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mardi 20 juin 2023 après-midi

2023 - Troisième partie de session Imprimer la séance

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Cérémonie : Représentation du Volny Chor (Bélarus)

M. Tiny KOX

Pays-Bas, GUE, Président de l'Assemblée

14:26:15

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Please be seated.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We are gathered in this hemicycle just before our afternoon debates to hear an artistic performance by the Volny Chor, a group of artists resisting the authoritarian regime in Belarus.

Our Parliamentary Assembly has always supported civil society, and in particular Belarusian civil society, in its struggle for greater freedoms.

We are, therefore, committed to intensifying this engagement with democratic political forces in Belarus as evidenced also by the presence of Ms Sviatlana TSIKHANOUSKAYA, among us today as well as her civil society, a commitment that was reinforced at the highest level by the 4th Summit of Heads of State and Government in Reykjavík a few weeks ago.

M. Tiny KOX

Pays-Bas, GUE, Président de l'Assemblée

14:27:36

Dear colleagues,

Dear friends,

The Volny Chor, which we see here in front of us, emerged from the rallies organised by the musicians of the Belarusian State Philharmonic Orchestra in August 2020. They arranged flash mobs at the largest shopping malls, took part in outdoor concerts in different neighbourhoods of Minsk, and all of this at the costs sometimes of their freedom, which forced them into immigration and resistance from the outside.

In spite of all the difficulties that these musicians have been confronted with, they are here with us today, and we are grateful for that. I'm really looking forward to seeing their performance.

Can I end by saying that I really hope that as soon as possible you will also be able to perform in your own country, in Belarus, where you belong.

Before giving you the floor to sing, I first would like to give the floor to my colleague Mr Frank SCHWABE.

M. Frank SCHWABE

Allemagne, SOC

14:28:50

Thank you very much, Mister President, dear Ms Sviatlana TSIKHANOUSKAYA, all of you.

I am absolutely delighted that the performance of the Volny Chor can take part here, happening here in the chamber of the European Parliament. But now it's our chamber this time. It's, for sure, the chamber of human rights, rule of law, and democracy in Europe.

May I say that I was able to meet some of you for the first time during the German unification events last year. I was very impressed by your work. I had the idea to come here to this chamber and to give you the opportunity to be here with us. I have to thank the German government, because they provided us with a little money that made this possible in the end.

I think the president already said everything about your work and your commitment to the values of this organisation.

This is what it is about, and this is what we try to do: to bring those who are committed to the values of this organisation close to this organisation, while the governments cannot be part for their countries in this organisation.

I think it's a symbol that you are here. Thank you so much for this.

May I invite some of you who may be able to go the reception of the Secretary General. There will be a concert in the evening. Some can attend or some may come later or earlier.

Thank you. Thank you so much for being here with us.

Mme Sviatlana TSIKHANOUSKAYA

Cheffe de l'opposition démocratique bélarusse

14:30:38

Dear President KOX,

Dear Mr Frank SCHWABE,

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am deeply honoured today to be among you awaiting the remarkable concert tonight by Volny Chor, which is the Free Choir. Volny Chor symbolises sacrifice and tireless efforts for a free Belarus.

In 2020, when Belarus had deepened in the atmosphere of terror and tyranny, Volny Chor invented a creative way of resistance: they started singing. They sang at metro stations, shopping malls, markets and public squares. Places you never expected to hear a choir. Wearing white and red masks, they surprised not only passers-by but also the regime's secret service. They were confused. They knew what to do with protesters but they did not know how to react to singing people. Even when the mass rallies were suppressed Volny Chor continued to sing.

After being forced into exile Volny Chor resumed inspiring Belarusians inside the country and abroad. Their performances are giving people hope and energy to continue the fight. Their performances convey our stories, our pain and our dream to the world. Volny Chor became our ambassador to the world as we can see here today in the Council of Europe.

Volny Chor means a lot to me personally because one of their songs was written by my husband, Sergei Tikhanovsky, who sent his poem from prison. He was sentenced to 19 years in jail and I have not seen him for three years already.

The regime can imprison people - but it cannot imprison people's will for freedom, their dreams and their creativity. Among thousands of political prisoners, there are hundreds of people of culture – musicians, painters, writers, and producers. The regime fights writers, artists and creators because it is afraid of them. The power of art demolishes dictatorship more than weapons.

Today, with Mr Aleksandr Lukashenko's help, Russia unleashed a war on our culture and our identity. The Belarusian language is being discriminated against and our artists are declared extremists. They want to make Belarus a small copy of Russia and we must not allow this to happen.

We must support Belarusian cultural initiatives. We must strengthen the Belarusian national identity. A robust national identity will be the best defence against Russian imperialism.

I want to thank Mr Frank SCHWABE for organising this important concert. I want to thank the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe for being a champion in helping democratic Belarus.

I am grateful to the Council of Europe for its decision to cut its ties with the criminal regime of Mr Aleksandr Lukashenko and begin collaborating with democratic forces. I believe that is just the beginning of our partnership and friendship. We share the same values. We share the same ideals and we share the same goals. We want to live in a free and democratic but also diverse Europe. I am proud that Belarusian culture is a part of this diversity.

So join me in applauding the Volny Chor and their performance later today. They are not only singing for themselves but primarily for those who are behind bars today. They are not only singing for their country but for our common European future. So let their voices sound loud and clear today. It is Belarus singing.

Long live Belarus.

 

Ouverture de la séance n° 16

M. Tiny KOX

Pays-Bas, GUE, Président de l'Assemblée

14:45:02

The sitting is open.

We did begin our sitting today with a performance of the Volny Choir from Belarus. Sorry for the fact that we are now delayed a bit, but flash mobs do not appear on scheduled times. That is the secret of a flash mob. I want to thank the choir for its performance, and I hope, indeed, that while we are also going to the reception of the Secretary General we also will be able to attend their performance here in Strasbourg.

There has been a change to the proposed membership of committees. These are set out in Document Commissions (2023) 06 Addendum.

Are the proposed changes in the membership agreed to?

I don't see any objection.

We now come to the communication from the Committee of Ministers to the Assembly, presented by Mr Edgars RINKĒVIČS, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Latvia and Chair of the Committee of Ministers.

This will be followed by questions from our Assembly to Mr Edgars RINKĒVIČS.

 

Ladies and gentlemen,

Dear colleagues,

It is now my pleasure to welcome among us the Minister of Foreign Affairs, President of the Committee of Ministers and President-Elect of the Republic of Latvia Mr Edgars RINKĒVIČS.

Dear Minister,

Dear President-Elect,

We are very thankful for your taking the time to address our Assembly and to reply to the questions from our members. We already had the pleasure of having our first exchanges of views with you at the Standing Committee in Riga on 26 May, shortly after the 4th Summit of Heads of State and Government in Reykjavík had concluded.

On that occasion, you declared that the primary task of the Latvian Presidency will be to launch the implementation of the decisions taken at the 4th Summit, especially with regards to Ukraine and the necessities to ensure the accountability of the Russian Federation for this war of aggression, with a view to ensuring that all wrongful acts committed by Russia in and against Ukraine are properly investigated, prosecuted, and punished, and that justice is indeed done.

One of the first practical steps towards an international compensation mechanism is the register of damage caused by the Russian aggression. I'm so happy that Latvia is among its founding members.

Your country, Mister Minister, has repeatedly manifested its strong commitment to effectively addressing the complex challenges currently facing our continent, while pursuing an innovative and forward-looking agenda.

This can also be seen in the priorities chosen for your presidency, as they are strengthening democracy and the rule of law, promoting freedom of expression, safety of journalists and media professionals, and the digital agenda of the Council of Europe and advancing reforms of the Council of Europe, including through implementing the decisions of the 4th Summit.

Dear Minister,

Dear President-Elect,

You can rest assured that our Parliamentary Assembly will, from our side, do its utmost to contribute significantly to the success of your presidency in a true spirit of collaboration and synergy with the two statutory bodies of the Council of Europe, which can only strengthen us all and make us more effective.

Without any further delay, I would like to ask you to take the floor, Mister Minister.

Communication du Comité des Ministres

M. Edgars RINKĒVIČS

Ministre des Affaires étrangères de la Lettonie et Président du Comité des Ministres

14:48:48

Dear President,

Dear Secretary General,

Distinguished members of the Parliamentary Assembly,

Thank you very much, Mister President. You already covered all the priorities so well. I can only subscribe to them, but let me say that it is an honour to address you today as a Chairman of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.

I appreciate the opportunity to engage in a dialogue with the Parliamentary Assembly. A few weeks ago in Riga, I addressed the Standing Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and I am here today to share with you the main priorities of our work ahead.

M. Edgars RINKĒVIČS

Ministre des Affaires étrangères de la Lettonie et Président du Comité des Ministres

14:49:25

The Council of Europe was founded to protect democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Europe. For almost seventy-five years, the Council of Europe has been setting standards in the field of human rights.

This organisation has contributed to the rule-based order.

Democracy and human rights remain the foundation of freedom and peace in Europe. They must never be taken for granted.

M. Edgars RINKĒVIČS

Ministre des Affaires étrangères de la Lettonie et Président du Comité des Ministres

14:49:58

The ongoing aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine threatens the rules-based order and undermines democratic values. We condemn Russia’s aggression and stand in full solidarity with Ukraine.

The Summit of the Council of Europe in Reykjavík was an important milestone for this organisation at a critical time. I commend Iceland for an outstanding organisation of the Summit.

The main result of the Summit was strong European unity in responding to the Russian aggression against Ukraine. The European leaders committed to protect the standards and values of this organisation.

The work of the Latvian Presidency will be guided by the decisions taken at the Summit. We will advance their implementation in consultation with various stakeholders of the Council of Europe. We count on good co-operation with the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in this process, and we welcome your input today.

The Latvian Presidency is already working on the Summit decision implementation plan. We aim to have the plan confirmed by the next Committee of Ministers meeting on 28 June.

Distinguished members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe,

Ukraine must receive all the support it needs.

The member States of the Council of Europe have reaffirmed an unwavering support to the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of Ukraine.

We call on the Russian Federation to comply with its international obligations and withdraw its forces not only from Ukraine, but also Georgia and Moldova.

Russia must bear full legal and financial responsibility for its aggression and violations of international law.

Attacks against civilian population and critical infrastructure are deplorable. The destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam in the Kherson region of Ukraine is another example of Russia’s brutality. The President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the Secretary General, and I have jointly condemned this horrific act.

I welcome the first practical step towards a future international compensation mechanism taken by this organisation. Latvia is proud to be among the founding members of the register of damage.

As a presidency, we invite all member States of the Council of Europe and beyond to join this initiative. During our presidency, we will advance its operational launch. The first meeting of participants of the register of damage at the end of June must address the practical steps going forward.

We should continue the implementation of already existing initiatives in support of Ukraine, the Action Plan on Resilience, Recovery, and Rebuilding of Ukraine being one of those. Latvia recently provided a financial contribution to this action plan.

Distinguished delegates,

We must spare no efforts to ensure comprehensive accountability for the crimes committed by Russia. I refer to state responsibility and individual liability for serious international crimes. I invite you to share views on how to advance it.

International efforts must continue to establish a special tribunal for the crime of aggression. In Latvia’s view, the creation of an ad hoc international tribunal under the auspices of the United Nations would provide the strongest international legitimacy. The Council of Europe should contribute to this process with its expertise.

The Reykjavík Summit has tasked us to act on the issue of forcible transfer of Ukrainian children. More needs to be done to investigate these unlawful practices by Russia and to ensure the children’s return home.

In September, we will organise an Informal Conference of European Justice Ministers to provide a platform for discussions on how to advance Russia’s accountability, as well as the issue of reuniting Ukrainian children with their families.

Another area of my concern is possible participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes in the Olympic Games. It is unacceptable as long as Russia’s brutal war in Ukraine continues. I encourage the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to continue discussions on this matter.

Distinguished members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe,

The Latvian Presidency will diligently work towards advancing the national priorities. Please let me highlight them.

First: strengthening democracy and the rule of law, including promotion of the execution of European Court of Human Rights judgments.

The Court’s judgments must be implemented, also by the Russian Federation. It is vital for ensuring effectiveness of the supervision system, which is one of the Council of Europe’s unique features.

As the presidency, we will advance a dialogue-based monitoring process over the execution of the judgments. We will aim at strengthening greater co-operation among States themselves and with experts from the Council of Europe.

Domestic capacities for the rapid execution of the Court’s judgments need to be further strengthened. To this aim, the Latvian presidency will explore the role of national courts in the execution of the Court’s rulings.

We will devote particular importance to the rule of law through a more effective functioning of the justice system. The resilience of the Ukrainian judicial system at a time of war and post-war reconstruction will be amongst the topics of the Justice Ministers’ Conference in September.

The presidency will address the crucial role of education and youth in promoting democracy and the rule of law at the Standing Conference of European Ministers of Education in September.

Second priority: promotion of freedom of expression, safety of journalists, and the digital agenda of the Council of Europe. Protection of fundamental freedoms has always been amongst the priorities of this organisation.

As the presidency, we are committed to promoting the freedom of speech, protection of journalists and media professionals, including during conflicts and wartime.

To this aim, we are organising an International Conference on Freedom of Expression and the Safety of Journalists. That conference will take place in Riga in October. Before the Conference, a new Council of Europe campaign on the safety of journalists will be launched. Latvia has just provided a financial contribution to the campaign.

The Latvian presidency is committed to contribute to the work of the Council of Europe in the area of artificial intelligence. Being it amongst our national priorities, we support the ongoing work on the new framework convention.

Third priority: the advancement of reforms of the Council of Europe.

The current geopolitical situation provides an opportunity for changes within the Council of Europe as an organisation. The outcome of the Summit has given us policy direction in this regard.

The Latvian presidency will focus on increasing the transparency, visibility, and efficiency of the work of the Committee of Ministers. The civil society and youth must be involved in the policy discussion processes.

I also wish to address the issue of Russian staff. The situation when individuals with Russian citizenship, single or double, continue to hold positions within the Council of Europe is deeply concerning. It is a significant lapse in judgment. Russian citizens should not be employed within this organisation from neither a political, nor a moral perspective. As the presidency, we intend to take a strong stance on this matter.

M. Edgars RINKĒVIČS

Ministre des Affaires étrangères de la Lettonie et Président du Comité des Ministres

14:58:22

Before concluding, I would like to express my gratitude for all the work accomplished by the Parliamentary Assembly.

Your divergent points of view and your expertise are necessary for this organisation to be able to respond to current and future challenges.

M. Edgars RINKĒVIČS

Ministre des Affaires étrangères de la Lettonie et Président du Comité des Ministres

14:58:39

I wish you fruitful debates at this session.

And now I am very much looking forward to exchanging views with you.

Thank you very much.

Questions au Comité des Ministres

M. Tiny KOX

Pays-Bas, GUE, Président de l'Assemblée

14:58:48

Thank you very much, Mister Minister.

We will now proceed with the questions to Mr Minister.

We will first hear the questions of the speakers on behalf of the political groups. And hear the response of the Minister. Please, all speakers limit their interventions to 30 seconds, and I remind you that you should ask one single question and not make speeches. We are all aware of that.

First in the debate I call Ms Thórhildur Sunna ÆVARSDÓTTIR from Iceland on behalf of the Socialists, Democrats and Greens Group.

Sunna?

Mme Thórhildur Sunna ÆVARSDÓTTIR

Islande, SOC, Porte-parole du groupe

14:59:41

Mister Minister, as the new Chair of the Committee of Ministers, I ask you: how do you intend to implement the decisions of the Reykjavík Summit? And in particular I would stress the Kavala case, where we have an Article 46 judgment?

How do you intend to fulfil the promise made in the Reykjavík declaration to "re-double your efforts for the full, effective, and rapid execution of judgments when it comes to the case of Mr Osman Kavala"? Because if we allow one member State to ignore the judgments of the Court, we risk destroying the very foundation of this organisation.

Thank you.

M. Tiny KOX

Pays-Bas, GUE, Président de l'Assemblée

15:00:23

Thank you, Ms Thórhildur Sunna ÆVARSDÓTTIR.

Mister Minister?

M. Edgars RINKĒVIČS

Ministre des Affaires étrangères de la Lettonie et Président du Comité des Ministres

15:00:26

Well, thank you very much for the question.

As I outlined already in my speech, we are working currently with all the stakeholders of the Council of Europe, and we very much hope that by 28 June, when the next Committee of Ministers is going to take place, we will be able to work out the comprehensive plan of the implementation of the Summit decisions.

I also want to thank all my friends and colleagues who are working on this issue and I do believe that, as the plan is going to be endorsed, it will be a great opportunity to implement all the necessary measures as provided by the Summit Declaration.

When it comes to the Kavala case, let me just underline our long-standing position that all the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights must be completely implemented and executed. We are ready to continue work in this regard.

We are also going to continue the dialogue in a constructive manner with the Turkish government and Turkish authorities, also the high level discussions.

We will be doing everything possible in order to make sure that this basic principle that we have in this organisation – that rulings of the courts must be executed – will be honoured also in this case.

M. Tiny KOX

Pays-Bas, GUE, Président de l'Assemblée

15:02:02

Thank you, Mister Minister.

The next question comes from Ms Mariia MEZENTSEVA from Ukraine, and Mariia speaks on behalf of the Group of the European People's Party.

Mme Mariia MEZENTSEVA

Ukraine, PPE/DC, Porte-parole du groupe

15:02:10

Thank you, dear President. Thank you, dear Minister. Thank you for your leadership, and thank you for your great stand on the Russian staff.

My question on behalf of the Group of the European People's Party would touch upon one of your very clearly outlined priorities. This is the condemned genocide of the illegally deported children, Ukrainian children deported to the territory of the Russian Federation and Belarus.

Dear Minister,

How can we contribute as member States of the Council of Europe, as a separate state of Ukraine, to help you implement this extremely important item of your presidency?

Thank you very much.

M. Tiny KOX

Pays-Bas, GUE, Président de l'Assemblée

15:02:52

Thank you, Mariia.

Mister Minister?

M. Edgars RINKĒVIČS

Ministre des Affaires étrangères de la Lettonie et Président du Comité des Ministres

15:02:55

Thank you very much for this question.

As I outlined in my address to the Parliamentary Assembly, we are committed to working on the implementation.

First of all, the implementation of the Summit decisions. I think that some of the things that have already been achieved, for instance, the creation of the register of damage.

We are fully committed to making sure that by 11 September in Riga, during the Ministers of Justice Conference, we'll already be able to see the practical launch and the practical work of this register.

Second, as you know, we have been working tirelessly both in our national capacity as well now as the presidency of the Committee of Ministers to make sure that – and I also outlined this in the speech – Council of Europe expertise can be used also to create an international tribunal to address issues of the forceful deportation of children, to make Russia accountable.

How should international capacities be supported?

First of all, I would say that I very much hope for the support of the whole Parliamentary Assembly – all the delegations, all the representatives of the member States – when it comes to passing relevant resolutions.

Also, I very much hope that the support of the member States in the Committee of Ministers will be very strong for all those measures that we are going to implement.

Finally, I very much hope also that - and that goes actually to the homework I was referring to when it comes to the rule of law issue in general - that we also strengthen our national judicial authorities.

Authorities that are investigating war crimes, crimes of genocide, helping Ukraine investigate that, but also in our national capacity strengthening disabilities, and strengthening international legal authorities in order to make also Russia accountable.

So, there is plenty of work both on the international and also the national levels.

M. Tiny KOX

Pays-Bas, GUE, Président de l'Assemblée

15:05:12

Thank you, Mister Minister.

The next question comes from Mr Iulian BULAI from Romania and Iulian speaks on behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.

Iulian?

M. Iulian BULAI

Roumanie, ADLE, Porte-parole du groupe

15:05:21

Thank you, dear President.

Thank you for mentioning the importance of the international ad hoc tribunal for judging the crime of aggression in Ukraine.

What concrete steps could this institution tale in order for this ad hoc tribunal to happen?

How can the Latvian presidency help the political prisoners in Russia and Belarus?

And when will Latvia ratify the Istanbul convention?

Thank you.

M. Tiny KOX

Pays-Bas, GUE, Président de l'Assemblée

15:05:47

These are three questions!

So the translation probably was not completely correct when I said you have to mention one question.

But, Mister Minister, give it a try.

M. Edgars RINKĒVIČS

Ministre des Affaires étrangères de la Lettonie et Président du Comité des Ministres

15:05:59

Well thank you.

Those are three very easy questions to answer.

Let me start with probably really the easiest one, and that's the ratification of the Istanbul Convention.

Actually, we have ongoing debate back home about the ratification of the Istanbul Convention.

This issue is now being discussed among the political parties, and the Prime Minister himself very much pushes for the vote in the parliament, hopefully, quite soon enough. This is not an issue where I could say political consensus back home has been reached. The discussion is going to take some time. I personally hope that we will reach some political agreement in the parliament among different parties that will be taking into account some of the concerns that some members of parliament and also some representatives of parties have. At the same time we very very strictly have said that the protection of the rights of women, strengthening the fight against the violence against women and girls has to be a national priority. The Istanbul Convention, of course, is one of the most powerful instruments in that regard.

I do hope that this discussion in the Latvian Parliament will end with some positive outcome.

The second question about the help to the Russian and Belarusian political prisoners. First of all, I think that what is very important, and we sometimes tend to forget this, it is very important to raise the issue of political prisoners both in Russia and in Belarus at all international fora. We have to use each and every opportunity. With the United Nations, with the OSCE, with the Council of Europe, with the implementation and execution of the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights.

Let's not forget that Russia still has the obligation to execute rulings that have been handed over by the court and that have not been actually executed. We discussed this issue also this morning at our meeting with the Secretary General. The presidency of the Committee is committed to continuing pushing for that path, to push for the execution of the rulings of the court.

Also political support, legal support, helping also those families, helping with some legal advice, are the areas of real practical assistance, even if it is sometimes very difficult, especially taking into account all those repressions that we are seeing happening in Belarus and Russia.

Still, those things are very important. I call on member States of the Council of Europe also to look into matters of how we can help also through national means in this regard.

The final question, which was the first question, but my answer is the final one, on the international tribunal to prosecute the crime of aggression. We do have a discussion about two ways, and we still have not reached an agreement about which is the best one.

As I said in my speech, I do believe that the creation of the international tribunal under the auspices of the United Nations is the most efficient way of prosecuting this crime. There are also some who are saying that internationalised tribunal is the best way. We do have some doubts, and here now I'm speaking in my national capacity as the Latvian foreign minister here. I would say that without that, this would address immunity of head of state or senior officials of the country in question, in this case Russia. We also understand that it would require some legal analysis as now it appears such a kind of international tribunal would be contrary to the provisions in the Ukrainian constitution. I think that the Council of Europe could help, and is already helping a great deal with its expertise.

I think that the expertise that the Council of Europe has acquired in the legal area would be very helpful, first of all, to sort out this dilemma – which tribunal is best – but second, also, to work out practicalities when the decision is taken.

Thank you.

M. Tiny KOX

Pays-Bas, GUE, Président de l'Assemblée

15:11:05

Thank you, Mister Minister.

Now we are going to listen to Ms Sally-Ann HART from the United Kingdom and Sally-Ann speaks on behalf of the European Conservatives Group.

Sally-Ann.

Mme Sally-Ann HART

Royaume-Uni, CE/AD, Porte-parole du groupe

15:11:16

On behalf of my political group, may I congratulate Mr Edgars RINKĒVIČS on becoming president-elect of Latvia.

I understand that the Committee of Ministers has indicated it would like to increase the Council of Europe budget by €60 million – a significant sum when most European countries are struggling with the cost of living arising from Covid-19 and Russia's illegal invasion of Ukraine.

Could the Minister please explain why this increase is needed and what will it be spent on?

M. Tiny KOX

Pays-Bas, GUE, Président de l'Assemblée

15:11:46

Thank you, Ms Sally-Ann HART.

Mister Minister.

M. Edgars RINKĒVIČS

Ministre des Affaires étrangères de la Lettonie et Président du Comité des Ministres

15:11:53

First of all, thank you very much for your congratulations. I very much hope to come back to address you in October in the new capacity and then I probably will be contradicting what I have said as the Minister.

But on a serious note, let me just say that Secretary General has proposed the increase of €60 million in the budget of the Council of Europe.

We do understand that this proposal is very much in line to address the strategic priorities as outlined in the Reykjavík Summit declaration that we just had in May.

However, let me also stress that, actually, the discussion is only beginning and that the full and detailed draft programme and budget will be presented in August.

So in that case, when it is presented, this will also be examined according to existing procedures, and also each and every delegation will have the opportunity to present its views.

Let me say that as the presidency, we will ensure thorough discussion and analysis of the proposal. We will do our best in order to organise the work of the Committee to find the best decision possible.

In the national capacity, as the Foreign Minister of Latvia, I just want to stress that we have always had a pragmatic approach, but we also have always outlined that we also advocate for reforms' effectiveness, and are also looking at how to use existing resources in order to achieve, also the results that are needed for the work of this organisation.

So I would not currently go into details about justifying the proposal because, as I said, we expect a sort of budget debate later in August after we are getting a more detailed programme and draft of the budget.

Then I will probably be able to answer this question at a later stage, when there are going to be questions about the decision of the Committee already.

M. Tiny KOX

Pays-Bas, GUE, Président de l'Assemblée

15:14:18

Thank you, Mister Minister, and the last question we have from the political groups comes from Ms Laura CASTEL from Spain and she speaks on behalf of the Group of the Unified European Left. Laura.

Mme Laura CASTEL

Espagne, GUE, Porte-parole du groupe

15:14:29

Thank you, Chair.

Today is World Refugee Day. Last week, we witnessed the horror, the sacrilege, and the lack of humanity of the European Union member states and organisms, such as Frontex, leaving almost 800 people adrift drowning. These deaths are not accidents. They are murders.

The European Union will be a member of the Council of Europe, as well as its organisms. Will the Committee of Ministers enforce human rights in the European Union? And through which concrete steps?

And by the way, I think Mr Julian Assange should be released immediately.

Thank you.

M. Tiny KOX

Pays-Bas, GUE, Président de l'Assemblée

15:15:12

Thank you, Laura.

Mister Minister?

M. Edgars RINKĒVIČS

Ministre des Affaires étrangères de la Lettonie et Président du Comité des Ministres

15:15:17

Well, thank you very much.

Let me say that we take the current crisis with refugees seriously.

I would say that I am very pleased that also the EU, as an organisation, hopefully is going to accede very soon to the European Convention of Human Rights.

I do also believe that this will ensure the compliance of the EU institutions, accomplished with the highest human rights standards.

So the Committee of Ministers will continue working to make sure that human rights and also the human rights of those refugees in question – that sometimes have serious issues –always protecting of those rights– will be part of the discussion of the Committee.

But of course we will be also working with the European Union as soon, as of course this organisation accedes, as the organisation, to the European Convention on Human Rights.

M. Tiny KOX

Pays-Bas, GUE, Président de l'Assemblée

15:16:36

Thank you very much, Mister Minister.

If you allow me, I will take three questions together and you could answer the three of them.

First question comes from Ms Nigar ARPADARAI from Azerbaijan.

Nigar?

Mme Nigar ARPADARAI

Azerbaïdjan, CE/AD

15:16:53

Dear Minister, thank you for your time.

There are promising opportunities in the normalisation of relations between two member States of the Council of Europe: Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Peace talks have been quite intense lately. This is done on the basis of the principles of international law, in particular respect for each other's territorial integrity and sovereignty.

But there are other activities that should be done in parallel, like confidence-building measures, and the Secretary General of the Council of Europe has already initiated projects in this direction.

So how do you, as the chair of the Committee of Ministers, see the role of the Council of Europe in this direction?

Thank you very much.

M. Tiny KOX

Pays-Bas, GUE, Président de l'Assemblée

15:17:35

Thank you, Ms Nigar ARPADARAI.

The next question comes from Ms Arusyak JULHAKYAN from Armenia. Arusyak, you have the floor.

Mme Arusyak JULHAKYAN

Arménie, PPE/DC

15:17:43

Thank you Chair.

Mister Minister, the Latvian presidency highlighted the need to strengthen the political role and impact of the Council of Europe.

Each statutory organ has the responsibility and specific role in dealing with breaches of obligations by member States, without any exceptions.

As we speak, and despite the negotiations which are ongoing, Azerbaijan is openly using military force against Armenia, in addition to regularly attacking and occupying parts of Armenia since 2021.

Azerbaijan recently stepped up its aggressive behaviour by keeping under fire the construction site of a metallurgical factory in Yeraskh, which also resulted in casualties.

What concrete and urgent measures will the Committee of Ministers under your chairmanship take to address this, and many other obvious violations by Azerbaijan of its statutory obligations before the Council of Europe?

Thank you.

M. Tiny KOX

Pays-Bas, GUE, Président de l'Assemblée

15:18:37

Thank you, Ms Arusyak JULHAKYAN.

And the third question comes from Mr Emanuelis ZINGERIS from Lithuania. Emanuelis.

M. Emanuelis ZINGERIS

Lituanie, PPE/DC

15:18:56

Dear Minister, President-elect, it is a great pleasure to see you and thank you for your meeting in Riga, and before in Reykjavík. So Lithuania is preparing, after 11 years, to chair the Council of Europe and we will be, of course, leading to the establishment of the Court, if it will be impossible to do that during the next upcoming months.

So my question is about, of course, the ad hoc tribunal and the question is about those who are avoiding sanctions – European Union and American sanctions – and going with illicit trade with Russia. We have the report in two days and this will be voted on, the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy just finished the job, about the avoidance of sanctions. All countries that are avoiding sanctions are to be sanctioned too. So your point about avoiding the sanctions and making humiliation from European Union decisions.

Thank you so much for your leadership.

M. Tiny KOX

Pays-Bas, GUE, Président de l'Assemblée

15:19:55

Thank you very much, Emanuelis.

Mister Minister?

M. Edgars RINKĒVIČS

Ministre des Affaires étrangères de la Lettonie et Président du Comité des Ministres

15:20:00

Well, thank you very much for those three questions.

Let me just answer those questions posed by distinguished members of the delegations of Azerbaijan and Armenia by highlighting a couple of points.

First of all, we do hope that both countries, Azerbaijan and Armenia, despite all the difficulties, will be able to agree on a peace agreement. I very much welcome also the intensification of that dialogue, that political process.

I do hope, also, that this will lead to a concrete and also positive result.

I think that, also, the Council of Europe has a role to play in this process by creating the necessary conditions. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan became members of the Council of Europe back in 2001. They both undertook the commitment to find a peaceful solution to the conflict. So, I do believe that both countries need to act in accordance with their commitments.

Also, I do believe that we should ensure that all parties respect the common values of this organisation and also act in accordance with the standards, as provided by relevant European conventions, and specifically the European Convention on Human Rights.

I also believe that there is going to be a good opportunity to discuss this issue at the urgent debate that is going to be held on Thursday. The presidency of the Committee will follow this debate closely. Let me also say that the presidency is committed to responding to the issues as they develop and as the international situation develops over time.

Let me also say that we do believe that a good presidency in this situation can act in the following way: first of all to maintain a meaningful dialogue that is on the issues of the Council of Europe.

We also believe that that requires all parties to be involved, but also to be part of the dialogue and part of the consultation process.

We also believe that we need to concentrate more on the political process for the future rather than trying to look into the issues of the past.

That's how we intend to address this very complex, very difficult situation. That's how we will try to steer the work of the Committee as much as the Committee itself is involved in the discussion about this situation.

The question of the distinguished member of the parliament Mr Emanuelis ZINGERIS, here I can answer only in my national capacity, more as a member of the European Union, as the Latvian Foreign Minister.

First of all, let me say that we do believe that – and I stressed that in Riga when I was also addressing the Standing Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe  – we do believe that we must concentrate on how to close legal loopholes in existing sanction mechanisms as they have been put against both Russia and Belarus.

This is not an easy discussion; sometimes it gets stuck. Our aim, the Latvian aim, is first of all to close those existing loopholes in order to make existing sanctions more efficient.

Second, I do agree that we need to work and address the kind of circumvention of the sanctions with the third parties.

We do believe that the special envoy of the European Union on sanctions, Mr David O'Sullivan, is doing great diplomatic outreach with some countries where we do believe the sanction regime needs to be sanctioned.

Then I also believe, and also that's the belief of my government, that we somehow need also to introduce the secondary sanction mechanism in the European Union, because that is going to be more efficient than only diplomatic outreach to the third parties, to the third countries.

This issue is important.

We all know that sanctions could have been actually much more efficient. That is something that the EU in close co-ordination with G7 partners needs to address. That is something that we will continue to push with like-minded nations in the internal discussions of the European Union, especially in the Foreign Affairs Council in coming meetings that the Council of Europe has.

Thank you.

M. Tiny KOX

Pays-Bas, GUE, Président de l'Assemblée

15:25:29

Thank you, Mister Minister.

The next question comes from Mr Titus CORLĂŢEAN from Romania. Titus.

M. Titus CORLĂŢEAN

Roumanie, SOC

15:25:35

Mister President,

I must confess that I have a dilemma. I must finalise in just a few months from now my report on the EU's accession to the European Convention of Human Rights. There is still a missing link, not in this house, but at the level of the European Union.

My question is very simple and definitely in much more concrete terms: do you have the intention to use your important current functions as Chair of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe and your future high-ranking responsibilities on the other part of the house, on the level of the European Union, in trying to facilitate a last compromise that will allow the European Union to accede to our Convention?

M. Titus CORLĂŢEAN

Roumanie, SOC

15:26:20

You speak beautiful French and I encourage you, with all due respect, to use it here with our partners.

Thank you very much.

M. Tiny KOX

Pays-Bas, GUE, Président de l'Assemblée

15:26:29

 Thank you, Mr Titus CORLĂŢEAN [uttered in French].

The next question comes from Mr Ziya ALTUNYALDIZ from Türkiye. Ziya.

M. Ziya ALTUNYALDIZ

Türkiye, NI

15:26:37

Thank you, Mister Chair.

Dear Minister,

It is expressed that one of Latvia’s priorities in the course of its presidency of the Committee of Ministers is the advancing reforms of the Council of Europe, including through implementing the decisions of the 4th Summit. How do you intend to translate these decisions into specific and effective actions? Would you please elaborate a bit on this?

And also, how do you think that you could bring new drive to speeding up the reform process?

Thank you.

M. Tiny KOX

Pays-Bas, GUE, Président de l'Assemblée

15:27:20

The third question before you answer, Minister, comes from Mr André GATTOLIN from France.

André?

M. André GATTOLIN

France, ADLE

15:27:31

Thank you, Mister Chairman.

Mister Minister,

I, too, would like to congratulate you on behalf of the French parliamentarians on your election as President of Latvia.

A few days ago, the Committee of Ministers issued very favourable comments and opinions on the proposal and resolution we adopted in January last year, aimed at combating the phenomenon of enforced disappearances within the territory of the Council of Europe.

This is a subject that has been amplified by the current war. We are asking and have the support of the Council of Ministers in this matter to ask the member States of the Council of Europe to finish signing and ratifying this UN convention, since almost half of them have not yet done so, including the major states.

Mister Minister,

What action do you intend to take to ensure that we show solidarity in the field of enforced disappearances, and that this helps us to achieve greater co-operation between Council of Europe countries in the fight against this problem?

Thank you for your attention.

M. Tiny KOX

Pays-Bas, GUE, Président de l'Assemblée

15:28:37

Thank you, Mr André GATTOLIN.

Mr Minister?

M. Edgars RINKĒVIČS

Ministre des Affaires étrangères de la Lettonie et Président du Comité des Ministres

15:28:42

Well, thank you very much.

Thank you Mr Titus CORLĂŢEAN for that question.

Let me say that there is an agreement within the EU that all the remaining outstanding issues will be resolved internally. This is great to state but, of course, as the President of the Committee of Ministers, I am as much-interested that the EU resolves it during our presidency and that accession of the EU is there.

But then as a member State, of course, I also have to find a suitable compromise.

So, I can assure you that I will try, first of all, to use my hat as the Foreign Minister of Latvia sitting in the respective councils to push for the resolution of the outstanding Basket 4 issue and to see how we can proceed.

I do hope that we will be able to find a compromise and the European Union will be able to accede to the Convention as soon as this is practically possible.

Well, thank you for the question about the priorities of the Summit and also the way we want to implement that.

Actually, I want to refer here to what I have said both in my speech to this Parliamentary Assembly as well as answering some of the previous questions.

We are currently working and finalising the plan for the discussion on 28 June for the Committee of Ministers. We have put a lot of effort in involving all the stakeholders. We do hope that as soon as 28 June there is a discussion and, hopefully, also endorsement or approval of this plan.

We will be able also to report to this Parliamentary Assembly as well as to member States about the ways real concrete actions [can be taken on] how to implement the reforms, and how to implement the decisions taken in Reykjavík by the heads of state and governments of the Council of Europe.

The second about reforms.

Well, I think that one thing that we can do, of course, and I also discussed this issue with the Secretary General and with the President of the Assembly in our numerous meetings today, also in May, when they visited Riga and also in Reykjavík.

Of course we want to see that the Council of Europe is able to respond to modern-world challenges.

There are things that we want to see the Council of Europe, the Secretariat, the bodies, to be more efficient.

That was also something that I was imploring when I was answering the question about the proposed increase of the Council of Europe's budget.

I said in my national capacity that we always prefer to examine existing financial means and ways in which the money is being used for achieving the best results in the work of the various bodies of the Council of Europe.

I think it is also clear that you cannot implement reforms when completely without money. So we are ready to discuss some issues that we believe are relevant.

One is the efficiency of the work of different bodies of this organisation.

We already spoke about some necessary actions needed, for instance, to address the issues that we believe are relevant when it comes to working with new challenges like artificial intelligence; and also the role of this Council of Europe; and, of course, looking at issues that are relevant to the interests of the member States of the Council of Europe, as well as to the members of this Parliamentary Assembly.

I have been advised actually to provide a formal response in writing about the ratification of the Convention - we will do that in writing.

M. Tiny KOX

Pays-Bas, GUE, Président de l'Assemblée

15:34:13

Thank you, Mister Minister, and thank you for your flexibility to stay a bit longer with us so that I can take three more questions from colleagues.

The first question comes from Mr Barna Pál ZSIGMOND from Hungary.

Barna Pál, you have the floor.

M. Barna Pál ZSIGMOND

Hongrie, CE/AD

15:34:27

Thank you, Mister Chair.

Dear Mister Minister, the Council of Europe has always had a leading role in the field of the protection of national minorities. The Reykjavík Declaration reiterates the importance of the protection of minorities, and lately the Venice Commission has formed a crucial opinion on the national legislation in Ukraine stating the need for Ukraine to comply with European standards in the field of national minority rights.

Your Excellency, what is your position concerning the protection of national minorities?

M. Tiny KOX

Pays-Bas, GUE, Président de l'Assemblée

15:34:53

Thank you so much.

The next question comes from Mr Armen GEVORGYAN from Armenia.

Armen?

M. Armen GEVORGYAN

Arménie, CE/AD

15:35:05

Mister Minister,

US president Mr Joe Biden twice hosted the Summit for Democracy, where some member States were not invited because of backsliding from democratic credentials.

One of them is the Republic of Azerbaijan, which has not only undermined democratic standards and rule of law, but also is engaged in activities to ethnically cleanse the region of its indigenous Armenian people.

In this regard I would like to ask what is the red line for you in the case of Azerbaijan?

In what scenario will the Committee of Ministers show more determination to make Azerbaijan respect the norms of international law and prevent new war crimes?

Thank you.

 

M. Tiny KOX

Pays-Bas, GUE, Président de l'Assemblée

15:35:46

Thank you, Armen.

And the last question, Mister Minister, comes from a person you are quite familiar with: the leader of the Latvian delegation Ms Zanda KALNIŅA-LUKAŠEVICA.

Zanda, you have the floor.

Mme Zanda KALNIŅA-LUKAŠEVICA

Lettonie, PPE/DC

15:36:04

Thank you, Mister President.

Indeed, a very warm welcome, Minister President-Elect, and thank you for the comprehensive presentation.

You already explained in detail how you see the proceedings of the creation of the ad-hoc international tribunal.

Allow me to use this opportunity to raise another question that is important for this house that always defends democracy.

If you look at the challenges created by artificial intelligence, if you could share with us what the is progress you expect during the Latvian presidency on the new [Framework] Convention on Artificial Intelligence, Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law.

Thank you very much.

M. Tiny KOX

Pays-Bas, GUE, Président de l'Assemblée

15:36:46

Thank you, Zanda.

Mister Minister, the last minutes are now for you to answer the last questions.

M. Edgars RINKĒVIČS

Ministre des Affaires étrangères de la Lettonie et Président du Comité des Ministres

15:36:53

Thank you very much for the questions.

Well, let me just say that the position that we have always had is that protection of minority rights that are enshrined in all appropriate conventions is a must.

I also think that what we need to do is, of course, to look at issues case by case to analyse the situation in each case, because there can be historic backgrounds.

There can be some nuances that have been taken into account when one looks at protections of the rights of minorities. There are also instruments in the Council of Europe that are well positioned to analyse how each and every member State complies with conventions, with respective international law, when it comes to minority rights. I do believe, also, that the same mechanisms can also be used in each and every case when a member State is involved.

From that point of view, let me say that we are always open to facilitate that process and discussion, but we also do believe that it has to be made in the most objective and non-partial way.

On the question that was posed by the distinguished member from Armenia, let me say that we have a general principle as the presidency of the Committee that all norms of international law, also rulings of the European Court of Human Rights, must be implemented. That each and every member State needs to abide by those norms. We already, as I said also replying to the previous questions by our distinguished members from both Armenia and Azerbaijan, are inclined to ask all member States to implement all the conventions and also to honour all the commitments that countries have made when they acceded to this organisation, and will continue to put this principle above all.

I do not believe that outlining kind of coloured lines would be the best approach of the spirit of the work of this great organisation. We are very much determined to make sure that each and every member State fully complies with the basic statutes and conventions of international law and also European conventions.

The last question about artificial intelligence posed by the distinguished member of the Latvian delegation: I do hope that by the end of the presidency of Latvia in this Committee, we will be able to progress in talks about the [Framework] Convention on Artificial Intelligence, Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law. in a way that they could already be the first substantial discussions.

Very much, of course, depends on the ability of experts and also our diplomats. This is a quite interesting, new, and challenging topic. We very much hope that we will be able to progress in a way that we'll be able to have some hand-over to the presidency of Lichtenstein, if not text-based, but then at least some relevant principles will be worked out already.

Thank you.

M. Tiny KOX

Pays-Bas, GUE, Président de l'Assemblée

15:41:39

Thank you, Minister.

And I now have to interrupt the list of speakers. Thank you very much for your answers to their questions and I thank our colleagues very much for their questions and as you have experienced Mister Minister, yes, we have a lot of questions to you but we are quite fair, I think and you managed to answer the questions in a fair way.

We are looking forward to seeing you in your new capacity as President of Latvia in October here back in the Assembly but may I thank you on behalf of the Assembly for your performance and your being here today. Thank you very much.

Dear colleagues, the next item on the agenda is the debate on the Report titled “Addressing the specific challenges faced by the Belarusians in exile” (Doc. 15783). It will be presented by Mr Paul GALLES on behalf of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons.

After his presentation, we will then have a statement from Ms Sviatlana TSIKHANOUSKAYA, the leader of the Belarusian democratic opposition.

In order to finish by 5:10 p.m., I will have to interrupt the list of speakers at about 4:55 p.m. to allow time for the reply and vote on the draft resolution.

We will wait for a moment so that Ms Sviatlana TSIKHANOUSKAYA can arrive. 

As I said, first, we will listen to the presentation of Mr Paul GALLES on behalf of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons. 

Mr GALLES, you have 7 minutes now, and 3 minutes at the end to reply to the debate.

 

Débat : Relever les défis spécifiques auxquels sont confrontés les Bélarussiens en exil

M. Paul GALLES

Luxembourg, PPE/DC, Rapporteur

15:44:28

Mister Chairman, ladies and gentlemen

Dear colleagues of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe,

Dear Mrs Sviatlana TSIKHANOUSKAYA and all the friends who have joined us from Belarus, committed to a free Belarus,

I was honoured to be appointed rapporteur for the report "Addressing the specific challenges faced by Belarusians in exile" and to have my report unanimously adopted by the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons on 11 May. I stand before you now to ask you to adopt my draft resolution, which I hope will have a tangible impact.

Over the past few months, I have come to realise the scale of the tragedy that Belarusians have been going through since the rigged elections of 9 August 2020, exacerbated since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine to which the Aleksandr Lukashenko regime is participating. It is my fervent hope that the report can and will at least bring relief to those who have found refuge in Council of Europe member States.

Allow me to return to the most salient points contained in the resolution that you are invited to adopt.

The report's initiative has been warmly welcomed by Belarusians in exile, starting with their leader, Mrs Sviatlana TSIKHANOUSKAYA, whom I would like to thank warmly for being here with us today in Strasbourg.

When we met in Vilnius, she stressed the importance of having a report from our Parliamentary Assembly because of the impact it could have on her compatriots. My thoughts have been nourished by my encounters during my mission to Poland and Lithuania, during our exchanges of views and also during bilateral meetings. I hope I will remain faithful to the expectations of my interlocutors, who have placed all their trust in me - and in this report, above all.

The closer the countries are to Belarus, as is the case with Lithuania and Poland, the easier it is of course to resolve problems, because the authorities know what it's like to be Mr Aleksandr Lukashenko's neighbour. That said, even there, the risks of confusing Belarusians who have fled the regime with the regime itself are high, with direct consequences on the lives of those who have only one desire: to return to a democratic Belarus.

At the same time, it is clear that both countries have shown remarkable solidarity with their neighbours who have fled the regime. I sincerely hope that the good practices that they put in place there will be emulated by the other member States of the Council of Europe. Of course, there's always room for improvement.

Being an exile doesn't mean you're completely cut off from what's going on in Belarus. Many people still have relatives back home, who are at serious risk of reprisals. This does not prevent exiles from supporting political prisoners, doctors, teachers and others who have been dismissed by the regime, thanks to the various solidarity platforms that have been set up.

My report examines the various challenges that the Belarusians in exile are facing, the first of which is obtaining a visa. Regularising their residency is also a sensitive issue, and the further away they are from Poland or Lithuania, the more complicated it becomes. My report also talks about access to education, employment and healthcare. All these everyday obstacles can have dramatic consequences, not to mention the risk of reprisals against family members who have remained in Belarus.

In the course of my work, I have witnessed the importance and renaissance of the Belarusian language and culture, which are vital elements of their sovereignty. So it's not surprising that I stress the need to support this. Civil society plays an essential role in this.

During my various meetings, my interlocutors insisted on the importance of terminology when speaking of Belarus, and that of correct transliteration. Indeed, this designation makes it possible to distinguish between "руський / рускі" ("Rouski"), which designates the people, languages, cultures and religion of the East Slavs at the time of the Rus', and "російський / расейскі" ("Rasiskiy"), which today designates the Russian people, language, culture and state.

I suggested several areas for improvement, including:

- The thorny issue of passports, with the possibility of issuing Belarusian nationals in exile a passport that would be recognised by Member States.

- The considerable role that "people's consulates" can play, particularly as channels of communication with national authorities.

- The establishment of parliamentary friendship groups and the creation of a network to enable them to exchange views on the best measures to take to support Belarusians in exile. Such a network would also facilitate dialogue with Belarusian democratic forces in exile, including the office of Madam Sviatlana TSIKHANOUSKAYA, the Unified Transitional Cabinet of Belarus and the Coordination Council.

In conclusion, the report calls on Council of Europe member States to put in place, in close consultation with democratic forces, measures that will make their exile less painful pending their return to a democratic Belarus.

Dear colleagues,

How can we enable Belarusians in exile to live legally, freely, studying, working, paying taxes, safeguarding and developing their language and culture?

Let's not forget that a democratic Belarus is one of the solutions to European stability.

We have a role to play.

Allow me to express my gratitude to the Polish and Lithuanian delegations for their help, as well as to the secretariat, and to place particular emphasis on the assistance of Mrs Tatiana TERMACIC, who helped me in an exceptional way with information, discernment and human sympathy.

And also to my Luxembourg delegation, Mr Gusty GRAAS, Mrs Octavie MODERT, Mr Josée LORSCHÉ, Mrs Cécile HEMMEN, Mr Max HENGEL, Mrs Inès LUNA and Mr Cédric SCARPELLINI, who provided me with contacts, helped me with logistics and also supported the Luxembourg parliament's commitment to provide financial support, to set up a parliamentary friendship group and to take on the sponsorship of political prisoners in Belarus.

Thank you once again for the confidence you have placed in me and for your support. I invite you, on this day which I would like to call "the Day of Democratic Belarus", to adopt the draft resolution I have presented to you, after of course a debate which, I am convinced, will be rich and constructive.

Thank you all very much.

M. Tiny KOX

Pays-Bas, GUE, Président de l'Assemblée

15:51:47

Thank you, Mr Paul GALLES [uttered in French].

Now we are going to listen, before starting the debate, to the leader of the Belarus opposition, Ms Sviatlana TSIKHANOUSKAYA.

Dear Sviatlana, thank you very much for being here with us. Your country's authority in landing proactive help and support to Russia's war of aggression against our member State, Ukraine, has burned bridges with the rest of Europe and our Council of Europe, but we do develop ever-closer relations which you and the democratic opposition from Belarus, which is now an obligation formulated in the Reykjavík Declaration.

While condemning the actions of the regime in your country, we – the heads of state and government of our 46 member States – have obliged themselves to give ever more support and all the support needed to the democratic opposition of your country.

We work already very closely together with your very active representation in our committees. Thank you very much for that, and we will continue to do so and see how we can improve the position of your representatives over here.

Now we are going to listen to your address in our plenary meeting of this Assembly.

So without further delay, dear Mrs Sviatlana TSIKHANOUSKAYA, I give you the floor.

Mme Sviatlana TSIKHANOUSKAYA

Cheffe de l'opposition démocratique bélarusse

15:53:41

Dear Mr Tiny KOX,

Madam Secretary Ms Marija PEJČINOVIĆ-BURIĆ,

Rapporteur Mr Paul GALLES,

Excellencies, dear Ffriends,

It is an honour for me to address the Assembly.

Thank you, Mr Paul GALLES, for your tremendous work preparing the report and the draft resolution. This is a visionary resolution. Rapporteur Mr Paul GALLES captured the truth of our story and offered crucial recommendations. For the true statesmen among you, I urge you to vote for it here. Then take this framework to the sub-committees and then to the floors of your parliaments, not only because it will help Belarusians who are suffering and deserve your help, but because by doing so, you will be making Europe safer for your own countries.

The report recognises the basic facts that Belarusians have already proven their adherence to the European values of freedom and democracy.

First, in our peaceful protest in 2020, and then in our opposition to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. But it did not come cheap. At home, Belarusians are suffering from repressions and the ethnocide of our identity. Abroad, Belarusians are dealing with the hard reality of displacement, expired passports, denied bank accounts, children deprived of schooling. Nevertheless, they contribute to the societies that have kindly accepted them.

Meet Mrs Iryna Kozikava and her husband Yury, Belarusian lawyers living in exile in Warsaw. Iryna is the sister of Mr Maksim Znak. Maksim was my campaign attorney. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Yury represented other political prisoners. He was detained and their house was searched. They had to flee Belarus with a carry-on bag in one hand and a child in another. They were lucky to have a Polish visa. Now, Iryna works with the Belarusian PEN centre, a union of journalists, takes classes at Warsaw University to join the bar in Poland and makes traditional ceramics as her hobby. Yury works with the Association of Belarusian Business Abroad (ABBA), an organisation uniting Belarusian businesses. Their only desire is to go back home and see Iryna’s brother Maksim free.

Just like thousands of Belarusians abroad, they are grateful to the countries that have welcomed them. In particular, to the Polish and Lithuanian MPs in this hall, Belarusians applaud your help. I want to pass ačiū and dziękuję ["thank you" in Lithuanian and Polish respectively] from them. Just like thousands of Belarusians abroad, they are professionals paying taxes. They are not a burden. They are not a security risk. They are not taking jobs. They are creating them. Professionals like Iryna and Yury are the reason that, for example, two out of the top three IT companies in Lithuania are Belarusian.

Belarusians abroad know that the alternative could be a prison cell just like for thousands of Belarusians at home. At home, about 15 people are detained every day. I have not heard from my husband, Sergei, since March. We do not even know if Mr Viktar Babaryka is alive. At home, the regime wants to erase our identity. Speaking Belarusian, our own language, is enough of a reason for the police to search your phone on the street. The street names themselves are converted into Russian. History books are rewritten.

At home, the regime is selling away our sovereignty. Russian military prosecution offices are being opened across the country. So those problems at our home are a real risk to your security abroad. Just last week, Mr Vladimir Putin confirmed that nuclear weapons were transferred to Belarus. This deployment not only threatens the continent but primarily our sovereignty. This is an attempt to strengthen the dependence of Belarus on Russia. It needs the most robust possible reaction of the world. This is a non-conventional situation. It requires non-conventional solutions.

Thank you, Rapporteur Mr Paul GALLES, for bringing this report together and proposing practical steps to support Belarusians. Thank you for distinguishing between the people and the regime, for suggestions on improving access to humanitarian visas for Belarusians inside the country. For many, it is the only chance to avoid prison. For suggesting to help the soon-to-be-released political prisoners. For worrying about our thousands of hardworking Belarusians: our lawyers, entrepreneurs, and journalists. For helping us preserve our Belarusian culture abroad. For strengthening your own societies in the process.

Secretary Ms Marija PEJČINOVIĆ-BURIĆ, thank you for your leadership. I know it is difficult, but you and your colleagues, such as President Mr Tiny KOX, recognise the historic responsibility. You have achievements to be proud of. The Council of Europe has become a place for unprecedented solutions. In March 2022, you expelled the regime envoys. In September 2022, the Council of Europe created a Contact Group in Belarus to work with the democratic representatives. In November, Secretary Ms Marija PEJČINOVIĆ-BURIĆ and I launched the first meeting. It is a good dynamic. Now, this report will inform of the activities of the Contact Group as well. 

Ladies and gentlemen,

Dear excellencies,

We all dream about the same thing: living in freedom, peace, and democracy. Europe should not have a place for tyranny and oppression. Europe should not tolerate any attempt to undermine our values and ideals. The regimes of Mr Vladimir Putin and Mr Aleksandr Lukashenko are the biggest threat to our continent, and they must be confronted with decisiveness. So, do not allow even the thought of making a compromise with tyranny. Stand united in support of free Ukraine and free Belarus. Provide Ukraine with all the help it needs to win this war, but also help Belarusians to win our country back.

Even victory is not enough. We will be able to say that the war is finally over only when all perpetrators are brought to justice. Therefore, I ask you to employ all existing mechanisms to bring Mr Aleksandr Lukashenko’s regime to account through the International Criminal Court, universal jurisdiction, and an international tribunal. Dictators might want to have security guarantees for them. The only guarantee we should offer them is the guarantee of a fair trial. Restoring justice, and conducting democratic reforms will pave the way for Belarus to Europe, where it truly belongs.

So, support our call for Belarus' membership in the Council of Europe. We should not be waiting until the regime collapses. We can formalise our relationship already today. Work with the United Transitional Cabinet as true representatives of the Belarusian people. This way, step by step, we will return Belarus to Europe. This resolution is one of such first steps. It is “soft law”. Now it is up to your leadership. You can turn these recommendations into “hard” law. To match the hard reality of Belarusians at home and abroad. What is the point of having 17 Friends of Belarus groups across European parliaments; if not by taking this framework to the floors of your parliaments; if not by promoting their initiatives for your own security and the rights of Belarusians, like providing alternative passports for those unable to return home.

What is the point of having good parenthood over political prisoners? If not by helping their relatives get a visa. If not by creating a rehabilitation programme for the 300 to 400 political prisoners that are soon to be released?

Let us start today.

Please join us in supporting the resolution that strives to make lives easier for hundreds of thousands of Irynas and Yurys abroad. Help us make another step toward the vision of peace and democracy for the nine million Belarusians who have earned and defended their right place in the European family of nations, so that we all can feel at home in a peaceful and free Europe.

Thank you.

M. Tiny KOX

Pays-Bas, GUE, Président de l'Assemblée

16:04:40

Thank you very much, Madam TSIKHANOUSKAYA. Thank you very much, dear Sviatlana for your inputs to this debate, which is more than helpful, I think, for our colleagues.

In the debate now I first call Ms Zanda KALNIŅA-LUKAŠEVICA from Latvia, and Zanda is going to speak on behalf of the Group of the European People's Party.

Zanda, you have the floor.

Three minutes.

Mme Zanda KALNIŅA-LUKAŠEVICA

Lettonie, PPE/DC, Porte-parole du groupe

16:05:07

Thank you, President. And dear President-Elect, dear Ms Sviatlana TSIKHANOUSKAYA, thank you for your speech and your presence today in our Assembly.

And let me thank the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons, and especially Mr Paul GALLES for this report, the really good and important report we are debating today.

The illegitimate and undemocratic regime in Belarus continues to be a threat, both for its own society and for the region. It actively supports Russia's military aggression against Ukraine, and continuous drastic oppressions against Belarusian society.

In this discussion, I have to touch as well on a few very serious more general points regarding the situation in and around Belarus.

Hybrid attacks on EU borders from Belarus are still ongoing, and the number of attempted crossings has been growing in recent weeks. The deployment of Russian nuclear weapons in Belarus will have direct and long-term consequences on Belarus sovereignty as well as for regional security, for European security.

Therefore, political pressure on the Aleksandr Lukashenko regime, including sanctions, must be maintained as Belarus' involvement in Russia's aggression, the regime's oppressions against civil society, and hybrid attacks on the EU border continue.

Dear colleagues,

The fraudulent elections of 2020 triggered massive Belarusian public disapproval. Instead of engaging with the civil society regime, violently oppressing the peaceful protests in Belarus, widespread practices of illegal arbitrary arrests, detention, torture, and inhuman or degrading treatment are occurring on a regular and organised basis, particularly targeting those perceived as political opponents.

Latvia was one of the first countries to provide support to Belarusian people after the repression started: medical aid, psychological support, legal assistance, scholarship, immediate help to journalists and other media workers. Thousands of Belarusians had to flee the country. Many of them found refuge in neighbouring countries, including Latvia, Lithuania, and also Poland.

And unfortunately Latvians know, and other countries' citizens know what it means to be oppressed by the ruthless regime. So after 50 years of long occupation in our country, they never came back to their motherland and were dependent on the different host countries around the world. And sadly, but the longer the Aleksandr Lukashenko regime rules in the territory of Belarus, the less chances there are that a democratic Belarus returns.

Prosperous, democratic, and free Belarus is in the interest of all of us. That's why I am very much in favour of supporting Belarusian democratic society with everything we can.

So we've supported and will continue to support the work of Madam TSIKHANOUSKAYA and maintain contacts with the United Transition Cabinet of Belarus as the core structure of Belarusian democratic opposition exile.

And let me conclude by underlining that we, the Group of the European People's Party, support the report.

We see it as an important milestone in showing our support to the Belarusian people who suffer from the regime, and as a support to the Belarusian opposition outside Belarus.

Mme Ingjerd SCHOU

Norvège, PPE/DC, Présidente de l'Assemblée

16:08:51

Thank you, Ms Zanda KALNIŅA-LUKAŠEVICA.

And the next speaker is Mr Arminas LYDEKA from the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, Lithuania. The floor is yours. 

M. Arminas LYDEKA

Lituanie, ADLE, Porte-parole du groupe

16:09:03

Dear President, dear colleagues, distinguished guests and especially the persecuted politicians of Belarus. We liberals send a real thank you for your self-sacrificing work in exile. I bow my heart before your efforts to make Belarus a country that respects the values of liberal democracy.

Colleagues, I want to draw your attention to the great work Ms Sviatlana TSIKHANOUSKAYA is doing. With children and an imprisoned husband, she took on the burden of being the candidate of the people of Belarus for the president's position. After that, Ms Sviatlana TSIKHANOUSKAYA was soon exiled from her country.

Lithuania accepted Ms Sviatlana TSIKHANOUSKAYA immediately after she left Belarus and provided all the conditions needed for her work. Now, Ms Sviatlana TSIKHANOUSKAYA does huge and very important work that is significant for liberal democracy across Europe. While living and working in Vilnius, Ms Sviatlana TSIKHANOUSKAYA shapes the directions of democratic activities of Belarus. She is representing the democratic forces in the meetings with prime ministers and governments of different countries. She is participating in international, bilateral and multilateral meetings.

Dear colleagues,

We liberals mean that the Belarusian democratic forces and their leader, Ms Sviatlana TSIKHANOUSKAYA, as well as other forces, who are ready to rise up against Mr Aleksandr Lukashenko's regime in Belarus, deserve the full support of the Council of Europe and its member States.

I want to point out that I personally, and other politicians, receive letters defaming some representatives of the Belarusian opposition in exile. On the one hand, I wish the opposition to remain united with no split, no divide and to avoid escalation towards each other. On the other hand, this raises zero suspicions as to whether the illegitimate head of the Belarusian regime, Mr Aleksandr Lukashenko, is behind it.

Lithuania, where Ms Sviatlana TSIKHANOUSKAYA is staying, created all the conditions for Belarusian democratic forces. Lithuania created the humanitarian corridor for crossing the Lithuania border. As we can see in this report, discrimination against the Belarusians in Lithuania reaches only 16%. This is the lowest number in Europe.

To conclude, I have to say that we are proud that Lithuania is the leader in the education of democratic Belarus, not only in Europe but also in the whole world. In our capital, Vilnius, there is one liberal arts Belarusian higher education institution, the European Humanities University, and the only Belarusian gymnasium in the world. I would like to invite you to give proper international recognition and attention to this institution as well.

Thank you friends, colleagues, Belarusian friends.

Mme Ingjerd SCHOU

Norvège, PPE/DC, Présidente de l'Assemblée

16:12:43

Thank you, Mister LYDEKA.

And the next speaker is Lord Simon RUSSELL representing the European Conservatives from the United Kingdom.

Lord Simon RUSSELL

Royaume-Uni, CE/AD, Porte-parole du groupe

16:12:55

Thank you very much.

First of all, I'd like to congratulate the rapporteur on doing an excellent job. I would like to salute Ms TSIKHANOUSKAYA for all she's doing.

I wonder if Mr Sergei Tikhanovsky realises quite how lucky he is to have you as his wife. This is important to talk about, because Russia is culturally, politically, economically, and militarily strangling Belarus. And the diaspora of Belarusians who are in exile is essential for keeping the spirit of the real Belarus alive.

They are supporting the pro-democracy movement at home, they are ensuring that the Belarusians there are receiving accurate information, they are supporting and assisting each other who are subjects of repression, they are recording military and other crimes very importantly, the way the Ukrainians are doing it with the Russians, and they are reminding the world very importantly that Belarus and Belarusians are not the Aleksandr Lukashenko regime.

I saw first hand in Minsk in 2019, when I was part of monitoring the parliamentary elections, what democracy means in Belarus. I witnessed the 65-year-old president getting his 22-year-old mistress elected as a member of parliament. That is a strange interpretation of democracy. I'm happy to be an officer of the all-party Parliamentary group of Belarus in the UK, and like many colleagues in the UK Parliament, I have adopted a Belarusian political prisoner, with whom I correspond.

I wish to make four brief points.

Firstly, the Belarusian government has established a process to strip individuals of their citizenship. All countries need to be aware of this and to recognise the danger.

Secondly, countries that are hosting Belarusian exiles, should ensure that they have access to legal avenues for protection and all of the basic rights guaranteed under the 1954 UN Convention relating to the status of stateless persons.

Thirdly, we need to adjust and adapt our visa regulations in Europe. We must increase the number of long-term and multiple entry visas, we must fast track the development of the new Belarusian national passport, which we heard about in the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons this morning.

Fourthly and lastly, media freedom does not exist anymore in Belarus. External reporting has been a vital source of hope and truth. We call on those countries hosting the diaspora of exiles to increase funding, grants, and general support for exiled media organisations and for exiled civil activists.

жыве беларусь [Long live Belarus].

Mme Ingjerd SCHOU

Norvège, PPE/DC, Présidente de l'Assemblée

16:15:47

Thank you Lord Simon RUSSELL.

The next speaker is Mr Thomas PRINGLE from Ireland representing the Group of the Unified European Left. The floor is yours, sir.

M. Thomas PRINGLE

Irlande, GUE, Porte-parole du groupe

16:15:56

Go raibh maith agat, a chathaoirleach [Thank you, President, in Irish]

Belarus certainly is a repulsive regime as can be seen by the briefing material provided and by a quick internet search for today's topic.

In relation to the Council of Europe, it can be seen that Belarus applied for membership in 1993 but as yet has not been accepted. Indeed, this Assembly decided to suspend the Belarusian Parliament's special guest status in 2009 and it has not yet been lifted and will only be considered if the death penalty is lifted in Belarus. The Belarusian government's recent move to have citizenship revoked that was enacted in January this year is perhaps one of the most repugnant moves taken by a government that is totally against human rights. To create stateless people is in contradiction to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and should be opposed by any right-thinking person. The fact that it is not being carried out yet is immaterial, as it will have a chilling effect on people who wish to oppose the regime. And it is important that member States of the Council of Europe are ready to act in relation to stateless people to ensure that they do not remain so.

The resolution states that it is important that their host countries do their utmost to ensure that they can stay legally and are welcomed and in dignified conditions respectful of their fundamental rights. Surely that is the least of people to be entitled to whoever they come from –  Belarus or any state where citizens are fleeing persecution or being forced into migration.

We have been addressed today by Ms Sviatlana TSIKHANOUSKAYA, who is representative of the Belarusian opposition.

While I do not have any problem with the opposition to the regime in Belarus per se, it does seem to me that the Belarusian situation is being used as a proxy to get at Russia because of the war and perhaps the elevated status that Belarus has is because of the side it is taking in the conflict; then perhaps I am being too cynical by far.

I look forward to the day when we will be addressed by the leader of Palestine about the need to provide for the needs of Palestinian refugees or by the leader of the Kurds in Syria on why they should be supported by this organisation, but the Belarusian opposition needs to use whatever opportunities arise to pursue their agenda and that is understandable to me.

They cannot be held responsible for the failings of the Council of Europe. And I would also like to take this opportunity to call for the release of Mr Julian Assange as well.

Thank you.

Mme Ingjerd SCHOU

Norvège, PPE/DC, Présidente de l'Assemblée

16:18:24

Thank you so much, Mister PRINGLE.

And the next speaker is Mr Pierre-Alain FRIDEZ from Switzerland, representing the Socialist group.

M. Pierre-Alain FRIDEZ

Suisse, SOC, Porte-parole du groupe

16:18:36

Thank you, Madam President.

Ladies and Gentlemen, dear colleagues,

Distinguished guests from Belarus,

Allow me to begin my remarks with an edifying personal story: in November 2019, I took part in a mission to observe the parliamentary elections in Belarus and, like my colleagues, I was astonished by the quite extraordinary way in which the ballot boxes filled up without any visible demonstration by the voters.

Let me explain: voters were able to cast their ballots in advance, I believe four days before polling day. NGO monitoring showed very few voters going to the early voting area. But surprise: on the morning of Sunday, the official voting day, in the polling station where I was, 30 to 40% of voters had already cast their ballots, and there was no rush.

We went out into the countryside a hundred kilometres from Minsk to find the same empty polling stations. And yet, to attract voters, there was a great deal of ingenuity: cheap food sales, film screenings for children and folk dance groups - without much success.

But by the end of the day, the ballot boxes were full to the brim and, clearly, our pressing questions to explain this mystery - or rather miracle - were irritating our official contacts.

Unsurprisingly, President Aleksandr Lukashenko's party won with a Soviet-style score and, above all, with organised ballot-box stuffing.

So I was hardly surprised by the falsification of results in the 2020 presidential elections, with the pseudo-victory of the self-proclaimed dictator president.

The report by our friend Mr Paul GALLES is excellent, precise and detailed, and bears witness to his perfect understanding of the very particular situation experienced - or rather endured - today by Belarusians in exile.

I would say that Belarusians in exile today are suffering a triple punishment.

Firstly, they have had to leave their country, give up their former lives; secondly, they live in fear of what might happen to their loved ones and families back home; thirdly, being a citizen of a country that is a vassal of Moscow, a country that is objectively co-belligerent and an enemy of the democratic western world, is not necessarily easy. Belarusians in exile can be the object of misunderstanding and mistrust depending on the country.

I would like to pay tribute to the clear and welcoming positions of their direct neighbours, such as Poland and Lithuania. On the other hand, according to the testimonies expressed in committee, my country - Switzerland - could do better.

Once again, this precise and concrete report deals with a whole series of issues that might be considered details, but which are not, because it is essential to resolve certain questions when you have lost everything: your ties, your landmarks and most of your rights. These include the problem of visas and settlement permits, free movement within Europe, access to work, language learning and many other issues.

This report is an important reminder of the suffering and desire for democracy of the Belarusian people. It will help restore the honour of this people, who aspire to something other than a dictator-president vassal of Moscow.

May this text be the occasion for all our countries to become aware of the difficulties experienced by these exiled people and children, and may it lead to reinforced support for the Belarusian resistance to its only legitimate authorities in our eyes, namely the Unified Transitional Cabinet of Belarus.

Thank you, Mr Paul GALLES, but above all thank you to the Belarusian democratic forces, at home and in exile, for their just struggle. The Socialist Group unanimously supports this report.

Mme Ingjerd SCHOU

Norvège, PPE/DC, Présidente de l'Assemblée

16:22:24

Thank you so much, Mister FRIDEZ. Then we continue on the speakers list and the next speaker is Ms Thórhildur Sunna ÆVARSDÓTTIR, from Iceland representing the Socialists, Democrats and Greens Group. The floor is yours.

Mme Thórhildur Sunna ÆVARSDÓTTIR

Islande, SOC

16:22:38

Thank you, Madam President.

I would like to thank the rapporteur for his excellent report, and I would also like to express my deep admiration and respect for Ms Sviatlana TSIKHANOUSKAYA and for the work that you are doing, and the important work of her cabinet for the people of Belarus.

As general rapporteur for the issue of political prisoners in Europe, I express my full solidarity with the 1 700 political prisoners of Belarus and I pledge to use my office to push for their release and to elevate their cause.

Imprisoning people for their views or for opposing the ruling elite is a lethal weapon against democracy. It spreads fear, terror, and silences voices that have every right to be heard. But first and foremost this is a weapon of a weak leader. This is a weapon that will eventually be doomed to fail.

And while I fully support this report and I am fully in support of the democratic forces of Belarus, I must therefore also declare my deep regret that my own government refuses to dismiss the honorary Consul of Iceland in Belarus, Mr Alexander Moshensky, who is known as a close collaborator to the dictator in Belarus.

I am ashamed that we still maintain these ties for business interests mostly.

I'm ashamed of reports that Iceland has used its diplomatic power within the European Union to keep him off sanctions lists.

I hope that we will soon become a state that shows full solidarity with the people of Belarus, regardless of whether or not that in some way or other impacts our economic interests.

Thank you.

Mme Ingjerd SCHOU

Norvège, PPE/DC, Présidente de l'Assemblée

16:24:38

Thank you, Ms Thórhildur Sunna ÆVARSDÓTTIR. And the next speaker is Mr Emanuelis ZINGERIS from Lithuania representing the Group of the European People's Party.

I do not see Mr Emanuelis ZINGERIS.

We continue then and the next speaker is Mr Jacques LE NAY from France for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.

M. Jacques LE NAY

France, ADLE

16:25:07

Thank you, Madam President.

First of all, I would like to thank our colleague Mr. Paul GALLES for this report, which perfectly illustrates the difficult situation that hundreds of thousands of Belarussians are facing in exile today, as a result of the repression suffered by opponents of Alexander Lukashenko's regime following the elections of 9 August 2020.

Since the demonstrations that followed these elections, the regime has become even tougher. In May 2021, it did not hesitate to hijack an airliner from Athens to Vilnius to allow the arrest of a political opponent.

In September 2021, our Assembly adopted a resolution denouncing the migratory pressure orchestrated by Belarus on the borders of Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. At the time, the Minsk regime had not hesitated to bring migrants from Iraq and Syria to these three countries, triggering a serious border crisis; today, it is allowing the Russian president to use its territory to wage a war of aggression against Ukraine, agreeing to the transfer of nuclear warheads from Russia to Belarus.

On 24 November 2022, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the ongoing repression of democratic civil society opposition in Belarus. This resolution recalls the ongoing repression in the country, which also targets Belarusian citizens abroad, and calls for support for the democratic opposition, civil society and human rights defenders in Belarus and abroad.

The report we will be examining on Friday also underlines the importance of transnational repression by Belarus.

In order to assist people wishing to leave Belarus, it is necessary to issue humanitarian visas at consulates and embassies still operating in Belarus. Unfortunately, the number of such embassies is steadily declining. It is therefore necessary to be able to set up structures in states where Belarusians can enter without a visa, to welcome those who would like to travel to another state. These efforts must take into account the fact that most Belarusians do not wish to apply for political asylum, as they want to be able to return home quickly.

Faced with this situation, it is essential that the international community continues to strongly condemn and sanction the abuses of the Lukashenko regime. At the same time, a distinction must be made between this regime and a large part of the population that does not support it. The Council of Europe also has a role to play in supporting Ms Sviatlana TSIKHANOUSKAYA. In this respect, I welcome yesterday's meeting of the Contact Group in Strasbourg.

In conclusion, the situation in Belarus, currently in Moscow's pay, shows us - if proof were needed - that we must continue to support Ukraine. Our values in this part of the world depend on it.

Thank you all very much.

Mme Ingjerd SCHOU

Norvège, PPE/DC, Présidente de l'Assemblée

16:28:37

Thank you, Mister LE NAY.

The next speaker is Mr John HOWELL from the United Kingdom, representing the European Conservatives.

The floor is yours.

M. John HOWELL

Royaume-Uni, CE/AD

16:28:47

Thank you very much.

Let me start by congratulating the rapporteur on a very good report on this area.

Let me congratulate too Ms Sviatlana TSIKHANOUSKAYA for what she has said.

I fully support those who are seeking a democratic return for Belarus.

I too am one of those UK parliamentarians who have adopted a Belarusian political prisoner; we communicate with them to hopefully make them feel better.

If you look at the challenges from the point of view of our own three pillars, as far as democracy is concerned we have heard that there is no liberal democracy in Belarus, and there has to be for things to move forward.

From the rule of law or the political challenges, I think it is important to bear in mind that the revocation of citizenships by the Belarusian government creates absolute havoc with those individuals who are trying to leave the country. And coupled with that is the reduced access that it provides to the law and to legal activities.

But perhaps more important than that is the reduced access or indeed the lack of access for medical help and, most importantly, for psychological help.

One of the other areas that we also need to work on is banking, to make sure that funds flow properly back to the individuals that are concerned.

When you look at the human rights challenges that we face there, they are enormous. There are fake arrests. The journalists that are there have been beaten, have been detained and have been prosecuted and there is no freedom of expression.

So what can we do?

What we can do is that we can help with the communication. We can make sure that Belarusian activists around the world stay united. We can help them with visas. We can help them with migration, and above all, you know, when we can listen to the music that they produce, and for me, there was one line that stood out in the songs that we heard and it said, "Belarus lives because it has not lost its spirit".  

Mme Ingjerd SCHOU

Norvège, PPE/DC, Présidente de l'Assemblée

16:31:42

Thank you so much, Mister HOWELL.

And the next speaker is from Finland and is Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN representing the Socialist Group.

M. Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finlande, SOC

16:31:54

Thank you very much, Madam President.

I am also speaking as a rapporteur for the national political reform process in Belarus, the report process here in the Council of Europe.

It was a great moment to listen to the democratic lady of Belarus, Ms Sviatlana TSIKHANOUSKAYA to address us today.

In a similar way, it was a very emotionally strong moment when this accession started to have the white and red colours of the Volny Chor addressed to us by singing. The words were very indicative; "Belarus is alive and it's singing and kissing in the parks". True. There was hope, there was hope in those beautiful songs we heard today.

And it is also true that in the autumn of 2020, similar white and red colours occupied hundred of thousands of people in Minsk and in different cities of Belarus. People were kissing in the parks, they were singing, and of course, they were demonstrating against the stolen presidential elections in their country. That was a great moment full of hope, the spring of Minsk in the autumn of 2020.

We know very well that Ukrainian people with strong solidarity followed that, as did we from Finland, but also interesting enough, people in Russia also followed it with great, great interest.

Democracy was alive.

They can also see people can demonstrate, they will, but ruthless repercussions followed – ruthless.

Brutal repressions started, very brutal indeed, and Europe has not witnessed that for decades, ending with the brutal attack of Ukraine. That is obviously killing some of the hope but we are not losing hope. Why? Because we know that democracy will win, human rights will return and we know because people want that.

Thanks, Mr Paul GALLES for your report on Belarusians in exile that obviously describes that.

Thanks also colleagues, you should be reminded that our Parliamentary Assembly is nowadays the leading international organisation allowing the platform for Belarusian democratic forces to meet us parliamentarians. Not only do we have the contact established, as Ms Sviatlana TSIKHANOUSKAYA mentioned in her speech, but also we have regular communication, with our political committees, our committee structures and also party groups, Belarusian democratic forces regularly.

I ended my speech in the political committee today with the words: "Absolutely, the place for politicians is parliament, this is the place for politicians, not prison nor in exile".

Thank you, Madam President.

Mme Ingjerd SCHOU

Norvège, PPE/DC, Présidente de l'Assemblée

16:35:24

Thank you, Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN.

And the next speaker is Mr Bernard FOURNIER from France and the Group of the European People's Party. The floor is yours.

No, he's not present. Then we continue to Mr Oleksandr MEREZHKO from Ukraine, European Conservatives Group and Democratic Alliance. The floor is yours.

M. Oleksandr MEREZHKO

Ukraine, CE/AD

16:35:50

Thank you, Madam President.

The fate of democracy in Belarus, the fate of Belarus is being decided now in Ukraine. And the road to the victory of freedom and democracy in Belarus lies through the victory of Ukraine, through the military defeat of the Russian Empire. That is why the Belarusian democratic opposition should do everything it can to bring closer the victory of Ukraine, and to contribute effectively to this victory.

What can be done by the Belarusians in this regard? First of all, assistance to the Ukrainian army. All kinds of help are welcome. In particular, we need more Belarusian volunteers in the ranks of the Kalinoŭski battalion, which fights heroically on the battleground for our and your freedom. By the way, it is a very welcome gesture that the Belarusian leader of the democratic opposition has started a dialogue with the leaders of the Kalinoŭski battalion.

Second, there is a need for more material support for the Ukrainian army. Everything leading to victory is important.

Third, guerrilla warfare. Historically, Belarusians have been known for waging successful guerrilla wars against occupiers. Nowadays, Belarusians should do everything they can to prevent Russian occupiers from using their territory against Ukraine.

And finally, my message to the Belarusians is very simple: when you invest in Ukraine's victory over the genocide of Belarus, you are investing in your own freedom.

[Speaks in Belarusian].

Mme Ingjerd SCHOU

Norvège, PPE/DC, Présidente de l'Assemblée

16:37:40

Thank you so much, Mister MEREZHKO.

The next speaker is Mr Lukas SAVICKAS from Lithuania and the Socialist Group.

M. Lukas SAVICKAS

Lituanie, SOC

16:37:51

Dear Madam Speaker, dear colleagues,

The rigged presidential elections of August 2020 have shown the true character of the repressive regime of Mr Aleksandr Lukashenko. Turning Belarus into an open-air prison, its human rights have been reduced to nothing. And it is now more clear than ever that because of the actions of the last dictator of Europe, because of the system he created, thousands of Belarusians had no other option than to leave their country. And mostly to Poland and to the country I represent, to Lithuania.

And I must say our societies receive thousands of newcomers with open hands.

We helped to establish a school for the children of Belarus to continue their studies and education, we facilitated courses in the university to not hold the process of Belarusian students. We also adopted favourable immigration conditions, granting six-month visas and humanitarian permits for those politically repressed.

And we are proud to currently host Ms Sviatlana TSIKHANOUSKAYA, the true winner of the presidential elections. She has turned her office in Vilnius and the United Transitional Cabinet into a de facto government in exile. It is apparent that Ms Sviatlana TSIKHANOUSKAYA carries out the functions which the regime of Mr Aleksandr Lukashenko fails to perform.

A democratic and safe Belarus is an actual key part of solution to security in Europe. We must work together to translate the political support that the democratic forces of Belarus enjoy among the member States into concrete actions, and do exactly what the report suggests.

First, more freedom of movement for Belarusians in exile.

Second, better access to education, to employment, and healthcare.

And finally, more security.

Therefore, dear colleagues, I urge you to support this report and pull together our resources to find the necessary out-of-the-box solutions in order to deliver a solution to security in Europe.

Thank you.

Mme Ingjerd SCHOU

Norvège, PPE/DC, Présidente de l'Assemblée

16:40:25

Thank you so much Mr Lukas SAVICKAS.

And the next speaker is Mr Joseph O'REILLY from Ireland and representing Group of the European People's Party.

M. Joseph O'REILLY

Irlande, PPE/DC

16:40:39

And thank you, Madam President.

And at the outset, I would like to welcome Ms Sviatlana TSIKHANOUSKAYA to the Assembly today and thank her for her remarks and salute her courage and that of her husband Mr Sergei Tikhanovsky. In Ireland, we claim you as one of our own arising from the months of your formative teenage years you spent with us. We salute your courage and that of Sergei.

I also salute the rapporteurs on an excellent report. It is widely reported that more than 1 500 people have been detained on politically motivated charges since widespread protests swept the country in 2011. I am proud that I, along with Lord Simon RUSSELL and Mr John HOWELL, have adopted a Belarusian prisoner.

As Ms Sviatlana TSIKHANOUSKAYA said in her address, there are an average of 15 arrests and detentions a day. They are detained in horrendous prison conditions, where torture is widespread.  The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe estimates that between 200 000 and 500 000 Belarusians were forced to flee their country as a result of regime crackdown. Belarusians in exile in our member States should be welcomed and supported. They bear no responsibility for Mr Aleksandr Lukashenko's support of Russia as paragraph 7 of the draft resolution notes: it is deplorable that exiled Belarusians are threatened and refused counsellor services and by their country.

Our Assembly welcomes the establishment by the Committee of Ministers of a Contact Group on co-operation with the Council of Europe and the Belarusian democratic forces and civil society.

We aim to support and strengthen Belarusian democratic forces in exile.

We also welcome the participation of Belarusian democratic forces in the work of our committees.

Our member States must provide easy access visas and long-term security for those seeking sanctuary from Belarus and indeed their visiting family members.

Member States are encouraged to allow freedom of movement for exiled Belarusians as draft recommendation 22 says, the provision of a passport should be worked on immediately.

Member States are asked not to require official documents from official Belarusian authorities putting relatives at home at risk.

No one should be extradited on request of the regime through Interpol, etc. The recommendations and the right include the need to protect and support the children of exiles, and that is a very, very important element with psychological support and good educational opportunities.

The ultimate ignominy for Belarusian people in exile and indeed there, as well, is the presence of Russian nuclear warheads on their territory.

Belarusian people in exile in our own countries need our practical and immediate support.

Belarusian people in Belarus need our support.

The Belarusian opposition needs our support in their effort to create and re-establish a democratic society there.

This, Madam President, is a timely important debate and the important aspect, as Ms Sviatlana TSIKHANOUSKAYA says, is that we give it practical expression in our member States.

Thank you.

Mme Ingjerd SCHOU

Norvège, PPE/DC, Présidente de l'Assemblée

16:44:31

Thank you, Mr Joseph O'REILLY.

And the next speaker is Ms Nicole DURANTON from France, representing the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.

Mme Nicole DURANTON

France, ADLE

16:44:41

Thank you, Madam President.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Congratulations to our colleague Mr Paul GALLES for his excellent report. He has highlighted the worrying situation of Belarusian exiles.

Although it is difficult to estimate their numbers, the report mentions 100 000 exiles in Poland and 49 000 in Lithuania, which are the two countries that have received the most Belarusians fleeing their country over the last three years. Most of those who found refuge in Ukraine were forced to flee again, mainly to Georgia, where Belarusian nationals can enter without a visa.

These exiles may find it difficult to access services such as healthcare, education and housing. These are however fundamental rights to which they should have access to in their host country. I therefore call on the member States of our organisation to set up structures that will enable Belarusian exiles to be received in dignified conditions.

At the same time, the European Union, which has progressively imposed restrictive measures against Belarus since the electoral fraud of 2020, should also grant financial support to these states to ensure the reception of people in exile.

Several high-level political figures and leading economic players have been sanctioned. Indeed, it was necessary for the European Union to demonstrate its disapproval of the radicalisation of the Minsk regime.

Beyond sanctions, it is necessary to support the opponents of the Minsk regime. In this respect, I welcome the action taken by the Council of Europe through the Contact Group.

Working for a free and democratic Belarus also means working on the cultural issue. For many years, the language and culture of Belarus remained in the shadow of that of Russia. Many Belarusian artists and intellectuals embraced Russian culture, while others sought to preserve and promote a distinct Belarusian cultural identity, emphasising the Belarusian language, folk traditions and national symbols. This opposition continues today.

President Aleksandr Lukashenko's authoritarian political regime seeks to maintain close ties with Russia, and the rapprochement of Belarusian culture with that of Russia has often been used as a means of strengthening this relationship.

On the contrary, opposition movements and civil society in Belarus today seek to preserve and promote an independent Belarusian cultural identity, emphasising the importance of the Belarusian language and national traditions. These initiatives must be supported.

Thank you for your support.

Mme Ingjerd SCHOU

Norvège, PPE/DC, Présidente de l'Assemblée

16:47:40

Thank you, Ms Nicole DURANTON.

The next speaker is Mr Percy DOWNE from Canada.

M. Percy DOWNE

Canada

16:47:51

Following the fixed presidential election of August 2020, Canada imposed sanctions against the illegitimate government in Belarus.

These sanctions stem from the Canadian government’s opinion that gross human rights violations have been committed in Belarus and it was obviously not a fair election.

They are also a reaction to Belarus’s support of Russia’s war invasion of Ukraine, which is a grave breach of international peace and security that has resulted in a serious international crisis.

The regulations prohibit dealings with designated persons, up to and including President Aleksandr Lukashenko, and freeze their assets. They also prevent them from entering Canada.

In April 2023, Canada amended its regulations to add nine entities, including banks in Belarus.

As has been the case with Canada’s sanctions against Russia, Canada has closely coordinated its Belarus sanctions with the European Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

At the same time, as the rapporteur's report reminds us, we need to distinguish citizens from government.

This brings me to one area discussed in the report: the role of the private sector, especially financial institutions.

More specifically, the report’s resolution dealing with “access to financial services and the pursuit of economic activities” notes the difficulties faced by individuals, businesses, and civil society organisations in trying to open a bank account in some member States.

The resolution also notes that many businesses were able to relocate from Belarus to neighbouring countries and encourages measures to reduce the difficulties encountered by these businesses with respect to processes of transfer, accreditation, as well as access to credit and auditing services, among others.

I agree with the resolution when it states that “these businesses, be they in IT, retail, logistics, small service businesses or construction sectors, if allowed to operate and pay tax, will contribute to the economy of these host countries".

I commend the rapporteur for his analysis and for making practical recommendations.

In Canada, we will continue to explore how to help exiles from Belarus and provide them with the support they need to continue their opposition until the leadership changes in their country.

And colleagues, let that be sooner than later.

Thank you.

Mme Ingjerd SCHOU

Norvège, PPE/DC, Présidente de l'Assemblée

16:50:39

Thank you so much, Mister DOWNE.

Then we continue with Mr Jacek PROTASIEWICZ from Poland and the Group of the European People's Party.

M. Jacek PROTASIEWICZ

Pologne, PPE/DC

16:50:51

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Thank you, Ms Sviatlana TSIKHANOUSKAYA for your moving contribution to our debate. It was a great speech referring to what Belarusians have been fighting for for already many years.

The rigged presidential elections of 2020 were, so far, the most significant battle of the brave citizens against Mr Aleksandr Lukashenko's regime for free and democratic pillars. It resulted in enormous repressions inside the country, as well as hundreds of thousands of Belarusians living abroad to avoid imprisonment.

I want to strongly underline that, despite the state of Belarus, it is not a member of the Council of Europe because its leader does not recognise such basic principles as human and civil rights and co-operates with Russia in the illegal war against Ukraine. However, Belarusian people have a full right to live in a free and democratic country, which is part of a peaceful and prosperous Europe.

Having said that, allow me to express my deep respect to you Ms Sviatlana TSIKHANOUSKAYA, and to all Belarusians who dare to fight for such a country and broader values on which our Council is built upon.

Let me also congratulate Mr Paul GALLES for his excellent work resulting in a very competent and comprehensive report concerning challenges faced by Belarusians in exile, from visa applications and legalisations of residents to access to education, employment and healthcare.

You are right, Mr Paul GALLES, stressing that it is fundamentally important to recognise the role played by Ms Sviatlana TSIKHANOUSKAYA and the various bodies created by the democratic forces to meet the needs of their compatriots. In fact, she is already considered as a real voice of most Belarusians, but the United Transition Cabinet of Belarus and the Coordination Council must in the Council of Europe member States be treated as the only political representation of Belarusian society.

In this context, I would like to express my full satisfaction with the decision of the Committee of Ministers to establish a Contact Group on co-operation with the Council of Europe and Belarusian democratic forces and civil society.

I hope the United Transition Cabinet and the Coordination Council will be the main partners for our Council of Europe, to discuss Belarus's future and the concerns of Belarusians in exile.

Finally,

I strongly support the idea that is included also in Mr Paul GALLES's report to use the name "Belarus" as the official name of the country, not "white Russia", not "Belarussia" - because Belarus is not part of Russia, and Belarusians are a different nation than Russians. 

[Speaks in Belarusian].

Mme Ingjerd SCHOU

Norvège, PPE/DC, Présidente de l'Assemblée

16:53:51

Thank you, Mister PROTASIEWICZ.

And we continue with Mr Gusty GRAAS from Luxembourg and the ALDE Group.

The floor is yours.

M. Gusty GRAAS

Luxembourg, ADLE

16:54:02

Thank you, Madam Chairman.

Mr Paul GALLES, rapporteur,

Ms Sviatlana TSIKHANOUSKAYA,

The question we are addressing today is undoubtedly of the utmost importance: the challenges the Belarusians are facing in exile. It demands our urgent attention and response. This is why I am delighted that it has been placed on the agenda for our discussions, and - I must say - I am also proud that the rapporteur comes from my parliament and my country.

We are about to enter the third year since the fraudulent presidential elections in Belarus. Widespread fear has taken hold in this country, where human rights are flouted on a daily basis and arbitrary arrests have unfortunately become commonplace.

Any hint of protest is stifled by an authoritarian regime that is none other than Moscow's vassal. The only way out is to flee the country. This was the fate reserved for several hundred of thousands Belarusians. For many of them who moved to Ukraine in 2020, it's the same old story.

Exiled Belarusians, too easily assimilated into the Minsk regime, are failing in everyday tasks that might - to the rest of us - seem trivial. But, how can they continue their studies if they don't speak the language? How can they find a job without being categorically rejected because of their nationality? Suddenly, opening a bank account or renewing an expired passport is a utopian dream.

The prospect of a democratic Belarus is not out of reach.

I am convinced that, by implementing the recommendations set out in this report, we will be able to move closer to this goal.

Only last week, my parliament, the Luxembourg parliament, passed a resolution in support of the Belarusian volunteers and supporters fighting for the democratic independence of their country.

It commits our parliament to "regular exchanges with the democratic forces of Belarus in exile", through a sui generis friendship group.

But we need to go even further than setting up such groups with national parliaments. That's why I'd like to call for our actions to be put into practice through the establishment of a network of all national parliaments that have an organ of exchange with the democratic forces of Belarus.

Only a co-ordinated effort can advance the solutions to be provided by each of us.

The Luxembourg delegation is doing its part by sponsoring political prisoners from the Aleksandr Lukashenko regime. This support gives greater visibility to the individual situations of those imprisoned for political reasons.

In addition, the Luxembourg chamber of deputies has decided to step up its efforts by providing funding for the project "Strengthening political dialogue with democratic forces in Belarus".

The defenders of the values we hold so dear in this house depend on it.

Thank you and congratulations once again to my friend Mr Paul GALLES on this excellent report.

Thank you very much.

Mme Ingjerd SCHOU

Norvège, PPE/DC, Présidente de l'Assemblée

16:57:38

Thank you, Mister GRAAS.

The next speaker is Mr Claude KERN from France and ALDE Group.

The floor is yours.

M. Claude KERN

France, ADLE

16:57:50

Thank you, Madam President.

First of all, I would like to congratulate our colleague Mr Paul GALLES on his excellent report, which highlights the extent to which democracy and human rights are being trampled underfoot in Belarus.

Following the presidential election in August 2020, which he lost, Mr Aleksandr Lukashenko used force to keep power and severely repressed the demonstrations that followed, with mass arrests, torture and enforced disappearances.

Faced with this repression, many Belarusians took the difficult decision to leave their country, fleeing mainly to Poland and Lithuania.

Although Belarus is not a member of the Council of Europe because of its refusal to abolish the death penalty, we cannot ignore the situation of this state on our borders, de facto associated with Russia in its aggression against Ukraine, nor that of the citizens who flee it.

Many of our fellow citizens associate Belarus with Russia, Ukraine's aggressor, and this can lead to discrimination against Belarusians in exile, who are sometimes also victims of aggression.

It is therefore important to remember that many Belarusians have chosen to flee their country because of their opposition to Mr Aleksandr Lukashenko's regime, and that they themselves are under threat.

In this respect, the report we will be examining on Friday points out that Belarus was responsible for almost a third of transnational crackdowns in Europe in 2021.

Although few Belarusians in exile apply for refugee status, it is important, as our colleague's report points out, to make national administrations aware of the political situation in Belarus.

Today, Poland and Lithuania are the countries that welcome the most Belarusians in exile: they have been able to provide humanitarian and legal assistance to those who have fled. Reception centres have been set up in each of these countries, in collaboration with international organisations. We can congratulate ourselves on this, and encourage the other member States of our organisation to do the same.

Despite all the current difficulties, it is necessary to prepare for the future, in the hope that these people will soon be able to return to a free and democratic Belarus. The Council of Europe has a major role to play in this area. I particularly welcome the creation of a Contact Group between the Council of Europe and democratic forces and civil society in Belarus.

I would also like to pay tribute to the work carried out by Ms Sviatlana TSIKHANOUSKAYA.

It is now up to us to make our national parliaments aware of the seriousness and originality of this situation, in which a de facto Belarusian state in exile is being created.

I shall therefore vote in favour of this draft resolution.

Mme Ingjerd SCHOU

Norvège, PPE/DC, Présidente de l'Assemblée

17:00:55

Thank you, Mister KERN.

And the last speaker before I have to interrupt the list is Mr Stéphane BERGERON from Canada.

The floor is yours.

M. Stéphane BERGERON

Canada

17:01:07

Thank you, Madam Chairman.

Dear colleagues,

On 9 August 2020, Belarus held presidential elections marred by numerous irregularities. The government of Mr Aleksandr Lukashenko waged a systematic campaign of repression before the vote and during the election itself. Following the vote, the results of which were strongly disputed, anti-government demonstrations were violently repressed.

Observers reported numerous human rights violations in connection with the elections, which were strongly condemned by much of the international community, including Canada, the European Union and several of its members, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The scale of the repression and violations of the democratic rights of the Belarusian population suggest that Ms Sviatlana TSIKHANOUSKAYA won the presidential elections and that she is the legitimate president of this country, making Mr Aleksandr Lukashenko a usurper in Moscow's pay.

Since then, the Lukashenko government has stepped up its violations of international law, notably by ordering the hijacking of a commercial aircraft in order to arrest a journalist.

In response to these violations, and to Belarus's support for Russia in its illegal and unjustified war of aggression against Ukraine, sanctions were implemented by Canada.

Like many of its partners, Canada is relying on these sanctions, on pressure exerted directly on the Aleksandr Lukashenko government, and on its contribution to international organisations such as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the Media Freedom Coalition and the Freedom Online Coalition to try to find a solution to the crisis that has persisted since the fraudulent elections held in August 2020.

It acknowledges, however, that "there is no indication that the government of Belarus is genuinely committed to finding a negotiated solution with opposition groups, nor to holding to account those responsible for gross and systematic human rights violations".

Furthermore, according to the government of Canada, "no appropriate measures have been taken to restore democratic rights or to remedy the ongoing human rights violations".

Faced with this gloomy assessment, Mr Paul GALLES, in his report, proposes various avenues, including the establishment of different channels of direct communication with the government-in-exile of Ms Sviatlana TSIKHANOUSKAYA.

In my opinion, the approach proposed in the report, namely to effectively recognise the democratic forces led by Ms Sviatlana TSIKHANOUSKAYA, is the right one at present.

For my part, in response to the rapporteur's appeal, I believe that it is appropriate to consider changes to the legislation and practices of our respective countries in order to more easily grant asylum to Belarusians in exile and to encourage their safe return to their country, when conditions allow and when it is reasonable to believe that democracy can finally flourish there.

Thank you for your attention.

Mme Marie-Christine DALLOZ

France, PPE/DC

20:26:27

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

Mme Ingjerd SCHOU

Norvège, PPE/DC, Présidente de l'Assemblée

17:04:09

Thank you, Mister BERGERON.

I must now interrupt the list of speakers. The speeches of members on the speakers list who have been present during the debate, but have not been able to speak may be given to the Table Office for publication in the Official Report. I remind colleagues that type-written texts must be submitted electronically, no later than four hours after the list of speakers is interrupted.

I call Mr Paul GALLES, rapporteur, to reply to the debate. You have 3 minutes.

M. Paul GALLES

Luxembourg, PPE/DC, Rapporteur

17:04:48

Thank you very much for the words and thanks to all of you for your interventions and all your support.

I remember very well the seven months – I think it was seven months – of manifestations in Belarus in 2020 before and after the elections. It was our hope and we had all emotions hoping that Belarus would be free. We saw this longing for the freedom of the people we saw manifesting and demonstrating. We saw they were starving for a new beginning in this beautiful country.

During my report, I learned to consider, respect and feel this enormously deep and sad emotion of despair after what happened after the elections of 2020. I learned to understand how deeply touched people are if they are in the same way unfairly treated in some other countries. And I learned to imagine how those who left their states and lost their state Belarus, fled to Ukraine, for instance, and lost their home for the second time because of the same aggressor.

Let us strengthen all these people who are the free Belarus and may their longing for freedom be the flourishing soil for a new Belarus.

I want to propose two amendments that have been made this morning where I gave – two sub-amendments – I do not know if now is the time to explain them. I will do it later. We will do it afterwards, but all of the interventions and everything that you said is very strong.

I think that what some colleagues repeatedly said could be a very good way. Let us bring it to our parliaments, let us bring it to our countries and let us improve the situation for the Belarusians in exile.

Thank you very much.

Mme Ingjerd SCHOU

Norvège, PPE/DC, Présidente de l'Assemblée

17:06:57

Thank you, Mister Paul GALLES, the rapporteur.

Does the Vice-Chairperson of the Committee wish to speak?

You also have 3 minutes, sir.

M. Paul GAVAN

Irlande, GUE, 1er Vice-Président de la Commission des migrations, des réfugiés et des personnes déplacées

17:07:06

Thank you, Madam President, dear colleagues,

I want to thank Mr Paul GALLES for his excellent report and Ms Tatiana TERMACIC for her tremendous contribution to this endeavour. The presence of Ms Sviatlana TSIKHANOUSKAYA attest of the importance and timeliness of our debate today. I'd like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to her for all her work and initiatives she has taken to take care of her compatriots.

On 11 May, the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons unanimously adopted the draft resolution presented by Mr GALLES. By adopting his reports, the Committee hailed the resilience, courage, and determination of Belarusians who have been forced into exile by the repression of the Lukashenko regime, and urged states hosting them to take legal and practical steps to welcome them.

It is important that it underlines that the Belarusian people are not the same as a Lukashenko regime, and should not be treated in a discriminatory fashion because of the regime's participation in the war against Ukraine.

The report recalls that most exiled Belarusians have only one wish: to return to a democratic Belarus. And until then, the countries temporarily hosting them should do their utmost to ensure that they can stay legally and are welcomed in dignified conditions.

I very much hope that we can engage on that path.

Clearly Lithuania and Poland's efforts to find legal and practical solutions to make Belarusians in exile more welcome are to be applauded, but more can be done.

Also, as our organisation has shown with the setting up of a contact group with the democratic forces of Belarus, out-of-the-box solutions should be encouraged and can happen when there is political will.

The report makes a series of practical recommendations to make legal entry and stay outside Belarus and travel in the EU easier for exiles and their families, as well as steps to keep them safe from reprisals, able to access their bank accounts and run businesses. It also encourages states and parliaments to support the democratic forces in exile, as well as civil society and lawyers, as well as a renaissance of Belarusian education and culture in a number of ways.

The breadth of topics touched upon demonstrates how the challenges faced by Belarusians in exile can have dramatic consequences for their lives, but it also shows the role that we as parliamentarians can play to alleviate them.

So, colleagues, for all of these regions I again want to congratulate our rapporteur and encourage you to wholeheartedly support this draft resolution.

Thank you very much.

Vote : Relever les défis spécifiques auxquels sont confrontés les Bélarussiens en exil

Mme Ingjerd SCHOU

Norvège, PPE/DC, Présidente de l'Assemblée

17:09:43

Thank you Mr Paul GAVAN, the Vice-Chairperson of the Committee.

And the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons presented a draft resolution in Document 15783 to which 6 amendments have been tabled.

Amendments are listed in the Compendium. I remind you that speeches on amendments are limited to 30 seconds.

I understand that the Vice-Chairperson of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons wishes to propose to the Assembly that Amendment 2 on the draft resolution, which was unanimously approved by the Committee, should be declared as agreed by the Assembly.

Is this right? Yes.

Amendments 1 and 5 have also been unanimously approved by the Committee but they will be taken individually as three are proposals for oral sub-amendments.

Is that so? 

That is correct.

Does anyone object? If so, please ask for the floor by raising your hand.

I see none.

As there are no objections, I declare that:

Amendment 2 to the draft resolution has been agreed.

I also understand that the Vice-Chairperson of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons wishes to propose to the Assembly that Amendments 6, 3 and 4 to the draft resolution, which were rejected by the Committee with a 2/3 majority, be declared as rejected.  

Is that so, vice-Chair? 

That is also so.

Is there any objection to this proposal?

I see none.

As nobody objects:

Amendments 6, 3, and 4 to the draft resolution are rejected. 

We will now consider the remaining amendments individually. The amendments 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 call Mr Oleksii GONCHARENKO to support Amendment 1. You have 30 seconds.

Is Mr Oleksii GONCHARENKO here? No. 

Does anyone else wish to support this Amendment?

Yes, Mr Serhii SOBOLIEV, I see up there, I think.

M. Serhii SOBOLIEV

Ukraine, PPE/DC

17:12:44

Yes, I want to support this Amendment. This Amendment is a real situation where the real elected president of Belarus, who is now the leader of the official opposition, has all the responsibility and all attitude towards the questions that will be the most important for the future of Belarus. So I want to support this Amendment.

Thank you.

Mme Ingjerd SCHOU

Norvège, PPE/DC, Présidente de l'Assemblée

17:13:13

Thank you.

I have been informed that Mr Paul GALLES wishes to propose an oral sub-amendment to Amendment 1 as follows. But do you want to take the floor?

Yes, please.

M. Paul GALLES

Luxembourg, PPE/DC, Rapporteur

17:13:29

Thank you very much.

It is an amendment that basically, I support - I only wanted to propose a sub-amendment, we have three entities, institutions, that we have to differentiate: the office of Ms Sviatlana TSIKHANOUSKAYA, the United Transitional Cabinet of Belarus and the Coordination Council.

They are working together. They are in a very strong unity and the report says it very clearly, but I think it is very important to distinguish their roles, what they are doing exactly.

And that is why I proposed, in this Amendment, to delete the words "and the Coordination Council", so these four words, because indeed the Coordination Council does not run operations in general, and in this sphere mentioned here in this amendment, and as a representative institution they oversee operations and control implementers.

That is only because I think it is important to be exact and precise. 

Thank you very much.  

Mme Ingjerd SCHOU

Norvège, PPE/DC, Présidente de l'Assemblée

17:14:24

Thank you.

And in my opinion the oral sub-amendment to delete and move forwards is in order under our rules. However, do 10 or more members object to the oral sub-amendment being debated?

No, that's not the case?

It's fewer than 10, and it's zero, I think.

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

I see none.

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

Mr Oleksii GONCHARENKO is not here. But Mr Serhii SOBOLIEV?

The floor is yours.

M. Serhii SOBOLIEV

Ukraine, PPE/DC

17:15:18

- I agree.

- You agree ?

- Yes.

Mme Ingjerd SCHOU

Norvège, PPE/DC, Présidente de l'Assemblée

17:15:19

Thank you.

The Committee is obviously in favour of the Amendment.

Yes, it's so.

I will know put the oral sub-amendment to the vote.

The vote is open.

 

And the vote is closed.

I call for the results to be displayed.

The oral sub-amendment is agreed to.

 

We will now consider the main Amendment.

Does anyone wish to speak against the Amendment?

No, that's not so.

What is the opinion of the Committee on the Amendment as amended?

Mister Paul GALLES?

In favour with a large majority.

 

I shall now put the Amendment 1 to the vote.

And the vote is open.

 

And the vote is closed.

And I call for the result to be displayed.

Amendment 1 is agreed to.

Thank you.

Thank you to the Chair and the Vice-Chairperson and the rapporteur.

 

And then I, once again, call Mr Oleksii GONCHARENKO to support Amendment 5.

But maybe also this is Mr Serhii SOBOLIEV.

You have 30 seconds.

M. Serhii SOBOLIEV

Ukraine, PPE/DC

17:17:22

Thank you.

We can only imagine in what conditions all those are working in who are still struggling against the regime of Mr Aleksandr Lukashenko inside Belarus.

So my Amendment is a good example of how we can indicate all these people and support them.

Thank you.

Mme Ingjerd SCHOU

Norvège, PPE/DC, Présidente de l'Assemblée

17:17:43

Thank you.

Does anyone else wish to support this Amendment?

I don't see anyone.

And I have been informed that Mr Paul GALLES wishes to propose an oral sub-amendment as follows and I read it:

And this is about replacing the words: "The Assembly encourages the Security Service of Ukraine to co-operate with the Belarusian democratic forces in exile, particularly, with the Office of Sviatlana TSIKHANOUSKAYA, United Transitional Cabinet of Belarus and the Coordination Council" with – and here is the next text – with "The Assembly encourages the government of Ukraine to co-operate with the Belarusian democratic forces in exile, particularly, with the United Transitional Cabinet of Belarus". 

In my opinion, the oral sub-amendment is in order under our rules.

However, do 10 or more members object to the oral sub-amendment being debated?

No, that is not the case. That is fewer and it is about zero I think, so then I continue.

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

Yes, I also asked Mr Paul GALLES if you support this oral sub-amendment.

You are in favour. Yes, you are in favour.

So, I want to know if there is anyone who wants to speak against the oral sub-amendment?

No, that is not the case.

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

Not Mr Oleksii GONCHARENKO but Mr Serhii SOBOLIEV, the floor is yours again.

M. Serhii SOBOLIEV

Ukraine, PPE/DC

17:19:43

I agree with this oral sub-amendment.

Mme Ingjerd SCHOU

Norvège, PPE/DC, Présidente de l'Assemblée

17:19:46

You agree, thank you.

And the Committee is obviously in favour of the Amendment... unanimously, thank you.

I will now put the oral sub-amendment to the vote.

And the vote is open.

 

And the vote is closed.

I call for the results to be displayed.

Thank you.

And the oral sub-amendment is agreed to.

 

We will now consider the main Amendment as amended.

Does anyone wish to speak against the Amendment?

That's not the case.

What is the opinion of the Committee on the Amendment?

Mister GALLES?

Unanimously in favour.

 

I shall now put Amendment 5 to the vote.

And the vote is open.

 

And the vote is closed.

I call for the results to be displayed.

Amendment 5 is agreed to.

Thank you.

We will now proceed to vote on the draft resolution contained in Document 15783 [as amended]. A simple majority is required.

And the vote is open.

 

And the vote is closed.

I call for the results to be displayed.

The draft resolution is adopted.

 

The next item of business this afternoon is a current affairs debate on “Recent political developments in Poland”. The debate will be opened by Ms Azadeh ROJHAN and Mr Pieter OMTZIGT.

Speaking time in the debate is limited to 3 minutes for all members except for Ms Azadeh ROJHAN and Mr Pieter OMTZIGT who are allowed 5 minutes.

In the debate I call first Ms Azadeh ROJHAN. You have 5 minutes.

I call next Mr Pieter OMTZIGT. You have 5 minutes.

So, I will just wait one minute or two...

Débat d'actualité : Développements politiques récents en Pologne

Mme Tamara VONTA

Slovénie, ADLE, Présidente de l'Assemblée

17:25:23

In the debate I call first Mr Pieter OMTZIGT.

You have five minutes, please.

The floor is yours.

M. Pieter OMTZIGT

Pays-Bas, PPE/DC

17:25:41

Dear Ms Chairperson, dear colleagues.

After the fall of communism, Poland emerged with a strong democratic will. It quickly joined the Council of Europe in 1991 and became an EU member in 2004. Unfortunately, Poland was the first EU member for which the Assembly opened a monitoring procedure, due to the concerns about the functioning of its democratic and rule-of-law institutions. And today, we have a current affairs debate on Poland because we are deeply worried about recent developments that could affect the democratic nature of the elections.

This debate is so urgent because Poland will hold elections this autumn both for the Sejm, the lower house, and the senate.

In our recent information report on Poland, you find a lot of worrying developments. We fear that the situation has deteriorated since the country was placed under the monitoring procedure. It has not improved. Today, I would like to highlight two developments in particular. First, a possible court decision on the outcome of the Polish elections. And second, the new Polish law, which will set up a political committee deciding who was the Russian agent in Poland between 2007 and 2021.

The political climate in Poland is tense and the elections will be fiercely contested. Elections have been free in Poland, but there is now a hidden risk. As you know, the legitimacy of key courts in the country is widely questioned, domestically and internationally, including by both the European Court of Human Rights and the EU Court of Justice, and judicial efficiency is deteriorating. In particular, the Chamber of the Polish Supreme Court which adjudicates election complaints is no longer considered a tribunal established by law in the eyes of the European Court of Human Rights. That is Article 6 of the Convention. This could give rise to uncertainty if the final election results are challenged, because they are challenged in that Court.

It is crucial that after the election in a democratic country, the contestants and the public accept the process and thus the outcome of the election. If this court issue is not fixed, this crucial element in democracy is at risk, so I repeat openly what I have already told the Polish delegation behind closed doors, both the coalition and the opposition: please fix the court system by reforming the National Council of the Judiciary (KRS), and please fix it before the parliamentary elections because if you have uncertainty about who are your Sejm members, you will be in deep trouble.

Instead of fixing it, matters got worse. The government proposed the law on Russian influence in Poland and this law was adopted and is now formally law. The essence of the law is that a committee of nine members, elected by the Sejm, where the government parties hold a majority, will investigate Russian influence, which by the way, is not well defined in the law. The committee can investigate, use every document including state secrets, can summon people, and the committee can make decisions and sanction individuals. The committee is tasked to show the first results by September. That is just before the elections. This process goes against every principle of democracy and the rule of law. A political committee investigates, prosecutes and judges on something which is not well defined in the law and was not illegal in the first place. It is clearly intended to influence elections. That is why I asked my Polish colleagues, and unfortunately there is only one of the ruling party taking part in this debate, who voted in favour of this law, why did you think this law was in line with the Polish constitution and in line with the European Convention on Human Rights, and equally important democratic norms and standards?

The Monitoring Committee, this morning agreed in asking opinion from the Venice Commission on the law. I ask and urge you not to use the law until you receive that opinion and repair the huge flaws in that legislation. It will be for the benefit of free and fair elections and ultimately, of the trust of Poles in their own institutions.

Thank you.

Mme Tamara VONTA

Slovénie, ADLE, Présidente de l'Assemblée

17:31:02

Thank you very much Mr Pieter OMTZIGT.

I call next Ms Azadeh ROJHAN.

The floor is yours, please.

Mme Azadeh ROJHAN

Suède, SOC

17:31:10

Madam president, dear colleagues,

As rapporteurs, our opinion is clear: this law should not have been adopted at all from the beginning.

Now we can only urge the Polish authorities to understand the far-reaching consequences of this law and its potential to undermine the democratic nature of elections in Poland.

Therefore, our appeal to our Polish colleagues from the ruling party presented here today and to the Polish authorities back at home are clear: do not implement this law until the Venice Commission has published its opinion and its recommendations have been fully addressed.

Secondly, do not appoint anyone to the committee.

Lastly, if the Polish authorities wish to reassure its citizens and the outside world about its commitment to democratic standards, then they must re-ensure that the Commission under no circumstances will publish a report or conclusion or make any statements before the election has taken place.

Poland, like many other European countries, is rightfully concerned about the possibility of Russian influence in the democratic process in their country. But this does not justify the establishment of an investigating commission at this point in time, especially as the law prescribes a deadline for the first report of the Commission in September 2023 - only a few weeks before the national elections in the country.

Since the law was adopted by the Sejm (lower house of the Polish parliament), President Andrzej Duda has proposed some amendments to address the most criticised part.

Unfortunately, the amendments proposed do not go far enough in addressing the concerns at hand.

Let me elaborate on President Andrzej Duda's amendments.

The first one moves the appeals process from the administrative to the criminal courts, providing more safeguards for an effective appeal.

However, it does not address the escalating concerns about the independence of the Polish justice system.

The Second Amendment removes the Commission's punitive powers and reduces its role to merely naming and shaming; this change does not take away the risk for individuals to be falsely accused by a highly politicised and partitioned committee, weeks before the election. It also leaves these individuals without the possibility of having an effective appeal.

The final amendment, which prohibits active MPs and senators from serving on the committee, attempts to minimise its political nature; but the highly polarised society and the committee's appointment by a simple majority of the Sejm, without clear membership criteria, continue to stoke concerns about politicisations.

In conclusion, this law - even with President Andrzej Duda's amendments - remains very problematic, with the potential to undermine the democratic nature of elections in Poland.

The timing of this law, coupled with establishment of the commission, makes it difficult not to jump to conclusions about the possibility it brings for the authorities to influence the elections.

This is unacceptable. It undermines the legitimacy of elections in Poland. It affects the public's trust.

We, the rapporteurs, truly hope that the Polish authorities heed our appeal and our recommendations.

Thank you.

Mme Tamara VONTA

Slovénie, ADLE, Présidente de l'Assemblée

17:34:39

Thank you very much, Madam Azadeh ROJHAN.

And now I give the floor to the speakers on behalf of the political groups.

First of all it is Mr Jacques LE NAY from the ALDE Group.

The floor is yours. You have three minutes.

M. Jacques LE NAY

France, ADLE, Porte-parole du groupe

17:34:59

Thank you, Madam President.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am speaking on behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.

The political situation in Poland and the authoritarian excesses we have witnessed in recent years have already given rise to concerns and positions on the part of our Assembly. We have been warned against setbacks to the rule of law and the weakening of the judicial system, which has led to a tug-of-war between Poland and the European Commission.

We have voiced our fears about measures restricting access to abortion and those discriminating against individuals. But now, with parliamentary elections looming in the autumn, we fear an even more fundamental undermining of the democratic system under the guise of combating Russian interference.

On 31 May, the law setting up a commission to investigate Russian influence between 2007 and 2022 came into force, having been rejected by the Polish Senate and criticised by many legal experts as anti-constitutional. The aim of combating Russian interference is certainly not open to criticism.

We know that our democracies have been subject to interference or attempts at destabilisation on the part of the Russian Federation.

But is this really what is at stake here or is it a question, through this law commonly known as "Lex Tusk", of discrediting the main political opponent and preventing him from acceding to executive functions?

The nine-member commission of inquiry, chosen by the Sejm, will be able to ban anyone who has acted to the detriment of the interests of the Republic of Poland in favour of the Russian regime from any public office involving access to public finances or classified information for 10 years.

The scope of activities liable to fall under the law is broad, and includes high-ranking executives or civil servants who have taken part in the negotiation of an international agreement or helped to shape the Republic of Poland's position in international forums.

Law and Justice party officials accuse Donald Tusk of having maintained close ties with Mr Vladimir Putin during his term of office. It's a big and flashy story, but unfortunately it's a very worrying one.

The European Commissioner for Justice, Mr Didier Reynders, has denounced this law, which would allow citizens to be deprived of their right to hold elected office, without the possibility of legal recourse, pointing out that one might wonder whether the rules of access to justice, the rules of access to an independent judge, are still respected when one is the subject of an administrative decision. The whole legitimacy of the autumn vote is potentially at stake.

The Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs has denounced the over-interpretation and doubts, but the fears remain. Poland's remarkable support for Ukraine and its legitimate fight against Russian interference must not be used as a pretext to sideline political opponents and undermine the democratic system.

This is a wake-up call. I hope that our debates will help to clarify the situation and ensure respect for democracy and the rule of law.

Thank you all very much.

Mme Tamara VONTA

Slovénie, ADLE, Présidente de l'Assemblée

17:38:35

Thank you very much.

Mr Barna Pál ZSIGMOND is the next speaker, please.

M. Barna Pál ZSIGMOND

Hongrie, CE/AD, Porte-parole du groupe

17:38:47

Dear colleagues,

Nothing is new in this attack on Poland.

Yes, dear colleagues, here we face again a political attack on the conservative government of Poland. It is a massive attack, on a democratically elected government, which has massive support from the Polish people and enjoys massive unpopularity among the liberal mainstream in Strasbourg and Brussels.

The left, instead of winning elections at home, with the help of its international network again launched a so-called rule of law crusade against Poland. You might ask why? The answer is simple: Poland has distinguished itself from the other member States by not following the progressive liberal agenda of the western European mainstream, but by following its own political path. Poland does not want to subordinate its policies to any supranational organisation above it.

This is why Poland and Hungary – which also has a conservative Christian democratic government – are discriminated [against] for ideological reasons, also in terms of access to financial funds.

Dear colleagues,

The Polish are a proud, confident, and successful nation, able to go their own way without being constantly lectured by the west.

I reject the constant attacks on Poland and demand more respect for the Polish people.

The Hungarian and Polish opposition, after failing to succeed at home, are hiding behind the European institutions and attacking their own countries on unfounded reasons on ideological grounds.

The European institutions should be impartial and unbiased. Instead they are partial because they stand with liberal forces acting against Central and Eastern European countries, governed by conservative sovereign governments.

The attack on Poland is not about the rule of law situation in the country; is not about freedom. It is about the intentions of the left of building socialism instead of freedom, it is about interfering in the upcoming elections.

I consider that it is not accidental that this attack on Poland comes after Poland and Hungary have voted against the Migration Pact adopted by Brussels.

The Pact means that member States will have no say in who will live in their territories.

This is unacceptable for the sovereign governments; Poland and Hungary cannot accept any mandatory resettlement quota. The position of these two conservative governments have been thrown into a basket, they are not taken into account.

Dear colleagues,

Please stop the witch-hunt in Europe against conservative governments.

Stop the unfounded attacks on the Polish conservative government. Stay away from the Polish elections. Let the Polish nation decide at the Polish election.

Dear Polish friends,

You can always count on us conservatives, and, as I'm a Hungarian, you can also count on us Hungarians, as they used to say: Polak, Węgier, dwa bratanki, i do szabli, i do szklanki [Pole and Hungarian brothers be, good for fight and good for party.]

Thank you.

Mme Tamara VONTA

Slovénie, ADLE, Présidente de l'Assemblée

17:41:32

Thank you.

On behalf of the Group of the Unified European Left, I call Mr George KATROUGALOS, please.

M. George KATROUGALOS

Grèce, GUE, Porte-parole du groupe

17:41:41

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Why do we have this debate?

Mr Pieter OMTZIGT has said, and this is the first reason, that the situation regarding the rule of law in Poland has not got better but worse. Is there a liberal international conspiracy against Poland? Then, if this is the case, why is Poland's Commissioner for Human Rights even raising issues regarding the recent reform of the electoral law of March?

Dear colleagues,

There is a new term in constitutional law. It is called autocratic legalism. It defines the practice of democratically elected governments to use the law as an instrument, to make the next elections as is necessary to be in measure for their own goals. They manipulate electoral and other institutions in order to get reelected.

What is the problem with this new electoral commission?

First of all, a problem of separation of powers. According to Article 175 of the Polish constitution, sanctions of the nature that the commission imposes can only be decided by a court. If the commission is not a court, the wide power that the commission has to leave out - not just of office but also to prohibit candidature for the next elections, for anybody [under] suspicion [of being] under Russian influence, is obviously contrary to the rule of law and the rule of democracy.

But why is this extremely dangerous?

It is a revival of McCarthyism transposed directly from the 1950s on European soil. It can become contagious, using the pretext of Russian influence in order to undermine democracy and the rule of law.

And there is a stark difference between the United States of McCarthyism and nowadays Poland. In the United States, we had the Warren Court, and the Supreme Court under the presidency of Chief Justice Earl Warren, and many of the laws that Senator Joseph McCarthy managed to pass have been reversed.

Unfortunately, now in Poland, the constitutional court is not at the height of its mission.

We must be very vigilant against similar reforms because they risk being, as I said, contagious and expanding out of Poland.

Thank you.

Mme Tamara VONTA

Slovénie, ADLE, Présidente de l'Assemblée

17:45:02

Thank you very much.

On behalf of the Socialist Party, I give the floor to Mister Piero FASSINO.

The floor is yours.

M. Piero FASSINO

Italie, SOC, Porte-parole du groupe

17:45:11

Thank you, Madam President.

Our colleague Mr Pieter OMTZIGT has already explained the content of this law on Russian influence and the danger it represents.

I think we have to be honest with each other: this law is really an attack on the Polish opposition in the run-up to the elections, which will be hotly contested. The aim is to prevent Mr Donald Tusk, who was prime minister between 2007 and 2014, from standing again, when today he is the politician who can represent the leader of the democratic opposition.

It's clear that all this has sparked a great deal of protest and opposition in the country.

On 4 June, half a million people in Warsaw and other Polish cities demonstrated against this law, but not only them: the American government, the State Department, has strongly criticised this law; the European Union has opened an infringement procedure; many networks of jurists have given the same opinion.

I think the confirmation of all this was certainly the amendments proposed by President Andrzej Duda. The law has been approved and is in force, and the president who signed it has tabled amendments to reduce its impact. All this confirms that the law was designed for a political purpose.

I think that for this reason, we must be clear and judge this law as a choice that must be fought. We need to convince the Polish government not to continue with this approach. In the Monitoring Committee this morning, we decided to ask the Venice Commission for an opinion on the law, and we are sure that the opinion on the law will underline all the political and even legal limits of this law.

But you know, I think this law is not just a Polish issue. In fact, this law is proof of how an autocratic regime is becoming increasingly entrenched in Poland. The fight against this law is the fight between democracy and autocracy. I think that's why we're discussing this: it's not just a Polish issue. It's a Polish issue today, but in reality, it's a democratic challenge.

We know that in Europe, and not only in Europe, autocratic temptation has gained ground in recent years. It has gained a foothold, and we have to fight against this autocratic tendency because we have to defend democracy and its pillars.

The rule of law is an unshakeable pillar of democracy. That's what's at stake in Poland today, and that's why we stand shoulder to shoulder with the Polish citizens who are protesting against this law and calling for it to be withdrawn.

Thank you for your support.

Mme Tamara VONTA

Slovénie, ADLE, Présidente de l'Assemblée

17:49:23

Thank you, Mister FASSINO.

Group of the European People's Party. The speaker is Mr Joseph O'REILLY.

The floor is yours.

M. Joseph O'REILLY

Irlande, PPE/DC, Porte-parole du groupe

17:49:40

Madam President,

It is my great honour and privilege to speak on behalf of the Group of the European People's Party in this very important debate.

This law is reminiscent of the witch-hunt conducted by Senator Joseph McCarthy in the USA in the 1950s and 60s.

It also has echoes of Stalinism.

Using the very understandable emotion created by the barbaric Ukraine war and with high inflation raging, the ironically named Law and Order Party, or Law and Justice Party, are seeking to drive from electoral office and administration those deemed to be under Russian influence in the period 2007–2022.

The current opposition civil platform now in power is the main target. Hence, the name Lex Tusk.

This period was very different to the reality of today and the new reality of sanctions. Poland was a natural trading partner of Russia in many spheres, very particularly in the area of gas during this time. The contemporary world of sanctions is not in any sense comparable to the era of civic platforms in government. This law is not rooted in natural justice.

The nine-member commission, as set up by this law, has the power to launch investigations with witnesses and hear evidence about Russian influence on Polish policymaking. As originally proposed, the commission has the power to block alleged offenders from taking public office for 10 years.

The commission drew international criticism, including from the EU Commission and the US; domestically an opposition march drew 500 000 people.

Under pressure, President Andrzej Duda initiated supposed amendments. Even if implemented - these amendments - the commission can still critically state that a person acted under Russian influence, thus ruining their career.

Experts will replace parliamentarians on the commission, but crucially they will be appointed by the government.

While the amendment law was approved on 16 June – the amended law – the older version of the law remains in place until amendments are actually implemented.

But have no illusions colleagues, even in amended form, the law is arbitrary, anti-democratic and pernicious. It remains in violation of the role of the courts in the Polish constitution.

It means an appeal to the administrative court is meaningless, as that court does not look at actual evidence but only at process.

Bear in mind also that in Poland the so-called Extraordinary Control and Public Affairs Chamber is deemed a court not established by law by the European Court of Human Rights.

Today, the Monitoring Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe virtually unanimously – and I was proud to be one of them – referred this commission of power for an opinion from the Venice Commission on behalf of the Monitoring Committee and this Assembly.

I would appeal to the Polish authorities to suspend the putting in place of any aspect of this commission pending the Venice Commission opinion.

A failure to do so can only be interpreted as an admission that the law will not stand critical analysis.

I hope the Polish authorities will do the right thing and not besmirch your great country in the eyes of the law. The moment is now to abandon this and await the Venice Commission outcome.

Thank you.

Mme Tamara VONTA

Slovénie, ADLE, Présidente de l'Assemblée

17:53:29

Thank you, Mister O'REILLY.

Now we will continue with the speakers list.

The first speaker is Mr André VALLINI, Socialist Group. Please.

M. André VALLINI

France, SOC

17:53:41

Madam President,

Ladies and gentlemen,

A member of our organisation since 1991, Poland has been regularly called into question in this hemicycle for some years now, particularly as a result of the 2017 justice reform.

In January 2021, our Assembly adopted a resolution recalling the opinions of the Venice Commission and the decisions of the Court of Justice of the European Union.

At the time, we called for an end to the harassment of certain judges who criticised this reform. We also called on the Polish authorities to review the law and cooperate with the Council of Europe on this issue.

However, on 5 June, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that, despite amendments made in 2015, the law was still contrary to EU law. Since 2015, the European Union and Poland have been at loggerheads on this issue.

The Court of Justice had imposed a fine on Poland, which it never agreed to pay. In retaliation, the European Commission has cut European funding for Poland.

Against this backdrop, our Assembly must once again call for dialogue to break this deadlock. I'm thinking, of course - and this has been mentioned before me - of media freedom, where journalists have been prosecuted and allegations of political pressure on independent media have been reported. As we know today, press freedom is in danger in Poland.

The Polish government has also imposed certain limitations on online freedom of expression and, of course, the Tusk law that was mentioned before aims to discredit and remove from the democratic game the main political opponent to the current regime in Poland.

Dear colleagues,

The Council of Europe, as we all know, or at least should know, and I am addressing this in particular to our Hungarian colleague who spoke earlier, is not a self-service organisation; it is not a club where member States can choose their obligations according to the political orientations of their leaders.

Our values and principles are intangible obligations, which is why we must remain mobilised to ensure that they are respected in Poland.

Thank you very much.

Mme Tamara VONTA

Slovénie, ADLE, Présidente de l'Assemblée

17:56:05

Thank you.

The next speaker is Ms Kamila GASIUK-PIHOWICZ, Group of the European People's Party.

The floor is yours.

Mme Kamila GASIUK-PIHOWICZ

Pologne, PPE/DC

17:56:14

Madam President and colleagues,

When the Ukrainian army drives the Russian occupier out of its land; when successive heroes give their lives for a free Europe; the Polish government adopts a law that any authoritarian dictator would not be ashamed of.

In the so-called Lex Tusk this political commission - like a court without being a court - will convict those who the ruling party would accuse of being influenced by Russia.

The committee's decision will be like a judgment.

We already know today that this verdict is written for the leader of the democratic opposition, Mr Donald Tusk.

Let me quote the words of one of the members of the Polish government:

"Do we want to prohibit him from holding public office for 10 years?"

"Yes - I would like to ban him for life".

Freedom of elections is the foundation of democracy.

Unfortunately, it is seriously endangered in Poland today.

The commission set up by Lex Tusk slandering the democratic opposition leader will fuel the election propaganda conducted by the allegedly public television.

Lex Tusk is not the only action against democratic elections in Poland.

This includes changes in electoral regulations, financing the campaign by the state-owned companies and more.

In Polish law, the Extraordinary Control Chamber of the Supreme Court - which according to the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, is not a court established by law, due to its politicised unconstitutionally appointed composition - is the only body to which we can appeal in both situations.

A case of irregularities during elections and unlawfully taken decisions of the Lex Tusk commission.

It's not a coincidence.

The fight for the rule of law in Poland takes place every day.

It is conducted by democratic opposition, independent judges, and non-governmental organisations.

On the great march on 4 June in Warsaw, half a million Poles demanded the rule of law.

Today, we are saying here that this law violates human rights and is aimed at freedom and democracy.

Today, we are bringing a message to Europe, that the spirit of freedom has awakened, again in the Polish nation.

We Poles love and understand freedom and solidarity.

We Poles in the autumn will again show how important it is for us.

I believe that this sickness that consumes democracy will pass faster thanks to the co-operation and mutual support of all who are united by their attachment to common European values.

Mme Tamara VONTA

Slovénie, ADLE, Présidente de l'Assemblée

17:59:22

Thank you.

The next speaker is Ms Nicole DURANTON.

Mme Nicole DURANTON

France, ADLE

17:59:28

Thank you, Madam President.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I'm delighted that we are here today to discuss the political situation in Poland and how it is evolving.

In recent years, the dynamism of the Polish economy has been indisputable. GDP per capita has risen considerably, averaging over $34,000. This progress is linked to Poland's accession to the European Union and to the fundamental values of our organisation, which promotes individual initiative and the rule of law.

Poland joined the Council of Europe in 1991 and the European Union in 2004.

At the time, we probably thought that economic progress would consolidate states' commitment to democracy, the rule of law and human rights. Yet, as the Polish economy progresses, citizens' rights seem to be regressing.

This applies first and foremost to women, for whom conditions of access to abortion have been tightened; they are now among the most restrictive in Europe, and a sixth woman died for lack of access to the necessary care following the entry into force of the new law.

Last week, in the wake of this tragic event, several thousand women gathered in Warsaw to protest against the tightening of the law.

The situation of LGBT people is also of particular concern. Some Polish regions have passed resolutions declaring "LGBT ideology-free zones" and adopted rules to restrict the promotion of homosexuality. These measures run counter to the fundamental principles of non-discrimination and respect for citizens' rights.

The situation of migrants is also worrying. While there has been a genuine outpouring of solidarity towards Ukrainian refugees, which is to be commended, in 2022 Amnesty International denounced the illegal deportations and violence to which some migrants are subjected. Most of them are also turned back, and those who reach Polish territory are held in detention centres where ill-treatment is frequent.

I therefore call on the Polish authorities to amend the law on abortion and to reverse the discriminatory measures currently implemented in their country.

Finally,

In view of the parliamentary elections scheduled for the autumn, I am concerned about the consequences of setting up a commission of inquiry which could ban any person who has acted to the detriment of the interests of the Republic of Poland in favour of the Russian regime, from any public position involving access to public finances or classified information for 10 years.

While the fight against foreign, and in particular Russian, interference is obviously essential, it must not be misused to penalise a political opponent, in this case Mr Donald Tusk.

I hope that the Council of Europe's action will lead to greater respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law, in the interests not only of Poland and its citizens, but of Europe as a whole.

Thank you very much.

Mme Tamara VONTA

Slovénie, ADLE, Présidente de l'Assemblée

18:02:56

Thank you [spoken in French].

The next speaker is Ms Iwona ARENT, from Poland.

The floor is yours, Madam.

Mme Iwona ARENT

Pologne, CE/AD

18:03:04

Madam Chair, dear colleagues,

I am disappointed that this debate on Poland is taking place today.

Why? Let me give you some context.

Today, Russia is in an illegal war that has murdered women, children, and destroyed homes, schools and hospitals.

Russia is also carrying out a disinformation campaign and conducting a hybrid war against all member States of the Council of Europe.

Poland is playing a main role in helping Ukraine in a number of fields: humanitarian, military, and in defending Ukrainians´ human rights.

Poland, without hesitation, accepted nine million refugees, of which two million remain in Poland.

Poland got almost no financial support from the EU.

It's the Polish taxpayer and state that is paying for these efforts.

So far, Poland has paid over two percent of its GDP - 10 billion euros - in support.

Poland faces constant attacks on its border because of Mr Aleksandr Lukashenko's regime, inspired by Mr Vladimir Putin.

Hundreds of illegal immigrants try to cross into Poland every day from Belarus.

This context is important - it is because of this context that Poland wants to investigate Russian involvement in Poland's past and present.

So, the debate today attacking Poland's investigation can only help Putin and build his influence in Europe.

Those who organise this debate must know this.

We must question their motives.

Also the timing of this debate - just before the elections in Poland - must be questioned.

This debate can be seen as a clear attempt to influence the elections in Poland.

It will help Putin's interests in the EU and not the interest of a democratic Europe.

Thank you.

Mme Tamara VONTA

Slovénie, ADLE, Présidente de l'Assemblée

18:05:51

Thank you very much.

The next speaker is Mr Gergely ARATÓ. The floor is yours, please.

The microphone, please.

M. Gergely ARATÓ

Hongrie, SOC

18:06:13

Thank you very much.

Madam Chair, dear colleagues,

We are usually discussing the great principles in this Chamber. Democracy, freedom, human rights are the core values of this organisation and hopefully the whole of Europe.

But these principles must apply in the real world. And in this reality, dishonest political intent sometimes prevails over them.

In my opinion, this is what is at stake in this case. We all know there will be an election in Poland. No doubt this law is not targeting Russian influence. I fully respect the strong commitment of all major political forces in Poland and the Polish people to support Ukraine against Russian aggression. But this legislation has a less respectable target. The aim is to label the opposition as not patriotic enough and establish a legal obstacle to them.

This does not only happen in Poland. It has become a tendency in many countries to use legislation to directly interfere with elections, to create an unbalanced situation in the media, or to legally intimidate the opposition. We could see these techniques in Türkiye, and in my home country, Hungary, too.

We should understand that the technically perfect election is not a full guarantee for a real democratic decision. An election could be free but not fair. As guardians of democracy and human rights in Europe we should widen our focus, and always see the full context of implementing the Reykjavík principles of democracy.

I want to assure our Polish friends that many Hungarians watch with sympathy and hope their fight for democracy. We are sure that the friendship of our nations will not only be based on common history but on our common freedom too. 

Thank you very much. 

Mme Tamara VONTA

Slovénie, ADLE, Présidente de l'Assemblée

18:08:40

Thank you.

I give the floor to Mr Sławomir NITRAS from Poland, Group of the European People's Party.

Please.

M. Sławomir NITRAS

Pologne, PPE/DC

18:08:48

Thank you.

To Ms Iwona ARENT. We are talking about Poland today because of the new law, which is very similar to Mr Vladimir Putin's law. That's the point.

The point is that in the eve of the parliamentary elections, the ruling party, after eight years of appropriating the state and ruining the very principles of rule of law and democratic systems, will aim to win those elections by all means.

It needs to be expected.

Similarly to 2020's presidential election, the ruling party will weaponise state media, state-owned companies, and the civil service to their campaign.

They will once again blur the lines between the party and the state, between the party and public finances.

They will build a huge disproportion between the financial means of opposition parties and the governing one.

Additionally, they might attempt to exploit the national electoral commission, from which legitimate judges will be removed and replaced by party members.

The ruling party has attempted to illegally limit the right of passive suffrage of the opposition leader, Mr Donald Tusk.

The democratic parties are not giving up.

The Poles are nowadays displaying a relative balance between the support of the parties of the opposition and for the government.

The election result will be determined by the last weeks and days of the campaign.

It's key to underline the role of the determination of civil society.

The last demonstration of the opposition commemorating the first free elections of June 1989 has gathered over half a million citizens on the streets of Warsaw. It was the biggest patriotic demonstration in Poland since the first visit of Pope John Paul II in our country in 1979.

The atmosphere of hope and faith for democratic values and rule of law has returned to Poland.

The citizens on a mass scale are volunteering to join the popular citizens movement of electoral control.

International observers will play a key role in a Poland's upcoming election. And from this place I appeal for call for their engagement.

The will of the Polish people is to remain among the family of free and democratic states.

I believe that regardless of obstacles, the Polish people will show resistance to the authoritarian tendencies because Poland is not yet lost.

Jeszcze Polska nie zginęła [Poland is not yet lost].

Mme Tamara VONTA

Slovénie, ADLE, Présidente de l'Assemblée

18:11:57

Thank you.

I give the floor to Mr Andrea ORLANDO from Italy, Socialists, Democrats and Greens Group.

The floor is yours.

M. Andrea ORLANDO

Italie, SOC

18:12:05

Yes, we always have to be afraid when rules on eligibility are written on the eve of elections, and we always have to be afraid when criminal or administrative sanctions are used to target and judge political action, which can only be sanctioned by politics.

Poland in its history should have learned this sad lesson. We should be concerned then when this happens with greatly weakened institutions of guarantee and judiciary, as in the case of Poland. But if one does not want to stop at the reasons of the rule of law, one should stop at the reasons of logic and sense of the ridiculous.

Half of the European ruling classes, at the time when Mr Donald Tusk was interacting with Russia, had friendly relations with Mr Vladimir Putin's Russia. All European countries had normal economic and political relations with Russia. And we could say, make this law, extend it to the European level. This law would mainly hit forces of the European far right that had very close relations with Russia. But we don't want politics to be judged by criminal law or administrative law. We want citizens to evaluate according to the tools of democracy.

How should one evaluate the current position of Hungary or prime minister Mr Viktor Orbán in light of the rules dictated by this commission? Is he a friend of Russia? How should one evaluate the position that was explained to us here yesterday by the Hungarian minister, which we do not agree with, but we do not think should be the reason why a politician should be expelled from the debate for 10 years.

We believe that using these rules today is dangerous, because using the weapons that Mr Vladimir Putin uses in his country, in the name of fighting Putin, is in truth a gift to Putin himself, which we believe we cannot afford to do at such a sensitive time as this.

So we too cannot but demand that this law be withdrawn, not only because of what it may represent for the Poles, but because of the precedent it may set for the whole of Europe.

Because if Europe weakens its democracy, it weakens itself at a time when different conceptions of how to govern countries clash, and we today I think we cannot and should not afford this.

Thank you.

Mme Tamara VONTA

Slovénie, ADLE, Présidente de l'Assemblée

18:15:11

I give the floor to Mr Oleksandr MEREZHKO from Ukraine.

M. Oleksandr MEREZHKO

Ukraine, CE/AD

18:15:19

Thank you, Madam President.

I was sure from the very beginning that as soon as we started talking about investigating Russian influence, someone would definitely start talking about Senator Joseph McCarthy...

Dear friends,

I hope these debates are not about an attempt to use an international organisation against the ruling party, on the eve of the elections in Poland.

I understand that intrigues are an important part of politics, but still, we should refrain from meddling in the internal political struggle in Poland.

But I'll talk now about the very topic of this debate, which is called "Recent political developments in Poland".

You can ask this question to the millions of Ukrainian citizens who found refuge in Poland fleeing Russian aggression.

You can ask us Ukrainians, who are receiving tremendous military, technical, humanitarian aid from Poland, which allows us to beat the aggressor.

Let me remind you that several Polish cities were granted the title of "rescuer city" by the president of Ukraine, which is very telling.

I'd like to emphasise that nowadays, the major criteria of democracy is how a given country is helping Ukraine to defend democracy.

From this perspective, the input of Poland in support of defence and the defence of world democracy is huge.

Poland can truly be considered as one of the most democratic states in the world, as one of the biggest freedom fighters.

Many European countries should learn from Poland how to defend democracy.

My final point regarding the investigation of Russian influence - I think it's a great idea.

I hope that one big European country whose chancellor was bribed by Russia and served its interest will follow Poland's example.

Colleagues,

Don't be afraid to investigate Russian influence in your countries: you will find lots of interesting things.

Thank you.

Mme Tamara VONTA

Slovénie, ADLE, Présidente de l'Assemblée

18:17:30

Thank you. I give the floor to Ms Mirosława NYKIEL, the Group of the European People's Party.

Mme Mirosława NYKIEL

Pologne, PPE/DC

18:17:37

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Since 2015, my country Poland has been faced with democratic backsliding. The incumbent government has turned state-owned media into its own propaganda machine. The constitutional court was filled with former Law and Justice Party and peace and pro-government judges. The Minister of Justice blatantly ignores the law and uses the funds intended for helping the victims of crime to fund the electoral campaign of his party. The leader of the ruling party is describing his political opponents as criminal or the worst kind of people.

The chief of elections, and staff of the main opposition party, was spied on using Pegasus spyware by Polish special services. All of this and much more, contributes to the fact that every election since 2015 was held on an uneven playing field.

Fortunately, despite all these setbacks, the process of counting the votes was fair, and opposition members were allowed to run and hold their seats in the parliament. Until now, the new commission investigating Russian influence, which was signed into law by President Andrzej Duda at the end of May, which is colloquially called Lex Tusk, is the most powerful electoral tool that the ruling party gave to itself.

Let me be clear about one thing, I believe everyone in the Polish opposition wants to completely eliminate Russian influence in our politics. But this commission is just an excuse to go after the only person who can defeat the Law and Justice Party: Mr Donald Tusk.

When this idea was met with overwhelming criticism and half a million people protested in Warsaw, the Law and Justice Party announced another thing: a referendum on EU migrant goals, which will probably be held on the same day as the parliamentary elections. It is a move straight from Mr Viktor Orbán's playbook in order to scare people into voting for Law and Justice again.

Europe is a beacon of democracy, human rights and freedom of speech. This is what differentiates us from the Russian regime. We must do absolutely everything to protect these values, and opposing such practices is one of the methods to do so.

Thank you.

Mme Tamara VONTA

Slovénie, ADLE, Présidente de l'Assemblée

18:20:24

Thank you.

The next speaker is Mr Antón GÓMEZ-REINO, Group of the Unified European Left.

M. Antón GÓMEZ-REINO

Espagne, GUE

18:20:31

Thank you, President, colleagues,

For years now we have been told that we were moving towards the so-called end of history in a global system in which ideologies were portrayed as being useless, in which the only guiding principle for our democracies was the free market.

It is precisely against the backdrop of a pandemic, economic contraction and war, that we are seeing the very worst of the ultra conservative ideologies. 

Economically ultra-liberal and ultra-nationalist right wingers who are trying to sink our democracies by spreading hate and by sowing lies and confusion, trying to build illiberal and post-democratic regimes, in which - economically, socially and culturally- it is all about the survival of the fittest, which trumps equality between human beings and human rights.

That is precisely what is happening in Poland.

We are seeing a fresh outbreak thereof in recent months, and the so-called Tusk Law, which was designed to counter foreign interference from being used as a tool to repress the opposition. This is completely unacceptable in democratic terms; it is a risk to the media, to free courts, and to schools.

It is necessary to explain that we have various far-right governments with illiberal tendencies in Hungary, and now in Poland. 

The ultra-liberal - and so, economically profitable - for those who see Europe as a free trade area but never, never must they be given legitimacy.

One of our Hungarian colleagues was saying that we should respect the democratic choice of the Polish people.

However, the fact of the matter is that we now have media control and we now have legislation which allows for the persecution of the political opposition, and the deliberate undermining of the separation of power.

In precisely those circumstances, people cannot really decide for themselves.

And I dare say, in four weeks time, when we have elections in Spain, there are right wing forces who are suggesting that they repeal many of the significant advances that we have made on many fronts in Spain - indeed, which have put Spain at the vanguard of civil and social rights. So we're seeing the repeal, apparently, of the right to abortion, the repeal of the protections of LGBTQI people, and against male violence, the repeal of the law on remembrance.

We're also seeing the repeal of any standards which have to do with the plurinational, pluricultural and plurilinguistic character of the Spanish state.

In Poland, as elsewhere, countries which are run by extreme right-wing governments, we're seeing the undermining of the democratic system.

They need to be reigned in by our democracies, particularly in an institution such as the Council of Europe.

Mme Tamara VONTA

Slovénie, ADLE, Présidente de l'Assemblée

18:23:48

Thank you very much.

I give the floor to Mr Pavlo BAKUNETS from Ukraine, European Conservatives Group.

M. Pavlo BAKUNETS

Ukraine, CE/AD

18:23:58

Dear members of the Parliamentary Assembly,

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

Today, the international community observes with horror as Russia continues its brutal war against Ukraine, against Europe. Missiles, mass executions of civilians, nuclear blackmail and the bombing of hydroelectric power plants... it is ecocide, it is genocide.

Ruscism, as the Kremlin's current ideology is called, now has the goal to destroy life in Ukraine, to destroy democracy in Europe. It is difficult to imagine where this desire to destroy all life will go if Russia is not stopped now. The Russians have been preparing for this master reason for a long time.

They placed the agents into Ukrainian politics, media, culture, education and unfortunately, especially into the church. They have been doing it for many, many years. I have no doubt, the Russian agents are working in similar scams in Ukraine, Poland, Moldova and different countries. Every European country is threatened by agents working for Russian money. Working to undermine democracy, and the rule of law in Europe.

I would like to welcome this decision of the Sejm of the Republic of Poland to establish a commission to investigate Russian influence in Poland. The decision is the right one to identify these agents whose goals are to generate provocation, to undermine democracy in Poland and also in the world.

Poland, which has always helped Ukraine a lot and Poland which hosted millions of refugees is well aware of the threat posed by Russia.

Thanks very much, Poland, and thanks, Europe, for your support.

We appreciate your support.

Thank you very much.

Mme Tamara VONTA

Slovénie, ADLE, Présidente de l'Assemblée

18:26:43

Thank you.

And our last speaker is Mr Jacek PROTASIEWICZ, from Poland and European People's Party.

The floor is yours.

M. Jacek PROTASIEWICZ

Pologne, PPE/DC

18:26:54

Thank you, madam Chair, dear colleagues,

Let me start with a very personal remark.

For me, an active member of the democratic opposition in times of communism in Poland, and for me as a man who devoted his life to building a democratic Poland on the basis of such principles as the rule of law and free and fair elections, it is a very, very, depressing day.

Why? Because my country becomes a subject of a debate in the Council of Europe, the most prestigious leading organisation established to monitor and defend human rights and democratic rule in Europe.

So Poland is the subject of the debate.

Poland - my country - which has for many years been an example of how to build a modern democratic government, how to move from an authoritarian regime to a full democracy, now is a concern of the vast majority of the Council of Europe members concerned about the quality of Polish democracy and about fair conditions for upcoming parliamentary elections.

I am afraid I must agree with both both rapporteurs - Ms Azadeh ROJHAN and Mr Pieter OMTZIGT - who very clearly explain why the law establishing the state committee for investigating Russian influence on the internal security of the Republic of Poland between 2007 and 2022, is not a normal political body, but a weapon against the opposition in Poland. A weapon prepared for, probably, the October parliamentary elections.

If there was an honest willingness of the ruling majority in Poland to carry a fair and profound investigation, the parliamentary committee envisaged in the Polish constitution would be elected. But in this case, we will have a special committee that will consist of members who don't need to have any professional background. They will have access to all documents, including those which are restricted. They will be investigators and the judges at the same time - but they will not bear any responsibility for their rulings. The rulings will be naming and shaming opposition leaders, opposition politicians, just before election day.

This is obviously against the principle of fair elections, as well as against the fundamental Montesquieu principle of the power division that is a precondition for a modern state which is built on the rule of law.

Finally, I would like to thank the Council of Europe which decided to ask the Venice Commission to examine the Polish law.

I hope it will understand, it will allow, it will help Polish people to understand the real nature of the commission and the real nature of the current government way to fight not to lose power, because they are afraid of losing power; that's why they are trying to build such special committees which are close to the national..., to the committees which were very common during the Nazi or communist regimes in the past in Europe.

Thank you very much.

[Light applause]

Mme Tamara VONTA

Slovénie, ADLE, Présidente de l'Assemblée

18:31:03

Thank you.

That concludes the list of speakers. I remind you that at the end of the current affairs debate, the Assembly is not asked to decide upon a text, but the matter may be referred by the Bureau to the responsible committee for a report.

Débat : Urgence de santé publique: la nécessité d’une approche holistique du multilatéralisme et des soins de santé

M. Darko KAEVSKI

Macédoine du Nord, SOC, Président de l'Assemblée

18:32:55

Okay, we continue.

The next item on the agenda is the debate on the Report titled “Public health emergency: the need for a holistic approach to multilateralism and health care” presented by Ms Selin SAYEK BÖKE on behalf of the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development. In order to finish by 8:00 p.m., I will interrupt the list of speakers at about 7:50 p.m. to allow time for the reply and vote on the draft resolution.

I call Ms SAYEK BÖKE, Rapporteur. You have 7 minutes now, and 3 minutes for your reply at the end of the debate.

 

Mme Selin SAYEK BÖKE

Türkiye, SOC, Rapporteure

18:33:34

Thank you very much. 

I would like to start with a short but fast time travel. Let us go back to 12 April 1955. Jonas Salk, the developer of the life-saving polio vaccine, was asked in an interview if he owned the patent of the vaccine. And he replied, "Could you patent the sun?" – reminding the world that the patent of “public goods” should belong to the people.

Let us come to the end of 2019. The start of the Covid-19 pandemic. This is when – in the words of the UN Secretary-General Mr António Guterres – we learned that “we are only as strong as the weakest”. We were reminded of the need for an equitable and effective global distribution of vaccines and solutions to the pandemic. So the pandemic reminded us – reminded the world – of the criticality of multilateralism.

Come June 2020, our very own Assembly adopted a resolution entitled “Lessons for the future from an effective and rights-based response to the Covid-19 pandemic”. So as the title suggests, we reminded the world of the necessity of ensuring a human rights-compliant framework during such public health emergencies.

October 2020. India and South Africa submitted a proposal to the World Trade Organization (WTO) this time, to suspend intellectual properties on all Covid-related diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines, specifically to ensure an equitable distribution of Covid-19 solutions globally, reminding the world of the global nature of this health emergency, which requires a global multilateralist response. And this response, we were reminded, can only be effective when it is recognised that such diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines constitute a global, public good.

A few months later, in January 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a call to all countries to work together in solidarity and in each of their best interests to ensure efficient and effective vaccination in all countries, not a few. All countries. Reminding the world once again of the need for solidarity.

All these keywords: multilateralism, human rights compliance, global public goods, solidarity – these keywords are the keywords that actually form the basis of this very report and resolution we are debating today.

And the report basically says we need a holistic approach:

· where health policy concerns are in sync with economic policy choices;

· where economic policy choices are in sync with our environmental policies;

· where human rights remain the guiding principle in all of our policy decisions.

So, in other words, where a much-needed holistic approach to multilateralism and healthcare is put forth in this public health emergency. And it is important that this becomes a permanent, yet dynamic feature evolving with the new possible pandemics and future possible public health emergencies we are to face according to experts.

Clearly, the reform agenda to transform the global health governance, as well as an effort to reform the international trade agreements, to correct and prevent inequities in accessing global public goods, such as vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics, are most welcome.

The treaty on pandemic preparedness that is negotiated by the World Health Organization, namely the “WHO convention, agreement or other international instrument on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response”, in short, the WHO-CA+, is in the works right now.

As for this global health reform agenda, it is of utmost importance that the basis of this new instrument that is currently being drafted and negotiated explicitly refers to the relevant obligations of all states to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms during public health emergencies.

And in doing so the indivisibility of human rights should be a guiding principle, keeping in mind that to enjoy the right to health, every person must also be able to enjoy their right to housing, the right to social protection, the right to adequate nutrition, and the right to a safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment.

Now the drafting process itself should – should – ensure the very basic right to participate – the democratic rights that we have – by allowing not only parliamentarians but also civil societies and NGOs' contributions as well. The active participation of all stakeholders in the negotiating bodies, the World Health Assembly are definitely of critical nature. To ensure that the outcome is actually in the process itself.

As for the need for transformation in the multilateral framework, we need to ensure that a rights-based pandemic preparedness is actually independent of the voluntary financing of the WHO. It is important that member States free the WHO from being dependent on voluntary contributions and that we all commit to ensuring sustainable financing of this very critical organisation.

When it comes to international trade agreements, there is much more to be done. In the multilateral framework, it is critical that intellectual property rights seek to incentivise research and development and investment clearly, but it should also take into account and incentivise equitable access to what are global public goods. And these goods are mostly created with public finance and public research.

We should all be reminded that the point of intellectual property law is to incentivise research that will benefit humanity, not for the commodification of basic human rights and excessive profit opportunities in the hands of the few.

And it falls upon member States to invest in primary healthcare and scale up the health workforce, ensure decent pay, working conditions, publicly invest in research and development and have an open data and benefit-sharing system, and invest in the resilience of medical supply chains.

I do look forward to a fruitful debate in this plenary regarding these very detailed issues on an umbrella holistic framework for better preparedness for the future.

I thank you in advance.