative, that we can remedy the situation.

I know that some of our member states have taken it already very seriously, have taken the analysis from the report and also distributed across the board in its administration. This is the way how to remedy the situation. Of course for this it takes the willingness of each and every one of us, I would say, also of parliamentarians, to take that seriously and to contribute its way. Everyone can do their own part to contribute to reverse the trends and especially very bad trends that we have in some areas that are found by the annual report.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:31:34

Thank you.

I think we can squeeze in the next series of five questions if you are brief, dear colleagues, and, of course, Madam Secretary General, you decide how long you can answer them.

We start with Mr Bernard FOURNIER, Bernard FOURNIER de la France, vous avez la parole. 

Mr Bernard FOURNIER

France, EPP/CD

16:31:50

Thank you, Mister President.

Madam Secretary General,

A new armed conflict broke out between Israelis and Palestinians last May and, despite the cease-fire, no political solution is envisaged.

Israel has observer status in our Parliamentary Assembly, and an ad hoc committee was due to visit Palestine to observe the parliamentary elections there before they were finally postponed.

In this context, what can the Council of Europe do to help relaunch the dialogue between the two parties, especially in the context of the formation of a new Israeli government?

Thank you.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:32:39

Thank you.

The next on my list is Mr Samad SEYIDOV.

Mr Samad SEYIDOV

Azerbaijan, EC/DA

16:32:47

The trilateral statement signed on 10 November 2020 put by the leaders of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia has put an end to the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, while offering the unique opportunity for sustainable peace in the region. Now it is essential for the international actors to support building confidence and normalisation of relations between our two countries based on respect for each other's sovereignty, territorial integrity and inviolability of internationally recognised borders. In this respect, Madam Secretary General, I would like to know what actions of the Council of Europe can take to promote reconciliation between its two member states?

Thank you very much. 

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:33:47

Thank you very much.

Next on my list is Ms Tatevik HAYRAPETYAN.

Ms Tatevik HAYRAPETYAN

Armenia, EPP/CD

16:33:53

Madam Secretary General, it has been almost eight months and Azerbaijan continues to ignore International Court calls to release all prisoners of war of Armenia and returns this humanitarian issue into means for political bargaining and manipulation.

Moreover, Azerbaijan has started a process of false and discriminatory trials against Armenia POWs in violation of international norms and principles, particularly the Fourth Geneva Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights.

What tools does the Council posses to assist the Convention system to react properly with regard to this false criminal case and to contribute to the return of dozens of captives still held in Azerbaijan?

Thank you.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:34:44

Thank you.

Ahora tenemos Mr Antonio GUTIÉRREZ. Antonio, tienes la palabra.

[In Spanish: Now we have Mr Antonio GUTIÉRREZ. Antonio, you have the floor.]

Mr Antonio GUTIÉRREZ

Spain, SOC

16:34:50

President, Madam Secretary General. What sort of measures should be adopted in order to serve the needs of refugees on Europe's borders and I am thinking here of migrants who are coming, for example, into Spain through Ceuta from Morocco? What measures can be taken to implement a neighbourhood policy, in other words, a policy between member states who are neighbours? I would like to take into consideration here not only the European continent but Latin America as well.

Thank you. 

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:35:36

Thank you.

Last on my list, which will be concluded, is Ms Tamar TALIASHVILI.

You have the floor.

Ms Tamar TALIASHVILI

Georgia, SOC

16:35:45

Dear Madam Secretary General,

Thank you for your last consolidated report on the conflict in Georgia as it duly reflects the destructive steps of Russia and its occupation regimes.

We highly value your strong determination to keep the issue of human rights in the occupied territories of Georgia on your political agenda.

Unfortunately, in the occupied regions of Georgia the shared principles and commitments of the Council of Europe are not applied. We continue witnessing Russia's grave violations of basic human rights: killings, illegal detentions, as in Zaza Gakheladze's alarming case who's been kidnapped and sentenced to 12 years in prison.

My question is regarding the issue of the presence of international security and human rights mechanisms on the ground. How can the Council of Europe act to ensure that fundamental human rights are respected and protected in the conflict-affected areas?

Thank you.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:36:52

Thank you. Madam Secretary General.

You have the floor, Madam.

Ms Marija PEJČINOVIĆ-BURIĆ

Croatia, Secretary General of the Council of Europe

16:36:59

As you know, Israel is not a member of the Council of Europe; it has a status with the Parliamentary Assembly. Therefore, we cannot talk about the European Convention on Human Rights being followed by a state that is not a member of that Convention.

So what we can do, we haven't yet done it though, is to take measures in the context of projects, in what was called the neighbourhood policy for the Middle East, where we had certain projects, especially in Palestine, but which were gradually terminated. I hope that the Committee of Ministers will revise the neighbourhood policy in accordance with the decisions of the Hamburg Committee of Ministers. I have already made certain proposals to the Committee of Ministers on this matter and I hope that, by the end of the year, the Committee will first discuss and then take certain decisions on it, and that our action will be taken forward again with regard to these two countries, and in particular with regard to Palestine.

That being said, I believe that, apart from the delegation to which you refer, which is going to go and talk to both sides, I do not see what we can do as far as the Council of Europe is concerned. Since we are not the United Nations, we are not in the security field. So, apart from helping in certain areas and certain projects such as the protection of women, violence or another programme that was more focused on good governance, there is not much we can do for these two countries.

However, while saying that, I think it is important for the Council of Europe, through its neighbourhood policy, to be present in the Middle East and, in particular, in the two countries you mention.

Ms Marija PEJČINOVIĆ-BURIĆ

Croatia, Secretary General of the Council of Europe

16:40:08

In what is the question, actually two questions, related to Armenia and Azerbaijan.  Let me first say that I have been calling since the last year, last summer's outbreak of the hostilities between the two countries, for stopping the humanitarian catastrophe that was visibly going to happen. Unfortunately, the war was there and the consequences are very heavy and very difficult and as always, the consequences then take much, much longer to be erased and to be remedied and the confidence to be rebuilt among the society.

So what the Council of Europe can do there, of course, we support the longer-term work for finding long-standing, sustainable solutions for the area but that pertains to the Minsk Group parties. So we firmly support this work and hope that the solutions will be found. But in the meantime, what we as the Council of Europe can do, and I think I already announced in the Parliamentary Assembly, is that we can do what we do in these areas, which are affected by the conflict, is confidence-building measures.

So immediately when it was possible, after the ceasefire agreement, that I hope that will be held by both parties, we send the high-level group to visit both Baku and Yerevan and now we are at the final stage of devising confidence-building measures, which will encompass non-political issues and and try to build confidence in the very difficult environment, which is the post-conflict environment between the two countries.

Now when it comes to detainees, I can only say that I welcome recent exchanges of several detainees and maps of mines coming from the region which had the conflict in the in the past. Map mines and mines, and you probably know from other conflicts that date from long ago, those that remain there, unless they are properly searched and properly identified, for more than 50 years, if not longer and can affect lives very often of children and innocent people who are there. So although at this moment I think everyone is mostly concerned about detainees and people who are in captivity, I think one should not forget about the importance of getting mine maps and eradicating the mines from the areas because that will certainly not be a proper environment for returning people and having a decent and proper life there.

So I can only welcome the recent situation where this happened and from my side I can observe that this is probably the first, very visible, symbolic but still very important act of humanitarian and human reactions among the two, and I can only hope that in the future there will be more such courage and such engagement from both sides to find a way to overcome the situation and build confidence, which is the basis for the peace in the future.

Now for the situation of minors – I hope I understood well with my Spanish, which I have not spoken for a long time – so for minor migrants: I know that recently in Ceuta and Melilla, there were cases where there was quite a number of young and minor people were there. I was following it very closely because, as you know, within the Council of Europe we have several bodies that are following migration issues. One is the special representative of the Secretary General for Migration, others are, of course, our Commissioner for Human Rights and and our European Committee for the Prevention of Torture or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) organ, so all of them are following very closely.

Now when it comes to unaccompanied minors, I must say that, as a result, as a first action plan, in regard to the migration issues, the major theme of this first action plan was related to accompanied minors: so how to assist our member states that are particularly exposed to migrations? How to deal with minors in general, minor asylum seekers and minor migrants? This, and there is a lot of good practice that was established there, including one network of focal points for migration that helps member states exchange good practices but also exchange information about it.

And if I can say something, when looking at the migration, if there is one positive result, I think, that is that some of our member states, when there are urgent situations, react, as in emergency in a way, that they relocate some of the minor migrants that are in such situation. So I can only ask for member states who can do so, to really show the humanitarian side that every one of us have to save these children from all the precarity that they can face when they are in this situation.

And for your second question, it is a big theme but just mentioning for the neighbouring policy for the Council of Europe. I have already proposed – because the one the neighbouring policy that we have so far now is more or less at its review – I have made some proposals to the Committee of Ministers, they will discuss it, they will think about it and we will see how to go in the future about that. In my view, the basic orientations that were established in some of the criteria, known as Istanbul Criteria, are still valid so that we work with the 5-5-5 formula: five countries from the south Mediterranean, five countries of the Middle East and five countries of Central Asia, so this geographical scope to me seemed appropriate.

However, in working with these countries with different levels, we discovered that probably some more adjustments needs to be done in the policy that we have devised before, so I hope that the Committee of Ministers and its working bodies will, in the future, work on that and see how our neighbouring policy, having the same goal to expand the good governance and area of freedom through human rights, democracy and the rule of law, to our neighbourhood, can best help the citizens of these countries that are targeted by our neighbouring policies.

So I am sure, and I know that within the Parliamentary Assembly you also are very concerned about that, I know that you often refer to that and let me say as a final word, this time, we call for more and more, and this was also one of the tasks given by the decision of the Committee of Ministers meeting held in Hamburg last month, is to link more visibly sustainable development goals with our neighbouring policy.

So my call in the proposal that I made is that we do a lot of good work, I refer to it through the annual reports of our monitoring and advisory bodies. And their work can really be excellent benchmarks for SDGs for member states because, as you may know, SDGs mainly are implemented at the national level but our expertise can be very helpful and we also try on the level of the Council of Europe, to use more and more linking our work to SDGs, including that we have dedicated part of our webpage that is serving for that purpose.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:49:54

Thank you very much, Madam Secretary General.

I think that concludes our Q&A with you. We would love to go on for a couple of hours but I suppose you don't really have the time and we need to work on some reports.

So, thank you very much as always for your responses to the Parliamentary Assembly and I also wish to thank you for the excellent cooperation that we have.

May I invite now Vice-Chair Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN to take over the meeting.

Of course you have got your hammer, but you stay away from my bell. Right?

Voilà. Kimmo.

Debate: Overcoming the socio-economic crisis sparked by the Covid-19 pandemic

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC, President of the Assembly

16:50:52

Ladies and gentlemen, let's move to the next item.

I'll try to do my best with this hammer which the President kindly offered to me. I suppose it's not very much needed. We are very orderly running the discussions.

Obviously, you all know very well that during the annual progress report the overall theme for all of us was the pandemic, the Covid-19 pandemic. It has had a big impact for the organisation obviously, also on our work and also, of course, throughout Europe. It's a serious challenge for all of our societies.

Now we do have an actual item to discuss seriously about the issue of the Covid-19 pandemic. We have a report, the title is the following: "Overcoming the socio-economic crisis sparked by the Covid-19 pandemic".

That report will be presented by Mr Andrej HUNKO. He will speak on behalf of the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development.

We shall also hear an opinion from Ms Elvira KOVÁCS. She will speak on behalf of the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination.

The debate time according to the original plan was so that we try to finish this debate by 6:30 p.m. I suppose we are still strict to that one although we start almost half an hour later as planned, but we try to be strict on that one. Unfortunately, I have to finish the list of speakers at around one hour from this time in order to have a lot of time for replies and obviously for the vote.

The rapporteur has seven minutes as usual to present the report and three minutes afterwards. The overall debate time for everyone is three minutes. I try to be strict on that one because we need obviously to have as many speeches and presentation as possible.

Now, Mister Andrej HUNKO, the floor is yours, please.

Mr Andrej HUNKO

Germany, UEL, Rapporteur

16:53:06

Dear Mister President

Dear colleagues,

Today we are discussing the report on overcoming the socio-economic crisis triggered by Covid-19. A deep economic crisis has been triggered, which has also been exacerbated by the fact that many states were not well prepared for the pandemic. If you look at the effects of this economic crisis on the different parts of our societies, you have to say that the effects were very unevenly distributed.

While the pandemic affects everyone somewhere, the consequences of the economic crisis are very unevenly distributed. According to estimates by the International Monetary Fund, for example, it is assumed that in 2020 alone the number of people living in extreme poverty will have risen by an additional 100 million worldwide, that poverty and malnutrition among children will have doubled, and all this will lead NGOs like Oxfam to speak of a hunger pandemic. This also affects large parts of the world. On the other hand, perhaps surprisingly, the proportion of dollar millionaires has risen by 5.6 million, the wealth of the 2700 billionaires has risen by 60% within this pandemic; this simply shows how extraordinary the unequal development is.

I have already said that the pandemic caught many countries unprepared. This also has to do with the fact that the wrong reactions were used in the run-up to the last major economic crisis we had ten years ago, the so-called financial market crisis and later the euro crisis. There were also many austerity programmes, which in turn weakened the ability of the health system in some countries to react. All of this comes together here. It was the case that last year; in March, in April, many states reacted according to their possibilities with large investment programmes in order to stabilise the economy, which was also distributed very differently, because the leeway of the states is also different and that now, at least at the level of the European Union, a large investment programme has been launched, which in my view goes in the right direction. In my opinion, it could be even bigger and we can already see that there is a different international climate at the moment than ten years ago, when austerity policy was at the centre of attention as a reaction to the crisis. So it is already the case that many international actors such as the OECD, but even the US President are proposing quite different paradigms here. For example,the Chief Economist of the OECD, Ms Laurence Boone, says, and I quote, "the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic should change governments' attitudes to public spending and debt. Renewed austerity would risk a popular backlash. The mistake we made was not for lack of economic stimulus during the trough in 2009, the mistake came later in 2010/2011 and so on. The first lesson is to ensure that the government does not implement austerity, does not implement austerity in one to two years after the GDP trough. Countries should move away from short-term numerical targets of government deficits and debt and instead pursue long-term sustainability targets."

That is also at the core of what I am proposing in this report. I think we need large public investment programmes that are guided by the UN Sustainable Development Goals. These 17 Sustainable Development Goals. This is about the fight against poverty, the fight against inequality, but also about goals such as the fight against climate change and that it is of course just as necessary – I have also included this again in the report – that we also promote vaccine production internationally at the same time, among other things also through the abolition of patents. Of course, there is always the question of how the whole thing can be financed. I believe it is important that the profiteers of the current crisis are also involved, and that is why I have made a number of proposals.

I believe that we are really at a historic crossroads. A crisis also always contains an opportunity, an opportunity on the one hand to reshape the economy, to rebuild it. I believe we should seize this opportunity, i.e. public investment programmes on a large scale, in order, above all, to implement the UN Sustainable Development Goals. That is basically the core of the proposal I am making here. I ask for support for this report and also look forward to critical contributions.

Thank you very much.

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC, President of the Assembly

17:00:07

Mister HUNKO, thank you very much indeed.

Now I would like to ask Ms Elvira KOVÁCS, she is giving the opinion of the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination.

Please, Miss KOVÁCS.

 

Ms Elvira KOVÁCS

Serbia, EPP/CD, Rapporteur for opinion

17:00:23

Dear Chair, dear colleagues,

First of all, of course I wish to congratulate Mr Andrej HUNKO for this report. It draws attention to the socio-economic dimension of the crisis induced by the Covid-19 pandemic and points out that its effects have been aggravated due to structural weaknesses that already existed within our societies.

The Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination welcomes the recognition that inclusive and sustainable development must be at the heart of all recovery efforts, that we cannot talk about socio-economic recovery without paying attention to the needs of the disadvantaged and marginalised and without Covid-19 responses grounded in data evidence and human rights.

However, the Committee wishes the text to reflect more strongly the principles of equality and non-discrimination, which are crucial to our societies' sustainable recovery from the pandemic. Therefore, the amendments proposed are aimed at mainstreaming equality into all measures taken to respond to the socio-economic crisis and especially two.

1. Incorporate equality impact assessments as an integral element of ongoing public health economic and social policy responses to the crisis, aimed at identifying and eliminating the actual or potential discriminatory effects of these responses.

2. Ensure equal opportunities by eliminating discriminatory laws policies and practices as part of the sustainable development goals and the pledge to leave no one behind.

Mounting evidence has shown that ethnic, racial, and religious minorities are not only at greater less risk of contracting the virus for a wide range of reasons, but can also face higher mortality rates once infected often due to limited access to medical care. Linguistic minorities may face problems in accessing accurate public health service advice.

The pandemic is still far from over, unfortunately, and its discriminatory effects continue to deepen inequalities. Lockdowns increase the risk of domestic and gender-based violence. The gender pay and pension gaps are widening. Unequal health status and living conditions continue to expose some groups to greater risk of illness. Educational and professional opportunities for the young remain blocked. Both young people and the elderly face persisting isolation. Financial support has been diverted away from programs designed to combat inequalities. Access to vaccination is also uneven. States now face a duel challenge they must not only continue to fight the pandemic and its effects they also must look urgently to building a fairer, more inclusive future throughout society and across all levels of people's lives, going well beyond socio-economic concerns.

Thank you very much for your attention.

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC, President of the Assembly

17:03:29

Thank you very much, Madam Elvira KOVÁCS.

Now we move back to the speakers list.

As usual we start with speakers on behalf of the political groups.

We start with the Group of the Unified European Left.

Mister George KATROUGALOS, please, the floor is yours.

Mr George KATROUGALOS

Greece, UEL, Spokesperson for the group

17:03:47

Thank you, Mister Chair.

I would like to congratulate Mr Andrej HUNKO for a very impressive report.

I must say that generally our Assembly has shown good reflexes in this challenging environment of the pandemic.

Already in the morning we have responded to challenges related to freedoms and civil rights in order to avoid a hygienic apartheid. As already indicated by both our rapporteurs, the situation at the social level is even more worrying.

Oxfam has called the Covid-19 virus the inequality virus for the reasons already exposed and not only regarding the global South. Mr Andrej HUNKO has referred to neighbours that for the first time in the last decades have risen to absolute poverty in the world.

Some estimates like those of the United Nations Global Institute of Development estimates that this rise of absolute poverty could reach half a billion people. That is eight percent of the global population. At the same time the accumulated wealth of the ten biggest billionaires, that accumulated wealth during the crisis is enough according, again, to Oxfam to finance all the vaccinations needed for the poor countries and also to reverse this trend of increasing absolute poverty.

Moreover, this is not a concern only for the global South but also for our own societies. The example of the undermining of national health systems, referred again by the two rapporteurs, is very characteristic.

There are countries in Europe that have lost between the 80s and nowadays more than 40% of their general and acute beds. This is now general knowledge. If you read for instance the novel of Jonathan Coe Middle England, you understand better how this emblematic British national health system has become a shadow of itself because of decades of austerity and underfunding.

Now it is the case to reverse this example of development exactly because the pandemic has exacerbated. It did not create the inequalities. I think the report shows how we should proceed.

First of all, reinforce the fiscal capacity of the state. Between the 80s and now, the average corporate tax has been reduced almost by 50%. We must tax the richer, especially the multinationals who escaped now to tax havens. We must increase social investment in public infrastructure, especially in the welfare state and, more generally, rebalance growth, reorient growth not just to augment the national GDP but also to help people.

Thank you, Mister Chair.

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC, President of the Assembly

17:07:35

Thank you very much.

Now we move to the Socialists, Democrats and Greens Group.

Ms Selin SAYEK BÖKE from Turkey will actually address you.

I will now say also the next one in order to make it swifter after her. It will be Mr François CALVET for the Group of the European People's Party.

But now Ms Selin SAYEK BÖKE.

Ms Selin SAYEK BÖKE

Turkey, SOC, Spokesperson for the group

17:08:02

Thank you very much.

I'd like to congratulate Mr Andrej HUNKO on behalf of the Socialist, Democrats and Greens Group. The pandemic started as a health crisis evolving very quickly into a deep socio-economic crisis. It has brought the socio-economic inequalities into the limelight and brought the world to the same critical juncture we faced earlier. Will we insist on our current socio-economic model that has been generating these ever deepening inequalities, or will we this time opt to change our model?

Clearly this question implies a historic opportunity as well as a huge responsibility. We bear the opportunity of writing the austerity wrongs of the past and the responsibility of ameliorating the vulnerability of the millions.

Now, these socio-economic inequalities we face upon the pandemic are structural. As such, any policy should not only alleviate the short-term pain inflicted by the pandemic but should also become a stepping stone in changing our social and economic structures.

First and foremost, it's time we turn words into deeds. For example, our very own European social charter stipulates that the state ensures every individual is guaranteed a basic level of income. However, even though a basic level of income is enshrined as a right in our conventions and legislations, as the reality of the pandemic has shown to us, millions lack this minimum level of income.

So I underline, under a pandemic that has meant economic distress mostly of the precarious on the vulnerable, it's the responsibility of the state to provide social protection and support, not to push people into more debt from financial markets. And this is indeed very well identified in this resolution.

For example, the right to protection of health is under protection via our European Social Charter. In other words, health is a social right enshrined in our very own convention. Putting these words into deeds would require that states expand their public social investment programmes to ensure universal health care. This will not only mean dealing with the pandemic, but it will also mean that rather than commodifying healthcare in the hands of the private sector, who seeks private profits naturally, the states will provide health care to all as a public service.

In short, to put our words to deeds, to make social and economic rights our socio-economic realities, we need to avoid austerity, we need to revisit our fiscal discipline frameworks where we focus on the composition and the quality of our spending, where we focus on social public investment and infrastructure programmes which aim at social justice. And this would require that states undertake efficient social public investment rather than rent-seeking infrastructure projects that serve huge wealth transfers into the hands of a few.

And indeed, social justice requires fiscal justice, and fiscal justice necessitates progressive taxation. We can turn words into deeds by accepting this resolution and this will be a step in the right direction.

On behalf of our group I strongly support this report and congratulate the rapporteur.

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC, President of the Assembly

17:11:23

Thank you very much, Miss Selin SAYEK BÖKE.

Next is Mr François CALVET for the Group of the European People's Party.

After him it will be the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe group represented by Ms Reina de BRUIJN-WEZEMAN from the Netherlands.

Now, please. 

Mr François CALVET

France, EPP/CD, Spokesperson for the group

17:11:38

Mister President,

Dear colleagues,

I thank our colleagues Mr Andrej HUNKO and Ms Elvira KOVÁCS for allowing us to address the socio-economic issues of the Covid-19 crisis. The Covid-19 pandemic has damaged our economies and societies. Our states have put in place emergency measures to mitigate the effects of the crisis in the very short term. The challenge now is to prepare for a return to normality.

Our rapporteur is proposing a very ambitious and, in a way, maximalist vision in budgetary terms.

Speaking on behalf of the Group of the European People's Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats, I should like to share with you a few thoughts, which are based in particular on the discussions that the Committee on European Affairs had last week in Weimar format.

The motion for a resolution refers to the possibility of reviewing the fiscal requirements of the Stability and Growth Pact, in line with the need to maintain spending, at least during the period of recovery. The European Union has adopted, after lengthy negotiations, a recovery plan backed by a common loan which has just entered an operational phase. The challenge now is to act quickly.

Is the European plan sufficient? Frankly, I think we should take it as it is. We had a lot of trouble reaching an agreement in the European Council. I do not believe in a complementary European plan.

On the other hand, and the resolution tabled by our fellow member expresses this, we see the temptation to get round the obstacle by means of a legitimate debate on the European budgetary rules. Should we now cling to the famous Maastricht criteria or should we make them more flexible to allow the member states to invest more in strategic areas for the future so that Europe is not irretrievably left behind by its competitors, first and foremost the United States and China?

I can see that the French Government wishes to hold this debate, particularly in view of the French Presidency of the Council in the first half of 2022. In my opinion, this debate can only be conducted if it is accompanied by a credible budgetary doctrine and sincere commitments in terms of choices and control of public spending. Budgetary constraints cannot be ignored for long. In France, the Banque de France and the Court of Auditors recently reminded us of this. I see that in Germany, the debate is also taking place with a view to the next elections.

On the other hand, I share the analysis of our rapporteurs on the need for an inclusive approach to growth. History has shown us that the immediate post-crisis periods have often led to social difficulties, but also, subsequently, to political crises and democratic issues. I believe that this is the yardstick by which we should approach these issues.

I thank you.

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC, President of the Assembly

17:14:49

Thank you very much.

Next one is Ms Reina de BRUIJN-WEZEMAN for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Group.

After her, Mr John HOWELL.

Ms Reina de BRUIJN-WEZEMAN

Netherlands, ALDE, Spokesperson for the group

17:15:01

Thank you Chair.

Good afternoon to you all.

On behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe I want to congratulate the Rapporteur Mr Andrej HUNKO on this report in which he sets out the socio-economic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Every state is confronted with the consequences of the measures taken to control the pandemic, which had an enormous impact on social life and slowed down economic developments.

Unfortunately, we also experienced that several parts of the population, reaching across Europe, are disproportionately affected in sanitary, social and economic terms.

The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe welcomes the recommendations in this report on ensuring that funds made available to stabilise and strengthen the socio-economic situation are used to promote more inclusive and more sustainable development.

For an inclusive and more sustainable development the Rapporteur emphasises member states' commitments to upholding fundamental social rights and interests as enshrined in the European Social Charter.

To achieve these goals, expansion of public investment programmes is recommended.

I find the recommendation of revisiting the fiscal requirements of the EU Stability and Growth Pact in line with the need to maintain spending, at least during the recovery period, very interesting.

There must be room for that. Some leading economists in the Netherlands note that when there is a quick recovery with renewed economic growth, with current low interest rates, some of the state's debt burden will evaporate on its own.

Coming up to the quick recovery, it is undeniable that some of the wealthiest countries are seeing significant improvements in their epidemiological situation.

Thanks to massive vaccination these countries already are showing a quick economic recovery. Vaccination seems to be the only way out of this crisis.

I therefore welcome the addendum and the proposed amendment to insert a new Subparagraph 8.2.7 that calls to urgently expand production capacity of Covid-19 vaccines worldwide.

The Director General of the World Health Oraganisation Mr Tedros Adhanom said that to truly end the pandemic, our goal should be that at least 70 percent of the worldwide population is vaccinated.

To reach this goal, in my opinion, it's not only an issue of availability of vaccines, but also an issue of willingness of people to be vaccinated. There is still more work to be done. Some groups varying by country or region do not want to be vaccinated because of fear, or out of conviction.

I would urge all my colleagues to actively promote and stimulate mandatory vaccinations in their home countries.

Thank you.

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC, President of the Assembly

17:18:12

Thank you very much indeed.

And next one is Mr John HOWELL, who represents the EC group. Then after him we go to Mr Pierre-Alain FRIDEZ.

John HOWELL, please.

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC/DA, Spokesperson for the group

17:18:28

I can agree with the Rapporteur on a number of points.

Let me start with one of those. It is that in the UK we are actively considering the experience and circumstances of people right across society. There's no doubt that we will all be changed by the experience of Covid-19. We can ensure that we'll emerge stronger and more united as a result. In the UK the government is committed to levelling up and making the UK a country where equality of opportunity exists for everyone. We are committed to ensuring a fair recovery for all.

This paper calls for large sums of money to be spent on Covid-19 recovery. An ambitious investment programme. A guaranteed minimum income, for example. All of this is to be paid for by, amongst other things, by progressive taxation. It will probably come as no surprise to say that I disagree with much of this. I come from a conservative background and I accept that the Rapporteur comes from a background of the left. I think that it ignores the experience of countries like the UK where the emphasis on growth is seeing a spring back quicker than was originally envisaged. The use of funds to preserve jobs and to help businesses has ensured that the demand is just waiting to be released.

During this crisis we have rolled out unprecedented levels of support to protect jobs for both women and for men. I do not believe that providing enterprises with public funds is supportable or sustainable. In the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors – all strong employers of women and ethnic minorities – eligible businesses will continue to pay no rates, no local taxes on their properties for 12 months, saving them 10 billion pounds.

But that is not sustainable.

As I read it, this report recommends effectively the nationalisation of key areas. I do not believe that this will work. I do not believe that it is in the interests of the consumer. It is a shame that we are going back over arguments that I remember having back in the 1970s. There is a quote at the end of it, of a future that we want. I think the Rapporteur asked for a future that we want.

I agree with that. It's just that I think that we have a different way of approaching that future – rather than a different future that we actually want to achieve. But I think the way that we approach that is crucial to understanding how best we achieve it.

Thank you.

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC, President of the Assembly

17:21:35

Thank you very much indeed.

Now we move to Mr Pierre-Alain FRIDEZ.

The following one is Ms Hajnalka JUHÁSZ

Now I want like to say to you that unfortunately the speaker's list is quite long, we have 30 speakers on the list. Unfortunately I can easily see that roughly having a time schedule now in front of us I cannot take maybe more than around ten, so please try to be as swift as possible in your presentation, then you allow others to make the presentation.

Now we move to the next speaker please.

Mr Pierre-Alain FRIDEZ

Switzerland, SOC

17:22:15

Vice-President,

Ladies and Gentlemen, dear colleagues,

History has taught us that pandemics, in addition to causing mass deaths and fear, have always brought chaos, social unrest, often political upheaval, even revolution, and always socio-economic instability. So how can we therefore be surprised, then, by the significant impact of Covid-19 on our lives in terms of the way in which we have been living for the past year? Without a vaccine, we would have had several years of successive waves and social tensions, even chaos.

Fortunately, thanks to human intelligence and technological prowess, a messenger RNA vaccine has been developed to offer a medical response to this cataclysm and, of course, our horizon and the field of our possibilities can finally become clearer. 

The social safety net in most of our countries has held firm, in some countries better than others. It has made it possible for the most strict measures to be taken, that is lockdown, to come up with a strong response and to slow down and contain the spread of the virus. But of course the financial resources within our different states needed to make this possible, and this has not been the case everywhere. Countries have increased their debts, but this pandemic has demonstrated the importance of having a strong welfare state. Whether the fervent defenders of liberalism like it or not, the need for a welfare state, a strong and protective welfare state is back.

It is now time to get back on our feet and to learn the lessons of the ordeal we have just been through over the past year. This requires clear, effective and appropriate responses, which are contained in our colleague's report.

Firstly, we must strengthen our welfare state, as I said earlier: this remains a priority today more than ever. We must not leave anyone by the wayside; we must fight relentlessly against the poverty that has developed; we must maintain and, if necessary, develop health services that are up to scratch. This is not easy in the context of the debt situation that several of our countries are experiencing and the economic slowdown, but we must set priorities. We have to reduce for instance the arms race, clamp down on fiscal injustice, impose solidarity taxes on the wealthiest and, why not, talk again about a universal income.

Then there is economic recovery: we must provide the means. At a recent hearing in the Committee on Social Affairs, Human Rights, Common Security and Defence Policy, on the subject of a report that I drafted on extreme child poverty, someone from the United States told us how important it was that United States ploughed huge resources in this to help reduce poverty among women and children and to revive the economy. We must provide better support for the most impoverished. We must support employment and develop technologies. Above all, we must provide a lot of resources for the ecological transition. We need to invest usefully, especially in insulating buildings.

The pandemic remains a risk and we must truly vaccinate the whole of society, the whole of the world; otherwise, the boomerang effect will come for Europe.

Thank you very much, Mr Andrej HUNKO.

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC, President of the Assembly

17:25:37

Merci beaucoup.

Now Ms Hajnalka JUHÁSZ, you are the next one and then after you Ms Konul NURULLAYEVA.

Please.

Ms Hajnalka JUHÁSZ

Hungary, EPP/CD

17:25:49

Thank you, Mister Chairman.

The present report sets out concrete proposals for member states to elaborate and implement ambitious economic recovery measures with a view to ensure solid bases for their economies to grow as well as to enable the society as a whole to benefit. Against this backdrop and in accordance with these requirements our government is at the doorstep of initiating a Re-launch Programme.

Following the shocking waves of the Covid-19, we have now come to a turning point. This milestone is called the economic and social recovery. Another key aspect is that we should find a balance between economic recovery and avoiding adverse social implications. With a view to find a forward-looking consistency between the two, we should avoid applying a tax-centred economic and financial approach and instead we should empower corporate actors and the individuals. In the case of the latter, based on the term of their status as consumer or beneficiaries of social allowances.

The rapporteur has a very important suggestion as job creation which the Hungarian Government is also very committed. The Government of Hungary adequately realized that public sanitary measures and policies aimed at protecting the economy must go hand-in-hand. That is to say, a balance must be found between the urge to save lives and to keep the country functioning. The burden of the crisis should not be put on the shoulders of those who suffered the most. Citizens and businesses, especially small and medium sized enterprises.

Restrictive monetary and fiscal models should be also eliminated. Consequently, a wide-ranging and exclusive concentration process should be initiated to get people on the right track towards an effective and successful recovery of both public health and the economy.

Congratulations to the rapporteur.

Thank you very much.

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC, President of the Assembly

17:27:44

Thank you very much.

Now we move to Azerbaijan, Ms Konul NURULLAYEVA and after her Mr Jacques LE NAY.

Ms Konul NURULLAYEVA.

 

Ms Konul NURULLAYEVA

Azerbaijan, NR

17:27:59

Thank you honourable President,

Dear Ms Elvira KOVÁCS and Mr Andrej HUNKO, thank you for providing inside inputs on this global concern. It is unfortunate but undeniable that Covid-19 has deeply impacted people's lives from various aspects and raised severe health-related, social-economic and fiscal challenges for all countries.

I would like to draw your attention particularly to the effect of Covid-19 on social-economic matters and state the solutions we can use to mitigate the aggravated crisis. Firstly, as a scale of the socio-economic crisis is not equal across all countries or within the population, we need to treat the groups most vulnerable to inequalities or having the least access to resources. For example, as 2021 is a post-war period for Azerbaijan, an important share of annual goals were concentrated on disadvantaged groups, such as families of martyrs, war veterans and single households who lost the head of their family during the liberation of occupied lands. To these groups, the Azerbaijani state dedicated a separate support plan which encompasses further expansion of social support measures, ensuring the sustainability of social payments, construction of social infrastructure in the liberated territories and social programmes, including housing, car and self-employment.

Moreover, I am of the opinion that all countries need to analyse the employment losses recorded within their national borders as a result of the pandemic to realise what labour groups and which sectors of work were affected by Covid-19 the most and the way the governments' efforts to revitalise the economy should be concentrated on. In this regard, the state of Azerbaijan designed financial support programmes for employees working in the sectors immensely affected by the pandemic, such as trade, transport, industry and services. And of course, the businesses operating in the areas endangered by the pandemic. I believe that to overcome the social-economic crisis, every state needs to combat it first on national but later also on a global level by distributing financial aid to states with the worst defence system against the crisis.

Finally, I join my fellow colleagues and advocate strategy, long-term vision and ambition for transformative recovery on the European continent with strong green and social dimensions.

Thank you for your attention.

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC, President of the Assembly

17:30:48

Thank you very much.

The next one is Mr Jacques LE NAY from France.

After him, Mr Mikayel MELKUMYAN.

Mr Jacques LE NAY

France, ALDE

17:30:58

President,

Dear colleagues,

The member states of the Council of Europe reacted quickly to the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic by adopting emergency and economic support plans. Although the massive support provided by member states made it possible to limit the dramatic consequences of the socio-economic crisis caused by the pandemic, it considerably weakened the balance of their public finances. This debate is therefore an opportunity for states to conduct an in-depth and longer-term reflection on the characteristics of the resources at their disposal and the use they make of them. I believe that the objective is clear: to create inclusive, sustainable and durable growth that will make our countries more resilient.

The emergency and recovery programmes call for considerable resources, which had to be mobilised but which have greatly increased the public deficit and the debt of the states, but also that of the European Union, which was authorised for the first time to take on debt to launch a recovery and resilience plan of 750 billion euros.

The repayment of the "Covid-19 debt", now that the health situation seems to be improving, and the "return to budgetary normality", are major challenges.

In this respect, I agree with the emphasis placed by our Rapporteur on the need to stimulate employment and to create high-quality jobs, paying particular attention to strategic sectors for the future, especially in the areas of ecological and digital transition. This crisis, difficult as it is, must be an opportunity for us to overcome our weaknesses.

The motion for a resolution rightly emphasises the need to improve the educational and professional prospects of young people and to develop lifelong learning systems. Young people are the most socially vulnerable and have suffered greatly from this crisis and unfortunately risk suffering further if growth is not sufficient to avoid the shuttering of businesses. States must therefore strengthen the mechanisms that will enable our fellow citizens to be more agile in keeping or finding a job and they must ensure that appropriate social safety nets are maintained in this context

In view of the resources required, I think it is important that the states should be able to find, within the framework of the OECD, a relevant solution for taxing the digital economy. I also welcome the commitment of the G7 member states to a minimum corporate tax rate of 15%, which I consider to be a very important step.

Thank you very much.

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC, President of the Assembly

17:33:44

Thank you very much.

The next one is Mr Mikayel MELKUMYAN from Armenia, is he linked?

No, then we move straight away to Mr Stefan SCHENNACH from Austria.

After Mr Stefan SCHENNACH there is Mr Yuriy KAMELCHUK.

Please, Mr Stefan SCHENNACH.

Mr Stefan SCHENNACH

Austria, SOC

17:34:07

Thank you, Mister President,

Mister President, I too can only congratulate the Social Committee, the rapporteur and also the rapporteur. This report comes at exactly the right time, namely, now the question arises. Firstly, who pays for the crisis and how do I prevent a recession?

Those are the two very worst things that could possibly go completely wrong here.

The important thing is – and this crisis has shown it – how dramatically the situation of the disadvantaged population has developed in this crisis. At the same time, a great deal of public money has been invested, and here we must be honest. Much more has been invested in companies, in the airlines alone, for example, than in individual employees even if there was short-time work and work support. In the end it cannot be the case that the main part of the financing is then collected from the employees. Wwhat would be very bad is if we were to fall back into a kind of austerity policy. So save, save and pull the levers. What is important here, and I believe that this is what the rapporteur has said, is that we now need public investment programmes. We need investment in climate change, in digital transformation. We must, and – addressing Mr François CALVET – yes, we must remove the Maastricht criteria as gagging criteria. We must help the towns and municipalities, which have a completely different potential here to meet demand and investment, out of this gagging of recent years, in order to create work in the local area. Above all, if we look at the ecological area, then it is a key point, with the towns and municipalities –that they can slip out of this tight corset of the Maastricht criteria.

The rapporteur states that, on the one hand, the Social Charter protects, but in this extreme crisis we have also seen gaps, which means that we must also continue to work on this Social Charter. The important thing now is vaccination solidarity. We must show solidarity here with those countries that cannot afford the vaccine doses, but we must not exchange this for bad business.

That is why I fully support this resolution and recommendation.

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC, President of the Assembly

17:37:32

Sorry Mr Yuriy KAMELCHUK.

We have actually missed, we have now a link to Mr Mikayel MELKUMYAN from Armenia, so let's take him first, and then you.

Mr Mikayel MELKUMYAN

Armenia, EC/DA

17:37:57

Good morning, colleagues,

Covid-19 is a serious challenge for all countries in the world. It is a disaster that has lasted for almost two years and has damaged the foundation of the world economy. It has implied serious restrictions not only for health systems, businesses but also for vulnerable groups in society, increasing inequalities. The pandemic has brought to the fore many problems that states had not previously faced. Now that most countries have lifted the most stringent restrictions, we need to think not only about restoring our economies but also about rebuilding ourselves so that we can deal more effectively with future challenges.

The draft under discussion is all the more important as it calls for joining our efforts and opportunities to overcome this crisis together, which has disrupted the normal course of life. However, colleagues, it is regrettable that some member states of our institution are doing the opposite and taking advantage of this situation to realise their bellicose aspirations. What support could be expected from Azerbaijan and Turkey, the men who unleashed the 44-day Artsakh war during the pandemic, involving mercenaries and using banned weapons against the Armenian civilian population? What can we expect from Azerbaijan, which still lives on the sovereign territory of the Armenian Republic?

I ask you: how is it that after all the atrocities committed, this state remains unpunished? For more than seven months, since 10 November, Azerbaijan has been holding more than 200 Armenian prisoners of war. Where is the law? Such a crime in the modern world was beyond comprehension. Do they want to see the Azeri soldiers who invaded our sovereign territory captured and then exchanged? Europe, they invaded the sovereign territory of a Council of Europe member state. Europe, what would you do? Europe, your decision should be precise, operational and focused.

Your current procedures no longer deal with extreme situations, including situations on the Azerbaijani border. Change them quickly, please.

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC, President of the Assembly

17:41:00

Thank you very much.

And now Mr Yuriy KAMELCHUK from Ukraine.

After him, Ms Kate OSAMOR.

 

Mr Yuriy KAMELCHUK

Ukraine, EPP/CD

17:41:08

Dear Chairman,

Dear colleagues,

The Covid-19 crisis has demonstrated humanity's unpreparedness for the joint and coordinated countering of threats.

China, India, Brazil, USA, the EU, UK, Japan, will still play a crucial role in global recovery. They own the world's major capitals. Their economic policy is the basis for many governments and central banks. Their decisions shape global financial trends.

Given the consequences of the financial crisis and inter-crisis dynamics, there is reason to believe that in the post- coronavirus prelude growth rates in developed European countries will remain low compared to the growth of many emerging European and Asian economies. Expansive measures to support social programmes in Europe are traditionally much broader than in the United States. For emerging countries the difficulties of recovery are associated with falling global demand for most commodities.

Leading countries have begun to introduce structural changes that have become necessary components of the formation of a new economic structure for both national and global markets.

It is about productivity and the focus of which has weakened somewhat in the past two decades. A period of overwhelming expansion of international trade and investment flows.

However, the long-term prospects for maintaining high productivity and economic dynamism depend on investment in human capital, especially in education and science. The level of funding for research and development in the EU remains at 2 per cent of GDP, far behind the United States, Japan, and already China. Only some EU countries which have strong enough finances, Germany and Sweden, invest more

In my opinion, investment in human capital can become the main factor in the growth of the world economy in the coming decades.

Thank you.

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC, President of the Assembly

17:43:11

Thanks a lot, now it is Ms Kate OSAMOR from United Kingdom. After her, it's Ms Parvin KARIMZADA, Azerbaijan. And the last one, unfortunately, today is Ms Fiona O'LOUGHLIN from Ireland.

Now it means it is Ms Kate OSAMOR, please.

Ms Kate OSAMOR

United Kingdom, SOC

17:43:29

Thank you, Chair, for calling me to speak in this debate.

I would like to congratulate the rapporteur Mr Andrej HUNKO on his timely report.

As stated in point 3 of the draft resolution, I echo the deep concerns about the situation of vulnerable population that has been harshly affected by the socio-economic crisis sparked by the pandemic.

For the last ten years, the UK government has cut welfare state to ribbons with charities filling the gaps. Charities are the cornerstone of many communities. Sadly, across the United Kingdom, many charities struggled as a result of the lockdown, just when they were needed most. As we all can attest to, millions of people have lost their jobs homes and lives due to the pandemic, and many relied solely on charity to make ends meet.

As we rebuild our economies, it is more important than ever to call for member states to provide financial support to the charity sector. During the pandemic, we saw the vulnerability of people that rent their homes. Especially migrant renters, who have very little support and, unfortunately, even Covid-19 failed to push the UK government into action. During the first wave, the UK government put a temporary ban on evictions. This temporary ban on evictions was recently lifted, despite some sections of the economy still unable to fully open. I'm particularly concerned about migrants who have no recourse to public funds faced by those who are not allowed to claim social security benefits, like Universal Credit or Statutory Sick Pay, because of their immigration status.

During the first wave, it was not clear what support, if any, will be extended to people with no recourse to public funds. One's immigration status shouldn't stop him or her from getting help during the pandemic. Many migrants with no recourse the public funds kept the economy going on the front line, working on the NHS servicing, the transport links that took the essential workers to and from their work. And many died.

Those migrants, who caught Covid-19, were unable to financially afford to stay at home and self-isolate. Due to their immigration status they were not even allowed to apply for Statutory Sick Pay or housing benefit to help pay their rent, turning to Charities for food and clothes bank for help.

This virus does not discriminate when it infects people. The help governments gave people should not discriminate either. In closing, Chair, we cannot fight the road to recovery successfully if people are not secure and safe in their homes.

This excellent report is a facilitator for members to take back to their respective government to better consider a way of implementing a recovery plan that helps the most vulnerable.

Thank you.

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC, President of the Assembly

17:46:16

Thank you very much.

Now it is Ms Parvin KARIMZADA from Azerbaijan and after her, Ms Fiona O'LOUGHLIN.

Ms Parvin KARIMZADA

Azerbaijan, NR

17:46:34

Thank you, Mister Chairman.

Ladies and gentlemen, the coronavirus was a huge test for the whole world. Thousands of people lost their lives. There was social and economic crisis in the world.

Continuous measures have been taken in Azerbaijan to come back from the global coronavirus pandemic and eliminate its negative effects.

In general the economy received a total of about 1.5 billion Euros from the 2020 state budget and other sources to finance measures to reduce the negative impact of the pandemic on the national economy, macroeconomic stability, employment and business entities.

During the pandemic special attention was paid to employment issues. The work was done in the direction to assist about three million people. People who lost their income during the pandemic received financial aid from the government. The state paid tuition fees of students from socially vulnerable families. The scope of a self-employment programme has been expanded. The list can go on but because I have a limited time, I will not go into the details.

Of course the period of the pandemic was a difficult time for all countries.

Ladies and gentlemen, Azerbaijan is not only taking measures to eliminate the pandemic. At the same time it eliminates the negative results of a second Karabach war. Hundreds of houses were destroyed in cities far from military operations as a result of a launch of Armenian missiles. Those houses and destroyed properties are being restored. At the same time restoration works are underway in the liberated territories.

The region's energy supply, road structures and economic infrastructure there are also being rapidly restored. I especially want to emphasise green energy projects that are developed and aimed at protecting the environment in the liberated territories. Smart city and small village projects in the region will be implemented rapidly and with the participation of foreign companies through the application of advanced technologies.

Ladies and gentlemen, however, the fact that Armenia's side resists to provide maps of mined areas prevents a fast restoration process.

Finally, in general I believe that all states must be mobilised together to overcome the negative effects of the pandemic.

Thank you.

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC, President of the Assembly

17:49:23

Thank you very much, and now we try Ms Fiona O'LOUGHLIN from Ireland. We have connection?

Unfortunately, no connection but, unfortunately, we are also in the situation that we have 20 more speakers on the speakers list. But time is not for us, it is against us and I apologise. You do have the opportunity to provide your speeches to the Table Office for publication, in the office to report, so please use that opportunity if you so wish.

Unfortunately, we must now interrupt the list of speakers. Now, Mister HUNKO, would you like to say a few words as a rapporteur? Three minutes.

Mr Andrej HUNKO

Germany, UEL, Rapporteur

17:50:12

Thank you very much, Mister President,

I will say a few words, but I will be brief.

First of all, thank you very much for the many and also very positive feedbacks. I was really very pleased.

I would like to take up one point in more detail, the point made by Mr François CALVET and also Ms Reina de BRUIJN-WEZEMAN; the question of the relationship to the EU's stability and growth pact.

Mister François CALVET, you said that the EU has just reached an agreement on how it should deal with this issue. I think that we, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, can formulate more ambitious goals. First of all, we are not only the EU, so to speak, and we do not only refer to the EU, but we can also formulate more far-reaching points from our role, because we are based on our conventions, on the Convention on Human Rights, on the Social Charter and so on. I believe that we are actually in a kind of historical upheaval in this debate because many of the economic provisions that we have in the EU Treaties reflect a certain period, a certain experience, above all the period of the 1990s and 2000s. I believe that we are now confronted with new historical experiences and that it must then be possible to discuss some of the provisions again. I was very pleased about the openness of the EPP and ALDE Groups in particular on this issue.

Mr John HOWELL said that we do not want to have the debates of the 1970s again. No, I do not want that either. But I do believe that there are a few areas of society – and health is one of them – where we have a responsibility as a society as a whole and we can discuss how they need to be redesigned and shaped in concrete terms. I believe that this is an area where society as a whole, including the state, has a responsibility and which cannot simply be left to the game of supply and demand and the market, so to speak.

We are at a historic crossroads here in the whole debate and I found that very interesting. I also believe that our debate reflects a bit of the upheaval in this issue. As I said, I am pleased about the many suggestions, many things in agreement and I ask for your support for this report.

Thank you very much, Mister President.

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC, President of the Assembly

17:53:17

Thank you very much, Mister HUNKO.

Now Mister LEITE RAMOS, you are the Chair of the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development. Would you like to make a presentation?

If so, three minutes.

Mr Luís LEITE RAMOS

Portugal, EPP/CD, President of the committee

17:53:35

I would first like to congratulate and thank Mr Andrej HUNKO and Ms Elvira KOVÁCS for their contribution to this excellent report.

Ladies and gentlemen, dear colleagues,

While the Covid-19 pandemic continues, our countries are preparing an exit strategy from the socio-economic crisis that it has triggered. This crisis is absolutely unique in modern times because of its global scope, duration and depth. It goes beyond the shocks of the 2008-2009 financial crisis, or even that of 1929. The choices that our states will make will be crucial to the future prosperity of our society, just as they were crucial during the pandemic that still haunts us.

Mr Andrej HUNKO's report calls on us to put forward a vision, a long-term strategic ambition for a recovery that will bring change to the European continent, with a strong green and social dimension. I believe that this thinking is widely shared in this House.

As Chairman of the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development, I must insist on the commitments of our states to respect fundamental social rights, as enshrined in the European Social Charter. This is not a luxury but our common commitment.

I therefore call on the members of this Assembly to carry the message of Mr Andrej HUNKO's report and to defend, in your respective parliaments, the vision of a responsible and ambitious state.

I thank you all for your contributions to the debate and I hope that it has provided you with the arguments to develop in each national context. Once again, thank you.

Mr Luc BERTHOLD

Canada

19:34:40

Speech not pronounced (Rules of Procedure, Art. 31.2), only available in French.

Mr Alain MILON

France, EPP/CD

19:34:48

Speech not pronounced (Rules of Procedure, Art. 31.2), only available in French.

Mr Paul GAVAN

Ireland, UEL

19:34:56

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

I want to congratulate the rapporteur on an excellent report.

I believe Europe now stands at a crossroads. We have an opportunity to take a different path to that of neo-liberalism that has been so dominant over the past 40 years.

The Covid crisis demanded a rapid expansion of public financing and public intervention -to protect our health services , and our people and businesses.

Suddenly the ideology of leaving society to the invisible hand of the market place never looked more ridiculous or outdated.

The pandemic exposed fundamental flaws in current systems of healthcare and social protection. In Ireland we entered the crisis with one of the lowest levels of intensive care beds of any country in Europe. Our level of social welfare payments was exposed as completely inadequate, and a new temporary payment 75% above the existing payment was introduced.

Suddenly the plight of essential workers in healthcare, retail, in our meat factories, so long ignored by successive governments came into view. Their low rates of pay the lack of rights within their workplace, the often insecure nature of their contracts. All of the failures in fact of 4 decades of worship at the alter of the marketplace.

There can be no return to normal, as defined by what the word ‘normal’ meant prior to this pandemic. We must build back better and this report acts as a roadmap as to how this can be done.

We must uphold the fundamental social rights as enshrined in the European Social Charter and in this regard I have to regretfully once again highlight the Government of Ireland’s ongoing failure to uphold article 6 of this charter. My country which likes to project an image of being progressive and fair has consistently failed to uphold the right of workers to bargain collectively. And this failure is the key reason why so many essential workers are condemned to low pay and insecure work.

I also agree with the rapporteurs call for greater protection for migrant workers throughout Europe, by extending the protections contained in the charter to them. These are amongst the most vulnerable workers across Europe, and we know too well how they have suffered and been exploited. In my own country workers on work permits are denied all access to the Workplace Relations Commission, so they have no means through which to seek redress for wrongdoings at work.

Finally I agree entirely with the call to implement ambitious investment programmes to rebuild our public services are decades of neglect. We need nothing less than a new social contract based on the Social Charter and backed by a new emphasis on progressive taxation that ensures corporations and the wealthy contribute in a much more significant way.

Ms Minerva HERNÁNDEZ RAMOS

Mexico

19:35:01

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

As in Europe, Mexicans have felt and suffered from the pernicious effects that this pandemic has had on the most vulnerable groups of our population. Due to inadequate public policies to face Covid-19, Mexico’s numbers are now 10 million people living in extreme poverty, 13 million unemployed, 14 out of 20 economic sectors registering annual declines and more than 80% of our states are in working poverty.

It is painful and embarrassing to say, but in Mexico we are surrounded by uncertainty regarding governmental action. Undoubtedly, we are continuously hit with a question that corrodes and eats away at us, what would have happened if we had dealt with this pandemic in a different way? Why, despite having had enough time to prepare and learn from the painful experiences of other countries, was our government stubborn, short-sighted, and slow?

The parameter is clear: Mexico represents 1.5% of the world's population, but considering global deaths caused by the coronavirus, our human losses represent 6% of that total, four times more!

Therefore, as parliamentarians in opposition to the ruling party, we join the call made by this Assembly to establish sound ways for economic recovery and to point out that now is not the time for financial austerity measures that weaken the capacity of attention and response of State institutions, affecting the most vulnerable population to a greater extent.

We know it is time to consolidate responsible and balanced public finances to guarantee minimum well-being and human development standards, especially for those most affected by this pandemic.

If our government boasts of having maintained tax revenue levels, it is outrageous that the emergency tax packages and rescue measures have not even reached 1% of our country’s GDP and that public spending has been allocated to projects that are of little social usefulness and very low return on investment, a situation that has even been highlighted in the headlines of the European press.

Unfortunately, our socio-economic recovery points to a "K" shape, to a very uneven outcome in which some sectors will benefit greatly and others, in general our domestic market, will face adverse scenarios.

Our macroeconomic policies should be oriented in the same direction that this Assembly proposes, to human development, to the protection of dignity and well-being, and to the full exercise of our economic, social, and cultural rights. Let us hope we understand this and do so soon.... Thank you very much.

Mr George LOUCAIDES

Cyprus, UEL

19:35:06

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

Dear Colleagues,

I should like to thank the Rapporteur, Mr. Hunko for his excellent and timely Report.

As the Report highlights, the pandemic revealed discrepancies among member states, but also among the different segments and societal groups. These inequalities, exacerbated by years of austerity measures, left many of our governments with little room to manoeuvre and recover from the most severe health crisis our modern societies are facing. The irreplaceable role of public health-care systems and the state and the catastrophic consequences of neoliberalism were revealed. We need to rise up to the many challenges and seize the opportunity to create more just, efficient, resilient and inclusive socio-economic structures and institutions.

Creating a prosperous and green future by rebalancing macroeconomic priorities and environmental needs, should be at the forefront of recovery efforts. In addition to generous fiscal policies, public investment programmes and targeted taxation policies, initiatives to boost the private sector must be conditional upon the real added value in terms of quality employment, security and social insurance. The European Social Charter needs to be extended and new rights created, so that nobody is left out.

As most of us have realised, “We are not all on the same boat but we are all in the same storm”. Undeniably, some people are worse off. We need to support vulnerable people. Women have been affected disproportionally as have also migrants, low income and precarious workers, people with disabilities and children. Similarly, several economic sectors such as the tourism industry, the arts and cultural institutions merit our special attention and assistance. Access to education and the digital world needs to become the norm for all our citizens and not just for the privileged elite.

At the other end, some multinational companies have seen their profits surge during lockdown periods. Governments need to take necessary measures to ensure that these profits are returned to the real economy. All countries receive vaccines, a goal that can only be achieved through renewed international solidarity, cooperation and coordination.

Now is the time to restructure our social systems and develop our economies in line with the SDGs so as to provide better prospects for our citizens’ well-being, dignity and enjoyment of fundamental freedoms. I will agree with the Rapporteur that this can only be achieved through a “paradigm shift”.

Mr Éctor Jaime RAMÍREZ BARBA

Mexico

19:35:12

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

Mexico has been one of the most affected countries by the Covid-19 pandemic, and besides the big number of deaths, there are serious economic and social effects.

Unfortunately, the current government did not have the capacity to understand and appropriately address the impact of the pandemic, much less to articulate policies to effectively face its adverse effects.

The federal government is committed to a populist policy focused on supporting only the poorest population through monetary transfers using social programs.

It is necessary and urgent to attend the poorest and most vulnerable people in order to guarantee them access to basic goods and services.

The social lockdown and the slowdown or paralysis of many of the economic activities have led to the loss of employment and the reduction of income. Unemployment and economic crisis characterized the lives of Mexicans in 2020 and so far in 2021.

In 2020, Mexico's Gross Domestic Product, that is, the sum of goods and services produced in the country, recorded a drop of 8.5 percent, the deepest downturn since the Great Depression.

In this context, 85.5 percent of the companies reported that they had impacts due to the pandemic, that is, 1,873,564 companies in the country. The decrease in income was the main type of impact reported by the companies.

The National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy indicates that due to the reduction of economic activities, the level of poverty could be increased by 8.9 and 9.8 million people; and the people in extreme poverty can reach levels between 6.1 and 10.7 million.

It is clear that the socioeconomic impacts generated by the pandemic are serious, and that a comprehensive response is necessary to safely reactivate the economy. It is a must to place the improvement of the living conditions of people and their families.

We require a government that strengthens national unity and avoid polarization and disagreement, a government capable of generating consensus and designing an agenda for economic recovery that complies with international commitments, including the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

We have a great challenge before us, the economic reactivation opens the door to promote structural reforms in the productive, institutional and fiscal spheres; It is necessary to have a public fund to achieve this, we need to think about incentives to promote economic growth and investment, and generate a relief economic package for the key economic sectors in their recovery.

Ms Martine WONNER

France, ALDE

19:35:17

Speech not pronounced (Rules of Procedure, Art. 31.2), only available in French.

Ms Lesia ZABURANNA

Ukraine, ALDE

19:35:25

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

The pandemic's significance and the urgent need with which the Council of Europe had to act in response has put democracy on the European continent at stake. All member States have taken exceptional measures to safeguard the international standards of human rights and the rule of law.

It came as a shock for us, our citizens, and our unprepared governments. The main news is that without exceptions, we all faced it. Indeed, we lacked experience at the start, and now although the fight is yet not finished, we have some lessons learned and ready to share them.

Clearly, the pandemic negatively influenced the citizens' participation in public affairs and the decision-making process. It increased inequality between territories and sometimes people. We are deeply concerned with various violations of individual freedoms and closely monitor the situation in member States. The pandemic and other major crises are no excuses for human rights infringements, and shifting the focus is unacceptable.

The cataclysm that has prompted governments to prioritize people's lives over economic growth could be the impetus for overcoming environmental catastrophes and social inequalities that threaten the stability of the world order.

But it is important to note that no one will give up individual freedoms in favor of more effective authoritarianism, so a strong Europe through functional institutions seems to be an alternative model.

There is no doubt that in the medium term, the European Union will restore its social genesis, remove constitutional restrictions in equal parts, launch a renewed internal market and promote the rule of law. The success and legitimacy of future decisions will depend on progress in socio-economic issues. Public health and safety will return to the center and guarantee the progress of social construction.

Dealing with the aftermath will require close multilateral cooperation between central government, local and regional authorities, and public institutions. We need to clearly define what socio-economic impact the pandemic made on our society. So that we understand what concrete actions we can perform to make our communities resilient and facilitate sustainable growth on the continent.

Mr Stéphane BERGERON

Canada

19:35:26

Speech not pronounced (Rules of Procedure, Art. 31.2), only available in French.

Vote: Overcoming the socio-economic crisis sparked by the Covid-19 pandemic

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC, President of the Assembly

17:55:30

Thank you very much, Mister Luís LEITE RAMOS, and now we move to the area of making decisions. The Committee has presented a draft resolution on the item to which 10 amendments have been tabled, as well as and draft recommendation to which one amendment has been table.

I understand that the Committee proposed to the Assembly that Amendment 3, 5 and 7 to the draft resolution, which were unanimously approved by the Committee, should be declared as agreed by the Assembly also. Amendment 6 was also approved unanimously by the Committee, but it is subject to an oral sub amendment it will be considered using and then we will of course use the normal use of procedure.

Is it that so, Mr Luís LEITE RAMOS? Am I interpreting correctly the Committee's opinion?

Mr Luís LEITE RAMOS

Portugal, EPP/CD, President of the committee

17:56:40

Absolutely, Mr Speaker.

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC, President of the Assembly

17:56:44

Does anyone object the situation?

There seems to be no objections.

That means I declare the amendments number 3, 5, and 7 to the draft resolution as being agreed to. That's very clear.

We still have 7 amendments on the list. And I call now Mr Andrej HUNKO on behalf of the Committee to support the amendment n. 1.

You have 1 minute as usual.

Mr Andrej HUNKO

Germany, UEL, Rapporteur

17:57:20

Thank you very much, Mister President,

Mister President, this motion is once again about the need to expand vaccine production and about the desirability of us European countries also handing over some of our vaccine doses, because the pandemic will only be over when the whole world is protected. It is also about what this House has already called for, namely the temporary suspension of patents, an amendment that I myself have tabled because of the current need for it.

I would ask for your support.

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC, President of the Assembly

17:58:05

Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment?

I do not see anyone.

What is the opinion of the Committee?

Mr Luís LEITE RAMOS

Portugal, EPP/CD, President of the committee

17:58:19

With a large majority.

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC, President of the Assembly

17:58:24

Now I shall put the amendment to the vote, and we are using normal systems.

The vote is open.

The vote is closed.

And the result is approved with a clear majority.

Now we move to amendment number 4 and I call Ms Elvira KOVÁCS to support it.

Please, you have 1 minute.

Ms Elvira KOVÁCS

Serbia, EPP/CD, Rapporteur for opinion

17:59:31

Thank you, Chair.

We suggested adding some paragraph, in that paragraph, since we strongly believe that equality impact assessments enable states to anticipate and eliminate the discriminatory effects of their policy responses, including unintended or unforeseen effects, ensuring that the discriminatory laws, policies, practices and inequalities do not hinder life-saving tools from reaching all really who need them, requires in all our member states strong health systems, as we could hear, and inclusive governance built on trust.

Thank you.

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC, President of the Assembly

18:00:13

Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment?

It seems to be a no. Is that true?

OK.

The Committee opinion?

Mr Luís LEITE RAMOS

Portugal, EPP/CD, President of the committee

18:00:34

Majority.

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC, President of the Assembly

18:00:38

Clear. Now I should put the amendment to the vote.

The vote is open.

The vote is closed.

And the result, clearly approved.

Now we move to the Amendment No. 6 and we will see how the bureaucracy is complicated, but let's try to do that one. This is the most complicated, I think so.

I call Ms Elvira KOVÁCS on behalf of the Committee to support Amendment No. 6, please.

Ms Elvira KOVÁCS

Serbia, EPP/CD, Rapporteur for opinion

18:01:41

Thank you.

It's not so complicated.

So, you know, originally in text the rapporteur suggested the paragraph is "enhance educational and professional opportunities for young people". We all think the same, but we added "in order actively to promote their access to the labour market", since we all know that, unfortunately, in the last period young people lost their jobs and it is important for them to enter the labour market. And education is important in this field too, but the rapporteur would say what he suggests.

Thank you.

Mr Andrej HUNKO

Germany, UEL, Rapporteur

18:02:28

Yes, thank you,

I think the amendment is good. I would just like to modify it slightly, because the purpose of education and training is not only for the labour market, but also for the development of one's own personality as a citizen. That is why I would add just one small word: "therefore","also" here to the place "also in order to actively promote the access to the labour market " – that this is an important aspect, but not exclusively. That is actually all, but it seems to be complicated to implement.

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC, President of the Assembly

18:03:08

It's a small thing. It makes the procedure very complicated, but let's move in that procedure.

In my opinion, the oral sub-amendment, the word "also" meets the criteria of Rule 34.7.A 

Is there any objection to the oral sub-amendment which was just presented?

It is actually so that there should be...

No?

Does anyone wish to speak against this one?

No one? Madam Elvira KOVÁCS, your opinion? You're in favour.

The Committee is I suppose also in favour for this one.

Mr Luís LEITE RAMOS

Portugal, EPP/CD, President of the committee

18:04:06

Unanimously.

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC, President of the Assembly

18:04:08

Totally unanimity.

OK.

That's why it's only complicated in a bureaucratic way because we must vote them two times, because of one word. But now we will do it. Now we put the oral sub amendment number 1 to vote.

The vote is open.

Vote is closed.

Almost unanimously approved.

Now because of bureaucracy, we should actually move to the main amendment as amended.

Does anyone want to speak against the amendment as amended?

No.

The committee obviously supports this one. Now we will put the whole Amendment No. 6 to the vote once again.

The vote is open.

Vote is closed.

The result: clearly approved, unanimously almost.

Conscience cleared.

Now we move to the Amendment No. 2.

Mister Andrej HUNKO, you would like to say a few words to support Amendment No. 2?

Mr Andrej HUNKO

Germany, UEL, Rapporteur

18:06:03

Yes, thank you.

This is also about the need to expand production capacities for Covid-19 vaccines and also for medicines worldwide. So that is what we have already addressed earlier. But I think it also makes sense here. That is why we are tabling this amendment here once again.

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC, President of the Assembly

18:06:33

Does anyone want to speak against?

The opinion of the Committee?

Mr Luís LEITE RAMOS

Portugal, EPP/CD, President of the committee

18:06:42

In favour with a large majority.

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC, President of the Assembly

18:06:46

Clear majority.

Now I shall put the amendment number 2 to vote.

The vote is open.

Vote is closed.

And the result.

Amendment number 2 is agreed.

Oh what nice figures.

Now we go to amendment number 8.

Ms Elvira KOVÁCS, do you want to support the amendment number 8?

Ms Elvira KOVÁCS

Serbia, EPP/CD, Rapporteur for opinion

18:07:40

Thank you, Distinguished Chair.

Here we suggest adding a paragraph: "Combat all form of gender-based violence and domestic violence." I think this is the place where I don't need to explain that violence against women. Gender-based violence is a clear violation of human rights, and it also has its own economic perspective. We all feel and understand the importance of this issue.

Thank you.

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC, President of the Assembly

18:08:10

You need not to explain, I suppose.

Is anyone against?

I suppose not.

I think that the Committee is exactly of the same opinion.

Clearly, I put Amendment No. 8 to the vote.

The vote is open.

The vote is closed.

Result.

It is approved with a great great majority.

Now we go to Amendment No. 9.

I call Ms Elvira KOVÁCS on behalf of the Committee to support, please.

Ms Elvira KOVÁCS

Serbia, EPP/CD, Rapporteur for opinion

18:09:20

Thank you.

The gender pay gap is also a topic, I believe we all think the same. We just suggested making this paragraph stronger because we think that introducing a system of checks and balances is not sufficient to eliminate gender pay gaps or other types of discrimination in employment.

Far more ambitious, positive measures are needed to achieve real and lasting improvement in this field, especially in the face of the lasting impact of the pandemic.

Thank you. 

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC, President of the Assembly

18:09:53

Thank you.

Anyone against?

No.

Committee obviously for this one.

I will put Amendment No. 9 to the vote.

The vote is open.

The vote is closed.

Result: Amendment No. 9 is clearly approved.

We go to the last amendment, No.10.

Ms Elvira KOVÁCS.

Ms Elvira KOVÁCS

Serbia, EPP/CD, Rapporteur for opinion

18:10:41

Almost at the end of the resolution, we suggested adding a new paragraph. I will try to read it to be clear, "ensure that crisis-response bodies and those working on necessary measures are gender-balanced, diverse and inclusive. It is important for all of us and that their work must also be evidence-based."

I tried to explain at the Committee meeting what it means: "(so notably through the use of data, evidence-based data, disaggregated by gender and other discrimination grounds) and gender sensitive, ensuring that equality is mainstreamed throughout."

Thank you.

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC, President of the Assembly

18:11:22

Does any one want to speak against?

Mr Andrej HUNKO.

Mr Andrej HUNKO

Germany, UEL, Rapporteur

18:11:29

No, I am not against it at all,

I would just like to take this opportunity, because I can't do it anymore, to thank the Secretariat and everybody involved for this wonderful support.

Thank you very much.

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC, President of the Assembly

18:11:43

I suppose these thanks were really... now Committee.

The Committee is in favour.

I put Amendment No. 10 to the vote.

The vote is open.

The vote is closed.

Results: clearly approved.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, we are in the stage that we have the whole draft resolution to put to the vote.

So the whole draft resolution is now on the vote.

The vote is open.

Let's wait that everybody can vote.

The vote is closed.

And the result: clear majority.

Congratulations to Mr Andrej HUNKO and everybody. Clear majority. Wow. Practically unanimous.

The draft resolution is approved

Now we go to the last stage of this process. We are having the draft recommendation, and there is one amendment for the draft recommendation.

I call Ms Elvira KOVÁCS.

Ms Elvira KOVÁCS

Serbia, EPP/CD, Rapporteur for opinion

18:13:52

Thank you.

The collective complaint system creates a unique and powerful mechanism for enforcing social rights under the Social Charter as well as equality and non-discrimination in the enjoyment of these rights.

Yet from 47 member states of the Council of Europe, only 16 Council of Europe member states have so far accepted it. That's the reason why we thought it is important to stress it here in the recommendation.

Thank you.

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC, President of the Assembly

18:14:26

Thanks a lot.

Does anyone wish to speak against?

No.

Committee opinion. I put Amendment no. 11 to vote.

The vote is open.

The vote is closed.

Result.

Clearly approved.

Now we go to the draft recommendation as a whole. A two-thirds majority is required for this. I will put the whole draft recommendation to the vote.

The vote is open.

The vote is closed.

The results.

Clearly approved.

That's the end of this item.

Thanks very much for your active participation. We'll still continue the discussion about Covid-19, now related to children's rights. But unfortunately I have to leave and I suppose there is a next Chair for the meeting coming up.

Thanks very much for this afternoon.

Debate: Impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on children’s rights

Mr Ahmet YILDIZ

Turkey, NR, President of the Assembly

18:20:38

Good evening everybody, after debating many aspects of Covid-19 today, the next item of the business is the debate on the report titled "Impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on children's rights" Document 15311 presented by Baroness Doreen MASSEY on behalf of the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development.

In order to finish by 7:30 p.m., I will interrupt the list of speakers at about 7:20 p.m. to allow time for the reply and the vote.

Now I call on Baroness Doreen MASSEY rapporteur. You have 10 minutes in total, of which seven minutes is for your opening remarks and three minutes for your reply after.

The floor is for rapporteur Baroness Doreen MASSEY.

Baroness Doreen MASSEY

United Kingdom, SOC, Rapporteur

18:21:54

Dear President and colleagues,

I hope that you are well wherever you are. It is a great pleasure to follow my colleague Mr Andrej HUNKO, who has spoken with great passion and insight about his report. I am passionate about the impact of Covid-19 on the lives of children, particularly vulnerable children. The pandemic has made their lives very difficult. Some children’s services were under great pressure before Covid-19, and they have deteriorated.

The rights of children, as defined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, have been neglected – rights such as health, education, socialising, protection from violence and the right to be heard. This neglect is not surprising in a crisis such as the Covid-19 pandemic, where priorities for governments have been contested. However, we must now work to redress the deficits for children. We must act promptly to protect children's rights.

It is our moral duty as politicians and professionals to advocate and carry out reforms to systems and structures which will help children make up for lost time but also provide sustained support to children and their families. This Assembly can help promote action and look upon the pandemic as a stimulus for change for children. I shall summarise some recommendations at the end of my report.

I want to say something first of all about the process of developing this report. The secretariat of the Social Affairs Committee worked, with their usual efficiency to research the situation of children during Covid-19. We related this to children’s rights as expressed in the UN Convention, and in other conventions and declarations, including those on violence against children. I was able to interview a large number of people, including those working with children, EU Commissioners, professionals in health, those in education including sport and the arts and in child rights.

It was encouraging, in all these interviews and seminars, to see the strong wish of all those concerned, to collaborate with the Council of Europe and across organisations in countries in Europe and beyond. They also spoke with enthusiasm of the need to enhance the participation of children in decision making through dialogue and consultation. This support for collaboration and co-operation bodes well for the future if we can build on it.

In speaking with children, Covid-19 was generally experienced as frightening, disorientating, and stressful, but some children said they had enjoyed more time to think, to be able to plan their lives and have contact with family. This, however, was not the general picture, and applied mainly to children from more affluent and stable backgrounds. For others, many families have fallen into deeper poverty, child abuse and domestic violence have increased, socialising with friends has been affected, schools have been closed, with no access to sport, the arts, or other cultural experiences. All this has resulted in a sense of isolation leading to a decline of mental health. Babies and small children have also suffered loss of contact with adults and family members, in particular grandparents, which could impact on their future development.

I describe in the report areas of particular concern and threats to children's rights.

These are physical and mental health and well being; protection from violence; access to education, health and other services; poverty and socio-economic inequality; children in vulnerable situations; and children’s participation in decision making relating to their own welfare.

Children who may already be disadvantaged are at particularly at risk. Such children include those with disabilities, those in poverty and poor social conditions; immigrants and refugees; those suffering discrimination or prejudice relating to race, religion, sexuality, and gender.

The question is: where do we go from here? If things remain even the same as before this pandemic, children will fall into greater poverty and disadvantage. We, as politicians, can help in our own countries by advocating for children, questioning our governments on their strategies for recovery and listening to children and the voluntary sector for their ideas.

I believe that we must use Covid-19 as a spur to action, working with children to improve areas of deficit. Societies can and must take action.

The report suggests recommendations to the Assembly and to the Committee of Ministers. These are not, of course, exclusive and will vary according to existing conditions in countries. I hope that colleagues will find the recommendations useful in pressing for action on the impact of Covid-19 on children’s rights. They are as follows:

I believe that the Parliamentary Assembly can urge member states to:

1. Build resilient social protection systems for children and their carers, including ensuring minimum levels of income, paying attention to vulnerable families and children, to developing recovery plans with strategies and sufficient budgets.

2. Ensuring that services for children, and their workers, are adequately funded, and ensure collaboration in the delivery of these services such as education and health.

3. Include in all policies and legislation an assessment of their impact on children.

4. Pay particular attention to and combat the devastating effects of violence against children, including online harms.

The report recommends that the Council of Ministers:

1. Consider a review of the post-pandemic recovery programmes of member states from the perspective of the rights of the child, based on the UN convention.

2. Endorse the proposals of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe on reinforcing the European Social Charter system and convene a Conference of the Parties to make sure that children’s rights are taken into account and to consider an Additional Protocol on effective social protection in times of crisis

3. Call a Pan-European seminar to actively promote collaboration and co-operation between the European Parliament, the European Commission, and the Council of Europe with the aims of consolidating a strategy for future action on the impact of Covid-19 on children.

I now very much look forward to the contribution of colleagues.

You, colleagues, have experience of the impact of Covid-19 in your own countries and we have an opportunity to share those experiences and to contribute to promoting the welfare of children.

Thank you.