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26 April 2022 morning

2022 - Second part-session Print sitting

Sitting video(s) 1 / 1

Opening of the sitting No. 11

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

10:06:53

Dear Colleagues,

The sitting is open.

I remind members that in view of the high number of members physically participating in this part-session, and the increase in the capacity of the chamber, wearing a mask is compulsory. Speakers are allowed to take of their masks when taking the floor.

I also remind members taking part remotely that they should take part in proceedings from a quite location, and should not speak from cars, trains, or other modes of transport.

Referring to the debate that we had yesterday on the Progress Report, I remind all members that members of the Assembly shall behave in courteous, polite, and respectful manner, towards each other, and towards the President of the Assembly, or to any other person who is presiding. They shall refrain from actions that may disrupt proceedings. This includes the use of symbols, signs, and gestures that disrespect other members or cause disruption.

Therefore, I invite you, again, to observe these rules during the sittings today and the rest of the past-session.

As I said in January, I prefer this Assembly to be more an agora than an arena. We have to take care that we act politely towards each other how different our opinions might be.

So, from now, refrain from using signs and signals, or expressions and words, that may be insulting for others.

This morning, the agenda calls for the election of one judge to the European Court of Human Rights in respect of Ukraine.

The list of candidates, and biographical notices, and the opinion of the Committee on the Election of Judges to the European Court of Human Rights, are to be found in Doc. 15485 and Doc. 15503 Add. 2.

The elections will take place by individual electronic secret ballot voting using the remote system.

In accordance with the rules of procedure, each political group has appointed a teller.

The tellers are:

On behalf of the Group of the European People's Party, Ms Khatia DEKANOIDZE from Georgia; :00on behalf of the Socialists, Democrats and Greens Group, Ms Klotilda BUSHKA from Albania; on behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, Mr Iulian BULAI from Romania; on behalf of the European Conservatives Group and Democratic Alliance, Mr Alberto RIBOLLA from Italy; and on behalf of the Group of the Unified European Left, Mr Paul GAVAN from Ireland.

At 3:00 p.m. the the poll will close. The results will be announced during this afternoon's session.

For this first round of voting, an absolute majority of votes is required. If a second round is to be organised, it will take place tomorrow morning.

I now declare the ballot open.

Dear Colleagues,

The next item of business this morning is the debate on a report titled "Beyond the Lisbon Treaty: strengthening the strategic partnership between the Council of Europe and the European Union". You'll find it in Doc. 15495.

It will be presented by our dear colleague Mr Titus CORLĂŢEAN on behalf of the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy.

In order to finish by 12:00 p.m. I will interrupt the list of speakers at about 11:50 a.m. to allow time for the reply and the vote on the draft resolution and the draft recommendation.

I call Mr Titus CORLĂŢEAN, the rapporteur. You have 7 minutes.

You have the floor.

Debate: Beyond the Lisbon Treaty: strengthening the strategic partnership between the Council of Europe and the European Union

Mr Titus CORLĂŢEAN

Romania, SOC, Rapporteur

10:10:49

Mister President,

Dear Colleagues, 

When I started preparing this report, I intended to take stock of the co-operation between the Council of Europe and the European Union and suggest areas where our interaction could be improved. 

The Russian Federation's large-scale aggression against Ukraine has added urgency and relevance to this report. Using the expression "strategic partnership" to describe the co‑operation between the Council of Europe and the European Union has never been more meaningful than in the current historical context.

On synergy while avoiding duplications, following the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, the European Union expanded its activities in two areas covered by the mandate of the Council of Europe touching upon democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. This increased the focus on these values in EU member States domestically. It also positioned the European Union as a key player and a strong promoter of those values internationally through its external action.

Given this overlapping of competencies, however, the Lisbon Treaty made it even more crucial to avoid duplication and the risk of diverging standards between the two organisations. Thanks to an intense political and technical dialogue, these risks have been largely averted. But it is only through synergy that the two organisations can enhance each other's impact and tackle the challenges confronting Europe.

On democracy, in order to reinforce the democratic security of European States, it has become imperative to reverse the backsliding of the democracy, protect the integrity of democratic processes against external interference and innovate the functioning of democratic institutions including through greater citizen engagement. The choice of a new push for democracy, as one of its six political priorities, and the adoption of the Democracy Action Plan show a clear understanding of this need on the part of the European Commission.

Similarly, the Conference for the Future of Europe, the first exercise of participatory democracy at the EU level, has explored new ways to involve ordinary citizens in the EU decision-making process.

On the rule of law, strong and resilient democracies are based on the scrupulous respect of the rule of law. Since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, the EU has introduced a large range of tools to tackle threats to the rule of law in its member States. Given that all EU member States are also Council of Europe member States, the active involvement of the Council of Europe in the preparation of the EU Rule of Law Report is certainly to be welcomed. The European Union should rely even more extensively on the Council of Europe's expertise, benchmarking, and monitoring findings in this area.

On human rights, by establishing the European Union's legal personality, the Lisbon Treaty created a solid basis for developing a coherent legal space in Europe enabling the European Union to adhere to the Council of Europe's conventions and participate in the Council of Europe mechanisms. The Lisbon Treaty also made EU accession to the European Convention on Human Rights a legal obligation, therefore creating the basis for the creation of a single human rights space on the European continent. The Assembly should welcome the resumption in 2020 of the negotiations on the European Union's accession to the European Convention on Human Rights and call for this process to be pursued with resolve.

Since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, the European Union has acceded to the Council of Europe Convention on Prevention of Terrorists and its additional protocol and participates in different capacities in several partial agreements including GRECO.

The Assembly should invite the Council of Europe and the European Union to further strengthen and formalise their legal co-operation with a view to avoiding the duplication of efforts and preventing the emergence of diverging legal standards.

On enlargement and multilateralism, since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, the geopolitical context has evolved with considerable power shifts and the emergence of new global players. Relations between major powers are increasingly confrontational and unilateralist. Multilateral rules and organisations are being openly challenged.

This, friends, had already been visible for some time. The Covid-19 pandemic amplified some of them in addition to heightening socio-economic tensions and increasing global inequalities. The Russian federation's aggression has added another layer of complexity to the current situation.

In the light of the new geopolitical context, it should be recognised that the prospect of EU membership represents a factor of stability in Europe. At the same time, the Council of Europe should redouble its efforts to help its member States wishing to join the European Union to make tangible and measurable progress towards meeting the necessary criteria.

The Assembly should also reaffirm the conviction that multilateralism based on common rules is the best way to preserve peace and stability and resolutely supports the drive for the European Union to have a stronger voice on the international stage.

In conclusion, colleagues, in the face of the new dividing line in Europe, the strategic partnership between the Council of Europe and the European Union must be the anchor of European stability. In the face of violent threats to the rules-based world order, our common attachment to the values of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law must be the compass to guide our actions, to deliver prosperity, democratic security and peace for European citizens.

Thank you very much.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

10:17:25

Thank you very much, rapporteur.

In the debate I now first call on behalf of the political groups the first speaker on behalf of the European Conservatives Group and Democratic Alliance, Sir Christopher CHOPE.

 

Chris, you have the floor.

Sir Christopher CHOPE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, Spokesperson for the group

10:17:43

Mr President, can I first of all congratulate the rapporteur on his report and can I say that I wish to address the issue of the European Union's treaty obligations under the Lisbon Treaty to accede to the European Convention on Human Rights.

I strongly support the sentence in paragraph 6 of the draft resolution which reads: "The Assembly reaffirms its confidence that accession will help guarantee coherence and consistency between EU law and the convention system and lead to a single legal space in which also the EU is subjected to the European Convention on Human Rights".

My concern, however, is that that doesn't seem to fit in with the opinion of the European Court of Justice which was delivered in 2014, because that opinion of the European Court of Justice was that the agreement, which had been drafted in a lot of detail, as you will know Mr President, is not compatible with Article 6, or with Protocol 8 of the European Union.

And the reasons that the European Court of Justice took that line was and it says "it is liable adversely to affect these specific characteristics and the autonomy of EU law".

But the autonomy of our own national laws is always affected if we are subject to the European Convention on Human Rights. That is something that we take into account and that shows that the European Court and the European Convention are superior to domestic law. It doesn't seem, however, that the European Union or its Court of Justice is prepared to accept that.

The opinion at paragraph 258, in conclusion, goes on to say "it does not preclude the possibility of disputes between member states or between member states and the EU concerning the application of the European Convention within the scope being brought before the ECHR."

Well.. jolly good thing! Surely those disputes should be subject to coming before the European Court of Human Rights if they offend against that Convention. And one can envisage a situation where you might have, for example, a dispute between Hungary, or between Poland, and the European Commission on whether or not articles which they have passed in their own democratically elected parliaments are consistent with EU law.

So, the point I wish to make is that I'm concerned that when these negotiations resume, that we should not throw in the towel and that we, as an organisation, should insist that the European Union be subject to the Convention rather than being above the law, which seems to be intent of the European Court of Justice.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

10:20:41

Thank you, Chris.

Now I call in the debate on behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Mr Dara CALLEARY from Ireland.

Dara, you have the floor.

Mr Dara CALLEARY

Ireland, ALDE, Spokesperson for the group

10:20:53

Mister President, I too want to commend the rapporteur on his work and his Committee.

It is interesting, Mister President, to notice that this report was commissioned on 12 April 2019. In the words of W. B. Yeats, "all has changed, and changed utterly". A worldwide pandemic, that we've not had the opportunity to reflect how that impacted on our people's lived experiences, and that has impacted on our democracy, and now we have the war on Ukraine and the invasion of Ukraine.

I think the change requires reflection on our part as an institution of the Council of Europe that predates the European Union, as an institution based on human rights, based on democracy, based on the rule of law, on those three key pillars. We need to reflect on our role, on how we become more strategically impatient as opposed to strategically patient in the exercising of that role, and in the exercising of our relationship with the European Union.

We must ensure that those core values are reflected in all of our work, and that we become the body that is strategically impatient around human rights, that is strategically impatient around democracy, and is strategically impatient around the rule of law.

In the Document there is a reflection that democracy depends on the respect of the rule of law, and yes it does, but it also depends on other issues too.

The overnight news about the acquiring by one individual of the world's biggest social media platform should be a warning to us that social media is changing the way democracy is ruled. Social media and the impact of social media on democracy is something that we all need to be aware of, and its impact on human rights and the rule of law.

We need, Mister President, to be strategically impatient. Our identity as an institution and as an organisation is being dwarfed by that of the EU.

The EU's move into the human rights sphere under the Lisbon Treaty is impacting and threatening our very raison d'être. Yesterday you saw their intent to move into Ukraine to investigate war crimes in line with the International Criminal Court. There was no involvement of this institution in doing that.

There is a requirement on us to build on a strategic partnership, absolutely, but to reflect the changed reality and to actually have an ambition and a belief in this organisation, and on the reasons that this organisation was established in the years following World War II that are relevant today, and even more relevant than they were on 12 April 2019.

Mister President, it's a time for reflection on our part. Are we serious about the mandate that we have as an institution? Are we proud enough about that mandate? Are we going to be strategically impatient? Are we going to be the thorn in the side that defends human rights, that defends democracy, that defends the rule of law, and not acquiesce to others?

We can lead out on this, and we should.

Thank you, Mister President.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

10:24:00

Thank you, Mr Dara CALLEARY.

Next in the debate I call Mr Paul GAVAN from Ireland on behalf of the Group of the Unified European Left.

Paul, you have the floor.

Mr Paul GAVAN

Ireland, UEL, Spokesperson for the group

10:24:08

Thank you, Mister President.

On behalf the United European Left I want to congratulate the rapporteur for a very well thought out and detailed report on steps to take towards strengthening the strategic partnership between the Council of Europe and the European Union.

The Rapporteur makes a number of excellent proposals. I particularly welcome his call on the EU to pursue with resolve the negotiations aimed at achieving EU accession to the European Convention on Human Rights. Not withstanding the legal challenges involved, we have been waiting far too long for this process to be completed. I want to be clear on behalf of my group that the ECHR must take precedence in relation to the European Court of Justice.

It has to be both good and necessary that the EU be subjected to the same international oversight on human rights as its 27 member states. It is also essential that citizens will be able to challenge the EU’s actions before the European Court of Human Rights.

Whilst the rapporteur speaks of shared values this maxim does not always hold true. When we consider the actions of Frontex on illegal pushbacks, the appalling slide towards a policy of Fortress Europe that still applies to so many human beings trying to access the EU, and the disgraceful policy of continuing to fund the Libyan Coastguard and by association complicity in crimes against humanity, the need to be able to hold the EU as a legal entity to account has never been greater.

I also want to welcome the call on the European Union to accede to the European Social Charter. At the moment we have an à-la-carte approach within the EU to the Social Charter and that is to the detriment of workers' rights in particular. I also want to acknowledge the call for the Council of Europe to engage with the follow-up to the conference on the future of Europe.

The 39 recommendations from the Citizens' Assemblies involved in the latter project make clear the need to make the European Union a better place for all of its citizens. In particular the clear call to give the Charter of Fundamental Rights legal enforcement. We need to see values and rights protected through the rule of law. We need to see fundamental legal change to ensure that people who work for a living can earn a living.

The European Union needs not only to speak about its values, but put them into practice. Right now across Europe working people are hurting. Our frontline workers, who literally kept the lights on across Europe throughout the Covid pandemic, are now facing a cost-of-living crisis. In my own country, Ireland, we still don't have a legal right to collective bargaining. We need to see a fundamental change, a fundamental shift from the European Union to emphasise the Social Charter, to emphasise workers' rights, to enable workers to build a better future, because surely that must be the key aim of the European Union.

I welcome this report, and I welcome the debate.

Thank you.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

10:27:07

Thank you, Mr Paul GAVAN.

Next in the debate I call on behalf of the group of the Socialist Democrats and Greens, Mr Ahmet Ünal ÇEVİKÖZ.

You have the floor, from Turkey, you have the floor.

Mr Ahmet Ünal ÇEVİKÖZ

Turkey, SOC, Spokesperson for the group

10:27:19

Thank you, Mr President.

Distinguished members of the Assembly.

On behalf of our group, allow me first and foremost to express my sincere appreciation to the rapporteur of the report we are reviewing today. It is very timely. It is timely because all over our continent, from the west to the east, we are facing an increasing backsliding of democracy. The integrity of democratic processes are being undermined, the good functioning of democratic institutions are being prohibited, and all these are taking place, not only through interventions to our institutions and values from within, but now through external intervention.

Let us be clear, the Russian Federation's ongoing war of aggression against Ukraine is not an issue related to Russia's security. It is an attempt to prohibit the development and expansion of democratic values in a wider geography in Europe. That is the essential reason why our institutions have to enhance co-operation in order to further defend democratic security. The Council of Europe is the first post-Second World War organisation to prioritise democracy, human rights and the rule of law for human dignity. It is also obvious that the European Union, particularly after the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, expanded its activities into areas covered by the statutory mandate of the Council of Europe. Hence, membership and compliance with our core values in the Council of Europe is essentially a prelude to membership in the European Union. There is an apparent overlapping of competencies between the two organisations. That is the reason why strengthening dialogue and co-operation between these two pillars of democracy in Europe is crucial.

The draft resolution and the draft recommendation underline the development of a strategic partnership between Council of Europe and the European Union based on our common values. The entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty has become a new and stronger impetus for the European Union and placed democracy and the respect of the rule of law and human rights at the forefront of EU policies.

Now, there are greater opportunities for co-operation between our organisations. We have to enhance our political dialogue and legal co-operation through increased joint programmes. Here, it is important to underline two very important aspects for further co-operation. EU accession to the European Convention on Human Rights is increasingly becoming a necessity for harmonisation of legal procedures to avoid creating a two-tier or two-speed protection system. Given the circumstances rapidly unfolding in our continent, this should be a priority.

Secondly, the Council of Europe is facing a challenge to its budget, particularly after the cessation of Russia's membership. It is therefore important for the European Union to consider making non-earmarked contributions to the Council of Europe budget. These are all skillfully mentioned in the draft resolution. We support the report, the resolution and the recommendations and favour a solid and very strong approval.

Thank you.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

10:30:19

Thank you, Ahmet.

Now the last speaker on behalf of the political groups is Ms Ria OOMEN-RUIJTEN from the Netherlands.

Ria, you have the floor. On behalf of the Group of the European People's Party (EPP).

Ms Ria OOMEN-RUIJTEN

Netherlands, EPP/CD, Spokesperson for the group

10:30:33

Thank you very much, Mister President, Colleagues, and also Rapporteur.

I appreciate that today we can discuss this report.

It's a turbulent time where a member State is affected by an aggressive attack toward citizens in the neighbourhood of the Member states of Ukraine. They live in fear.

Turbulent times, and I put it mildly. Therefore it's more than ever needed that the EU and the Council of Europe co‑operate, because an intense co‑operation is in the interest not only from both institutions, but in the interest of the European citizens.

It is up to the EU and to the Council of Europe to reverse the backsliding of democracy. We have to protect the integrity of democratic processes, and it's more than ever needed to promote and monitor the rule of law. President, I am in favour of the report, but I can't deny that when we are speaking about ourselves, that we have to be much prouder on what we can do together. It's up to us not asking the EU to do something, it's up to us to the Council, to you president, in your contacts with the president of the European Parliament, to the Secretary-General, to have contacts with the president of the European Commission, to invite in our debates commissioners, to do something now on the legal force in the Treaty of Lisbon to enter for the European Union our treaty for human rights.

President, we have to do something: being not too humble and look over the proposals for the Conference on the Future I can't find something for this Council of Europe.

We have to act but act in a way that we are self-sufficient.

Thank you very much.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

10:32:55

Thank you very much, Ms Ria OOMEN-RUIJTEN.

I indeed intend to meet as soon as possible with the new President of the European Parliament to discuss these items, of course.

Now, we continue the debate with the rest of the speakers list.

First, I call Ms Zita GURMAI from Hungary.

Ms Zita GURMAI, you have the floor.

Microphone please.

Ms Zita GURMAI

Hungary, SOC

10:33:26

Can we start again?

Thank you very much.

Lovely to see you all.

"Strong and resilient democracies are based on the scrupulous respect of the rule of law." This statement of the Report brings much needed truth as we look forward to dealing with the continuous line of crises we experienced in the past decades, especially after the past few years.

We didn’t even wake up from the adverse effects the coronavirus pandemic had on our life and rights when Russia started an unlawful war against Ukraine, not just “simply” violating certain human rights of the Ukrainian people, but outright committing genocide in Ukraine, not respecting the most fundamental human rights: the right to life and human dignity.

The Russian aggression shows that we are in dire need to strengthen international co-operation and solidarity, because the moment we take a step back and feel satisfied with anything less than the absolute, scrupulous respect of the rule of law, we immediately end up with aggressors who seek to destroy the entire web of protection supposedly granted by the rule of law.

If we allow such people to operate undisturbed, or if we allow them to operate without decisive steps against them, we all will lose rule of law and with it, democracy as we know it today.

Therefore, the call proposed in the Report (Paragraph) 12 is especially welcome.

Hungary stands as an example for everyone to show what happens if decisive steps are not made. Hungary has become a hybrid regime that is ready to use taxpayer's money to spread lies and misinformation about its political opponents, or to take over and spread foreign, Russian propaganda, justifying the Russian genocide in Ukraine.

However, the recent elections in Europe have shown that these practices do not stop at the borders. The Hungarian governing party and its associated financial circles have actively supported other candidates and political parties in Europe too, in case of their victory, ensuring political alliances with ideological partners. These circles helped finance the campaign of Marine Le Pen in France and Janez Jansa in Slovenia.

We should not be mistaken – a political alliance like this will actively work on wearing down and destroying the rule of law throughout Europe to ensure that no legal barriers can exist for them; to ensure that they can use their powers in any way they want.

The goals set out in (Paragraph) 12 are goals we need to tirelessly work to ensure and while doing so, we cannot be satisfied with partial results, because partial results are no real results. For those who wish to work around the rule of law, partial results are only minor obstacles, a challenge they might even enjoy.

Because of this, we drastically need to strengthen the co-operation and international solidarity on the field highlighted in this report, or we will lose them forever.

As a former member of parliament, I fully support your report and I really believe it is super important and it is highly appreciated.

Thank you.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

10:36:42

Thank you, Ms GURMAI.

The next speaker is Mr François CALVET, from France.

Mr CALVET, you have the floor.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

10:36:57

As Mr François CALVET is not yet connected, we will first go to the next speaker. That is Mr John HOWELL from the United Kingdom.

John, you have the floor.

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC/DA

10:37:13

Thank you very much, Mister President.

I want to start this by looking at this not from the perspective of being in any way hostile to the EU, because I am not. But I want to start to look at this from the perspective of being pro the Council of Europe, and I hope that we are all pro the Council of Europe.

I would congratulate the rapporteur on producing this report and for setting out quite quite a good balance when he addresses the issues.

As he points out, the Treaty of Lisbon already contains references to democracy, to the rule of law, and to human rights. It would be very interesting to see or what use the Treaty of Lisbon has made of those elements within it.

I am happy for this Assembly to work with the EU in taking forward co‑operation. I would just suggest that we need to be very clear before we engage and develop that co‑operation further exactly what is in it for each of the parties and what we expect to get out of it.

Now, we need to do that because not all members of this Assembly are members of the EU. Here there is a lot of concern, of course, to work for peace and stability, and we can do that together. Yet, here are some things whether we believe in greater integration or not that we need to make sure that we understand who is responsible for what.

We are an assembly of individual countries and not of international multilateral organisations. I think that that is something that needs to be borne in mind. I will comment in the context of the human rights issues, because there I do not think that special measures should be taken to allow the EU to have an easier passage into the Convention. It should follow what everyone else has followed.

I do think it is very useful for Europe as a whole to have one system of human rights, but that system has to be the Convention and has to be what we all believe in.

Now, that means that we need to understand what we are responsible for.

Yes, we are responsible for human rights, but we're also responsible for democracy and the rule of law. As the Turin conference later in the year will show, that is something that this Council needs to develop in order to address the needs of the future.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

10:40:27

Thank you Mr John HOWELL.

The next speaker is Mr François CALVET from France.

Mr CALVET, you have the floor.

Mr François CALVET

France, EPP/CD

10:40:42

Mr President,

Dear colleagues,

I would like to thank our colleague for this report, which gives a very complete overview of the issues at stake in the strategic partnership between the Council of Europe and the European Union.

The Treaty of Lisbon was supposed to mark a major step forward, by expressly providing for the accession of the European Union to the European Convention on Human Rights.

However, more than twelve years after the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon on 1 December 2009, the European Union has still not acceded to the European Convention on Human Rights.

Negotiations are underway and I hope that they will finally be concluded, because fundamental rights are part of the European identity. We have just seen this recently with the decision of the European Commission to take action against Hungary. While I recognise that the Courts of Strasbourg and Luxembourg maintain good relations and that Article 52 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union provides for a coordination mechanism between the two legal orders, it seems to me that we must go all the way and fully apply the Treaty of Lisbon.

Beyond this point, I share the analysis of our rapporteur concerning the possibility for the European Union to accede to certain Council of Europe conventions – I note that it has signed but not yet ratified the Istanbul Convention.

Finally, in view of the enlargement process and relations with the countries of the Eastern Partnership, it seems to me necessary to further deepen co-operation between the Council of Europe and the European Union, particularly in the new geopolitical context that has already been mentioned and that we are experiencing, so that we are in a position to better defend our common values.

I therefore fully support the report that has been presented to us.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

10:42:49

Thank you, Mr François CALVET.

The next speaker is Ms Nicole TRISSE from France.

Nicole, you have the floor.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE

10:43:00

Thank you, Mr President.

Mr Rapporteur, dear colleagues,

It is true that the European Union, a more recent organisation than the Council of Europe, now plays a role that is both complementary and decisive for the promotion of human rights, the rule of law and democracy on our continent. The Treaty of Lisbon has, in this respect, opened a new era in the history of the Union.

The strategic partnership between our Organisation and the EU, since the 2007 Memorandum of Understanding, is in fact based on three pillars, in my view.

The first is political dialogue, which has intensified significantly over the past two years. I regret, however, that this dialogue takes place almost exclusively at the level of the European Commission and the Secretariat General of the Council of Europe, and not at the parliamentary level. It seems to me that our Assembly and the European Parliament have a lot to say to each other and that their respective experiences can be mutually useful in carrying out their missions.

The second pillar is legal co-operation, which has been strengthened in recent months. The most striking illustration, of course, is the resumption of negotiations for the EU's accession to the European Convention on Human Rights, which had been blocked, moreover, by the European Court of Luxembourg in 2014 and which has been resumed thanks, in particular, to President Juncker.

So, of course, we can welcome this resumption. However, I agree with the previous speaker that the EU should also be able to join the European Social Charter or the Istanbul Convention, for example.

Finally, the last pillar of this partnership concerns the co-operation programmes between our Organisation and the EU. Last year, the EU financed the Council of Europe's activities to the tune of more than 207 million euros; it is therefore the largest contributor of extra-budgetary resources, accounting for 57%.

That said, we cannot afford to act in a haphazard manner. The EU and the Council of Europe must take each other into account, and since they are both interested in the same points, as I said, of democracy, the rule of law and human rights. We must avoid duplication of resources and waste of energy: we must rather co-operate intelligently and work together.

Of course, no one can lose sight of the fact that the geographical coverage of the EU and the Council of Europe do not coincide. For this reason, the Union must make use of the Council's achievements without trying to influence its action. In my opinion, this is precisely the meaning that we must collectively give to the deepening of the strategic partnership that links them. In any case, I would like to thank our rapporteur for his high-quality work and his very clear presentation. I will vote for the texts that will be submitted to this effect.

Thank you.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

10:46:02

Thank you very much, Ms Nicole TRISSE.

Next in the debate, I call Mr Ahmet YILDIZ from Turkey. Ahmet, you have the floor.

Mr Ahmet YILDIZ

Turkey, NR

10:46:13

Mister President,

Dear Colleagues,

I begin by congratulating the rapporteur for preparing this comprehensive report. Indeed, we had comprehensive and meaningful discussions thanks to him in the Committees.

Since its creation, the Council of Europe has become a pioneer among international organisations on democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, particularly on the European continent. In this respect, the presidency of our organisation and its benchmarking role with all institutions and mechanisms, which accumulated over 70 years, should be highlighted once again as Mr Titus CORLĂŢEAN did in the report.

On the other hand, two organisations have faced significant challenges in recent years. Strengthening relations with the EU, especially with the European Parliament, and enhancing the dialogue with European decision makers will benefit us all considering our common challenges and goals. 

In this context, it is important to avoid duplication, especially the duplication of work and the fragmentation of standards. This is an essential problem in many organisations. Therefore, the EU's accession to the European Court of Human Rights is of central importance. I believe that it should remain at the forefront in our relations with the EU.

With this accession, it is possible to achieve full and coherent human rights protection in Europe. Moreover, the actions of the EU and its bodies will be subject to control and monitoring mechanisms. It is important to achieve this objective without creating any black holes or grey zones.

We should be aware that any rush for swift action and making unduly concessions in favour of the EU in order to ultimately reach its goal in the Lisbon Treaty will undermine the overarching role of our organisation and its values.

This will increase the feeling of double standards among our member States. I would like to share my belief that the EU should participate in the European Court of Human Rights on the basis of equal obligations, like other parties to the Convention, not to undermine our system.

In summary, in our co-operation with the EU and European Parliament, we should not lose sight of the fact that our organisation's identity as an independent forum for comprehensive and inclusive political dialogue. I hope our colleagues in the EU, which their members are also here, think the same way.

Thank you for your attention.

 

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

10:49:06

Thank you Mr Ahmet YILDIZ.

Next in the debate I call Mr Lukas SAVICKAS from Lithuania.

You have the floor.

Mr Lukas SAVICKAS

Lithuania, SOC

10:49:15

Thank you.

Dear Chair,

Dear colleagues,

There has been a constant co-operation between the Council and the European Union in an attainment and promotion of your common goals, and defending democracy, human rights and the rule of law throughout your organisation's existence.

This co-operation is underpinned not only by the existence of common goals, but also by the experience and specialisation of our Council of Europe in these matters.

This co-operation is even more necessary in the face of fresh challenges to the rule of law, both inside and outside the EU, as the Russian Federation's military aggression against Ukraine continues. We must see the continuation and increase of danger to democratic values and the importance to promote them.

We must reverse the backsliding of democracy, and include greater citizen engagement. We can see a success of integration of all people in democratic processes right here in Strasbourg. For example, at the Conference on the Future of Europe where I have personally had the honour to be one of the members.

The European Union conference and the Council of Europe co-operation has been developed throughout multiple and diverse agreements and joint projects, and conditioned by the evolution of both organisations.

However, in the present state of the European Union, the development is evident that formalising a more precise, a global partnership agreement, would be of great benefit to both organisations. A formal agreement setting forth cooperation goals, Council of Europe bodies involved, timeline for tasks concerning both mechanism pillars, will undoubtedly contribute to efficiency and success in both organisations.

Therefore, I once again want to thank the rapporteur for an excellent work, and I will be very happy to support it today.

Thank you.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

10:51:18

Thank you, Mr Lukas SAVICKAS.

Now you are going to listen to Ms Ingjerd SCHOU from Norway. Ingjerd, you have the floor.

Ms Ingjerd SCHOU

Norway, EPP/CD

10:51:24

Thank you, President.

From different angles, the EU and the Council of Europe both work for a strong, united and democratic Europe in peace.

This is the common goal of both organisations.

The Lisbon Treaty widened the space for closer co-operation towards this goal, and strengthened the foundation for enhanced multinational and rules-based co-operation in Europe.

As Mr Titus CORLĂŢEAN shows, good progress has been made since 2009.

But President, the Russian aggression in Ukraine has demonstrated, in the most brutal way, what can happen when multinational and rules-based co-operation is ignored, simply set aside.

It has shown that we cannot rest.

We constantly need to protect and strengthen our international organisations and the rules-based multinational co-operation on our continent.

It is important, Mr President, for democratic security and for a peaceful Europe.

Europe’s resolute and quick response to Russia’s aggression clearly demonstrated how strong we can be, and what a force we are when we unite.

With the most wide-ranging package of sanctions ever, also supported by non-EU member states like Norway, the EU and a united Europe responded in an unprecedented way.

I therefore urge you all to support this call for a renewed push for strengthening the strategic partnership between the Council of Europe and the EU.

A partnership that must be based on the common European values of human rights, democracy and the rule of law, as defined in our Convention on Human Rights.

A first step could be including representatives from the EU in the Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Council of Europe member states, as proposed by both Mr Titus CORLĂŢEAN and Mr Frank SCHWABE. This would be a summit to reaffirm the values of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, and elaborate a new vision for the organisation.

The time to do this is now.

The core principles of our democratic societies are challenged by the brutality of tyranny, and we are at a defining moment in European history. We should not wait.

Thank you, Mr President.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

10:54:17

Thank you, Ms Ingjerd SCHOU.

Next in the debate I call Ms Marina BERLINGHIERI from Italy. Marina, you have the floor.

Ms Marina BERLINGHIERI

Italy, SOC

10:54:24

Thank you, President.

The difficult times we are living through call us to make bold choices.

The events of recent years have shown us how deep the interdependencies run and how important it is to act together to meet the challenges we face. The great transitions we are experiencing are reshaping global scenarios, at the moment for the most part governed by a variety of almost exclusively national interests.

In order for Europe to be a protagonist in the new global order and to be among those who, by virtue of the political project on which it is founded, have the power to dictate the agenda, changes and forward-looking choices are necessary. In this scenario it is essential to strengthen the strategic partnership between the Council of Europe and the European Union on the basis of shared values and commitment to the promotion of peace, security and stability on the European continent, and also in the world.

I would like to emphasise three aspects that I consider particularly important: co‑operation in the drafting of the annual report on the rule of law would help to overcome a system currently too unbalanced on the punitive aspect in favor of the mechanism of accompaniment and monitoring for each individual country, supporting each state with the tools of the Council of Europe to make progress and avoiding having as the only instrument the sanctioning system and avoiding the exclusion from the right to vote.

Secondly, the support to multipolarity, a strengthened partnership between the Council of Europe and the European Union on this aspect can help us to be a point of reference in the world for the construction of societies based on the social model based on the rule of law.

Finally, the important and positive roles that the Council of Europe could play in a structural dialogue and consultation with the European Union in the enlargement processes.

All the countries that have applied to join the European Union are part of the Council of Europe and share its values, principles and statute. An involvement of the Assembly in inter‑parliamentary activities, I think in particular with the countries of the Western Balkans, it could be particularly useful to unblock a path to membership that has now exceeded any acceptable waiting time.

I conclude by thanking the rapporteur in particular for the important work he has carried out. I hope that it can be a decisive contribution to arriving soon at decisions that will see the European institutions increasingly united in defending the values on which they are founded.

 

Thank you

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

10:56:58

Thank you, Marina.

Next in the debate I now call Mr Reinhold LOPATKA from Austria. Reinhold, you have the floor.

Mr Reinhold LOPATKA

Austria, EPP/CD

10:57:10

Dear President,

Dear Colleagues,

First of all I want to congratulate the rapporteur for his holistic report. I think, after the exclusion of Russia from the Council of Europe, and the invasion of Ukraine, we have a new stage and this raises numerous questions about the future strategic orientation of the Council of Europe. Here it is very important to have this topic today on our agenda. It is also important that in May in Turin the ministerial meeting will also discuss this issue.

Among strategic partnership between the Council of Europe and the European Union, it is important to promote our values but also security and peace in all our member countries, and to support worldwide rule-based and value-based multilateralism. All this is under threat in these days. If we want to bring the European Union closer to the Council of Europe, I am absolutely in favour of EU accession to the European Convention on Human Rights.

I think this is very important that citizens will be able to challenge the EU actions before the European Court on Human Rights. For me this accession is a key question for our future work. I also support that the EU consider accession to the convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. This Istanbul Convention should be signed by the European Union. We should use the synergies of the Council of Europe for the accession process on the western Balkan countries.

The best example is here what the Venice Commission is doing for legal reforms. We should also involve our Parliamentary Assembly and the inter-parliamentary activities which are set up by the EU in this dialogue with the so-called Eastern partnership to bring our colleagues from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Moldova closer to the European Union. Also, when we reach this, we bring them closer to the core values of the Council of Europe.

I want to conclude that we should inform our citizens about our work more. I have seen it in the Conference on the Future of Europe. The Council of Europe was not mentioned there; colleagues said it already. We have to do it, and the Members of the Parliament of the European Union should also do it.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

11:00:22

Thank you Mr Reinhold LOPATKA

The next speaker is Mr Jacques MAIRE from France.

You have the floor.

Mr Jacques MAIRE

France, ALDE

11:00:37

Thank you very much, Mr President.

Ladies and Gentlemen, dear friends,

There is of course the Russian context, which has been mentioned at length and which weighs on our debate. There is also the national context of our different countries. A few days ago, in Paris, in France, we scheduled elections with more than 40% for a candidate whose institutional project planned to make national law prevail over European law, who planned to call into question the European Convention on Human Rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Citizens' Rights, and whose manifesto was to institute discrimination between the French and the others.

This kind of danger is not only expressed in France, and the nature of this manifesto, moreover, even more deleterious than the actions we have heard here or there from Mr Orbán or Mr Morawiecki, so this question of the debate of human rights, is a question that conditions the future of all our societies: in Germany, in the Netherlands, in France, elsewhere, this risk exists. And when you say to the citizens: "Is it not normal that, by referendum, the will of the people can prevail over that of the constitutions? Is it not normal to make the right that we vote prevail over that of foreigners?" The French, the European citizens today, are hearing this in an increasingly important way.

So there is no debate, friends. There is no debate. We must increase our capacity to fight with all the means at our disposal. The means available to our European Court of Human Rights are important. The fact that we are adding the Union's capacity to be a member, to be a direct member, is something that has an extremely strong symbolic power, in terms of commitment, in terms of messages to the member states and to the candidate states. This is important. It is also important because it allows us not to dilute our conventions, our Convention, in a more or less homogeneous debate on interpretation and transposition.

We have a body of work and we defend it. We need actors, fighters at our side; and if the European Union joins our fight, it will certainly be important for us.

I say it: we are today in a defensive situation. We are under attack in the elections, we are under attack in each of our countries: we must go on the offensive and this report, thank you Mr Titus CORLĂŢEAN, allows us to go on the offensive.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

11:03:37

Thank you, Mr Jacques MAIRE.

Now I call in the debate from Armenia Mr Armen GEVORGYAN. You have the floor, Armen.

Mr Armen GEVORGYAN

Armenia, NR

11:03:49

Mr President, the latest developments on the European continent shall make us all think about how can the Council of Europe remain the main institution that is going to be able to defend democracy and democratic values, and be the platform for dialogue and development for the European nations?

It is high time for the adoption of our own version of the Lisbon Treaty for the Council of Europe with due regard to the requirements of the 21st century and the new realities in the world. I think the Report and the associated draft attempts to seed division among the Council of Europe's member States on completely political and, in fact, geopolitical grounds. If we proclaim the Council to be, I quote, "a benchmark for democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Europe", then we have to be more specific about each member's domestic policies and whether they are genuine democracies.

Relating states merely by their political and geopolitical aspirations to join other international organisations such as the European Union does not automatically mean that human rights in these countries are well respected and democracy is the way of life. In other words, geopolitical choices, especially in the current tense international situation, shall not be called a measure of judging the adherence of certain states to democratic standards.

Furthermore, so far as the co-operation with the European Union is concerned, I believe we have to collectively think of ways to learn lessons about how the EU treats its members for fallbacks from the democratic path. The Council of Europe has to develop such a toolkit otherwise the aspiration of being a benchmark for democracy will be hard to achieve.

To conclude, I do not endorse the idea of artificially seeding divisions among member states on geopolitical grounds, and certainly, I think that treating each member on their merits in democratic governance and rule of law shall be our guiding star in our aspirations.

Thank you.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

11:06:03

Thank you.

Next in the debate I call Mr Max LUCKS from Germany.

Mr Max LUCKS, you have the floor.

Outside it seems that it is raining.

 

 

Mr Max LUCKS

Germany, SOC

11:06:16

Thank you very much, Mr President,

Ladies and gentlemen,

We have just heard it from our colleague from France, but it does not only apply to France; it applies to all of us. Democracy in Europe is in danger in many different places. And that is the challenge that we, as the Council of Europe, must now urgently face, also against the backdrop of these past elections, against the backdrop of a strengthening right everywhere in Europe. It is important that we, as Europeans, stand together.

But something else is also important. I believe that we will only be as effective as a European institution if we can actually improve the realities of people's lives, and I think we have to ask ourselves honestly: can we communicate that European institutions can improve realities? Can we communicate to the people in Europe that we can improve the realities of life when over 22% of people are at risk of poverty?

I think it is right that the report explicitly refers to the Social Charter, that it also explicitly refers to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which devotes an entire chapter to solidarity, and I think it is also our task as Europeans of this Council of Europe to also stand up for a Europe of solidarity vis-à-vis the European Union, because being European is nothing like being just, being European means being just, ladies and gentlemen.

But this is also true for something else, for our main task: the protection of human rights and democracy. I don't know about you, but I cannot stand here today in these halls, where we are supposed to defend the human rights of citizens from 46 member states, without thinking about yesterday's verdict against Mr. Osman KAVALA in Istanbul, because he was sentenced to life only for political reasons in violation of human rights. I think that autocrats believe that they can be stronger than the European Convention on Human Rights, but this Convention is more than a piece of paper: it is the guarantee for the people from 46 Member States that they can live in freedom, this freedom will not be suppressed and it is our task to strengthen this right to freedom for all citizens and therefore it would also be a good step if the European Union joins the European Convention on Human Rights.

Thank you for this very good report.

 

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

11:09:21

Thank you very much, Mr Max LUCKS.

Later today I will make a statement on yesterday's verdict on Mr Kavala.

Now I call on the debate, from Serbia, Ms Elvira KOVÁCS.

Ms Elvira KOVÁCS, you have the floor.

Ms Elvira KOVÁCS

Serbia, EPP/CD

11:09:34

Thank you.

Distinguished Chair,

Dear Colleagues,

During the last two decades the Council of Europe has been providing support to Serbia to advance its reform agenda, ensuring compliance with the Council of Europe's standards and advancing the European Union accession process.

As you all know, Serbia is committed to pursue its integration into the European Union. Therefore, support of the Council of Europe for all key reform activities in our country, especially those which are part of the negotiating Chapter 23, in the field of human and minority rights, are of high importance.

On one hand, having in mind a new context of European security, there is no doubt that it is a right time to reconsider a strategic partnership between the Council of Europe and the EU. On the other, having in mind, that the Council of Europe, and not the European Union, is the key actor when the interests of national minorities are at stake, the question is whether European institutions are ready to use this unique opportunity to recalibrate its relations with citizens and using all the opportunities available to get back to the fundamentals: human dignity, inclusion, respect, and recognition of minority rights.

Respect for and protection of minorities is an important element of the European Union accession criteria. The European standards for the protection of the rights of persons belonging to national minorities are primarily set, as we all know, by the 1995 Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. The Framework Convention is an indirect benchmark that helps the European Commission to evaluate the implementation of minority rights of potential candidates and candidate states. It is important to over-bridge the lack of co‑ordination in all European institutions that prevents creating synergies between programmes and initiatives.

Besides the fact that the EU has no adequate legislation about national minority rights, it was expected from the Republic of Serbia, as part of Chapter 23, to adopt a special action plan about the implementation of minority rights, taking into account the recommendations from the Third Opinion of the Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities from 2014, and its 47 recommendations for improving the position of national minorities.

It goes without any saying, that Serbia is committed to achieving human rights standards stemmed from different sources such as the mentioned Framework Convention, the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, the Charter of Fundamental Rights, and the European Convention on Human Rights.

Thank you.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

11:12:30

Thank you, Ms Elvira KOVÁCS.

Next on my list is Mr Francesco SORBARA from Canada, from our observer state. Is he with us?

I do not yet see him so let me go to to the next speaker on the list, it's Ms Arta BILALLI ZENDELI from North Macedonia. Arta, you have the floor.

Ms Arta BILALLI ZENDELI

North Macedonia, SOC

11:12:59

Thank you, Mr Chair.

Dear colleagues and dear rapporteur,

This report clearly states that a number of Council of Europe member states, including Albania, North Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey, have expressed their wish to become members of the European Union. Also Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia.

Furthermore, the prospect of EU membership represents a factor of stability in Europe, especially in the light of the new geopolitical context. According to this, membership of non-EU countries is of huge importance for the particular region as well as for the whole of Europe. There are some criteria to be met but North Macedonia is facing a dispute with a neighbour country that is becoming very hard to be solved and this means that we will be waiting until the issue is solved.

Regarding the criteria, I am proud to say that a lot of things have been done in North Macedonia. We are a very good example of relaxed inter-ethnic relations and multiculturalism which are values of both the Council of Europe and the European Union. Having in mind the situation in North Macedonia, I really feel that we must open the negotiations with the European Union because I am afraid that if we do not the euroscepticism will increase and it will not be a good example for our neighbours that also have open questions between them, like Kosovo and Serbia, as well as Bosnia and Herzegovina. We must not allow a raising of euroscepticism in the region because it will make these countries more attractive for Eastern influence which is not in the interest of Europe. 

At the end, as the report emphasises, the future of Europe concerns all Europeans, whether they are citizens of EU member states or not. We, all countries from the Western Balkans – North Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, Serbia, Turkey – are Europeans and our future is and should be only Europe. And the Council of Europe, of course, can help and can make us keep only this integration and only this European influence.

Thank you.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

11:15:16

Thank you, Arta.

Next on the list is Mr Nicos TORNARITIS from Cyprus.

Nicos, you have the floor.

Mr Nicos TORNARITIS

Cyprus, EPP/CD

11:15:25

Dear President,

Dear Colleagues,

I wish to thank Mr Titus CORLĂŢEAN and all those who contributed to this report that outlines the great margins of existing co‑operation and future prospects between the Council of Europe and the European Union (EU).

Certainly, the Council of Europe and the EU have specific interests and competences, yet they both face the same challenges and share the same values. We must therefore invest in renewed co‑operation and a better distribution of competences and responsibilities so as to avoid duplication and the waste of resources.

In this respect, the accession of the EU to the European Convention on Human Rights will cement this strategic partnership even further and will dissipate any remaining uncertainty and divergence as regards the uniformity and applicability of legal standards in Europe. At the same time, the accession of the EU to other key treaties and bodies of the Council of Europe should be pursued independently as it can provide great value added to the Union’s policies and priorities. The Istanbul Convention and the European Social Charter are particularly relevant.

Additionally, as the report underlines, it is important that the Council of Europe, and particularly the Parliamentary Assembly, strengthens its co‑operation and interaction with the European Parliament, especially as regards participatory democracy and enhancing citizens' participation at all levels of governance.

Dear Colleagues, we need to build and extend our collaboration with the EU. By doing so we will reaffirm not only the Council of Europe’s relevance as a treaty-based organisation but also our member States' ability to address the challenges ahead and promote peace, security, and stability in Europe.

Thank you.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

11:18:45

Thank you, dear Nicos.

Now I call it in the debate Mr Alfred HEER from Switzerland.

Alfred, you have the floor.

Mr Alfred HEER

Switzerland, ALDE

11:18:54

Dear President, and thank you, Mr Titus CORLĂŢEAN, for your very good report.

Switzerland is not a member of the European Union, but a member of the Council of Europe and of course for us it is important that we can uphold the values that we share here in this house and in our institution.

I was a little bit afraid that because the majority of member states is now a member of the European Union in the Council of Europe, there was a sort of danger that we would adhere to the European Union and not that the European Union would adhere to the values of the Council of Europe.

So I'm happy that this report makes clear, as it is stated, that the European Union should adhere to the European Convention on Human Rights. This is a very important point for me. And that we have one single legal space in Europe, that's also important. And it's very important because, as I mentioned, there are still member states in the Council of Europe that are not member of the European Union and do not wish to be members of the European Union.

Therefore, I thank Mr Titus CORLĂŢEAN for the clear words and I also think it's a good idea that we have close co-operation with the European Union because in the end, even though we are not a member of the European Union, they have the fundamental rights agency for example in Vienna, and they share common views, but I think we should avoid to have a double work.

We have the Convention on Human Rights and we do the work here and I am happy that the European Union will cooperate in the future and thank you Mr Titus CORLĂŢEAN for your report and let's hope that this cooperation will lead to a more peaceful Europe. We know the atrocities that are going on in Ukraine and it's a very sad that we were not able to avoid this war and it's a very sad thing, and let's hope and let's pray that this war will find an end soon.

Thank you.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

11:21:29

Thank you, Alfred.

Next in a debate I call Ms Zeynep YILDIZ from Turkey.

Zeynep, you have the floor.

Ms Zeynep YILDIZ

Turkey, NR

11:21:38

Dear President,

Dear Colleagues,

First of all I would like to thank the rapporteur for his constant considerable efforts to present us this important report.

In recent years, we have all been facing significant challenges. The intensity and the diversity of them are increasing every day.

In addition to these continuous challenges, the military aggression of Russia against Ukraine put serious strain on the unity and stability of the European continent.

All these challenges require our attention to enhance our co‑operation based on effective multilateralism. This multilateralism also needs to strengthen respective roles in the competence of international organisations. In the end, global challenges require global responses. Regional challenges have to be dealt with regional responses with concerted actions.

In this respect, enhanced co‑operation with other international organisations which we share your common values with, such as the EU or the OSCE, and the OECD, are important to tackle these challenges more effectively and resolutely.

In this context, I support the report in general, and efforts on strengthening the co‑operation with the EU.

In addition, I would like to touch upon another significant aspect as already underlined in the report, which is European integration that requires close collaboration between two organisations.

The EU anchored the main instrument that holds the region. Furthermore, the integration is a crucial element to sustain and strengthen stability and the democratic security of Europe, which became more vital considering the current circumstances.

In the past, the Council of Europe has contributed significantly to the enlargement and deepening of the European Union. I believe that it is still capable of it with its bodies and instruments. Therefore, I would like to say that I particularly support the recommendations in the report regarding the enlargement process, and I share the remarks of the rapporteur that the EU should give a concrete prospect of accession within a reasonable timeline.

Dear Colleagues,

All in all, the Council of Europe, which was founded after the horrors of the war, is still one of the most important actors to maintain peace and stability in the region. To that end, it is not only important, but also imperative, to work together with other international organisations, particularly the EU.

Thank you for your attention.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

11:24:21

Thank you, Zeynep.

The next speaker in our debate will be our good colleague Lord George FOULKES from the United Kingdom.

You have the floor, George.

Lord George FOULKES

United Kingdom, SOC

11:24:31

Thank you, President.

Can I join in the congratulations to my socialist colleague Titus for his excellent report, which I support fully.

My colleague from the United Kingdom earlier, Mr John HOWELL, pointed out the obvious thing that we in the United Kingdom are no longer, sadly, members of the European Union. It's been a tragedy. Brexit has been a tragedy for the United Kingdom. It gets worse and worse day by day, week by week, month by month. Anyone, any country that is thinking of withdrawing should think again.

That's one of the many reasons I welcome the result of the French presidential election. Any countries that are seeking to join the European Union, I'll encourage you to do so. That's not what the debate is about today. I'll turn to Sir Christopher CHOPE, another of my colleagues from the United Kingdom, who said earlier that the European Union must respect human rights just as the individual countries do. He's absolutely right on that, but can I remind them of the Parable of The Mote and the Beam?

The United Kingdom in 1998 incorporated effectively the European Convention of Human Rights into our United Kingdom law. That was done by a Labour government. However, there has been backsliding by our present government. David Cameron in 2006 suggested that the Human Rights Act should be scrapped and wanted a separate British Bill of Rights. Something similar was included in the Tory manifestos of 2010, 2015, and 2019. Now Dominic Raab, Justice Secretary, most recently on 5 October says the government will overhaul the Human Rights Act 1998 before the next election.

That is an entirely retrograde step and something that I hope all of us can oppose. In fact our joint committee on human rights, all-party from both houses of Parliament, said that there was no justification at all for any changes in the law of the United Kingdom in relation to Human Rights.

I hope that the United Kingdom will continue to be a beacon as far as other countries are concerned, as far as human rights are concerned and will not change the 1998 law and that we will show the way for other countries and not fall behind as our current government seems to be suggesting.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

11:27:14

Thank you very much, Lord George FOULKES.

Next to the debate I call Mr Norbert KLEINWÄCHTER from Germany. Norbert, you have the floor.

Mr Norbert KLEINWÄCHTER

Germany, EC/DA

11:27:23

Dear Mister President,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

it is very right and important that we are talking today about the relationship between the Council of Europe and the European Union – our Council of Europe, which has been defending the values of democracy, human rights, the rule of law since 1949 – and, on the other hand, the European Union, where these values are not always to be found on a large scale. Let's face it: the European Union has major deficits in democracy. The EU Parliament itself is undemocratic, the principle of one man, one vote does not apply there. It is much too far removed from the formation of the will of the citizens. The formation of the will in the Parliament is non-transparent. The separation of powers in the European Union does not work either with an ECJ that is fairly loyal to the Commission. The members of the Commission themselves recognise this to some extent. They are then trying to use experiments such as the Conference on the Future of Europe to find new ways where it is no longer the citizens who are supposed to make decisions, but some NGOs, ladies and gentlemen.

The European Union's loyalty to human rights must also be questioned, at the latest, when we look at what happened with regard to the protests against what the government thought was right. They were simply bludgeoned no matter whether they were demos against the Corona policy or, for example, the movement of the gilets jaunes in France.

Ms Ursula VON DER LEYEN did nothing there. Instead, the EU Commission actively launched programs against freedom of expression. I have to ask him where freedom of expression is left in the European Action Plan for Democracy if a free expression of opinion is, in the final analysis, subject to infoboxes on Facebook and the like. According to the motto, you can express your opinion, but we'll point it out right away. That's not the right thing to do. The EU Commission is also responsible for the inhumane system of digital Covid certificates, incidentally, an instrument that was never introduced in the USA for human rights reasons.

Lastly, we come to the rule of law problems. Treaties are not worth the paper they are printed on. Treaties are made and then closed ignored. We see this with the debt and fiscal rules of the Maastricht Treaty, where we are still with the 60% debt rule of gross domestic product. We see this also with the Treaty of Lisbon, which regulates. The European Union must actually join the European Convention on Human Rights, but it does not want that. It doesn't want to do that because it considers itself supranational. EU law is supposed to dictate national democracies, and an external evaluation, for example by the European Court of Human Rights, doesn't fit in here. Admittedly, such a judgment on the state of human rights democracy and the rule of law in the EU would have to be scathing. That is why, Mister Rapporteur, I believe that a strategic partnership makes no sense.

The European Union must submit to the European Convention on Human Rights. It must not do so by granting statehood, but it must do so in such a way. The member States have surrendered competences to the EU. If this has happened, then there must be a possibility of legal action via the member States, and we must implement this in our regulations.

Thank you very much.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

11:30:36

Thank you very much, Mr Norbert KLEINWÄCHTER.

Next in the debate is Ms Lesia VASYLENKO from Ukraine.

She is not with us... There you are!

You have the floor, Ms Lesia VASYLENKO.

Ms Lesia VASYLENKO

Ukraine, ALDE

11:30:54

Thank you, President.

Dear Colleagues,

Indeed this is an important report we are regarding today as the Council of Europe and the European Union are both very crucial mechanisms to promote basic European values, principles and aspirations. Both of these institutions were designed after the Second World War to promote dialogue and co‑operation, peace, and development and prevent further wars. Both of these institutions, however, failed, as we are all able to observe during the last eight years when Russia first began its aggression against Ukraine and during the last two months when we were all seeing the evidence of the escalation of that very aggression.

Today, it is very important to understand the reasons that led to yet another war in Europe. First of all, the "not-provoking-Russia" approach which was so well implemented in the EU and the Council of Europe did not quite work. Second, the strategic ambiguity towards Ukraine and other democratic states that were aspiring to become EU members also did not work. 

Today, it is also important, however, to learn from our past mistakes. First of all, there cannot be any more wars in Europe. This is the first lesson. 

The second lesson is that there cannot be any spheres of interest, and there cannot be peace and democracy through the appeasement of aggressors and autocracies. These are simple lessons. 

Today also the Council of Europe and EU leaders must show unity and courage. They must reaffirm the EU's mission of promoting peace and freedoms on our continent. For that, the EU candidate status, for which Ukraine is striving, must be granted. This will lead to further integration of the EU and the European continent and would not just be a powerful political symbol for the people of Ukraine but also a chance to fix past mistakes and step away from unsuccessful policies. 

Ukraine is a long-standing member of the Council of Europe and has proven on numerous occasions it shares the principles and fights hard for European values. Ukrainians are proving this right now with their very lives. Ukraine's EU membership bid is key to further cementing democracy, human rights, dignity, equality, and the rule of law. Ukraine is a key element of a strong Europe. Ukraine's membership bid would revive and reunify Europe and keep confidence up among the Ukrainian people to keep fighting for these very values.

Today, unprecedentedly and historically, 86% of Ukrainians support EU integration. This means that the people really believe in EU institutions and Council of Europe institutions. Let us, colleagues, with supporting the bids to enlarge the EU, continue supporting the people who so firmly believe and fight for democracy and freedom on the European continent and beyond.

Thank you.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

11:34:13

You thank, Ms Lesia VASYLENKO.

Next in the debate I call Ms Klotilda BUSHKA, from Albania.

You have the floor.

Ms Klotilda BUSHKA

Albania, SOC

11:34:22

Thank you, Mr President.

I'll join the congratulation of all the Greeks here for the excellent report of our rapporteur.

This is a report placed very well in this very critical situation Europe is living due to the Russian aggression to Ukraine.

The Western Balkans have changed a lot over the last year. The progress is also due to an organisation like ours, which helped our countries on their way to democracy, promoting human rights and a functioning rule of law.

The Council of Europe is important in terms of human rights, democracy, rule of law, and plays an undeniable role when it comes to the European integration. This has been like this since its creation in 1949.

It is not by coincidence that the European Commission uses the results of some of the monitoring mechanisms of the Council of Europe as parameters to assess the progress made in the context of the enlargement process. In this context, we have always made it clear that co-operation activities or projects should be based on the country's priorities in line with the European integration process, and focus on areas in which the Council of Europe has expertise.

Also, in the latest document of co-operation between the European Union and the Council of Europe, the European Union confirms that it will continue to support the work of the Council in terms of the Western Balkan countries through the Horizontal Facility mechanisms. These mechanisms have helped to make the co-operation between the two organisations in the Western Balkans more visible and efficient.

Being part of the Council plays a transformative role in the country's institutions and in the society, which helps and facilitates European integration.

In this context, Albania welcomes the co-operation with the European Union, which is in our view the Council of Europe's main institutional partner in political, legal and financial terms.

We are convinced that our organisation has played an important role in the region, and my country welcomes the Council of Europe's continued engagement and the contribution offered in order to comply with Council of Europe standards and with the European Union acquis. In the framework of the enlargement process, we are committed to continue with the reforms and we hope the European Union will deliver to the expectation of Albania to hold the first intergovernmental organisation conference.

We have a statement here when it comes to a clear perspective for the Western Balkans from Europe. When it comes to formulating recommendations to the authorities concerned, we should not create new monitoring mechanisms and add recommendations within PACE. In this framework we have to see how to resolve the issue of PACE monitoring, which for some states has been for long now.

In short terms, we need to talk and discuss on how to avoid the application so the standards for human rights, rule of law and democracy have been consolidated in the Council of Europe here, with mechanisms, and the European Union should really rely on that standard. We don't need to have new mechanisms in order to have duplication. We need to be attentive and put this clearly to all the member states in the European Union and the European Union itself.

Thank you for your attention.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

11:38:07

Thank you, Klotilda.

Now we are going to listen to our colleague Ms María Valentina MARTÍNEZ FERRO from Spain.

María, you have the floor.

Ms María Valentina MARTÍNEZ FERRO

Spain, EPP/CD

11:38:17

Thank you, Mister President.

Thank you to Mr Titus CORLĂŢEAN for his report. I think it is more important than ever before – absolutely vital – that the European Union and the Council of Europe co‑operate precisely because we were mistaken when we thought that the kind of behaviour we are seeing right now in Europe had been consigned to the past. 

I think that right-thinking diplomacy was not able to counter Putin's aggression. Nothing could have been more mistaken. We have seen President Zelenskyy, a leader who has been able to unite his people and has been an inspiration for all of us who believe in democracy and freedom. The rules of the international game have been trampled underfoot. We have admired the resistance that has been shown by the Ukrainian people because the desire of people to live in peace and freedom cannot be vanquished. That is why the European Union and the Council of Europe, and Europeans as a whole, have to stand united. What we are witnessing on our continent affects us all. That is why we must make sure to make our resources available to the people of Ukraine. This is precisely what this important report seeks to set out.

Now, once weapons have been laid down, it will be time for all of those who are guilty to be held to account. Now, as in the future, will be the time to help Ukraine with its efforts to rebuild the nation. The Council of Europe is an institution that is the guarantor of human rights across the world and across Europe. It is the institution which has made peace the centre of all its endeavours. The European Union and Europe are the only institutions that can do that because Ukraine has acted in an exemplary and exceptional way. That is why Europe has to rise to these most difficult of challenges. Ukraine is an important member of this organisation, an exemplary member of this organisation. That is why it deserves our support. 

Thank you. 

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

11:41:01

Thank you Ms María Valentina MARTÍNEZ FERRO for your contribution.

Now I call in the debate Mr Domagoj HAJDUKOVIĆ from Croatia.

Domagoj, you have the floor.

Mr Domagoj HAJDUKOVIĆ

Croatia, SOC

11:41:14

Thank you, Mister President.

Once again let me congratulate you on the flawless pronunciation of my name.

Dear Colleagues,

I think this is a timely and well-written report, although its creation started almost a lifetime ago, 2019 I believe. It's a lifetime ago when it comes to the international circumstances. Even so, three years later, in a much changed world, I think it's a welcomed report.

Thanks and congratulations to the rapporteur for a well written report.

Allow me to underline the importance of the EU - Council of Europe co‑operation in the context of enlargement.

I personally am a staunch supporter of the enlargement of the European Union. I believe that the European project is not over until all the countries that share our values and have the ambition to join the Union are not members of the Union.

It does not concern only the Western Balkans, although I do most heartedly agree with my Albanian colleagues who have stressed this, and the Serbian colleague as well. It also relates to Ukraine, it relates to Georgia, it relates to Moldova, and any other country that may voice the ambition to join our family.

I especially believe that Ukraine should be given a special relationship status with the European Union because they are in a unique position that they have to fight for their pro‑European stand and orientation.

Indeed, the logic would dictate, dear colleagues, that the compliance to the Council of Europe standards should be compatible with the EU standards. For what are the European Union values if not human rights, rule of law, freedom of speech, and so on, and freedom for media, and you know, all the rest.

I especially wish to underline the role the European Union and this august Chamber has in reversing the backsliding of democracy.

Sometimes I believe, dear colleagues, that the European Union may be too lenient in this respect. We must never trade stableocracy for democracy. I think this is a wrong course in the long run. I am happy and very proud to say that this august House and this institution has not been as lenient as the European Union. I think we are still needed as a kind of a watchdog, if you would permit me that expression, of democracy.

Protecting the integrity of electoral process is also a very important role we play and we have played in the past.

Therefore, I support the recommendations. Maybe, as a suggestion to our colleagues, to try to include the members of the European Parliament, European experts, and other resources in the European Union in our work in the committees on the reports, and indeed, in this Chamber.

Thank you.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

11:44:12

Thank you, Mr Domagoj HAJDUKOVIĆ.

I try to pronounce all names as as good as possible but we have a a wide variety, but if I need to be corrected, please let me know, because I know it matters that a name is pronounced right.

Now I call it a debate, Mr Volker ULLRICH from Germany, but I do not see him.. yes but I do see him, he is on an another place than the one indicated.

Volker, you have the floor.

Mr Volker ULLRICH

Germany, EPP/CD

11:44:43

Thank you very much, Mister President.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Without any doubt, the European Union has achieved a depth of integration like no other organisation. The majority of the member States in the Council of Europe are members of the European Union. The majority of those who are not yet members want to become part of the European Union.

The question today is not European Union or Council of Europe, but how democracy and the rule of law can be lived and advanced together.

A look at history should not be missing from this debate. In the 1950s, the Council of Europe initiated European unification, and while the European Communities were still exclusively in the economic sphere, the Council of Europe emphasised the power of freedom, democracy and human rights. It was the Council of Europe, by the way, which first created a European anthem. The flag of the European Union was the flag of the Council of Europe. The European Union adopted that flag. Now it is a matter of being aware of our responsibility from these historical achievements and that the power of the Council of Europe also has an effect on the European Union and vice versa.

An important sign must be that when the future of Europe is discussed, that it is not just about the European Union, but also about the Council of Europe.

The integrative power of our institution must not be forgotten. That is why it is important that where law is secured, in the field of jurisprudence, the organisations of the European Union also accede to the Convention on Human Rights, thus giving it even more weight.

This legal issue must not be allowed to fail at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, but we need a clear commitment here. At the end of the day, I hope that through a stronger exchange, that through the adoption of conventions by the European Union, our work, strength will be appreciated. At the end of the day, we are working for Europe on the same goal, namely the establishment of peace, freedom, democracy and human rights.

Therefore, thank you very much, dear Mr Titus CORLĂŢEAN, for this report.

I also recommend that you adopt it.

Thank you very much.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

11:47:44

Thank you very much, dear Mr Volker ULLRICH, for your contribution.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

11:47:49

Now the last speaker in the debate will be Ms Nigar ARPADARAI from Azerbaijan.

Madam, you have the floor.

Ms Nigar ARPADARAI

Azerbaijan, EC/DA

11:47:57

Thank you, Mr President.

Co-operation and strategic partnership between the EU and Council of Europe is absolutely natural. The EU is a dominant economic force in the European space and the Council of Europe is the oldest organisation promoting human rights and democracy. However, in light of the fundamental changes and challenges that Europe is experiencing, it's extremely important that the Council of Europe become stronger integrated with EU institutions. A stronger EU means safer Europe and even despite the fact that my country, Azerbaijan, is not a EU member or candidate, we clearly understand and appreciate that.

But I would like to ask a question: are we going to continue to use organisations like OEEC or Council of Europe as an extension for such organisations as EU or NATO, or are we going in the direction where pan-European organisations like OEEC, Council of Europe become a real platform for security and human rights in Europe based on dialogue and principles agreed between equals?

The first way where EU and NATO dictate means division lines and grievances. The history of Europe is unfortunately full of them and every time such division leads to worse, be it the First or Second World War, Yugoslavia or today's war in Ukraine.

Division is bad for all of us. If we want a safe and peaceful Europe the only way is a united Europe consisting of equal members regardless of the fact if these members are EU or NATO members or not. This is what the new security architecture of Europe must look like. If we want to achieve it at first we must admit the sad truth that today's organisations such as the Council of Europe and OEEC face certain challenges in implementing their missions. They need reforms. Member states must sit at round tables as equals and must agree on the renewed mandate for the main pan-European organisations, fixing the mistakes of the past and creating working and fair tools to stand by the principles and enforce them.

For 30 years, part of Azerbaijan was occupied by a neighbour, Armenia. We still struggle with consequences of the occupations, such as fully destroyed infrastructure and landmines. Technically, this occupation happened outside of EU borders and many regarded this as a far away problem. This was a wrong understanding and failure of Europe to stop it led to many more conflicts and occupations. If we want a safe Europe, we should not let it happen again and we should vigorously work on fixing the consequences of existing occupations.

We need to give new life to principles of international law such as territorial integrity and inviolability of borders. We need to create real mechanism to fight militarised and aggressive separatism and secessionism, which is too often used as the pretext for conflict and war in Europe. And to do it we need a stronger Council of Europe, we need stronger OEEC, not just extensions of EU or NATO. Without undermining the importance of the Lisbon principles, this important balance should be something that we consider in relations between EU institutes and the Council of Europe.

Thank you, Mr President.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

11:51:02

Thank you, Ms Nigar ARPADARAI.

Unfortunately, as it's now 11:50 a.m., I have to interrupt the list of speakers as we agreed earlier. However, the speeches of members on the speakers list who have been present physically or remotely during the debate but have not been able to speak may be given to the Table Office for publication in the Official Report, provided that speakers connected remotely can report their actual presence when the debate is closed.

I remind colleagues that typewritten text must be submitted electronically no later than 4 hours after the list of speakers is interrupted.

I now call on our rapporteur, Mr Titus CORLĂŢEAN to reply to the debate. You still have 3 minutes, Titus.

Mr Titus CORLĂŢEAN

Romania, SOC, Rapporteur

11:51:51

Mr President, dear colleagues,

First of all, I would like to thank all the colleagues who have spoken in the debate for their comments, comments that have indeed enriched our debate.

I will try to focus on two – or maybe three – topics.

Mr Titus CORLĂŢEAN

Romania, SOC, Rapporteur

11:52:09

I will start first with... I will share the view that this horrible war of aggression perpetrated by Russia against Ukraine fundamentally changed some serious subjects that we have in Europe, inter alia also, how many were seeing the substance of this partnership between the Council of Europe and the European Union, especially in Brussels, as a strategic partnership.

Here I want to make a confession. I paid a visit to Brussels meeting a number of members of the European Commission, high-ranking officials of the Commission, of the European Parliament, and the chief negotiator of the European Commission for the accession of the EU to the European Convention on Human Rights.

I want to mention the fact that the second day of my visit happened just hours after the war of aggression started, of Russia against Ukraine, on 24 February. I want to testify about the fact that I saw the change. I saw very constructive and positive discussion. I want to thank, inter alia, Commissioner Didier Reynders on how we share the views on how the strategic partnership should be, and on how we should work together in avoiding duplication, in using properly and acknowledging the historical role of the Council of Europe while establishing the standards because, historically, the standards, democratic standards, were established by this House.

This is why I propose, in the draft resolution and in the draft recommendation, a number of concrete proposals and recommendations. These are not a theoretical proposal. They are very concrete and pragmatic proposals which take into account our in historical acquis, our interest, the Council of Europe's, but also the pragmatic interest and the views and the proposals from the European Union.

This is why you will find them, for instance, at the level of political exchanges between the Parliamentary Assembly and the European Parliament, not only at the level of the leadership, which is normal, but also at the level of common sessions, at the level of rapporteurs, at the level of committees, and many other concrete proposals.

This is why I have tabled not only issues related to the accession of the European Union to the European Convention on Human Rights, or the Social Charter, the issue of the Istanbul Convention, but also the mechanisms, the monitoring mechanisms that we have, how to respect and to put in value correctly this expertise of the Council of Europe and many other things.

Therefore, summing, its a proposal also associating the EU for... A final brief comment, Mister President. Under EU accession, look, there is a legal obligation of the European Union that has been established by the governments of the EU.

We have solved through Protocol 14 our legal issue to offer this possibility. I think we should express today clear political support for the process of negotiation, because the EU governments are willing, the European commission is supporting, and the European Parliament really has a clear majority for the EU accession.

Yes, we need to find concrete solutions for what some judges from Luxembourg expressed.

Once again, I invite all colleagues to support this report, and especially the follow-up will be important. We have a partner in Brussels. I must confer this. We should give the real substance of what should be really a strategic partnership between the Council of Europe and the European Union.

Thank you.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

11:56:06

Thank you very much Mr Rapporteur. And indeed, times are changing and we have to be aware of that. And as you indicate, your report is about many of the issues that are at stake. 

Does the Chairperson of the Committee wish to speak?

Mr Zsolt NÉMETH, you have three minutes.

Mr Zsolt NÉMETH

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

11:56:26

Thank you, President.

As we have seen, the Russian aggression has rewritten this Report as well. The unity of Europe is extremely important under present circumstances and I believe that the Fourth Summit of Heads of State and Government, as the important idea of our rapporteur, is very timely.

I would like to underline in the debate that we are talking about the integration of integration organisations – the EU and the Council of Europe. The Council of Europe is 100% then the European Union is 60%. We will see how close this number will come in the coming years. Hopefully, more and more Council of Europe member states might join the European Union. The Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy has to be revised now in the European Union. Ukraine's speedy accession, underlined by many colleagues, is supported by a very broad, large country group. The artificial differentialisation between neighbours and enlargement countries should be eliminated, in my opinion, and the Council of Europe should become a kind of advocate of the Western Balkans and Eastern Europe.

And the EU accession to the European Convention of Human Rights is a unique possibility that our conventional system should guide the European Union, not just in the Social Charter field, but as it was said earlier by Ms Elvira KOVÁCS in the minority field as well. We have fantastic instruments like the Language Charter, the Framework Convention, and so on. We look at the national and the international community law, not as systems in conflict but as systems being compatible with each other. And that is why the integration of the integration organisations is a realistic strategic perspective.

Thanks to the rapporteur, thanks to the Secretariat, he has been a long-standing leader in this field but I think the time of the war crime has given an even more important relevance to this Report. 

Thank you very much for your attention.

Ms Martine WONNER

France, ALDE

13:04:33

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

Mr Christian KLINGER

France, EPP/CD

13:04:37

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

Mr Bernard FOURNIER

France, EPP/CD

13:04:41

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

Ms Etilda GJONAJ

Albania, SOC

13:04:47

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

 

Esteemed President KOX

Esteemed colleagues,

As representative of the Republic of Albania I truly appreciate today debate and the report of Mr Titus CORLĂŢEAN on strengthening the strategic partnership between the Council of Europe and the EU.

Albania is a member of the Council of Europe since 13 July 1995 and an aspiring country to join the EU since two decades. Since two years we have accomplished all requirements to start the negotiations process with the EU and we are currently waiting of a date for the first intergovernmental conference within July 2022.

Due to our commitment to join the EU Union Albania, as other Western Balkans countries, have a firsthand experience on the importance of a strategic partnership between the Council of Europe and the European Union. As mentioned even in the report, the Council of Europe and the European Union are based on the same values, principles and aspirations: democracy, human rights and the rule of law. The Council of Europe has given a crucial support to Albania through the Horizontal Facility on three major areas: 1) Ensuring justice; (2) Fighting corruption, economic crime and organised crime; (3) Promoting anti-discrimination and protecting the rights of vulnerable groups; which has helped us to comply with European standards and to advance our EU integration agenda.

Furthermore, we have relied multiple times on the expertise and legal instruments of the Council of Europe especially the European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission Opinion) and the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) to advance our the efforts in the judiciary and to address corruption and strengthen institutional integrity.

These instruments have been substantial also to the EU Commission to monitor the progress of Albania on these areas. The avoidance of major duplications in Albania has been very helpful to maintain a clear political and technical dialogue in perspective of the integration process and our efforts to comply with the requirements of accession and our obligations with CoE Institutions.

Nevertheless in this regard I would suggest the CoE to play a more active role in support of the member countries who have complied with the conditialities set by the EU in the framework of exactly this discussion on strengthening the strategic partnership between the Council of Europe and the European Union. Strengthening the strategic partnership between CoE and EU would give more stability, security and a prospect of democracy to our continent.

Thank you for your attention.

Vote: Beyond the Lisbon Treaty: strengthening the strategic partnership between the Council of Europe and the European Union

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

11:59:04

Thank you dear Mr Zsolt NÉMETH.

This closes the debate. The Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy has presented a draft resolution to which no amendments have been tabled.

We will, therefore now start with the consideration of the draft resolution and then we will consider the draft recommendation.

First, we will proceed now to vote on this draft resolution contained in Document 15495. A simple majority is required. 

The vote in the hemicycle and via remote voting is now OPEN.

THE VOTE IS CLOSED. 

I CALL FOR THE RESULTS TO BE DISPLAYED.

The draft resolution in Doc. 15495 is adopted.

Now we will proceed to vote on the draft recommendation contained in Document 15495. 

The vote in the hemicycle and via remote voting is now OPEN.

THE VOTE IS CLOSED.

I CALL FOR THE RESULTS TO BE DISPLAYED. 

The draft recommendation in Doc. 15495 is adopted and has reached the two-thirds majority needed and therefore is adopted. I congratulate the rapporteur.

Colleagues, I remind you that the election for the judge to the European Court of Human Rights in respect of Ukraine is underway. It will be closed at 3.00 p.m.

I invite those of you who did not yet vote to do so.

Now we will hear the presentation of Ms Dunja MIJATOVIĆ, our Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights (CommDH(2022)8) on her Annual Activity Report 2021. After her address, Ms MIJATOVIĆ will take questions from the floor.

 

It is now my pleasure to welcome Ms Dunja MIJATOVIĆ, our Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights who will present us her 2021 Annual Report and I think this is one of the most important reports that we get.

Madam Commissioner I would like to welcome you to our Assembly and thank you for being here with us today.

During the past year but also during the last months and weeks, you made many visits to member states. Your dialogue with the national authorities and others on securing fundamental rights, including the rights of refugees, journalists, women, children, people with disabilities, LGBTI persons, as well as those whose rights are affected by environmental pollution, is greatly valued by the Assembly. We also appreciate your readiness to work so closely with us in the Assembly. Your views and your suggestions contribute as very fruitful guidelines to our missions and reports. You are often our eyes on the ground.

As the Commissioner of Human Rights since 2018 with us, Dunja, you have faced many crises that have threatened or are threatening the protection of human rights on the European continent. The consequences of the migration crisis, the awful pandemic, and now the consequences of this horrible war of aggression of Russia against Ukraine pose very great challenges for the preservation and enhancement of human rights. And you are our watchdog in this respect and that is why I would like to express my gratitude to you Madam Commissioner and I am looking forward to hearing your presentation and hearing you answering the questions of the colleagues later.

Madam Commissioner, the floor is yours.

Address: Annual activity report 2021 by the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights

Ms Dunja MIJATOVIĆ

Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights

12:04:10

Thank you.

Thank you, Mister President, Distinguished Members of PACE.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is particularly heartening and important. I'm very happy to see so many of you in person, but I also have to say that today I do address you with a heavy heart.

I came here today to present my annual report, and I cannot but think about the atrocious human suffering that the Russian military attack on Ukraine has caused on millions of people.

My thoughts today and every day since 24 February are with the victims of this senseless violence and with their families, with those who lost their lives, and those who endured torture or ill-treatment, sexual violence, and abductions, with millions of those who are displaced in Ukraine or fled to safety abroad, as well as with many courageous human rights defenders, journalist, humanitarians, activists, and many others working on the ground. I have spoken with many of them in the past weeks.

Ten days after the war started we were one of the first organisations present in the field. I visited the Republic of Moldova, where I listened to the stories of dozens of people who fled the war. We went to Palanca, at the border with Ukraine, where there were the first people arriving from different parts of Ukraine. My team and I also went to the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and the Slovak Republic from 16 to 22 March, where we met with other people fleeing from Ukraine: volunteers, journalists, and human rights defenders. Non‑governmental organisations, as well as local, regional, and central authorities. National human rights institutions, but also members of international organisations that were present there.

The rapid support given in member States of people fleeing the war in Ukraine has been extraordinary. I was impressed by the enormous efforts that we witnessed in all countries we visited: volunteers, NGOs, religious organisations, and charities, local and regional authorities, national human rights structures, border guards, fire and rescue and law enforcement services, and above all many many ordinary people have come forward to welcome people fleeing Ukraine with open arms.

They continue to assist them with a selfless show of humanity and solidarity. This extraordinary mobilisation has made it possible to provide emergency aid including food and drink, medical care, psychological support, temporary accommodation, interpretation and pro bono legal services.

However, as the war in Ukraine continues to sow death and destruction, there is a need to sustain these efforts in the weeks and months to come. The governments and parliaments of all member States have a crucial role to play in this regard. They should strengthen efforts to co‑ordinate, both at domestic and European levels, and scale up support for the response to the humanitarian and human rights needs of people fleeing Ukraine and fleeing the war in Ukraine. Sustainability of humanitarian assistance, effective integration, provision of adequate housing and schooling for children, protection of safety of dignity of people fleeing, as well as effective communication about measures taken in this respect should be insured for a longer term.

This is particularly important because in several of the members States visited the extent to which central governments were making such medium and long-term plans remained quite unclear. In particular access to housing, employment, financial aid, and education for people fleeing Ukraine, and their overall integration into society are now the most pressing concerns, I would say.

People we have spoken with were acutely aware of these issues. They were not denying that there is a problem; they also included how this might impact their own citizens access to services, but concrete solutions to these problems should be devised rapidly. Consistent and positive communication from governments about persons fleeing Ukraine is also very crucial to dealing with any emerging changes in attitude among the general population and to counter this information. There is also a need for more flexibility in providing quickly accessible funding to all those involved in assisting or hosting people fleeing the war in Ukraine to appropriately react to the changing needs but also changing circumstances.

Special attention should also be paid to the protection of specific groups of people. Most of the people fleeing the war in Ukraine are women and children. The risk of trafficking in human beings arriving from Ukraine was underscored in all countries we visited. Efforts such as registering persons, offering transport and accommodation, or covered police operations in the arrival points are commendable ways to cope with this problem, but it is not enough. Nevertheless. It is necessary to strengthen these efforts to prevent and combat trafficking in human beings.

As I stress that the end of my monitoring missions the recommendations by the Council of Europe's group of experts on action against trafficking in human beings and the Lanzarote Committee should inform further action.

Additionally, for many women and girls fleeing Ukraine, especially those who have may have suffered conflict-related sexual violence, access to sexual and reproductive health services in some of the receiving member States is highly problematic, and this should be a particular point of attention. I will not elaborate on this at this very time, but this is something that I will continue following closely.

Border control, law enforcement, and child protection authorities should also strengthen the identification and registration of often unaccompanied and separated children and implement family tracing and reunification procedures for those children. This should include improving the capacities of safe places for children, in particular family-based solutions and strengthening referral and guardianships procedures.

I have also received worrying reports of Roma, LGBTI people, and people of African descent being at times treated quite differently due to deep-seated prejudices against them and having difficulties as a consequence in accessing housing assistance and other facilities.

Turning to the situation in Ukraine, during the last 61 days of war, Ukraine has been the scene of human rights violations committed against the civilian population. The images of lifeless bodies of civilians brutally killed in the cities and villages of Ukraine rendered speechless. They provide a haunting illustrations of shocking reports of violations of human rights and breaches of international humanitarian law such as summary executions, abductions, torture, sexual violence, and attacks against the civilian infrastructures committed in areas of Ukraine previously under the control of Russian troops.

To many of these violations, including those that have emerged in Bucha, Borodyanka, Kramatorsk, and Mariupol' I reacted publicly.

I use this opportunity to once more warn about the dramatic situation in Mariupol'. Many civilians, among them women, children, and older persons, are still trapped in the areas of Mariupol' besieged by the Russian forces. For many weeks they have been surviving under dire conditions and with scarce supplies. They should immediately be provided with humanitarian corridors to enable them to evacuate to safety.

This war and the blatant disregard for human life that it brings need to stop. Every effort must go into preventing more atrocities, the terrible acts committed against the civilian population may constitute war crimes and must not go unpunished. All of them must be documented and thoroughly investigated and their perpetrators identified and brought to justice.

I strongly welcome the calls for justice for the terrible acts that have been uncovered over the past weeks.

I hope our member States will continue to support the Ukrainian justice system as well as the international criminal court so that working together they can deliver a measure of justice and reparations to the victims.

As for myself, I remain ready to visit Ukraine at any moment in order to gather first-hand information on human rights violations, to listen to the people, witnesses human rights defenders, and of course, Ukrainian authorities. I hope that it will be made possible soon.

In the meantime I will continue to monitor patterns of human rights violations and support co‑ordinated efforts to ensure accountability, including through my regular contacts with Ukrainian authorities, institutions, and human rights defenders, and with international counterparts.

All the work I have carried out on the human rights consequences of the war in Ukraine is available on my website, where a specific page was created.

Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished representatives, while the impact of the war on the human rights of those fleeing Ukraine and those remaining in the country has been the focus of my work in the last weeks, I have also continued to alert member States on other pressing human rights issues.

One such pressing issue is the need to put an end to the long-standing, illegal, and inhumane practice of pushbacks of Asylum Seekers and migrants. As I stressed in the recommendation released on 7 April, the scale and normalisation of such practice at Europe's land and sea borders requires urgent and concerted action by the governments and parliamentarians. The impressive response of many European countries to the humanitarian consequences of the war in Ukraine shows that it is possible to put the protection of human dignity and the observance of international obligations at the center of state action. The same principle should apply also to the protection of refugees, asylum, seekers, and migrants coming from other parts of the world.

As parliamentarians, you also have the important role to play by preventing legislative attempts, but also legislation that facilitates this illegal and inhumane practice. Your role is also crucial to call governments to account and use your mandates to raise human rights violations when they occur.

Another human rights problem that has remained very high on my agenda is the growing pressure on free speech and public participation in our member States. Many governments have become increasingly intolerant towards public demonstrations of dissent. Faced with multiplication of protest, authorities in several countries have taken legal and other measures that limit people's right to peaceful assembly and, therefore, their ability to express their views, including political ones, publicly and together with others.

These measures range from harsh policing of demonstrations and bans on and dispersals of assemblies to changes in legislation aimed at increasing the possibilities of sanctioning persons organising or participating in peaceful assemblies. I have also observed the worrying retrogression in the safety of some human rights defenders and journalists, and increasingly restrictive environment that affects their ability to work in many places in Europe. They face a variety of reprisal, including judicial harassment, prosecution, unlawful deprivation of liberty, abusive checks and surveillance, smear campaigns, threats, and intimidation.

The case of Osman Kavala is sadly emblematic of these patterns of repression against human rights defenders and civil society. Yesterday, a Turkish court sentenced him to life in prison on baseless charges and despite the absence of evidence that he committed a crime. This decision, as several others before, displays contempt for human rights and the rule of law by the Turkish authorities, who continue to disregard both the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights from December 2019 and the request by the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers and other institutions, including my office, to release Osman Kavala. Mr Kavala is an innocent man who has already spent more than four years in prison. He is a victim of a justice system that continues to silence human rights defenders, lawyers, and journalists. He should not have been in detention in the first place. He must be released now.

Worryingly, other human rights defenders and journalists in Europe are subjected to brutal repression ranging from physical attacks, torture, ill-treatment, abduction, or even killing. Furthermore, the regulatory framework governing the activities of civil society, freedom of expression, and assemblies is becoming more restrictive in a growing number of settings and context creating a significant chilling effect on the legitimate exercise of a variety of human rights and freedoms. This trend must be reversed. On this I count on you.

The war in Ukraine is giving concrete significance to the so often repeated and so often neglected truth that journalists and human rights defenders play a crucial role in a democratic society. Their work on uncovering human rights violations, giving a voice to victims, fighting for accountability, countering disinformation and propaganda must be valued and protected always. You can help in this regard. One concrete step would be to repeal and prevent laws that create obstacles for the work of journalists, human rights defenders, and civil society organisations.

I think in particular of administrative hurdles for NGOs and also of SLAPP lawsuits. These groundless litigations are among the most hurtful tools for stifling free speech and public participation. They are often filed by powerful individuals or companies who seek to intimidate and silence journalists, activists, academics, human rights defenders, and critics in general.

The simple threat of bringing such a lawsuit including through letters and by powerful law firms is sometimes enough to bring about the desired effect of halting investigations, activism and reporting, and violating the right to information. That's impinging on the rights all of us.

Legislation should protect freedom of expression, not undermine it. Good laws preventing SLAPPs should at the very least meet these three requirements: allow for an early dismissal of such lawsuits, introduce measures to punish abuse, and provide practical support to those who are targeted by SLAPPs.

Both the Council of Europe and the European Union are working on specific standards to curb SLAPPs. I encourage you to provide your support to these initiatives and their future implementation.

Another area where you can play a crucial role is the safety of journalists covering armed conflict. The war in Ukraine has provided another tragic illustrations of the vulnerability of journalists in conflict situations. While it is impossible to prevent all of those those risks that journalists are exposed to, states should do more to reinforce their safety.

Next Monday I will publish the human rights comment just ahead of World Press Freedom Day with recommendations addressed to member States. I invite you to support their implementation in your country.

Ladies and gentlemen, the centrality of parliamentarians in underpinning the democratic institutions of our member States cannot be overstated. Your engagement for human rights can make a concrete difference in the lives of many people. Your actions and your words are powerful tools in that sense, but they can also have very negative consequences.

All too often I have heard politicians both in governments but also parliaments use their positions to advance racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, misogynistic, Islamophobic, or otherwise undemocratic ideas. More worryingly, in some countries prominent politicians and public figures are fanning the flames of nationalism and wilfully sowing the seeds of hate. This is all too evident in the Balkans, where inflammatory rhetoric has intensified in a past months.

Some 30 years after the siege of my home town Sarajevo, such discourse should trigger an alarm and remind us all of brutality and serious violations of human rights that people indoctrinated by hateful propaganda can inflict on their fellow human beings.

Instead of going down this path, politicians in Europe must exercise responsibility and lead by example in their public discourse and actions to promote peace, stability, dialogue, and understanding. Instead of warmongering and spreading divisive propaganda, politicians should work towards improving inter-ethnic relations and ensuring that everyone's rights are equally protected, in the Balkans, in Ukraine, and elsewhere in Europe.

I said this on other occasions, and it is worth repeating here today. The many challenges that democratic societies are facing must be addressed by giving much greater prominence to human rights for all. If more politicians take the lead and empower people to defend human rights for all, we can narrow the gap between our standards and our reality.

Thank you very much.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

12:26:37

Thank you very much, Madam Commissioner, dear Ms Dunja MIJATOVIĆ, for your clear but also worrying and sometimes alarming report on the status of human rights. Please take a glass of water.

And also thank you very much Madam Commissioner for your clear advice and your warnings to us as parliamentarians who can make a difference in many respects when we do our work at home in our national parliaments. I remember, I recall that you have been elected by us to do this most important job and part of the job is indeed to advise and to warn us how we could do better on the basis of your experiences.

We now will have questions from our members – we have a long list. We have half an hour left. I first will give the floor to the five speakers of the political groups and then we will take as many speakers as possible.

I remind everybody that there is no time for speeches but only for questions and you have one minute to ask the question. The first is asked by Ms Petra BAYR from Austria, on behalf of the Socialists, Democrats and Greens Group. 

Ms Petra BAYR

Austria, SOC, Spokesperson for the group

12:27:58

Yes. Thank you very much Madam Commissioner for your report, for your recommendations, and also for your work in general.

Both the questions I wanted to tackle you've already mentioned. It concerns people fleeing from Ukraine. At the beginning there was the concern that we had push-backs of people without Ukrainian citizenship, without ensuing international protection.

I want to know what exactly could we do to really protect people, displaced people, fleeing, without distinguishing, and without being in a way racist?

My second concern is about Ukrainian women who suffered from rape, sexual violence as a means of war. We know that many are pregnant after a rape, and we know that many who flee to Poland have no chance to have an abortion after this rape.

I ask myself what exactly can we do to help these women to enjoy their sexual and reproductive rights, which are part of human rights? So you see the concern as well, but what to do exactly?

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

12:29:08

Thank you, Ms Petra BAYR. 

Madam Commissioner?

Ms Dunja MIJATOVIĆ

Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights

12:29:13

Thank you very much. 

On the first question, I would just suggest that all recommendations presented in the 7 April report on pushbacks in Europe are implemented by member states and then we would be in a quite different situation. As I said on many occasions, the way Ukrainian people that deserve our respect and also the fact that arms are open to Europe in order to, first of all, receive but then at the same time protect these people and give them the possibility to exercise their rights in dignity, we should not forget about others. So, the way we address the issue of people fleeing the war in Ukraine should be a reminder, but also an alarm and a sign for all member states to do more in order to not distinguish between people of different skin colours – to put it really you know in a basic way – or people coming from different continents.

It is a tricky topic, I would say, it is quite a controversial one, but it should not be if we talk about human rights for all. So I will not go into too many details now on the pushback report but based on several visits I have had in several member states starting already in 2018 at the beginning of my mandate, I collected quite worrying information about the different treatment of refugees coming from different parts of the world and this is why we issued several reports. This is the third one with clear recommendations on how to stop this kind of discrimination, which I think is quite shameful for the European continent and for all our governments to have this kind of approach. But, as I said, we can elaborate on this maybe at a later stage.

When it comes to the rights of women and girls fleeing the war in Ukraine, I am in touch with human rights defenders in Ukraine – several extraordinary courageous people. Also, I had a call with the General Prosecutor, Ms Venediktova. My team and myself we have regular meetings with Ms Denisova, Ombudsperson Rights Commissioner of Ukraine, and then again we met several that are facing problems when it comes to access to sexual and reproductive rights. This should also be assigned for all the states – you mentioned Poland but Poland is not the only country where there is a problem with the access to sexual and reproductive rights.

This is a time we do not have a possibility to step aside and not do everything in our power to offer these rights – so sexual and reproductive but also psychological support – and many other issues that are important for Ukrainian but also all other women. So maybe this could be the right moment to recognise how important it is for our member states to have a unified view on giving access to this right that is extremely important for the well-being not only of women and girls but for all of us, for society as a whole, and I can only assure you that I will continue paying particular attention to this problem.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

12:33:05

Thank you, Madam Commissioner.

Now I call for a question.

Mr Pablo HISPÁN from Spain, on behalf of the Group of the European People's Party.

Mr Pablo HISPÁN, you have the floor.

Mr Pablo HISPÁN

Spain, EPP/CD, Spokesperson for the group

12:33:15

Thank you, Mister President.

I want to ask the Commissioner if there were signs of this brutal genocide, of these brutal things that we have seen, and the genocide, and the rape and so on, in the Ukrainian war, if there were signs before in Russia that the alarm system didn't show. This report doesn't show what happened afterwards.

The alarm system of the Assembly should be more sensitive to a question that affects one of the biggest contributors of this Assembly, which was Russia. We were blind for some time.

There is also one other thing that I want to ask you about. It is about the difference between freedom of speech and hate speech. Hate speech is not freedom of speech. Sometimes in  this report things that are hate are treated as freedom of speech. I'd like you to make the difference between those two issues.

Thank you very much.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

12:34:25

Madam Commissioner?

Ms Dunja MIJATOVIĆ

Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights

12:34:26

Thank you.

On the first one, it is a very complex question. I mean, I can only say, you know, if we saw the real alarms and clear signs that this kind of brutality and the atrocities that we saw in Bucha and other places. Of course, I'm sure, as a human being, not even as a Commissioner, that we would have tried to stop this.

But I do not think it was possible to see these kinds of signs.

What I think we saw and neglected for a very long period of time was the fact that the Russian Federation really did not comply with any of the attempts to follow the recommendations. I can talk about myself and my office. We tried absolutely everything in order to engage, to reach out, particularly after the return after the first Parliamentary Assembly expulsion I thought there was hope. But there was no hope. Things became even more problematic in communicating, not to mention visiting or doing anything in order to see some worrying signals there.

So, in my role as a Commissioner, if I understood correctly your question, I can say that I saw many worrying signs, but not the signs that there are ready to go and start killing people so brutally. I don't know if I was understanding your question in a right way, but I'm ready also to continue the discussion on this at a later stage using my own experience when working previously with the Russian Federation.

Freedom of expression and hate speech, you already answered the question. Freedom of speech is not incitement for violence or hatred of people of a particular group or origin. There is a clear line. But the line, I agree with many scholars, is very thin, and it's red. If we cross it, we might also do wrong to freedom of speech.

So how to do this? How to make sure we protect freedom of speech and at the same time fight something that is hate and hatred? There are many ways. There are some good laws. I think the Council of Europe in general is an extraordinary organisation in a sense that there are so many tools, so many monitoring bodies, in order for the states not to cross these lines. And then the states and parliaments should make sure that the laws that are adopted do not cross the line and become really restrictive laws that are censoring information, but laws that are protecting human rights.

We had this campaign that started long ago at the Council of Europe: No Hate. It was for promoting free speech. Because any kind of speech that is affecting a group of people, and you know, I come from Bosnia and Herzegovina, I know what it means, you know, when a certain group of people, or with radio waves, are used in order to invite people from a particular village to come and stone people of other origins. That's not free speech. That's hate speech. That's crime, and it should be prosecuted.

So on this, you know, we can also have a debate and a discussion. But for me, as your Commissioner, it is very clear what needs to be done if we see any signs of hatred or incitement to violence.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

12:38:21

Thank you Madam Commissioner. 

The next question comes from Mr Norbert KLEINWÄCHTER on behalf of the European Conservatives Group and Democratic Alliance.

Mr Norbert KLEINWÄCHTER

Germany, EC/DA, Spokesperson for the group

12:38:27

Thank you very much, Mister President.

Dear Commissioner,

In your annual report for 2021, you emphasised that the police often used excessive force against demonstrators who were protesting against Covid measures. This was, unfortunately, the case in various Council of Europe countries, and it has also attracted attention internationally. The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, Nils Melzer, has criticised the extremely violent and disproportionate behavior, particularly of the German police, in their operations against demonstrations, stating in his report that the actions were reminiscent of torture.

My question to them now, of course, is: do you know about these serious facts? Would you assess it in a similar way as Mr Nils MELZER? In which countries did these problems occur and how did you react to them? Have you sought discussions with governments or will there actually still be urgent recommendations to the countries concerned?

Thank you very much.

 

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

12:39:23

Madam Commissioner?

Ms Dunja MIJATOVIĆ

Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights

12:39:25

Thank you.

 

Mr Melzer is a good colleague and a friend and of course, we do echo each other and we co-operate and co-ordinate.

When it comes to Covid-19, I think we were very active in this very difficult time and two years that we spent really monitoring the situation in many member states, including what you were just referring to. There were many situations where I called for the governments in order to really do everything in order to make sure that the police did not use violence when addressing protesters. I called for more training, for more possibilities for people to express freely their views that they disagree with the government but without using violence from either side. And there were many occasions where I raised my voice – I do not know precisely in which countries now – but they were numerous.

But in order to really cover everything, I issued general recommendations on peaceful assembly, on freedom of expression during a pandemic, and on many other occasions. And I, as you heard, dedicated quite a big chapter of my introduction presenting here to you in order to emphasise the importance of free speech and peaceful assembly. And I can only say that I will continue following this in Germany, but also in all other Council of Europe member states. But it is a very valid point.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

12:41:08

Thank you Madam Commissioner. 

Next question comes on behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe from Ms Yevheniia KRAVCHUK from Ukraine. 

Ms Yevheniia KRAVCHUK

Ukraine, ALDE, Spokesperson for the group

12:41:19

Thank you, Madam Commissioner.

You have rightfully mentioned that today is the 62nd day of war and it is not just war in Ukraine, as you said numerous times, it is a war of oppression conducted by the Russian Federation. We have to name the things right. The atrocities you mentioned are being done by Russian invaders in Ukraine.

My question is: what are your concrete plans for visiting Ukraine? I would like to kindly remind you that the Presidential Committee of PACE, together with the President of PACE, were in Ukraine three weeks ago and had some high-scale meetings.

And what concrete steps can you take after this visit, besides of course, the statement?

Thank you so much.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

12:42:11

Thank you Ms Yevheniia KRAVCHUK.

Madam Commissioner.

Ms Dunja MIJATOVIĆ

Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights

12:42:13

Thank you. Thank you very much.

When it comes to terminology, and the fact that the aggression comes from the Russian Federation, I think I was more than clear already on the first day when the war started.

That day, I think I told you also when we met, I was in Georgia, travelling to Abkhazia, in order to meet IDPs, when I heard that the Russian Federation started bombing Kyiv. From that very moment, my own opinion and my position stayed the same.

Of course the situation changed tremendously when we saw what happened in Bucha, Borodyanka, and then in all other places.

When it comes to my visit, I'll be very honest with you. I've been trying to visit Ukraine for the past three weeks. I'm in touch with Ukrainian authorities on the highest level, also from here, from the delegation. I wanted to go to Lviv, I wanted to go to Kyiv. It is still not possible. But it's not something that I control. I think you should talk to your delegation. Yes, because that's... Yeah.

Anyway, as I said, I'm ready. I requested it. What I'm going to do there also depends on the situation at that moment.

Also in relation to my talks with Ukrainian authorities in Kyiv. Of course, I would like to go to a Bucha, Borodyanka, and to meet human rights defenders, which I think is extremely important. Hopefully, this will happen very soon.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

12:44:03

Thank you.

The last question comes from Mr Andrej HUNKO from Germany, on behalf of the Group of the Unified European Left.

Mr Andrej HUNKO

Germany, UEL, Spokesperson for the group

12:44:20

Thank you very much, Madam Commissioner for Human Rights.

I would like to mention two cases that have not yet been mentioned here.

One is Julian Assange. He has been in a maximum security prison in Belmarsh for over three years in a tiny cell, in poor health. Last week the extradition was released, so to speak. This Assembly took a very strong position in January 2020 and said that this extradition must be stopped and he must be released immediately because of the precedent that he also sets. You also spoke out in a similar vein in February 2020. What is the situation, what can be done now, and what would be the next steps?

That would be perhaps also next Monday, what you have addressed. Secondly, if you could briefly go back to the case of Mr Selahattin DEMIRTAŞ, where you have made a third party intervention before the Court.

Thank you very much for the clear words on Mr Osman KAVALA, but I think we also have to remember Mr Selahattin DEMIRTAş.

Thank you very much.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

12:45:28

Madam Commissioner.

Ms Dunja MIJATOVIĆ

Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights

12:45:32

Thank you.

On Assange, you rightly stated I was very clear. I offered my view, just to mention it briefly, that Julian Assange should not be extradited to the US. My position stays the same. I communicated this to the UK government. I'm following closely the case. My team is in touch with many human rights defenders and NGOs working on this case in the UK and elsewhere. I intend to visit the UK at a certain stage. Hopefully this year. I do hope now during these several weeks we will also follow closely because there are some things happening also on the judicial level. I can assure you that this is something that will remain high on my agenda.

When it comes to Mr Demirtaş, I'm sure you are aware that I attended the Grand Chamber hearing on Demirtaş' case. I think we are putting more than enough attention to all people that are imprisoned, not just in Turkey, but in other Council of Europe member states. But sometimes, you know, I also have this feeling that we exhausted all we can do as an organisation. Then my question also remains, what else can we do in order really to make sure that this practice is not something that we are facing in the 21st century in Europe and in the Council of Europe? But that's maybe a bit of an idealistic view.

At the same time I can only assure you that we will continue following Mr Demirtaş, Mr Assange, Mr Kavala, and cases of many other people that are deprived of their liberty for unknown reasons.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

12:47:31

Thank you Madam Commissioner.

Now we will take five questions.

Do we still have time for five questions?

And then you can answer them together.

 

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

12:47:41

The next question is from Mr François CALVET, from France.

You have one minute.

Mr François CALVET

France, EPP/CD

12:47:51

Mr President, Madam Commissioner, dear colleagues,

In your report, you mention your actions regarding the fate of European nationals detained in camps in north-eastern Syria, a highly sensitive issue affecting both children's rights and national security, which is the subject of appeals pending against France before the European Court of Human Rights.

Just recently, the French Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs recalled the French principle of dealing with repatriation cases on a case-by-case basis and only for "unaccompanied minors, orphans" and "those whose mothers agree to their departure".

As Jean-Yves Le Drian pointed out, each repatriation involves operations described as "extremely dangerous". On the other hand, any return of adults has been formally ruled out.

How do you analyse this position of the French authorities, particularly in relation to the positions of other member states of our Organisation concerned by this issue?

Have your actions focused on general principles or have they led to results for certain children in particular?

Thank you very much.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

12:49:12

Thank you.

We now take the first question from Mr Ruben RUBINYAN from Armenia.

One minute.

Mr Ruben RUBINYAN

Armenia, EPP/CD

12:49:19

Thank you Madam Commissioner.

In your Annual Report there is a reference to your memorandum on the humanitarian consequences of the war in Nagorno-Karabakh.

In the document you raised concerns, among others, regarding the human rights of the Armenian prisoners of war and detainees in Azerbaijan, and called that all these captives be released without delay, as there are numerous facts that these prisoners are subjected to inhumane treatment and torture in detention.

Please inform us about your further steps regarding this matter.

Thank you.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

12:49:55

Thank you. 

I do not see Ms Thórhildur Sunna ÆVARSDÓTTIR in the room. So the next question goes to Ms Zita GURMAI from Hungary.

Ms Zita GURMAI, one minute.

Ms Zita GURMAI

Hungary, SOC

12:50:08

Sorry, I was not prepared yet.

Anyway, it is a great privilege to see you dear Commissioner, and I just wanted to make some comments on your report to talk about marginalised group minorities and people living in poverty who has a substantially increased chance to become victims of modern-day slavery and other forms of exploitation.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, data has shown that labour-related human trafficking is increasing through Europe. It also has shown these groups have a higher chance of becoming victims of sex trafficking, with children being especially endangered.

Your report highlights very well the persistence of violence against women and girls, the negative impact that 2021 had on children, on immigrants and women, and on LGBTQI people and notes that the trend undermining human rights protection have continued in 2021. Based on your report on 2021 and seeing the Declaration of Human Rights protection, how well do you think this current crisis can be managed and how well will the dangers to these refugees be prevented?

Thank you very much for your great job. Thank you.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

12:51:24

Thank you Ms Zita GURMAI.

The fourth question comes from Mr John HOWELL from the United Kingdom.

One minute.

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC/DA

12:51:31

Thank you.

Madam Commissioner, you were very clear in your attitude about Osman Kavala.

Today, the Monitoring Committee has postponed its visit to Turkey on the advice of myself, as the rapporteur for Turkey, and my colleague on that.

Is there anything more that we can do?

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

12:51:53

Thank you, Mr John HOWELL.

And the last question before I give you the floor, Madam Commissioner, comes from Mr Reinhold LOPATKA from Austria.

One minute.

Mr Reinhold LOPATKA

Austria, EPP/CD

12:52:02

Thank you.

Very briefly. In your report you mentioned some letters you sent to the Russian Federation, to the Minister of Interior or to the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation and we had more than 6 000 applications in the year 2021. Now the Russian people lost all these opportunities.

My concrete question is, what can you do in this situation for the people in Russia, for people who are fighting for human rights and for the civil society?

Thank you.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

12:52:34

Five questions, Madam Commissioner, and you have 7 minutes.

Ms Dunja MIJATOVIĆ

Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights

12:52:39

Thank you.

So the first question comes from the distinguished member of the French parliament, and it's related to Syrian camps and my call, and also third-party intervention calling for repatriation.

Of course I'm following the situation of certain steps that France, but also other member states, are doing in relation to this situation.

My point here is that these children are our children. Children are not guilty because of certain actions of their parents. People are dying in those camps as we speak. Of course I do see the reality and I do recognise how important it is to think of the security and safety of our citizens. It's absolutely a must. But the governments should find a way working with the UN, with other organisations that are trying to help, in order to repatriate these children and women.

I know that France has a stance to deal with this on a case-by-case basis. There are certain countries that are doing it differently. But it has to be done. We cannot leave them there without also the possibility to try them at the courts, at the national courts, in order to find some justice, or at least to have an attempt to serve some justice to the victims of terrorism. But leaving them there and not repatriating them can be a huge problem.

Of course I'm waiting to see the decision by the European Court of Human Rights, and I will continue raising this. But I again repeat, those children are children that should not be neglected. We should really make sure, if we talk about human rights for all, also in the cases that are controversial and sensitive we need to show humanity.

From the distinguished member of the Armenian parliament, when it comes to my memorandum, of course my first wish was to travel to Nagorno-Karabakh. I wanted to go there when the Trilateral Agreement was signed and I was also waiting to see what would happen with the UNHCR, that is the first, I mean the only, organisation that is mentioned in the Trilateral Agreement for being able to go there. I know that they are still not able to do this.

Then I decided to offer my recommendations looking at the issues of transitional justice on all these things that the Council of Europe is good at: missing persons, and many other issues that are related to this conflict.

My next steps are also working with both governments. I made several statements in relation to the issues very much related to the reconciliation, and truth, and dignity. Because this can only be done if there is respect and understanding that there is a need to move forward. I'm ready to engage with both authorities. But I can still really say that there are no signs of the possibility for the international organisations to travel in order to do their human rights work. But regardless of this, we will continue looking at all these issues and all these cases with the authorities and civil society present in both countries.

Ms Zita GURMAI, thank you for mentioning this extremely important topic. As I already said I will not elaborate too much on this today because we are still collecting information, and we are really trying to pick up, in a way, the brain of many that are engaging with this issue.

The good thing is that I think we started doing it on time. So we are not neglecting it and then addressing it later on. We have means, we have tools. But we also also need political will. We need good laws. We need politicians that are ready with the courage, with the wisdom, in order to recognise why it is important to make sure that sexual and reproductive rights are put at the highest level of their discussions.

I can only assure you that together with you, and many other members of PACE, I will continue raising it and doing everything we can. But as I said already, maybe now is the moment that we become more vocal in order to, not only vocal, but more determined to help Ukrainian women that this is also a possibility to help all others in many other Council of Europe member states.

On Kavala, what else can be done? We should not give up or give in. We should continue. I did everything I could. I have always had a very good cooperation with the Turkish authorities. I always had a very open door policy with Turkish authorities. I had a great assistance in all my visits. I even visited Mr Kavala in prison, and it was with the help of Turkish authorities.

I met the highest level of government in the country, here in Strasbourg and elsewhere. I met his family, his lawyers. I used third-party intervention before the European Court of Human Rights. I used the possibility for the execution of judgments, the so-called Rule 9. I extended all possible means and tools I have at my disposal.

Regardless, my position stays the same. We should continue engagement and we should continue working with the Turkish authorities in order to make sure that Mr Kavala and many others are freed, and there is a change of policy, or the approach. It is urgently needed. My plea would be engage, engage, engage even more.

To the distinguished members of the Austrian parliament, in relation to Russia. Yes, of course, we had to put it in our Annual Report, because those exchanges happened before expulsion of the Russian Federation from our organisation.

I can only tell you it's difficult, but when it comes to the authorities, of course, you know I do not intend, and I do not have means. Then, you know, the question will be what can I do? Because you know the mandate is clear, it is for the member states of the Council of Europe, regardless of that, there is a Committee of Ministers resolution on the Council of Europe working with the civil society of the Russian Federation.

When it comes to people in the country, it's very difficult. Of course, we can have online meetings. There are some extraordinary people. Some people that were always vocal and never accepted that Crimea is annexed, that Donbas and Luhansk are part of the Russian Federation. They still live in Moscow. Not too many, but they are there. We should not forget about them.

There are many that left and found their place of a sort of safety: many people from TV Dozhd, Novaya Gazeta, Echo of Moscow, and many other independent media that do not exist anymore in the Russian Federation. Many I met met in Prague. I know that Real News is also a place where they found a possibility to do their work, Tbilisi, Yerevan, Istanbul, and we should not forget about them.

How we will do this as the Council of Europe is still difficult to say. But what I can say is that as the Commissioner for Human Rights, of course, there is a need to continue discussions and to build bridges for the future. But we also need to be very careful that we really know that we are discussing it with people that have very clear views on what it means to live in democracy, and what it means to live in a country where human rights are respected.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

13:01:39

Thank you very much, Madam Commissioner.

And now I have to interrupt the list of speakers. There are many more who want to ask questions, but be aware, dear colleagues, that our Commissioner is very approachable, so if you have questions, advice, suggestions, her office is always open, and so take note of that.

Madam Commissioner, may I thank you very much for all the good work that you are doing. As I said before, we have elected you and I think that you deserve an applause from our side for all the good work that you are doing.

Thank you very much.

 

Colleagues, I remind you that the election for the judge to the European Court of Human Rights in respect of Ukraine is underway and it will be closed at 3.00 p.m. I invite those of you who did not yet vote to do so.

The Assembly will hold its next public sitting this afternoon at 3:30 p.m., with the agenda which was approved on Monday.

The sitting is adjourned.

The sitting is closed at 1 p.m.