2004 ORDINARY SESSION
Wednesday 28 January 2004 at 3 p.m.
PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS IS A PROVISIONAL VERSION OF THE REPORT OF THE DEBATE
OF 28 JANUARY 2004 AT 3 P.M. WHICH MAY STILL BE CORRECTED BY THE SPEAKERS
In this report:
1. Speeches in English are reported in full.
2. Speeches in other languages are summarised.
3. Speeches in German and Italian are reproduced in full in a separate document.
4. Corrections should be handed in at Room 1059A not later than 24 hours after the report has been circulated.
1. Written declaration
2. Communication from the Committee of Ministers to the Assembly
Presentation by Mr Bernard Bot, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands and Chairman of the Committee of Ministers; parliamentary questions for oral answer (Doc. 10050)
3. Address by Mr Mikheil Saakashvili, President of Georgia
4. Functioning of democratic institutions in Georgia
Presentation by Mr Eörsi and Mr Kirilov of the report of the Committee on the Honouring of Obligations and Commitments by Member States of the Council of Europe (Monitoring Committee) (Doc. 10049)
Mr Kvakkestad (Norway)
Ms Bargholtz (Sweden)
Ms Patarkalishvili (Georgia)
Mr Severin (Romania)
Mr Akhvlediani (Georgia)
Ms Tevdoradze (Georgia)
Ms Hurskainen (Finland)
Mr Herkel (Estonia)
Ms Durrieu (France)
Amendment No. 1 adopted
Draft resolution in Doc. 10049, as amended, adopted
Draft recommendation in Doc. 10049 adopted
5. Changes in membership of committees
6. Date, time and orders of the day of the next sitting
Mr Schieder, President of the Assembly, took the Chair at 3.08 p.m.
THE PRESIDENT. – The sitting is open.
I will speak to committee chairmen and secretaries and ask that committees, if they meet during the lunch break, finish their work by 3 o’clock. Unfortunately, that did not happen today.
1. Written declaration
THE PRESIDENT. – In accordance with Rule 53 of the Rules of Procedure, a written declaration – No. 349, on infringement of national minorities’ rights to get education in their mother tongues in Latvia, Document 10060, which has been signed by nineteen members – has been printed.
Any Representative or Substitute may add his signature to this written declaration in the Table Office, in Room 1083. If any names are added, the declaration will be distributed again two weeks, after the end of the part-session, with all the accumulated signatures.
2. Communication from the Committee of Ministers
THE PRESIDENT. – The first item this afternoon is the communication from Mr Bernard Bot, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands and Chairman of the Committee of Ministers (CM/AS(2004)1).
This will be followed by parliamentary questions for oral answer. The list of written questions has been circulated in Document 10050.
I welcome Minister Bot and invite him, in his function as Chairman of the Committee of Ministers, to the rostrum.
Mr BOT (Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands and Chairman of the Committee of Ministers). – I begin by thanking you, Mr President, for your kind words of welcome. I am very pleased to be in Strasbourg again, which I have visited often in the past. Indeed, this building is well known to me.
At the 113th session of the Committee of Ministers in November, the incoming Dutch Chair expressed the intention to uphold continuity in the Council’s regular working programme. Furthermore, the Netherlands set out its priorities in the fields of human rights and monitoring mechanisms, and integration and social cohesion, as well as in terms of the synergy between the Council of Europe and other international organisations.
You have all received the document outlining the activities of the Committee of Ministers, so I will not dwell on details but focus instead on the issues meriting special attention.
In Chişinău, the Ministers were pleased to note that the protocol amending the European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism has been signed and ratified. They called on states to ensure its early entry into force. They also welcomed the results of the 25th Conference of Ministers of Justice, in Sofia, in mid-October 2003. Significant progress has been made in the implementation of anti-terrorism activities. The committee of experts on terrorism will present its views on a new comprehensive convention this spring.
In Chişinău, the Ministers restated their commitment to the establishment of a draft European convention on action against trafficking in human beings, focusing in particular on the protection of victims. This issue, one of the focal points of the Dutch chairmanship of the Organisation for Security and Co‑operation in Europe, requires the Council’s undivided attention. Trafficking in human beings is a serious offence to human dignity and integrity. The Chair is firmly resolved to expedite the negotiation process, and to have this draft convention finalised and presented to you as soon as possible.
In Chişinău, not all members were represented at ministerial level. In order to enhance the interest in ministerial meetings, the Dutch presidency and Norway launched in December 2003 proposals for a new ministerial session format – a format that would enable the Council to draw the fullest benefit from what is the quintessence of ministerial participation: political dialogue at a pan-European level, and also a format that promotes substantive debate on political developments in the area of human rights, democracy and the rule of law, implementation of member state commitments in these areas, and elaboration of fresh norms and standards. We trust that this will encourage ministerial participation.
Over the past several months, many eyes have focused on events in Georgia, which culminated in the inauguration of President Saakashvili last Sunday. President Saakashvili is here with us today and I wish to extend my sincere congratulations to him once again. We will closely monitor developments in Georgia. President Saakashvili faces the momentous task of implementing necessary – and sometimes tough – measures. He will also have to ensure that expectations raised in his country and abroad are not disappointed. The Council of Europe is fully prepared to co-operate, but the real work must be done in and by Georgia itself.
A positive, solution-oriented relationship between Georgia and the Russian Federation, about which encouraging words have been expressed by the presidents of both countries, will contribute to a European house built on common values and legally binding commitments in a spirit of co-operation.
Agreement has again been reached with the Russian authorities on the expanded involvement of the Council of Europe in Chechnya – a region requiring specific, well-focused attention. To my mind, the agreement signals the mutual understanding that the international community in general, and the Council of Europe in particular, can bring to improving the general situation in Chechnya. I am confident that the Council of Europe will have ample opportunity to provide assistance and expertise.
In reference to Azerbaijan, I wish to mention the recent pardon granted by the new president to a large group of prisoners, many of whose names appear on the Council of Europe’s list of alleged political prisoners. This is an encouraging step towards Azerbaijan’s fulfilling the crucial commitments it made at the time of its accession to the Council of Europe. It strengthens our confidence that further steps will soon be taken in respect of the remaining prisoners on the Council of Europe’s list.
Regarding the debate in Ukraine about changes to the constitution in the current political circumstances, I wish to reiterate the recommendation to the Ukrainian authorities that they utilise fully the expert advice of the Venice Commission. I look forward to a constructive debate in the Parliamentary Assembly on this subject.
I welcome the active co-operation between the Council of Europe and Moldova, which continued after Moldova’s successful chairmanship of the Council in 2003. The EU-Council of Europe joint programme is in the final stages of preparation. It will be instrumental in aiding Moldova to move closer to the European norms and values that are central to its European vocation.
Upholding the Council’s standards in the field of human rights, democracy and the rule of law calls for effective monitoring and review mechanisms. This is one of the Chair’s priorities. Since the role of the European Court of Human Rights is pivotal for the protection of human rights, I welcome the progress in the reform process. The Chair will continue to work actively towards reaching a decision on the reform package at the 114th session in May this year. It expects that this will allow the Court to cope more effectively with the increasing number of cases. It is very important that the Court’s finances be put on a more solid, predictable footing.
On 8 and 9 December 2003, the Netherlands hosted a meeting of government agents at the European Court of Human Rights. Their relation to the Court and to their national authorities was reviewed. The meeting provided many opportunities to exchange ideas on best practices. It recommended that the steering group for human rights formulate a recommendation on the status of government agents.
Judgments of the Court must be complied with. The authority of the European Court of Human Rights and the credibility of the Council of Europe must be maintained. This is why it is important for the Committee of Ministers to live up fully to its responsibility to supervise the execution of the Court’s judgments in accordance with Article 46 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Under our chairmanship, a financial settlement was reached in the Loizidou case in December 2003. The Chair expects the solution to enhance the credibility of the Committee of Ministers in its supervising role.
Ever since 1949, the protection of the individual citizen has been at the top of the Council’s agenda. Because the Council of Europe conventions guarantee the fundamental rights of individuals, the Committee of Ministers should see to it that all member states implement policies based on these principles. It should therefore ensure that the Council’s monitoring mechanisms are adequately equipped to do what they are supposed to do. The Chair is planning to organise a seminar in the Netherlands in April this year on how to improve implementation of human rights standards in the member states.
In this connection, the Chair wants to pay tribute to the work of the Commissioner for Human Rights – Alvaro Gil-Robles. We are aware of the importance that the Parliamentary Assembly attaches to the institution of the commissioner and will co-operate in all efforts to enhance, if and where possible, the commissioner’s statute.
The Chair welcomes the recent proposals from Armenia and the Secretary General for strengthening the Committee of Ministers’ monitoring capacity. This month, a working group with a limited time-limited mandate has been established to elaborate these and other monitoring reform proposals that may come up. I trust that the 114th ministerial session will be able not only to review and endorse the proposals but also to instruct the Deputies to examine more thoroughly the question of how monitoring by the Committee of Ministers can be made more effective.
The Council of Europe offers a very broad framework for the protection of human rights. In late 2003, the Netherlands organised a seminar on how to deal with conflicting fundamental rights such as freedom of expression and freedom of religion. The feeling was that the seminar would provide the best forum for exchanging ideas on what the best practices are.
Working closely with the Secretariat, the Chair also organised a one-day conference on one of the most topical issues of our time: how to live together in an increasingly multi-ethnic society, entitled “Focus on integration in the community and the workplace”. Three specific aspects of the integration process were highlighted: introductory programmes, labour market participation, and urban policy.
Last week, a conference on migration and integration was organised by the Assembly and the French delegation. My colleague, the Minister of Justice, representing the Chairmanship here, pointed out that uncontrolled immigration entails a risk of overburdening social services, completely disrupting the labour market and gradually dividing the population. Furthermore, he observed that immigration must not be devoid of mutual obligations, and underlined that the objective of integration is not standardisation, but sharing citizenship. He called for co-operation between the Council and the EU on this issue.
Fostering co-operation and synergy between the Council and the EU and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe are clear priorities for the Chair. In October 2003, the Netherlands set up a meeting between the Council, the EU and the World Health Organisation to discuss health issues. As a result of the meeting, a strategy paper was prepared for the future agenda of the Council of Europe’s health-related activities.
In Chişinău, ministers stressed the need for closer consultation and co-ordination. They also expressed their hope that the EU will accede to the European Convention on Human Rights. The topic of enhanced co-operation with the EU was of particular significance in light of the forthcoming enlargement of the European Union with ten new member states, and also in light of developments in the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC). It is the intention of the Chair to discuss at the upcoming quadripartite meeting between the Council of Europe and the European Union, on 23 March, the scope for putting the relationship between the EU and the Council on a new footing. Although insufficient progress in the IGC unfortunately poses limitations on a successful exchange at this juncture, further reflection and discussion is timely and desirable, as can also be seen from the debates on the subject in this Assembly.
When Minister Roche presented the programme of the Irish presidency of the European Union in the Committee of Ministers’ Deputies meeting two weeks ago, he was struck by the empty seat of the European Commission, whose representatives only incidentally show up in Strasbourg. He clearly saw this as a lacuna and considered that it would be a win-win situation if we could develop that relationship. I share those views. The Council of Europe and the European Union have common roots and values; we share a flag, an anthem and, almost every month, even a town, Strasbourg. We are active in many areas with identical interests and aims, promoting greater European unity on the basis of human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
Clearly, there is ground for a substantially enhanced relationship. A permanent presence here in Strasbourg would enable a permanent exchange and a continuing exploration of comparative advantages so as to allow optimal results. Together with the Irish chairmanship of the European Union, we may succeed in attaining this goal.
No decision was taken at the 113th ministerial session on the timing of a possible third summit of the Council of Europe, intended to provide political impetus to the Organisation. We agreed that a decision on this issue would be taken in May of this year at our 114th session, provided that a substantive agenda and the possible concrete results thereof are identified. Since that time, the Secretary General and several member states have put forward ideas on how best to approach the summit. The Chair is committed to facilitating a responsible decision. Debate on these suggestions will continue in the coming months. We have not quite reached that point, but we know which questions must be asked. First, how can the summit contribute to a Europe without dividing lines? Secondly, how will this impact on the Council’s own operations?
The Netherlands considers that a summit should seek to ensure that the Council’s pan-European normative perspectives – its acquis – will be appropriately reflected in the respective policy frameworks of the member states and on the agenda of the European Union. At the same time, the Council should, as appropriate, facilitate projecting relevant norms and standards, developed by the EU into the pan‑European context. The Council and the EU should commit themselves to the closest institutional co‑operation possible. It is my view that the summit’s final document should unambiguously bring to the fore the communality of purpose provided for in the Statute of the Council of Europe, and in the founding documents of the European Union.
On the subject of the summit’s impact on the Council of Europe, I believe that the summit should reaffirm the Council’s primary objective: achievement of greater unity among its members as stipulated in the statute. It should also attempt to determine the Council’s primary concerns and core activities. The Organisation derives its excellent reputation primarily from its concern for human rights, and its promotion of pluralist democracy and the strengthening of the rule of law. These should continue to be the mainstay of its activity. Attention to national minorities and the promotion of cultural diversity can be taken up as issues because they contribute to these three areas. The Dutch view on these matters is consistent with a recent report by the Dutch Advisory Council on International Affairs on the Council of Europe. The initiative for this report originated with our active parliamentarians.
The Council has never lost sight of the need to create an appropriate enabling environment for making democracy, human rights and rule of law possible. It should be encouraged to continue its work on these issues. Activity to strengthen social cohesion is an example. In this connection, it is with satisfaction that I can inform you that last Friday the Netherlands signed the revised European Social Charter and also, subject to acceptance, the additional Protocol to the European Social Charter providing for a system of collective complaints.
I believe that the summit should recognise and confirm the Council of Europe’s institutional functions: first, its expertise and experience in defining norms and setting standards; secondly, its role as a pan-European platform for political dialogue; thirdly, its capacity to supervise the implementation of the Council’s conventions through the European Court of Human Rights and the Committee of Ministers; and, fourthly, its capacity to provide assistance to member states in respect of implementation of the acquis.
The summit should narrow its focus to core activities and functions. It should not, of course, be expected to present a fully adjusted programme. Programme choices and decisions on resource allocation must be made in due course through the Council’s regular programming and budgetary processes.
I suggest that the summit should provide new impetus to the functional performance of the Council’s institutions and should instruct the Committee of Ministers: first, to develop a more integrated concept of monitoring and verification of all member states’ obligations; secondly, to put the advocacy and assistance programmes that accelerate integration of all member states into the Council’s mainstream on a more solid footing; and, thirdly, better to carry out its role of political platform and ensure implementation of the Council of Europe’s obligations.
I believe that progress in these areas will breathe new life into the Council of Europe, give it broader recognition and ensure that the Organisation becomes more responsive to the expectations of all its members – old and new. Progress will enhance the Council’s position vis-ŕ-vis other European organisations and make it a more effective tool for the pursuit of European co-operation in which the EU, OSCE and United Nations all have a role to play.
In conclusion, I wish to express my appreciation for the vision and active participation of the Assembly in developing a common perspective on the emerging roles and responsibilities of the Council of Europe. I trust that the Assembly and the Committee of Ministers, together with the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, will continue to strive for a Europe in which all people are not only entitled to their fundamental rights but to enjoy those rights in their daily lives.
THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you, Mr Bot.
We now come to parliamentary questions for oral answer. I remind the Assembly that the Minister will answer questions only from members who are present. Eight questions have been tabled; they are contained in Document 10050. Questions will be taken in the order in which they are listed in the document. After the reply to each written question, I will allow one supplementary question from the member who tabled it.
The first question is from Mr Jurgens on the Hakkar case.
“Question No. 1:
Recalling the decision taken on 12 February 2001 by the Committee of Ministers to put an end to its consideration of the decision in the Hakkar case against France, after having got assurances that a new process would be granted to Mr Hakkar at the latest during the spring 2001;
Referring to the judgment of the Court d’Assises des Hauts-de-Seine of 26 February 2003, two years after the date indicated by the French delegation, by which it condemns Mr Hakkar to a new life imprisonment sentence together with a new minimum of eighteen years in custody starting on 26 February 2003 thus implying that Mr Hakkar, who has already spent nineteen years in jail, would not be released before 2021,
To ask the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers,
To reopen its consideration of the Hakkar case;
To note that the decision of 26 February 2003 is incompatible with the general principle ‘ne bis in idem’ as it imposes a second punishment for the same facts;
To note that it is contrary to Article 4 of Protocol No. 7 to the European Convention on Human Rights which stipulates that ‘no one shall be punished again for an offence for which he has already been finally convicted’;
To ask the French authorities to explain how they intend to conform with those principles;
To release Mr Hakkar as soon as possible.”
Mr BOT. – I thank the honourable parliamentarian for his question about a case that the Committee of Ministers has discussed many times. I was recently contacted by a French former minister and current parliamentarian in connection with the case. I will forward Mr Jurgens’s questions to the French authorities in order to provide the committee with the necessary information. I do stress, however, that the second conviction of Mr Hakkar should not be seen as “ne bis in idem”, as it substitutes, rather than supplements, the first one. The new trial held at Mr Hakkar’s request should be seen as a means to reach “restitutio in integrum” after the finding of a violation of the Convention by the former European Commission of Human Rights. The first conviction was flawed, and it is assumed that the second was not.
THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you. Mr Jurgens, do you wish to ask a supplementary question?
Mr JURGENS (Netherlands). – The Minister might have noticed that members of the Assembly always ask a new Minister very difficult questions to test his mettle. I hope that he will be able, having asked the French authorities, to explain why Mr Hakkar has spent nineteen years in jail when his original conviction was regarded as unfair. As a result of an amendment to French law by Mr Jack Lang, the minister to whom the report refers, Mr Hakkar was given a new trial but was again sentenced to the full sentence without the former being annulled, which is peculiar indeed. I hope that the Minister is right and that the rule of ne bis in idem is still in the French constitution.
THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you. Would you like to respond to that question Mr Bot?
Mr BOT. – It should be borne in mind that a Strasbourg decision or judgment finding a violation of the Convention does not supersede or annul a national decision or judgment. It is therefore understandable that the legal consequences of the original domestic decision remain intact until set aside by a new one. It is equally reasonable that this will be the case only when the domestic decision becomes final.
Another question is what will happen vis-ŕ-vis the execution of the second conviction in relation to the execution of the first one. To my mind it is self-evident that the time Mr Hakkar has spent in prison in relation to his first conviction should be deducted from the time he will spend there in execution of the second one.
THE PRESIDENT. – The next question is from Lord Judd:
“Question No. 2:
What study has this Committee made of the relationship between Russian policy in the Chechen Republic and the numbers of people joining extremist terrorist organisations, and what consequent representations has it made to the Russian Government.”
Mr BOT. – Lord Judd’s special commitment and expertise on the subject of Chechnya are well known. The Committee of Ministers has not hitherto undertaken a study of the sort he mentions. Its contribution to the improvement of the human rights situation in Chechnya takes the form of joint programmes. There is also intensive political dialogue. The latter takes place both at ministerial level and in the Ministers’ Deputies. The detailed interim reports presented monthly by the Secretary General have been most useful. They took account of the fact that the Council of Europe was for a long time the only international organisation to be represented by expert staff members on the spot.
A few minutes ago, I referred to the new agreement just reached with the Russian authorities on the extended involvement of the Council of Europe in Chechnya – a region in need of specific and well-focused attention. This agreement is a signal that the international community in general, and the Council of Europe in particular, still have much to contribute to improving the overall situation there.
THE PRESIDENT. – Lord Judd, do you wish to ask a supplementary question?
Lord JUDD (United Kingdom). – I thank the Minister for that reply. Does he agree that the agreement to which he referred was based on the premise that we would continue to co-operate with the President’s representative for human rights in Chechnya, Mr Sultygov? However, that office has been abolished. Where does that leave the agreement? Furthermore, does the Minister agree that the approach of the Russians, about which we are all concerned, is driving young people into the arms of extremists?
Mr BOT. – I fully agree. It is important that we continue to remain in close contact with the Russian Federation and that we insist on the need for regular contact with a federal representative so that we can continue to monitor the situation and ensure improvement. What matters is not that we have many academic studies but that we see an improvement in the situation. That will only be possible if we can have what we call an interlocuteur valable. As you know, there will be several summits involving Russia and the EU that also might be an occasion when I, as a future President of the Council of the European Union, might discuss this item. I can certainly promise you that commitment.
THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you.
The third question is No. 3, on the detention of European citizens at Guantanamo Bay:
“Question No. 3:
To ask the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers,
What discussions has he had with the United States Government on the detention of citizens of member states of the Council of Europe at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.”
Mr BOT. – Let me supplement the reply given by my predecessor at the autumn session of last year to a question asked by Mr McNamara about the same subject.
Nationals of our member states are detained by the United States authorities at Guantanamo Bay. There have been bilateral contacts between some governments and the United States authorities concerning the situation and possible transfer of their nationals. In this connection, I recall the Council of Europe guidelines on human rights and the fight against terrorism. In this context, we affirm the need to ensure respect for international human rights obligations as an integral part of the fight against terrorism. Rather than a trade-off between human rights and security, respect for human rights constitutes a basic element in ensuring security. I know that we can count on the Parliamentary Assembly’s help in promoting compliance with these guidelines by all nations.
The US authorities know about the official position of the Council of Europe on the general issue. The guidelines have been brought to their attention through the United States permanent Observer of the Council and by the Secretary General in his talks at the State Department. The guidelines are also mentioned in the 16 December 2002 General Assembly resolution on co-operation between the United Nations and the Council of Europe.
The honourable member will also be aware that, at the request of your Assembly, the Venice Commission adopted in December 2003 an opinion on this issue. It underlined that the Geneva Conventions are applicable to the situation of the prisoners in Guantanamo and provide for the protection of the rights of the persons detained there.
I should like to add that, very soon, I will also be able to meet Secretary Powell. If the occasion arises, I can raise this question and ask his opinion on it.
Mr COX (United Kingdom). – I thank the Minister for that detailed reply. The real question is: do the American authorities take any notice of our concern? The people who are being detained are citizens of our member states, and they are being held without the protection of any court and denied access to any legal representatives. They have been held for more than two years but charged with no offence. This is totally unacceptable to us. One hopes that when the Minister meets Colin Powell, he will emphasise to Mr Powell the very deep concerns of this Assembly about the policy of the Americans to our citizens.
Mr BOT. – I agree with you. It is always important to keep trying and to keep up the contact with the United States, and to make our feelings on the subject very clear. Very much will depend on the will of our member states. An issue of principle is involved, but as I have already indicated, the states directly concerned have so far demonstrated a preference for a bilateral approach. I am only too happy to hear your point of view. If this is the view of the Assembly, I can, of course, express it in my talks with Secretary Powell next week.
THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you. Mr Rafael Huseynov is not here, so his question will not be answered.
The next question is No. 5, relating to pressure on staff of the European Court of Human Rights exerted by the Permanent Representative of Moldova.
Considering that last month the Permanent Representative of Moldova to the Council of Europe, Mr Tulbure, rough-handedly attempted to bring pressure to bear on a member of staff in the Department for the Execution of Judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, in connection with a case concerning the Metropolitan Church of Bessarabia decided by the ECHR;
Considering that the staff member of the ECHR was insulted after acting in conformity with the statute of the ECHR,
To ask the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers,
How the Committee of Ministers reacts to this unacceptable incident and what steps will be taken to ensure that staff members of the Council of Europe are able to perform their duties in conformity with the Council of Europe Statute and the Rules of the ECHR, and to prevent this sort of incident from happening again.”
Mr BOT. – The Committee of Ministers is unaware of the events to which the honourable member alludes. I should nevertheless like to emphasise the importance of full compliance with the staff regulations adopted by the Committee of Ministers. I know that the Secretary General will not fail to ensure that they are complied with.
THE PRESIDENT. – Do you wish to ask a supplementary question, Mr Cubreacov?
Mr CUBREACOV (Moldova) thanked Mr Bot for this reply and asked whether the recent extensive coverage in the Moldovan press had been a subject for concern.
Mr BOT said that he had been unaware of these events until Mr Cubreacov had raised them, but was sure that the Secretary General would do whatever was necessary.
THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you.
The next question is No. 6, which relates to the Republic of Moldova and to Transnistria.
“Question No. 6:
Considering that the Russian Federation has not honoured the commitments it made at the OSCE Summit in Istanbul to withdraw its troops and its weapons from the territory of the Republic of Moldova, and that the presence of Russian troops in Transnistria is a destabilising factor for the whole region,
To ask the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers,
What his point of view is concerning the settlement of this situation.”
Mr BOT. – The Committee of Ministers is in favour of a peaceful political settlement of the Transnistrian issue. This settlement must respect the human rights of all those concerned, in line with the commitments undertaken by the member states concerned upon their accession to the Council of Europe.
The Committee of Ministers supports the negotiation process. I note that yesterday the negotiators met in Sofia to discuss the reactivation of the process. This is good news.
The rapprochement of Moldova with the European Union in the context of the stability pact and the EU new neighbourhood policy is also to be welcomed.
The Venice Commission has the status of Observer in the negotiations. It puts at the disposal of the interested parties the European experience in state and constitutional matters. This has proved useful in similar circumstances.
The Council of Europe encourages civil society activities spanning the Nistru River. This is an important contribution to a lasting settlement.
THE PRESIDENT. – Do you wish to ask a supplementary question, Mr Ilaşcu?
Mr ILAŞCU (Romania) thanked Mr Bot for his reply and asked what actions the Committee of Ministers would take to stop violation of human rights in future in the Transnistrian region of Moldova.
Mr BOT replied that human rights must be defended, and explained that he would do his utmost in all areas where he had the opportunity to do so to deal with this subject. He said that to do so was in the interest of the Council of Europe and of the EU.
THE PRESIDENT. – We come now to a question from Mr Toshev.
“Question No. 7:
To ask the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers,
Whether he sees room for greater co-operation between the Council of Europe and Nato in the field of civil works – human rights, environment, health, etc., having in mind the enlargement of Nato with a significant number of Council of Europe member states?”
Mr BOT. – Although they were set up within a month of each other, in spring 1949, Nato and the Council of Europe have entirely different aims: the former was established as a military alliance whose backbone is the transatlantic relationship, while the latter was required to deal with everything except defence matters, covering an exclusively European geographical area.
This explains why there was virtually no co-operation of any kind between the two organisations for more than forty years. However, since the political upheavals that took place between 1989 and 1991, a new potential has emerged.
This potential centres firstly on the concept of democratic security applied by the Council of Europe since the Vienna Summit and secondly on the new tasks assigned to Nato after the disappearance of the old European order, which was based on the existence of two politically, militarily and economically antagonistic blocs.
High-level contacts thus developed as of the mid-1990s, with cross-invitations to the Secretaries General of the two organisations to address the organisations’ respective decision-making bodies, namely the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe and Nato’s Council of Ministers for Foreign Affairs. The most recent example is Lord Robertson’s participation in the informal ministerial meeting held before the 109th session of the Committee of Ministers in November 2001.
These high-level contacts have been supplemented as necessary by contacts on the ground. The most significant example is the current negotiations with Kfor to look into arrangements whereby the Council of Europe’s basic texts, including the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, could be applied in Kosovo, in view of the recent accession of Serbia and Montenegro to the Council of Europe and the special situation of Kosovo under Resolution 1244 of the United Nations Security Council.
Although it could be exploited still further, this potential for co-operation between the Council of Europe and Nato should nevertheless, in the Netherlands Chair’s opinion, continue to focus on the way in which the two organisations could join forces in support of democratic stability in Europe. In particular, better use could be made of the Council of Europe’s capacity to contribute to the prevention and healing of conflicts, in its field of excellence which is the protection of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Thus, in the application of the post-accession strategies determined for the most recent members of the Council of Europe, which are experiencing difficult periods of democratic transition and have to cope with the wounds caused by recent conflicts, a number of issues directly relating to security are addressed, such as civilian supervision of military authorities, access to classified information and the restrictions to be imposed on intelligence services’ work.
On the other hand, given the scope of Nato’s activities, there are not really, in our view, any prospects for developing co-operation between the two organisations in areas such as environment or health.
THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you. Mr Toshev does not want to ask a supplementary question. We therefore come to the last question.
Mr Varela i Serra,
Considering that, following his question on the subject in June 2002 and that of Mr Puig in June 2003, the problem of a European education in Strasbourg remains unresolved,
To ask the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers,
What steps the Committee has already taken to secure the establishment of a European school in Strasbourg and what undertakings member governments and the Chair of the Committee of Ministers will enter into to achieve this end, which is increasingly necessary in a city such as Strasbourg and for numerous non-French families.”
Mr BOT. – I believe that the question raised by Mr Varela i Serra is an important issue not only for the staff of this Organisation but also for members of permanent representations. And, I would like to thank the honourable Rapporteur of your Committee on Economic Affairs and Development, Mr Bernard Schreiner, for his excellent report on this matter in this enceinte on Monday.
I know that the Secretary General has been very active over the past couple of years working in co-operation with the local and regional authorities to take this matter forward. There has been some success – I believe that he mentioned this to you yesterday, for example, with the recent creation of a new English language section at one of the schools in Strasbourg – and, although this does not necessarily meet all the requirements of the international community, it is a step in the right direction. We will continue to give support to his efforts in this area.
THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you. Does Mr Varela i Serra wish to ask a supplementary question?
Mr VARELA I SERRA (Spain) thanked Mr Bot for his answer. He asked whether the Council of Europe would contribute to the funding of an international school in Strasbourg.
Mr BOT said that the Committee of Ministers were not responsible for this matter. The Committee of Ministers had had an exchange of views with the Secretary General some six months previously. National delegations had expressed their support for the creation of a European school. The Secretary General had focused efforts in the short term in improving the current situation at Strasbourg’s international school, notably the creation of a Russian section planned for September 2004 and a new English section for children who spoke English as a foreign language. At the same time, a survey was under way to assess the needs of the community in this respect. The Secretary General was also continuing his efforts, in collaboration with the relevant local and regional authorities, with respect to the creation of a fully fledged European school. He wished the Secretary General well in his endeavours and hoped for an early solution. It remained to be seen how this initiative would be funded.
THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you, Chairman. That brings an end to the questions. I thank you warmly on behalf of the Assembly for presenting the communication and for the remarks you made in the course of questions.
3. Address by Mr Mikheil Saakashvili, President of Georgia
THE PRESIDENT. – We now have the honour and pleasure of welcoming Mr Mikheil Saakashvili, President of Georgia. We are welcoming a President who was elected with a big majority, and person who is devoted to the values of the Council of Europe. He is also a former member of the Assembly, who actively participated in the Special Guest delegation and in the member delegation of Georgia. The interest of the world is at this moment directed towards Georgia and its new President, and we are very happy that one of his first big international events involves addressing our Assembly. We thank you, Mr President, for coming.
After his address, the President has kindly agreed to take questions from the floor.
Mr Saakashvili, you have the floor.
Mr SAAKASHVILI (President of Georgia). – Mr President, it is an honour and privilege for me to address to this distinguished audience. I see many friends in the Hemicycle and I wish to thank them for their tremendous support for Georgia over the years. Despite the widening of the European Union, the Council of Europe still has a tremendous role to play in the border areas, as well as throughout the former Soviet states and eastern Europe. Nor should we forget western Europe, because in that respect, too, there are many instances in which the Council of Europe is irreplaceable.
I am also very grateful for the many years that I spent here in the Assembly. In fact, Mr President, I felt more comfortable and protected sitting in your chair when I was Vice-President than I do right now. That said, it is a nice escape for me, at least for one day, to enjoy such a protected, secure and pleasant environment.
Please know that your support was not wasted. Today is the beginning of a new era for Georgia – a new era of reform, stability and strengthened partnerships with our friends around the world, and particularly our friends in Europe. It is not by accident that my first official trip abroad as President of Georgia is to Strasbourg and the heart of Europe.
I wish to say a few words about our rose revolution. During November 2003, the Georgian nation rose up in defence of its fundamental right to be free and to freely choose its representatives, along with its fundamental right to live in a free and democratic nation, in which the people hold the exclusive right to choose their own leaders. Leaderships do not have the right to impose leaders without the consent of the people.
Our peaceful rose revolution was not inspired by Georgia’s economic or political stagnation; nor was it incited only by the rampant corruption. Rather, the revolution was a direct manifestation of the European values of liberal democracy – values that form the basis of Georgia’s identity and culture, and that are widespread and shared by all Georgians. If anything, the non-violent rose revolution served as a message to the world that all Georgians aspire to build and live in a democratic, independent and stable state, where human rights are respected, protected and revered.
Furthermore, we Georgians showed the courage, tenacity and commitment necessary to defend those fundamental values in a civilised manner when they were under threat. I believe that Georgia’s revolution can provide a model and a message for the entire region, and provide a concrete example of how the nations of the former Soviet Union can successfully bring about peaceful and democratic change.
Success in Georgia means success for the entire region – that is a window of opportunity for everybody. However, if Georgia fails we must all understand that it will spell failure for the whole region. For that reason alone, we must seize the moment today, in order to change the fate of an entire region, and of the people who inhabit it, tomorrow.
Today, I am enormously proud of my nation – a nation that has given me an overwhelming mandate to return Georgia to its rightful destiny as a responsible member of the European community of democratic nations.
After returning from Davos last week, I was struck by the power of globalisation and the speed with which information is transmitted around the whole world. In fact, I sometimes think that even our revolution would hardly have been possible without those trends. What would have happened, for instance, without the mobile phone or live pictures on television? In that regard, I am thinking not only of our television – we have a very vibrant media; indeed, I have been accompanied today by five or six crews from Georgian independent television stations – but of CNN and others. In that respect, the Davos experience provides a truly global look and a global perspective.
Reflecting for a moment on these issues, I believe that small nations such as Georgia can truly benefit if they are smart enough to take the right steps in respect of globalisation processes. And yet, globalisation is a thorny issue that can create challenges to our cultural identity. So it is not a question only of looking at local issues with global eyes; it is also a question of looking at global issues from a local perspective, and feeling that you are part of the outside world. Of course, we must not lose sight of our identity, because the first human right is identity.
Taking identity as a point of departure, it is clear to me and to all Georgians that our identity is fundamentally European. Today, Georgia is finally on the road home, once again integrating itself into a Europe with which it shares common values and a common history. Indeed, just three days ago at my inauguration, after raising the new Georgian flag – it is the ancient Christian flag – we raised the flag of the EU and played its anthem. This was no public relations stunt, as one might think; rather, it was an expression of what all Georgians understand to be true: that Georgia and Europe share a common identity. To strengthen that connection, however, Europe needs to do more: to ensure the prosperity and stability of future generations. For just as Georgia can play a key role as a net contributor to European stability, it is also part of a region that is a potential major generator of instability – unless Europe gets actively involved, does not close its eyes, acknowledges the problems and confronts them bravely, as it did at the height of its history.
My vision for Georgia focuses on how Georgia can contribute to Europe as a partner, as an ally and as a member. Our single ambition today is nothing less than becoming a full member of the European Union. In my opinion, our rose revolution showed not only who Georgians are but that we were willing to take the first brave step. Today, I am asking that we take the next step together by recognising Georgia’s membership in a wider European neighbourhood. I had conversations with Mr Solana in Tbilisi as well as with Mr Prodi a few days ago. I shall also go to Brussels to talk about these issues.
Under my leadership, the Georgian nation will be transformed. It will be transformed into a nation known for its investments in people through education. It will become competitive. You should understand that we are engaged in a continuous process of worldwide competition and we will be in a position to compete. We will be a participant in, and the benefactor of, globalisation. At the same time, we will celebrate our unique culture. We are European and have a special place in Europe.
Strengthening Georgia’s democracy is a model at home and in the region. We should be home to an efficient and responsive government in which all Georgian voices are heard and represented. The government should not be protected from the people; instead, it should protect its people. Human rights will be protected and Georgia will be a stable contributor to the international community. It will be a united nation that capitalises on all the benefits of its geo-strategic location. We are restarting regional economic development, and we benefit from our position at a cultural crossroads not only of our region but of many world civilisations. The Georgian nation will be an ally to all its friends and neighbours.
People often tell us that we have to choose and they speculate on what we will do. They reach superficial conclusions that we have to be pro-American or pro-Russian. I studied in the United States, so the first conclusion that the world media – and especially the Russian media – rushed to was, “Look you have a new leader. He is decidedly pro-American because he spent several years of his legal studies in the US.” When further information from my biography came up, people said, “Well, look he has a Dutch wife. She is a citizen of the European Union. They met in Strasbourg. She should be a little more pro-European. He is not hopeless.”
I also like the Russian people and I love Russian culture. I like Tchaikovsky and Tolstoy and I love St Petersburg. So what about reaching the conclusion that I might lack for good relations in Russia? Indeed, I am not lost for good relations with all our neighbours. I do not need to choose. I do not want to be pro-American or pro-Russian. I am pro-Georgian; I am Georgian, and I am European by being Georgian. That is fundamental to our identity and values.
It is clear that we must not only make foreign policy declarations. We must really combat corruption, and we have changed the way in which the government operates. After many years of impunity and absolute guarantees given by my predecessor to every corrupt individual that they would never be touched unless they were disloyal to the government, we had a number of very highly placed officials arrested. There is a certain sense of historic justice here. It was not done to take vengeance on anyone, such as former government officials. Within two months, however, some current government officials were prosecuted and arrested once they started again the old practices.
It is one thing to arrest people, but it is another to change the system that nourishes such corruption. That is at the roots of corruption. We are uprooting special interest groups and vested interests that discredit and make fun of the whole idea of democracy because the law does not matter. We have very good laws and many of them were written thanks to the efforts of the Council of Europe, but they were never applied because one had to go through a layer of special interest groups. Uprooting those groups, cutting the number of people on the government payroll, curtailing their abuses, increasing their salaries and trying to pull the country out of the mud in which it found itself is the fundamental reform that we are in the process of instituting right now.
We have the support of our people. The people whom we are confronting are powerful. They have lots of money and international connections. Money speaks for them and they have many resources, but we are determined. We know that every compromise that reformers make at this moment will hit us again in the near future. That is the experience of other transition nations. We are not in the position to make compromises, because the window of opportunity for reformers is very narrow. Unless we benefit from that, we will regret it later knowing that we missed a fundamental opportunity to change the country when we have the support of our people.
We cherish our fundamental institutions for the rule of law. We have an interesting process of judicial reform in Georgia, which has been implemented thanks to international assistance, but primarily because of the will of the Georgian people. We need to apply all the laws that we have. We are creating a much more flexible tax system to invite more investment because that will benefit individual citizens. We can also use the benefits that result from our geography.
We shall try to establish lasting stability at home through the peaceful resolution of conflicts that have for too long divided the nation. I refer to Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Another challenge is the elimination of poverty, which is an insult to our nation. It is artificial and the result of many years of mismanagement, corruption, government cynicism and oligarchic rules whereby elections were bought and sold and no one had the right to change anything. The revolution taught us that we do not have to take money from the corrupt groups and that we do not have to engage in shadowy dealings. The people told us that we do not need to make back-room deals. They said, “We are liberating you from the old obligations. Just come and clean up the country because we know that most of the money made in the country is corrupt and dirty. We know that much back-door international business is taking place and that it is not so clean. We are determined to give you all the powers to throw out all the vested interests.” That will help us to liberalise the economy. We are also reforming government structures including real local self-government and practices.
Let me return to our relations with other countries. Georgia cherishes its long-term partnership with the United States. The US helped us in the way that it helped western Europe after the second world war, and we will never forget that. We also want a long-term partnership and friendship with the Russian Federation. The Russian Federation has played a negative role in Georgia, especially in the first post-independence years. What we had in Abkhazia was not a separatist war; it was primarily a Russian-Georgian war, with the Russian army interfering by punishing Georgia for wanting to be independent. What we got afterwards was Russian peacekeeping, and we got that only because the rest of the world did not want to intervene. However, it was not genuine peacekeeping; it was “piecekeeping” – keeping pieces of the former empire. It was not a genuine desire to re-establish peace in the region.
I hope that that is changing now. We see more common sense on the part of the present Russian leadership and a more sane approach. I have just had a conversation with Mr Margelov, and I understand that there are many different voices in Russia. We have to talk to all of them. We do not need Russia as an enemy. We are a small country in a very complicated geopolitical environment. We need to survive. We have a common history and cultural ties and we want to improve relations. Indeed, I give my hand in friendship to Russia and I hope that President Putin will take it when I next visit Moscow.
The strategy is still very complicated. Russia still refuses to abide by its international agreement to remove its military bases from Georgia. I understand that Russia has legitimate security interests, which are connected with terrorism. We are ready to accommodate some of those legitimate interests. At the same time, however, there is the problem of the humanitarian disaster that has taken place. We must be kinder to every country in the region, including all the neighbouring nations. We know that Russia must protect its borders, and we are ready to go a long way in co-operating with that, so that Russia can feel safe and understand that Georgia is a friend.
I once again declare my profound commitment to rebuilding relations with Russia, and I think that we can do that.
We have many other problems, and they are very difficult. Sometimes I think that I need to be a magician to tackle them. However, the people of Georgia have proved that they can work miracles. No one expected the revolution in Georgia to be so bloodless and free of violence. The live pictures were shown on television screens all over the world and no one could believe it. That lack of violence stemmed from the fact that we were working with soldiers and policemen. We reached out to everyone and explained that it is the fundamental right of all people and families who abide by the rule of law not to obey any government that abuses those rules. That is what happened and that is why the revolution worked.
The main task now is to conserve our society. We managed the transition period very well, even though no one expected us to be so successful. The main problem in many post-Soviet and transitional countries is exactly that question of the succession of power. No one has learned yet how to manage that succession so that conflict is avoided. That is why there is so much fear in relation to change of power. Georgia demonstrated that that could be done peacefully and in an organised way. That can happen if people co-operate in a disciplined way and if all actors in the political process can unite over the common interests of peace, stability and democracy.
Two days ago, at my inauguration, I dedicated my presidency to the Georgian people, to all those who have suffered and even given their lives to preserve our freedom, to the children of Georgia, whose future we must rebuild, and to the re-establishment of complete and total territorial integrity throughout Georgia.
I stand before you today, presenting a firm and unwavering commitment to lead Georgia back to the European fold. We want to use our best resources and my call goes out not only to Georgians who live in Georgia but to those who live abroad, some of whom greeted me at the entrance to the Assembly building. To every Georgian who fled the country because of the catastrophe that happened there, I say, “Please come back and use your experience of Europe to help us rebuild our country.”
I repeat that we must rebuild Georgia side by side with our European brothers and sisters so that we can build a more stable and prosperous nation.
By working together, I am confident not only that our partnership will deepen but – and this is the main thing – that it will succeed.
Thank you very much for your attention.
THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you very much, Mr Saakashvili, for your most interesting address. Members of the Assembly have expressed a wish to put questions to you.
I remind them that questions must be limited to thirty seconds and no more. Colleagues should ask questions and not make speeches.
I will allow supplementary questions only at the end, and only if time permits.
Mr Saakashvili, you may answer the questions from your seat in the Assembly. The first question is by Mr Davis, Chairman of the Socialist Group.
Mr DAVIS (United Kingdom). – Mr Saakashvili, may I congratulate you on your announcement that top priority will be given to the campaign against corruption? What can Georgia’s friends in the Council of Europe do to help you in that campaign?
Mr SAAKASHVILI. – We really appreciate the help that you gave us elaborating legislation. Also, the Council of Europe regulations on money laundering were of great assistance. The point is that we are very determined. For us it is a matter of survival, but there are several aspects to that. It is not only a matter of arresting people; we must change the system that gave birth to corruption. We must remove the assets secured through corruption because former corrupt officials who have the right connections and who retain their assets even though they are in prison can easily undermine people who dare to raise their voice against them. It is a question not so much of prosecuting and arresting such people as of removing their assets and their means to influence society.
We want to stay within the framework of democratic norms, as democracy means the rule of law. The whole notion of corruption makes fun of the rule of law. The oligarchy system introduced into the former Soviet states discredits the idea that people mean anything at all.
Until now, I have not been able to convince many people outside Georgia that what happened there was not some kind of coup led by the United States or Europe. It was not even a local coup: it was the result of the genuine will of the people. In the former Soviet states, they do not believe that people matter and that is because their whole attitude is corrupt.
The drive against corruption is not only a matter of concrete law enforcement. It is a fundamental approach to running a country and reshaping geopolitics. If we are successful, the geopolitics of the region will be reshaped. That is why it is a high-priority political issue. I am therefore grateful to the Secretary General, who openly supported me. He said that supporting my presidency was not merely a way of making a statement: he said that it was a way of supporting the fight against corruption. I hope that that support will be ongoing and that it will not cease.
THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you. The next question is by Mr van der Linden, Chairman of the Group of the European People’s Party.
Mr VAN DER LINDEN (Netherlands). – I do not wish to ask a question, but I do want to take this opportunity to thank our former colleague. He is not only the Georgian leader; he is also one of our own. I am very proud to have heard his speech, which was very encouraging and promising. I believe that the international community needs to support him in overcoming the tremendous problems that he faces. We hope that our support will help his country to become a model for the whole region. I give him my congratulations and wish him all the best.
Mr SAAKASHVILI. – I appreciate that.
THE PRESIDENT. – The next question is by Mr Cox of the United Kingdom.
Mr COX (United Kingdom). – It has been a great pleasure, Mr Saakashvili, to hear of the vision that you have for your country. I hope that one of your top priorities will be the reform of Georgia’s police forces. Sadly, they are not held in high regard by the people of your country, and they should be.
Mr SAAKASHVILI. – Thank you very much. We are going to downsize our police to make the system more transparent. We are also going to pay policemen higher salaries. We created an elite to look into the investigative sector of the police department and prosecutor’s office. Our Minister of the Interior and our Prosecutor General are young and energetic. They are very committed to reform and –this is essential – they are clean. For that reason, they are running into a lot of trouble. I hope that they will bring in a bunch of young prosecutors who are idealists and who feel and operate in the same way. I ask members of the Assembly to urge the relevant agencies in their countries to become involved in the screening programmes for our police department, our prosecutor’s office and our investigatory services in order to reinforce their capabilities and teach them things.
We are establishing a gendarmerie section to perform specific tasks in Georgia, and it will need to be taught how to operate within a democratic environment, with checks and balances to eliminate corruption. I know that that task will not be achieved overnight, but we have already achieved success with our traffic police, who are now performing much better. We sacked some of their members, and they now refuse to take bribes, which has not happened since my childhood. We shall soon increase their salaries and introduce other measures to make them more efficient, which will ensure the long-term future and not merely that of my term of office. I am sure that you can help us in that respect.
THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you. The next question is from Mr Herkel.
Mr HERKEL (Estonia). – I thank you, Mr President, for your excellent speech. Will you elaborate on the content of your constitutional reform, and will Georgia use the opinions of international experts? Will you explain the procedure and schedule for this reform?
THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you. Would you like to respond to that question, Mr Saakashvili?
Mr SAAKASHVILI. – We submitted our draft to the Venice Commission. We want to establish a cabinet so that I may delegate my duties to ministers and move more towards the European way of running the government. It should be borne in mind that Georgia’s state system has disintegrated over many years, so it is not a simple matter of delegation; we must make the whole thing more efficient. We will consider all the opinions but we need strong, efficient and small government with well defined functions and efficient day-to-day ruling mechanisms. We are ready to listen to opinions, but we do not have too much time. We must move faster – we have many problems.
THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you. The next question is from Mr Sharandin.
Mr SHARANDIN (Russian Federation) said that the 2003 elections in Georgia had been void due to irregularities. In the January 2004 presidential election, observers had a feeling that such irregularities could have influenced the result of the election. He asked whether Georgia was prepared to correct the situation in time for the parliamentary election in March 2004.
THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you. Would you like to respond to that question, Mr Saakashvili?
Mr SAAKASHVILI. – Many people were not allowed to vote in the presidential election that my predecessor, Mr Edward Shevardnadze organised in November 2003. People were turned away from polling stations. During the recent elections, which were observed, not a single person was turned away, and that was a major achievement.
We do not have accurate census figures, and lots of people have left the country. We allowed people to have preliminary registration, for which we used a minimum threshold. Ten years ago, when the population of Georgia was higher, the overwhelming majority of the people voted and nobody could contest that. Some 97% of the voters voted for me in the recent presidential election – a frighteningly high figure that can only go down, and I am not rejoicing about that. There are no doubts about the legitimacy of the election, as your rapporteurs acknowledged, and I am very grateful to them for their excellent work.
We need to know the precise number of voters. Some regions of Georgia told us that they have 300 000 voters whereas in the old Soviet times they had 200 000. We shall improve the figures and I should be grateful to the monitoring group for any advice.
THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you. The next question is from Ms Durrieu.
Ms DURRIEU (France) praised the changes taking place in Georgia and the courage of the Mr Saakashvili. She asked what concrete measures he would take to implement the recommendations of the Monitoring Committee.
THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you. Would you like to respond, Mr Saakashvili?
Mr SAAKASHVILI said that his first priority was the struggle against corruption. Democratic values were essential so the current system had to be changed. It was essential to give the population a feeling that progress was being made. Georgia was changing its legislation and system of government. State payments to the civil service and pensioners had been reinstated after several months.
Anti-corruption laws similar to those in the United States had been required. The United Nations had provided assistance by making the commitment to pay civil service salaries during the period of transition. Georgia would also take steps to implement legislation to enable the election of mayors and local authorities. A draft bill had been drawn up to give effect to this. Georgia had also to strengthen the role of the state, for example by developing its customs and excise authorities and armed forces.
The changes were already having an effect by improving public confidence. This must be maintained. The Georgian people had to feel themselves part of the changes and believe that their future lay with their contributions and their activities.
THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you. The next question is from Ms Tevdoradze.
Ms TEVDORADZE (Georgia) said that she was pleased to welcome the President to the Council of Europe. She had no questions for him.
Mr SAAKASHVILI. – I am so pleased that Ms Tevdoradze, my good friend, is not so critical here; she is usually much more vicious back home. We should see more of each other in Strasbourg. If you could keep her here for longer, it would be better for us.
THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you. The next question is from Mr Akhvlediani.
Mr AKHVLEDIANI (Georgia). – First, let me congratulate you, Mr President, on your personal victory and on our country’s victory. The fact that you are visiting the Council of Europe after your inauguration ceremony is not simply symbolic. I would like also to ask you what kind of support the Council of Europe may give us to help solve the problems of the territorial integrity of Georgia and of democracy in the regions of Georgia.
Mr SAAKASHVILI. – The Council of Europe can have a much bigger role in conflict settlement than it has today. That is the case because it is one of the primary democracy bodies of Europe. What will help us to solve the conflict will be more popular engagement in the decision-making process, including in the territories controlled by separatists. On the eve of the presidential elections in Georgia, I went to South Ossetia, a small territory of which 60% is controlled by central government. There is a small town in the territory, Tskhinvali, which has 15 000 or maybe 20 000 inhabitants who are still not under our control, but under the control of a self-proclaimed local government. I stopped my cars there and met the people. I never expected how warm and sweet they would be, and how much they would support me. They were supportive and welcoming. The only reaction of the local government was that it immediately called its police forces to protect its building, as if I was going to attack it and get those involved arrested. What the experience showed me is that, if those people had a say – I met them in downtown Tskhinvali, where everyone gathers – there would be no problem at an official level, as well as at a local level. The official problems would disappear overnight.
What the Council of Europe has to do is break through to the mentality of besieged castles in which people feel that they are being threatened from every side and that visitors are coming to seize them and kill them. That is exactly the reason why NGO involvement and participation by individual citizens in the decision-making process are important. The only thing on which such conflicts stand is myths invented by people who have an economic stake in separatism or some sort of personal dream or backroom view, or even act on the basis of foreign interests. Without such factors, and if people could participate in the political process, the problems would disappear. There is still a lot of potential for the Council of Europe’s role in dealing with such situations.
THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you. The next speaker is Mr Slutsky.
Mr SLUTSKY (Russian Federation) congratulated Mr Saakashvili on his election and asked whether he was intending to deal with the problem of transit traffic between Russia and Armenia.
Mr SAAKASHVILI. – It all depends on the good-will of the Russian leadership. If Russia really changes its role in Abkhazia – I hope that it will do so, and some of Mr Putin’s statements give us some hope that the position will be modified – and makes progress in repatriating internally displaced persons, the situation will improve. Some 300 000 people were thrown out from that region – more than half the population. The pre-war population was more than 600 000; now, no more than 60 000 or 70 000 people live there. It is a deserted, destitute place. It could be one of the most beautiful resort areas not only in the former Soviet Union, but in Europe.
If Russia becomes more constructive, and if progress is made in repatriating IDPs, giving them more humane conditions, the situation will have moved forward. Of course, Georgia wants transport and communications, and we want to provide our neighbours with all the help that we can, but it all depends on more humane solutions. We cannot ignore people who are living in miserable conditions in shelters, and say, “You have no chance in the future; we are simply going to continue our lives as if nothing is happening, so please get resigned to that idea.” We need some sort of settlement or to start to get such a settlement in order to achieve progress. I am open to that and I hope that the Russian leadership will be open to it. If the two of us decide to come together and to solve those issues, nothing can stand in our way. I am committed to a peaceful and quick resolution of those issues.
THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you. The next speaker is Mr Akçam.
Mr AKÇAM (Turkey). – I congratulate you, Mr President, on the occasion of your victory, and thank you for your excellent speech.
We have heard that, a week ago, the Parliament of Georgia approved a resolution with regard to the replacement of your national flag. We have also been informed that this new flag dates back to Georgia’s medieval glory days, but some people think that it is very similar to your own party flag. Will you please make some comments about that?
Mr SAAKASHVILI. – Well, the flag was used by my party, but it was also used by the whole Georgian nation, 97% of which voted for me. Basically, the flag was embraced by everybody, including our Muslim population. I was very careful to check the reaction of the Muslim community before we adopted the flag, because it has some Christian symbolism. However, we did not use it as a Christian symbol; we used it as a national symbol that comes from our national history. Such religious symbolism is used in other countries’ flags, and that is okay as long as those countries observe everybody’s rights.
I believe that Georgia is a multi-ethnic society and that that multiplicity and diversity are our strength. We need to use those things in a very positive way. Indeed, when we raised the flag, and the European flag, we had children from all ethnic minorities dressed in their national clothes to demonstrate to the whole world – it was broadcast live on CNN, the BBC and other channels – that we are supportive of diversity and think that it is our strength. I believe that that should be accepted as a part of normal life. Furthermore, the flag can leave no doubt as to our European identity, as colleagues can see when they look at it outside the Council of Europe. Along with Turkey, we aspire and strive to get closer to Europe and to be a part of Europe, where both of us belong.
THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you. The next question is from Mr Ateş.
Mr ATEŞ (Turkey). – I congratulate you, Mr President, on your new responsibilities, and I wish you and our neighbour, Georgia, every success.
In Turkey, we believe that the rose revolution and your election as the President of Georgia prove that the Georgian people are committed to the principle of democratic values. I should like to ask you a question in that context, although you have already answered most of it. Can you comment on your future plans to fulfil Georgia’s obligations stemming from her membership of the Council of Europe? I know that you have made many points, but are there any additional ones?
Mr SAAKASHVILI. – We are totally committed to fulfilling our obligations. As we know, the Monitoring Committee and the rapporteurs have done an excellent job. We are asking for some rescheduling but purely for technical reasons. We are committed to the obligations, as am I personally. This is not only a matter of imposing something on us; it is a matter of our choice, and our desires and wishes. Obviously, we are willing to comply with our own desires and wishes very quickly.
THE PRESIDENT. – The next speaker is Mr Ilaşcu.
Mr ILAŞCU (Romania) asked whether a court like The Hague should be established to deal with Russian forces who had committed crimes in Georgia and other former Soviet countries.
Mr SAAKASHVILI. – This is a very touchy question. I guess an international court of criminal justice will one day be able to prosecute every criminal who has violated international law. It should not be applied just to certain countries. International law is getting there. Of course war crimes were committed in our territory. Many people are still suffering from that. Somebody should be held accountable. Nationhood does not count here. Such criminals have no nationhood or ethnic origin. They should be held accountable. I am sure we will get there when such an international court is strong enough to get those criminals, wherever they are, even fifty years after the crime, as happened with the Holocaust. That should be applied to everyone.
THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you. The next question is from Mr Sysas from Lithuania.
Mr SYSAS (Lithuania). – Your Excellency, what are your plans or ideas in the capacity of president to promote co-operation with Armenia and Azerbaijan?
Mr SAAKASHVILI. – We are very committed to co-operation. We have very good relations and we want to make them even stronger. In addition, the wider partnership with Turkey is also very important for Georgia. We would like of course to include Russia and Ukraine, which is becoming a regional super-power. We welcome that, but Armenia and Azerbaijan are our closest and friendliest neighbours. We have diasporas of Armenians and Azeris who are fully fledged Georgian citizens, and we are very proud of that. We are going to deepen those relations. There is no question about that.
THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you. The next question is from Mr Markowski.
Mr MARKOWSKI (Poland). – Mr President, I thank you for an interesting, indeed a great, speech. My question is about Ajaria. On 22 January, during an interview on Georgian television, you said that you were going to restore order in Ajaria as well. That should be done as quickly as possible. What steps will you take to achieve that goal? Is it true that Tbilisi is preparing a military invasion of Ajaria, as was suggested by the Ajarian leader?
Mr SAAKASHVILI. – Thank you for watching one of our television stations. Thank you for your advice on re-establishing order there. I am doing that. The main thing is there is a local government there and that is elected by local people. I got 90% of the vote in that territory so all the talk about Ajaria as a separate problem is nonsense. It is a matter of establishing control over customs. There have been some problems on the Turkish border. They have already started to pay taxes. All the problems in connection with the control of the local military have been solved.
In terms of local elections, it is up to the people to decide. I am not going to intervene in that. Of course we will not tolerate any challenge to our national sovereignty in any part of our territory. In Ajaria, we are quite successful and I do not anticipate any problems in the future.
THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you. The next question is from Mr Zhirinovsky.
Mr ZHIRINOVSKY (Russian Federation) asked whether the President would be prepared to use force in unsettled areas. He also asked for an answer in Russian and wondered whether Mr Saakashvili would be speaking to Mr Putin in Russian.
THE PRESIDENT. – Would you like to answer that question, Mr Saakashvili?
Mr SAAKASHVILI. – Long time no see, Mr Zhirinovsky.
(The speaker continued in Russian)
He said he would answer in Russian and recognised that, in the past, control had been lost in parts of Georgia. It was necessary to have a dialogue with the Russian Federation in whatever common language was necessary to establish stability. The Georgian people had demonstrated their desire for democratic independence and he hoped that the peaceful progress that they had experienced would be mirrored elsewhere.
THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you. The next question is from Mr Prisăcaru.
Mr PRISĂCARU (Romania). – I congratulate you on your election as President of Georgia, Mr Saakashvili. My country is a future external border of the European Union. The aim should be to include Georgia in the wider Europe. What support could the Georgian authorities provide in respect of that political approach?
Mr SAAKASHVILI. – Thank you for that question. We watch with great interest what is happening in Romania. We want to learn a lot from you. In terms of European integration, Georgia is recovering from what has happened in the past few years. I have had conversations with Mr Prodi. I have been invited to Brussels where we will discuss the inclusion of Georgia in the wider European initiative.
Europe cannot pretend that we do not exist. One should acknowledge that and see that Georgia is a profoundly European nation, with European values, with European behaviour, although poor now because of the shortcomings of the previous leadership. However, we will restore our country. We do not want to be a burden to Europe. We do not want to be helped for ever, but we need help now. We are net contributors to European stability, European development and European civilisation. That is essentially how we see the role of Georgia.
We are ready to follow Bulgaria and Romania and other eastern European countries. I have had good conversations with President Kwasniewski. Your Foreign Minister was in Tbilisi. I was impressed by his advice and I am going to consider it. Basically the geography is there. The realities are there. It is a matter of acting quickly to avoid problems in future. What is happening in Georgia is a window of opportunity for everyone.
I read a beautiful article written by a former Prime Minister saying that if Georgia fails now it will be a failure for the whole region. If we are successful, we will shape geopolitics and government in the region. It will change everything for everyone. That is why we are closely watched by our friends in Moldova, Russia, Ukraine, in central Asia and other neighbouring countries. We are old friends. We do not believe you can copy models but it is important to wish your neighbours success and to share experiences. We do not claim that we can change anything in those countries, but it is a matter of the successful development of democracy. That will make the region a European region, or a region friendly to Europe. It will make Georgia a fully fledged European nation. We do not want anything more than that.
THE PRESIDENT.- Thank you. The next speaker is Mr Toshev.
Mr TOSHEV (Bulgaria). – I join those who welcomed you back to our European family, Mr President. My question relates to your policy on the Caucasus region. How do you view future cooperation between the three Caucasian states, and which policy are you are committed to pursuing in this respect?
Mr SAAKASHVILI. – In the long term, we see the region as a single united market, and a visa-free region in which there is freedom of movement. We also see it as, in many respects, a single political space that constitutes a continuation of the European space. Of course, there is a long way to go, and there are different paths to be taken in respect of the Council of Europe. Georgia was ahead of our dear friends and neighbours in its acceding to the Council of Europe; we were very happy when they joined, too. We have a common destiny, and ours is an interesting and diverse region, with great potential in terms of world civilisation. I am sure that it can be successful, but Georgia is the bridge to that success.
As part of the Black Sea region, Georgia, like Romania and Bulgaria, is helping in terms of integration into the European Union. We need to proceed step by step. Every nation has to decide how far it wants to go. We want to go as far as possible, but the other nations might want to take their own decisions. However, they will all want to get closer, and to enjoy the benefits of this interdependent European space. In that regard, I am sure that our neighbours will be no exception.
THE PRESIDENT. –hank you. The last question is from Mr Berisha.
Mr BERISHA (Albania). – congratulate you, Mr President, on your double victory. You won the election, but, much more importantly, you defeated one of the most kleptocratic regimes that ruled former Communist countries such as mine. Those kleptocrats resemble two low-flying birds with nests far from their countries. Will you ask for an international investigation of their secret accounts and assets?
Mr SAAKASHVILI. – Thank you for that valuable question. Of course, we share many of the same experiences. It is true that these people have taken most of their money out of their countries, because they never had any faith in my country, or in any of the countries that they looted. More than that, they virtually flew out of the country. Some of them went to Russia and others went to certain undisclosed locations. Ours is a small country with borders that are easily crossed; it is possible simply to flee and to stay in some other, very comfortable place.
We asked the Swiss Government to freeze the accounts of these people, but it asked for more information. My fear is that these people will move their assets elsewhere, because they already know that we are asking for details of their bank accounts. However, we will pursue them. We are demanding that Russia extradite the corrupt officials who looted the Georgian people. Those people and their funds will do no good for Russia.
Of course, countries such as Georgia, and many other nations that have been looted, are potentially rich. They are home to very resourceful people. The mafia is not part of our mentality. It originates from the upper echelons, and once we have addressed those echelons people will demonstrate their eagerness to live normally.
International justice should be respected, and in that regard I count on the help of other countries. In particular, I want to ask the delegation of the Russian Federation for its help. We have many common interests, and there is no alternative to partnership between Georgia and Russia. However, there is one precondition to that partnership. We do not want to keep in our territory any criminals wanted by Russia; nor do we want those of our officials who are corrupt to build nice villas in, and to live well in, Russia’s territory, and to wait for the time when they can put their money into Georgia’s various resources. The point is that any government would want to root out such people’s influence, and to deal with their corrupt way of doing business. Nobody benefits from actions such as theirs.
Let us once and for all agree that this issue is not only about government corruption. Corruption in Georgia also benefits from the illicit drugs and arms trades; in addition, there are nuclear proliferation issues and some other completely unacceptable practices. Every country suffers from those problems, and there is also the question of terrorism.
We need cooperation, and nobody should have an incentive to flee his or her own country. The rule of law should be respected, and such people should be held accountable. I am sure that we will deal with such regimes very soon.
THE PRESIDENT. – That brings to an end the questions to Mr Saakashvili. I thank you most warmly, Mr President, on behalf of the Assembly, for your address and for the remarks that you have made in response to the questions. I would be pleased if you could stay to listen to the opening of the debate relating to your country. In the name of the Assembly, I wish all the best to you and to Georgia.
4. Functioning of Democratic Institutions in Georgia
THE PRESIDENT. – The final item of business this after is the debate on the report on the functioning of democratic institutions in Georgia, presented by Mr Eörsi and Mr Kirilov on behalf of the Monitoring Committee (Document 10049).
The list of speakers closed at 12 noon today. Twenty-two speakers are on the list and there is one amendment.
We must interrupt the list of speakers at about 5.50 p.m. to allow time for the reply and the votes.
Are these arrangements agreed?
They are agreed.
I call Mr Eörsi.
Mr EÖRSI (Hungary). – Thank you, Mr President, and your Excellency Mikheil Saakashvili. Having heard your speech and your answers, I could destroy my speech, because you said everything.
Of course, we all realise that the democratic elections do not yet constitute the equivalent of democracy, but they are a precondition of democracy. As we know, since 1992, elections in Georgia have steadily worsened, culminating in the 2000 presidential election. After that, the Georgian Government and the then President himself were committed to doing things better, but the opposite happened. That has led us to the recent election, and we all know what happened then.
I want to add to what Mr Saakashvili said. What was good about the events in November in Tbilisi was that Georgia gave a lesson to the outside world: that if democratic institutions do not work, the people will express their will and show how powerful they are, thereby making a country more democratic.
I was not surprised to learn that many leaders in the region, including leaders of certain Council of Europe countries, were somewhat nervous on learning of what happened in Georgia. As was rightly said, we do not want to see a repeat of events that occurred in countries that are still autocratic. Rather, we want a repeat of what happened in Georgia, whereby there was no revolution but a peaceful outcome, with leaders listening to the people.
Of course, as Mr Saakashvili well knows, a political honeymoon is soon over. The country will soon be facing a further, parliamentary election. Indeed, we hope that that election will be even better than the previous one. The recent presidential election was far better than previous ones, but it was far from good enough. We believe that the parliamentary elections should be more competitive, and we hope that all the irregularities that we experienced will be dealt with in time for the parliamentary election in March.
There is now a new government in Georgia but, as we have heard, it faces the old challenges. We all know the tremendous problems that the country faces and the president honestly and frankly told us about the problems related to the economy, corruption and the new laws. There are new laws but they have not been implemented in full. Those laws must be strengthened in future.
You spoke about the sovereignty of your country, Mr Saakashvili. There are two so-called autonomous republics, but they are not autonomous. They pretend that they are independent and that is terrible. Our report called on Russia to remove its troops from the territory of Georgia and to stop supporting groups in those regions. Russia has brought the Chechen issue before us and it is fighting Chechen separatists, so how can it support separatists in another, much smaller country? There should be no separatism in Russia, and there should be none in Georgia. Separatist movements should not be supported by anyone.
Mr President, when you speak to the Secretary General, Mr Schwimmer, and to other leaders, will you specifically ask how we can help? We shall exert parliamentary pressure on our leaders to make things happen. We express our wishes to you and your country with a huge “Gaumarjos”.
THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you. I call Mr Kirilov, the co-rapporteur. You have four minutes.
Mr KIRILVOV (Bulgaria). – I was impressed by one phrase in Mr Saakashvili’s statement. He said that Georgia would like to fulfil its commitments, not because it must, but because that is in the interests of Georgia.
My colleague, Mr Eörsi, and I had a difficult year last year. We noticed that there would be big problems with the elections. We were very persistent and not very diplomatic – we verged on breaking the parliamentary conventions of the Council of Europe – in trying publicly to convince and privately to speak to the former leadership. When we discussed the issue in the Monitoring Committee, we were frank and open with our colleagues. We feared that Georgia would enter a dangerous phase of development.
We are happy that events turned out peacefully. When we discussed the region the other day, I referred to the Georgian example and said that it was important that the opposition behaved in a civilised fashion. The new leadership must carry out its commitments, and Mr Eörsi and I will carry out the resolution that is decided at the end of this debate. We want the work to start as soon as possible in the interests of Georgia.
We are convinced that the new leadership will show its commitment. Monitoring and assistance will take place at the same time so that we can move forward as soon as possible.
We took care of the rights of the opposition before the elections and we want things to be run democratically and for there to be an opposition in Georgia. You understand that because you were once in opposition, Mr Saakashvili.
We are full of hope and want to give you a chance to use all the resources of the Council of Europe. You have a fair wind behind you and, as you said, the window of opportunity before you is a narrow one. However, I hope that you use it effectively.
Like Mr Eörsi, I was overwhelmed by the president’s speech. We consider Georgia to be a gateway to democracy and freedom in the whole region. The ancient silk road was a similar gateway and we can be happy that we are part of a system under the democratic values of the Council of Europe.
THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you. I call Mr Kvakkestad, on behalf of the European Democratic Group. You have five minutes.
Mr KVAKKESTAD (Norway). – I congratulate the rapporteurs on their good report. It considers all new developments in Georgia.
Countries take on obligations when they become members of the Council of Europe, and those obligations are linked to countries and not just to specific regimes or presidents in office. The obligations on Georgia are binding in their entirety and they should have already been implemented. However, because of the extraordinary transition in Georgia, I accept that the timetable for their implementation needs adjustment.
We have high expectations of the will and the ability or Georgia’s newly elected president and of those soon-to-be elected parliamentarians when it comes to the fulfilment of Georgia’s obligations in an efficient and speedy manner. Even though we have those hopes and expectations it will be important to follow Georgia’s development in the coming period.
When it comes to conducting free and fair elections, my experience is that accurate voting lists are crucial. I have been to Georgia five times recently and I think that to have a good and functional voting register it is also necessary to have a good and functional civil register. A civil register might also help to solve other structural problems that exist in Georgia and in other countries.
As we know, the fulfilment of obligations is not just about laws and regulations; it is also about their implementation. It is important that governments encourage everyone in the work of creating a climate in which the human rights of the whole population are respected.
An important element in the so-called rose revolution was the media. The government had control over the governmental media and the opposition had the support of other television and media. The former opposition has now become the government with control over the governmental media, so it is important to examine how that might influence democratic and political developments.
We in the European Democratic Group hope that Georgia uses its opportunities advisedly and in a good manner. We wait for and look forward to the day when the rapporteurs can report back on positive and essential improvements regarding Georgia’s fulfilment of its obligations.
THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you. The next speaker is Ms Bargholtz,.
Ms BARGHOLTZ (Sweden). – I was one of many hundred people, many very young, who monitored the parliamentary elections in Georgia on 2 November last year. It was a great experience. As we have just heard, the election led to an historic result, in that Georgia had a new president, Mr Saakashvili. Perhaps it will be for the future to judge whether his election was historic, because he has a huge task ahead of him. In any case, it will be exciting to follow developments.
I was the Council of Europe’s rapporteur for the election in Georgia. In my report to the Bureau of the Assembly, the Ad Hoc Committee for the election made important recommendations and reached important conclusions.
The parliamentary elections in Georgia did not adhere to internationally accepted democratic standards in a significant number of ways. The irregularities, and the degree of disorganisation encountered, reflected the lack of a collective political will to organise elections in line with the obligations that Georgia assumed with its accession to the Council of Europe. Those problems seriously undermined Georgia’s credibility as a member state of this organisation.
I hope that the very positive account given by Mr Saakashvili today will lead to better results in the future. However, I learned a lot during my visit to Georgia about how fragile a good democracy is.
Public confidence in the election process was very low, and the events on and after election day did nothing to improve matters. Public confidence in the election process is essential in a democratic society. What will happen if people do not believe in the democratic process? The Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe in Georgia can play a key role in helping the authorities in that respect. It is regrettable that most parties involved, if not all of them, used public distrust in the electoral process as part of their campaign strategies.
The inaccuracy of the voters list overshadowed the election’s preparation. As in previous elections, it served to disenfranchise many otherwise eligible voters. I shall never forget the little lady who stood for four hours outside a polling station waiting to cast her vote. When she got inside, she was told that she was not on the electoral roll but that her husband, who had been dead for ten years, was.
The decision by the Central Election Commission on the afternoon of election day to allow people to be added to the lists of voters in the polling stations added to the confusion. It also contravened the law, in that it constituted a de facto return to the use of supplementary voters’ lists that had been abolished, on the recommendation of the OSCE and the Council of Europe, because of its problematic nature. The degree of inaccuracy of the voters lists was unacceptable. I can testify that it was very confusing in the polling stations, because people did not know whether they were allowed to vote after 8 p.m.
The unified election code forms an adequate basis for the organisation of elections, but some concerns remain. The Ad Hoc Committee for the election made certain recommendations as a result. First, it recommended that precinct results be published in the official protocols that appear on the district level. That would ensure the transparency of the tabulation process at all times. It also stated that a detailed breakdown of the result should be published by the central election committee and by the district election committee. We know how confusing the outcome of the election was.
The committee’s second recommendation was that fingerprints be taken using indelible ink and that that should happen everywhere, even in villages with only one polling station. That anti-fraud measure was intended significantly to lessen the incidence of multiple voting. In the second election, there was no problem with fingerprinting, even though people had objected in the first. In addition, there needs to be more precision about the calculation of the 7% representation threshold so as to avoid misunderstanding.
The second presidential election in Georgia has brought the country closer to meeting international standards, but much remains to be done to improve democracy there. The next test will come on 28 March: let that election be free and fair.
THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you. I call Ms Patarkalishvili.
Ms PATARKALISHVILI (Georgia). – It is not easy for me to make a speech after my president made such an interesting address, but I shall try.
The recent parliamentary elections in Georgia were no exception to the rule that the lack of political will to defend the freedoms and rights of individuals inevitably leads to popular protests and a handover of power. The elections also showed that that could happen peacefully.
There was great concern when the previous, unconstitutional parliament came to power, because it was the clear consequence of fraud and the violation of freedom. At that time, one third of the total number of voters had no right to vote. In the immediate pre-election period, it was clear that the result would not reflect the genuine wish of voters.
The national movement and democratic bloc opposed the authority of those in power and took responsibility to mobilise voters to defend the rights of the people. In polling stations all over the country, people searched in vain for their names on the lists of voters.
Given the number of complaints that were made, it was hard to imagine that people would not be allowed to vote in the election because their names were missing from the lists. That was the last straw for a discontented populace. The massive demonstrations organised in Tbilisi by Mikheil Saakashvili, the head of the national movement, and by the leaders of the democratic bloc, Nino Burjanadze and Zhurab Zhvania, inflamed Georgia.
People from all regions of Georgia responded to the leaders’ call. They passed through police barriers and pickets and showed great joy when they arrived in the capital city. Not the rain or the powerful winds, nor the state of emergency in the country or the detached specialised forces, could stop them participating in the protest, which lasted for three weeks.
When the number of demonstrators reached its peak, there were about 100 000 of them. Shevardnadze was obliged to resign, having been forced to do so by peaceful people. Not a drop of blood was shed because people were happy: at last they had achieved their goal, and they expressed their hope for a better future in the tears that they shed.
Strong opposition to the new presidential elections came from some political parties and the existing official structure. That was accompanied by attacks on journalists and the arrest of activists, as happened in Ajaria, but people expressed their free democratic will by voting in support of Mr Saakashvili, who is now known as the leader of Georgia’s rose revolution. People gave him his mandate with confidence and high expectations that there would be radical changes in social and economic life. They believed that he would fight corruption and put an end to the former violations of power and electoral fraud. They expected him to reform the police force, to be committed to all the necessary legislative and institutional reforms that have been stressed constantly by the Council of Europe. The forthcoming parliamentary elections will be the first sign, paving the way to democracy.
People are starting to live in peace and democracy, within the wider neighbourhood, and the territorial integrity of Georgia is being restored. Russia has played a role in solving these problems.
“My presidency will be the governing of people”, declared President Saakashvili, and in this context I have the honour of congratulating him on being elected as President of Georgia. I express my best wishes for the great success of his presidency. We will witness the democratic transformation of Georgia in close co-operation with the Council of Europe and the international community.
THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you. The next speaker is Mr Severin.
Mr SEVERIN (Romania). – I congratulate the rapporteurs on their reports, but almost everything has been said. I want to stress the link between the internal and the international processes. It is obvious that Georgia will be unable to implement the Council of Europe’s standards unless its regional constitutional problems are solved. That will depend on the solution of neighbouring problems, which need an appropriate international and European environment.
I should like to make four points. First, President Saakashvili said that Georgia is in Europe. That is absolutely right, but Georgia is also in the Caucasus. A move by Georgia towards Europe will require a global solution and co-operation in the Caucasus. A trans-Caucasian commonwealth would be an excellent step towards the European Union, but we should become more involved in finding a solution to conflicts in that area.
Secondly, the rehabilitation of Georgia’s social fabric is extremely important, and not only to that country, because it will help others to rehabilitate. Georgia must first find a social fabric in which different identities can live together, united by the mutual recognition of rights, not divided by respective autonomies. In that regard, perhaps we should look again at the Council of Europe’s approach to autonomy to ascertain which autonomies will unite people and preserve the social fabric, and which will only divide people and be used to achieve geopolitical goals.
Thirdly, there is a link between democracy and corruption, but we cannot have democracy with corruption because democracy requires the exclusion of corruption. Corruption is linked with pseudo-states, which some people describe as failed states. We have to be extremely determined to overcome that problem. Wherever in Europe such situations exist today, they are not recognised states but are beyond the international order in respect of corruption and organised crime.
Lastly, the rapporteur correctly said that the report calls on Russia to do various things. That is very good, but it is not enough just to call on Russia. Russia must be motivated to proceed in the desired way. We must therefore create an international environment that would give Russia guarantees for its own security, and a real role in Europe. That will allow Russia to do what we expect of it. In that regard, the Council of Europe should start by reforming itself and giving itself the tools that will allow it to be a pan-European organisation, able properly to monitor the structure of a wider Europe. If we do our homework, I am sure that Georgia will do its homework in due time. I am talking not about school homework but about real policy that involves people.
THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you. The next speaker is Mr Akhvlediani.
Mr AKHVLEDIANI (Georgia). – I thank the rapporteurs, Mr. Eörsi and Mr Kirilov, for their special and useful work.
I have only a few sentences to deliver. On 4 January, Georgia took a most important test, which, with other recent events, showed how much civil and political culture in our society has improved.
Georgia and the rest of the world are looking at the new president with hope, linking to him the country’s prospects for revival. Most Georgian people believe that Mr Saakashvili will not only intensify Georgia’s integration in the rest of the world but address issues that have been unsolved for many years: corruption, the loss of controlled territories, security and our people’s welfare. I am confident that the Council of Europe will give special support to the new president, and that Europe will soon see a flourishing, successful, strong Georgia as a result of a common effort.
THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you. The next speaker is Mr Frunda, but he is not in the room. I call Ms Tevdoradze.
Ms TEVDORADZE (Georgia) said that she recognised the difficult circumstances under which the rapporteurs had worked under while in Georgia. They had served as rapporteurs and also as mediators who had fostered a peaceful settlement in Georgia. She thanked them for this. As a member of Parliament in Georgia, she had seen people suffering from illness, poverty, cold and lack of health-care. They had believed elections could improve their position and had been forced to protest on the streets when they ended up with the same government again.
She had studied the report and its recommendations very carefully. She was pleased that the report reflected the situation in Georgia in a positive light. She hoped to return to the Council of Europe within the allotted time and report success. She had always been in opposition to President Shevardnadze. He had regarded her as a great opponent. She had changed her party political allegiance because she had felt like a voice in the wilderness. He had never forgiven her. In her new role she intended to impose checks and controls to ensure that Georgia met its commitments.
THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you. The next speaker is Ms Hurskainen of the Socialist Group.
Ms HURSKAINEN (Finland). – Democracy is seen not only as a tool for affecting things, but as a value in itself. It is considered a symbol of freedom and welfare. In other words, it is a promise for a better tomorrow. Democracy has succeeded in something in which many other administrative systems have failed – stabilising the prevailing conditions. Acute crises are therefore less probable in democracies. Democracy is indeed something worth reaching for.
Demos, people, and kratos, power, are what democracy is about – the power of people. Recent political history has shown us that the way towards a real and functioning democracy – the power of people – is in many cases long and stony. The presidential elections in Azerbaijan last October and in Georgia this January indicated that presidential election observation is a significant tool for the development of democracy. It is important for democratic development that the Council of Europe, among the other international observers, is involved through its observations with the transition process towards democracy in the countries that are taking their first steps in such development. Without free and fair elections, no country can be considered democratic.
The presidential elections in Georgia this January demonstrated that there is hope in democracy in countries that do not have a democratic past. The contrast between the parliamentary elections that took place last November and the presidential elections this January showed that, with the presidential election, Georgia took further steps towards achieving international standards in respect of democratic practices.
Political will is the fundamental question in democracy. The countries that are in the transition process towards democracy need to have a will of their own for real changes; we cannot live through those changes on their behalf. Our responsibility is to give support and guidance with their democratising process. Observing elections is a very important aspect. It means guaranteeing people’s fundamental civil rights.
Having returned from the Middle East last night, I must say a few words about what is happening there today. Walls are being built on the West Bank – walls that will separate Palestinians and Israeli people from each other. In other words, ghettos are being built once again, this time in the Middle East. Can we in Europe stand by and do nothing? I leave you with that open question.
THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you. The next speaker is Mr Herkel.
Mr HERKEL (Estonia). – As one of the Parliamentary Assembly’s observers in the Georgian elections – I observed both the extraordinary presidential elections and the parliamentary elections in November, before the rose revolution – I wish to make some remarks.
I fully agree with the report prepared by Mr Eörsi and Mr Kirilov. There are many critical remarks in the written report, but there is also a very deep analysis. I think that the report is very useful for the future, and we genuinely hope that the new Georgian administration will consider the critical remarks in particular.
In my opinion, there are at least two important preconditions of democracy in Georgian society – the relatively free press and strong non-governmental organisations. When we speak about elections, we cannot speak only about what happens in the polling stations on election day. We must consider the functioning of the whole of society and view a much longer period as the period of active campaign. In that regard, the preconditions of democracy in Georgia seem much better than those in some neighbouring countries, as we discussed here yesterday and on Monday.
There is a remarkable press freedom in Georgia. The position is probably not ideal, but we can say that freedom of speech was, to a certain extent, guaranteed in Georgia even when the basic freedom to vote was not guaranteed during the November elections. Yesterday, we considered a very important document and had a very important discussion about public service broadcasting. I hope that one of the steps that the new Georgian leadership will make is to establish really independent public service broadcasting without any interference from government.
I would like to emphasise the role of Georgian NGOs, which organised very good and detailed observation of elections both on 4 January and on 2 November. They were present in each polling station from 7 o’clock in the morning until the counting of votes was finished. In my opinion, the work that they did in November was decisive in promoting the rose revolution. Organisations such as For Fair Elections and Young Lawyers of Georgia made it clear to the Georgian people that fraud was evident in the November elections.
I emphasise the positive remarks that I made about the press and NGOs. They cannot guarantee democratic development or the prosperity of the country. However, they give a possibility for and are the preconditions of future developments. They are important.
Of course, there are many problems to be resolved in Georgia. Many are mentioned in the report. The main question is how to strengthen the administrative capability of the state. The first challenge is to organise fair, democratic and competitive elections in March. I wish Georgia a lot of success.
THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you.
I must now interrupt the list of speaker. 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 call Mr Eörsi. You have two minutes.
Mr EÖRSI (Hungary). – I want to thank all our colleagues for their wonderful words. When our Georgian colleagues were speaking about our activities, I felt embarrassed. If my mother had been here, she would have been proud of me. If my father had been here, he would not believe what was said; he would have said that it was all done by the Georgian people, who should be very proud of their activities.
There is not much to say. I feel that there is huge support from the Assembly for Georgia. Ms Herczog from the Socialist Group was not able to speak but we spoke earlier and I think she is right. She told me about the huge project of building the oil pipeline via Georgia. It is a major project. All the super-powers, including the United States and Russia, are exerting their influence and that small country often feels that it cannot protect itself. The Council of Europe should offer assistance also in that respect. The super-powers cannot absorb that small country. I thank her for her comment.
We often say how much we should help our member countries. I ask all of you, including the Committee of Ministers and the Secretariat, to focus on Georgia. It is full of hope. That hope must be utilized to achieve a huge success not only for the Council of Europe but even more important for Georgia and its people. I hope that we will do a good job.
THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you. I call Mr Kirilov. You have two minutes.
Mr KIRILOV (Bulgaria). – I think that all has been said. I am sorry that I missed the last speech because I had to undertake an urgent task.
Colleagues referred to the atmosphere and attitudes, which showed that a new start has been made in the whole development. We should tell all our Georgian friends that this window of opportunity has existed for some time. Time must be utilised in the most effective way. That corresponds not just to the hopes of the Council of Europe but to the hopes of the Georgian people. I watched the all-night celebrations there and I thought that their expectations were very high. A good deal of the realistic expectations have to be met in order to have stability in Georgia.
THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you. I call Ms Durrieu, the Chair of the committee.
Ms DURRIEU (France) thanked the rapporteurs for their work. She said Georgia was different to other countries in the region, as it could become a model for the future as the Assembly had hoped from the outset. The Monitoring Committee would monitor compliance with the list of commitments yet to be fulfilled and wished to see progress over time. The whole region should find new strength through a stabilised Georgia.
THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you. The debate is closed.
We now proceed to vote on the draft resolution and the draft recommendation.
The Monitoring Committee has presented a draft resolution contained in Document 10049, to which one amendment has been tabled.
We come now to Amendment No. 1, tabled by parliamentarians Eörsi, Kirilov, Wohlwend, Frunda and Kvakkestad, which is in the draft resolution, replace paragraph 13 with the following paragraph:
“Due to the extraordinary character of the transition that took place in Georgia, the Assembly sees the need to negotiate new deadlines with the new authorities of Georgia under which they will be obliged to fulfil the commitments which Georgia undertook upon her accession to the Council of Europe, and to review those commitments.”
I call Mr Eörsi to support Amendment No. 1.
Mr EÖRSI (Hungary). – The original draft was not formulated properly. It could have been interpreted as a draft of order. In order to simplify the matter, we rephrased it a little so that the Assembly is not instructing its Monitoring Committee but expressing its wish that negotiations start. That point was made by the Secretariat, so we are aiming to improve the text. We hope that the Assembly will support that.
THE PRESIDENT. – I understand that the Monitoring Committee wishes to propose an oral sub-amendment which reads as follows:
At the end of the amendment, delete the words “and to review those commitments”.
In my opinion the oral sub-amendment meets the criteria of Rule 34.6, and can be considered unless ten or more members of the Assembly object.
Is there any opposition to the oral sub-amendment being debated? Ten members have shown their opposition so it cannot be debated.
On the amendment, the Committee is obviously in favour.
Ms DURRIEU (France) said that the Committee had been in favour of the amended Amendment but she did not think that it had given an opinion on the original Amendment.
THE PRESIDENT. – But ten members were against the oral sub-amendment being debated, so it cannot be debated.
Mr EÖRSI (Hungary). – On a point of clarification, the Monitoring Committee also discussed paragraph 13. It provided full support for those five words, which would be deleted through the oral sub-amendment. The Committee supported the original text. Our change had nothing to do with those five words. Originally, the Committee also supported the five words. There can be a vote. Ms Durrieu would agree that the Monitoring Committee supported the amendment at the Monday meeting. I hope that she will do so.
Ms DURRIEU (France) accepted Mr Eörsi’s point and supported the original amendment.
THE PRESIDENT. – Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment?
I call Mr Cilevičs to speak against the amendment.
Mr CILEVIČS (Latvia). – I am very sorry to speak against the amendment, but I regret even more the fact that, due to procedural factors, the sub-amendment was rejected. I have some sympathy in respect of this issue, but if we adopt the amendment we might create the impression that the Council of Europe’s interpretation of the standards of democracy and human rights depends on concrete commitments. It was the nation state of Georgia that undertook certain commitments upon accession to the Council of Europe.
As to deadlines, yes, it is clear that, under the circumstances, they should be changed. However, the commitments themselves should not be changed. I wonder how our rapporteurs will be able to do their job if they do not know which commitments they are to enforce, and which commitments will be reviewed. It would be preferable if concrete commitments were indicated. But, in general, we are simply undermining the Assembly’s previous decision. No one knows which commitment Georgia must honour.
THE PRESIDENT. – We have heard that the committee is in favour.
The vote is open.
Amendment No. 1 is adopted.
THE PRESIDENT. – We will now proceed to a vote on the whole of the draft resolution contained in Document 10049, as amended.
The vote is open.
The draft resolution in Document 10049, as amended, is adopted.
THE PRESIDENT. – The Monitoring Committee has presented a draft recommendation to Document 10049, to which no amendments have been tabled. We will now proceed to vote on the whole of the draft recommendation contained in Document 10049.
The vote is open.
The draft recommendation in Document 10049 is adopted.
5. Changes in the membership of committees
THE PRESIDENT. – Our next business is to consider the changes proposed in the membership of committees. These are set out in document commissions (2004)1 addendum 2.
Are the proposed changes to the membership of the Assembly’s committees agreed to?
They are agreed to.
6. Date, time and orders of the day of the next sitting
THE PRESIDENT. – I propose that the Assembly hold its next public sitting tomorrow at 10 a.m., with the following orders of the day which were approved on Monday 26 January.
Are there any objections?
That is not the case.
The orders of the day of the next sitting are agreed.
The sitting is closed.
(The sitting was closed at 6.05 p.m.)