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13 October 2022 afternoon

2022 - Fourth part-session Print sitting

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Opening of the sitting No 33

Current affairs debate: Threatened bans of Pride events in Council of Europe member States

Mr Antonio GUTIÉRREZ LIMONES

Spain, SOC, President of the Assembly

15:33:36

Good afternoon. 

The sitting is open.

The first item of business this afternoon is a current affairs debate on “Threatened bans of Pride events in Council of Europe member States”. 

Speaking time is limited to 3 minutes for all members except the first speaker, chosen by the Bureau, who is allowed 7 minutes.

In the debate, I call first Mr Max LUCKS.

You have 7 minutes, my friend. 

Mr Max LUCKS

Germany, SOC

15:34:20

Thank you very much, Mr President,

Ladies and gentlemen,

In 1992, the very first EuroPride took place in London. At a time when homosexual acts were still criminalized in 17 states of this present organisation. At that time, hundreds of thousands of courageous people marched through central London, in 1992. They paved the way. They paved the way for homosexual acts to be legal today in all 46 member states of this organisation. They also paved the way for this organisation to take up the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and trans people; to oppose hatred and violence.

Thirty years later, there are some who want to go back to this way. And symbolic of that is the Serbian government's handling of EuroPride, which took place in Belgrade a month ago - or not, depending on who you ask from the Serbian government.

In 2019, the Serbian government pledged support to Belgrade Pride for EuroPride. And just one month before the Pride event at the end of August, President Mr Aleksandar VUČIĆ suddenly announced that he wants to have Pride banned. He enforced this ban, flanked by a judiciary that is by no means independent. On 17 September 2022, no ordinary demonstration was allowed. The participants of the Pride march - I was there myself - were sealed off like hooligans on their way to a stadium. No one should be able to see them; that was the government's goal. A small Pride march was possible only thanks to the international community and thanks to the brave activists in Belgrade. It was a wounded parade; the government had achieved that. But it was much more than just a gathering of one concert, as the Minister of Interior and President portray it today. One thing is certain after the events of September 2022: Mr Aleksandar VUČIĆ and the Serbian government used EuroPride - and I claim in full awareness - for a political game with Europe. They have instrumentalized LGBTI. This is shabby, dangerous and unworthy of a democracy.

Dear Mr. Aleksandar VUČIĆ,

Dear Serbian government,

Lesbians, gays, bisexuals and trans people are not playthings for autocrats. They are human beings - human beings with inalienable rights protected by the European Convention on Human Rights and by the Istanbul Convention. People who, thanks to the pioneers inside, can stand here today and, like me as a young, gay man in this assembly, can stand up for the fact that your hatred, your violence, your instrumentalisation will not go unseen and will not go unchallenged.

We cannot escape the truth, dear colleagues; a backlash is going on in Europe. Populists and enemies of human rights and democracy are making use of the most vulnerable. And words turn into deeds. Just yesterday, when we think of Bratislava or the queer-hostile attack on a bar that killed two young men we commemorate today. Others were injured. In the weeks leading up to EuroPride in Belgrade, hate speech against LGBTI people was delivered by leaders of the Serbian Orthodox Church. There were attacks on Albanian LGBTI activists, two of whom were hospitalised. In Münster, in my home region in Germany, a young trans man was murdered while attending a Pride when he was standing up for others. LGBTI-free zones in Poland are nothing but an active call to hate and violence. In Montenegro, the Serbian Orthodox Church called for the first redemptive prayer for the salvation of marriage and family ahead of Pride on October 8. On July 5, 2021, Tbilisi Pride organisers are forced to cancel their demonstration in Georgia after far-right protesters stormed their offices and violently attacked journalists.

LGBTI persons are not safe in Europe. They never have been. But the civilizational progress of recent years is more clearly in question than ever. In many countries, it is only in recent years that legal marriage equality has been achieved for LGBTI persons, making legal equality a reality. Security cannot mean banning Pride. Security cannot mean that we should hide. Security must mean that we are protected by our governments when we are attacked. That the international community rallies behind us when our rights are restricted and stands up for us to be visible.

That is why I welcome the fact that the Committee of Ministers is now renewing its unique recommendations on the human rights of LGBTI persons from 2010. This is an opportunity to sharpen ECRI monitoring and improve co-operation with member states. Hate laws, hate rhetoric, water cannons and bans on Pride - this is everyday life in Europe. Autocrats think this is an expression of their strength, but it is an expression of weakness. They are afraid of LGBTI people because when LGBTI people are free, society is free.

As the Council of Europe, we are the supreme guardians of human rights. We must be the supreme guardian also of LGBTI rights. LGBTI rights are human rights and they always will be.

Thank you.

Mr Antonio GUTIÉRREZ LIMONES

Spain, SOC, President of the Assembly

15:41:48

Thank you very much, Mr Max LUCKS.

I call next Mr Paul GAVAN from Ireland.

You have 3 minutes.

Mr Paul GAVAN

Ireland, UEL, Spokesperson for the group

15:42:00

Thanks indeed, Mister Chairperson.

On behalf of the United European Left, I want to very much welcome this very timely and necessary debate. And I want to pass on my congratulations for the fine speech that Mr Max LUCKS has just made in relation to this issue.

Colleagues, every year Pride marches across the world are attended by thousands from all walks of life, celebrating equality, but also continuing to highlight discrimination, which - there is no doubt - still exists in every society.

My own country, Ireland, of course has its own history of Pride parades going back to the 1980s. While it wasn't until June 1983 before the first gay pride protest march took place, but Pride was celebrated in Dublin in many different ways from as early as June 1974.

But it's important to remember that that 1983 march was organised in response to the release of five men who brutally murdered Declan Flynn in a homophobic attack in Fairview Park in Dublin.

The march was a demand for change and was a turning point for recognising the injustices against the LGBTQ+ community.

It wasn't until 1993 when legislation was finally passed to decriminalise sexual activity between men in Ireland, but more legislation has since passed: the same-sex marriage referendum in 2015 was very successful, with 64% of Irish people voting in favour.

It was a truly proud day to be a member of the Irish nation.

And Pride continues every year in Dublin and many other towns and cities across Ireland.

Wherever they happen, they bring out the colour and beauty of a society that values diversity and acceptance.

Unfortunately, some member states of the Council of Europe are still banning Pride parades and ultimately denying the right to peaceful assembly and the right to freedom of expression.

Freedom of peaceful assembly and of expression stand at the core of a functioning democracy. Everyone should be able to enjoy their human rights equally and safely.

Yet, Türkiye has banned Pride parades for years, reflecting the increasing hard-line policies of president Erdoğan.

It's a shame because Türkiye was actually one of the first Muslim majority countries to allow Pride events and marches and now, in recent years, the events and marches have often been banned, and police have been used to disperse them.

At the latest pride parade in Istanbul in June, 373 people were detained and several people - including journalists - were attacked by the police.

Serbia has also recently banned Pride parades. LGBTQ+ groups were delighted when Belgrade was chosen over Barcelona, Dublin, and Lisbon to host EuroPride 2022. However, the Serbian president announced, a few weeks before it was due to take place, that EuroPride would have to be called off out of fear that protests would lead to violent clashes.

Case law of the European Court of Human Rights repeatedly highlights that states have the obligation to the greatest extent possible to facilitate the holding of peaceful assemblies.

We need to call out this denial of human rights, but - most importantly - these other countries must show political leadership.

We must always insist on true equality.

Mr Antonio GUTIÉRREZ LIMONES

Spain, SOC, President of the Assembly

15:45:09

Thank you, Mister Paul GAVAN.

The next speaker will be Mr Christophe LACROIX.

You have the floor, my friend.

Mr Christophe LACROIX

Belgium, SOC, Spokesperson for the group

15:45:19

Mr President, dear Antonio GUTIÉRREZ LIMONES,

I'll begin my statement, that I did not know you were going to be chairing at the moment, by recalling Antonio Banderas in La ley del deseo (The Law of Desire), a wonderful Almodóvar film, 1987, nearly 40 years ago. Banderas said: "I've received more letters insulting me for kissing a man on the lips in this film than for killing him".

And that was in 1987, but we can see that in some member states of the Council of Europe, we are still seeing that same reaction: homosexuals and LGBTQI people are viewed as not only different beings, but dangerous and more unpleasant than criminals.

We had the delegate from Europride in the LGBTI Platform, this morning, and he explained how this event had initially been authorised by the Serbian authorities, and then the presidential authorities and the Interior Ministry authorities prevented or restricted the right of people to demonstrate, and they also ended up by prohibiting the march.

I can stress that words are not enough. If the Serbian Government, Serbia, has done a lot, we have to take stock of the fact that has not been enough and they must go further. They must go further with real deeds.

I was very struck by what our colleague said this morning, when he said, "The fact that the authorities and government of the country refuse to recognise fundamental rights of LGBTI only emboldens those who are opposed to the LGBT movement". And indeed, if the events have attracted so much support in other countries, there are, nonetheless, problems in other countries. In Türkiye or in Georgia, with extreme-right movements, and in Montenegro - many countries where the Orthodox Church is mobilising and mobilising the population, galvanising crowds, as if it was a witch hunt, like in Salem.

We need to be wary. The European Court of Human Rights has said it: It is not the pride demonstrations that are the problem. Pride is not a problem; banning Pride is.

Colleagues, we are making progress, but I think the rights to freedom, assembly and speech of LGBTQI people are in danger. This debate is essential. We must continue to act with resolve, because LGBT people are first and foremost citizens who should be entitled to have their rights protected by the authorities of the country.

 

Thank you.

Mr Antonio GUTIÉRREZ LIMONES

Spain, SOC, President of the Assembly

15:48:33

Thank you, Mister Christophe LACROIX.

I call next Mr Dimitrios KAIRIDIS.

You have the floor.

Mr Dimitrios KAIRIDIS

Greece, EPP/CD, Spokesperson for the group

15:48:43

Thank you Mister Chairman.

On behalf of my political group, Group of the European People's Party, here is what I have to say on what we are discussing today about the protection of a fundamental human right, which is the right to choose who you love in dignity and in full respect with this choice.

There is no doubt that there has been enormous progress in the last years on that front and we are proud that Europe, overall, is at the forefront of that fight for this human right. But there is a lot of work to be done, there is no doubt and there are enormous gaps both generational, between younger people and older citizens of Europe and, regionally, between East and West.

Already we are told about laggards such as Türkiye or Azerbaijan, obviously Russia and Belarussia that are not members of our Council, are also very far behind but even further to the West, we have problems in Bulgaria, in Romania and obviously in Poland. We have exceptions that need to be also mentioned in a positive way such as regional outliers such as Estonia or my country, Greece.

There is no doubt that we need to do a lot more. I am really worried and we all should be really worried with this recent merge of authoritarian leaders from the East, merging their authoritarianism with a militant, homophobic hysteria that we see in places like Russia, but not only there. According to which, gay rights are about a decadent West that is there to impair the true culture and civilization of places, such as Russia. We hear this echo in Türkiye and in other countries in the Eastern part of Europe. I do not want to go into the details, everybody understands.

We have to be very clear: gay rights are fundamental human rights and Pride parades make the case that tolerance is not enough. Tolerance is not enough. We need full recognition, full respect and full celebration of the diversity of humans and the LGBTI community for an inclusive society. And an inclusive society is a society that can progress and can grow for the benefit of everybody. Both homosexual and heterosexual members. And this is where we stand.

Thank you very much.

Mr Antonio GUTIÉRREZ LIMONES

Spain, SOC, President of the Assembly

15:52:06

Thank you, Mister Dimitrios KAIRIDIS.

Our next speaker will be Mr Bob van PAREREN.

You have the floor, my friend.

Mr Bob van PAREREN

Netherlands, EC/DA, Spokesperson for the group

15:52:18

Mister Chair,

We talk today, as I look at the agenda, of a Pride event in Belgrade that is stopped by the responsible authorities.

The reason was a risk of security for as well participants as possible demonstrators.

A wise decision, unless you want a provocation from whatever side.

Whatever cultural background there is, this can happen in a city.

But the special situation is now that this issue has become a debate in the Council of Europe.

The Pride organisers have already complained about the situation at the European Union office in Brussels, with the comment that this will have a severe precedent working for remaining countries.

I haven't seen any evidence so far, but probably, that's the case, but now it appears on our agenda.

Imagine, let me tell you there are 200 000 cities, villages, communities in our 46 countries. Imagine that each moment that local authorities forbid something this fact pops up as a debate in our Council: we should have a full-time job over here with over work.

An other observation is, or better a question: is this a general matter in let say 50 000 communities?

I really doubt that, so for this local situation it is not a subject for a debate.

To comfort other groups, I want to do that certainly now, we have nothing against LGBTQ, I call them the alphabet people. As you will have heard from me, my cousin is homosexual, and I love to be with him. There is nothing going on there, but also nothing difficult there.

Let's spend our time here, in this Council of Europe, on really major subjects.

Let’s take the Ukraine demands. Anyone interested in starting a crowdfunding in their country for relief of the disaster in Ukraine? That's really what is needed. Or anyone organising political visits to Ukraine's reconquered areas in real-life support to the people of Ukraine?

Or about other human rights issues like energy poverty, inflation poverty, also issues with tremendous effects on human rights and well-being.

So, accept individual decisions from community leaders, and let us produce fewer papers and more action plans and commitments as a reminder of the call from President ZELENSKYY this morning.

Thank you, Chair.

Mr Antonio GUTIÉRREZ LIMONES

Spain, SOC, President of the Assembly

15:55:41

Thank you very much.

I next call Ms Béatrice FRESKO-ROLFO, from Monaco.

You have the floor.

Ms Béatrice FRESKO-ROLFO

Monaco, ALDE, Spokesperson for the group

15:55:51

Thank you, Mister Vice-President.

Once again, we are here to defend fundamental rights.

The ALDE Group regrets that the first organisation of EuroPride in the Balkans has been fraught with difficulties. The Group regrets the late decisions of the Serbian Government, taken in total contradiction with the first agreements which go against all the principles related to freedom of expression.

Dear Colleagues,

For your information, Pride is the result of the struggle between the police and a group of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in New York in 1969. The first one in Europe took place in 1972: it gathered 200 people in Münster. Fifty years later, some countries are still questioning the holding of these peaceful and supportive parades. Fifty years: go figure.

States have duties and responsibilities. I believe that beyond the case of Belgrade, it is the whole of the obligations of each State that we must look at. It is fundamental for the members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to ensure the freedom to assemble peacefully by prohibiting any armed and violent repression of demonstrators. Opposition to this should be seen as an infringement of the rights of every citizen.

However, there is hope. While some countries still show great intolerance against such gatherings, with many imprisonments and unjustified pressure tactics, we can rejoice that progressive countries and their parliamentarians are working for the recognition of the rights of LGBTI people.

It is unfortunate that nowadays homosexuality is still perceived by some fundamentalists as a mental illness and that conversion therapies are even prescribed against it. We have all heard at least once the absolutely inadmissible argument of protecting the conservative idea of what a family is. My dear colleagues, is it not in the interest of the child to be able to grow up loved, nourished, educated and cared for? So, let's not denigrate the abilities of same-sex couples simply because of their sexual orientation.

It's hard for me to stand for people being discriminated against in the workplace and in restaurants and being subjected to personal and global hate speech because of their sexual orientation or gender choice.

I return to the subject at hand today: Belgrade. Cowardly abandoned by Serbia's leaders less than 96 hours before the start of the event, Pride was nevertheless able to gather 10 000 participants, but with many difficulties. During this morning's hearing, we could feel that beyond the obstacles, it is above all the lack of security for the pacifist participants that was pointed out, especially against the exactions of the hooligans.

It is up to us, parliamentarians, to bring about change and build social peace by promoting inclusion and making equality a reality.

Thank you for your attention.

Mr Antonio GUTIÉRREZ LIMONES

Spain, SOC, President of the Assembly

15:58:52

Thank you, Madam Béatrice FRESKO-ROLFO.

Our next speaker will be Mr Roberto RAMPI.

You have the floor, my friend.

Mr Roberto RAMPI

Italy, SOC

15:59:00

Yes, Mister Chairman,

I felt it was my duty to speak here for several reasons, the main one being that I know people who went to Belgrade to demonstrate and who returned to their country. In this case they were not Italians, they were Albanians. They returned to their country with injuries, with beatings, because they were abandoned by the authorities, as my colleague said a few minutes ago. But also because it is a fundamental principle, that of freedom of demonstration and expression, which this Council must and wants to promote. And it struck me to have to hear a colleague close to me talk about this Belgrade Pride as if it were any of the demonstrations that you can get in any of the 47 countries.

Not so dear colleague, we are talking about the possibility of people being able to say what they believe in for their lives. And we are talking about the future of boys and girls, especially young people, who are going through a period of confusion and difficulty, of understanding, and who have to understand whether the world gives them the representation of being able to choose freely with respect to their own desires, their own needs, or whether there are some paths that are accepted by society and others that you should not go towards because otherwise, you risk someone talking behind your back, because otherwise, you risk someone not hiring you at the workplace, because otherwise, you risk someone putting their hands on you as well as talking behind your back. This is what we are talking about, and these are basic principles that are not guaranteed in our countries today.

In the Italian Senate a few months ago a law against homophobia and against the violence of homophobia was rejected by the majority with applause from the forces that govern our country today. Then democracy is not about being able to do whatever you want, democracy is about guaranteeing the rights of those who are weaker, especially the rights that are not yet guaranteed, especially the rights of minorities. And that 1992 in London was a great moment. I was my first Pride in 1996 in Rome. I was a young city councillor. I went there not because of coming out – my sexual orientation is not important – I went there as a politician because I always believed that people could freely manifest what they believed. And that event was a news story in my local newspaper.

I want a world where going to a Pride is not news because it is a normal thing and I want a world where all people feel free to manifest their sexual, religious, and political orientations quietly. Today it is not like that. Today it's not like that in Serbia. Today it's not like that in Council of Europe countries, and we have to fight for it to be like that in the future.

Thank you.

Mr Antonio GUTIÉRREZ LIMONES

Spain, SOC, President of the Assembly

16:02:03

Thank you, Mister Roberto RAMPI.

We are really going to miss you as a member of this Parliamentary Assembly.

I call next Ms Mirosława NYKIEL, from Poland.

You have the floor.

Ms Mirosława NYKIEL

Poland, EPP/CD

16:02:21

Thank you.

Mister President, Madam President, Dear Colleagues,

Freedom of assembly is one of the absolutely fundamental human rights protected under Article 11 of the European Convention of Human Rights.

I am deeply concerned about bans and creating obstacles in organising private events in Council of Europe member states.

Let me remind my colleagues on the right, I shall read the words attributed to Voltaire: "I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it".

This is the attitude we should follow in respect to freedom of assembly. This is what distinguished our western civilization from authoritarian regimes such as Russia. We respect different opinions of citizens of our countries and their right to express it.

Thank you.

Mr Antonio GUTIÉRREZ LIMONES

Spain, SOC, President of the Assembly

16:03:39

Thank you very much.

Our next speaker will be Mr Damien COTTIER, from Switzerland.

Mr Damien COTTIER

Switzerland, ALDE

16:03:47

Thank you, Mister President.

I would like to say to all those who forbid Gay Pride or LGBT Pride, to all those who say "But that's not serious, let's deal with serious things", I would like to say to them: don't be afraid. Don't be afraid! Homosexual or LGBT people are people like you, like your grandson, who simply want to live their love normally, without having to hide. That's exactly what Pride is. That's all it is.

Sometimes people ask me what Pride is for, even in today's world. It's simply a way to affirm your identity publicly and to assert your pride in being who you are, which you did not choose to be. I didn't choose to like boys: I happened to go through a long process to accept it and say it publicly, which I did four years ago and which is one of the best decisions I've made in my life, simply to live who I am. That's what Pride is: it's about going out and affirming. It's a political fight to affirm that, finally, LGBT people are like everyone else and that there is no need to make a fuss about it.

It's just, as you said very well, not tolerating, but accepting and even celebrating that diversity. I believe that this is the very purpose of our Council of Europe.

So yes, Mister Bob van PAREREN, it is important that we discuss it here. Yes, it is also important that we talk about Ukraine and that we go there. You are talking to someone who led a delegation of 10 parliamentarians from this Assembly to Kyiv, Irpin and Bucha in June of this year. We are working on it, we are talking about it a lot here, we are working on it, and we must continue to do so. This does not mean that because we are talking about Ukraine or other important issues, we should not talk about this subject, which is essential.

Because these are rights, and I thank the first speaker and all the other political groups who have reminded us that these are fundamental rights that we must defend here. The right to dignity, the right to live independently of one's sexual orientation and the right to demonstrate. The role of the authorities, when there are security problems, is not to prohibit a demonstration: it is to protect it, to make it possible to ensure this right to demonstrate throughout our continent. All these rights that I have just mentioned are enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights, of which our institution is the guarantor.

Let me tell you a story. I come from Switzerland. In the canton of Valais, in 2001, in the city of Sion, there was a Pride event which was very badly received. It caused a lot of tension, there was tension with the Church; fifteen years later, this Pride event took place in complete joy and without any problem. Mentalities are changing and last year the Swiss people voted on the proposal of the Parliament to create marriage for all in Switzerland. All the cantons, including the canton of Valais, which had resisted so much, accepted this proposal. Because the population has understood that this diversity must be celebrated, that LGBT people are people like any others and that the more demonstrations like these, the more we will succeed in creating this society that accepts and integrates, and this is the goal of our Council of Europe.

So really, don't be afraid.

Mr Antonio GUTIÉRREZ LIMONES

Spain, SOC, President of the Assembly

16:07:12

Thanks, Mister Damien COTTIER.

I call next Ms Sibel ARSLAN, from Switzerland.

You have the floor.

Ms Sibel ARSLAN

Switzerland, SOC

16:07:21

Thank you very much indeed, Mr President.

Distinguished colleagues,

The Europride event is held in a different country each year. This year it was planned for Belgrade. However, attempts were made to put pressure on the authorities and the President to prevent the event going ahead.

Why was that the case? Well, that was because conservative and religious forces prevailed with untenable arguments, such as national security. Whereas in actual fact, there have been very good experiences and peaceful events in recent years, that go to show that there is no grounds whatsoever for these kinds of concerns.

Rather, trying to interfere and violate fundamental human rights, in particular the right to equality, freedom of expression and assembly, is intolerable. And that is why we have adopted a resolution on tackling increasing hate against LGBTIQ+ people in Europe, in order to make clear that we will not tolerate any curtailment of the rights of our fellow citizens.

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is precisely in those countries that have not yet properly provided constitutional protection for the rights of minorities that we need this kind of public presence. We have to make sure that the rights of the LGBTQI community, which are universal human rights, apply everywhere, without exception. And as Mr Damien COTTIER said, the Pride events in Switzerland are a big party, and those events are supported by the authorities and are protected by our security or law enforcement services. And that was possible in earlier peaceful demonstrations in Belgrade. And that is why the situation is so worrisome, because all curtailments of human rights are a concern for us, because democracy and human rights do not stop at national borders. And that is why I am so worried that there are more right-wing extreme forces in politics.

Europride will be held in Malta next year, and my hope is that Malta will be exemplary and show that all colours have their place in society and that we will accept the rights of our minorities - that makes us strong.

Mr Antonio GUTIÉRREZ LIMONES

Spain, SOC, President of the Assembly

16:10:51

Thank you, Madam Annicka ENGBLOM.

Our next speaker will be Mr Domagoj HAJDUKOVIĆ, from Croatia.

You have...

I'm sorry.

Ms Annicka ENGBLOM

Sweden, EPP/CD

16:11:09

Thank you very much, Mister Chair.

First of all, thanks to the initiator of this debate Max [Mr Max LUCKS], if I may call you. I'm, being a Swede, I'm being informal.

I have high hopes for this Assembly, for you bringing this matter up. I urge you to constantly bring this matter up. Because as the right for democracy, it needs constant debate and constant struggle.

This is a fundamental right. The right to love whoever you want.

I was brought up like this. This has never been an issue in my life. Just as you have your own opinions about religion or politics and ideology, this is a really fundamental right, because this is also so personal.

Now, as I said, I'm from Sweden, I could be used to standing here to say what's the problem. We have problems in all the countries, and it goes back and forth.

Globally, these issues are actually moving in a positive way when it comes to legislation, for the instance of more and more countries imposing same-sex marriages, for instance.

At the same time, just at our back door, here in Europe, it's backsliding. Belgrade is a very good example of it.

The first Pride demonstrations in Sweden took place in 1971, two years after the ones of London, the first Pride festival in Great Britain.

One of the signs, translated into English, said "knowledge erases prejudice". That is still the key issue today. It's prejudice, it's ignorance about these issues, kidnapped for political, whether it's political, religious or cultural issues, and ignorance, not knowing what these fundamental rights are.

Remember the 80s, for instance, when AIDS was in the headlines, and people spread fears that even if you touched someone who had AIDS... Everyone in the gay community, of course, had AIDS. That was the perception. That is ignorance. Ignorance is still there today and it has to be fought for every day.

I have close friends, family members, who are gay, transsexual, who have changed sex. For me this isn't and issue, and for most Swedes not. It's backsliding there in some communities as well. But what we should do, is looking at 2027, because that is up for grabs for EuroPride, to hold it again in the Western Balkans. Because then, perhaps, the time is right.

Thank you again, Mr Max LUCKS, for this initiative.

Mr Antonio GUTIÉRREZ LIMONES

Spain, SOC, President of the Assembly

16:14:25

Thank you very much, Madam Annicka ENGBLOM.

That concludes the list of speakers, but as we have more time. I am sorry. 

Mister Domagoj HAJDUKOVIĆ, you have the floor, I am sorry. I missed you before Madam Annicka.

Mr Domagoj HAJDUKOVIĆ

Croatia, SOC

16:14:48

Thank you very much.

Dear Colleagues,

Often when we talk in this hemicycle, we talk about the values of our institution and let me just quickly remind you what those are: democracy, rule of law, and indeed, human rights. When we talk about human rights, what about the right to love, the right to be loved and the right to express love?

It is time to sincerely ask ourselves what kind of society are we if we forbid love. Is there a future for such a society? I would say no. Now, the rhetoric we keep hearing from the more conservative circles is that "yeah, we accept that LGBTI people exist," "yeah, this is very fine and you are very nice people" but they say, and pardon me because this is a literal translation from Croatian, "keep it inside your four walls".

But I ask you, what kind of life is that? That is the prison without bars where you cannot freely be what you are. Is that a life worth living? Is that in the interest of our governments to force people to live such an unlife?

Unfortunately, I am saddened and disappointed to hear some of the debates here. Dear colleagues, dear ladies and gentlemen, we are not alphabet people. We are people full stop. Having said that, when human rights are concerned there can be no compromises. Not for this institution, not for everything we have achieved in over 70 years of existence. This is why I am proud to be here and to tell you this but saddened at the same time that I have to repeat it.

I would be most happy if this debate never had to take place, for we are forbidding one fundamental right and that is the right to peaceful assembly. I ask you who was threatened by people in Belgrade or in Türkiye or any other country? Was somebody damaged? Was property damaged? No. They were just expressing their love and by coincidence, they love the same sex but this is completely irrelevant to our discussion.

I am also a bit frustrated as to how many times you have to say that being a member of the LGBTI community is not a matter of choice. We have not chosen to be the way we are, full stop. If we were created by God like that, if you wish.

In the end, let me conclude with a Latin proverb that says Amor omnia vincit – love conquers all. In the end, love will conquer Europe, I am sure, but it is still a long and thorny road.

Mr Antonio GUTIÉRREZ LIMONES

Spain, SOC, President of the Assembly

16:17:59

Thank you very much. As I said, with this speaker that concludes the list.

As we have more time, does anybody else wish to speak?

Yes. Mister Gonzalo ROBLES, you have the floor.

Mr Gonzalo ROBLES

Spain, EPP/CD

16:18:27

Thank you, President.

As I have the opportunity to do it, and I haven't had a chance to write that speech, I'll take this opportunity to thank you, Max, for that outstanding report which allows us to discuss this important issue.

Such issues shouldn't be kept in private.

These are fundamental issues: the rights of individuals, the rights to be who we are and this is a forum for it. As all those who have spoken have said, that's the general sentiment in this Chamber. This is the Chamber for human rights and individual rights. If we can't talk about individual human rights here, then I don't know where we can.

This is not an issue of cities or the question of traffic in the streets or the sewage. It's the people who live in those times and cities, who live throughout Europe. We're not just talking about times and cities. We're talking about what is happening to each and everyone living on this continent. People who are inhabitants of the continent of Europe.

I think it's a very timely and brilliant initiative, and I don't think we should lose sight of the fact that when you win rights, you have to protect them subsequently so that there's no backsliding.

Very often, unfortunately, as we've been seeing, there has been backsliding, backpedalling. So, we need to be vigilant and not just take something that has happened as taken for granted.

Whose problem is it that people just want to be the way they are and be different? That is the very nature of the difference of human beings. You have to recognise difference in a plural, diverse society. You have to recognise people wanting to be who they are. We need to be vigilant in the future to make sure that there is no recurrence of what has happened in this case.

It's not just what happened in Belgrade that matters. It's also the risk of it happening again.

We cannot allow for backpedalling on such a critical issue: being who we really are.

People now have to carry a banner. Previous generations who may not have had those rights now can exercise those rights. Out of respect for those who got us here and for those who are not lucky enough to be who they are and be able to be, we need to keep that flame alive.

There's nothing more important than being comfortable with oneself and being accepted in society as such.

It's not a case of just turning up in a theatre or avoiding noise, the important thing is to be able to do those things with the people we want to do those things with.

We need to ensure that's protected so that these problems don't recur in the future.

Mr Antonio GUTIÉRREZ LIMONES

Spain, SOC, President of the Assembly

16:21:17

Thank you, Mister Gonzalo ROBLES.

Then I call next Ms Nerea AHEDO.

You have the floor.

Ms Nerea AHEDO

Spain, ALDE

16:21:30

Thank you very much.

The fact of the matter is, that I'm not going to say anything new. But it struck me as important that this Chamber knows that there are many of us who are supportive, because of course, the LGBTI+ community has problems. There is discrimination in many areas, something that is unacceptable in my view.

That is why it is important we take preventive measures in some areas if there are certain quarters that think that certain communities are dangerous, then that is discrimination and that must not be tolerated.

For example, would there have been a problem if it had been the Scouts? I don't think so. You know, for sure some of those Scouts could have been homosexual.

No one should be discrimated against on the basis of their sexual orientation.

The right to demonstrate and the right to have this kind of festive political event is a right that we must safeguard. It is important, therefore, that the LGBTI community have equal rights. If they genuinely did, they perhaps would not need to demonstrate in this way.

Again, something else that has already been said but I think bears repetition is that I don't have any problem. Being homosexual isn't something contagious. Rather, people should be what they are and who they are. I think that the slogan live and let live is extremely important.

If we have respect for that principle, if we just live and let live, we will all be better off. We have to be equal in our diversity. The problem arises when we are not treated as equals.

Thank you.

Mr Antonio GUTIÉRREZ LIMONES

Spain, SOC, President of the Assembly

16:23:54

Thank you, Madam Nerea AHEDO. [in Spanish].

Our next speaker, our last speaker, will be Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN.

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC

16:24:10

Dear colleagues,

We have had here very tough discussions this week looking at heavy political issues and controversies in the world. And today, we are actually just now, discussing a totally different type of issue where we are looking the human being from inside, issues related to our senses and also principal values which we are carrying like tolerance and acceptance of differences in life.

Usually when you are assessing this double situation, political conclusions, I would almost say the best possible way is to study inside yourself. And I will now do it openly with you. A little bit on my own growing up process in these issues. I remember very well 25 years ago –  a quarter of a century ago – in Finland, in parliament, we had a discussion: should we register homosexual relations in the similar way like we are registering marriages. My instinct inside said no. I am feeling very strongly, maybe even a little bit homophobistic attitude but my instinct said that in terms of reproduction of life that happens in the process of heterosexual relations and that is why I do not want to put the homosexual relations parallel to heterosexual relations and they should be looked at in different ways. That was very deeply in side myself, that attitude, and I was quite outspoken of that a quarter of a century ago. I remember even arguing that in the parliament very clearly and I am a social democratic by my background and very many said that "how can you take that type of conservative attitude, etc., etc." "How it is possible that you can do that one?". And I tried to defend my argument.

I got a letter from my son and I read it in the parliament when this issue was done and he wrote to me and actually read the letter of my son. He wrote, "Father, you are frequently speaking about love and positive energies and I am so happy that this type of person like you are already old enough generations that you will pass away and we can create a better word in terms of more tolerance. It is not your matter. You are speaking about love but it is not your matter to decide how other people are loving. Allow them to love by their ways and you love your own way," exactly that way. I read that one statement in the parliament and I said I will vote for this allowing homosexuals to register. I am so very proud of this community here that we are agreeing that we should tolerate others.

Let us love each other in the way we can do it, in the best way that is most natural for us.

Thank you.

Mr Antonio GUTIÉRREZ LIMONES

Spain, SOC, President of the Assembly

16:27:20

Thank you, Mister Kimmo KILJUNEN.

Dear Colleagues,

I remind you that at the end of the Current Affairs debate, the Assembly is not asked to decide upon a text, but the matter may be referred by the Bureau to the responsible committee for a report.

Thank you very much.

Debate: The impact of Brexit on human rights on the island of Ireland

Mr Mihail POPSOI

Republic of Moldova, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

16:29:41

Dear Colleagues,

The next item of business this morning is the debate on the Report titled “The impact of Brexit on human rights on the island of Ireland” (Doc. 15615) presented by Mr George KATROUGALOS on behalf of the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy.

In order to allow time for the other debates this afternoon, we must interrupt the list of speakers at about 5:05 p.m. to allow time for the reply and the vote. Are these arrangements agreed to?

I see no objections.

These arrangements are agreed to.

I call Mr George KATROUGALOS, rapporteur. You have 7 minutes now, and 5 minutes to reply at the end of the debate.

 

Mr George KATROUGALOS

Greece, UEL, Rapporteur

16:30:28

Many thanks, Mister Chair.

As you can imagine this issue, the impact of Brexit on the human rights and the island of Ireland is one of the most important political issues both in Ireland itself and in Northern Ireland.

I tried to investigate not just the political arguments, but through my travelling both to Dublin and Belfast and later on in London, to try to understand also the fears and the concerns, not just of politicians but of ordinary people. And I had a chance to meet NGOs and I had the invaluable help of Mr Elia Boggia from the Secretariat. And also I have been in full discussion with the political representatives of four political parties in Ireland, most political parties in Northern Ireland, the UUP did not accept to discuss with me. And unfortunately I did not have the chance to discuss with the representatives of the British government, although I tried to initiate some channels of communication asking even for teleconference if this was possible.

These are the findings hugely endorsed in almost unanimity by the political committee.

The Good Friday agreement ended three decades of conflict in Northern Ireland and it had as a postulate that both UK and Ireland have been partners in the European Union.

The United Kingdoms withdrawal has shaken this delicate balance created by the peace process and now threatens the common human rights space previously shared by all people in the island.

While the Northern Ireland protocol was introduced to limit the consequences of Brexit and especially avoid a hard border, and although it has had an overall positive economic effect on Northern Ireland, the latest rhetoric by some sides of the political spectrum has been divisive.

Although polls repeatedly saw that the protocol is not the primary concern for the population. Although trade is not the basic problem in the island, yet the protocol is used as a pretext to hold the public institutions as hostage.

The third governance provided in the Good Friday agreement cannot function because the main unionist party refuses to collaborate with the government according to the provisions of the Good Friday agreement.

And we have some very worrisome unilateral initiatives by the United Kingdom.

At the level of the trade negotiations with the European Union, we had the introduction of a bill on the 13 June 2022 which unilaterally changes core elements of the protocol.

The European Union described it as a clear breach of international law. And this move risks further destabilising this delicate post-Brexit situation. Especially Article 2 of the protocol, which guarantees the non-diminution of rights as a result of the Brexit, should be safeguarded at all cost.

Then we had the introduction by the British government, on the 22 June of 2022, of a bill to overhaul the 1998 Human Rights Act. Recently, the new Truss government has withdrawn this bill, but only temporarily.

So, any further act towards the modification of the Human Rights Act risks to further destabilise the situation. Exactly if it's going to add hurdles for those seeking redress in courts, having as a basis the European Convention of Human Rights.

There are other worrisome facts.

More than two decades after the Good Friday agreement, we had a failure to properly and thoroughly address the legacy of the Troubles.

UK has passed a related bill on the Northern Ireland Troubles, the so-called Legacy and Reconciliation Bill, but without thorough discussion and consultation neither with the government of Ireland nor with the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission.

And there are serious concerns about the compatibility of this bill with the European Convention of Human Rights.

In concluding, the implementation of the Good Friday agreement must be an utmost priority not just for the parts involved – the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland – but also for us all.

Parties should seek in a constructive spirit practical solutions in order to ensure the smooth and official implementation of the protocol. Especially the UK should avoid any unilateral acts, it should reconsider it's current proposal to repeal the Human Rights Act, and we should all of us continue to support ways of making Northern Ireland institutions more stable and more resistant to political turbulence.

Many thanks, Mister Chairman.

Mr Mihail POPSOI

Republic of Moldova, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

16:36:49

Thank you, Mister Rapporteur.

Now I call first in the debate, on behalf of the Socialists, Democrats and Greens Group, Lord Leslie GRIFFITHS, please.

Lord Leslie GRIFFITHS

United Kingdom, SOC, Spokesperson for the group

16:37:01

Chair and Colleagues,

Four out of the five people speaking for political groups, and six out of twelve on the rest of the list, have direct involvement in the events we are discussing.

I would be surprised if any of them, whichever part of the political spectrum they come from, would disagree with the fact that we must safeguard the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement at all costs.

Nothing to discuss there. It's pure speculation to suppose that any one of us would allow that to happen.

In the course of this week whilst we've been here in Strasbourg, there's been a debate, a second reading of a bill in the House of Lords about the Northern Ireland protocol.

I've read the report of that, and whilst again, there's a proper divergence of views about that... Although let it be said, quite a number of the views cross party lines. There seems to be an emerging consensus that the bill has proposed, that would put into law the imposition of the protocol, is not timely, that there are discussions going on, negotiations.

Everybody agrees that negotiations represent the secret of the moment. One commentator, one contributor to the debate, suggested that to pass this bill at this moment, I don't argue about whether it needs to be passed at another time or not, but to pass it up this moment would be to hold a sword of Damocles over the head of those who are conducting negotiations. Sensitive negotiation.s

We heard from the President of Ireland, early this week, how ready the Republic is, and indeed how active it is in the negotiation process.

I don't want a report from this body to be a sword of Damocles that stands over the sword of Damocles and makes a kind of double obstacle that might quell, qualify, or in some way affect delicate negotiations that are going on now.

Therefore, it is my hope that when we come to the conclusion of this debate we will hear the views, we will respect the work that has been done, but perhaps we will ask with full respect that it be resubmitted to the Committee for further consideration. This would be not a timely moment for this to implode on a world that is so delicately poised right now.

Mr Mihail POPSOI

Republic of Moldova, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

16:39:56

Thank you.

Next on behalf of the Group of the European People's Party, I call upon Mr Ionuț-Marian STROE.

Please sir, you have the floor.

Mr Ionuț-Marian STROE

Romania, EPP/CD, Spokesperson for the group

16:40:05

Thank you, Mister Chair.

Dear Colleagues,

I'd like to begin by thanking the rapporteur for authoring this very important text. The resulting report is a very balanced one and could be the basis for a rational, mutually beneficial, solution to the issue.

We all know the situation in the Northern Ireland, and it has been quite fragile for the decades now. But since the Good Friday Agreement, which ended the violence of The Troubles, a delicate peace was established.

However, the consequences of Brexit on the tentative balance created by the process can be very harsh on the human rights that all people of the island previously enjoyed.

I would like to address the issue related to the Northern Ireland Troubles Bill introduced by the UK government this year, and express our full support of the Committee of Ministers' decision to ask for additional information from the UK authorities on the compliance of the bill with the European Convention on Human Rights.

There are serious concerns related to the compatibility of this bill and the Convention. We believe above anything else, that the victims deserve justice.

I remind you that according to this bill, eligible perpetrators could be granted immunity if they help shed light on the events of the past. This has, of course, the potential to create a two-tier justice system in the UK and to further hurt the victims and the families by preventing them from seeking justice.

Let us not forget that England is the country that gave the world the Magna Carta, symbol of the supreme power of the law and of holding power accountable. We must continue, from my point of view, in that spirit.

Furthermore, the lack of progress in implementing some of the human rights provisions of the Good Friday Agreement, such as the establishment of a Northern Ireland bill of rights, remains an outstanding issue that could be also addressed.

We call for responsibility and moderation on both sides. I'm sure that some of my colleagues here remember the violence before the Good Friday Agreement, and have seen its tragic consequences first hand.

We, the members of the Group of the European People's Party, are fully committed to offering any help or assistance that the parties deem necessary, and hope that European standards and the best practices will be used in dealing with this issue.

Thank you very much.

Mr Mihail POPSOI

Republic of Moldova, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

16:43:03

Thank you, Mister Ionuț-Marian STROE.

Next in the debate, I call upon on behalf of the European Conservatives Group and Democratic Alliance, Mister Ian PAISLEY, from the United Kingdom.

Please sir, you have the floor.

Mr Ian PAISLEY

United Kingdom, EC/DA, Spokesperson for the group

16:43:15

Thank you Mister Chairman for calling me in this debate.

May I start with a factual statement, something which may come as a surprise to the rapporteur given that his report so bereft of basic facts about human rights in Northern Ireland. There has been no reversal of human rights in Northern Ireland. That is a fact. The European Convention was enshrined in Northern Ireland law in Section 6 and Section 24 of the 1998 Northern Ireland Act, something which this lawyer appeared not to have read. It is not dependent on provisions of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Act or membership of the EU. It is already enshrined in our law.

And in addition, there is no absolute commitment for either a Bill of Rights or to a Bill of Rights in the Belfast Agreement or in a New Decade, New Approach agreement. Those facts the rapporteur should have acquainted himself with before he wrote this report.

This report does a gross disservice, actually, to this Council because it is so bereft of basic facts. The rapporteur permitted his narrow perspective to call out the key issues that he should have been engaged in. It is so blatantly anti-unionist and anti-British in many of its components that it will be seen as not having a basis of fact within it.

Now he has already attacked the Protocol Bill that is going through the United Kingdom's parliament and pushed by His Majesty's government – that Bill had over 80 of a majority when it went through the parliament – and yet he wishes to dismiss it with one hand as if it is a non-event and something which we can ignore. It cannot be ignored and the arrogance of ignoring it means that this problem will continue.

The rapporteur did not speak to one single unionist when he drew up his report. He cannot name one single unionist. And I go further, the Northern Ireland Committee, which meets in the Northern Ireland Assembly dealing with justice issues has produced a letter saying that he did not meet with any of their key members, not the Alliance member, not the SDLP member, not the Unionist member, not the Democratic Unionist member. So he has misrepresented to this Chamber in a scarless way the fact that he failed, he failed, he failed to talk to unionists and he ought to have talked to unionists about this.

He will not solve the problem if he does not talk to the other side. It is a little bit of wonder, the partitioned island of Cyprus has such problems if that is the mentality brought to trying to solve those types of problems. No, this protocol has cost Northern Ireland millions of pounds a day. It adds 27% to the cost of consumers in Northern Ireland and this report is a gross disservice to trying to resolve the problems that it has brought to the people of Northern Ireland. It is waste paper and should be treated as such.

Mr Mihail POPSOI

Republic of Moldova, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

16:46:30

Next, on behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, Ms Fiona O'LOUGHLIN.

Please, Madam, you have the floor.

Ms Fiona O'LOUGHLIN

Ireland, ALDE, Spokesperson for the group

16:46:38

Thank you very much, Mister Chair.

I wish to acknowledge the report by the rapporteur. I think that he makes a valid assertion that breaks... it has reignited tensions in Northern Ireland. I think we just have had an example of that there. It is furthering political division and contributing significantly to the perils of devolved institution.

It places particular blame on divisive post-Brexit narratives, particularly surrounding the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol.

There is no doubt that Brexit has posed many challenges for Ireland, and indeed, for our bilateral relations with the United Kingdom.

Ongoing issues have damaged trust, and we need to repair it. It's fundamentally important for Ireland to work to have a strong and constructive relationship with the UK as neighbours, as trading partners, and as co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement.

Our bilateral trade with Britain is worth in excess of one billion euros every week. Close co‑operation into the future remains clearly in the interests of all of our citizens. Unfortunately, recent unilateral developments from the British government have not helped.

The protocol, which is key to avoiding a hard border, is the joint EU-UK solution to mitigate the disruption that Brexit causes for businesses on the island of Ireland. It is a matter of profound regret that the EU-UK talks on the implementation of the protocol have stalled since last February.

The UK government have not engaged with the EU since that time, and instead published legislation, the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, in June 2022, which would, if enacted, dis-apply core elements of the protocol which was in line with the historic internationally negotiated Good Friday Agreement which brought a very welcome peace to the island of Ireland.

The EU has been clear that it remains open to dialogue and finding joint solutions to the issues of concern within the framework of the protocol.

The EU has acted in good faith. We now need a good faith response from the United Kingdom.

Most people and businesses in Northern Ireland do not support this unilateral action. The Northern Ireland business community has called for certainty and stability, and stressed that this requires a negotiated settlement.

The ongoing operation of the long-standing Common Travel Area arrangement is of particular importance post-Brexit, in terms of the ways that people live on the island of Ireland. The continued operation of CTA allows Irish and British citizens to move freely, and reside in either jurisdiction, and enjoy associated rights and entitlements including access to employment, healthcare, education, social benefits and the right to vote in certain elections.

The new ETA requirement would have serious implications for the daily lives and livelihoods of the island.

Just my final comment to make, Chair, is that I support the report's call on the UK to reaffirm its commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights as a means of protecting the Good Friday Agreement. I totally support and echo that call.

Go raibh maith agat. [Thank you. in Irish]

Mr Mihail POPSOI

Republic of Moldova, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

16:50:37

Next, on behalf of the Group of the Unified European Left, Mr Paul GAVAN, from Ireland.

Please have the floor.

Mr Paul GAVAN

Ireland, UEL, Spokesperson for the group

16:50:47

Thanks indeed, Mister Chairperson.

On behalf of the United European Left, I want to warmly welcome this report and indeed congratulate the rapporteur.

This report is both timely and crucial because today this assembly gets the opportunity to send a clear and hopefully united message to the British government regarding the absolute need to respect human rights, respect the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights, protect the Good Friday agreements, and refrain from taking unilateral action.

As the rapporteur points out, the Irish protocol was introduced to limit the consequences of Brexit and avoid a return to a hard border. It is entirely unacceptable for the British government to disregard its obligations under the Good Friday agreement and to pursue a unilateral policy to change core elements of the protocol.

It's also a clear breach of international law.

The British protocol bill should be shelved.

And I would remind our British colleagues that the people of the North of Ireland did not vote for Brexit. So, it is entirely appropriate that this report calls for the smooth and efficient implementation of the protocol.

I do welcome the fact that the new British prime minister has called at least a temporary halt to the so-called Human Rights Bill, which was a source of both national and international embarrassment for the British government.

And I do want to recognise the British colleagues who roundly condemned the racist and anti-human rights agenda behind that bill in this assembly in June, along with myself and many others.

What the North of Ireland needs is the long-promised Bill of Rights, not attempts to water down the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights.

I also want to welcome the serious concerns expressed over the British government's Legacy Bill, which would - uniquely in this world and against all principles of domestic and international law - close down all routes to justice for people bereaved in the conflict.

I want to be clear that there is not one single political party in Ireland, including Mr Paisley's party, North or South, who supports this appalling bill, which, again, constitutes a breach of the Good Friday agreement.

Families have been waiting as long as 40 years for justice and I'll quote the powerful message of Natasha Butler from the Time for Truth Campaign to the British government. She said: "We are not invisible, and you are not invincible. The trauma and burden of bereaved families fighting for justice must end now and not pass to yet another generation."

Finally, I want to highlight that a much bigger conversation is well underway in Ireland, and that conversation is about Irish unity.

Just two weeks ago, 5,000 people gathered in Dublin to discuss what a new and united Ireland might look like.

Last night in Belfast, the People's Assembly was packed to the rafters with over 400 people there to discuss constitutional change.

There's no doubt in my mind that, in line with the Good Friday agreement, there will be referendums on Irish unity in the coming decade. In this regard, the idea of an all-island civil initiative, a citizens assembly makes good sense and should be taken forward by the Irish government as part of this broader conversation.

Again, I congratulate the rapporteur and I ask all delegates to support this vital report.

Mr Mihail POPSOI

Republic of Moldova, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

16:53:59

Thank you.

Now we are going to proceed to the speakers list.

First on the list is Lord George FOULKES, form the United Kingdom.

Please, sir, you have the floor.

Lord George FOULKES

United Kingdom, SOC

16:54:10

Mister President,

As some of my colleagues here, not least Mr John HOWELL, our delegation leader, will confirm, I don't need any encouragement to attack the Tory government in the United Kingdom.

I will tell you there are many opportunities at present to attack them. Not least from any budget that we have at the moment, which is total chaos, and of course Brexit, all of Brexit, which has been a disaster, a total disaster in the United Kingdom.

That's why I'm against the Northern Ireland protocol bill.

The Northern Ireland protocol bill will undermine the delicate balanced agreement that Tony Blair negotiated so successfully.

Can I say to the rapporteur and to the Chair of the Committee, there can be no doubt about it. I'm against, unlike Mr Ian PAISLEY, I'm against the Northern Ireland protocol bill.

But this report is misguided because it's based on a misunderstanding. The misunderstanding, Mr George KATROUGALOS, you said in your speech, and I listened very carefully to it, you said this bill has been passed by the United Kingdom Parliament. It hasn't. It has gone through the House of Commons. But can I remind you there are two Chambers in the UK Parliament.

It had its second reading, as Lord Leslie GRIFFITHS said, on Tuesday in the House of Lords. And on 25 October 2022, I'm going to be in London to vote against the Northern Ireland protocol bill along with Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, cross ventures, and all my Labour colleagues. That bill is going to be killed, but it's not going to be killed here, it's going to be killed where it should be, and that is in the United Kingdom Parliament.

I think, Mr George KATROUGALOS and Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN, if you press ahead with this, you could undermine our position in arguing the case over the next two weeks in the United Kingdom.

You really could, so can I join with Lord Leslie GRIFFITHS and say, no disrespect to Ms Fiona O'LOUGHLIN, don't support Ms Fiona O'LOUGHLIN, and don't support Mr Ian PAISLEY on this. They're both wrong. They're both wrong. Support what Lord Leslie GRIFFITHS and I said, and hold it. Hold your fire and let us make the decision in the Parliament of the United Kingdom, to smash this bill, to kill this bill.

Mr Mihail POPSOI

Republic of Moldova, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

16:56:36

Thank you.

Next on the speaker's list is Mr Alain MILON.

Mr Alain MILON

France, EPP/CD

16:56:44

Thank you, Mister President.

I would like to thank our colleague Mr George KATROUGALOS for the quality of his report, which forcefully and rightly calls for respecting the Good Friday Agreement in order to preserve peace on the island of Ireland.

The Brexit was a shock for the European Union. That is obvious. As with many divorces, the negotiations were long and complex. But if there is one point that has received particular attention, it is that of Ireland, which has given rise to a special protocol of the utmost importance.

While the integrity of the Union's internal market has obviously given rise to discussion, it is the preservation of peace that is at stake here. The period of the Troubles is still recent and the fragility of the balance is evident. The political tensions that emerged in Northern Ireland following the last elections are symptomatic in this respect. The stalemate in the Northern Ireland executive and the virulent speeches are reminiscent of dark times.

The previous British Prime Minister's attitude fanned the flames. I am now pleased to hear Irish officials say that relations with the new Prime Minister are looking up.

However, our colleague's report highlights some very clear issues, linked to the so-called Bill of Rights, which would create additional obstacles for those seeking redress in the courts and would call into question the role of the European Court of Human Rights. We debated this during the last part-session and I regret this fundamental undermining of the European Court of Human Rights. Another major issue is the bill introduced by the British Government on 13 June, which aims to unilaterally amend essential elements of the Protocol. The bill has been described by the European Commission as a clear violation of international law and risks further destabilising the situation on the island. I, therefore, want to remind the United Kingdom to respect its signature and its international commitments.

Peace is too important an objective to take the risk of petty political manipulation. The Good Friday Agreement is and must remain an absolute priority.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

16:59:19

Thank you very much. 

We now continue with our speaker's list.

Lord Richard KEEN from the United Kingdom is now given the floor.

You are not there, so we continue [with the next speaker - in French]. 

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

16:59:34

The next speaker is Ms Stéphanie KOCHERT, from France.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

16:59:43

Then we go to Mr Geraint DAVIES, from the United Kingdom.

Geraint, you have the floor, and you are there.

Mr Geraint DAVIES

United Kingdom, SOC

16:59:53

Yes, I am here and, obviously, this is a very sensitive issue in the United Kingdom and, like many others in the United Kingdom, and the majority of people now in the United Kingdom who think that Brexit is a bit of a disaster economically, politically, and in terms of foreign affairs. But that is where we are, and we are trying to move forward.

The situation in Northern Ireland on the vote on Brexit was that the vote was in favour of staying in the EU by 4 to 3 – 56% to 44%. And in the UK, of course, we narrowly decided to go forward with Brexit. So, it does not seem unreasonable for Northern Ireland to stay in the single market whilst being not formally in the EU. And in fact, many of us argue that the Brexit deal should have been a Soft Brexit, with the UK remaining in the single market and in the customs union. And in fact, being in the single market, which is what the Protocol is about, means that there has been higher growth in Northern Ireland than in other parts of the UK, which has so badly suffered from Brexit separatism.

And also, of course, it stops the hard border. It is all very well people saying, "We will not have a hard border" and "We will not be part of the single market", but the EU single market will be protected by the EU, so there would be. And that, in turn, will undermine the Good Friday Agreement.

And what is more, the UK did agree to the Protocol, and it is now in the midst of breaking international law and multinationalism, so breaking the Protocol. Obviously, I agree that we should be very sensitive about and negotiating and all the sensitivities and the like, but breaking the protocol, in essence, means the Northern Ireland economy will be weaker, we would have broken international law, and we would have undermined the Good Friday Agreement. And that is why, of course, the Americans do not want to do a trade deal with the UK, because they can see the sort of running around saying "we know what's best" and causing problems.

Now, my colleague Mr Ian PAISLEY behind me from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) obviously, he campaigned to leave the EU, but at the same time, obviously, he supports the Good Friday Agreement. But there is – he has got to agree – there is this tension, that if we do not have a free border in the island of Ireland, which has allowed and has enabled the peace process to move forward being in the EU, then there is a problem. And a hard border will make it worse, and the protocol is to prevent that hard border. The EU must protect its own borders. It cannot have the UK agreeing on all sorts of trade agreements with worse standards because it is weaker negotiating with the rest of the world because we are not part of team EU. We get substandard goods in and in the back door through Northern Ireland into the UK. That would be unnecessary, and I very much hope the future Labour government will press for greater economic convergence with the EU again, so that we have a situation where these problems will not emerge, and we can rejoin the single market and some of these problems will disappear with that. In the meantime, it is critically important that the European Convention of Human Rights is respected, and international law is too.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

17:03:09

Thank you, Mister Geraint DAVIES.

The next speaker on our list is Ms Jane STEVENSON, from the United Kingdom.

You have the floor.

Ms Jane STEVENSON

United Kingdom, EC/DA

17:03:19

Thank you, Mister President.

I didn't expect to get in, so I'm delighted to get the chance to speak.

As the daughter of an English Protestant mother, and a northern Irish Catholic father, I am only too aware of the fragility of the situation in Northern Ireland and I am old enough to have lived through a good chunk of The Troubles.

Certainly, I agree with the principle that I think all colleagues have agreed: that the Good Friday Agreement needs to be absolutely upheld and respected.

I am going to try to remain polite and constructive in my response to this motion, but I'm afraid I'm really disappointed in it on many levels.

It is so one-sided and it just reads like a condemnation of the British people's decision to leave the European Union.

I come to this Parliament as somebody who has believed not in the EU, I've been believing in Brexit since I was an A-level politics student, which was some years ago.

But I wholeheartedly believe in co-operation with European neighbours in the spirit of our continent coming together.

This report is I think one-sided but also ill judged and ill-timed. I think many colleagues have said this. Negotiations at that the moment are extremely sensitive, the British government does want to come to a negotiated settlement. There are problems being caused by the implementation of the protocol that we need to overcome.

This motion at this time does nothing to help. You've heard voices, certainly from the United Kingdom, from people I disagree with on almost everything politically, but we all say this is not the moment for this motion.

The Northern Ireland protocol had at its heart the maintenance of the Good Friday Agreement. It was not a destination, it was there to be worked out over the coming years how it works in practice for the people on both sides of the Irish border. So I do not welcome this report. I will be voting against it and I hope the timing of this can be rethought.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

17:05:41

The next speaker is Mr Bertrand BOUYX, from France.

Mister BOUYX, you have the floor.

Mr Bertrand BOUYX

France, ALDE

17:05:52

Thank you, Mister President.

It is as a French neighbour and even as a Norman that I speak on this subject of human rights on the island of Ireland.

Seen from up close, this subject is extremely difficult, because we must respect both the choices and the interests of the British and Irish people, but also those of the neighbouring European countries for whom this choice is not neutral.

First, there is one element on which everyone agrees: preserving the Good Friday Agreement that ended the troubles in Northern Ireland. Human rights are the essence of our Assembly and these agreements are the guarantors of that. Brexit cannot result in any diminution of the rights of the Irish people, regardless of their faith or where they live, north or south of the island. The primary responsibility lies with the British, the Irish and first and foremost the Northern Irish. The last election in 2022 revealed a polarized political landscape, with Sinn Féin on one side and the DUP - the unionist party - on the other. However, we are witnessing the rise of a new non-denominational party, which could lead to the gradual erosion of religious divisions in favour of a general interest in Northern Ireland that would transcend them. We can hope for this since the institutional organisation that will result is obviously the responsibility of the main parties concerned.

As I said, I speak as a neighbour. France is historically linked to the British and Irish islands by many ties and what happens there has an impact on the lives and freedoms of all of us. Brexit has questioned us all, but we care about at least one thing: that the British choice to leave the European Union does not destroy what we have patiently built over 65 years. I am referring to the border. Indeed, the border of the Republic of Ireland concerns the entire European Union and ensures the integrity of our single market and, more broadly, the peace and stability at the heart of Europe. It cannot be called into question.

That, in the end, is the squaring of the circle. Peace in Ireland is not a technical or financial issue, but a human one. It is fragile. The absence of borders on the island is essential to peace. The control of all incoming goods, including goods arriving from Great Britain via Northern Ireland, to ensure compliance with the European customs code, guarantees the security of the single market. Finally, economic cooperation between the North and the South must be ensured.

It is therefore up to the British government to find ways and means to ensure respect for the rights of the Irish islanders through the Good Friday Agreement, while taking into account the new situation: the re-establishment of the borders created by Brexit. It will obviously find in France a faithful partner to find any solution mutually beneficial to the British, the Irish, but also to all the inhabitants of the European continent.

Thank you for your attention.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

17:09:03

Thank you, Bertrand. [in French]

The next speaker in the debate is Mr Larry BROCK from Canada.

You have the floor.

Mr Larry BROCK

Canada

17:09:11

Thank you, Mister President.

Honourable Colleagues,

I would like to begin by thanking the rapporteur for his thorough and balanced report.

Assessing the impact of Brexit on human rights and the fragile peace in Northern Ireland was a tremendous task, and the rapporteur was certainly equal to it.

While I think it is premature for us to debate the overall legacy of Brexit, I do think we can agree that it has had some unintended consequences for the province of Northern Ireland.

I hope the report, its recommendations, and our deliberations today may play a role in addressing some of them.

At the same time, the report also raises long-standing issues that have no direct link to Brexit, but that the authorities and political forces in Northern Ireland might be empowered to tackle.

I’m going to use the limited amount of time that I have today to focus on one of them: residential and school segregation.

While I was well aware that the Good Friday Agreement did not usher in the widespread integration of Northern Ireland’s neighbourhoods and schools, I must admit that I was taken aback by the sheer extent of the continued segregation documented in the report.

As the report puts it: “Northern Ireland’s population is still divided along sectarian lines.”

One example is the so-called peace walls.

According to the International Fund for Ireland, as of last January, there were still over 100 of these barriers – ranging from high concrete walls to gates, fences and in some cases even buildings.

It’s my understanding that the Fund supports a number of community projects aimed at transforming local barriers and ultimately seeing their removal at a pace with which the local residents are comfortable. This is vital work.

The report also informs us that more than nine in every 10 children are still educated in a single‑faith school, and that in 85% of schools, fewer than 10% of pupils belong to the other denomination.

I appreciate what a complex undertaking integrating the education system is, but I’m inclined to agree with the report’s conclusion that "without addressing such systemic divisions it will be hard to move past the sectarian divides that have marked previous generations".

To that end, I see wisdom in the report’s call for the promotion of policies that limit residential segregation and increase integrated education. I believe both could contribute to a permanent, lasting peace.

Thank you, sir.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

17:11:51

The next speaker is Mr Stéphane BERGERON, from Canada.

You have the floor.

Mr Stéphane BERGERON

Canada

17:12:13

Thank you, Mister President.

Dear Colleagues,

I confess that I was among those who were surprised to see the United Kingdom vote by a small margin in favor of Brexit. The British apparently wanted their independence back. But Quebec would have been offered the same arrangement that England enjoyed within the European Union, which the sovereignist in me would have celebrated.

The challenges facing England in the wake of Brexit seem to outweigh the benefits that were expected to flow from it. The reaction in Scotland, Northern Ireland and even Wales has been swift. The Scottish government, which wants the country to rejoin the European Union, plans to hold a second referendum on independence in 2023. With this in mind, the United Kingdom and the European Union agreed, after difficult negotiations, on a Protocol on Ireland, from which the British government has since appeared to distance itself.

The results of the May elections in Northern Ireland, which resulted in a historic victory for Sinn Féin, paving the way for a referendum on the unity of the island, must be seen against the backdrop of the dissatisfaction with the Brexit. The Good Friday Agreement ended 30 years of conflict in Northern Ireland, but its implementation remains unfinished, as it effectively provides for such a referendum, which has yet to take place.

It is clear that the walls of peace remain in Northern Irish society: one only has to look at the continuing impasse in the formation of the government to see this. Boris Johnson has played the sorcerer's apprentice by launching his country on the road to Brexit; he has opened a Pandora's box that does not seem to want to close.

I agree with this observation by the rapporteur Mr George KATROUGALOS: "It was hard to escape the feeling that the British Government had not fully taken into account the very specific dynamics of this province when considering the implications of Brexit." The report calls on the United Kingdom to, and I quote again, "constructively pursue all practical solutions to ensure the smooth and effective implementation of the Protocol and on the political forces and authorities in Northern Ireland to immediately restore power-sharing to enable good governance."

I wholeheartedly endorse these demands, but perhaps Ireland as a whole is now facing its destiny.

I thank you.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

17:14:51

Thank you, Mister Stéphane BERGERON. [in French]

The last speaker in the debate will be Mr John HOWELL, from the United Kingdom.

You have the floor.

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC/DA

17:15:00

Thank you, Mister President.

I had expected to make this point under a point of order, but I wish to move that this report be sent back to the Committee and for us to have a vote on this.

This report ignores what we have heard this week in a number of presentations from distinguished Irish politicians. This is a delicate time, and it will put the Assembly in a very difficult position if it goes ahead now.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

17:15:33

Thank you, Mister John HOWELL.

We have now a motion to propose that the report be referred back to the Committee.

The rules of procedure say that this motion can be agreed on by a simple majority.

The procedure is that we now have, after the proposer, one speaker against, and the rapporteur or the chairperson concerned may be heard.

The proposer has already spoken.

Does anybody wish to oppose the motion to refer it back to the Committee?

Yes, I see Mr Paul GAVAN.

You have 30 seconds.

Mr Paul GAVAN

Ireland, UEL

17:16:26

Thank you.

Colleagues,

All of these issues are at play at the moment.

Unilateral action is still being taken by the British governments in relation to the Protocol Bill and in relation to the totally discredited Legacy Bill.

That's why the time is now entirely appropriate to send a clear message to ask the British government to insist that they respect human rights, respect our Court of Human Rights, respect the Good Friday agreements.

It would be a disaster to postpone the timing of this vote.

It needs to happen today.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

17:17:02

Thank you, Mister Paul GAVAN.

What is the opinion of the Committee, the Rapporteur or the Chairperson?

The Rapporteur.

Mr George KATROUGALOS

Greece, UEL, Rapporteur

17:17:15

I'm against, Mister Chair.

I'm a little puzzled because what I have heard today contrasts sharply with what has been discussed in the Committee, when none of these concerns have been raised, when the report was passed with just one vote against, nobody raised the issue of pending negotiations.

I must say that I do not find any reason, any circumstances changed, since the at least two last meetings of the Committee.

We have the same government. If there were any kind of obstacle to the negotiations of my report I would have heard that from both sides of the negotiation, and then, of course, I would be very glad to abide.

Thank you.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

17:18:05

Thank you, Mister rapporteur.

We will now vote on this motion to refer back this report to the committee.

I said a simple majority will be needed.

The vote is open.

We have a technical problem. I ask you to have two minutes of patience.

Until now the week went very well.

So, you have two minutes, but, please, remain seated.

 

There was a question about what we do. There is a motion proposed by John HOWELL to refer the report back to the committee. The rules of procedure allow such a motion. We have had a speaker in favour and a speaker against, and the opinion of the rapporteurs that he is against accepting this motion.

And now we will vote as soon as our technologists have organised this.

 

Thank you. All problems have been solved. It means a motion was proposed by Mr HOWELL. If you agree with Mr HOWELL you vote "Yes", if you agree with the rapporteur you vote "No".

Thank you very much.

So, the vote is open.

 

The vote is closed.

I call for the results to be displayed.

The motion is rejected.

So, we continue with our debate.

And I now call the rapporteur Mr George KATROUGALOS to reply to the debate.

You have five minutes.

Mr George KATROUGALOS

Greece, UEL, Rapporteur

17:20:55

Thank you, Mr Chair.

I am really grateful to all the colleagues that have intervened. More grateful to those that have adopted a more aggressive stance, exactly, because they are going to give me the opportunity to clarify things.

First of all, as I said, the discussion of the Committee did not reflect either the intensity or this narrow – let us say – distance between the yes or no I have seen in the discussion before. And I have asked many times, both through the UK delegation and also through the Conservatives group to have the opportunity to discuss in-depth and face-to-face with those of the UK delegation that would like to support arguments like the ones I have heard today. But I fully reject all allegations of lack of objectivity. All the meetings in Ireland and in the UK have been arranged through the Secretariat, and I suppose even those that have spoken harshly about the objectivity of the report do not question the objectivity of the Secretariat itself.

I have met in Northern Ireland with those unionists who would like to speak with me. I have spoken for instance with Mike Nesbitt, the former leader of the Ulster Union Party (UUP). In the UK, I did not have the chance – although I have asked many times – to meet with anybody from the government but I did have a teleconference – because I insisted – with the head of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Mr Simon Hoare.

More generally, the discussion in the Committee has been conducive to results and to a fair understanding of what is happening in Ireland and in Northern Ireland. Contrary to the arguments I have heard that the rights for the people of Ireland are signed in marble, to me the situation looks more like moving sand, as it was, more generally, the negotiation style of the United Kingdom's government throughout all Brexit and post-Brexit situations. But here, the situation is even more grave, exactly because we are speaking about this edifice constructed after the Good Friday Agreement, which has been based on the safety provided by the European Convention of Human Rights. And this construct is in real danger. Contrary to the arguments that I have heard that the report is not timely, I consider that it is timely exactly for this reason, exactly because we should defend the human rights situation as it is guaranteed by the Second Article of the Protocol and more generally by the Good Friday Agreement.

And, unfortunately, the political situation in the North of Ireland is not what we should hope for, basically due to the reluctance of the DUP to abide by the obligations that are stemming from the Good Friday Agreement regarding the very participation to the common executive.

So, I do not want to speak more about all that, because I think it should be clear that what we are defending now are still the values of the Council of Europe, in the more specific implementation of them related to the Good Friday Agreement, to the European Convention of Human Rights, to the necessity of having political dialogue that respects existing norms and common agreements and, therefore, I call you, dear colleagues, to vote for the report.

Many thanks.

 

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

17:25:15

Thank you, Mister Rapporteur. Thank you, Mister George KATROUGALOS.

Does the Vice-Chairman of the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy wish to speak?

Mister Kimmo KILJUNEN, you have the floor, 3 minutes.

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC, First Vice-Chairperson of the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy

17:25:27

Thank you very much, Mister President.

On behalf of the committee I would like to congratulate the rapporteur Mr George KATROUGALOS for his report and for having navigated such delicate topic as we have discussed today.

We recognise that  [there are] many issues related to this issue.

Regardless of whether one agrees or not with the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, it was a fundamental change for the political reality in Europe.

The report in front of us today outlines just some of the widespread consequences and repercussions of this development.

Brexit's impact on the human rights on the island of Ireland was an important angle to explore - thanks for the report - with considerable links to many values, standards, and conventions that emanate from our own organisation, the Council of Europe.

As the report points out, the lack of progress in implementing some of the human rights provisions of the Good Friday agreement has compounded the problem, and that is something that the draft resolution calls on relevant parties to address.

The draft resolution also makes it clear that United Kingdom should "ensure that the withdrawal from the European Union does not result in any diminution of the rights for the people of Northern Ireland".

To contribute to the committee's members understanding of the dynamics at play, the committee held a hearing with the participation of the chief commission of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and with the director general of the Institute of International and European Affairs Ireland.

Further, the rapporteur conducted facts-finding visits to Dublin, Northern Ireland, and London, as he just described to us.

Colleagues, the draft resolution was adopted in committee with a large majority, and I encourage other colleagues also to support it here today.

Thanks very much, President.

Vote: The impact of Brexit on human rights on the island of Ireland

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

17:27:41

Thank you Mr Vice-Chairperson, thank you, Mister Kimmo KILJUNEN.

The debate now is closed.

The Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy has presented a draft resolution, which you'll find in Document 15615, to which two amendments, one sub-amendment, and one oral amendment have been tabled.

I remind you that speeches are limited to 30 seconds.

I call Mr Max LUCKS to support Amendment 1.

You have 30 seconds.

Mr Max LUCKS is not here.

Does anybody else wish to move Amendment 1?

You have the floor.

Ms Sibel ARSLAN

Switzerland, SOC

17:28:25

Mr. President,

I can just try in some words in German.

The point of this proposal is that the Assembly also underline that all political parties in Northern Ireland will make a constructive contribution to the protocol negotiations. Therefore, the involvement of all is relatively important.

Thank you very much.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

17:28:50

Thank you very much.

I understand that Mr George KATROUGALOS wants to propose, on behalf of the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy, a sub-amendment.

Does anybody wish to speak?

First, you have the floor.

Mr George KATROUGALOS

Greece, UEL, Rapporteur

17:29:07

Mister President,

I fully agree with the content of the amendment, but for reasons of consistency with the text, I have a suggested to the Committee a sub-amendment and an oral amendment according to which we keep the first part of the amendment as it is, and we move, as an oral amendment, to Paragraph 14.1, the phrase "and contribute constructively to the protocol negotiations".

So, we delete the second sentence of the amendment, and we move "in order to comply with the content" the phrase "and contribute constructively to the protocol negotiations" in Paragraph 14.1.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

17:29:52

Thank you.

Does anybody wish to speak against this sub-amendment?

I don't see anybody.

What is the opinion of the mover of the main amendment?

Madam.

Ms Sibel ARSLAN

Switzerland, SOC

17:30:10

I thus withdraw the motion of Mr Max LUCKS in favour of the [the speaker is interrupted by the President].

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

17:30:18

I think that the procedure...

You agree with the sub-amendment, because we need the original amendment.

Ms Sibel ARSLAN

Switzerland, SOC

17:30:26

I agree with that. Exactly.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

17:30:27

The Committee is obviously in favour, so I shall now first put the sub-amendment to the vote.

The vote is open.

 

The vote is closed.

I call for the results to be displayed.

The sub-amendment is adopted.

 

We now come to the consideration of the main amendment as amended.

Does anybody wish to speak against the amendment as amended?

I do not see any.

What is the opinion of the Committee, Mister KILJUNEN?

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC, First Vice-Chairperson of the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy

17:31:19

Unanimously in favour.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

17:31:22

Thank you very much.

The vote is open.

The vote is closed.

I call for the results to be displayed.

The amendment is adopted.

 

I understand that Mr Max LUCKS wishes to withdraw Amendment 2 to allow a conciliation or an oral amendment.

As Mr Max LUCKS is not here, does anybody else wish to move Amendment 2?

Yes, it's withdrawn.

Then we come to the fact that I have been informed that the Committee wishes to propose an oral amendment as follows: in Paragraph 9, replace the words "The Assembly also expresses concern that the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has not been consulted on legacy issues by the United Kingdom authorities despite being the main body in charge of overseeing human rights and Northern Ireland under the Good Friday Agreement" with the following words, replace with the following words, "The Assembly also expresses concern that neither the government of Ireland nor the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission where consulted in preparation of this bill despite the latter being the main body in charge of overseeing human rights in Northern Ireland under the Good Friday Agreement".

In my opinion, the oral amendment meets the criteria of Rule 34.7.A.

Is there any opposition to the amendment being debated?

I don't see any.

I do see Lord Leslie GRIFFITHS, you have the floor.

Sorry, sorry. You object. The procedure is that if there are 10 or more members who do object with you, then it will not be debated.

Your microphone was not working. I thought...

Well. Please?

You want to raise a point of order, Lord Leslie GRIFFITHS.

You have the floor.

Lord Leslie GRIFFITHS

United Kingdom, SOC

17:33:39

Yes. It is simply impossible to assimilate or check the details in what you've just read. I feel disempowered to making an appropriate response.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

17:33:53

Thank you very much, but I do not consider that this is a comment nor a point of order. I do not see 10 or more members against this debate being debated.

Therefore, I call on the rapporteur to support the oral amendment.

You have 30 seconds.

Mr George KATROUGALOS

Greece, UEL, Rapporteur

17:34:14

It has the support of the Committee in unanimity, if I remember well, and just expresses concern that neither the government of Ireland nor the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission have been consulted in the preparation of the Legacy Bill.

I think that is very clear. The oral amendment just clarifies and rephrases what the mover wanted to convey, and I have been also in agreement with him.

Thank you.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

17:34:49

Thank you.

As this was moved on behalf of the Committee, it's obvious that the Committee is in favour.

Does anybody wish to speak?

Sorry, I first have to ask "is there anyone who wants to speak against the oral amendment"?

I do not see any.

The Committee is obviously in favour.

I put the amendment to the vote.

The vote is open.

 

The vote is closed.

Can I ask the results to be displayed.

The oral amendment is adopted.

 

I have been informed that the Committee wishes to propose a further oral amendment as follows:

At the end of paragraph 14.1, add the following words: “, and contribute constructively to the Protocol negotiations”, so that the paragraph reads:

“work together to ensure the smooth and efficient implementation of the Protocol in Northern Ireland, which had largely supported remaining in the European Union, and contribute constructively to the Protocol negotiations”

 

In my opinion the oral amendment meets the criteria of Rule 34.7.a.

Is there any opposition to the amendment being debated?

 

I don't see any.

Therefore, I ask the rapporteur to support the oral amendment.

You have 30 seconds.

Mr George KATROUGALOS

Greece, UEL, Rapporteur

17:36:20

As I have already said, this is just in order to correspond to the initial amendment by Mr Max LUCKS.

It just says that we ask for the constructive contribution to the protocol negotiations of all the political forces.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

17:36:42

Thank you, Mister Rapporteur.

Does anyone wants to speak against the oral amendment?

I do not see anyone. The Committee is obviously in favour.

I now put the amendment to the vote.

The vote is open.

The vote is closed.

I call for the results to be displayed.

The oral amendment has been adopted.

We will now proceed to vote on the draft resolution contained in Document 15615 as amended. A simple majority is required.

The vote is open.

The vote is closed.

I call for the results to be displayed.

The resolution is adopted. Congratulations.

Madam Annicka ENGBLOM, do you want to raise a point of order?

Ms Annicka ENGBLOM

Sweden, EPP/CD

17:38:07

No, Mister President.

I want to make a personal statement, because of personal confusion during the voting.

About the report we just voted upon, my meaning was to side with Mr John HOWELL. I voted no, my intention was voting yes.

Thank you thank.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

17:38:25

Thank you, Madam ENGBLOM.

Madam KASIMATI, are you asking...?

No, you're just standing to stretch your legs... that's also a good thing.

Madam, you also wanted to..?

Ms Nicole HÖCHST

Germany, EC/DA

17:38:54

I'm sorry. I must inform you that I misplaced my vote yesterday.

On Debate 14.1, Sitting 31, concerning Hungary, I voted yes, but I meant to vote no.

Please change it.

Thank you so much.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

17:39:10

Thank you very much for making that statement.

It will be added to the minutes.

We will now wait for a minute to continue with the next debate.

Debate: The fight for a level playing field – ending discrimination against women in the world of sport

Mr Bertrand BOUYX

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:40:52

Ladies and gentlemen,

The sitting is resumed.

The next item of business this morning is the presentation of and debate on the report by Ms Edite ESTRELA, on behalf of the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination, entitled: "Levelling the playing field - ending discrimination against women in sport" (Doc. 15611).

We will have to conclude the debate, including the vote, at 6:40 p.m. We will therefore have to interrupt the list of speakers at about 6:30 p.m. in order to allow time for the reply from the Committee and for the necessary votes.

Ms Edite ESTRELA, you have 7 minutes to present your report and 5 minutes to reply to the speakers at the end of the general debate.

Ms Edite ESTRELA, you have the floor.

Ms Edite ESTRELA

Portugal, SOC, Rapporteur

17:41:48

Thank you, Mr President.

Dear colleagues,

The preparation of this report "Levelling the playing field - ending discrimination against women in sport" has given me a better understanding of the reality of the world of sport and of the many deep-seated inequalities that still often go unnoticed. Inequalities in salary, treatment and status between women and men are still common in the field of sport.

Women, in all their diversity, are poorly represented in decision-making bodies, national federations and clubs. Sexist comments and stereotypical images of sportswomen, questioning their so-called femininity, are regularly broadcast in the media and on social networks. In parallel, there is a hypersexualization of sportswomen reinforced by the media. All women are subjected to standards in the field of sports, regarding their body, their behavior and their performance.

Serena Williams, after an extraordinary career in tennis, has announced that she is leaving the sport to focus on her family. She said, "Believe me, I never wanted to have to choose between tennis and family. It's not fair. If I were a man, I wouldn't be writing this, because I would be playing and making money, while my wife would be doing the physical work of growing our family."

This statement says a lot about inequality in sport. If Serena were a man, it would be easier to balance work and family. The reconciliation of family and professional life is particularly complicated for top athletes. On the other hand, the world of sport is not immune to violence or discrimination and is known to be a more male-friendly environment. Attributes recognized as masculine, such as physical strength, are valued.

A "Me Too" movement has also emerged in this area. It is disturbing to note that the testimonies of the victims implicate a large number of associations and sports federations, which would have failed to prevent violence or to react quickly enough when facts were denounced. Sarah Abitbol, a former figure skater, called on all survivors of gender-based violence to break the silence, as she has done.

LBTI women face invisible and multiple discrimination in sport. Their families may oppose or not support their participation in sport. They may be rejected when they join a team. Their performance is constantly questioned. The media portrays negative stereotypes about LBTI athletes, who may be the target of hate speech, harassment and violence.

An Icelandic athlete told ILGA-Europe: "Being a woman in sport means being less than a man, having less experienced coaches, less money, less respect and interest from clubs. Being a queer woman was something that was not talked about." Anti-gender movements in Europe and the United States have seized on the topic of sport, calling for the exclusion and non-recognition of LBTI athletes.

My report does not claim to be exhaustive. I have chosen to focus on the urgent need to prevent and combat gender-based violence, discrimination against LBTI women, disparities in status and income, and the still limited participation of women in decision-making bodies in sport.

I have tried to prepare relatively concrete recommendations with a call to action. The recommendations include the fight against gender stereotypes through awareness-raising, violence prevention, training of sports personnel and gender equality education in general. Sports federations and clubs can, for example, develop codes of conduct and be vigilant with regard to equality issues. Making the adoption and implementation of strategies on gender equality, anti-violence and equal pay a condition of funding for federations and clubs could also be an effective measure.

The resolution, approved unanimously by the commission, is a political recognition of discrimination against women in sport. LBTI athletes, those with disabilities or of different religious backgrounds, are often victims of multiple discrimination. The Olympic Committee has made the promotion of inclusion, gender equality and diversity one of its priorities. This should be accompanied by strong actions, especially in terms of accessibility and the fight against racism.

I am proud to announce that the Government of my country, Portugal, created a few months ago a working group coordinated by a former Paralympic athlete, with the mission to present contributions and recommendations for public policies on equality in sport. I hope that other countries will follow this example.

I take this opportunity to pay public tribute to the Portuguese women's soccer team, which is getting closer and closer to winning the World Cup.

We can recognize that sport can have an emancipating power and that much progress has been made in recent years. We have seen this with the audiences for the Women's Euro soccer tournament.

But we need to continue the efforts to ensure that these relative successes are extended to other sports and that the place of women in sport is truly valued, both professionally and non professionally.

Thank you very much.

Mr Bertrand BOUYX

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:49:51

Thank you, Madam Rapporteur.

I call Ms Khatia DEKANOIDZE, from the Group of the European People's Party.

Ms Khatia DEKANOIDZE

Georgia, EPP/CD, Spokesperson for the group

17:50:13

Thank you very much. 

First of all, I definitely want to thank the rapporteur and congratulate them for bringing up this very interesting and important topic and say that as a young girl, I used to be a part of different sports games and groups. I remember that embarrassing feeling after the staring looks of some older males. I was not feeling comfortable, and I am sure that this is a moment for lots of young girls, how while they are playing basketball, soccer, tennis or wrestling at the arena, it might be their passion but they must concentrate on their security rather than sport. The world of sport is dominated by men. Women are in a minority plus have to be braver and work harder to achieve the attention they deserve. I have to say that despite tremendous progress and transformation of attitude, gender discrimination in sports still happens at every level.

Some famous athletes have amazing courage to speak out, but imagine how many young girls are out there suffering from discrimination and harassment. Women and girls get fewer athletic opportunities, funding and sometimes less support from their schools and even from their families. 

Women coaches earn less. There are no incentives from women coaches to continue their honourable fight for young people. The gap widens when women's sports receive dramatically less coverage, sponsorships and marketing. Women have less say in athletic organisation governing bodies, boards and in coaching. Heads of federations are men. Imbalances throughout the industry perpetuate gender inequality in sports. Actually, it is amazing that some research found that 40% of women in the sports industry face discrimination because of their sex but 72% of their male colleagues say they see no discrimination against women. One of the huge problems is ignorance and no sensitivity to the problem.

As a human rights organisation with the power to deliver our voice to the countries' legislative bodies, we have to raise awareness and encourage national parliamentarians to raise awareness to talk about the problem and give examples to young girls and women. Especially, I want to ask my – and our – male colleagues to deliver the message of the millions of young girls and women struggling with inequality in their sports fields with coaches. They all need our support and sensitivity. They are very brave. Let us cheer them up and tell them that we are here for them.

Thank you.

Mr Bertrand BOUYX

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:53:14

Thank you.

I call Ms Sevinj FATALIYEVA, on behalf of the European Conservatives and Democratic Alliance.

Ms Sevinj FATALIYEVA

Azerbaijan, EC/DA, Spokesperson for the group

17:53:22

Thank you, Mister Chairman.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Along with the way gender quotas are introduced in business and politics, there is still room for sexism and discrimination against women in other areas of activity.

Women have longed proven, and prove daily, that they can do, they cannot only be on a par with men, but also surpass them in governance, politics, business, trade, and sport.

Women frequently face prejudice in their participation and in practice of major professional sports, which is against the Council of Europe's values.

The persistence of stereotypes, the absence of a support system for athletes and young girls who have potential in their sports, the challenge of balancing work and family obligations, the difficulty of re-entering the workforce, ageism, racism, harassment, the insufficient media coverage of women sports, and the restrictive nature of private funding, are all examples of discrimination.

These are the problems that women in sport are facing today.

There are a number of reasons for the manifestation of discrimination against women in sport. The majority of management positions are held by men, women sports are less covered in media, women in sport are paid less than men, women have fewer resources for sport, the problem of violence is in sport, more strict and severe requirements for the appearance and weight of women.

This is due to stereotypes about gender roles which are especially powerful in sports.

For a long time, sports were considered a platform only for men, due to the fact that society assigned such character traits as endurance, strength, competitiveness, which were considered purely masculine, only for men.

A woman was considered to be weak, fragile, and therefore had no place in sports.

Also the sports achievements of women are poorly represented in the media, and therefore, they remain almost invisible.

Speech towards women in sports is disproportionately focused on appearance, clothing and personal life.

Research shows that even lexical discrimination exists. Words describing female athletes include age, older or younger, married or single. Where the most popular combination of words for male athletes define specific qualities: fast, strong, big.

The eradication of gender discrimination in sport around the world is still very far away, but even now, it is possible to take a set of measures to improve the status of women.

We have to talk more about the achievements of women in sport, especially in those sports that are traditionally considered male.

We have to adhere to gender balance attitudes, coverage of sporting events, ensure equal access to resources for women, boys and girls, to form a culture of zero tolerance for violence, to ensure equal pay conditions and prize levels, to increase the number of women in managerial positions, increasing media attention to women's sports and more accurate portraits of athletes who played these sports.

These are just simply first steps in the eradication of discrimination.

I want to thank the rapporteur for such an important issue that is raised in this report.

Thank you.

Mr Bertrand BOUYX

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:56:29

Thank you.

I call Ms Sona GHAZARYAN, on behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.

Ms Sona GHAZARYAN

Armenia, ALDE, Spokesperson for the group

17:56:37

Honourable Chair, Dear colleagues,

I would also like to thank the rapporteur for very well-penned and detailed report that presents important data and clear and very strong messages on what should be done to make sport free of sexism, gender discrimination, and violence.

As it is clearly stated in the report, sport does remain the environment which is more favourable for men. Though the gates of sport have been gradually opened for female athletes, they still face a number of issues such as discrimination, gender pay gap, violence, sexist comments.

I would like to highlight the role of media, including social media, that often helps reproduce stereotypes and hate speech instead of contributing to sport becoming a safe and equal place for everyone. Media tend to represent women athletes as women first and athlete's second. A UNESCO survey say that coverage of women in sport is often dominated by reference to appearance, age, or personal life, whereas men are permanently depicted as powerful, independent, dominating, and valued as athletes.

Two weeks of Olympic coverage are a rare time when sustained coverage of women sport stars hits the headline. Yet, outside the period of major sporting festivals statistic claims that 40% of all sport participants are women. Yet, women's sport receive only 4% of sport major coverage.

The impact of the pandemic COVID-19 was also crucial for female athletes and created more physical and social pressure on female athletes.

The report points out a number of actions that should be done and can be done to improve the situation, such as training for all actors in the field of sport to prevent violence against women, having more women in decision-making bodies in federations, more leadership and coaching role will lead to a more gender-sensitive world of sport.

Yesterday, at the Sub-Committee on Education, Youth and Sport, we hosted Ms Francine Raveney, Deputy Executive Secretary of Enlarged Partial Agreement on Sport (EPAS), and I asked her one question: If there is one thing that could be done to reach gender equality in sport, what should it be?

And the answer was very clear: it's equal pay.

There is still 35% gender pay gap. In 2017 sporting intelligence compared 12 best paid women's sport leagues with 12 best paid man sport leagues. The study found out that on average man in this elite sport earned 101 times the amount that women in the elite sport made. We must try to change this.

Equal pay for all.

Thank you.

Mr Bertrand BOUYX

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:59:46

Thank you.

I call Ms Anne STAMBACH-TERRENOIR, on behalf of the Group of the Unified European Left.

Ms Anne STAMBACH-TERRENOIR

France, UEL, Spokesperson for the group

17:59:56

Thank you, Mister President.

First of all, dear colleagues, I would like to say that I am very moved and honoured to speak for the first time in this illustrious Assembly. I am very happy to do so on the occasion of this beautiful report on women's rights in the world of sport. All the more so because, as the conclusion underlines, there are many similarities between the stereotypical treatment of sportswomen and that of women involved in politics.

We particularly agree with the need to allow women to live with dignity from their sport when they practice it at a high level, in the same way as men. This implies making arrangements to reconcile professional and personal life and to have the necessary time to devote fully to the practice of sport.

The report also shows that in team sports, men earn on average more than 100 times the income of women. Such a gap is unacceptable in the 21st century, and it is imperative that we monitor the evolution of this data in the coming years. Finally, we affirm with you that women must be more widely represented in decision-making bodies. International and national sports federations must, therefore, set an example and impose quotas. The resolution proposes a quota of 40%. This is a good step forward, but we must aim for real parity and, therefore, reach a quota of 50%.

The report rightly focuses on discrimination against LBTI women in sport. The existence of "femininity tests" is, in our opinion, an insult to human dignity. This practice is contrary to the fundamental rights defended by the Council of Europe and must be definitively abolished. It is also necessary to tackle this problem at its roots by proposing to the member States to reform their educational systems so that the new generations are trained on gender equality issues and equipped with the necessary tools to combat the emergence of discrimination.

As far as media coverage of women's sports is concerned, we are far from it. Women suffer from less media coverage, and they are also too often victims of hypersexualisation by commentators, even of a totally unabashed sexism. We tell the media that it is urgent to adopt inclusive and non-discriminatory practices.

Finally, the report rightly points out the issue of violence against women. My country, France, is not spared. Just recently, a major soccer club was sanctioned by our Human Rights Defender for violating the principle of non-discrimination on the basis of gender; and a female tennis player obtained the indictment of her former coach for rape and sexual assault. The "Me Too" movement has allowed victims to speak out, but there are still too many victims who remain silent out of fear and social pressure.

And France, like unfortunately many countries, does not put the necessary means in the fight against sexist and sexual violence. Moreover, we regret that Türkiye has withdrawn from the Istanbul Convention and we hope that this report will help raise general awareness and bring about an improvement in the world of sport.

I therefore welcome this good work and I would like to suggest to the rapporteur that the competent committee should take stock of the situation in the member States in the coming years, because the subject is important. High-level sportswomen are examples for the younger generations: they give young girls and women the desire to commit themselves, to surpass themselves; and amateur sport is a major factor of emancipation, social cohesion, health, and simply of self-fulfilment. It is, therefore, essential to guarantee equal access and the same rules of the game for all.

I thank you for your support.

Mr Bertrand BOUYX

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:03:09

Thank you.

I call Ms Margreet De BOER, on behalf of the Socialist Group.

Ms Margreet De BOER

Netherlands, SOC, Spokesperson for the group

18:03:17

On behalf of the Socialists, Democrats and Greens Group, I congratulate Ms Edite ESTRELA for this important report.

She states: sport engages, motivates and drives progress. It can be a factor in emancipation and in changing attitudes.

This is true. In sports clubs, people of different backgrounds meet each other. The doctor stands along the field together with the plumber to support the children. Children who are not the best in school can excel in sports, and so be empowered. Sport is healthy. Sport is fun.

But sport also excludes and discriminates, because it is at the heart of the competitive sport that the ones who are not as good do not win, and are as an effect excluded.

We have even to work harder to make sport accessible and enjoyable for everyone.

The report identifies a number of issues that make women face violence and discrimination in sport and calls on states and sports federations to combat this discrimination.

Women's sports get less attention and less budget, which not only leads to unequal payment of professional sporters, but also to less facilities for recreational sport for women and girls.

Sexual violence against girls and women in sports is a serious issue. In particular, but not only, in individual sports, women and girls are extremely vulnerable as for success they are highly dependent on their trainer or coach.

It is important to raise awareness on this matter and to have complaint mechanisms and effective remedies in place.

I am glad the report gives due attention to specific problems that trans and intersex people face in sports.

The report makes clear that femininity tests violate many internationally protected human rights and should no longer be permitted. The resolution rightfully calls both on states and sport federations to ensure full and equal access to the practice of sports to all women, and to this end allow transgender and intersex athletes to train and compete in sport competitions consistent with their gender identity.

In some sports it might not be easy to find answers on how to both guarantee the rights of transgender and intersex people and have a fair sports competition. But also, when it is not so easy, human rights have to be respected and protected as this report points out.

Chair, allow me a last comment. I noticed that only three men signed up for the speakers list for this debate. When I look around in this hemicycle, I hardly see any men. I must say, if men see women's rights as a women's problem, we have a long way to go.

Thank you.

Mr Bertrand BOUYX

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:06:34

Thank you.

In the list of speakers, I call Ms Luz MARTINEZ SEIJO, for Spain.

Ms Luz MARTINEZ SEIJO

Spain, SOC

18:06:49

Thank you very much, President. 

Speaking about the discrimination of women in sports is speaking about multiple discrimination and that is why this particular report is very pertinent because it touches upon a form of discrimination which is less known.

We are not talking only about supporting sportswomen but also the promotion of women in technical bodies, arbitration bodies, managerial positions and so forth in sports organisations. And at the same time, promote equal salaries.  

So it is in order to incentivise visibility, promote the presence of women in managerial structures, in leading bodies, arbitration organisations as well and of course, a new piece of legislation is necessary in order to include women as well and to facilitate the life of sportswomen because of issues of maternity, placement, adoption and also to provide for education and training as well.

So the new piece of legislation in Spain provides for equal access and protection of women and the promotion and integration in governing bodies in different sports organisations. Thus, the presence of women has increased considerably reaching 32%. These particular measures have provided for a positive dynamic as far as moving forward in this framework. So we need legislation which stops any sort of curtailing of rights and promotes women, stops and curtails at the same time, discrimination, provides for labour relations on an equal footing. What we need are public policies that are there to fight against violence as well. Violence against women in sport and sexist stereotypes or anything of that nature.

At the same time, there is a guarantee for equality of awards for both genders, systems of diets are to be provided for equally too, so it is important to move in the direction of professionalisation. 

It is indeed a great honour for me for me to be able to announce the fact that in Spain we have, since June, the first female football division. It is a group that has been seriously discriminated against, women in football, and we see new prospects on this front for women in Spain. Professionalisation is necessary. It is imperative and of course, football and what is taking place in that particular sphere, will be the spearhead for any other future efforts made in other fields in sport. 

Finally, we need the promotion of education and we need to disseminate information as well with regard to the necessity to promote women in sport. And this has to be done at all levels. 

Also, girls are to be able to see some sort of vision in the future regarding their possibilities in sports should they decide to do so and become sportspeople.

Mr Bertrand BOUYX

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:10:06

Thank you.

I now give the floor to Ms Nigar ARPADARAI, for Azerbaijan.

Ms Nigar ARPADARAI

Azerbaijan, EC/DA

18:10:16

Dear colleagues,

I will start my speech on a positive note.

At the 2020 Olympics, 49% of all participants were women. The highest figure ever. In anticipation of these competitions the International Olympic Committee approved new rules. That each NOC must have at least one male and one female athlete on its team.

For the first time, each NOC may also designate one male and one female flag bearer to carry the flag together during the opening ceremony.

These are small but symbolic decisions.

They don't fix the problem per se, and sport is still a male realm, but they give us a bit of hope.

I thank the rapporteur Ms Edite ESTRELA for the brief and ambitious report on this important topic.

With this said, I allow myself to make a few brief comments.

Sport is very important for girls. It gives health and it gives confidence, something they desperately need in the world of men. They will need this confidence later in life when they build careers and personal relationships. For too long women were suppressed and they need to get their belief in themselves back. Sport is a good way to do it.

From this point of view, I commend the rapporteur as she stressed the importance of access to amateur sport for women and girls.

Professional sport is still very much a different space. It's about ratings and sport betting. It's about fanbase and big finances. In essence, it's a business, feeding off the patriarchal desire of men to compete, become champions, and fight with each other.

With all due respect to men, it's a toy they love to play.

Should women be allowed access to the world of professional sports on par with men if they wish so? Definitely yes.

There's one point in the report I agree with strongly. The boardrooms of big sport are full of men.

There should be more women there. It will allow the true potential of women professional sport to realise itself. But should it be done through positive discrimination quotas? I'm not sure.

Finally, one more point. The draft resolution refers to the Me Too movement. This social network-based phenomena did its job a few years ago. It drew a lot of attention, but it also damaged a lot of careers, and made miserable many decent men. It turned out at some point into a lynch court and an inverted witch hunt.

I remind that the fight for women's rights started long before Me Too, and it's being carried out by millions of brave women all over the world for over a century now.

Fighting for freedom and equality is not equal to revenge. With all respect to the brave women who started it and were not afraid to stand up to society, to their oppressors and stereotypes when Me Too started, to me it's not a good illustration of it, as it mutated and was marked with many abuses, cancelism, shaky accusations and identity politics - things I personally do not share.

And therefore, though I share the topic of this report, I cannot feel sympathetic to this reference.

Thank you. I would like to thank the rapporteur.

Mr Bertrand BOUYX

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:13:23

Thank you.

The floor is given to Ms Fiona O'LOUGHLIN, from Ireland.

Ms Fiona O'LOUGHLIN

Ireland, ALDE

18:13:30

Thank you very much, Chair.

I want to congratulate the rapporteur on her excellent work, on her conclusions and recommendations.

Ireland is very well known for its passion for sport, whether it's football, rugby, golf, horse racing, which is very important in my own county of Kildare. We also celebrate our special Olympic and Paralympic athletes.

Gender discrimination in sport has long been a controversial topic due to inequality regarding wages, audience viewing numbers, and the overall range of opportunities that were available to women as compared to men.

I think it's true to say that we've made great strides particularly in Ireland. As the women's GAA football, all-Ireland football final, and Croke Park, for any of you that have ever been in it, is always a wonderful place to visit. But it was absolutely fantastic to see the stadium full for the first time ever, for a women's all-Ireland final between Meath and Kerry.

This year we celebrate golfers like Leona Maguire, boxers like Katie Taylor and Kelly Harrington, jockeys like Rachel Blackmore, Nina Carberry and Katie Walsh. For the first time ever, two nights ago, the Irish women soccer team qualified for the World Cup.

These are all incredible sporting heroes, but it does not happen by accident. Equality in sport is a priority for the Irish government, and the overall vision, of course, for women in sport, is one where women have an equal opportunity to achieve their full potential while enjoying a lifelong involvement in sport.

We need more women in leadership roles in sport, and one of the targets that we have set in Ireland, by our Minister for Sport, Jack Chambers, is that the representation on boards of national governing bodies would reach 40% for women by the end of 2023. That's hugely significant and hugely important.

Sport has a huge capacity to achieve really strong social inclusion. We must never accept any behaviour which runs counter to the true values of sport, notably those of respect, dignity and equality.

All of our governments, collectively, need to work hand in hand with NGOs, with community groups and sporting organisations that absolutely drive engagement.

Last year, the Irish government published a new action plan for sport which set very high targets in terms of participation on national governing bodies, etc.

We have also seen that the most recent board composition snapshot has shown that the overall percentage of women has increased from 24% to 32% last year. Again just, to reiterate, we're striving for 40% next year.

All in all, I just want to say I totally recommend and commend the recommendations and conclusions in this report.

Thank you.

Mr Bertrand BOUYX

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:17:02

Thank you.

Ms Heike ENGELHARDT, from Germany now has the floor.

Ms Heike ENGELHARDT

Germany, SOC

18:17:07

Thank you very much, Mister President. [in French]

Dear colleagues, and especially dear youngest here in the Assembly, now I will continue in German.

Ms Heike ENGELHARDT

Germany, SOC

18:17:17

First of all, I would like to thank Ms Edite ESTRELA for this very important motion. It shows us abundantly clearly that we still have to fight for women's rights in all areas of our society.

In the world of sports, too, women are, unfortunately, disadvantaged. Women earn less than men in the same sports discipline. Often, women have to take on a second job in addition to their training and competitions in order to finance their lives. They are subjected to discriminatory and sexist comments and rules. Tight, short, white sportswear for women is just one example of outdated rules and habits in sports. In addition, female athletes are often subjected to psychological, physical, and sexual violence. In many cases, they see no way out of violent structures due to their dependence on their coach or the lack of a contact point.

Germany is already strongly committed to preventing sexualised violence and to increasing the participation of women and girls in sports. Nevertheless, it is quite clear to me that there is still a lot to do here. Particularly in terms of international co‑ordination. After all, probably the most important task is to protect female athletes from physical and psychological violence and also from discrimination.

The key word in this context is not least the Istanbul Convention. It must be adopted and ratified by more states. The psychological well-being and safety of female athletes should be a matter of course for everyone. It is unfortunately necessary to point this out here in the Council of Europe. We should also work to ensure that more women take on the role not only of athletes, but also of coaches, referees, board members and presidents of sports federations. To achieve this, we need to create better framework conditions to strengthen the proportion of women in management and leadership positions, but also to make the working culture in sports generally fairer and more equitable.

This debate is primarily dedicated to women and especially to transwomen in sports. After all, female athletes are role models for young women and girls who want to assert themselves in the male-dominated world of sport. Sport should act as a factor for more emancipation and acceptance. Under no circumstances should sport be used as a platform for discrimination. That is why I support this motion.

Thank you very much.

Mr Bertrand BOUYX

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:20:03

Thank you, Mister President.

I call Ms Róisín GARVEY, from Ireland.

Ms Róisín GARVEY

Ireland, SOC

18:20:12

[Thanks the chamber and introduces herself in Irish]

Thank you very much for having me.

In 2021 my Green Party colleague and, by no coincidence, a female senior minister for sport for the first time in the history of the state, Catherine Martin, launched the Girls Get Active Research Report.

As a result of the report findings, a new fund has been set up to fund local sports partnerships, creating physical activity programs targeting specifically teenage girls.

We are also creating a campaign targeting inactive teenage girls, as we see the dropout rates on sports for girls much higher than those for teenage boys.

Our new sports action plan for Ireland has set at a minimum target of 40% gender representation. And, as others have said, the importance of having women on sports governing bodies is key.

To that end, we have increased from 24% in 2019 to 32% in just two years of women on boards. A game changer, if you will excuse the pun.

The role of coaches in keeping girls in sports has also been recognised in Ireland and we have to date - since 2021 - ran 72 workshops on coaching girls, making coaches aware of the difference, and to be more conscientious. And that has reached 1100 coaches in Ireland alone. In May 2021, our Minister for Sports Green Party TD Catherine Martin committed financially to ensuring equality for inter-county Gaelic games players for the first time ever in the history of the state, namely camogie, probably the best sport in the world - Google it if you haven't seen it - and Gaelic football.

I have to say congratulations to our Irish soccer team. Our ladies Irish soccer team. Because they have just qualified for the World Cup, and we are very, very proud of them.

Having played camogie as a youngster myself 30 years ago, it makes me sick and sad to see the same challenges faced today by female sports players who represent their counties.

I cannot believe that 30 years later they are still dealing with the same disgusting message that you're not as good and not as valued.

For example, in golf we have Leona Maguire, a great golfer. I was at the top Ireland's Golf Open for women in Ireland just two weeks ago. The overall purse was just under €400 000.  For the exact same course, with the exact same scores, for men the purse was €6 000 000.

It cannot be left to ministers of sports and sports clubs to level the playing field. The sponsors and the media have a huge part to play. What message do sponsors and media want to give to their own daughters and sisters and granddaughters and aunties and goddaughters? That they should be valued less? That they are not equal?

I also want to recognise in particular the women of Iran, who not only are not allowed to compete in sports but are actually forbidden to even attend any sports events.

This is 2022, not 1972. We must do better.

It is up to us, as politicians, and I say to the young people here today: I apologise, I am ashamed. And though we have failed to value equally, you are equal.

Thank you.

Mr Bertrand BOUYX

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:23:33

Thank you.

I call on Mr John HOWELL, from the United Kingdom.

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC/DA

18:23:41

Thank you, Mister President.

I want to make three points in this debate.

The first is in relation to the Istanbul Convention.

You will be aware that my own country ratified the Istanbul Convention only recently. That came about after a lot of pressure, particularly from me, in trying to get them to take that forward. I do think that that is important for guaranteeing a basic level of security for women, whether they are in sport or not.

As I mentioned at the seminar that we had on Sunday, it is very important that the remaining seven countries that have not ratified the Istanbul Convention be encouraged to do so. This Assembly should give somebody like Mr Rik DAEMS the responsibility for going around and encouraging them to do this.

My second point is in relation to the encouragement of women sport.

It has long been my belief that in order to encourage women sport, what you need is a big PR event. We've had that. We've had The Lionesses football match.

That was against Germany, of course. We won. I have to say that, it would be unfair if I didn't. But that has transformed the attitude of British people towards women sports. It is the first time they have seen women's football, and it is the first time they have engaged with women's football in a really meaningful way.

I must say that I was disappointed in one respect, and that was that women's football was just as dirty as men's football. There were the same number of... There is somebody here who disagrees with me on that but, I stick to what I said. There were the same number of disagreements on the field as there had been in a men's match. I was looking for something better than that.

But I think that that can help the third point that I wish to make, which is a very valid one.

There are still massive inequalities in pay between women, for women's sports people and for men's sports people. It is by bringing out the sort of discrepancies that there are in the context of big matches that we can achieve more to take women's sport forward and give them the chance to really participate even at the outrageous rates that the male footballers charge for their services and to take that forward for the future.

Thank you.

Mr Bertrand BOUYX

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:26:49

Thank you.

I call Ms Nerea AHEDO, from Spain.

Ms Nerea AHEDO

Spain, ALDE

18:27:00

Thank you, Chair. 

First of all, I would like to thank the rapporteur for the wonderful work done. And irrespective of the progress that has been made, as you mention, discrimination in sports still exists and it is an indication of the inequality that exists in general between men and women. I am afraid that I do not know any other sphere where we have this level of discrimination. 

I would like to speak at two levels.

First of all, about school sports. In school sports, there are more children, children that do sports in other words. There are differentiated sports as well. Girls for the most part do gymnastics and boys do rugby. So I think we need to start from the very beginning: to sensitise people so that we do not have this type of segregation in sport with children as well.

Something else is important as well. Girls have to have some point of reference. And very few of these references are women. They have few feminine references because there are few female professionals or few sportswomen that are out there and that serve as symbols for women. 

Or there is also the issue of salary, there are numerous impediments that exist for women so that they are able to move forward. We do not have enough professional women out there that can serve as kind of symbols or idols for girls so you can understand what the consequences are.

And then of course there is discrimination or the discrepancy that exists between sports that are associated with girls and others that are associated with boys. We have seen to a certain extent that overcoming these particular stereotypes, girls playing beach volleyball but then we move into a totally different sphere altogether. So these particular issues are issues that create a situation in general where women, or little girls rather, are not encouraged to become professional sportswomen and if they were to become so under the circumstances they would not be able to survive financially. 

And then there is violence as well. And here, I think it is absolutely necessary to have some sort of legislative framework in place everywhere but a lot of groundwork has to be done. 

We have heard about the multiple layers of discrimination as well. The lack of other women in the sports world, not sportswomen, but in different organisations, technical committees, associations, and clubs. So women have to have greater access to the managerial level of the sports world as well. 

And we also have to look at what sports media offer to people. There are numerous different risks in the way sports are presented in the media as well for women.

We also have to fight for gender equality in the realm of salaries as well and compensation. There is a lot of work that has to be done from early on in childhood to provide for children in schools and a lot of groundwork that has to be done to prepare the necessary foundation for a legislative framework to be built because right now where we find ourselves is totally insufficient. 

Thank you.

Mr Bertrand BOUYX

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:30:52

Thank you.

I would like to give the floor to Ms Selin SAYEK BÖKE, from Türkiye.

Ms Selin SAYEK BÖKE

Türkiye, SOC

18:31:03

Thank you.

Women's volleyball has been an up and rising phenomenon in Türkiye, recently.

Our national team, now called "The Sultans of the Net", have blazed the trails and cleared hurdles and earned a much deserved admiration from all of us. Most admirably, they didn't leave their success on the court; they actually decided to trailblaze off the courts as well.

One of the many examples is one of their players, Bahar Toksoy Guidetti, from the team and her husband, the coach of the team Giovanni Guidetti, they initiated the project which they called "Sultans of the Future", and what they did was they decided to reach out to the disadvantaged regions in Türkiye to find the girls who would be ready to play volleyball but who had never seen volleyball before.

They decided to provide equality of opportunities to girls in areas where they didn't have equal opportunity, and, most importantly, to educate their parents to say "this is doable". The project quickly picked up. They were able to reach out to the girls, and the girls imagination was triggered. But then one day, one of these girls came up to Ms Toksoy Guidetti and said "I wish you had never come here". When Ms Toksoy Guidetti asked why, she said "because until you came here, I didn't know of the game. Now I know of the game, but I don't have the means to play it."

This was a wake-up call reminding all of us that there are structural inequalities which keep the girls away from their imagination and their dreams. It's not enough just to give them the means to imagine. We have to give them the means to achieve and to overcome the structural inequalities they face at all ages as girls and as women and the entrenched structural barriers in the system that we have to overcome.

This anecdote is a reminder of how critical and important this resolution is, because this resolution calls out to prevent gender-based violence and harassment in and through sports, to protect the victims, prosecute the perpetrators, and design policies. This is nothing but the 4P approach of the Istanbul convention. We need to ratify it.

It calls for regulations to be put in place to ensure equal pay so that these girls don't just imagine, but actually do it and get what they deserve to get.

It calls for an integrated gender perspective to media coverage of sporting events to ensure equal and fair media coverage for all women athletes.

It calls for adaptation of quotas to increase participation of women in governing bodies of sports federations.

After winning individual gold and the women's gymnastics all around in 2016, Simone Biles in an interview made a declaration. She said "I'm not the next Hussain Bolt or Michael Phelps, I am the first Simone Biles".

I must say I hope our collective efforts reflected in this resolution will allow all girls and women to rise up to their unique and individual dreams.

I congratulate our rapporteur for taking a step in this direction.

 

Mr Bertrand BOUYX

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:34:28

Thank you.

I would like to call on Mr Don DAVIES from Canada.

Mr Don DAVIES

Canada

18:34:35

Honourable colleagues,

It is a privilege to rise today to discuss a topic of wide importance: discrimination against women in sports.

Rapporteur Ms Edite ESTRELA's report is a powerful call to action to address long-standing fundamental gender bias and discrimination. It brings a special focus on discrimination against particular groups of women including lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex women.

The report highlights that LBTI women face unique barriers such as a lack of support from their families, rejection from sports teams, and media portrayals negative stereotyping about LBTI athletes.

Although results from a 2015 study showed that Canada fared better than some countries considered, results also showed that homophobic acts are widespread in Canadian sport. For example, some 45% of lesbian athletes reported experiencing homophobic acts in my country. 

These data make it clear that more needs to be done to protect the safety of LBTI women in sports and gender and sexual orientation based discrimination.

Unfortunately, many other groups of women faced discrimination in sport as well. According to Canadian women in sport, women who are indigenous or racialised face unique barriers to their participation in sports. This includes gross stereotypes and discrimination based on race, religion, and cultural practice.

More generally, all women face a lack of sport and recreational spaces for women only and for gender diverse individuals, limited accommodations for child care and family obligations, and financial barriers.

Recognising that the indigenous peoples have faced many barriers to their participation sports, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada issued several calls to action in this area, including the development of a national sports programme and initiatives by and for indigenous people, the creation of an elite development programme for indigenous athletes and anti-racism awareness programmes.

As well, results from a 2019 survey of Canadian national team athletes, show that twice the number of female para-athletes reported experiencing situations where their basic needs were not met compared with athletes without a disability.

Colleagues, women make up half of our world. Their access to sports and equal treatment are matters of basic fundamental human rights. I hope that all member states will work individually and together to make sport safe and equal for all women and girls around the globe. This involves amateur sports as well as professional sports.

I want to particularly single out my colleagues who have pointed out the gross inequality in the way that professional women athletes are treated from their male counterparts.

Hopefully, this report and the dialogue it engenders will allow us to find additional ways to achieve our goals for the next generation of girls and women.

Thank you, colleagues.

Mr Bertrand BOUYX

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:37:38

Thank you.

I call Ms Nicole HÖCHST, from Germany.

Ms Nicole HÖCHST

Germany, EC/DA

18:37:47

Mister President,

Dear colleagues,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Women's sports deserve the highest recognition because they help girls and women gain self-esteem and self-efficacy, the drivers of emancipation and lived equality. Anything that helps to make women's sports a safer place for women and girls is to be supported. Sport also does a great job as a catalyst for integration.

In sports, gender, ancestry, language, and religious or political views play no role. This is a great achievement for our co-existence and social cohesion beyond affiliations. This characteristic has always been inherent in sports. It is therefore incomprehensible that it should now be charged with so-called "political education", as mentioned in point 412 in the report. What, then, makes a good coach? Certainly not one that conveys political attitudes of a dominant ideology.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We've had that in Europe before - and we don't want it again. Sport should not be made the servant of political messages. That is unworthy and shameful. It is a pity that women's sports still lead a shadowy existence alongside men's sports in many disciplines. It is to be welcomed that efforts are being made to remedy this. In 2022, it is not really clear why women and men should be treated differently in sports of all things.

There are very many very important demands in terms of women's sports in your resolution. But in the end, there is a major snag in the report. Because you want to integrate new women, who are biologically male and have all the advantages of male bodies in terms of strength, speed and endurance compared to biologically female bodies, into women's sports. In doing so, ladies and gentlemen, you are undoing in one fell swoop the decades-long fight for women's sports. Because everywhere new women have competed in women's events so far; in weightlifting, in swimming, in sprinting, they have outperformed biological women and robbed them of their well-deserved victory, the culmination of years of hard training, as well as prize money and scholarships.

With this resolution, you are advocating that biological men in artificially medicated womanised bodies could ultimately even push women out of women's sports. So, with all understanding of the transgender phenomenon and not discriminating against these people - this must not be allowed to happen, because this is deeply misogynistic.

Thank you very much.

Mr Bertrand BOUYX

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:40:48

Thank you.

I call Ms Mireille CLAPOT, from France.

Ms Mireille CLAPOT

France, ALDE

18:40:56

When a little girl looks at her school playground, she may see boys playing soccer and making fun of girls who are relegated to the sidelines to play with dolls; or she may see her friends – girls and boys mixed together – playing ball games or hide-and-seek, running, jumping, in short, discovering the possibilities of physical exercise. 

When a little girl watches television, she should be able to identify with a champion and say to her brother or parents, "one day I will be like her," without being told, "no, it will be too hard for you, you will not have a family life, you will have to make unheard-of efforts and you will earn less than your male colleagues."

When a girl surfs the Internet, she is often confronted with a stereotypical representation that assigns her to a sexualised, eroticised body and an object of male desire. She should be able to find diverse images, recognition of her specificity in terms of sexual orientation and never, ever be confronted with hateful comments.

When a young girl engages in a sport, she enters a family where the coach becomes the adult of reference; the one in whom one confides; the one who sees the possibilities of the body, the limits of the body; the one who witnesses the transformations of the body at puberty; the one who sees the nascent emotions linked to the blossoming of sexuality. She becomes dependent on this adult, who can then either help her on her way to performance or abuse her with this psychological domination.

Dear Rapporteur, dear colleagues,

I believe that sport is an activity where one learns to respect the rules, where body and soul surpass themselves, and where one creates beneficial social links. Sport, if it is practised without excess and if it is not instrumentalized by nationalism or religious proselytising, is an activity full of benefits. Sport, if it is not a space of domination, is a formidable vector of emancipation.

Numerous testimonies collected by your excellent investigation, Rapporteur, show that the young girl athlete is weakened and that she must be protected in an institutional way.

For a long time, the law of silence prevailed. But tongues have been loosened: Sarah Abitbol, the French figure skater, has denounced the sexual violence imposed by her coach.

So we must welcome programs to prevent violence and inequality when they exist, and we must encourage states to do their part through appropriate public policies. The tools exist. Let us set an example in the Member States. Let us encourage our federations to guarantee equality, including by developing infrastructures and helping them to have access to training for female coaches and referees. Let us encourage the media to be fair in their broadcasts and commentaries. Let us work for equal income.

Thanks to your report, dear colleague, Ms Edite ESTRELA, and thanks to the resolution we are going to vote on, every girl will be able to project herself into a future as a champion and will be able to experience competition in harmony with her personal development, with men and not in distrust of men.

Mr Bertrand BOUYX

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:44:14

Thank you.

I would like to give the floor to Ms Minerva HERNÁNDEZ RAMOS, from Mexico, who will be our last speaker.

Ms Minerva HERNÁNDEZ RAMOS

Mexico

18:44:24

Good afternoon, Colleagues.

Good morning, Mexico.

I have always believed in the potential of women in sports is a source of competitiveness and strength.

Women have been gaining considerable ground within the world of sport. Nevertheless, their position is not yet exempt from violence and sexism. Therefore, it is hard to see that we still have an environment that favours men and not women.

One of the greatest injustices against women who compete at the professional level is the inequality in pay. Exactly one year ago, in Mexico, the Federal Competition Commission Economic decided to invest millions of pesos for sports clubs in Mexico. It was agreed that there would be an increase in the pay of top elite women athletes.

Now, unfortunately we had many cases that undermined social cohesion and equality. We need to move on from that. We need to revalue women athletes´ contributions to the world of sports and avoid making their situation invisible. We need to achieve genuine gender equality in sports. That should be our mission.

I think the outstanding soccer player Megan Rapinoe is the best example to illustrate this topic because, in her words “It is much more than money that they pay to the players, it is actually about the investment in the game because it is not fair. We are talking about investment in marketing, in the young women, in the players, in the coaching team and I don't think it's fair with men".

This is what it is about. It is a fight to level the playing field between men and women.

Not just on the question of equal pay, but making sure that there is true equality in the investments of financial, physical, material and human resources for men and women. I believe that we should commit ourselves to those goals.

We should not neglect either to consider the other problems arising from the discrimination against women that have a negative impact on their access to sport and its professional practice. Problems like bullying, violence, abuse, prejudice, marginalisation or sexism, are the various facets in which this discrimination expresses itself.

As indicated by this Assembly in the resolution adopted in 2016, "sport is a noble vehicle that allows society and its members to achieve equity, integration and inclusion."

I wholeheartedly subscribe to that, and I send you the warmest Mexican greetings, ladies and gentlemen.

 

Ms Heike ENGELHARDT

Germany, SOC

20:18:07

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

Ms Béatrice FRESKO-ROLFO

Monaco, ALDE

20:18:51

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

Ms Lucie MONCION

Canada

20:20:08

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

Mr Éctor Jaime RAMÍREZ BARBA

Mexico

20:20:51

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

Thank you very much, Mr. President,

We recognize the wonderful work and presentation made by Mrs. Edite ESTRELA, in the preparation of this report and of course, we appreciate and support the resolution.

Dear fellow parliamentarians,

In Mexican society, many gender inequalities still prevail for a variety of reasons, which is why actions were taken to transform this reality. However, we still have a long way to go to achieve substantive equality.

The sports field reflects the serious problems of inequality that we have as a society, which is why the prevailing inequalities in sports exclude a large part of the female population.

Achieving full female participation implies breaking sexist stereotypes and the artificial separation between sports for men and women. However, resistance and prejudice still persist, even in the basic conceptions of sports policies of the countries.

Yearning collected since 1994, in the Brighton Declaration, where 280 delegates from 82 countries (Mexico included) raised the need to strengthen the culture of incorporating women into sport. The Brighton declaration includes the decision of the states to commit all possible efforts to ensure that the sports institutions of each country observe the norms of the United Nations charter, the universal declaration of human rights and other international conventions. More specifically, a declaration encompasses the agreed rules and regulations in relation to women and sport, as follows.

Today, the fulfilment of the commitments of said declaration seems only a distant aspiration; to increase female participation in sport it is necessary that the responsibility assumed by the countries be reflected in the definition and implementation of public policies and programs that have the necessary budgets and investments, since it is women who have traditionally been excluded.

Achieving equal access to the practice of sport is necessary, but we also have to overcome the reproduction of socially deforming stereotypes by having sports exclusively for women or men.

Traditions and prejudices limit the participation of women and men in sport and the opportunities to improve their physical abilities and their freedom to choose.

We hope that the increasing incorporation of women into the labor market and university education will necessarily have a reflection on the breaking of stereotypes in the sports field.

Sport must transcend competition and commercialization, to become a tool for inclusion and equal participation of women and men; that eliminates stereotypes and prejudices, as well as discrimination and violence. Sport must strengthen social ties, promote sustainable development and peace, as well as solidarity and respect for all people, to build more just, participatory, and democratic societies.

Mr Bertrand BOUYX

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:47:22

Thank you, Ms HERNÁNDEZ RAMOS, and greetings from the Council of Europe to the observers from Mexico and Canada.

We must now interrupt the list of speakers here.

Registered speakers who have been present during the debate and have not been able to speak may transmit their typed statement to the Table Office within four hours for publication in the Official Report. This text must not exceed 400 words and must be transmitted electronically.

I call for the reply of the Committee.

Rapporteur Ms Edite ESTRELA, you have 5 minutes to reply to the speakers.

Ms Edite ESTRELA

Portugal, SOC, Rapporteur

18:48:05

I would like to thank the colleagues who have spoken, both women and men.

With regard to what Ms Margreet De BOER asked, "Where are the men?", I would like to emphasise that discrimination against women is not a women´s problem: it is a societal problem.

I also want to thank the colleague who spoke first, who gave a testimony that touched me, because she spoke about her own experience.

I would also like to thank the colleague who reminded us that Iranian women are not allowed to play sports. I want to take this opportunity to repudiate the violence against Iranian women and support their struggle.

Whether in sports, politics or society, women do not want privileges: they want rights and women's rights are human rights.

I will end by saying that it is necessary to abandon the idea that women are used to working but do not know how to make decisions. The road is long and full of pitfalls, but it must be travelled without wasting time.

No one voluntarily gives up power: women must be the ones to fight for the right to share equality with men, both in the sports and public spheres and in the private sphere.

One thing is certain: one who has the privileges does not want to lose them and one who is well seated in the chair of power will not get up if they do not have to. History shows that. In this respect, male courtesy has not worked.

I would also like to thank the secretariat of the Commission on Equality, in particular Ms Elodie Fischer, whose professionalism and dedication must be highlighted. She was tireless in preparing the hearings and the many debates - and online hearings - that we held throughout the process.

Now, I hope that the resolution will be approved.

Thank you very much.

Mr Bertrand BOUYX

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:51:21

Thank you, my dear colleague.

Does Ms Annicka ENGBLOM, Chairperson of the Commission, wish to speak?

Ms Annicka ENGBLOM

Sweden, EPP/CD, Chairperson of the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination

18:51:31

Merci Monsieur le President.

Dear colleagues. 

Sport is a wonderful thing. It is a passion for many and it is not only fun and has a positive impact on our health, but it also, in its essence, knows no boundaries or supersedes language barriers and as stressed by our rapporteur, Ms Edite ESTRELA in her report, works as a powerful tool for emancipation and inclusion for all, and for those who have the talent, offers a professional career.

However, when we talk about professional sports, a majority, unfortunately, think about sports with male athletes. Sport is not a level playing field because it is a fact that male athletes get more publicity, male competitions have better broadcasting hours, and teams have better work contracts. We have, Mr Chair, undeniably seen progress with regard to women's participation in sports competitions. They get more attention in football, for instance, because they are female athletes who are now known throughout the world. But the picture is far from being ideal, especially sports on a non-professional level.

And if I may take the opportunity, Mr Chair, I believe that many still lingering in this room – and especially women – have dealt with and been practitioners in sports. And I for certain believe that our young spectators listening to the debate here as well indeed are practitioners today, and I expect that many of our distinguished colleagues of this Assembly are mothers and fathers of daughters. Now picture yourselves: your daughters are being harassed, being victims of injustices and so forth and even violence. Pick yourself in front of them and then you understand why such a report with real conclusions, like Ms Edite ESTRELA's, is so vital.

Mr Chair, the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination adopted this resolution unanimously. We have had enriching discussions and this resolution is an inspiration for all. 

And if I may finally add, because I would like us to vote unanimously also here in the hemicycle for this report. This is my last address to this Assembly and as such, I take the opportunity for a request to the Secretariat and to the Presidency, is that you put, since issues on equality have been a major item throughout my life outside of politics and throughout my political career, put it at the beginning of the Agenda for every future session.

Thank you very much and thank you Ms Edite ESTRELA.

 

Vote: The fight for a level playing field – ending discrimination against women in the world of sport

Mr Bertrand BOUYX

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:54:56

So noted. Thank you, Madam Chair.

The general discussion is closed.

The Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination has presented a draft resolution to which no amendments have been tabled.

We shall therefore proceed directly to vote on the draft resolution contained in Doc. 15611.

The draft resolution contained in Doc. 15611 is adopted.

Well done.

Debate: The honouring of membership obligations to the Council of Europe by Romania

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly

18:57:51

Can we take our seats and get ready for the next debate, please?

Okay, let us make a start.

The final item of business this afternoon is a debate on the report titled "The honouring of membership obligations to the Council of Europe by Romania". It is Document 15617, presented by Ms Edite ESTRELA and Ms Krista BAUMANE on behalf of the Monitoring Committee.

In order to finish by 8:00 p.m., I will interrupt the list of speakers at 7:30 p.m. to allow time for the replies and the votes.

We will begin with Ms Edite ESTRELA.

Do we have Ms Krista BAUMANE?

She's coming.

Okay.

It's okay, we're not going to start with you, so you can make your way here.

Ms Edite ESTRELA, if we can start with you, that would be very good.

You have 5 minutes each and 5 minutes in total to reply at the end of the debate.

Madam Edite ESTRELA.

Ms Edite ESTRELA

Portugal, SOC, Co-Rapporteur

18:59:42

Dear Colleagues,

Romania was one of the first three countries selected by the Monitoring Committee according to the new procedure of periodic reports. It has taken longer than initially expected to prepare this report. Firstly, procedural questions had to be clarified, then there was a pandemic, a political crisis and elections in Romania. Rapporteurs have also been replaced several times due to their internal elections.

We have based our report on a variety of sources: findings of relevant Council of Europe monitoring mechanisms; relevant work of the European Commission and its monitoring reports on the judiciary and the fight against corruption; opinions of the Venice Commission and relevant judgements of the European Court of Human Rights.

We then verified all this information in direct contact with the representatives of the civil society in Romania, in a series of online meetings and during our visit in Bucharest on 4 and 5 July 2022.

We received exhaustive comments to our draft memorandum from the Romanian authorities and in particular from the Ministry of Justice, Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Superior Council for Magistracy.

First of all, I wish to stress that we have recognised the substantial progress accomplished by Romania towards compliance with Council of Europe standards, in particular with regard to the judiciary and the fight against corruption, and this is despite the backslide which occurred between 2017 and 2019.

In the area of the judiciary, the Government adopted the Strategy for the Development of the Judiciary for 2022-25, defining clear deadlines for the implementation of the reforms.

The authorities followed the recommendations of the Venice Commission, the GRECO and the European Commission to dismantle the controversial section for the investigation of criminal offences in the judiciary.

On 11 March 2022, the law dismantling the section was adopted. The competence to investigate criminal offences committed by magistrates has been transferred to designated prosecutors within the prosecutor's offices attached to the High Court of Cassation and Justice and the Courts of Appeal. However, there are some issues which should be followed.

The ongoing reform foresees the adoption of three justice laws which define the judicial system in Romania. They include the Law on the Status of Magistrates, the Law on the Organisation of the Judiciary and the Law on the Superior Council of Magistracy. They have already been submitted by the Government to the Parliament, and they are undergoing the legislative procedure.

The Monitoring Committee has requested the Venice Commission's opinion on the drafts. It should be adopted in December 2022. We hope that the authorities will take into account the Venice Commission's recommendations.

Regarding the fight against corruption, it should be noted that the Government is implementing the Anti-Corruption Strategy for 2021 to 2025, which has already given encouraging results in terms of increased effectiveness of the investigation and sanctioning of medium and high level corruption.

We have also been informed that amendments to the Criminal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code relating, inter alia, to corruption crimes and abuse of office are under preparation.

Among the outstanding concerns, the question of implementation of European Court's judgements remains one of the most worrying. The situation of media raises another concern.

Concerning human rights, we are much more positive in our assessment. Romania is considered as an example of good European practices in the field of rights of persons belonging to minorities by the monitoring body of the Framework Convention on Minorities. Minority groups represent in Romania over 10% of total population. They are represented in the Government's consultative body which has constitutionally guaranteed representation in Parliament.

Romania should also be commended for the way it has handled the inflow of refugees from Ukraine following the invasion of that country by the Russian Federation.

Last but not least, Romanian authorities should be commended for the recent amendment to Article 369 of the Penal Code which extends the application of the motion of “incitement to hatred or discrimination” to a larger number of vulnerable groups.

Thank you very much for your attention.

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly

19:05:46

Thank you.

Now, Madam Krista BAUMANE, 5 minutes.

I'm going to be strict with you: 5 minutes.

Ms Krista BAUMANE

Latvia, ALDE, Co-Rapporteur

19:05:56

In addition to what my co-rapporteur said about the sources of our information on which we base the report, I would like to stress how instrumental in this respect was our visit to Bucharest.

It enabled us to conduct a direct political dialogue with the authorities. And it should be underscored that all our interlocutors demonstrated openness and very clear political commitments to fulfil all remaining obligations resulting from the membership in the Council of Europe.

In our official meetings in Bucharest we raised the concerns formulated by representatives of the civil society, media, minorities, and other vulnerable groups during our earlier online meetings. These direct exchanges have enabled us to better understand the situation and identify real concerns in the areas, which are crucial for the functioning of democratic institutions.

I think it was very useful to speak to all these interlocutors before we met officials, and it was good that officials could get acquainted with the concerns formulated in our draft and our memorandum also before we met. This allowed for substantial and efficient dialogue.

First of all, I wish to underscore on behalf of both of us that we really appreciated the authorities commitment and will to cooperate. Starting from the delegation, all interlocutors demonstrated openness and a clear commitment for dialogue and democratic values. All these meetings are very informative. They allowed us to gather updated information and get acquainted with the authorities position on the concerns formulated in our draft report.

We took account of all their arguments including written comments sent to us in the beginning of August, in the framework of the usual procedure in the final report, which is now in front of you. Indeed, we have tried to accommodate all authorities remarks, even if not all of them have entirely convinced us, which we make clear in the text. But we do believe that they should be reflected and heard.

I would like to draw particular attention to two following issues.

First, we met representatives of two judges associations. They claimed to represent the position of also two other foreign associations. There are six magistrate associations in Romania. These two – Association of Magistrates in Romania and the Forum of Judges in Romania – were very critical about the recommendation to dismantle the section for the investigation of offences committed within the judiciary. They claimed that the position of the European institutions concerning the question of compatibility of the section with democratic standards was based on "serious fundamental errors and justified by pseudo arguments that were part of fake news and disinformation campaign".

They were very upset by the fact that their voice had apparently not been heard and taken into account. They provided us with a big file of letters sent to the European institutions which, according to them, remained unanswered. They also expressed some fears about the risk of polarisation of the judiciary, as a result of new arrangements replacing the section.

I think this issue should be followed up and different – sometimes conflicting – positions of judges associations should be heard and taken into account. Nobody should have the impression that they were ignored.

The second issue relates to the use of public funds allocated by the state to political parties for secret contracts with media. We were shocked to hear from different sources, including the ombudsperson, that political parties signed contracts with media and the content of these contracts remained secret. While the practice of agreement between political parties and media is not unusual, it should be clear what the media are paid for: promotion of parties, program position on certain issues, advertisement, etc.

If it is a secret, it raises utmost concerns with regard to editorial independence, let alone freedom of expression of journalists. We were told that during electoral campaigns these questions are properly regulated. Why then outside the election periods such a serious shortcoming exists? As a result, as we were told, the main political parties are hardly criticized by Romanian media.

To complete my colleague's presentation, I would only like to add that we were satisfied to hear that hate speech is also actively combated in the Romanian Parliament, which just before our visit included in its rules of procedure new provisions facilitating the punishment of hate speech in parliament.

I look forward to the debate.

Thank you.

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly

19:11:04

Thank you very much indeed.

Now we move on to our list of speakers. I call Mr Sorin-Titus MUNCACIU.

Mr Sorin-Titus MUNCACIU

Romania, EC/DA, Spokesperson for the group

19:11:18

Thank you very much, Mister Chairman.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Although it is very clear that Romania is one of the countries that are going out of its way to accommodate the minorities, we have 17 members of parliament who were not elected through the regular standard election procedure. We also have laws and regulations edited in a bilingual fashion. However, when it comes to the description of the relationship between the ethnic groups, I think the rapporteur took a bias. Therefore, I believe that it will do to this Committee a great deal of correction when it comes to this. You can have in a civil society an international European paper being biased.

In other words, it was one-sided when it comes to the minorities with the description of the relationship. Therefore, to my knowledge, we were not consulted on the subject although we have involvement in that and the episode of the international military cemetery.

We believe that because of that and not to inflame the relationship, it is very important in a country like Romania to keep a good and faithful relationship between minorities. The Hungarian party that is representing the Hungarian minority has been in power for more than 20 years. That is why we do not understand why the rapporteurs took a biased position. Therefore, I propose a motion to send the report back to the Committee. That is my statement.

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly

19:13:51

Before we move on to the next speaker, can I just understand that you are moving a formal motion now to send this back?

Okay.

Mr Sorin-Titus MUNCACIU has proposed that the report be referred back to the Committee.

This motion can be agreed by a simple majority.

On this motion, only the proposer and one speaker against, and the Rapporteur or Chairperson concerned may be heard.

The proposer has already spoken.

Does anyone apart from the Rapporteur or Chairperson concerned wish to oppose this motion?

Mister Titus CORLĂŢEAN.

Mr Titus CORLĂŢEAN

Romania, SOC

19:14:43

Dear Chair and Colleagues,

I understand some of the ideas that were expressed by our colleague from Romania, but with all due respect, the report is an objective one. It was an objective work of the rapporteurs and owed the full respect for the work of the rapporteurs.

I will oppose this motion, and the proposal is to continue the debate and the adoption of the report today.

Thank you.

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly

19:15:09

Thank you very much.

The Assembly will now vote on...

Sorry, I forgot to ask the Rapporteur or the Chairperson of the of the Committee.

You have 30 seconds.

Ms Edite ESTRELA

Portugal, SOC, Co-Rapporteur

19:15:26

We are against.

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly

19:15:28

Okay. Fine.

The Assembly will now vote on the motion to refer this report back to the Committee.

If you agree with Mr Sorin-Titus MUNCACIU, you vote "Yes". If you agree with Mr Titus CORLĂŢEAN, you vote "No".

It is not working? Just give it a minute, and I am sure it will work. There we are. Now it is open; it is open as if by magic.

Please vote.

I think that we can close the vote now

Can you display the result, please?

The motion is rejected.

We move on with the debate to Ms Fiona O'LOUGHLIN. You have 3 minutes. I almost gave you 30 seconds.

Ms Fiona O'LOUGHLIN

Ireland, ALDE, Spokesperson for the group

19:16:48

I was nearly happy to have that.

Thank you, Chair and colleagues.

Let me start by thanking the co-rapporteurs for this report on Romania. Ms Edite ESTRELA and my Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe colleague Ms Krista BAUMANE for their work and I think also for their empathy and their understanding for the complex issues in Romania.

It's important to say that this is mainly a positive report. Of course, the general framework of the rule of law is in a significantly better shape than it was in 2017 to 2019. That has to be acknowledged and commended.

I want to take the opportunity to stress the importance of a few particular issues.

Firstly, freedom of media. Unfortunately, the fact that information provided by media outlets is not necessarily correct, there is a real breakdown in relation to public trust, because we cannot give credibility to the particular information that's coming from media outlets.

In theory, there is a system of safeguards for the pluralism and independence of media but, in reality, there are no safeguards possible as long as governing bodies exploit loopholes in order to avoid this particular situation.

We also need to demand full transparency of press, and also the propaganda expenses of political parties, not just at election time, but on an ongoing basis.

It's absolutely wrong that some political agents use legal paths to circumvent norms about influencing freedom of expression.

A solution needs to be found, and by far, the best solution is international monitoring and pressure in order to prevent the possibility of using public money to cover for media favouritism.

We also need to ensure that there is full and autonomous independence of the national audio-visual council.

I think it's important that the Council of Europe will continue, should continue, to monitor this particular aspect of life in Romania and find the best tools to support a fully independent media, particularly at times where truth and correct information are absolutely vital for European democracy.

Another issue is human trafficking. There are several reports, the most recent one published by the USA State Department, that note that Romania remains a primary source country for sex trafficking and labour trafficking victims in Europe. The vast majority of identified victims, 77% in 2021, being sex trafficking victims.

Asylum seekers are indeed at risk for trafficking, but so are young women in underdeveloped areas in the country. What Romania needs to do far more is to protect them and to prevent sex exploitation. Far more attention needs to be paid to this.

The report also points out that there is a hostile attitude towards LGBTI people in Romania which may render them as targets of violence. Legislation introduced in 2020 was most unhelpful in this regard and it's important that we address this democratic backsliding.

Thank you.

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly

19:20:22

Thank you very much.

Now Mr George KATROUGALOS. You, too, have 3 minutes. 

Mr George KATROUGALOS

Greece, UEL, Spokesperson for the group

19:20:29

Thank you very much, Mister Chair.

I, myself, also want to congratulate the two co-rapporteurs for a very comprehensive, very clear report.

I agree on all points both regarding the findings and the suggestions, so I am not going to be very analytical; I am going to be very brief.

I also want to express my satisfaction coming from my neighbouring and friendly country that Romania is back on the road of reforms and the problems of the past related to some problems regarding the relations of the executive judiciary seem to be on the way to be resolved.

Contrary to remarks from colleagues I have heard, I think that the report is objective enough, describing the good record that Romania has or at the theme of protections of minorities where it should be considered one of the avant-garde countries, especially regarding the political representation of the minorities.

Regarding one of the problems that the rapporteur notes, the problem of the unexecuted judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, I must say that I fully understand the problem – the structural problem – because we have a similar one in Greece. It is related to the problems of our penitentiary system to be adapted to the right standards of the Convention of the European Court of Human Rights. It is not so much a matter of a political decision but rather a matter of infrastructure.

I also fully share the recommendations of the two rapporteurs regarding corruption, regarding the field of media. It is very important. We have similar problems again in my country, so I can really understand the situation there. I must say that the Government of Romania is taking more measures than the current Government of Greece.

Finally, although it is not statically related to this report, I want to express my confidence that with similar, positive steps, Romania is going to get out of these monitoring mechanisms of the European Union, which is long overdue, and it is going to have full access to the Schengen system.

Many thanks.

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly

19:23:16

Thank you very much, Mister George KATROUGALOS.

Now, Mr Stefan SCHENNACH.

Mr Stefan SCHENNACH

Austria, SOC, Spokesperson for the group

19:23:22

Thank you, Mister President.

I would also like to congratulate the two rapporteurs very, very warmly on this report. It shows that when a country – and Romania is obviously doing this – co‑operates with the Council of Europe and its institutions in the monitoring procedure, very, very positive reports are presented here.

In particular, I would like to highlight the co‑operation with the Venice Commission and the co‑operation with GRECO. Overall, after the difficult years 2017 to 2019, where we were all anxious; where will Romania go, it shows that Romania, and this report proves it to us, has returned to the road of reforms and that corruption is being fought and also the independence of the judiciary is being restored to a large extent.

There are also a few painful points that we must point out. One is the unbelievable backlog in implementing the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights. That is not possible. Romania really has to show that it is willing to comply with all these judgments. Romania has also signed up to this by becoming a member of the Council of Europe. It is also in the constitution. The second thing, which has already been mentioned today, is the slippery slope, the major slippery slope in the area of media pluralism. Secret contracts, contracts in the dark: none of that works. This is where we need to do more work. We have all taken note, and the rapporteurs have said, that the development of human rights is on a very, very good path.

However, I must also say that there is still great concern among the Roma minority that they are far behind in terms of general prosperity, that their inclusion in the workplace still leaves a lot to be desired. Therefore, these are three areas where Romania will hopefully follow suit in the next few years until the next report, but the anti-corruption strategy for the years 21 to 25, I'm already looking forward to the next report on this.

On that note, congratulations again. A very good report.

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly

19:26:28

Thank you, Mister Stefan SCHENNACH.

Is Ms Yelyzaveta YASKO in the building?

I think she is, yes.

Ms Yelyzaveta YASKO

Ukraine, EPP/CD, Spokesperson for the group

19:26:38

Dear Colleagues,

I think I'll be quite short.

I would like to speak in favour of this report on behalf of the Group of the European People's Party.

We discussed this report. We think it's comprehensive. It includes both information about the progress and developments of Romania with the standards of the Council of Europe.

It also includes those moments and those areas that need to be improved.

I think I want to congratulate, also, the rapporteurs for doing a very good work on this.

We, as Ukrainians, we really appreciate now a strong neighbour, Romania. We are very interested that all the developments to strengthen Romanian democracy, and judiciary, and media pluralism, actually take place in Romania, because we understand that we need to be strong together.

I would like also to mention that it's absolutely very important that the report mention how Romania managed to get national minority representation in their National Council. This is very important for national minorities' rights to be respected.

Those concerns that are raised regarding justice, media pluralism, and deterioration of the situation with media pluralism, this is concerning, but we also see that Romania showed co‑operation during this monitoring mission, and is open to improving it.

I would like to restate the position that it's important to vote in favour of this report.

Thank you.

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly

19:28:58

Thank you very much indeed.

Now we move on to the list of speakers. The first of those is Mr Titus CORLĂŢEAN.

Mr Titus CORLĂŢEAN

Romania, SOC

19:29:08

Thank you, President and colleagues.

First of all, and I'm doing this objectively. I'd like to thank and to express my appreciations for the hard work and the objective work of both rapporteurs, and for what was said about the positive dimension and about the critics.

And we are taking very seriously also the other part of critics.

I think it's most probably the most balanced, objective, and positive good report on Romania in the last many, many years here in the Council of Europe.

It reflects the political will of the authorities and effort of reform and progress that essentially is making a reference to important progress in the domain of judiciary, which was a subject in the previous years, combating corruption.

Solving a delicate and controversial fire related to the special section of the prosecutors, I open up a parenthesis. The rapporteur was right that this is controversial because there is a number of magistrate association, which are critical for dismantling this section, the government dismantled the majority in the parliament taking on board the recommendation of the Venice commission.

I'm fair saying that in the committee, I expressed during the years the fact that I have my doubts about the solution of the early dismantling of this section, because there was a very painful past, some years ago, when there was a secret protocol concluded by Romanian intelligence with important leaders of the prosecutors in putting pressure on the judges of the supreme court and on the political establishment for delivering things which are not constitutional and democratic.

But we took the Venice Commission's proposal. We dismantled the section and now the competence was sent to the general prosecution office and the prosecution of the courts of appeal. This is good because when there are abuses, someone from the magistrates, from the general prosecutors, should investigate these abuses.

Now there is also some other progress related  [to this]for instance the higher standards in human rights protection and combating hate speech. We fully agreed and we did it.

And, also, making reference to the very good European model of good practice in protecting national minorities in Romania, starting with political representation in parliament, which is not the same as some other countries which often are giving us lessons of morality.

And, last but not least, we take especially seriously those two issues on the execution of justice.

But this is the systemic problem of the administration of penitentiary. This implies a budgetary effort – it will some time. And the issue of financing of media and political parties.

Last but not least, I am confident that this report will be helpful for the final assessment that the European Commission, who have been working in close coordination for the last loss on justice which is the subject of the debate in the Parliament that will finally conclude this European commission, to finalise the mechanism of the verification of the co-operation of Romania, that remained after all these years under a discriminatory EU  approach compared to the other member states.

And finally, the positive role of Romania in supporting Ukraine, securing the borders, taking their refugees, and doing many things which are not visible in security aspects, exporting crops, and so on.

Thank you so much.

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly

19:32:41

Thank you, Mister Ionuț-Marian STROE.

Mr Ionuț-Marian STROE

Romania, EPP/CD

19:32:44

Thank you Mister Chair.

Dear Colleagues,

As president of the Romanian delegation, I welcome this report that acknowledges the significant progress that my country has made in the past few years.

I would like to thank the rapporteurs, who have done an excellent job in capturing the situation in Romania. Romania is a country where European values are deeply rooted in our mentality. Proof of this stands in the overwhelming majority of our population that has voted for the reversal of the provisions in the justice system that affected our democracy in 2017.

Fortunately, Romania has moved past that point, as the report recognises, too, and we are currently on a path of reforms. We are in the process of adopting the new justice laws which are in the parliament and which have been drafted in accordance with the help and of the recommendations formulated by the Venice Commission, GRECO and CVM reports, the Mechanism for Co-operation and Verification.

I appreciate the positive feedback that we are receiving from this report. This strengthens our confidence in that they meet European standards. Still on the subject of justice, Romania has made significant progress in the fight against corruption, as confirmed not only by this report but also by the general public's improved perception on the independence of the judiciary. 

Furthermore, I appreciate the recognition that has been given to my country for handling the Ukrainian refugee crisis. Over two million Ukrainians have entered Romania fleeing the war. Our reaction was swift and not only on the government's side but also from the regular citizens. In the early weeks of the war, when the number of refugees was very high, tens and thousands of Romanians went to the border to help, collect supplies and offer their assistance by housing refugees. I thank the rapporteurs for acknowledging this effort.

I end my intervention by assuring you, dear colleagues, that Romania is fully committed to the values of the Council of Europe, values that we hold dear to our hearts as they are the equivalent to a better future for all of us. 

Thank you very much. 

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly

19:35:16

Thank you.

Our last speaker, I'm afraid, will be Mr Barna Pál ZSIGMOND.

Mr Barna Pál ZSIGMOND

Hungary, EC/DA

19:35:22

Thank you, Mr Chair.

Dear Colleagues,

First, I would like to thank the Monitoring Committee and the rapporteurs for their work on the Romania country report. I welcome the report's findings that Romania has made significant progress in the judiciary system reform and in the fight against corruption. I agree with the Commission's statement that the effectiveness of any reforms undertaken by Romania can only be ensured through proper implementation of the legislation. Any rule is only as good as the extent to which it is respected by authorities and the population.

The Monitoring Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly also noted with concern in its draft resolution published on 14 September 2022 that Romania is among the states with the largest number of unexecuted judgments of the European Court of Human Rights.

Dear colleagues,

However, despite of positive developments in other issues, in Romania there are still serious problems with the implementation of the Framework Convention for the Protection of the Rights of National Minorities and in general with the rights of communities and individuals belonging to national minorities. I would like to highlight the most important of these, and I ask all of you and in particular the Romanian authorities to take actions to resolve these long-standing problems.

First, restitution of church property. The slow pace of church property restitution, buildings belonging to the Roman Catholic, Reformed, and Evangelical-Lutheran churches is an ongoing problem for decades. The failure to recover in court the Batthyaneum Library in Gyulafehérvár (Alba Iulia), and the rejection of dozens of other requests for restitution of church buildings, constitute acts of discrimination that consistently violate the right to freedom of conscience and religion.

Second, the minority use of symbols. The use of symbols of national minorities is still sanctioned by the authorities and the courts respectively.

Third, education in mother language. The authorities banned the operation of the Roman-Catholic High School in Târgu Mureș based on administrative issues, and at the same time gave the authorisation for another identical vocational school, an Orthodox theological high school. This is a clear discrimination towards the more than 400 pupils and their teachers who study and teach at the Roman Catholic Theological High School.

Fourth, use of the mother tongue and the Administrative Code. There is a regression concerning the legal framework regarding the use of the mother tongue in the local public administration and the decentralised services.

Fifth, hate speech. Hate speech against Hungarians and Roma is intensely present in sports competitions, especially at football games, both domestic and international games. Hate crimes are not classified as such, when the victims are citizens of Hungarian or Roma origins.

Dear colleagues, for these circumstances Romania cannot be considered as an example of good European practices in the field of national minority protection, and therefore, we initiated an amendment which is in line with the explanatory memorandum of this report.

As a consequence, I consider that we need further steps in Romania for the effective support of national minorities. Therefore, I cannot agree with the report.

Thank you again.

Ms Tamara VONTA

Slovenia, ALDE

20:36:04

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

The ongoing structural reforms of the Romanian judicial system and in the fight of corruption are aprreciated and should be commended. But there are still concerns. Romania is, as it is clearly underlined in the report, still among the states with the largest number of unexecuted judgements of the European Court of Human rights. This shouldn't be overlooked. Especially taking into consideration that the number of the unexecuted judgement in this EU member state does not decrease; quite the opposite; it increases.

This was clearly emphasized also at the last meeting of the minister's deputies held one month ago. I am coming from Slovenia where we are particularly sensitive to the question of execution of judgments of the European court of human rights. As you may know, we are implementing all judgments vs Slovenia though some of them represent considerable financial burden to our budget. Because we believe human rights shouldn't and must not be put under question because of money. That is why it is unacceptable for us to read about the unexecuted judgments in Romania, among which, by the way, is also Slovenian case of the Slovenian resident's company which worked with the Romanian company almost entirely state-owned. The court decided on case already in 2018 that the rights of the complainant were violated. It is 2022 and the judgment is still unexecuted.

I encourage Romania to find in a shortest time possible a political will to properly address the shortcomings on areas which raise concerns, in particularly also with regard to media freedom and funding. And me too, I also commend Romanian authorities for their humanitarian assistance to a large number of population in need as a consequence of war in Ukraine as well as for progress toward compliants with Council of Europe standards in certain areas.

 

Thank you, and congratulations to the rapporteur for excellent and thorough report.

Mr Viorel-Riceard BADEA

Romania, EPP/CD

20:36:21

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

Mr Francesco SORBARA

Canada

20:36:48

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

Honourable colleagues,

Since acceding to the Council of Europe nearly thirty years ago, Romania has made – to quote the report of co-rapporteurs Estrela and Baumane – “important progress with regard to the functioning of democratic institutions and respect for human rights.” I echo the report in commending Romania for that progress and for its “swift reaction and assistance” to the over 81,000 Ukrainians who have stayed in Romania in the wake of Russia’s illegal and unprovoked invasion. This year, Canada and Romania marked the 55th anniversary of our diplomatic relations and our governments are currently seized with work on both a “Declaration of Consolidated Partnership” and a “Roadmap for our bilateral relationship.” In short, we are close allies in the process of strengthening and expanding our already close relationship. Close allies, however, are frank with each other; and the report of co-rapporteurs Estrela and Baumane raises issues – namely with respect to corruption and media freedom – that Canada has also raised with Romania publicly in recent years. When Romania most recently underwent a Universal Periodic Review by the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2018, for example, Canada recommended that Romania: Support and intensify efforts to combat corruption by implementing the Anti‑Corruption Strategy and safeguarding the work of the National Anti‑Corruption Directorate and the High Court of Cassation and Justice.

I join the Assembly in welcoming the Romanian government’s adoption in December 2021 of the Anti-Corruption Strategy for 2021–2025 and applaud the “the increased effectiveness of the investigation and sanctioning of medium and high-level corruption.” At the same time, I also urge the Romanian government to continue its fight against the scourge of corruption by fully implementing the Strategy and “ensuring political support for its effectiveness.” Finally, Canada has raised concerns in the past – in the Universal Periodic Review, for example – about government efforts to “dilute media freedom” in Romania, and I share those concerns expressed in the report about “the use of public funds by political parties to finance media and influence their content on the basis of secret contracts.” Reporters Without Borders, I note, has also highlighted that issue. As such, I support the report’s call for full transparency of media ownership in Romania and for specific safeguards for editorial independence.

Ms Diana STOICA

Romania, ALDE

20:37:24

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

It’s not easy bringing up delicate issues about your country but I believe it is my duty to do so

First of all I want to thank the co-rapporteurs Edite ESTRELA and Krista BAUMANE for their work and understanding of the complex issues each of our countries face, especially in these challenging times that we are living.

I will begin by saying that I completely agree that Romania has made great progress in the past years after the harsh attack on the judiciary system that began in 2017.

However, I am concerned about a series of systematic challenges that we are still facing in my country. And unfortunately they are in regards to the main pillars of democracy – specifically to the judiciary system and the freedom of press.

In regards to the judiciary system, I am concerned about the content and the process that is taking place for the dismantling of the Special Section for Investigating Criminal Offenses. I fear that the measures taken so far do not ensure and do not encourage the independence of the judges and the public prosecutors. And it is because of this that I call upon my colleagues from the parliamentary majority to wait for the opinion of the Venice Commission before finalizing and adopting the JUSTICE LAWS.

In regards to the freedom of the press and transparency, I believe that the freedom of press and the guarantees of public trust in the information provided by media outlets are in great jeopardy.

Over the past few months, we have witnessed the harassment of journalists - one of the bravest independent journalists, Emilia Șercan, has been harassed for months now because she had the courage to question the originality of the prime minister’s PhD thesis. The cloud of intellectual fraud has still not been cleared.

Another issue is the lack of transparent funding by the political parties. A recent press investigation showed that just in the past years, certain parties have paid millions of euros to the press - especially to TV stations - that are still very popular in my country.

How can we expect the press to be independent and do its part in a democracy, being the watchdog and questioning the decisions and the actions of the government when their salaries are being paid by the political parties in the government?

How can we expect that the citizens will be correctly informed and the TV moderator will be impartial when she/he is being paid by one of the people she/he is interviewing.

As members of Parliament, we, the Save Romania Union, proposed legislative amendments in order to ensure full transparency of press and propaganda expenses of parties, outside the election campaign. We hope that it will be supported by all parties and become a reality as soon as possible.

In regards to the overall transparency for the public funding that parties receive, USR is still the only party who provides a full financial report, detailing how every cent is spent – and this information is accessible to anyone, on our website.

Last but not least, I am sure that the Council of Europe will continue to monitor this particular aspect of the rule of law in Romania and will find the best tools to support a full independence of media, in times where truth and correct information are vital for European democracy.

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly

19:38:18

Thank you very much.

I must now, I'm afraid, interrupt the list of speakers.

The speeches of members on the speakers list who have been physically or remotely present during the debate but have not been able to speak may be given to the Table Office for publication in the Official Report. I remind colleagues that the texts are to be submitted in typescript, electronically if possible, no later than four hours after the list of speakers is interrupted.

I now call Ms Krista BAUMANE and Ms Edite ESTRELA, the rapporteurs, to reply to the debate.

You have 5 minutes in total, that is 5 minutes split between the two of you.

Ms Edite ESTRELA

Portugal, SOC, Co-Rapporteur

19:39:05

Thank you, Chair.

A few words to thank the colleagues who participated in this debate.

A word of thanks is due to the Romanian delegation for their collaboration and constructive attitude, and also to the Romanian authorities who received us in Bucharest and answered our questions and doubts.

Many thanks to the Secretariat of the Monitoring Committee, especially to Ms Agnieszka Nachilo, who accompanied us at all times and was tireless to make sure everything went well.

We hope, Ms Krista BAUMANE and myself, that our work deserves your approval.

Thank you very much.

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly

19:40:09

Thank you. Thank you very much indeed.

Now, does the acting Chair or the Vice Chairman, as I recall, with the Committee wish to speak? You have three minutes.

Mr Samad SEYIDOV

Azerbaijan, EC/DA, First Vice-Chairperson of the Committee on the Honouring of Obligations and Commitments by Member States of the Council of Europe (Monitoring Committee)

19:40:23

Thank you very much, Mister President.

On behalf of the Monitoring Committee, first of all, I want to express my gratitude to these wonderful rapporteurs which the Monitoring Committee have. 

The report on Romania is the last one from the first round of three periodic reviews selected by the Monitoring Committee and prepared in the new format.

I would like to recall that the Committee has been tasked by the Assembly with the preparation of monitoring reports on the member States which are not under full monitoring procedure or post-monitoring dialogue selected on the substantive ground while maintaining the objective of proceeding overtime periodic reviews on all member States. 

The other tool on Malta and Hungary have already been debated. The preparation of this periodic report on Romania like the two others was done under challenging circumstances. Here, again, the sanitary restrictions preventing previous rapporteurs from visiting the country, then an electoral campaign in their respective countries, changes in the rapporteurs, and political crisis in Romania. All these events have inevitably delayed the preparation of the report. I am really grateful to our present rapporteurs, as I already mentioned and said, for their efficient work which enabled the finalised in time of the report.

I also wish to thank the Romanian delegation, which has been very co-operative throughout the whole process.

The draft resolution which the Monitoring Committee has submitted for the Assembly's consideration recognised the substantial progress with regard to the functioning of democratic institutions in Romania since its accession to the Council of Europe but also points to some concerns.

The Committee intends to continue following the development in this country, in particular, the ongoing structural reforms of the Romanian judiciary system in the framework of the future periodic review, which will allow us to see to what extent the Assembly's recommendations will have been fulfilled.

I, therefore, invite all the members of the Assembly present here in the Chamber to adopt the draft resolution submitted to the Monitoring Committee.

Thank you very much, Mister President, and thank you again to some rapporteurs and to our team from the Monitoring Committee.

Thank you.

Vote: The honouring of membership obligations to the Council of Europe by Romania

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly

19:43:06

Thank you very much, Mister SEYIDOV.

The Monitoring Committee has presented a draft resolution to which six amendments and two oral amendments have been tabled.

They will be taken in the order in which they appear in the Compendium.

I remind you that speeches on amendments are limited to 30 seconds.

I understand that the Chairperson of the Monitoring Committee wishes to propose to the Assembly that amendment 5 to the draft resolution, which was unanimously approved by the Committee, should be declared as agreed by the Assembly.

Is that so?

Does anyone object?

As there is no objection, I declare that Amendment 5 to the draft resolution has been agreed.

 

Any amendment which has been rejected by the committee on the report by a two-thirds majority of the votes cast shall not be put to the vote in plenary and shall be declared as definitively rejected, unless 10 or more members of the Assembly object.

I understand that the Chairperson of the Monitoring Committee wishes to propose to the Assembly that Amendment 1 to the draft resolution, which was rejected by the Committee with a 2/3 majority be declared as rejected.

Is that so?

Does anyone object?

Mr Zsolt NÉMETH

Hungary, EC/DA

19:44:29

I would like to object, Mr President.

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly

19:44:34

Hang on, Mr Zsolt NÉMETH. You need ten people to object.

I need ten people to stand to object. Ten people to stand to object.

No, there are only four people that have stood to object there.

I remind the Assembly that the objection must be supported by at least ten members.

There is no objection, so we will just carry on.

I understand that Mr Ionuț-Marian STROE wishes to withdraw Amendment 2 to allow for a conciliatory oral amendment.

Does anyone else wish to move amendment 2?

No?

Amendment 2 is withdrawn.

I've been informed that the Committee wishes to propose an oral amendment as follows: In Paragraph 5 delete the word "concerns" and replace with "issues". So the second sentence reads "However, some issues related to the new system for investigation and prosecution of criminal offences within the judiciary still need to be addressed".

In my opinion, the oral amendment meets the criteria of Rule 34.7.A.

Is there any opposition to the amendment being debated?

That is not the case. I therefore call one of the rapporteurs to support the oral amendment.

Thank you.

The Committee is is obviously in favour.

I shall now put the oral amendment to the vote.

The vote, I hope, is open.

The vote is now closed.

Can I call for the result to be displayed?

The oral amendment is agreed to.

I call Mr Ionuț-Marian STROE to support amendment 3.

You have 30 seconds.

Mr Ionuț-Marian STROE

Romania, EPP/CD

19:47:03

Thank you, Mister Chair.

As I mentioned in the committee, the system of redistributing the files has already started. Even if it is quite new, it is functional.

To use the word that "address" implies the start from zero, which is not the case.

This is why we consider that these issues need to be clarified and additional information must be brought forward, not to be "addressed".

So, we want to change the world "address" to "clarify".

Thank you.

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly

19:47:35

Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment?

Mr Iulian BULAI

Romania, ALDE

19:47:42

Thank you so much, Mister Chair.

This amendment is greatly diluting the intention of the report and is taking away the concern of the rapporteurs in order to wait for an opinion from the Venice Commission on the justice laws that the Romanian Parliament is about to vote on.

So, we strongly oppose this amendment.

Thank you.

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly

19:48:03

 What is the opinion of the Committee on the amendment? Opinion of the Committee?

Mr Samad SEYIDOV

Azerbaijan, EC/DA, First Vice-Chairperson of the Committee on the Honouring of Obligations and Commitments by Member States of the Council of Europe (Monitoring Committee)

19:48:10

The majority of the Committee is against.

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly

19:48:13

Okay.

I shall now put the amendment to the vote.

The vote is open.

The vote is now closed.

Can I call for the result?

That has been rejected.

I understand that Mr Ionuț-Marian STROE wishes to withdraw amendment 4 to allow for a conciliatory oral amendment.

Does anyone else wish to move amendment 4?

Amendment 4 is withdrawn.

I've been informed that the Committee wishes to propose an oral amendment to the draft resolution as follows: In Paragraph 8, the second sentence, delete the word "dissuasive" so that the sentence reads as follows: "In particular, the national anti-corruption directorate should be commended for continuing the positive trend in terms of the number of indictments and the reduction of the backlog of cases despite insufficient human resources, which is the consequence of very strict criteria for prosecutors appointments and in particular seniority requirements".

In my opinion the oral amendment meets the criteria of Rule 34.7.A.

Is there any opposition to the amendment being debated?

No.

Therefore, I call on one of the rapporteurs to support the oral amendment.

Thank you.

Does anyone wish to speak against the oral amendment?

No.

The Committee is obviously in favour.

I shall now put that oral amendment to the vote.

The vote is open.

I close the vote and I ask for the result to be displayed.

That oral amendment is agreed.

I call on Mr Ionuț-Marian STROE to support amendment 6.

You have 30 seconds.

Mr Ionuț-Marian STROE

Romania, EPP/CD

19:50:36

Thank you, Chair.

Okay, so, number 6. We propose to replace "introduce" with "ensure".

And I was mentioning earlier this specialised section for investigation of the judiciary which was dismantled, was already done. And the creation of the new system is a relatively new development. But one has been seen, has been praised by European institutions, all this, and the new system has proper safeguards the old one lacked. Therefore we need to make sure that they are ensured and they are handled correctly.

Thank you.

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly

19:51:19

Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment? Ah, yes, of course.

Mr Iulian BULAI

Romania, ALDE

19:51:28

Dear Chair,

We argue against, as this proposal is softening the very clear message of this report.

Thank you.

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly

19:51:36

[off mic: What is the opinion of the Committee?]

Mr Samad SEYIDOV

Azerbaijan, EC/DA, First Vice-Chairperson of the Committee on the Honouring of Obligations and Commitments by Member States of the Council of Europe (Monitoring Committee)

19:51:39

The Committee with a large majority is in favour of this amendment.

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly

19:51:43

I shall now put this amendment to the vote.

The vote is open.

The vote is now closed.

Can I call for the result to be displayed?

That has been agreed to.

We will now proceed to vote on the draft resolution contained in Document 15617 as amended.

The vote is now open.

The vote is now closed.

I call for the result to be displayed.

The draft resolution in Document 15617 as amended is adopted.

That is all for tonight.

The Parliamentary Assembly will hold its next public sitting tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. with the agenda which was approved on Monday morning.

The sitting is adjourned.

Good night everyone.

The sitting is closed at 7:55 p.m.