AS (2016) CR 23
2016 ORDINARY SESSION
Wednesday 22 June 2016 at 10 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. The text of the amendments is available at the document centre and on the Assembly’s website. Only oral amendments or oral sub-amendments are reproduced in the report of debates
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5. Corrections should be handed in at Room 1059A not later than 24 hours after the report has been circulated.
The contents page for this sitting is given at the end of the verbatim report.
(Mr Agramunt, President of the Assembly, took the Chair at 10.05 a.m.)
The PRESIDENT – The sitting is open.
1. Debate: The functioning of democratic institutions in Turkey
The PRESIDENT – The first item of business this morning is the debate on the report titled “The functioning of democratic institutions in Turkey” (Document 14078 and addendum) presented by Ms Ingebjřrg Godskesen and Ms Nataša Vučković on behalf of the Monitoring Committee.
I should like to remind members that in order to hear addresses from Mr Taavi Rőivas, Prime Minister of Estonia, and Mr Alexis Tsipras, Prime Minister of Greece, we will interrupt this debate shortly before 12 noon. We will resume the debate at around 4.30 p.m., after Mr Tsipras has spoken.
I call Ms Godskesen, co-Rapporteur. You have 13 minutes in total, which you and Ms Vučković may divide between your presentations of the report and replies to the debate.
Ms GODSKESEN (Norway) – Thank you, Mr President. We are going to share some news with you at the beginning.
Turkey was a founding member of the Council of Europe, is a strategic partner for Europe and has been under the post-monitoring procedure since 2004. Today, Turkey faces numerous challenges that threaten the functioning of its democratic institutions. That led the Monitoring Committee to submit the report that my colleague Nataša Vučković and I are presenting to you today. We express our thanks to the Turkish authorities and the Turkish delegation to the Assembly for having open and constructive discussions on complex and difficult issues.
First, Turkey has faced the consequences of the war in Syria for more than five years. There are almost 3 million refugees in the country. We reiterate our appreciation for the efforts that have been made by the Turkish State, and by many Turkish people, to host and accommodate those refugees. Secondly, the country is confronted with waves of terrorist attacks by the PKK, Daesh and other organisations, which are perpetrated on a daily basis. We must remember the deadly blasts in Istanbul, Ankara and many other places that have killed hundreds of people – civilians and members of the security forces – in recent months. The President of our Assembly, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe and we, as co-rapporteurs, strongly condemn those attacks.
It is Turkey’s duty to protect its citizens, but it must do so in line with international standards and in accordance with the principles of proportionality and necessity. As we know, that is a difficult balance to strike in Turkey and in each of our member States. In that context, we have focused on the situation in south-east Turkey, where violence has escalated since the breakdown of the peace talks last summer. The Turkish authorities have conducted security operations in the south-east and imposed round-the-clock curfews in a number of districts that, according to the Venice Commission, lack a clear legal basis. Serious allegations of human rights violations have also raised concerns.
We are very concerned about the situation. Here are some figures. Some 1.6 million people are affected by the curfews, which are still going on, and their access to water, electricity, education and healthcare has been restricted. More than 350 civilians, nearly 500 security officers and about 5 000 PKK members have been killed in Turkey, northern Iraq and northern Syria as a consequence of the security operations. Large parts of the areas that have been put under curfew have been demolished. All those who have been displaced need to be able to return to their homes.
We make an appeal to the Turkish authorities to address the situation. The reports of human rights violations need to be more public, information about the situation on the ground needs to be more transparent and alleged human rights violations of a grave nature must be investigated. We are concerned by a draft law that is likely to provide legal protection to members of the security forces when conducting security operations against terrorist organisations. That would be a step backwards. We therefore invite Turkey to set up fact-finding teams with members who are trusted by both sides of Turkish society to observe the human rights situation. We also expect our colleagues – parliamentarians and the parliament – to take an active role in providing a political forum to reactivate a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
Despite the intention of the Turkish authorities to maintain the balance between freedom and security in their counter-terrorism operations in south-east Turkey, we should be very worried about the consequence of the curfews that have been imposed. Action needs to be taken to restore peace in south-east Turkey. At the same time, violence must stop and the PKK must lay down its arms.
THE PRESIDENT – Thank you, Ms Godskesen. I call Ms Vučković, the co-rapporteur.
Ms VUČKOVIĆ (Serbia) – As my co-rapporteur has said, our report focused on three issues that in our view are crucial for assessing the functioning of Turkey’s democratic institutions: the situation in the south-east and the status of the human rights there; the media; and the rule of law and the judiciary.
During our fact-finding mission in Turkey we saw so many people who fight for democracy, freedom of media, human rights and the rule of law. Many of them told us that they felt very much abandoned by many of those from whom they had expected support and, sometimes, protection. They expect us to send a strong message to the Turkish Government that it should align itself with Council of Europe values and determined standards, and that it should implement them in practice. Hence, in all three areas it can hardly be said that there is a tendency only to aggravate the implementation of Council of Europe standards. In fact, there are developments on an almost daily basis that threaten our values and legal standards. It was only after our visit in early May that a large number of parliamentarians, mostly from the opposition, were stripped of their immunity. As parliamentarians, we should be extremely concerned if such a measure disproportionately affected opposition MPs. It would damage parliamentary life and undermine political dialogue in the country.
As for the situation in the media, only two days ago the president of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, Professor Şebnem Korur Fincancı, and several journalists, including Erol Önderoğlu from Reporters Without Borders and Ahmet Nesin, were arrested. This only adds to our findings about the alarming situation in the media in Turkey. The Commissioner for Human Rights has said that it is particularly important to note the alarming scale of recourse to an overly wide notion of terrorism to punish non-violent statements and the criminalisation of any message that merely coincides with the perceived interest of a terrorist organisation. We fully agree with him. The wide interpretation of anti-terror law leads to the undue criminalisation and prosecution of human rights defenders and lawyers. The abusive application of article 299 of the penal code – insulting the president or high officials – should also be mentioned, bearing in mind the large number of cases before the Turkish courts.
In the field of the judiciary, on 5 June President Erdoğan signed a decree that would enable the relocation of 3 228 judges and prosecutors in civil jurisdictions and 518 judges and prosecutors in the administrative jurisdiction. That represents a quarter of all judges and prosecutors in Turkey. This raises questions. We therefore insist that the GRECO recommendations on this issue are implemented. Clear criteria for transfers of judges and prosecutors are essential.
Another draft law was introduced in the parliament last week to restructure the Court of Cassation and the Council of State. The gradual reduction in the number of members of the Court of Cassation and their dismissal on the day the law comes into force – albeit with a few exceptions, such as the president of the chamber – raises serious questions about the principle of security of tenure and the irremovability of judges. In June, the Venice Commission adopted an opinion on the Turkish law on the regulation of publications on the Internet and combating crimes committed by means of such publications. The commission highlighted a few problematic issues, such as the possibility of the presidency of telecommunications taking access-blocking measures without prior judicial review.
We focused on three issues – the media; the judiciary and the rule of law; and the south-east, which my co-rapporteur spoke about, and the alleged human rights violations there – and did not mention other issues that are also of major importance for Turkish society, such as the position of women. Recent statements by Erdoğan have challenged women’s reproductive rights and their position in society. Our call in 2013 for vigilance in preserving women’s right to abortion needs to be reiterated. We strongly believe that Turkey needs to exercise due diligence to prevent, investigate, punish and provide reparation for acts of violence perpetrated against women, in line with the Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence – the so-called Istanbul Convention, which Turkey was the first country to ratify in 2012.
With the resolution that we hope to adopt today, we believe we will send not only a strong message to the Turkish Government, but an important and awaited message to all those journalists, academicians, human rights activists and politicians fighting for democracy, freedom of media, the rule of law and human rights for all in Turkey – that they can count on our firm commitment to demand that Council of Europe values and standards are implemented. Finally, I would like to thank all of you who contributed to this report, particularly the members of the Turkish delegation. We would like to preserve the co-operative atmosphere that we have enjoyed so far. We want to help our Turkish colleagues in their endeavours to preserve the division of powers as the cornerstone of democracy.
The PRESIDENT – Thank you. You both now have one minute and 30 seconds remaining.
Mr OMTZIGT (Netherlands, Spokesperson for the Group of the European People’s Party) – I thank the co-rapporteurs for an excellent report and an excellent overview of what is wrong. Turkey has been a member of the Council of Europe since its foundation, yet some 1.6 million people have been driven from their homes by the military operations in the south-east. Curfew laws mean that people cannot leave their homes for days on end, and hundreds of people have died. The curfew laws are illegal according to the Venice Commission. Turkey has passed laws enabling it to remove all its judges and all its prosecutors at will, which means there is no separation of power. The Court of Cassation and the Council of State are split, so half the judges can be sacked. We understand that pressure.
Journalists have discovered that arms are being illegally smuggled into Turkey by the MİT, but there has been no investigation – Turkey has proposed a new law so that only the president can start an investigation when the secret service is accused of anything. No one else can investigate or decide what has happened, which means that the president is being given the power to smuggle arms at will. Some 2 000 people are being prosecuted for insulting the president, which is over the top. And those prosecutions are not only happening in Turkey; they are happening across Europe. The Turkish consul in the Netherlands has called for people of joint Turkish-Dutch nationality to inform the embassy when the president is insulted, which is undue interference in my country.
The president does not have much power yet – most power lies with the prime minister – but when he wanted the prime minister to resign, the prime minister resigned. The president still needs a vote of parliament to get the constitutional changes he wants, and he may get those changes. If the immunity of MPs is lifted in the next few days, guess who will be prosecuted? The opposition. Unfortunately we do not see progress in Turkey; we see a big regression. Will the co-rapporteurs tell us when we should initiate the monitoring procedure against a country where human rights are in such dire straits?
(Sir Roger Gale, Vice-President of the Assembly, took the Chair in place of Mr Agramunt.)
Ms DURRIEU (France, Spokesperson for the Socialist Group)* – I thank the co-rapporteurs. Turkey is a great country and a great historical power, and the Turkish people are a great people. Turkey is a founding member of the Council of Europe, which is the bastion of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. We are confronted by a situation that is not easy to analyse. There is no question but that there is a trend towards authoritarianism in Turkey, with a hyper-presidential regime being established, which is a legitimate concern. The people of Turkey have a rendezvous with history, because it is the Turkish people who will decide what they want.
Erdoğan has been elected and re-elected for the past 10 years by around 50% of the electorate – a majority, or close to it. The Turkish people bear some responsibility. Why does Erdoğan always win? Confrontation serves him. His brutality is not challenged. The army has liquidated the Gülenists, and the police and the justice system have liquidated journalists such as Erol Önderoğlu, whom I often used to meet at Reporters Without Borders. Now, lifting immunity from more than 150 parliamentarians, especially from the HDP, constitutes a new breach of fundamental rights – parliamentarians are the very heart of democracy. What follows will determine the outcome of post-monitoring, and it could result in the reopening of monitoring, which nobody wants. We have all sought to put an end to monitoring.
The Kurdish problem is fundamental, and Erdoğan is winning. At least 90% of the Turkish population condemns the violence of the PKK, and so do we, but we should be careful. The problem for Turkey, as Erdoğan sees it, is that it is either him or chaos. The Turks have an essential role to play, and we wish them courage. We will always place our trust in them.
The PRESIDENT – I must ask members to try to adhere to the time limits.
Ms BRASSEUR (Luxembourg, Spokesperson for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe)* – One should be more than worried in light of recent developments in Turkey. For the avoidance of misunderstanding and ambiguity, we firmly condemn all terrorist attacks perpetrated on Turkish soil and I reiterate my condolences to the victims’ families. We need to fight terrorism, but we have to use the appropriate tools, based on the rule of law while respecting the European Convention on Human Rights. The Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Thorbjřrn Jagland, has said that “terrorists cannot destroy our democracies. Only we can do that.” But the Turkish authorities are riding roughshod over the most basic principles of the Council of Europe, all of which can found in the excellent report. I congratulate the two co-rapporteurs.
Virtually permanent curfew without any legal basis, as the Venice Commission has stated, deprives citizens in affected areas of access to basic commodities and services, and it is unacceptable that thousands of people have been evicted from the region. The clampdown on the media is also unacceptable, and it is unacceptable that foreign journalists are being prevented from doing their work; some are even being denied access to Turkish territory. We condemn the arrest of journalists and the limitations on the freedom of those who have spoken out in support of investigative journalists in prison. The lifting of immunity from members of the opposition is also unacceptable.
Article 299 of the penal code, on insulting the president, is being implemented on a broad scale. It is unacceptable that Turkish authorities are demanding DNA analysis of the blood of members of the German Bundestag of Turkish origin. The fact that civil servants have been displaced and relieved of office is also unacceptable, as is women being told that they should forgo contraception, and the banning of Gay Pride marches on the grounds that they are unconstitutional.
May I say to Turkish parliamentarians, including those who are here, that they have a wonderful country with an amazing culture? They can be proud of their country, which has just become a major contributor to this Organisation – we welcome that. We also need to reiterate our thanks to Turkey for its considerable efforts to take in vast numbers of refugees. It is a strong country, and it needs to use the means available to it, based on the rule of law, to combat terrorism so that Turkish parliamentarians can continue to be proud of their country. It is in that spirit that we will support you, Turkish friends.
Mr SEYIDOV (Azerbaijan, Spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) – Today, with the war against terror continuing, Turkey is confronted with a situation that is dangerous not only for itself but for the rest of the world. The report is about the functioning of democratic institutions, and I thank the rapporteurs for their recommendations and assessments, but Turkey is also having to do its best in that situation. We should take into account the approximately $10 billion that it has spent just on taking in refugees from Syria and other areas where there is war. Every day, there are bombings, shootings and killings in the streets of Turkish towns. It is difficult to think of another European State where that is happening.
Today, however, we are talking about the functioning of democratic institutions, and we should do our best to support Turkey and bring European values to a co-founder of the Council of Europe. Instead, we hear in this Chamber unacceptable language about the current situation and attempts to hijack the report. There is an amendment suggesting that Turkey should be brought back into monitoring procedures. That is not the topic of the report, and I say to my colleagues and friends that we should help Turkey, not sanction it. It is doing its best not only for those living there but for the rest of Europe. I ask members to take that into account.
Mr HUNKO (Germany, Spokesperson for the Group of the Unified European Left)* – I remind members that today is the 75th anniversary of the German attack on the Soviet Union. As a member of the Assembly from Germany, I simply cannot leave unmentioned that terrible event and the terrible war that it was part of, which led to tens of millions of deaths and ultimately to the founding of the Council of Europe. We should all commemorate that event today.
I thank both rapporteurs for an extremely important report, which required courage to produce. It says a lot about what has happened in Turkey over the past few months, particularly since the elections last July. The peace process was abandoned last April, which paved the way for the terrible events that the report so eloquently describes. More than 100 members of the Turkish Parliament have had their immunity removed, including members of this Assembly from the HDP party. Many of those colleagues might not be able to join us for the next session of the Parliamentary Assembly, because they may find themselves in prison. That is why it is so important that we send out a clear signal to Turkey.
There has been much discussion of the extent to which we should criticise Turkey. I remind members that the primary role of a Parliamentary Assembly is to speak the truth and call a spade a spade. We are not subject to the same diplomatic pressures as governments. Following on from what Ms Durrieu said, the German Parliament reacted extremely robustly when President Erdoğan questioned the origins of certain people of Turkish extraction born in Germany. We should send a clear message on such issues.
Turkey is a fantastic country with the most incredible cultural diversity, a swathe of languages, a vibrant civil society and courageous journalists who are unstinting in their duty to uncover facts. We have seen examples of journalists and mayors from the Kurdish regions being imprisoned, and we have to send a powerful message supporting and encouraging those people – a message not against Turkey but in favour of a democratic and pluralist Turkey.
The PRESIDENT – The rapporteurs have only one and a half minutes left. Do you wish to use it now? That is not the case.
Mr POZZO DI BORGO (France)* – I commend the two rapporteurs for the thorough and detailed report that they have provided. On so complex a subject as the domestic and geopolitical situation of a major country such as Turkey, we need to understand and inform public opinion better. Europe needs the great and powerful country of Turkey.
The report and draft resolution that our two colleagues have submitted to us repeatedly mention their concerns about where the country is heading. There are plenty of grounds for concern, but what strikes me is the rapid and sudden change that Turkey is experiencing. The AKP, having been in power since 2002, has undeniably transformed Turkey thoroughly, freeing it from the ubiquitous stewardship of the army that was a legacy of Kemalism and implementing reforms that have generated an economic boom and unprecedented prosperity.
The political evolution of a country that has been subject to regular coups should also be appreciated. Along with colleagues from our Assembly, I observed the Turkish legislative elections in June 2015 and saw that they were completely democratic. Deputies receptive to Kurdish interests were elected in large numbers, notwithstanding the overly steep 10% electoral threshold, which should be lowered. But then everything went off the rails, for domestic reasons – the absence of an absolute majority for the AKP, and PKK terrorism – and external reasons. Let us not forget that war is being waged on Turkey’s borders. The wars in Syria and Iraq have destabilising consequences for the region, and we should commend Turkey for its substantial efforts in taking in more than 3 million refugees.
Turkey is experiencing war on its borders. With 80 million inhabitants, the country is inevitably shot through with major tensions, with, in particular, the presence of a large Kurdish minority in its south-east. Even so, were the crackdown and the authoritarianism of the Turkish authorities desirable reactions to these undeniable difficulties? I do not think so. Action in Ankara and in several other areas, which is very well described by our rapporteurs, is apparently surpassing the limits expected of a mature democracy governed responsibly by the rule of law. I am thinking in particular of the plight of the Kurds, with the excesses of the army; the lifting of parliamentary immunity, which especially affects the HDP; and the restrictions placed on the freedom of the press. These developments are very poorly received by public opinion in our countries at a time when Turkey is seeking to reinvigorate its negotiations to join the European Union.
Mr ROUQUET (France)* – First of all, I wish to express my sympathy with the Turkish people after the many heinous and murderous actions of which Turkey has been a victim. Let us always say that terrorism, whether it strikes in Paris, Brussels or Istanbul, is unacceptable. Nothing – absolutely nothing – justifies terrorism.
It is true that Turkey is also being subjected to unprecedented migratory pressure and has to live with neighbours such as Syria, Iraq and Iran. This situation is, to say the least, a complex one. However, that does not render legitimate the recent evolution of Turkey as set out in the excellent report of the Monitoring Committee. This includes the questioning of the freedom of the press and of the independence of the judiciary; the impossibility of criticising the head of State without incurring great risks, with Turkey going so far as to prosecute some people; and recently the questioning of the mandate of many parliamentarians in Germany. Along with the rapporteurs, I regret that the peace talks with a view to resolving the Kurdish question have been cut short. I am also concerned about the radical questioning of women’s rights; I am thinking of the declarations on family planning and the difficulty of obtaining abortions in Turkey.
As the report underscores, these developments threaten the very functioning of democracy. One of the traps of terrorism is to push people into an over-reaction when they are faced with the threat of terrorism, which risks compromising the essentials of democracy. In this context, the opening of chapters on justice in the process of applying for membership of the European Union, such as has been proposed by the rapporteurs, is a point that is well taken. However, let us not base too much hopes on this process, because there are many thoughts in the back of many people’s minds. The future will tell us whether the recent agreement between the European Union and Turkey is a good or a bad thing. The agreement is full of ambiguity and uncertainties, to say the least.
I dream with eyes wide open of a world in which the conflict in Cyprus ends, although that does not depend on Turkey alone; in which Armenia and Turkey are reconciled and the reality of history is taken into account; in which the question of migration is the subject of an authentic partnership between Europe and Turkey, with authentic solidarity and mutual respect; in which the Kurdish question is again dealt with at a political level and not just at a police and military level; and in which the rule of law is an essential objective. That is a dream indeed, but sometimes realism means resignation, and I very much hope that a State that became a member of the Council of Europe just a few months after the Council was set up should be a model for our continent.
Ms CENTEMERO (Italy)* – I thank our rapporteurs for this very important and very interesting report, which describes in some detail the situation in Turkey. It is a situation in which there are some 3 million refugees and constant terrorist attacks, which we condemn, and in the south-east of the country we see an escalation of violence that has led to the displacement of some 350,000 people, whose access to water and electricity, as well as to education and medical care, is being restricted.
The Monitoring Committee has highlighted concerns about the violation of human rights in Turkey during security operations. I myself was involved in monitoring the most recent elections in Turkey, in October and November last year, and I was able to see the situation for myself. I would like to flag up a number of issues that we need to take seriously: the lifting of immunity of parliamentarians; the restrictions on press freedom and freedom of expression; and the changes that are taking place in respect of the constitution, which will increase the powers in the hands of the president. However, I will focus on the condition of women in particular.
The Venice Commission said that a fully fledged democracy is one in which there is full participation of men and women in political life, so women, too, need to be fully represented within institutions. The report talks about the functioning of democratic institutions, but for an institution to call itself fully democratic it has to ensure the adequate participation of women within it. In last year’s June elections, women represented 17% of all members of the Turkish Parliament, but in recent elections that figure has gone down to 14.9%. That shows that women are being denied the possibility to participate fully in the political life of their own country on the basis of the choices made by political parties, and that women’s participation in political life is spiralling downwards. Of course, that is of grave concern. For democratic institutions to function, they require the full participation of women. We need to guarantee and recognise not only women’s rights but their dignity, which is being called into question, as the previous Speaker just said, in the difficulties they experience when it comes to accessing contraception and abortion.
I thank our rapporteurs for referring to the Istanbul Convention, which was signed and opened for signature in Istanbul. Istanbul should serve as a beacon for the ability of women to live in all freedom, and to participate in the political life and democracy of their country. As we have just heard, that is far from being the case in Turkey.
Ms QUÉRÉ (France)* – Rapporteurs, the lifting of the immunity of 138 Turkish parliamentarians, a policy adopted by Turkey’s parliament, is a serious violation of the values of the Council of Europe. On Thursday, we will debate parliamentary immunity, as well as the rights and duties that go with our office. The decision by Turkey demonstrates, if such a demonstration was needed, that the protection of parliamentarians, their freedom of expression and their political action is vital for the survival of democracies.
Over and beyond that, I very much regret the fact that your report does not contain a single reference to the impact of the decision that has been made on the representation of women in the Turkish Parliament. This decision has a disproportionate effect on opposition parties, and in particular the HDP, the party of the people. The decision to lift immunity will predominantly affect female parliamentarians. Female members made up almost half the HDP, a party that not only defends the rights of Kurds but those of women. Women were also broadly represented in the other opposition parties that were affected by this decision. It is clear that Mr Erdoğan’s party, the AKP, which has a large majority, has very few female members. Suffice it to say that after Mr Erdoğan’s recent declarations about the female condition, it seems that the role of women is a European value that he has failed to grasp. These ongoing attacks on the role of women have been recurrent since he took power.
Across the Muslim world, in countries such as Tunisia, Turkey was renowned for its pioneering role in the field of women’s rights. Let us not forget that women were able to vote in Turkey in 1934, 11 years before French women were able to vote, and the right to abortion in Turkey was introduced in 1965, once again 10 years before its introduction in France and other countries. Today, although nobody questions the legal right to abortion, it has become practically impossible for the poorest women in society to access an abortion; they are forced to go to back-street abortionist clinics, which is something we thought had disappeared. Last year 100 women were raped and three times as many were killed by men. This figure has tripled since 2002. These crimes go unpunished in the courts, despite the fact that the criminal law provides for penalties.
One of the Council of Europe’s great successes is denouncing violence against women. How can we accept that the country that gave its name to the Istanbul Convention is doing so little to ensure that its values are put into practice? Rapporteurs, there are too many blanks in your report, which I regret. How can we talk about democratic institutions in Turkey when so much is being done to silence and muzzle women?
Mr ESEYAN (Turkey)* – I, too, would like to thank the rapporteurs. I have been able to discuss the report with them at various stages. I am an Armenian, a Christian and a citizen of Turkey. Fifteen years ago my father headed an association in Turkey. As a result, he was tortured. Unfortunately, he died as a result of the consequences of that torture. Fifteen years ago a reform process started with the AKP, and I can personally tell you what happened in black and white.
From the positive point of view, Turkey used to be in the black, whereas today, notwithstanding the problems that exist, there has been a great deal of progress, compared with the previous period. I understand that this is very much appreciated objectively by the Council of Europe and that Turkey has been encouraged, and I share some of the concerns that have been voiced here. However, the report goes much further than its stated objective of looking into the functioning of our democratic institutions. Effectively, the President of Turkey has been given a slap in the face. I do not think that is the job of the Council of Europe.
Of course there are problems in Turkey, but the rapporteurs have focused their gaze in only one direction. I have visited south-east Turkey many times – I was there just a few days ago – and can tell you that Turkey is dealing with a very difficult problem there. It is not just a problem facing Turkey, because there are large numbers of refugees in Turkey. There are truces and so on, and you say that it is unacceptable. That might be understandable when you are in Strasbourg or Paris, but you might think about it differently if you were in south-east Turkey. The PKK has been fighting atrociously, and the way it is targeting the people is despicable. No one says that they will kill the Kurds; that is not what the government is doing. The Turkish Government is doing all it can to protect civilians.
This post-monitoring process is an emotional one, and it is targeted against President Erdoğan. It might have a deleterious impact on relations between the Council of Europe and Turkey. That is not a threat – I do not want you to view it as a threat – but I think that we should leave aside the emotional aspects.
The PRESIDENT – The speaking limit is three minutes. If each member speaks for 15 or 20 seconds over that limit, that adds up to two or three members being unable to participate in the debate. We all need to remember that.
As Mr Billström is not here, I call Mr Dişli.
Mr DIŞLI (Turkey) – I know that not everything is going well in Turkey. I also know that every day Turkey is in the European media – truth and lies all included. I know that we have systemic problems; we are discussing whether we should stay with a parliamentary system of democracy or move towards a presidential system. We are struggling to make a new civilian constitution. In the meantime, you should know that today Turkey is at war with all types of terrorist organisations, such as the PKK, Daesh and DHKP-C. You should also know that we have over 3 million Syrians, and they keep coming because the war in Syria is still going on. The Russians have started bombing Aleppo, so we are expecting many more refugees.
We are considering a report entitled, “The functioning of democratic institutions in Turkey”. It is not a monitoring report. Of course our colleagues can submit amendments, as they did today, but we are in the post-monitoring process. We were given some homework and a time limit for doing it. We are working very hard on the 12 items that it was decided we should work on. When the next monitoring report comes, you will decide whether we should be out of monitoring, be in post-monitoring or return to the monitoring process. Submitting amendments to get Turkey back into the monitoring process at the last moment – 2 o’clock yesterday – is a sneaky way to deal with Turkish issues and would not help us at all. In any such report, three or four colleagues from now on can do the same for other countries.
In Europe xenophobia is increasing, as is Islamophobia. There is also terror and the refugee problem. We know that we have to learn the culture of living together.
(The speaker continued in Turkish.)
The approach to Turkey that has been demonstrated is not valid when considered alongside the developments taking place in Europe, so there is a double standard. I think that some information has not been reflected in the report. We will be able to overcome the problems we face through the measures that have been adopted by our government.
Ms NAGHDALYAN (Armenia) – I would first like to thank the rapporteurs, Ms Godskesen and Ms Vučković, for the considerable work they have done to produce this comprehensive report.
The report highlights all the serious concerns that Turkey “should address without further delay.” Among numerous problems and serious violations in the fields of the rule of law, legislation, the judiciary and relations between communities, the report also makes particular reference to restrictions on the freedom of expression and of the media, political influence on the media and prosecution of investigative journalists, academics and ordinary citizens. Any attempt to deliver true information that differs from the official position is persecuted and oppressed in Turkey. One of the first victims of this oppressive policy was Hrant Dink, a prominent Turkish journalist of Armenian descent, who was cynically killed in Istanbul in 2007. Dink had raised the issue of the Armenian genocide; he advocated reconciliation between Turkish and Armenian society and struggled for human dignity and freedoms in his country of Turkey.
On 20 May, the Turkish Parliament voted through a Bill allowing criminal charges to be brought against legislators. The new law is aimed at the lawmakers of the Turkish Opposition. Our Opposition colleagues in Turkey are in real danger. I remind the Assembly that the first victims in 1915 were members of the Turkish Parliament of Armenian origin. Let us prevent the repetition of history.
The recent adoption of the resolution on the Armenian genocide by the German Bundestag, for which we are deeply thankful, caused a storm of indignation among the Turkish authorities. German MPs faced an unprecedented display of hate speech and intimidation. The resolution’s initiators received anonymous death threats, and some have been placed under police protection. President Erdoğan demanded blood tests for German MPs of Turkish origin. As the President of the German Bundestag noted, the era of defining people by blood ended in 1945; unfortunately not in Turkey, Mr Lammert.
I cannot ignore the problem of the preservation of cultural heritage. Thousands of Armenian cultural and spiritual monuments in the territory of modern Turkey are being deliberately destroyed under a planned Turkish Government policy for the elimination of material testimony of Armenian culture. The genocide of 1915 is continuing today in the shape of cultural genocide. Modern Turkey is becoming the Turkey of the Ottoman era, and the direct heir of the values of that empire.
This report clearly shows the lack of fully fledged democratic institutions in Turkey. Our first step, which will be to the benefit of Turkey first and foremost, should be to use the tools of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe for the monitoring of Turkey.
Mr JENSEN (Denmark) – As has already been said, Turkey is one of the founding fathers of the Council of Europe. As such, and as one of the major powers on the European continent and a considerable contributor to the Council of Europe, we have to expect Turkey to live up to the values and principles that the Council of Europe is founded on.
The recent developments in Turkey – limiting freedom of the media and of expression, erosion of the rule of law, attacks on the rights and integrity of democratically elected parliamentarians, and a number of human rights violations – demand that we raise serious questions about democratic development in Turkey. Our concerns appear to be shared by several Council of Europe monitoring institutions, such as the Venice Commission, GRECO and the Commissioner for Human Rights.
Most of us agree that the most important pillars of democracy are freedom of expression and of the media. Therefore the forceful prosecution of and harsh prison sentences given to investigative journalists in Turkey are unreasonable and unacceptable, as are the criminalisation and prosecution of a huge number of human rights defenders and lawyers. The more than 2 000 cases brought against journalists, academics and ordinary citizens for so-called insults to the president are an undemocratic restriction of freedom of expression, as is the blocking of more than 110 000 websites, including the taking down of Twitter. Along with the recent government-influenced changes in ownership of media companies, these actions have resulted in significant restrictions of freedom of expression and a very problematic political influence on the media.
Dear colleagues, to be quite clear, these developments, restrictions and actions go directly against everything that the Council of Europe stands for. The same must be said of the decision to strip a large number of parliamentarians of their parliamentary immunity. We should remember that parliamentary immunity first and foremost enables us as elected representatives to work and to express ourselves without fear.
We must be quite clear. If the ruling powers in Turkey do not take steps in the near future to commit to the clear values and principles of the Council of Europe, we have to consider whether Turkey should once more undergo monitoring procedures. Only Turkey can prevent that. We need to see action from the ruling powers there.
Mr KÜÇÜKCAN (Turkey)* – President, ladies and gentlemen, I thank the rapporteurs for the interest they have expressed in our country. Before drafting the report, they came to Turkey, and contacted us and several Turkish institutions. We tried to facilitate their task as best we could, because we wanted every detail to be seen in their picture of Turkey.
Turkey is one of the founding members of the Council of Europe. Up to now, it has respected the values of the European Union and has made many efforts to express that respect in its laws. However, our geographical situation is not very comfortable. It is difficult for us. France, England and Germany are not confronted with the situations that Turkey faces. We have had many problems. We have had coups, and have a negative heritage that we have tried to leave behind. We want to overcome that heritage and have been working with the Council of Europe. We have formed many relationships between the Turkish judiciary and the European Court of Human Rights, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance and the Venice Commission.
We take the values of Council of Europe into account, but for democracy to function in a country there must be security, trust and civility. The political field in Turkey is completely open, but Turkey has been attacked by terrorist organisations such as Daesh. Unfortunately, the Council of Europe has not been as sensitive or understanding towards Turkey as it has been towards other countries.
We expect to see in a report of the Council of Europe a reflection of the fact that, as we know, combating terrorists such as Daesh and the PKK is not Turkey’s fight alone, just as the migration and refugee crises are not for Turkey alone. These are European matters as well. Combating violence is a global problem for Europe and the entire world to face. When Turkey fights Daesh, it is fighting not just for itself but for Europe and for the values of the Council of Europe.
We take on board the criticisms voiced in the report and agree, partly: no country is perfect. It is clear that we will take them into account. But the report should have been more balanced, with a more constructive attitude. Looking at it one gets the impression that there is a disaster going on in Turkey – a sort of post coup d’état situation. That is not an accurate picture. With its parliament, civil society, media and justice system, Turkey is a country that is seeking to integrate with Europe.
We have to know whether the decision taken by the Council of Europe will help Turkey or alienate and distance it. That is the problem. Turkey is attached to the values of the European Union and of the Council of Europe, and reflects that fact in its policies. I express my respects to the Assembly.
Mr SCHWABE (Germany)* – Turkey is a wonderful country with wonderful people, and it is doing remarkable work when it comes to the refugee situation. As I have always said, when we are critical of the treatment meted out to refugees, we have to realise and take into account of how difficult the situation is for Turkey. That is not, however, the issue we are discussing today.
It is appropriate to be critical of the Turkish Government. I believe the majority of the Assembly have the impression that there is a plan to consolidate and shore up the powers of the State, which, if I have correctly understood its constitution, is not entirely justified or lawful. Turkey, as a member of the Council of Europe, is of course bound by the values of democracy, human rights and rule of law. Those are the central issues for us, and if we do not defend them, what is our role in the Council of Europe? We need to consider what machinery should be put in place to meet the challenges of the situation in Turkey.
In Turkey, we are seeing the systematic arrest of journalists and those active in the media. Erol Önderoğlu and two others have been arrested on the basis of trumped up accusations, as has Can Dündar. We know that pressure is being brought to bear on colleagues who are members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. We are seeing systematic limits being placed on the right to demonstrate, the rights of women and of LGBTI – lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex – people, and the rights of environmental activists and others, while restrictive legislation is being put in place in the area of non-governmental organisations.
It is important to take a very clear stand on these issues. Part of the problem is that the anti-terrorist legislation is being interpreted too widely: it cannot be broadened to the extent that it covers almost everyone. It is important to appeal to the European Union saying that the agreement between the EU and Turkey on visa liberalisation should go ahead only on the condition that the very sweeping anti-terrorist legislation is put to one side. We need to flag up the values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. It is high time that we took a clear stand on these issues.
Ms BAKOYANNIS (Greece) – I congratulate the two rapporteurs on their report, which is a very careful and balanced report about what is really happening in Turkey today.
I consider myself a very old friend of the Turkish people. We are neighbours, and we know how difficult the situation is for Turkey. There is no doubt that there has been progress in Turkey in the past few years. All of us recognise that Turkey has a very difficult battle to fight against terrorism, and we are all in solidarity with Turkey in that battle. We understand how difficult the situation is. I have just come back from Turkey, where the tourist cities are empty because people are afraid of terrorism and are no longer going there.
However, we are talking not about the fight against terror, but about human rights. Terrorism has nothing to do with women’s rights. Those are completely different things. Terrorism has nothing to do with the freedom of the press. When journalists go to prison because they have uncovered something, that has nothing to do with terrorism, but is just an act against press freedom. Terrorism has nothing to do with the fact that mayors and MPs who, because they belong to a different party, may face charges that we all find incomprehensible.
Those things have nothing to do with terrorism, and if we really want to help the Turkish people and to see a European Turkey inside the European Union, as we Greeks want – there is no such thing as Europe ŕ la carte, where everybody can do whatever they want, but only an organisation of common values – Turkey must, like all the other countries of the European Union, respect the human rights for which we in the Assembly are responsible. If we really want to help them, we must vote for the report and send Turkey a clear message that there is another way, which is to respect human rights. If Turkey does so, it will earn the full support of the Turkish people and of course of people of Europe – not only the governments, but the people of Europe – who will understand and show solidarity with Turkey.
Ms MAIJ (Netherlands) – I thank the rapporteurs for their concise and very good report, which highlights various points. I first want to compliment the Turkish authorities. There have been real developments in Turkey in the past few years when it comes to the economy and the reception of refugees. As others have mentioned, it is very important to compliment the Turkish authorities and population for taking so many refugees and for trying to cope with all the difficulties that come with that.
The geography of Turkey is not very helpful for its own internal development at the moment, but the fact that there is a civil war in a neighbouring country and that there are refugees does not mean that Turkey does not have to respect civil and political rights. We have seen the development of economic rights and the development of the Turkish economy, but if we look at civil and political rights in Turkey now, it is a bleak picture. Freedom of speech is one of the cornerstones of our economic and civil rights.
I have complimented Turkey for its developments in relation to the economy, but we need to be very strict when it comes to the civil and political rights that are not currently being respected in Turkey. Freedom of speech is the cornerstone of democracy. In our debates, we must discuss things with people who have completely different opinions. We may find such opinions really weird, but we must let them express those completely different opinions. Such freedom of speech is under severe pressure at the moment. Journalists have been put in jail and parliamentarians have been stripped of their immunity. It is amazing to think that some of the faces I can see in the Chamber may not be here during the next session because they may have been stripped of their immunity. That is not something we can accept.
I find it difficult to accept that the fierce debate now taking place in Turkey is being exported to some our European countries. We have seen that in Germany, and also seen in the Netherlands. In the diaspora community of Turkish descent, the fierce debate going on is really unhealthy and uncomfortable. The fight against the Kurdish people in the south-east of Turkey is taking the form of a civil war. There is a responsibility to have a debate about that in a normal manner, not just to blame the other side, as some of our Turkish colleagues have said.
Finally, as Turkey was a founding mother, as I would put it, of the Council of Europe, it must accept that respect for women’s rights is one of its cornerstones. We have a convention – the Istanbul Convention – that is named for Istanbul, so please let us respect in all countries, but especially in Turkey, the rights of women such as the right to reproductive health, the right to make decisions about their own bodies, and the right to have zero, one, three or 15 children.
Mr GYÖNGYÖSI (Hungary) – Thank you, chair and distinguished members. I, too, thank the rapporteurs for an interesting and informative report that makes clear observations, a clear assessment and some fine recommendations.
The report acknowledges the difficult and extraordinary times that Turkey faces today. As has been mentioned on a number of occasions, in the past decade the ruling AKP in Turkey has undertaken the process of transforming the country. Unfortunately, this transformation has happened at a time when the whole region has been facing rising violence and destabilisation. Turkey is in an extremely difficult region, where the neighbouring countries of Iraq, Syria and North Africa, and to the north in Ukraine, are destabilised. It is facing enormous challenges and suffering enormous consequences. Not only Turkey but the whole continent is facing mass migration and social, political and economic tensions.
In times of such extraordinary challenges, it is widely understood that extraordinary measures are required. Here in the Council of Europe, while we talk about safeguarding rights and freedoms we should also recognise the challenges that Turkey is facing and the efforts that it is making in such difficult times. Here, many have complimented Turkey on the way in which it has dealt with more than 3 million refugees and spent more than €10 billion on hosting refugees arriving from the neighbourhood at a time when much of Europe has left Turkey alone with these problems. When a country faces such difficulties, a balance has to be struck between freedom and security. This dilemma is faced not only in Turkey but worldwide. Today in Europe, we are also trying to strike a balance between security and freedom: just think of the United States after the tragedy of 9/11.
Defending values is now, of course, our main aim, but what measures do we choose to achieve that aim? This report and some members have called for a new procedure for monitoring Turkey. I do not think that would be useful. It would be extremely counterproductive to introduce sanctions against one of our member States. The Council of Europe chose a new procedure recently whereby every member, in alphabetical order, will be monitored over time. We should stick to that procedure and apply the same measures to every member State, not pick out one member, because that will lead to double standards. I would like the Council of Europe to consider that.
Once again, I thank our rapporteurs for a concise and comprehensive report.
Mr YATIM (Morocco, Partner for Democracy)* – Thank you, President. I will express a few thoughts on the conclusions of the monitoring report, which I found a little harsh on a country that is a bridge between East and West and between Islam and secularism, and which, for the people of the regions, is an exemplar, a model of success, an oasis of democracy in a desert of totalitarian regimes.
Admittedly, Turkey has to take this reality into account and honour its commitments as a founding State of the Council of Europe in continuing its efforts to bring its legislation into line with the norms of the Council of Europe and to meet the requirements of the post-monitoring dialogue. It is duty-bound to carry out effective investigations, to put observation mechanisms for human rights into place and to produce credible reports with respect to investigative journalism and freedom of speech, but going so far as to point the finger at the whole political system, and calling into question the political progress in the country, especially in its economy, is something that should be put right. Above all, those observing our model and its success should not be given the impression that there are double standards in this Organisation, when there are authoritarian regimes that have come to power through coups d’état and regimes that have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity. We turn a blind eye to those regimes when we should be doing the opposite.
The report pinpoints the consequences of the war in Syria, the difficulties faced by Turkey in taking in 3 million refugees and the threats and terrorist attacks that are being perpetrated continuously by terrorist groups. Many western countries have had to resort to emergency measures and restrictions on freedoms to tackle terrorism. However, I must stress to our Turkish friends that they must take into account the criticisms levelled and the observations made in this report. I also call on our Assembly to find a happy medium between objective and constructive criticism.
Ms PASHAYEVA (Azerbaijan)* – I have lived in and visited all the regions that are talked about in the report, and I must say that our Assembly in Europe has not sufficiently supported Turkey in combating terrorism. We see bloody terrorist organisations that have perpetrated attacks in Turkey freely acting in many European countries. Terrorism is a crime against humanity, and the organisations that are active in Turkey and have killed 30 000 people are terrorist organisations. You have to call a spade a spade and not have double standards. Therefore, the member countries of our Assembly have to support Turkey in this legitimate struggle against terrorism.
In combating terrorism in Turkey over the past few months, 458 members of the forces of law and order have been killed and more than 3 000 people wounded. Dear colleagues, I have been to several regions in Turkey and have seen many relatives of victims of terrorism and members of the forces of law and order, and they are increasingly less trusting of our Assembly. We have to think of the pain and suffering of these people. They consider Europe to have double standards on combating terrorism in Turkey, and our Assembly must get the message across that the Council of Europe is always on Turkey’s side.
We agree with the appeal to the PKK, for example, to put an end to the armed struggle, but we have to put pressure on terrorist organisations. Where do their weapons come from? We have to look into that matter, too. In the operations led by Turkey against terrorist organisations, the weapons seized say a lot about their origins. We also have to make appeals to those who support such organisations with their weapons and their money to stop helping them. People who support terrorism can in no way be defended, whatever the reason might be. All those who openly, or not openly, support terrorism have to render an account to justice. There should be no double standards, otherwise terrorist actions will simply increase throughout the world and will threaten our civilisation and humanity at large.
In Diyarbakir, one of the cities mentioned in the report, the government has begun 550 million lira projects and investments that show there is no ethnic discrimination and that all citizens are being served. As we all know, there are no problems between the Kurdish and Turkish peoples – they have lived together for centuries, after all; it is terrorist organisations, and external forces supporting them, that are trying to create problems. We should not let that happen. We should stand alongside Turkey in its struggle against terrorism.
Ms DURANTON (France)* – Mr President, dear colleagues, this exhaustive report from our Norwegian and Serb colleagues cannot leave us indifferent. It gives the impression that Turkey, a longstanding member of the Council of Europe, is drifting away from our Organisation, its values and its norms. Many sources underscore the seriousness of the situation. No one here denies the difficulties confronting Turkey, especially terrorism and the humanitarian consequences of conflict, but the repressive and disproportionate response from the authorities in Ankara will not do. On the contrary, it only heightens tensions. Its problems cannot be settled by censorship of newspapers and the Internet; by seeking to keep the judiciary in order; by attacking human rights; by the lifting of parliamentary immunity, for political ends, for 100 parliamentarians; or by suppression in respect of the Kurds.
The authorities in Ankara have obviously forgotten what Montesquieu said in 1748, in “The Spirit of the Laws”: it is an eternal fact that anyone holding power is inclined to abuse it. Turkey is a dynamic and open society that showed its democratic maturity during the legislative elections in 2015 – I was there as part of an observation mission – but our Assembly must be vigilant. The geopolitical challenges require a stable Turkey. Europe needs Turkey – the EU-Turkey agreement on refugees on 18 March could significantly reduce the number of people arriving in Greece from Turkey, although we must attend to its implementation – but Turkey also needs Europe.
On visa liberalisation, efforts have already been undertaken, but any reforms have to satisfy the 72 criteria, while the country’s pledge to control its borders must be honoured. On the EU membership negotiations, several chapters in the negotiations have now been opened, but the EU Commission has come to the same conclusions as our Monitoring Committee: there is a lack of progress in many fields and even back-stepping on the independence of the judiciary and the freedom of expression. With these serious concerns about the rule of law in Turkey, I call on its authorities to pull their socks up.
Ms GÜNAY (Turkey)* – Mr President, colleagues, the report is based on erroneous facts. The lifting of parliamentary immunity is discussed and Turkey is the subject of much criticism. According to political science, democracy goes hand in hand with a sense of well-being within society, but the development of democracy is also a contribution to well-being in society. People need to benefit from freedom of expression, as long as they have nothing to do with terrorism, but the HDP has not distanced itself from terrorist organisations; it continues with its moral and material support for them. Its members have participated in the funerals of PKK members and other demonstrations that have got out of hand. Following terrorist attacks in Ankara, a member of the HDP praised these terrorist organisations. If a member of the Assembly were to attend the funeral of someone responsible for the terrorist attacks in Paris or of a member of Daesh, what would your reaction be? You would be highly critical of such expressions of support. We must show respect for victims of these terrorist attacks and not give any support to terrorism. We need a bit more empathy in our assessment of the situation in Turkey.
Mr BLANCHART (Belgium)* – Turkey is a wonderful country with a long, rich and diverse history and culture, including a long history of secularity, but it currently finds itself in a difficult geopolitical situation. Let us start by looking in our own backyard. The underlying debate, following the recent EU-Turkey agreement on refugees, concerns the challenges facing Europe as well as countries such as Turkey – just a few hours’ flight from Brussels. We cannot turn a blind eye to what is happening in the region. At the same time, Europe is unable to look at itself honestly and condemn the violations of human rights on its own territory, as several speakers have said.
Europe has chosen to place control of its borders and migration policy in the hands of the Erdoğan regime. The Council of Europe’s fundamental values are non-negotiable. Beyond the refugee crisis, we in Europe must continue to co-operate with Turkey while complying fully with international law. The EU needs Turkey, and Turkey needs the EU, but such co-operation cannot come at any price, and nor can it happen without a clear framework and democratic rules. Before even opening a debate about Turkish membership of the EU, we must demand that Turkey, a partner country, move towards full compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights. It is already bound by the provisions of that convention by dint of its membership of the Council of Europe, but these rights are not being upheld. They are increasingly under threat because of the actions of the powers that be in Turkey.
Turkey is under enormous pressure, but Lebanon and other countries in the region have also welcomed enormous numbers of refugees. The Council of Europe cannot simply turn a blind eye to the recent arrests of journalists and parliamentarians, the censorship or the violations of the rights of minorities, particularly Kurds and women. We must call on Turkey to remain unstinting in its respect for the rule of law when it comes to the refugee crisis. The rule of law is non-negotiable. We cannot budge on that. We must demand of the Erdoğan Government that it moves towards full compliance with the ECHR, by which it is bound through its membership of this Assembly.
Ms SCHOU (Norway) – Mr President, allow me to express my support for the rapporteurs. At a challenging time for Turkey, they have written a comprehensive and thorough report, and I support the draft resolution.
Europe is going through difficult times. The migration crisis and the threat of terrorism are challenges faced by Europe as a whole, but their scale in Turkey is unparalleled. Turkey continues to be plagued by terrorist attacks and hosts by far the most refugees of any Council of Europe member State. Managing a surge of close to 3 million refugees is a tremendous task for any State. Turkey deserves credit for its continued efforts. It is carrying a large portion of our shared burden.
However, being in a time of crisis, even when there are continual terrorist attacks and the influx of migrants cannot be stopped, is not a reason to compromise on human rights, democracy and the rule of law. In times of crisis, we must be especially vigilant of our shared values, principles and legal framework. I therefore commend our rapporteurs for not relenting in their strong message to Turkey that the functioning of its democratic institutions is under threat.
I especially commend the rapporteurs’ focus on freedom of expression and of the media. The fact that the Turkish authorities are taking steps to limit the freedom of the press, which in turn is leading to self-censorship, is worrying, as is the application of the law against insulting the president. Those things in combination demonstrate a lack of openness to pluralistic exchange and debate.
In closing, I will cite a quotation from the Venice Commission in the report: “State security and fundamental rights are not competitive values; they are each other’s precondition”. That captures the essence of the challenge faced by Turkey and serves as a strong message to its leadership that they, in this time of crisis and difficulty, must be extra cautious not to move away from our shared European values. I encourage all colleagues in this Assembly to support the draft resolution and not to allow the message to the Turkish leadership to be watered down through amendments.
Ms RAWERT (Germany)* – I, too, am grateful for the report, which takes up issues that are essential to the work of the Council of Europe and at the core of any democracy: upholding human rights and having a state based on the rule of law.
The word “terrorism” has been on a number of people’s lips this morning. Every country has not only a duty, but a responsibility to weigh up freedom and security considerations in respect of its citizens. Terrorism can be a domestic product or an imported one. German citizens have been the victims of terrorism, so this is a battle we need to wage together. However, we need to ensure that terrorism does not serve as a pretext for pursuing other aims or objectives.
I wish to dwell on one or two human rights issues in respect of Turkey that are close to my heart. Mention has rightly been made of efforts to curb domestic violence in Turkey. The number of murders of women is on the increase, particularly women who have applied for divorce. We are also seeing more female victims of forced marriage. Women need to enjoy their sexual rights and sexual health. We cannot have patriarchal structures that make it impossible to ensure that there is equality of opportunity for women.
It is unacceptable that the Governor of Istanbul has banned the Trans Pride march that was due to take place this week. We have also seen water cannon used against people participating in the Gay Pride parade. That clearly flouts the Convention on Human Rights, to which Turkey is a signatory.
Sanctions have been taken against investigatory journalists in Turkey. What will happen to our colleagues and fellow parliamentarians if their immunity is lifted? They may not be able to work alongside us, despite being elected parliamentarians.
Turkey is a multi-ethnic state. Turkish citizens and people of Turkish origin are not all the same. We all need to take out the campaign banner, #NoHateNoFear, in respect of Turkey. We must have courage to shout out that message loud and clear: “No hate, no fear!”
Mr KÜRKÇÜ (Turkey) – I thank the rapporteurs for this report, which highlights the human rights situation in Turkey and the increasing flaws in its democracy. I hope that the Assembly will adopt the amendments proposed by me and my colleagues, which provide a fuller picture for those governing Turkey.
Everybody in this Chamber, including the ruling AKP deputies, is well aware that things are not going well in Turkey. The atmosphere of optimism, the hope for a peaceful solution to the Kurdish question and the hope that neglected groups would be included in the social and political system to bring about a broader democracy, which our Assembly discussed during its last debate on Turkey in 2013, are gone.
To repeat the official figures released by the Turkish Government, military and human rights bodies, since July 2015 some 500 civilians, 450 security officers and at least 6 000 Kurdish militants have been killed with arms including tanks, heavy artillery and fighter jets. At least 1.6 million people have suffered round-the-clock curfews lasting months and at least 355 000 people have been displaced. The number of people incarcerated under the vaguely drafted anti-terrorism laws has exceeded 2 000.
What has happened? What has changed in the past three years? Some colleagues here have said that Turkey is caught in the crossfire between Daesh and the PKK. Does that really explain why my HDP colleagues and I have been stripped of our parliamentary immunity, why journalists are jailed every day and why civilians are killed indiscriminately? The real reason lies elsewhere. The real reason is that the peace talks between the Kurdish political movement and the Turkish Government were suspended in April 2015 by the Turkish President, Tayyip Erdoğan, and the road to a peaceful solution declared closed. We all remember the phrase, “There is no Kurdish question, as such.” That sent Turkey back to pre-2013 conditions and brought the resumption of the armed conflict.
It is clear that the HDP is categorically against violence. I repeat: we are against violence. We are fighting to create the necessary conditions for a resumption of negotiations for a peaceful solution. We are ready to pay any price for that, including being rewarded with lies and slanders by our rivals.
Mr VAREIKIS (Lithuania) – Today we are discussing Turkey, which is one of the most complicated countries in our continent or the Council of Europe. I have a great deal of respect for the rapporteurs, who have written a comprehensive report about such a complicated country. We should all recognise what a significant job they have done. The report is very long, so I will not discuss the details, but rather emphasise those points that I think we should take into account when voting for or against the report and the amendments.
Turkey has been a member of the Council of Europe from the very beginning – from its roots; for decades. Turkey’s presence is part of the political, legal and even cultural spirit of the Council of Europe. We should understand that this country has always been here and probably always will be. In 2004, Turkey started a post-monitoring dialogue with the Council of Europe, which points to a mutual understanding between those in the monitoring procedure and the country itself. Post-monitoring dialogue means that a country has made a huge step towards democracy, but now, in 2016, the situation is not the same as it was 12 years ago. I want to set out the four things that we need to take into account when thinking about what has changed.
First, I agree that Turkey is at war, and this is a 21st-century war, not a 20th-century war, with a front line and a clearly defined enemy. The struggle against terrorism is not just a Turkish national war; it is an international war. We have to take into account the fact that Turkey is at war, and the fight against terrorism is not just a Turkish problem.
Secondly, and importantly, the country faces a refugee flow. As we said yesterday about Greece, refugees are not a Greek problem, they are an international problem, and the refugees in Turkey are an international problem too. They are not coming directly from the sea, as we sometimes think they do in Turkey or Italy; they are coming from the conflict area. We often say that we have a problem, but Turkey at least had a solution: the agreement between the European Union and Turkey.
Thirdly, human rights should be respected even in war. It is not true that they can be ignored in war. They have to exist and Turkey has to draw a clear line between the fight against terrorism and implementing democracy.
Fourthly, I am very happy to hear from the head of the Turkish delegation that they will take into account our criticisms, which are realistic criticisms.
Mr HEER (Switzerland)* – I thank the rapporteurs for their report. Obviously the situation in Turkey is extremely problematic. We should never forget that Turkey is a bridge between the European Union and the Middle East, surrounded by countries plagued by major problems, including enormous flows of refugees and migrants. Nor should we forget that Turkey is now the target of terrorist attacks. As has been said, it is also clear that when Turkey is subjected to terrorist attacks, they do not get the same level of coverage in the western media as similar attacks in Brussels or Paris, although ultimately, as we all know, human beings are all the same. Any death at the hands of a terrorist should be profoundly regretted wherever it happens.
Nor is it our job to give Turkey our advice. However, I would like to give our friends from the Turkish delegation a friendly tip. I call on you in a spirit of collegiality to try and provoke a process of dialogue in Turkey. Such dialogue is only possible if you can guarantee press freedom. I fully understand your need to fight terrorism. I also understand your need to tighten up the law so as to guarantee security. However, this should not be allowed to hamper democracy or the right to freedom of expression, and nor should justice or the judiciary be limited, as we have seen in the past. It is always far more preferable to promote dialogue while looking at ways to improve the situation. In Turkey you have minorities, as we do in my country, Switzerland. It is important that the different minorities enter into a constructive dialogue, with a view to finding solutions for all.
I am personally convinced that it is not the role of the Council of Europe to bandy about accusations willy-nilly. We should remember that the European Union also negotiated and reached agreements with Erdoğan. That process showed quite scant regard for human rights, particularly in respect of the agreement on the return of Syrian refugees to Turkey. Many of us would agree that there is a certain whiff of hypocrisy in the air around this agreement.
Mr RUSTAMYAN (Armenia)* – Turkey’s political situation has continued to deteriorate at home and abroad in recent years, as has become more obvious since the changes made by Erdoğan to create an authoritarian political system. He declared this as a priority and the situation has now got much more complex and the problems much deeper. Human rights problems and the problems of the Kurds and other minorities are getting worse day by day. Moreover, members of parliament are seen as undesirables by Erdoğan and are under constant threat of imprisonment. This really is the end of democracy.
On the foreign front things look even worse. Over time, the principle set out by the regime, “Zero problems with neighbours”, has become “No neighbours without problems”. The regime has got involved in the Syria crisis and there have been persistent and numerous allegations of Erdoğan’s complicity with so-called Islamic State. Erdoğan was the only head of State to encourage his ally Aliyez in Azerbaijan in his repression of Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh last year. Turkey’s policy of negationism vis-ŕ-vis its genocide of the Armenian people and others in the Ottoman empire continues to be an affront to those condemning these crimes against humanity. That is particularly the case given Turkey’s attacks on the Bundestag in Germany. Instead of admitting its complicity in that genocide, the Turkish authorities are insulting and threatening parliamentarians from other countries by declaring that they should analyse the purity of their blood.
Erdoğan is waging the fight against terrorism in his own fashion and in a self-defeating way, because the definition has become so extensive and expansive that anybody opposing the regime can be viewed as a terrorist. It is obvious that Turkey is not fulfilling its obligations, in spite of the fact that we decided to end the regular monitoring procedure and move on to a post-monitoring dialogue. Today we need to convey a clear and robust political message to Erdoğan about the possibility of reopening the monitoring procedure, given the danger that Turkey’s democracy faces. I therefore call on you, colleagues, to support the amendments to this end. Monitoring is not a death sentence. Other countries are under the monitoring procedure.
The PRESIDENT – Thank you. I call Ms Zalischuk, who will be the last speaker before the Prime Minister of Estonia addresses us.
Ms ZALISCHUK (Ukraine) – Turkey is an important member of the European family. For many decades Turkey has proved to be one of the most important partners in fostering democratic development in the region and promoting democracy to the east. European integration remains Turkey’s strategic goal, creating the framework for solid progress on implementing democratic standards; I mention in particular the recent visa liberalisation plan and the recent ratification of the protocol amending the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
Turkey is on the front line of many challenges that many Council of Europe member States do not face. Turkey is the closest door to the war in Syria, hence the migration crisis. It is the closest door to massive and repeated terrorist attacks by Islamic State and other terrorist organisations. As the Council of Europe, we have to talk about our values, freedoms and rights. Liberty cannot be the victim of security and counter-terrorism operations. Rights cannot be the hostages of the legitimate goal of fighting extremism.
As a former journalist who lived for decades in a country with very strong censorship, I know that persecution of independent media has nothing to do with fighting external threats. Moreover, it undermines a country’s capacity to mobilise support for its government’s strategy both internally and within the international community. We have seen the violation of women’s rights and opposition rights in Turkey, and we have seen tremendous deterioration in the freedom of speech. In two years there have been some 2 000 court cases against journalists and academics. There have been more than 110 000 website blocks and requests to take down information. We must react, but I stress that our reaction to the attack on freedoms does not justify the lack of leadership from our countries in helping Turkey to address its challenges.
The PRESIDENT – This debate is now suspended until this afternoon. There will be an address by the Prime Minister of Greece, followed by a brief tribute to Jo Cox, after which the debate will resume at about 4.30 p.m.
(Mr Agramunt, President of the Assembly, took the Chair in place of Sir Roger Gale.)
2. Address by Mr Taavi Rőivas, Prime Minister of Estonia
The PRESIDENT – We will now hear from Mr Taavi Rőivas, Prime Minister of Estonia. After his address, Mr Rőivas will take questions from the floor.
Dear Prime Minister, it is an honour for me to welcome you to the Assembly Chamber while Estonia is chairing the Committee of Ministers. Since joining the Council of Europe in 1993, Estonia has proved to be a solid member of our Organisation and a strong defender of the continent’s democratic values. I am sure that your country’s second chairmanship will allow us to strengthen our co-operation further. I am also pleased to welcome you as Europe’s youngest prime minister, bringing a new generation of leaders to Europe. We look forward to hearing your thoughts and fresh ideas on Europe’s current challenges. It is my honour to give you the floor.
Mr Taavi RŐIVAS (Prime Minister of Estonia) – Mr Agramunt, thank you for your very kind introduction. Dear Secretary General, dear members of the Parliamentary Assembly, dear Prime Minister of Greece – hopefully Alexis is here somewhere – dear excellencies and dear ladies and gentlemen, I am truly honoured to address the plenary session of the Parliamentary Assembly here in Strasbourg. Mr Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, once rightly said that “freedom is a timeless value.” The United Nations charter calls for respect for fundamental freedoms, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights mentions freedom more than 20 times. The European Convention on Human Rights has reinforced the universal declaration by making many of its principles legally binding, therefore giving our citizens the right to challenge their governments at the European Court of Human Rights.
I commend the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the Committee of Ministers, which are working in synergy to expand freedom and create stability by protecting human rights and the rule of law, which are fundamental values to which no exceptions apply. Through the monitoring mechanism, and through dedicated and professional rapporteurs, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has played a remarkable role. Before I address international co-operation and issues of particular importance to my country, I stress the essential role of national parliaments and parliamentarians as advocates and defenders of human rights and the rule of law.
The importance of co-operation between the Council of Europe and other international organisations such as the EU, the OSCE and the United Nations on issues such as promoting tolerance, fighting terrorism, extremism, radicalisation and cybercrime, addressing the migration crisis, supporting elections and providing assistance, and many others, cannot be overestimated. There are three issues of particular importance to Estonia. First, more than two years have passed since Russia illegally annexed Crimea and started fuelling the conflict in the eastern part of Ukraine, thus eroding the post-Cold War security environment across Europe. The situation on the ground reminds us daily of the need for a viable political solution that respects Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. I am concerned about the deteriorating human rights situation in Crimea and in the eastern part of Ukraine. The conventional and regular human rights monitoring missions of the Council of Europe and the United Nations, as well as the relevant bodies of other international and regional humanitarian and human rights organisations, should be granted immediate and full access to all the affected areas of Ukraine.
The Council of Europe’s position on the illegal annexation of Crimea is firm and effective. The non-recognition policy is fully legitimate. The ban on the Crimean Tatar representative body, the Mejlis, is deplorable, and this Organisation should continue to address it. It is our duty to support Ukraine in its structural reforms, but at the same time we should not forget that those reforms are being implemented while the country is fighting a de facto war. We will continue to encourage and assist the Ukrainian leadership to stay focused, and we will work together in delivering the sovereign, democratic and prosperous Ukraine that the Ukrainian people expect and deserve. We cannot ignore the other ongoing conflicts in Europe – Georgia, Moldova, Nagorno-Karabakh. We must find solutions to those conflicts, which are fuelling instability and uncertainty in Europe.
Secondly, whereas several years ago refugees arriving by boat from the Middle East and Africa were a concern for just a few, today migration concerns all of us. It has laid a particularly heavy burden on some member States of the Council of Europe. We cannot leave Greece, Italy and Malta to feel alone in this global crisis. We also have to provide more support to Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, the front-line states that carry the main burden of the Syrian refugee crisis. We must show solidarity within Europe and beyond and work hard for a common, dignified solution.
Thirdly, over recent years we have been horrified by terrorist attacks in France, Belgium, Turkey, the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The attacks targeted not only those countries but the values that unite us in fighting terror, and in fighting crime more broadly. We need to be determined and united so that we can stand up to such hatred. We cannot let our societies be split up, and we cannot be paralysed by hatred or fear. I welcome your #NoHateNoFear intiative, Mr President, which was launched this Monday.
The Council of Europe has a substantial role in the fight against terrorism. Its Convention on the Prevention of Terrorism, and its recent additional protocol – the Riga protocol – address the important issues of the prevention of terrorism and foreign terrorist fighters. Estonia is in the process of ratifying the protocol, and I call on all member States to do the same.
All these problems demand our attention. We must act together – there is no other way to address the crisis comprehensively and find sustainable solutions. Solidarity is the key, and Estonia is determined to carry its burden in tackling the crisis.
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, as you know, Estonia recently started its second chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers, which is dedicated to supporting and fostering the Council of Europe’s work on the protection of human rights both online and offline. Our priorities include human rights and the rule of law on the Internet, gender equality and children’s rights as an integral part of human rights.
We are all living in a digital era, and we know from our own experience the great role that ICT solutions can play in the development of the economy and society. The comprehensive use of ICT, and especially e-government solutions, has contributed significantly to the development of Estonia. Solutions such as digital signature, e-tax administration and e-health services have helped make the Estonian public sector considerably more efficient and transparent. They have also made our private companies more productive and the business environment more attractive.
Today, Estonia is among the most digitally advanced countries in the world. Many call us e-Estonia because of the great extent to which digital means have entered people’s everyday life, saving them time and trouble. I draw attention to the fact that we have opened our good digital services to the outside world, inviting everyone – including all of you – to benefit from them as e-residents of Estonia. We have become a country committed to helping others make a similar digital transformation and leap.
Let me be clear that we are willing to share our relevant experience and best practices to offer guidance to countries that are planning relevant effort or already have it under way. Our experts can help with the implementation of concrete bilateral projects aimed at reforming State governance and public services, fighting against corruption, implementing the principles of open governance and increasing transparency, reporting and efficiency. Our goals are more extensive acknowledgment of the potential of ICT and e-government as promoters of EU policy development, and active participation in the relevant discussion in many international forums.
At a time of the fast development of ICT, and the accompanying impact on the lives of most individuals in Europe, the protection of human rights and the rule of law online is needed more than ever before. It is extremely important that human rights be guaranteed in cyberspace. We are satisfied with the extensive work that the Council of Europe has done with regard to the Internet, and Estonia continues its active work within the Council of Europe framework to make the Internet a “safe, secure, open and enabling environment for everyone without discrimination”, as stated in the Council’s recently adopted Internet governance strategy for 2016 to 2019. That can be achieved by scaling up the global value of its legally binding conventions, such as the Budapest Convention on cyber-crime and Convention 108 on data protection.
To strike the right balance between measures and safeguards, we should engage in dialogue with major Internet companies fighting terrorism and radicalisation online and step up efforts to protect children and empower young people online. We commend the Council of Europe for starting a process to include major Internet companies in the Organisation’s international legal frameworks dealing with human rights and the rule of law. Making businesses part of the solution, not the problem, has to be the way forward.
To quote Benjamin Franklin, “There can be no freedom without responsibility”, and the same applies to the use of the Internet. It is important for countries to fulfil their obligations and condemn clearly any breaches of international law both in cyberspace and in the physical world. In the core group of the coalition for Internet liberty, we continue to work towards further global protection and promotion of human rights on the Internet. Let me be clear that nothing can excuse hate speech, which should be assessed on the human rights standards of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and criminalised equally offline and online.
In addition to the Internet’s trans-border nature, many factors shape the level of free expression on the Internet. Various policy approaches exist, with implications for freedom of expression. We need fully to exploit the potential of the Internet while not compromising civil liberties, including the right to freedom of expression. The Internet must be guaranteed to everyone and available without any restrictions.
We also have to prevent the abuse of children’s rights on the Internet and ensure their protection in the digital world. That is our unconditional obligation. During the Estonian chairmanship, we wish to highlight a few themes in the Council of Europe’s new strategy on the rights on the child, placing emphasis on three key areas: child participation, children’s rights in the digital environment and children in migration. I completely agree with the Secretary General that there must be a zero tolerance approach to child abuse. The prevention of and fight against the sexual abuse of children will remain one of the priorities of the children’s rights agenda. Estonia will also ratify the Council of Europe Convention on Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse, which is well known as the Lanzarote Convention, and promote better implementation of the convention throughout the Council of Europe’s member States.
Estonia will be the next host of EuroDIG. We are aware of the wider role that the Council of Europe plays in the EuroDIG process. We will continue our joint efforts to strengthen freedom online in the digital age and I am convinced that our chairmanship and our role as the next host of EuroDIG will complement each other.
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, in conclusion let me stress that our common security and respect for human rights are closely interlinked, and based on our ability and willingness to fulfil international obligations and agreements. Estonia remains committed to supporting the active role taken by the Council of Europe in developing the instruments that provide us with a framework for protection of human rights, either online or offline. Respect for human rights, the rule of law, democracy and international law is an integral part of European identity and our shared values. In that respect, Estonia holds the Council of Europe in high regard as an organisation that continuously sets international norms and standards. The Council of Europe’s impact on the legislation and conduct of international politics in my country since our accession in ‘93 cannot be underestimated.
I am convinced that Estonia’s second chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe will be carried out in the same spirit of leadership, solidarity, inspiration and innovation that helped my country to become a successful and responsible member of the international community. Let me assure you that, particularly for small countries, respect for public international law in general, for human rights laws in particular and for the convention system of the Council of Europe is both a valuable security guarantee and a moral obligation.
On that note, I thank you for your attention and I am ready to take your questions.
The PRESIDENT – Thank you very much, Mr Prime Minister, for your most interesting address. Members of the Assembly have questions to put to you. I remind them that questions must be limited to 30 seconds and no more. Colleagues should ask questions and not make speeches.
Mr KOX (Netherlands, Spokesperson for the Group of the United European Left) – Mr Prime Minister, it was an honour and a pleasure to be in your parliament in Tallinn for the Standing Committee, and it is an honour that you are now chairing the Committee of Ministers. One of the core elements of the business of the Council of Europe is convention making. Your country and many other countries have signed a lot of our conventions. Under the chairmanship of Estonia, what could be done to promote this convention-making system, with which we can solve problems that we perhaps could not solve in the context of the European Union?
Mr RŐIVAS: First of all, let me say that the best thing we can do is make sure that all of our countries are actually in accordance with the agreements that we make here. If we look at the Estonian experience, we see that the vast majority of international agreements, including the conventions, have been beneficial for my country. These conventions are not made by anyone else, or done for the rapporteurs here in Strasbourg; we understand that we need to make them in order to have a better society. There needs to be commitment to such agreements by all of us.
Mr TRENCHEV (Bulgaria, Spokesperson for the Group of the European People’s Party) – My question to you, Mr Rőivas, is about what you frequently refer to as the fifth fundamental freedom in the European Union – the free movement of data. In these times of big data, hybrid wars and ever more evasive technology, how do you see freedom of data operating amid the realities and challenges that confront the European Union? Do you think that it can help to prevent the disintegration processes in Europe and give new meaning to the very essence of the word “unity”?
Mr RŐIVAS: Let me start by saying that freedom of movement in Europe has made all of our countries more prosperous in many ways, and not just in the fiscal sense of being prosperous. Digital is one of the areas where there should not be any State borders. We know that, in practice, it is still not fully possible to provide digital services from my country to your country. There still exist some kinds of legal barriers, which I believe are actually keeping us from mutual development, and I am a strong believer that abolishing those virtual borders between our countries will give us the opportunity to provide cross-border services for our citizens. That might extend to public services and it will definitely extend to all kinds of private services, including telecommunication, banking and so on. As we well know, digital is the easiest way to go global and our challenge as legislators and decision makers is to make sure that we do not create virtual wars between our countries, which would prevent us from experiencing these kinds of developments.
Mr JENSEN (Denmark, Spokesperson for the Socialist Group) – Mr Prime Minister, in light of our experience of Russia’s behaviour vis-ŕ-vis its southern and western neighbours during the last few years, I would like to hear your opinion about the current situation of your country’s safety and security.
Mr RŐIVAS: First of all, as there are countries involved in war in Europe, we cannot speak about business as usual, or a secure environment, anywhere in Europe. That is the most important aspect. Estonia, just like Denmark, is a NATO country and of course the direct military threat against NATO is not very big – let me put it that way. However, in order to keep it like that, it is very important to demonstrate that NATO, in addition to the rock-solid agreements, the treaty and Articles 4 and 5, also has the capabilities to react if necessary. In that respect, it is very important not only to increase the presence of allied forces on the eastern flank of NATO but to have exercises, so that we really have an interoperable force and so that we can really demonstrate that nobody should even think of picking a fight with NATO, which in essence, of course, is an organisation of defence; that must be made very clear.
Having the presence of allied forces in several NATO territories should not be provoking in any way to anyone who has peaceful intentions. Remember that many decades ago the United States became a guarantor of European security by bringing some of its forces to Europe, for example in Germany – the biggest contingent of American forces in Europe today is still in Germany. I do not think that anybody here believes that that is provoking anyone in any way. I think that the same applies to all the other countries, including those that are closest to the most aggressive country in Europe currently.
Mr DAEMS (Belgium, Spokesperson for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe) –Freedom House consistently ranks Estonia top of the world for freedom on the net – a top liberal result worthy of a liberal Prime Minister. Congratulations. However, cybercrime and terrorism are a brutal reality of the net. What do you regard to be the right balance between freedom and limitation of freedom in order to fight crime and terrorism?
Mr RŐIVAS – That is a very important question, because the more digital a society becomes and the more Internet freedoms and online services it has, the more important it is to deal with the threats. In a way, becoming more digital leaves us more open to digital threats. The right thing to do is not to stop becoming more digital, but to realise what the threats are and to deal with them. I know of European governments that have hesitated to go digital because of the risks. The Estonian experience shows the opposite to be true; you can become a very digital country, but you need to evaluate the risks and be ready to fight them. Estonia was the first country in the world to experience a full-scale cyber-attack, back in spring 2007. The positive point is that Estonia was able to defend itself. Following that experience, we created the NATO centre of excellence for cyber-security in Tallinn, and many of the countries represented here are also represented there – it is actually bigger than all the NATO countries. That has made us safer and better prepared for potential risks in future. My message is clear: Internet freedom and going digital is an opportunity and we should not hesitate because of the risks but deal with them.
Mr OBREMSKI (Poland, Spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) – My question is similar to Mr Jensen’s. What is Estonia’s response to aggressive Russian propaganda, but at the level of the Council of Europe and the European Union, not at the level of NATO? Also, will you comment on Mr Steinmeier’s opinion that NATO’s Anaconda military training is unnecessary, artificial and can only annoy and irritate Russia?
Mr RŐIVAS – The best weapon against propaganda is not anti-propaganda, but free media. If you look at the media sphere in the Russian language, you will see that in most of our countries it is very difficult to find a good-quality channel that is free and is not sending messages that come directly from the Kremlin. In Estonia we give finance to channels that are free to publish local news in the Russian language, but we give them no content or directions. As with Estonian public broadcasting, and as with the BBC, the government cannot give any content, but we do give finance so that they are ready to act as journalists in a free media context.
With regard to Mr Steinmeier’s comment, I think that in many countries it was emphasised a lot, and perhaps too much. I do not think that there should be any doubt that Germany is very much committing to the security of NATO, including of our part of NATO. My position is that weakness is a much greater provocation than strength. If we look at what Russia is doing, with its constant large-scale military exercises, we see that the biggest provocation would be to stand still and never exercise together. I also think that having different countries exercise together in that way is very practical, because we can see how the interoperability actually works. It shows that we are ready to defend all of NATO. I believe that the more exercises we have, the more certain we can be that nobody will ever try to challenge our unity and strength.
The PRESIDENT – Thank you. We will now have three questions at a time from members.
Mr POZZO DI BORGO (France)* – It is estimated that Russian sanctions cost Europe 0.3% of GDP in 2014 and 0.4% in 2015, and more than 900 000 unemployed. French and German leaders have talked about the possibility of modulating sanctions depending on the level of implementation of the Minsk agreements, with the possibility of lifting sanctions if substantial progress is made. What is Estonia’s position on that?
Lord BALFE (United Kingdom) – Having followed Estonia and been there in recent years, I think that the greatest defence of a free society is a happy population. My briefing states that in late 2014 an amendment to the law was proposed that would give Estonian citizenship to children of non-citizen parents who had resided in Estonia for at least five years. Was that adopted, and have there been any other recent events?
Mr GOPP (Liechtenstein)* – I would like to comment on the situation regarding Russia. Here in the Parliamentary Assembly the Russian delegation have refused to enter into any dialogue. I regret that deeply. Baltic States also find themselves in a situation characterised by tension with Russia. As a neighbour of Russia, how would you describe the situation? Is it your intention during your chairmanship to enter into new initiatives to move toward dialogue within the Assembly?
Mr RŐIVAS – First, it is clear that the sanctions that Russia has imposed on Europe have a price. The security of Europe also has a price. But freedom is priceless. Ukraine, as a European country, deserves to be a free, democratic state whose people decide what it should do just as much as all the other countries represented here. It would be immoral to say that we value 1% or 0.5% of GDP more than the freedom of one of our countries. Estonia has first-hand knowledge of what it is like to lose our freedom. It took us 50 years to become a free and democratic country once more. We will never close our eyes when another European country is threatened with losing its freedom. Russian sanctions probably cost us more than they do many other countries, because we are physically quite close to the Russian market, but Russia does not want the good-quality food produced by Estonian farmers; that is felt, and the farmers are angry. But I am certain that the knowledge that we were doing nothing about an ongoing war in Europe would be much costlier and would have a much greater long-term effect on our society.
Secondly, the 2014 change in the law means that a child in Estonia born to parents who do not have Estonian citizenship will by default become an Estonian citizen. The father and mother can say that they do not want that and choose that the child does not become an Estonian citizen. Before that, the default position was that such children needed to apply for Estonian citizenship; if they applied they got it. In general, getting Estonian citizenship is rather easy. Applicants need to pass a language exam and an exam testing basic knowledge of our constitution and how our society works.
The third question was about the Russian delegation to the Council of Europe. I believe that you, here in this Assembly, are the decision makers on that matter. As I understand it, you have made very clear the conditions for the return of the Russian delegation with full rights. As a prime minister, I cannot intervene in what parliamentarians do. That applies in my own country, as well. Whenever a parliament asks for advice on what it should do I always say that it is up to that parliament, which is always the supreme power. I fully understand why the decision on the Russian delegation was taken and believe that, very much like the European Union sanctions, it is a values-based decision that the Parliamentary Assembly has every legitimate reason to have taken.
Mr GHILETCHI (Republic of Moldova) – Prime Minister, I was glad to hear you mention in your speech the post-Soviet frozen conflicts – Transnistria in particular, but also the annexation of Crimea. So far, there has been very little progress, and in some cases no progress at all. Since Estonia has the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, what else can be done to achieve some progress?
Ms STEFANELLI (San Marino)* – Prime Minister, Estonia is noted for being the first country in Europe to adopt a system of electronic voting, or e-voting, in general elections. What major difficulties and concerns have there been in reconciling the secrecy of ballots with manipulations of or attacks on the IT system used? Does that present a major security risk or is voting on paper or by correspondence more risky?
Mr VAREIKIS (Lithuania) – Prime Minister, two countries in geographical Europe are not members of the Council of Europe, Belarus and Kosovo. Are their files on your political agenda during Estonia’s chairmanship?
Mr RŐIVAS – To answer first the question from the Moldovan delegate, it is very difficult for me to say what the key to progress is in all those frozen conflicts. But we should certainly stay united, keep up pressure and continue with dialogue so that we keep sending the message that intervening in other countries’ sovereign business is not the way to act in 21st century Europe.
I strongly believe that in 21st century Europe there should be no spheres of interest. All the countries you mentioned, including Moldova, have every right to choose democratically whether they take the path of becoming EU members or take any other path. It is fundamentally wrong for any other country, big or small, so say, “No, that it not your decision. We will take it for you.” That is basically what has happened in several countries, and that is wrong.
On the second question, we have had digital voting since 2005. The important fact to recognise is that having a secure digital identification system is at the core of digital voting. Many European countries have ID cards that can be used digitally. The worry is that most do not use those cards digitally. In Estonia we have used a digital identification system with a cryptographic key since the year 2000. That has made it possible for all services to be available online, because we can know for sure that the virtual person at the other end of the Internet connection is the actual person. Digital identification systems are key. Secondly, with any elections, secrecy and the freedom to make your own choice are also key. Our system is very much like that for voting in embassies using an envelope system. Let us say a Spanish citizen living in Strasbourg wants to vote in a Spanish election. They can vote in the embassy using the envelope system. In Estonia, we used to do things that way. The e-voting system is very similar, but as it is digital it is much more convenient.
Over the past 11 years, from the very beginning, the system has been audited by international auditors to make sure that it is strong enough not to be attacked. So far, there has not been a successful attack, and there have been no serious attempts to falsify anything. But there have to be safeguards. In theory, should there be a serious attack on the Estonian system, we could cancel e-voting and people could go to polling booths to vote on election day. We need to have such a plan B, but it is great that we have not needed to use it during the past 11 years. In the last parliamentary elections, every third person voted by using the Internet. It is interesting that both old and young people in Estonia use digital identification. It is needed for everything – for social security, for banking – and once people use it for other things, it is much easier for them to use it to vote. That is especially true for old people living in the countryside and for people living abroad. In the elections, there were votes from 116 countries where Estonian citizens are living. I believe that many of the Estonian civil servants working in Strasbourg voted using their digital identification system, not the envelope system in the embassy, so it made participating in democracy easier for them as well.
On the question about two countries becoming members of the Council of Europe, it is clear that one of them – Kosovo – has not, if I remember correctly, yet applied for membership, but if it does so, its application can be processed by the appropriate body. As for Belarus, I know that the death penalty question still needs to be dealt with properly. I believe both countries know what to do to apply for membership.
The PRESIDENT – Thank you, Mr Rőivas. As Mr Vovk is not here, I call Mr Flynn.
Mr FLYNN (United Kingdom) – How can the Council of Europe maintain its prime duty as the promoter of the best standards of human rights in the world if we tolerate flagrant breaches of human rights by our members? An investigation of such abuses was started in December, but little progress has been made. What can you do during your year of office, Mr Prime Minister, to ensure that every member of the Council of Europe supports the gold standards of human rights by example, not just by exhortation?
Mr NEGUTA (Republic of Moldova)* – Estonia and Moldova are two former Soviet countries. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, our countries and our political and economic systems were very close, but there is now a major difference between our two countries. Your country, Mr Prime Minister, has very well run democratic institutions. Regrettably, the reforms in my country are not going so well. What are the root causes of this situation?
Ms SCHOU (Norway) – Thank you, Mr Prime Minister, for my visit, as a member of the Standing Committee, to Tallinn in your beautiful country. The refugee and migration crisis is serious. Yesterday, we adopted a resolution about refugees at risk in Greece, which is carrying a disproportionate part of the burden caused by the influx of migrants and refugees to Europe. How can Estonia contribute to alleviating the situation in Greece, and what measures are you taking to fulfil your obligations under the relocation agreement?
Mr RŐIVAS – Thank you for your questions. The first is perhaps the easiest to answer. We should not tolerate violations of human rights in any of our member States. It is self-evident that we should all lead the way by showing an example.
The second question was about the difference between the progress of Moldova and that of Estonia. I am in no position to tell any other country what to do, and can only speak from Estonia’s experience about what has been helpful in making progress. The determined approach to the reform of society since we first regained our independence has clearly been key. We established the rule of law and moved as far as possible from the planned economy, which we all knew did not work in the Soviet Union. There are still a couple of countries, such as Cuba, that are experimenting with a planned economy, but it does not work. Our approach was to move our system as far away as possible from it by bringing in a market economy, which is the best economic model.
We also pursued membership of various international organisations. Joining the European Union was the hardest task because so many criteria had to be met. Looking in the rear-view mirror, we can see that meeting the vast majority of the criteria we had to meet to become a member of the European Union was actually useful for us. As we keep telling our people – this is the best example of something I can share – we did not do so for Brussels, even though doing so was obligatory if we were to become a member, but for ourselves, and that has proved beneficial for us. In historical perspective, another difference was that the departure of the occupying military power – the Russian military left Estonia back in 1994 – was also very helpful.
The third question was about refugees. Estonia is fully committed to fulfilling our part under the agreement made in the European Council, which decided that all countries would participate in the relocation and redistribution mechanism. I think that all countries should respect that commitment, which we reached voluntarily, and that it is our duty to do so. The start was slower than expected because of technical difficulties, but I am glad to say that our work with the Greek authorities is now much more effective – we are very grateful to the Greek authorities for working so closely with us on this matter – and the pace has now picked up. I believe that the same approach should be taken by all the countries that have committed to the relocation and redistribution programme. From the Estonian perspective, we have improved the legal situation in relation to relocation from Turkey. Previously, as we had no experience of that, there were some legal obstacles, but we have now more or less overcome them and are ready to help Turkey as much as we can.
Ms HUOVINEN (Finland) – Mr Prime Minister, as members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe we are very often concerned about the state of democracy on our continent and often ask ourselves what we could do better to strengthen citizens’ trust. You have already emphasised the role of ICT and e-voting, for example, but how do you see the digitisation and the use of ICT promoting our democracy even more?
Mr RŐIVAS – The biggest thing that we can achieve with ICT is to make our public services and public registers more transparent. Transparency is one of the key words in promoting efficiency and in providing the services where you are effective as a government. There is a saying that you cannot bribe a computer. That is an essential saying in a way, because once you make services digital in a very transparent way there is much less room for corruption and much more room for people to see for themselves how things work and for them to be certain that things are working in the most effective way possible.
Ms PASHAYEVA (Azerbaijan)* – Prime Minister, you underlined the fact that in Nagorno-Karabakh and elsewhere we are talking about frozen conflicts that are still awaiting a solution, but the reasons for that are the failure to implement decisions taken by international organisations and UN resolutions. Resolutions of this Parliamentary Assembly have remained dead letters and are not being put into practice. Do you have any thoughts on what can be done to encourage the implementation of such resolutions, and are these items still on your agenda?
Mr RŐIVAS – The best solution is almost always to stick to what we have agreed. As we discussed in relation to other issues, if resolutions are taken and agreements are made we should work according to them. It is not a magic solution, but sticking to the agreements that we have made is definitely useful.
Of course, we would all like the conflicts to be solved. One thing that we as parliamentarians from very different countries can do is keep them on our agenda until they are solved, because parliamentarians have something very powerful: a public platform from which to speak about issues. All of you as parliamentarians, in my humble opinion, can make the best use of that platform and keep the important conflicts on your agendas, just as I have while addressing you here. Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT – Thank you, Prime Minister, for this most interesting discussion. I look forward to continuing our co-operation during the rest of the Estonian chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers.
3. Next public business
THE PRESIDENT – The Assembly will hold its next public sitting this afternoon at 3.30 p.m., with the agenda that was approved on Monday morning.
The sitting is closed.
(The sitting was closed at 1.05 p.m.)
1. Debate: The functioning of democratic institutions in Turkey
Presentation by Ms Godskesen and Ms Vučković of the report of the Committee on the Honouring of Obligations and Commitments by Member States of the Council of Europe (Monitoring Committee), Document 14078 and addendum
Speakers: Mr Omtzigt, Ms Durrieu, Ms Brasseur, Mr Seyidov, Mr Hunko, Mr Pozzo di Borgo, Mr Rouquet, Ms Centemero, Ms Quéré, Mr Eseyan, Mr Dişli, Ms Naghdalyan, Mr Jensen, Mr Küçükcan, Mr Schwabe, Ms Bakoyannis, Ms Maij, Mr Gyöngyösi, Mr Yatim, Ms Pashayeva, Ms Duranton, Ms Günay, Mr Blanchart, Ms Schou, Ms Rawert, Mr Kürkçü, Mr Vareikis, Mr Heer, Mr Rustamyan, Ms Zalischuk.
2. Address by Mr Taavi Rőivas, Prime Minister of Estonia
Questions: Mr Kox, Mr Trenchev, Mr Jensen, Mr Daems, Mr Obremski, Mr Pozzo di Borgo, Lord Balfe, Mr Gopp, Mr Ghiletchi, Ms Stefanelli, Mr Vareikis, Mr Flynn, Mr Neguta, Ms Schou, Ms Huovinen, Ms Pashayeva.
3. Next public business
Representatives or Substitutes who signed the Attendance Register in accordance with Rule 12.2 of the Rules of Procedure. The names of Substitutes who replaced absent Representatives are printed in small letters. The names of those who were absent or apologised for absence are followed by an asterisk
Lord Donald ANDERSON
Anna ASCANI/ Eleonora Cimbro
Mehmet BABAOĞLU/Salih Firat
Gérard BAPT/Jean-Claude Frécon
Doris BARNETT/ Mechthild Rawert
José Manuel BARREIRO*
Guto BEBB/Lord Richard Balfe
Anna Maria BERNINI/Claudio Fazzone
Maria Teresa BERTUZZI*
Tilde BORK/Rasmus Nordqvist
Mladen BOSIĆ/Saša Magazinović
Piet De BRUYN
Margareta BUDNER/ Jarosław Obremski
Vannino CHITI/Carlo Lucherini
Lise CHRISTOFFERSEN/ Ingebjřrg Godskesen
Joseph DEBONO GRECH*
Manlio DI STEFANO
Francesc Xavier DOMENECH*
Sir Jeffrey DONALDSON
Alexander [The Earl of] DUNDEE*
Lady Diana ECCLES
Franz Leonhard EẞL
Joseph FENECH ADAMI*
Cătălin Daniel FENECHIU*
Doris FIALA/Elisabeth Schneider-Schneiter
Daniela FILIPIOVÁ/Ivana Dobešová
Axel E. FISCHER
Sir Roger GALE
Xavier GARCÍA ALBIOL*
José Ramón GARCÍA HERNÁNDEZ*
Mihai GHIMPU/Alina Zotea
Francesco Maria GIRO
Carlos Alberto GONÇALVES
Oleksii GONCHARENKO/Sergiy Vlasenko
Alina Ștefania GORGHIU/Maria Grecea
Sylvie GOY-CHAVENT/ Yves Pozzo Di Borgo
Dzhema GROZDANOVA/Milena Damyanova
Emine Nur GÜNAY
Maria GUZENINA/Susanna Huovinen
Andrzej HALICKI/Killion Munyama
Michael HENNRICH/ Thomas Feist
Johannes HÜBNER/Barbara Rosenkranz
Ekmeleddin Mehmet İHSANOĞLU
Denis JACQUAT/ Frédéric Reiss
Michael Aastrup JENSEN*
Frank J. JENSSEN
Aleksandar JOVIČIĆ/ Stefana Miladinović
Filiz KERESTECİOĞLU DEMİR
Danail KIRILOV/Krasimira Kovachka
Bogdan KLICH/ Aleksander Pociej
Ksenija KORENJAK KRAMAR
Alev KORUN/ Eduard Köck
Rom KOSTŘICA/Gabriela Pecková
Borjana KRIŠTO/Bariša Čolak
Eerik-Niiles KROSS/Andres Herkel
Yuliya L OVOCHKINA/Svitlana Zalischuk
Pierre-Yves LE BORGN’/Pascale Crozon
Jean-Yves LE DÉAUT/ Catherine Quéré
Luís LEITE RAMOS
Inese LĪBIŅA-EGNERE/ Boriss Cilevičs
François LONCLE/Genevičve Gosselin-Fleury
Soňa MARKOVÁ/Pavel Holík
Liliane MAURY PASQUIER
Sir Alan MEALE
Ermira MEHMETI DEVAJA/Imer Aliu
Ana Catarina MENDES*
Anouchka van MILTENBURG/Tineke Strik
Thomas MÜLLER/Roland Rino Büchel
Johan NISSINEN/Markus Wiechel
Carina OHLSSON/Eva-Lena Jansson
Florin Costin PÂSLARU*
Jaana PELKONEN/Olli-Poika Parviainen
Cezar Florin PREDA*
John PRESCOTT/ Paul Flynn
Lia QUARTAPELLE PROCOPIO/Giuseppe Galati
Melisa RODRÍGUEZ HERNÁNDEZ*
Helena ROSETA/António Filipe Rodrigues
Vincenzo SANTANGELO/Maria Edera Spadoni
Aleksandar SENIĆ/Vesna Marjanović
Paula SHERRIFF/ Baroness Doreen Massey
Arturas SKARDŽIUS/Egidijus Vareikis
Olena SOTNYK/Serhii Kiral
Ionuț-Marian STROE/Ion Popa
Krzysztof TRUSKOLASKI/ Krzysztof Sitarski
İbrahim Mustafa TURHAN*
Leyla Şahin USTA/Lütfiye Ilksen Ceritoğlu Kurt
Snorre Serigstad VALEN/Kristin Řrmen Johnsen
Mart van de VEN*
Vladimir VORONIN/Maria Postoico
Draginja VUKSANOVIĆ/Snežana Jonica
Katrin WERNER/Annette Groth
Marie-Jo ZIMMERMANN/Marie-Christine Dalloz
Levon ZOURABIAN/Armen Rustamyan
Vacant Seat, Croatia*
Vacant Seat, Cyprus*
Representatives and Substitutes not authorised to vote
Hans Fredrik GRŘVAN
Ulises RAMÍREZ NÚŃEZ
Miguel ROMO MEDINA
Partners for Democracy
Mme Nezha EL OUAFI
Mr Bernard SABELLA