AS (2007) CR 1
2007 ORDINARY SESSION
Monday 22 January 2007 at 11 30.m.
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.
The contents page for this sitting is given at the end of the verbatim report.
Mr Barceló Pérez, the oldest member present, took the Chair at 11.35 a.m.
1. Opening of the 2007 Ordinary Session
THE PRESIDENT (Translation). – The sitting is open.
I declare the first part-session of the 2007 Ordinary Session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe open.
(Continued in summary)
The President said that January was the start of the session and it was appropriate that there should be a solemn ceremony. It was a great privilege and honour to perform the opening of the session. He wanted to congratulate all members of this august Assembly, which brought together a wide range of opinions, and stood for upholding human rights, both inside and outside Europe.
2. Examination of credentials
THE PRESIDENT (Translation). – The first order of the day is the examination of credentials of members of the Assembly, which have been submitted to the President in accordance with Rule 6.
The names of Representatives and Substitutes are in Document 11124. If no credentials are contested, the credentials will be ratified.
Are any credentials contested?
The credentials are ratified.
3. Election of the President of the Assembly
THE PRESIDENT (Translation). – The next order of the day is the election of the President of the Assembly.
Under Rule 13 of the Rules of Procedure, no Representative can be a candidate for the presidency unless nominated in writing by at least 10 Representatives or Substitutes at least forty-eight hours before the opening of the session or part-session.
I have received one candidature: that of Mr René van der Linden.
In accordance with Rule 13.3 I therefore declare Mr René van der Linden elected President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe for this ordinary session.
Mr van der Linden, I congratulate you on your election.
(Mr van der Linden, President of the Assembly, took the Chair in place of Mr Barceló Pérez.)
(Continued in summary)
The President wished all members and their families a very happy new year and thanked members for their confidence in re-electing him. He said that he would continue to promote and defend the Assembly, the Council of Europe and its common values. The progress of political priorities in 2006 was appreciated. The visibility of the Assembly had increased; this underlined its status as an indisputable central pillar of the Council of Europe.
He highlighted Senator Marty’s report on detention. This had helped him to become Swiss Politician of the Year. Ken Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, had said “since the United States cannot provide credible leadership on human rights, European countries would have to pick up the slack.” This was an issue of moral conscience. Member states and the Assembly needed to promote democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
The European Union also needed to respect human rights by the use of the institutions of the Council of Europe. A new European Union human rights agency was set up in December. It was important that this did not duplicate Council of Europe work and that the Council of Europe was represented on it. The debate on this agency had highlighted the potential of the Council of Europe and showed that politicians of member states needed to increase their cooperation with the European Parliament.
The visit of Pope Benedict VI helped people to understand Turkey better. The contribution of Turkey to planning of a joint conference on intercultural and inter-religious dialogue had been very positive. Turkey had a vital role in Europe’s future. Moves to stop closer links between Turkey and Europe were short-sighted and counter-productive.
He looked forward to a positive approach towards Russia. He had recently visited the Novaya Gazeta, the newspaper that Anna Politkovskaya had worked for. There had been discussions with the Russian Federation about ratifying Protocol No. 14. It was important for the Assembly to support and encourage ratification as this was crucial in helping the work of the European Court of Human Rights.
Isolation of Belarus would not help to encourage democratic reform. He had recently visited that country and raised concerns on this matter. He was pleased by the welcome he had received from members of the opposition and representatives of civil society. He hoped that he could look forward to concrete steps being taken to help the Council of Europe aid the process of democratic change in Europe.
(The speaker continued in English)
Let us continue to look to the future. The Assembly’s activities in 2007 will have several important highlights. Our first annual debate on the state of human rights and democracy in Europe in April will present the Council of Europe in a whole new light by combining the work of all its mechanisms, complementing them with contributions from our external partners, especially civil society. Thanks to the Assembly’s political and media profile, we will greatly enhance the impact of the Council of Europe’s activities. The annual debate will provide an accurate and sensitive overview for maintaining our focus on core activities and political priorities. It will also provide a foundation for activities in national parliaments, informing debate on issues such as racism and xenophobia and combating violence in everyday life.
I expect the coming year also to see fresh momentum behind the campaign for worldwide abolition of the death penalty. The heinous killings of Saddam Hussein and his henchmen in Iraq have created, despite their being some of the worst criminals in history, a wave of revulsion and condemnation that we must use in support of our own longstanding campaign. Next month, I will address the opening session of the third World Congress Against the Death Penalty. The Council of Europe is now only one small step away from complete abolition of the death penalty in peace time – a step that I hope that the Russian authorities will take in the very near future. As events during 2006 show, however, we must remain ever vigilant to anything that may threaten this achievement. We must use our political leverage to promote universal abolition, starting with our observer states, Japan and the United States, and our neighbours, Belarus and Kazakhstan.
In this week’s session, we will once again be displaying our added value when it comes to our core activities. It is highly significant that Mr Ahtisaari has chosen this, the only Assembly of parliamentarians from all of Europe’s democracies, to discuss for the first time his report on the future status of Kosovo. Equally, the address by His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I proves our importance as a forum for intercultural and inter-religious dialogue. I also look forward to the addresses by the Prime Ministers of Belgium and Greece – Guy Verhofstadt, one of the strongest promoters of European integration, and Konstantinos Karamanlis, who has put old enmities behind him in promoting Turkish accession to the European Union. We will also welcome Princess Caroline of Hanover for an important debate on children’s rights.
The murder last Friday of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, following the death of Anna Politkovskaya, gives renewed urgency to the proposal for a debate on threats to the lives and freedom of expression of journalists.
Finally, I would like to refer to two related issues that are not normally raised in this forum but that are crucial to the continuing good functioning of the Assembly. The Council of Europe’s budget for 2007 was adopted only with enormous difficulty caused mainly by narrow and unhelpful positions taken by certain so-called big payers. Indeed, those very same states that caused most difficulties were at the same time agreeing to the creation of an agency that risks duplicating the Council of Europe’s activities at a spiralling cost of tens of millions of euros per year. In the end, our member states failed to live up to their high promises of the Warsaw Summit. Limited expansion of resources for the Court will come at a cost to our activities. Sooner or later, this slow strangulation will cause a discernable decrease in our effectiveness and impact. If the present climate continues, I have no doubt that many member states would react by demanding further reductions. In the end, this vicious circle will bring the Council of Europe to death by 1 000 cuts. Of course, we must do our utmost to increase efficiency; that is why the Assembly is focusing our core business on defining its priorities. I urge parliamentarians and diplomats not to allow overfamiliarity or cynicism to dull their appreciation of our work and to redouble their promotion of the Council of Europe in national capitals.
My other point concerns the Secretariat, whose skill and dedication provide essential support to everything we do. Recent structural reforms have gravely undermined morale, with the potential to detract from the enthusiasm with which they contribute to our activities. One need only look at this week’s session to realise that our Secretariat is subject to a level of exposure and responsibility that is unique in the Organisation. I therefore strongly urge the Secretary General to reconsider his policy on job classification to ensure that the work of the Assembly staff is fully recognised. He has already promised to have a meeting of the procedures committee, which we very much appreciate.
The Assembly is an example to the Council of Europe of how, with the right political leadership and courage, we can provide flexible, innovative and effective support to the protection and promotion of democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Europe and beyond.
I look forward to another session week in which we prove it.
4. Voting cards and the register of attendance
THE PRESIDENT. – I remind all members – including any non-voting Substitutes and Observers – to sign the attendance lists outside the doors of the Chamber at the beginning of every sitting.
I also remind all Representatives and duly designated Substitutes to place their voting cards in the slot so as to ensure that the electronic system will work properly.
Thirdly, I remind you to switch off mobile phones during sittings of the Assembly and during committee meetings.
5. Election of Vice-Presidents
The next order of the day is the election of Vice-Presidents of the Assembly.
No Representative or Substitute may be elected Vice-President unless proposed in writing by the chairperson of the national delegation concerned on behalf of that delegation. I have received 20 nominations for the 20 posts. They are as follows, in order of precedence by age:
Mr Erik Jurgens (Netherlands)
Mr Bernard Schreiner (France)
Mr José Vera Jardim (Portugal)
Mr Joachim Hörster (Germany)
Mr Göran Lindblad (Sweden)
Mr Tony Lloyd (United Kingdom)
Mr Per-Kristian Foss (Norway)
Mrs Darja Lavtižar-Bebler (Slovenia)
Mr Walter Schmied (Switzerland)
Mr Serhiy Holovaty (Ukraine)
Mr Murat Mercan (Turkey)
Mr Cezar Florin Preda (Romania)
Mr Andrea Rigoni (Italy)
Mr Konstantin Kosachev (Russian Federation)
Mr Miloš Aligrudić (Serbia)
Mr Karol Karski (Poland)
Mr Aleksander Biberaj (Albania)
Mr Joan Farré Santuré (Andorra)
Mr Oliver Sambevski (“The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”)
Mrs Edita Angyalová (Slovakia)
The candidates proposed by the national delegations shall be declared elected without a ballot under Rule 14.4 of the Rules of Procedure. However, if there is a request for a vote by at least 20 Representatives or Substitutes in respect of one or several candidates, they shall be elected by secret ballot. Does anyone wish to request a vote?
Since there has been no request for a vote, I declare these candidates elected as Vice-Presidents of the Assembly, in accordance with Rule 14.4 of the Rules of Procedure.
6. Appointment of committees
THE PRESIDENT. – The next order of the day is the appointment of members of committees.
The candidatures for the general committees and the Monitoring Committee have been published in documents, which have been made available as Commissions 2007 (1).
These candidatures are submitted to the Assembly in accordance with Rule 43.6.
Are these proposals approved?
The proposed candidatures are approved and the committees are appointed accordingly.
7. Requests for urgent procedure and current affairs debate
THE PRESIDENT. – Before we examine the draft order of business, the Assembly needs to consider the two requests for urgent procedure, which have been made in accordance with Rule 50 of the Rules of Procedure. They are: threats to the lives and freedom of expression of journalists; and current tensions between Russia and Georgia.
We will make separate decisions on each proposal in a few moments. But first I should inform the Assembly of the proposal of the Bureau on these requests. The Bureau examined these requests on 15 December and this morning. It decided to support only the first request for debate under urgent procedure – that means threats to the lives and freedom of expression of journalists.
The Assembly must now consider the two requests for urgent procedure in turn.
The first request for urgent procedure is for a debate on threats to the lives and freedom of expression of journalists. The request was submitted by Mr Legendre, on behalf of the Committee on Culture, Science and Education.
At its meetings on 15 December and this morning, the Bureau approved this request and therefore recommends to the Assembly that the matter be placed on the order of business for this part-session. If the Assembly agrees with the Bureau’s proposal, the Bureau proposes to hold the debate and vote as the first item on the morning of Thursday 25 January.
Does the Assembly agree to the recommendation of the Bureau that this debate should be placed on the order of business for this part-session?
I propose that the matter of threats to the lives and freedom of expression of journalists be referred to the Committee on Culture, Science and Education for report and to the Political Affairs Committee and the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights for opinion.
Is this agreed?
This reference is agreed to.
The second request for urgent procedure is for a debate on current tensions in Russia and Georgia. This request was submitted by Mr Lintner on behalf of the Monitoring Committee.
At its meeting this morning the Bureau decided not to recommend an urgent debate at this part-session.
Is the Bureau’s proposal accepted?
The Bureau’s recommendation is accepted, and the request for a debate current tensions in Russia and Georgia is not agreed to.
I propose that the matter of current tensions between Russia and Georgia be referred to the Monitoring Committee and the Political Affairs Committee. I ask the two rapporteurs, Mr Eörsi and Mr Van den Brande, to continue their excellent work. They made a big contribution to the first positive steps, which we saw last week. I want to thank them for that.
The Bureau received three requests for a current affairs debate. Under Rule 52, the Bureau may propose only one subject for a current affairs debate. Earlier this morning, the Bureau decided to propose a current affairs debate on the threat to the European Court of Human Rights: urgent need for Russia to ratify Protocol No. 14.
If it is agreed, the Bureau proposes that the debate take place on Thursday morning following the urgent debate on threats to the lives and freedom of expression of journalists, as set out in the draft order of business, and the Bureau has chosen Mr Marty as opening speaker.
Is the proposal for a current affairs debate on the threat to the European Court of Human Rights: urgent need for Russia to ratify Protocol No. 14 agreed to?
The proposal is agreed to.
8. Adoption of the order of business
THE PRESIDENT. – The next order of the day is the adoption of the order of business for the first part of the 2007 Ordinary Session.
The draft order of business, which is submitted for the Assembly’s approval, was brought up to date by the Bureau on 15 December and this morning. It has been distributed and members have had the opportunity to read it.
I call Mr Marty.
Mr MARTY (Switzerland) said that, for personal reasons, Mr Christos Pourgourides, Rapporteur of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, would not be able to be present on Friday to speak on the committee’s report on fair trial issues in criminal cases concerning espionage or divulging state secrets. This was a very important subject and Mr Pourgourides would be essential to the debate. The debate should therefore be deferred to a future session.
THE PRESIDENT. – The Bureau is not in favour of postponing this. The Bureau accepts the order of business as it is, including on Friday. That means that somebody has to replace Mr Pourgourides as chairman of the committee. That is clear, but a request has been made by Mr Marty and I have to take it to a vote.
Does anyone wish to speak against?
We will vote on the proposal.
The vote is open.
The proposal is adopted, with 105 votes for, 33 against and 15 abstentions.
Is the draft order of business, as amended, agreed to?
It is agreed to.
9. Time limit on speeches
THE PRESIDENT. – Because it is clear that there will be a large number of speakers and amendments for the debates all day Tuesday and Wednesday, speeches all day on Tuesday and Wednesday will be limited to four minutes.
Is that agreed to?
It is agreed to.
10. Adoption of the minutes of the Standing Committee
THE PRESIDENT. – The minutes of the meeting of the Standing Committee in San Marino on 17 November 2006 have been distributed.
I invite the Assembly to take note of those minutes.
11. Progress report
THE PRESIDENT. – We come now to the debate on the progress report, which must conclude by 12.30 p.m., when we will hear the address by Patriarch Bartholomew.
We will have to interrupt the list of speakers in the debate on the progress report at about 12.25 p.m.
Is this agreed to?
I call Mr Hancock, on a point of order.
Mr HANCOCK (United Kingdom). – If we are to discuss the future progress of the Assembly, it is vital that ample time is given to speakers. We have spent nearly twenty minutes introducing the week’s activities, laudable as that is, and we will now get only twenty minutes to debate something as important as the progress of the Assembly, which includes the time given to the rapporteur to introduce and close the debate. That is totally inappropriate, and the Assembly should take note of it. It is unfortunate that because we have a guest speaker here, no matter how worthy of our attention, the Assembly can devote no more than twenty minutes to debating its own future and the progress that it has made to date. If we cannot have an opportunity to be critical of that progress, there is little chance of any parliamentarian ever affecting what the Assembly does. I urge the Assembly to give more time to the debate, even if it has to be this afternoon.
THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you, Mr Hancock. I take into account your remarks.
We come now to the presentation by Mr Preda of the progress report of the Bureau and the Standing Committee, Document 11123, Parts 1 and 2 and Addendum.
Mr PREDA (Romania) said that he would like to take the opportunity to wish all representatives and their families a prosperous new year. In November last year, the Bureau of the Assembly and of the Standing Committee had visited San Marino, where they had received outstanding hospitality. Their visit had coincided with the 18th anniversary of San Marino’s membership of the Council of Europe. He thanked Mr Fiorenzo Stolfi, deputy minister in San Marino’s foreign ministry for being present during the visit, and gave a warm welcome to the President.
The 2006 report had shown that the members of the Standing Committee had been particularly active in the last session. Their proposals had been put to the Assembly at the meeting last July. On 6 October, the Bureau had approved their proposals, and one of them had already been implemented. This was that, on Mondays, the Parliamentary Assembly should begin at 11.30 a.m. rather than 3.00 p.m., allowing the political groups to meet twice. The Bureau had also agreed to reduce the number of reports, excluding reports on urgent and current affairs, to allow more time for debate.
The Bureau had also agreed to observe the following main priorities for 2007: the state of human rights and democracy; inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue; responding to common threats to Europeans, such as terrorism; sustainable development; strengthening of democracy; and current political problems. The Bureau had also approved the medium-term proposals listed in Appendix I. There were further decisions to be made at the meeting on Wednesday, 18 April 2007. At this meeting, three reports would be considered: a human rights report by the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights; the state of democracy by the Political Affairs Committee; and the annual progress report of the Monitoring Committee. However, all committees would contribute to these reports, as would other Council of Europe bodies. This was a perfect example of co-operation. Many personalities would be involved in these reports. There was more information about these documents in Appendix II.
Members of the Standing Committee had been to Bosnia and Herzegovina to observe the elections there. Some members were now in Serbia for the legislative elections held yesterday. He paid tribute to all those members who had given up their time to go on such election monitoring visits.
At the meeting of 16 September, a decision on the case of medical personnel from Bulgaria facing the death penalty in Libya had been adopted. This had taken into account neutral advice which suggested that these people were innocent and had travelled to Libya to look after the ill and suffering. Mr Schreiner was the author of the Bureau’s report of 16 September. Although Mr Schreiner was now no longer a member of the Assembly he expressed his thanks to him for his work.
THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you, Mr Preda. We have four speakers on the list. I call Mr Bokeria on behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.
Mr BOKERIA (Georgia). – I would like to take this opportunity to draw my colleagues’ attention to an issue that is no longer the subject of an urgent debate: the tensions between Russia and Georgia, or more correctly the political pressure applied by the Russian Federation to Georgia. I completely agree with the President, and I applaud the work of the rapporteurs and the Council of Europe. The first small but positive steps that we have seen this week are in large part due to their attention.
We must not forget that substantial problems remain. In the past year, Russia has imposed a politically motivated, illegitimate ban on all Georgian goods. The Duma has called on the Russian authorities to recognise the breakaway regions, further undermining its image as a peace broker. Even worse, in the last few months, we have seen unprecedented persecution of Georgian citizens in Russia as well as of Russian citizens of Georgian origin.
I will not go into the detail of those problems, but to demonstrate the gravity of the situation, I must point out that at least two citizens of Georgia died during the degrading and inhuman deportation procedure because they were denied basic health care. Another Georgian citizen died because he was denied access to a hospital on the basis of his ethnicity. A Georgian citizen died a couple of days ago as a result of a skinhead attack. What is even more troubling is that there have been no prosecutions and no one has been punished. The campaign has been accompanied by xenophobic statements made by both politicians and public officials. The situation is thus very problematic.
Having said that, I acknowledge that the Council of Europe should applaud the first step of the Russian Ambassador going back to Tbilisi. It is important to keep our attention on the relationship because the role of the Council of Europe will be crucial. We need to make further progress and to ensure that the first step taken by the Russian Federation represents not a gesture, but an aspect of a long-term change to its policy, through which it should respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all its neighbours, especially Georgia. I want to be optimistic – we must all be optimistic – but I must ask all my colleagues in the Council of Europe, especially the rapporteurs, to keep up the good work that they have started and allow us to address the issue again in April. We will all be glad if the positive trend continues and we have a normal relationship between two member states of the Council of Europe.
THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you Mr. Bokaria.
I call Mr Margelov, on behalf of the European Democratic Group.
Mr MARGELOV (Russian Federation). – The European Democratic Group would like to thank the Bureau and the President for their work. It was carried out in full compliance with the aims of the Warsaw Summit. We have all tried to strengthen our European home and to develop Europe’s judicial framework. We have tried to make everyone observe our standards, which is important.
There are several issues of concern, among which is relationships among Council of Europe member states. The previous speaker mentioned the relationship between Russia and Georgia, which is not easy. Both sides have carried out improper actions, including the deportation of Georgian citizens. Importantly, the actions were condemned by the Russian community. It is possible – it is necessary – to fight illegal immigration within the framework of law. We are urged to contribute to the solution of any conflict within that framework. First of all, our values should be seen in everyday life. The law should not be replaced by a state of emergency. I am sure that relations between Russia and Georgia will improve. The efforts of the Council of Europe and its Parliamentary Assembly will assist the process.
Energy diplomacy has become more important. I must mention two events that took place at the beginning and end of 2006 and gave rise to concern about the reliability of energy supplies from Russia. I am speaking about the gas and oil incidents with Ukraine and Belarus. The conflict is now settled. I think that oil and gas consumers have found out who was to blame for the delivery suspension. However, the Council of Europe cannot be apart from the question of European energy security, especially because such conflicts give rise to a political slant that is not always correct. I believe that the Assembly’s deputies can contribute towards such security, especially when member states are involved.
The end of the year was marked by a sombre event: the execution of the Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein. The Council of Europe and the European Union expressed strong protests against the sentence. All Europeans shared the same point of view as Mr van der Linden, Terry Davis and Fiorenzo Stolfi. The execution of the sentence not only ran counter to European moral principles, but was senseless from a practical perspective. It is obvious that Saddam’s execution has lit the fire of civil war in Iraq. A real criminal who was responsible for the deaths of thousands of people has turned out to be a martyr for a considerable number of Iraqis. There is a new outbreak of jihadism in Iraq. The civilian population is perishing, while inter-religious confrontation has been exacerbated.
The primordial principle of an eye for an eye does not have much influence on criminality. From a preventive point of view, the inevitability of a punishment is more important than its cruelty. The death penalty is not the utmost measure of social security. Such matters are too complicated and delicate to be left to the interference of the hangman.
The death penalty has been abolished by states that are situated far from Europe. We should take advantage of the fact that our values have been accepted on other continents and we should continue the struggle against the death penalty and develop our work globally. We should definitely support Italy’s initiative in the United Nations on a global moratorium on the death penalty. No one has the right to take away a human life, not even a state during peace time. It is important to point out that there have been changes in attitudes towards the death penalty, even in the United States, where there has been a drastic change. There is increased uncertainty that pronounced death sentences are just. The courts of three states have postponed carrying out sentences by lethal injection. If that represents the beginning of a way towards a moratorium on the death penalty, we might be able to speak about a new page in US-Council of Europe relations.
THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you Mr Margelov.
I call Mr Hancock.
Mr HANCOCK (United Kingdom). – I am mightily relieved that I have the opportunity to speak, although I would have hoped that that could have been given to others.
It is important that I congratulate the rapporteur on the presentation of his report and the work of the Bureau. I also congratulate you on your efforts, Mr President. In your speech, you outlined your activities and the efforts that you have made to build bridges, especially with Belarus. How important it was that you mentioned the link between this Assembly and civil society in Belarus, but how disappointed I was to learn that a group of students who had requested assistance from the Council of Europe to come to Strasbourg had that request turned down. The very thing that you support was thus denied to that group. That should have been thought through, bearing in mind the commitment to building bridges. We have to be careful not to say one thing here and then do something else elsewhere that denies the very opportunities that we would all want.
If we are honest, the role of the Assembly is to protect the legitimacy of the Court and its operation, by which I mean the adequacy of its funding, and to ensure that the Court is accountable to the Assembly for its actions and its work on reducing waiting lists. If we believe in that principle, we should ensure that the Court is funded properly and respect its judgments. States which have judgments against them should accept their obligations, even though they might find those judgments repugnant. We would expect nations who have accepted the Court to live by its decisions.
We have to ensure that the justice dispensed by the Court encourages the people of Europe to believe that its existence is relevant to them and not just to those who are lucky enough to be top of the list. There should not be endless waiting lists. There are people who have cases before the Court who will probably die before their case can be heard. That cannot be right. If we believe in the system of justice, we have to make sure that the Court itself gets the justice it deserves. If not, we might as well abandon it.
On the report on the state of human rights and democracy in Europe, I am delighted that we are to have a conference with an impressive list of speakers. We tend to preach to others about the rights of individuals, the rule of law and democracy, but we ourselves must be accountable and try to be free of criticism; very few member states could claim a blameless record. It is a bit like calling the kettle black, to use the British expression.
We hear time and time again that we report to national parliaments but get little response. There is no silver bullet, but I have yet to hear of a single credible initiative that would make the work of this Assembly and role of the Council of Europe of greater potential interest to national parliaments. It is not a question of the budget, but of the importance of the work of the Assembly.
The United Kingdom sends 18 full Representatives and 18 Substitutes, many of whom regularly attend. However, opportunities to debate Council of Europe issues are not often available in either House of our Parliament. We have to take these things seriously and find a way of getting a relationship with the Committee of Ministers. One way would be for a representative of the Council of Ministers to attend each full committee meeting so they can take back the message from parliamentarians. Perhaps this would also allow members of the committees to know the feelings of ministers.
THE PRESIDENT. – I must now interrupt the list of speakers. The speeches of members on the speakers’ list who have been present during the debate but have not been able to speak may be given to the Table Office for publication in the official report.
Mr Preda, do you wish to reply on behalf of the Bureau and the Standing Committee.
Mr PREDA (Romania) thanked his colleagues who had spoken in the debate, and said that the discussion about Georgia and Russia would continue. He invited the Rapporteur of the Monitoring Committee to look at this issue further.
THE PRESIDENT. – The debate is closed.
The progress report of the Bureau and the Standing Committee, Document 11123, parts 1 and 2 and addendum, is approved.
12. Address by His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I.
THE PRESIDENT. – We now have the honour of hearing an address by His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, whom I welcome to this house of peace, tolerance and respect, where many bridges between cultures and religions have been built in the past and will be built in the future.
It is a great honour and privilege for me to introduce the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, who was elected in October 1991 as the 270th Ecumenical Patriarch of the 2000-year-old Church founded by St Andrew.
According to tradition, the Apostle Andrew preached the Gospel around Asia Minor, the Black Sea, Thrace and Achaia, where he founded the Church on the shores of the Bosphorus in the city known then as Byzantium, later Constantinople and today Istanbul.
The personal experience and theological formation of Patriarch Bartholomew provide him with a unique perspective on ecumenical relations.
His All Holiness has worked tirelessly for reconciliation among Christian Churches and also acquired an international reputation for raising environmental awareness throughout the world; some call him the “Green Patriarch”.
In addition, he has initiated numerous international meetings and conversations with Muslim and Jewish leaders to promote mutual respect and religious tolerance on a global level.
Our Assembly can but only encourage his Holiness in his tireless efforts to promote peace and tolerance and would invite him to contribute to international efforts to find a sustainable solution to the Cyprus issue.
His All Holiness has worked to advance reconciliation with the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion, as well as other confessions, through theological dialogues and personal encounters with respective leaders in order to address issues of common concern.
The visit to Turkey by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI and his meeting with All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I on that occasion was a historical event. It marked a clear signal for reconciliation and dialogue between the different religions, cultures and civilisations.
As a genuinely pan-European body, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe is a natural forum for intercultural and inter-religious dialogue. It provides us with the opportunity to reflect and build on a continuous dialogue to learn and appreciate the diverse cultures and religions around us. Our parliamentarians come from a wide range of societies and cultures and represent believers of all the major world religions. The Assembly initiated, and has made it a priority to promote, intercultural and inter-religious dialogue.
Your All Holiness, your intervention today is a contribution to our ongoing effort to build on dialogue and understanding. Patriarch Bartholomew, you have the floor.
HIS ALL HOLINESS ECUMENICAL PATRIARCH BARTHOLOMEW I.. – Your Excellency, Mr van den Linden, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, honourable and distinguished members of this Assembly, we convey to you greetings of love and honour from the Church of Constantinople, based for centuries in what is today Istanbul. We extend to all of you with sincere joy blessings and warmest wishes for personal and collective happiness and longevity. I also wish you a very happy new year.
Furthermore we would like to express our great gratitude for the honour of our invitation to demonstrate our concerns and thoughts on this timely and extremely interesting topic; namely the necessity and goals of inter-religious dialogue.
We are well aware of, and we commend, your zeal for human rights and the mutual acceptance of cultures, and for the peaceful co-operation of peoples. We are fully aware that you know more than what we are about to tell you.
I wish to state as loudly and clearly as I can that, as the first Bishop of the Orthodox Church, I congratulate your work and principles. We work with our limited powers to promote respect for human rights on a universal level, especially where religious traditions oppose one another on this issue.
It is a great honour to address the continent’s oldest political organisation here in the historical city of Strasbourg. The aims of the Council, according to its regulations, include achieving a greater unity between its members, defending human rights and the rule of law and promoting an awareness of a European identity based on shared values while cutting across different culture.
We are addressing this plenary session in that light, because our missions have many common goals. We stand in front of you as representatives of an ancient European institution, which has existed for almost seventeen centuries – it may be the second oldest institution in Europe. Those of us who serve this institution would be very unhappy if our role were only equivalent to that of a museum guard. We strongly believe that the value of your welcome today has its roots not only in the recognition and appreciation of the history of the Patriarchate of Constantinople and New Rome, but your interest in the living tradition of the ecumenicity of its message. In other words, the value of your welcome has its roots in your interest in the active proposition of life, which this institution expresses in our times. The range of that proposition is ecumenical – it is international and universal, and it has always been valid throughout the centuries.
Dear friends, the eastern Roman empire – the so-called Byzantine empire – in which the institution of the Ecumenical Patriarchate developed was a totally different political system from the modern national or civic state. It was multinational and multiracial, and it aspired to ensure the peaceful coexistence of peoples and traditions – the so-called Pax Romana, which later developed into Pax Christiana following the predominance of Christianity.
The deeply experienced Christian faith, the Roman system, which was subject to constant development due to the Christian influence, and the widespread practise of Greek education were the basic elements of Byzantine civilisation. Those unifying elements did not nullify the particularities and individuality of cultural traditions. For example, there was no attempt to assimilate or Hellenise the Christianised peoples. On the contrary, they were given the opportunity to develop their national and cultural identities, which is demonstrated by the example of the Cyrillic alphabet in the Slavic world. There are many other such examples.
The Patriarchate of Constantinople and New Rome was given the title “Ecumenical” in the sixth century by a decision of the fourth Ecumenical Council in 451 in Chalcedon. It was given the right to have under its authority all territory outside the boundaries of the Byzantine empire that was not under the jurisdiction of any other Patriarchate. That increased the communication of the Patriarchate with a multitude of peoples and traditions, both within and outside the legal boundaries of the empire, in such a way that dialogue between peoples of different religions – Muslim, Christian and heterodox – became an integral part of its existence. For the Ecumenical Patriarchate, dialogue is neither unprecedented nor modern, because it has been practised for millennia as a way of life.
After the schism between the eastern and western Churches in 1054, the Patriarchate became the mouthpiece for all Orthodox Christians. It is with that in mind that the Patriarchate holds discussions with the Churches that came about after the schism and the Reformation, with a sense of responsibility for the service of the truth and the restoration of unity to all Christians.
Since 1453, following the succession of the Byzantine empire by the Ottoman empire, the Ecumenical Patriarchate became the representative to the Sultan of all Orthodox Christians who lived within the boundaries of the new empire. The Ecumenical Patriarchate was in a constant dialogue with the Muslim world, although it was not always conducted on an equal basis. For nearly six centuries, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has lived with Muslims and discussed various matters in order to achieve various goals. As we say in Turkey, we have not only an academic dialogue with our Muslim brothers, but a dialogue based on living together side by side.
Furthermore, in the past few decades, a particular effort has been made to develop inter-religious dialogues, especially among the three great monotheistic religions. Many academic consultations have taken place between leading representatives of the three monotheistic religions either on our initiative or with our participation. Many important and interesting decisions have been made, and many important declarations have been signed. Moreover, with the purpose of promoting the opportunity to know each other better and to cultivate friendship, and, having been officially invited, we have visited many countries with Muslim populations.
The necessity and usefulness of inter-religious dialogues has become a property of humanity. It is well known that the inhabitants of our planet confess many religions and that on many occasions a variety of tendencies and denominations have developed within each religion, often even with contradictory beliefs. It is also known from history that many times in the past – on certain occasions, even in our time – religious reasons were put forth to urge individuals, or even entire peoples, to warfare or to vivify the militancy of those involved. There are even some analysts of the future of humanity who consider a bloody clash of religions and of religious populations to be inevitable. There are even some who believe that God is in need of their power to enforce His will on the world.
However, we, the people of the so-called western civilisation, have been convinced that pure religious faith in itself does not find any pleasure in engaging its followers in warfare and conflicts with the faithful of other religions, for the truth does not walk along with militant power, or numerical power, or any other superiority for that matter. The conviction that the divine truth and gratification is witnessed by the event of victory in war has been abandoned today as inaccurate. The truth is known through the word – logos – and the personal experience of it in a pure and selfless heart. According to the Prophet Elijah, the Lord reveals himself in a light murmuring sound, and not in earthquakes and fire.
Therefore, if we desire to move forward the knowledge of truth, which liberates the person from the chains of prejudices and of every kind of deception, we ought to use the God-given present of the word – logos – with a pure and selfless intention. The word, as an expression and as a justification of our convictions, when exchanged with those with whom we speak, becomes a dialogue – and it is absolutely necessary, for it marks the very existence of a human being as a personal being. There are many creatures in nature that have been endowed with the ability to receive messages from their environment, and to react with those messages, but it is only the human being, of all the earthly creatures, that can converse with words with his or her fellow beings.
Dialogue is not ncessary first and foremost because of all the benefits and advantages that can possibly derive from it, but because of the fact that it is inherent in the nature of the human person. The truth of this is such that the person who denies participating in a dialogue denies indirectly this very human quality. Indeed, not only does one deny this human quality to those whom he or she does not accept in dialogue, but one also abolishes self-evidently one’s very own human quality, for by not showing any respect to the person and the dignity of the other, one acts as if he or she lacks the most principal human trait, which is the respect of a human person, both in one’s self, as well as in any other being. In Christian teaching, as it has been expressed by a contemporary experienced person, God engraved the human being with His mark, namely the deep, embossed and unchangeable creative seal, and He does not revoke it. The seal of God is the freedom of the human being.
The fact that those culturally more advanced than the ancient peoples established the dialogue of the judges, and of those who were judged, or those who were in litigation, as a necessary precondition of the validity and legitimacy of the judicial verdict, is very relevant. These fundamental principles of a fair trial continue to apply even for our contemporary world. The person who will judge a trial must listen to both sides who are involved in the litigation, as well as to the plea of the defendant, all of which are based on the principle of dialogue. They constitute, together with the resultant supreme rule of dialogue, the sublime expression of respect for the human person. In his message for 1 January of this year – on the occasion of the day of peace – Pope Benedict XVI referred to this very point. It is this respect of the human person that constitutes the fundamental criterion of the level of spiritual growth of everyone and comprises simultaneously the fundamental rule and unshakable pedestal of human rights.
According to our predecessor – St John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople – the Sublime of all human beings, God, is in constant dialogue with us human beings – a token of the utmost honour with which humanity is engulfed. God does not refuse dialogue, even to those who honestly deny His existence. But He cannot enter into dialogue with those who are furtive, surreptitious, perverse, and not pure in their hearts, for dialogue presupposes honesty and becomes objectively impossible when there is deceitfulness, secrecy or any other kind of reckoning.
It is well known that nowadays the dynamics of our world are a mixture of contests of power and every kind of dialogue. Many try to enforce their opinions and convictions on to others through various types of power, whether cultural, moral, economic, terrorist or even martial. At the same time, many other people discuss innumerable issues, trying to convince their counterparts of the validity and accuracy of their positions. Out of these two kinds of dialogue, the one that is in harmony with respect of the human person, and with human rights, is the right one, for it rejects inhumane and violent enforcement.
Inter-religious dialogue in the context of religion is one of the most difficult dialogues, for the so-called religions of revelation accept the fact that they express the divine truth through the revelation of God Himself. Nevertheless, the existing dispersion of the religious groups and the opposing convictions that they confess prove that some of them are wrong by default, for one rules out the other, and of course it is neither possible nor thinkable that God can be controversial to Himself.
Therefore, it must be unquestionably accepted that one of the self-excluded teachings derives not from God, but from people and from their misinterpretation of the divine revelation. So, there is a broad area for questioning among people on what the truth can be whenever something that is offered as the truth excludes itself.
Calm and dispassionate discussion and sincere dialogue can detect the differences and trace down the human interventions that alter the divine truth and lead to the support of teachings that, while claiming to express the divine truth, refute one another – which is impossible.
Of course, we do not consider the relinquishment of the religious convictions of each person the goal of inter-religious dialogue, nor do we consider it an easy task, especially in times such as ours, when our planet is facing many war fronts. That is because, nowadays, on many occasions, people use their religious differences or their religious convictions as an element of their particularity and individuality. That particularity they consider the cornerstone of their national hypostasis or of what constitutes them as different.
So, to the extent to which the national consciousness and hypostasis are inevitable elements of the particularity and individuality of peoples and of nations, people will legitimately defend their indefeasible right to define themselves by their religion, although in our minds subjecting religion to the service of national purposes is not a correct thing to do.
In any case, we will have for many centuries to come many religions and even more religious convictions that will deviate among those on our planet. That fact, in view of economic and information globalisation, brings the faithful of the various religions into frequent communication and renders their unofficial dialogue an everyday phenomenon. Even the official dialogue among religious leaderships is being promoted in a sense, as religious leaders cannot ignore reality, nor can they confine themselves in selfish isolation.
The religions that consider themselves possessors and carriers of the divine truth feel that it is their obligation to spread their faith, and by definition they cannot isolate themselves.
The existing predicaments in relation to the realisation of inter-religious dialogue on a theological level do not hinder. On the contrary, they promote the opportunity for the mutual acquaintance of persons and ideas, the cultivation of religious tolerance and co-existence, and the elimination of fanaticism and other fixed prejudices. These goals are of great importance, for they serve peace, which is the cornerstone of every cultural progress.
In particular, it has been observed that there exists a shortage of religious education, especially as far as the religions that are not predominant in a given country are concerned. That shortage has been observed even among those who hold a higher education. That results in the easy circulation of a variety of deceptive perceptions and prejudices, which obstruct the peaceful co-operation of the people. Through systematic dialogues, it is possible gradually to improve the mutual understanding and awareness of the religious parameters of all peoples and civilisations in such a way that long-lasting prejudices will be put aside.
We must not overlook the fact that, for many people and civilisations, religious faith and the religious element at large play an important role in private, social and national life – a role much more important than the one that they play in the societies of contemporary western civilisation.
Of course, we do not expect only a single-sided improvement of the perceptions of the Christian world for the non-Christian. We also expect a proportionate improvement of the perceptions of the non-Christian world for Christianity. Unfortunately, numerous unChristian actions and behaviours of Christian peoples have created the widespread impression that those actions and behaviours are sanctioned by Christianity. Respectively, the actions of followers of other religions are credited many times to their religions, which remain unconcerned. It is therefore necessary to clarify the context of each religion, cleared from selfish targets of the faithful – the individuals – and to charge with the responsibilities the faithful in question, not their religion itself.
That separation of responsibilities, which is one of the goals of inter-religions dialogue, protects people from phobias that reach out from the past and obstruct today’s peaceful and well-meant co-operation.
Another important goal of inter-religious dialogue is the approach on the views on the extremely important issue of human rights. It is a known fact that western civilisation, under the influence of the evangelical principles of the equality of human beings, freedom of consciousness and existence, protection of the weak, justice and love, and many more – but also under the influence of the ideas of humanism – has, especially since the Enlightenment, raised gradually the institution of human rights to a high level. That is contrary to other civilisations, some of which either occupy themselves very little with human rights or even have legislation that discriminates against certain categories of people, such as minorities, women, children, slaves and so on. Those civilisations have even developed metaphysical teachings through which the existing situation is interpreted as being in agreement with the heavenly mandated order on human issues. As is realised, such perceptions, which legalise the violation of fundamental human rights with a moral investment of religious and metaphysical beliefs, cannot be easily abandoned in some societies.
If, however, we desire to include in our declarations the improvement of living standards for all people, we ought to include and appoint those issues as an object in the agenda of our inter-religious dialogues.
We believe that the moral force of respect for the human person – despite gender, age, race or religion, as well as economic, educational or other status – is so great that it will overcome and overrule the long-lasting spiritual infirmities that allow those in power to ignore, or even worse legally violate, human rights. A serious effort is needed to allow the discussion of these issues on behalf of those who have not respected human rights so far. Nevertheless, it is very promising that in every society there are always progressive minds that realise the importance of human rights and work hard for their wider acceptance and social usefulness, even in civilisations that are not familiar with the concept.
At this point, we must mention that the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the surrounding Greek Orthodox minority in Turkey feel that they still do not enjoy full rights; for example, in the refusal to acknowledge and recognise the legal status of the Patriarchate, in the prohibition of the operation of the theological school of Chalki to train the young generation of our theologians and clergymen, in property issues and so on.
We recognise with great satisfaction, however, that many reforms have been made and some remarkable steps taken in the accession of internal law towards the European standard. We have always supported the European perspective of our country, Turkey, in anticipation of the remaining steps to be taken according to the standards of the European Union.
That which is accomplished fluently through inter-religious dialogues is the cultivation of a spirit of tolerance, reconciliation and peaceful co-existence of the faithful of the various religions, free from fanaticism and phobias. Contrary to political positions that often foster the spirit of conflict and confrontation, catching within it both victims and victimisers, we try to sow the spirit of equal rights and responsibilities for all and for the peaceful co-operation, independently of their religion. For only through the opening of hearts and minds and the acceptance of difference as having value equal to our own is it possible to build peace in this world.
No less important is one further accomplishment and goal of inter-religious dialogues: the enrichment of the mind and perception of each faithful by considering things through the religion of another. That enrichment releases us from partiality; it allows us to have a higher and wider understanding of beliefs; it fortifies the intellect, and very often it leads us to a deeper experience of the truth and to a very advanced level of our growth in the presence of the divine revelation. For example, love as a selfless feeling and experience of sacrifice towards the loved one is an utmost challenge of conscience, but it is not required by all simultaneously, for the obduracy of many is not yet ready to accept such a high and self-sacrificial demand.
However, this love, which in the beginning was achieved only by a few, has reached the point of being the motivation for the actions and programmes of institutions, such as the Council of Europe, in their efforts for the relief of poverty and of those afflicted by natural disasters, in the acknowledgment and protection of human rights at large and in religious freedom and many more actions that would have been considered impossible and utopian a few centuries, or even a few years, ago.
We can find grounds for doing good in many religions if we are willing to do so. A common search of these grounds in dialogue will prove to be very fruitful. The religious sources allow many interpretations and approaches. It is in our hands to choose every time the most appropriate, the most peaceful, those which respect the human being the most, and those which increase peace, solidarity, altruism and love. We are obliged to ascend the degrees of the scale of good, not to do descend them. Let us work, all of us, dear friends, for the ascension to the next degree for the benefit of all.
As the First Bishop of the Orthodox Church, we are obliged to serve the human, caring and peaceful character of the Christian gospel. It is with the courage of that service that we dare to address a heartfelt plea to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, namely to persons such as yourselves who are responsible for exerting the decisive role of European societies for world order and peace.
Exert, dear friends, your influence and your political art and science to restore the freedom of life and expression of the religious traditions in our world today, so that citizens of contemporary states will not be persecuted, will not be put aside and marginalised, and will not forfeit their churches and properties just because of their different religious convictions.
We are certain that the Council of Europe is interested not only in the various advantages of the European countries, but in the preservation and promotion of the accomplishments of the civilisation which constitute the very identity of Europe. Religious freedom and human rights in general are such accomplishments. Each and every confinement of religious freedom and human rights mutilates human civilisation. It is a sign of regression and interception of human hope. We have the certain hope that things will improve through the contribution of all of you, our beloved and honourable members of the Council of Europe. And “hope will not let us down”, as St Paul states.
We thank you from the bottom of our heart for your love and your patience in listening to the sounds of our heart. We wish you health and every success in this new year for the benefit of Europe and all humanity. We thank you for this great honour.
THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you, Your All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I.
The acknowledgement of your impressive speech shows how much we have appreciated your contribution to the work of the Council of Europe. You are a source of inspiration for us all. I hope that we can contribute together to eradicating poverty, ensuring that no people are excluded – the fight against exclusion – and promoting human dignity. Taking into account our different responsibilities, it is important that we continue this dialogue in the future.
13. Date, time and orders of the day of the next sitting
THE PRESIDENT. – I propose that the Assembly hold its next public sitting this afternoon at 3 p.m. with the orders of the day which were approved this morning.
Are there any objections? That is not the case.
The orders of the day of the next sitting are therefore agreed.
The sitting is adjourned.
(The sitting was closed at 1.20 p.m.)
1. Opening of the 2007 ordinary session
2. Examination of credentials
3. Election of the President of the Assembly
4. Voting cards and the register of attendance
5. Election of the Vice-Presidents of the Assembly
6. Appointment of committees
7. Requests for urgent procedure and current affairs debate
8. Order of business
Mr Marty (Switzerland)
9. Time limit on speeches
10. Adoption of the minutes of the meeting of the Standing Committee
11. Progress report of the Bureau of the Assembly and the Standing Committee
Presentation by Mr Preda of the report of the Standing Committee
(Doc. 1123, Parts 1 and 2 and Addendum)
Mr Bokeria (Georgia)
Mr Margelov (Russian Federation)
Mr Hancock (United Kingdom)
Mr Preda (Romania)
Progress report approved.
12. Address by His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew 1
13. Date, time and orders of the day of the next sitting