AS (2013) CR 16
2013 ORDINARY SESSION
Thursday 25 April 2013 at 10.00 a.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 10.05 a.m.)
THE PRESIDENT* – The sitting is open.
1. Challenge on procedural grounds of the still unratified credentials of Mr Andriy Shevchenko
THE PRESIDENT* – The first item of business today is the debate on the report to be presented by Ms Nataša Vučković, whom I welcome here today, on behalf of the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional affairs. The report is on the challenge on procedural grounds of the still unratified credentials of Mr Andriy Shevchenko, Document 13193.
On Monday, the Assembly agreed that it would limit the speaking time in this debate to three minutes, and I ask you all to respect your allotted speaking time. We must finish this item, including the votes, by 10.45 a.m. I will therefore interrupt the list of speakers in this debate at 10.40 a.m. for replies and voting.
Is that agreed?
It is agreed.
I call the Chairperson of the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs, and rapporteur for this report, Ms Vučković. You have 13 minutes, which you may divide between presentation of the report and reply to the debate. You have the floor.
MS VUČKOVIĆ (Serbia) – Thank you, Mr President. This report has been drafted following last Monday’s challenge by Mr Omtzigt and other colleagues of the still unratified credentials of Mr Andriy Shevchenko. Mr Shevchenko was appointed to replace Mr Serhiy Vlasenko, who lost his national mandate as an elected representative following a decision by the Ukrainian High Administrative Court. Mr Omtzigt expressed the concern that that judicial decision may have been politically motivated.
Under Rule 7 of the Rules of Procedure, the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs has been verifying whether Mr Shevchenko’s credentials comply with the procedural requirements set out in the rule and, in particular, whether Mr Shevchenko’s nomination satisfies the requirements of Article 25 of the Statute of the Council of Europe and does not lead to the unfair representation of national political forces within the Ukrainian delegation.
The Rules Committee has established that Mr Shevchenko belongs to the same political faction, known as Batkivshchyna, as Mr Vlasenko. Furthermore, he was appointed to replace Mr Vlasenko by the President of the Batkivshchyna faction in conformity with the procedures of the Verkhovna Rada, and his appointment is not incompatible with the fair representation of political groups and parties in the current composition of the Verkhovna Rada.
The Rules Committee has also to address the issue of Mr Vlasenko’s mandate within the Assembly, as his credentials were ratified at the opening of the 2013 session and should therefore expire only at the opening of the next ordinary session. This is not the first time the Assembly has examined the consequences of the loss of a member of a national parliament’s mandate on his or her mandate with the Assembly. The Rules Committee has based its decision on the Assembly position adopted previously: in cases where an Assembly member has been stripped of his or her national mandate by a court decision, and to the extent that all domestic remedies have been exhausted, there is a presumption that the decision applies mutatis mutandis to the Parliamentary Assembly. That position is in accordance with Article 25.a of the Statute of the Council of Europe, which stipulates that “the Assembly shall consist of Representatives of each Member, elected by its Parliament from among the members thereof, or appointed from among the members of that Parliament”. However, under article 25.b, the Assembly still holds an unrestricted right to agree or not to agree to the termination of the ongoing mandate of its members in order to protect them against pressure or prosecution for his or her position taken in the Assembly.
The Rules Committee has noted that the revocation of Mr Vlasenko’s mandate was decided by the Ukrainian High Administrative Court because he omitted to declare an incompatibility between the exercise of a legal practice and his parliamentary mandate. Neither the Rules Committee nor the Assembly could appraise, in place of the European Court of Human Rights – which has been formally seized – the validity of the judicial decision at the origin of the revocation of Mr Vlasenko’s mandate in the light of the relevant national legislation, regulations and procedures or the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights and its protocols. Nor could the Rules Committee make an assessment on substantive violations of the Statute of the Council of Europe, the obligations of which are binding on member States, such as an assessment being governed by a separate procedure that was not initiated by the challenging parties at the opening of the part-session.
The Rules Committee has taken into account the fact that Mr Shevchenko was appointed at the request of the leader of the political faction Batkivshchyna, to which Mr Vlasenko belonged, and, as I mentioned, his appointment to the delegation does not compromise the fair representation of national political forces within the delegation of Ukraine. Therefore, the Rules Committee has decided to invite the Assembly to deprive Mr Vlasenko of his mandate and to ratify the credentials of Mr Shevchenko. Thank you for your attention.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you. There are eight minutes remaining for the rapporteur. I call Ms Brasseur to speak on behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.
Ms BRASSEUR (Luxembourg)* – I take this opportunity to thank our rapporteur for this very thorough report. I simply say that ALDE agrees with the committee’s conclusions.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you. That was extremely brief and to the point. The next speaker is Mr Walter, on behalf of the European Democrat Group.
Mr WALTER (United Kingdom) – I hope that I will not take three minutes either. The Assembly represents the peoples of the member States of Europe. The selection of elected members of parliament is politically balanced and is determined by the national parliaments. In this case, Mr Vlasenko is not a member of the Ukrainian Parliament, and his replacement is from the same political group. Therefore it is pretty clear to me and to my group that Mr Shevchenko is a legitimate member of his Assembly, and we support the report.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you. The next speaker is Mr Kox, on behalf of the Group of the Unified European Left.
Mr KOX (Netherlands) – This Assembly is a very political organ with many different political positions. In order to have a fair debate, we need rules. The rules are decided by the Assembly, and the Rules Committee is there to check whether the rules are accepted. That is it. It is not for the Rules Committee to do more. I urge all colleagues to accept that simple logic. Without rules, and without obeying the rules, we cannot have a proper and fair debate. I fully support the report presented by Ms Vučković, and I urge all members to do the same.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you. The next speaker is Mr Vareikis, on behalf of the Group of the European People’s Party.
Mr VAREIKIS (Lithuania) – We are making a mistake here – we are following the rules. Of course, a person who is not formally a member of their national parliament cannot be a member of this Assembly, but the question asked by Mr Omtzigt is not the question that we are answering. Mr Omtzigt asked whether the decision regarding Mr Vlasenko was politically motivated, and the report does not answer that. It answers the question whether his replacement is right.
As our rapporteur said, this is not the first example of misunderstandings between national parliaments and our Assembly. We have problems with Albania and Armenia, and we have had problems with Ukraine before. We do not always know how national parliaments and executives establish their delegations, and sometimes those decisions are politically motivated. My proposal, which is not for this report but perhaps for the future, is that we should have a report that analyses how national delegations are formed. I have been a member of the Rules Committee for many years, and we have always had problems in understanding parliaments.
Of course, here in the Assembly we fight for children and young people, for old people and for the Roma people, but sometimes, although it may sound funny, we have to fight for parliamentarians. We are servants of the people but we, too, have human rights. The case of Vlasenko is problematic and it is still before the Court, so it is not yet finished. We can say that, formally, everything is okay, but everything is probably not okay legally. According to our rules, we can do nothing, but we have to pay attention in future because politically motivated replacements are being made in the countries of the Council of Europe. I strongly support the amendment to paragraph 1, so that we include the possibility of there having been a politically motivated replacement.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you. The next speaker is Mr Gross, on behalf of the Socialist Group.
Mr GROSS (Switzerland) – Mr Vareikis thinks that we are not answering the right question, but he has to acknowledge that the question might be right, but was addressed to the wrong people. The Rules Committee is not allowed to say whether the court in Ukraine made the right decision or the wrong one. That can be done by parliamentarians only if the Monitoring Committee looks at the organisation of the Ukrainian court, or it can be achieved by the Court in Strasbourg looking at the quality of the Ukrainian court’s decision. Mr Omtzigt’s question might be right, but he did not direct it to the right place, and that is why Mr Vareikis has the impression that we have not answered the question.
I agree that we can support the amendment. It does not say that the court has done wrong; it says that “reportedly” the procedure was marred by violations, and leaves the question open. That is a fair point. The basic argument, as Ms Vučković said – I thank her for her work – is that we cannot replace the Supreme Court of Ukraine or the European Court in evaluating the quality of the Ukrainian court’s decision. We have to accept that decision and then look at whether the change to the delegation has been made according to our rules. That is why we have no alternative but to agree with the report.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you. Ms Vučković does not want to reply now, so I call Mr Sobolev.
Mr SOBOLEV (Ukraine) – All the facts in the report are correct. The main question that we have to answer is not whether Shevchenko is an acting member of the Council of Europe. Of course, according to all the rules and procedures, Shevchenko has to be the acting member of our Council. However, we have to answer another two questions. First, why is it that in the January part-session two members of the opposition who were appointed to our national delegation did not have the right to participate? I refer to Mr Vlasenko and Ms Kondratiuk. They were prohibited from taking part in that part-session. We have to answer that question because it is one not only for the national parliament but for us all.
Secondly, how was Mr Vlasenko’s mandate dismissed? That is a very interesting question because according to our constitution his is the only such case, and the decision was not made according to the rules. We have 22 members of parliament who are also members of the bar association, and they have a mandate in parliament. It is important for us that the report shows why Mr Vlasenko was dismissed from his position, so our amendment is very concrete.
The case is now before the Strasbourg Court. It was not resolved by the Supreme Court of Ukraine. According to so-called judicial reform in Ukraine, it is impossible to appeal to the Supreme Court directly without a decision by the High Administrative Court. The High Administrative Court has refused Mr Vlasenko permission to appeal to the Supreme Court, and his case now has to be resolved in the Strasbourg Court. There is a written declaration signed by representatives from the main political groups that says that the result of a direct election by citizens cannot be overturned by the authorities. That is the case we have to resolve. Our amendment would answer the question. It is not a political amendment, but an amendment that would enable the resolution of such questions in the future.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you. In the debate I call next Mr Popescu.
Mr POPESCU (Ukraine)* – I thank the rapporteur for an objective and dispassionate report.
I want to draw your attention to Ukraine’s internal procedures that enable us to replace Mr Vlasenko with Mr Shevchenko. This February, the speaker of our parliament, on the basis of a report from our Rules Committee, informed the domestic courts that Mr Vlasenko was not fulfilling his mandate. A mandate may be terminated only if an MP is engaged in remunerated employment while in office. The High Administrative Court of Ukraine removed the mandates of Mr Vlasenko and of a parliamentarian of the majority party. The court ruled that, on the basis of a law that we enacted at the insistence of the Council of Europe, Mr Vlasenko should have ended his work as a lawyer when he was elected to parliament. He had not done so by February, and another MP was stripped of his mandate on the same grounds.
On 19 March, Mr Vlasenko was stripped of the opportunity of ever being elected to parliament. The Batkivshchyna party, to which both Mr Shevchenko and Mr Vlasenko belong, decided to replace Mr Vlasenko with Mr Shevchenko in Ukraine’s delegation. The Ukrainian Parliament was asked to confirm the change, and it was unanimously adopted by the appropriate committee. The speaker of our parliament sent a letter to Mr Mignon to explain the change.
I stress that all our domestic procedures were followed both to the letter and in spirit. Any attempt not to ratify the credentials is destructive, so please support the report.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you. In the debate I call next Mr Ariev.
Mr ARIEV (Ukraine) – This is not an ordinary situation for me and my colleagues from the Batkivshchyna party, because we are discussing the credentials of another Batkivshchyna member. However, we supported the initiative from Mr Omtzigt.
The problem is not about Andriy Shevchenko the football player, but a good colleague in our parliamentary faction. The problem is the case of Serhiy Vlasenko, who was stripped of his mandate illegally by the High Administrative Court of Ukraine.
The Ukrainian judicial system was reformed three years ago to be fully controlled by President Yanukovych’s administration. If you remember the trials of Yulia Tymoshenko and Yuriy Lutsenko, you will have realised that the Ukrainian judicial system can blame anyone for anything, and then “prove” it. If you want to find yourself responsible for yesterday’s weather, you are welcome at a Ukrainian court.
That happened to Mr Vlasenko, who is a member of this Assembly. He was a public defender of, not an advocate for, Yulia Tymoshenko, and this difference is crucial. In court, he was too effective to be punished, so the court broke the law and the procedures to make an illegal decision.
Many members of this Assembly have signed a written declaration to condemn the overturning of the result of a direct popular vote by other branches of State. Now we must fix that problem in the Ukrainian judiciary system. We await the decision of the European Court of Human Rights, to which Mr Vlasenko has already appealed. It is possible to restore him to parliament; the Court did so previously for an MP from Azerbaijan.
Two majority-party MPs – Mr Baloga and Mr Dombrovsky – are in the same situation. They were stripped of their mandate by the same court after court proceedings were initiated by someone who was unsatisfied with the election result and who skipped other routes of appeal. The difference with those cases is that their decision has not yet come into force.
A third attempt was made one week before this Assembly session started, but the Kiev regional court did not run the risk of stripping another MP, Mr Odarchenko, head of Kiev’s branch of the Batkivshchyna party, of his mandate.
All these cases reflect negative tendencies in Ukrainian political affairs and the European community must react strongly against them.
I want to inform you that Andriy Shevchenko is ready to withdraw his credentials himself if you support Serhiy Vlasenko. We are in favour of the report, but I urge you to support the amendment.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you. In the debate I call next Ms Orobets.
Ms OROBETS (Ukraine) – Please remember the name of Serhiy Vlasenko. Please remember his story, for your memory is his sole immunity. This story is about a brave man – a lawyer and an MP – who ventured to protect a brave woman, Yulia Tymoshenko. He stood up in numerous courts to fight for her. Then he stood up in parliament, and that is the only reason for his punishment. The story is about how his fundamental human right to elect and to be elected was violated, and about keeping the whole parliament of a big European country in fear.
Five of our colleagues, including the next speaker on the list, are fearful. We do not know whether we will be allowed to cross the border next time or to participate in this summer’s session of this Assembly. Our courts can adopt any kind of decision, but it was not them but the people of Ukraine who elected Serhiy Vlasenko. The question is not about recognising credentials, but about how to stop the destruction of the Ukrainian Parliament. I ask you not to support the decision of the court that imprisoned Tymoshenko and Lutsenko. I ask you to support Mr Vareikis’s suggestion and our amendment, which acknowledges that there has been a violation.
I ask you to find time to analyse the situation, probably in the Monitoring Committee. Otherwise, a big European country will move further away from democracy. For us, it is a fight against fear and a fight for freedom. Please remember the story and the name: Serhiy Vlasenko is a brave person, and he has been stripped of his mandate. He is not immune as of now; he may be put in prison at any time. The fact that western observers and rapporteurs know about his story is probably the last chance for the Ukrainian people and politicians to stay alive and to be able to cross the border and speak freely in this Assembly.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you very much.
That concludes the list of speakers.
I call Ms Vučković to reply on behalf of the committee.
Ms VUČKOVIĆ (Serbia) – As parliamentarians, we are all concerned about the case of Mr Vlasenko. We would certainly support all efforts to explore further the status of MPs in our member States because that is of the utmost importance for our work. I certainly suggest that we use all the Assembly’s tools and mechanisms to explore this issue further, but under the mandate of the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs, we cannot analyse the judicial systems or court decisions of member States. We have therefore produced the draft resolution, which I ask you to support.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you very much.
The debate is closed.
The Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs has presented a draft resolution to which one amendment has been tabled.
I remind you that, in accordance with Rule 7.4, Mr Shevchenko – the member of the Ukrainian delegation whose credentials have been challenged – cannot vote in any proceeding relating to the examination of his credentials.
We come to Amendment 1, tabled by Mr Sobolev, Mr Ariev, Mr Vareikis, Mr Toshev, Mr Connarty, Mr Koszorús, Mr Mihalovics and Ms Orobets, which is, in the draft resolution, paragraph 1, after the words “national parliamentary mandate”, insert the following words: “following a procedure that was reportedly marred by numerous violations and”.
I call Mr Sobolev to support Amendment 1. You have 30 seconds.
Mr SOBOLEV (Ukraine) – Both sides support this report because it is true and because it makes an excellent suggestion on how we can solve this problem. However, our amendment concerns the case of Mr Vlasenko, who was dismissed from his position contrary to the main principles of the Council of Europe. We therefore support both the amendment and the whole report, which will then answer all the questions.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you very much.
Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment? I call Mr Popescu.
Mr POPESCU (Ukraine)* – The amendment contradicts the report and would not be appropriate in the resolution. We are talking only about credentials, and what is said in the amendment could be said about some other States. The amendment would be counter-productive, so I ask you to vote against it.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you very much.
What is the opinion of the committee?
Ms VUČKOVIĆ (Serbia) – The committee is against the amendment.
THE PRESIDENT* – The vote is open.
Amendment 1 is rejected.
We will now proceed to vote on the draft resolution contained in Document 13193.
The vote is open.
The draft resolution in Document 13193 is adopted, with 93 votes for, 5 against and 8 abstentions.
2. Current affairs debate
THE PRESIDENT* – The next item of business this morning is a current affairs debate on “Syrian refugees in Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq: how to organise and support international assistance?”
We must finish this debate by 12 noon. I remind members that speaking time is limited to three minutes for all members, except the first speaker, Mr Marcenaro, who is allowed 10 minutes. However, we have a little extra time, so I will be generous and grant you all four minutes each.
I remind you that the debate will close at 11.55 a.m. because we will hear from Mr Antoni Martí, Head of the Government of Andorra at noon.
In the debate, I first call Mr Marcenaro. You have 10 minutes.
Mr MARCENARO (Italy)* – The heads of two political groups wanted to organise this debate as a result of the visit that the Sub-Committee on the Middle East made to the region about two weeks ago. The committee visited Jordan, the Palestinian territories and the Zaatari refugee camp, which is close to the Syrian border.
This visit made an impact on all of us. It was hard to understand what was going on. When the camp was opened on 28 July 2012, just a few thousand people were there. Over time, the number swelled to 30 000 and there were 45 000 by the end of the year. There were 65 000 in January. The UNHCR, which is, of course, the United Nations organisation for refugees, said that there were 76 000 refugees in the camp. When we were there, we were told that the camp was hosting about 140 000 refugees, with more than 1 000 people flooding in every day. It has thus become a vast refuge for people who live in utter deprivation. In essence, we have a large city just a few kilometres from the theatre of war – just a few kilometres from the Syrian border.
I do not want us to repeat the debate that we had back in 2012. You will recall that the Assembly has already adopted resolutions on the conflict in Syria, and that we subsequently debated Giacomo Santini’s resolution on behalf of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons. So we have already dealt with this issue, but we now face a situation in which we really do not foresee any positive developments. We certainly cannot see anything on the horizon that is likely to put an end to this conflict. We are faced with a scenario that is likely to lead to a further deterioration of the situation. People are being forced to flee their homes. The inevitable conclusion is that the situation will continue to deteriorate. That is why we must take the situation most seriously.
I have only talked about the Zaatari refugee camp. You should realise that we were talking about 30 000 people in April 2012, but that the figure has now risen to about 1.3 million people in various camps. As you will be aware, refugees have fled to four countries. We have about 450 000 in Jordan. We have 292 000 in Turkey and 132 000 in Iraq, as well as many more in Egypt. If we wish to analyse the refugee situation more closely, we should add to their number the internally displaced people who have had to flee their homes and who have been displaced in their thousands within Syria. A lot of them have moved to Kurdish areas because there is a little more protection and stability for them; some international assistance is available for them. But this is not the case for the other IDPs within the country. Huge problems face all those countries. We must consider the internal stability of countries that take in refugees – and the smaller the country, the bigger the problem. It goes without saying that we must pay tribute to the huge efforts and enormous sacrifices being made by countries such as Jordan and Egypt to provide assistance to refugees. They have to supply food, water, health care and education for a population made up largely of children. A huge proportion of the refugees are children, so the countries need to provide basic services as well as the organisation and infrastructure for refugees.
We saw the Zaatari camp and people are going around trying to recruit people to fight in the war, including children. All sorts of illegal activity is happening. The countries have to contend with those problems, quite apart from anything else. Many contradictions inherent in the situation could have devastating consequences for the region as a whole. In Jordan, for example, water always needs to be provided, but the indigenous population is already undergoing water shortages. It is difficult to guarantee basic services such as a power supply. It is all in jeopardy, which is why the international community will have to help, and the International Monetary Fund is trying to make up some of the shortfalls that the country is experiencing.
Countries that have been burnt by their experience with the Palestinian refugee camps are trying to distribute refugees around the country. What can we say? The situation is fragile and we are likely to see a continuing civil war. Various forces are arriving to take part in the conflict and that leads to destabilisation in other countries. Hezbollah, for example, is linked to Assad’s Syria and Khomeini’s Iran. Other countries are supporting the opposition forces.
We must try to get to grips with the problem. First, we must remind the international community that it has certain duties and must show practical solidarity with those countries. Initially, it must recognise the huge efforts that Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey are making to try to deal with the humanitarian challenge. We must also consider the political implications of the conflict. A political decision must be taken to ensure that the situation does not destabilise the whole region. We need to think of peace and stability as a prize for the international community that we are duty bound to uphold and safeguard.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe ought to send out an appeal to the international community. I am grateful to the heads of political groups who took the initiative and made the debate possible this morning.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you. Exceptionally, I have agreed that Ms Durrieu can speak first in the debate for practical reasons. I call Ms Durrieu, on behalf of the Socialist Group.
Ms DURRIEU (France)* – Our friend Mr Marcenaro has made a number of points. The Sub-Committee on the Middle East has been to the Middle East and started its visit in Jordan, as it was important for us to get a sense of the dramatic situation that is affecting the region as a whole. Syria and its neighbours are affected, including Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and so on. What is happening in Syria is a tragedy and a disaster. The situation in the region was already complicated by the conflict between Israel and Palestine and it has become even more complicated. All we can do is count the dead and the refugees.
I went to see a refugee camp in Turkey – an extraordinary sight. Turkey is making remarkable efforts to take care of the refugees. I will not repeat what Mr Marcenaro has said about the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, but the emotional shock was extraordinary. Some 140 000 people are squeezed into 10 sq km and 500 000 Syrians have transited through the camp, while 2 000 to 5 000 arrive every night. Women, children and the elderly make up 75% of them and more than 50% are under 18 years old. The daily humanitarian needs must be borne in mind; the cost is $1 million a day and 3.5 million litres of water are needed daily. That will double. There are health problems; three hospitals have been opened. We visited one – one is French, a much larger one is Moroccan and one is Italian. I congratulate the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and thank Jordan for what is being done, but there is a security risk. The Jordanians are becoming angrier and angrier because they cannot carry the burden unassisted, no matter how generous they are. There is pressure to close the border and the whole situation is destabilising for Jordan, too.
What about the end of all this? It will be dramatic – there will be a battle for Damascus and for sites where Shiites have their holy places. Weapons might be used against the camps and the refugees in them. We had a meeting with the King, who told us that Bashar al-Assad will be removed by war. The rebels must be supported – but not the extremists. Of course, we do not know which is which. The opposition is made up of minorities, a minority is in power and the international community is terribly impotent. This will go down in history as a shameful moment. We need to go to countries that are welcoming refugees, such as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey and help them to bear this terrible burden.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you. I call Mr Walter, on behalf of the European Democrat Group.
Mr WALTER (United Kingdom) – I was not able to be with the Sub-Committee on the Middle East when it visited the camp in Jordan, but at the end of last year I visited two refugee camps in Turkey. We should applaud our Turkish colleagues for the support they have given to hundreds of thousands of Syrians fleeing for their lives. Some 70 000 Syrians have died in the conflict and 4 million Syrians are internally displaced in the country – fleeing for their lives. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, by the end of the first week in March the number of Syrian refugees had soared to 420 000 in Jordan, 185 000 in Turkey, 325 000 in Lebanon and 100 000 in Iraq. That is more than 1 million people. However, from my experiences of looking at the camps in Turkey, I believe that that is an underestimate. The majority of these refugees are women, children and the elderly, more than half of whom are children below the age of 11, suffering first and foremost from psychological trauma. These large numbers of refugees have placed a heavy burden on recipient countries in economic, security and social terms, and on energy, water, health and educational facilities.
At their most recent conference in Kuwait, the donor countries promised to provide $1.5 billion of support to the relief agencies, but the agencies confirm that they have received only $200 million. That is appalling and unacceptable. The nations that made those promises in Kuwait should be ashamed that they have not fulfilled those promises to help the countries that are trying to deal with this refugee situation. Comparing the support pledged with the funds actually received, it is obvious that the burden borne by the recipient countries is an enormous challenge that far exceeds their capabilities.
The pressure on Jordan’s already scarce water, energy and education resources is enormous. Approximately 40 000 Syrian students have started attending classes in Jordanian schools, and health services are strained by the average daily influx of 3 000 refugees. If the influx continues at that pace it will bring the total number of refugees to at least 1 million in Jordan alone. The social and demographic imbalance in recipient countries must be addressed, and we all have a responsibility to help.
We also have a responsibility to seek an end to the violence in Syria. Every party in Syria must comply with the United Nations Charter and with the Convention on Human Rights. First and foremost, however, we must deal with the humanitarian consequences of this most awful tragedy.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you very much, Mr Walter. I now call Mr Kox, who will speak on behalf of the Group of the Unified European Left.
Mr KOX (Netherlands) – I should like first to thank Pietro Marcenaro for his introductory remarks and Josette Durrieu, who led our fact-finding mission to Jordan and Palestine. It was a great pleasure to work with them in examining the unfolding tragedy of the Syrian refugees. Whatever you say about Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey, you cannot say that these countries are to blame for the horrible civil war in their neighbouring country, Syria, which has already cost 70 000 lives, the displacement of 4 million people and the creation of 1.4 million refugees. Nevertheless, we, the international community, take it for granted that these four countries should be responsible for taking care of all those who have already fled Syria, all those who will flee it today and all those who will flee it tomorrow and be asking for shelter. Thousands of Syrians cross the borders of these countries daily. The number could reach 4 million by the end of the year.
The burden on these countries is enormous, as we saw in our fact-finding mission to the region. According to Jordanian Prime Minister Ensour, the Syrian crisis now threatens Jordan’s national security. Tensions between Jordanian citizens and Syrian refugees are growing daily. More than 500 000 refugees have already found shelter in Jordan, a poor country where access to food, water, housing, work and health care is scarce. We see more or less the same in Iraq and Lebanon. Turkey has managed its relief operation itself until now but it, too, is quickly running out of resources.
Meanwhile the rest of the world is watching the catastrophe evolve. Only 50% of the United Nations relief operations are funded. We spend billions on saving banks but are unable to provide at least the millions that are needed to assist Syria’s neighbours to shelter and feed these Syrian refugees. Let us call a spade a spade: our world is full of hypocrisy. We deeply deplore the tragedy that is developing in Syria and its neighbouring countries, yet we fail to cover at least the material cost of sheltering the refugees, and the worst may be yet to come. If the battle of Damascus starts, then Syria’s neighbours will be overwhelmed by refugees. Instead of sitting and waiting for Syria and its neighbours to collapse, the international community should now shake off its shameful hypocrisy and accept its responsibility.
The UEL therefore proposes the following. First, let us at least keep our promises and therefore guarantee at least 100% funding of the United Nations relief operations – let us get rid of all the excuses and put our money where our mouth is. Secondly, let us provide, where and when possible, more effective bilateral support to the four countries involved so that they can at least provide a minimum level of services for their own citizens in order to avoid dangerous anti-refugee backlashes. Thirdly, let us supply humanitarian evacuation if needed, at the request of the neighbouring countries and in co-ordination with the United Nations. Fourthly, let us put far more political pressure on the Syrian Government, its oppositional forces, the United States and the Russian Federation to achieve a negotiated political agreement to at least a cease-fire so that the international relief can be brought into the country. This civil war has to stop and any support given to it should be prohibited by the international community.
We are quickly running out of time. Those who think that this is not our but their problem are blind and deaf. Ongoing civil war in Syria and an ever-growing burden on the neighbouring countries will make the Middle East region dangerous for us all. If the world has become a village we cannot afford an explosive fire in the centre of this village to continue. Let us take care and act before it is too late.
In conclusion, I ask the Secretary General of the Council of Europe and our President to visit the region as soon as possible to see in what ways the Council of Europe and its member States can be of any practical help to the four countries involved. We cannot leave them alone: it is also our obligation.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you very much, Mr Kox. I call Mr Santini, who will speak on behalf of the Group of the European People’s Party.
Mr SANTINI (Italy)* – Thank you very much, Mr President. On behalf of the Group of the European People’s Party I too should like to thank our colleagues, Ms Brasseur and Mr Kox, for having pushed for this debate. I also thank Pietro Marcenaro for his committed dedication to this issue and for correctly describing this as a political and humanitarian catastrophe.
This urgent debate in the Assembly is sponsored by the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons, which I chair. We have debated the situation before, but it is a good idea to review it now because the situation is in constant flux. For example, the data on the refugees have changed from the data that we had two months ago. This has been an extremely and astonishingly negative development and the situation is deteriorating daily. I therefore say again that this is an issue of direct concern to us. Not only are we the guardians of human rights, but this situation is unfolding a few hours and not so many kilometres away from our shores. This terrible conflict could engulf the whole of Europe as well.
We were therefore interested to hear an update of the situation from Vincent Cochetel, the director of the European office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which included some updated figures that I should like to share. He told us that 1.3 million refugees have fled the country in just one year, with 440 000 of them in Jordan, 132 000 in Iraq, 290 000 in Turkey and 420 000 in Lebanon. Eight thousand people are trying to flee the country every day and the numbers are increasing inexorably. Some 70% of the refugees are women and children fleeing violence and torture. They escape to camps where, as Mr Marcenaro described, the situation is hardly any better. We must be unflagging in our efforts. We cannot simply sit back while the situation unfolds on our doorstep. We must be partners. Europe must sit up and take notice. We cannot ignore the terrible pressure on the region.
The conflict has a predictable dimension. Syria has experienced a political and socio-economic crisis that has also led to the fracturing of the social fabric of countries that have taken in refugees. Above and beyond sending out a clear message, we secured this debate in order to signal our solidarity with not only those who have fled their country, but those who have taken in refugees. It is a practical way to show that this Assembly will not sit back while this disgraceful situation continues. We must use the economic resources at our disposal to deal with this terrible crisis.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you. I call Ms Fiala, on behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.
Ms FIALA (Switzerland) – This is an emotional debate. The civil war in Syria is a real tragedy. As a member of the expert group on detention centres, I have visited many camps on the Schengen border in Greece and I have now visited camps in Palestine and Jordan. I thank the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy and its Sub-Committee on the Middle East for an important and well-organised visit. Ms Durrieu did an impressive job and she has my respect.
I will not repeat all the figures, but I encourage you to open your hearts to what is happening in the region. I agree with what the Foreign Affairs Minister of Palestine said during our visit: “A pessimist is nothing more than a well-informed optimist.” After returning home from the refugee camps, it is true that you feel pessimistic and sad. Seeing what a burden it is for Jordan to host 500,000 refugees – children, old people, sick people – is humbling. Witnessing such things makes you lose your innocence and you come back a different person. The humanitarian catastrophe is so great that it is impossible to forget what you have seen. It is the same as trying to remember someone that you have never met. The refugee camps in Jordan show that life goes on at the end of the comfort zone.
Colleagues, do you realise that Jordan has to cope with 2 000 more refugees every day? They struggle for water and for security. When listening to discussions in my country about refugees, I am sometimes ashamed. I have looked at people from Syria in the eye. When I visited a detention centre in Greece, they told me that they would rather go back and die in Syria than stay for another year. That is what they want. They do not want to come to Europe and we should not fear that. They want to go home. They want to rebuild their cities and their houses. Those are the facts, but we are merely afraid that they may come to Europe. I say to members of the Assembly: please, go home to your country and to your parliament and take responsibility for these humanitarian tragedies. It is a responsibility that we all share, especially at the Council of Europe. If only money can be offered, they need that, but they also need our hearts and our sympathy.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you. We have a little extra time, so if colleagues who are not on the speakers list would like to take part in this important and sensitive debate, please inform the Secretariat.
The next speaker is Mr Dişli.
Mr DİŞLİ (Turkey) – First, I want to underline the fact that the humanitarian crisis in Syria is not just a problem for its neighbouring countries. This is an issue between the international community and Syria, between international law and Syria and between the international conscience and Syria.
Turkey has a common border of 911 km with Syria. The work that neighbouring countries have been doing to try to relieve the pain of the Syrian people may be playing down the severity of the situation. If we had not stepped up to help the Syrians, the international community could be facing much more misery and suffering. We must not forget that the most important thing to do is to end this conflict. While Turkey and other countries in the region are doing their best to help the Syrians, the duty to stop the bloodshed falls on the international community. A meeting of the Group of Friends of the Syrian People took place at the Adile Sultan palace in Istanbul on 20 April with the foreign ministers of Turkey, the United States, Britain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, the UAE, Italy, Germany and France, as well as representatives from the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, in attendance. The participants have extended clear support to the Syrian National Coalition and have displayed a political will to do everything necessary to end the massacre in Syria. I hope that that strong call receives responses from all the capitals of the world, beginning with Damascus. The international community and all sides involved should make a joint effort to try to end the conflict in Syria.
Every innocent life lost in Syria is a stain on the conscience of humanity. The Assad regime must be prevented from committing more sins, the Syrian people must prevail in their rightful and legitimate efforts, and the territorial integrity, sovereignty and national unity of Syria must be preserved. It is important that we act together to find a way to end the conflict and to prevent innocent people from dying.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you. I call Ms Huovinen.
Ms HUOVINEN (Finland) – It is painful for all of us to observe the continuing civil war in Syria and the increasing flow of refugees and human suffering. It is frustrating to note that the international community does not seem to have the means to assist in solving the conflict, nor to help the refugees and displaced persons.
The war has been going on for more than two years. The United Nations estimates that more than 4 million people in the region are in need of assistance. There are more than 1.3 million refugees and displaced persons, nearly half of whom are children and young adults. The civil war in Syria is a threat to Syrians, to the region and consequently to the security of Europe.
I recall the meeting of this Assembly’s Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy in Turin last December, and I want to thank you again, Mr Marcenaro, for what was a very interesting meeting. There, we were shown pictures from the city of Homs, including one of a little girl trying to clean blood from a hospital floor. I could not help thinking how different this little girl’s life is compared with that of my own son, who is the same age.
Armed conflicts and wars cause suffering of all kinds when people are forced to leave their homes and family members are dispersed or killed in military action. In all wars, including the civil war in Syria, we witness many different forms of cruelty. The most horrible form of warfare is the use of sexual violence. Unfortunately, sexual violence, harassment and trafficking are not restricted to warzones but also take place in refugee camps.
At last week’s G8 meeting in London, the ministers of foreign affairs adopted a Declaration on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict, and agreed to co-operate in order to put an end to sexual violence in armed conflicts. This is an important and welcome development – a recognition of the gravity of the situation, on which there have been too few clear statements. Ministers also agreed to fund the investigation of sexual crimes, to provide assistance to victims and to form an international group of experts that can be sent to conflict areas.
It is important that we and the international community in general look for ways to help countries that are forced to receive huge flows of refugees. Similarly, it is important to ensure that, and monitor whether, human rights are respected in the refugee camps. Particular attention and care should be given to the situation of children and young people. I therefore encourage the Council of Europe to follow the example of the G8 in this respect and to take a firm standpoint – and action – in order to prevent all sexual violence in wars and armed conflicts.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you. I do not see Mr Hancock or Mr Makhmutov, so the next speaker is Mr Kayatürk.
Mr KAYATÜRK (Turkey) – The humanitarian tragedy in Syria, which has lasted almost three years, is going on before the eyes of the international community. Syria has become a scene of appalling human rights violations. The regime’s forces are shelling the cities and killing civilian people indiscriminately. The situation is increasingly grave. Some 100 000 people have tragically lost their lives in scenes of violence and bloodshed. A devastated economy and 3.6 million displaced persons add to the gravity of the tragedy. More than 5 million people are in desperate need of assistance. The number of Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries has exceeded 1.2 million, and 51% of them are children.
Turkey is doing its utmost to shoulder part of the burden of dealing with this humanitarian disaster. There are some 200 000 Syrians in the camps in Turkey, and our spending has reached almost $1.5 billion.
Turkey welcomes the establishment of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic by the United Nations Human Rights Council. The situation in Syria is unsustainable. There has to be a solution to ensure the immediate safety and security of the Syrian people. Those responsible for this humanitarian tragedy must know there will be no impunity, and that they will bear the consequences. The international community should realise full well that the Syrian people have the ability to establish a democratic system in their own land and to struggle against all radical and extremist groups. Syria’s problem is not the radical groups of the future, but the brutal regime of today.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you. I call Ms Memecan.
Ms MEMECAN (Turkey) – The cruelty in Syria grows worse with each passing day. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 1 million people are formally registered as refugees. I have visited the refugee camps in Turkey and Jordan. In Turkey, we consider these refugees our guests, and treat them as such. The attitude is exactly the same in Jordan. We are doing our best to make our guests feel at home. We provide a good educational environment for children and courses for adults, so they can make the best of their time in the camps. There are almost 300 000 refugees in Turkey, and more than 200 000 are estimated to be living in various cities in the region. Some are staying with friends and relatives; others are living in rented accommodation.
The situation in Jordan is similar to that in Turkey. More than 100 000 Syrian refugees are registered with the UNHCR, and 2 000 are entering Jordan every day. Jordan has generously helped this new wave of refugees by providing shelter, food, water, sanitation and other basic services. However, the resources of host communities are limited and are already exhausted. Setting up and running such camps and maintaining daily services is expensive. To date, Turkey has spent $600 million; if the calculation is made according to United Nations accounting standards, the figure exceeds $1.5 billion. According to UNHCR administrators, the daily cost of running such camps in Jordan is $1 million, so the cost for 10 days is $10 million, and for a month, $30 million.
Please, colleagues, take those figures to your governments and ask them about their contribution. How many days of the camps have France, Switzerland, Finland and Germany paid for? Please ask all your governments and your generous peoples to take part in the relief efforts for this grave humanitarian crisis. Do not forget that every $1 million you give will be enough for only one day and one camp in Jordan alone. So please be generous – and quick.
The work of our countries – Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon – in trying to relieve the pain of the Syrian people may be playing down the severity of the situation; if we were not stepping up to help the Syrians, the international community would have faced much more misery and suffering than it is now. As we have declared before and as we heard from the Jordanian authorities, regardless of the cost and the contribution, we are determined not to leave the Syrian people to their unfortunate destiny, but will continue providing protection so that Syrian people can live in dignity.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you, Ms Memecan. I call Mr Shlegel.
Mr SHLEGEL (Russian Federation)* – We all know that refugees do not come out of thin air, so I want to say a few words about why they exist. There are a lot of lies and hypocrisy around this subject. It is accepted that the European – or, more broadly, the western – community is civilised and fights for the ideals of democracy and human rights and many words have been spoken about that in this very Chamber. But what objectives are sought by the European community in Syria – to build democracy? Tell that to people living in Libya, Iraq, Qatar or Saudi Arabia and they will laugh in your face. Perhaps the objective is to defend human rights and prevent a humanitarian disaster. Well, it has all happened already. Tell it to the parents of children who have died or to those who have lost their blood and work and whose lives have been ruined for decades to come.
Why did no one step in earlier to prevent the disaster? Perhaps the European community, or some part of it, is fighting the threat of world terrorism in Syria. No – quite the contrary. As in Libya, terrorists are being helped – they are given weapons and called “revolutionaries”, like the Chechen militias. In Beslan and at the Nord-Ost siege at the Moscow theatre, we saw how revolutionary they were.
We are talking about enemies of Syria, not its friends. Perhaps you believe that the issue will not affect you. I tell you that what is happening in Syria could happen in half the countries of the Council of Europe – just wait 10 or 15 years. Perhaps you do not think that people can come to your streets with explosives flying from pressure cookers – well, they can. All the resources invested in arming these so-called revolutionaries will be used to kill peace-loving citizens. I do not know how you can explain to your voters that terrorists are being funded from State budgets.
If the European community is not building democracy, protecting human rights or combatting world terrorism, what is it doing in Syria? Some elements are not doing anything, but just observing – the passive ones often become victims later – and another element is actively participating in the armed conflict on the side of the terrorists. They are not taking part in a civil war – in Syria there is not a civil war but interference by third-party countries with a view to gaining access to its resources under the guise of a civil war. It happened in Libya and Iraq. Did anyone find chemical weapons in those countries? Apart from inexpensive oil, nobody found anything.
We represent our voters, the citizens of our countries. Most of them are simple, everyday people – they work, study, raise their children and travel. They are just like the people who have died by the thousands in Syria and just like the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have left their homes as hostages to political ambitions and victims of the inhumane policies of certain States. Help for the terrorists has to be brought to an end; that will enable the refugees to return home. If terrorists come to power, the number of refugees will increase. As a young person, I am convinced that war can be ended with words, provided that we call a spade a spade. I call on you to do that and have the courage to bring the violence to an end.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you, Mr Shlegel. I call Lord Anderson.
LORD ANDERSON (United Kingdom) – If outside intervention is to come to an end, surely that also concerns Russia itself. It is helping the Assad regime for its own security reasons. Russia and Iran are fuelling that brutal regime, which according to all international opinion is oppressing its people. The United Nations Security Council is paralysed in large part because of Russia’s position.
We know the tragedy of the refugees in the four neighbouring countries. Of course, the problems of the needy inside Syria itself cannot be met by the international community. That is part of the scale of the problem described so well by earlier speakers, notably Pietro Marcenaro and Josette Durrieu.
I take a number of impressions from the visit of the sub-committee. First, there is the impressive work of the officials from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Secondly, there is the awful burden on Jordan, a relatively poor country; the refugees are imposing a great strain on its energy, health, education and water resources. Thirdly, there is the failure of the international community to deliver on the promises made in Kuwait – only a third of the funding promised has been delivered to the UNHCR. My final impression is that although the aid is necessary, it is only a humanitarian sticking plaster.
We need a political solution, but there is no end in sight. The region is not good at compromises or sharing power – you either win all or lose all; you are a total victor or a total loser.
I have a nagging concern. What, if anything, is the international community doing to prepare for the post-Assad period? Eventually, there will be an end, probably when Russia recognises that it is backing a loser. But already the international community is falling well behind on its promises. When the end comes, there will probably be a new wave of refugees. It is certain – certain, Mr President – that the successor regime will inherit a wasteland, which we see in our television pictures, taken by very brave photo-journalists, of inside Syria. That wasteland will have to be repaired. If Syria is to be restored, it will need a massive international effort. Are we, as an international community, planning for the post-Assad period? Given the inadequate response so far, what confidence can we have in the future? It is not encouraging. I hope that when we return to our respective parliaments, all colleagues here will ask their governments this simple question: what, if anything, are they doing to prepare resources for the wasteland that will be there at the end of the conflict?
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you, Lord Anderson. The next speaker is Mr Sabella from Palestine, Partner for Democracy.
Mr SABELLA (Palestine) – When the Sub-Committee on the Middle East visited Jordan and Palestine, one of the primary considerations was the Syrian refugees, but another was the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the Israeli occupation in Palestine.
It is clear that the Assembly’s concern about the Syrian refugee problem is immediate and urgent. While we as Palestinians laud the Assembly for stressing the importance of immediate support for the Syrian refugees, we cannot but see a political solution as going side by side with emergency relief. Mr Kox’s call for the Secretary General and President Mignon to visit the area should be encouraged. We should dwell on finding a political solution to the Syrian problem and drama that could help thousands, if not millions, of Syrians to achieve stability and to get back to normality.
We are also concerned about Jordan, which has consistently had wave after wave of immigration and forced migration and is now being hit by new Syrian refugees. Several countries cannot cope with this, including Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq, but particularly Jordan. In our view, there will be political ramifications if the situation of the Syrian refugees in Jordan is not immediately addressed. Jordan is demanding that its enormous financial needs be addressed, and rightly so. At this stage, the United Nations is saying that there are not enough funds to cater for all the refugees, whose numbers, as Mr Marcenaro said, are on the increase every day. There is a need to do something about this.
Another issue is the Palestinian refugees from Syria, almost 40,000 of whom are today present in Lebanon. The Palestinian National Authority has given close to $12 million to support the Palestinian refugees out of the Syria conflict despite its very dire and difficult financial situation. We call on the Council of Europe to act to find support for Jordan, because the indirect costs will be exorbitant, not only for the people and States of the region but for member States of the Council of Europe.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you, Mr Sabella. I call Ms Blanco.
Ms BLANCO (Spain)* – First and foremost, I thank our colleague, Mr Marcenaro, for his introduction to the debate in which he put his finger on the right issues. I also thank Mr Santini, who is the Chair of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons. He raised a matter of central importance when he gave us data from the UNHCR and figures that have been recognised by that institution. Some 8 000 people, primarily women and children, cross borders daily when moving out of Syria. Altogether, there are 1.3 million refugees in the neighbouring countries around Syria, as well as almost 4 million internally displaced persons who benefit from hardly any international protection. During this period, the director general of the UNHCR has acknowledged that the international community has not met its obligations, including budgetary obligations, as regards protecting not only Syrian refugees but internally displaced persons.
There is another problem that takes us back 20 years to the Balkans war. For the very first time, the international community was able to reach an agreement on this issue when it agreed to quotas concerning the number of refugees who were displaced by the Balkans war and went to other countries. The whole of Europe recognised that agreement and the quotas were acknowledged by all countries. Every single European country was prepared to welcome refugees while the war lasted, and a significant number of refugees came to all our countries. That meant that the neighbouring countries in the Balkans did not have to make the extra effort and take on the extra burden that Turkey, for instance, is taking on right now. Turkey is shouldering that burden very well indeed, but it is a burden. Lebanon does not have the infrastructure to welcome still more refugees.
I make this appeal to my colleagues: please let us make a number of demands of our governments. First, let us ask whether we have really met our financial obligations on this issue. Secondly, the UNHCR may be advised to take certain measures during this conflict – for instance, agreeing on a quota to help us to welcome these innocent victims. All the people coming out of the country are simply innocent victims.
Thirdly, if I may, I would like to refer to a letter that I received recently from someone in Syria who is working on these issues and who said: “We are crying, we are weeping over this situation. Who can help us out? We have injured children who are suffering from this conflict. They are faced with bloodshed, weapons and arms. We are making an appeal to the international community and to Europe as well. Please take us to a safe place. Please listen to us and hear our voices.” It is important for members of parliament to take this on board. A lot of Syrians are affected, not only internally displaced persons but refugees in neighbouring countries. Please come to their rescue.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you, Ms Blanco.
The next speaker is Mr Yatim from Morocco, a Partner for Democracy
Mr YATIM (Morocco)* – The people of Syria are paying daily with their blood in the fight for freedom. We should attempt to make it possible for all components of society to decide on their future. There are violations of human rights, assassinations, and torturing of innocent civilians. All sorts of abuses are occurring, and the victims are often women and children. There has been sacrilege of places of worship, including mosques, and the destruction of cultural monuments. All forms of barbarism are being perpetrated by the authorities, and that is resulting in refugees fleeing to neighbouring countries.
Since this conflict started, Morocco has made major efforts to find a way out of the crisis through a responsible and proactive approach. From the very outset of the crisis, Morocco stressed that it was in favour of a political resolution through democratic transition. Since then, it has been pleading for the setting up of a powerful and credible government that would be accepted by all. On 12 December 2012, Morocco expressed its solidarity with the Syrian people by welcoming the group, the Friends of Syria. In humanitarian terms, Morocco, as you probably know, sent a hospital to the Zaatari camp. It is providing medication, housing and foodstuffs in humanitarian assistance to the elderly and to young people. The King of Morocco has visited the camp – he is the only head of State to do so – and assistance has also been provided to a camp in Turkey in the form of winter tents. These are all ways in which our solidarity with the Syrian people is being expressed.
In the name of my delegation, I congratulate the people of Turkey and Jordan, and their respective Governments, on the efforts being made to help the refugees. I make an appeal to our conscience as parliamentarians: let us all act in favour of the Syrian people and put the required pressure on governments to ensure that they and international institutions fulfil their responsibility to provide serious assistance to the people of Syria.
THE PRESIDENT* – We must thank you for your speech, Mr Yatim, as you are a Partner for Democracy and you are talking about a sensitive issue. Ms El Ouafi is not here, so I call Mr Ariev.
Mr ARIEV (Ukraine) – During the past few years, many conflicts have drawn attention to refugee problems, and the international community has never been ready to act quickly and appropriately to meet every challenge. The war in Iraq, the clashes in Libya, the current struggle in Syria and the permanent conflicts in Africa have all shown that international society is not ready to provide a rapid response to humanitarian catastrophes. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has focused more on the current problems faced by refugees. Although they are important, the problem of how to provide a swift response is still to be solved.
The Syrian conflict’s origin is a fight for the right to have a choice – to have the possibility to elect a State leader. That is a constant struggle; it is a fellow traveller for mankind. Unfortunately, in cases such as this, victims are almost always to be found. If we still care about principles of humanity, we must do all we can to prevent people’s suffering. International investigation is a good idea, but we should look to the future. I propose the following: first, we should create international refugee assistance forces, with all the necessary assets, to be put in place as quickly as possible; and, secondly, we should initiate the signing of a convention for refugee assistance. Any State signing it would be committed to allowing refugees to enter their territory and allowing refugee assistance forces to work there.
Those brief proposals react to the urgent situation, and if you find them acceptable, they could be discussed further at an international level. We need to do something systematic, because the sad but true fact is, that it is not possible to avoid future conflicts – the question is only where and when – so we at least need to be ready.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you, Mr Ariev. I call Mr Schennach.
Mr SCHENNACH (Austria)* – This humanitarian disaster of the refugees in Syria and the neighbouring countries has been portrayed to us in a shocking way. I wish to highlight, and allow us to gain an understanding of, what was said by the British representative. I also wish to point out why Austria is one of the main providers of troops for the international peacekeeping forces in Syria and why Austria has been in favour of a complete boycott on the delivery of weapons for the past 30 years. Austria has been supplying the main peacekeeping forces with a view to ensuring that the borders with Israel are secured. Major conflicts have taken place and there have been injured parties, including 21 kidnapped soldiers. We have to be aware of the risks of not having a weapons embargo. The Croatian Government has withdrawn its troops, and the Austrian troops and the other troops still there – there are not many of those – have to replace them. We need solidarity, because otherwise the conflict will continue to expand and worsen.
We need the peacekeeping troops in not only Syria, but Lebanon, where there is a large contingent of troops, including the Italians. This conflict has a lot of other dimensions, which is why I ask you to understand the situation. I ask you to call on your governments to be aware of it. We cannot accept a removal of the weapons embargo against anyone in Syria. The important point has been made that the Syrian rebels are not homogenous, as they contain armed al-Qaeda groups. On the Free Syrian Army, we must be aware that the Kurds and Christians are trying to keep a region free from not only Assad’s troops, but the armed al-Qaeda troops. At the same time, thousands of refugees need to be protected. That is why it is vital to maintain the United Nations peacekeeping troops, because the situation is very difficult. Austria needs to give supplies to its troops, who have the difficult task of going via Damascus and the Golan Heights.
Jordan has a lot of refugees, including Palestinians. Both Syria and Jordan have, until now, had refugees from Iraq; 2 million Iraqis fled to Syria. Their fate has perhaps been slightly forgotten, as has that of the 500 000 Iraqi refugees in Jordan. New governmental forms are coming to light in Jordan and an unstable situation would get worse if the United Nations troops were to be withdrawn. The prerequisite for United Nations troops being in Syria is the general weapons embargo against everyone in Syria.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you, Mr Schennach. I call Ms Kapetanović.
Ms KAPETANOVIĆ (Bosnia and Herzegovina) – As a citizen of Bosnia and Herzegovina, I have a full right to say that I know what having more than 1 million refugees from one’s own country looks like. I know what their suffering looks like. Most of them never returned to Bosnia and Herzegovina and to their homes from the many countries abroad that assisted us – we appreciated that help very much. As a medical doctor who deals with physiology and resuscitation, I am best placed to know what the blood of innocent victims looks like – for five years I looked directly at their faces and their lives.
I agree completely with Mr Dişli and other colleagues about the measures of intervention, but I must say that Turkey is well known for its readiness to help and give hospitality, as it did for Bosnian citizens and is now doing for refugees from Syria. Mr Dişli’s appeal and my appeal, which, as far as I can tell, is shared by many colleagues and by the Parliamentary Assembly, must be addressed urgently to the international community with a strong message: help the Syrian people to find a way to stop the war. That is the main message. Every human being’s life is equal and worth living; there are no differences between us as human beings. So I beg us not to allow a slow intervention by the international community to happen, as it did in the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina, when Srebrenica happened. I do not want that to happen to anybody, anywhere in the world.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you. The next speaker is Mr Díaz Tejera.
Mr DÍAZ TEJERA (Spain)* – It was said earlier that we should not be so slow. Every now and again the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe deals with human tragedy, and we repeatedly use the same phrases: we say that we should not dilly-dally and we should not be so slow. What does that mean in practice? How are we going to manage our time, and how are we going to deal with the crisis? It is important to point out, as I have said to the Assembly many times before, that unfortunately tragedies will continue to occur. The human condition is what it is. It is not so much assessing what is happening that is important here. It is more important for us to look at the mechanism by which we try to resolve these crises. Does that mechanism work? Can we avoid delays? The time factor is essential.
Mr Ariev talked about the international community. We already have a conflict prevention mechanism and a crisis management mechanism. We also have many standards in place. How can we make sure that we move from principles to action? How can we turn the standards into reality? How can we make sure that citizens are really helped on a day-to-day basis? That is the big problem. How can we, as an international community, be more efficient and effective?
The first thing that needs to happen is an end to the killing. Secondly, we need to deal with the refugees and those who have been injured. Thirdly, we need to enable the country to return to a state of normality such as prevailed previously. All of this is part and parcel of our international legislative mechanisms. It is important to implement that as soon as possible. We have time for reflection, and we have the experience of our human condition. It seems to me that the time is now for action.
The issue for me is what we can do as members of parliament. First, and Mr Schennach was absolutely right on this point, we need to turn to our governments and say that there should be no arms trafficking. We have certain commitments and we need to make sure that our resources are used properly. We cannot ask for more from those who are smaller in stature. We all need to contribute. In addition, internationally speaking, we need to be far more effective. We need to think ahead, and when we are next faced with a crisis, we will be able to act quickly so that there are not as many injured or deceased people. The mechanisms are there – what we need to do now is become more effective and efficient in our work. National parliaments have their responsibility to bear in this. We, as members of parliament, need to think about what we can do in future.
This discussion is one way of making a contribution, but what more can we do? How can we make sure that we help those who are in the front line and those who are suffering? We talk about migration and immigration, and that gives us a type of experience, but these are times of conflict, and surely we could do and say more. How can we help to improve the situation tangibly? I would like to hear from you, colleagues, what tangible proposals you have to help us with this situation. What can the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe do to help?
It is a good thing that we are having a debate, because the subject has a parliamentary dimension. As parliamentarians, we should not be conducting a witch hunt or talking only about the economic crisis and how it is affecting us. This is a matter of democracy. You cannot have democracy without a parliament or political parties. We cannot absent ourselves from dealing with the factors that are necessary to find a solution. We need to find a political solution and overcome the difficulties.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you. That concludes the list of speakers. Mr Marcenaro, would you like the opportunity to make a few very brief remarks in reply?
Mr MARCENARO (Italy)* – I thank all the speakers in the debate. It struck me that it was a debate in which the Assembly showed that it was united and that it understood our responsibility as an institution. As I said before, I do not want us to have a rerun of the discussion we had about the political situation in Syria, so to Mr Shlegel I say that even the most backward-thinking of Russian diplomats has not said that that should be the case over the many long months of conflict. We now need to work to put in place the political conditions that will make it possible for refugees to return to their towns and cities, and to their homes. That is why we are duty-bound to act.
I want to pick up on one very serious point raised by Mr Walter, which is the discrepancy between the commitments made to Syria by the international community and the extent to which those commitments have been honoured. There is a gulf between the two. Unfortunately, we repeatedly see that the international community fails to live up to its promises in these humanitarian crises. As many speakers said, the situation is set to deteriorate even further, which will have a knock-on effect across the region. That is why we should look at the political thinking of those who do not believe that inaction will lead to the situation worsening further.
The Parliamentary Assembly and the Secretary General of the Council of Europe can, over the next few days, make sure that the sentiments expressed in this debate are passed on to other international organisations. As individual parliamentarians, we have to make sure that we raise these issues back in our parliaments at home. I am certain that we will in future revisit all these issues. I do not think there is any likelihood of the situation being resolved swiftly. Nevertheless, we will continue to deal with the issue and hope that the picture in future is not quite as bleak as it is today, and that the international community shoulders its responsibilities.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you, Mr Marcenaro, and thank you to all those who contributed to the debate. Given the importance of this discussion, I had hoped that the Chamber would be full, because we are dealing with subjects that directly concern our Assembly and are very much within our jurisdiction. This debate followed up on an urgent debate that we had on illegal migrants, which I am sure you remember. We underscored the disastrous situation that was occurring; in fact, we talked about humanitarian disaster. We are not far from that situation now.
I undertake to communicate the debate to the outside world. It is very much our collective responsibility to heighten awareness of the issue among our governments and all our international partners. It is important for them to face up to their responsibilities. As you know, there is no vote following a current affairs debate, but there is nothing to prevent the Bureau from deciding, tomorrow morning, to refer the matter to the relevant committee with a view to a report being drawn up. Once again, I thank everyone who has contributed to the debate. I also thank Mr Kox, one of the instigators of the debate. Thank you for agreeing to discuss this sensitive matter.
The debate is closed.
3. Address by Mr Antoni Martí, Head of the Government of Andorra
THE PRESIDENT* – We now have the honour of hearing an address by Mr Antoni Martí, Head of the Government of Andorra. After his address, Mr Martí will answer questions.
Mr Martí, as I was able to do this morning, I once again warmly welcome you here. It is an honour for me to welcome you to Strasbourg. Your presence bears testimony to the recognition that you show this Assembly. You have the Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers for a few more days only, but you felt it was important to travel to this Assembly yourself to round off the Andorran Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers, for which we are grateful.
We recognise the quality of the work that has been carried out by your ambassador. The chair of the Andorran delegation to the Council of Europe left no stone unturned in welcoming us to la Vella. On behalf of the Assembly, I congratulate you on your successful chairmanship, which you managed with great skill. The topics of education, democratic citizenship and human rights are key components for the proper functioning of our model, "Living together”, a subject that we chose.
I am also delighted that taking measures to promote young people was another priority of the Andorran chairmanship. The initiatives that you supported, as I said to you this morning, dovetail fully with the dynamic that we have instigated, particularly through the organisation of the second Youth Assembly of the Council of Europe, which was held in this very Chamber immediately before the first Forum for Democracy.
Please allow me also to underline the first-rate co-operation that we have with your Minister of Foreign Affairs and Chair of the Committee of Ministers, Mr Saboya Sunyé – it is more than co-operation; it is a close relationship. It is a real pleasure for me to work with him and to have attended with him our annual event, which was held in New York at the fringes of the plenary session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. The event was devoted to promoting the Istanbul Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, a subject about which I feel strongly. I turn to my right to greet the Deputy Secretary General, who herself undertook major efforts in that area. She was in New York along with your Minister of Foreign Affairs, and I thank her for all her work.
We will now listen to your address, Mr Martí. We are interested to hear what you have to say, and we will think about how we can continue the initiatives that you have begun.
Mr Martí, you have the floor.
Mr MARTÍ (Head of the Government of Andorra)* – It is a great honour and an emotional time for me, both as an Andorran citizen and Head of the Government of the Principality of Andorra, to participate in the second part-session of the Parliamentary Assembly when Andorra holds the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers.
Andorra has been a member of the Council of Europe for almost 20 years, but this is the first time it has held the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of this Organisation, which has for decades been a benchmark for consultation and agreement among peoples, the spreading of democratic values and respect for fundamental rights.
Holding the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers has been emotional for me. Not so long ago, the legal personality of the Principality of Andorra was not recognised internationally, despite the fact that Andorra was one of the most ancient States of Europe and one of the most stable institutionally. Until our adoption, by referendum, of a constitution in 1993, our very old country was considered to be a sort of rara avis on the continent. Andorra’s accession to the United Nations and the Council of Europe shortly afterwards was the culmination of aspirations of generations of Andorrans who wanted the Principality of Andorra to be fully integrated into the international community. Thanks to its new constitution and accession to the United Nations and the Council of Europe almost 20 years ago, Andorra finally managed to receive international acceptance for its political system. Andorra’s accession to this Assembly, which brings together almost all the peoples of the old continent, was particularly significant.
It may be appropriate to remind ourselves that it was an individual petition against Andorra before the European Court of Human Rights in 1989 that catalysed the domestic constitutional reforms of 1993. We succeeded thanks to the work of this Assembly. You were a driver for our work that resulted in the adoption of the constitution and for the international acceptance of Andorra. The Council of Europe has played an important if not decisive role in the development of the co-Principality. This was not just at the outset, but throughout the past 20 years – through various reports and recommendations adopted by your Assembly and through the transposition of texts adopted by the Committee of Ministers into our internal standards.
Throughout its more-than-60 years of history, the Council of Europe, with its convention system, has managed to give full meaning to a well-known quote of Voltaire, which is more prophetic today than ever. He said: “I would like every public decision maker who is on the verge of doing something very stupid to say to himself, ‘Europe is watching you’”.
After half a century of peace and democracy in western Europe, the memory of the two World Wars is slowly receding into the distance. It might seem that institutions such as this one no longer have a raison d’ętre, yet the economic and financial difficulties that we have been experiencing show just how fragile the foundation on which our societies rest is. Such crises have strengthened the enemies of human rights and democracy.
The Principality of Andorra is unequivocally committed to the European construction and, more specifically, to the consolidation of human rights, the resolution of conflicts based on dialogue, and the values of democracy. Our commitment harks back to the creation of the Andorran State at the end of the 13th century.
In 1278, after centuries of confrontation, the agreement signed between the Bishop of Urgell and the Count of Foix on the sovereignty of the valleys of Andorra resulted in a unique institutional balance that has resisted all the upheavals of history – a balance that turned Andorra into an oasis of peace and respect for the most fundamental freedoms in a Europe otherwise in convulsion.
Over the centuries, although Andorrans remained vassals of our co-princes, we benefited from more freedom and liberty than most of our neighbours. In more recent times, Andorra has been a refuge, a shelter, and a welcoming country for many people who have been persecuted in conflicts beyond its frontiers, particularly during the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War.
Now, perhaps more fundamentally, Andorra has managed to realise the spirit of concord and respect for the rights and freedoms of which the Council of Europe is emblematic today. The Andorran chairmanship-in-office started almost 18 years to the day after our accession to the Council of Europe. As our Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Gilbert Saboya Sunyé, stressed in Tirana on 9 November last year, this celebrates our coming of age in the international arena.
Our chairmanship-in-office comes at a crucial time for the Principality of Andorra – a time that is almost as decisive as the process that resulted in the adoption of our constitution in 1993. Almost 20 years ago, Andorra achieved international acceptance and recognition of its political and institutional system. The time has come to ensure the recognition of its economic system. Economic acceptance of the Principality of Andorra by the international community is the major challenge which Andorrans have been confronted with over the past 20 years. The present Government of Andorra certainly intends to take up that challenge.
The growth model built up in Andorra in the second half of the 20th century has had unprecedented success. It quickly transformed a rural economy in a mountainous area into a model economy based on commerce, trade, tourism and the financial sector. That model has been a source of great wealth and comfort for Andorrans, as well as for all residents of Andorra who have come to our country, mainly from neighbouring countries. However, at a time when we intend to modernise our institutions, there are some warning signs that indicate that this growth model is flagging. The traditional sectors of the Andorran economy will continue to be important in the future, but it has become obvious that they must be fleshed out with viable new alternatives.
The current challenge for Andorra continues to be the transformation of its economic growth model. Although that model has worked well, I can identify three fundamental gaps. It is excessively closed – almost endogenous; it cannot be accepted at the international level; and it is insufficiently diversified. For years now, successive Andorran Governments have sought various ways to correct all those weaknesses, which are, of course, interrelated.
Before I say what economic progress has been made over the past few years and talk about some ideas for the future, let me briefly refer to the past. It would be unfair to accuse previous generations of building an excessively closed and non-transparent Andorra because it was probably our best bastion against a Europe that was very different from the one that I hope we will leave to our children. That was our response to a world that was very different from the one that we know now. It goes without saying that the Andorra of exceptions and privileges, of navel-gazing and closing in on oneself and of being exceptional is no longer appropriate in the 21st century. That is why we have sought for a number of years to build a more competitive basis for our economy in Andorra. Economic openness cannot be undertaken or understood without international acceptance of our economic system.
What was Andorra’s starting point? We had an economy based on three sectors that worked very well, but they were all closed in on themselves and the consequence was a lack of transparency in the area of taxation. In fact, the financial sector in Andorra always co-operated in combatting money laundering and the financing of terrorism or other criminal activities in Europe and well beyond. We were very conscious of this, and Andorra was never a problem country.
The most significant progress achieved over the past few years relates to co-operation in the combatting of tax fraud. Since the signing of the Paris Declaration in 2009, in which the Principality of Andorra committed itself to making progress in the exchange of tax information at the administrative level, our country has signed about 20 tax information exchange agreements. That has made it possible to start to negotiate, and even to sign some bilateral agreements that eliminate double taxation, which was penalising and expensive in the export of services from Andorra.
We are moving towards being open and accepted by the international community and away from being exceptional. In parallel with the signing of various tax information exchange agreements, the first bilateral agreement to avoid double taxation with the French Republic was signed last year and recently ratified. Andorra has now put in place a new tax model that can be fully accepted by other European tax systems.
To get a sense of how far the reforms being implemented by Andorra have gone, it is important to understand that just two years ago the Andorran tax system was based almost exclusively on indirect taxation, such as taxes on imports of goods and services. In 2011, we introduced individual taxation of tax non-residents. In January 2012, we introduced a corporate tax and tax on economic activity. This January, we reworked all our indirect taxes and merged them into a general indirect tax that is very much like value added tax in many other countries. Furthermore, my government has committed itself to submit to parliament a draft law on the taxation of income from labour and capital before the summer – very soon now – and the objective is to complete the architecture of a new Andorran tax system before the end of the present legislature in 2015.
To summarise, in just four years, Andorra will have moved from a sui generis tax system essentially based on indirect taxation to one that is fully in line with the tax systems of other countries. That will provide a reasonable balance between direct and indirect taxation, with a broad tax base, to avoid any gaps and guarantee the competitiveness of our economy. I would make so bold as to say that few countries are capable of putting in place such far-reaching reforms in just four years. We are a small country, but that does not mean that we incapable of making great efforts.
The fact that Andorra has chosen transparency and co-operation is a clear, sincere and resolute commitment, and I see no possibility for backtracking in this regard. The result of our commitment, which has been made concrete by the setting up of an internationally accepted tax system, must be the signing of bilateral agreements to avoid double taxation, and I remind you that the French Republic and the Principality of Andorra signed an agreement to avoid double taxation just a few weeks ago. We hope that our negotiations with Spain will continue and will be successful, and we also intend to engage in similar negotiations with Portugal. The signing of those agreements will be the cornerstone of our new economic model, which will mean international acceptance of our economy and the setting up of a solid base allowing economic openness with the necessary guarantees.
The first challenge for Andorra was to move from the Andorran exception to international acceptance. The second is to replace closure with openness. Just two years ago, when my team and I took responsibility for governing the country, the Andorran economy was considered to be one of the most closed in Europe – even in the world. In most sectors, foreign capital in our companies was limited to 49% and foreign residents needed to be resident for 10 or 20 years, depending on where they came from, before they could access full economic rights.
Last June, our Parliament approved a substantive change to the regime governing foreign investment, which now allows up to 100% foreign capital in our companies in all sectors. Furthermore, we have done away with the obstacles to the creation of and participation in foreign businesses and to the participation of foreigners in the professions. In particular, we gave full economic rights to all residents from the very first day of their residency in the Principality. I think that gives you a sense of our efforts.
We hope that the radical changes to our economic model will have consequences that can be observed over the next few years. They certainly show that Andorra is committed to integrating its economy into those that surround us on the basis of co-operation, transparency and fairness. We are convinced that greater integration of economies at an international level will strengthen relations between people and result in a gradual equalisation of citizens’ rights and living conditions. We resolutely believe that human rights, democracy and the rule of law can take root to a greater extent when one ensures economic progress, the generation of wealth, the creation of opportunities for all and the fair distribution of social costs and taxation. That is why our decision to have an economy that is more accepted and more open is in line with our permanent commitment to better co-operation at an institutional level.
When I talked about the weaknesses of the former Andorran economic model, I was talking about an economy that was too closed, was not very diverse and was not internationally accepted. International acceptance and openness go hand in hand, and the reward will be diversification. Through economic diversification, Andorra must return to its competitive differences and advantages to identify its strong points and its weak points. We are resolved to move from the Andorran exception to competitiveness and we know that, to be competitive, we need an economy that is open and integrated. An open and integrated economy requires co-operation, openness and transparency, but we know that that will not be sufficient. We must maintain and strengthen our competitive advantages, by which I mean those that are licit and not the exception.
Let me guess what competitive advantage you are thinking of: light taxation. It is true that Andorra is a country with light taxation. The tax system is acceptable internationally, but the rates are low. That is true and it is legitimate. It is our commitment for the development of a reasonably sized public sector and effective services. When we ask foreign investors why they are interested in Andorra, we hear all sorts of answers but, curiously, light taxation is rarely mentioned as a decisive factor. That is why, when we talk about competitive advantages, we directly associate them with the diversification potential of our economy.
Let me use the cultural and tourist sectors as an example. We have a lot of experience in that regard. Andorra has a population of barely 70 000, yet every year we receive 8 million visitors who are attracted by our winter and mountain tourism and by attractive shopping. In a very small space, Andorra has a concentration of shops, hotels, restaurants, wellness and spa centres, ski trails and other leisure activities. That enables us to think that our country has the right ingredients to develop projects using new communication and information technologies, particularly those related to commerce, shopping and tourism, which will continue to be important for our economy. Let me give another example. Thanks to a union between the powerful Andorran tourism sector and the health and wellness sector, we can offer health tourism. In both cases, the rationale is the same. Using the sectors that are solidly rooted in our country, we want to diversify our economy by opening up new sectors. When we talk about competitive advantages, that is what we have in mind.
Quite a few countries in Europe and elsewhere in the world have light taxation, but Andorra has other advantages and other trump cards. We are visited by a number of tourists: 100 times greater than our population. Andorra has a large concentration of shops, hotels and various leisure activities and the urban world can be found right next to the rural world – all in a very limited territory. That is why we say yes to international acceptance but no to uniformity. Andorrans want to preserve their identity, as we did 20 years ago when we changed our political system to make it internationally accepted. Our constitution preserves our territorial structure as well as our very special institutional architecture, which is unique. We are the only parliamentary Co-Principality, with seven centuries of history. We want to continue down the road of co-operation and acceptance, but we do not want to lose our authenticity. On the contrary, we want to strengthen it. Is that ultimately the philosophy of the European construction process of which the Council of Europe is the guiding light, uniting efforts and building bridges to guarantee the right to be different while having a common system of values that makes it possible for us to live together in harmony?
I have talked about my country’s efforts to be more transparent and co-operative, about the speed with which we have approved and put in place tax reform, and about the change to the paradigm that leads to economic openness and the challenge represented by the diversification of our growth model. As you might imagine, in talking about that I cannot fail to mention the European Union and its relations with Andorra. Since 1986, when Spain formally became a member of the Common Market, Andorra has become an island surrounded by the European Union. The entry of our southern neighbour into the European Economic Community was interpreted by many analysts as the detonator of the major changes that had to be introduced into the Andorran economy. The government of the time was very well aware of this and quickly negotiated and concluded a customs agreement with the European Economic Community which was signed in 1990. This agreement set up a customs union between the Principality and the countries of the European Union – which at that time, before the creation of the European Union, were the countries of the Common Market. After that agreement we had a co-operation agreement in 2003, and an agreement on the taxation of savings in 2004. More recently, Andorra signed a monetary union with the European Union which makes the use of the euro in the Principality official. This constitutes a first step towards closer relations between my country and our European neighbours in the European ocean that surrounds us.
The road to accession has been rejected, at least for today, because it is an impossible option to accept for a country such as Andorra, which has such a small territory. We seek rather to join a structure such as the European Economic Area or something similar which is specifically adapted to small States. We observe that the Union is positively predisposed to such ideas. We are also studying the possibilities opened by the Lisbon Treaty to find a stable solution to relations between Andorra – and countries with characteristics that are similar to ours – and the European Union. However, the process of Andorran reform would be incomplete if it were not accompanied by greater participation by our country in the European internal market. Similarly, European construction would not be complete if it did not find a solution for third countries with very small territories, such as Andorra, which are nevertheless profoundly European. We therefore need the understanding, the complicity and the assistance of our European neighbours.
Over the past few years, as I said, Andorra has made very major efforts indeed. It has opted for transparency and co-operation. We know that that must be continued and that we must work on it daily. We have built a completely new tax model in a very short time. Although that was an issue of internal politics, we have done it in a spirit of co-operation with the outside world. We have managed to open our economy in a very far-reaching way and have extended rights for foreign residents. We are also working on defining a new model of relations between our country and the European Union. However, it is also necessary that Europe be aware of the changes that we are implementing and the very fast pace of our reform implementation.
We certainly believe in multilateralism – and if Europe does not, who will? We believe that all the countries represented in this Assembly and in other forums meet on an equal footing despite their differences and different characteristics. We believe in the fundamental principles that are accepted by all European nations. We cannot renounce that if all countries are to find their place in Europe.
In the 18th century the Andorran politician Antoni Fiter i Rossell advised people in his book “Maxims” to keep the roads leading to the valley of Andorra in poor condition because, the author said, it would then be very difficult for foreign armies to invade our country. He also suggested that we be very careful about foreigners taking up residence in Andorra. This advice was very judicious 300 years ago. However, the economic development of Andorra during the 20th century could not have occurred without the construction of modern roads linking us to France and Spain. Furthermore, the tens of thousands of foreigners who have taken up residence in Andorra because they have found opportunities there that they did not find in their countries of origin, and who have now become Andorrans, have certainly contributed, at least for the most part, to the economic and social progress of our country. So we have moved from a closed, navel-gazing Andorra to an open, transparent and co-operative Andorra.
It will soon be 20 years ago that the Speaker of the Andorran Parliament appeared before your Parliamentary Assembly to formalise the accession of our country into the European concert of nations. At the time, Andorra was perceived by Europe as a very old country that had found its place in the international community; today, we are a country that is in the process of finding its place in a global economy, an economy which must increasingly integrate on the basis of transparency, fairness and the other principles that guide us.
Ladies and gentlemen, parliamentarians, thank you very much for your attention.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you very much indeed, Prime Minister. Members wish to put questions to you. I remind them that they have 30 seconds to ask a question.
I call Mr Beneyto, who speaks on behalf of the Group of the European People’s Party.
Mr BENEYTO (Spain)* – On behalf of the EPP and the Spanish delegation I should like first to congratulate you, as the head of government, on all the successes of the Andorran Chairmanship. We know how committed Andorra is to the rule of law, human rights and democracy. You have come here today to describe the process of reorganisation that is under way in your country. My question concerns the dual-taxation agreement with Spain. When do you think you will approve the agreement regarding income tax? We know that you are also negotiating agreements with other countries that have substantial investments in Andorra, such as Russia.
Mr MARTÍ* – Thank you very much. I need hardly say that Andorra is a very small country, but we have had a great chairmanship, and I am very grateful to you for your kind words. Perhaps I may start with your last question. Prior to 21 June, the government decided that in 2014 and 2015 it would approve the agreements to which you referred. Negotiations are under way with Spain and, in historic terms, our relations are extremely good. There is a terrific climate in relations between the Andorran and Spanish Governments. I have often met the Head of the Spanish Government to discuss the subject, and we will soon have a time-line for conducting the negotiations. I assure you that we are extremely committed to this. We want to have these dual-taxation agreements with all countries. The most important thing, however, is to sign such agreements with Spain and France as well as with Italy and Portugal. I do not know if you are aware of this, but we have different relations with countries other than Spain, including a special agreement with Portugal. This will be debated in parliament very soon, and I think that you know, more or less, how long it is likely to take. However, we will work very hard in Andorra. We are very grateful to the Spanish Government for all its efforts. We very much hope to wrap this up by the end of the year. Andorra needs the agreement very badly, but so does Spain.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you very much. I call Mr Rouquet, who speaks on behalf of the Socialist Group.
Mr ROUQUET (France)* – Andorra’s Chairmanship of the Council of Europe is coming to an end and, as our President said, it has been very fruitful. We certainly thank you for that, and we are quite impressed. The European Union has signed the final agreement for accession to the European Convention on Human Rights. What obstacles still need to be overcome for this process to come to fruition?
Mr MARTÍ* – Thank you for those kind words. It is true that significant progress has been made in the negotiations under the Andorran Chairmanship. It is also true, however, that major efforts were made previously. We require some definitive answers from the European Union for the process to be completed, which the Council of Europe wants very much, but we will have to wait for the time being.
THE PRESIDENT* – The next question is from Mr Xuclŕ, on behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.
Mr XUCLŔ (Spain)* – On behalf of the ALDE group, I congratulate you, Mr Martí, on your successful Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. The central focus of your chairmanship was education, and you used Andorra as a practical example of how education can lead to an increase in democratic values, democracy and respectful pluralism; Andorra has different nationalities living in a small area that is linguistically diverse.
Mr MARTÍ* – It is true that the Andorran Chairmanship has focused on fundamental values and on what the Council of Europe has been doing for the past 60 years. Education is one of the most important issues for Europe.
Let me be perfectly honest. Political classes across Europe have been discredited. We are living in difficult times and it is only through education that we will find solutions to the problems. That is why the Andorran Chairmanship has viewed education in the broadest terms. We need to make real efforts for our children. Politicians should be there to serve young people because they are so important if we are to defend human rights. If we do not do that, the issues will be both economic and social.
Andorra’s education system is special. Of course, some things do not work perfectly in Andorra, but our education system largely works well. We have three free public systems: the Andorran, the Spanish, and the French. The Andorran system is the most recent and was put in place to complement the others for reasons of sovereignty. We have excellent relations with both France and Spain, and have had for many years, which is why we have made the three systems available. There is, however, some imbalance between them because the most-preferred option for Andorrans has recently changed; this is an ongoing problem, but I want to thank the Kingdom of Spain and the French Republic for the fact that we have the three systems, which are so precious to Andorrans.
THE PRESIDENT* – The next question is from Sir Roger Gale, on behalf of the European Democrat Group.
Sir Roger GALE (United Kingdom) – As the prime minister and the leader of his parliamentary delegation comes to the end of a highly successful presidency, can he tell the Assembly what steps are being taken to hold to account countries – France and Malta are examples – that continue to hold prisoners without trial or people on bail in clear breach of Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights?
Mr MARTÍ* – That is quite a difficult question. I will not give you a political answer, but that is not because I do not want to answer the question.
There is a plethora of small conflicts across Europe, and I was talking to President Mignon about such issues this morning. If there is one way of resolving such conflicts, it is through dialogue. I say that because I come from a country that had no constitution for several centuries and was rather unstable, but we were always open to dialogue. No conflict in Europe can be properly resolved without dialogue. That is my message. Andorra is a small country and we know the importance of dialogue. Andorra has had conflicts throughout its history and nothing would have been achieved without dialogue.
I will perhaps turn the question around. There are, as I said, many conflicts in Europe and many questions revolve around them. One thing that we have been able to show through Andorra’s Chairmanship, and by highlighting the importance of education, is that conflicts can be resolved through dialogue and democratic citizenship. If extremist positions are adopted, and if people do not want to sit around the table and enter into dialogue, conflicts will not be resolved. I am happy to hear the opinions of everyone here in the Assembly.
THE PRESIDENT* – The next question is from Mr Papadimoulis, on behalf of the Group of the Unified European Left.
Mr PAPADIMOULIS (Greece)* – I wish you every success at the end of your chairmanship, Mr Martí.
The financial crisis is deepening and inequality is strengthening, boosting the extreme right and undermining the values of the Council of Europe. How are you planning to respond to those threats to democracy and to try to lessen growing inequality? The European Union recently punished a small country – Cyprus – by applying an unprecedented banking solution. You are from another small country, so how does your chairmanship react to that?
Mr MARTÍ* – It is not the Andorran Chairmanship, but rather the Council of Europe, that is able to solve such problems. Next at the helm of the Organisation is Armenia, followed by Austria and then Azerbaijan.
Let me at least try to answer part of your question. It is important to remember that we are experiencing a difficult set of circumstances, where politics in general is heavily criticised. We need to look to the future, but we will have a future only if our politics nurture social cohesion. If we do not do that, we leave the door wide open to extreme views, which is a dangerous prospect for those in Europe who hold freedom dear. We are living in historic times in Andorra and we do not want anything to jeopardise stability in either our country or neighbouring countries, because there may be a domino effect if one country is destabilised. That is why we need more than ever to continue our efforts. Unfortunately, many countries are in economic crisis. It is most important that we try to foster social cohesion, but it is also important that we raise awareness. We need to get people to understand that this is not going to last the whole century.
Mr GAUDI NAGY (Hungary) – Dear excellency, two years ago I had the opportunity to pay a visit to the Parliament of Andorra, and I was amazed at your country’s deep devotion to democratic principles and respect for the rights of national minorities. As the head of government of a country that holds the Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers, how would you help the Council of Europe to strengthen the rights of traditional national minorities, especially the right to territorial autonomy?
Mr MARTÍ* – The Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities gives rights to members of those minorities, not to minorities as a group, that is true. If a minority coming from another country nevertheless represents a significant proportion of the population, they need to have their rights fully respected, but at the same time, there must be an open dialogue with them. Without it, certain problems can arise, both small and large. There are several countries where minorities are represented in the national Parliaments. That is a decisive step and is very important for democracy.
You cannot talk about social cohesion when there are problems of racism or problems because of origin. If we do not understand that, as a fundamental value of European construction, we will have understood nothing about Europe today.
Mr DÍAZ TEJERA (Spain)* – You have been talking about practical things and explaining the details. The problem is that there are many people who think they are in the vanguard in clamping down on tax evasion and tax havens. However, you have shown us in practical terms how to clamp down. Your country has perhaps double the GDP per head of that of the United States and Japan. We have 6 million unemployed people in Spain, so now really is the time to clamp down on tax evasion.
Mr MARTÍ* – Any country that views itself as serious has to abide by its international commitments. Andorra, as I have said, has signed many agreements on the exchange of information – with Spain, France and many other countries.
The first thing is that countries must abide by their commitments. Secondly, Andorra has done something I would very much like to explain to this August Assembly. In the space of five years, we have managed to devise a brand new fiscal model, which has required a great deal of determination on all sides. Without political commitment, you will not achieve anything.
I recognise that tax havens are a big problem for many countries, but Andorra is often referred to as a country that is indeed complying with its international obligations, and we are not on any of the OECD’s list of countries that are refusing to co-operate. We have been transparent and have co-operated: that is our road map and we are not going to abandon it. There is no point in talking just for the sake of talking in this Assembly; rather, I refer you to the real efforts our country is making.
This is a really important issue for me. A subject very close to my heart is equality, and to achieve that you need money. Of course, you have to work according to international standards of transparency, as well as abiding by the law.
I should say once again how delighted I am at the state of our relations with Spain, and I hope those good relations will continue.
Mr BATAILLE (France)* – On 12 November 2004, Andorra ratified the revised European social charter. However, it did not accept the additional protocol that provides for a system of collective complaints. Thanks to that system, social partners and NGOs can turn directly to the European social rights committee to ask it to take a position on an alleged violation of the charter. Does Andorra envisage accepting that system of collective complaints soon?
Mr MARTÍ* – You are right. Andorra must make certain efforts. I have said to this Assembly something that I have already said to the Andorran Parliament – that we need to legislate to give more rights to trade unions and instil a right to strike. That is important; we cannot think only about economic development and growth. Workers have legitimate claims. Their rights are guaranteed in the constitution, but we need to legislate as quickly as possible to put the provisions in place. That is yet another priority of the government that I have the honour to head. We often talk about the economy. It is said that Andorra is a tax haven, which is not true. But you are right, Mr Bataille, to ask that direct question. We are working on the issue.
Mr REISS (France)* – Since Andorra joined the Council of Europe, its successive governments have made every effort to fully integrate your country into the system for the protection of human rights. On 29 June 2012, Andorra signed the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse, while on 22 February 2013 it signed the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence. Do you think that Andorra will be in a position to rapidly ratify those conventions? They have not yet been ratified by enough States for them to come into force.
Mr MARTÍ* – I believe that the Minister of Foreign Affairs mentioned that, but I am more than happy to answer your question. The conventions are due to be ratified by our parliament this year.
THE PRESIDENT* – That brings to an end the questions to Mr Martí. We thank you for answering them and for your interesting and informative address. We are grateful for your Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers, which you carried out with great skill. I wish your successors all the best; Armenia will have the chairmanship for the next six months.
4. Next public business
THE PRESIDENT* – The Assembly will hold its next public sitting this afternoon at 3.30 p.m. with the agenda approved on Monday morning.
The sitting is closed.
(The sitting was closed at 1 p.m.)
1. Challenge on procedural grounds of the still ungratified credentials of Mr Andriy Shevchenko
Presentation of report of the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs by Ms Vučković, Document 13193
Speakers: Ms Brasseur, Mr Walter, Mr Kox, Mr Vareikis, Mr Gross, Mr Sobolev, Mr Popescu, Mr Ariev, Ms Orobets.
Reply: Ms Vučković
Draft resolution in Document 13193 adopted
2. Current affairs debate
Speakers: Mr Marcenaro, Ms Durrieu, Mr Walter, Mr Kox, Mr Santini, Ms Fiala, Mr Dişli, Ms Huovinen, Mr Kayaturk, Ms Memecan, Mr Shlegel, Lord Anderson, Ms Sabella, Ms Blanco, Mr Yatim, Mr Ariev, Mr Schennach, Ms Kapetanović, Mr Díaz Tejera, Mr Marcenaro.
3. Address by Mr Antoni Martí, Head of Government of Andorra
Questions: Mr Beneyto, Mr Rouquet, Mr Xucla, Sir Roger Gale, Mr Papadimoulis, Mr Gaudi nagy, Mr Díaz Tejera, Mr Bataille, Mr Reiss.
4. 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.
Karin ANDERSEN/Ingjerd Schou
Lord Donald ANDERSON
Daniel BACQUELAINE/Kristien Van Vaerenbergh
Gerard BARCIA DUEDRA/Sílvia Eloďsa Bonet Perot
José Manuel BARREIRO
José María BENEYTO
Ľuboš BLAHA/Darina Gabániová
Gerold BÜCHEL/Rainer Gopp
Patrizia BUGNANO/Giuliana Carlino
Tudor-Alexandru CHIUARIU/Corneliu Mugurel Cozmanciuc
Carlos COSTA NEVES
Joseph DEBONO GRECH*
Armand De DECKER/Ludo Sannen
Arcadio DÍAZ TEJERA
Peter van DIJK
Alexander [The Earl of] DUNDEE*
Baroness Diana ECCLES*
Tülin ERKAL KARA
Joseph FENECH ADAMI*
Cătălin Daniel FENECHIU
Axel E. FISCHER
Gvozden Srećko FLEGO*
Erich Georg FRITZ
Martin FRONC/József Nagy
Sir Roger GALE
Tamás GAUDI NAGY
Alina Ştefania GORGHIU
Pelin GÜNDEŞ BAKIR
Alfred HEER/Elisabeth Schneider-Schneiter
Ali HUSEYNLI/Sahiba Gafarova
Igor IVANOVSKI/Imer Aliu
Tadeusz IWIŃSKI/Łukasz Zbonikowski
Ramón JÁUREGUI/Carmen Quintanilla
Michael Aastrup JENSEN*
Birkir Jón JÓNSSON*
Čedomir JOVANOVIĆ/Svetislava Bulajić
Božidar KALMETA/Ivan Račan
Bogdan KLICH/Marek Krząkała
Borjana KRIŠTO/Nermina Kapetanović
Václav KUBATA/Dana Váhalová
Jean-Yves LE DÉAUT/Christian Bataille
Igor LEBEDEV/Olga Kazakova
Lone LOKLINDT/Sophie Lřhde
François LONCLE/Philippe Bies
Jean-Louis LORRAIN/Bernard Fournier
Saša MAGAZINOVIĆ/Ismeta Dervoz
Meritxell MATEU PI
Pirkko MATTILA/Riitta Myller
Liliane MAURY PASQUIER
Sir Alan MEALE/Michael Connarty
Ermira MEHMETI DEVAJA
José MENDES BOTA
Jean-Claude MIGNON/Frédéric Reiss
Federica MOGHERINI REBESANI*
Rubén MORENO PALANQUES
Joăo Bosco MOTA AMARAL
Baroness Emma NICHOLSON*
Elena NIKOLAEVA/Robert Shlegel
Eva PARERA/Jordi Xuclŕ
Lisbeth Bech POULSEN*
Marietta de POURBAIX-LUNDIN
Cezar Florin PREDA
John PRESCOTT/Joe Benton
Mailis REPS/Ester Tuiksoo
François ROCHEBLOINE/Yves Pozzo Di Borgo
Maria de Belém ROSEIRA*
Kimmo SASI/Jaana Pelkonen
Damir ŠEHOVIĆ/Draginja Vuksanović
Björn von SYDOW/Jonas Gunnarsson
Melinda SZÉKYNÉ SZTRÉMI/Imre Vejkey
Romana TOMC/Iva Dimic
Lord John E. TOMLINSON
Ahmet Kutalmiş TÜRKEŞ
Theodora TZAKRI/Konstantinos Triantafyllos
Ilyas UMAKHANOV/Alexander Burkov
Miltiadis VARVITSIOTIS/Spyridon Taliadouros
Volodymyr VECHERKO/Larysa Melnychuk
Mark VERHEIJEN/Marjolein Faber-Van De Klashorst
Tanja VRBAT/Melita Mulić
Klaas de VRIES*
Dame Angela WATKINSON*
Karin S. WOLDSETH/Řyvind Vaksdal
Karl ZELLER/Paolo Grimoldi
Barbara ŽGAJNER TAVŠ/Polonca Komar
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
Mr Juan BUENO TORIO
Eloy CANTU SEGOVIA
Ernesto GÁNDARA CAMOU
Partners for Democracy
Mohammed Mehdi BENSAID
Nezha EL OUAFI