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30 September 2021 morning

2021 - Fourth part-session Print sitting

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Opening of the sitting No. 29

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

09:08:21

Ladies and gentlemen,

The sitting is open.

The next item of business this morning is the debate on the report on "The situation in Afghanistan: consequences for Europe and the region", presented by Sir Tony LLOYD on behalf of the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy, Document 15381.

I remind you that we must finish the debate, including the vote, at 11 a.m. We will therefore have to interrupt the list of speakers at about 10.30 a.m. in order to allow time for the reply from the committee and the vote.

The rapporteur has seven minutes in which to present his report and three minutes in which to reply to the speakers at the end of the general debate.

You have the floor.

Debate under urgent procedure: The situation in Afghanistan: consequences for Europe and the region

Sir Tony LLOYD

United Kingdom, SOC, Rapporteur

09:09:15

Thank you, Madam President.

Can I just begin by making this very obvious point, but the all of us will remember forever those graphic pictures of people fleeing for their lives attempting to hang onto the bottom of planes taking off from the airport in Kabul only to fall to their death. Those pictures will live with us for, I think, forever. Those pictures are important because we will not see the pictures of the many-headed crisis that Afghanistan and its people now face. We know that that crisis is about human rights. It's about economic collapses, about humanitarian needs. It's about the possibility of drugs becoming once again an issue of terrorism, of course, all of those as potential drivers for further flows of refugees.

I think it is self-evident if we look at the situation in Afghanistan, look for example at the human rights crisis. We won't see this on our television screens. This will be something that we may read about, but we won't see it. The young girl who doesn't get to school. The young man who is thought to be gay and who comes under attack in his community. Those are the real human rights dimensions of this crisis. We know this will happen. We know things are already going wrong in Afghanistan.

The economic crisis is there. We know that a financial collapse is possible. We know that worklessness is a real and major issue, and of course the consequence of that economic collapse is a humanitarian collapse. We know there are million children already suffering such severe malnutrition that the doctors fear they may die. A million children: we won't see those on our cameras. We know that 93% of the population of Afghanistan is malnourished. We don't see that, again, on our cameras.

Or take health. We know that health professionals are not working sometimes because they fled, sometimes because they're not paid. One way or the other, only one in five of some of the medical facilities is properly fully functional. That's the reality of health on the ground. Of course, this is a community where the population needs that healthcare. The humanitarian crisis is already there, and we need to do something about it. Behind those crises (human rights, humanitarian, and economic), what do we say to the farmer who says "if I'm going to feed my children, I will grow poppies. I will be part of that drugs industry"?

Let's not be surprised. Let's not approve it, but let's not be surprised, if we offer no other choices. If we pauperise people, don't be too surprised if they become politically radicalised and that radicalism can lead to terrorism. Maybe in Afghanistan itself in the form of attacks upon the present government. Maybe externally, in the region, or in the wider world.

These are real issues that we have to face. We do also face, as a result of all that, the possibility that 3 million plus people are already internally displaced in Afghanistan join the 2 million other Afghans who are already refugees outside of Afghanistan, in a further wave, a massive wave of refugees. Afghanistan itself faces the possibility of conflict and even Civil War. Now I hope that doesn't take place, but it could be so.

We have a pragmatic interest, and we have a moral interest. Certainly countries like mine, Madam President, that were involved for 20 years in Afghanistan, we have a moral imperative to do something about this. It's difficult for us to talk to the Taliban, but we've got to have engagement, and it's how we have this engagement.

The first thing we've got to do is, say, that the moral authority comes from the United Nations. The United Nations and its agencies are already in Afghanistan, there on the ground. Being there on the ground they help with the humanitarian work that we do, because we can't say there's conditionality in feeding children. We can't say there's conditionality in making sure that women who are pregnant, people generally who need medical care, have that ration. That must be unconditional.

When we go beyond the UN and its agencies, they must have unhindered access, the refugee programs, the UN Afghan Mission, the World Health Organization, the World Food Program, etc. These all must have unhindered access into Afghanistan. That is the condition for humanitarian aid. When we come beyond that, of course, we do need to have a real conversation with the Taliban about what kind of assistance we're prepared to provide. Because it's in our interest again, pragmatically, if we don't want the refugees, morally, to make sure that we engage with the kind of development work that will make Afghanistan a secure place.

That does mean, though, a very clear message to the Taliban government that, yes, our help would be there, but it's got to be conditional. It's got to be conditional on the respect for human rights, the rejection of terrorism, the formation of an inclusive political process, the provision of unhindered access to the United Nations, and, of course, the practical facilitation of evacuation processes.

We also need as well to look what lies beyond Afghanistan itself. In the few moments that are left, let me just say something about that. I think the imperative for us all is always to look at what obligations we have in terms of refugees in the wider world. My own country is committed to taking in 20 000 refugees. I must say to my own country that represents one refugee for every eight hours that the British were there during the 20 years of involvement in Afghanistan.

This is a very small number. The world, particularly the world that is engaged in Afghanistan, must stand up and and help. That's not unconditional, but we nevertheless have got to be there to help, because if we're not there to help, we will see a refugee crisis, a refugee crisis that will place the burden on the poorest people in the country that's already under threat. There is a major issue around refugees.

We've got all sorts of... look at the position of other countries in the region: in Central Asia, in Pakistan – Pakistan I know well – in Central Asia. We, as a Council of Europe, should engage with them, because they will come under pressure. We have a lot to gain by working together on Afghanistan. We have a lot to gain by engaging carefully and cautiously with the Taliban with conditionality, but nevertheless a recognition that we have a common interest in a stable Afghanistan to prevent terrorism, prevent the flow of refugees.

Thank you, Madam President.

Mr Martin GRAF

Austria, EC/DA, Spokesperson for the group

09:16:44

Thank you, Madam Chairperson.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to start by thanking the rapporteur, Sir Tony LLOYD, and also the committee and, ultimately, the Plenary Assembly, for making it possible for us to discuss here in Europe today, that is, shortly after the collapse in Afghanistan, an important issue that will occupy us for many years to come. This report is an initial stocktaking – I would say so – and also sets out in tax form how work has been done in Afghanistan over the last 20 years. Even if no real solutions are offered, it is a good opportunity to discuss them here in this House.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have to admit to ourselves that, after the military disaster, the humanitarian and social disaster has already occurred, and not just in August of this year, but as soon as the war on terrorism began, which ultimately came to an end with the exodus of Osama Bin Laden. However, the fighting has continued in the country, right up to the terrible images that have already been displayed and shown.

All the objectives of bringing peace, constitution, democracy, rule of law, human rights and so on to the country have failed 100% in the last 20 years and even before that. We have a situation that we are facing that we have a counterpart who will introduce Sharia law as the law of the land without any ifs and buts in the most fundamental and extreme form. We all know what that will mean for the people there for the most part.

I believe that we have an obligation, of course, as Europe as a whole, but also in the world, to provide aid. I believe, however, that we must combine responsibility and competence.

It is now up to the belligerent states, above all the USA, to take responsibility for solving the humanitarian problems financially but also by taking in vulnerable people: men, women and children.

The US contribution so far gives cause to fear the worst. Hundreds of thousands of Afghans have been parked with allies, or it appears that the US is taking in only a select few, leaving hundreds of thousands of fates to allies.

Austria is also mentioned by name in this report. I would also like to say something else, namely that we took part in the mission with two observers, military observers, and were included in this list without any distinction.

Austria has already made a contribution in this context and has already taken in 50 000 Afghan refugees. In this respect, I am surprised that Great Britain only wants to take in 10 000. By comparison, America would have to take in 1.8 million refugees and Germany 500 000. There is a lot to be done to find a solution. Above all, we must remind the warring countries to make their contribution now. Thank you.

 

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

09:20:51

Thank you for your time. It would be good if we could keep to the time limit for speakers.

I call Mrs Laura Castel, who will speak on behalf of the UEL Group. You have the floor.

Ms Laura CASTEL

Spain, UEL, Spokesperson for the group

09:21:03

Thank you, Madame Chair.

We want to congratulate the rapporteur for this balanced report. Our group will support it.

The occupation of Afghanistan in 2001 showed a government in decay. The investment in military premises and huge corruption has left the population in an ongoing humanitarian emergency. This has shown democracy cannot be exported by military means, nor by the failure of a model of foreign intervention.

Surprisingly the European Union had, until now, considered that Afghanistan is a safe country; where asylum seekers could be returned to.

On Tuesday testimonies from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the Independent Afghan Commission showed real civilian slaughter. Women's rights are severely damaged - no education and no work. Forced displacement of ethnic minorities; ideological killings and kidnappings; delivery of justice suspended; no judges; lawyers hiding; NGOs forced into underground operating; hundreds of media channels interrupted; brutal techniques like amputation or stoning [are being] used again, [and] internet blackouts; [for] some, no contact on the ground and a widespread climate of fear that makes monitoring fragile, but essential.

Colleagues, this is not a wait-and-see scenario. We cannot stay on the sidelines when a terrorist organisation engages in international crimes. We play a crucial role in ensuring that our governments are accountable and it is cynical to secure the safety of our own nationals alone. For the above, our group proposes that Council of Europe member States should guarantee safe passage and evacuation for the refugee population and, respecting the principle of non-refoulement, propose asylum officers in countries of origin, facilitate visas and ensure resettlement from neighbouring countries to member States.

Condition A; to push the regime to respect women's rights ensuring education and employment; increase investment in humanitarian assistance, and to push the governments to fund a fact-finding mechanism within the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Thank you colleagues for this report. From our group, we encourage you to vote for it and the rapporteurs have to keep monitoring and reporting on these issues.

Thank you very much.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

09:24:20

Thank you, Madam.

For the Socialist Group, the next speaker is online, Ms Azadeh ROJHAN GUSTAFSSON.

You have the floor, Madam.

Ms Azadeh ROJHAN GUSTAFSSON

Sweden, SOC, Spokesperson for the group

09:24:37

Thank you, Madame President.

This is a very important debate and report, because what is happening in Afghanistan should be of a great concern for everyone and every institution that stands up for human rights.

When the former Taliban regime fell in 2001, the country was in ruins after occupation, civil war, oppression and gross mismanagement. The next 20 years did indeed include violence and many setbacks, but also indisputable successes. The number of children in school has risen since 2001 from about half a million on an estimated 7-8 million, of which 40% are girls. For the first time in the country's history, a generation has emerged where the majority can read and write.

But also, the progresses made on women's rights. Women have for the past 20 years gained access to higher education. They have been a crucial part in the workforce, especially in the development of the educational and the healthcare system in the country. They have been included in the political landscape and they have been an important voice for vulnerable groups.

The vast majority of the Afghan population see this progresses. It has sacrificed a lot for it and they want to see the progress continue, but they need the support of the outside world. We are already witnessing how the Taliban prevents girls from attending school and how women are absent from their workplaces. We see that minorities are afraid of increase of pressure and being an LGBT person in Afghanistan today can be a death sentence.

Madame President, Afghanistan is – unless the outside world acts now – facing an imminent state collapse and a total humanitarian catastrophe which no aid organisation can compensate for. This would create a perfect ground for Isis, Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups in the region.

Several member countries of the Council of Europe have been involved in Afghanistan during the past 20 years. They have contributed to rebuilding the country through humanitarian aid and have been a part of the military forces for upholding the security and peace in the country. Now we have a responsibility. We have a responsibility to make sure that the past 20 years do not go to waste.

Our group urgently calls on every political representative to internationally join forces and put pressure on the Taliban to comply with their declaration to respect equality. We must keep the Taliban accountable for every backlash on human rights.

Thank you very much.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

09:27:42

Thank you.

I now call Ms Mariia MEZENTSEVA, on behalf of the PPE Group.

Ms Mariia MEZENTSEVA

Ukraine, EPP/CD, Spokesperson for the group

09:27:52

Thank you, dear colleagues, dear President.

We do know that the rapid collapse of Afghanistan government forces and the Taliban seizure of power have shocked the whole of Europe, the whole continent, and led to intense debate about the implications for our European policy. Europe definitely cannot shield itself from the trouble spots around it because this is our neighbourhood, and if we no longer commit to stabilising our neighbourhood policy, the instability will come to our homes.

The evacuation of civilians from Afghanistan was the first example of our pragmatic and joint engagement with the Taliban – with the evacuation of citizens from our member States and to extend this possibility to Afghan nationals, who have co-operated with our member States; and their families; has been conducted as a matter of priority.

The brilliant special operations of many States, including Ukraine and the Directorate of the Minister of Defence, did not leave anyone different across the world and we have seen it in the global media. Thanks to the special operations from across Europe, hundreds of people, citizens of Ukraine and of our member States, and Afghans – children, women, people with disabilities, elderly – could escape their inevitable abuse and torture and their possible deaths.

In the longer term, more Afghans may well aim to come to Europe to join their family members who are already living here, so that they can escape the conditions in the refugee camps and it is up to us, dear colleagues, and some EU states will need to lead the way here, and do better than what happened in the case of Syria, unfortunately. We will need to co-ordinate with Afghan's neighbouring states at an early stage supporting them financially, logistically to keep their borders open and to provide shelter for those fleeing the Taliban regime.

A young female journalist, forced into hiding in Afghanistan, had one request to those listening around the world and her call was, "please pray for me". Her life had been obliterated overnight. She could no longer write under her own name. She did not know if she would see her family again or whether she would even survive.

Dear colleagues, I have, myself, been receiving many messages from the airport when the Afghan people who have very, very close ties with their families across Europe, were screaming and asking for help. We do know that the urgent need to rescue them is there and it is crucial for us to increase the humanitarian and international protection for migration and security. We can do it together. 

Thank you, President.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

09:31:00

Thank you.

I now call Mr Jacques Leny, on behalf of the ALDE Group.

You have the floor.

Mr Jacques LE NAY

France, ALDE, Spokesperson for the group

09:31:07

Thank you, Madam President.

Ladies and gentlemen,

More than a month ago, we all witnessed the hasty and unco-ordinated withdrawal of American troops and the scenes of panic and horror that ensued.

After those weeks of chaos, we are now faced with the distressing reality that the Taliban is once again in control of Afghanistan. This new situation, although foreseeable, must make Europe reflect and lead it to act. We must face up, together, to the consequences of this political development.

To begin with, the non-recognition of the Taliban regime is obvious. The international community and Europe must not grant legitimacy to this regime, that took power by force, and which maintains itself by violence. The choice of violence is being made at a time when the country is experiencing a very serious economic and food crisis. The World Food Programme has warned that more than one-third of the population is at risk of famine due to a severe lack of drinking water.

Failing dialogue with a democratic government, Europe must therefore maintain links with Afghan civil society. It must support it in its fight for fundamental rights, in which women are particularly active, but also journalists, artists and intellectuals. Europe via its NGOs must support the Afghan population in the areas of food, health, access to water, supplies and education.

Europe has an expertise when it comes to humanitarian aid: it must use this to the benefit of the situation in Afghanistan. We know the Taliban methods and their opposition to science and the West. So the humanitarian support that we will provide, which must be our priority, may not be enough to create decent living conditions for all Afghans. Some will therefore arrive in Europe, and we must then harmonise our reception policies and show solidarity.

My political group believes that the European strategy for Afghanistan should be as follows: no recognition of the Taliban regime, increased humanitarian aid to deal with the serious crisis in the country, and a decent reception of Afghan nationals who arrive in Europe.

Ladies and gentlemen, a European strategy is required to ensure that Afghanistan is not left prey to famine or obscurantism, while maintaining the hope of a free and democratic Afghanistan.

I thank you.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

09:33:51

Thank you, Sir.

We now continue with the list of speakers, and I call Lord George FOULKES, for the United Kingdom.

Lord George FOULKES

United Kingdom, SOC

09:34:00

President, can I, like Ms Laura CASTEL, congratulate Sir Tony LLOYD on what is a really very well balanced report, all the more remarkable considering he was only appointed as rapporteur less than two days ago. It really is an excellent report.

Madam President, many many millions of words have been written or said in relation to Afghanistan and you wonder if there's anything new to add. Mind you that doesn't normally stop politicians repeating and adding to it, and I'm no exception. However, today I just want to make three quick points.

First, it's only too easy to criticize both the Western intervention and the speedy withdrawal. And as Mr Tony LLOYD said, those pictures of people clinging to the aircraft were very poignant indeed. However, the very fact that we are now talking about retaining, about preserving the gains that have been made, particularly for women and children and girls' education, shows that the intervention has improved the situation, and at some cost of lives, particularly American and British lives. So what we need to talk about, need to concentrate on, is how we can preserve these gains. That's the first point I want to make.

The second point is to underline what Mr Tony LLOYD says in its report, the importance of the central role of the United Nations and its agencies. That's what the UN was set up for, that's why it has agencies, and we should put more faith, more trust and more support to the UN and its agencies. And this is a particular area IN which they can be positive.

And the third point I want to make, is to make a special plea on behalf of women judges, women judges who have played a particular part in helping improve the situation of women and girls in Afghanistan. There are now 220 women judges whose lives are in danger and we need, our countries need, and in particular I urge the United Kingdom government and indeed other governments, but, in my case, my government, to do everything they can to protect the interests of female judges. They've protected women and children over the last 20 years, now it's our job to help to protect them.

Thank you.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

09:36:35

Thank you.

I now call on Mr Davor Ivo STIER from Croatia.

Mr Davor Ivo STIER

Croatia, EPP/CD

09:36:43

Thank you, Madam Chair, Dear colleagues,

The first thing that we have to realise about the situation in Afghanistan is that the strategic decision of the United States to withdraw its troops probably has less to do with Afghanistan itself, and far more to do with China and the containment measures envisaged by Washington and carried out by US institutions in a continuing effort, regardless of the fact of who is in the White House.

Since resources are limited, even for the United States, they needed to be shifted from Afghanistan to the primary strategic goal of US foreign policy. And that is this new US-China dialectic is already reordering international relations in all their dimensions.

In such a geopolitical environment, the situation in Afghanistan is currently tackled and handled by the United Nations. However, we can also notice and stress that some members of the Council of Europe, in particular Turkey and Russia, already play and will probably continue to play a significant geopolitical role in the area and in the interaction with relevant regional and global actors. The European Union has also envisaged a platform for dialogue with Afghanistan's neighbours.

Now, regarding this Parliamentary Assembly, I share the good intentions described in article 11 of the Draft Resolution, although I somehow doubt that there will be any possible concrete effect on the Taliban.

I also share the dispositions of Article 8, the one calling on the Member States of the Council of Europe. I already mentioned some of them, which have a particular role in the area.

Finally, I fully back the support expressed in the resolution to the United Nations in its endeavour with regards to the situation in Afghanistan, and the protection of human rights in particular - those of women and children.

Let me conclude also by thanking the rapporteur for his work.

Thank you.

Mr Piero FASSINO

Italy, SOC

09:39:53

Thank you, Mister President,

In three minutes I want to focus on a few issues. I thank my colleague Sir Tony LLOYD and agree with his report. The theme seems to me to be this: "Isolate or interject with the Taliban?".

Clearly, looking at what the Taliban are doing, our first instinct would be to isolate them. However, isolating them would mean giving the Taliban a free hand over Afghan society, making those who are fighting so courageously for their rights even weaker and handing Afghanistan over to China, to Russia and to countries that are far less sensitive to human rights issues.

I therefore believe that it is mandatory to try to talk to the Taliban authorities, even though it is, of course, very difficult. We must talk to them in order to help those who are fighting for their rights inside Afghanistan, and we must talk to them in order to provide humanitarian aid to help people in the face of the serious crisis that is about to unfold.

The first condition seems to me to be that the Taliban recognise and respect certain fundamental rights which are inalienable for every person, wherever they live, whatever the colour of their skin and whatever god they pray to. These fundamental rights are the right to study, the right to work, the right to express their opinions, the right to live their religion without fear.

I therefore believe that there are fundamental rights for which we must fight and ask the Taliban to respect these rights, to recognise them, to respect them, making this a condition for dialogue with the Taliban authorities.

The second condition seems to me to be to call for an inclusive government, a government that represents the whole of Afghan society, and not just the Taliban as at present. Among other things, today we have a government that represents even the most radical Taliban, which does not even represent the entire Taliban world, so an inclusive government is another condition that we must set.

The third condition is that Afghanistan should, not once again, become a sanctuary for terrorist organisations: there is a risk of that if we look at the complicity between certain Taliban sectors and Al-Qaeda and Isis.

These three conditions: respect for rights, first and foremost the rights of women, inclusive government, and no links of any kind with cover-ups or complicity with terrorism are three conditions that we must set out very strongly.

Finally, the Council of Europe aims to protect rights. In Afghanistan fundamental rights are being violated, rights that had been guaranteed during the international mission for 20 years. Today there is an Afghan society that is much more responsive than 20 years ago and does not accept the denial and violation of those rights.

We must therefore maintain a relationship with Afghan civil society, with those sectors that are fighting for rights, help them, support them, and from this point of view the United Nations certainly has a central role to play in bringing the weight of the United Nations to bear on these objectives.

Thank you.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

09:43:35

Thank you, sir.

So we'll go through the list in order now.

Is Mr Mehmet Mehdi EKER from Turkey on the line?

Yes? You have the floor.

Mr Mehmet Mehdi EKER

Turkey, NR

09:43:48

Thank you Madam Chair, good morning everyone,

After the USA and NATO withdrew from Afghanistan, contrary to forecasts, unfortunately the Taliban controls the entire country since they were able to suppress the resistance in Panjshir Valley. However, the risk of internal conflict or uprising still exists. There is a chance that it could lead to a civil war. Thus, the international community must closely monitor developments in Afghanistan.

It is obvious that the government announced by the Taliban on 7 September has failed to deliver on its promises of inclusivity. We should continue to underline the fact that long-term stability can only be achieved by establishing an inclusive and representative government.

By doing that I believe we should be realistic about the conditions in the country. Far-fetched recommendations to the Taliban cannot bring about the expected results.

We should give priority to the right of all Afghan people to live in safety, security, and with dignity in their country.

Secondly, our priority should be to emphasise the need to prevent and combat terrorist organisations such as Daesh and Al-Qaeda. We should give clear messages to the Taliban government to this end.

In this context, the prevention of illegal production and trafficking of narcotic drugs constitutes another vital issue.

We need to take coordinated action in order to have an effective and sustainable response to these risks.

Finally, I would like to draw your attention to the declaration of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Cooperation Council of Turkic-Speaking States made public, following the meeting of 27 September in Istanbul, where all these points and calls for coherent messages and actions are emphasised.

I would like to thank the rapporteur for his work.

Thank you.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

09:46:20

Thank you.

Before I give the floor to Mr Alexander CHRISTIANSSON, I had Mrs Martine LEGUILLE BALLOY on my list. Is she here? No.

I call Mr Alexander CHRISTIANSSON, from Sweden. You have the floor, sir.

Mr Alexander CHRISTIANSSON

Sweden, EC/DA

09:46:43

[start of speech cut off]

applies more readily than in the present day Afghanistan an old-new dictatorial regime, that of the Taliban, is back in fearsome rule after a 20-year break. A government that is unprepared and given an impression of confusion and incompetence. Meanwhile, the previous government has been dissolved and its protectors, the Western Alliance led by the US, had to withdraw in haste.

The food situation is desperate. Winter is approaching. A deadly enemy, the IS, is active in the country. The country's neighbours are jockeying for position even as their aims and prospects are difficult to foresee.

Meanwhile, rising political tension in the region and beyond, adds further complexity to the Afghan situation. It is, therefore, to the credit of our Assembly that we have chosen not to wait until "the dust settles" before taking up this urgent issue today.

And true enough, already certain trends can be spotted in European capitals when it comes to short-term action. Humanitarian relief, especially food and medicine, is in the starting blocks. Fuel is mobilised for winter heating and regional transport. Taliban support for continued access by girls and women to education and professional life is being informedly pleaded. On the diplomatic level, Western context with neighbouring states are reported in order to support inner stability in Afghanistan. The list is not complete, but the overriding interest of Europe at this stage will be to carry out such actions with both delicacy and tenacity in order to help the population at large.

One final point, Madame President, today Afghanistan is different from the country that Taliban ruled 20 years ago. During the intervening two decades, a generation of young Afghans – very much including girls and women – have enjoyed qualified education and a much freer access to professional life. They loved it and are now forming a major silent but unhappy group in Afghan society. The Taliban will need this group and they know it. We, on our side, must do everything to support the oppressed, peacefully and perhaps discreetly but stand by them we must, Madame President.

Thank you for your attention.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

09:49:24

Thank you, Sir.

I now give the floor to Ms Ekaterina GECHEVA-ZAHARIEVA from Bulgaria, if she is in the room. I have not seen her but... No?

Then perhaps Mr. Dimitrios KAIRIDIS from Greece? Go ahead, Sir. Sorry, I didn't see you right away.

Mr Dimitrios KAIRIDIS

Greece, EPP/CD

09:49:48

Thank you.

I asked for the floor, Madam President, because I think it's important to talk about another aspect and learn the right lessons from the Afghan disaster here in Europe.

We live in a new world of heightened tensions and geostrategic antagonisms. We in Europe have been too complacent for too long. If we were to continue on this path we are bound to face new surprises closer to home, I believe. We are often full of big words and I'm afraid our session this morning is no exception, trying to cover a sorrowful reality.

Two things need to be first and foremost in mind, I believe.

First the Afghan disaster and the rapid collapse of the Kabul regime prove the need for a more robust and united geostrategically Europe. As valuable as our transatlantic ties are, we need more autonomy and a bigger footprint if we are not to spend all our time on how sorry we are for this or that.

Secondly, what is our strength in this new increasingly competitive and antagonistic difficult world we live in? It is our common values that bring us together, that are the basis of our solidarity. The biggest threat for our standing in the world comes from those among us who want Europe to forget and set aside its values as a beacon of freedom, democratic governance, human rights and the rule of law. We need to be strong, and to be strong we need to be free and democratic.

In the meantime, in the spirit of the excellent report which I commend, we must engage on the basis of clear conditionality with the Taliban regime now in Afghanistan, provide the necessary humanitarian aid, and engage the region overall.

But also, we must persist – persist as much as we can, in the difficult task of building up our credibility internationally, which is not done by words, but by deeds and hard, but right choices.

Thank you.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

09:52:28

Thank you, Sir.

I now give the floor to Mr Sergey KISLYAK of the Russian Federation, who should be on the line. Yes.

You have the floor, Mr KISLYAK.

Mr Sergey KISLYAK

Russian Federation, NR

09:52:51

Thank you Madam President.

First and foremost, I'd like to say that the issue of the situation in Afghanistan needs a much more thorough and serious discussion than this sort of debate, because we're talking about serious events which threaten peace and stability in the world, and indeed many of the states and organisations.

I don't want to talk about some of the concerns about the current situation in Afghanistan, because many colleagues have already referred to those points, and I agree with much of what they said. I want to raise a more serious question.

We understand how this situation came about. We need to recognise that the attempts to impose democracy by force – democracy of a European style in a country with a completely different history and culture – that attempt has been a complete failure. The complete collapse and failure of the military presence in Afghanistan has only borne us out.

The question is - what happens next? What shall we do next?

I am very vexed by some of the attempts to try to impose the same European or western standards and way of life by other means than force, again in a country with a completely different culture and history and a dominant religion.

Mr Piero FASSINO rightly raised the question - what should we do? Further isolate the Taliban? Or try to engage with them, and try to work them to resolve the problems?

I don't agree that if you don't engage with Afghanistan the Taliban will turn to Moscow. Well, we have established a dialogue with the Taliban in Moscow, but a US representative was involved as well in those discussions on a political settlement, with the assistance of the Russian Federation, and that's not been mentioned today.

But what happens tomorrow?

The current Taliban government continues to require assistance. It needs to reflect all the political forces in the country to have the stability which would allow it to resolve its main problems.

We share the concern about the importance of preventing a resurgence of terrorism and also the problem of displacement to neighbouring countries, including our own, and also supporting the efforts of the UN, that's also a very valid point. But we don't want our recommendations or the provisions in the resolution to just lead to yet another attempt to impose elements of democracy which just won't work in Afghanistan at present, which won't be accepted.

We need to work with the regime. We need it to abide by the promises it has already given respecting human rights, tackling the drug problem, and so on, and ensuring that there are no threats to third countries. These are tasks in the vanguard of the work which has to be done to interact with the Taliban in order to achieve that sort of outcome.

I just want to finish by saying that I'd very much like to recommend that our colleagues be very careful about trying to foist European norms of human rights on a country to which they are alien.

Thank you.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

09:57:08

Thank you, sir. Please keep to the time limit.

Thank you, Mr Sergey KISLYAK. I repeat, but if you could keep your remarks to three minutes, that would be very good.

I now give the floor to Mr Rustem UMEROV, for Ukraine.

Mr Rustem UMEROV

Ukraine, ALDE

09:57:30

Dear President, esteemed colleagues,

I would like to express my gratitude to the rapporteur for the truly challenging, yet undoubtedly necessary work he has conducted on this matter. Ukrainians helped more than 700 people to leave Afghanistan, and I thank our Ministry of Defence and every service member from Ukraine and other countries who took part in the evacuation operation.

But this is not the end. Unfortunately the worst might be yet to come.

The EU and PACE have to involve the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe's special attention on the importance of including this issue in its agenda for developing further recommendations and solutions that could be done.

The most immediate impact for Europe is humanitarian, given the likely growth of migrants from Afghanistan. Several thousands of Afghans have already fled their homeland. The UN says up to half a million Afghans could escape by the end of the year. The EU has to develop a step-by-step plan of support for migrants on food security access for basic rights.

Followed by 2019-2020 UN and NGO Partners Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan, 3RP, a 5.5 billion plan to support national efforts in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, and Iraq deal with a continuing impact of Syria crisis was done. The same should be done for Afghanistan. We have to be ready to offer asylum and protection and prepare ourselves for public service availability for refugees and enable them to integrate into our societies.

Multi-sectoral, well coordinated responses from our Member States could strengthen the capacity of national systems to cope with the growth of refugees. Unfortunately, another threat is that Afghanistan used to be ground for element of terrorist organizations. Many fear that Afghanistan will once again become a centre for instability. This in return increases the risk of future threats.

We need to discuss the possibility of creating mechanisms for European support, and exchange information on possible threats. The solution to this may be creating a joint unified effort in support of resolving crisis that threatens to become a regional or global problem.

We must objectively assess the complex and dangerous situation that has developed in Afghanistan. There are nearly 40 million people in Afghanistan who need help. That's why the current status of Afghanistan is obliged to be discussed by the International Community, especially in PACE.

We constantly need to think about mechanisms and find joint solutions to help jointly operate especially the critical infrastructure in Afghanistan: airport, borders. Because people are coming.

As well as we have to find temporary relationship solutions. When the countries of the democratic world completely close communication with problematic regions, the problem becomes more complicated in the future.

We need Europe to be involved in all possible solutions to help people of Afghanistan and the region.

Thank you.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

10:00:54

Thank you, sir.

I now give the floor to Mr John HOWELL, for the United Kingdom.

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC/DA

10:01:01

Thank you, Madame President.

We can spend as long as we like talking about the major political issues that the crisis in Afghanistan has generated. We can spend as long as we like analysing the threats of terrorism and all of that, and all of that can come to some good I am sure. But if we want to really understand the humanitarian crisis that is faced by the people of Afghanistan, let me give you a practical example of how a group of people have been affected.

The rapporteur has already mentioned the plight of girls and women and a number of other speakers have as well. Let me give you a practical example of how that has affected them. There is an organisation – or there was an organisation in Afghanistan – called The Afghan Women's Orchestra. It came to my constituency in the UK and it performed there to great applause with great professionalism. Its instruments have been smashed by the Taliban. They have been smashed by the Taliban because they do not like Western music. The girls themselves have been threatened with death. And many of them have had to be flown out in secret in order to save their own lives. In fact the weekend before all of this happened, we received a message from them saying, "our lives are at risk, our future is at risk, we can no longer play, we need help".

That is a perfect example of what the situation in Afghanistan is generating. It is a perfect example of where we need to help. And you know, the reaction from some people who heard my speech on this in the British House of Commons, was to send me a number of emails. Were those emails supportive? No, they were not. They were totally misogynistic and full of hate mail for bringing up the case of women in Afghanistan when they said there are plenty of male interpreters who are equally at risk. But let me repeat again that this is a very good example of what is happening in Afghanistan. It is a really good example of the humanitarian crises that many women and girls are facing there and it is one that we have not properly addressed.

The Russian delegate can speak of not trying to impose Western culture, but this was not the imposition of Western culture, this was something that was generated by the Afghanis themselves and which we should support.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

10:04:10

Thank you.

I call Mr Paul GAVAN, who will speak on behalf of Ireland.

Mr Paul GAVAN

Ireland, UEL

10:04:19

Thank you, Madam President.

I want to welcome for the most part this report, and fair play to Tony putting it together so quickly. But I have to say there is something kind of fundamental missing. Call me old-fashioned, if you will, but I think it's still wrong to invade other people's countries and occupy them for 20 years. I think we seem to have lost sight of that somehow here. We need to talk about responsibility when we talk about Afghanistan.

A number of Council of Europe member states as well as the US were involved in the 20-year military occupation of that country. We've heard about the military deaths of US and British forces, and they are a tragedy. 2,455 US military were killed, 457 British service members. Compare that to the 50 thousand civilians who have lost their lives during that 20-year occupation.

And when we talk about terrorism, by all means, let's talk about the Taliban. But how do you describe that act of blowing up a family of 10 people with a drone strike? If it was a once-off, you could call it an accident. How many thousands of Afghanis have perished from US drone strikes over the last 20 years? We need to talk about that. We need to recognise that.

Billions of taxpayers' money was spent on this disastrous campaign that was doomed to failure. Which is not to say that many private corporations did not benefit handsomely from defence contracts during this time. The Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, declared that US policy in Afghanistan was a catastrophic failure. And he was right of course. But unfortunately this didn't stop successive Irish governments from supporting the war in Afghanistan, by offering the use of Shannon Airport to US forces on their way back and forth to the war zone throughout the past two decades. So we in Ireland also carry a responsibility.

Imperialist, military and ventures never end well for the people of the occupied countries concerned. And let's be clear this invasion was never about women's rights. It was about al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden. Now we see the Taliban return to power and there's no little irony in the fact that the Taliban are a direct descendant organisation from the mujahideen who the West were very happy to fund and support when they wanted to topple the People's Democratic Party government of Babrak Karmal who did, 40 years ago, try and improve women's rights.

So we must support the people of Afghanistan, their urgent needs, and I do support, broadly speaking, the recommendations in this report.

The international community has a huge responsibility to all of those citizens of Afghanistan and, in particular, to protect Afghan women and girls whose lives and human rights are now posed in extreme peril.

Thank you.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

10:07:26

Thank you, Mr GAVAN.

We'll now go to Mr Stéphane BERGERON from Canada, who is online. You have the floor.

Mr Stéphane BERGERON

Canada

10:07:41

Thank you, Madam President.

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen,

The current situation in Afghanistan is a major crisis. The resumption of power by the Taliban, who, in Canada, are considered to be a terrorist group is extremely worrying in several respects.

The speed with which they have moved into the country and taken over Kabul must surely lead the international community to question the effectiveness of lengthy and costly external interventions. It will also have to consider how to continue, through the World Food Programme, to feed some 14 million Afghans who are food insecure because of drought and prolonged conflict. There is also concern that this number will increase due to the political and socio-economic instability that has arisen with the return of the Taliban to power.

It also portends a significant regression in human rights, particularly for women and girls who have already been excluded from higher education and public office. Given that old-fashioned practices have been gradually reintroduced with respect to women - whether it be their confinement to domestic tasks or the constraints imposed on their freedom of movement, if not the marriage of young girls - many literally fear for their lives.

What can we say about the displaced persons who, according to the United Nations, number more than 3.5 million in the country? That is 630 000 displaced persons since the beginning of 2021 - not to mention the 2.2 million people who have taken refuge in neighbouring countries. However, the collapse of the Afghan Government last August has triggered a new wave of displacement in Afghanistan. States involved in operations in the country did organise an airlift to evacuate their nationals, and co-operating Afghans, but unfortunately many had to be left behind because of the difficulty of reaching Kabul airport and the haste of the foreign withdrawal.

These states, including Canada, have of course said that they want to receive many Afghan refugees on their territory, but this does not take into account the complexity of the situation on the ground and the considerable obstacles that these people face in getting out of Afghanistan. For example, Canada has announced that approximately 20,000 vulnerable Afghan nationals may settle in Canada, but only 2 300 have done so to date. It is clear that, despite the goodwill shown, the evacuations that took place last August have been inadequate, with thousands of people still stranded in Afghanistan.

Council of Europe member states must therefore co-operate closely to continue to support foreign and Afghan nationals, [who are] facing increasing difficulties; while ensuring that the Taliban does not exploit them, and to provide international protection to Afghan asylum seekers and refugees and allow them to leave the country.

We have an obligation to do everything possible to protect these vulnerable people, especially women, whose rights are no longer assured and whose lives are sometimes even threatened.

Finally, as the G7 leaders have stated, we must ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes a sanctuary for terrorism or a launching pad for terrorist attacks in other countries.

Thank you for your attention.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

10:11:01

Thank you, Sir.

I now call on Ms Maryna BARDINA, from Ukraine.

Ms Maryna BARDINA

Ukraine, ALDE

10:11:10

Dear colleagues, Madame President.

In recent months, we have seen how human rights and women's rights have been destroyed in Afghanistan. As it is mentioned in the report, the Taliban´s return to power raises major concerns as regards to the respect of human rights in Afghanistan, especially in areas such as women's rights. Within days, women's faces were hidden from the media, culture, education and public life. Literally, the images of women's faces were painted black. Women were the first to experience all the restrictions imposed by the new regime. There are limitations of girls' access to education, women's freedom of movement, access to work, healthcare and sports; representation and active participation of women and persons from minorities in all areas of public and political life. Women who have been involved in cultural, social and political activities are now at particular risk.

The situation is a challenge for the whole democratic community. Ukraine has actively joined humanitarian actions and conducted, successfully, rescue operations. Our military have evacuated almost 700 people. These are citizens of Ukraine as well as citizens of many other different countries – members of international human rights organisations and journalists of various media.

One of those people who were safely evacuated to Ukraine is an Afghan film director Sahraa Karimi. Ms Karimi is the first female chairwoman of Afghan Film and a director whose films are renowned beyond Afghanistan's borders. It is extremely unfair and cruel that such talented people are the first to leave their country due to persecution.

I support the ideas expressed in this report and call on my colleagues to take all possible measures to protect women's rights in Afghanistan.

Thank you for your attention and my congrats on this report. Thank you.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

10:13:26

Thank you, Madam.

I now call Mr Pierre-Alain FRIDEZ, for Switzerland.

Mr Pierre-Alain FRIDEZ

Switzerland, SOC

10:13:31

Thank you, Madam Vice-President.

Dear colleagues,

My remarks will be divided into two parts: firstly, humanitarian issues and secondly, slightly more political remarks.

There is indeed a great deal of concern about the current humanitarian situation in Afghanistan. Reference has been made to the problems of famine in particular, which are quite dramatic, and it is really important for me to try to maintain contact with the Taliban to ensure that humanitarian aid can continue to be provided, thanks to the ICRC in particular – and I know that very large sums of money have been raised for this purpose.

The second element concerns the massive societal backsliding that threatens this country, and particularly the situation, the fate reserved for women who, in recent years, had managed to take their place in society. Unfortunately, there is a risk of a cruel, brutal and unacceptable backward step.

Thirdly, there are migration problems. We must do everything we can to protect the Afghans who are outside the country, who are in our country. Some of them, for example in Switzerland, my country, could have been sent back: my country took the necessary measures to ensure that they could continue to enjoy protection in Switzerland without delay, and I think that most countries did the same. The Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population decided unanimously this morning, in fact, in the Bureau, that a report should be submitted to deal with this issue of immigration and follow-up because, obviously, great difficulties are expected in this area.

I would now like to make some political points. I think that what has just happened may be a sign that the United States has decided to stop being the world's police force and to concentrate instead on its own problems, and even on the Asia-Pacific region. I think that the European countries should perhaps think about rethinking European defence. This is a major issue; as Switzerland is neutral, I will say no more about it.

Second point: I would remind you that in the early 2000s, several conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya were initially settled by blitzkrieg wars based on the overwhelming military superiority of a coalition of Western states that benefited above all from total control of the airspace. So the initial victory was easy, and then the problems began. The beginning of what we now call hybrid wars: the war of the weak against the strong. And that's what happened in Afghanistan. An invisible loser, perfectly integrated into the environment, blending into the population and attacking the occupier through terrorist acts, through guerrilla warfare, with, quite quickly, a destabilisation of the occupier – this was also very clear in Iraq–- with human losses. More and more resources have to be mobilised; equipment and men are committed; in the end, discouragement sets in; in the end, the countries in question, their populations, wonder about the usefulness of the engagement, the price of this war; we are heading towards stalemate with more and more unaccepted deaths and these states remain destabilised.

Today, we have a country in ruins, a divided country, and we have not made much progress – as Mr Paul Gavan said earlier, it is therefore important to have a global approach to conflicts and to stop using the wars of the past.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

10:17:11

Thank you very much.

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

Mr Ahmet YILDIZ

Turkey, NR

10:17:18

Thank you Madam Chair, dear colleagues,

After 20 years of US-led NATO operations assisted by other non-NATO countries, after all these operations, the Taliban is  now in control of the entire country, Afghanistan. However, the risk of an internal conflict is still there.

The sudden collapse of the previous Afghan government recognised by the international community did not lead to mass migration, as feared, yet.

Nevertheless, an economic meltdown in Afghanistan may trigger such an exodus, especially in view of the fact that more than 3.5 million people were internally displaced.

On the other hand, out of a total population of 38 million people, more than 18 million people in Afghanistan are currently in dire need of humanitarian assistance.

Taking into consideration the recent developments, mobilising international relations in order to further support and protect the people has now become a more urgent requirement.

Of course, the success of our efforts to support the Afghan people does not only depend on our actions. The current authority in Afghanistan should also do its part. They should ensure smooth access of humanitarian aid, as well as the safe and secure operation of the humanitarian community in the country.

Considering the humanitarian support that Afghans need, a certain engagement with the Taliban should be maintained. On the other hand, it is clear that the extent of international engagement with the Taliban will depend heavily on the choices made by them.

We have to be realistic and pragmatic. Recognition is one thing, but engagement is a necessity for addressing humanitarian needs, countering Daesh and other terror organisations.

The dire humanitarian aid and economic situation in Afghanistan may lead to further radicalisation and terrorist organisations such as Daesh-K to gain ground again.

In this context, filling the formal authority vacuum and an inclusive government are critical in preventing Afghanistan from becoming a breeding ground for terrorism. 

Keeping the channels of dialogue open and guiding the Taliban towards establishing an inclusive political system and government is the most appropriate course of action in the current circumstances.

The international community must also give consistent messages and speak with one voice to the Taliban on the need to avoid Afghanistan becoming a safe haven for terrorist groups again.

In sum, Madam Chair, the right approach, I think, with Afghanistan at this stage, is to try to stay engaged, empathetic, pragmatic and with smart conditionalities.

Thank you.

 

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

10:20:40

Thank you, Mr YILDIZ.

I give the floor to Mr Pablo HISPÁN from Spain, but I have not seen him. Is he here? Once, twice? No, he is not here.

We now move on to Mr Oleksii GONCHARENKO from Ukraine. It is your turn, Sir.

Mr Oleksii GONCHARENKO

Ukraine, EC/DA

10:21:02

Thank you, Madam Chair, dear colleagues.

We need to all thank the rapporteurs very much for their great work. It is really, extremely important.

Ukraine was also not far from this situation. We took part in it. We evacuated almost 1 000 people from Afghanistan. Our special service people, servicemen, Ukrainian military man helped to take people from the most dangerous places in Kabul and to make them safe. It's our common responsibility to help these people today.

What should the lesson be for all of us after all we have seen in Afghanistan?

We should understand that the problems only start now. We all need to to learn some lessons from what happened. I think that the most important lesson is that we need to be strong. We European countries need to be strong. We really need to be a player or we will be played by other players.

That why today we need to have an active international policy. We need to have European Armed Forces which will be ready to respond to the challenges which we see.

We saw recently the big military movements of Belarus and the Russian army on the border with Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. Are we ready to fight there if there will be problems? I'm not so sure.

We cannot rely only on the United States, which we saw recently can absolutely be inside their own country and their own problems. We need to be strong ourselves, or we will have big, big problems.

For example, now we understand that one of the biggest challenges from Afghanistan will be the migration flow and many migrants.

We saw now how, for example, the Belarus regime of Mr Alexander Lukashenko is weaponising migrants right now on the border with Lithuania, Latvia, and Poland. We cannot react in a really strong way. That's the problem.

For more than one year, we have had problems in Belarus. What has been done by the Council of Europe? For the moment, nothing at all. We had several debates, and that's all. We raised the question of having a permanent body or committee in our Organisation on Belarus, and still we couldn't do this.

The lesson from Afghanistan is the next. The world is global. We cannot be inside the shell of our 47 countries and say: "Everything is okay. We have a good economy, and we have our internal problems".

No, it will not work like this. We need to be strong. We need to be prepared to respond to such hostile activities.

Thank you.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

10:24:10

Thank you, Mr President.

I give the floor to Ms Susana SUMELZO for Spain if she is here? No.

I call Mr Nicos TORNARITIS, who will speak on behalf of Cyprus.

Mr Nicos TORNARITIS

Cyprus, EPP/CD

10:24:27

Dear President, dear colleagues.

I should like first to thank the rapporteur Sir Tony LLOYD for his report which highlights our main concerns as regards the recent developments in Afghanistan.

We have all witnessed the tragic and disturbing images and the pressure and anxiety thousands of people have experienced fleeing the country.

Our main aim should be to protect human life and fundamental human rights, ensure freedom and dignity for all, access to education and culture without discrimination, and respect for the country's rich cultural heritage.

However, we must turn our words into specific action, particularly we must uphold women's and girls fundamental rights and freedoms and support and build on the progress achieved in the past 20 years. We must also protect other vulnerable groups and engage creatively with the Afghan society to meet current challenges. We are ready to engage with the present regime if it respects and meets these basic principles. We must provide humanitarian assistance and relief to the people suffering both within and outside the country and ensure that their basic human rights and dignity are safeguarded along the way.

Thank you very much.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

10:26:42

Thank you, Mr. President.

We will now take Mr. Leonid SLUTSKIY from the Russian Federation.

You have the floor, Sir.

Mr Leonid SLUTSKIY

Russian Federation, NR

10:26:52

Thank you, Madam President, dear colleagues,

I shall try to be brief.

The situation is extremely sensitive in Afghanistan. The Taliban movement is acting as victors.

Indeed it is true that they have won the war. It would be difficult to expect them to comply with all the rules and norms which existed beforehand.

The previous government and the international forces which supported it have been defeated. This happened for a whole host of reasons: corruption, inefficiency of the government and a failure to meet the needs of the Afghan people. 

I've had dealings with Afghanistan for quite a long time. I've worked with the Afghan parliament for many years. There'll be many changes in the Taliban movement compared to 20 years ago. A number of countries, China and Pakistan, are planning to establish contact with the leaders of the Taliban, as we are. It's an interim government in Afghanistan, and we hope they will take into account our position, particularly the opinion of our Parliamentary Assembly today.

But there's a need to establish contact with them and not foist upon them any sort of external European traditions, cultures and values. We are dealing with protests and demonstrations in Kabul and a number of other cities in Afghanistan, but we must understand that only 20% of the Afghan population live in the cities. Nobody knows precisely how many people actually live in Kabul at present.

Of course, colleagues, in light of the fact that Afghanistan is continuing to work in the field of communications, we know very well what's going on there through mobile telephones. Television channels are giving a reasonably balanced opinion - the Taliban opinion, and differing views. That is the most hopeful fact, which we must take into account.

If we really want to help the Afghan people we shouldn't just be distracted by the issue of helping out our own representatives. We need to help out the people in the country and not just criticise the way the Taliban treat women. We won't help them in this way, if non-governmental organisations and the embassies on the spot are not given some positive impetus. I'd like to put that in the forefront.

We are seeing some developments in Jalalabad and in the east and other areas with respect to terrorist movements. There's a very active discussion underway now.

This means that we really must have international community contact with the Taliban in order to address this issue and avoid diktat and sanctions, constantly try to moderate their domestic policy in order to improve the situation of the Afghan people.

Thank you very much President, thank you colleagues.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

10:30:40

Thank you, sir.

I must now interrupt the list of speakers. Registered speakers who are present during the debate or who are connected remotely but who have not been able to speak may, within four hours, transmit their typed contributions to the Table Office for publication in the official report, provided that the remote speakers are able to confirm their presence when the debate is closed. This transmission must be made electronically.

You have 3 minutes to reply to the debate. You have 3 minutes.

Sir Tony LLOYD

United Kingdom, SOC, Rapporteur

10:31:18

Madam President, can I first of all thank the Secretariat for their incredibly hard work over these few days in preparing for me this report which I think has been widely accepted as a very good basis for us to continue our conversations about Afghanistan.

I'd also like to thank colleagues generally because I think it's true to say that the compassion that we've heard mainly across the debate this morning reflects both well on this Assembly, but reflects actually what we should be talking about: How do we help? What do we do to make life better?

And it's clear to me that the primary issue is making sure that humanitarian aid gets through: food obviously and health care obviously are of paramount importance. And these, as the United Nations Secretary-General has said, should not be conditional. And that's right and proper, but I do want to, if I may, mention a few areas of controversy. There was a debate, I think Mr Jacques LE NAY possibly, he rightly made the point that we shouldn't recognise the Taliban.

We do not recognise a government that comes to power by force. But we have to deal with the Taliban. And we looked at the United Nations primarily to be the first interlocutor with that government in Kabul, because actually what we've got to prevent is the instability in Afghanistan that will massively impact on the the people within Afghanistan. The 3.2 million already internally displaced and others, more refugees, but also to prevent the growth of the drugs trade, to prevent the possibility, the real possibility, that this becomes again a breeding ground for terrorism. Terrorism against possibly the Taliban. Terrorism against who knows where else in the world.

So those are real issues in which we have a premium that we must place and helping to bring about stability. And yes, my friend Mr Piero FASSINO is right to say that this must be conditional. It's not wrong for us to say that if we're going to give development assistance we will need that level of conditionality. This is what we should be about.

And I've got to say this: there is no such thing as European values. There's no such thing as Western values being imposed. It's not a Western value that says a woman doctor should not be prevented from going to work. That is ludicrous. That's a nonsense. It's not a Western value to say we don't kill people because they are gay. These are not Western values, these are universal values.

Actually, they are part of what we signed up to in the United Nations. So we need to be very clear in our dealings. We need to be very cautious, very careful in our dealings with the Taliban. Yes, of course we have to work with the Taliban. That's absolutely right. But cautiously, carefully. Not recognition, but a practical level that says "how can we help humanitarian aid?". Yes, development, where we can achieve that. And in the end, let's try to make sure that we're part of stabilising the people in the communities of Afghanistan.

Thank you, Madam President.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

10:34:32

Thank you.

Does the Chair of the Committee wish to respond?

Please, go ahead.

Mr Zsolt NÉMETH

Hungary, EC/DA, Chairperson of the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy

10:34:40

Thank you, Madam.

I would like to congratulate our rapporteur and also the Secretariat for this extremely well-balanced text we have got in front of us and I would like ask to all of you to vote in favour.

The United States, in the Doha Agreement more than two years ago, signalled all this. So, it was not a surprise to anyone that the departure was going to take place. The way it happened was a disaster. It was a failure. It was a disaster and failure for all of us. Now we need to investigate the geopolitical shift and what comes for the European Union and the Council of Europe as a consequence.

Out of this, it is an important question. We have started to consider this. The word in the text concerning the co-operation with Taliban reads "operational engagement". I think it is very well put, Mister rapporteur. There needs to be an operational engagement to manage internal matters especially to stop the danger of the reoccurrence of terrorism.

The other dimension in the report which is very important and crucial is the regional approach. Neighbours are crucial. We are going to manage in the next coming years, a very serious crisis – humanitarian, migration crisis – and the neighbours will have a special burden. I think the European Union points out very well that we need to concentrate on the neighbourhood as much as we can so that the military departure should not be a political departure. That is probably the most important conclusion.

Thank you very much.

Mr Yunus EMRE

Turkey, SOC

12:58:32

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

We are dealing with a very important issue both for our countries and for the Council of Europe values.

As Europeans, we have to reassess a general attitude. It has become a crucial problem to evaluate international issues only from the perspective of immigration. Immigration is one aspect of the issue but not the whole.

As Europeans, we must act by putting aside the fear of immigration and put in place stabilization measures in the region instead of immigration bargaining. European countries should also avoid falling into the trap of instrumentalizing migration pressures into political bargaining.

Children and women have greatly suffered from the long decades of civil war, occupation and conflict. Today, millions of Afghans are deprived of their most basic human rights, most precisely the right to live. Taliban rule will deepen these human rights questions for women and children. As an international organization working on the human rights, democracy and the rule of law, we cannot ignore the situation in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is not a country that has created a regime like the Taliban because of her characteristic features. It has become a historical development. Throughout the twentieth century the rivalry between the great powers of world politics destabilized the country. Years of occupation, civil war and wars prevented the formation of a political society and modern institutions. It paved the way for radicalism. We won't get anywhere by seeing Afghanistan and the Afghans as a problem. Looking at the current situation, many see it as the cause of the problems. However, the final situation is the result, not the cause. This will not change until the international community lends a helping hand to Afghanistan. In addition, if the necessary measures are not taken, instability could deepen and destabilize other countries in the region as well.

Both the economic situation in Afghanistan and the special problems created by the Covid-19 pandemic make the issue of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan even more important. In this context, I would like to state that I welcome Mr. rapporteur’s emphasis on the issue of humanitarian aid in the report.

We should derive lessons from our experiences. Even if we turn our backs on developments in a distant part of the world, nevertheless those developments affect our lives. We cannot leave the Afghan people alone. Like all oppressed peoples of the world, the Afghan people deserve a free and democratic life.

Mr Damien COTTIER

Switzerland, ALDE

12:58:35

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

Mr Fourat BEN CHIKHA

Belgium, SOC

12:58:37

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

Dear colleagues,

I would like to draw your attention to the situation of LGBTI people in Afghanistan.

Even before the Taliban took power, having same-sex relations was a criminal offence in Afghanistan, and it carried a sentence of two years in prison. Fear of imprisonment was already used as a means of extortion and abuse against LGBTI people in Afghanistan.

In July, a Taliban judge, in a region already controlled by Taliban at the time, was reported as saying that there are only two punishments for homosexuality -- stoning or being crushed under a wall.

With the Taliban in power, LGBTI people are now living in fear for their lives. Some have reportedly already been attacked and raped by the Taliban.

Many are in hiding, afraid even to set foot in the street. They rely on friends or family – who themselves may be at risk – to provide them with food. Some are even entering marriages, in the hope that this will be a sufficient disguise to keep them safe.

All have good reason to fear persecution by the Taliban, and many are desperate to flee Afghanistan.

We need to ensure that our countries pay attention to this situation – that they contribute to efforts to support LGBTI people in Afghanistan and keep them safe, and that they provide safe routes for resettlement to those fleeing such persecution.

LGBTI lives are under severe threat and we can’t turn our backs on them.

We need to assess how we can support and ensure pro-democracy forces in Afghanistan and the protection of human rights in a sustainable matter.

Ms Marta GRANDE

Italy, NR

12:58:39

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

Ms Petra BAYR

Austria, SOC

12:58:42

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

Humanitarian assistance, the prevention of violence, UN driven resettlement programs, and secure refugee corridors are key for people most at risk in Afghanistan. I am ashamed that my government is among a minority of countries that is not ready to accept a single refugee: not a women judge, not a girl that is denies access to education and is threatened because of her attitude, not a member of an ethnic minority or an LGBTIQ person. Shame on you, Austria!

Even if the Council of Europe has a very weak mandate when it comes to the Afghan crisis, we nevertheless have responsibilities: All our countries are members of the UN, three of our member states are even veto powers and permanent members at the UN Security Council. I call on all of them to follow in their decisions the political principles that are driven by rule of law, democratic governance, and human rights with the prior goal to protect lives of most vulnerable people in Afghanistan and Afghan refugees in neighbouring countries, and not merely their own geopolitical interests.

I call on all Council of Europe member states to respect the principle of the responsibility to protect, to be guided by the UN Security Council resolution 1325 when engaging in reconciliation and re-building of a resilient society and involve women in all decisions, and work on a future Afghan nation built upon human rights and rule of law. I call on them to always have in mind these people whose situation is not reported in media, who live in remote rural areas, and protect their lives and rights by establishing monitoring mechanisms and early warning systems to prevent violence especially against women and children.

Mr Christophe LACROIX

Belgium, SOC

12:58:45

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

Vote: The situation in Afghanistan: consequences for Europe and the region

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

10:36:45

Thank you, Mr. Chairman of the Committee.

The general debate is now closed.

For the draft resolution, the Political Affairs Committee has presented a draft resolution to which six amendments have been tabled. I understand that the Chairperson of the Political Affairs Committee wishes to propose to the Assembly that Amendment No. 2, which was adopted unanimously by the committee, be considered as adopted by the Assembly. Amendment No. 1 was also unanimously adopted, but as it was the subject of sub-amendments, it will be considered under the usual conditions. Is that correct, Mr President?

Mr Zsolt NÉMETH

Hungary, EC/DA, Chairperson of the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy

10:37:26

Yes (off mic).

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

10:37:27

Thank you, sir.

Are there any objections? There are no objections.

Amendment No. 2 to the draft resolution is adopted.

We will now proceed to discuss the other amendments.

I remind you that the time limit for each amendment is 1 minute. They will be called in the order in which they apply to the text as published in the collection of amendments.

Amendment No. 2 is adopted unanimously, so we will proceed to Amendment No. 1 and two oral sub-amendments. I call Ms Marta GRANDE to support Amendment No. 1.

Ms Marta GRANDE

Italy, NR

10:38:40

Thank you, President,

This amendment introduces a very important concept, namely that of protecting Afghan students who are already enrolled in member States of the Council of Europe. It is essential because we have seen, in several countries, that universities are mobilising; they are doing what they can because a number of these students have been held in Afghanistan. Hopefully, through this amendment, we can get them back; if they are giving visas so that they can continue with their studies in western universities.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

10:39:24

The Chair has received the following oral sub-amendment from the committee, so listen carefully. In Amendment No. 1, replace the words "after paragraph 8.3" with the words "before paragraph 8.12".

The amendment as sub-amended therefore reads, and I quote: "In the draft resolution, before paragraph 8.12, insert the following paragraph".

Under Rule 34.7.a. of the Rules of Procedure, the President may, in exceptional circumstances, declare an oral sub-amendment to be in order if he or she considers that it is intended to clarify matters, to take account of new facts or to permit conciliation. I consider this oral sub-amendment to be in order under the Rules of Procedure. However, if 10 or more representatives or substitutes object, the oral sub-amendment cannot be taken into account. If that is the case, please signify your objection by raising your hand and by asking for the floor if you are not present.

We need to check that the objection has the required support of 10 people, so are there any objections to the oral sub-amendment being considered?

There are no objections to the oral sub-amendment. We will therefore consider the oral sub-amendment.

I call the rapporteur to support the oral sub-amendment.

Sir Tony LLOYD

United Kingdom, SOC, Rapporteur

10:40:59

Thanks once again, Madam President.

This is, in one sense, a technical sub-amendment. It, first of all, moves the wordings into the right place in the resolution – the most appropriate place. I think colleagues will understand why that is there. It also introduces the word "Afghan", so it introduces visas, not simply for students, but introduces visas for Afghan students enrolled in universities of member States. I think this is about clarification of the amendment. I hope it is helpful to the Assembly.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

10:41:36

That is fine. Does anyone wish to speak against the oral sub-amendment? No? Not in line either.

Does the mover of the amendment wish to speak against the oral sub-amendment? Ms Marta GRANDE, perhaps?

Ms Marta GRANDE

Italy, NR

10:41:54

We accept the rewording.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

10:41:59

The committee's opinion is, of course, in favour, so we will proceed to vote on oral sub-Amendment No. 1.

The vote is open.

The vote is closed.

Oral sub-Amendment No. 1 is largely adopted, with 4 abstentions.

The Chair has received an oral sub-amendment from the Committee, which reads as follows: "In Amendment No. 1, insert the word "Afghan" before the word "student". The sub-amendment therefore reads, and I quote: "... to establish a visa system for Afghan students enrolled in universities in member States".

I consider this oral sub-amendment to be admissible under the criteria of the Rules of Procedure. However, if 10 or more members object, the oral sub-amendment cannot be taken into account. If that is the case, I would be grateful if you would indicate whether you object by raising your hand or remotely and if you wish to speak on behalf of the Assembly.

There are no objections. We will therefore examine this oral sub-amendment.

Rapporteur?

Sir Tony LLOYD

United Kingdom, SOC, Rapporteur

10:43:58

Thank you Mr President.

For the reasons I've already outlined, this simply is a clarification of the intent of the amendment.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

10:44:07

Thank you.

Does anyone wish to speak against this oral sub-amendment?

No - online.

No requests from the floor. 

What is the opinion of the author of the amendment on this oral sub-amendment?

Please, Madam GRANDE?

Ms Marta GRANDE

Italy, NR

10:44:25

Yes, we are clearly in favour.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

10:44:29

The committee's opinion is, of course, in favour. We will now proceed to vote on oral sub-amendment No. 2.

Oral sub-amendment No. 2 is adopted.

We will now proceed to vote on Amendment No. 1, as amended.

Amendment No. 1, as amended, is adopted.

We will now proceed to vote on Amendment No. 3. I call Mrs Petra BAYR to support Amendment No. 3.

Ms Petra BAYR

Austria, SOC

10:46:17

Thank you very much.

Amendment No. 3 is driven by the fear that public awareness will focus on regions where media is present, and that could lead to ongoing marginalisation of vulnerable people in rural areas. We must not forget about people there, and that's the reason for it.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

10:46:42

Thank you.

Is there anyone who wishes to speak against this amendment? Online? No one?

The opinion of the committee, then, please.

Mr Zsolt NÉMETH

Hungary, EC/DA, Chairperson of the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy

10:46:57

In favour.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

10:46:59

That is a good thing.

We will now proceed to vote on Amendment No. 3.

Amendment No. 3 is adopted.

We will now proceed to vote on Amendment No. 4. I call Mrs Petra BAYR to support amendment 4.

Ms Petra BAYR

Austria, SOC

10:47:54

To protect human rights, especially in very critical situations, is not the cherry on the top, but substantial for democracy and rule of law.

That's the reason why we want to mention especially vulnerable groups like minorities, women and LGBTQI people.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

10:48:15

Is there anyone who wishes to speak against this amendment? Not from the floor. On the line? No, not in the room either.

The opinion of the committee, please, on this amendment.

Mr Zsolt NÉMETH

Hungary, EC/DA, Chairperson of the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy

10:48:31

In favour.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

10:48:33

I am in favour.

We will now proceed to vote on the amendment.

Amendment No. 4 is adopted.

Amendment No. 5: Mrs BAYR, that is still for you.

Ms Petra BAYR

Austria, SOC

10:49:32

Yes, by witnessing the readiness of other countries for their responsibility to protect the most vulnerable population, you can also measure how serious they take it with their human rights. It is a matter of fact that minorities, women and LGBTI people are among the most vulnerable in Afghanistan. That is the reason we want to include that wording.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

10:49:58

Yes, please, Mr YILDIZ.

Are you speaking against this amendment?

Mr Ahmet YILDIZ

Turkey, NR

10:50:06

Madam Chair,

With all due respect to Ms Petra BAYR, I think the original text is comprehensive enough in showing our enthusiasm in protecting everybody's human rights when we take the situation in Afghanistan into consideration.

These amendments may even backfire - let's be realistic. We remember what happened in the Istanbul Convention discussions. That's why we should be realistic and empathetic.

I don't think that an additional edition of this text will serve any better purpose than the original text.

Thank you.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

10:50:52

What is the opinion of the committee?

Mr Zsolt NÉMETH

Hungary, EC/DA, Chairperson of the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy

10:50:55

In favour.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

10:50:58

The committee is in favour.

We will now proceed to vote on Amendment No. 5.

Amendment No. 5 is adopted.

We now come to Amendment No. 6. Ms BAYR?

Ms Petra BAYR

Austria, SOC

10:52:00

Yes, there is not a single situation existing where it is okay to neglect the need for temporary protection for people most in need and there is no doubt that women, minorities and LGBTQI persons are among them.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

10:52:16

Thank you.

Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment?

Mr YILDIZ, please.

Mr Ahmet YILDIZ

Turkey, NR

10:52:25

I will not repeat my remarks. It is the same issue that I just remind the colleagues that we are talking about Afghanistan. The situation is well known. Let's be realistic. Thank you.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

10:52:42

What is the opinion of the committee?

Mr Zsolt NÉMETH

Hungary, EC/DA, Chairperson of the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy

10:52:49

In favour.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

10:52:50

That is a good thing.

We will now proceed to vote on Amendment No. 6.

The vote is open.

The vote is closed.

I ask for the result to be displayed.

Amendment No. 6 is adopted.

We will now proceed to vote on the draft resolution contained in Document 15381. A simple majority is required.

The vote is now open in the hemicycle and remotely.

The vote is closed.

I ask for the result to be displayed.

The draft resolution in Document 15381 is adopted.

Thank you, rapporteur.

We will now have a few minutes' break because you have worked well and very efficiently. Thank you.

Address: Mr Nikola DIMITROV, Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs of North Macedonia

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

11:04:32

Good day, dear colleagues.

Some of us will be heading out of the Committees, Mister Minister.

The next item of business this morning is the address by Mr Nikola DIMITROV, Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs of North Macedonia. This will be followed by a Q&A.

Of course any question can be put to you, Mister Minister, but you, of course, own your answers. Politicians sometimes answer something that you have to say, but we know that. Anyway, I wish to welcome you warm-heartedly. I think the timing is quite appropriate. You have informed me that the head of the European Commission is still in the region, if I get it right. And next week might be an important moment concerning the future of the western Balkans as a whole, and North Macedonia more specifically, concerning the relationship with the European Union.

Of course we are not the European Union, but we do have a lot of Member States within our realm and we do represent the greater Europe of which you are a part. It is timely, but at the same time it is basically long overdue, because as we have seen - I mean, it must have been, what - 15 years ago since we really thoroughly, as for the Parliamentary Assembly, addressed the issue.

Of course dialogue and partnership with our Member States is of the highest importance. We have a long-standing relationship of cooperation, but I think that we should accelerate the activity of this Assembly and maybe of the organization as a whole, but that's not for me to decide. But certainly of this Assembly with regard to the relationship and the future of the western Balkans as a whole, and North Macedonia more specifically. Which is why I think it is interesting to listen to you, given the fact that after this part of the session we will have a Current Affairs Debate on the Western Balkans.

So, without any delay, Mister Deputy Prime Minister, I wish to welcome you, and deliver your speech, how they call that, which will be followed by a QA.

Thank you. You have the floor.

Yeah, you can come from... in French they say "au pupitre". I haven't got a clue... is there a right word in English? No, I know, but "pupitre" is a bit more elegant.

You have the floor.

Mr Nikola DIMITROV

Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs of North Macedonia

11:07:25

Dear Mister President of the Parliamentary Assembly,

The setting is such that I am turning my back to you, but it is with respect and friendship.

Madam Secretary General, distinguished Assembly members, ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,

It is a major honour for me to be here to address the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe for the second time. I was here in 2018 in a different capacity as a foreign minister. This is my second opportunity and privilege to address you.

This time, I think I have to underline how grateful we all are in the region for the initiative of the Parliamentary Assembly to have a debate on the European future, on the European perspective of the Western Balkans. This debate comes at a great time, I think, because it coincides with the end of the visit of the European Commission's President, Ursula von der Leyen, to the region. Her message, in all capitals, was "not to lose faith, your future is European".

It also coincides with an article from Reuters that made headlines throughout the Balkans that member States no longer have consensus to repeat the promise that was made 18 years ago at the European Council in Thessaloniki in 2003, a promise that is still yet unfulfilled. A few days after today, next week, there is a summit between the EU and the region and we will see what the declaration, what the message of the EU will be towards the region.

I know that this Organisation is a cradle of democracy, of human rights, of rule of law, is very much part of the same vision. When we reform and do what we need to do at home to be in line with the Copenhagen criteria, we rely on and are very grateful for your co-operation with many of the mechanisms of this organisation, including GRECO, the Committee for the Prevention of Torture, the Venice Commission, the Horizontal Facility programme, etc.

I am going to try to make the case for my country, for North Macedonia, but also for the region. I am going to appeal for responsibility and leadership in the capitals of the region and the capitals of the European Union that it is really high time to move forward.

I have never done this. I was silent for 16 seconds not because I lost the train of thought. This is to illustrate the 16 years that my country has been a candidate country, since 2005, and we are still not able to start the journey. North Macedonia is probably the most drastic example, from the wrong side of things, of the extension policy of the European Union. We started the journey after Slovenia and before Croatia. Croatia marks eight years of membership in the European Union and we still have not started the journey. The reason for these lost generations was not lack of reforms. It was not because we were part of the Yugoslav wars – because we were not – it was a problem that we had with a neighbour, a problem that we resolved in 2018 with the Prespa agreement. This was highly praised by the whole democratic world as a triumph of democracy, of diplomacy, of reconciliation. It was arguably one of the biggest dispute resolution efforts and successes after the Dayton Agreement in our region. The Prespa agreement was preceded by an important agreement for friendship and co-operation with another neighbour – with Bulgaria.

It is not only the lost generations and the passage of time that makes us a strong candidate. It is also what we did at home in terms of continuously improving our democracy and our society governed by the rule of law. In all of the reports of the European Commission, but also many other important organisations, we are in a small group of countries, regrettably today, that makes democratic progress. Also, I think, the most recent was the Global Peace Index. We are the fifth country in the world with the biggest progress in terms of predictability and stability and peacefulness.

It is really time to move forward. The obstacle that we have in front of us and this misunderstanding that we have with our neighbours in Sofia, with Bulgaria, is not territory – we do not have a territorial dispute. It is not something that has to do with reforms at home. It has to do with issues of history, of identity and of language. I think it is really high time for both countries to assume responsibility and leadership and find a way out of this because this really takes a deep toll on the friendship between the two nations and it disrupts important European policies in our region. The natural state of play should be that our neighbours will be our biggest champions because they have the most to gain from a European success of North Macedonia.

In 21st-century Europe the issue of languages – this Sunday, I think we marked the European Languages Day as designated by this organisation – by the Council of Europe – a day where we celebrate our diversity on the European continent. The issue of my mother tongue, the Macedonian language, should not be incorrect contradiction with the efforts of the nation to move forward on its European pact. Not if Europe is a continent where we cherish linguistic and cultural diversity, as it is written in the Lisbon Treaty, and as we cherish and celebrate in this organisation, in the Council of Europe. This is why I argued that this struggle is not only a struggle for my own national identity, of my people, but it is also a very important struggle for the European identity as well, for the soul of the European Union. Who I am and what language I speak is not a matter where others should have a say – other countries or other organisations. The right of self-determination, of self-identification, is something very intimate and it is mine. In a democracy, I do not allow my own country to tell me who I am, let alone third countries.

What we did with Bulgaria in the friendship treaty was we said we are going to enable and create a positive climate for historians to discuss historical issues, and we, as politicians and governments, will work on what we can change and what we can change is today and tomorrow. This plan, the approach of the friendship treaty, has been derailed and in contradiction with Article 2 of the friendship treaty, where it says that Bulgaria will assist our efforts on our way to the European Union, instead it stopped our journey by blocking our pact for two times now. In the long run, I think this significantly undermines the relationship. I think we are in a status quo where we have losers throughout the region – in Skopje, in Sofia – it resonates throughout the region because other countries are also losing trust that this is actually possible, seeing that what North Macedonia has done, which is admirable for the last several years, it is still not enough for Europe to say, "you delivered, we will deliver".

I think this is where we are, and this is a moment where we have to assume responsibility.

I grew up as a diplomat resolving problems. What I have learned is that you have to understand, and you have to be able to put yourself in the shoes of others if you want to resolve a problem. You have to know clearly the concerns of the other party and find a combination of issues where the concerns of your nation are met but also the concerns of the other party are also met. In this, if we introduce the context of European values and principles, then we have a sustainable solution.

Resolving a dispute between two nations always costs political credit. You cannot have success if you do not spend political capital. We did it once – to some extent twice – and in many ways we did it because of the next generation and not the next election. Sometimes people realise that and reward leadership, sometimes they do not. In the long run, I think it is important that what we do today will put us talking about history so much on the right side of history when others will observe what we have done.

We live in a world where patterns, organisations, alliances, geopolitics cannot be taken for granted. All of the organisations, all of the patterns of the international relations, are now shakier and less predictable. This is a time where we have to assume responsibility. The region of the Western Balkans – whether we like that name or not – is composed of six countries surrounded by member States of the European Union. Geographically, we are like a room in a European house but not on the borders of the house, somewhere within. We are not plugged in. We are not plugged in to the water points, to the water systems, to the electricity, to the air conditioning. To have this room apart is not good for the whole house. It is not good for the room. It is not good for the whole house.

We are a region that has traded with the common market for over three decades. We are a region where all investments come from European companies for over three decades as well. We are a region that is critically important for the EU's own stability, be it organised crime or fighting terrorism, or the migration crisis of 2015-16.

If Europe loses the trust of the people in the Balkans that their future is with them, Europe risks losing this region. After so many years of no progress – our last biggest progress was Croatia in 2013 – it is really time to think hard and if this world is now a world where more geopolitical players compete for power and if the European Union is serious about doing its role and in its place, it should think twice whether it is more costly to lose the Balkans or to invest and make the Balkans properly European so that there are democracies there, there are independent judges there, where media are free, and there is economic prosperity. All this is possible but we will need political leadership.

It is really difficult for me. My portfolio is – and I do not want to talk too much because I would like to have a lively debate, so I am going to be concluding soon – for me, as someone, who is in charge of European Affairs for my country, I really struggle when I talk to the people, to the citizens, explaining this constant cycle of hope and disappointment. We have been going through this constant cycle of hope and disappointment in particular since June 2018. At that time, Bulgaria was actually a huge advocate for the start of the accession talks of my country. The issues were different. It took a new methodology to bring other countries in the consensus and now we have, regrettably, this problem with our neighbour.

It is really time to show to the region that the European Union is serious about its promise of Thessaloniki and this unfulfilled promise takes its toll. It makes pro-European forces weaker and it makes other forces – probably more nationalistic – stronger. If we lose the European vision of the region, other more sinister visions will come into play. I think we witnessed what can happen when there is competition of greater ethnic state, etc., from the 1990s. I think this was a civilisational defeat for our continent.

I appeal to European leaders to reiterate and send a strong political signal from the summit in Slovenia that the future of this region is European.

Thank you so much for this opportunity and thank you so much for the debate that will follow my address. Thank you.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

11:25:13

Thank you Deputy Prime Minister.

Two additional pieces of information.

We've got about 50 of our colleagues online, this is a hybrid session just for you to know.

Secondly, this is a piece of information for the people online and in the room. I have been informed that today is your birthday. So happy birthday. (Applause). Unfortunately we don't have a tradition that now someone comes down with a big pie and a candle, but we'll think about it in the future. If you would have warned us upfront maybe it would have happened.

Anyway we head into our Q&A now. I will take the questions five by five, which allows you Mr Minister to address them in the fashion that you see fit.

In principle we first have the representatives of our five political groups, followed by individual members. So we will take five questions as a whole together after which I will gladly yield the floor to you again, to address the issues that have been mentioned.

I remind our colleagues in the room and online that the time you have is one minute. I do urge you to ask a question instead of making statements – I say that all the time but it never happens all the time, but still I'll say it again – a question is more useful than a statement. Athough you never know that the statement might be seen as a question.

First on my list is Mr Domagoj HAJDUKOVIĆ. You have the floor.

Mr Domagoj HAJDUKOVIĆ

Croatia, SOC, Spokesperson for the group

11:26:55

Thank you, Mister Chair,

Happy birthday, Mr Nikola DIMITROV.

After the Dayton Accords, the Prespa Agreement is probably the most important treaty solving one of the crucial issues in the Balkans region.

In your view, how would you stimulate similar solutions to other pressing issues in the region? We see, for example, tensions in Kosovo if the EU does not follow through on its promises.

I have a second question. The 2019 European Court of Human Rights judgment obliges North Macedonia to adopt a law allowing for legal gender recognition in a fast, transparent and accessible procedure. The draft law on civil registry which would introduce legal gender recognition based on self-determination is currently blocked at the face of parliamentary commissions.

How is the government working to ensure that the draft law and civil registry is unblocked and proceeds towards a vote in the parliament?

How is the government working to build support for this law?

Thank you.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

11:27:54

Thank you.

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

Mr Zsolt CSENGER-ZALÁN, you have the floor.

Mr Zsolt CSENGER-ZALÁN

Hungary, EPP/CD, Spokesperson for the group

11:28:00

Thank you Chair, happy birthday Excellency.

I have two short questions in the name of the Group of the European People's Party.

We highly appreciate the very significant legislative and minority policy measures taken over the last two decades with regards to the improvement of the situation of Albanians and the path to Macedonian and Albanian coexistence.

We would like to know how you see the situation of the smaller national communities in Northern Macedonia now.

The second question is how could the Council of Europe and its Member States help with the countries' further democratic reforms and European aspirations.

Thank you very much.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

11:28:55

Thank you.

I now call Mr Jacques MAIRE on behalf of the ALDE Group.

Mr Jacques MAIRE

France, ALDE, Spokesperson for the group

11:29:03

Thank you, Mister President.

Of course, happy birthday, Mr DIMITROV.

First of all, I am very pleased to give the ALDE Group's full support to the efforts made by Northern Macedonia, particularly through the Prespa agreement that we celebrated together a few weeks ago and the Ohrid Agreement before that, which have indeed made it possible to avoid a war in the Balkans – which has claimed the lives of many other countries.

I would like to ask you a small question about the Europe that you are planning. We did see a demography summit recently which proposed a very particular European path with many Balkan leaders. It seems to me that North Macedonia is asserting deep democratic values, a desire for change, a desire for integration and convergence. In this context, which is being debated quite a bit in Europe today, what is the European project that North Macedonia is defending when it wants to come closer and when it wants to integrate into the European Union – which is obviously the profound wish of the entire ALDE Group?

Thank you.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

11:30:04

Merci, Jacques.

I now go to Mr John HOWELL on behalf of the EC.

John, you have the floor.

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC/DA, Spokesperson for the group

11:30:13

Thank you, Mister President.

Europe is not the same as the European Union. You have been a member of this Council since 1995. Would you like to say what you have done to strengthen the rule of law, democracy, and human rights, and therefore what role we can play in making sure that you become more European?

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

11:30:39

Thank you, John.

Last in the row is Mr George KATROUGALOS for the United Left.

George, you have the floor.

Mr George KATROUGALOS

Greece, UEL, Spokesperson for the group

11:30:49

Thank you, Chair.

Mister Deputy Prime Minister, Dear Nikola,

You have tried your best. You have pushed reforms. You have tried to resolve the issues with your neighbours, beginning with the friendship treaty with Bulgaria, then with the historic Prespa Agreement. You have paid a heavy political cost for that. The European Union does not seem to reciprocate. We read yesterday in Reuters that our union will not guarantee any more the future accession of the Western Balkans. Does your population feel frustrated, betrayed by this behaviour? What are your major fears for the future?

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

11:31:47

Thank you Mr Deputy Prime Minister.

You have the floor.

Mr Nikola DIMITROV

Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs of North Macedonia

11:31:54

Thank you so much.

I'll take them as they were questioned. I'll start with the lessons learned for others, in terms of whether disputes in the region will be solvable if we take the European narrative out of the equation.

What we have witnessed with the renewed tensions on the border of Kosovo and Serbia is actually one signal.

For us, the European context was an incentive.

Many European leaders, when they came to Skopje to campaign and called the people to vote 'yes' at the referendum, to confirm the Prespa agreement, in a way promised that this would mean the start of accession talks. So the lesson for others in the region will be: if this promise remains unmet, is it worth doing this? Some say it openly and on the record. Look what Europe did to Mr Zoran Zaev. Why would I do this? Without the European context, resolving the remaining issues in the region will be increasingly difficult.

On the concrete question of the judgment relating to gender recognition. The issue has been resolved for the individual applicant, for the citizen, in question. The systemic solution of course will take a legislative amendment. The government adopted it; it's in the parliamentary procedure. Talking to the Minister of Justice, I think we foresee its adoption in November. We are now in the campaign for local elections. Parliament is not fully functional in that respect. The tone in the public discourse is such that I think it would be difficult for those members of the parliament who are not fully convinced not to support this amendment. So the plan is to have this done in November this year.

There was a question on minorities, especially the smaller communities.

North Macedonia is a multiethnic society. We see it as a strength. We have a tradition of tolerance. In part, this was strengthened by the Ohrid Framework Agreement (OFA.) We marked 20 years since it was signed. An agreement that introduced equitable representation in the public administration, language rights and more decentralisation. The government actively promotes a policy called "one society for all" or "one equal society for all." Regardless of our ethnic backgrounds, we are in a common House. We have common successes and we have common challenges. Society has moved to an extent where the issues that are pressing concern mostly non-ethnic issues. In many ways with the multiethnic agenda of the country, you can never say "this is done." You can never say "we did it, now we can move on." It will always take engagement and attention from society, from the country. But by and large, the issues that the country face - let's say, the fight for more economic prosperity, better education, more justice, and more accountability, are values and processes that unite all ethnic communities, bigger and smaller.

We also have a tradition of deciding together, in part regulated using the so-called Badinter majority principle. So when there is a political decision to be made that touches upon issues of ethnic communities, they should be part of the decision-making. There should be a majority, also, of those representing the ethnic communities in question.

There was also a question of "how we can help?" You are helping a lot. That's also related to the question, and apologies for that, because this is the pressing pain, this is why I talk more about the EU. The way we see the European Union is not unrelated to the values and processes of this organisation. For the citizens of the region, when you say 'European,' the word brings positive associations of democracy, of freedom, of having your rights respected, of having equal opportunities, of decency, of normalcy, of economic prosperity.

The bulk of our reforms to become more European are very much in line with the principles of this organisation.

When I say you already help a lot, I refer to the Venice Commission. This is an instrument we use very often when we amend legislation or have dilemmas and we try to align with European standards, and the Group of States against Corruption, the Council of Europe (GRECO) as well. Now we have local elections so I am seeing many public opinion polls. When you ask people their number one concern, it is justice and the fight against corruption. So in this respect, GRECO is extremely important.

Then the projects supported through the horizontal facility, the Council of Europe has an office in Skopje. I think this is also very helpful.

In terms of the narrative of values, I think the two organisations are very much part of the "one vision" for our continent. 

The frustration; there was also a question about what have you done on democracy, on rule of law.

First of all, we've had a steady stream of really free and fair elections. I think we have that pretty much covered. We work closely with this organisation but also the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) to make sure that this is not an issue. We changed the way judges are appointed. In many ways we did everything that we could to use the blueprint of an independent judiciary. There is an atmosphere in the country that everyone must be accountable. We've had steady judgements against former holders of power, but also current holders of power - which is extremely important. 

On media freedom, I think we are doing very well. I think this is noted in all the reports of Reporters without Borders (RSF) and many others. We learned it the hard way. We had the crisis of 2015 and 2016, where the state then - under a leadership that obviously had autocratic tendencies - tried to control the media. At that time the state, using taxpayers money, was the biggest advertiser in the media sphere holding almost up to 60% of the media market. What we did was we said we will not use taxpayers money to advertise. There was a big debate about whether we should do it to promote the vaccination campaign. We found other ways to do it and we didn't do it again. With all our deficiencies and issues, North Macedonia today is actually a very vibrant democracy where the media is free and everything is reported.

We also made progress on anti-discrimination. We had a legal system in place. The previous government amended that; we brought it back so that anti-discrimination clearly also applies to sexual orientation and gender identity.

The country is moving in the right direction. What's most important is that it is because of society. The people have learned that when they make a stand and are loud, the political parties, the political decision-makers follow.

Lastly, on the frustration, people do feel betrayed. In many ways, because the promise of the government was based on the European promise, the government is struggling as well. The narrative is not complete, and the promise is not met.

I don't think there is an alternative to becoming European. I think it is easier to do so if you have the reform tool of the accession process. But having it or not having it, we're going to stick to the plan to make North Macedonia a functional European democracy governed by the rule of law.

Of course, when Europe doesn't deliver on its promises, it will lose trust and it is losing trust. It will lose the leverage that it has in this region that is geographically in its midst.

Thank you Mr George KATROUGALOS for your question. I think we all feel the same because we were part, the two of us, we were part of this process together. I believe we will make it in the end, but we live in a world where the right thing to do is not always done.

I think, and I hope, that I have covered the five questions that were raised.

 

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

11:44:36

Thank you.

We will now move to the three following ones. Ms Laima Liucija ANDRIKIENĖ, Mr Ahmet YILDIZ, and Mr Piero FASSINO online.

Please, make sure that Piero is asking for the floor.

We start with Laima. You have the floor.

Ms Laima Liucija ANDRIKIENĖ

Lithuania, EPP/CD

11:44:50

Thank you, Mister President.

Mister Nikola DIMITROV, it is a pleasure to see you among us. I recall my work in your country in June and July of last year when I was leading the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) election assessment mission for your parliamentary elections. Of course, we all are aware that North Macedonia and Albania are ready to start accession negotiations with the EU. Unfortunately, the start of the intergovernmental conference was postponed, again and again, and it is not fair.

I would like to take this opportunity to appeal to our Bulgarian colleagues. North Macedonia and Albania will be members of the EU and it is our common interest to have them in the family sooner rather than later. North Macedonia has done a lot and has sacrificed a lot in order to be ready for the accession talks. Bulgaria is well aware of that and I encourage Bulgarian authorities not to block EU accession talks with North Macedonia.

The Western Balkan region is still full of tension. In recent days, tensions on the Serbia-Kosovo border were observed and our sincere wish is that they return to dialogue.

My question to you, Mister DIMITROV, is how your country is influenced by the tensions in the region I just mentioned? And what we, as the Council of Europe and its Parliamentary Assembly, could do to contribute to your European perspective.

Thank you.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

11:46:14

We now move to our colleague Mr Ahmet YILDIZ.

Ahmet, you have the floor.

Mr Ahmet YILDIZ

Turkey, NR

11:46:18

Thank you, Mister President.

Dear Mister Deputy Prime Minister, as you know Turkey and the Turkish nation have a good perception about the Macedonian identity, because descendants of the Macedonian immigrants still play a very positive essential role in Turkish economic and political life. And also there's a considerable Turkish minority in Macedonia living in peace with their cultural rights. You are a diplomat, I am a diplomat. I know from my service in Sarajevo that my country did everything to support first of all the transatlantic track of the Balkan Nations.

Congratulations on your membership in NATO. Also, as we declared several times: Turkey supports the European Union membership of all these countries, even if the Turkish accession is in a stalemate. But, there are some parliamentarians that are still thinking that Turkey has an anti-European agenda in the Balkans.

Did you see any such attitude from Turkey harmful to any nation in the Balkans?

Thank you.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

11:47:38

Thank you. We will now move to Mr Piero FASSINO.

Is he online?

Mr Piero FASSINO

Italy, SOC

11:47:46

Tous nos vœux au Premier ministre.

J'ai deux questions.

Je partage le sentiment de frustration et de déception face à la situation dans les Balkans, que le Vice-Premier ministre a également exprimé, car trop de temps a passé : 26 ans se sont écoulés depuis Dayton et 18 ans depuis Thessalonique, et l'intégration européenne est encore loin.

Je crois donc, et je suis d'accord, que nous devons absolument accélérer. Ma question est donc la suivante: aujourd'hui, l'adhésion de la Macédoine du Nord est bloquée par la Bulgarie. Quelles initiatives le gouvernement macédonien prend-il pour encourager une solution au différend avec la Bulgarie et briser ainsi le véto bulgare ?

La deuxième question est la suivante : comment le Vice-Premier ministre évalue-t-il le problème de la migration dans les Balkans, et comment la Macédoine y fait face ?

Merci.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

11:48:49

Thank you, Mister Vice Prime Minister.

Mr Nikola DIMITROV

Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs of North Macedonia

11:48:58

Thank you for, I think, very important questions. This time I will do it the other way around.

I'll start with the last one.

First of all on migration - I don't think there is an easy fix. The way to stop people from leaving is to make sure that they have good conditions for a European way of life at home. And this is not only jobs and salaries, it's also a perspective that the country is moving in the right direction and that the future will be brighter - five years from today, 10 years from today. It's also about what people care about justice being done. So, rule of law is also part of it. About, especially in Covid-19 times, but also without Covid-19 times, having good hospitals, having good schools for children. So I think the way to do this is to focus and deliver and have a realistic long-term plan. You can't do this overnight. You can't even do this in one democratic term. But I am convinced that the whole region can do this in the next decade to somehow revert this trend. Otherwise, we will be failing the next generation, essentially.

When North Macedonia became independent, I was coming of age: 18-19 years old. 30 years later, I still don't think that we have made it - at least for the next generation to have a better start than my generation. The whole region is, I think, facing this challenge together. I don't think there is an easy fix. Sometimes politicians talk about building walls. Even if we build a wall around the whole region, we won't stop young people from leaving unless we make better conditions for them at home. And the European perspective is part of this.

On the question of Bulgaria; and also, I would like to thank the deputy Mr Piero FASSINO from Italy for making this motion for a resolution to have the Parliamentary Assembly support the European future of the region. I think this is an important signal in a time where these signals matter, and are desperately needed. So I very much support the initiation of designating a rapporteur and looking forward to reading the report, the resolution and the recommendations in this process.

With Bulgaria, their elections - parliamentary and presidential - are committed to continuing to try to find an understanding, also bilaterally, on issues where we can find an understanding. I think the stakes are really immense: for our friendship, for the future of the region, for the people. The effects of the policies of the last two years are such that in the polls, Bulgaria is seen as a problem, as a troublemaker. When you ask the citizens whether they think that another country creates a problem for them, for their nation, Bulgaria is by far the first one. And among the friendly countries, it continually decreases.

So I don't know about the polls in Bulgaria about North Macedonia, but I think we have to realistically look at what we are doing, I think, because of history that we cannot change. History is very important - we are all proud of our history. The history that we create today must be something that we will be proud of. And this is more important than; because today we can change it. So this is what we are trying to do. We can't really talk about who we are. No country can tell us who we are. This is a self-determination, this is a self-identification question. We can't talk about our language, this is not decent to do in the 21st century, I'm sorry. On this continent, in the 21st century, it is not being a good neighbour to tell your neighbours "but your language is this or that". It's not something you do. And a solution must make sense from the perspective of the European values. Otherwise, it won't be a solution.

How can you build a friendship if you use a position of leverage and you bully your neighbour on issues that are so intimate? You can't build a friendship. And we start a process that is extremely important, but this now is derailed. And I am honest when I say not exactly because of our fault.

Turkey, thank you for your kind words on our NATO membership. The question is whether, if I understood the question right, I don't see any negative influence in terms of our European aspirations and work coming from Turkey. We have enjoyed traditionally good relations - we are not always looking on the issues from the same perspective, which is I think something normal and natural. But I cannot say that there is a disruptive attempt or policies coming when it comes to this effort for European integration of the region.

And then I also thank you, and all the kind words from Lithuania, and from you personally. I come back to this resolution. I think the very fact that there is a debate today on this topic from the European perspective is actually very helpful. The timing is great and, please, engage so that there is a resolution. And, in a way you helped those European forces that realize it's time for action. This is my response on what it is that you can do.

I remember our meeting in Skopje when you were heading the ODIHR mission and I think you can probably confirm what I said on the free and fair elections in Northern Macedonia.

Thank you.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

11:57:24

Thank you.

I will take three more questions.

First by Ms Elvira KOVÁCS, then Mr Rafael HUSEYNOV, and then Ms Ekaterina GECHEVA-ZAHARIEVA.

I hope I said that one right.

So we start with Elvira.

Elvira, you have the floor.

Ms Elvira KOVÁCS

Serbia, EPP/CD

11:57:41

Thank you.

Dear Deputy Minister, it goes without saying that regional cooperation is a pillar of the European integration process and the Open Balkan Initiative contributes towards the achievement of this goal. And I believe that we could all agree that from Novi Sad, the birthplace of mini Schengen initiative in October 2019, to Skopje in July this year, cradle of the Open Balkan Initiative, with November 2020, when the Sophie action plan for the common regional market was adopted, a new era of the Western Balkans cooperation has began.

It is obvious that due to the limited economic potential of any regional cooperation in the Western Balkan and the lack of EU membership perspectives in order to boost regional economic integration, the EU needs to come up with a realistic plan.

I do believe that the plan should should include an offer for the Western Balkan to join the EU single market in the foreseeable future.

Thank you.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

11:58:50

Thank you, Elvira.

We go now to Mr Rafael HUSEYNOV.

You have the floor.

Mr Rafael HUSEYNOV

Azerbaijan, ALDE

11:58:54

Thank you Mister President,

Dear Deputy Prime Minister,

Your country also took part in the International Agricultural Exhibition which opened in Izmir, Turkey, in June this year.

It is clear that such platforms are also a good place to build a foundation for future collaboration.

Ministers of agriculture of your country and Azerbaijan discussed the prospects for cooperation there.

In particular, what opportunities do you see for expanding economic relations between your country and Azerbaijan in this area and in other areas?

Thank you.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

11:59:33

Thank you, Rafael.

Finally we come to Ms Ekaterina GECHEVA-ZAHARIEVA.

Ekaterina, you have the floor.

Ms Ekaterina GECHEVA-ZAHARIEVA

Bulgaria, EPP/CD

11:59:37

Thank you, Mister Chair.

Happy birthday, Nikola.

I can assure you that Bulgaria is still one of your biggest advocates for your European Union perspective. Because we are not in European Council but in Council of Europe, my questions are linked with democracy and human rights.

There are numerous of cases of different types of pressure including harassment, intimidation, and even hate crimes against citizens of Bulgaria in the Republic of North Macedonia with Bulgarian self-identification.

There is also a significant growth in the number of media publications which include hate speech coming from politicians, representatives of public institutions directed towards Bulgarians.

There is a big number of public plates and signs which directly equate the Bulgarian nation to fascism.

What concrete measures is your government taking to address those worrying trends?

I think it's really important.. so let me finish because it's in the context of Council of Europe resolution 1481 from 2006 on the need for international condemnation of crimes of totalitarian communist regimes.

What measures has the Republic of North Macedonia taken to rehabilitate the victims of the Communist Regime who have been victimised for their Bulgarian self-identification? How does the state facilitate public access to archives of the former totalitarian services.

Thank you.