AS (2013) CR 11
2013 ORDINARY SESSION
Monday 22 April 2013 at 3 p.m.
In this report:
1. Speeches in English are reported in full.
2. Speeches in other languages are reported using the interpretation and are marked with an asterisk.
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 report.
(Mr Mignon, President of the Assembly, took the Chair at 3.05 p.m.)
THE PRESIDENT* – The sitting is open.
1. Communication from the Committee of Ministers to the Parliamentary Assembly, presented by Mr Gilbert Saboya Sunyé, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Andorra, Chairperson of the Committee of Ministers
THE PRESIDENT* – Our first business this afternoon is the communication to the Assembly from the Committee of Ministers, presented by Mr Gilbert Saboya Sunyé, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Andorra and chairperson of the Committee. After his address Mr Saboya Sunyé will take questions from the floor.
Andorra’s presidency of the Committee of Ministers is coming to a close – those six months have flown past, but that is because this has been an intense period for the chairmanship – and you, Minister, will speak as chairperson for the last time. I congratulate you, on behalf of all members of the Assembly, on a chairmanship marked by successes and positive results.
This is indeed the first time the Principality of Andorra has chaired our Organisation’s Committee of Ministers, and two events during your chairmanship have marked the deliberations of our Organisation since the last part-session. The first is the conference on “Skills for a culture of democracy and intercultural dialogue: a political challenge and one of values”, which took place on 7 and 8 February in Andorra. Education in democratic citizenship and intercultural dialogue is an extremely important issue for all Europeans, as you and we have understood very well. In this regard the conclusions of this conference are a sound basis for the work of member States’ Education Ministers, who will meet at the end of this week in Helsinki.
Secondly, I would like to hail your personal commitment and that of your government in supporting and promoting the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence, known as the Istanbul Convention. The Parliamentary Assembly wholeheartedly supports your efforts in this area, and as you know I am personally involved – although a lot less than our friend Mr Mendes Bota, who is with us and does a sterling job in promoting the convention. I do what I can through all my trips and in the neighbourhood, and I hope that our joint endeavours will soon bear fruit with the entering into force of this key legal instrument of the Council of Europe.
Before giving you the floor, Minister, I again thank you most warmly on behalf of all the members of the Assembly for the excellent co-operation we have enjoyed and wish you, and the Principality of Andorra, every success. I have appreciated the very friendly relations we have developed with your ambassador and the delegation of Andorra, which has done an enormous amount of work – especially in Andorra la Vella but also elsewhere – in ensuring the success of your chairmanship. It has been a dynamic chairmanship – and a nice one, if I might add that personal comment. We have found talking about all the issues in our meetings with the ambassador easy and comfortable, often just picking up the phone to inform you of our discussions so you could incorporate those ideas into your own actions. A very big thank you: you have certainly marked the annals of the Council of Europe and our Parliamentary Assembly, and it is with the greatest pleasure that I give you the floor, with just one regret – that it will be for the last time.
Mr SABOYA SUNYÉ (Minister for Foreign Affairs of Andorra, Chairperson of the Committee of Ministers)*. – Thank you, Mr President – you are making me blush.
It is a great pleasure for me to address your Assembly for a second time on behalf of the Andorran chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers. I want to update you on the main developments that have taken place since your last part-session and on the initiatives taken or supported since by our chairmanship. I thank the Assembly, and you in particular, Mr President, for the constant support you have given our chairmanship. My thanks also go to the Secretary General for his unfailing support over the past five months.
As you know, our chairmanship comes to an end in a few weeks’ time with the holding of the 123rd session of the Committee of Ministers. The event is in some respects the high point of the year for the Committee of Ministers and I call on Assembly members to use their influence to help ensure that it has the maximum number of high-level representatives and therefore high visibility.
Having made that request, I will now go through a number of political issues that regularly feature on the agenda of the Committee of Ministers. With regard to Bosnia and Herzegovina, execution of the Court’s judgment in the Sejdić and Finci case remains a subject of true concern, to which the Committee of Ministers attaches particular attention; the matter will once again be on the agenda of our meeting in late April. The Committee of Ministers has repeatedly stated that the implementation of constitutional reform is in the interests of consolidating democratic institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and that the execution of the Court’s judgment is a key factor in the country’s process of European integration. We realise that the political and ethnic situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina is extremely complex, but it is imperative nevertheless that positions evolve in a positive direction as quickly as possible so that the elections scheduled for October 2014 can take place in compliance with democratic standards recognised by the Council of Europe.
Last February, the Committee of Ministers approved an assistance programme to prepare for parliamentary elections scheduled to be held in Albania for June 2013. The programme was compiled in close co-operation with the Albanian authorities, whom I thank for their willingness and good co-operation. I hope that the implementation of that programme, and especially the assistance provided to the central electoral commission, will help ensure that the elections run smoothly.
In my statement in January, I pointed out that as part of its procedure for monitoring the honouring of commitments by Armenia and Azerbaijan, the Committee of Ministers would make visits to both countries. The visit to Armenia was on 21 and 22 March, while on 10 and 11 April a delegation went to Azerbaijan. The committee will now be looking at the conclusions to be drawn from those visits.
An assistance programme covering a range of fields closely linked to the rights and values championed by our organisation has also been approved for Belarus. The Committee of Ministers hopes that the Belarusian authorities will co-operate fully with the implementation of the programme, with the support of the Council of Europe information point in Minsk.
In a very different field, I should like to give a brief overview of activities launched at the initiative of the Andorran chairmanship, which may, where appropriate, define certain lines of action for the Committee of Ministers in its future work. Through its chairmanship objectives, Andorra sought to contribute to one of the strategic priorities identified by the Council of Europe: living together in harmony in sustainable democratic and culturally diverse societies, focusing its activities on young people, education for democratic citizenship and human rights. It also supported various activities that fell within that theme.
Last week, for example, a gathering of young ambassadors for peace was held in Andorra. That included training in mediation for young Andorrans working with young people. Andorra was keen to be involved in this pioneering Council of Europe project, which is based on the principles of non-formal education, to offer young people from conflict zones peace training and training in the values of the Council of Europe. On 28 February and 1 March, in Andorra la Vella, the Council of Europe and the European Youth Card Association organised a European seminar on “Developing better youth mobility for young people and for Europe”. I was able personally to attend the seminar and noted the interest it had attracted.
In March, in Strasbourg, the chairmanship, in co-operation with the Enlarged Partial Agreement on Sport, or EPAS, and the Council for Penological Co-operation, or PC-CP, organised a meeting of experts on “Overview of sport in European prisons: how the penitentiary rules in relation to sport are implemented in practice”. That brought together European experts from prisons and sporting authorities in the run-up to a political conference on sport and prisons. Mr Xavier Espot, the Andorran Minister of Justice and the Interior, attended this meeting.
On 12 April in Strasbourg, a seminar on anti-doping was organised under the Andorran chairmanship and under the aegis of the monitoring group of the anti-doping convention. The purpose of the event was to focus action against doping on information, education and, ultimately, prevention rather than on sanctions alone, and to assess the institutional consequences that that would entail.
I should also mention that a conference on intercultural cities was held in Dublin in February. It was organised at the initiative of the Council of Europe, with the support of the Irish presidency of the European Union and the Andorran chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers, represented on that occasion by the Andorran Minister for Culture, Mr Esteve Albert. The event provided an opportunity to look at successes in the inter-cultural cities programme, which offers cities a comprehensive methodology for inter-cultural integration, based on the concept of the advantages inherent in diversity.
Still in the framework of our chairmanship, but in the field of the environment, I should say that the Council of Europe held in Strasbourg, on 26 and 27 March 2013, the 7th Council of Europe conference on the European Landscape Convention. The object was to present models of landscape policies in the States parties and the progress of work in the implementation of the convention. The Andorran chairmanship was represented there by our Minister for Tourism and the Environment. The event provided an opportunity for Andorra to present its national landscape strategy.
I would like to stress that throughout our chairmanship Andorra has made every effort to develop and strengthen co-operation between the Council of Europe and other international organisations with which it works very closely – the European Union, the United Nations and the OSCE. I have personally met representatives of these organisations to present our priorities and to contribute to the visibility of the Council of Europe.
We welcome the holding of the Council of Europe conference of Ministers of Culture last week in Moscow. Its theme was “Governance of Culture and Promoting Access to Culture”. At the conference, which our Minister for Culture attended, Ministers stressed the essential contribution that culture can make to strengthening democracy and democratic governance.
In a few days’ time in Helsinki, the Council of Europe Standing Conference of Ministers of Education will be held, focusing on “Governance and Quality Education” – a subject to which our chairmanship is particularly attentive, as you know. Our Minister of Education and Youth will be present. We hope that on that occasion the work of the two main preparatory conferences, which were held last November in Strasbourg and in February in Andorra, will bear fruit. We sincerely hope that those two conferences will identify practical courses of action for the Council of Europe in future. Neglecting education, culture and youth would be a serious error. We believe that these are the very essence of the Council of Europe’s role: democracy, the rule of law and human rights are not established merely by decree; they need a sound cultural basis and can be developed only through education and awareness-raising from an early age. It goes without saying that we shall follow with great interest the debate that you will hold on Wednesday on culture and education and on the urgent educational challenge in Europe. We share the feeling that these debates are crucial. That is why the Andorran chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers chose to place education for democratic citizenship and human rights, as well as young people, at the focus of its priorities.
I must also mention the campaign that we launched a few weeks ago to promote reading the Convention. I invite all of you to take part in this campaign by visiting the Council of Europe’s website and sponsoring one of the Convention articles. I would very much like you to do this because it is a sign of the commitment that we should all share.
The European Convention on Human Rights is the very foundation of the work of the Council of Europe. Since the Convention, a large number of other conventions have been drawn. These are fundamental in promoting this Organisation, and they must be effective, spread values and be the forerunners of other international instruments. The Committee of Ministers attaches great importance to raising awareness of, and promoting, these conventions, so it has, at the initiative of the Secretary General, undertaken a review of the Council of Europe’s conventions. The aim of this work is to promote the Council of Europe’s considerable achievements in this area. I congratulate the Parliamentary Assembly on its untiring efforts in this connection. The Secretary General and the other Council of Europe bodies have also made contributions, particularly through their dialogue with national authorities and the involvement of those authorities in the Council of Europe’s campaigns.
Many of these conventions are open to non-member States. It is up to all of us to promote the conventions so as to strengthen the protection of human rights across the globe. This is what I tried to do in my statements to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in March, as well as at the meeting organised by the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie on the same occasion. We did this together, Mr President, at the side event co-organised by the Council of Europe and the French mission to the United Nations in New York on the fringes of the session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women on 4 March. You were there, Mr President, with Mrs Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, Minister for the Rights of Women and spokesperson for the French Government, and with the Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Mrs Gabriella Battaini-Dragoni. We explained together the main elements of the Council of Europe’s Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, more commonly known as the Istanbul Convention, and we stressed the interest that that convention has for all governments. It is a pioneering convention that is open to non-member States of the Council of Europe, and it should become an international reference in terms of standards of protection in preventing and combating violence against women and girls. At the moment, it has been ratified by only three member States, although 26 others have signed it. For it to enter into force, we need 10 ratifications, eight of which have to be from Council of Europe member States. I am working to achieve ratification by Andorra by the end of the year, and I hope that many other States are doing the same thing.
My country is also paying particular attention to the Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse, also known as the Lanzarote Convention, which we hope to be able to ratify in the next few months. Mrs Silvia Bonet, an Andorran parliamentarian, will tomorrow present a mid-term review of the ONE in FIVE campaign. Tomorrow I shall sign, on behalf of Andorra, the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime and its additional protocol, which is a follow-up to the commitments we entered into when we took up the chairmanship.
Of course, I could not end on this subject without expressing my satisfaction at the news of the outcome of the negotiations to prepare for the European Union’s accession to the European Convention on Human Rights. This is a decisive step. The accession of the European Union is an essential precondition for the creation of a coherent area of human rights protection in Europe. It will help to consolidate the legal systems of the European Union and the European Court of Human Rights once the process to which the text must be submitted before its ratification has been completed. This item will be on the agenda of the 123rd session of the Committee of Ministers to which I referred at the beginning of my statement.
Another important point on the agenda of the session is the follow-up to the Brighton Declaration. Like the three chairmanships that preceded us and, we understand, the Armenian and Austrian chairmanships that will follow us, we undertook to ensure the following up of the decisions taken by the Committee of Ministers at the end of the Interlaken, Izmir and Brighton conferences. In this context, the Committee of Ministers is making a particular effort to ensure the long-term effectiveness of the European Convention on Human Rights and the proper functioning of the Court.
On reform of the Court, a few weeks ago the Committee of Ministers examined the draft of Protocol No. 15, which would amend the European Court of Human Rights, and more recently we examined the draft of Protocol No. 16. The two draft texts have been forwarded to you and to the Court for an opinion. We await the conclusions of the debate that your Assembly will be holding this week on Protocol No. 15, which we hope will be able to be adopted on 16 May at the Committee of Ministers’ session. We also hope that your Assembly will be able to examine the draft of Protocol No. 16 in the near future.
The third point we will discuss at the Committee of Ministers’ session concerns the Council of Europe’s policy with regard to neighbouring regions. In this context, I welcome the progress made in co-operation with the countries on the southern shores of the Mediterranean. It is particularly important for the Council of Europe to make its expertise available, with the support of the European Union, so as to provide effective assistance to those countries engaged in a sometimes difficult process of democratic transition.
I should like here publicly to thank the European Union for the extensive co-operation that it has undertaken with the Council of Europe through joint programmes. I welcome the fact that the Union has particularly focused on programmes for the immediate neighbourhood of the Council of Europe geographical area, particularly to support democratic transition in the southern Mediterranean area, as well as supporting culture and cultural diversity, education in democratic citizenship and human rights, higher education, and policies generally directed at young people.
Europe is today facing an economic crisis that threatens the very foundation and cohesion of our societies, even challenging our most basic values. In these difficult times, it is imperative to ensure that we uphold our unity on common values. It is essential to uphold the vitality of democracy, the rule of law and human rights, and to tackle the challenges of poverty, the rise in intolerance and the radicalisation of political debate. We must step up our activities to ensure that everyone can enjoy human rights throughout the continent and to remedy the loss of confidence in democratic institutions. It is for that reason that the Secretary General, in consultation with the outgoing and incoming chairmanships, has decided to devote the ministerial session, both its formal and informal parts, to the theme of “Democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Europe: strengthening the impact of the Council of Europe’s activities”. I welcome the fact that the Committee of Ministers has supported that proposal. I sincerely hope that our debates at the ministerial session will help us to identify practical solutions to these questions and the operational follow-up that will set the course to be pursued by the Council of Europe in the years to come. I know that in all these matters the Committee of Ministers can count on the support of your Assembly, as you are also tackling these important issues and taking an active part in the thought being given to them. I can assure you that the Committee of Ministers awaits with great interest the ideas and proposals that will emerge from your debates.
Having outlined the main decisions and activities of the Committee of Ministers in recent months, I would like to express, once again, the pleasure and pride I have felt throughout this chairmanship. This pride is not mine alone; it is the pride of my whole country. Although the Andorran chairmanship is drawing to a close, I can assure you that we will remain actively committed to the values on which the Council of Europe is based and will lend our full support to the efforts of our successors. I would like to welcome Armenia to the chairmanship, where it will shoulder the responsibilities that my country has enjoyed for the past six months. I wish it every success and strongly encourage it to pursue the efforts already begun, so that they may lead to lasting achievements.
Relations between the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly are important and beneficial. Dialogue between our two bodies makes for more coherent action and helps to transform ad-hoc initiatives into specific and well-established practices. In this connection, I wish to thank you, in particular, Mr President, for your commitment and your willingness during our chairmanship to maintain these relations.
Thank you very much for listening.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you very much, Mr Saboya Sunyé, for your interesting address. Members of the Assembly have questions to put to you. I remind them that questions must be limited to 30 seconds. Colleagues should ask questions and not make speeches. The first question is from Mr Braun, on behalf of the Group of the European People’s Party.
Mr BRAUN (Hungary) – First, I wish to congratulate Mr Saboya Sunyé on the Andorran presidency. The Council of Europe, founded in 1949, is the oldest political forum in Europe. It now has 47 member States, so it is not only the oldest but the broadest political forum in Europe. The European Court of Human Rights gives legal protection for more than 800 million Europeans and is the last hope for European citizens, as President Gauck said a few hours ago. The importance of the Council of Europe and the Court is unquestionable. The Group of the European People’s Party was shocked to hear the latest news about the 2013 budget. In the past 10 years there was a nominal zero growth in the budget of the Council of Europe and in 2013 the Committee of Ministers is planning to submit a budget plan with zero growth, which means that, with the inflation rate, the budget will decrease in real terms. We are worried about the future of the Council of Europe, but how does the Committee of Ministers see our future? Does it believe that the Council of Europe has a future?
Mr SABOYA SUNYÉ* – Thank you for your question. We have already had a few discussions about that, both in Andorra and here in Strasbourg. The Secretary General is working on finding a good balance between dealing with the times of austerity in which we live – unfortunately – and not losing ground and not losing perspective about the strength of the Council of Europe, which you mentioned in your long question. In these difficult budgetary times we must find a way to lose weight but not to lose muscle – that is the whole issue. The Committee of Ministers is very much aligned with that thought. I am sure that in our debates with the Secretary General and in the proposals on achieving balanced budgets we will find the right balance between finding a way to lose weight and making our effort sustainable. Indeed, finding ways to balance budgets and not lose muscle and knowledge is one of the strengths of our Organisation. I am sure that we will find, with the Secretary General, a way of achieving that balance between the need to make our budgets sustainable and the need to make our efforts sustainable as far as the Council of Europe’s missions are concerned.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you very much. The next question is from Mr Gross, on behalf of the Socialist Group.
Mr GROSS (Switzerland) – The Socialist Group would also like to thank you, Mr Minister, for your engagement as chairperson of the Committee of Ministers.
What is the Committee of Ministers doing to free the director of the Council of Europe school of political studies in Baku, who was arrested only because he wanted to hold a gathering in one of the smaller towns of the country? We have a responsibility to ensure that the people working for us are not treated in this way.
Mr SABOYA SUNYÉ* – We share the preoccupations and concerns that have been expressed about Mr Mammadov’s detention by numerous people, including the Secretary General of the Council of Europe and the co-rapporteurs of your Assembly. A delegation of the Committee of Ministers went to Azerbaijan two weeks ago and raised the matter. Unfortunately, it was not in a position to visit or interview Mr Mammadov. It is essential that he has full access to the guarantees that the European Convention on Human Rights gives us all, and I assure you that the Committee of Ministers will keep caring about this situation and considering it carefully.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you for that answer. The next question is from Mr Xuclŕ, on behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.
Mr XUCLŔ (Spain)* – Good afternoon, Minister, and many congratulations. The ALDE Group had decided to ask about the budget, but that question has been formulated recently. You have reported that you visited Armenia and Azerbaijan during your chairmanship, so I would like to know what your conclusions were and what your impressions of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict were.
Mr SABOYA SUNYÉ* – Thank you for the question. Over the last couple of months there have been visits to Armenia and Azerbaijan, which entered the Council of Europe at the same time and it was hoped that that would be conducive to a political settlement. The Committee of Ministers has continued to do its level best to assist in attaining that ultimate objective. A delegation of the Committee of Ministers visited Yerevan in March to look at the situation in Armenia, and the results of its visit will be forwarded to the Committee of Ministers in the near future, as I said in my statement a few minutes ago. I can assure you that in due course the Parliamentary Assembly will be informed of the findings and results of those discussions in the Committee of Ministers.
The Council of Europe supports the Armenian authorities in implementing practically the commitments that are still pending in the plan of action. We intend to ensure that everything that was adopted in March 2012 will be seen through. The February 2013 presidential elections were observed and deemed to have been well managed, although we should not conceal the fact that there were some shortcomings, especially in the use of administrative resources. However, we believe that all that is part and parcel of the process of consolidating the values of the Council of Europe, which we can describe as positive and hopeful. We hope that Armenia’s chairmanship may further contribute to attaining those objectives, which we all share.
The question also covered the Azerbaijan mission. As you know, and as I pointed out in my statement, earlier this month there was also a visit to Baku. Those results will be presented to the Committee of Ministers soon, and the Parliamentary Assembly will be informed in a timely fashion of the results of the debates on this issue. As I said in the earlier part of my answer, there are some serious issues before the Committee of Ministers, but we hope that the next presidential elections, in October 2013, will be an important test. An invitation was sent to the Azerbaijani authorities towards the end of 2012, and the Committee of Ministers hopes that there will be a response to the proposed action plan. In any event, Azerbaijan will enjoy the fullest support in the Committee of Ministers in endeavouring to find the right solutions to this problem.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you, Minister. I call Mr Chope, on behalf of the European Democrat Group.
Mr CHOPE (United Kingdom) – May I, in congratulating Andorra on its chairmanship, ask the Foreign Minister to share with us his insights into why so many European Union members of the Committee of Ministers are in favour of spending more money on European Union human rights institutions, while at the same time starving the Council of Europe, its Court and this Assembly of resources?
Mr SABOYA SUNYÉ – I thank you for your kind words, although we, as a very small country, will remain modest. We must acknowledge that the relationship with the European Union has undergone significant improvement in the last few years. Both entities are very much aware that only by pulling together in our efforts to promote democracy and human rights can we obtain results. There has been progress on many initiatives – in Morocco and on neighbourhood policies, for example – and in Kosovo we are seeing more examples of good co-operation. From our point of view, that may never be enough, but I am sure that in these difficult times both organisations are doing their best to contribute. We are very proud of developments on the European Union’s accession to the European Convention on Human Rights, which is a great step forward. Some steps remain to be taken, but we must remember that a few months ago progress was frozen; it started again last autumn. We are very satisfied that during our chairmanship we have achieved great progress, and I am sure that the accession will contribute to a better balance between the efforts of both institutions to promote democracy and human rights.
Mr HUSEYNOV (Azerbaijan) – Armenia has regularly impeded the peaceful solution of the problems by its divisive and conflict-escalating activities. One such dangerous act, for which it did not have permission, was perpetrated on 21 February 2013, when, in the area between the settlements of Kosalar and Geybaly belonging to the occupied Azerbaijani city of Khankandy, Armenia, together with foreign States, decided to launch the building of a large munitions factory that is to have more than 4 000 workers. What measures can be taken by the Committee of Ministers to prevent that initiative, which points Azerbaijan and Armenia towards military confrontation, thereby seriously damaging the peace process?
Mr SABOYA SUNYÉ – I mentioned earlier questions on issues regarding Armenia and Azerbaijan. This morning, the President of Germany told us that once we became members of the Council of Europe, we were engaged in defending the values and principles of the Organisation. That is true of both Armenia and Azerbaijan, and I am sure that they want to fulfil their commitments. The specific solution to the conflict was on the table, and the Committee of Ministers supports any initiative towards that solution. I have already mentioned the action plans that were submitted to Armenia and Azerbaijan. We are looking very closely at how those action plans are being followed up in each case. It is very important that both countries participate and make good on the intentions that they expressed at the moment that they entered the Council of Europe and engaged in both the rights and responsibilities of the Organisation.
Mr DÍAZ TEJERA (Spain)* – The work of the last six months has gone extremely well, and I thank you, Minister, for the great job you have done. This morning I asked a question of the president of a major country. Now I am going to ask it of the representative of a country that is small only in the size of its territory; it has great clout beyond that. We know that a sum double the gross domestic product of the United States is in tax havens. What can we do that is not being done to address the issue of tax havens? Your country is not on any black list, and you are doing magnificent work in that field, but I would be grateful for an answer.
Mr SABOYA SUNYÉ* – I acknowledge what you have said, given what we and other micro-states have done in recent years to address the issue.
There is a clear international trend towards greater financial transparency, which the economic crisis has probably accelerated. We must ensure that we bring about what the English call a level playing field. That is necessary to support those who are making steps in that direction, so that we are not alone in doing that and that we create a general level playing field. Steps are being taken, and many organisations are involved in or are committed to it. I am not sure how best to put it in Spanish, but they are wedded to the idea.
That is certainly the case here. Crucial work has been done by the Council of Europe to fight money laundering and to establish good practice. That has been absolutely fundamental, and it enjoys much prestige internationally. The Moneyval process and the monitoring process have been vital. Those are crucial steps being taken by the Council of Europe in the field. It is an excellent instrument for the Council of Europe to co-operate with others.
Financial markets have their down side, but they work well as long as the rules are upheld and are appropriate. The results are already tangible. Certainly, our commitment to the goal is resolute.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you. I do not see Mr Mendes Bota. Mr Schennach, you have the floor.
Mr SCHENNACH (Austria)* – Austria’s chairmanship will follows Armenia’s. You have set the bar quite high with your activities. We do not need duplication in our institutions and those of the European Union, but that is a separate point.
What about Belarus? The Secretary General has tried to take steps to enhance democracy there. Is there any effort to use or to gain from those tiny green shoots of spring in Belarus?
Mr SABOYA SUNYÉ* – Regarding Belarus, you may have the impression that there are signals. In September 2012, the Committee of Ministers, in its response to the Parliamentary Assembly’s Recommendation 1992 on the situation in Belarus, on the basis of the values and principles of the Organisation, said that there were failings in the legislative elections at the end of 2012 in meeting democratic standards, which the OSCE also highlighted.
The introduction of a moratorium on the death penalty is one of the pre-conditions for the possibility of closer relations with the Council of Europe. In March 2012, the Committee of Ministers adopted a declaration deploring the execution of two young men. We felt that what was being done ran counter to positive development. Assistance to civil society, so that it can develop properly, as well as assistance to the media, are also priorities of the Committee of Ministers.
One may think that there are some promising signs, but we should not overlook the foundations of our institution, and continue to work towards our goal, which is for Belarus to comply with the principles and values that inspire us.
Ms PASHAYEVA (Azerbaijan) – Hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijani internally displaced persons are expecting the Council of Europe to provide assistance with returning to their homes, as well as with the implementation of Resolution 1416. In your capacity as chairman, what do you think are the steps that must be taken by the Council of Europe? What is your supervision, as chairman, of the ongoing occupation of the territory of one Council of Europe member State – Azerbaijan – by another one, Armenia?
Mr SABOYA SUNYÉ – As I have already mentioned in earlier questions regarding the situation in Azerbaijan, the Committee of Ministers has made initiatives. A delegation visited Azerbaijan a few weeks ago. We stay close to developments in your country. The Committee of Ministers is ready and committed to offer any assistance that may be asked or needed regarding the assumption of the chairmanship in 2014.
An answer to the action plan that was sent at the end of 2012 to the authorities of Azerbaijan to follow up the implementation of their commitments is still pending. I can only encourage the authorities in Baku and remind them that the Committee of Ministers is willing to be helpful in receiving an answer. That is the best way for us to provide support. We hope that the action plan will be answered and that we can have an operational guideline to assist in the best way possible the preparations for the upcoming chairmanship.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you. I do not see Mr Gutiérrez. Mr Moreno Palanques, you have the floor.
Mr MORENO PALANQUES (Spain)* – I congratulate you on your chairmanship, Mr Saboya Sunyé.
As President Gauck suggested this morning, in order to advance European construction, you must have a common identity to be patriotic. We have not emerged from a process of community emancipation. We must base ourselves on common values. From your experience as outgoing chairman, do you think that the collaboration between the Council of Europe and the European Union should have a greater impact?
Mr SABOYA SUNYÉ* – It is obviously true that the Council of Europe’s objectives are to make the values and principles we all share the cement on which we build a relationship of proximity and conviviality. We should not deny that those principles and values reflect a certain identity, and I agree that we should ensure that they are present in our daily lives for the youngest generations. We wanted to try out that idea under our chairmanship so that people understand that it is an instrument to create democratic citizenship at the level of education and youth. Indeed, although these values might appear sufficiently well established, this identity has to be shared with the European Union.
Those values are very close to those of the European Union, but we Europeans – whether we are in the European Union or Andorra – must not fall into thinking that these ideas are purely European: they are universal values. So the progress achieved with regard to access of the European Union to the European Convention on Human Rights is fundamental; thus we can strengthen the synergies that exist between our organisations. That will constitute an important step forward and allow us better to defend these principles jointly.
Many initiatives have been undertaken. Much progress on co-operation has been achieved between the Council of Europe and the European Union through joint programmes and projects. We should be grateful to the European Union for the considerable funding it has provided, given the scarcity of our resources. An excellent basic common identity can exist between us, so that we can undertake joint initiatives to strengthen those elements that constitute the Council of Europe’s mission: democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you. I call Ms Zimmerman.
Ms ZIMMERMANN (France)* – You recall the message of the Istanbul Convention on 5 March: violence against women is a violation of human rights. Violence against women belongs not to the private sphere but to the public sphere, and that entails State responsibilities. However, many countries have not yet ratified that convention. What action does the Committee of Ministers intend to take to encourage governments to ratify that text? What powers does the Committee of Ministers have to review those countries that have ratified it?
Mr SABOYA SUNYÉ* – The first duty is that of setting an example. During our chairmanship, we signed the convention. Indeed, that was one of the prerequisites of our chairmanship. We are working on the ratification process, which will entail certain reforms of our criminal code. We trust that that will be possible in the coming months.
The Committee of Ministers has tried to promote the Istanbul Convention internationally. We should refrain from thinking that conventions are tailored purely for the European context – they are universal – and we should assess the status of women at the highest possible level. That is why I, as the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers, and the President of the Parliamentary Assembly and the Deputy Secretary General, Ms Battaini-Dragoni, participated in the 57th session of the Commission on the Status of Women in New York on 4 March. We explained that the convention is innovative; it goes beyond the purely private sphere of violence and brings such things into the criminal sphere and the sphere of State responsibility.
This is a fundamental point, and it is very much why we promoted the convention beyond the Council of Europe by common agreement. Given the permanent mission of France, we obtained a very effective co-sponsor. We tried to go beyond that during our stay in New York. We defended the convention in our interventions at the level of the State of Andorra not only during the general session but in one of the events organised by the francophone countries. We recalled the value of francophonie this morning, and I agree that it is a question of not just language but culture and the defence of values. Therefore, the Committee of Ministers has expressed the aim of ensuring that the convention becomes a reality and that it is subsequently subjected to monitoring, which would allow the standards to be fully implemented in the future.
Mr ANDREOLI (San Marino)* – I congratulate Andorra on its presence here. Europe is ever more the centre of our attention. San Marino, Andorra and Monaco have in common a process of European integration, which could lead to a specific association agreement. What are the perspectives? What resistance might there be in your relationship with the European Union? What can be the role of small States in the European Union? I want to tell you and the representatives of the countries present at the Council of Europe that San Marino will hold a popular referendum in the coming months precisely on the theme of the European Union.
Mr SABOYA SUNYÉ* – We have very close relations with San Marino and Monaco, so we have the prospect of a rapprochement at the European level. We recently spoke to our counterparts in San Marino and Monaco. We are discussing the possibility of an association agreement, or several association agreements, between our three micro-States and the European Union. Another possibility, which was announced in a document published last December, is to become members of the European Economic Area.
Those two institutional scenarios are envisaged in the conversations that have commenced with the European Union. With regard to the content, mention is made of the will for a rapprochement and progressive access to the internal market. The three countries are within the global movement of competition. The financial aspects have been invoked already, so we are generally in a process of global competition. Therefore, the idea of accessing the internal market is significant to our three countries.
As the European Union has said, a good balance should be struck between access to the internal market and the specifics of Article 8 of the Lisbon Treaty. There is balance to be found between the will to participate and get closer to the European Union and our specific situations, which are linked to the fact that we are very small States each with our own identity well established. We are always looking for a political balance. While seeking such a balance, we can pursue the necessary reforms. The institutional framework still remains very much open, with the possibility of an association agreement such as the European Economic Area, an ad hoc association network for our three micro-States or specific protocols for each State. There is still quite a bit of leeway, I think, for further negotiations with the European Union delegation on foreign relations and with the directorate-general. They have become closer with San Marino, and were in Monaco in March. The rest of 2013 will be full of events to work towards that and I have no doubt that we will share them with San Marino and Monaco.
The PRESIDENT* – We must now conclude the questions to Mr Saboya Sunyé. On behalf of the Assembly, Minister, I thank you most warmly for your communication and for the answers you have given to questions. I congratulate you on your chairmanship and I congratulate the team that is with you. I also pay tribute, of course, to the secretariat of the Committee of Ministers. I hope to see you again very soon.
(Mr Walter, Vice-President of the Assembly, took the Chair in place of Mr Mignon.)
2. Progress report of the Bureau and the Standing Committee
The PRESIDENT – The next item on the agenda is the debate on the progress report of the Bureau and Standing Committee, Documents 13169, and addendum, and 13175, presented by Mr Pietro Marcenaro, and a presentation on the observation of the presidential election in Armenia, Document 13172, which, in the absence of Ms Woldseth, who is unwell, will be presented by Mr Stefan Schennach on behalf of the ad hoc committee. We will hear both presentations before opening the debate to the floor.
The speakers list closed at noon. I remind all members that we agreed this morning to limit speaking time to three minutes. The sitting must conclude at 5 p.m., so I propose to interrupt the list of speakers at about 4.55 p.m. Is this agreed?
It is agreed.
I call Mr Marcenaro to present the progress report. You have 13 minutes in total, which you may divide between presentation of the report and reply to the debate.
Mr MARCENARO (Italy)* – Colleagues will find in their file a documented report on the activities of the Bureau and Standing Committee over the three months since the last part-session. I shall limit my speech to four points: Kosovo, Belarus, electoral observations and the Václav Havel prize.
On Kosovo, let us begin with a good piece of news – the agreement achieved recently between the Serbian and Kosovar authorities. Although it is not conclusive, it marks an important positive development in the situation and is a step forward not only on the specific problem of Kosovo but for the entire process of reconciliation and the stabilisation of the region, which, as shown by the deadlock on the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, has not yet concluded.
The agreement is a positive sign and the fact that the last elections in Serbia created an alternative government means that pacification has a solid base and can bring together most political forces. We must recognise the positive role played by the European Union and Baroness Ashton, its High Representative, but we must also remember the important role played by the Council of Europe and the Parliamentary Assembly. In March, Jean-Claude Mignon paid a very important visit and I pay tribute to Mr Jagland’s initiative as well as the work undertaken by Björn von Sydow, rapporteur on Kosovo for the Assembly. Those reports show the standards that have contributed to our success today.
I want to dwell on that point, because it helps us better to define our specificity. We are not the United Nations or the European Union, not just because our political geography is different but because our mission is different, too. At the centre of it, we have the standards that define human rights, democracy and the rule of law. I think I can follow those standards – although perhaps not with such status – in the drafting of the report on the Middle East for which I have been appointed rapporteur.
That is the context in which we should set the decision of the Standing Committee during its meeting in Paris on 7 March to guarantee the right to two parliamentary representatives elected to the Assembly of Kosovo, one from the majority party and one from the opposition, to participate without the right to vote but with the right to intervene in all committees with the exception of the Monitoring Committee and the Rules Committee, independently of the themes on the agenda, and to participate, although without the right to speak, in plenary sessions of the Assembly.
On 7 March and this morning, too, in the Bureau meeting, we had an exchange of views on the problem of relations with Belarus. I will not repeat, as they are familiar to all of you, the reasons that led our Assembly to freeze relations with Belarus. Those reasons are very simple. Belarus is breaching the fundamental principles of the Council of Europe on human rights, democracy and the rule of law. The death penalty and the resumption of executions, particularly those of two young people accused of a terrorist attack on the Minsk underground, are the most obvious breach of human rights, but not the only one. However, we are faced with an important problem. How can we ensure that our sacrosanct intransigence is not sterile but expresses itself in effective political and institutional initiatives that can contribute to the positive development of the situation? Specifically, how can we help those in Belarus who are struggling, in difficult circumstances, for freedom and democracy? That theme was not tackled when the Assembly discussed relations between principles and the realpolitik in the foreign policies of our countries and the European Union. Inviting representatives of the Belarus Parliament and representatives of the opposition, to whom the dictatorship denies free elections and the possibility of sitting in parliament, to a confrontation on crucial themes such as the death penalty could be a solution. The Committee on Public Affairs and Democracy, which deals with that topic and chose Mr Herkel as its rapporteur, might be charged with promoting and organising such an initiative. Mr Herkel should be able to exercise his functions without the veto of the Belarus authorities, which have blocked the initiative so far.
My third point is about electoral observations. Over the past few months, there has been a lot of activity in that field, with parliamentary elections in Monaco on 10 February and presidential elections in Armenia on 18 February and in Montenegro on 7 April. There will be parliamentary elections in Bulgaria on 12 May and in Albania in June. Reports of the ad hoc committees on the individual elections are available and there will be a debate devoted to the Armenian elections. Although electoral performance has improved, serious problems remain. Electoral observation is one of the Assembly’s most important tasks and that is why I underline the importance of the meeting of the presidents of the ad hoc committees on 22 January under the presidency of Jean-Claude Mignon. We discussed a note prepared by the Secretary General of the Assembly based on Resolution 1897 of 2012 on guaranteeing more democratic elections, especially paragraphs 9 and 10 of that resolution.
The proposals are intended, first, to increase the quality and effectiveness of electoral observations through the systematic integration of election observations during the preparation phase and following the recommendations expressed by the Monitoring Committee. Secondly, they are intended systematically to involve other organs of the Council of Europe in election observation activities, apart from those of the Venice Commission: GRECO, which is the group against corruption, with regard to the difficulties of the funding of elections, and the European Court of Human Rights in examining the case law of the different countries. Thirdly, they are intended to strengthen synergies with other international organisations such as the OSCE and ODIHR, but also with the European Union, which is increasingly participating in election observation activity, and with NGOs. The proposal is to have a conference on the parliamentary dimension of electoral observations, to be organised in good time. This could be an important opportunity to make some progress on this activity of ours.
Finally on the democratic nature of elections, let me say a word to underscore the fact that much still has to be done to make the electoral laws of many countries respectful of the principles of democratic representation and the representativeness of the institutions. I am thinking now of my own country of Italy. A few weeks ago our constitutional court addressed the problem of an electoral law that provides that the party or coalition that comes in first will win a majority prize of 55% even if the parliamentarians involved gained only 25% of the electoral votes. Such a situation impacts on the principles of democracy. I would also underscore that the very same forces that gain through such a mechanism can themselves fall into a deep crisis. Such a mechanism would seem artificially to create broad parliamentary representation and the responsibility which it entails, but in reality there is not a corresponding consensus inside the country itself. In crisis, the Italian Parliament re-elected Giorgio Napolitano to the presidency of the Republic of Italy with 75% of the votes. The parliament is asking him to perform a difficult task and I hope that he will receive the collaboration of the Council of Europe and its Parliamentary Assembly in seeking to achieve it.
My last point concerns the Václav Havel prize. I have very little to say about it, but I thank the President of the Assembly and the Secretary General of the Assembly for this genuine present. We are going through difficult times, and too often democracy does not manage to interpret the aspirations, needs and will of the citizens. In this difficult situation we should recall Václav Havel and the courage that knows how to become strength – a strength which operates in order to achieve its promises. This prize helps to bring us together with an extraordinary figure of our age. In the communication society in which we live we know that symbols have become not only a spiritual but a material force. Thank you very much for your attention.
THE PRESIDENT – Thank you very much, Mr Marcenaro. You have two minutes remaining to sum up at the end. I now call Mr Schennach to present the observation of the presidential election in Armenia. You have three minutes, Mr Schennach.
Mr SCHENNACH (Austria)* – I am replacing Ms Woldseth, who unfortunately is not well. Four of us were in the field in the pre-electoral mission and 22 members went in February for the actual presidential election. Very briefly, we can state that these elections have been a sign of progress for democracy in Armenia. This follows on from the trend that we saw earlier in Georgia, where the situation after the 2008 election was catastrophic.
I visited Armenia in 2012 and realised that we could not talk about free and fair elections. The fact that these elections were much more democratic is therefore a real leap forward. We were able to monitor what happened in many of the polling stations in many of the constituencies, and we saw that the voters had truly been mobilised. The 58% share of the vote won by the winning party was not a huge majority and that, too, was a very good sign.
In March, ODIHR published a report that was somewhat critical of the election process, and obviously we need to look into that. I was with Luca Volontč and Ms Woldseth and we discussed it very thoroughly. We came to the view that the population had to some extent lost faith in the whole process of voting. One issue concerned people being put on the electoral roll on the day of the election. In about 5% of cases we found instances of multiple voting, suspicious-looking proxy voting or people voting as families. However, although those are negative aspects, we would characterise this election as free and democratic. There were about 2.5 million voters on the list and about another 15 000 who wanted to be added to the electoral roll on the day. This chapter has, of course, not been closed. There is the whole question of the Armenian diaspora and whether they should have the right to vote. These problems are being tackled on a case-by-case basis. One should nevertheless say that confidence in the whole process of holding elections seems to have increased from the nadir it had reached.
Another problem is the fact that potential candidates had to pay very high deposits to stand for election. Vis-ŕ-vis the eight candidates who had been announced, only seven stood for election. Two of those were the most serious candidates: the outgoing president and the most-likely opposition candidate, who received about 37% – more than one-third – of the votes. I say again that everything was not perfect but we believe that the election overall was free and democratic.
THE PRESIDENT – Thank you, Mr Schennach. I will now call the representatives of the political groups. First, I call Mr Preda to speak on behalf of the Group of the European People’s Party. You have three minutes.
Mr PREDA (Romania) – Thank you, Mr President. I begin by congratulating Mr Marcenaro on this report on the activities of the Bureau and the Standing Committee between our two part-sessions this year. Among the matters on the agenda of the Bureau and the Standing Committee, special attention was given to the situation in Kosovo through the adoption of a resolution of the Assembly. I welcome the efforts of Belgrade and Pristina which led to the conclusion of a final agreement with a view to normalising relations between the two. The decision to establish a public register of presents and advantages with a minimum value of €200 is evidence of transparency in the continuing reform.
Many electoral processes have occurred hitherto in the member countries of the Council of Europe. We have followed the elections in Monaco, which is an established democracy, but we also looked at the voting in Armenia and Montenegro. Despite the irregularities inherent to emerging democracies, they have shown attachment to democratic values. The recent presidential elections in Armenia represented progress when compared with the catastrophic elections of 2008. However, it is not enough to declare the election as genuinely democratic; the authorities in Yerevan should undertake inquiries to check allegations of electoral fraud.
THE PRESIDENT – Thank you. I call Mr Rouquet, on behalf of the Socialist Group.
Mr ROUQUET (France)* – Mr President, Mr Marcenaro and Mr Schennach, I thank you all for your work on this subject. I regularly participate in Bureau and Standing Committee meetings and have seen how keen the chairperson is to take specific steps, in particular on sensitive issues such as Belarus and Kosovo. I also welcome the historic agreement between Belgrade and Pristina to normalise relations. Without the Parliamentary Assembly having taken any direct part in the negotiations, I nevertheless think that the part it played in lessening tensions within Europe over recent months is very much a part of this success story.
I would like to speak at greater length on the observer mission in Armenia, in which I participated along with the rapporteurs. A little before the election, President Serzh Sargsyan announced that Armenia needed free and fair elections like it needed oxygen and that it had everything necessary at its disposal to organise the best possible election. It was a real test of Armenian democracy, especially given the tragic events after the elections of 2008. It was also a democratic test that could enhance access to an associated agreement with the European Union, which is what the country needs for its economic and social development. It is also a democratic test that working with the Venice Commission to reform the electoral code has led to free elections. Armenia has faced the challenge successfully and we should welcome that. The voting conditions and use of the media were much better than in previous elections and that was noted by all observers. In fact, no serious incidents were observed during the monitoring.
Armenia’s progress is all the more remarkable given that this landlocked country is in real economic difficulties. According to the World Bank, more than 36% of the population live below the poverty line. That economic issue was one of the main subjects during the electoral campaign. There is certainly much work still to be done, in particular on the use of administrative resources, but I am sure that our Armenian colleagues have the necessary will. We need an impartial civil service and administration that understand that they are in the service of everyone. Armenia’s success in achieving that would be symbolic.
THE PRESIDENT – Thank you. I call Ms Beck, on behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.
Ms BECK (Germany)* – I want to begin with a few words about Belarus. Some months ago, we met the mother of a young man who had been executed along with a friend following a trial that did not tally at all with our norms. Our criteria prevent us from having contact with certain countries and the people who are responsible for such executions, which fly in the face of all the principles of law. We want to renew that contact, but we must not forget such flagrant breaches of our standards and principles.
We can only congratulate ourselves for the detente between the representatives of Serbia and Kosovo. An agreement is one thing, but we now have to see what will become of its application and implementation. I hope that we can avoid a situation such as that in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is characterised by a deadlock where certain territorial entities are systematically blocking the initiatives of others. I hope that Kosovo and Serbia will not follow that path and will be able to obtain rapprochement with the European Union.
On the elections in Armenia, our judgment, and that of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, is positive. However, certain Armenian NGOs drew our attention to several points. Our short-term observer missions are at a disadvantage because they see only a fragment of the electoral process. We do not see everything that goes on at the campaigning level or everything that precedes the election, when there are all sorts of possibilities for influencing voting, including excessive use of certain practices, such as the pressurising of the media or civil servants, interventions by the army or the manipulation of the electoral register. Only the ODIHR can hold the long-term observation missions that can discover such things. I genuinely regret that the Parliamentary Assembly acted separately, as it were, to the OSCE and ODIHR during the election. We are ephemeral observers who cannot get an overall vision of things. We really need the contribution of the ODIHR’s longer-term viewpoint.
THE PRESIDENT – Thank you. I call Sir Roger Gale, on behalf of the European Democrat Group.
SIR ROGER GALE (United Kingdom) – I want to concentrate on the Bureau’s responsibility for the budget. I understand that the Bureau has agreed a zero-growth budget, and that must be right in this age of austerity. It is a curious way of budgeting to award the funding first and work out what will be done with the money second, rather than working out a programme of activity and then working out how it will be paid for. Nevertheless, the end result appears to be the right one.
The member States of the European Union have clearly supported a zero-growth budget, which is absolutely admirable. However, it is quite interesting to note that the European Union is seeking a considerable increase in its own budget at the same time. In curtailing the operations of the Council of Europe, as my colleague, Christopher Chope, has already pointed out, it is also interesting to note that the European Union is trying to extend its areas of competence into Council of Europe work, particularly human rights, and is duplicating effort, which cannot be a good thing.
It is of course unfortunate that the Council of Europe’s funding goes so heavily towards seeking to bail out the European Court of Human Rights and to put right today the wrongs of the past. That is clearly detrimental to the other important work – election observing has just been mentioned – of the Council of Europe, but that balance will hopefully be redressed. However painful it may be, the Bureau is taking the right decisions on the budget. We have to do what we have to do. It would be nice, but probably wishful, to think that the European Union might pay some attention to that and take a leaf out of the Council of Europe’s book.
I was unable to be present as an observer in Armenia on this occasion, although I was there for the previous presidential elections. It is hugely gratifying to hear from those who were there about the satisfaction expressed about the most recent elections, and to learn that a wonderful country is taking yet another step towards full democracy.
THE PRESIDENT – Thank you. I now call Mr Villlumsen, on behalf of the Group of the Unified European Left.
MR VILLUMSEN (Denmark) – Dear colleagues and Secretary General, I address you on behalf of the smallest group in the Assembly, but I hope you share our concerns. We are worried about the general situation of democracy and human rights in Europe. We had all hoped that we could talk about progress today, but instead we see a move in the wrong direction on human rights, the rule of law and democratic elections. It is clear that the crisis has put democracy under pressure. Many examples have already been mentioned, and there are many others. In Greece, fascist groups are killing people on the basis of their skin. In Moldova, the Government is changing the electoral law in order to change the result of the next election. In Cyprus, the people are being blackmailed by the Troika to hand over the keys to their future. I could continue with the list of the violations of the fundamental values of this Assembly in other countries, inside and outside the European Union.
On behalf of the UEL, I urge you to take these developments seriously and I urge Secretary General Jagland to take action. We must not sit on our hands and watch the rights of Europeans being violated. We must have courage and learn the lessons of the mistakes of the 1930s and 1940s in Europe. It is time to present a plan of action to meet the threat against democracy and human rights. I hope that this Assembly can take on this task. On behalf of the UEL, I invite you take on this task with us, starting today, in defence of democracy and human rights.
THE PRESIDENT – Thank you. I now call Ms de Pourbaix-Lundin.
MS DE POURBAIX-LUNDIN (Sweden) – In 2008 in Armenia, I observed the biggest election fraud I have seen so far. Ballot papers were put in the wrong pile, giving the votes to the wrong candidate. As we know, 10 people were killed in the aftermath of that election, and the perpetrators have yet to be brought to justice.
In the 2013 presidential election, I can see improvement, but the report is too positive. It does not completely reflect what happened. As I saw on election day, the identity of voters was not often checked. Very few people checked whether the last page of the documentation had already been stamped. The ink used to stamp the last page was a joke – as I found for myself, it could be erased with a wet finger. There were people checking who voted and who did not vote. At one location, a man took two pages of the voters’ list, hid it under his jacket and left. Photos were taken of the ballot papers by voters. As I and others pointed out at the briefing the following day, men dressed in black were getting out of black cars with tinted windows and standing outside polling stations. They were trying to put pressure on people, which is not a nice thing to do.
If we really want to help the Armenian citizens to hold democratic elections, we must tell the truth. That is why I am speaking out today about what I observed, which is not reflected in the report. I tried to include these points, but only some were included. Why, after 20 years of Armenian independence, is it not possible to organise better elections that could be recognised by the citizens and political actors of Armenia?
On a final, minor issue, how can Armenia allow people to smoke in its polling stations, most of which are schools where children have to go the next day? That is really awful, but it is a minor issue; the others I raised are much more important.
THE PRESIDENT – Thank you. I now call Mr Recordon.
MR RECORDON (Switzerland)* – Generally speaking, I agree with what Mr Villumsen said a moment ago, but I shall concentrate on the elections in Armenia, in which I assisted for a few days. Apparently, the process was smooth, but I am not in a position to say whether there was an improvement because it was the first time I had followed elections there. But the principal problem on which we should dwell is the presence during the voting of personnel depending upon the government. Citizens without political affiliation, or with well-balanced affiliations, must be chosen and trained to direct and monitor the work in the polling stations. I am not questioning the good will of most of the people I met during the elections; rather, it is a question of principle and governance I am invoking here.
There were recurring protests about the ink on the documents, which apparently can be erased very quickly, although we did not notice this ourselves. We should have ink tests, and use printed sheets with stamps such as those on voters’ documents.
In elections in Armenia and elsewhere, the polling booths are of insufficient size and are sometimes rather carelessly arranged, in order that what is actually going on cannot be seen. That may appear a point of detail, but we need to address such matters to strengthen voters’ confidence in the process. Barring these reservations, the process was regular and fair from what I can judge.
THE PRESIDENT – Thank you. I now call Mr Harutyunyan.
MR HARUTYUNYAN (Armenia) – Reports are frequently praised here for being balanced, but this report is not simply balanced; it reflects the sincere opinion of partners who are concerned about Armenia's future. That is the only attitude that can help further to strengthen democracy in Armenia. Even though, according to the reports of the international election observation missions, the presidential elections on 18 February marked another significant step forward in the democratic development in Armenia and were characterised by a respect for fundamental freedoms, we still see room for further improvement, and we have a strong will to follow that path.
I am not going to challenge some paragraphs of the report which seem arguable to me, but I would like to raise a general issue of concern not only to me, but I think to colleagues: the “abuse of administrative resources”. That expression is being widely used by the Council of Europe and other organisations, particularly in assessing elections in different countries, but I think we have to be a little cautious in using this expression. In the absence of any clear-cut criteria for this definition, it is really difficult to distinguish between the abuse of administrative resources, and the perception and arbitrary interpretation of the actions of an incumbent by other players. By default, an incumbent official is always in a vulnerable situation.
Generally speaking, the report outlines important steps that will help Armenia to move forward on its path to democracy, from both the legislative and practical points of view. Finally, I would like once again to thank the observation team for carrying out that important mission and all Assembly members who have contributed.
THE PRESIDENT – Thank you. I now call Mr Bockel.
Mr BOCKEL (France)* – I, too, was an observer at the elections, which were pretty well organised even if there was a certain amount of abuse of administrative resources. At least there was none of the social unrest that there had been at previous elections.
There was a marked difference between urban and rural voting, and we should bring home to the Armenians the need for the economic, fiscal and legal reform that the election was about, while being encouraging to the electoral commission for the job that it did.
Democracy is also about the Opposition’s credibility, and Mr Hovannisian’s results were somewhat surprising for the observers. The institutions noted that. We remember what a tragedy the 2008 elections were, so we all encouraged the Opposition not to reject the results but to understand the challenge for the whole society, particularly in the light of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
The issues on which the parties must continue to work are a concern to us in the Council of Europe. We know that a lot of work has been done to find answers to the issues such as the numerous Azerbaijani refugees who are the first victims of that conflict and cannot return to their homes or find any normal life. There are also Armenian refugees. The authorities of each country must tackle those issues in a dialogue with the other. However long the problem has gone on, it is not going away. The Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons is working to find an agreement on the issue. The situation cannot go on for ever.
THE PRESIDENT – Thank you. I now call Ms Cramon-Taubadel.
Ms CRAMON-TAUBADEL (Germany)* – I am delighted with the historic commitment on Kosovo reached this weekend, and I hope that we will be able to contribute to the process of reconciliation.
As Mr Schennach said, there were positives and negatives in Armenia. The report lists improvements such as better electoral law and more equitable participation than in 2008, and the elections were peaceful. However, the Opposition do not recognise the result, given that, as in the past, there were irregularities, notably in respect of administrative resources. We can try to establish criteria on such abuse, but we all know what we are talking about.
There were attempts to influence the electorate and the results were manipulated. When there were many observers, participation was 25% lower than in polling stations with fewer observers. In polling stations where there was record participation, President Sargsyan got scores of more than 80%. Too little account was taken of that, although the Opposition pointed it out.
There was also a problem with last-minute additions to electoral lists, as Mr Schennach mentioned, so much is still unclear. Can we say that the democratisation that we noted in Georgia is taking place in Armenia? In Armenia, many try to be elected to protect commercial interests and not to work for citizens.
THE PRESIDENT – Thank you. I now call Mr Bugnon.
Mr BUGNON (Switzerland)* – I have been on several electoral missions. One thing must be said: people have not trusted the electoral process, and whatever happens, someone will say that there was cheating. During the election we can only observe, but once it is over people start saying the same things again – that there have been mistakes and falsifications.
Some would say that there is no smoke without fire; sometimes we observe a huge conflagration and sometimes only a tiny grass fire that is not the end of the world. Things have got better since previous elections in Armenia. They are not perfect but moving in the right direction. The outgoing government understand that it is in its interest that the democratic process be recognised, as representatives of the country here understand.
The improvement is based on two things. We know that other partners are also observing, but we are not allowed to observe the movement of ballot boxes from constituencies to the central counting office. We need to follow the whole process. Secondly, we need to improve the lists that are needed when the census takes place and ensure that people answer truthfully as to who lives in which building; otherwise people can go to the neighbouring town and vote there. If nobody is monitoring the situation or has any real idea of who lives where, it is easy to falsify the results. This is an administrative issue. Certainly, progress has been observed, and we must continue our observation of such elections in order for these improvements to continue.
THE PRESIDENT – Thank you. The last speaker is Mr Seyidov of Azerbaijan.
Mr SEYIDOV (Azerbaijan) – We are especially interested in the elections in Armenia because it is a neighbouring country. The situation there is very important not only for Azerbaijan, Georgia, Russia and other neighbouring countries but for the Council of Europe. Armenia is, like us, a new member of the Council of Europe. During today’s discussion we have heard some very positive reactions to the elections in Armenia. We know exactly what has happened in Armenia. In the report we can find information about “free” elections where there was an absence of competition. We can see the words “fair” elections when the list of the voters completely did not reflect the reality. We can read about “peaceful” elections where the list of candidates for the presidency had been shortened. We are told about “progress” in comparison with previous elections when 10 to 20 people were killed. This is progress?
What findings should we take from this report? Tomorrow there will be elections in other member States of the Council of Europe. If the list of candidates for the presidency has been shortened, the list of voters will change. Absence of competition between the candidates will be in front of our eyes. In the opinion of the observers, they will be democratic elections and a step in the direction of the values of the Council of Europe. We do not want to blame Armenia; we are in favour of a democratic process in Armenia. However, we ask you to be objective and to open your eyes. This morning the President of Germany said that we should do our best to escape double standards in this Organisation – that that is the only way to survive. Here in this report we can see double standards. We ask you to open your eyes and to be more objective, because that is the only way to change the situation not only in Armenia but in all countries that are members of the Council of Europe.
THE PRESIDENT – Thank you, Mr Seyidov.
As is usual, 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, in typescript only, to the Table Office for publication in the official report.
Mr Marcenaro, do you wish to reply? You have up to two minutes remaining.
Mr MARCENARO (Italy)* – Thank you Mr President. I want to make a point about Belarus in response to Ms Beck. Of course, Ms Beck, I understand your concerns, which we share because the stance of the Assembly is well founded. We recall the afternoon when that mother and her son came before the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy. It was the first committee meeting that I was presiding over. The question is how to make our intransigence effective. We cannot escape that question. Our morality is not just about affirming our convictions but putting our convictions at the disposal and at the service of those who are fighting on the front line.
I would like to add something to what I said in my introduction. When we take this decision, we should consult the representatives of the opposition with whom we have relations. No one can consider that a report that we produce on certain themes vis-a-vis the Belarusian authorities can make us abandon this process.
THE PRESIDENT – Thank you, Mr Marcenaro. The debate is now closed.
The Bureau has proposed a number of references to committees for ratification by the Assembly. They are set out in annexe 2 to Document 13169 Addendum. Are there any objections to the proposed references to committees?
There are no objections, so the references are approved.
I invite the Assembly to approve the progress report of the Bureau and the Standing Committee, Document 13169.
The progress report is approved.
3. Next public business
THE PRESIDENT – The Assembly will hold its next public sitting tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. with the agenda which was approved this morning.
The sitting is closed.
(The sitting was closed at 5.05 p.m.)
1. Communication from the Committee of Ministers to the Parliamentary Assembly
Presentation of the communication from the Committee of Ministers by Mr Gilbert Saboya Sunyé, Document 13177
Questions: Mr Braun (Hungary), Mr Gross (Switzerland), Mr Xuclŕ (Spain), Mr Chope (United Kingdom), Mr Huseynov (Azerbaijan), Mr Díaz Tejera (Spain), Mr Schennach (Austria), Ms Pashayeva (Azerbaijan), Mr Moreno Palanques (Spain), Ms Zimmerman (France), Mr Andreoli (San Marino),
a. Presentation of the progress report of the Bureau and the Standing Committee by Mr Marcenaro, Document 13169 plus addendum and Document 13175
b. Presentation of the observation of the presidential election in Armenia by Mr Schennach, Document 13172
Speakers: Mr Preda (Romania), Mr Rouquet (France), Ms Beck (Germany), Sir Roger Gale (United Kingdom), Mr Villumsen (Denmark), Ms de Pourbaix-Lundin (Sweden), Mr Recordon (Switzerland), Mr Harutyunyan (Armenia), Mr Bockel (France), Ms Cramon-Taubadel (Germany), Mr Bugnon (Switzerland), Mr Seyidov (Azerbaijan).
Replies: Mr Marcenaro (Italy)
3. Next public business
Representatives or Substitutes who signed the Attendance Register in accordance with Rule 11.2 of the Rules of Procedure. The names of Substitutes who replaced absent Representatives are printed in small letters. The names of those who were absent or apologised for absence are followed by an asterisk.
Lord Donald ANDERSON*
David BAKRADZE/Giorgi Kandelaki
Gérard BAPT/Jean-Pierre Michel
Gerard BARCIA DUEDRA*
José Manuel BARREIRO*
José María BENEYTO
Ľuboš BLAHA/Darina Gabániová
Federico BRICOLO/Rossana Boldi
Mikael CEDERBRATT/Kerstin Lundgren
Vannino CHITI/Paolo Corsini
Lolita ČIGĀNE/Jānis Dombrava
Carlos COSTA NEVES*
Joseph DEBONO GRECH*
Armand De DECKER*
Arcadio DÍAZ TEJERA
Peter van DIJK
Alexander [The Earl of] DUNDEE/Cheryl Gillan
Baroness Diana ECCLES*
Tülin ERKAL KARA
Joseph FENECH ADAMI
Cătălin Daniel FENECHIU
Vyacheslav FETISOV/Anvar Makhmutov
Doris FIALA/Eric Voruz
Daniela FILIPIOVÁ/Miroslav Krejča
Axel E. FISCHER*
Jana FISCHEROVÁ/Kateřina Konečná
Gvozden Srećko FLEGO*
Jean-Claude FRÉCON/Maryvonne Blondin
Erich Georg FRITZ
Martin FRONC/József Nagy
Sir Roger GALE
Tamás GAUDI NAGY*
Jarosław GÓRCZYŃSKI/ Zbigniew Girzyński
Alina Ştefania GORGHIU
Sylvi GRAHAM/Ingjerd Schou
Pelin GÜNDEŞ BAKIR*
Hĺkon HAUGLI/Anette Trettebergstuen
Martin HENRIKSEN/Mette Reissmann
Ali HUSEYNLI/Sahiba Gafarova
Vladimir ILIĆ/Vesna Marjanović
Denis JACQUAT/Jacques Legendre
Ramón JÁUREGUI/Carmen Quintanilla
Michael Aastrup JENSEN*
Jadranka JOKSIMOVIĆ/Katarina Rakić
Birkir Jón JÓNSSON*
Čedomir JOVANOVIĆ/Svetislava Bulajić
Božidar KALMETA/Ivan Račan
Ulrika KARLSSON/Tina Acketoft
Bogdan KLICH/Jadwiga Rotnicka
Serhiy KLYUEV/Volodymyr Pylypenko
Dmitry KRYVITSKY/Alexander Ter-Avanesov
Václav KUBATA/Dana Váhalová
Jean-Yves LE DÉAUT/Christian Bataille
Igor LEBEDEV/Olga Kazakova
Jean-Louis LORRAIN/Bernard Fournier
Thierry MARIANI/André Schneider
Meritxell MATEU PI
Pirkko MATTILA/Riitta Myller
Liliane MAURY PASQUIER
Sir Alan MEALE/Michael Connarty
Ermira MEHMETI DEVAJA*
José MENDES BOTA
Jean-Claude MIGNON/Marie-Jo Zimmermann
Djordje MILIĆEVIĆ/Stefana Miladinović
Federica MOGHERINI REBESANI*
Andrey MOLCHANOV/Yury Shamkov
Jerzy MONTAG/Viola Von Cramon-Taubadel
Rubén MORENO PALANQUES
Joăo Bosco MOTA AMARAL
Lydia MUTSCH/Fernand Boden
Lev MYRYMSKYI/Serhiy Labaziuk
Baroness Emma NICHOLSON
Elena NIKOLAEVA/Alexander Sidyakin
Eva PARERA/Jordi Xuclŕ
Danny PIETERS/Sabine Vermeulen
Lisbeth Bech POULSEN/Nikolaj Villumsen
Marietta de POURBAIX-LUNDIN
Cezar Florin PREDA
Maria de Belém ROSEIRA*
Pavlo RYABIKIN/Iryna Gerashchenko
Rovshan RZAYEV/Sevinj Fataliyeva
Urs SCHWALLER/Luc Recordon
Boris SHPIGEL/Guennady Gorbunov
Björn von SYDOW/Jonas Gunnarsson
Melinda SZÉKYNÉ SZTRÉMI*
Lord John E. TOMLINSON
Ahmet Kutalmiş TÜRKEŞ
Tomáš ÚLEHLA/Pavel Lebeda
Ilyas UMAKHANOV/Vitaly Ignatenko
Volodymyr VECHERKO/Larysa Melnychuk
Tanja VRBAT/Melita Mulić
Klaas de VRIES*
Dame Angela WATKINSON
Karin S. WOLDSETH/Řyvind Vaksdal
Barbara ŽGAJNER TAVŠ*
Emanuelis ZINGERIS/Egidijus Vareikis
Guennady ZIUGANOV/Vassiliy Likhachev
Naira ZOHRABYAN/Zaruhi Postanjyan
Vacant Seat, Cyprus*
Vacant Seat, Montenegro*
Representatives and Substitutes not authorised to vote
Corneliu Mugurel COZMANCIUC
Eloy CANTU SEGOVIA
Juan BUENO TORIO
Ernesto GÁNDARA CAMOU
Miguel ROMO MEDINA
Partners for Democracy
Representatives of the Turkish Cypriot Community (In accordance to Resolution 1376 (2004) of the Parliamentary Assembly)