AS (2012) CR 11
2012 ORDINARY SESSION
Monday 23 April 2012 at 3 p.m.
In this report:
1. Speeches in English are reported in full.
2. Speeches in other languages are summarised.
3. Speeches in German and Italian are reproduced in full in a separate document.
4. Corrections should be handed in at Room 1059A not later than 24 hours after the report has been circulated.
The contents page for this sitting is given at the end of the report.
Mr Mignon, President of the Assembly, took the Chair at 3.10 p.m.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – The sitting is open.
1. Communication from the Committee of Ministers to the Parliamentary Assembly, presented by the Rt. Hon. David Lidington MP, Minister for Europe, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, United Kingdom
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – We now come to the communication from Mr David Lidington, Minister for Europe in the United Kingdom, representing the Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers.
(The speaker continued in summary)
It had been a pleasure to meet the Minister, both in Edinburgh and in Strasbourg during his six-month tenure as chairperson in office of the Committee of Ministers. The Brighton conference had been a highlight of the United Kingdom’s presidency of the Council of Europe, and a meeting of great importance in relation to the future of the European Court of Human Rights, which faced significant change. The United Kingdom had shown that it was prepared to make great efforts to assist with the proper functioning of the Court. The effective application of the European Convention on Human Rights was absolutely crucial, and some good ideas had been raised in Brighton that, along with the Brighton Declaration, would require continued thought and discussion in the coming months.
Tribute was paid to the United Kingdom’s effort to improve LGBT rights and to promote local and regional democracy. Mr Fuller he United Kingdom ambassador who had accompanied Mr Lidington was welcome. The United Kingdom chairmanship had been a great success and the British Government was to be thanked for its support for the Council of Europe, which had had the particular pleasure of welcoming the British Prime Minister earlier in the year. Society was changing quickly and members had to engage with that change and ensure that human rights continued to flourish.
Mr LIDINGTON (Minister for Europe, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Chairperson of the Committee of Ministers) – Mr President, may I start by saying how pleased I am to be back in Strasbourg to address this Assembly for the second time on behalf of the United Kingdom’s chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers? I pay tribute to the Assembly’s valuable work since January: the comprehensive observations of the presidential elections in the Russian Federation, the statement of your Standing Committee on the deeply troubling situation in Syria and, Mr President, your visit to the Republic of Moldova. I could add much more besides. The Assembly continues to play a key role in keeping this Organisation politically relevant.
It was European parliamentarians such as the members of this Assembly who, at the first sitting in August 1949, debated the issues of human rights. Winston Churchill addressed the predecessors of today’s Assembly, and said, “We are meeting here in this new Assembly not as representatives of our different countries or different political parties but as Europeans marching forward, hand in hand”. Since then, we have witnessed the transformation of Europe, which has led to 47 countries being present here today.
I want to speak to you first about the political questions that have come to the Committee of Ministers since I spoke to you back in January. Outside our membership, the human rights situation in Belarus remains a matter of deep concern within the Committee of Ministers. In March, the Committee was unanimous in adopting a statement deploring the execution of the two young men alleged to have carried out the bombing of the Minsk metro in April last year. While we condemn the act of terrorism that caused the deaths and injuries of so many, we were deeply concerned about the flawed nature of the trial.
As the Committee indicated in its statement, in proceeding with those executions the Belarusian authorities ignored one of the basic values of the Council of Europe – respect for human life. Such acts run counter to our common objective to bring Belarus closer to the Council of Europe.
I am relieved that ex-presidential candidate, Andrei Sannikov, has now been freed, together with his campaign chief, Dmitry Bondarenko. I sincerely hope that these releases mark the beginning of a resolution to release all of Belarus’s political prisoners. The establishment of closer relations will be possible only if the Belarusian authorities demonstrate a clear will to respect the fundamental values of our Organisation.
The citizens of Belarus are not the only people in Europe who fail to benefit from the oversight of the Council of Europe; the people of Kosovo are also left outside. The United Kingdom’s position on Kosovo’s status is absolutely clear and well known, I suspect, to everybody in this Assembly, and we acknowledge too that this position is not shared by all.
Despite our differences on status, we should, and I believe we do, all agree that the people of Kosovo should benefit from greater involvement by the Council of Europe. The mission of this Organisation – to promote our values across the European continent – can never be realised if we prevent direct and meaningful contact between the Council of Europe’s staff and the Kosovar authorities.
I pay tribute to the tireless work of your rapporteur on Kosovo, Mr von Sydow. It is on the basis of the pragmatic Recommendation 1923 of 2010, which he drafted and the Assembly adopted, that discussions on the intergovernmental side have been able to make progress. This is a difficult issue, but we must find a sensible and pragmatic way for the Council of Europe to operate in a meaningful manner in Kosovo.
To return to our 47 member States, in the Republic of Moldova, the election by parliament on 16 March of Mr Nicolae Timofti as President of the Republic of Moldova has been an important political step after almost three years of stalemate. Your visit, Mr President, in the wake of the election acknowledges that. The United Kingdom chairmanship hopes that Mr Timofti’s election will provide the stability required for the Moldovan Government to advance its ambitious programme of political, economic and social reforms, and for further progress to be made in achieving a sustainable solution on Transnistria. On the latter point, the Committee of Ministers adopted in February a new programme for confidence-building measures across the River Nistru/Dniester, following a visit to the Council of Europe by Mr Eugen Carpov, Vice-Prime Minister of the Republic of Moldova.
Regarding Bosnia and Herzegovina, the failure to implement the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Sejdic and Finci was twice discussed by the Committee of Ministers in March. The Committee deeply regretted that the joint interim commission, which has been set up to present proposals for the constitutional and legislative amendments required by this judgment, has failed to make tangible progress in its work. The Committee strongly urged the authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina to take the necessary measures to execute the judgment without further delay, and we agreed to come back to this matter at one of our forthcoming human rights meetings. We hope the authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina heed the warnings on non-implementation from the resolution that the Assembly adopted in January. The Committee of Ministers will follow with particular attention the exchange that the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mr Zlatko Lagumdzija, will have with your Assembly on Wednesday.
The Committee of Ministers approved in March a new co-operation programme between the Council of Europe and the Russian Federation for the Chechen Republic. The programme includes training and awareness-raising activities on issues concerning the protection and promotion of human rights, countering threats to the rule of law and ensuring justice. A second component of the programme will focus on the promotion of democratic governance at local level.
The Committee has also approved an action plan outlining the assistance the Council will provide to Armenia. The 2012-14 action plan will help to support Armenia in fulfilling its statutory obligations and its specific commitments within the Organisation. The priority areas of the plan include work to support free and fair elections. The upcoming parliamentary elections on 6 May will be a test of the progress made so far and an opportunity for closer integration with the European Union. The invitation of observers, including from this Assembly, is a good start. I wish Baroness Nicholson, who will head your observation mission, a very successful visit.
Elsewhere, the development of a more proactive relationship with countries that neighbour the Council of Europe area has continued since my last address here in January. The Committee of Ministers has now approved a number of priorities for co-operation with Morocco and Tunisia and similar priorities are being developed for Kazakhstan and Jordan. These priorities focus on areas where the Council of Europe can add real value and expertise.
As the question of equality between women and men will be discussed by your Assembly tomorrow under the item entitled “a condition for the success of the Arab Spring”, I would like to emphasise that the neighbourhood co-operation priorities with both Morocco and Tunisia include a specific chapter on the promotion of gender equality and the prevention of violence against women.
The documents also include a chapter on co-operation between the Moroccan Parliament and the Tunisian authorities respectively, and this Assembly. There is no doubt that the members of this Assembly can provide a wealth of advice on the functioning of parliamentary institutions, and we must not forget that it was this Organisation that took the first step through the creation of Partnership for Democracy status.
I could not talk about how we should spread the Council of Europe’s values to our neighbourhood without mentioning Syria. It is now more than a year ago that the Syrian people flooded on to the streets in an effort to exercise their rights to freedom of assembly, with aspirations for a democratic future, rights and values that the Council of Europe holds dear. But these aspirations are being brutally crushed by the Syrian regime: the United Nations estimates that more than 9 000 people have been killed, including many children. I urge Council members to offer their full support to the efforts of the United Nations/Arab League Joint Special Envoy, Kofi Annan, as he tries to find a way to end the violence and facilitate a Syrian-led political transition.
The Syrian regime has also been accused of perpetrating widespread and systematic human rights violations, including the torture and rape of men, women and children. The Commission of Inquiry has said that this amounts to crimes against humanity. The United Kingdom is clear that President Assad’s actions mean that he has lost legitimacy and should step aside. He must understand that his actions have consequences. One of those consequences is the need to ensure accountability. I urge Council members to work with the Commission of Inquiry to ensure that evidence of human rights violations and abuses is collected and appropriately stored so that it can be used to hold the perpetrators to account.
The crisis in Syria is also having a severe impact on one of our own members, Turkey. I pay tribute to the Turkish authorities for their important role on the international stage. An organisation founded on respect for human rights, the rule of law and democracy should not sit silently while these events in Syria happen on our doorstep, and I am glad that the Council of Europe has not stayed silent.
But this is by no means all that the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly have been doing since we last spoke. Our work to reform the European Court of Human Rights brings to a conclusion the process set out at Interlaken and Izmir, which culminated in last week’s Brighton Declaration. This step towards strengthening the Convention system followed two months of challenging negotiation. In the declaration, the member States reaffirmed their commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights and they expressed their shared commitment to the right of individual petition, as well as to the primary responsibility of the States parties for the implementation of the Convention.
The declaration contains a range of measures to secure the future of the Court and the Convention. We must now proceed to implement these measures quickly and effectively. Those involved in the process need to continue to work together in a spirit of co-operation to ensure, in particular, that the necessary amendments to the Convention are adopted by the end of 2013 and that the further consideration of important subjects called for in the declaration is carried out effectively.
The other United Kingdom chairmanship priorities have also helped to draw attention to key areas of the Council of Europe’s work. On 2 March, the United Kingdom hosted a conference to look at the rule of law, held at Lancaster House in London. This work is a partnership with the Venice Commission and the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law, and the Parliamentary Assembly also took part in the conference. As a result, the Venice Commission is now drawing up a checklist for governments on how to ensure compliance with the rule of law and developing practical guidelines that will add value to the work of policy makers and legislators tasked with drafting and passing laws across Europe and beyond.
Another key priority for us has been to support the Council of Europe’s work in tackling discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity. Judgments of the European Court of Human Rights have helped to improve standards across Europe. In 2010 the Committee of Ministers adopted its ground-breaking recommendation with the most far-reaching international standards on this topic. I am pleased that your new Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination has a remit to progress broader equality issues, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights. And last year, the Council of Europe Secretariat was able to establish a unit to promote LGBT rights thanks to voluntary contributions from certain partner countries, including the United Kingdom.
On 27 March, the United Kingdom’s equality minister hosted a successful conference in Strasbourg, which was widely attended, including by ministers from member States as well as by this Assembly’s Chair of the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination. The conference provided an opportunity to discuss a number of practical issues such as tackling discrimination in the workplace and prejudice-based violence and hate crime against LGBT people, as well as possible steps to advance transgender equality.
As another priority, we have aimed to add value to the Council of Europe’s activities in support of local and regional democracy, through moving forward the process that led to the unanimous adoption of the Chaves report at the Kiev ministerial conference. This report highlighted the benefits that greater co-ordination and co-operation between the activities of the Parliamentary Assembly, the congress and governments could yield. The United Kingdom hosted a high level meeting at Lancaster House on 13 February where we discussed these ideas and, again, we were pleased that the Parliamentary Assembly took part. Taking full account of that discussion at Lancaster House, our aim is to produce a road map for the more streamlined handling of local and regional democracy activities, enabling greater focus and co-ordination between the actors.
I have noted with particular interest that the question of the protection of freedom of expression on the Internet will be on the Assembly’s agenda on Wednesday. This subject, along with Internet governance, has been another priority for us. The United Kingdom strongly supports an open Internet, one that is accessible by all, one that allows all legal content and application, and one that champions freedom of expression. We were very pleased that, in March, the Committee of Ministers adopted the Council of Europe’s strategy on Internet governance. This will be carried out over a four-year period through a multi-stakeholder approach based on co-operation between governments, the private sector and civil society.
The United Kingdom has also committed Ł100 000 to the Council of Europe’s Global Project on Cybercrime. The project is now in its third phase after having already supported more than 250 activities worldwide to promote global implementation of the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime.
Of other human rights issues that have come to the Committee of Ministers, the more general question of freedom of expression and information, and of the protection of journalists, was twice on the agenda during the past few months. The relevant steering committee has been invited to examine possible initiatives to be taken within the framework of the Council of Europe to strengthen the protection of journalists and other media professionals, taking into account the work conducted by other international organisations, as well as to foster ethical journalism, and to report back in due course. We look forward to a fruitful co-operation with the new Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr Nils Muižnieks, elected by the Assembly last January.
I am also pleased to confirm that the United Kingdom has contributed more than €300 000 to the Human Rights Trust Fund.
In conclusion, I am sorry to say that this will probably be my last address to you on behalf of the United Kingdom as Chair of the Committee of Ministers. As one former British Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, said, “The secret to success is constancy of purpose”; I am proud to quote the British statesman whose parliamentary constituency I now represent in the House of Commons. Let us parliamentarians, whether in the Committee of Ministers or the Parliamentary Assembly, continue to be constant of purpose. Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you, Mr Lidington, for your interesting address. Members of the Assembly have questions to put to you. There are three written questions that have received written answers, which can be read in Document 12904, available as part of the record of the Parliamentary Assembly.
We also have oral questions, which must not last longer than 30 seconds. The next speaker is Mr Franken, who will speak on behalf of the Group of the European People’s Party.
Mr FRANKEN (Netherlands) – Last week, there was an interesting conference on the future of the European Court of Human Rights. It ended in the Brighton Declaration. Why did the British Cabinet initiate a long discussion about the subsidiarity principle and the margin of appreciation where the core competence of the Court is at stake? Would it not be preferable to concentrate, with full respect to the Court, on the genuine reasons for the problem that the Court is facing – the non-execution of its decisions by only five countries? That leads to an overwhelming number of repetitive cases.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you, Mr Franken. Would you like to answer that question, Mr Lidington?
Mr LIDINGTON – It was very clear on the face of the Brighton Declaration that the primary responsibility for implementing the Convention rests with the States parties themselves. I would hope that the very strong reassertion of the principle in the Brighton Declaration is one thing that Mr Franken and other members of the Parliamentary Assembly welcomed.
Far from it being a distraction from the central concerns of the Court, actually putting into the declaration an explicit reference to the margin of appreciation and to subsidiarity was to put on the record, on the part of the ministers who were assembled, the importance that they ascribed to those two jurisprudential principles that themselves are the creation of the Court. Actually, the assembled ministers were expressing their very strong and continuing support for those two principles, which the Court itself has developed, and saying that we, as representatives of the States of the Council of Europe, want to see those good jurisprudential principles applied in individual cases with even greater enthusiasm in future.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you, Mr Lidington. The next speaker is Lord Tomlinson, who will speak on behalf of the Socialist Group.
Lord TOMLINSON (United Kingdom) – Many in the United Kingdom – not yourself – have railed against the European Court of Human Rights in respect of both its competence and its conduct. I see the Brighton Declaration as something that is relatively low key, genuflecting to both subsidiarity and the need to reduce the backlog of cases. Minister, may I encourage you to encourage those of your colleagues who do so to stop their carping criticism of the European Court of Human Rights and embrace it for what it is – a bulwark for the defence of our human rights?
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you, Lord Tomlinson. Would you like to answer that question, Mr Lidington?
Mr LIDINGTON – Both the statements of successive British ministers, whether here in Strasbourg or in either House of Parliament, or in London or Brighton, have made clear our continuing commitment to the Convention on Human Rights and the role of the Court. The Prime Minister himself expressed that support in explicit terms when he spoke here a day or two after I did back in January this year.
As a parliamentary veteran himself, Lord Tomlinson will know that there are many and diverse views in both Houses of Parliament at Westminster and lively debate. Some opinions we will agree with and some opinions we will disagree strongly with. The government’s views have been expressed by the Prime Minister and by one as far down the food chain as me. We have made very clear where our support continues to rest.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you, Mr Lidington. The next speaker is Mr Clappison, who will speak on behalf of the European Democrat Group.
Mr CLAPPISON (United Kingdom) – I heard what the Minister said about the Brighton conference, but when the backlog of cases remains at more than 150 000 should we not keep the case for further reform under review as regards the role of national courts and respect for the wishes of the electorate? Should not the Court be wary of interpreting the Convention in such a way as to trespass on to matters that the electorate think should be decided by them? We call that democracy.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you, Mr Clappison. Would you like to answer that question, Mr Lidington?
Mr LIDINGTON – There are already some signs that the Court is making good inroads into the backlog of inadmissible cases. I was pleased to hear, during a conversation earlier today with the chief registrar of the Court, that the Court thinks it has made additional progress. I encourage the Court, where it is making progress, to go out and explain that clearly, to avoid any misunderstandings.
I agree with the point that Mr Clappison made about the importance of implementing what the Brighton Declaration called for. We expect that the net effect of the measures in the declaration will be that more cases will be resolved at the national level, which should mean that fewer cases are considered by the Court and that, where cases do go to Strasbourg, the Court should be able to focus more on the important cases, and do so more quickly. I hope that the Committee of Ministers under successive chairmanships, this Parliamentary Assembly and the Court itself will all work hard and co-operatively to deliver those objectives.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you, Mr Lidington. The next speaker is Mr Xuclŕ, who will speak on behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.
Mr XUCLŔ (Spain) thanked Mr Lidington on behalf of the Assembly’s Liberal Group. Large-scale abuses of human rights were taking place in Syria, and the international community had a responsibility to protect the citizens of that country. To what extent did Mr Lidington believe the Council of Europe was meeting its duty in that respect?
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you, Mr Xuclŕ. Would you like to answer that question, Mr Lidington?
Mr LIDINGTON – The Committee of Ministers discussed the dramatic situation in Syria on several occasions, most recently last week. On 24 February, we supported the statement that our Secretary General had made the previous week about the situation in Syria. On 14 March this year, Ministers’ Deputies held an exchange of views with the members of the independent international Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian-Arab republic of the UN Human Rights Council, chaired by Mr Paulo Sergio Pinheiro.
I reiterate today the strong support of the Committee of Ministers for Secretary General Jagland’s statement of 15 February this year. It is no secret that there are differences of opinion among members of the Council of Europe and members of the Security Council about exactly what the right approach should be to Syria. It is the firm view of the United Kingdom Government that political progress and reconciliation need to involve a transfer of power. We do not, as a government, believe that it is plausible to see President Assad being able to be the instrument of national reconciliation. He is now part of the problem, not part of the solution.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – The next question is from Ms Backman on behalf of the Group of the Unified European Left.
Ms BACKMAN (Iceland) – What is the position of the Committee regarding the Council of Europe’s fundamental values? Who monitors the member States and complements their undertakings in view of continuous violations in Turkey, where 6 000 Peace and Democracy Party members have been jailed, 34 Kurds have been massacred in an air raid, peaceful worker and student demonstrations have been prevented with police brutality, and nine MPs as well as 10 journalists, lawyers and academics have been incarcerated?
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. Would you like to answer that question, Mr Lidington?
Mr LIDINGTON – I draw the Assembly’s attention to my response to the written question from Mr Hunko, which goes into quite a lot of detail and addresses the same points as those in the question. The Committee of Ministers expects all member States to respect the commitments and obligations that they undertook when joining the Council of Europe, especially their commitments under the European Convention on Human Rights. Various bodies are monitoring the human rights situation in Turkey. The Committee of Ministers itself, under Article 46 of the Convention, follows closely the execution of judgments delivered by the European Court of Human Rights in cases concerning Turkey.
One could go through a list of a number of different complaints, cases and allegations that have been made in respect of Turkey. The point that I would make on behalf of the Committee of Ministers is that we have repeatedly urged the Turkish authorities to take action in response to judgments of the European Court of Human Rights and we will continue to do so. I repeat that the Brighton Declaration again made it clear that the prime responsibility for implementation of the Convention – that duty – rests with the member States who have voluntarily signed up to the obligations set out in the European Convention on Human Rights. It is also the case that last year the Human Rights Commissioner issued a detailed report on freedom of expression and media freedom in Turkey and, following an invitation made by Prime Minister Erdoğan when he spoke to this Parliamentary Assembly, our Secretary General also paid a visit to Turkey.
That constant engagement of the human rights institutions of the Council of Europe with Turkey will continue, and it is important that it should continue. We need to encourage Turkey and recognise the considerable progress that has been made in many respects, but also look for full delivery of the obligations that membership of the Council of Europe prescribes for Turkey as for any other member State.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) –The next question is from Mr Michel.
Mr MICHEL (France) noted that the Brighton Declaration did not reflect the rather combative declaration made by the Prime Minister at the Assembly in January. He questioned whether the Brighton Declaration would result in differing human rights in different jurisdictions and reduce the protection available to citizens.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. Would you like to answer that question, Mr Lidington?
Mr LIDINGTON – I disagree with Mr Michel’s comment that there was a difference from what the Prime Minister said. The Brighton Declaration delivered precisely what the Prime Minister called for when he came here in January this year. I remind the Assembly that he said: “The Court should be free to deal with the most serious violations of human rights; it should not be swamped with an endless backlog of cases. The Court should ensure that the right to individual petition counts; it should not act as a small claims court.” There is a difference in tone and style between a speech that a head of government accustomed to parliamentary speaking and speaking to parliamentarians delivers compared with a very detailed, technical negotiation and a declaration that is worked out between lawyers and experts in justice and human rights. However, the content of Brighton is very much what the Prime Minister spoke to this Assembly about in January.
I do not think that the changes included in the Brighton Declaration harm the protection of human rights in Europe. The right of individual petition is expressly upheld. The responsibility of member States to implement the Convention rights is repeated in terms. National parliaments – members of this Assembly and their colleagues – have a key role to play in holding to account the governments of their countries for the international obligations into which they have entered. The amendment to the “no significant disadvantage” admissibility criterion is just a matter of practical, pragmatic common sense. Amending the Convention so that the Court – I stress the Court and nobody else – can routinely get rid of trivial cases will be a step forward in ensuring that it concentrates finite powers and finite resources on the cases that really do matter instead of risking becoming an appeal court – an extra tier or a court of fourth instance – which I do not think that anybody, including the Court itself, wishes to happen.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) –The next question is from Mr Beneyto.
Mr BENEYTO (Spain) – Minister, as you can see, this Assembly is quite concerned about the conclusions of the Brighton conference and we have indeed suspected that a difference of tone emerged from it. Subsidiarity was never applied in relation to the application of the European Convention on Human Rights before your government started this debate. Could you please clarify what exactly is the structure that your government envisages in reference to the future application of the European Convention on Human Rights?
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. Would you like to answer that question, Mr Lidington?
Mr LIDINGTON – The point about subsidiarity is that it is certainly not something that the British Government – let alone the current British Government – has invented out of the ether; it is a principle that the European Court of Human Rights itself has developed in order to develop precedents within its jurisprudence to determine the point at which it should intervene rather than saying, “This matter has been satisfactorily dealt with and the Convention obligations fulfilled by national courts.” In the very simplest terms, subsidiarity is about when the Strasbourg Court should and should not intervene. States must fulfil their responsibility to give effect to the Convention and the Court should get involved only when that has not properly happened. That is a perfectly common-sense principle.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Ms Bugnano and Mr Toshev are not present, the next question is from Mr Huseynov.
Mr HUSEYNOV (Azerbaijan) – Dear Minister, please accept my apologies regarding my re-addressing you with a question that has repeatedly been asked here. The reason for my question is the fact that there are many refugees and internally displaced persons among my electors who have been forced within the past 20 years to lead a tragic life due to the Armenian aggression carried out towards Azerbaijan. Nearly 1 million people in Azerbaijan are tired of hearing, including in the Council of Europe, the standard and traditional replies regarding outcomes. Which concrete means within its competence can the Committee of Ministers use to influence Armenia, which is refusing to honour one of the major commitments undertaken before the Council of Europe?
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. Would you like to answer that question, Mr Lidington?
Mr LIDINGTON – I do not think that Mr Huseynov needs to apologise – he has raised an important issue. Negotiations for the future of Nagorno-Karabakh are closely followed by the Committee of Ministers, although mediation of the settlement of this conflict is not the Council of Europe’s responsibility, but that of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe Minsk Group. However, a peaceful settlement to the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh is a commitment that both Azerbaijan and Armenia entered into on their accession to the Council of Europe. With that objective in mind, both countries were admitted simultaneously to this Organisation. I think that the Council of Europe can contribute in work to create the conditions that are conducive to a peace agreement through confidence-building measures between the two countries. However, as I said, the responsibility for mediation lies with the OSCE Minsk Group. My government’s policy is to give whatever support we can to that work.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. The next question is from Ms Pashayeva.
Ms PASHAYEVA (Azerbaijan) – In May, it will be the 20th anniversary of the occupation of Azeri land in Shusha by Armenia. For 20 years, tens of thousands of Azeri refugees and internally displaced persons from Shusha and Lachin have not been allowed to return to their homes. Why are Council of Europe mechanisms not used to put pressure on Armenia to leave occupied Azeri territories and allow internally displaced people to return to their homes?
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. Would you like to answer that question, Mr Lidington?
Mr LIDINGTON – It is important that the Council of Europe’s work complements and does not cut across the lead role taken by the OSCE Minsk Group. I am sure that Ms Pashayeva is right to say that thousands of ordinary families have suffered and continue to suffer from the conflict in that part of Europe. I urge the Governments of Armenia and Azerbaijan to refrain from any statement or action that might jeopardise a peace deal, and to continue to work within the Minsk process. The sooner a settlement can be reached, the better for all concerned, and the sooner the day will come when displaced families can return to their homes.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. The next question is from Sir Roger Gale.
Sir Roger GALE (United Kingdom) – My constituent, Jovica Kolakovic, has been held in prison in Malta for nearly three years without trial. Malta, in the company of France, where we are now located, and several other European countries, are in flagrant breach of Articles 5 and 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. What is the Committee of Ministers going to do about it?
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. Would you like to answer that question, Mr Lidington?
Mr LIDINGTON – Sir Roger is very active indeed in Strasbourg and in Westminster in defending the interests of his constituents. He is a fine example of a parliamentarian in action. He will understand that the case to which he refers is being and has been dealt with by the judicial system in Malta. If his constituent believes that the Maltese authorities have acted in a way that is in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights, obviously the right way forward is to bring a case before the European Court of Human Rights for an appropriate judicial ruling. Although I have every wish to support my parliamentary colleague and praise the fight he puts up for his constituents, it would not be a good principle for the Committee of Ministers, in the absence of any judicial ruling, to try to make judgments on individual cases.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. The next question is from Mr Díaz Tejera.
Mr DÍAZ TEJERA (Spain) said that he was naturally inclined to ask about the European Court of Human Rights, as it was an area of particular concern to him, but, given the opportunity, he asked when Gibraltar would return to being Spanish.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. Would you like to answer that question, Mr Lidington?
Mr LIDINGTON – If and when the people of Gibraltar freely choose in a democratic vote that that should happen. Until then, they will remain British, as they have every right to do.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. The next question is from Mr Heald.
Mr HEALD (United Kingdom) – I welcome the Brighton Declaration, but does the Minister agree that better implementation of the European Convention on Human Rights at national level and subsidiarity go hand in hand, and that when we can get national domestic courts in certain countries to provide a decent remedy for their people, the European Court will have less work to do?
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. Would you like to answer that question, Mr Lidington?
Mr LIDINGTON – Mr Heald is spot on in that description of what needs to happen. If we have a judicial system in every member State that is demonstrably independent of political influence and direction; a fair system of appeal courts so that the judgment of the court of first instance can be challenged; where it is clear from the quality of the judgments that the domestic courts make and from their accumulated jurisprudence that they pay attention to and apply the requirements of the Convention to individual cases in national circumstances – that may differ from one country to the next; there is a margin of appreciation, which the European Court’s jurisprudence recognises – I think we would be in a position whereby far fewer cases travelled to Strasbourg for determination here.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. The next question is from Mr Farina.
Mr R. FARINA (Italy) noted that his question might seem to be on a minor issue compared with some of the others being discussed, but that minor issues were sometimes of vital importance. He asked about the Turkish occupation of northern Cyprus. He concurred with Mr Lidington in lauding the attitude of Turkey, but sought a view on religious freedom in the region.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. Would you like to answer that question, Mr Lidington?
Mr LIDINGTON – It is important that every member State of the Council of Europe implements its obligations under the Convention, and one of the prime obligations is to ensure freedom of religious faith, expression and worship. The Committee of Ministers follows events in various countries in Europe, and issues to do with northern Cyprus have been brought to the Committee from time to time. Speaking as a British Minister rather than on behalf of the Committee, I underline that, as Mr Farina will know, the United Kingdom is one of the guarantor powers under the Cyprus Treaty. The way in which this conflict has to be resolved and the human rights of all communities in Cyprus protected is by reaching agreement between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities on a bizonal, bicommunal Cypriot federation that respects the various United Nations resolutions and explicitly accords full human rights to all communities on the island of Cyprus – not only the Greek and Cypriot communities but smaller communities such as the Maronites. I do not pretend that that kind of settlement is going to be easy. If it were, it would have been established many years ago.
My government supports the efforts that the United Nations, through Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, is making to bring the leaders of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities together. I wish those efforts well. I am only too well aware from my visit to Cyprus last year and the conversations that I have had with people from both of the two major communities on the island that there is still a sense of grievance and anger among people on both sides. Healing needs to take place. I do not think the situation will get any better if it is just left, so my message as a British Minister to both parties is “Please, for the sake of future generations, work with the United Nations to make this the year when there can be that breakthrough.”
THE PRESIDENT – The next question is from Ms Durrieu.
Ms DURRIEU (France) thanked the President. The Minister’s comments regarding Syria had been rather confused and unhappy. Assad should be leaving office. Had Mr Lidington considered more serious action to resolve the situation?
THE PRESIDENT – Thank you. Would you like to answer that question, Mr Lidington?
Mr LIDINGTON (United Kingdom) – On behalf of the Committee of Ministers, I can speak only in terms of what the Committee of Ministers has agreed. I referred in my earlier comments to a statement that the Secretary General made in February this year. Although the Committee has discussed the situation in Syria since then, it has not been possible to reach consensus on a further public statement.
Ms Durrieu will know that within the United Nations there has also been great difficulty in getting agreement on resolutions of the Security Council. The British Government believes that the global community should exercise the maximum diplomatic pressure on Syria. It is good that Arab countries have been very much in the lead in putting together the worldwide coalition to say that what is happening in Syria is not acceptable. We think that the way forward is through diplomacy, including but not only through sanctions. There needs to be a political transition as part of that process, but as the United Kingdom Prime Minister has said, we do not envisage – if this is what lay behind the question – United Kingdom troops being involved.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you, Minister. Dear colleagues, it is past 4 o’clock. We must now conclude the questions to Mr Lidington. On behalf of the Assembly, I thank you most warmly for your communication and for the answers you have given to questions.
2. Free debate
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – We now come to the free debate under our new rules. I remind members that this debate is for topics not already on the agenda agreed this morning, and I will be asking each speaker to commence by identifying the subject they intend to raise.
May I remind the Assembly that at this morning’s sitting it was agreed that speaking time in all debates today be limited to three minutes?
We will have to interrupt the list of speakers, as already announced, at 5 p.m. at the latest.
I call first Ms Barnett, on behalf of the Socialist Group.
Ms BARNETT (Germany) noted that the core responsibilities of the Council of Europe were protecting human rights, democracy and the rule of law. One month ago in Belarus, Dmitry Konovalov and Vladislav Kovalyov had undergone a show trial before being murdered by Lukashenko’s regime. This was a regime that recoiled from democracy and confused the rule of law with dictatorship. The two men had been targeted by Lukashenko for a crime likely to have been committed by those at the heart of his regime. The mother of Vladislav Kovalyov had pleaded with the Council of Europe to help save his life, but no action had been taken. While members pursued their own policies, they sometimes got cold feet about intervening elsewhere. It was necessary to demonstrate to Belarus that its actions were unacceptable, by refusing its request to join the Council of Europe, or at least to refuse it for 80 sessions to reflect the lives that had been lost.
The situation in Belarus appeared to be considered normal by international hockey organisers. This compared, however, with the situation surrounding the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Sport could no longer defend the actions of States such as Belarus. In the 1980s, the west had boycotted the Olympics in Russia over its invasion of Afghanistan. While Lukashenko had not gone to war, he was responsible for the loss of two men’s lives. Something had to be done to convince the world that his country did not deserve the honour of appearing in people’s living rooms.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. I call Mr Shpigel on behalf of the European Democrat Group.
Mr SHPIGEL (Russian Federation) noted the re-emergence of Nazism and growing tolerance of neo-Nazism in Europe. Authorities needed to act against the steps being taken by extremists to promote their cause. Countries needed to act together in order to guarantee tolerance in Europe for the future.
New radical thought and extremist groups were growing in influence and over the past 10 years a new neo-Nazism movement had emerged. There were now three times more groups than there had been. Mr Shpigel had documents that showed that the Waffen SS had received financial support from the Estonian Republic. Similarly, events had been sponsored in Latvia. In addition, a document denying the Holocaust had recently been signed by 71 European parliamentarians in association with the 70th anniversary of the Wannsee Conference. Tolerance of such activity was not acceptable and Nazi activity could not be allowed to spread to other countries. Detailed discussion was necessary in order to address this issue.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you, Mr Shpigel. I call Mr Kennedy, who will speak on behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.
Mr KENNEDY (United Kingdom) – Thank you, Mr President. May I clarify one thing with you? Given what you said in your opening remarks, I was going to take forward on behalf of the ALDE what the British Minister for Europe was discussing. Will that be in order? Can I do that?
THE PRESIDENT – Yes, you can.
Mr KENNEDY (United Kingdom) – Thank you, Mr President. I want to reflect shared concern among my ALDE colleagues about the future of the Court and the sustained pressure that is beginning to mount, certainly in the United Kingdom but not exclusively, about the operation of the European Convention on Human Rights itself. We believe that it is important that the Parliamentary Assembly should speak clearly on these matters.
I am mindful of the fact that over two general elections I led the Liberal Democrats – the party of which I am a member and which is in coalition with the British Conservatives at the moment – on an unambiguously pro-European platform. I currently serve as president of the European Movement in the United Kingdom.
In January, we heard a characteristically polished, rational and constructive contribution from the British Prime Minister, which I very much welcomed. We heard much the same from the Minister for Europe today. However, there is something in British politics known as the Tony Blair syndrome, whereby Prime Ministers and Ministers can make very pro-European speeches; they just tend not to make them in Britain. They tend to go somewhere else on the continent to deliver such sentiments. That has certainly not helped with the mounting scepticism and criticism on European matters in Britain, which is now spreading to questioning the European Court of Human Rights and indeed calling into question aspects of whether Britain should be subscribing to the European Convention itself.
Our message as European Liberals is clear: for Britain as an original signatory and indeed drafter of the Convention, it would be perverse and bordering on the tragic if our country was perceived as becoming disengaged from that process. Equally, we just need to look at one part of the election results in France only yesterday. If that degree of Europhobia were to spread to other countries not only across Union member States but across Council of Europe ones, it would be catastrophic. It is therefore important for all of us as European Liberals to stay true to those principles in the rational and constructive way that we heard here in January and today, but that we would like to hear more of in Britain as well.
THE PRESIDENT – Thank you, Mr Kennedy. I now call Mr Voronin, who will speak on behalf of the Group of the Unified European Left.
Mr VORONIN (Republic of Moldova) noted that there had been significant changes in his country with recent presidential elections and changes to the electoral code. Over the past year work had been under way to revise the procedure for the election of the president. The majority of experts in Moldova were concerned about the situation; it was clear that the future would see a change in the dominating forces in the country.
Moldova was a member of various institutions within Europe. A new television channel had recently been launched that attracted 1 million viewers, and allowed the opposition voice to be heard. The President made use of European slogans and promoted European values. The situation was complicated, however, and three years after Europe integration a reduction in freedoms and the increasing impact of oligarch power were visible. Moldovan authorities were closing media channels and clear actions were needed to counter that tendency. The Council of Europe and the European Union had to intervene in Moldova to overcome such problems.
THE PRESIDENT – Thank you, Mr Voronin. I now call Mr Ghiletchi, who will speak on behalf of the Group of the European People’s Party.
Mr GHILETCHI (Republic of Moldova) – Mr President, dear colleagues, it is rare to prepare a speech but then to put it aside and speak from the heart. My speech is about Moldova.
It is greatly encouraging to know that one of the first visits of our President was to my country. We appreciate what the Parliamentary Assembly is doing to support Moldova on its route to European integration. It is also rare for our full delegation to be here, including the leader of the opposition, His Excellency Mr Voronin. I thought that this was a good sign for our opposition to come back into parliament and to work together. Unfortunately, I am afraid that the reality is different. It is sad that the communist party did not participate in the election of our president.
I regret that the NIT TV channel had to be shut down, but allegations that the coalition government did it are false. On the recommendation of and at the request of the Council of Europe, the Moldovan Parliament, which at the time was led by a communist majority, passed a law to form a public body with the authority to monitor and oversee broadcasting in Moldova, so the decision was made by the co-ordinating council of audio-visual. As we know, democracy means the rule of law; it is not the rule of a party or rule by the mass media. Anyone who lives in a democratic society must play by the rules and have a chance to go to court and prove something otherwise. I want to assure the Assembly that the Government of Moldova will do its best to respect the core values of the Council of Europe.
NIT TV was warned a number of times and was fined, but unfortunately there was no improvement, so a decision was taken. We know that Moldova is being monitored. Rapporteurs can come to the country and check the situation for themselves. We will provide all the information which is required, and we would like to assure the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe that we will do our best to respect its core values, including respect for the freedom of the mass media. It is interesting to note that even the free Union of Journalists in Moldova has accepted the decision of the broadcasting co-ordination council, saying that that was what was needed to uphold the law in our country.
Once again, I thank you for your support and I assure you that Moldova will do its best to uphold the core values of the Council of Europe.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you, Mr Ghiletchi. The next speaker is Mr Popescu.
Mr POPESCU (Ukraine) noted that the Assembly had adopted an important new procedure at the start of this year’s session by giving delegates the opportunity to take the floor and speak about a subject of their choice. This gave delegates the chance to draw to the Assembly’s attention issues of great importance.
Over the years the Council of Europe had established various charters of rights, which were available for signature by the Council’s members. But this did not necessarily mean that those charters were enforced by signatory countries. Enforcement was a matter of national governance, and depended, therefore, on the personal profile of those in power. However, the European institutions had an important role to play in influencing national governments and needed to provide a level playing field for the application of standards. This would assist in the enforcement of, for example, the European Charter of Regional or Minority Languages and the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities to name but two. It was important for governments to work together to produce a clear machinery for harmonised standards for all.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you, Mr Popescu. The next speaker is Mr Disli.
Mr DISLI (Turkey) – Mr President, I would like to talk about the crisis in the global economy, which remains in a difficult phase. The downside risks are still present. Growth is slowing in both advanced and emerging economies. Among the advanced economies, debt problems, financial system stresses and deleveraging pressures are increasing tensions in the euro area. Meanwhile, emerging economies are facing capital outflows, currency depreciation and growth deceleration. The European crisis affects these economies through trade and finance, as well as through lower expectations and confidence. We see contraction in trade and a decline in the volume of trade financing and foreign direct investment.
It is clear that the global economy will grow less in 2012 and that some regions will stay in recession. We are all aware that the crisis in Europe is going through a critical stage and that the global repercussions could be painful if things get worse. This increased uncertainty amplifies the need for strengthened policy actions. Focusing on rebuilding confidence may require bolder action than has been contemplated. The danger is that due to the crisis, many political parties are losing support. Instead of planning structural reforms, political leaders are taking populist actions, and in many countries the extremists are gaining ground through protest votes. Public trust in European values is deteriorating. While fiscal and monetary measures are key to starting the recovery, it is structural reform that will be the main ingredient of global rebalancing in the medium and long term.
I have a few moments left to speak, so I should like to make one statement about the Kurdish situation. Our slogan for the Kurdish question is and should remain, “Fight the terror and negotiate with legitimate representatives.” We did that in the past and we will continue to do so, but the first issue is putting down arms and coming to the negotiating table.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you, Mr Disli. The next speaker is Mr David Davies.
Mr D. DAVIES (United Kingdom) – Mr President, I and many millions of British people are absolutely outraged about how the European Court is being run. It has led to headlines such as “Europe’s court jesters” in one of Britain’s most prominent newspapers. It is located in the grand-sounding Allée des Droits de l’Homme, but I think it should be renamed the “Avenue Droit du Seigneur”, because the important and intimate relationship between a government and its people is now being subject to the outside interference of a higher authority, one that is taking us for a very rough ride indeed. The British Government has said very clearly that it does not believe that British prisoners should be given the vote. The European Court is seeking to overrule that. Previously, the British Government said that a serial rapist should be deported to his own country, Sierra Leone, but we were unable to do that because it would have breached his human rights under the Convention. Moreover, this week we have had the grotesque spectacle of an Islamic extremist, a man up to his neck in terrorism, who is once again laughing in the face of British justice, with the connivance of the European Court.
I do not know whether the judges of the European Court take any notice of our deliberations here or whether they have any sense of history. If they do, they may well have heard of Henry VIII, one of the better known figures in British history. He split with the Catholic Church, not for religious reasons, but because he was not prepared to accept outside interference in Britain’s domestic affairs. Unless the European Court drastically reforms itself, I hope very much that a 21st century Henry VIII will shortly come forward. If it fails to do so, it is time for Britain to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights, and I shall fully support that when the day comes.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you, Mr Davies. The next speaker is Mr Mota Amaral.
Mr MOTA AMARAL (Portugal) – Mr President, yesterday, on my flight to Strasbourg, I read in a well-known newspaper the quotation of a statement made by the President of the European Council, and I found it really puzzling. Mr van Rompuy was quoted as having said that the European project is not in good health because European leaders do not believe in it any more. Those are not his precise words, but the idea is exactly that.
We shall all certainly agree that Europe is not going well. That is primarily felt by our fellow citizens, whose conditions of life and well-being have, for the vast majority, lost the stability and good will of previous days. At the top, European institutions are not delivering what is expected from their activity and the financial, economic and social crisis is far from being resolved.
Look at what is happening with some proposed solutions – the budget treaty, for instance. In its substance, it means a step forward in the governance of the eurozone, but most of its provisions are contained in previous European agreements and have revealed themselves to be so strict that one European Union member State after another did not comply with them. What is new in the so-called budget treaty are strong penalties for failure and, much more meaningfully, the absence of any measures to promote economic growth and employment, which used to be associated with the rules for the stability of public finances.
The Portuguese Parliament has approved the budget treaty for ratification as a consequence of the situation of international assistance that our country is going through. I urge members of parliament in countries whose financial situation is better to look carefully at the said treaty and discuss thoroughly its content and anticipated consequences; otherwise, we could face again the impact of well-intended measures that have, in practice, dramatic consequences in terms of the aggravation of the social situation across Europe. That falls entirely within the competence of the Council of Europe because basic human rights are at stake when unemployment rises dramatically, especially among the younger generation, and when the middle class impoverishes – especially the elderly, who suffer cuts in their pensions and less easy access to health services.
I hope that my quotation of Mr van Rompuy’s words, which I mentioned at the beginning, is not correct; I hope that his statement was misunderstood by the media. It could indeed be very serious if European leaders did not believe in the European project any more. The great design of uniting European States, nations and peoples is based on purposes of peace, co-operation and solidarity. We need to verify carefully in each member country whether our leaders are representing well the will of the people in the sensitive field of European integration.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you, Mr Mota Amaral. In the absence of Ms Memecan, the next speaker is Ms Huovinen.
Ms HUOVINEN (Finland) – Mr President, dear colleagues, the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender persons are not special rights; they are human rights, equal to all human beings. Protecting and promoting these human rights is at the core of our work in the Parliamentary Assembly and I would therefore like to thank the United Kingdom for choosing LGBT issues as one of its priorities for the chairmanship of the Council of Europe.
The situation in Europe worries me. Discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation is considered a criminal offence in only 18 member States of the Council of Europe. As a result, some might get the impression that 29 member States allow human rights violations based on sexual discrimination. That is a deliberate exaggeration, but I want to underline that we need to be clear about our messages. As parliamentarians, we have a responsibility to promote a culture of tolerance and to keep LGBT issues on the agenda. I congratulate my Norwegian colleague, Mr Haugli, on being appointed as the first general rapporteur on LGBT rights in this Assembly.
I am also pleased to notice that the Committee of Ministers has been active in this area. The recommendation from 2010 is an important tool, and I hope that our governments make it their mission to combat discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity. The Human Rights Commissioner’s recent and excellent report shows that we still have a long way to go.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you, Ms Huovinen. The next speaker is Mr Kalmár.
Mr KALMÁR (Hungary) – Mr President, dear colleagues, in 1950 Konrad Adenauer said of the foundation of the Council of Europe: “The aim of our work is to make the borders of the European national States disappear. Our aim is that Europe should become for all of us a common home, the home of freedom.”
Throughout the centuries, ethnic issues were always very important in Europe; because of them, many conflicts broke out and terrible wars occurred. Borders have changed very often on our continent and populations have mixed on many territories, so almost all countries have national minorities.
In the 20th century, after two world wars, many people did not think that ethnic conflicts would break out again at the end of the century because in western Europe there were good models for autonomies and minority rights, which could have been applied in other regions too. We all know that the ethnic diversity of Europe was always the basis of our competitiveness and creativity; as a result, it led to the success of the continent in the world.
Due to intolerance of ethnic minorities and the processes of globalisation, and in spite of the democratic political structures that operate almost everywhere in Europe, the assimilation by the majority nation of ethnic minorities and sub-State nations has accelerated. If the process continued at this speed, we could predict that national minorities would disappear quite quickly. Human and European cultural values would be lost and the well-known European diversity might disappear.
Even today, ethnic conflicts persist, but it seems that, unfortunately, the issue is out of the political mainstream in Europe. Due to the situation to which Hungary was brought after the First World War, we are more sensitive to this issue; every third Hungarian lives in one of the neighbouring seven countries. The recent demographic figures clearly show the drastic diminishing of these communities, but unfortunately that is true Europe-wide.
I say all that because we would like to get more effective help from the Council of Europe in order to implement in central and eastern Europe good practices used in western Europe. The Council of Europe could also help in convincing member States not to be afraid of autonomies, which we consider to be one of the most effective methods of preserving national minorities. Also, this could help very much the badly needed real co-operation and partnership of European nations.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you, Mr Kalmár. The next speaker is Mr Plotnikov.
Mr PLOTNIKOV (Ukraine) – Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to inform the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe about the establishment of the deputies’ equal opportunities association in the Ukrainian Parliament. It consists of 15 members from various political groups. The originators of the association believe that their main tasks are upholding equal opportunities for men and women in obtaining work, education, access to medicine and participation in the social and political life of Ukraine.
Deputies who joined the association believe that the issue of gender equality is important for Ukraine, including the perception of such problems by society and the various political forces. One of the first joint initiatives will be a draft law to amend Ukraine’s administrative code to enhance accountability for domestic violence. Among other priorities is the joint support of draft laws aimed at protecting children, families, and mothers or fathers who bring up a child by themselves.
Ukrainian deputies who entered the association consider it one of their tasks to change social stereotypes in matters of gender politics. They also plan to raise the introduction of voluntary quotas for greater representation of women in party electoral lists. Founders of the association believe that this joint initiative promotes the search for understanding, compromise and dialogue in the polarised and sometimes confrontational Ukrainian Parliament.
Participants in the association believe that Ukraine, which declares its intention to become a full member of the European community, has to take into consideration the European standards and gender equality without which it is impossible to prove its focus on European values and democracy. Today, Ukraine ranks 113th in the world as regards the level of representation of women in different authorities. The deputies’ equal opportunities association believes that this practice should be changed. In the current composition of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, there are 34 women; that is 8% of its total composition, which is much less than the global average. Women are well represented in the composition of the presidential administration of Ukraine, but among the cabinet of ministers of Ukraine there is only one woman – the Vice-Prime Minister. Such figures are extremely far from the rate of 30% that Ukraine has been committed to demonstrate by 2015 by way of ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and by way of joining the United Nations millennium declaration, which defines the global Millennium Development Goals.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you, Mr Plotnikov. I call Mr Chope.
Mr CHOPE (United Kingdom) – I should like to bring to the Assembly’s attention the reputational damage done to the European Court of Human Rights by the latest twist in the case of Abu Qatada, the Jordanian national alleged to have been the right-hand man of Osama bin Laden who is wanted for trial in Jordan on terrorism charges.
For over 10 years, successive United Kingdom governments – a Labour government and now the coalition Conservative and Liberal Democrat government – have been trying to deport Abu Qatada. Despite his case having been exhaustively considered by the United Kingdom courts, including the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court, he appealed to the European Court of Human Rights, which in January this year partly allowed his appeal under Article 6. The United Kingdom Government did not seek to appeal to the Grand Chamber; instead, it accepted the spirit and the letter of the judgment and addressed the substance by successfully securing assurances from the highest levels in Jordan that no evidence tainted by torture would be used against Mr Qatada.
Last Tuesday, after the Court’s published time for appeal had expired, Abu Qatada was arrested in the United Kingdom and deportation proceedings were restarted. The day after the published deadline for appeal, he appealed to have his case reviewed by the Grand Chamber. To the incredulity of the United Kingdom Government and a chorus of derision from the United Kingdom press and public opinion, the ECHR authorities announced that the appeal was within the time limit. A strong rumour is circulating that Abu Qatada’s lawyers were tipped off by Court officials that there was ECHR case law to the effect that the deadline for appeals is one day later than the published deadline that is contained in the ECHR’s own documents and, indeed, in the Convention.
This raises a number of issues. Do Court documents given to litigants specify a deadline for appeal that is apparently contradicted by the Court’s own case law, and if so, why? Did Court officials tip off Abu Qatada’s lawyers, and if so, why? How much longer will it take before a decision is taken on whether Abu Qatada can appeal to the Grand Chamber? Why is this matter not being expedited, having given its significance and history? What is the Court doing to explain its actions, which are making it a laughing stock in the United Kingdom? My colleague, David Davies, has drawn attention to that. No one wants the Court to be made into a laughing stock, least of all the Chairman of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights. I do not want its reputation to be undermined, but the Court must do something urgently to look after its own reputation.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you, Mr Chope. I call Mr Vareikis.
Mr VAREIKIS (Lithuania) – We have been talking about problems, but I am ready to speak on a slightly different note and say what a good Organisation we are. I recently read a report by a Californian scientist called the “World Happiness Report” and tried to analyse how happy we are. The happiest countries in the world are Denmark, Finland, Norway, the Netherlands, Canada, Switzerland, Sweden, New Zealand, Austria and Ireland. Of the top 10 happy nations, eight are members of the Council of Europe. If you read the whole list, you will see that Council of Europe countries are generally happy. I tried to analyse the relationships between happiness and money, happiness and military spending, and happiness and other things. My students and I drew analogies, and we found that the more rule of law and human rights a nation has, the happier it is, so it is a good thing that we are working here on human rights and the rule of law. In this Chamber we are creating really happy nations.
Turning to the question of which Council of Europe countries are less happy, at the bottom of the list, I am sorry to say, are countries such as Macedonia, Armenia, Serbia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Ukraine, which are still subject to the monitoring procedure. We are doing the right thing in monitoring those countries that are not very happy. I suggest that if unhappy nations want to be happy, they should follow the rules, proposals and resolutions of the Council of Europe.
Thank you, Mr President, and I wish you to be happy.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you very much, Mr Vareikis. Even if France is not in the top 10, I hope you are happy to be here in Strasbourg.
I call Mr Gross.
Mr GROSS (Switzerland) said that recent years had seen unwelcome developments in the European project. In the recent presidential election in France the nationalist party had received nearly 20% of votes cast in the first round. This reflected a trend that could be seen across Europe. Behind nationalist movements it was possible to see members of the public wishing for an improvement in their situation and showing their unhappiness with current political arrangements.
National States were too weak while transnational structures had proved ineffective. The European project was built on a vision that European States could, through co-operation, help the poorest and weakest in society. This vision needed to be articulated more clearly to the people of Europe.
When the European Union was created, an European Union constitution was envisaged. Now, however, there was an emergence of nationalist parties and other problems such as the recent announcement that Jean-Claude Juncker intended to resign as head of the Eurogroup, indicating that he no longer wished to have responsibility for the euro.
Delegates had to see their role not only as that of a national minister representing a country but as domestic ministers for Europe, representing Europe to their country.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. I call Mr Kaikkonen.
Mr KAIKKONEN (Finland) – I want to discuss the situation in Belarus. The country will host the 2014 ice hockey world championship. It was a beautiful idea to give Belarus permission to organise it – it is always a great honour to be the host country. Belarus will get a lot of international attention and promotion, and a chance to show the country’s assets. Of course, I would like Belarus to get that chance, but I do not want to give the dictator Alexander Lukashenko a chance to promote his propaganda. It seems that this will now happen de facto as the political situation in Belarus has not changed as it should have done.
When granting Belarus permission to organise the world championship, the International Ice Hockey Federation demanded improvements to human rights in that country. Belarus promised to make those improvements, but the latest episodes prove that progress is being reversed. There are still political prisoners in the country, and two prisoners, accused of metro attacks, were executed last month.
During the last presidential election, Lukashenko’s regime arrested hundreds of peaceful demonstrators, including presidential candidates, opposition leaders, journalists, representatives of civil society and ordinary Belarusians.
The media are controlled by the government and the opposition is divergent. Lukashenko’s voice is the one that the people of Belarus can really hear. The political culture in Belarus must change. The people of Belarus must have a right to freedom of expression and assembly. They must be free.
The international community should not support Lukashenko’s brutal regime. I strongly demand that the International Ice Hockey Federation take appropriate action to ensure that Lukashenko does not receive the international reward or legitimacy that will come if Belarus is allowed to host the 2014 ice hockey world championship. It is not acceptable to give the world championship to a country where human rights are not upheld. I strongly recommend that the Parliamentary Assembly take steps in the matter.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. I call Mr Harangozó.
Mr HARANGOZÓ (Hungary) – Western civic democracy is generally based on three fundamental pillars: an independent judiciary, free media and free and fair elections. Independent, free and fair means that the judiciary, the mass media and the election system cannot be subordinated to one political interest group.
In its report of 19 March on the reform of the Hungarian judiciary, the Venice Commission determined that that reform threatens the independence of the judicial branch. Furthermore, it stated that certain elements of the Hungarian judicial reform will not only contradict the European norms of judicial organisation, especially judicial independence, but that they are also problematic with regard to the right to a fair trial. For that reason, the Venice Commission, besides recommending the amendment of the two laws that were examined, suggested amending the constitution as a necessary step to ensuring the independence of the judiciary and to creating a system of checks and balances.
Mr Markert made a statement in Brussels on 22 March, when he emphasised that the modifications signalled by the Hungarian State Secretary for the Judiciary do not provide sufficient guarantees of the independence of the judiciary. Due to the press, the common expectations of the Council of Europe and the European Union were identified and delivered to the Hungarian Government. It is clear that the administration is unwilling to fulfil those fundamental expectations. The modifications are mainly cosmetic and far from remedying the most basic problems highlighted by the Venice Commission.
We believe that instead of opaque secret negotiations, 10 million Hungarian citizens have the right to see whether the Hungarian Government addressed the Venice Commission’s most important concerns and whether its legislation will provide the legal background for the judicial branch’s independence and the right to fair trial. A satisfactory response is needed as soon as possible to reinstate entrepreneurial trust and create an adequate business environment.
We have asked Secretary General Jagland to use his right, provided by the Venice Commission’s statute and, after the acceptance of the legislative amendments, to ask personally for the Venice Commission’s evaluation of them. Independent adjudication is in the common interest of all Hungarian citizens, not to mention its being the condition for stabilising the country’s economy and regaining the trust of investors. It is in the interests of all European democrats to ensure the independence of the judiciary and to guarantee the right to fair trial in Hungary. The Council of Europe has a key role to play in this.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. I call Mr von Sydow.
Mr VON SYDOW (Sweden) – I speak in my capacity as your rapporteur on Kosovo. I am worried about the situation. Of the agreements facilitated by the European Union between Serbia and Kosovo, nothing has been implemented – I stress: nothing. There is no effective freedom of movement between Kosovo and Serbia, especially in the Mitrovica area. The situation is very tense. Incidents are reported every day and we believe that violence is building up again. KFOR has to undertake foot patrols; EULEX can perform only partially in the area. Here in Strasbourg, the Committee of Ministers has not been able to find agreement between all the relevant partners on the proposals in our reports that Kosovo itself can implement the important European conventions on human rights and on everything that is common to European people.
We are facing national elections to parliament and the presidency in Serbia. In all of Europe, someone who has dual citizenship has the right to vote in the country where they do not live. The OSCE provides a facilitating option for addressing the elections taking place all over Kosovo, but it has not been possible for the partners to reach agreement on this issue. Day after day, the OSCE says to partners, “We need 14 days.” We now have fewer than 14 days to register and complete the process in good order, so
important issues are at stake. We need to be aware of the tense situation and to tell all the people involved, including the international community, that only peaceful measures can be allowed right now to demonstrate political ambitions of any sort. Let us urge the partners to take the option that has been given by the OSCE to facilitate the elections. That is the road to peace.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you, Mr von Sydow. I call our last speaker, Ms Woldseth.
Ms WOLDSETH (Norway) –Thank you, Mr President. Let me continue speaking about the Balkans. I am a Norwegian, and I am happy. I am especially happy to update members regarding the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, because there has been some progress. Some 16 months after the October election, the country now has a functioning government at the State level, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, who also heads the Bosnian Social Democratic Party, will address the Assembly this Wednesday. That is good.
In February, the Parliament in Bosnia and Herzegovina adopted the long-awaited laws on census and State aid. The presidency has forwarded three candidates for the post of judge in the European Court of Human Rights, which has been vacant since last November. Last week, the council of ministers at State level adopted a draft budget for 2012, which the presidency has now sent into parliamentary procedure. However, the global fiscal framework for 2012 to 2014 is still outstanding. There has been no progress regarding the implementation of the Sejdic and Finci judgment, but it is being worked on and I expect constitutional amendments guaranteeing full implementation of the judgment to be ready by mid-June.
Unfortunately, there has been no progress in appointing members or candidates to various important bodies of the Council of Europe, such as the Venice Commission, the Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, but I hope this will be in place so we can celebrate Bosnia and Herzegovina’s 10th anniversary as a member of the Council of Europe, with all things in order. Lastly, let me inform members that the co-rapporteurs will pay a fact-finding visit to the country at the beginning of June, and we hope to report on even more positive developments when we return.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Unfortunately, I must now interrupt the list of speakers. The speeches of members on the speakers list who have been present during the debate but have not been able to speak may be given, in typescript, to the Table Office for publication in the official report.
3. Date, time and agenda of the next sitting
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – The Assembly will hold its next public sitting tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. with the agenda that was approved this morning.
The sitting is adjourned.
The sitting was closed at 5.05 p.m.
1. Communication from the Committee of Ministers
Presentation by Mr Lidington, representing the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers
Mr Franken (Netherlands)
Lord Tomlinson (United Kingdom)
Mr Clappison (United Kingdom)
Mr Xuclŕ (Spain)
Ms Backman (Iceland)
Mr Michel (France)
Mr Beneyto (Spain)
Mr Huseynov (Azerbaijan)
Ms Pashayeva (Azerbaijan)
Sir Roger Gale (United Kingdom)
Mr Díaz Tejera (Spain)
Mr Heald (United Kingdom)
Mr R. Farina (Italy)
Ms Durrieu (France)
2. Free debate
Ms Barnett (Germany)
Mr Shpigel (Russian Federation)
Mr Kennedy (United Kingdom)
Mr Voronin (Republic of Moldova)
Mr Ghiletchi (Republic of Moldova)
Mr Popescu (Ukraine)
Mr Disli (Turkey)
Mr D. Davies (United Kingdom)
Mr Mota Amaral (Portugal)
Ms Huovinen (Finland)
Mr Kalmár (Hungary)
Mr Plotnikov (Ukraine)
Mr Chope (United Kingdom)
Mr Vareikis (Lithuania)
Mr Gross (Switzerland)
Mr Kaikkonen (Finland)
Mr Harangozó (Hungary)
Mr von Sydow (Sweden)
Ms Woldseth (Norway)
3. Date, time and agenda of the next sitting
Representatives or Substitutes who signed the Attendance Register in accordance with Rule 11.2 of the Rules of Procedure. The names of Substitutes who replaced absent Representatives are printed in small letters. The names of those who were absent or apologised for absence are followed by an asterisk.
Alexey Ivanovich ALEKSANDROV*
José Antonio ALONSO
Florin Serghei ANGHEL*
Viorel Riceard BADEA*
Pelin Gündeş BAKIR
Gerard BARCIA DUEDRA
José Manuel BARREIRO/Carmen Quintanilla
Alexander van der BELLEN*
José María BENEYTO
Eric BOCQUET/Jean-Pierre Michel
Piet DE BRUYN*
Vannino CHITI/Paolo Corsini
Ms Deirdre CLUNE*
M. Georges COLOMBIER
Carlos COSTA NEVES*
Joseph DEBONO GRECH*
Giovanna DEBONO/Joseph Falzon
Armand De DECKER/Dirk Van Der Maelen
Arcadio DÍAZ TEJERA
Peter van DIJK
Alexander (The Earl of) DUNDEE*
Baroness Diana ECCLES*
Tülin ERKAL KARA
Vyacheslav FETISOV/Vladimir Zhidkikh
Axel E. FISCHER*
Jana FISCHEROVÁ/Tomáš Jirsa
Gvozden Srećko FLEGO*
Erich Georg FRITZ*
Giorgi GABASHVILI/Giorgi Kandelaki
Sir Roger GALE
Tamás GAUDI NAGY
Svetlana GORYACHEVA/Anton Belyakov
Sylvi GRAHAM/Ingjerd Schou
Sabir HAJIYEV/Sevinj Fataliyeva
Davit HARUTYUNYAN/Hermine Naghdalyan
Hĺkon HAUGLI/Tor Bremer
Alfred HEER/Gerhard Pfister
Jim HOOD/Michael Connarty
Denis JACQUAT/Marie-Jo Zimmermann
Michael Aastrup JENSEN*
Birkir Jón JÓNSSON/Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson
Bogdan KLICH/Mirosława Nykiel
Jean-Pierre KUCHEIDA/André Schneider
Henrik Sass LARSEN*
Igor LEBEDEV/Sergey Kalashnikov
Muriel MARLAND-MILITELLO/Christine Marin
Meritxell MATEU PI
Liliane MAURY PASQUIER*
Sir Alan MEALE
Ermira MEHMETI DEVAJA/Sonja Mirakovska
José MENDES BOTA*
Federica MOGHERINI REBESANI*
Joăo Bosco MOTA AMARAL
Mr Gebhard NEGELE
Fritz NEUGEBAUER/Martina Schenk
Baroness Emma NICHOLSON/Ian Liddell-Grainger
Sandra OSBORNE/Charles Kennedy
Lisbeth Bech POULSEN/Nikolaj Villumsen
Marietta de POURBAIX-LUNDIN
Cezar Florin PREDA*
Lord John PRESCOTT/Jim Dobbin
Valeriy PYSARENKO/Volodymyr Pylypenko
François ROCHEBLOINE/Alain Cousin
Maria de Belém ROSEIRA
Mykola SHERSHUN/Oleksiy Plotnikov
Adalbi SHKHAGOVEV/Alexey Knyshov
Robert SHLEGEL/Anvar Makhmutov
Björn von SYDOW
Vilmos SZABÓ/Gábor Harangozó
Melinda SZÉKYNÉ SZTRÉMI/Imre Vejkey
Giorgi TARGAMADZÉ/Magdalina Anikashvili
Lord John E. TOMLINSON
Ahmet Kutalmiş TÜRKEŞ
Ilyas UMAKHANOV/Boris Shpigel
Giuseppe VALENTINO/Renato Farina
Klaas de VRIES*
Robert WALTER/David Davies
Renate WOHLWEND/ Doris Frommelt
Karin S. WOLDSETH
Emanuelis ZINGERIS/Egidijus Vareikis
Vacant Seat, Cyprus*
Representatives and Substitutes not authorised to vote:
John Paul PHELAN
Rosario GREEN MACÍAS
Hervé Pierre GUILLOT
Partners for democracy: