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16 April 2024 afternoon

2024 - Second part-session Print sitting

Sitting video(s) 1 / 1

Opening of the sitting num 10

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

14:32:44

The sitting is open.

Dear colleagues, 

This afternoon the Agenda calls for the election of three judges to the European Court of Human Rights in respect of Ireland, Latvia, and Liechtenstein.

The list of candidates and biographical notices are to be found in Documents 15938, 15949 and 15924. The opinion of the Committee is presented in Document 15959 Addendum 2.

The voting will take place in the foyer in front of the Hemicycle by secret ballot.

At 6:00 p.m. I shall announce the closing of the poll.

Each political group has appointed a teller according to the rules. The tellers are:

 

From SOC: Ms Klotilda BUSHKA

From EPP/CD: Ms Andrea EDER-GITSCHTHALER

From EC/DA: Mr Armen GEVORGYAN

From ALDE: Mr Claude KERN

From UEL: Ms Sevilay CELENK ÖZEN

I would like to remind them that they will have to be in the room set aside for this purpose at 6:00 p.m.

The result of the vote will be announced, if possible, before the close of today’s sitting.

For these first ballots, an absolute majority of the votes is required. If a second round has to be organised, it will take place tomorrow afternoon.

 

I now declare the ballots open.

 

We continue our work in the meantime.

 

The next item on the Agenda is questions to Ms Marija PEJČINOVIĆ BURIĆ, Secretary General of the Council of Europe.

We will first hear questions from the speakers on behalf of the political groups and then hear a response from Ms PEJČINOVIĆ BURIĆ to those questions.

Please, will the speakers limit their interventions to 30 seconds. I remind colleagues that they should ask one single question and NOT make speeches.

 

Madam Secretary General, you have the floor. Or you want first the questions to be addressed to you?

OK.

On behalf of the Socialists, Democrats and Greens Group, Ms Luz MARTINEZ SEIJO.

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

Ms Luz MARTINEZ SEIJO

Spain, SOC, Spokesperson for the group

14:35:32

Thank you, President.

Among the Council of Europe's main objectives are to defend human rights and the dignity of individuals.

In practically all European countries, we have seen on ocassions how these rights have been violated. 

This Assembly has condemned the horrors of wars and dictatorships and it continues to defend reparation measures for victims. For example, in Spain which experienced a coup d'état, a Civil War and a dictatorship. We have the Democratic Memory Law, which the new autonomous governments of the People's Party and the extreme right now want to erradicate with false laws on civil concord, which omit the dictatorship and grave violations of human rights during the Francoist regime. What do you think about that?

Thank you. 

 

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

14:36:20

Madam Secretary, you have the floor.

Ms Marija PEJČINOVIĆ-BURIĆ

Secretary General of the Council of Europe

14:36:23

Thank you very much for this important question.

As you may know, here at the Council of Europe we have several instruments that deal with the history teaching or with how to deal with the past, which for Europe was very painful one. The Committee of Ministers have recently put forward the Recommendation on Rights, Services and Support for Victims of Crime. This is in view of taking into consideration the Council of Europe's standards and other international standards and upholding shared human rights but also meeting the legitimate needs of victims.

This is the general approach. I think that goes for all of our member states, including Spain.

On the history teaching, I'm very glad that several years ago we put together on the basis of partial agreement the Observatory on History Teaching, which actually has more and more members. I call also on those countries that haven't been members yet to consider doing so, because history teaching, I think, if you look at our own histories inside the countries but also with our neighbours is a way to find a proper way to address more impartial analyses and improving quality of relevance of what is thought to our children.

In that respect I can only encourage Spain to use the tools that are their disposal and that the Council of Europe provides for. When raising this issue, which is not only the issue, I think, in our member states, in Spain, but also elsewhere, I could name at least a few, that dealing with the past is very important how we forge the future. Teaching children about history in a proper way is also building not only a safe and good environment inside and a peaceful and democratic one, but also towards the neighbours.

Who is better placed than the Council of Europe to pray and ask for our member states to do more about that? Because the Council of Europe always has to build on the premise of "never again". If we want to have "never again", then these things have to be taken into account. Of course, different opinions do always exist in democracy, that is normal. What is important in democratic societies is that the discussions are taking place in a democratic way to accommodate for differences, but also to uphold human rights and, in this case, the human rights of victims.

Thank you very much.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

14:39:44

Thank you.

On behalf of the Group of the European People's Party, Ms Marie-Christine DALLOZ.

Ms Marie-Christine DALLOZ

France, EPP/CD, Spokesperson for the group

14:39:49

Madam Secretary General,

You have been elected Secretary General of the Council of Europe on 26 June 2019.

First of all, on my own behalf and on behalf of the Group of the European People's Party, I would like to thank you for the five years you have spent at the service of our institution.

The Russian Federation's aggression against Ukraine has brutally and permanently destabilised our continent. The Council of Europe was the first international organisation to react by excluding the Russian Federation as of March 2022.

I would like to know how you assess your mandate and how you see the future role of the Council of Europe in this particularly tense geopolitical context.

Thank you very much.

Ms Marija PEJČINOVIĆ-BURIĆ

Secretary General of the Council of Europe

14:40:39

Thank you very much, first of all, for your very warm words addressed to me.

Of course, there will still be a plenary session at which I'll address the Assembly, and I hope that at that point I'll be able to take stock a little more. But as you asked, I'll try to answer briefly.

You mentioned one of the challenges of the last almost five years. Before Russia's terrible aggression against our member state Ukraine, there was the pandemic that nobody expected. Nobody could have believed that such a thing could happen and, above all, nobody could have known that it would be a global pandemic where we would be deprived of everything we thought unthinkable to be deprived of, if I can put it that way. To be able to continue to work, to be useful, but, at the same time, to respect the right of each of our member states to save lives, because that's what it was all about, and to do so in a way that didn't compromise fundamental rights and freedoms, was a real challenge. So we tried, right from the start, to give our member states a toolbox to do just that. I'm very proud of the Organisation for knowing and being able, in the first two weeks, to address our member states, because we realised that saving lives was the most important task of all. We did not let democracy, the rule of law and human rights collapse.

We were still in the pandemic when this war of aggression took place, and we rightly took an immediate decision. In fact, already on the first day of the aggression, I made a statement, on the morning of 24 February 2022, in which I called on the Russian Federation to cease its aggression immediately, in which case the consequences would be as they were. The Committee of Ministers took the decision to suspend Russia the following day, which this Parliamentary Assembly also decided to do just two or three weeks later. It also expressed itself very clearly by saying that an aggressor who had crossed all the red lines of the Council of Europe's statute could no longer remain within the Organisation.

Since then, we have also immediately tried to help our member state in Russia's quest for accountability. We have put in place all sorts of measures, including the register of damage, which is already up and running and which will help any person, authority or company that has suffered losses or otherwise to be compensated.

That's all there is to it. Then, of course, there are the challenges that already existed, including the decline of democracy in some parts of Europe. All this has added to the problems that already existed.

As a result of all these things happening, we also had, only last year, the 4th Summit of our Organisation. We couldn't do otherwise after this war, on a scale not seen on European soil since the Second World War. In Reykjavík, I believe, we saw the greatest number of Heads of State and Government come together, agreeing on a great many things, and on how this Organisation should continue to work.

In my view, the Reykjavík Declaration has set out strategic guidelines for what this Organisation must do in the future, and if I wanted to be brief, I could say that we must continue to implement the Reykjavík decisions. We'll be able to take stock of the situation by May, but we can already see that many of the things decided at Reykjavík are underway or have already been put in place. In my opinion, the most important thing for the future is to continue working on the main axes.

In the context of this response, I'd like to focus on emerging issues, including artificial intelligence, for which we've finished negotiations on a new convention on artificial intelligence in relation to human rights, the rule of law and democracy, but also environmental issues, climate change and human rights. There was also an issue that was not addressed by the summit organisers in the working group. New or emerging challenges were discussed, but it turned out that our leaders were very concerned about the issue of illegal migration. On the Council of Europe side, we now have a group reflecting on the need to work on a new convention, which will be centered around traffickers in human beings, in migrants. If we could have a convention where these traffickers would know that they were in breach and that criminal proceedings would take place behind them, this kind of business, which has unfortunately developed a lot, would certainly not be on such a scale.

That's about it. I'd like to finish with something that started my mandate. I was very grateful to Jean-Claude Juncker who, before leaving the former Commission of the European Union, decided to relaunch the European Union to adhere to our European Convention on Human Rights, which was decided by the Lisbon Treaty. I think many of you know that this treaty came into force many years ago, and now, if we are to maintain a coherent system of human rights protection in Europe, we need to benefit from the European Union's accession to our Convention. We've done all the work that's been renegotiated, and I'm extremely grateful to our member states, some of which had rather difficult issues to deal with and reached agreement. On the Council of Europe side, this work has been completed. There is still a small but important part to be done, a small step to be taken by the European Union. I hope that in the future, we will see the European Union join this Convention.

When I was a candidate for this position five years ago, at this time, I was asked by almost every political group and person what I thought about it. The answer was the same as now. I can applaud the fact that we've come a long way, but we haven't got anywhere. Perhaps this will be an important phase for the Council of Europe to explore, so that at the end of the future Secretary General's term of office, he or she can say that the European Union has acceded to the European Convention on Human Rights.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

14:51:02

On behalf of the European Conservatives Group and Democratic Alliance, Mr Zsolt NÉMETH.

Mr Zsolt NÉMETH

Hungary, EC/DA, Spokesperson for the group

14:51:11

Mister President, Secretary General, I am to your right.

Yes, Secretary General,

We witness a horrible disaster dividing the Middle East. Starting on the 7 October Hamas attack, now continued with the 13 April Iranian attack, with hundreds of drones and missiles on Israel. The ECR stands firm with Israel and the Jews in the world, especially on my side in Hungary.

What is your position on the Iranian threat to peace? And how do you think the Council of Europe could contribute to prevent the escalation of war in the Middle East.

Thank you very much.

Ms Marija PEJČINOVIĆ-BURIĆ

Secretary General of the Council of Europe

14:52:08

Thank you very much for this important question.

If you follow my declarations, I made one condemning Iran's attack on Israel, which happened on Saturday night. My firm belief is that in already very troubled waters of the Middle East, yet another war would be too much for global security and for people living there. I think you were right to mention the 7 October horrible attack by Hamas on Israel, which I also condemned.

Also, what was happening in the last couple of months, I think we are witnessing a lot of suffering, a lot of civilians are attacked and killed, among whom women and children, with people not getting humanitarian assistance.

Whatever you can imagine, the Council of Europe, as a human rights, rule of law, and democracy institution, cannot accept it.

Having said that, apart from condemning and really joining the international community, who calls for stopping the war, calls for releasing all the hostages, calls for humanitarian aid workers to be able to do their work, and, in particular, calls for stopping attacking civilians, which is a blatant violation of international law, and calls for dialogue.

I think we can only be very vocal on that. Knowing that we are a regional organisation, that we are a European organisation, other than working on dialogue, peace, and good neighbourly relations with this part of the world, I don't see much more that the Council of Europe can do.

Of course, what is happening there is horrifying.

We have the war in Ukraine, where we also witnessed horrible situations. I think having a war to expand with Iran would nearly go to a total war. So, I hope that this will stop and that talks and dialogue will prevail.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

14:54:59

On behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, Mr Rik DAEMS.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, Spokesperson for the group

14:55:07

Secretary General, as you know recently the Court is under the judgement in an environmental case. You know there is a lot more in the pipeline and given this judgement, we might expect, there is so many more to come.

This Assembly unanimously recommended to the Committee of Ministers to create a legally binding instrument concerning a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. Even to the extent to include it in the Convention itself through a protocol.

My question is, what is the status of the work of the Committee of Ministers and the Steering Committee for Human Rights (CDDDH) or other instruments in order to create this legally binding instrument and would you not think that it would be wise to have a protocol to the Convention which is well defined in order for the Court to render good judgements?

Thank you.

Ms Marija PEJČINOVIĆ-BURIĆ

Secretary General of the Council of Europe

14:55:51

Thank you very much.

Absolutely one of those, as I call them, emerging priorities, which have already existed, if we recall, also this Parliamentary Assembly calling for more action. I think that is also witnessing of a not really very new thing. I think, what is new and probably what is reflected, I cannot comment on the cases as such, but on their impact.

I think what is different probably now than 10 years or five years ago is this pressure and clear environmental decline and climate change that we are witnessing, I think, from year to year. People probably thought that it would affect the equatorial part of the world or more southern part of Europe more, if we talk about the Council of Europe, but we can see that it affects really everyone everywhere from the North Pole to the South Pole.

Certainly, something has to be done.

There was a long discussion, and I know clearly that you were one of those who were very vocal on putting a new instrument in place. I'm glad that the Reykjavík Declaration took the part of environmental degradation and its impact on human rights, democracy, and rule of law very seriously, and that our leaders decided to first task one of the working groups of the Committee of Ministers to reflect upon in what way, whether there is, as we always do, is there a feasibility study. If there is a need of a new instrument protocol to one or the other instrument that we already have or something else. I think this group is still working. Their deadline is by the end of this year. I'm very certain that they will come with proper deliberation on that.

In the meantime, I must say that the Council of Europe was not inactive, that we already started working on different areas and really seeing some of the impacts of environmental change. We had a quite recent Committee of Ministers recommendation on human rights and the environment, which was voted in 2022. We now have a draft Committee of Ministers recommendation on the implementation of the Landscape Convention. You know, sometimes the Council of Europe was well ahead of time, and the Landscape Convention, as well as the Bern Convention on Flora and Fauna, preceded the events. Then, probably because there was not such an emerging problem at the time, some like the Landscape Convention, for instance, were not forgotten but were not implemented that much.

I think some new boost for implementing some of those instruments that we already have is already a good part of the answer to this.

We also have a report on the transition to a green economy from the social cohesion perspective and, within the Council of Europe itself, we have reshuffled the organisational chart in order to prioritise, to show that we prioritise also, this work on the environment. We have a new entity within our Directorate on Social Rights, Health and Environment.

I think these three interrelate amongst each other very clearly. It's important to have that on the level of the Secretariat, because there is also work that needs to be done transversely.

We have put in place the task force on environment at the beginning of this year, so that's already working. I think the alert is already on the biggest scale that it involves. It was some sometime ago. As for what my opinion is, whether we need separate documents, a separate convention or a protocol to the Convention, I would say I would leave that to the experts to decide what form. We probably need a more common approach. I think that's one of the lessons learned from the three court cases that have been just issued.

We need to tackle the issue because, by definition, the environmental issues are global. We are interconnected and working in only one place. Not having the same standards elsewhere doesn't help the overall cause. I really would like to wish for a common approach to these issues, be it one way or the other. I think that's less important. What is important is that one be put in place, that it be implemented and that we not have a need for people to go to the courts, international or national, on the issues of the environment and human rights.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

15:01:46

And the last question – because we are running out of time – is on behalf of the Group of the Unified European Left, Ms Laura CASTEL.

Ms Laura CASTEL

Spain, UEL, Spokesperson for the group

15:01:59

Thank you, Chair.

Madam Secretary General,

My political group is convinced that staying silent in the face of a genocide in Gaza is equivalent to backing the perpetrators.

Taking into account that we are a human rights organisation, and Israel and Palestine are both linked with our organisation, do you not believe that after six months of silence, the Council of Europe could and should play a more active role in relation to the protection of the human rights in Gaza, and in Palestine in general?

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Ms Marija PEJČINOVIĆ-BURIĆ

Secretary General of the Council of Europe

15:02:46

Thank you very much for this question.

I think I partially answered it through another question, and I can only reiterate that I issued on several occasions the warning or concern about what is going on, and I just said what my clear position is. However, we cannot, by the nature of the original organisation, we have very clearly the remit in which we work, apart from being vocal on some issues, which I think I was very clear on what my position is. We cannot engage in negotiations or other. But what we can do and what we do is because all this has an impact on our societies, it has an impact, I think, if you recall just the aftermath of 7 October, there was a rise in anti-Muslim and antisemitic feelings, and this is where the Council of Europe has something to say, and this is where the Council of Europe is working.

I have a special representative on antisemitic, anti-Muslim and other religious crimes, who is working on that. Our European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) has two policy guidelines on antisemitism and on anti-Muslim hatred.

I have very recently, only a month ago, I have called for the first meeting of co-ordinators on anti-Muslim hatred because I believe we have to tackle these issues in Europe but sometimes in these endeavours, we are joined with some countries outside of the remit of the Council of Europe, from North America and some other places. So as we cannot – because it is not our mandate – engage directly, we have to manage the consequences of this horrible war and the problem on average fellow citizens of one or the other ethnic or religious communities.

So this is where I think the Council of Europe should continue working very hard because working on these issues in particular, the two that I mentioned, but on any kind of interreligious or other hatred is the way to have peaceful societies, and in a way that does not concern only Europe, where the 46 members states are situated, but it can have an impact outside of the Council of Europe remits. So I think this is the area in which indirectly, and fortunately, not directly, we can do our part of the work.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

15:06:03

Madam Secretary General, on behalf of my colleagues I want to thank you so much for the answers given to questions.

Thank you.

Dear colleagues, on this note let me remind you that the ballots for the election of three judges to the European Court of Human Rights is still open.

Those who have not yet voted may still do so by going to the foyer in front of the Hemicycle.

The vote closes at 6:00 p.m.

 

The next item of business this afternoon is the debate on the report titled “Support for the reconstruction of Ukraine” (Doc. 15932) presented by Mr Lulzim BASHA on behalf of the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy.

We will then hear from Mr Davor Ivo STIER, who will present an opinion on behalf the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights (Doc. 15941).

This will be followed by a statement by Mr Ruslan STEFANCHUK, Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine.

In order to finish by 5:20 p.m., I will interrupt the list of speakers at about 5:00 p.m. to allow time for the reply and the vote.

I call Mr BASHA, the rapporteur. You have 7 minutes now, and 3 minutes at the end to reply to the debate.

Mister BASHA, you have the floor.

Debate: Support for the reconstruction of Ukraine

Mr Lulzim BASHA

Albania, EPP/CD, Rapporteur

15:08:26

Mr President,

Honourable colleagues,

Your Excellency, Mr Speaker of the Parliament of Ukraine,

Distinguished members of the delegation,

On 24 February 2022, Russia started the invasion of Ukraine without provocation, the largest international invasion since 1941. Russia's illegal war of aggression has caused catastrophic destruction and suffering to the people and the country of Ukraine, resulting in grave human and material losses and numerous war crimes against civilians. The International Criminal Court (ICC) has already issued an arrest warrant for the Russian President in relation to the forced deportation of Ukrainian children.

As Russia continues to wage its destructive war and to commit war crimes in Ukraine, it is clear that Ukraine requires huge amounts of assistance to address the damages and destruction and rebuild its infrastructure.

The Russian government should be held responsible for compensating the human and material losses incurred.

Russia must be held accountable for its destruction of Ukraine.

The already frozen Russian state assets must be put at the disposal of reconstructing Ukraine. States holding them should co-operate to transfer all Russian state assets to an International Compensation Mechanism.

The Council of Europe has already established a Register of Damage Caused by the Aggression of the Russian Federation Against Ukraine. Today, we vote to endorse the establishment of an International Compensation Mechanism, under the auspices of the Council of Europe, to comprehensively address the damages incurred by natural and legal persons concerned, as well as the State of Ukraine, due to the unlawful actions of the Russian Federation in its invasion of Ukraine.

Since the beginning of the aggression, this Assembly has unanimously adopted a host of texts condemning Russia's brutal aggression, its aspects and consequences. Since February 2022, several countries have frozen over €300 billion in Russian state assets.

The United Nations General Assembly has already endorsed the creation of an international mechanism for compensating Ukraine for loss, damage and injury suffered during the war. Subsequently, the Council of Europe established last May the Register of Damage caused by the Aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine.

The obligation to pay reparations for the violation of international law is well established. Russian sovereign assets must be seized and transferred to an international compensation mechanism, concluded under the auspices of the Council of Europe with its member and non-member states. These assets will then be used to compensate Ukraine, affected entities as well as natural and legal persons, for damages caused by the Russian Federation's unlawful acts accompanying its illegal invasion.

The mechanism would be given the authority and capacity to receive and review claims from Ukraine and other injured parties – public and private – and distribute appropriate compensation for such claims in line with internationally-agreed standards and procedures.

Mister President,

Honourable colleagues,

In the face of Russian aggression and invasion of Ukraine, which is a blatant violation of a state's international legal obligations, international law permits other states to respond with countermeasures.

Lawful countermeasures are measures that would be unlawful if imposed against an innocent state, that has not violated its international obligations. But they are permitted if taken against an offending state, with the objective to persuade the offending state to cease its unlawful conduct and comply with its obligation to compensate those injured.

Third states, that is, states that have not been directly injured by the offending state's conduct, are permitted by international law to take collective countermeasures against the offending state, in this case Russia, for grave breaches of its obligations.

Moreover, states that have been specifically affected by Russia's unlawful acts, or damaged indirectly by the threats, costs or disruptions these acts have caused, can join in countermeasures deployed by other states on these grounds, as well.

As an early response to Russia's unlawful invasion of Ukraine, several states where Russian state assets are located, took the step of freezing these assets so that they would not be available to finance Russia's illegal war of aggression. Absent Russia's offending conduct, it would have been unlawful for any state to freeze its assets.

The freezing of these assets constitutes lawful countermeasures under international law. Given the fact that Russia's unlawful conduct, to which they were a response, has not ceased even after a host of reprimands and warnings to do so, including several UN General Assembly resolutions, time is overdue to take the next step.

With our vote today:

We call for the establishment of an international trust fund, where all seized Russian state assets will be deposited, ensuring transparency, accountability and equity in the disbursement of funds that should be used for compensation to Ukraine and natural or legal persons affected by the Russian aggression in Ukraine as well as to aid Ukraine's recovery and reconstruction efforts.

And we will endorse the establishment of an international commission of claims for the damages recorded in the Register, under the auspices of the Council of Europe.

Dear colleagues, Mister President, esteemed members of the Assembly,

There is no doubt about the illegality of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, its occupation of Ukrainian territory and illegal annexation of large parts of it. By these actions, Russia has violated the most fundamental rules of international law. These rules are a cornerstone of the post-Second World War international legal order. Indeed, they are indispensable to the foundation upon which the entire rules-based order is built.

We are witnessing a crucial moment in the 21st century and taking joint action to maintain and strengthen our unity against Russia's illegal war of aggression.

With our vote today we reconfirm that we remain steady in our objective: to fortify Ukraine so that the consequences – including those of financial nature – of Russia's aggression, serve as deterrents against any other future aggression.

And to support Ukraine for as long as it takes, to fully and unconditionally defeat Russia's aggression.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

15:17:09

Thank you, Mister BASHA.

I now call Mr Mr Davor Ivo STIER for the opinion from the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights.

You have three minutes.

Mr Davor Ivo STIER

Croatia, EPP/CD, Rapporteur for opinion

15:17:19

Thank you, Mister President,

Dear colleagues, Mr Ruslan STEFANCHUK, Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada,

The Committee on Legal Affairs asked the Bureau to be seized for opinion on this report given the potential overlap between this report and my own report on “Legal and human rights aspects of the Russian aggression”, which will also cover the issue of compensation of the damage caused to Ukraine by the Russian aggression.

I would like to congratulate Mr Lulzim BASHA for his report, which provides an excellent analysis of this issue and the role that the Council of Europe should play in this regard.

His report proposes that the Council of Europe moves forward and establishes an international compensation mechanism, including an international trust fund and an international claims commission.

This is something that we had already asked in our own report prepared last year by Mr Damien COTTIER, so we are fully in line with our previous position that the Council of Europe must play a leading role in setting up the mechanism.

Mr BASHA’s report also proposes that member and non-member States use the frozen Russian State assets for the purposes of compensation and reconstruction of Ukraine.

The arguments used in the report, based on the doctrine of collective countermeasures under the international law of state responsibility, are legally very convincing.

This position was also supported by the experts we heard at the Committee on Legal Affairs for my report.

The Assembly and the Council of Europe, by endorsing this proposal, would send a strong message which would go beyond some of the proposals that are being discussed by other actors like the EU.

In our Opinion, we have proposed several amendments to the draft resolution and draft recommendation, in order to strengthen it and cover some additional issues.

I would like to thank Mr BASHA and the Political Affairs Committee for accepting all our amendments and for the excellent cooperation.

And let me conclude by saying that confronting this Russian war of aggression, we, in this Assembly, our members States, we cannot be non-aligned.

Russia should be held accountable and we should be on the side of the victims, on the side of Ukraine, on the side of justice, on the side of freedom.

 

Thank you.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

15:20:07

Ladies and gentlemen, dear colleagues,

It is an honour for me now to welcome Mr Ruslan STEFANCHUK, Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, here today.

Mister STEFANCHUK, I would like to extend my warmest thanks to you for responding to our invitation to come to Strasbourg.

It is a pleasure to have you here with us as we prepare to discuss the resolution on support for the reconstruction of Ukraine.

Yesterday I opened our part-session buy calling for support for Ukraine.

Support is crucial: support to get additional air defence systems to protect hospitals, energy, infrastructure, and inhabitants; support to get military assistance so Ukraine can continue to heroically defend its borders; support for investigation of war crimes and prosecution of perpetrators; support for the return of deported and forcibly transferred children to Ukraine; and support for the reconstruction.

Though the Council of Europe cannot provide all the support your country needs, support and assistance for Ukraine remain a top priority within the remit of this organisation.

The Council of Europe has shown leadership in setting up the register of damage caused by the aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine. The Assembly became the first international body to support the creation of an ad hoc international criminal tribunal to investigate and prosecute the crime of aggression committed by the leadership of the Russian Federation.

I hope that the initiatives presented in the report will receive support from the international community so that your country, Mister STEFANCHUK, can quickly launch recovery programmes and consolidate its path towards democracy.

Today we are holding the debate in the premises of the European Parliament.

In 2023, European Union leaders agreed to launch accession negotiations with Ukraine, and I'm hopeful that soon Ukrainian members of the European Parliament will be able to sit in this chamber as proof of Ukraine's undeniable belonging to the family of European nations.

Once again, I want to thank you for being with us today.

Dear Ruslan, earlier this morning I made a new friend, and I have the honour now to call this friend to take the floor of this emblematic Assembly who is here for democracy, the rule of law, and human rights.

Mr Ruslan STEFANCHUK

Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine

15:23:23

Dear Mister President,

Dear Madam Secretary General, 

Distinguished members of the Parliamentary Assembly, 

Today, I have the honour to address the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and I am grateful to President Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS for this opportunity. I thank you Mister President for this opportunity and I sincerely wish you success in the responsible position that you have recently assumed. I would like to especially thank you in particular for your speech yesterday full of determination and solidarity with Ukraine. 

This day and place of address are special. It requires special words from me and I am asking all of you for special attention. Ukraine is fighting heroically and is experiencing perhaps the most dramatic stage of the fight for its freedom, territorial integrity and independence. 

For the European principles of democracy, the principles of the rule of law and human rights, for our common principles, it is painfully difficult for us – they are killing us every day and we need your help today more than ever. And I am addressing you from the highest tribune of the European idea and democracy, from the tribune from which the voice of European citizens have been heard for 75 years. I am speaking to you on behalf of the people of Ukraine and the country that has been a member of the Council of Europe for almost 30 years.

Here, in the European Parliament, I ask you to defend the country that is a candidate for accession to the European Union, that is about to start the most important and responsible part of its path to full membership. 

I am addressing each of you on behalf of a tired but unbreakable Ukrainian soldier who has not left the trenches on the front line for three years now and who sometimes simply does not have enough amunition to drive the enemy away from the Ukrainian soil. I am addressing you on behalf of a Ukrainian mother who is burying her child in tears because she could not protect the child from the brutal daily bombardments in Kharkiv, Sumy, Kyiv, Zaporizhzhi, Odesa, Kherson, all over the Ukrainian land. I am speaking to you on behalf of Ukrainian doctors, teachers and rescue workers. I am speaking to you on behalf of the Ukrainian Parliament, which has the honour of representing those heroic people. And with a silent prayer, I appeal to you for every Ukrainian victim – who are countless and who will never be brought back. I speak on behalf of the crippled, the disadvantaged but still the invincible yet. 

Dear colleagues, 

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe was the first international institution that clearly outlined its position on the Russian aggression. And in April 2014, it responded with concrete actions, political sanctions against the delegation of the invading state. Since then, a significant array of acts has been carried out that address various aspects of this war and this is why Ukraine has special hopes for the Council of Europe and its Parliamentary Assembly, as our consistent and reliable partners.

I have come to Strasbourg with our parliamentary delegation on purpose: to look into the eyes of each of you, to shake hands with those who tirelessly come to Ukraine and always ask how they can help us, to thank those who give us whatever they can, and also to ask for help from those who can help but for some reason do not do so or do not do enough, yet. 

Today, as the Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, I stand before you to speak about a special historical moment: the moment when the indomitable spirit of the Ukrainian people needs your highest support. This spirit was summarised by the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, when he said, "We are strong. We are ready for anything. We will defeat anyone because we are Ukraine." And this is not just a rhetoric, friends, these words convey resilience that keeps the heart of your wounded European sister, the heart of unconquered Ukraine. 

Today, friends, I will try to avoid numbers because, for of all, you know them very well. Second, because they cannot convey the terrible picture of the suffering, destruction and devastation caused by Russia. Thousands killed, tens of thousands wounded and millions of refugees and internally displaced persons. Towns and villages that have been burnt to the ground. The bloodless energy system that is suffering even more painful blows every day and how can one calculate emotional, moral and psychological effects of the aggression? Through frozen tears and fierce fatigue, millions of Ukrainians are looking at you with faith and with a single request: to protect their right to life, their right to choose, their right to a European future. 

Do not look away, because if Ukraine falls, Europe will fall and then you will face the eyes of your compatriots, who, just like us, will ask you for help. And even worse, you will face the eyes of the Russian occupier who will no longer ask for anything, he will look down on you with a cold gaze of a cynical and ruthless barbarian. 

Dear ladies and gentlemen, today we will talk a lot about justice and I thank the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe for remaining a reliable beacon of solidarity and support for Ukraine in these difficult and unjust times. 

After all, the report supporting Ukraine's recovery that is discussed today is about justice. After all, the creation of the comprehensive compensation mechanism is also about justice. Its launch, without exaggeration, will be an image of truth and a powerful manifestation of the collective commitment to the rule of law and international standards. 

But following the establishment of the Register of Damage and the opening of a support office in Kyiv during the recent visit of Ukraine by the Secretary General and the Chair of the Committee of Ministers, the next steps, I believe, should be the establishment of the compensation commission and establishment of the compensation fund. Together, it will make it possible to fully launch the working version of the comprehensive compensation mechanism. And I would like to especially thank you for the Council of Europe Action Plan for Ukraine “Resilience, Recovery and Reconstruction” 2023-2026 which is supported by the Council of Europe Development Bank. 

Speaking of resources for Ukraine's recovery, I return to the issue of justice again, because, friends, where should we talk about justice, if not here, in Strasbourg? Russia has committed a crime of aggression. Russia has caused enormous damage. And it is Russia that must be held accountable. A solution must be found to direct Russian assets to compensate for the damage that it has caused – it should be found. And I think there are no people who would oppose the main truth that Putin and Russia must pay the cheque written to them in full for the war that they have unleashed.

I have no doubt that the Council of Europe will be able to fulfil yet another historic mission by supporting the establishment of a special international tribunal for the crime of aggression against Ukraine. This will make it possible to bring the highest political and military leaders of Russia to justice and fair punishment. 

Dear colleagues, let us be honest with ourselves. The civilisational gap that separates us and Russia is gigantic. And in its depth, any illusions about this aggressive, hateful and unlawful creature disappear. The beast that terrorises and intimidates the entire world that does not care about international norms and rules, that does not value the lives of other people or its own citizens.

Therefore, friends, we must act immediately. The time of great concern and strong condemnation is over. The time of reflections and doubts has passed, about whether one should give Ukraine weapons, whether one should give Ukraine tanks or not. The time for sanctions has long passed if they are not functional because it is impossible to win a war that you yourself are financing, and believe me, the time for blind peacekeepers will never come. Who as great Churchill once said, "they feed the crocodile in the hope that it will eat them last". But the time has come for frank and truthful assessments. It is time for quick action and decisions. It is time for responsible leadership. It is time to choose a resolute, united resistance to the Russian terror. 

I want us all to finally understand just one thing, playing peacekeeping games, lack of weapons, imperfect sanctions, delays in confiscating Russian assets, the absence of accountability, punishment mechanisms, all of that makes the beast stronger and the beast carries on. It needs new blood. 

And one more thing, I am not afraid of the voices of politicians replicated by Russian propaganda who talk about the alleged fatigue with Ukraine and Ukrainians. But I am afraid of the fatigue of the Ukrainian soldiers who bravely hold the line of defence day and night. We have no right to let them down, to lose faith in them – those heroic Ukrainian boys and girls, for whom the defence of their homeland is a matter of their life and our lives. Yes, friends, it is about life and not death. 

And I am fully aware that the Council of Europe and its Parliamentary Assembly do not have a mandate to address military or economic issues but I really want you to hear me because in this room I am speaking to politicians, representing the parliaments of 46 countries on the European continent. And I am appealing to you as leaders in the interests of all European citizens. I appeal to you to direct all your efforts to support our common fight.

An air defence system costs much less than the damage caused by a missile that it cannot stop. Every electronic warfare system increases the ability to neutralise enemy drones, which means saving lives. This is the terrible and cynical mathematics of war but it is also objective reality that we saw in Israel a few days ago, armed with state-of-the-art weaponry, and together with its allies, it effectively repelled a massive five-hour attack by 300 Iranian missiles and drones.

And most importantly, we have witnessed the allied will and strength against the acts of evil. The will and strength that can and should protect Ukraine as well. Because a united democracy must be united and, most importantly, it should be indiscriminate in protecting those who share its values. 

We want peace but a just and lasting peace, which President Zelenskyy's peace formula is designed to bring. And I am convinced that the Council of Europe should be a participant of the process that will bring back peace and tranquillity to the continent. This is why we expect the leaders of your countries, as well as the leadership of the Council of Europe, to attend the Peace Summit to be held in Switzerland in June of this year. We Ukraines are often told that they will support us for as long as it takes.

And I tell you, dear friends, we still need it. We need it very much. We need it today. We have to get a chance to live, a chance to restore justice, a chance to build a happy and secure Ukraine as part of Europe, where democracy prevails and respect for human rights. 

In conclusion, I urge this distinguished Assembly to add to its invaluable record of decisions already made and to vote on the recommendations contained in the report supporting Ukraine's recovery with all the seriousness and urgency that they require. 

Dear friends, immediately after the conclusion of my visit to the Council of Europe, the Ukrainian delegation and I will go to Western Ukrainian city of Lviv. There, we will hold the tenth anniversary round of dialogues started by the outstanding Frenchman, the Father of Europe, Jean Monnet. It was he who said in the middle of the last century that "Europe has never existed, Europe has yet to be created". 

Dear friends, I really want us to jointly create a Europe that will, once and for all, include Ukraine and those states that want to do so. I really want us to jointly defend Europe. I really want us not to squander our chance. Because history never forgets the chances that have been wasted and that perhaps somebody will be able to say about us that they have not only completed the creation of Europe but they have protected and preserved it for the future generations. 

I want to thank you for your attention. Slava Ukraini [Glory to Ukraine].

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

15:41:29

Dear Ruslan, Mister STEFANCHUK, thank you for your statement, which has been listened to, as you have seen, with keen interest by all the members of the Assembly.

And now, dear colleagues, I will open the list of speakers starting from the political groups.

On behalf of the European Conservatives I call Lord David BLENCATHRA.

Lord David BLENCATHRA

United Kingdom, EC/DA, Spokesperson for the group

15:41:55

Mister President, what an honour to follow the fantastic speech from Mr STEFANCHUK. Absolutely humbling, but also very telling.

I'm pleased to speak in support of this report and I can congratulate the rapporteur.

We all want to see Ukraine reconstructed, all the damage restored, and all victims compensated, and Russia made to pay for everything.

But that will not happen until Russia is defeated. Ukraine will not be reconstructed, and no victims will be compensated if Russia wins.

Indeed their genocide against Ukrainian people will accelerate and be worse than Stalin's Holodomor, killing millions of Ukrainians in 1932.

Putin will be even more evil. We must call on the United States and all European countries to help Ukraine with all available weapons to defeat Russia.

But in the meantime, the creation of the Register of damage is an excellent idea, but that is the easy bit.

The difficult part will be deciding what to do with the 300 billion dollars worth of Russian assets and how we disperse them.

I completely agree that all those assets must never be returned to Russia, nor should any of the assets we have frozen or confiscated from Kremlin-supporting oligarchs.

We cannot let lawyers and financial institutions say that what we're doing is unprecedented and that we cannot take this money in this way and it's not the usual way that the world financial system operates.

Colleagues, we've never faced this situation before, and it is time to create a whole new regime. One where all the assets go into one fund to be used for Ukrainian reconstruction and compensation.

And that fund needs to be administered by an independent organisation, I believe, in conjunction with the tribunal which will try Russian war criminals for their war of aggression.

I'm afraid we'll never get a UN court to work and we should do as we did it in Nuremberg: set up a special international tribunal specifically for this unique Russian war of aggression.

I think if the United States of America and major countries in Europe and the Council of Europe agree to do it, then nothing can stop it from working. Otherwise I'm afraid we'll have lawyers arguing for the next 20 years on some semi-Ukrainian International Court which will never happen or never work.

Far too many organisations and lawyers are are looking at the current systems to see how Russia can be made to pay both financially and for its war crimes. Current international legal systems can it do it, and that's why it is vital that we create a new independent international tribunal of willing countries who will ???? on the responsibility of prosecuting Russian war criminals and paying out for Ukrainian reconstruction and victim compensation.

But of course reconstruction of Ukraine is not just building and powers stations, it is people and their way of life, which will also need rebuilding.

Putin has happily let in tens of thousands of Russian soldiers die, knowing that he can have more bodies alive at the end than Ukraine. He can win in the body count if not with their technology.

So, whilst I welcome this report, let us not think we've now solved the problem. The message needs to go out to Russia that they will never get a single rouble of their money back, and we'll try to take more of it where we can find it.

And finally, colleagues, let us send the same message to Putin and his generals, which the United Kingdom, the USA, and Soviet Union issued to the Nazi leadership on the 1st time December 1943. We said: we give you full warning that we will pursue you to the utmost ends of the Earth in order for justice to be done. Then when we defeat Putin, colleagues, we can start to reconstruct Ukraine.

Thank you.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

15:45:37

I give now the floor to Ms Yevheniia KRAVCHUK who will speak on behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.

Ms Yevheniia KRAVCHUK

Ukraine, ALDE, Spokesperson for the group

15:45:44

Thank you, Mister President.

Thank you, friends.

Thank you to our rapporteurs.

And I'm so honoured to welcome from ALDE group the speaker of Ukrainian Parliament Ruslan STEFANCHUK with such a powerful speech. And to hear these Ukrainian words from this high tribune is priceless, and thank you for listening to this, and I hope you heard everything and will take it back home.

But coming to the resolution.

We vote a lot of resolutions in this Assembly. And you have to understand that it does influence the situation. On 2 April, the Register of Damage was opened to the public and only in the first week 1 000 Ukrainians filed the application for their lost apartments or house.

It might be even the apartment or house that you saw when you visited Kyiv Oblast or Kharkiv Oblast.

And you know how many thousands we expect in this category? Up to 600 000. But it's just the first category. It will be the categories for those who lost their loved ones, who were sexually harassed and raped, who were deported, who were put to prison in Russian Federation, it's going to be infrastructure, it's going to be college, it's gonna be cultural heritage, and it will be up to 8 million claims.

Can you imagine the number?

But what comes next?

And that is a very important step, because if we do not do the step two and three it's going to be another register of Russian war crimes.

So we do need to establish a comprehensive mechanism. We need to establish the international trust, we need to transfer the Russian assets, these 300 billion, to this trust. So it will be paid to Ukraine and to those who really deserve justice.

And I thank this Assembly that we are putting forward this issue.

But also I would like to address you as a person that wakes up in the middle of the night because of another missile attack.

From the beginning of this year, Russia fired more than 1 000 missiles, more than 2 800 Shahed drones that they did together with Iran.

And you know what is the biggest fear? Not the the sounds, not the destruction. The fear is that we are running out of missiles in our air defence. That Russians will be just destroying without any possibility from us to defend.

So I ask you to go to your countries to ask your government why they do not send more air defence to Ukraine.

We need at least 25 patriot systems to cover the whole Ukraine. And seven urgently needed now.

And only one promised right now by Germany. Thank you very much Germany for this.

So, let's be honest. We need to save lives, we need to save more of the infrastructure that is being destroyed every day every night, and we need this defence now.

And of course, please, support all the amendments and please support this historical resolution.

Thank you.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

15:49:12

On behalf of Group of the Unified European Left, Mr Andreas Sjalg UNNELAND.

Mr Andreas Sjalg UNNELAND

Norway, UEL, Spokesperson for the group

15:49:17

Thank you, President,

The imperialistic invasion of Ukraine from the far-right ultra-nationalist Russian government is an atrocity and violation of international law. Every day, Ukrainians die defending their freedom. Ukrainians are victims of war crimes every minute, every hour, every day. This war can end immediately, if Putin would want it to end.

But this doesn't happen, because the Russian regime shows extraordinary contempt for all life; contempt for Ukrainian lives, contempt for Russian lives, and no respect for international law whatsoever.

That is why we must continue to stand together in solidarity with the Ukrainian people who are fighting, not only for the survival of their country and their people, but also for our democratic security and the values of freedom and human rights.

We must continue to increase the pressure on the Russian regime and show that breaking international law comes with a high cost.

That is why this resolution is important. It is about holding Russia financially responsible for its crimes.

The Council of Europe should play a significant role in supporting the reconstruction of Ukraine, by recommending the seizure of Russian State assets and their use in support of the reconstruction of Ukraine.

This course of action would pursue a threefold objective: strengthening Ukraine; ensuring the accountability of the Russian Federation, and deterring against any other future aggression.

Though money can never bring back the many lives lost in the war, money can contribute to the reconstruction of a free and peaceful Ukraine.

It is important that the establishment of such a practice is legitimate under international law, as we anticipate this to create a precedence that can and should be used also in similar situations towards other countries, whenever relevant.

President, let's not have double standards.

Double standards will only undermine our strength and credibility. A good example is how a number of Western countries have been crystal clear about Russia's crimes but have been absent in holding Israel accountable for its crimes against the Palestinian people.

It is therefore good that we now state clearly that the principle of financial responsibility for war crimes is something we will use every opportunity to secure.

This resolution sends a strong signal from our assembly that we support the work to ensure that Russia is held financially responsible for its crimes, and that we will use all the tools we have to ensure that the funds benefit Ukraine.

Thank you.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

15:52:03

On behalf of the Socialist Group, Ms Marietta KARAMANLI.

Ms Marietta KARAMANLI

France, SOC, Spokesperson for the group

15:52:11

Mister Chairman,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Mister Rapporteur,

In 2014 and again in 2022, Russia attacked a sovereign European country without legitimate cause and in violation of international law. Ukraine resisted, and its Western European allies supported it.

The present report, on the reconstruction of Ukraine and the role of the Council of Europe, proposes a number of avenues to ensure real indemnification and fair compensation for the damage caused by the aggressor. Three observations are worth making.

Firstly, the sanctions imposed on Russia by the United States, the European Union and many of the states we represent, opposed to the war against Ukraine, have begun to damage its economy and will, of course, continue to erode it in the long term. But, Russia is the world's ninth largest economy and an essential supplier of energy and other raw materials, so it was an illusion to believe that sanctions alone would immediately bring Russia to heel and put an end to the war.

This report, the principle of an international compensation mechanism based on inter-state collegiality, collective control, and a joint examination of compensation claims, is positive and should therefore be supported by as many countries as possible. I would say several inter-state organisations, including the European Union, are studying the legal means of managing these assets in order to generate income that could then be used to help finance Ukraine.

Beyond the legal risk, which may be offset by the growing legitimacy of collective action by the Council and the States, there is also a risk to financial stability, albeit a minimal one. Indeed, it should be remembered that the dollar, yen, and euro are reserve currencies sought by other states to diversify their reserves. They are, therefore, the most traded and the most sought-after, so the freezing of Russian assets has not caused any panic. Their use should have the same effect. But as a precautionary measure, we need to ensure that the risks are properly understood and circumscribed.

Finally, we must also recall the need to define a real multi-year investment plan for Ukraine in its territorial environment, a Ukraine whose future, I would say, lies in its membership of the European Union. Its application was approved in June 2022, and on 8 November 2023, the European Commission issued an opinion in favour of opening negotiations. Six other countries in the Western Balkans have already opened negotiations with the European Union, and may tomorrow turn to other states, Russia or China, if we indeed turn our backs. These are countries, moreover, that are not economic competitors but systemic rivals to Europe. These are the big countries, so the two subjects should probably be put into perspective.

We, therefore, need to be careful to launch a real reflection on a multi-year investment program for the Ukraine. We need to start thinking right away about civil equipment, strategic equipment, and non-strategic equipment, and about infrastructures that will enable us to link Ukraine better or more closely to all European countries to better ensure mobility and the training of people in the region, and to guarantee co-ordinated and secure development. In so doing, Europe will not only be rebuilding itself. It will be creating a common future. The Council of Europe was born out of war, with the very vocation of ensuring peace through law. From now on, it cannot fail to address the question of the aftermath of war and the conditions most conducive to co-ordinated reconstruction.

We fully support this report and invite you to take it even further.

Thank you for your attention.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

15:56:14

On behalf of the Group of the European People's Party, Mr Pablo HISPÁN.

Mister Pablo HISPÁN, you have to press the button. We cannot hear you. Please, press the button or change mic.

Mr Pablo HISPÁN

Spain, EPP/CD, Spokesperson for the group

15:56:34

Thank you very much indeed, Mr President. 

First of all, I should like to congratulate the rapporteur. 

Europe is, once again, living through the drama of war. Russia's invasion of Ukraine, as the Council of Europe has said repeatedly is an unjust an illegal war, constitutes a violation of the rights, principles and values enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights. As such, Putin is not only attacking Ukraine, but all of us who believe in freedom, democracy and a rules-based international order. 

That is why we cannot simply look to winning the war as quickly as possible. We also have to shoulder our responsibility. We should focus on defeating Russia. We should spare no efforts in doing so. It will take as long as it takes. We have to be fully committed to that, using all means available to us, because Ukraine, obviously, has to fight militarily on the battlefield, but at the same time it has to win the war behind the front lines. 

It has to support the country economically to rebuild infrastructure, pay pensioners, to fund public services, health, education, and energy. The country needs to continue doing so until Russia is defeated. This is also part of the war effort. It is necessary for them to do everything within our power, to co-operate along with the European Union and that Russia pay for what it is doing. 

There are about $300 billion available. These are assets which Russia holds abroad, which have been frozen. Most of them in Europe, specifically in Belgium. These assets, of course, are earning interest and so we should not await the end of the war to hold Russia accountable for the damage it has caused. 

The group that I represent, the Group of the European People's Party, supports the report. We believe that we should have a rigorous procedure, one which avoids any kind of a discressionary approach and has a mechanism for channelling these funds now to reconstruction of parts of the country destroyed by Russia. Russia should start paying for what it has done and it should start paying as of now. The Group of the European People's Party supports the mechanism that is contained in the report and the urgent unblocking of assets. 

This report strikes the right balance by taking into account the reliability of the international financial system, legal rigour as well as common sense. Russia needs to be aware that there will not be a repeat of Munich. Putin needs to know Europe has learned from the mistakes of appeasement. These assets must be used to remediate some of the pain, destruction, and damage that has been caused. That is our stated intention. We have the moral highground, but we also have legal security. The Ukrainian population is doing everything in its power to win the war. We should de doing so, too. Russia has to pay for what it has done, and it should start paying now. It would just be a first step in making sure that we, again, defend the values and principles, for which this institution stands. 

Slava Ukraini! [Glory to Ukraine!]

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

15:59:45

Thank you, Pablo.

I now give the floor to Lord George FOULKES.

Lord George FOULKES

United Kingdom, SOC

15:59:52

Mister President, I too want to warmly welcome this really excellent report on reconstruction in Ukraine.

However, like Ms Yevheniia KRAVCHUK, I want to remind us all that we need to do a great deal more before we are ready to do that, to make sure that Ukrainians win this war.

We need to supply more arms and more defensive systems, as quickly as possible, and overcome all the reservations and inhibitions which are preventing particularly some members of this Council of Europe from doing that.

The Ukrainians are fighting, the Ukrainians are dying, not just in defence of Ukraine, but in defence of democracy throughout the whole of Europe, and that's why it's vital we support them.

Now let's return to reparation.

The United Kingdom, I'm afraid, has a particular responsibility on this.

London has been the playground of Russian oligarchs for a long time. That's why it has a nickname, "Londongrad". Sadly, they have huge amounts of property and other assets in London. While our Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron and the UK Government have made some really positive statements, which I welcome, I fear that there has been delay in actually implementing them. I think they are being held back by the financial institutions, worried about the city of London and its reputation and its position. It would be entirely wrong if we were doing this to the financial interest of institutions that are already rich and individuals who are already rich, which would stop us going ahead with the reparation that is necessary.

I want just to mention one example that I've taken up along with others. That is a the case of Roman Abramovich, who sold Chelsea Football Club for 2.3 billion pounds. That was about three years ago. We've been urging our treasury to get that money released as quickly as possible, and that has been delayed.

There must be no more delay in transferring the assets and that Abramovich made improperly to help with a reconstruction in Ukraine.

Urgent action is needed, urgent action is needed now.

The European Union has, thankfully, at last taken some action.

Now it's the right the opportunity for the Council of Europe to move one step further.

I think it's right that we should always move one step beyond the European Union. Let's go and do that by adopting this report.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

16:03:03

Next is Mr Lőrinc NACSA.

Mr Lőrinc NACSA

Hungary, EPP/CD

16:03:09

Thank you, Mister President.

Dear colleges, due to the Russian aggression and the ongoing war, we are facing an extremely worrying humanitarian situation in Ukraine, reacting to which Hungary has launched one of its largest humanitarian relief, rehabilitation and development operations providing Ukraine, including refugees as well as internally displaced persons, with much needed assistance.

We are receiving thousands of refugees from Ukraine on a daily basis, even today. So far Hungary took care of even almost 1.5 million refugees.

Naturally, Ukrainian children can study in our schools in their mother language.

Besides granting great financial support to Hungarian and Ukrainian charity organisations that are providing aid to the Ukrainian refugees and to the Ukrainian authorities, Hungary has so far delivered a wide range of medical equipment, medical supplies, food aid, hygienic support, aid to local water management capacities, fuel and ambulance cars.

So we will continue the largest humanitarian relief programme.

Last week we signed the agreement with the Ukrainian government to open a new border crossing point at the Hungarian-Ukrainian border.

We are also actively involved in the reconstruction of Ukraine and have already taken many initiatives.

We started different projects already, such as the reconstruction of school, medical facilities, etc. These are projects under construction today. We consider it important that the reconstruction takes place with respect for the Lugano Principles and the continuation of reforms, including the protection of the rights of national minorities.

Thank you very much.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

16:04:54

Thank you.

Mr Oleksii GONCHARENKO is next.

Mr Oleksii GONCHARENKO

Ukraine, EC/DA

16:05:00

Thank you very much, Mister President.

You know, we're speaking now about reconstruction of Ukraine, but it looks like wishful thinking.

Till the end of this debate, one more Ukrainian village or town will be destroyed by Russians. Destroyed completely to the rubbles. So let us have an honest and fair and pragmatic talk.

You know, for years I was addressing this Assembly and Ukraine was addressing the whole world speaking about values. But it looks like not everybody here and in the world is really interested in these values.

So now I want to address those who are not interested in values, but I know one thing you are interested in: money.

It's all about money. And I want to address you. And that's true. When Ukrainian agricultural production is stopped on the borders of Europe it's not about values, right? Ukrainian farmers pay by their blood to produce this to feed the world, and then it stopped. It's not about values.

When Ukrainian steel is stopped because of some ecological reasons, it's not because of values;   it's because of money.

And I want to speak about money with you.

In Ukraine we say "greedy pays twice". This time greedy will pay not twice, but ten times. Just I am showing you examples.

Several days ago, one of the biggest Ukrainian power grid stations was destroyed by Russian missiles because Ukrainian Air Defence lacked four missiles to stop Russian attack. There were 11 Russian missiles, seven were intercepted because we had missiles in Air Defence to do this. And four were not, because we were on zero missiles already.

And, that station which costs hundreds of millions was destroyed because four missiles were lacking. Who will pay for this?

So, for the first time.

Second thing: who will pay if the Russian aggression will continue? They will destroy our power grid, they will continue moving on Ukrainian territory, and millions of Ukrainians will run away to Europe. Who will pay for this? This will cost tens of billions of Euros to support these people in your country.

Isn't it wiser now to help us to save these people inside the country?

The second time.

The third time: isn't it really wise to stop the Russian aggression before it destroys your cities? They are coming to you. It's really wise, I think, but it's not done. We are asking now for very simple things. Tell me, for what and from what dozens of Patriots, SAMP/T, NASAMS systems are protecting European sky right now?

Why they're not in Ukraine, where we really need them? We asked just for seven Patriots, seven.

Please, do this right now, because European peaceful sky is protected not by dozens of American Patriots but because European peaceful sky is protected by hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian patriots, men and women, who took weapons in their hands and fighting 24/7 to protect their countries and your security.

Thank you very much.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

16:08:46

Next is Mr Hubert BÜCHEL.

Mr Hubert BÜCHEL

Liechtenstein, ALDE

16:08:53

Thank you, Mister President.

Dear colleagues, although Mr STEFANCHUK already left, I'd like to thank him for his exceptional speech.

I's also like to thank Mr Lulzim BASHA for preparing this excellent report and for his important work.

The Council of Europe condemned Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine in the strongest terms from the outside, and expressed its full solidarity with Ukraine.

Words were followed by deeds.

From the exclusion of Russia to the compilation of the register of injuries at the beginning of this month, the Council of Europe has immediately stood up for Russia's accountability and justice for Ukraine.

Russia has an international obligation to compensate Ukraine for the damages resulting from the aggression. The Register of Damage is an important first step in this direction.

A second step must be the establishment of a compensation mechanism.

Many questions regarding the confiscation and use of frozen assets unfortunately are still unresolved and are the subject of ongoing discussion at several levels.

Compliance with rules of law and standards is essential and has to be clarified before we take concrete steps to establish a compensation mechanism.

Thank you very much.

Mr Marco NICOLINI

San Marino, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

16:10:26

Thank you, Mister JENSEN. No, thank you, Mister BÜCHEL, sorry.

And now the floor goes to Mr Mogens JENSEN.

Mr Mogens JENSEN

Denmark, SOC

16:10:45

Thank you, Mister President.

Dear colleagues, Russia's unacceptable and aggressive war against Ukraine has, unfortunately, now lasted for two years: two years of unimaginable suffering for Ukrainian people who are still defending their country and their culture with incredible fighting spirit and strength.

Unfortunately, we are now also experiencing in some places a waning interest in the war. Other conflicts arise and take attention. Even though the war constantly affects the development of society in many places, when it comes to, for example, energy supply and food supply, the interests also from the media decreases.

But, dear colleagues, that must not happen. We have to, and not at least here in the Council of Europe, we have to stick to massive and unconditional support for the Ukrainian people, encourage fight against the injustice and the violence.

This applies, of course, to the current fight in the battlefields, where Ukraine must have the necessary help to beat Russia back, but of course also applies to the reconstruction that follows.

Here, too, we have to show unconditional solidarity and make sure that Russia will pay for and be held accountable for the monstrous destruction they are behind.

Therefore, of course, we have to give full support for Mr BASHA's important resolution and thus support the establishment of an international compensation mechanism; support that the Council of Europe member states' and non-member states' assets should actively co-operate in the prompt transfer of these frozen assets to this mechanism; support the creation of the international trust fund where all Russian state assets held by Council of Europe members and non-member states will be deposited; and of course, the establishment of an impartial and effective international claims commission.

Ukraine keeps fighting. Have no doubt about it; we are with you.

Thank you, Mister President.

Mr Marco NICOLINI

San Marino, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

16:13:14

Thank you very much.

 Mr Reinhold LOPATKA, the floor is yours.

Mr Reinhold LOPATKA

Austria, EPP/CD

16:13:21

Dear colleagues, since day one of Russia's brutal war of aggression against Ukraine, the Council of Europe has stood in solidarity with Ukraine and we all agree that we have to continue to support Ukraine as long as it is necessary.

The courage and resilience of the Ukrainian people are unbroken and our support for Ukraine has to remain strong. Our full support for the Ukrainian government and its people is the best answer we can give in days like this to this Russian aggression.

One man has the power to end this war – he can do it today or tomorrow – Russia's President Putin. If Ukraine stops fighting, it will be the end of the country. It will be the beginning of slavery for the people. That is the effect we have to see.

Therefore, we fully support the European peace facility to provide self-defence systems to Ukraine. We also welcome the fact that support for Ukraine is financially secured for the coming years through the establishment of the Ukrainian facility.

We must continue to close loopholes to prevent circumvention of sanctions. In this regard, outreach to third countries such as China or Central Asian countries is necessary. Although Russia's actions have been condemned by more than 140 states in the United Nations, we have to see that this does not automatically result in participation in our sanction system.

The Council of Europe has shown leadership in setting up the Register of Damages caused by the aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine. It is a first step towards establishing a comprehensive system of accountability of the Russian Federation for its acts of mass destruction, and therefore, I am thankful for this discussion and the idea of an international compensation mechanism. It is important to show with our resolution support for the reconstruction of Ukraine, our ongoing and unwavering commitment to the Ukrainian people. Yes, we have to think also in these days, amid the war, of reconstruction because only a strong Ukraine will be a strong member of the European Union.

Mr Marco NICOLINI

San Marino, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

16:16:19

Thank you very much.

And now Mister Thibaut FRANÇOIS, the floor is yours. But he doesn't seem to be here. No, he is not here.

So, Mister Christophe CHAILLOU, the floor is yours.

Mr Christophe CHAILLOU

France, SOC

16:16:41

Mister Chairman,

Ladies and gentlemen,

As several of the previous speakers have said, the war of aggression waged by the Russian Federation against Ukraine has now been going on for over two years, preceded by the annexation of territory, and all this in total violation of all the fundamental rules of international law.

We heard the testimony of the President of the Rada just now. We can only admire the resistance and resilience of the Ukrainian people and their leaders. We can only express our full support, understanding and, of course, our commitment to the people, who are particularly suffering from the massive destruction, including the events in the energy industries a few weeks ago with the increase in massive bombing by the Russian Federation. More than 6 million people have had to flee to neighboring countries, one of the largest migratory movements in Europe since the Second World War, and all this has been accompanied by extremely serious atrocities.

Allow me to welcome the decision of the Council of Europe's new Human Rights Commissioner, Mr Michael O'Flaherty, to make his first visit to Ukraine to continue documenting human rights violations committed by the Russian Federation. This is a sign of the encouragement, the ongoing commitment, and the permanent support of the Council of Europe, of its members, in favour of Ukraine, and this, since the first day of the Russian aggression.

This afternoon, in the report before us, and I would particularly like to pay tribute to the work of the rapporteur, we have before us texts proposing the creation of an international compensation mechanism under the auspices of the Council of Europe, which would offer better compensation to people whose property has been destroyed and thus promote the reconstruction of infrastructures. This mechanism would cover both natural and legal persons as potential claimants. The compensation fund would be replenished by the transfer of Russian assets frozen by numerous states, which the report estimates at almost 300 billion euros.

We can only support these initiatives, which are in line with the Reykjavík Declaration, but we would point out that they obviously require clarification of a number of points of international law to which the Legal Affairs Committee is legitimately and particularly attentive.

According to the principles of international law, when a State is held responsible for a wrongful act, it is obliged to pay full compensation for the damage caused. However, as we know, the Russian Federation does not participate in the various international dispute settlement mechanisms, which complicates recourse to an international jurisdiction. Obviously, we have to realise that the Russian Federation will have difficulty in compensating for the damage caused by its aggression. This is why it seems necessary to set up all the specific reparation mechanisms.

Once again, our colleagues' proposals seem to us to be a very positive contribution to the overall effort to support Ukraine, which first and foremost, as many speakers have pointed out, involves support for its military system. In any case, they have the merit of bringing added value to the work of the Council of Europe compared with other bodies, which is why, like many French parliamentarians, I shall be supporting them.

Mr Marco NICOLINI

San Marino, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

16:20:10

Thank you very much.

Now the floor goes to Mr Serhii SOBOLIEV.

Mr Serhii SOBOLIEV

Ukraine, EPP/CD

16:20:18

Thank you, Mister President.

Dear colleagues,

I want to ask very honestly one question.

Why do we need this report, this resolution, these recommendations?

Somebody says that it's a message to Putin, this bloody dictator, in order to show just for him what it will be if he will not stop.

Of course it's a message for all other bloody dictators that had to see what will be if we will make all our work unanimously.

What we had to do and why we need this report?

I think that we need to answer the first question.

Yes, we are the best organisation that did a lot.

The Register of Damage, we did the great work for international tribunal, but honestly where can we find this money? Of course our tax payers in Ukraine, in Europe, have to pay in order to protect Ukrainians. But first of all, who has to pay for this? Of course, the Russian bloody regime.

And we are still discussing in European Union and other organisations what money we can use for this. Or only percentage from Russian assets or we can use all this property, the property of oligarchs, all of other Russians.

You can only imagine if the people from Mariupol, Melitopol', Berdyans'k, Donetsk, Luhansk who are now here in Europe are watching this property of common Russians, and they know that in their own cities thanks to Russians they do not have even a small apartment where to live, or Russians confiscated these as they did this for the last years.

Second question, very important. From what time we have to do this? Only from February 2022? Of course not. We have been having war for 10 years. For 10 years, since the beginning of 2014. And it's very important that in our amendments we stress this, that this compensation mechanism will work from 2014.

But all these questions is nothing besides one question: how we can now protect Ukraine? The only way is to get an amount of money for the protection of our territory. And we can do enough, thanks to our parliaments, thanks to our own position for this.

Thank you.

Mr Marco NICOLINI

San Marino, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

16:23:44

Thank you, Mister SOBOLIEV.

Mister Petri HONKONEN, the floor is yours.

Mr Petri HONKONEN

Finland, ALDE

16:23:51

Mister Chairman,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Today we are dealing with a very important and topical report. I would like to congratulate the rapporteur, Mr Lulzim BASHA, for his excellent work on supporting the reconstruction of Ukraine.

The Council of Europe has acted decisively since Russia launched its brutal war of aggression against Ukraine and its people in 2022. The war has caused the loss of many innocent lives, but has also caused extensive damage to Ukraine's private and public infrastructure. War criminals must be held accountable for these criminal acts.

From what I've heard, Ukraine's register of damage is now up and running, and it has raised hopes among Ukrainians of the possibility of righting wrongs and compensating for the damage caused by the war. The register of damage is a historic opening in which, thanks to modern technology, a database of war damage is collected in order to establish legal liability. The Council of Europe has made an extremely important contribution in this area and is also giving hope to conflict victims in the future. Our Assembly must continue to give its full support to the use of the register.

Thanks to the register of damage, it is possible to create a basis for Russia's responsibility to pay compensation for damage caused. No amount of money will bring back lost lives, but there is a responsibility for violations of international law. Assuming this responsibility is the task of the international community, which means us. The better we support it, the better we will be able to prevent such acts in the future. The Council of Europe must work hard to create a compensation mechanism for the damage caused by Russia.

Thank you, Mister Chairman.

Mr Marco NICOLINI

San Marino, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

16:26:38

Thank you very much.

Now the floor goes to Ms Derya TÜRK-NACHBAUR.

Ms Derya TÜRK-NACHBAUR

Germany, SOC

16:26:47

Thank you very much, Mr President,

Ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to thank my colleague, Mr Lulzim BASHA, for this important motion and his analysis, as well as the supportive words of my colleague, Mr Davor Ivo STIER, on an issue that we as the Council of Europe must address with great determination and with even greater vigour in our respective member states.

Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine, which is contrary to international law, is spreading death, misery and suffering. There are thousands of documented cases of torture, inhumane treatment and sexual violence, widespread destruction of residential buildings and critical infrastructure throughout the country, as well as immense economic losses. The Russian Federation is currently targeting Ukraine's energy supply: heat storage facilities, gas storage facilities. Putin's thugs seem to want to cause maximum damage. But we are determined: they must pay for this damage.

According to a United Nations estimate, it would currently cost around 450 billion euros to rebuild Ukraine. It should not be a question of whether Russia will pay, but when and how Russia will pay – and until then, our international solidarity is needed. The Council of Europe has acted. The establishment of the Register of Damages for Ukraine is a significant international effort and the first step towards a mechanism that will ensure justice and compensation for Ukraine and its people. The reconstruction of Ukraine will take generations – we all know that. Ukraine is already working with the greatest commitment to rebuild its country, we must not allow them to be beaten down and demotivated.

Let me tell you a little about Germany: we in Germany are supporting reconstruction on the way to a free and European Ukraine. Many citizens and municipalities are already active in over 200 town twinning projects and are providing help where it is needed. Yes, Ukraine needs weapons, it needs ammunition. But Ukraine needs more than just weapons to be able to survive in this war. It is also important that the economy continues to function and that the country remains capable of acting. Our Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development has set up the "Ukraine Reconstruction Platform". The platform is a first point of contact for anyone who wants to get involved in reconstruction. Whether you are a mayor, electrical engineer, doctor, entrepreneur, psychologist or Ukrainian citizens in Germany. The platform is intended to be a forum for networking and information. Together with German stakeholders and Ukrainian partners, specialist conferences, workshops and dialogue forums on reconstruction will be organised. In June, we will be hosting the Ukraine Recovery Conference in Berlin, where we expect lively participation and forward-looking decisions.

Let us not leave Ukraine alone. Let us send a very clear signal today: In the Council of Europe, it is not the law of the jungle, but the strength of the law.

Let's make Russia pay for the invasion. Thank you.

Mr Marco NICOLINI

San Marino, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

16:30:24

Thank you very much.

Now the floor goes to Ms Olena KHOMENKO.

The floor is yours.

Ms Olena KHOMENKO

Ukraine, EC/DA

16:30:33

Ladies and gentlemen,

First of all, I thank the rapporteur Mr Lulzim BASHA for this important report and tremendous job done.

Reconstruction is indeed an issue of great concern for the Ukrainians today.

While enduring regular Russian missile and drone attacks on our homes and infrastructure, we always think of how we will rebuild everything. Not once this brutal war ends, but the sooner the better, as the destruction brings not only financial losses, but homes destroyed, industries halted, fields barren, and lights dimmed across the whole country.

Russia's air terror against Ukraine has increased significantly over the last months. Russia lunches missiles and drones of all types at residential areas, primarily targeting critical civilian infrastructure. It also drops massive guided aerial bombs on Kharkiv, Sumy and other regions.

What is more, Russia deliberately bombs Ukrainian energy infrastructure using ballistic missiles.

Last week Russia attacked Trypillia thermal power plant in the Kyiv region, with 11 missiles. Seven of which Ukraine was able to destroy and four of which hit the target simply because the air defence system ran out of missiles to shoot them down. These four missiles destroyed 100% of generation of the thermal power plant, which was the largest supplier of electricity to three regions of Ukraine.

Well, the good news is that Trypillia TPP can be rebuilt with the help of international partners, the bad news is without proper air defence it will be useless.

Thus it is time we remind ourselves that not only compensation is needed but also massive military support to stop the aggression.

Ukraine urgently needs air defence and there is currently no other place for Patriots to be.

The mechanisms proposed in the resolution echo our collective conviction that accountability and reparations are indispensable to the restoration of peace and justice. The innovative suggestion to use frozen assets as surety for the payment of reparations is the creative and determined approach we must adopt to support Ukraine's recovery.

It is high time to make a step forward towards the establishment of a comprehensive compensation mechanism as championed by the Council of Europe.

By seizing and utilising Russian state assets, we not only hold the aggressor accountable, but also channel crucial resources towards rebuilding a democratic, resilient Ukraine.

Last but not least, let us not lose sight of the humanitarian cost of this conflict. Every moment we delay, Ukrainian society is further torn by destruction, displacing more lives, deepening poverty, and escalating food security risks.

Let us be brave and unite our efforts, dear colleagues, because inaction is now equal to complicity in the face of impunity and injustice.

Thank you.

Mr Marco NICOLINI

San Marino, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

16:34:05

Thank you very much.

Now, Mr Alain MILON. The floor is yours.

Mr Alain MILON

France, EPP/CD

16:34:13

Mister Chairman,

Ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to begin by thanking our colleagues for their enlightening reports.

For more than two years, the Russian Federation has been waging a war of aggression against Ukraine, which has flouted the principles and values of our Organisation. The latter reacted swiftly to exclude the Russian Federation, and I welcome this. Behind this geographical narrowing of our Organisation, I want to believe that we are gaining in coherence through the Reykjavík Declaration, which proclaims that our states are united around our values. But we must be prepared to reaffirm this over time, as we did at the last session in January, when we suspended Azerbaijan's participation in our work.

Nor can I forget that our debate comes at a difficult time for Ukraine, which is facing massive attacks from the Russian Federation. The country's infrastructure has been particularly hard hit, and the damage is considerable. The Kyiv School of Economics estimates infrastructure damage at over $150 billion. This destruction has obviously had serious consequences for the Ukrainian people, whose resilience I would like to salute.

Given the scale of the destruction, we need to consider a reconstruction program for Ukraine and find ways of financing it. The draft resolution presented by our colleagues, which is in line with the Reykjavík Declaration, proposes the creation of an international compensation mechanism financed by the frozen assets of the Russian State held by states, whether or not they are members of the Council of Europe.

I would particularly like to pay tribute to the detailed work carried out by our Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, which will continue its work until June. It shares the view that the transfer of these assets to the compensation fund should be considered legal under international law.

According to our colleague, the fact that the transfer of sovereign state assets for compensation purposes is unprecedented or has not been justified in the past under countermeasures law does not mean that it would not be legally possible under current international law. This is obviously an important issue.

The Committee also presents complementary analyses to those of the Political Affairs Committee, highlighting other options for guaranteeing compensation for damage. In my opinion, all options should be studied.

I would also like to emphasise that the first and indispensable step is to make progress on the operational implementation of the register of damage. This is an important issue of credibility for our Organisation.

With these observations in mind, I shall of course support the draft resolution and draft recommendation submitted to us today.

Mr Marco NICOLINI

San Marino, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

16:37:17

Thank you very much.

Now Mr Stéphane BERGERON.

Mr Stéphane BERGERON

Canada

16:37:26

Thank you, Mr Chairman.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to begin by reiterating our unwavering support for the Ukrainian nation and its independence, but also our categorical denunciation of Russia's illegal invasion of this country, which constitutes a pure and simple violation of international law, a violation that has been going on for over ten years now.

In addition to the countless civilian casualties and destruction caused by this unjustified war, the Russian forces have also maliciously destroyed Ukraine's cultural heritage. On 13 March, UNESCO reported that over 300 Ukrainian cultural sites had been damaged or destroyed since February 2022.

By targeting Ukraine's cultural assets, Russia's clear objective is to eradicate Ukrainian identity. The intentional destruction of cultural property during armed conflict constitutes a war crime under international criminal law.

As we consider the challenges of rebuilding Ukraine, we must pay particular attention to restoring the country's historical and cultural heritage.

As mentioned by the rapporteur, Mr Lulzim BASHA, several countries have already taken the initiative of freezing Russian sovereign assets, estimated at some US$300 billion. I agree with him that these assets should be used to rebuild Ukraine. On at least two occasions, on 28 April 2022 and 12 October 2023, this house has expressed exactly the same view.

The European Commission meanwhile announced on 20 March that the European Union intended to use frozen Russian assets to transfer 3 billion euros a year to Ukraine.

While Canada has acted swiftly to introduce legislation for the forfeiture of seized assets, the implementation of these measures is proving long and laborious.

With a view to compensating the Ukrainian people and contributing to the reconstruction of their country, this Assembly also adopted, in October 2023, a resolution on the operationalisation of the Register of Damage established by the Committee of Ministers a few months earlier.

I am one of those who believe that words must be accompanied by concrete action, so that they are not simply pious wishes. To use a familiar expression: the boots must follow the shoes. Up until now, we haven't always been exemplary, with promised aid often taking far too long to materialise and reach the Ukrainians.

I am therefore delighted to see this Assmebly once again calling on member states to go further in helping the Ukrainian people, in particular by proposing the transfer of frozen Russian assets to the international compensation mechanism with a view to paying compensation to Ukraine.

What is at stake here is not just the protection of the population and the security, independence, territorial integrity and democratic institutions of Ukraine, but also the preservation and promotion of its language, identity and culture.

What is at stake here is not only respect for international law, but also and above all the dignity and survival of an entire nation.

Slava Ukraini.

Mr Marco NICOLINI

San Marino, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

16:40:53

Thank you very much.

Now the floor goes to Mr Claude KERN. 

The floor is yours.

Mr Claude KERN

France, ALDE

16:41:02

Thank you, Mr Chairman,

Dear colleagues,

I would like to begin by congratulating our colleagues Mr Lulzim BASHA and Mr Davor Ivo STIER on their reports, which encourage us to continue our commitment to Ukraine.

The war of aggression waged by the Russian Federation against Ukraine represents a historic turning point, as it is the first large-scale invasion of the 21st century. It is up to our states to respond with firmness and determination to prevent other dictators from being tempted by such actions. In this respect, we can be proud of the reaction of the Council of Europe, which assumed its responsibilities from the outset of this war of aggression by excluding the Russian Federation.

We can also welcome the resolute action taken in support of Ukraine, and in particular the initiative to create a register of the damage caused in the course of this war, by means of an enlarged partial agreement announced at the Reykjavik Summit.

The declaration emphasised that this Register of Damage was an important first step, but that it would have to be accompanied by other elements of response in order to constitute a comprehensive international compensation mechanism. It expressed the willingness of the Heads of State and Government to commit to the development of a separate international instrument, which could include "a compensation commission and a compensation fund, while underlining the obligation of the Russian Federation to pay for the damage caused by this war of aggression".

This is at the heart of the motion for a resolution before us today, which seeks to put into practice this ambition of the Heads of State and Government.

It proposes the creation of an international compensation mechanism for Ukraine, to be set up under the auspices of the Council of Europe and financed by the frozen assets of the Russian state. I would remind you that this issue of freezing Russian assets was the subject of important work by our Assembly, led by our former colleague Mr André VALLINI.

Certain member and non-member states of the Council of Europe decided to freeze assets following the invasion of Ukraine in 2022, as a form of sanctions. I believe that these confiscated assets should contribute, in part, to the reconstruction of Ukraine.

I would also like to welcome the action taken by the European Union, which plans to set up a new support mechanism worth 50 billion euros for the years 2024 to 2027 to help Ukraine in its recovery, reconstruction and modernisation efforts.

Our Legal Affairs Committee is examining the complex issues raised by the use of frozen assets, but shares the view put forward by the rapporteur of the Political Affairs Committee. He believes that this measure should be considered legal under international law on state accountability, and more specifically under the law on countermeasures. This would obviously be a very important signal, which would have an ethical and exemplary virtue beyond the Russian Federation.

I therefore support the resolution before us.

Mr Marco NICOLINI

San Marino, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

16:44:11

Thank you very much.

And now the floor goes to Mr Pierre-Alain FRIDEZ.

The floor is yours.

Mr Pierre-Alain FRIDEZ

Switzerland, SOC

16:44:21

Thank you, Mr Chairman.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

For over two years now, we have been witnessing the devastating effects of this Russian aggression on a country that is counting its dead and, above all, the massive destruction in various towns. I still have images of Mariupol in my mind: they are quite dramatic.

Rebuilding a country like this is an enormous challenge, and one that requires absolutely massive financial resources. We're talking about hundreds of billions of dollars. To find these financial resources, we can all rally together; but what we're proposing is to make those responsible, and especially those responsible, pay. It's easy to imagine that they won't make much of an effort voluntarily: using frozen funds is therefore a priority. We need to give ourselves the legal means to use everything we can in this area.

Of course, I support this report and its conclusions. I'd like to thank the various rapporteurs, Mr Lulzim BASHA and Mr Davor Ivo STIER, but I'd just like to say a few words about a more specific subject: humanitarian demining. In fact, this is something that will very much involve my country. My country has decided to support the reconstruction of Ukraine to the tune of 5 billion euros over several years, and at the same time to invest 100 million euros in humanitarian demining.

The front in Russia is enormous; the surface areas that have been contaminated by unexploded ordnance and mine remnants are absolutely huge. And if we can now imagine populations living in these regions once peace has returned, they will have to be decontaminated; this humanitarian demining will have to be carried out, which is substantial.

There are many ways of doing this. We can use the old methods; now, we're going to develop methods using drones. In Switzerland, we also have machines: some have already left for the Ukraine, and these machines can be used very quickly.

This work is substantial and will enable people to live again, to cultivate, to let their children go for walks and to avoid the resulting tragedies: amputations, deaths, things that we unfortunately see very regularly after wars. This is therefore a very important commitment for my country, to enable Ukrainians, when the time comes, to live again with dignity on their own territory, in the best possible conditions.

Naturally, I support this report and hope that we can put an end to this fighting as soon as possible, and find a solution that will enable Ukrainians to live peacefully with Europeans once again.

Thank you for your support.

Mr Marco NICOLINI

San Marino, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

16:47:17

Thank you very much.

Now Ms Mariia MEZENTSEVA.

The floor is yours.

Ms Mariia MEZENTSEVA

Ukraine, EPP/CD

16:47:26

Thank you, dear Chairman, dear colleagues,

First of all, I would like to thank for their courage Mr Lulzim BASHA and Mr Davor Ivo STIER, because you have produced a tremendous file which no other institution was capable of. And this is also the great work of the Secretariat of the Committee.

And now friends, we will have to be today realistic but at the same time quite philosophical. It is not peace first, it is our common win and victory first. And I think it twisted completely the philosophy of these papers because many of you have insisted during the revision of the amendments and the file itself that we have to start reconstructing the state of Ukraine right now.

We definitely know there will be a common win for all of us but we do not know the exact date. However, many governments of your home states are doing this reconstruction with a slogan "build better" already today .As we have a great achievement of all of us and it was a member of this house's initiative to pass it onto the Council of Ministers and the Register of Damage was established only in nine months. I do not know any other amazing international initiative which comprises more than 40 states across the globe that is so meaningful. So I want to thank you for that as well. You know that for every negativity there should be positivity.

Finally, I do not have to explain where Kharkiv is, what the people of Kharkiv and the region are suffering from, because indeed we are in the face of daily bombardments and we do not mind to stay out of electricity for five or six hours daily, for the common and good sake of democracy and freedom of our continent, but it is crucial today, colleagues, that you send this message by your positive vote, to your governments that less humanitarian aid and less restoration, less funds will be spent if we have more real weapons and more air defence.

And I want to salute every Ukrainian soldier, men and women, but also your people who are fighting together with us in the International Legion for every document we have voted here, for every value we are speaking about from all of our hearts. I truly believe that the extension of war crimes, not only from material losses but also for suffering for sex, for violent crimes in sexual terms, for missing civilians, for every physical pain that can be transferred into and psychological pain that can be transferred into the money will be a fair pay to every Ukrainian who suffered this war.

Thank you very much and Slava Ukrani [Glory to Ukraine].

Mr Marco NICOLINI

San Marino, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

16:50:39

Thank you very much.

Now the floor goes to Mr Pavlo BAKUNETS.

The floor is yours.

Mr Pavlo BAKUNETS

Ukraine, EC/DA

16:50:49

Dear Mister Chairman, dear Mister President of Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, dear members of the Assembly,

It is a great honour for me to be here in this symbolic place where values such as democracy, the rule of law and human rights are appreciated. 

First of all, I would like to express my gratitude to the rapporteurs, especially to Mr Lulzim BASHA for this report. Thank you for your work. Thank you very much. It is a good way for realisation of a compensation mechanism for the damage caused by Russia's aggression against Ukraine.

Living in Ukraine during this war, during this full-scale invasion and seeing the damages caused by Russian missiles and Russian bombs is a great challenge for every Ukrainian. Now, the Ukrainians are defending not just our homes. Now Ukrainians are defending all of Europe. We will be successful if all of Europe continues to help us.

Talking about a Ukrainian recovery, I would like to underline that the Ukrainian government expects about eight million applications to the international Register of Damage. The key question is, where is the money? Where do the funds come from to satisfy this request? 

Here, I agree with the Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada's position that Russia must pay for the reconstruction of the damages which it caused to Ukraine, first of all, by transferring frozen Russian assets to Ukraine. But it is always better to prevent a problem. Instead of looking for funds to rebuild Ukraine, it is better to stop the destruction. To do this, we need to help Ukraine. We need to close our sky, and now more than ever, Ukraine needs air defence systems. We ask you for seven patriot systems to protect our sky. With your help, we save what's most important, lives: lives of Ukraine, lives of every European.

Thank you for your support.

Thank you very much.

Mr Marco NICOLINI

San Marino, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

16:54:10

Thank you very much.

Now the floor goes to Mr Emanuelis ZINGERIS.

Mr Emanuelis ZINGERIS

Lithuania, EPP/CD

16:54:20

Dear friends, we are here in 2024.

In 1996, being the longest serving member of this Assembly, I remember official Russian commitments to our Assembly. One of the first points was withdraw Russian army from Transnistria, compensate victims of gulag, Siberia, Joseph Stalin repression. More like 30 commitments. Not one, mostly not one implemented.

We're facing the fact that some of us tried to warn you during years and years. That Russia is preparing the world war against us, and they are based on their revenge feelings about 1990, about Soviet Union. And the countries who were influenced by the Soviet Union, like the Warsaw Pact. They tried to restore their territories, and it was always based on the preparation for that war.

Now we have German intelligence report two weeks ago stated that Russia is preparing their manufacturers to build more weapons. More weapons like they need to kill Ukrainians, to eliminate Ukrainian children and women and to bring Russian settlers to Ukraine.

They are preparing the other steps with their ambition to destroy the democratic world. So how we will react? Which organisations are fulfilling the item to protect democracy? NATO and Council of Europe. And partly, only partly, United Nations.

After World War II, after the League of Nations, was created United Nations. We should not create a new organisation, but we should change our attitude at home.

I would like to ask you everyone which companies are serving in every country and supplying Russian military with the puzzles inside of Russian rockets? Which companies are avoiding sanctions? How we, every member of this Parliament, will face huge rich companies in their countries, starting from Italy, ending with Spain and Lituania who are avoiding sanctions and making millions of dollars together with Russia?

I am just declaring that under Lithuanian chairmanship, after few weeks we will start leading Council of Europe. Our first priority is to stop this cynical use of our economies using the blood of Ukrainians and benefiting our companies. And we will establish with your support, I hope with your massive support, a second register in The Hague, register of shame, register of all crooks, of all companies who are circumventing and avoiding the sanctions. And we will see, and I hope you will be brave enough to face in every country the internal fight with your financial part of your financial elites who are involved with Russia and benefiting from Ukrainian blood.

And about our good friend Mr Lulzim BASHA, I would like to say it directly to you: thank you for this step forward.

It's a step forward those three last points related to establishment under auspices of Council of Europe Commission to evaluate Russia damages next to being back on our register, established in The Hague is wonderful and, if we need changes in international law we can actually do the same like it was done in Reykjavík, we can, Mister BASHA, dear friends we can invite summit on the end of this year and Lithuania is ready to invite a summit of the heads of states if we need, to break through and to change our attitudes and to confiscate Russian assets immediately and use immediately for rebuilding of Ukraine.

Thank you very much.

Mr Marco NICOLINI

San Marino, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

16:59:04

Thank you very much, Mr Emanuelis ZINGERIS.

Since we are running out of time, Ms Yuliia OVCHYNNYKOVA is the last speaker.

Yuliia.

Ms Yuliia OVCHYNNYKOVA

Ukraine, ALDE

16:59:15

Dear colleagues,

First of all, dear excellency, Mr Ruslan STEFANCHUK, dear Chairman, dear rapporteur, dear Assembly.

First, let me express deep gratitude to the rapporteur, Mr Lulzim BASHA, for your excellent work. With this report, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe is proving again the global political bravery and real leadership in the fight for the rule of law, human rights, democracy and European values.

The Council of Europe plays a significant role in supporting Ukraine and the issues for reconstruction have been already addressed in different resolutions, but now is a good time to take the next step forward to the concrete legal actions to establish the international compensation mechanism under the auspice of the Council of Europe, creating an international trust fund as well as make use to the Russian assets across Europe and beyond for these purposes. And I believe this work must begin with respect to the principle of "Nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine". 

Ukraine is a unique country, as well as developing plans and strategies for recovery from war, while being in a state of war. We are in recovery and fight mode at the same time – immediate reconstruction is one of the key priorities for us. Thus, preservation and restoration is not a task for the distant future. It is an urgent issue for today because the decision we make today will shape our country and our future generations. And I do believe the recovery should be closely aligned to the EU integration path. Green and environmentally friendly policies should be in place for all reconstruction projects and reforms, and especially, when it comes to our common destructive impact of military action on people's lives and all living organisms.

So there is no recovering Ukraine without demining and environmental security as well. Ukraine fights every day and every day demines its territory from enemy shells. Only in 2023, together with international partners, they demined an area of the territory of Ukraine which equalled the area of a territory the size of Montenegro.

And I believe that the international trust fund will seize Russian State assets to be deposited and also be used for compensation of Ukraine's restoration.

But to tell the truth, what really is now one of the more difficult periods for our fighting, a period of stability of spirits and endurance.

And to conclude, today this Assembly confirms again that shared responsibility to the international community can really make a difference in making the world safer for all.

Thank you very much, dear colleagues.

Mr Lukas SAVICKAS

Lithuania, SOC

19:59:06

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

Dear President, dear colleagues,

We have been the ones who led the way in expressing our solitary withUkraine and its people, in condemning the Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine and in excluding Russia from our members. But we did not stop and continued our work in setting up the Register of Damage Caused by the Aggression of the Russia against Ukraine.

The documented damages to Ukraine's infrastructure and economy caused by the Russia's aggression had reached 416 billion US dollars in June 2023. Over 6 million Ukrainians had to flee Ukraine because of the war. 17 million individuals in Ukraine needed humanitarian assistance last year. 5 million people were internally displaced. Despite being heartbreaking it is particularly concerning as a humanitarian emergency in itself and also because it creates a ripple effect across borders, impacting neighbouring countries and straining resources on a larger scale.

This knowledge of documented damaged obligates us, dear colleagues, to continue our work. The Council of Europe must play a significant role in supporting the reconstruction efforts in Ukraine and the compensation for the damage caused by the Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.

The report clearly notes that several countries holding Russian sovereign assets have frozen approximately 300 US billion dollars in Russian State assets. These frozen financial assets must be made available for the reconstruction of Ukraine. These billions should be used to cover a range of losses, including but not limited to infrastructure damage, environmental impacts, economic losses and the costs associated with hosting and supporting those who have been displaced by the aggression, in Ukraine and outside.

Therefore, member and non-member States holding Russian State assets should co-operate to transfer these assets to an international compensation mechanism, created under the auspices of the Council of Europe. The transferred Russian State assets would be deposited in an international trust fund and should be used for compensation purposes.

It must be acknowledged that the non-participation by the Russia in international dispute settlements hinders the traditional legal channels for securing reparations. Therefore the transfer of frozen assets by third States must be considered lawful as collective countermeasure against the aggressor State for grave breaches of international law obligations. The fact that transferring sovereign State assets for compensation purposes is unprecedented does not mean that it would not be legally possible under current international law.Now is the time for Council of Europe member states to move from sanctions to countermeasures. And this report is very important step in this direction.

Ms Ana TSITLIDZE

Georgia, EPP/CD

19:59:10

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

 

First of all I want to express my deepest respect and love to the Ukraine and to the brave Ukrainian people. I would underlined Georgian people stands with you and will stand.

We know very well what Russian occupation means. 20 % of Georgian Territory is still occupied by Russian occupants.

The attack on Georgia in 2008 was a signal that Russia would not stop. Unfortunately, The response of the International community was weak.

After the aggression against Georgia in 2008 The policy of resettling with Russia was a big mistake which finally led us to the point where Russia dared to attack Ukraine. The free world, The Europe must not make the same mistakes with Russia. Europe must be more brave and desicive. Ukraine need even more help. Today the line of freedom, democracy and peace of Europe runs through their struggle.

Yesterday in Tbilisi, Pro Russian Government of Georgia dispersed using Russian methods arrested peaceful demonstrations protesting Russian law.

When we speak help to Ukraine, we must not forget that Russia still continuous aggressive policy against Georgia. Russias hybrid war and state capture by Russian oligarch once again remained us there is no time for Europe hesitate, there is no time for bureaucracy. It is time to be more brave, more functional and more disicive.

We all must stand together and win!

 

 

Ms Anna-Kristiina MIKKONEN

Finland, SOC

19:59:14

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

Ms Olena MOSHENETS

Ukraine, ALDE

19:59:21

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

I thank the rapporteurs and the Assembly on behalf of millions Ukrainians whose lives have been shattered by Russia's war of aggression, whose homes are destroyed and whose hometowns are razed to the ground. I thank the Speaker of Parliament, Mr. Ruslan Stefanchuk, for speech! I would like you to see me as an ordinary Ukrainian citizen who is woken up at dawn by explosions; whose morning begins with news of new destruction; who sees and hears how missiles destroy families, lives, and futures …

I am sure that those present in this room are united by belief in a better future, and our task is to rebuild welfare brick by brick. We are also united in determination that every square centimeter of Ukrainian land destroyed must be rebuilt. Exactly two weeks ago, the Register of Damages Caused by the Aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine was launched. We are grateful to the Council of Europe, 43 countries and EU representatives for active participation!

Ukraine's total losses from a full-scale invasion are estimated at more than $400 billion. The scale is four times larger than the damage from the grief caused by the February 6, 2023 earthquake in Turkey. Trypilska TPP completely destroyed by Russia, supplied power to almost 3 million people. This is comparable to the situation if the entire population of Lithuania had been cut off from electricity.In March this year Russia struck the largest-scale attack on Ukraine's power system: dozens of energy facilities were damaged. According to preliminary estimates, the bill for these attacks is about 90-100 million euros. This amount is the cost of a small project competition under the European Commission's Innovation Fund. Some are destroying the present, while others are investing in a better future.

We are grateful to countries that took regions of Ukraine under patronage and are committed to their recovery. A great example of cooperation between Denmark and Mykolaiv region. Last year, Danish colleagues allocated more than $100 million for the restoration of Mykolaiv region. Latvia has allocated $5 million in its budget for the restoration of Chernihiv region. Thank you! Among the options for Ukraine's development, the most obvious is the use of the frozen assets of the Russian Federation, which reach $300 billion. We hope that an effective mechanism will be developed in the near future to transfer assets for the reconstruction of Ukraine. Thank you!

Ms Zanda KALNIŅA-LUKAŠEVICA

Latvia, EPP/CD

19:59:29

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

 

Thank you, Mr President!

Mr Speaker of the Verhovna Rada, it is an honor to welcome you here in our assembly.

Dear colleagues,

Since Russia’s war against Ukraine, every single session we have discussed many different but interlinked topics on how we can help Ukraine to stop Russia’s aggression and how to bring justice.As part of our efforts - we have established Register of Damage and Riga Principles were approved to ensure that Russia does not remain unpunished and that compensation is provided to all victims of the aggression.With these moves we have done first steps to hold Russia accountable, but the significant part of the road is still ahead of us. Today we are here to discuss next meaningful step to hold Russia accountable and make it pay for what it has done. Our colleague Mr Lulzim Basha has done tremendous and brilliant job preparing this report. Thank you so much for this dear Lulzim.The report and recommendations are comprehensive and at the same time with very concrete steps offered.I believe the proposed way ahead - to confiscate and transfer the Russian State frozen assets can be realized and it should be done as soon as possible. No doubts - the political will and courage have to be in place to achieve that as well. Therefore, I urge European leaders, governments and parliaments, do their part and implement these measures in the nearest time - to confiscate and transfer Russian frozen assets for the reconstruction of Ukraine. The Council of Europe can and should play a leading role in setting up and managing such a compensation mechanism.

Dear colleagues,The Assembly by endorsing this resolution and recommendations would contribute to the development of international law and would send clear message that aggressor States cannot escape from their obligation to pay for the damage caused by their acts.

Colleagues, of course this won’t be the final step, but it will be very meaningful move ahead. In the future we will have to make next decisions and actions to bring justice, but with every small or big step we are approaching justice.The day will come when a Special International Tribunal will be established and investigation and prosecution of the political and military leadership of the Russian Federation for the crime of aggression against Ukraine will be realized. Russia will pay the price. In the meantime - Ukraine needs financial resources now and Ukraineneeds much more weapons and ammunition now! I invite everyone here to support this resolution and recommendations. Now we have the legal basis and way ahead.

Many thanks!

Ms Boriana ÅBERG

Sweden, EPP/CD

19:59:35

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

 

Mr President, dear colleagues,

I’d like to thank the rapporteur Mr Basha for the excellent work.

Through its terrible war crimes, Russia has inflicted immense damage on Ukraine, damage that Moscow must pay for. Not when the war ends, but immediately.

As long as the war continues as intensively as today, Ukraine needs approximately 100 billion dollars a year in foreign aid.

The EU has concluded that only the interest on the Russian money in Euroclear should be confiscated, approximately 3 billion Euro annually. Why not the full amount? Is it morally justifiable for Russia to keep its assets in the West, while it ruins Ukraine?

A week ago, the Court of Justice of the European Union decided that it was wrong of the European union to put two Russian oligarchs on the sanctions list.

According to the verdict, the EU hadn’t presented “sufficient evidence” to rule that these oligarchs had supported the invasion or in other ways contributed to damaging Ukraine.

This court decision paves the way for a very perilous path – if you have enough money for advocates and lobbyist, you can buy yourself free from sanctions for cooperating with the Putin regime and the Russian war machine. Free from sanctions for providing services to those who commit terrible atrocities against civilians.

The repressive state apparatus and the oligarchs are two tentacles of the same body. They ensure the existence of each other.

Loyalty and support for Putin are paid with lucrative defense contracts for producing, among other things, the weapons used to kill civilians in Ukrainian cities.

The Canadian parliament passed legislation as early as 2022 to allow the confiscation of governmentally and privately owned assets of sanctioned Russians to be used as compensation for the victims in Ukraine.

The member states of the Council of Europe should follow suit to pass similar legislation.

Mr Francesco SORBARA

Canada

19:59:44

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

 

On 15 February 2024, the Government of Ukraine, the World Bank, the European Commission, and the United Nations released an updated estimate on the cost of Ukraine’s recovery and reconstruction needs.

The figure was a staggering US$486 billion over the next decade.

Since January 2022, Canada has committed more than CDN$13.3 billion in various forms of assistance to Ukraine. We recently signed an agreement on security cooperation that’s committed us to continued support for Ukraine’s recovery and reconstruction.

And we were the first G7 country to implement measures that allow our government to pursue the seizure of assets belonging to sanctioned persons, like Russian oligarchs, who’ve enabled Putin’s barbaric war. As Russia continues indiscriminately bombing Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure, however, reconstruction costs are only rising.

At the same time, as Rapporteur Basha’s report reminds us, several countries have already frozen approximately US$300 billion in Russian State assets. These assets must be used for Ukraine’s reconstruction. And this needs to be done quickly. I commend the EU for the progress it is making on that front.

But there is no denying that this process raises fiendishly complicated questions of international law. Indeed, Rapporteur Basha’s report rightfully recognizes that: In the pursuit of supporting Ukraine’s reconstruction, it is crucial that any proposed action is in accordance with international law and aligns with the values and principles upheld by the Council of Europe. To that end, it argues that the seizure and transfer of Russian assets is a “justifiable implementation” of the international law doctrine of “countermeasures.”

As a non-lawyer, I won’t speak to the merits of this legal argument.

But it’s certainly morally sound.

The Council of Europe has already shown tremendous leadership in setting up the Register of Damage Caused by the Aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine.

And I commend Rapporteur Basha and the Political Affairs Committee for continuing to keep the ball rolling, so to speak, by boldly building on the Register and calling for: the establishment of an international compensation mechanism; the transfer of Russian State assets to this new mechanism; the creation of an international trust fund where these assets will be deposited; and the establishment of an impartial and effective international claims commission.

There is no question this would be a very complex undertaking.

But the sooner this type of work is done, the sooner Ukraine can get the Russian funds it needs and deserves.

 

 

Ms Lesia VASYLENKO

Ukraine, ALDE

19:59:50

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

 

Mr President, thank you,

Dear Colleagues, I merely would like to join the myriad of praise for the rapporteur’s work. I also thank all the colleagues that have contributed to the very precise wording of the report and the resolution.

The documents before us are fully in line with the articles on the international responsibility of states. I am glad that we in the PACE continue to stand on the side of what is right, and to push other international entities and structures to do the same.

Russia’s aggression is an international crime. For every crime there must be a punishment - a sanction. It is only normal, if we are to prevent further crimes.

It is only normal if justice is to be restored. If Ukraine is to be restored and most importantly if Ukraine is to keep standing.

And Ukraine must keep standing and must keep fighting. Because we all know how the saying goes: if Ukraine stops fighting - there will be no Ukraine. If Russia stops fighting there will be no war.

The collective countermeasure to seize and make use of Russian frozen assets is an additional step to motivate - so to speak - russia to stop the war.

And this countermeasure must be finally adopted - collectively and unanimously - by ALL the member states and other states across the world.

The recommendations of Mr. Basha must turn from words to action. We cannot wait for more international forums, discussions and resolutions on the reconstruction and recovery of Ukraine. There already have been dozens such events over the years. And as a result the Russian money still sits in banks across Europe and the Americas, while Russian soldiers continue the killings and destruction in Ukraine.

Ukraine loses 720 million dollars from Russian aggression every day. This dry figure hides pain and human tragedy. It hides tremendous loss. Including the immeasurable loss of human lives.

The text of the resolution states that Russian aggression has caused $416 billion worth of material losses. This number is now incorrect. In the time it took to write this report the losses have risen by 70 Billion dollars.

486 billion dollars of losses, while 300 billion dollars sit idle in banks, instead of rebuilding roads, schools, hospitals, homes. Money that could be used to procure the defence systems and other ever so needed weapons to protect the people of Ukraine and push back the aggressors.

And the money is there! It is not the money of the voters of Mr. BASHA from Albania, who prepared this sealing report. It's not the money of the constituents of Mr. STIER from Croatia, who has done remarkable work in the committee.

It is not the money of the colleagues here from Germany, France, Britain, Italy, or any other Council of Europe country. It is not your duty to allocate money for the reconstruction of Ukraine. It is not your constituents who should pay for the recovery.

There is one country that should be responsible for it. There is one country that should take 100% of the burden for it. That country is the Russian Federation.

Today, thousands of cases of claims for damages as a result of Russian aggression are in the European Court of Human Rights. Thousands of lawsuits lie in Ukrainian courts. Thousands of lawsuits are awaiting verdicts in various European jurisdictions. It is time to ensure that every cent of them is satisfied.

It is time to answer to hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian citizens that Russia will be held truly accountable.

It is time to seize Russian assets and turn them over to the people of Ukraine.

This is the step you can take if you really want a Ukrainian victory.This is the step you can take if you really want justice.I am grateful to everyone who worked on this resolution and to everyone who supports this resolution.Thank you.

Mr Joseph Beppe FENECH ADAMI

Malta, EPP/CD

19:59:56

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

 

Good afternoon,

Thank you for giving the floor.

May I start by first of all congratulating the rapporteur on the draft resolution and recommendation on support for the reconstruction of the Ukraine infront of us today.

Dear Colleagues, as we speak today, as we make our decisions today, a tragedy in Ukraine is unfolding, as the very foundations of international law and human rights are tested by the aggressive acts of the Russian Federation against Ukraine.

Today a sovereign nation finds itself besieged, bearing the unbearable costs of war, which began in 2014 and have escalated drastically since February 2022.

The resultant devastation — in lives lost, in homes destroyed, in futures uprooted — is not just Ukraine's to bear, but humanity's to reconcile. The Council of Europe has not been a silent witness to this unfolding crisis. It has echoed the collective conscience of the world by condemning the actions of the Russian Federation and taking decisive steps, including its exclusion from the Council's membership. These measures are not merely symbolic; they signify a commitment to accountability, to justice, and to the future rebuilding of a nation brought to its knees by war.

However, condemnation alone does not rebuild shattered infrastructures nor console the grieving. They do not restore the millions displaced or the many more in dire need of humanitarian aid. Concrete actions are imperative, and hence, we should support the seizing and utilizing of Russian State assets for Ukraine's reconstruction. This is not just reparation; it's a bulwark against future transgressions on sovereignty and international peace. An international compensation mechanism and fund are not mere proposals — they are the cries for justice by every Ukrainian child, woman, and man who has suffered.

By establishing such mechanisms, we can begin the complex process of systematic reparations, ensuring that those responsible are held financially accountable for the damages, the losses, and the pain inflicted. Our actions today will resonate through history. They will tell a tale of our resolve in the face of unbridled aggression. They will mark our era as one that, when confronted with a flagrant breach of international law, did not retreat into the shadows but stepped into the light of justice and reparation. Let us, therefore, move with urgency and unity. Let us establish the necessary legal frameworks to manage these assets transparently and equitably. Lets support the set up of an international commission to adjudicate claims, not with a spirit of vengeance but with a firm hand of justice.

In closing, I urge every member state, every partner, every stakeholder within the reach of the Council of Europe to rise above politics and unite in this noble endeavor. It is not just Ukraine we are fighting for; it's the very essence of the international order, where law triumphs over might, where right remedies wrong, and where peace is the ultimate victor. It is for this reason that I shall vote in favour of the resolution and recommendation infront of us today

Thank you.

 

Ms Mireille CLAPOT

France, ALDE

20:00:02

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

Ms Olimpia Tamara GIRÓN HERNÁNDEZ

Mexico

20:00:07

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

 

Since the beginning of hostilities, Mexico has been clear in its condemnation of the Russian Federation's invasion of Ukraine, a fact that should never have happened because there were still sufficient diplomatic elements to avoid a war of the dimensions it has taken.

Despite this, the war intervention took place and the consequences have been disastrous. The financing of the war has reached exorbitant figures and the economic repercussions for both sides, more for one than the other, are devastating.The outlook remains prognostic. The speeches of the great world powers already talk about seeking not only peace, but just peace and what that means between the lines.

The Mexican State has defended and will defend among other things: non-intervention, the peaceful resolution of disputes, the prohibition of the threat or use of force in international relations, the respect, protection and promotion of human rights and the fight for international peace and security. All topics linked to the war process between Ukraine and Russia and its consequences.The truth is that we must think about a reconstruction without compromises, in solidarity, without economic compensation from those who have financed the war.

The cost should not be passed on to Ukraine's taxpayers, that is, its people. One cannot encourage warmongering on the one hand and, on the other, promote the economic gain of a handful of companies from the Western countries involved in this war.The issue of corruption is another that the Ukrainian government should strive to combat during the reconstruction stage and not follow the examples that have been given in other similar reconstructions, such as the case of Iraq due to the US invasion.

The issue of internal displacement and the return of those who migrated involves a large public investment. The guarantee of a safe return requires a special public aid program. The new homes must also be safe and avoid illegal buildings and the risks they entail at all costs.In summary, we wish for an effective reconstruction of Ukraine whose funds will not only come from legal confiscations under the protection of the United Nations but also from unconditional aid from Western powers for Ukraine.

Mr François BONNEAU

France, ALDE

20:00:12

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

Mr Olivier BITZ

France, ALDE

20:00:18

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

Ms Klotilda BUSHKA

Albania, SOC

20:11:11

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

 

Honourable Members of this Assembly,

Let me firstly thank the Rapporteur, our colleague, Mr. Basha for the excellent and comprehensive report presented today. A report that is timely and necessary for our future work.

This report represents an act of solidarity of all of us to a cause that transcends borders and touches the very essence of our shared humanity.

It is not merely a document; it is a declaration of our unwavering commitment to the principles of justice, sovereignty, and human dignity.

From the perspective of the Parliamentary Assembly, this report embodies the collective conscience of Europe and shows our resolve to uphold the rule of law and to ensure that those who breach the peace are held accountable.

As it is reflected in this report, and rightly so, the Council of Europe has shown leadership in setting up the Register of Damage Caused by Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, to which Albania is proud to be one of the funding members.

This is of course the first step towards establishing a comprehensive system of accountability for Russia’s wrongful acts and we should continue with determination to reaching such objective.

The proposed action in the report for the Council of Europe to play a significant role in supporting the reconstruction of Ukraine by recommending the seizure of Russian assets and using them for reconstruction efforts, is a bold step towards restoring what has been unjustly taken and repairing the deep wounds inflicted upon Ukraine.

Let me reiterate that Albania's support for Ukraine, its territorial integrity and sovereignty, Ukraine’s right to decide for its own future in peace and prosperity, is a reflection of our dedication to the values that this Assembly has fought for since its inception.

As a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for the period 2022 and 2023 Albania has not only supported resolutions in favour of Ukraine in the United Nations, but has also actively shaped the discourse on the international stage.

We have done it during those two years, and we will continue to do it for Ukraine for as long as it takes, because this is our cause, it is a cause enshrined in our principled society.

I would like to seize this opportunity to say that on 28 of February, the Albanian Prime Minister, Edi Rama and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy organised a summit in Tirana, which brought together leaders from South-East Europe in a show of solidarity with Ukraine and to send yet another clear signal of Albania's commitment to the principles that define us: freedom, democracy, and the sanctity of national sovereignty.

We do so because by supporting Ukraine, we support the very ideals upon which the Council of Europe was founded.

We affirm that aggression will not be tolerated, that the fabric of international relations is woven with the threads of mutual respect, and that the aspirations of people for a peaceful and just world are not in vain.

Let this report be another encouraging act of solidarity with deeds for Ukraine and a strong message that we stand firm in our convictions, to continue to champion the cause of Ukraine, for it is a cause that resonates with the core values of all peace-loving nations.

I thank you very much!

Mr Marco NICOLINI

San Marino, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

17:02:10

Thank you, Julia.

I give now the floor to Mr Lulzim BASHA, the rapporteur, to reply.

Mister BASHA, you have 3 minutes.

Mr Lulzim BASHA

Albania, EPP/CD, Rapporteur

17:02:22

Thank you, Mister President.

I would like to express my gratitude to the speaker of the Ukrainian Parliament who, through his presence here and through his extraordinary speech, has given a tremendous support and made the case ever so eloquently to support and vote the resolution and the recommendation that is today in front of you.

Thank you, Mister Speaker.

I also have particular gratitude to express to all those who were involved in the preparation of this resolution and this recommendation, starting with core signatories of the motion for the resolution, back in March last year, continuing with the colleagues in the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy led by our president, who I would like to thank in particular; our colleagues in the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, in particular the rapporteur Mr Davor Ivo STIER; and also very special thanks to the Secretariat of the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy, in particular to Sonia Sirtori e Cesare Colombo; and to all the staff that was involved in the tremendous work that it took to make this case before you.

Now it lays before you. I am encouraged by the unanimous support that was demonstrated throughout the debate by the members of the Assembly, from all political forces and parliamentary groups present in this Assembly, representing 46 member states, speaking with a united voice in a joint resolution and one common purpose.

Providing the kind of strategic depth and clarity that is most needed in the face of what was reconfirmed today in very emotional terms by the speech of the speaker of the Ukrainian Parliament. That strategic depth takes form and shape also in the decisions that we take today, in the requests that we present to the Committee of Ministers.

And I take this opportunity to thank my colleague Mr Emanuelis ZINGERIS for the kind offer on behalf of the soon incoming Lithuanian presidency to expedite the process. And I hope that the other members of the Committee of Ministers will take this opportunity to follow through with establishment in a similar fashion as a Register of Damages of the international compensation mechanism.

But first things first.

Now we have to put this to a vote, and I am convinced that we are here to send a powerful message. The Council of Europe will stand here together. This Parliamentary Assembly will send a powerful message to the aggressor and to the coalition of allies, not just supporting Ukraine, but supporting our way of life, our values.

And that message will not simply be the erection of this institution, but the unquestionable resolve to stand together and to stand with Ukraine until Russia is defeated unconditionally.

Thank you very much.

Mr Marco NICOLINI

San Marino, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

17:06:00

Thank you, Mister BASHA.

Mr Marco NICOLINI

San Marino, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

17:06:03

Does the Chairman of the Committee, Bertrand BOUYX, wish to reply?

You have three minutes.

Mr Bertrand BOUYX

France, ALDE, Chairperson of the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy

17:06:09

Thank you, Mr Chairman.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The report we are considering today, the report by Mr Lulzim BASHA, is of the utmost importance, as the Assembly must remain focused on the issue of Russia's accountability for the reprehensible, destructive and criminal acts, contrary to all our values, that it has been committing in Ukraine since 2014.

The creation of the Register of Damage Caused by the Russian Federation's Aggression against Ukraine is a first step in this direction. The Council of Europe must now show greater commitment and remain at the forefront of the creation of an international compensation mechanism.

On behalf of the Political Affairs and Democracy Committee, I would like to congratulate the rapporteur, Mr Lulzim BASHA, on his outstanding work. During the preparation of its report, the committee held a hearing in January 2024, with the participation of experts who clarified several aspects linked to the use of countermeasures. The committee supported Mr BASHA throughout his work, right up to the unanimous adoption of the draft resolution and draft recommendation.

I would also like to thank Mr Davor Ivo STIER, rapporteur of the recommendation, for the comments and assistance he provided to the committee and to Mr BASHA.

Above all, let me also thank our distinguished guest, the President of the Verkhovna Rada, Mr Ruslan STEFANCHUK, for being with us. Many thanks to him. Rest assured, Mr STEFANCHUK, that our Committee and the entire Assembly will continue to work in favor of Ukraine.

Thank you.

Vote: Support for the reconstruction of Ukraine

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

17:08:04

So, thank you all.

The Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy has presented a draft resolution and a draft recommendation (Document 15932) to which 10 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 Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy wishes to propose to the Assembly that all 9 amendments to the draft resolution, which were unanimously approved by the Committee, should be declared as agreed by the Assembly.

Is that so, Mister Bertrand BOUYX?

Mr Bertrand BOUYX

France, ALDE, Chairperson of the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy

17:08:44

That's right, Mr. Chairman.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

17:08:46

Does anyone object?

As there is no objection, I declare that all the amendments to the draft resolution have been agreed.

We will now proceed to vote on the draft resolution contained in Doc. 15932 [as amended].

The vote is open.

The vote is closed.

I call for the results to be displayed.

So, it is obvious that the draft resolution in Doc. 15932 [as amended] is unanimously adopted.

 

I understand that the Chairperson of the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy wishes to propose to the Assembly that Amendment 5 to the draft recommendation, which was unanimously approved by the Committee, should be declared as agreed by the Assembly.

Is that so Mr Bertrand BOUYX?

Mr Bertrand BOUYX

France, ALDE, Chairperson of the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy

17:11:55

Yes, Mr Chairman.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

17:11:57

Does anyone object?

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

We will now proceed to vote on the draft recommendation contained in Document 15932 [as amended].

I remind you that a two-thirds majority is required.

The vote is open.

The vote is closed.

I call for the result to be displayed.

The draft recommendation in Document 15932 as amended is adopted unanimously.

Dear colleagues,

The ballots for the election of three judges to the European Court of Human Rights is still open.

Those who have not yet voted may still do so by going to the foyer in front of the hemicycle.

The vote closes at 6 p.m.

Now we will have a five-minute break and will be back in five minutes to discuss the next item.

Dear colleagues, please be seated.

Dear colleagues,

The next item of business this afternoon is the debate on the Report titled “Application by Kosovo for membership of the Council of Europe” (Documents 15958 and 15957) presented by Ms Dora BAKOYANNIS on behalf of the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy.

We will then hear from Ms Azadeh ROJHAN, who will present an opinion on behalf the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights (Document 15964).

We will also then hear from Ms Béatrice FRESKO-ROLFO, who will present an opinion on behalf the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination (Document 15965).

In order to finish by 8 p.m., I will interrupt the list of speakers at about 7:10 p.m. to allow time for the reply and the vote.

I call Ms BAKOYANNIS, the Rapporteur. You have 7 minutes now, and 3 minutes at the end to reply to the debate.

You have the floor.

Debate: Application by Kosovo* for membership of the Council of Europe

Ms Dora BAKOYANNIS

Greece, EPP/CD, Rapporteur

17:27:44

Thank you, Mister President.

For the next couple of hours we will be touching upon a deeply complicated issue, entrenched with particularities and nuances we might have never faced before in the Parliamentary Assembly. But again, this very reason might be precisely why there could be no better place to discuss this issue than here.

This year the Council of Europe celebrates 75 years of existence. For the last 75 years, the Council of Europe and its Parliamentary Assembly protected and promoted human rights, democracy, and rule of law in Europe and beyond.

Our aim has been to create a solid safe zone in which all European citizens would have their chance to take shelter when their rights were violated or suppressed. It was with those principles that I approached the report we are voting on today as appointed rapporteur to the request of the Committee of Ministers for the Assembly's opinion to Kosovo's application.

301 days, two fact-finding visits, four different sessions of information, updates to the members of the committee, and more than a dozen meetings across Europe later, I'm standing before you with the confidence that no stone was left unturned in the preparation of this report.

As requested by the Committee of Ministers, this report is dedicated to the assessment of human rights, democracy, and rule of law in the region.

Since the very beginning I have been adamant that the report will take no stand on statehood. The recognition or non-recognition is and shall remain a prerogative of states.

With that in mind, allow me to provide you with a brief overview of my work with the invaluable support of the Committee Secretariat.

On their report, which was submitted to the Assembly's Bureau on the 17th of November 2023, the eminent lawyers stated that despite significant shortcomings in the implementation, Kosovo's legal rules are generally in line with international standards.

Kosovo can be regarded as a functional parliamentary democracy with strong guarantees for the independence of the judiciary and fundamental rights and freedoms entrenched in the constitution.

The lawyers mentioned that the extension of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights to Kosovo would contribute considerably to the improvement of respect of human rights. As a result, from a legal standpoint, Kosovo complied stricto sensu with the basic requirements of the accession to the Council of Europe.

Nevertheless, given the worrisome and on many fronts deteriorating situation of human rights in Kosovo, especially with regards to minority rights, I wanted to ensure that the authorities in Pristina are prepared to proceed with the essential reforms for the effective protection of all Kosovan citizens.

I identified three main outstanding issues on which urgent action was needed. Namely, the implementation of Kosovo's constitutional court decision on the Visoki Dečani Monastery, the illegal land expropriations of the Serbian minority properties, and the establishment of the association of Serb majority municipalities.

Throughout my engagement with the file, the entirety of relevant international stakeholders, from state representatives to NGO's and regional experts, warned me that no progress is to be expected in any of the aforementioned issues. Yet, through consistent and persistent work, endorsed by the unwavering support of the Political Committee, real progress has been made.

I stand today before you proudly to inform you that the Parliamentary Assembly has managed to resolve what was identified by the eminent lawyers as the most important case of rule of law violation in Kosovo.

The implementation of the decision by Kosovo's highest court, pending since 2016, which restored the property of the most important Serbian Orthodox monastery in the region, represents a great victory for the rule of law, the property rights of Serbs, and the religious rights of a minority community. And it was celebrated as such by the Abbot of the Monastery, the Serb Father Sava.

In contrast to the case of the monastery, the issue of land expropriations is a process. No single act can ensure the effective protection of minority communities from illegal land expropriations. This is why we committed Kosovo to ensure that expropriations are conducted in the strictest respect of the law and that any future legislation in this area will be fully in compliance with their constitution, including with regard to the protection of the properties of the Serbian Orthodox church.

This commitment, together with the long list of Council of Europe conventions is now signed by the authorities of Pristina.

As a result, in case the Committee of Ministers decides to accept Kosovo's membership, any case of illegal expropriation of land will be subject to the control of the European Court of Human Rights.

Finally allow me a couple of words on the Association of Serb Majority Municipalities, which is probably the most important open question of minority rights in Kosovo, and a major point of friction between Pristina and Belgrade.

Since the very beginning, I made clear that I regard the establishment of the Association as a unilateral domestic issue of Kosovo, which impacts only Kosovan citizens. With that in mind, I put every effort towards its materialisation. Unfortunately, this issue could not be negotiated in a vacuum. This is because since 2013 the establishment of the Association has been the cornerstone of the EU-facilitated dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina.

In fact, the recent Ohrid agreement of 2023, explicitly mentions that any negotiations for the establishment must take place "within the EU-facilitated dialogue". As a result, the association is regrettably out of reach for the moment, even if the Committee of Ministers is highly encouraged to take this issue into consideration.

Dear colleagues, based on all afore-mentioned factors, it is my opinion that the Parliamentary Assembly shall recommend that the Committee of Ministers invite Kosovo to become a member of the Council of Europe.

I hope that the Parliamentary Assembly will underline the need to bring under the democratic umbrella of the Council of Europe two more million Europeans, protecting them from violations that put their lives and well-being into question as we speak.

Allow me to close my intervention on a more personal note.

Ever since the report became public, I have received strong criticism and, in some cases, personal attacks for the way I handled the file.

The most aggressive comments have been made by representatives of member states that do not recognise Kosovo. To those I would wholeheartedly wish the courage to be honest. Because in reality their issue never was if and which preconditions were imposed to Kosovo.

There could have been no precondition upon the satisfaction of which these members would have supported a positive report, for the simple reason that their objection has nothing to do with the accession criteria that my report examines. They object to the very idea of a state of Kosovo, and that's the eligibility to even consider accession. This is an objection I understand, and it would be much more courageous from their side if they had decided to stay at that.

I repeat it again. The report is not taking any stance on statehood. This was clearly not required by the Committee of Ministers who preserved their exclusive right to decide on the matter. Should I have been obliged by the Committee of Ministers to express my opinion on statehood, should the Committee of Ministers require my or our opinion on statehood, I would have never taken the report and I would align myself with the current position of Greece.

If that was the case that would have been my guidance and approach to the report. But, dear colleagues, this is not the case. It never was. I hope this speaks a lot about my integrity and the extent to which I'm prepared to go in order to defend my ideas.

I have done so consistently in the last 10 years and I'm proud that the members of the Parliamentary Assembly recognised those features by selecting me for this report.

Thank you very much.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

17:38:36

Thank you, Ms Dora BAKOYANNIS.

I now call Ms Azadeh ROJHAN for the opinion from the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights. You have 3 minutes.

Ms Azadeh ROJHAN

Sweden, SOC, Rapporteur for opinion

17:38:45

Dear colleagues,

The accession of Kosovo to the Council of Europe will strengthen peace and stability in the still fragile Balkan region, but most importantly, it will extend the protection of the European Convention on Human Rights to the people of this young country and it will help to further strengthen the rule of law in the interest of all inhabitants, no matter which ethnic group they belong to.

The draft statutory Opinion by the Political Committee recognises that Kosovo fulfils all the conditions for membership in the Council of Europe. The Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights supports this conclusion and adds some further explanations. 

In particular, Kosovo has finally resolved the issue of the property rights of the famous Decani monastery, a condition on which all three rapporteurs insisted.

The constitutional and legislative framework of Kosovo is, in fact, quite advanced, not least because Kosovo has co-operated intensively with the Venice Commission and generally followed its advice. This said, some legislative reforms are still needed, and the practical implementation of the legal framework must be improved.

The commitments made by Kosovo, as well as our additional recommendations, are tools that Kosovo has at its disposal to further improve the protections enjoyed by all its citizens. I deliberately stress “all its citizens”, because the fair treatment of the minority groups, including the ethnic Serbs living in the north, will be crucial for the future success of Kosovo as a free and prosperous country.

As rapporteur for the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, it was my role to look a little closer into the legal issues raised by Kosovo’s accession and to come up with constructive proposals for further strengthening respect for human rights and the rule of law. The list of suggestions listed in the first amendment of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights proposal speaks for itself. The explanatory memorandum provides some background for each of these proposals, in light of the eminent lawyers’ report and the findings I made during the fact-finding visit to Kosovo.

Dear colleagues, we should not forget that accession to the Council of Europe is not the end but the beginning of a process. It is not a trophy that can be put away in a showcase but a source of obligations that propose to improve the lives of each and every person living in Kosovo. 

Thank you very much. 

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

17:41:37

Thank you, Ms Azadeh ROJHAN.

I now call Ms Béatrice FRESKO-ROLFO for the opinion from the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination. You have 3 minutes.

Ms Béatrice FRESKO-ROLFO

Monaco, ALDE, Rapporteur for opinion

17:41:47

Thank you, Mr Chairman.

First of all, I would like to acknowledge the work of Ms Dora BAKOYANNIS and thank her for this report, without forgetting Ms Azadeh ROJHAN with whom I made a fact-finding visit in December.

I would like to thank the Kosovo authorities and our parliamentary colleagues for their welcome and the precise answers they gave to my questions. In line with my mandate, I focused on issues of equality and non-discrimination.

Article 3 of the Kosovo Constitution guarantees the protection of community rights. It recognizes that Kosovo is "a multi-ethnic society composed of the Albanian community and others, democratically governed with full respect for the rule of law through its legislative, executive and judicial institutions". The participation of representatives of non-majority communities in political life and institutions is one of the foundations of the protection of minority rights.

I would like to reiterate Ms Dora BAKOYANNIS' call for the creation of an association of Serb-majority municipalities, which seems to me to be an essential step on the road to lasting reconciliation. This is a commitment that must be fulfilled to demonstrate to the Serbs of Kosovo that their rights will be respected and their demands taken into account. I would like to point out that the representatives of civil society in Gračanica have told me of their lack of hope and confidence in the institutions, and of a feeling of dehumanisation felt in recent years.

Combating hate speech and promoting reconciliation are closely linked to the protection of minority rights, and must be priorities. A strategic approach to the language issue is needed, with the effective implementation of the law on the use of languages, including at local level, which could help restore confidence in institutions. As far as education is concerned, it remains essential that all children attending school should be able to progress, regardless of the language taught in their school, and that the reception of children with disabilities should be improved.

I was able to note that women participate actively in political life, but I was told that unfortunately, the official employment rate for women remains very low, at around 14%, and the authorities are actively working to remedy this. The inclusion of the Istanbul Convention in the Constitution demonstrates Kosovo's determination to prevent and combat such violence, although I believe that the fight against early and forced marriages should be stepped up.

I regret that the draft revised Civil Code prepared for the recognition of civil unions of same-sex couples has not yet been placed on the assembly's agenda, but I remain confident in the government's willingness to do so. I will nevertheless remain attentive to the situation of transgender people.

I would like to thank the NGOs working on the protection of the rights of non-majority communities, gender equality, the fight against gender-based violence, the rights of LGBTI people and the rights of people with disabilities, who have contributed to the preparation of this opinion.

By accepting this membership, the Council of Europe will be sending out a strong message of support to civil society, and will undeniably be an ally supporting long-term reconciliation efforts. It also represents an opportunity for non-majority communities to ensure that their rights are better protected and their concerns recognised.

Thank you very much.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

17:45:25

[In French] Thank you, Ms FRESKO-ROLFO.

And now I open the list of the speakers on behalf of the political groups.

I will give first the floor to the leader of Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, Mr Iulian BULAI.

Mr Iulian BULAI

Romania, ALDE, Spokesperson for the group

17:45:41

Thank you, President.

Dear all.

My grandparents were born in the Kingdom of Romania. My parents and I were born in a communist republic. My children are born in a democracy. Countries and regimes change. People stay. And looking around in this Assembly, I noticed that actually more than half of the members present here have been born in countries that do not exist anymore.

Therefore, our fight is not for countries but for individual rights. This is a historical day from a liberal point of view. We are defending the rights of individuals. Not of countries, not of ethnicities. Today's decision means more rights to 1.6 million people who lived the war, whose wounds are still healing and who are obliged to build a new future together.

Today's decision is a starting point and we expect Kosovo to deliver on the agreed reforms and on the international engagements. Kosovo is ready and deserves to enter the Council of Europe. At the same time, Kosovo has to ensure proper protection of the Serbian communities. That being said, we should not go into the wrong path of possibly creating a new Republic of Srpska in the north of Kosovo. But we should not either ignore the real need of the Serbian minority to be respected and included in Kosovo.

I want to thank the presence of both the Serbian ambassador but also Kosovo's ambassador. It is very important. It is a good signal to have both of you here. So I am very thankful for that. I want to thank, of course, everyone for your presence and I want to say, on behalf of the liberal family, that I trust the wisdom of the Committee of Ministers to take the right decision on the future of 1.6 million people – not countries, not ethnicities.

Thank you.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

17:48:35

Thank you, Mr Iulian BULAI.

I now give the floor to Mr Alexis TSIPRAS who will speak on behalf of the Group of the Unified European Left.

 

Mr Alexis TSIPRAS

Greece, UEL, Spokesperson for the group

17:48:44

Thank you very much, Mister President.

First of all, I want to thank Ms Dora BAKOYANNIS for her reports. There are different positions in this hall including in my own Group of the Unified European Left on whether or not Kosovo's accession in this period contributes to the goals of the Council of Europe.

As you may know, I have vouched for peace, stability and growth in the region of the Balkans and from this experience, I have at least learned two things. First of all, that there are no easy solutions for peace. All decisions that take us forward are difficult and have a political cost. Fighting nationalists has a cost, fighting inaction has a cost.

The second thing I have learned from my experience is that this cost is worth it because it can make the difference between war and peace. Frozen conflicts do not stay frozen forever. If issues are not solved on the basis of international law, stability is undermined day by day and nationalism grows until the conflict becomes violent again. A strategy of delaying negotiations and kicking the gun down the road is good for political careers but it comes at the cost of people's lives, it comes at the cost of their future.

So I agree that today the accession of Kosovo is on the table and this has created a dynamic for action. And on this basis, Kosovo has at last decided to implement the decisions of the Constitutional Court on the Dečani Monastery.

But I want to be clear that this cannot be enough to support accession. Since Kosovo's application, we have seen very serious escalations. Some because of Belgrade, but also some because of the decisions of Pristina. Most importantly, we need actions in relation to the law on expropriations and good faith proposals on the establishment of the association of Serb majority municipalities, including a roadmap. We cannot build peace on abstract commitments, finding a common diplomatic ground in resolving differences that protects at the same time your national interests is a difficult path. But it is the only path for our common future. It is the only path of a country that is truly strong and believes in its future.

Politicians have to have the political will for progress even if it means sacrificing a part of their political capital. I have spoken several times to Prime Minister Kurti, who I believe, has very important political capital with his people that he should use, as I have spoken, at the same time several times, with President Vučić in Serbia, who also can use his political capital for a breakthrough. This is the only way peace is built in the region. This is the way peace is built in Europe.

Thank you very much.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

17:52:38

Thank you, Alexis.

I now give the floor to Mr Frank SCHWABE on behalf of the Socialists, Democrats and Greens Group.

Mister SCHWABE?

Mr Frank SCHWABE

Germany, SOC, Spokesperson for the group

17:52:49

Thank you very much, Mister President.

This is a historical moment, dear colleagues, dear women and men of Kosovo, I know how you like more to say "Kosova".

Dear Ms Dora BAKOYANNIS, I really have to thank you very much for this report, and I have to thank you very much for your wisdom, your power, your encouragement and as we know as Chairs of groups, your persistence. In the end, all this makes progress possible. I know that you face all kind of criticism from different actors in different phases of preparing the report. I am very sure that you were the best choice, and you made this progress possible today. Thank you very much for this. Efcharisto. [in Greek "Thanks."]

It is a unique organisation we have to represent here. One of the best in the world. We are not the United Nations Security Council, we are not the General Assembly of the UN, and we should not play it. We are not yet to recognise countries and not to recognise countries. We have to create a geographical space of respect, of the respect of democracy, rule of law and human rights in a bigger Europe. If we have enough reasons meanwhile, but if there is a part of the organisation, a part of Europe, a country, prepared to put around 2 million people under the umbrella of this organisation, I think we should agree. Kosovo made a lot of progress in recent years, but there is a lot to do. Ms Dora BAKOYANNIS addressed it in her report including the establishment of the Association of Serb-majority Municipalities.

One progress was made, and this is the Dečani Monastery. I would like to thank all of them who made this progress possible, including the Monastery itself.

This is not everything, but it is an important step, and we should really value it. The Committee of Ministers, the governments asked us for our opinion on the request of Kosovo to become a member of this organisation. We will give our answer, a clear answer, today. It is a clear message. There is no reason, then, not to decide in May, in the ministerial on this request. This Council of Europe with our own values and rules, we have our own dignity. Please do not mix it with other institutions. We are not the European Union. We are not the Quint group. They have some reasons, but we have our reasons ourselves. We are quite proud that we could reach something with our rapporteur that others could not reach until now. This membership is not a tool for negotiations. We have our own logic, and we have our own value in a membership ourselves.

I ask you to support the very balanced report and reject the amendments which would risk this balance. Let us give a very clear signal with a two-thirds majority or even more to our governments, to the Committee of Ministers. Let us welcome Kosovo to the Council of Europe.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

17:56:07

Thank you, Frank.

I now give the floor to Ms Ingjerd Schie SCHOU and she will speak on behalf of the Group of the European People's Party.

Ingjerd, you have the floor.

Ms Ingjerd Schie SCHOU

Norway, EPP/CD, Spokesperson for the group

17:56:16

Dear President,

The Group of the European People's Party would like to start by thanking Ms Dora BAKOYANNIS for her report and draft opinion.

We know that she and her team have been working hard and diligently. Thanks to her efforts, we can have a well-founded debate here today.

To many in this room, this it is a difficult and sensitive question. So also, for members of the EPP group. We do not have a unified position on this question. I therefore welcome the debate and look forward to hearing the various positions.

BAKOYANNIS’ report is both thorough, detailed, and balanced. It sheds light on the various aspects of Kosovo’s application for membership of the Council of Europe.

Both the positive and impressive developments regarding democracy and rule of law, as well as the remaining considerable challenges, are addressed.

Norway was among the first countries to recognise Kosovo as an independent state. And since then, Mister President, we have supported Kosovo’s efforts towards European integration, and membership of the Council of Europe.

After visiting Pristina in September last year, I agree with the Opinion’s acknowledgment of the progress made by Kosovo in the areas of human rights, democracy and rule of law. Kosovo has taken important steps towards a well-functioning democracy.

However, the list of expectations and commitments to fulfil is long. I would like to, in particular, mention the establishment of the Association of Serb Majority Municipalities. Prime Minister Albin Kurti has confirmed to Ms BAKOYANNIS that he is ready to sign the draft Statute on the establishment of the Association of Serb Majority Municipalities. It is our clear expectation that this will happen shortly and without any unnecessary delays.

If or when Kosovo becomes a member of the Council of Europe, the country will be under the Assembly's monitoring procedure.

Some of our member countries have been subject to this procedure for years and still are.

This is unfortunate. Membership is not an end stop. It is the beginning of a new and binding road.

It is my conviction and expectation that Kosovo will embrace this road and work hard to move on from the monitoring procedure status as soon as possible.

I hence call on you all to support Ms BAKOYANNIS’ draft opinion.

Thank you.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

17:59:25

Thank you.

Before I give the floor to the next speaker, I want to announce that the ballot for electing three judges to the European Court of Human Rights is now closed.

The counting of votes will take place under the supervision of the tellers, Ms Klotilda BUSHKA, Ms Andrea EDER-GITSCHTHALER, Mr Claude KERN, Mr Armen GEVORGYAN, and Ms Sevilay CELENK ÖZEN.

I invite them to go at once to meet in the room set aside for this purpose.

The results of the election will be announced, if possible, before the close of today’s sitting.

And now I give the floor to Mr Zsolt NÉMETH who will speak on behalf of the European Conservative Party.

Mister NÉMETH, you have the floor.

Mr Zsolt NÉMETH

Hungary, EC/DA, Spokesperson for the group

18:00:14

Thank you very much, Mister President.

The European Conservatives Group and Democratic Alliance, in principle, supports Kosovo becoming a member of the Council of Europe.

We appreciate the efforts of the Kosovan people in the past decades towards democracy and Europe, since the fight of Ibrahim Rugova.

However, we have three reasons why we cannot support the report in front of us. The three reasons are the following:

The first one is that Kosovo has not fulfilled its own commitments – only one out of three commitments. And I would like to draw the attention especially to the creation of the Association of Serbian Municipalities. This has been an integral part of the Ahtisaari Plan and since then all peace plans relating to Kosovo. Unfortunately, Kosovo has failed to implement it and I have very serious doubts that if we give up this opportunity, the Kosovo government will never allow the creation of the Association of Serbian Municipalities.

Dear colleagues, there are amendments in this question. European People's Party colleagues, there are amendments in this question and I am just curious why you are not supporting them. We want to see Kosovo as a strong democracy.

The second reason is Serbia. Disregarding legitimate Serbian interest is endangering the international stability and the internal stability of Serbia. I would like to ask whose interest is it to destabilise a country? Whose interest is it to let a country out of the Parliamentary Assembly similarly to that of Azerbaijan? I do not think it is the interest of our organisation.

And certainly the Council of Europe, I believe under present circumstances goes against its own principal. The Council of Europe should serve regional stability. We devise a diplomatic and mediating role. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the Committee of Ministers should act together. I hope that the Committee of Ministers is going to be a bit more wise than us colleagues. I hope that we will be able to convince Kosovo that the Association of Serbia Municipalities is essential to Council of Europe membership. I hope that we will be able to keep Serbia on board inside the Council of Europe in order to continue its integration to different European structures. And I hope that we will be able to maintain the leverage of the Council of Europe vis-a-vis the regional stability of the Western Balkans.

Thank you very much for your attention.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

18:03:33

Thank you, dear Zsolt.

I now open the list of the speakers.

Mr NÉMETH was the last speaker on behalf of the political groups. And the first in the second list is Mr Enis KERVAN.

Please, colleagues, keep the time limit.

Mr Enis KERVAN

Assembly of Kosovo*

18:03:55

Thank you dear President, dear colleagues,

As a representative of Kosovo, I stand before you today with a heart full of hope and determination. Before we delve into this topic, I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to the rapporteur, Ms Dora BAKOYANNIS, also dear Ms Azadeh ROJHAN and dear Ms Béatrice FRESKO-ROLFO for their outstanding work and their unwavering dedication.

Additionally, I want to express gratitude to all of you and those who have contributed to making this moment historic for both Kosovo and the Council of Europe. Kosovo has made remarkable progress in fulfilling all the criteria for membership in the Council of Europe. We have diligently upheld the principles of the rule of law, democracy and human rights with a strong commitment to protecting the rights of national minorities.

Our legislative framework sets high standards in line with the European standard to safeguard and promote the rights of all national minorities. We promote tolerance, dialogue and reconciliation in line with the international standards, such as the European Convention on Human Rights, the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.

Moreover, our constitution guarantees the protection of economic, political, cultural, religion, languages, education and media rights for all national minorities. In addition to legal protections, national minorities have significant representation in key decision-making bodies including the assembly, the government, the justice system and local government institutions.

Dear colleagues, in marking of the 75th anniversary of the Council of Europe's establishment, I urge you cast your vote in favour of the report prepared by honourable Ms Dora BAKOYANNIS. Membership of Kosovo in the Council of Europe is not merely a symbolic gesture: it is a tangible step towards ensuring access to justice for all our citizens.

The European Court of Human Rights represents a beacon of hope offering a highly reliable protection for the rights of all communities in Kosovo, especially for minorities, and I say this as a representative of one of the national minorities in Kosovo.

I want to conclude by urging each one of you to consider the significance of your vote. By supporting Kosovo's accession to the Council of Europe, you are not only endorsing our aspirations for European integration but also reaffirming the principles of justice, equality and human dignity. Your vote will pave the way towards a brighter future where Kosovo stands proudly within the European family, where the rights of all individuals are fully respected.

Dear colleagues, today Kosovo awaits your endorsement for inclusion in this esteemed community. Let us unite in embracing Kosovo's multi-ethnic diversity as an integral part of this big family.

Thank you.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

18:07:10

Mr Piero FASSINO is next.

Mr Piero FASSINO

Italy, SOC

18:07:14

Thank you, Mister President, I will speak Italian.

Meanwhile, I would like to thank Ms Dora BAKOYANNIS, because it was not an easy job, as you mentioned, and it seems to me that you have presented a report that I consider balanced, forward-looking and fair in its directions and policies.

Now, we know that we are discussing a complicated issue. We know what the history and the suffering of Kosovo is, and we know that Kosovo is part of those Western Balkans that for a long period of time has been characterised by a high rate of conflict.

When the Dayton Agreement was made in 1995, the countries coming out of that war were promised integration into the Euro-Atlantic institutions, the European Union, NATO, the Council of Europe, as the framework within which to enable those countries to come out of a long period of conflict and regain stability.

Thessaloniki in 2003, launching the enlargement strategy to the European Union confirmed that indication, as did the opening of NATO to many of the Balkan countries and our own Council of Europe where all the Western Balkan countries are members.

So, we have to start from that fact, the choice we have to make is to give stability. We need to stabilise the Balkans because the long period from 1995 to today is so long that it has brought back many factors of instability. If we just think in the last few years of how many governments have succeeded each other in Montenegro, the delicate situation in North Macedonia, the problems from the point of view of democratic development in Serbia, which is also a country that has repeatedly called its citizens to vote, and we therefore know how the Balkan affair is a far from simple affair. The most sensitive point is certainly the situation in Bosnia.

Then we need to provide stability. Kosovo is a point to which we need to offer a prospect of stabilisation. I believe that the choice we are making here, to pass a resolution asking the Council of Ministers to admit Kosovo into our organisation, corresponds exactly to that. I say to our Serbian friends who have an opposition to this prospect to consider carefully, because a Kosovo being part of this Council of Europe for example will allow all citizens in Kosovo, including those of the Serbian minority, to be better protected by having the possibility to use the instruments of the Council of Europe starting with the European Court of Justice.

I think that an entry of Kosovo inside our Assembly can help and facilitate, if we accompany these two countries, also the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina to reach the normalisation of relations that is necessary for the stability of both countries and the Western Balkans.

That is why I think it is right that we open our doors to Kosovo, asking of course the Kosovo authorities to fulfil the commitments that they have made both those that Ms Dora BAKOYANNIS has already mentioned, the many conventions of the Union of the Council of Europe that have to be taken up and put into implementation, and also by giving birth to the Association of Serb Municipalities, which is an absolutely decisive commitment.

However, knowing that we cannot create the conditions for a new Srpska, because we have seen what too separate an arrangement of Bosnia has meant, which is the factor of continuous and constant instability in that country.

So, yes to the Association of Serb Municipalities, but within a legal and political framework that guarantees the unity of Kosovo, and getting Kosovo into the Council of Europe, I believe is the greatest contribution our Assembly can make to this prospect.

Thank you.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

18:12:01

Thank you, Piero.

Next is Mr Knut ABRAHAM.

Mr Knut ABRAHAM

Germany, EPP/CD

18:12:07

Mister Chairman, thank you very much.

Ladies and gentlemen, dear colleagues, we have an excellent report here by Ms Dora BAKOYANNIS. I think we should all be very grateful to you. This is very impressive work you have done.

Dear colleagues, we had eminent lawyers, rapporteurs from different countries, some who recognised Kosovo and some who didn't, different political groups and different committees. All arrived at the same conclusion, with strong support and based on facts, that Kosovo deserves, and the people of Kosovo deserve, the protection of human rights that joining the Council of Europe offers. That's what it's all about.

I hope for strong support in this Assembly today.

By that we also sent a strong message, a strong signature to the Committee of Ministers to take a positive decision on Kosovo's membership this May.

This message I personally will take to Berlin, and I hope that all of you will take it to your national capitals.

Let me highlight one key issue, and this is of course the protection of minorities in Kosovo, in particular the Serbian minority of Kosovo. It makes no sense to deny them access to the instruments this institution can offer: rapporteurs, monitors and especially the most remarkable human rights court in the world, the European Court of Human Rights.

Dear colleagues, Serbia stated in the Ohrid Agreement that "it will not object to Kosovo's membership in any international organisation", says the Ohrid Agreement. In return, Kosovo committed "to ensure the security of the property of the Serbian Orthodox Church". We are happy, and we have heard it already, it did so, in the long, unresolved Visoki Dečani Monastery issue.

Kosovo also committed to "ensure an appropriate level of self-management for the ethnic Serb community". This is a reality since Kosovo's constitution was adopted, which gives 10 Serbian majority municipalities full and exclusive powers in many areas already today.

But Kosovo committed to do more, and this is good, but this cannot be an excuse now to delay its deserved accession.

Dear colleagues, let's make this important step now here and today.

Thank you.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

18:14:55

Ms Nerea AHEDO is next.

Ms AHEDO.

Ms Nerea AHEDO

Spain, ALDE

18:15:19

First of all, allow me thank Ms Dora BAKOYANNIS for her work, the work presented before the Chamber today. Since Kosovo declared its independence, my political party, the Basque Nationalist Party, has been supporting it. We think it was a triumph of freedom and democracy and we believe that this was also the triumph of the free decision of the citizens of Kosovo, and therefore, we should respect that and, of course, respect the right of minorities, like the Serbs, in Kosovo. All of their rights should be respected. 

Kosovo would like to become a member of the Council of Europe. It seems to me that it meets all the requirements and its legal framework is adapting to this situation. Although there are still issues that require improvement. 

As the report says quite rightly, its membership of the Council of Europe would strengthen human rights, consolidate democracy and of course, the citizens of Kosovo would have access to the European Court of Human Rights – a major achievement. Kosovo will additionally be more connected to democracy, human rights and rule of law.

We, therefore, would support this path and we will be supporting the recommendation to be submitted to the Committee of Ministers inviting Kosovo to become a member of the Council of Europe. We look forward to this integration and I really think that this will be yet another way of supporting stability and peace within the area.

Ms Dora BAKOYANNIS has said, and she is absolutely right, that the report does not speak about what a state actually means but, of course, we have to remember that there are certain situations where you have countries that have not recognised Kosovo as a state, because we are not in airtight compartments. The Council of Europe has to do what it has to do but it cannot be precoccupied by other realities. I do not quite understand that or I do not really know what the reasons for that might be or what the excuses might be for this non-recognition I have stated, bearing in mind that the independence of Kosovo does not actually violate the provisions of international law. 

Among the states that has not recognised Kosovo as a state is the state of Spain, which still has unresolved territorial issues that have not yet been sufficiently settled. I am talking about Catalonia or indeed my own region: Euskadi, the Basque Country. 

Therefore, I would like to take this opportunity to say that we need to resolve these territorial issues but we need to do so whilst fully respecting the decision of the citizens. They have free will as people, of course, always through dialogue and always through agreement. 

Regarding the subject matter of this report, therefore, I would like to ask is basically an appeal for those who have not recognised Kosovo as a state, please do so. Kosovo should be fully recognised as a state. Why? Because this would be a way of respecting the decision taken by the citizens of Kosovo, which to me seems crucial and in addition to that, it would help stability and peace in the region. 

Thank you. 

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

18:18:17

Ms Blerina GJYLAMETI is next.

Ms Blerina GJYLAMETI

Albania, SOC

18:18:25

Dear colleagues,

Let me start by thanking the rapporteur Ms Dora BAKOYANNIS and the two eminent lawyers, the honourable committees and other organs of the Parliamentary Assembly for their contribution in preparing the final draft opinion on Kosovo's request for membership to the Council of Europe.

Today, we stand at a pivotal moment in history, not just for Kosovo but for the very ideals that the Council of Europe upholds. As we consider this request by Kosovo, we are not merely deciding on an opinion for a membership application. We are affirming our commitment to the principles of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

Kosovo's accession to the Council of Europe is not just a symbolic gesture. It is a testament of recognition to the progress made by its people towards building a society that reflects our shared European values. A vote in favour of this opinion is both for enhancing the rule of law in a region that has seen the ravages of conflict and the challenges of rebuilding. It is a vote for both bolstering democracy in a young nation that has strong resilience and determination in its democratic journey. And also it is a vote for advancing human rights for all the citizens of Kosovo, ensuring that every individual with no distinction of nationality, live with dignity and freedom under the umbrella of this organisation.

In these times of uncertainty, as we witness Russia's aggression against Ukraine, a vote for Kosovo is a vote for stability and prosperity in the Balkans and beyond. It is a clear message that Europe stands united, that we are stronger together, that we will not waver in our support for those who seek to join our community of nations – a community of shared values.

Let us not forget that the Council of Europe was founded on the ashes of the war with a vision of a continent united in peace and solidarity. Today, as we face new challenges, let us rekindle the vision that will welcome Kosovo into our fold.

Dear colleagues, I urge you to cast your vote in favour of this draft opinion for the Committee of Ministers on Kosovo's request for membership.

Let us embrace this historical opportunity to strengthen the fabric of European unity and to build a future where every nation can thrive in peace and harmony.

Thank you.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

18:20:59

 Ms Biljana PANTIĆ PILJA is next.

Ms Biljana PANTIĆ PILJA

Serbia, EPP/CD

18:21:06

Thank you.

Ladies and gentlemen, Ms Dora BAKOYANNIS, I wish to congratulate you for what you are doing today because you will go down in history as someone who, in the most brutal manner, violated all the norms of international law in the principles upon which this organisation is founded.

You have decided to trample on international law and admit into the Council of Europe something that is not a state, bypassing all procedures. Ms Dora BAKOYANNIS clearly stated that so-called Kosovo had to meet three conditions and that only then would you give a positive opinion.

The first and fundamental condition is the establishment of the Community of Serb Majority Municipalities, which is an international commitment prescribed 11 years ago with the Brussels Agreement. The establishment of the Community of Serb Majority Municipalities is the basic precondition for the Belgrade and Pristina dialogue. Remember if you allow so-called Kosovo to join the Council of Europe without prior establishment of the Community of Serb Majority Municipalities, the Community of Serb Majority Municipalities will never be established.

It was you, Ms BAKOYANNIS, who said and wrote, and I quote you, "The establishment of the Community of Serb majority municipalities is considered to be a necessary condition for an effective protection of national minorities' human rights". I will repeat to you what I told you at the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy because I have courage. You have demonstrated that you lack the integrity you evoke and that you are hypocritical. The statute of the Council of Europe affirms that only a European state in which there is a rule of law and respect for human and minority rights may become a member of the Council of Europe. Why then do you not talk about the human rights of Serbs? Ever since Kurti's regime has been in power, in Kosovo and Metohija the persecution and ethnic cleansing of the Serbian community have been ongoing.

A mass exodus is happening. Almost 14% of Serbs have left Kosovo and Metohija. Serbs experience ethnic attack on a daily basis and you do not care. Pristina authorities are arresting, intimidating, shooting and robbing Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija.

For ten months, Serbian goods have not been allowed to enter Kosovo and Metohija. Boards with with place name in Cyrillic script have been taken down. The use of the dinar has been banned, threatening the livelihood of the remaining Serbian population. No one has been held accountable for the attempted murder of two Serbian boys last Christmas. And you have decided to reward all this unilateral action by Pristina with liberalisation, admission to NATO and, finally, admission into the Council of Europe.

What you are doing is a precedent by which you will open Pandora's box. You have proved that territorial integrity and sovereignty mean nothing to you. and maybe precisely one of your states is next and will follow this precedent that you have created in Serbia's case. The status of the southern Serbia province Kosovo and Metohija is clearly regulated by the UN Resolution 1244, and Kosovo and Metohija will always be part of Serbia. We may be a small country but, unlike you, we have integrity and we will never surrender and submit.

Serbia will consider whether it wants to be a member of an organisation that flagrantly violates international law.

[Serbian].

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

18:25:28

Dear colleagues, I remind you that under the rules of procedure and code of conduct for members of this Assembly, debates must be conducted in a civil and orderly manner, and that members of the Assembly must not do anything which might cause disturbance during proceedings.

I'm just reminding it to you, to all of you.

Dear colleagues, next speaker is Ms Maja VUKIĆEVIĆ.

Ms Maja VUKIĆEVIĆ

Montenegro, NR

18:26:03

Dear colleagues,

I have already pointed out that I will not support the report and Kosovo's membership. Since Montenegro did recognise Kosovo as a state, there was a lot of talk about my vote, but as you already know, as MPs we all have the right to decide for ourselves. Regarding the delegation of Montenegro there will be votes both for and against.

I am here to be the voice of those people who voted for me to be their representative in the Parliament of Montenegro.

For us Serbs, no matter where we live, Kosovo is a cornerstone of our religion and our history.

I do agree that we need to look forward, to try to build bridges of co-operation, but my opinion is that we are not helping the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina by forcing Kosovo’s membership in the Council of Europe.

I must say that I am surprised with the rush to finish this process. Especially if we know that all requirements haven’t been met. We have some promises that something will be done. But the question is when and if it will be done.

I have read the opinion of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights regarding this issue, but the fact is that there is no consensus in the international community that Kosovo is a state. The fact is that the majority of members of the United Nations General Assembly do not recognise Kosovo's independence. Twelve member states of the Council of Europe, including five member states of the European Union, don't recognise Kosovo as a state. Moreover, if we look at those facts, we cannot really say that it is a territory that is not disputed. And if we are talking about territory as a characteristic of the state in international law, it is also very important how that territory was acquired.

Never in the history of the Council of Europe has the application of a disputed territory been considered, let alone that it has been approved for membership.

There are some important facts that we need to have in mind when we are talking about Kosovo's membership in the Council of Europe : territorial integrity and the existence of the resolution 1244, prejudicing the ongoing negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina and the risk of creating a precedent.

We must treat the territorial integrity of all sovereign countries equally because if we don’t it can come back to all of us like a boomerang.

My opinion is that there is no need to force this process, because it can have many harmful consequences. The role of the Council of Europe should be to contribute to dialogue and reconciliation, and if Serbia decides to leave the organisation, we will only make the situation worse. Nevertheless, I do hope that the Committee of Ministers will make a responsible decision.

Regardless of the decision, I wish peace and prosperity to all people living in the territory of Kosovo.

Thank you.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

18:28:42

Mr Oleksii GONCHARENKO is next.

Mr Oleksii GONCHARENKO

Ukraine, EC/DA

18:28:47

Thank you very much, Mister President.

First of all, I would like to thank Ms Dora BAKOYANNIS.

You did a great job! You knew from the beginning that you will be attacked for this report and you did a courageous step and you made a great report.

Ευχαριστώ. Thank you very much for doing this.

I want to congratulate Kosovo. I am sure now there will be a positive decision. And really Kosovo deserves it, for 100%. That's a very great moment, not just for Kosovo, not just for the Balkans, but for all of us. Because the free world should unite, the free world should unite now. Tyrannies and empires are trying to take a revenge. Just watch what's going on. Putin trying to rebuild Russian Empire. Just watch that he is in offensive now.

What was happening now in Georgia? Where just now, right now Georgian Parliament is considering the so-called foreign agents law, which is a copy of Russian law. And people of Georgia are furious about this. By this Russia is trying to take Georgia from Europe. That's something we shouldn't... we shouldn't give them this possibility.

Just watch what's going on in Balkans, where Russia is trying to put an oil to the fire. And to have a big fire in Balkans and big war there. We are doing now a step against this. Because when there are grey zones it's always very dangerous.

Kosovo shouldn't be a grey zone. Kosovo should be member of the Council of Europe, in the future member of the European Union.

Kosova është Evropë.

And that is true.

And we need to go further. We need to help all other countries. Look at Moldova, which is today attacked in hybrid way by Russia trying to influence this country of Council of Europe. Watch what's going on in the Middle East, where this axis of chaos, Russia, Iran, North Korea, and standing behind them China, trying to have a fire there, as big a war as possible.

What is done by proxies of Iran, and we can see it: Houthis, Hezbollah, Hamas. How it's everything dangerous and the only answer is to be united, to be united now, to unite all the free world.

Kosovo wants to be a part of the free world and deserves to do this. We need to do our step today and this is very important.

And last but not least, I want to address Serbia. Just watch other countries at history. We were happy to work together with democratic Serbia, but you will never rebuild Serbian Empire in the Balkans, it's impossible anymore. And in general there is no place in Europe for empires anymore, no Russian, no any other. Just stop this revanchism, just turn this page and be with us and let's build together. Just stop this connections with Putin and other dictators, stop playing games with them. These will only lead you to poverty, to problems, to chaos as you have it today. Just stop this, move ahead, walk together with your neighbours, with all European countries.

Let us be strong enough to stop all the tyrants in our continent and together we will do this, because our values are really our strength.

I really believe in this.

Great day.

Kosova është Evropë.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

18:32:38

Next is Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN.

Kimmo, you have the floor.

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC

18:32:46

Mister President,

Thanks very much to Ms Dora BAKOYANNIS, for this excellent, excellent report.

As Mr Oleksii GONCHARENKO just mentioned, you took on a serious challenge and you made an excellent, good report. You kept your integrity very clear and it is a balanced one for all of us to assess.

Clearly, Ms Dora BAKOYANNIS, you were a bridge builder. You try to find issues where we can share views, opinions and have somewhat consensus. You try to seek solutions instead of controversies. We have witnessed enough controversies in Kosovo, in the Western Balkans and actually in Europe as a whole. We need a type of mind in how to find a common line and compromises at the end.

Mister President, I am coming from Finland. I listened very carefully to what the representative from Serbia and Montenegro just said and I can understand what they are stating, although have a slightly different emphasis and different approach to the problem. Finland is a small country and we are, by nature, for the self-determination of all small nations. But as Ms Dora BAKOYANNIS in her reports states, this report is not about statehood, this report is about human rights. The Council of Europe is a human rights organisation and the question is about the access of close to 2 million Kosovans for our families, for our basic human rights conventions, Court here, appeal Courts, etc. That is the issue of this report.

It is a little bit similar to what happened in 2019 with the Russians when they renewed their credentials here, the same idea, how to get Russian people part and parcel of our human rights family. Unfortunately, we know the results.

I will vote for this report but I will not vote for statehood, Kosovan state, I will vote for Kosovan people and their rights. So I would say welcome Kosovans to our common family in the Council of Europe.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

18:35:43

Next is Mr Alain MILON.

Mr Alain MILON

France, EPP/CD

18:35:48

Thank you, Mr Chairman.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

First of all, I'd like to thank our three rapporteur colleagues for their reports and opinions, which shed light on today's important debate.

It's not every day that our Assembly receives a request for an opinion on a possible accession to the Council of Europe. Our vote is therefore of particular importance, even if the final decision rests with the Committee of Ministers.

We are all aware of the singular nature of the examination of Kosovo's application for membership, insofar as it is not recognised by several member states of our organisation. Ms Dora BAKOYANNIS's resolution stresses in this respect that Kosovo's possible membership does not prejudge the position of member states with regard to Kosovo's statehood. This is obviously a fundamental point.

The report also underlines the scale of the steps that Kosovo will have to take. In particular, he mentions three key issues: the creation of the association of Kosovo Serb-majority municipalities, the implementation of the Constitutional Court's ruling on the Dečani monastery, and respect for elementary legal guarantees on expropriation.

I'm pleased to note that the pressure brought to bear by PACE through this process is moving things forward. The Government of Kosovo has announced that it recognises the property rights of the Dečani Orthodox monastery to 24 hectares of land surrounding it, thus settling a dispute dating back more than twenty years, to enable entry into the Council of Europe.

Similarly, a referendum will be held on April 21 to dismiss the four Albanian mayors elected last year in Serb-majority towns in northern Kosovo. This is an important step towards de-escalating tensions with Serbia.

Relations between Serbia and Kosovo are obviously at the heart of our concerns, and we want to avoid any deterioration in the security situation not only in northern Kosovo, but also in the Western Balkans as a whole.

That's why it's vital that Kosovo honours the commitments made by the President, the Prime Minister and the Speaker of Parliament. The creation of the Kosovo Association Serbian Municipalities and respect for basic legal guarantees in the area of expropriation remain highly sensitive issues on which we are awaiting developments. I think the first steps could be taken before the Committee of Ministers examines the request. This would send a strong and welcome signal.

I would also like to stress the importance of minority rights. In this respect, I believe that Kosovo's accession will be a positive step for the entire population of Kosovo, who will be able to assert their rights before the European Court of Human Rights. That's why I'll be voting in favour of the whole proposal.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

18:39:02

 Ms Arta BILALLI ZENDELI is next.

Ms Arta BILALLI ZENDELI

North Macedonia, SOC

18:39:07

Thank you, Mister President.

Dear president, distinguished colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, there have been many meetings, sessions, debates, committees since yesterday that created a feeling to all of us that this April session will have a joint theme, and it is going to be the membership of Kosovo in the Council of Europe.

Being an ethnic Albanian from North Macedonia, of course that allows me and makes me feel this theme as a very important one, for Albanians, for the region, and last but not least for Europe itself.

I understand but I don't agree with opinions of a kind that this membership will create new conflicts in Europe, but I also cherish very much the positive report of Ms Dora BAKOYANNIS and two positive opinions of our colleagues Ms Béatrice FRESKO-ROLFO and Ms Azadeh ROJHAN.

Thank you, ladies.

Dear colleagues, was this organisation founded and formed to stop the wars between or among people in Europe? We all agree that the answer is yes.

Therefore, comments like "this membership will provoke further wars, further conflicts in Europe" does not sound good and does not share a good taste among us, because we a contrario, are opposing the main purpose and the main goal of a Council of Europe.

Also, all democratic states and organisations call some dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia. In my opinion this membership will boost and will foster this dialogue, because at least now we will have two equal parts within the table, within the dialogue, and equality is a core value of the Council of Europe as well.

Former Minister for Europe and European Integration of France in 1999 said, "If there was a Nobel Prize for freedom, it would be delivered to family Jashari from Prekaz in Kosovo. A family whose 56 members were murdered during the war within one single day.

Dear colleagues, that Nobel Price was not delivered to family Jashari, but by supporting this report and those opinions we all will deliver to the homeland a chair, a place in the big European family, in the big European table, the place where they actually belong.

Thank you.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

18:41:51

Mr Armen GEVORGYAN is next.

Mr Armen GEVORGYAN

Armenia, EC/DA

18:41:56

Mister President, Europe has traditionally tried to skip drawing parallels between Kosovo and other unrecognised entities that aspire to exercise their right to self-determination, the Republic of Artsakh for example. Such a selective approach to self-determination and its application has become one of the key sources of instability on the continent. Instead of turning into a source of international order and justice, it became a blunt instrument for geopolitical shifts. Both Kosovo and Nagorno-Karabakh in the early 1990s had equally legitimate right to exist. They used to be autonomous entities within socialist republics. The whole absurdity of the present situation lies in the fact that as a part of the totalitarian Soviet Union, Nagorno-Karabakh had autonomous status and self-governance while in the era of democracy and wider European framework, it remained unrecognised and its indigenous people were ethnically cleansed from their own native lands.

Whenever the international community is unable to achieve a legitimate and comprehensive resolution on the right of self-determination, we then invertibly face crimes against humanity. Meanwhile, selective approaches and double standards depend on the cause and uncertainty in international relations, stimulate authoritarian trends and downgrade democratic standards.

Dear colleagues, we Armenians will need to reset and start many things anew. In the first place, we need to tell the new and future European political elites about the roots of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and draw parallels with the Kosovo case. The membership of Kosovo in the Council of Europe may give hope to the Karabakh Armenians for some future in their own historic homeland.

If Europe today shows strong will to adopt a new framework for the protection of Kosovan independence, I believe the same Europe should find opportunities to facilitate a collective return of Armenians to their historical homeland in Nagorno-Karabakh. The Council of Europe has to join the European Parliament in efforts to help them to determine their political future and to exercise their own democratic self-governance under firm international security guarantees.

I hope that the Council of Europe, while securing Kosovo's independence can also reaffirm its commitment to the protection and preservation of fundamental political rights without a selective approach. The right of return of Karabakh Armenians is not only a matter of justice and human rights but also essential for promoting peace, stability and reconciliation in the region. The historic, cultural and religious heritage of the Armenian people in Nagorno-Karabakh cannot be lost and this issue shall not be abandoned.

Thank you.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

18:44:52

Mr Branislav BORENOVIĆ is next.

Mr Branislav BORENOVIĆ

Bosnia and Herzegovina, EPP/CD

18:45:00

Dear Chairman, dear colleagues,

Today, I will first ask you one question so that you think carefully. What kind of decision would you make if part of your sovereign state unilaterally decided to declare independence against your will and consent? And if today you are deciding on the membership in the Council of Europe of such a breakaway part of your country, imagine that. By putting on the Agenda the reception of the so-called Kosovo to the Council of Europe, today we are witnessing a drastic example of the collapse of international law.

Here, in the heart of Europe, the cradle of democracy, we are witnessing a terrible attack on basic democratic principles. With this procedure, you trample on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of a member country of the Council of Europe and a member of the United Nations: Serbia. This is, I have to say, a world record in violation of democratic principles and international law because you want, expressly, in just one year, to enable membership in this body of a territory of Kosovo and Metohija unilaterally ceded from the sovereign country, Serbia. That territory is not recognised by more than half of the world and is not and cannot be a member of the United Nations as an independent country. I remind you, the Pristina authorities in their unilateral actions, do not act according to the assumed international obligations, and violate international agreements. We know that Pristina has done absolutely nothing to fulfil the key conditions of the Brussels Agreement. That is regarding the establishment of the Association of Serb Majority Municipalities. And you are doing all this at a difficult time when relations between Belgrade and Pristina are trying to be normalised with difficulty and negotiations.

Gentlemen, you are setting an incredible precedent. A historically harmful precedent, and you are collapsing the institution of the Council of Europe. I ask you are you creating a new rule with this precedent? Are you sending a message today to Catalonia, to Scotland, Northern Italy, South Tyrrell, Flanders, to many parts of Ukraine? Are you sending a message to my Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina? To the south of Cyprus? That it is possible that you have not already declared independence and be admitted to the Council of Europe? We will know from the outcome of today's vote and time will tell what the consequences will be. Less we say and the end, right away that I will be against this proposal and I will repeat without the consent of Serbia, it is senseless, unreasonable, inappropriate and absurd to make such an incredible decision. This is a paradox and a shame. The only way to save the order and image of this institution is to reject this proposal or for the key precondition for any consideration to be the implementation of agreed agreements, and formation of the Association of Serb Majority Municipalities.

Thank you. 

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

18:48:44

Mr George LOUCAIDES is next.

Mr George LOUCAIDES

Cyprus, UEL

18:48:50

Thank you, Mister President,

Allow me to start by thanking our esteemed colleague Ms Dora BAKOYANNIS for the opinion that she presented to us today.

Dear colleagues,

When discussing Ms Dora BAKOYANNIS' positive opinion on Kosovo's accession to the Council of Europe we should ask ourselves: under the present circumstances, will making Kosovo a member state of the Council of Europe serve the purpose of peace, stability, and security on our European continent? Will the European perspective of the Western Balkans be bolstered or weakened by such a development? Will it not have knock-on consequences for the whole region, already volatile in terms of minority rights and territory? Will getting Kosovo in the Council of Europe solve internal tensions or, on the contrary, will it exacerbate them?

Furthermore, we should ask ourselves if such a development will lay the ground for more tension, heightened nationalism and violence, as we already tragically witnessed in 2023. We must also take into consideration the legitimate concerns of the Serbian side that has repeatedly called the Assembly to take stock of Kosovo’s negative record as regards the respect of minority rights and its failure to establish the Association of Serb Majority Municipalities. Leaving all these outstanding issues to be addressed after accession is not the right thing to do.

Without prejudice to the positive steps that have been taken, and we have to acknowledge that, the authorities in Kosovo, prior to accession, must speed up reform and establish the Association of Serb Majority Municipalities and ensure that expropriations are conducted in full compliance with law and the Ahtisaari Plan. Otherwise, Kosovo’s accession without the prior obligation to meet these benchmarks, will act as a disincentive to proceed with the necessary reforms.

Furthermore, the integration of minority Serbs into the government architecture, as well as tangible progress on the EU-facilitated dialogue aiming to achieve a comprehensive legally-binding normalisation agreement between Kosovo and Serbia is essential. Without normalisation, the accession of Kosovo to the Council of Europe would be, at least in our opinion, a major mistake.

Secondly, allowing Kosovo to become a member state of the Council of Europe and thus departing from the “status neutral” position of the UN, sets a dangerous precedent for other secessionist entities, established in total violation of international law and in violation of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of states. Political solutions must be sought in conformity with the norms and principles of international law.

The Council of Europe should continue to strive to establish deeper ties with Kosovo, mainstream standards and activities that will improve the lives of the people in terms of human rights, the rule of law, and democracy, including minority rights. Status over standards will jeopardise this goal.

Thank you.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

18:52:28

 Mr Arben GASHI is next.

Mr Arben GASHI

Assembly of Kosovo*

18:52:36

Dear colleagues, I stand before you today, not only as a representative of Kosovo, but as a voice of justice, democracy, human rights in our region.

The question before us is not merely one of membership, but is a question of recognition, of solidarity and of the fundamental principles that bind us together as members of the European family.

For too long, Kosovo has been denied its rightful place among the nations of Europe, for too long our people have suffered the indignity of exclusion and the pain of injustice, but tod