Logo Assembly Logo Hemicycle

24 January 2022 morning

2022 - First part-session Print sitting

Sitting video(s) 1 / 2 2 / 2

Opening of the part-session at 10:30 am

Opening of the sitting No. 1

Mr Boriss CILEVIČS

Latvia, SOC, President of the Assembly

10:30:48

Ladies and gentlemen, the sitting is open.

I declare open the 2022 Ordinary Session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

Dear colleagues, it's good to address you again in this hemicycle, not remotely. Even if the hemicycle is still quite empty. Our Assembly faced serious difficulties in organising its work under the conditions of pandemic and I would like to praise our Secretariat and the entire staff who cope quite well with the numerous problems. However, we should not concentrate on internal issues, we ought to fulfil our mission despite all hurdles.

In the last year we faced new challenges to democracy, human rights and rule of law in Europe. We cannot stay indifferent to rigged elections, brutal suppression of peaceful protests, mass oppressions against civil society and independent media in any of our member states. But even when such violations occur in a state that is not a member of our organisation, the Council of Europe must find the proper response to the crisis of democracy, in particular in Belarus.

Ladies and gentleman, it is easy to support lofty values when it costs nothing. This is not the case we see, in particular in the refugee crisis. We witness new developments where not only criminal smugglers but some European states are behind organising irregular immigration. We must ensure the security of our borders but at the same time we cannot ignore our humanitarian obligations. Violators of human rights use individuals as just a policy too, but we cannot do the same. The right to asylum is a crucial human right, and democracies must respect and uphold it even under difficult circumstances. International cooperation is key in this respect. It is revealing that exactly those states which have been reluctant to engage in international solidarity and burden-sharing some years ago now themselves face similar problems. This is a good lesson for all of us. We must work together to cope with new challenges.

Ladies and gentlemen, the pandemic keeps posing new problems. One year ago our Assembly adopted Resolution 2361 on ethical, legal, and practical considerations of Covid-19 vaccines, which stated that vaccination must not be mandatory and that no one should be under pressure to be vaccinated if they do not wish to do so. This resolution now is the most widely cited document of our Assembly. However, I am not happy about it at all, as it is mostly referred to by Covid deniers and anti-vaxxers.

When we voted for that resolution, vaccines were not yet available and we clearly underestimated the level of prejudice, superstitions, mistrust of governments and science in our societies. We could not imagine that so many populist politicians would misuse human rights rhetoric to oppose the restrictions necessary to save human lives. Those who defend human rights defend individual choices against rules imposed by states. However, when it comes to vaccination and other measures of protection against the pandemic it is not black and white. Democracies can and even must protect people from the risks to their life and health caused by irresponsible behaviour of others. Individuals' free choice is limited by the rights of other individuals.

Now we see that more and more democracies introduce restrictive measures to ensure an effective fight against the pandemic. Many cases are already before the courts at different levels. Some have already been decided and we are now awaiting the Strasbourg Court judgments to put all dots above "i"s. It is proposed that during the session we will have a debate on this and other very topical issues.

Ladies and gentlemen, our Assembly can and must play a crucial role in facing these and many other topical challenges. Let's be responsible and think not only about coming elections, but first about the rights and well-being of the Europeans who elected us.

Dear colleagues, I propose we observe a minute of silence in memory of David Sassoli, president of the European Parliament who passed away on 11 January. David Sassoli was a committed European and the most dedicated and tireless defender of human rights and democracy with an unwavering faith in the common values that animate the European Union and the Council of Europe. Mr Sassoli was a dear friend of the Parliamentary Assembly. We will remember his stirring speech to our Assembly during the April 2021 part session in which he called for strengthened cooperation between our two institutions to uphold the respect for human rights and democratic principles for the benefit of all European citizens.

So...

Thank you.

And let's take our agenda. The first item on the agenda is the examination of credentials of members for the 2022 Ordinary Session of the Assembly. According to Rule 67.4, the deadline for submission of the credentials of the members of the Assembly was midnight on Monday 17 January. The names of the representatives and substitutes are in Document 15441. If no credentials are challenged, the credentials will be ratified. If any credentials are challenged, if so, please ask for the floor by raising your hand for those present in the chamber or request the floor in the remote system.

I see Mr Emanuelis ZINGERIS is asking for the floor. Before calling a member to speak at this point, I remind the Assembly that the rules of challenges to credentials require the member challenging credentials to state first which credentials are being challenged, second whether the challenges are under rule 7 on procedural grounds or rule 8 substantive grounds, and the reasons for the challenge.

So, Mr ZINGERIS, please, you have the floor.

Mr Emanuelis ZINGERIS

Lithuania, EPP/CD

10:39:04

Thank you so much.

Dear Boriss, thank you so much. And, dear Secretary general, I challenge the credentials of the Russian delegation on substantive grounds. Previous parliamentary elections in Russia they are not free and not fair. So the Russian delegation is not legitimate.

Russia is not implementing resolutions 1990, 2034, 2063, 2363 and 2387 occupying Ukrainian and Georgian territories.

Recently Russia has liquidated an internationally recognized memorial human rights centre.

Russian government poisoned and imprisoned opposition activist Navalny.

Russia's refusal to cooperate with rapporteurs not implementing the human rights decisions are reason to make a challenge on substantial grounds.

Mr Boriss CILEVIČS

Latvia, SOC, President of the Assembly

10:39:52

Thank you.

So, Mister ZINGERIS is challenging the credentials of the delegation of the Russian Federation on substantive grounds under Rule 8 of the Assembly’s Rules of Procedure.

Under Rule 8 your challenge must be supported by at least 30 members from at least 5 national delegations.I will invite those who support this challenge to indicate their support using the available voting system.

Members present in the Chamber should stand in their place and use the voting system of the hemicycle by voting “YES”. Members who do not support the challenge shall not vote at all. Members participating remotely should vote using the remote voting system. Those who support this challenge will vote “YES”. Those who do not support the challenge shall not vote at all. The vote in the hemicycle and via remote voting is now open.

Yes, please, stand up and also vote "YES" in the hemicycle voting system.

Colleagues, let me remind that it is not enough to just stand up, but please vote "YES" in the voting system in the hemicycle. I hope it's okay.

Can we close the vote?

Okay, sorry, I'm informed that the fault is not with you but with your badge. You have to replace your badge. Okay, I hope it's not a problem to add your vote to the total number.

Now I close the vote and I now ask for the results to be displayed.

Okay, so there is a technical complaint, but let's first have a look at the results. It's not a decisive vote. We just need to know whether this challenge is supported by certain people, so let's have the results and then proceed further. We have the results, so apparently the challenge has the support required under the rules of procedure and the credentials of the Russian delegation are referred without debate to the appropriate committee and to the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs for opinion.

The appropriate committee in this case is the Monitoring Committee. The Committee shall report within 24 hours if possible. Does the Assembly agree?

So this is what the rules prescribe very clearly.

Thank you, it is agreed to.

Accordingly the credentials of the Russian Delegation are referred to the Monitoring Committee for report and to the Committee on Rules of Procedure for opinion. I propose that this debate takes place on Wednesday afternoon as the first item of business. I remind you that members of a national delegation whose credentials are challenged may sit provisionally with the same rights as other Assembly members until the Assembly has reached a decision. However, those members shall not vote in any proceedings relating to the examination of credentials which concern them. Are there any other challenges?

Yes, please, Madam KRAVCHUK.

Ms Yevheniia KRAVCHUK

Ukraine, ALDE

10:44:52

Thank you, Mister President.

I challenge the credentials of the Russian delegation on procedural grounds under Rule 7.

The election of parliamentarians from nationwide party lists in Russia includes votes from the illegally occupied and annexed territory of Crimea. I recall the Venice Commission's opinion on the inclusion of a not internationally-recognised territory into a nationwide constituency for parliamentary elections, which points out that the organisation of elections in the annexed territory does not and cannot remedy the annexation.

Thank you.

Mr Boriss CILEVIČS

Latvia, SOC, President of the Assembly

10:45:29

Thank you, madam.

So Ms Yevheniia KRAVCHUK is challenging the credentials of the delegation of the Russian Federation on procedural grounds under Rule 7 of the Assembly's Rules of Procedure.

I remind the Assembly that under Rule 7, the challenge must be supported by at least ten members from at least five national delegations.

I will invite those who support this challenge to indicate their support using the available voting system. Members present in the chamber should stand in their place and use the voting system of the hemicycle by voting "YES". Members who do not support the challenge shall not vote at all.

Members participating remotely should vote using the remote voting system. Those who support the challenge will vote "YES". Those who do not support the challenge shall not vote at all.

Now the vote in the hemicycle and via remote voting is open.

Those who support the challenge, please stand up and also vote. Maybe in this case we can save time some time. I see more than ten members are already standing. I have to consult with the Secretariat to see if it will be against the rules to accept this challenge? Okay. So please stand up for a while and vote and please keep voting in KUDO too.

So let's have this procedure in full accordance with the formal rules.

The vote is closed.

Please sit down and I call for the results to be displayed.

Yes, it seems that the challenge has certainly the support required by the Rules of Procedure. Accordingly, the credentials of the Russian delegation are referred to as a debate to the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs. The Committee shall report within 24 hours, if possible.

And I will make a proposal on the timing for debating this report when we come to consider the adoption of the Agenda, probably also Wednesday afternoon, but let's double-check this.

Again, I remind you that the members whose credentials are challenged may sit provisionally with the same rights as other Assembly members until the Assembly has reached a decision. However, those members shall not vote in any proceedings relating to the examination of credentials which concern them.

Are there any other challenges?

I see none. No requests in KUDO, so the other credentials set out in Document 15441 are ratified and I welcome our new colleagues.

The next item on the Agenda is the election of the President of the Assembly.

I have received two candidatures: that of Mr Tiny KOX, Netherlands, Chairperson of the Group of the Unified European Left, and Ms Mariia MEZENTSEVA, Chairperson of the Ukrainian delegation, member of the Group of the European People's Party. The list of candidates and supporting signatures can be found in Doc. AS/Inf (2022) 03.

In accordance with Rule 15, the President shall be elected by secret ballot. The vote will be conducted using the electronic voting system on the SCYTL platform. I remind you that you will use your private email address. If you experience technical problems, please follow the instructions provided in the guidance on the Assembly session special webpage.

Five tellers representing each political group will help oversee the election and counting, assisted by the Secretariat.

The tellers are: Mr Volker URLLICH from the Group of the European People's Party, Ms Sayek BÖKE from the Socialists, Democrats and Greens Group, I guess Mr HOWELL from the European Conservatives Group and Democratic Alliance, Ms Béatrice FRESKO-ROLFO from Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, Mr Hisyar ÖZSOY from Group of the Unified European Left.

If neither candidate obtains an absolute majority of the votes cast at the first ballot, there will be a second ballot in which a relative majority will be required.

 

Now we move to the election of the President. The voting will be open for one and a half hours and will close at 12.30 after which the votes will be checked and verified. This sitting will resume at 1.30 pm for the announcement of the results and to conclude the other items of business for the first sitting, as set out in the draft Agenda you received [Doc. 15408 prov 2]. 

Before suspending the sitting, I must inform those members who are remotely connected that the KUDO link for this part of the sitting remains the same – unchanged – for the resumption of the sitting at 1.30 pm.

I hope everything is clear, we have enough time to cope with all potential difficulties with the voting system and now the sitting is suspended.

Thank you.

Mr Boriss CILEVIČS

Latvia, SOC, President of the Assembly

13:33:19

So, dear colleagues,

The sitting is resumed and I will now announce the results for the election for the President of the Assembly as in the protocol signed by the tellers which is... the protocol is coming.

But in the meantime can I announce the results now? Okay, let's wait while we have the protocol in our hands. Here it is, so I can just read from the protocol which is signed by all tellers. So, the total number of members voting is 249 – spoiled or blank ballot papers 5, valid votes cast is 244, votes for absolute majority necessary 123.

The votes were cast as follows: Mr Tiny KOX 164, Ms Mariia MEZENTSEVA 80.

So Mr KOX having obtained an absolute majority of votes cast is elected President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. So Mr KOX, I congratulate you on your election and please take your seat.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

13:35:49

Thank you very much, dear Mr Boriss CILEVIČS.

Ladies, gentlemen, dear colleagues,

Can I thank you very much for granting me the great honour of being your new President of our Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe?

Can I thank the members of the Dutch delegation and those of the Group of the Unified European Left, as well as all the other members who helped me to stand for this prestigious post on the basis of the agreement between the political groups in this Assembly?

May I also thank the Secretary General of our Assembly for her valuable advice during the nomination process?

Dear colleagues, knowing that Ms Despina CHATZIVASSILIOU-TSOVILIS and her most dedicated and highly qualified staff are always present, it is so much easier to accept this challenge of presiding over our esteemed Assembly. Despina, I count on you and your team.

And then I would like to take this opportunity to pay a sincere tribute to my predecessor, Mr Rik DAEMS, for his strong leadership over the past two difficult years. You have done a great job, dear Rik: well done.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

13:37:33

Dear colleagues, changing the presidency does not mean changing the course that this Assembly has chosen in the recent past, not at all.

By adopting last year's resolution on the Assembly's vision on the strategic priorities for the Council of Europe we have already set our clear agenda for the next years. And I promise that I will do my utmost to realise that agenda. As the statute of the Council of Europe states in its Article 1 it is our common obligation to help and "to achieve a greater unity between its members for the purpose of safeguarding and realising the ideals and principles which are their common heritage and facilitating their economic and social progress".

Last year, dear colleagues, we at this Assembly stipulated that the Council of Europe's overall priority is to remain the pillar of democratic security, the guarantor of human rights and the rule of law, as well as a platform for effective multilateralism in Europe, and to preserve and reaffirm our own identity as an independent forum for a comprehensive and inclusive political dialogue and cooperation.

To realise our agenda we need synergy between our activities and those of the Committee of Ministers, the Secretary General and the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights.

Alone, colleagues, we tend to be rather weak. Together we could show the strength one might expect from Europe's oldest and broadest treaty-based organisation which involves citizens from Reykjavik to Vladivostok and from the North Pole to the Mediterranean Sea. I am eagerly looking forward to representing our Assembly in meetings with the representatives of all parts of the organisation. I will sincerely invest in a fruitful trialogue with our Secretary General and the Chair of the Committee of Ministers.

I also reach out to our Council of Europe Congress of Local and Regional Authorities which is now presided by my countryman and good friend Leendert Verbeek.

Human rights must remain, as we decided last year, at the very core of the Council of Europe's strategic framework, with the implementation of the Convention in all member states as our top priority. To achieve this, dear colleagues, ongoing and in-depth dialogue in and with all member states and member parliaments is absolutely needed, because only then we can uphold the authority of the European Court of Human Rights by all member states and by the Council of Europe as a whole.

Accession of the European Union to the Convention has also been declared by our Assembly as a strategic priority, as well as putting a stronger emphasis on the protection of social and economic rights and promoting signing and ratification of the European Social Charter by all member states and by the European Union.

I'm looking forward to working together with a newly elected president of the European Parliament Ms Roberta Metsola, who I congratulated on her election last week also here in Strasbourg. I hope to meet her soon.

And, dear colleagues, may I use this opportunity to pay my sincere condolences to the family and friends of former president David Sassoli, who passed away recently.

To champion equality and the elimination of discrimination on any grounds is one of the priorities of our Assembly, as we decided. This includes promoting the ratification and the effective implementation of the groundbreaking standards and tools of our Convention and on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. Our support for including the right to a safe, healthy and sustainable environment in the legal framework of its fundamental rights guaranteed by our Convention is also at the top of our agenda.

Here we could and should be leading in setting clear standards for Europe if we join forces with the Committee of Ministers and with our national parliaments, especially young citizens of Europe are demanding that we take decisive action. Everyone's right to life can only be protected by our Convention if and as long as such a life is liveable.

The need for democratic governance of artificial intelligence will also stay one of our priorities. We all make ever more use of these often magnificent technologies, but let us ensure, dear colleagues, that in the end we, citizens, will not be used by known and unknown powers behind these technologies.

As we emphasised last year, support to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations needs priority of our Assembly on our Assembly agenda. Therefore, our Assembly needs concrete cooperation in member states and international organisations. I will reach out to them as our Mr Rik DAEMS did.

Fighting corruption, money laundering, terrorism and violent extremism, which all destabilise our societies, have also been put on our priorities, as well as fighting social inequality. Our convention-based system of the Council of Europe offers us plenty of mechanisms and tools to put these priorities into practice.

Dear colleagues, this Assembly is unique in Europe and unique in the world. Our governments have granted us parliamentarians of 47 member states real powers. The right to elect the judges to the Court of Human Rights, the right to elect the Secretary General of the Council of Europe and our Commissioner for Human Rights, the right to adopt resolutions and to give clear recommendations to the Committee of Ministers. And most recently, the right to act together with the Committee of Ministers to effectively address a blatant violation by any member state of its obligations under the statute.

Dear colleagues, besides these real powers, we are, when we act at our best, the political engine of the Council of Europe, like it was in 1949 when our first president Paul-Henri Spaak called the start of our Assembly's activities "d'une importance capitale pour l'histoire de l'Europe. Une étape decisive en direction de l'unitè europeenne".

Since then, dear colleagues, it was here where the main conventions are born, from the Convention on Human Rights to the Istanbul Convention to protect women from violence. It is here where inspiration starts on the essence of human rights, the need to protect and develop the rule of law, and the indispensability of democratic standards and practices in all our member states.

It is here where elected politicians from everywhere in Europe have the possibility to participate in a unique pan-european Agora, which is the ancient Greek word for assembly. Am I right, Ms Despina CHATZIVASSILIOU-TSOVILIS? Yes. In ancient times, the Agora was the meeting point where the members of democracy congregated to discuss the affairs of the state.

I am convinced, dear colleagues, that our Parliamentary Assembly should and could be today's Agora of Europe to discuss the fundamental affairs of Europe and its 47 member states aimed at the benefit of our 830 million citizens.

Dear colleagues, in the very first session of this Assembly here in Strasbourg in 1949, Winston Churchill concluded his intervention with his hope that the Parliamentary Assembly of that new Council of Europe could take "a leading and active part in the revival of the greatest of continents, which had fallen into the worst of misery". Since then, dear colleagues, Europe and the world have profoundly changed. We did overcome much of the misery, we were able to achieve many changes for the better, yet many old and new challenges are still there to be met.

Again, dear colleagues, we live in dangerous times. Tensions are on the rise and respect for the rule of law, human rights and democratic values are going down. Instead of achieving greater unity, there is a real and present danger of new dividing lines in Europe at the cost of the security of our citizens.

Especially now in dangerous times, Europe is in dire need of a meeting point, an Agora for Europe for an effective governmental and inter-parliamentary diplomacy. The Council of Europe and its Assembly offer this unique form of diplomacy, if and when we adapt ourselves to the new circumstances.

Now, dear colleagues, I invite you all to take active part in the modernisation of activities and working methods. We do not have to start from scratch, we already agreed on our main challenges for the future formulated in the resolution on the role and mission of our Assembly. I call in particular to our vice presidents, as well as the new chairpersons and vice chairs of our committees who we will elect in a moment, to take the lead in this process of adaptation and modernisation together with the Secretary General of our Assembly and her staff. There is a lot of work to be done in this respect.

Dear colleagues, I hope that there will never be a dull moment for us all in the coming period. I promise you that I will do my utmost to give you, colleagues, ample opportunity to act to the best of your abilities. My door will always be open for you and for every one of you to find solutions to whatever problem you think should be solved.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

13:48:11

Dear colleagues,

In 1949, 20 million waiting people gathered here in Strasbourg on the Place Kléber for the very first meeting of our Parliamentary Assembly. There, the first members of our Assembly were warmly welcomed by the citizens of Strasbourg as representatives of hope after so many years of despair.

Today, dear colleagues, there are no crowds on the Place Kléber to receive us, but all over Europe there are millions of people whose lives and basic rights are linked to the question of whether, in 2022, we are still able to play our leading and active role in creating greater unity in Europe.

We must not let our citizens down in this respect. I therefore count on your support and wisdom.

Colleagues, may I conclude by expressing my great respect to all our staff, our interpreters, our technicians and all others throughout the Council of Europe whose work makes this week's session possible in very difficult circumstances. We owe them our deepest respect.

I have flowers as an expression of my respect and I offer these flowers to Ms Marija PEJČINOVIĆ-BURIĆ and Ms Despina CHATZIVASSILIOU-TSOVILIS, honouring all the people of the Council of Europe.

And I have a third bouquet, naturally, for Ms Mariia MEZENTSEVA, today's other candidate.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

13:51:01

So now the prepared text has been set. Now the real work starts. On which page do we start? The President's speech is done and now we continue, dear colleagues, with the election of Vice-Presidents of our Assembly.

 

Ninenteen nominations for Vice-Presidents are listed in Document AS/Inf (2022) 01. 

 

If there is no request for a vote, they will be declared elected.

 

There is a request for a vote.

 

Ms Petra STIENEN

Netherlands, ALDE

13:51:52

Can I make a point of order on behalf of the Dutch delegation?

I don't know what the protocol is but, then if so, I will wait, but otherwise, I am looking at Ms Despina CHATZIVASSILIOU-TSOVILIS, you can stop me now, but if not, then I would really like to give the new President some flowers on behalf of the Dutch delegation. 

Is that possible?

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

13:52:55

So we continue with the election of the Vice-president and there was a request.

There is a point of order.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE

13:53:09

Well, given the type of point of order that I've seen from the Dutch delegation, I'm going to abuse it – going against the rules – by obviously congratulating you.

We will have enough time to talk about it but, Ms Petra BAYR, I was before you because my present is waiting in your office, Mr President, but I just wanted everyone to know that. I didn't think I could bring alcohol into this hemicycle, it's not done, but one of the elements obviously in my capacity is that.

So I do apologise for breaching the rules at this stage but I do want to congratulate you and thank the other candidate and well, my little Belgian present is waiting for you in your new office, Mr President.

All the best.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

13:53:59

This goes to bring to us, now, I can say it's going to bring a lot of presents and flowers, so I'm a happy man. Thank you very much, Rick, and we will have time to talk about the transition of your powers to mine.

Now, we continue, dear colleagues. There has been a request for a vote in respect to which candidature. Would you please explain?

Ms Krista BAUMANE

Latvia, ALDE

13:54:24

Mr President and esteemed colleagues, I would like to challenge the nomination of Mr Petr TOLSTOY and call for the vote for the matter.

Mr TOLSTOY has demonstrated in a number of public statements during recent years complete disregard for Council of Europe values, disrespect to human rights, democracy and rule of law. He has threatened democratically elected leaders of another Council of Europe member state and questioned the independence and territorial integrity of several Council of Europe member countries with his rhetoric during the past sessions of PACE, Mr Tolstoy has violated Rules 7, 5.3 and 5.7 of the Code of Conduct for members of the Parliamentary Assembly.

I, therefore, call on all delegates to support me in this challenge and vote against the election of Mr TOLSTOY to the post of Vice-President of the Parliamentary Assembly. Thank you.

Sitting paused