AS (2017) CR 13
2017 ORDINARY SESSION
Tuesday 25 April 2017 at 3.30 p.m.
In this report:
1. Speeches in English are reported in full.
2. Speeches in other languages are reported using the interpretation and are marked with an asterisk.
3. 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
4. Speeches in German and Italian are reproduced in full in a separate document.
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 report.
(Mr Rouquet, Vice-President of the Assembly, took the Chair at 3.35 p.m.)
The PRESIDENT* – The sitting is open.
1. Questions to Mr Thorbjřrn Jagland, Secretary General of the Council of Europe
The PRESIDENT* – I now welcome Mr Thorbjřrn Jagland, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, who will answer questions from members of the Assembly. I remind colleagues that questions must be limited to 30 seconds. Colleagues should ask questions and not make speeches. As Mr Zingeris is not here, I call Ms Finckh-Krämer.
Ms FINCKH-KRÄMER (Germany, Spokesperson for the Socialist Group)* – What should the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe do to eliminate any suspicion of vested interest or corruption among the staff of the Council of Europe or delegates from the Parliamentary Assembly? How can we eliminate such cases in future?
Mr JAGLAND (Secretary General of the Council of Europe) – Thank you for that question. First, I have to make it clear that there cannot be any tolerance of any kind of corruption in the Council of Europe. We have a very solid system in place, covering the entire Secretariat of the Council of Europe. We have an investigator working full time. If there is any, even a small, suspicion that there has been any kind of corruption, fraud or irregularity it is immediately investigated by that person. That is in place, and we have an internal and an external audit. We have a very solid system in place for the whole Secretariat.
I, as Secretary General, cannot start any investigation of the Parliamentary Assembly – that must be decided by the Parliamentary Assembly itself. The Bureau has made a clear decision about an external investigation of the allegations that have been floating around, and because the Bureau failed to do that at the meeting in Madrid I wrote a letter to the President of the Assembly urging the Bureau to take immediate action. Such allegations cannot float around without being properly investigated. That is what the Bureau has now done, and I foresee a quick follow up on the matter.
I have all sympathy with the Parliamentary Assembly in this situation. It is difficult for you to have gone through this recent difficult time. There have been allegations of some having been involved in irregular activities. I do not know whether those are true or untrue, but it is difficult for all those who are totally innocent in this business. That is why it is so important to have clarity about it.
Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom, Spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) – I want to stick with corruption for the moment. We have been faced with issues of corruption since about 2012, and I am sure we would all like to ask what it is that you, personally, have been doing to try to combat them?
Mr JAGLAND – As I told you, I have taken action against any kind of allegation or suspicion of corruption in the Secretariat. There is a person in place in the Secretariat full time to investigate any small allegation or suspicion that corruption has taken place. We have an external audit and an internal audit, so we have a very solid system.
What I cannot do, of course, is start an investigation of the Parliamentary Assembly – that is in the hands of the Assembly itself – but I very much support the approach taken by the Assembly’s Secretary General, Wojciech Sawicki, and what he tried to start. I note that the Bureau has followed up on that.
Mr van de VEN (Netherlands, Spokesperson for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe) – Yesterday, we voted in the plenary on a request for an urgent procedure debate on introducing an impeachment procedure for members holding elected office in the Parliamentary Assembly. The vote was not carried; we were one vote short of the required two-thirds majority. As Secretary General, you have the power of political initiative in the Committee of Ministers. My question is whether you would consider raising with that committee the issue of introducing impeachment procedures for members who hold elected office. What do you consider to be the pros and cons of formulating such procedures?
Mr JAGLAND – As I have already said, the Parliamentary Assembly has to decide on its own procedures, but I have also made it clear that if the Assembly’s procedures or activities are harming its basic functions, that affects the whole Organisation, and I intervene, as I did by sending a letter to the President of the Assembly. As I said in the letter, the Parliamentary Assembly elects judges to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), the Commissioner for Human Rights and the Secretary General, and that must be done with full integrity. We have to be sure that the Assembly works with 100% integrity. I therefore urge the Assembly always to take action on anything that is not in conformity with that basic principle, but the decision has to be in the hands of the Assembly.
Ms KERESTECIOĞLU DEMIR (Turkey, Spokesperson for the Group of the Unified European Left) – Thousands of citizens are waiting for justice in Turkey. It has been decided to establish an inquiry commission to examine the cases of citizens affected by the decree laws in Turkey, but the commission has not been established, despite the call you made, Mr Jagland. Do you think that the commission has become a distracting factor for applicants to the European Court of Human Rights, and does not extending the application process to the ECHR violate the right to a fair trial within a reasonable period of time?
Mr JAGLAND – Thank you for that question, because I have heard that said, but it is not true. What we have established is a judicial remedy for all those in Turkey who were affected by the decree laws. By the way, they were found guilty in law, so the problem for us, as we have said to the Turkish authorities, is that that was totally unacceptable, because if you are seen as being guilty in law, there is no judicial remedy, because a court cannot contest a law; it can only interpret the law. We therefore said, “You have to put in place a commission that can go through all these cases, so that we open up a judicial avenue for these people.” That is what happened. If that had not taken place, and all those people came to the Court here, the Court would say, “You first have to establish whether you have a remedy at a domestic level, in conformity with the European Convention on Human Rights.” The Court has to follow the Convention. It would take years to establish what we have in place now, so this is a much speedier avenue for all these people. It is urgent that the commission be appointed, and that it starts work immediately.
Of course, it is very important to bear it in mind that the Court here will follow this carefully, to see whether the commission is working in an independent way. If it does not, and the people do not get a fair process, the Court can say, “There is no judicial domestic remedy,” and can intervene, but there was no choice, under the Convention, other than going this way. Coming directly to the Court would only postpone the whole process for the many people affected. That is the first point.
The second point regards all those who have been arrested – journalists and parliamentarians. For them, too, the Court is the only remedy, if there is no domestic fair process. With regard to the journalists who have already complained to our Court, it has said that if processes do not start soon in Turkey, our Court will have the right to intervene, but, first, one has to see whether there is a domestic judicial remedy for these people. Of course, for all those who have been arrested, our Court is the last resort. I do not see any other tool that can give justice to all these people. We have to keep that in mind. We have to do this right; otherwise, it will harm the rights of, and possibilities for, all the people affected by the attempted coup. I have conveyed that clearly to the Turkish authorities. When the Turkish Justice Minister was here recently, I said that the process has to start for the journalists; otherwise our Court will have to intervene, which would conform with the Convention. For all the dismissed people, the remedy is there. We put it in place, and we have to follow the rules, so it is important that it starts working.
The PRESIDENT* – Thank you. With your permission, Secretary General, I will take three questions at a time. I call first Mr Fournier from France.
Mr FOURNIER (France)* – The election of Donald Trump in the United States could usher in an era of diplomatic uncertainty, and we should remain cautious, as shown by the recent American military intervention in Syria. In that context, how do you envisage our relations with the United States, which has observer status in the Council of Europe?
Mr GONCHARENKO (Ukraine) – The human rights situation in Crimea, which has been illegally annexed by the Russian Federation, is horrible. Putin’s regime is trying to turn Crimea into the land of impunity and fear, and that was confirmed by a recent International Court of Justice decision. Secretary General, what concrete steps will you take to ensure that the Council of Europe’s human rights monitoring mechanisms get access to Crimea?
Mr Rafael HUSEYNOV (Azerbaijan) – In order to evade responding to the military conflict between two member States and Armenian aggression towards Azerbaijan, the Council of Europe states, as usual, that the main response comes from the OSCE Minsk Group. The United States, one of the group’s co-chairs, recently gave Armenia the modern C4ISR military intelligence system. Another co-chair, Russia, has provided Armenia with the Iskander mobile short-range ballistic missile system. If co-chairs are strengthening the military of one side in the conflict, how can they be a fair jury?
Mr JAGLAND – As Mr Fournier said, the United States is an observer to the Council of Europe every week in the Committee of Ministers, and I do not think the United States election will change anything about that. President Trump and his team may want to change their status in the Council of Europe, but there are no signs of that. We will continue to tell the Americans that we are against the death penalty and to try to convince Washington and all the states on that. However, we have good relations with the United States as an observer, and I think that will continue.
I thank Mr Goncharenko for the question about Crimea. I can once again make it clear that looking after the rights of those living in Crimea, as well as those of everyone in the Council of Europe’s territory, is at the top of my agenda. We cannot have a grey zone. That is why I sent a human rights mission to Crimea to make the first observations and to try to pave the way for other monitoring mechanisms. I must tell the Assembly that I have received alarming reports of the situation in Crimea’s prisons, and we should insist on sending the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment to Crimea. We have one thing on our mind: caring about the people of Crimea and, in this case, vulnerable people in the prisons. It could be a first for us, and no one can deny us the right to do that. I will continue to pursue the policy – I started a long time ago – of doing everything that I can to get our monitoring bodies to look into the situation in Crimea. I have the same policy when it comes to other so-called grey zones. We have to look after the rights of the people and cannot get involved in anything political that might impede our access. Action must happen in accordance with the principles of the Council of Europe, and our position is clear on the status of Crimea, but we are dealing with the people who live in Crimea, regardless of its future status.
As for the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, I have nothing to say except that the situation is in the hands of the Minsk Group, which regrettably has not invited us to take part in the process – if there is one. If they want stronger involvement on human rights, we would be glad to do that, but we must not do anything to harm the process that is being run by the so-called Minsk Group.
Mr GHILETCHI (Republic of Moldova) – About two years ago, I raised an issue about NGOs with participatory status, and the Secretary General said that the rules would be revised. As far as I know, the rules have not yet been revised. When can we expect the necessary changes to allow NGOs that were denied participatory status to appeal?
The PRESIDENT* – Mr Kandemir and Ms Mikko are not here, so I call Robert Troy.
Mr TROY (Ireland) – Secretary General, are you aware of the case of Irish and European citizen Ibrahim Halawa, who was arrested as a minor and has been imprisoned by the Egyptian authorities for almost four years? His mass trial has been suspended on over 20 occasions. He is being held in appalling conditions, and his health is deteriorating rapidly. What can this Assembly do to advance this man’s case?
Ms CHRISTOFFERSEN (Norway) – The first in a series of planned executions took place in Arkansas on Friday. Another two people were executed last night. In June last year, the Secretary General announced proposals at the Committee of Ministers to strengthen Council of Europe action to fight the death penalty worldwide. In which way, if any, can the Council of Europe contribute to ending the use of the death penalty in the United States?
Mr JAGLAND – I have not been updated on the NGO issue, but I am going to Chișinău in a few weeks’ time, and I hope to see Mr Ghilețchi there to give him an answer.
As for the situation in Egypt, we do not have a mandate, but we of course care about human rights there, and I do have contact with human rights defenders in Egypt from time to time. Not that long ago, someone was unfortunately forced out of the Egyptian Parliament due to his involvement in human rights issues. It is a very difficult matter and I am afraid that there is not so much that the Council of Europe can do.
With regard to the death penalty in the United States, it is true that we continue to co-operate with other forces in the world that are working for the abolition of the death penalty, mainly through the United Nations framework, in which we have an important place with regard to this issue. We will continue to push, and we also protest against any capital punishment that takes place in the United States. It is high on our agenda, and we also need to ensure that the death penalty does not return to our own continent. That is a fundamental point on which I think everyone here would agree.
Mr LE BORGN’ (France)* – My question is on the situation of Alexey Pichugin, who was deprived of his freedom in Russia in two successive Court rulings, which were a breach of fair trial rules as enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights and as reiterated by the Court in a judgment that has not been executed. The situation is intolerable. I am the rapporteur responsible for executing judgments of the Court and I wonder whether you have talked about his case with the Russian authorities, which both you and we can do.
Mr KÖCK (Austria)* – Trafficking is a very negative activity, but it is also a very profitable business. Every day, people are dying in the Mediterranean Sea. What strategy does the Council of Europe have on trafficking and how do you intend to combat this scourge?
Mr HONKONEN (Finland) – The position of freedom of speech and academic freedom is really weakening in Hungary. The Hungarian Parliament has confirmed a bill that aims to deny the work of the Central European University in Budapest. From your point of view, what is the situation in Hungary and what is the role of this Assembly in protecting academic freedom?
Mr JAGLAND – Yes, Mr Le Borgn’, this particular case and judgment is now under the auspices of the Committee of Ministers. As you know, it has a collective responsibility to implement judgments and it has insisted on action being taken on the Russian side in this case. It will come up again in the committee that is dealing with the execution of judgments.
I am grateful for the question on migration in Europe. We do not have any authority when it comes to upholding the Schengen borders or what happens in the Mediterranean Sea, although of course we care a lot about it – like many others in Europe. We all mind what happens when these people arrive on the continent of Europe. First, they must have a fair chance to apply for asylum or refugee status to stay in Europe. We care very much about unaccompanied children, or minors, who are an increasing problem in Europe, especially in relation to trafficking. Several member States have tightened their laws and regulations on family reunification. For instance, when I was in Athens I spoke with minors at a centre who had come alone to Greece. One of the boys had a family elsewhere in Europe but could not reunite with them because of the new family reunification law that had been passed. He is stuck in Greece and the danger is that he will disappear and try to join his parents.
Many countries are also adopting new rules on temporary residence until minors turn 18, and many disappear because they are afraid that they will be expelled when they reach that age. Many are now on their own around Europe and they are picked up by traffickers and people who want to exploit them. It is becoming a huge problem for Europe that so many minors are on their own and being exploited by dark forces. We are creating a security problem for ourselves by adopting these new rules and regulations, and we have called on our governments to look at this.
My Special Representative, Tomás Boček, is looking at the situation and discussing it with governments. At the forthcoming ministerial meeting in Nicosia, I hope that we will adopt an action plan for unaccompanied children and minors. We pay special attention to this issue because it is contributing to the problems of trafficking and security in Europe.
The Hungarian Minister of Justice was in my office yesterday, and we had a very long meeting. We went through all the issues that are now topical in Hungary – the future of the university in Budapest, the NGO laws and the detention centres that have been established at the border between Serbia and Hungary. We agreed that the Council of Europe experts should look all those matters and enter into a dialogue with the government to see what can be done to rectify the measures that they are taking. We spoke in detail about the NGO laws, for instance, and I said that it is unacceptable for laws or measures to stigmatise the NGO community. We agreed that we should look into whether that is the case or not. There is a process between us and the Hungarian authorities on those three issues.
Ms HOFFMANN (Hungary)* – Those who have spoken before me asked questions, but I want to take the opportunity to say that I deplore the fact that in this very busy session, with a heavy schedule in which we must talk about a number of very serious problems, we are dealing with false or exaggerated conflicts when it comes to Hungary. In your view, what will be the outcome of the Hungarian problems that have been referred to?
The PRESIDENT* – I can see neither Mr Ariev nor Mr Farmanyan, so I give the floor to Mr Zingeris, who has managed to get under the wire again.
Mr ZINGERIS (Lithuania, Spokesperson for the Group of the European People’s Party) – My question is about recent events concerning the LGBT community in Chechnya. There has been State-ordered, systematic and massive targeting of the homosexual community. What is your opinion about such events? Victims have come here to make statements, and I think we should give them massive support.
Mr JAGLAND – On the Hungarian issue, I do not know what the outcome of the debate here will be, but I would like to say that in general one has to keep in mind the fact that the Council of Europe is a huge body with many institutions, and it should be highly regarded. We are monitoring the situation in all 47 member States: in Turkey, Hungary and Norway – everywhere. All the monitoring bodies on the intergovernmental side are working permanently in all member countries.
The Commissioner for Human Rights is working permanently and travelling around. He has written many reports and is keeping his eyes on Turkey and on other countries all the time. There is the Venice Commission and the European Court of Human Rights and there is heavy monitoring as a result of the Court. All the Council of Europe’s activities must be taken into account. Then there are the discussions in the Parliamentary Assembly. I am talking about the case of Hungary as well as Turkey. We have channels to discuss all the matters that concern us and we do that.
I thank Mr Zingeris for his question because it is important for me to say the following about the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender situation. We cannot tolerate any discrimination or violence against LGBT people; they have the same rights as everybody else under the European Convention on Human Rights. When I heard the allegations about Chechnya, I immediately contacted – I also wrote a letter – the ombudsperson of the Russian Federation asking for information on what had happened. I raised it in the Committee of Ministers and the ambassador of the Russian Federation said that the issue was of great concern for the authorities, which will investigate and give me information on what has happened. You can rest assured that I have my eyes on the issue. As I explained, the other monitoring bodies of the Council of Europe are also involved.
As you know, my annual report was issued only a couple of weeks ago. It pays special attention to populist tendencies in Europe. Actions against LGBT people such as those alleged in Chechnya are the worst type of populist action I can think of. Populism is very much linked to attacks on minorities to divert attention from other things and increase power for those already in power or those who want to gain it. Actions against minorities in Europe are the worst kind of populism. We have already seen it and it is unfortunately still present on this continent. It was very important for me to say this.
The PRESIDENT* – That concludes the list of questions to Mr Jagland. I thank him warmly for his answers.
2. Progress report of the Bureau and the Standing Committee and
observation of the early parliamentary elections in Bulgaria (continuation of debate)
The PRESIDENT* – The next item on the agenda is the continuation of the debate on the progress report of the Bureau and Standing Committee, Document 14289 and Addenda 1, 2 and 3, which started yesterday morning. This is combined with consideration of the report of the Ad Hoc Committee of the Bureau on the observation of the early parliamentary elections in Bulgaria of 26 March 2017, Document 14294.
I remind members that speaking time in this debate is limited to three minutes. We will finish the debate at 5 p.m. at the latest. To start the debate, I call Mr Németh.
Mr NÉMETH (Hungary, Spokesperson for the Group of the European People’s Party) – I congratulate Bulgaria on its successful elections. As a rapporteur in the monitoring committee for Bulgaria, I closely followed developments in the country. The management of the elections was more than satisfactory.
I would also like to touch on the external independent investigation into corruption. On the one hand, I am glad that we have finally been able to merge the three concepts and that the Bureau could come to a consensus on the basis of previous political discussions. On the other hand, I would also like to express my disappointment. The Bureau disregarded the kind of gentlemen’s agreement concerning the procedure that was adopted among the different political groups in the presidential committee. I believe that that is a very bad precedent because no amendments could be tabled on behalf of colleagues.
I do not believe that we have proceeded in the most democratic way, so we need to find some kind of solution. For that reason, I have an idea for Bureau members to consider. We have established the possibility of a liaison sub-committee of the Bureau to follow closely developments in the investigation of corruption. That is foreseen in the document. We need to find an early way and means of establishing that liaison sub-committee to find a solution to the issue of problematic procedure as well. It would be advisable for the sub-committee to import elements of European Parliament procedure. I thank colleagues for their attention. I thank the rapporteur very much for his work.
Mr SCHWABE (Germany, Spokesperson for the Socialist Group)* – We need to agree that the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe is in crisis. That was shown in the debate yesterday and in the events today with the President. I do not want to exacerbate the issue, but I cannot imagine that that can be solved with President Agramunt. He has to face the music.
We are responsible for 47 member States and many millions of people. We elect the judges to the European Court of Human Rights. We carry the values of the rule of law, democracy and human rights. We must meet that privilege and duty, and we must make great demands on ourselves. What is not conscionable is that networks have been built to protect States against allegations of human rights violations. We are here for the 820 million people. We should try to protect them and, where violations occur, we should point that out.
The corruption allegations are leading to a deep crisis in this Organisation. They could be fatal for this Organisation if we do not clarify things and shed light on those events. That is why the answers given this week and the decision we are about to make are so crucial. It is of elementary importance that we recognise that we should have an external investigatory committee. We cannot solve this internally. We need three people – I am sure we can find them – about whom we have no doubts and who have absolute integrity. We are convinced that we must have direct reporting back to the Assembly. That is why I am suggesting that we do not go along with the sub-committee proposal. It is important that the report comes straight back to this Assembly. We need all Assembly members to co-operate and we need protection for whistleblowers if the investigation is to be effective.
In this parlous situation, where I think we can all see the right answers, the debate is about integrity and returning to normality. It will be awful if we have to talk about visits to Syria by the President and other members of the Assembly and other such distractions. The President’s visit is perhaps only the tip of the iceberg. Unfortunately, from the start, he did not help himself in terms of the corruption allegations by NGOs, for example. We need to have the strength to look forward. I hope that it will be with a different President.
Ms BRASSEUR (Luxembourg, Spokesperson for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe)* – I would like to raise two issues: the visit to Syria by three of our members and allegations of corruption.
On the visit to Syria, today, during the hearing, and yesterday in the inaugural address by our President, he said, “Indeed, the way in which certain media presented the visit has put our Parliamentary Assembly and our Organisation as a whole in a very complex situation.” It is not the media but three members of the Assembly and the President of the Assembly, who visited Syria, who have put this Assembly in a difficult situation. He needs to realise that. The explanation he gave today and yesterday is not satisfactory – far from it.
Yesterday, ALDE decided to publish a communiqué. I would like to read out an extract from it: “The ALDE-PACE resolutely condemns and strongly deplores the visit of the President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe Pedro Agramunt to Syria. We also condemn and strongly deplore the participation in this visit of two ALDE members – the Chair of the PACE Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights Alain Destexhe and the President of our political group Jordi Xuclŕ. The meeting with Bashar al-Assad which took place during this visit raises particular concerns.” Our group has condemned the President’s visit.
On the allegations of corruption, there has been a tendency in this Organisation to have a rules committee and to counter the initial proposal by the Bureau to establish an independent oversight body. The Secretary General of the Assembly took the mandate of the Bureau to come forward with a proposal. That was not accepted. We started to shilly-shally. I was shocked when I realised that there was a desire to confer that responsibility on an internal body in the Assembly. It has been suggested that that body be enlarged to include NGOs and members of staff. We would be making NGOs responsible for the whole issue. I do not understand that. If we really want to combat corruption, we have to put our own house in order. We should start to do that as soon as possible.
Mr KOX (Netherlands, Spokesperson for the Group of the Unified European Left) – We are living in turbulent times, in which our common core values – human rights, the rule of law and democracy – are under heavy pressure. Traditional parties are losing ground because citizens are disappointed by their inability to give proper political answers to challenges in our societies. New political forces are on the rise and present themselves as alternatives. Partly they are positive and may give new hope to our citizens, but partly they are negative and focus on creating fear in our citizens’ minds. The extreme right is stronger than ever, attacking fundamental values in our societies. Unfortunately, those extreme right forces get a lot of support from parts of our population. The number of votes on Sunday for the candidate of the Front National in France was very worrying, as was the result of the so-called Liberty Party in my country, the Netherlands, a month ago. On Wednesday, we will have the chance to discuss the rise of xenophobia, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia and how to stop this dangerous development throughout our member States.
There are even more worries with regard to what is happening in one of our oldest member States, Turkey. This morning, we discussed the functioning of democratic institutions in Turkey, a debate for which we asked in January, but which was postponed until this morning. The UEL welcomes that debate and applauds the decision to reopen the monitoring procedure. The citizens of Turkey deserve our utmost attention and assistance to put their country back on the right track, with functioning democratic institutions and full respect for the rule of law and fundamental freedoms.
While outside this building the world is in turmoil, we have created our own internal turmoil. The proper functioning of our President is under question, related to his irresponsible visit to President Assad of Syria. In today’s hearing, we heard the answers of our President to the questions of members. Although I was disappointed by the level of the answers, I welcome the President’s statement that he will reconsider his position, come back to the issue in Friday’s Bureau meeting and inform the Assembly accordingly.
Other internal turmoil has reached the outside world as well: the worrying allegations of corruption of some members or former members of this Assembly. Those allegations are doing great harm to the credibility of our Assembly, so it is absolutely necessary to proceed as soon as possible with an independent external investigation. It had already been decided to have such an investigation in January, and I am happy that yesterday afternoon our Bureau concluded the modalities of the external investigation. The independent external investigation will now be able to start to shed light on possible corruption within our Assembly.
If we want to remain a relevant inter-parliamentary European body with regard to the protection and promotion of human rights, the rule of law and democracy – something that is so needed in these turbulent and dangerous times – we have to clean our own house as soon as possible. Only if we really and sincerely take care to uphold our own credibility can we ask our parliaments and our governments to accept our reports, resolutions and recommendations on how to uphold our core values in all our member States.
Ms DURANTON (France)* – On 26 March I was able to observe the early elections in Bulgaria on behalf of the Assembly, together with my compatriot Marie-Christine Dalloz – I take the opportunity to thank her for an excellent report.
For Bulgaria, it was high stakes: first and foremost, economic and social developments. Bulgaria is the poorest member State of the European Union, and approximately 1 million people have left in the recent past. There could be a further decrease in the near future. Moreover, minorities such as the Roma and the Turkic-speaking population represent about 30% of the total.
Democratic issues are also at stake. Fifty-four per cent. of the population took part in the parliamentary elections, the sixth poll since 2013. That figure goes to prove that fatigue has set in among the people. The level of corruption is high and to this day the media remain very sensitive to private interests.
Political life in Bulgaria is unstable and suffers from a lack of renewal. The poor results achieved by the reformist bloc are testament to that effect. The early elections were called by President Radev, who had himself been elected in November of the previous year. Broadly speaking, the elections took place peacefully, and they can be deemed to be democratic.
The legislation and the electoral code could still be improved in various ways – on media ownership, political party funding, and the greater integration of minorities in the electoral process. Those remain areas that need to improve still. I am optimistic about co-operation between the Bulgarian authorities and the Council of Europe and its institutions.
For only the fourth time since 2009 – in 2013 and 2014, too – has the party of the Prime Minister won the elections. He will therefore be called upon to lead the next Government, a coalition including the nationalist parties. I very much hope for greater political stability in the near future, which is necessary if the country is to meet the challenges that lie ahead.
It is also important to remember that Bulgaria will be assuming the presidency of the European Union. We welcome the integration of Bulgaria into Europe. The authorities are pro-European, although they also enjoy pragmatic relations with Russia – that has to do with the history of Bulgaria. Notwithstanding all that, Bulgaria should also think about excessive politicisation of the highest echelons of the authorities.
Finally, Sofia should also have balanced relations with Ankara, because the Bulgarian-Turkish border is an important issue for the protection of our European borders. Bulgaria has an important role to play in that respect and will be important to the European project in future.
The PRESIDENT* – Thank you. Mr Chugoshvili is not here, so I call Mr Sobolev.
Mr SOBOLEV (Ukraine)* – I hope that we can discuss openly, perhaps for the first time in the history of this Organisation, the work of the Bureau and our main organs. However, that is not the best way of discussing such matters, because when we read the report we can find nothing about the Syrian visit or the main problems of corruption.
First, I thank Mr Sawicki for his principled position in the Bureau, where he proposed how to solve the problem of corruption in this Assembly. The problem is not only Mr Sawicki’s; it is a problem of the whole Assembly. He has planned how to investigate everything. Now the plan is that of the whole Assembly.
Secondly, I cannot imagine how the rapporteur could say nothing about his visit to Syria – if it was not an official visit, he still had to report it, especially after all the scandal in this Assembly.
Thirdly, Mr Xuclŕ, how can you be a rapporteur on the Ukrainian question if you use a military flight of the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation to go to Syria? If you are an honest man, please say, “This is a conflict of interest and I cannot do the work of investigating the process of democracy and transparency in Ukraine when using a Russian military aeroplane.”
Perhaps for the first time we have used all our efforts to avoid the use of Byzantine methods in European life. I want to thank everyone for the open discussion we had today at 1 o’clock. It is the beginning of the process to clean not only this Assembly but all our European house of anything that does not let us be honest before our constituents.
Mr ORELLANA (Italy)* – I thank those of our colleagues who were part of the monitoring mission for the Bulgarian elections. I thank the Secretariat and the Venice Commission for their excellent work and the report that they produced.
I have visited Bulgaria several times on monitoring missions for parliamentary and local elections. Some things are said frequently about elections in Bulgaria – how things should be improved and how there should be greater transparency and better media coverage. There should also be better coverage of the seats abroad and of the different ethnic groups in Bulgaria. Such things have been mentioned several times in the past and were pointed out by the Venice Commission in the recently observed elections.
I remind you that Bulgaria has held elections six times between 2013 and today. I hope that the new parliament will update electoral legislation, so that we do not have to repeat the same criticisms about future elections in that country.
Mr SEYIDOV (Azerbaijan)* – Let me express my gratitude to the rapporteur for the report, which is important because a progress report reflects on activities that we have done and are going to do. Given that, this part-session has given us a lot of thoughts and ideas about how we have to change all our rules, but above all the code of conduct. Without a serious approach to the code, which should be revised, it will be impossible to prevent such scandals, discussions and problematic issues as we have had here in the Chamber.
Unfortunately, these problems do not just touch on the code of conduct. As I said during the debate on Turkey, the time has come to discuss our monitoring procedure, which does not reflect realities. I can give one example. During the discussion of the Turkish question, the rapporteur quoted Ms Durrieu as saying that monitoring enables us to establish friendships. Okay, but, if so, why is the Parliamentary Assembly establishing friendships with only 12 countries, not 47? If monitoring is good, acceptable and healthy, why is it applied to only 12 countries? We should do our best to seek out the problems not only within countries but within the Parliamentary Assembly – in our rules and our behaviour.
Today we have discussed a case of corruption within our Assembly, which shows a vivid paradox and contradiction between the existence of this Organisation and the absence of any ability for it to reflect the realities that we see around us. The problem of refugees exists everywhere, but unfortunately we have not been able to find the solution. Today, approximately nine of the 47 countries are at war with each other, which is why the Council of Europe, and especially the Parliamentary Assembly, should think about what we can do within our Organisation before appealing to individual countries.
Mr Rafael HUSEYNOV (Azerbaijan) – Each parliamentary election held in a member State is particularly important for our Organisation, as the composition of the Parliamentary Assembly is shaped in accordance with the outcome of those elections. We are therefore obliged to watch each election attentively, analyse developments and make conclusions.
The early parliamentary elections held in Bulgaria on 26 March have generally been assessed positively despite the various shortcomings and breaches. Unfortunately, similar words cannot be said about the elections held on 2 April in Armenia. I am not basing that conclusion solely on the numerous pieces of information provided by active members of Armenian society. In fact, I do not even base it on the opinion of the local so-called “civil observers”, although the deplorable conclusion from the observations and analysis of 3 112 members of that group is that the parliamentary elections were accompanied by numerous violations and have completely decimated people’s confidence in elections.
Instead, I direct attention to the conclusions of the observation missions sent by respected international organisations. Ignacio Sánchez Amor, the co-ordinator of the OSCE’s short-term observation mission, affirms that the mission directly witnessed repeated and cruel violations of the rights of the media. Heidi Hautala, the head of the European Parliament’s election observation mission, has stated that based on authentic information in the possession of the mission, the parliamentary elections in Armenia included the wholesale buying of votes, numerous breaches of law and large-scale pressure on voters.
Because of the numerous shortcomings and crimes, Piotr Switalski, the head of the European Union’s election observation mission, has described the elections in Armenia using the laconic term “political corruption”, which can be perceived as an innovation in the political lexicon. He also makes the interesting assessment that the most unbelievable case in the Armenian elections – and the most bizarre election fraud that he has ever observed – was voting by mentally ill persons in hospital under the control of physicians. However, for the sake of justice and objectiveness I cannot agree that that is bizarre – on the contrary, it is believable and logical, and it has symbolic meaning. Only the insane and crazy people could vote for the Armenian authorities, which have deprived their nation of development and progress, thus putting it into a miserable state and pulling it into a whirlpool of economic and moral upheaval.
The PRESIDENT* – I call Mr Tarczyński on a point of order.
Mr TARCZYŃSKI (Poland) – The decision on the current allegations could not be amended in the Bureau, and now we find that it cannot be amended in the Assembly. It is strange that the Assembly is not allowed to decide on such an important and delicate subject, so I insist that the Assembly be able to speak to my amendments, which I am happy to move orally now. Alternatively, we could postpone the debate and have it on Friday. I want my proposals to be voted on in the Assembly, as that was not possible in the Bureau. I call on every colleague to support them.
The PRESIDENT* – Mr Tarczyński, the Rules of Procedure do not allow me to concede that point.
Mr KANDELAKI (Georgia) – I want to draw the attention of the members of the Bureau and the Standing Committee, and all members present, to the Secretary General’s consolidated report on the conflict in Georgia, which describes the state of affairs in the Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia – the Tskihinvali region – currently occupied by the Russian Federation.
The report describes the restrictions that the Russian Federation, as an occupying power, has imposed and then deepened in those regions. It has restricted the right of instruction and education in the Georgian language, restricted the freedom of movement of the very few people who still cross the occupation line, continued the kidnappings of Georgian nationals by FSB border troops who are illegally stationed along the occupation line, and restricted the property rights of those who have been driven out of those territories – that is, the majority of the population, who were ethnically cleansed. Back in 2009 and 2010, the Assembly declared Russia responsible for carrying out that ethnic cleansing in those territories.
Most importantly, the Secretary General’s report declares the Russian Federation to be the power that exercises effective control upon those territories, and calls upon it to respect rights there. When we suspended the Russian Federation’s voting rights, we demanded that it fulfil the requirements with respect to Georgia enshrined in three resolutions. As Russia continues its aggression against Ukraine, it is important that the demands related to Georgia that this Assembly and the civilised world at large have presented to the Russia Federation are not forgotten. Those demands are the withdrawal of Russian troops from Georgia and the reversal of the ethnic cleansing that Russia committed in the Georgian territories. It is extremely important that the Georgian issue remains at the top of the western and civilised world’s agenda with respect to Russia.
Mr ÖNAL (Turkey)* – The observation of elections is itself very important to democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights. Electoral observation missions enable us to ensure that elections proceed smoothly and all citizens have access to voting. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has long-standing experience in that regard, and it is true that we attach considerable importance to such missions, with which the Parliamentary Assembly should continue. It is also important that the procedure be seen to be completely independent and impartial. If observers wear the insignia of political parties or any other form of symbol, that could cast doubt on the impartiality and independence of any election observation mission, as I am sure you agree.
On the observation of the referendum of 16 April 2017 in Turkey, it is important to note that one parliamentarian who was part of the election observation mission was wearing the flag of a political party and carried a poster. That is contrary to the rules and ethics of this Organisation. Following the terrible terrorist attacks in Belgium and France, when innocent lives were lost, could we have envisaged a member of this Assembly being photographed alongside a member of the terrorist organisation that perpetrated those attacks, thus giving the impression that they support that organisation? Do you think that that is right? We need to speak honestly and frankly. If the Assembly stands for the conscience of Europe, we need to act accordingly. Otherwise, doubt could be cast on this Organisation’s prestige, which it is important that we preserve.
In south-east Turkey, two Turkish soldiers and two from the provinces – five in total, in fact – were killed recently when hand-made bombs manufactured by members of the PPK exploded. In what way do those members who had photographs taken of themselves alongside members of the PPK feel that they are contributing to preserving the prestige of this Assembly?
Ms KARAPETYAN (Armenia) – At the outset, I want to note that yesterday, 24 April, was the day of commemoration of the innocent victims of the Armenian genocide. Today, we must unite in our efforts to prevent genocide and such barbaric acts against humanity.
Turning to the main topic of my speech, I want to advise my Azeri colleague, as a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, not to read only what is written in the Azeri media, and to use correct names and state correct positions when talking about elections, especially the Armenian election observation report, which states that parliamentary elections in Armenia were held with great respect for fundamental human rights.
As you know, during the reporting period Armenia held parliamentary elections, which was totally new for us. The new state governance parliamentary system; the new constitution; the improved voting system, with new technical support; live broadcasting from all the polling stations – these and other mechanisms secured the validity of the electoral process. These technical changes totally exclude any possibility of falsification. Most importantly, they enable voters to have real trust in the electoral process.
Armenia is making a transition to a new system of government, and it is necessary to underline that all these changes to secure the validity of the electoral process were made as the result of lengthy and wide political and social discussions that ended with total consensus between the political parties – ruling and opposition – and civil society. The new electoral code was changed after its adoption, at the request of the opposition; we have accepted all suggestions. The main goal was achieved: we have secured the trust of voters.
The active participation in the election process of the mass media, social networking and civil society must be noted. Besides international observation missions, the Government of Armenia engaged more than 30 000 representatives of local public organisations and multiple foreign observers. Campaigning was broadcast in a balanced and fair way, and a police hotline service was available 24 hours a day.
If we really do have a strong political will for a progressive country, we need to understand that there is no alternative to democracy.
Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) – I would like to start by going back to the question of corruption, the statement on which in the report I found all too brief. This is a really serious issue which affects the whole credibility of this institution. However you look at this issue, I cannot help but think there has been a general weakness in this area, with a lot of burying of heads in the sand. I know it is going to be dealt with, and I of course support the proposals being put forward by Ian Liddell-Grainger. This should not be a witch-hunt, but it should not be a cover-up either. It is very important to make that point.
The rapporteur’s report also mentions the revised terms of a general rapporteur for the rights of LGBT people. As has been mentioned in the Assembly today, one country where this issue is of great concern is Chechnya, where, as I understand it, homosexuals are being put to death. I urge the rapporteur to use his good offices to ask the Human Rights Commissioner to go to Chechnya to see for themselves what is going on and to try to stop this situation.
I was supposed to be part of the delegation to monitor the elections in Bulgaria, but was unable to go due to the requirements of my own Parliament. I am glad that the ad hoc committee found that the elections were well conducted. However, it does point out a number of factors which are concerning. The first of these is xenophobia and the role of nationalities. To what extent was xenophobia really present, and how big an impact did it make on the elections? Allied to this is the involvement of foreign powers in the election. We have seen this charge being aimed at Russia for their involvement in, amongst other things, the United States elections. But the question must remain to what extent, if any, they were involved in trying to influence this election.
I appreciate the point the report makes about voter fatigue; I can well understand that, coming from a country that is about to go through another general election. But the fact that TV devoted little time to the elections and to electoral candidates is a worry, if we are ever to get an election in Bulgaria that people feel really matters and that is going to lead to stable government.
The PRESIDENT* – Ms Sotnyk is not here, so I call Mr Ariev.
Mr ARIEV (Ukraine) – The storm we had in the Assembly tested our nerve, but usually storms are good, because clean water follows.
In discussing the monitoring of elections in different States, I want to raise what is perhaps an inconvenient matter. We did not have an election campaign prior to the election of members of the Assembly bodies. That is a matter for a future discussion. It is a question of responsibility.
During its last meeting, the Bureau discussed a proposal for an urgent debate on changing our rules to allow us to recall members who have been appointed to positions within the Assembly, because we still do not have such a procedure. If we appoint someone, we should be able to recall them. That will be a matter for future discussions. Responsibility is a real topic for the Assembly at the moment. The recent visit to Syria by three of our representatives confirms that we should continue to consider how to strengthen the responsibility of members of the Assembly. I emphasise that I and many of my colleagues still expect Mr Agramunt to step down until the end of the session.
I thank all members of the Assembly for the good discussion we had during today’s hearing, but the question of who financed the visit to Syria and paid for the plane has still not been answered – it is still unclear. That matter, which has already been raised in the Bureau, should be considered by the anti-corruption investigation, along with other allegations of corruption. I hope that the Assembly will show its responsibility to get clear answers to those questions. Mr Xuclŕ, once we have some more information on who financed the visit to Syria, I think that we can speak about the future of your role as a rapporteur for Ukraine, because there is an accusation of conflict of interest there.
Dear colleagues, we are all accountable for our future. We must prevent our Organisation from being open to any condemnation by keeping it clean and very responsible.
The PRESIDENT* – I cannot see Mr Bereza, Mr Zourabian or Ms Naghdalyan in the Chamber, so the next speaker is Mr van de Ven.
Mr van de VEN (Netherlands) – Dear colleagues, as one of the members of the Parliamentary Assembly’s ad hoc committee that observed the parliamentary elections in Bulgaria on 26 March, I would like to follow up on the excellent and concise report on that mission produced by Ms Marie-Christine Dalloz. I corroborate the statements that she has made as head of our committee. I want to thank her for the inspiring and competent way she chaired our committee, and for guiding our meetings with different organisations so excellently. I would also like to thank Ms Olena Sotnyk, who coached me diligently on election day.
These are my personal impressions of the election day. It was the first time I have served on a committee of the Parliamentary Assembly to observe elections. With regard to our work on election day, Ms Sotnyk and I were present at the opening of one polling station in the vicinity of Sofia. During the day we visited 13 polling stations some 100 km to the north and north-east of Sofia. One of the polling stations was an institution for people with mental illness. In the district we visited, ethnic Bulgarians and Roma live together. At the last polling station we visited, we saw the closing of the voting at that station and the counting of the votes by its election officials.
Having due regard to my profession in the 1980s as a tax inspector in the Netherlands, I did not “sniff out” fraud while visiting the polling stations and observing the casting of votes. The voting process was transparent to me. However, I did register some minor procedural shortcomings. These shortcomings were the result of unfamiliarity with existing voting procedures, not wicked minds. However, the atmosphere at the polling stations was in my view rather subdued. I noticed very few young people casting their vote; most of the people voting were elderly.
On Saturday 25 March 2017, Bulgaria’s national football team played the Netherlands team in Sofia and won 2-0. On Sunday 26 March 2017, election day, Bulgaria won again, in my view: there was progress with regard to human rights, the rule of law and democracy in Bulgaria.
Mr GONCHARENKO (Ukraine) – Dear colleagues, I want to congratulate all of you, because yesterday and today we have shown that our Organisation is really healthy, and that we can confront all attempts to use us, for example to indulge the terrible war crimes of the Syrian regime, which is supported by the Russian regime. We have shown that we can fight that.
What is the aim of our Organisation? We exist for only one thing: to promote human rights, the rule of law and democracy in our member States and in other countries. However, in order to promote those values, we ourselves must be beyond all suspicion, like Caesar’s wife. Yesterday we saw an attempt to move beyond the situation surrounding the visit to Syria. We all heard Mr Agramunt try to go beyond it: “Okay, something happened but it’s not important.” No, we have shown that it is very important to show that we are really clean and that we can promote these values.
I therefore want to thank all of you, members of the Assembly, for your very strong wish to be clean and pure when it comes to such situations. We should show the same attitude in relation to the allegations of corruption. We should show that we can fight the terrible things set out in the accusations we have heard. I ask all of you to be just as strong in the future. I hope that the new President of the Parliamentary Assembly will learn some big lessons from what has happened in recent weeks, so that never again will we see such events.
Lastly, Mr Xuclŕ and Mr Destexhe, I ask you to think about your positions, because it is so important that no shadow is cast on our Organisation. I certainly think that neither of you can act as rapporteurs for Ukraine, and perhaps for other countries, for the next few sessions, because we must now show everybody that our Organisation can really fight against any attempts by Putin and other dictators to use us and compromise our values.
Ms LUNDGREN (Sweden) – Thank you for the progress report. We can see that there has been slow progress on some of the issues dealt with by the Bureau and the Standing Committee. One thing that has been really slow is the motion that I put forward, together with 52 other members of the Assembly, to shed light on the murder of Boris Nemtsov. That motion has now been in the fridge for a year. The question must be asked: why has that not been put forward for action? I am glad, of course, that it is now out of the fridge, but progress has been unacceptably slow, because it is important that we discuss this issue. Many of us have been asking for action, but nothing happened. Someone must give a reply on why it did not happen – that is not easy to find in the progress report.
Another issue is the slow progress. I was waiting to see action from the Bureau and the Standing Committee on corruption, because a lot of us signed a request for an independent external investigation on the corruption allegation. We heard at the beginning that the Bureau was not able to present anything on that issue in this progress report. Now it has been decided, but that was also delayed progress. Colleagues, we must now make sure that the corruption does not result in anyone being given some kind of input in raising questions against the Parliamentary Assembly and our fight against corruption. We are not calling for impunity in our member States. We must make sure that we are clear and do not shelter anyone, be they the President or anyone else. No one will be sheltered when we clear the table on corruption.
Finally, there is still the question of the Syrian visit. We have to be sure that the next progress report gives us good results on that issue, otherwise it will come up again.
The PRESIDENT* – Thank you. That concludes the list of speakers; we have listened to all the speakers on the list. Mr Xuclŕ, you have five minutes at your disposal to answer the comments.
Mr XUCLŔ (Spain)* – I thank all speakers in the second part of this debate on the progress report – we had to divide the debate into two parts. I am going to answer as many points as possible. First, I welcome the fact that we are dealing with the issue of corruption allegations and are addressing the matter. I confirm Mr Németh’s comments. What he said was very important and I confirm the agreement between the parliamentary political groups about tabling amendments to this document. Therefore, I turn to you Mr President – technically and legally speaking, is it not possible to present such amendments? Is that right? After all, we are talking about the Council of Europe’s sovereignty, and in plenary session this Assembly is the sovereign body of this institution. Be that as it may, I welcome the fact that we are talking about this issue.
Mr Sobolev – I cannot see him, but I am not wearing my glasses – in my speech yesterday I spoke about Syria. I asked Sir Roger Gale, who was chairing the Assembly at that point, for the opportunity to speak more about Syria in the context of the progress report, but was not authorised to speak about it for any longer. In the meantime it was decided that we would have a hearing, and I thought I might have an opportunity to do so then. Mr Sobolev has spoken to Mr Ariev, the head of the Ukrainian delegation – in a way, I am also responding to Mr Ariev. I say to both of you that the time has come to put things in order and to address the issues that Mr Sobolev flagged concerning the remits of everyone. If it is not possible for me to represent this Assembly effectively and usefully in front of the Ukrainian authorities, for instance – if they will not accept me as a valid interlocutor – under those circumstances I could not be a rapporteur for Ukraine. That is something we need to check and confirm over the next few days or weeks. I believe that a meeting has been requested with the head of the Ukrainian delegation. Mr Sobolev, we always learn lessons from life. I listened carefully to what was said this morning – I am sure you did too – and you know that I have come to my own conclusions based on the experiences of the last few days and weeks. You therefore know my position.
I agree with the speaker who said that the monitoring process should be used to address all issues chapter by chapter. I am very much in favour of such an approach. Look at what the European Union does with candidate countries. There is a list of obligations that have to be met; it goes through each obligation one by one to see whether the chapter has been concluded. If it has, it can move on to the next. I think that we could perfect our system here.
I agree with Mr Howell’s earlier comment that we should be more involved when it comes to violations of the LGBT community. We should be more involved in the Northern Caucasus issue and look at how those rights are being violated. I concur with that; it is a matter of the utmost importance.
Turning to you, Ms Lundgren, I signed the motion because I wanted there to be an inquiry. I wanted to make sure that things were brought to light in the case of this political assassination – because that is what I would call it – of Mr Nemtsov. That is why I signed that motion. We are talking about the leader of an opposition party in Russia. I was in a minority for a long time and still do not know whether things will pan out as they should. I can tell you that the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights is addressing the issue this week, and the rapporteur should be appointed for that inquiry. That is a very positive development; it is good news, as far as I can tell.
Ladies and gentleman, that is basically what I have to say in response to your comments. There is the report as a whole, and I presented it in the first round of debate. An issue has arisen since then because of the meeting of the Bureau. There was a period for amendments until Wednesday and final approval on Friday. That is the agreement reached by the five leaders of the political groups on behalf of their groups. I think it is always good to flesh out reports to make them better. That is what was approved yesterday and is, therefore, what you have before you. There is a delegate here in the Chamber from Poland – I am afraid I cannot pronounce the name – and the issue of presenting amendments was raised. Once again, Mr President, it is important for us to address this issue, because the Assembly needs to decide upon it. I would like to know whether this would be permissible from a political and legal point of view.
The PRESIDENT* – Thank you. A decision was taken in the Bureau regarding the text. There was a lengthy debate and it was agreed that the text would be presented without amendments. A vote was taken on that – should it be with amendments or without amendments? I think that we were clear, the text was clear and therefore I am afraid that there is no longer an opportunity to come back to any amendments. I am sorry to say that.
Mr XUCLŔ (Spain)* – Why could not a member of the Parliamentary Assembly in plenary sitting submit an amendment to this report? I remember that in the past we have heard such amendments in the Chamber, so the Bureau’s decision may be wrong.
The PRESIDENT* – Well, you are coming back on a Bureau decision that was taken and was perfectly clear.
Mr SAWICKI (Secretary General of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe) – The decision of the Bureau to create the investigation body and to decide on its terms of reference is subject to ratification by the Assembly. It is not subject to the introduction of amendments. It is subject to ratification by the Assembly. The Assembly is asked to say yes or no. The Assembly is free to reject the decision taken by the Bureau, but has no right to modify the Bureau’s decision. It can say yes or no. The language is clear – it is subject to ratification by the Assembly. Within the process of ratification on the creation of ad-hoc committees created by the Bureau – this is a similar procedure – the Assembly may just say yes or no.
Mr XUCLŔ (Spain)* – We are talking about a decision taken by the Bureau. The plenary cannot say anything about such an important document. The plenary is changing the terms of reference of what comes before the Chamber. This is such an important document. Will it be stuck at the level of the Bureau? Does it stay there and that is it – we cannot go any further? I do not even know what the amendment might be. There is a member of the Parliamentary Assembly but I do not know what his amendment is. Could we not allow it?
Mr SAWICKI (Secretary General of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe) – I repeat that the language in the rules is clear. Defining the terms of reference is within the competence of the Bureau, not the whole Assembly. The Assembly must ratify – must say yes or no. You could have established a different procedure for the creation of this body; you could have asked the Assembly to prepare a formal report, which would go to one of the committees. You would then have a text established by one of the committees, and a resolution, to which you could introduce amendments through the normal process for adopting resolutions in the Assembly; but it was not done that way. It was the Bureau that set up the body. It is within the competence of the Bureau to decide its terms of reference; that is clear in the rules. The Assembly can say yes or no – nothing else.
The PRESIDENT* – Very well. I suggest that we move on to approving the decisions of the Bureau, as set out in the progress report – Document 14289 and addenda 1, 2 and 3 – except for the references to committees, which will be considered on Friday morning. Are there any objections to this proposal? I see none, so the report is deemed approved.
I call Mr Seyidov on a point of order.
Mr SEYIDOV (Azerbaijan) – I asked to speak several times, but you were reading very carefully, Mr President, and so could not see me. My question is about the responsibilities of the Parliamentary Assembly. As we know, if the Bureau decides something, the Parliamentary Assembly is able to change it if 10 of its members are ready to stand up and express their disapproval of the decision; that is our last chance to change anything. I ask the Secretary General to clarify whether that is right.
Mr SAWICKI (Secretary General of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe) – I understand that Mr Seyidov is referring to the Assembly’s procedure for dealing with oral sub-amendments; it is up to the Assembly to decide whether an oral sub-amendment should be put to a vote. If 10 members object, it is not put to a vote. That reference to 10 members is indeed in the rules, but it does not apply to any other issue; I am sorry.
3. Human rights in the North Caucasus: what follow-up to Resolution 1738 (2010)?
The PRESIDENT* – We move on to the debate on the report, “Human rights in the North Caucasus: what follow-up to Resolution 1738 (2010)?”, Document 14083, presented by Mr Frank Schwabe in place of Mr Michael McNamara and on behalf of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights. Members have a speaking limit of three minutes. We will conclude business on the document at 6.15 p.m., so the list of speakers will be interrupted at 5.45 p.m. to allow us time to hear the committee’s reply and to vote.
Mr Schwabe, you have 13 minutes in total, which you may divide as you wish between presentation of the McNamara report and your reply to speakers in the debate.
Mr SCHWABE (Germany)* – Mr McNamara produced the report and really deserves to present it, because this subject is not discussed enough, but he asked me to present it in his stead. I pay tribute to him for the work that he did, together with the secretariat of the committee, on this difficult and complicated subject. The situation in Chechnya is catastrophic. When you find out what is going on there, you feel that it cannot be in the territory of the Council of Europe – that this may happen in other parts of the world, but certainly not in the bailiwick of the Council of Europe.
The report is about the follow-up to Resolution 1738 on the situation in the North Caucasus, which was taken forward by Mr Dick Marty in 2010. The resolution was adopted almost unanimously, though there were a few abstentions from members from the Russian delegation. That sent a clear signal to Ramzan Kadyrov. Let me remind you that Moscow was showing a degree of leniency to Chechnya at the time, but it has since moved in the other direction. We regret that our signal was not acted on at all, so we were not able to do anything to ensure that the human rights situation improved. If you do not know the geography of the North Caucasus too well, you might not know that it is part of Russia; that is why we are addressing ourselves to Russia, which has to make sure that human rights are respected.
The 2010 report said that the impunity for human rights violations had not changed; in fact, the situation had worsened, and there had been a considerable increase in the number of unexplained murders, disappearances and cases of torture. The European Court of Human Rights had confirmed that there had not been sufficient investigation. I praise the Committee of Ministers, because it has repeated that more pressure should be brought to bear on the issue of the non-investigation of cases, which allows impunity to continue. We suggest that a forensic laboratory be set up, but that has been delayed through all kinds of tricks and gimmicks. The European Convention on Human Rights provides many possibilities, including for interstate complaints under Article 33.
The report before us is one year old. For various reasons, it took that long to fit it into our agenda. Since then, a hearing has been held this year with representatives of civil society, including from Human Rights Watch and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee. The human rights centre, Memorial, also told us how terrible the situation is. The committee therefore decided to press the Bureau to ensure that the report was discussed in plenary and put to a vote. On a procedural point, as the committee did not have a new, updated version of the report, we called on international leading human rights associations for updates; that is why there is an impressive number of what we call friendly amendments from civil society groups, most of which have been approved by the committee.
There have also been developments since our report, most prominent among them – Secretary General Jagland mentioned this – being the many critical reports in the past few weeks on the prosecution of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people. Almost worse than the terrible reports of the deaths, ill treatment and arbitrary imprisonments are the official denials of them. We know of reports that say, “What homosexuals say is untrustworthy, and there could not possibly be such people in Chechnya, because their families and society would take care of them, without the authorities having to intervene.” The prosecution of minorities in a member State is absolutely unacceptable. The non-implementation of hundreds of sentences handed down by the ECHR has meant that the State has not followed up many disappearances and cases of murder and torture. It is also unacceptable that basic principles of Russian law, such as equality between men and women in family law, are not being implemented. There should be a ban on forced child marriage. The freedom to assemble and freedom of expression are also lacking.
We can send an important signal to Moscow. Only after that will it be possible to create trust and fight terrorism. Chechnya has become a kind of experimental laboratory, and heavy-handed methods are being used to combat terrorism. There have been more than 5 000 disappearances in three years in a region with the same population as Luxembourg. There is not even any peace beyond the grave, as it were, because the intimidation of journalists means that there is little reporting of the situation or of attacks on civilians. Many radicalised fighters have left to go to Syria and Iraq, and many will be returning. The Marty report of 2010 said that terrorism can be stamped out only with the help of the local population – it cannot be done against their will – and time has proved Mr Marty right. If we look at the methods used by our own countries to combat terrorism, the North Caucasus region shows that tough measures only lead to the recruitment of more terrorists.
We should approve Mr McNamara’s report, which has been updated with many amendments, to shed some light on this terrible situation. We are one of the few institutions that are trying to look at the situation on the ground – almost only the Council of Europe is in a position to do so – so we should help by passing this report with a large majority.
(Ms Oomen-Ruijten, Vice-President of the Assembly, took the Chair in place of Mr Rouquet.)
The PRESIDENT – Thank you, Mr Schwabe. You have four minutes remaining.
Ms LUNDGREN (Sweden, Spokesperson for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe) – I thank Mr Schwabe for presenting the report, even if it is a year old. The amendments from the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights improve the report, and I ask the Assembly to endorse them. The situation in the North Caucasus is important for the ALDE group. Many of us remember Dick Marty talking about the humanitarian black hole in the North Caucasus. It is amazing that Russia – a member State that is obliged to co-operate with us and signed up to our rules when it became a member – is not co-operating, meaning that we are unable to go to the region and do our work. That must be put on the list of times Russia has breached what it signed up to.
Human rights are obviously being systematically abused and violated in Chechnya. A climate of impunity seems to be more or less the rule and we have found even worse things over the past year. LGBT people are hunted. They face large-scale abductions, secret detention, torture, and extra-judicial killings, and that is unacceptable. We have also seen the actions, or reactions, of Moscow. It asks Kadyrov what is going on in Chechnya and he says, “Nothing. We do not have LGBT people in our society.” I also note that a member of Kadyrov’s human rights council, Kheda Saratova, said that the whole judiciary would applaud the situation. It is unacceptable for people to say, “There are no LGBT people here. If there were, they should be murdered,” and for that to be accepted. It will happen in Russia as well if we do not take thorough action, so please endorse all the amendments.
Mr KOX (Netherlands, Spokesperson for the Group of the Unified European Left) – I want to compliment the proposed resolution and the report, although it has taken far too long to appear. The UEL fully supports the new resolution, which recalls the obligations that Russia took on seven years ago, although most of them have not been enacted by the relevant Russian authorities.
As the rapporteur rightly says, we adopted the 2010 resolution unanimously with the full support of our colleagues from the Russian Parliament. It is a great pity that we now have to debate this issue without our Russian colleagues, owing to the ongoing conflict about sanctions taken by this Assembly against the Russian delegation. Again, I call upon the Assembly to seek ways to overcome the confrontation in order to restore political dialogue, so that we can talk to our Russian colleagues about how to convince the Russian authorities to adhere to their human rights obligations in the North Caucasus. Seven years have passed since the adoption of the resolution, and it is clear that Russia is not doing its utmost to do what was agreed in 2010. On the contrary, in several respects the human rights situation is deteriorating in the North Caucasus or at least in parts of it, the Chechen Republic in particular. I am referring only to the LGTBI community over there, but I could mention many more violations of human rights that are contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights, which has been ratified by the Russian Federation, and contrary to the specific obligations Russia took on when we adopted the 2010 resolution.
I am quite sure that the reaction to today’s report and resolution will be that they were written without fact finding in the region and without Russian input, but our answer is that that deficiency was created by the Russians’ refusal to allow our rapporteurs into the country. Once again, I call upon the Russian authorities to allow our rapporteurs to do their job. As a member State of the Council of Europe, the Russian Federation is obliged to co-operate with this Assembly, but I must again emphasise that we have to overcome our difficulties with the Russian Parliament so that our Russian colleagues will once again accept their obligation to participate in this Assembly.
The Council of Europe is not a pick-and-choose Organisation. Member States have to participate in our Assembly as they have to participate in the Committee of Ministers. My group therefore also appreciates that added to the resolution is a recommendation that urges the Committee of Ministers to use all means to improve the human rights situation in North Caucasus.
Again, I say thank you for the report, the resolution and the recommendation: my group will support them.
Mr VAREIKIS (Lithuania, Spokesperson for the Group of the European People’s Party) – I do not say this often, but this report and resolution are very well done. I have no criticisms of the text and I hope that the amendments will be agreed, but if we look at the essence of the resolution – the meritorious content of the document – I am not very optimistic. Rather, I am pessimistic.
Mr Kox said that it is a pity that the Russians are not present, but I would say that they are not here because they have not implemented our resolutions and decisions – and that is the pity. Of course, I agree with Dick Marty when he said that North Caucasus is a black hole for human rights. Resolution 1738 was approved when the Russians were here and they voted for that resolution. It was adopted by everybody, but almost nothing has been implemented. There is no real dialogue for a non-violent solution of the conflict. There is very limited co-operation between the government and non-governmental organisations.
We have a long list of illegal actions by the forces that the Russians call “siloviki” – strong forces. They are not acting with the law, but because they have the strength and they have arms. We also have a list of 255 decisions by the Court of Human Rights that have not really been implemented. We are now discussing the fresh problem of gender inequalities, with no rights for women and girls. There is also a tragic problem with sexual minorities, which we need to include in the resolution today.
Thank you for a well-prepared text and I hope that at least some of our recommendations will be implemented in the future.
Mr Mogens JENSEN (Denmark, Spokesperson for the Socialist Group) – The Socialist Group welcomes this report and generally supports the overall findings and recommendations in the report. It is very regrettable that the recommendations addressed to the Russian authorities in Resolution 1738, which was unanimously passed with the participation of the Russian delegation, have largely not been implemented.
It is also a great worry that in the Chechen Republic the authorities continue to nurture a climate of fear in an atmosphere in which the head of the Republic has made public threats against political opponents and human rights activists, even in other parts of Russia and beyond.
Unfortunately, the deterioration of the situation of women in the Chechen Republic through the rough enforcement of religious norms has continued, with the authorities now actively promoting the application of rules based on Chechen customary laws and interpretations of Sharia law that discriminate against women.
In addition, the Socialist Group is gravely concerned by the credible reports from media in Chechnya in recent weeks about the systematic abduction, torture and murder of individuals based on their perceived sexual orientation. More than 100 people are alleged to have been detained and at least three to have been killed. Many have been tortured. Those allegations have been met by statements from local authorities that appear to condone and even incite violence against LGBTI persons. That is outrageous and unacceptable.
We therefore ask the Assembly to demand that the Russian authorities launch a full and effective investigation into the alleged attacks on men suspected of being gay; to secure the immediate release of those who may still be detained; and to ensure that those people who have been the target of such attacks are protected from retaliation, including so-called honour killings.
We still have a black hole in North Caucasus and we welcome all the recommendations in the report. We hope that it will help to end the climate of impunity and begin to rebuild mutual trust in the region.
Mr GONCHARENKO (Ukraine, Spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) – I thank the rapporteurs for the great job they have done. Without question, they did a very good job.
Mr Tiny Kox told us that it was a problem that we do not have the Russian delegation here, and that that is why we do not have a dialogue. But when there was a Russian delegation here, was there a dialogue? No: it was blah, blah, blah. Nothing was decided in the Russian Parliament. Nothing was done about any resolution by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. I will not talk about the case of Ukraine. Everybody knows that we made decisions about Crimea, Donbass and everything, but nothing was fulfilled by the Russian Federation – nothing, zero.
Take the resolution from 2010. In 2011, the Russian delegation was here. Was there any movement on the questions that were raised here on human rights in North Caucasus? No: it was even worse. In 2012, was there any improvement? No. In 2013? No. In 2014? No: it only got worse and deteriorated. There were no improvements at all. We talk about a dialogue, but we need a dialogue in which something changes, not a dialogue of blah, blah, blah.
As for the report, North Caucasus certainly has a horrible human rights situation. Everybody who is interested in the situation knows that. But North Caucasus is the test for Putin’s approach. He first began to kill opposition politicians in North Caucasus, then it was in Moscow near the Kremlin – Boris Nemtsov. They began to kill journalists first in Chechnya, then in Moscow. Their method is to kill anyone who confronts their power and how they exercise it.
Ramzan Kadyrov has been mentioned today, but he is no more than the hand of Putin. We certainly need to put pressure on the Russian Federation, which is now trying to go further. Ukraine and Crimea have been annexed. What is going on? Putin is trying to make a second Chechnya. There are absolutely no human rights. When we talk of the violation of human rights, that is an understatement: there are no human rights in the North Caucasus and none now in Crimea or Ukraine.
The report represents very good work. We need to put any pressure possible on the Russian Federation to stop – I am not even saying improve the situation – the deterioration in the North Caucasus and the Russian Federation in general.
Mr FOURNIER (France)* – The situation of human rights in the North Caucasus is indeed bleak. Mr McNamara’s report sends a chill down the spine, especially as no improvements have been witnessed since our Assembly’s investigations in 2010. The record is appalling: a climate of violence and fear; the silencing of civil society; arbitrary arrest and torture; generalised impunity; harassment and intimidation of political opponents; rigged trials; non-implementation of the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights; and the terrible situation in which women live.
The list of infringements of human rights and the most basic fundamental freedoms is too long. The North Caucasus has become a lawless area. As the report notes with dismay and resignation, the situation in Dagestan remains among the worst in the whole geographical area of the Council of Europe. We could add to the list of atrocities the persecutions of homosexuals in Chechnya, recently revealed by an independent Russian newspaper. The political situation is appalling. Power is concentrated in the hands of one man and his clan, who have systematically bled the region dry. We cannot see any sign that things will get any better soon.
The worst thing is that all this is happening in the face of general indifference – particularly that of the Russian authorities. Nobody is fooled, however; we know very well that the Kremlin has a tacit agreement with the leaders of the North Caucasus, which gives them a free rein if they keep order and stamp out terrorism in the republics, which have been rebellious for a long time. The prime example is Chechnya, but we cannot discuss the matter with our Russian colleagues. Despite the repeated appeals of our Assembly, they are stubbornly refusing to resume their seats here. The solution to these difficulties, of course, could be found in Moscow. The Russian authorities could contribute to a clear improvement of the situation in the North Caucasus if they were prepared to co-operate with our Organisation, which has the means of promoting human rights and the rule of law. It is a question of political will, but that clearly does not exist in the Kremlin.
The PRESIDENT – Ms Chugoshvili and Mr O’Reilly are not here, so I call Ms Finckh-Krämer.
Ms FINCKH-KRÄMER (Germany)* – I want to refer to the grave human rights violations in Chechnya. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, some in Chechnya believed that they could acquire independence from Russia through violence. The Russian Government responded with military force and there was a quick escalation in violence in both directions. Chechnya shows that violence and counter-violence generate a cycle. All human rights – the rights of women and minorities in particular – are being seriously violated because of that cycle. I welcome this discussion and am pleased to see that non-governmental organisations – Amnesty International as well as Memorial in Russia – have taken due note: some amendments could be very useful in updating the report.
We must never forget that even in Russia there are human rights organisations and brave journalists who are prepared to dedicate their lives to human rights. They reveal human rights violations and find themselves under a pressure that cannot be compared with what might be exerted on journalists in other member States of the Council of Europe. It is important for us to have this debate and to think of our allies. Russia is a big and great country whose government is using dubious measures when dealing with movements for independence in the North Caucasus. It has acted unwisely and terrorist attacks have resulted. However, there is also civil society in Russia – and that is European. It is important for us to remember that.
Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) – If I was worried about the North Caucasus before this afternoon, I am even more worried now as a result of this report, which I welcome; I thank the rapporteur for his work.
I am very concerned about the reports of serious human rights violations in the North Caucasus, including abductions, torture and what are called “extrajudicial killings”. I firmly encourage Russia to implement European Court of Human Rights judgments relating to the North Caucasus. That would be a vital step towards ending the climate of impunity in the region that means that the Russians can simply do as they wish.
I call for action on individual cases through the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers. The recent targeting of LGBT communities in Chechnya is deeply concerning, as others have said and as I mentioned in an earlier sitting. I condemn the mass arrests, detentions and ill treatment of more than 100 men because of their sexual orientation. Reports suggesting that at least three people have been killed and many tortured are particularly shocking. I call on the authorities to investigate promptly and ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice.
I continue to have significant concerns about measures taken under the auspices of tackling terrorism, including the use of registers of Salafi Muslims in Dagestan to round up suspects. I also have concerns about the use of collective punishment in Chechnya, including the burning of houses of the relatives of suspected militants. It is in Russia’s interests to address the root cause of conflict and radicalisation in the North Caucasus, including poverty, governance and human rights issues.
Let me give one example. In Dagestan, Russian security forces stand accused of human rights abuses in their operation against insurgents, for example, denying suspects legal representation, destroying houses without offering any compensation and carrying out mass round-ups. In Chechnya, people and their relatives have been ordered to be expelled and their houses destroyed. Human rights activists continue to be at risk. NGOs across the region have reported attacks on their staff in the last year. We need to condemn all of that.
The PRESIDENT – Thank you. The next speaker on the list, Mr Troy, is not here, so I now call Mr Herkel.
Mr HERKEL (Estonia) – After seven years, we have a debate on the human rights situation in Chechnya and the North Caucasus in the plenary. That is important. I have been a member of the Assembly since 2003, with a small break. I remember that, 10 years or more ago, Chechnya was at the centre of our discussions here. We had the opportunity then to conduct fact-finding visits, even though the situation at the time was terrible. However, we have lost seven years and the topic remains extremely important.
Mr Bindig was the rapporteur, I think, in 2006. He said that the worst scenario would be if the climate of impunity, which has its origins in Chechnya and Ingushetia, were to spread to all the territory of the North Caucasus. That has happened. What has happened to society in the North Caucasus? There has been demodernisation and Islamisation. The situation is very bad. Now we have concluded that our recommendations and the findings of the European Court of Human Rights have not been implemented by the Russian authorities.
We are thankful to the brave people who are working to promote human rights in the Russian Federation. This document is very much based on the findings of those people, who work for the Committee Against Torture in Nizhny Novgorod, Memorial and other NGOs. It is important to have the Natalia Estemirova documentation centre, which is based in Oslo. If we do not have access to the region, it is important to have the help of such organisations in preparing such reports. Our aim is to have dialogue on human rights with those countries, but in the dialogue with the Russian Federation, for example, we must think about the people and that our report will offer them moral support at least.
Mr Goncharenko said that Mr Putin used Chechnya to try out assassinations of journalists and political opponents. Today’s serious problems of human rights and security originated in Chechnya. After Chechnya, we had South Ossetia, Ukraine and now Syria.
Ms HIGGINS (Ireland) – I congratulate Frank Schwabe on his presentation of the report and my colleague, Michael McNamara from Ireland, who put considerable work into its development. I spoke to him before coming to the Council of Europe, knowing that it would be debated. He wanted to emphasise – I also know this from his work in Ireland – that he aimed to be as fair and impartial as possible and to engage with all parties in every way. For example, we have heard that the report came out of resolutions that the Russian delegation agreed to in 2006 and 2010. He actively sought engagement and, after Russia withdrew its representatives and he could no longer engage with them through the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, he reached out to the foreign affairs representative of the Duma, the expert within that body, to ask for their input on the issue. I believe that he did not get comments in response, but he has always endeavoured to ensure that the report is balanced and appropriate.
What is worrying is that we have seen a huge deterioration since then. One simple example is that we now have to talk about 247 judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, as opposed to 225. There has been an increase in the use of customary law. I welcome not only the report but the important amendments to strengthen it. Although we have waited a long time for the report, in a way, I believe now is a good time to debate it as we have the opportunity to reflect the worrying developments in respect of LGBT rights. We cannot allow Chechnya to become an experiment for new forms of repression, collective punishment or mistreatment. We need to ensure that we support the report and the amendments to make a strong statement on the deterioration that has taken place.
I have been happy to co-sign amendments on the question of forced marriages and to have stronger wording not only on early and arranged marriage but on forced marriage, which is of course very concerning. I note one thing that is not said in the report but is important. In respect of LGBT rights, we are talking not just about the actions but messages that constitute incitement to hatred, effectively, which we have seen emerging from the administration. They breach our norms of good practice and equality. It is also important that we support the amendments on the role of journalists, who have come under severe threat in the area. Again, I urge members to support the report and the amendments and I congratulate Mr McNamara on his work.
The PRESIDENT – Thank you. Mr Kandelaki is not here, so I call Mr Köck.
Mr KÖCK (Austria)* – The report is extremely important. We must not forget the situation that prevails in the region. The proposals made within the report’s framework are important.
Many of us just cannot imagine what it is like to live in Chechnya and other parts of the Northern Caucasus. The LGBT centre in St. Petersburg described the situation there as truly horrific. Sebastian Kurz, the Foreign Minister, has condemned the situation in the Northern Caucasus. We have heard that there is a situation of impunity. There are numerous violations and different attacks, which are politically motivated. There has always been conflict and war in the region. Generation after generation have never experienced peace. We feel the effects of that in Europe, too. In Austria, we have 30 000 asylum seekers from Chechnya, the highest number in Europe. Three thousand of those people are subject to criminal proceedings, so you can see how serious the problem is.
Only a couple of weeks ago, 22 Chechens were apprehended with automatic weapons, having been involved in different types of criminal activity and networks. Irrespective of having lived in our country and being aware of the prevailing democratic procedures, they remain difficult to integrate. Something has to take place in situ, in Chechnya, to improve the situation so that people stay at home and do not seek refuge abroad.
It is of course important to have a legislative framework in place and for it to be implemented. It is a pity that the Russian Federation is not represented here, but the truth is that had it been present it might not even have worked with us to improve the situation. We therefore need to use international organisations as well, and the Council of Europe somehow has to work with the Russian Federation to achieve proper implementation of appropriate legislation in Chechnya to improve the situation there.
Mr ZINGERIS (Lithuania) – On behalf of our Group of the European People’s Party, we have just spent three important days with the Russian democrats who are defenders of the victims of the Chechen authorities in the Council of Europe, together with the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe and other groups. In the meetings we heard absolutely horrible testimonies.
After meeting Mr Kochetkov, a chair of the Russian LGBT Network, and Elena Milashin, the Novaya Gazeta journalist, we tabled our amendments, which were voted on in the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights. I encourage you to vote in favour and to say what a great pity it is that in the seven or eight years since the last report human rights have regressed hugely.
My mother spent four years in a Nazi concentration camp. She knew the Nazi ideology and told me about the pink triangles for the homosexuals in the camps. We should be concerned about the mass repression of and killings in the homosexual community and other subjects we were told about in the wonderful report by our colleagues. We should give a clear signal to the Russian authorities that that is an incredibly huge violation of human rights, like an echo of pre-war and Second World War times. Totalitarian regimes should be stopped.
I express my deep thankfulness to the rapporteurs and to Herr Schwabe. We must be serious and we must stop, first, the ideology of hatred and, secondly, the repression and killings of homosexuals in Chechnya. There must be human rights and rights for the mass media to express themselves. We should stop the terror against the Russian democrats in Moscow, in part connected to the Chechen regime too.
The PRESIDENT – Mr Divina is not present so I call the last speaker, Mr de Bruyn.
Mr DE BRUYN (Belgium) – As the last speaker on the list, I take the opportunity to draw your attention one more time to the situation of gay men in Chechnya. Denial of a proper existence for them leads to very aggressive repression, including detention, torture and, in some cases, even extrajudicial killings of the men involved. That is all undertaken by the local and national authorities. Religion, culture or tradition can never be accepted as an excuse for such atrocities.
If the European Convention on Human Rights means something to us, we should not only speak out loud against the dehumanisation of gay men in Chechnya, but call for immediate action. If we believe what is set out in Article 14 of the Convention – that the “enjoyment of the rights and freedoms…shall be secured without discrimination” – we cannot remain silent.
My confidence in the Russian federal State is pretty weak when it comes to defending the human rights of LGBTI people, so I support the idea of an independent international investigation. Our concerns should also apply to the journalists reporting such mass atrocities and to the Russian LGBTI activists supporting them. To underline the Assembly’s commitment to equal rights for all, I ask you to support the amendments dealing with the situation of gay people in Chechnya.
The PRESIDENT – That concludes the list of speakers.
Mr Schwabe, you have four minutes to reply.
Mr SCHWABE (Germany)* – I thank everyone who has expressed gratitude for my work, but I must of course relay that thanks to Mr McNamara who did the bulk of the work, with Mr Marty. Those two rapporteurs’ names are intrinsically linked to the report. I thank them, too, for their excellent endeavours more generally in the Assembly. I also thank everyone for their clear contributions.
We should avoid splits and criticising our supposed rivals, while defending our supposed friends. It is important to listen to what other people say and to accept constructive criticism. The Group of the Unified European Left, for example, is not renowned for a critical stance on Russia, so what I heard was welcome. It is important for that message to be relayed to the ears of Moscow.
Clearly there is a great deal of unity about the terrible situation in Chechnya, and there was also some agreement about what improvements are required. However, we cannot afford to be pessimistic. We should be making our voice heard. I am not sure what changes we can bring about, but nothing will happen unless we speak out. We have to speak out here and now, thereby bolstering the voice of civil society.
One of the fundamental conditions that we have to insist on is full compliance with decisions of the European Court of Human Rights. That applies to many countries. The more countries that comply with rulings pertaining to them, the easier it will be for us to demand that Russia put pressure on those responsible for implementation in Chechnya and the North Caucasus.
The founding principle of our work must be that human rights violations cannot be left unpunished. The human rights centre that we have talked about has far-reaching implications for many other conflicts. Recently I had the chance to talk to the head of the Stasi documentation centre in Berlin and he had a very opinion of such a centre. There has been a great deal of networking, which means that we can push for high standards around the world to ensure that such crimes do not go unpunished.
Broad-based condemnation of acts of violence against people from the LGBTI community clearly emerged from the debate. We have seen a very cynical reaction from the Chechen authorities. We have also seen the reaction of President Putin, who met Kadyrov and reported back that his spokesman had said everything was in order.
The fact is that we have seen a great wave of criticism and we should build on that. Even though the report does not contain a paragraph on follow-up, we should all start giving some careful thought to how we can ensure that we live up to our responsibilities. Over the next few years, we must keep a close eye on the difficult situation in Chechnya.
Once again, I thank members for their support and for feeding into the debate so effectively.
The PRESIDENT – I call the Chairperson of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, Mr Destexhe.
Mr DESTEXHE (Belgium)* – Mr Herkel is right that it has been a considerable time since our Assembly last looked at the situation in the North Caucasus in general, and in Chechnya in particular. The report, which I appreciate, indicates that steps have been taken in accordance with the decision taken in the committee in September. Mr McNamara, our rapporteur, has done an enormous job of work, and I ask that the thanks of our committee be conveyed to him.
The committee actually adopted the report in April 2016, almost a year ago, and expressed regret for the fact that the Russian representatives with whom Mr McNamara had worked so well at the beginning of his mandate were no longer present, for reasons that we all know. Following the committee’s adoption of the report, a year went by – that was for reasons beyond the committee and certainly not because of anything that we did – and the Russians are still not back to discuss matters with us. However, every cloud has a silver lining, and the fact that we had to wait so long gave us time to further analyse some of the issues involved. Now, as has been pointed out today, we face a disastrous situation in a number of ways. For instance, things are very serious for LGBTI people. The initial report did not go into that in depth, but thanks to the work of Mr Schwabe and other committee members who have submitted amendments, we have been able to improve the report. The committee adopted a number of amendments and sub-amendments unanimously.
The PRESIDENT – The debate is closed.
The Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights has presented a draft resolution to which 31 amendments and two oral sub-amendments have been tabled, and a draft recommendation to which two amendments have been tabled. They will be taken in the order in which they appear in the Compendium and the Organisation of Debates. I remind you that speeches on amendments are limited to 30 seconds.
We will first consider the amendments to the draft resolution. I understand that the chair of the committee wishes to propose to the Assembly that 27 amendments to the draft resolution, which were unanimously approved by the committee, be declared as agreed by the Assembly. These are amendments 8 to 10, 12 to 16, 1, 17 to 20, 22, 21, 23, 2, 3, 4, 6, 25, 27, 26, 28, 29, 7 and 30.
The committee also agreed unanimously to amendment 24. However, I must call that amendment individually as it has consequences for another amendment in the Compendium.
Does Mr Destexhe wish to propose that the 27 unanimously approved amendments be declared agreed?
Mr DESTEXHE (Belgium) – That is correct.
The PRESIDENT – Does anyone object? That is not the case.
As there is no objection, I declare that the 27 amendments to the draft resolution have been agreed.
We come to Amendment 11, which is, in the draft resolution, paragraph 3.1, to replace the last sentence with the following sentence: “Instead of seeking dialogue with Muslim groups, including those constructively pursuing reconciliation, such as the Salafi community, the authorities in the Chechen Republic and Dagestan have harassed and intimidated presumed Salafis.”
I call Mr Schwabe to support the amendment.
Mr SCHWABE (Germany)* – We have proposed this amendment to support the process of reconciliation. We have agreed that we should not confine ourselves to the Salafi community – rather, we want to mention all involved in the process.
The PRESIDENT – I have been informed that Mr Boriss Cilevičs wishes to propose an oral sub-amendment on behalf of the Committee on Legal Affairs on Human Rights, which is, in Amendment 11, to delete “such as the Salafi community,”.
In my opinion, the oral sub-amendment is in order under our rules. However, do 10 or more members object to the oral sub-amendment being debated? That is not the case.
I do not see Mr Cilevičs. Does anyone else wish to support the oral sub-amendment? I call the Chairperson of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, Mr Destexhe.
Mr DESTEXHE (Belgium) – The oral-sub amendment was approved unanimously by the committee, so I think we should vote on the oral sub-amendment as well as on the amendment.
The PRESIDENT – Does anyone wish to speak against the oral sub-amendment? That is not the case.
What is the opinion of the mover of Amendment 11 on the oral sub-amendment?
Mr SCHWABE (Germany)* – I agree to it.
The PRESIDENT – The committee and the mover of Amendment 11 are in favour of the oral sub-amendment, which I will now put to the vote.
The vote is open.
The oral sub-amendment is adopted.
Does anyone wish to speak against Amendment 11, as amended? That is not the case.
The committee is in favour of the main amendment, as amended. I shall now put Amendment 11, as amended, to the vote.
The vote is open.
Amendment 11, as amended, is adopted.
We come to Amendment 33, which is, in the draft resolution, after paragraph 3.3, to insert the following paragraph:
“The recent reports of large-scale abductions, secret detentions, torture and extrajudicial killings of LGBT persons in Chechnya is a new challenge to the Council of Europe. The State-orchestrated mass scale persecution of a target group based on the sexual orientation presents a grave concern of mass atrocities taking place within the Council of Europe Member State, and compels the Council of Europe to take urgent steps and to adopt a Resolution ordering a special investigation into the matter.”I
I call Mr Zingeris to support the amendment.
Mr ZINGERIS (Lithuania) – The amendment was discussed in the committee, along with other amendments that colleagues tabled about the extremely high level of repression and terror, and even State-ordered and orchestrated terror. I have a letter from Igor Kochetkov, chairman of the Russian LGBT Network, asking that we support the amendment. We should make crystal clear our view about what is happening to the homosexual community and LGBT people in Chechnya.
The PRESIDENT – I have been informed that Ms Kerstin Lundgren wishes to propose an oral sub-amendment on behalf of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, which is, in Amendment 33, to delete “The recent reports of large-scale abductions, secret detentions, torture and extrajudicial killings of LGBT persons in Chechnya is a new challenge to the Council of Europe;”.
In my opinion, the oral sub-amendment is in order under our rules. However, do 10 or more members object to the oral sub-amendment being debated? That is not the case.
I do not see Ms Lundgren. Does anyone else wish to support the oral sub-amendment? I call the Chairperson of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, Mr Destexhe.
Mr DESTEXHE (Belgium) – Mr Zingeris’s amendment would add one sentence and Ms Lundgren’s oral sub-amendment would delete another. I think we should vote on both the oral sub-amendment and the amendment.
The PRESIDENT – Does anyone wish to speak against the oral sub-amendment? That is not the case.
What is the opinion of the mover of Amendment 33 on the oral sub-amendment?
Mr ZINGERIS (Lithuania) – In favour.
The PRESIDENT – The committee and the mover of Amendment 33 are in favour of the oral sub-amendment.
The vote is open.
The oral sub-amendment is adopted.
Does anyone wish to speak against Amendment 33, as amended? That is not the case.
What is the opinion of the committee on Amendment 33, as amended?
Mr DESTEXHE (Belgium) – In favour.
The PRESIDENT – The vote is open.
Amendment 33, as amended, is adopted.
We come to Amendment 24. This amendment was unanimously agreed by the committee but is being called now because if it is agreed to, Amendment 5 will fall.
I call Mr Schwabe to support Amendment 24.
Mr SCHWABE (Germany) – We named religious norms as just one example, but we would like to exclude it because there are a lot of reasons for this situation, not just the enforcement of religious norms.
The PRESIDENT – Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment?
That is not the case.
What is the opinion of the committee?
Mr DESTEXHE (Belgium) – The committee is in favour.
The PRESIDENT – The vote is open.
Amendment 24 is adopted.
We will now proceed to vote on the whole of the draft resolution contained in Document 14083, as amended. A simple majority is required.
The vote is open.
The draft resolution in Document 14083, as amended, is adopted, with 70 votes for, 0 against and 4 abstentions.
We will now consider the two amendments to the draft recommendation.
I understand that the chairperson of the committee wishes to propose to the Assembly that Amendments 31 and 32 to the draft recommendation, which were unanimously approved by the committee, should be declared as agreed by the Assembly.
Is that so Mr Destexhe? It is.
Does anyone object?
As there is no objection, I declare that Amendments 31 and 32 to the draft resolution have been agreed.
We will now proceed to vote on the whole of the draft recommendation contained in Document 14083, as amended. A two-thirds majority is required, counting only affirmative and negative votes.
The vote is open.
The draft recommendation in Document 14083, as amended, is adopted, with 71 votes for, 0 against and 3 abstentions.
(Mr Jordana, Vice-President of the Assembly, took the Chair in place of Ms Oomen-Ruijten.)
4. Fighting income inequality as a means of fostering social cohesion and economic development
The PRESIDENT – We now come to the debate on the report “Fighting income inequality as a means of fostering social cohesion and economic development” (Document 14287) presented by Mr Andrej Hunko on behalf of the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development.
I remind members that speaking time is limited to three minutes.
In order to finish by 8 pm, I will interrupt the list of speakers at around 7.55 pm to allow time for replies and the vote.
I call Mr Hunko, rapporteur. You have 13 minutes in total, which you may divide between presentation of the report and reply to the debate.
Mr HUNKO (Germany)* – Inequality has, I dare say, become a major issue in recent weeks and months. We know the figures. The NGO Oxfam has shown that, globally, there are eight men who own as much as the poorest in the world. There has been some dispute as to the methodology used; nevertheless, the degree of inequality worldwide has risen massively in recent years within Europe and within most of our countries, as all the current studies on inequality show.
In my report I have focused on income inequality because that is one of the central features of inequality generally. I want to pick out a few figures from my own country. Germany is often seen as a model when it comes to social and economic development, but a new study shows that between 1991 and 2014, GDP rose by 22%, the incomes of those on higher incomes grew by 27%, but the bottom 40% in Germany are no better off today than they were in 1991. In fact, those on the lowest incomes are even worse off than they were then. A similar phenomenon can be seen in many other countries.
One of the reasons for that trend is the labour market, as I discuss in my report. We have seen the rise of a minimum wage sector and precarious work. The study that I quoted also states that there are now far more so-called working poor, so even people in work are at risk of poverty, in Germany and across the European Union.
Having said all that, it is not always easy to get reliable figures on inequality. Some studies have been commissioned by the European Commission and by European Union member States, but we have not really had enough figures. It was not possible to get comprehensive data on eastern Europe and Russia, for example, but I assume that the trends there will be comparable to those in the rest of Europe.
I want to look more generally at inequality and consider how it can be addressed. Around 25 years ago, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and other organisations would have started from the premise that a certain degree of inequality was desirable, because it motivates people to strive and work hard. However, there has since been a paradigm shift in such organisations. The International Monetary Fund and the OECD, for example, now argue that the scale of inequality has become a real economic problem, because in many countries it has created instability and lack of demand.
I have put forward a range of proposals on how we might tackle this issue. The most important proposal, I think, is to ensure that income inequality is at the top of our list of priorities. We must ensure that it is a live political issue in all our parliaments, because the situation is so dramatic. Another important consideration is labour market and wage policies. My view is that we need to rethink our attitude to the minimum wage sector, casual labour and precarious jobs. We need a minimum wage for people who are in full-time work, to ensure that at the very least they can get by on what they earn, because at least 7 million people in the European Union now earn below the living wage despite being in full-time work.
We must also introduce measures to tackle the gender pay gap – in other words, the pay inequality between men and women. We must ensure that there is equal pay for equal work. Another important point that is increasingly discussed is the need to consider what the highest and lowest paid in a company might earn – for example, what a company director might earn compared with a company worker – because sometimes there is a 100-fold or even 1 000-fold difference between the two. That will have to be dealt with in law in individual member States. Then there is the whole business of tax havens and tax evasion, which is a very important issue. I have advocated a whole raft of proposals in that regard.
In conclusion, this is not just about justice and economic stability; it is also about the social repercussions of inequality. To my mind, rising inequality also leads to problems for democracy, because poorer people are less likely to bother to turn out to vote, and if they do they might be tempted to vote for right-wing parties. I see the rise of right-wing populism as directly linked to rising inequality. That has huge implications for social stability and cohesion. For all those reasons, it is hugely important that we face this issue head-on and send out a clear signal that we want European governments to tackle it.
The PRESIDENT* – Thank you, Mr Hunko. You have five minutes remaining to respond to the debate.
Ms JOHNSSON FORNARVE (Sweden, Spokesperson for the Group of the Unified European Left) – Let me first, on behalf of the Group of the Unified European Left, thank Mr Hunko for this excellent report, which we support entirely. The issue of wealth and income inequality has recently come to the fore. As Oxfam has reported several times in the past few years, levels of inequality worldwide have increased dramatically. The richest 1% have now accumulated more wealth than the rest of the world put together, and income gaps have grown across Europe.
In my home country of Sweden, which is considered one of the most equal countries, we can unfortunately note that the economic gap has been increasing over a long period. That is clear when we compare the salary of someone in the elite and that of a public welfare worker, for example. The chief executive officer of a large Swedish company can earn as much as 66 assistant nurses do.
Economic gaps split our societies apart. Uneven societies create poorer health among both the poor and the wealthy. More violence, less social mobility and poorer trust among people are also the result of major income gaps, according to British scientists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett. An important measure to reduce the gaps is to build up a well-functioning welfare system paid by taxpayers, where those who earn the most contribute most.
One of the causes of the major gaps is that capital income has risen far more than wages have. In order to create an economy for all, those who have the most need to contribute more. It is therefore high time we increased the tax on capital and large companies. Measures must also be taken to stop tax evasion. There is no shortage of resources, but there is a lack of fair distribution.
Europe’s countries must also develop strategies to address high unemployment. It is particularly important to target specifically vulnerable economic groups, such as young people, women and immigrants. Strong trade unions are a prerequisite for positive development in the labour market, and society must therefore support the construction of strong trade union movements that can negotiate wages and good working conditions. The Swedish model of collective agreement works very well.
Europe’s countries must also develop strategies to address inequality in wages between men and women. European women earn, on average, 73.6% of what European men earn, even though women are usually better educated. Women often work part time and have greater responsibilities for their families and homes. Women earn less just because they are women. It is high time we changed that by introducing equal pay between the sexes. The right to full-time work is also an important gender equality reform. Societies based on equality grow and become strong, harmonious societies.
Ms RODRÍGUEZ RAMOS (Spain, Spokesperson for the Socialist Group)* – I thank the rapporteurs for the excellent analysis they have provided. It is clearly true that levels of inequality are on the increase in the developed world. That trend has been particularly marked in recent years, with dire consequences. The OECD has said that the richest 10% of the population now have nine times more wealth than the poorest 10%. That entails enormous social costs and encourages social conflict. It also hampers social development and limits economic growth, because such inequality prevents the economy from fully exploiting the potential of the poorest members of society.
However, poor or vulnerable people are not just those on the threshold of social exclusion. These days such people are primarily found in the working class. The alarm bells really are ringing with the growing disparity in income. Moreover, international bodies are not used to addressing issues such as inequality, although the IMF, for example, has flagged up the problem. More equality promotes economic development; more inequality limits consumption and the internal distribution of wealth. Some 70% of the worldwide economy is based on consumption. Inequality also damages democracy. If we have more inequality, we have democracies of less quality. The fact is that those who have the most capacity and have been able to accumulate the most wealth are the best equipped to shape public policy in their interests. That is certainly not to the advantage of other countries. More equality is also favourable for increased access to, and recognition of, basic rights such as health and education, but in more fragile States there is less public investment in those areas.
In the light of all that, we have to ensure that this issue is moved to the top of the international agenda. As the report points out, we need a road map with international or national commitments. We need improvements to employment rights to fight against insecure employment, and support for those in insecure jobs – in Europe we are seeing the re-emergence of a new category of working poor. We also have to promote female employment in the jobs market, jobs for young people and social dialogue. We have to move towards root-and-branch reform of tax systems. The fact is that tax systems affect income as well as invested wealth. We also have tax havens, which have to be tackled. Tax is evaded and ends up in tax havens – we have to tear them open. I think we would all agree that, at the beginning of the 21st century, the time has come for a new social contract.
Ms GÜNAY (Turkey, Spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) – Rising inequality is of widespread concern all over the world, but its economic, social, political and security implications are a greater threat than ever, so I am thankful for this timely report. The economic and social fallout from the global financial crisis has resulted in slower global growth and employment, leading to a smaller cake to share at the national level and widening the income gap between the rich, the middle class and the poor.
Widening inequality has significant economic implications for growth and macroeconomic stability, and it also endangers political and social stability. During recent elections and referendums in many countries, including the United States and in Europe, we saw that national sentiments and anti-immigration approaches are on the rise, threatening social cohesion, social peace and European values in particular. However, reducing poverty is not enough. Policy making must go beyond targeted approaches and consider broader social cohesion objectives that will reduce income inequalities and improve access to basic services and to opportunities for decent jobs and upward social mobility. New inclusive growth models that encompass more effective redistribution policies and comprehensive social protection programmes are needed to ensure both sustainable development and social cohesion. Inclusive growth creates opportunities for all segments of the population and distributes the dividends of increased prosperity, in both monetary and non-monetary terms, fairly across society.
At this point we have to think about the root causes of, and solutions to, rising inequality. This is not a national problem, but a global issue. However, there will not be a single recipe. Policy makers in member countries must determine the extent of inequality, its drivers and what to do about it in the context of inclusive growth. Pervasive inequity in the accessing of education, health care, the labour market and finance must be a priority. In the report, the Council of Europe’s role is missing – it is not clear. The Council of Europe can set an umbrella policy for inclusive growth, determine targets and co-ordinate national strategies and measures.
Mr van de VEN (Netherlands, Spokesperson for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe) – The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe is amazed by the report. It is clearly spirited by envy and jealousy. In a democratic State, citizens should pay tax on their income to provide the State with sufficient funds to finance the government’s policy objectives. I note that an income policy for the taxation of citizens for their share of the total tax burden is a standard item in the annual budget process of governments.
As a liberal, I am of the opinion that the State’s interference with individuals and in the private sector should be kept to a minimum. Having said that, I support – again, as a liberal – all measures that States introduce to combat tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance. However, the State is not a means of applying a theft tax, or a kleptomania tax, to level out the income of citizens, with the purpose of re-distributing income from citizens with higher income levels to those with lower ones. Each and every individual has the right and duty to exploit his talents and earn as much income as he can, to pursue his own happiness. Creating a so-called level income field is a disaster for the development of the individual and a disaster for the welfare of the State. The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe disapproves of the report and calls on the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s members to use their common sense and follow suit.
I want to end the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe’s contribution to this debate with a quote from Margaret Thatcher on socialists, who “would rather the poor were poorer, provided the rich were less rich.”
The PRESIDENT* – Mr Hunko, you have the opportunity to respond to the group spokespersons who have just spoken. You have four minutes.
Mr HUNKO (Germany)* – I have a few brief comments. First, I thank speakers for their remarks. If I may, I want to start by responding to some of the criticisms. Ms Günay pointed out that the Council of Europe does not have an important role to play. That is despite the European Social Charter – a very important instrument of the Council of Europe.
In response to your comments, Mr van de Ven, the fact is that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Even liberal governments would be forced to recognise that society has now reached a stage where stability itself is being undermined. In my view, that means it is appropriate to try to counter that trend by using targeted measures. It is quite wrong to describe a progressive tax system as some kind of kleptomaniac one.
The PRESIDENT* – You will have approximately four minutes to respond at the end of the debate, Mr Hunko. The next speaker is Mr O’Reilly, but he is not here so I call Mr Fridez.
Mr FRIDEZ (Switzerland)* – I congratulate Mr Hunko on his report and his proposals. I have studied this issue in some depth, particularly by reading Joseph Stiglitz and Thomas Piketty, and I am convinced by what they say. Income equality and everyone having a decent income that allows them to enjoy a decent standard of life as a result of their labour are essential prerequisites for social cohesion and a fairer world built on solidarity. However, to have a decent income, you need a job, and sadly that is simply not possible for many people today, because unemployment is on the rise.
The idea of a universal basic income might be worth exploring. A number of schemes have been put forward, particularly in the French presidential campaign, but sadly the candidates were not able to get their arguments across. However, a system of basic universal income will be tested elsewhere, including in pilot projects in Finland. We will see what happens.
We need a progressive, fair taxation system if we are to have societies in which everyone can live with decency and dignity, and not simply survive. Yes, that will mean distributing wealth, but it will also simplify matters. Take Switzerland, a country that I know well. It is true that we have a lot of rich people, but we also have too many poor people. However, in Switzerland, everyone receives something that they can live on, whether they work or not. If they do not work, they get unemployment benefit, or, at the very least, some kind of social benefit that allows them to live and gives them a basic income.
Things become more complicated if a person falls ill. Then we have very long procedures, and many companies do all that they can to send the person on to a different benefit or a sickness insurance system. All the organisations try to send the person from one place to another without really dealing with the issue. People end up spending hours and hours on paperwork. In the end, someone will pay, but it is not very clear who. Obviously, if we had a universal basic income, the whole process could be much more streamlined and dealt with much more swiftly and simply. In conclusion, I call on the Assembly to support this excellent report.
Mr ROCA (Spain) – The debate on inequality is a debate about our welfare society, but we are not a money society; we are a services society, because wealth is not the most important thing – services are. We have to fight inequality through services. We live in a new era, a new economy. There are no barriers. There are technological challenges that may scare us all, but they are an opportunity, not a pitfall.
We have to adapt public services to the 21st century. Unlike in populism, there are no shortcuts or easy solutions; we need hard work and dialogue to provide efficient and fair public services for all. Perhaps we have to start thinking about how we can understand a system in which there are planned public services for those who can provide for themselves, and vulnerable people – those who need us the most – are given wages. They need efficient, specialised and professional services, so that they have shelter, energy, food and transportation. We have to know who the vulnerable are, and do this in an efficient way. It is very important that we fight the inequality experienced by those persons with functional diversity and by older people – the weakest members of our societies.
The best social policy that we can implement is one that creates stable and fair employment for all people who can work. Last but not least, I do not think that it is true that the poor are now poorer, and the rich richer. Data lead us to the conclusion that planned economies are poorer, and free economies are richer.
Ms BLONDIN (France)* – I thank Mr Hunko for his very personal report, which flags up two major trends of our age. The first is an increase in inequality, which has gone hand in hand with a reduction in poverty at the global level, and an increase in global wealth comparable to that in previous eras. We also see worrying consequences of the entrenchment of that inequality for the stability of our democracies. History can give us many examples of disasters and wars that have been caused by economic crises.
There is a paradox: our economies have reached an unprecedented level of globalisation, but never before has criticism of globalisation been so lively. Many people think that the simple remedy is protectionism and withdrawal behind national borders, and that is what many candidates in the recent presidential election advocated. However, the root causes of our economic difficulties are far more complex than appears at first sight. Productivity is on the rise, which is vital if living standards are to rise, but since the crisis, companies have been investing less, and their investments, such as those in property, do not yield as much. At the same time, in most industrialised countries, the share of income generated by labour has gone down considerably, and the share generated by capital has gone up. The International Monetary Fund has said that that trend is attributable, at least in part, to technological progress. One candidate in the recent elections talked about a robot tax, because we are seeing a great degree of automation, and capital is now concentrated in the hands of the very richest.
Finally, the global economy suffers from sub-optimal capital flows, some of which, as a result of deficiencies in international financial regulations, serve only to fuel speculative bubbles. It is highly unlikely that the solutions put forward by populists will solve the major challenges facing the global economy. We need economic dynamism to give workers a degree of dignity and ensure that they support our democracy.
The PRESIDENT* – Thank you. Mr Evans and Mr Troy are not here, so I call Ms Ĺberg.
Ms ĹBERG (Sweden) – In his report, Mr Hunko states that Sweden is one of the countries where income differences have increased the most in past decades. I would like to make it clear that Sweden has one of the most extended welfare systems in the world. In Sweden, a family with children where neither parent works receive such high social benefits that it would not be beneficial for the parents to take a low-paid job. That is nothing to strive after. The Swedish system is built on the reasoning that all who can work should work. When those who can work choose not to, the system collapses.
According to the report, differences in income create social tensions and lead to extremism and xenophobia. Tensions in society are also created when those who can work see that it is not profitable to do so. The report suggests that collective bargaining institutions should be strengthened. The problem is that labour unions look after their members’ interests and disregard those who do not have a job, such as young people and migrants. High initial wages lead to employers preferring an experienced person with mastery of the language as opposed to someone who does not know it or a young person.
The report advises progressive taxes. The tax level has not only a political and moral dimension but an economic one. With very high taxes, further tax increases lead to the State losing tax revenues. Instead of a higher salary, people may choose to have some extra vacation days, for example. Those with a good education may leave the highly-taxed country and settle down elsewhere. The idea of equal incomes was attempted for several decades in former communist countries without success. The State confiscated all assets and salaries were centrally regulated. In the end, everyone became equally as poor. It is not the duty of politics to ensure everyone has the same in the end. On the other hand, it is the duty of politics to ensure that everyone has the same chances from the start – good schools and access to healthcare. Welfare should be financed by common responsibility, but each individual should be able to enjoy the fruits of their labour
Ms CHRISTOFFERSEN (Norway) – I thank Mr Hunko for his important report. As he correctly states, significant income inequality has a negative effect on social cohesion, as well as on economic performance, growth, and sustainability. All over Europe, the share of our population that has to cope with incomes below the poverty line is growing. That is good neither for society nor for people, and it is particularly bad for the children who are affected. Another serious consequence of growing poverty is social unrest, rising populism, nationalism, disintegration, and distrust. Ultimately, it can lead to radicalisation and acts of terror, of which we have seen too many tragic examples. Last week, our Secretary General launched a new report with advice on how responsible political players can work together to challenge populism and to foster safe and stable States. He has an extremely important point. Income inequality is about politics. It is an outcome of political decisions, not something that just happens, and I would like Mr Hunko to comment on that briefly in his concluding remarks.
Our Norwegian welfare society is built on three pillars: tripartite co-operation – wage levels are set by collective bargaining, not by political decisions – public welfare, and public health services. They are combined with a relatively high level of taxation and generous social benefits and national insurance. The OECD stated rather clearly that our Norwegian welfare system would not be sustainable in the long run, but when we managed to maintain low unemployment during the financial crises, the OECD changed its mind. After four years of a conservative government, the level of unemployment is now at its highest for 20 years. The employment rate is falling. Income inequality has risen by nearly 10%. There has been a significant tax reduction for the wealthy and corresponding cuts in child support, in unemployment benefits, and in benefits for disabled people, the elderly, immigrants, and single parents. At the same time, we face serious attacks on established workers’ rights, and temporary employment is becoming more and more widespread. All those things are outcomes of deliberate political decisions. We are preparing for parliamentary elections in September, and the election campaign will undoubtedly be run along those exact lines, with the present government on one side and the social democrats on the other.
Ms DALLOZ (France)* – Christine Lagarde, President of the IMF, recently stressed during a conference that rising income inequality was holding back economic development and that the struggle to reduce such inequality was advantageous for the economy. Beyond those advantages, it is clear that increasing inequality in all European countries is having a massive knock-on effect on social cohesion. Income inequality has been further exacerbated by the disappearance of income support. Some countries have specific benefits for the elderly or for young people, and eligibility for such aid also varies from one country to another. In Nordic countries, for example, even a young person living in their parents’ home is entitled to benefits. Benefits and income support throughout Europe should accurately reflect the cost of living, which is not always the case.
Unfortunately, recent elections in Europe and elsewhere in the world – the recent election of Donald Trump is an excellent example – have demonstrated that income inequality is a serious threat to our democracies in the medium term. Feelings of abandonment or even frustration have led to high abstention rates in certain sectors of the population and, above all, to votes for populist parties. Recent election analysis in France shows that 45% of blue-collar workers voted for Marine Le Pen. People who find it hard to make ends meet are far more likely to vote for extremist candidates. Similarly, it is interesting to see on a map of France that high abstention figures often feature in areas with economic problems or where the State is hardly present. The situation is further exacerbated by the fact that the role of schools in helping people to climb the social ladder has decreased over the years. We have to try to promote greater equality wherever people live.
I am an elected official in a rural region, and I have been fighting against the closure of public services in the mountainous area in which I live, where it can be hard for people to drive tens of miles in winter. Public policy making often fails to reflect the specific nature of local areas. We should be trying to reinforce or enhance local services, which would also create jobs. How could someone think about setting up a start-up in an area without internet coverage? We should start by reducing inequality between different regions and demonstrating that the State treats all its citizens equally. Employment must be the overriding priority. It is a difficult battle, but we have to win it. Our sense of fraternity has disappeared and our very freedom is under threat.
Mr KRONBICHLER (Italy)* – I thank Mr Hunko for introducing this report. Income inequality is the political issue of our times. Nothing else is of such importance and nothing is worse. Economic inequality is another problem and one that has caused the current migration flows. In wealthy countries, lower socioeconomic levels do not rise, so politicians have to do something: we need new long-term policies, because the policies in place have created serious problems. People have remained in poverty and have not been able to rise out of it. Jobs have to yield something for individuals. In too many countries, people are surviving on a bare minimum. In Italy, we do not have a basic wage or citizen’s salary. That promise is only words so far, and the problem affects a large section of society. Other social problems are linked to this.
This is also a moral issue. The difference between incomes is shameful in itself. New measures must be adopted to change the situation, and several people have mentioned the possibilities that exist to repair the situation. Economic inequality creates serious risks for democracy. Peace is democracy in all its facets, and vice versa. One of the chief responsibilities of the Council of Europe is to deal with this ever so serious issue.
The PRESIDENT* – I cannot see Mr Wilk, so I call Ms Crozon.
Ms CROZON (France)* – I share the rapporteur’s conviction that social cohesion does not flow from economic development: rather, it is the bedrock of economic development and one of the main prerequisites for such development. In the past, that was recognised by industrialists such as Ford, who used to say that if you want to sell cars, you have to give workers the means to buy cars. It was also understood by our post-war governments who built our welfare states and thereby laid the basis for the 30 glorious years of the consumer society that we have enjoyed.
Of course the world has changed. It has opened up, and now we have social systems with very different levels of development in competition with one another. Regions and countries are more specialised than they were, and markets of production and consumption are more separate than they were in the past. Financiers have now taken the place of captains of industry, and they are looking for a return on investment at levels that are not attainable by real economic growth alone.
The digital revolution does allow us to make enormous progress in terms of productivity. We also see outsourcing and decentralising. Indeed, we see that some services and skills are simply no longer required – things on which we thought we would be able to build our growth. If we look at this new world, we see that the kind of approach that should have been followed has not been followed over the past decade of austerity. We see that social protection, pensions, sickness insurance and public services have been the first to suffer. They have been at the forefront as people have sought to put in place strategies of demand-driven recovery. Politicians have taken an ideological stance, saying that trickle-down economics will work – if you make the rich richer, the benefits will trickle down to the poorer – but it simply does not work.
Income inequality is increasing dramatically – look at what is happening in Greece. It is not the level of expenditure that is preventing them from getting out of debt, but the fact that growth has collapsed because of the efforts that have been demanded of the Greek people. I want to emphasise the fact that work – labour – has lost its value. In our countries, we have farmers, craftsmen and self-employed people working more than 60 hours a week and not even getting the minimum wage for it. We have wage earners, 80% of them women, working for less than 18 hours a week. They are bearing the burden of flexibility in our economies through the very precariousness of their jobs. There are young people – increasingly highly qualified young people – who are drifting from little job to little job for five years before they find a stable job.
The economic mismatch is more and more flagrant, and income inequality is more and more apparent to all. This is really the question that we all have to ask ourselves about the future. What is the point of progress? What is the point of making productivity improvements? We need to emancipate people, and that means that we need to allow people to share.
Mr HANŽEK (Slovenia) – I thank Mr Hunko and others for the excellent report.
In his book “Equality and Efficiency: The Big Tradeoff”, published in 1975, Okun put forth one of the basic hypotheses of the development of a neo-liberal economy: only the market chooses the winners that are necessary for economic growth. He added that the quest for efficiency necessarily causes inequality. This never-confirmed thesis was taken by many economists and world decision makers as a basis for changing not only the economy but the entire social system. Not even warnings by the World Bank, which cannot be regarded as left-wing, were enough to convince them that the functioning of societies is not that simple.
According to the World Bank, inter-State analyses show that societies that are very unequal are politically and socially less stable, have lower investment shares and slower growth. The economist William Petty wrote in the 17th century that the raison d’ętre of the economy is, above all, not as high a domestic product as possible, but each man’s happiness. This and many other warnings were deliberately forgotten by the advocates of material wealth as the only incentive for development, thereby causing the inevitable: growing inequalities that led to increased poverty and the exclusion of entire social classes from society. Thus, they caused the erosion of democracy, austerity measures that affected the poorest the most, greater unemployment and unreasonable concentration of wealth in the hands of a few privileged individuals who used such wealth to build totalitarian regimes.
It is not a matter of choosing a winner, but rather a question of the development of society as a whole – a society in which every individual has enough means for a decent life. Social inequalities suppress the development of social and human capital, decrease economic growth and reduce the quality of life of the individual and the society as a whole. That is why the resolution is so important: it is a new warning against the social and economic catastrophe towards which we have been led by some never-confirmed arguments. As I have said before in this Chamber, austerity is not an economic need, it is an ideology.
Mr Geraint DAVIES (United Kingdom) – Mr Hunko’s excellent report invites us to look over the economic and political precipice before us. He points out that 1% of the world’s population already has more wealth than the rest of humanity combined. Income inequality is at odds with economic growth, according to the OECD and the IMF, which means that to get a bigger cake, we need fairer slices. That means the political intervention in this report.
In the United Kingdom, we have a dreadful and appalling record as illustrated by the statistics – the worst inequality according to the Gini coefficient and the greatest growth of inequality in Europe.
Hundreds of thousands of people now go to food banks and there have been massive increases in homelessness. Cuts in public services mean that growth in the NHS is only 0.3% a year when the long-term trend indicates a need for 3.7% a year. Education is to be cut by 8% – education, of course, is an engine for stopping inequality and enabling opportunity. Instead, there have been cuts for the poor to pay for the bankers’ greed. Poverty is intergenerational: the poor start and end poor and their children are poor while the rich stay rich.
In the old days, Margaret Thatcher wanted a home-owning democracy, but these days the Conservatives have abandoned that: you can get a house only if your parents have a house so that they can give you the deposit. University fees are up. Young people have lost their jobs, wages and pension opportunities. They cannot buy a house and have a despairing future. We need to invest in training, education, minimum wages and having limits on the ratio between the highest and lowest paid in companies when it comes to public procurement. We need fair taxes and opportunity because those are the foundations of social cohesion and the very values we stand for in this place: democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
It is a shame to say that as we approach Brexit in Britain, we will see a massive Conservative majority. Brexit itself was partly a result of poor people being told to blame foreign people for their poverty, just as Trump told people to blame the Chinese, the Mexicans or the Muslims – anybody, as long as the fault was with others. People now need to realise that political intervention for investment for jobs is essential. I hope that they will realise in time in Britain, but I fear that we will get a smaller cake with smaller slices – and the smallest for the poorest.
Mr GYÖNGYÖSI (Hungary) – I start by complimenting the report. I thank the rapporteurs for an excellent report, which draws attention to the important issue of income inequalities in member States. It highlights steps at a national level and national strategies that need to be adopted to eliminate income inequalities. It rightly stresses the importance of changes in the tax system, minimum wage levels and labour and trade union laws. The importance of promoting small and medum-sized enterprises and family-owned businesses is also highlighted.
However, doing things at national level is not enough. We live in a globalised world and in open economies. In the European Union we have a common market built on neo-liberal economics, especially since the Maastricht Agreement was adopted, with free movement of labour, capital and liberalisation, decentralisation and privatisation in every field. In central and eastern Europe, post-communist countries have adopted neo-liberal recipes to transition and close the gap between central and eastern and western European countries. That national strategy was built on low corporate taxes, low wages and flexible labour laws to attract foreign direct investment.
But that transition model has failed miserably, with disastrous implications: poverty, income inequality and debt levels are on the rise and there is mass migration to western Europe from central and eastern Europe. More than 600 000 people have left Hungary alone since we joined the European Union, and most are young and educated. The European Union also has a cohesion policy with the objective of closing the gap between new and old member States. Enormous funds have been spent on cohesion and convergence, but that strategy has failed miserably, with no measurable targets and no responsibility taken at European Union level. Funds were spent not on education or improving human capital but on infrastructure projects.
In the last seconds of my speech I want to draw the attention of the rapporteurs to an initiative that kicked off in central and eastern Europe in March. Eight countries joined together to start a European citizens initiative. Eight countries have turned to the European Union to address the issue of income and wage inequalities and have asked the European Commission to legislate to change the situation. I thank the rapporteur for an excellent report and for addressing this very important issue.
Mr DOWNE (Canada, Observer) – I am grateful for the opportunity to say a few words on this important topic. I congratulate everyone who worked on this excellent report. All our countries suffer from income inequalities. As the report outlines, part of the problem is that governments lack the resources to address the problems as they should be addressed. Part of the problem in Canada is tax evasion. Our domestic tax system is very good and we have very few problems with tax evasion domestically. However, we have a massive problem with overseas tax evasion and we need the co-operation of other countries to close down the tax havens so that we have the money to address the problems outlined in the report.
The Conference Board of Canada released a report a few weeks ago saying that our tax gap – the difference between what we do collect and what we should be collecting – is CAN$47 billion: a massive amount of money not available to the government to address many of the problems outlined in the report. In the past two years, the government has given additional resources of almost CAN$1 billion to a revenue agency to hire additional auditors and others. But the problem is finding out who the beneficial owners of these companies are, where people are hiding their money and why they are hiding it rather than contributing to the Canadian economy so that everybody has the resources available to the very rich.
Another major problem in Canada is the double standard shown by people who hide their money overseas. But when they or a member of their family becomes ill, they do not have medical treatment overseas, but return to Canada’s publicly funded health care system to which they do not want to contribute. That is an outrage and we call on other countries to co-operate collectively to close down tax havens.
Ms HIGGINS (Ireland) – I congratulate the rapporteurs on an important report and resolution on an important issue. As we have heard, income inequality is a huge concern across Europe and the world and it has deepened in recent years. Although the neo-liberal economic speculative economic model that led to the economic crash lost credibility, in many ways it used the opportunity of the recession to seize power by implementing shifts in policy. Under austerity, for example, we saw a massive transfer of wealth to capital – the least productive place for wealth – rather than to individuals. There are more billionaires even at a time when the number of people suffering from serious material deprivation across Europe has increased by 7.5 million to 50 million.
In my country of Ireland, the top 1% have increased their share of the wealth during the period of austerity from 34% to 39%, even as Ireland is recognised by the OECD as having one of the largest proportions of full-time workers on low pay – predominantly women, of course. Our excellent social protection system has stepped in to fill the new gap represented by the working poor. But it is unacceptable that under austerity we see the remaking of the workplace and the breaking of the contract that means that someone is paid for their work enough to live. That has been broken and huge pressure on social protection systems has resulted, as precarious contracts become increasingly widespread. We see the breaking of the rungs of the ladder of progression for those on lower incomes, and the breaking of rungs of the ladder that allows them and their families to move forward – that basic promise in society.
We do not need to look to left-wing economists or Piketty to justify the report; we can look to the IMF and the OECD. We have heard much about the OECD, but in June 2014 the IMF produced a report that looked at over 170 countries over a 30-year period. It found that when you increase the income of the bottom 20% your economy grows, and when you increase the income of the top 10% the economy shrinks. The report says explicitly that trickle-down does not work. We need to acknowledge that that is the evidence. We do not need white knight economics; we need to know that that is the core evidence.
All of us know that when you distribute income widely, you get local expenditure and local economies. That is why there are strong measures in the report to support small and medium businesses. That is the redistribution that we need, whereas when you concentrate money in the highest hands, it is at the mercy of accountants who wish to pursue tax avoidance.
This is not just an economic issue; it is about social cohesion and the dangers of disfranchisement. People need to feel that they have access to decisions about their lives and that they are respected equally. We know that the Oxfam report “A Europe for the Many, Not the Few” challenges all of us as European parliamentarians. Will we be for the many? Will we recognise that there is such a thing as society and will we move to the practical measures that are mentioned in the report? Will we measure our economy not simply by GDP but by more equal income distribution, the narrowing of the Gini coefficient, the closing of the gender pay and pension gap, and policies that will lead to increases in our median income? I welcome and support the report.
The PRESIDENT* – Thank you. Mr Pleșoianu is not here, so I call Mr Mavrotas.
Mr MAVROTAS (Greece)* – I thank Mr Hunko for his report. I agree that we need to deal with income inequality. It is a time-bomb that threatens social cohesion, economic development and democracy. The chain of events is all too familiar: income inequality leads to social inequality, which leads to a lack of trust in national and transnational institutions such as the European Union. The result is populism, xenophobia and extremism; they all find fertile ground in times of crisis. If income reduction is accompanied by poor distribution of wealth, it creates a volatile, explosive situation.
What has to be done? To improve something, you have to be able to measure it. The inequality of distribution is not intangible or abstract. We have tools to measure that, such as the Gini index and the S80/S20 ratio. Just as we are familiar with GDP, GDP per capita and levels of development, so we have to become familiar with those new types of inequality indices and to be able to use them to forge policies.
Many of the various measures that have to be adopted are mentioned in the report. We must have more effective control mechanisms regarding tax evasion and avoidance, an international co-ordinated effort to get rid of tax havens and stashed-away funds, so that people cannot have their debts in one country and their profits outside that country. We must have those tools and access to education. That is the only way that we can have a viable and effective weapon to fight this issue.
Let us not forget that equality is the driving force in a free economy. We want incentives to improve, which are necessary. We do not want greed. Sustainable development has three pillars: the economy, the environment and society. If we pay attention only to the first pillar, the other two will crumble; the market cannot regulate everything and the system will lose its balance. When a system loses its balance, that balance is lost not just for one but for all.
The PRESIDENT* – Thank you. Mr Harangozó is not here, so I call Mr Loucaides.
Mr LOUCAIDES (Cyprus) – I congratulate my colleague, the rapporteur Andrej Hunko, on this excellent report, which is particularly important as there is a serious deficiency in the parliamentary debate on the issue of social inequalities throughout Europe.
It is natural and to be expected in an organisation such as the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, where different political groups are represented, that there will be different or opposing perceptions. Inequality is essentially linked to one’s ideological standpoint as regards the economy and ultimately the relationship between capital and labour. However, the global economic crisis has highlighted some important facts and shattered myths. No one should ignore that.
Not everyone emerged as losers from the crisis. On the contrary, as the report illustrates, elites saw their wealth increase, with a record number of inequalities being recorded today. The relative economic recovery and decline in unemployment that has been recorded – not in all countries, of course – has not been reflected in an improvement in people’s lives, as it has not reversed the exacerbation of inequalities. The policies of austerity, tax incentives for big businessmen and the bailing out of banks have led not to growth and prosperity for all but to increased inequalities and exploitation.
It is crucial to acknowledge those truths because we cannot solve the issue of income and, more broadly, social inequality if we do not determine their root causes. Allow me to quote the words of the Brazilian Archbishop Helder Câmara: “When I feed the poor, they call me a saint, but when I ask why the poor are hungry, they call me a communist.” That also applies to inequality.
Of course you do not need to be a communist in our times to understand that income inequality is an inherent characteristic of an unfair and exploitative system that accumulates and concentrates wealth in ever fewer hands. In other words, we do not have poor and rich by chance. We have poor people because we have rich people, and vice versa. That is why, for the left, the long-term solution to this issue lies in choosing a different path for social and economic development, for the benefit of our countries and continent.
Anyone who is genuinely appalled by the blatant inequalities linked to extreme poverty and gender disparities regarding pay and youth unemployment, on national and international levels, can only agree with the recommendations in the report.
Mr OLIVER (Canada, Observer) – It is an honour to speak to you today about the impact of income inequality on social cohesion, economic development and in particular the health and well-being of individuals. According to the World Health Organization, “the conditions in which people are born, grow, work, live, and age” are “determinants of health.” The WHO further noted that such conditions are affected by the distribution of money, power and resources, at global, national and local levels.
As noted by the rapporteur, evidence suggests that rising income inequality is a threat to social cohesion and reduces the well-being of low-income earners. Indeed, an increase in income inequality contributes to an increase in violence, physical and mental illness, drug addiction, obesity, teenage pregnancies and child well-being.
In Canada, we have evidence that shows how income inequality affects the health of all Canadians; notably, individuals in the highest income decile live at least five years longer than those in the bottom decile. Canadians who are less socio-economically advantaged tend to have higher rates of illness and injury than people who are not. Canada’s Aboriginal people, who are considered one of the most disadvantaged population groups, have more than three times the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes than non-Aboriginals.
A 2011 report released by the Public Health Agency of Canada estimated that the annual cost of health care expenditures for disadvantaged groups, compared with that for middle and high-income groups, was CAN$18 billion higher. Canadians are working hard to correct those issues. We have increased the tax rate on those with incomes above CAN$200 000 and cut taxes on the middle class. We have introduced child benefits, targeting low and middle-income families, and reversed certain tax policies that disproportionately benefit the wealthy. We have also increased monthly payments to low-income seniors and are working to fund the construction of more affordable housing. To assist indigenous populations, investment of almost CAN$9 billion over five years is improving the socioeconomic conditions of indigenous peoples and their communities. The proposed investments in education, infrastructure and other programmes should improve quality of life. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has required the development of a national poverty reduction strategy and one of our provinces has launched the trial of a guaranteed basic income for the unemployed and the working poor.
As elected lawmakers, we are duty-bound to serve those who have put their trust and confidence in us and, even more so, to act for the most vulnerable members of our respective societies. We cannot shy away from the challenges of addressing income inequality. We can help to ensure the health and well-being of our fellow citizens.
The PRESIDENT* – Ms Kerestecioğlu Demir is not here, so I call Mr Don Davies.
Mr Don DAVIES (Canada, Observer) – Few things are of more fundamental importance to our societies and the citizens we represent than that which concerns the distribution of income and wealth. It determines quality of life, impacts on national cohesion and influences economic, social and cultural development.
Disturbingly, however, the past four decades have seen an alarming trend towards increasing economic inequality across the globe. In 2013 the OECD concluded that from the 1980s to the late 2000s income inequality, as measured by the Gini coefficient, rose markedly in most countries for which data were available. According to Oxfam, the world’s eight richest individuals now control as much wealth as the poorest 50% of all human beings. My own country of Canada is no exception to that trend. A 2014 study reported that Canada was one of the countries with a particularly prominent concentration of wealth. Indeed, the two richest Canadians now possess more wealth than 30% of all Canadians, or 11 million people.
The causes of such a development are multi-pronged but can, in essence, be traced to neoliberal economic policies that have exacerbated wealth concentration: reduced taxation; shrinking public services; deregulation and privatisation; anti-union laws; less accessible education; and trade policies that allow capital to flee to low-wage jurisdictions. Those have all contributed to increased income inequality. We know that empirically because post-Second World War policies of expanded public services, increased access to public education, adequate tax bases and progressive labour policies resulted in decades that saw the closing of income gaps and greater income equality.
Ironically, the growth of income inequality has come at a time of increasing global production and unprecedented technological progress. However, rather than benefiting all those participating in the creation of global wealth, it has been disproportionately captured by national and international elites. The political and economic consequences of that cannot be overstated. The working poor have been thrust into chronic economic insecurity and its attendant loss of personal control. The middle class is evaporating, and we have torn up the social contract with our young people that promised them that hard work and education were the keys to rewarding careers. Together, those create the conditions in which anger, intolerance and xenophobia take root and can easily be exploited.
We know that tackling income inequality will benefit our economies. We must recognise that taking serious measures is essential to the development of stable societies and well-functioning democracies. The principles of freedom, democracy and human rights are the cornerstones of this Assembly, but they are not meaningful when people are struggling to survive or perceive their societies to be rooted in economic injustice. Let us leave here committed to doing everything we can to target and reverse income inequality in our home nations.
The PRESIDENT* – I must now interrupt the list of speakers. The speeches of members on the speakers list who were present during the debate but were not able to speak may be given to the Table Office for publication. They should be submitted in typescript, electronically if possible, no later than four hours after the list of speakers was interrupted.
I call Mr Hunko, rapporteur, to reply. You have four minutes left.
Mr HUNKO (Germany)* – I thank all of you for your contributions. The debate indicated how important this issue is. It also showed that we have taken a step forward – in a paradigm shift, we are moving forward.
Mr Davies made mention of that as well. After the Second World War there was a period in which there was a new ideology, with strong understanding and an effort to fight social inequality. That particular trend was enshrined in numerous different European constitutions and in the European Social Charter. By the mid-1980s, the 1990s and 2000s, the view existed that inequality is not bad – it might even be good – but now we are at a point when that paradigm shift is taking place. It has been expressed here and by the OECD, the World Bank, the International Labour Organization and the Inter-Parliamentary Union, but reports have come from numerous different organisations that we find ourselves at that particular turning point.
I have some specific points to pick up on. Mr Roca, this has nothing to do with a planned economy or controlling wages – you were trying to scaremonger. Ms Blondin brought up the issue of protectionism and the globalised neoliberal economy. Measures have to be adopted at both national and international level – particularly international level, and of course the Council of Europe is an international organisation that must use its particular strengths and weight to fight tax avoidance, tax evasion and other such machinations. We must operate at international level to fight those things, because we will be stronger and more effective if we fight in that concerted fashion.
I would also like to mention an interesting international study – its German title means “Equality Means Happiness”, which is a bit provocative. Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson have conducted a long-term study comparing equality and inequality in numerous different countries and societies. Using empirical data they have come to the conclusion that societies that are less unequal are generally happier and healthier. There is less anxiety and less drug addiction, and various social issues are dealt with. That is a wonderful picture.
Finally, I thank Ms Lambrecht from the secretariat for her support.
The PRESIDENT* – Does the Chairperson of the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development, Ms Stella Kyriakides, wish to speak?
Ms KYRIAKIDES (Cyprus) – In my capacity as chairperson of the committee that has submitted the draft resolution, I strongly support our rapporteur, Mr Hunko, who prepared the report. I believe that he convinced us in his introductory statement that the current levels of income inequality in Europe are not acceptable, and that they lead to social rights problems. As has been said, they also lead to democratic deficiency.
I remind members that the income inequalities that we observe today include significant differences in income between top earners and those receiving the lowest wages, but also differences between wages paid for the same work in different countries, regions, companies or branches. I am sure we all know that from our daily environments. They also include inequalities between women and men, which, as we all know, are still prevalent across Europe.
Some may say that a certain level of difference is justified, because there are differences in qualifications, professional experience and types of job, but I feel that we have gone beyond that perception nowadays. The level of income inequality that we observe today in Europe and globally cannot be justified by anything, and it goes beyond simply national explanations. That is why we, as politicians, must look not only at the current problematic income discrepancies but at the institutions, structures and procedures through which revenues are defined for various economic sectors. Such institutions should include social dialogue and collective bargaining, which are part of the European social model that this Assembly regularly supports. Mr Hunko’s text is complete on that point, and we should all endorse it to make it clear to all our governments at which levels they need to intervene to change the pattern of distribution in our societies profoundly. I therefore invite members to give full support to the draft resolution.
The PRESIDENT* – The debate is closed. The Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development has presented a draft resolution to which no amendment has been tabled.
We will now proceed to vote on the whole of the draft resolution contained in Document 14287. A simple majority is required.
The vote is open.
The draft resolution in Document 14287 is adopted, with 40 votes for, 2 against and 7 abstentions.
5. Next public business
The PRESIDENT* – The Assembly will hold its next public sitting tomorrow at 10 a.m. with the agenda that was approved on Monday.
The sitting is closed.
(The sitting was closed at 8 p.m.)
1. Questions to Mr Thorbjřrn Jagland, Secretary General of the Council of Europe
Questions: Ms Finckh-Krämer, Mr Howell, Mr van de Ven, Ms Kerestecioğlu Demir, Mr Fournier, Mr Goncharenko, Mr R. Huseynov, Mr Ghiletchi, Mr Troy, Ms Christoffersen, Mr Le Borgn’, Mr Köck, Mr Honkonen, Ms Hoffmann, Mr Zingeris.
2. Progress report of the Bureau and the Standing Committee and observation of the early parliamentary elections in Bulgaria (continuation of debate)
Presentation by Mr Xuclŕ of the report of the Bureau of the Assembly, Document 14289 and Addenda 1 and 3, and by Ms Dalloz, Rapporteur of the Bureau of the Assembly, Document 14294
Speakers: Mr Németh, Mr Schwabe, Ms Brasseur, Mr Kox, Ms Duranton, Mr Sobolev, Mr Orellana, Mr Seyidov, Mr R. Huseynov, Mr Tarczyński, Mr Kandelaki, Mr Önal, Ms Karapetyan, Mr Howell, Mr Ariev, Mr van de Ven, Ms Goncharenko, Ms Lundgren.
Draft resolution in Document 14289, as amended, adopted.
Draft recommendation in Document 14289, as amended, adopted.
3. Human rights in the North Caucasus: what follow-up to Resoluton 1738 (2010)?
Presentation by Mr Schwabe of the report of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, Document 14083.
Speakers;Ms Lundgren, Mr Kox, Mr Vareikis, Mr Mogens Jensen, Mr Goncharenko, Mr Fournier, Ms Finckh-Krämer, Mr Howell, Mr Herkel, Ms Higgins, Mr Köck, Mr Zingeris, Mr De Bruyn.
Draft resolution in Document 14083, as amended adopted.
Draft recommendation in Document 14083, as amended, adopted.
4. Fighting income inequality as a means of fostering social cohesion and economic development
Presentation by Mr Hunko of the report of the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development, Document 14287.
Speakers: Ms Johnsson Fornarve, Ms Rodriguez Ramos, Ms Günay, Mr van de Ven, Mr Fridez, Mr Roca, Ms Blondin, Ms Ĺberg, Ms Christoffersen, Ms Dalloz, Mr Kronbichler, Ms Crozon, Mr Hanžek, Mr Geraint Davies, Mr Gyöngyösi, Mr Downe, Ms Higgins, Mr Mavrotas, Mr Loucaides, Mr Oliver, Mr Don Davies.
Draft resolution in Document 14287 adopted.
5. Next public business
Appendix / Annexe
Representatives or Substitutes who signed the register of attendance in accordance with Rule 12.2 of the Rules of Procedure. The names of members substituted follow (in brackets) the names of participating members.
Liste des représentants ou suppléants ayant signé le registre de présence, conformément ŕ l’article 12.2 du Rčglement. Le nom des personnes remplacées suit celui des Membres remplaçant, entre parenthčses.
ĹBERG, Boriana [Ms]
ANTTILA, Sirkka-Liisa [Ms]
ARENT, Iwona [Ms]
ARIEV, Volodymyr [Mr]
ARNAUT, Damir [Mr]
BALFE, Richard [Lord] (GILLAN, Cheryl [Ms])
BAYKAL, Deniz [Mr]
BERNACKI, Włodzimierz [Mr]
BĒRZINŠ, Andris [M.]
BİLGEHAN, Gülsün [Mme]
BLAZINA, Tamara [Ms] (ASCANI, Anna [Ms])
BLONDIN, Maryvonne [Mme]
BONNICI, Charlň [Mr] (FENECH ADAMI, Joseph [Mr])
BOSIĆ, Mladen [Mr]
BRASSEUR, Anne [Mme]
BUTKEVIČIUS, Algirdas [Mr]
CEPEDA, José [Mr]
CHRISTOFFERSEN, Lise [Ms]
CILEVIČS, Boriss [Mr] (LĪBIŅA-EGNERE, Inese [Ms])
CORLĂŢEAN, Titus [Mr]
CORSINI, Paolo [Mr]
CROWE, Seán [Mr]
CROZON, Pascale [Mme] (ALLAIN, Brigitte [Mme])
CRUCHTEN, Yves [M.]
DALLOZ, Marie-Christine [Mme] (MARIANI, Thierry [M.])
DAVIES, Geraint [Mr]
DEBONO GRECH, Joseph [Mr]
DESTEXHE, Alain [M.]
DIVINA, Sergio [Mr]
DJUROVIĆ, Aleksandra [Ms]
DURANTON, Nicole [Mme]
EBERLE-STRUB, Susanne [Ms]
ESTRELA, Edite [Mme] (ROSETA, Helena [Mme])
FATALIYEVA, Sevinj [Ms] (HAJIYEV, Sabir [Mr])
FAZZONE, Claudio [Mr] (BERNINI, Anna Maria [Ms])
FEIST, Thomas [Mr] (OBERMEIER, Julia [Ms])
FIALA, Doris [Mme]
FINCKH-KRÄMER, Ute [Ms]
FOULKES, George [Lord] (SHARMA, Virendra [Mr])
FOURNIER, Bernard [M.]
FRESKO-ROLFO, Béatrice [Mme]
FRIDEZ, Pierre-Alain [M.]
GAFAROVA, Sahiba [Ms]
GALE, Roger [Sir]
GAMBARO, Adele [Ms]
GATTI, Marco [M.]
GERMANN, Hannes [Mr] (MÜLLER, Thomas [Mr])
GHILETCHI, Valeriu [Mr]
GIRO, Francesco Maria [Mr]
GOGA, Pavol [M.] (MADEJ, Róbert [Mr])
GONÇALVES, Carlos Alberto [M.]
GONCHARENKO, Oleksii [Mr]
GOSSELIN-FLEURY, Genevičve [Mme] (KARAMANLI, Marietta [Mme])
GOY-CHAVENT, Sylvie [Mme]
GROTH, Annette [Ms] (AMTSBERG, Luise [Ms])
GÜNAY, Emine Nur [Ms]
GUTIÉRREZ, Antonio [Mr]
GUZENINA, Maria [Ms]
GYÖNGYÖSI, Márton [Mr]
HANŽEK, Matjaž [Mr] (ŠKOBERNE, Jan [Mr])
HARANGOZÓ, Gábor [Mr] (MESTERHÁZY, Attila [Mr])
HERKEL, Andres [Mr] (NOVIKOV, Andrei [Mr])
HIGGINS, Alice-Mary [Ms] (HOPKINS, Maura [Ms])
HOFFMANN, Rózsa [Mme] (CSENGER-ZALÁN, Zsolt [Mr])
HONKONEN, Petri [Mr] (KALMARI, Anne [Ms])
HOWELL, John [Mr]
HUSEYNOV, Rafael [Mr]
HUSEYNOV, Vusal [Mr] (PASHAYEVA, Ganira [Ms])
JAKOBSDÓTTIR, Katrín [Ms]
JENSEN, Mogens [Mr]
JENSSEN, Frank J. [Mr]
JOVANOVIĆ, Jovan [Mr]
KANDELAKI, Giorgi [Mr] (BAKRADZE, David [Mr])
KARAPETYAN, Naira [Ms] (ZOHRABYAN, Naira [Mme])
KARLSSON, Niklas [Mr]
KERESTECİOĞLU DEMİR, Filiz [Ms]
KESİCİ, İlhan [Mr]
KIRAL, Serhii [Mr] (LABAZIUK, Serhiy [Mr])
KLEINBERGA, Nellija [Ms] (LAIZĀNE, Inese [Ms])
KÖCK, Eduard [Mr] (AMON, Werner [Mr])
KOX, Tiny [Mr]
KRIŠTO, Borjana [Ms]
KRONBICHLER, Florian [Mr]
KYRIAKIDES, Stella [Ms]
LE BORGN’, Pierre-Yves [M.]
LE DÉAUT, Jean-Yves [M.]
LEITE RAMOS, Luís [M.]
LOGVYNSKYI, Georgii [Mr]
LOMBARDI, Filippo [M.]
LOUCAIDES, George [Mr]
LUNDGREN, Kerstin [Ms] (BILLSTRÖM, Tobias [Mr])
MAMMADOV, Muslum [M.]
MARQUES, Duarte [Mr]
MASIULIS, Kęstutis [Mr] (ŠAKALIENĖ, Dovilė [Ms])
MAURY PASQUIER, Liliane [Mme]
MAVROTAS, Georgios [Mr] (KASIMATI, Nina [Ms])
MEALE, Alan [Sir]
MERGEN, Martine [Mme] (HETTO-GAASCH, Françoise [Mme])
MULARCZYK, Arkadiusz [Mr]
MUNYAMA, Killion [Mr] (HALICKI, Andrzej [Mr])
NÉMETH, Zsolt [Mr]
NICOLETTI, Michele [Mr]
NISSINEN, Johan [Mr]
OBRADOVIĆ, Marija [Ms]
OHLSSON, Carina [Ms]
ÖNAL, Suat [Mr]
OOMEN-RUIJTEN, Ria [Ms]
O’REILLY, Joseph [Mr]
ORELLANA, Luis Alberto [Mr] (SANTERINI, Milena [Mme])
OVERBEEK, Henk [Mr] (MAIJ, Marit [Ms])
PALIHOVICI, Liliana [Ms] (BULIGA, Valentina [Mme])
PALLARÉS, Judith [Ms]
PANTIĆ PILJA, Biljana [Ms]
PAŠKA, Jaroslav [M.]
PECKOVÁ, Gabriela [Ms] (KOSTŘICA, Rom [Mr])
PLEȘOIANU, Liviu Ioan Adrian [Mr]
POCIEJ, Aleksander [M.] (KLICH, Bogdan [Mr])
POMASKA, Agnieszka [Ms]
POSTOICO, Maria [Mme] (VORONIN, Vladimir [M.])
PREDA, Cezar Florin [M.]
PRUNĂ, Cristina-Mădălina [Ms]
PSYCHOGIOS, Georgios [Mr] (ANAGNOSTOPOULOU, Athanasia [Ms])
PUPPATO, Laura [Ms] (BERTUZZI, Maria Teresa [Ms])
QUÉRÉ, Catherine [Mme] (BAPT, Gérard [M.])
RIBERAYGUA, Patrícia [Mme] (JORDANA, Carles [M.])
RIGONI, Andrea [Mr]
ROCA, Jordi [Mr] (BARREIRO, José Manuel [Mr])
RODRÍGUEZ HERNÁNDEZ, Melisa [Ms]
RODRÍGUEZ RAMOS, Soraya [Mme]
ROJHAN GUSTAFSSON, Azadeh [Ms] (GUNNARSSON, Jonas [Mr])
ROUQUET, René [M.]
SANTA ANA, María Concepción de [Ms]
SCHENNACH, Stefan [Mr]
SCHOU, Ingjerd [Ms]
SCHWABE, Frank [Mr]
ŠEPIĆ, Senad [Mr]
SEYIDOV, Samad [Mr]
SILVA, Adăo [M.]
ŠIRCELJ, Andrej [Mr]
SOBOLEV, Serhiy [Mr]
SPADONI, Maria Edera [Ms] (CATALFO, Nunzia [Ms])
STROE, Ionuț-Marian [Mr]
TARCZYŃSKI, Dominik [Mr]
THIÉRY, Damien [M.]
TOPCU, Zühal [Ms]
TORNARE, Manuel [M.] (HEER, Alfred [Mr])
TROY, Robert [Mr] (COWEN, Barry [Mr])
TRUSKOLASKI, Krzysztof [Mr]
TUȘA, Adriana Diana [Ms]
VÁHALOVÁ, Dana [Ms]
VALEN, Snorre Serigstad [Mr]
VAREIKIS, Egidijus [Mr]
VEN, Mart van de [Mr]
VERCAMER, Stefaan [M.]
VILLUMSEN, Nikolaj [Mr]
VIROLAINEN, Anne-Mari [Ms]
WENAWESER, Christoph [Mr]
WERNER, Katrin [Ms]
WOLD, Morten [Mr]
WURM, Gisela [Ms]
YEMETS, Leonid [Mr]
ZAVOLI, Roger [Mr] (D’AMBROSIO, Vanessa [Ms])
ZINGERIS, Emanuelis [Mr]
Also signed the register / Ont également signé le registre
Representatives or Substitutes not authorised to vote / Représentants ou suppléants non autorisés ŕ voter
BÎZGAN-GAYRAL, Oana-Mioara [Ms]
BRUIJN-WEZEMAN, Reina de [Ms]
BÜCHEL, Roland Rino [Mr]
CORREIA, Telmo [M.]
HOPKINS, Maura [Ms]
JORDANA, Carles [M.]
LEŚNIAK, Józef [M.]
MAGAZINOVIĆ, Saša [Mr]
MULLEN, Rónán [Mr]
Observers / Observateurs
DAVIES, Don [Mr]
DOWNE, Percy [Mr]
ELALOUF, Elie [M.]
LARIOS CÓRDOVA, Héctor [Mr]
MALTAIS, Ghislain [M.]
O’CONNELL, Jennifer [Ms]
OLIVER, John [Mr]
ROMO MEDINA, Miguel [Mr]
TILSON, David [Mr]
Partners for democracy / Partenaires pour la démocratie
ALQAWASMI, Sahar [Ms]
KHADER, Qais [Mr]
SABELLA, Bernard [Mr]
Representatives of the Turkish Cypriot Community (In accordance to Resolution 1376 (2004) of
the Parliamentary Assembly)/ Représentants de la communauté chypriote turque
(Conformément ŕ la Résolution 1376 (2004) de l’Assemblée parlementaire)