22 април 2017

Априлската сесия на ПАСЕ, 24-28 април 2017г.

В Страсбург започва априлската сесия на Парламентарната Асамблея на Съвета на Европа 24-28 април 2017г.
В Дневния ред са включени за разглеждане докладите за предсрочните парламентарни избори в България, функционирането на институциите в Турция, хуманитарната ситуация в региона на Северен Кавказ и др.

Пред депутатите от 46 от страните членки (Парламентът на Русия не изпраща делегация в ПАСЕ) и от някоколкото страни наблюдатели и партньори да демокрация ще говорят  :

Н.В. Кралят на Испания Фелипе VI (по повод 40г. от приемането на Испания в Съвета на Европа), Президентът на Гърция Прокопис Павлопулус, Министърът на външните работи на Кипър - Йоанис Касулидес - председател на Комитета на Министрите на Съвета на Европа, Генералният секретар на Съвета на Европа Тьорбьорн Ягланд и др.

Новините, стенограмите от дебатите в залата, директното видеопредаване и гласуването на ПАСЕ по време на сесията може да се намери на страницата тук :

Spring session 2017: the functioning of democratic institutions in Turkey

Strasbourg, 24-28 April 2017

The functioning of democratic institutions in Turkey is scheduled to be debated during the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) spring plenary part-session to be held in Strasbourg from 24 to 28 April 2017. Other highlights on the agenda include debates on the situation of human rights in the North Caucasus, the increased income inequalities and the need for a citizenship income and the protection of refugee women from gender-based violence.
The President of Greece, Prokopis Pavlopoulos, will be addressing the Assembly. 

The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Niels Muižnieks, will present his annual activity report 2016.  

Thorbjørn Jagland, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, will answer questions from parliamentarians, and Ioannis Kasoulides, the Cypriot Foreign Minister, will be speaking in the context of the Cypriot Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers.
Other highlights of the session will be the debates on ‘25 years of the CPT, achievements and improvements needed', ‘Abusive use of the Interpol system: the need for more stringent legal safeguards' and ‘The protection of the rights of parents and children belonging to religious minorities'.
There have also been requests for an urgent debate on ‘Political consequences of the new Israeli Settlement Regulation Law' and for a current affairs debate on ‘European values under threat: addressing rising populism, xenophobia, antisemitism and Islamophobia in Europe'.
The Assembly will decide its final agenda on the opening day of the session.

                                                                                                                                                    Photo: Council of Europe

Reports and opinions from the agenda

Monday 24 April 2017

Tuesday 25 April 2017

Wednesday 26 April 2017

Thursday 27 April 2017

Friday 28 April 2017

Ms Marie-Christine DALLOZ , EPP, France, Photo : Council of Europe


Видеозапис на първото заседание на априлската сесия:

PACE President agrees to take part in a hearing on his recent visit to Syria

  • 24/04/2017
PACE President Pedro Agramunt, in view of the request of a significant number of members, has agreed to participate in a hearing on his recent visit to Syria. The hearing will be held on 25 April at 1 p.m. in the Debating Chamber.

Before formally opening the session, the President acknowledged that his visit to Syria, in his capacity as a Spanish Senator, was a mistake and apologised to PACE members.

2. Statement by the President 
      The PRESIDENT* – Dear colleagues, I would like to start my official statement with a few words about my recent visit to Syria, which was undertaken with other members of the Parliamentary Assembly in my capacity as a Spanish senator. Many of you have raised questions and voiced concerns about this visit, and I recognise and understand those concerns, given the way in which the visit was covered by certain media outlets. That coverage put our Assembly and Organisation in a very complicated situation. This morning, in the Bureau meeting, I provided members with a full explanation of the visit, both in written and oral form. A document setting out written answers to questions from members of the Bureau has been prepared, and this afternoon I will request that it be made publicly available to all members of the Assembly. In the meantime, I would like to make the following statement.
      This visit was a mistake; I recognise that now that I have seen its full consequences. I offer members an apology for this mistake. My first mistake was to underestimate the reaction within the Assembly to the visit. Since taking office, I have conducted some 50 official visits, and until now nobody has raised any questions about them. As a result, in all sincerity, I simply did not expect any doubts to be voiced about this visit. I have always robustly defended dialogue, and when it comes to defending the fight against violence and respect for human rights I felt it was wise for us to listen to al-Assad, with a view to securing the best possible future for Syria and its people. I am clearly very concerned about the humanitarian crisis in Syria. I want to help find solutions to war and avoid further refugee crises, and I thought that the visit gave me the opportunity to make a contribution to that.
      The second mistake I made was not to give prior notice of my visit to the leaders of the political groups or the Bureau, although I would add that no meetings of the Bureau had been scheduled. However, that does not mean that I did not inform other people; as this visit was conducted in my capacity as a member of the Senate of Spain, I informed my Government beforehand.
      A third mistake, although this is beyond my control, was to allow the visit to be manipulated by certain Russian media outlets and parliamentarians. The only statements that I made in Syria were to stress that I was visiting as a member of the Spanish Senate, and was not there to represent the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, or to offer any support whatever to the al-Assad regime. I would like to state clearly that the policies being pursued by Bashar al-Assad deserve our condemnation, and, as I have said, full respect for human rights and freedom in Syria are fundamentally essential. Our Assembly has adopted a series of resolutions condemning the situation in Syria, and I fully support them. I state clearly once again that despite what is being said in many media outlets this visit should not be used to undermine the credentials and image of the Council of Europe, or the values that our Organisation defends.

      Mr NICOLETTI (Italy)* – I would like to raise an issue on behalf of the Socialist Group on the order of the business that has to do with the work of the President of this Assembly. We have listened to the explanations he has given regarding his visit to Syria, characterising it as a serious political mistake. We believe that was irresponsible. We believe that political responsibility has to be taken for that action. Our rules do not provide for impeachment, but we have to respect the principle of rotation in the Assembly when it comes to the different political groups. We believe that this was an act of political responsibility and for that reason we call for him to be removed from his office as President of the Parliamentary Assembly. We are making this appeal because we believe that the seriousness of the mistake must be matched by the seriousness of the consequences. 
      The PRESIDENT* – Thank you, Mr Nicoletti; I have taken note of what you have said. I call Mr Fischer.

      Mr FISCHER (Germany)* – Now we have heard the statement about the trip to Syria. The European People’s Party group has dealt with this issue: we condemn the visit and the visits of the other members as well. We feel that they have tarnished the image of the Assembly and we propose a hearing with representatives from both the larger and smaller groups during which questions will be posed and responses heard. Thank you.

      The PRESIDENT – We will continue in the Bureau this afternoon. I am sorry, Mr Fischer; I did not have a translation just now. I call Mr Omtzigt.

      Mr OMTZIGT (Netherlands) – Let us see whether you get a translation this time. 

      We are making a serious proposal. Three members of this Assembly went to visit President Assad, who has killed tens of thousands of citizens. You do not visit such a man to build bridges. Please – the apology was so weak that I would not have accepted it from my children. Mr President, are you willing to be subject to a hearing, together with Mr Xuclà and Mr Destexhe and conducted by seven members of the Assembly, in which you give a public explanation for the irresponsible actions that you took? Are you willing for the hearing to take place either tomorrow or Wednesday, after which the Assembly can debate what further actions are needed? Thank you.

      The PRESIDENT – I must say that I had an audience at the Bureau this morning and I will have another this afternoon. 

      Mr ARIEV (Ukraine) – Mr President, I appreciate your apologies, but now is a crucial moment for the Assembly. We need transparency on your part and clarity about your position. If we do not get that, you should not be surprised if someone tables a vote of no confidence in you. 

      The PRESIDENT – I had a problem with hearing what Mr Fischer said, but that was clear. I have no problem with this – I accept: no problem. We will discuss this at the start of the Bureau meeting this afternoon. I will tell Members what we are doing at the beginning of this afternoon’s sitting.

      Mr OMTZIGT (Netherlands) – I have put a concrete proposal to you. You do not have to refer it to the Bureau; it concerns you as a person and a President. Are you willing to be subject to a public hearing tomorrow first thing – we can cancel all other meetings – at which seven, eight, nine or 10 of our members are able to ask you, Mr Destexhe and Mr Xuclà, who will also be invited, to explain why you tarnished this Assembly and the Council of Europe? Are you willing to say yes so that we can start organising that and move to other business? Otherwise, we will remain in this situation for the next hour.

      The PRESIDENT* – I have already said yes, but I will say it now in Spanish. I have said that there is no problem whatever in going along with Mr Fischer’s suggestion. At the beginning of this afternoon’s sitting, we will talk about how to proceed. I have already said yes. There is no problem.

      Mr MASIULIS (Lithuania)* – I do not understand. Do you understand or not that you represent the Assembly, not the Bureau? The important question is the one being posed to you, and you represent the Assembly. In our view, you simply cannot represent us any longer.

      The PRESIDENT – Thank you. I said that I accept this proposal. We will see.
      Lord FOULKES (United Kingdom) – If you accept this proposal, if two of the largest groups in this Assembly are rightly criticising you for what you have done and if there is to be a hearing into your suitability, how can you continue to chair this Assembly today? You should stand down and let one of the Vice-Presidents take over.

      The PRESIDENT – Thank you very much. We will do it tomorrow morning. 

      Mr FARMANYAN (Armenia) – Mr President, I am a member of the European People’s Party group and you are chairing this Assembly on behalf of our group and all the others. It is evident to all of us here in this house of democracy that you have lost trust, and not only within the EPP group. You were debating this topic for hours before this sitting started, and all the political families here were involved. This is a political crisis. We all face political crises in our own countries. There is a wise and politically correct way out, and that is to step down, Mr President.

      Mr GONCHARENKO (Ukraine) – Dear colleagues, it is absolutely disgusting that the leader of our Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe was around the person who was gassing and bombing his own people. Now we are hearing childish things from you, Mr President – “I don’t know. Somebody has been manipulating things. I went there but now I have read this paper, I am shocked. I went there to visit Aleppo, but I did not go to Aleppo.” You went to Syria on a Russian military jet from the Russian Ministry of Defence, not the Syrian Parliament. I ask you to resign. I am sure that you can no longer lead our Assembly. You have cast a shadow not only on yourself, but on the whole Parliamentary Assembly and all the Council of Europe. If you are a real caballero, you will resign now.
Sir Roger GALE (United Kingdom) – Further to that point of order, Mr President. Earlier this morning, as the leader of the United Kingdom delegation, I said that you would have to come to this Assembly, to hear the views of members and to decide whether your position was tenable. I have to say to you, Sir, with great sadness that your position is no longer tenable.
 Sir Alan MEALE (United Kingdom) – Further to that point of order, Mr President. It has become very clear from the statements by the leaders of the main political groups in this place that there is no confidence in your ability. Therefore, I would like you in the Assembly, which is fully attended today, to put to the vote whether you have the confidence of the Assembly. It is as simple as that – yes or no.
The PRESIDENT – I said that I accept the proposal from Mr Fischer. We will have that audience without problems. May I go on now to the normal business? [Members: “No!”] The first –
 Sir Alan MEALE (United Kingdom) – Further to that point of order, Mr President. Will you please put that question to the vote in the Assembly? Yes or no?
Ms LUNDGREN (Sweden) – Further to that point of order, Mr President. You have to decide to put to the vote the question of whether the Assembly does or does not have confidence in you. That must be sorted out, independent of the discussion on hearings.

      The PRESIDENT – Before I go to the other questions, I suspend the sitting.

(The sitting, suspended at 12.10 p.m., was resumed at 12.30 p.m., with Sir Roger Gale, Vice-President of the Assembly, in the Chair.)

The PRESIDENT – You may have noticed that a new person is sitting in the Chair. In order to progress business, I have agreed to take the Chair for the remainder of this sitting. Mr Sawicki will tell you now what will happen next.
      Mr SAWICKI (Secretary General of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe) – The President of the Assembly has agreed to have the hearing requested by several members of the Assembly tomorrow. 
It will be open to all members of the Assembly, and questions agreed by the political groups will be put by the designated representatives of the groups. At the beginning of the afternoon sitting I will inform you exactly when and where this hearing will take place. We need to check the modalities first. It is likely to be in Room 1, but the exact timing I can give you only at the beginning of the afternoon, once we have checked the availability of rooms and so on.
      The PRESIDENT – I shall now endeavour to proceed with the agenda as you have it before you.

9. Progress report of the Bureau and the Standing Committee, and observation of the early parliamentary elections in Bulgaria
      The PRESIDENT – The next item on the agenda is the debate on the progress report of the Bureau and the Standing Committee, to be presented by Mr Jordi Xuclà. For obvious reasons, we have only 10 minutes remaining. I propose that we open that debate, and it will then be continued tomorrow, depending on other circumstances.
      This debate will be combined with consideration of the report of the ad hoc committee of the Bureau on the observation of the early parliamentary elections in Bulgaria, to be presented by Ms Marie-Christine Dalloz. I remind members that speaking time will be limited to three minutes.
      The sitting must conclude at 1 p.m., so I shall interrupt proceedings at that point. Mr Xuclà, you have 13 minutes in total, but I would be grateful if you limited your remarks to 10 minutes, so that we can rise at 1 p.m. You have the floor.
      Mr XUCLÀ (Spain)* – Thank you, Mr President. As members will be aware, the progress report essentially provides a rundown of all the work that has been done by the Bureau and the Standing Committee between the January part-session and 23 April – Sant Jordi’s day, by the way.
      The Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights received a report from Ms Lundgren and other members of the Assembly on the need to shed light on the murder of Boris Nemtsov, and that will be on the committee’s agenda this week. It is late in the day, but I very much hope that the committee will be able to appoint a rapporteur in order to shed light on that political assassination.
      The Committee on the Election of Judges to the European Court of Human Rights has decided to issue a report – it does not normally produce reports – on its plans for improving the process for appointing the three candidates that the Assembly is then called upon to elect, on a proposal from the member States.
      I ask the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons to bring forward proposals for the thematic debate on the refugee crisis, which is scheduled for an entire day during the June part-session. On 27 January, just as the previous part-session was drawing to a close, we issued a call for nominations for the Václav Havel Prize.
      It is worth mentioning that in January we held a debate on the credentials of the Slovak delegation, which at the last minute submitted a new list containing no female members, the one female member previously on the list having been appointed to a ministerial post, as often happens. We always seek to achieve gender balance, and I was appointed as rapporteur for that. My proposal was that we provisionally ratify their credentials while awaiting a new list that complies with our rules. The credentials were presented at the Standing Committee meeting in March in Madrid.
      It is also worth mentioning the election observation mission to Bulgaria. The head of the mission, Ms Dalloz, will say more about that shortly. We have also had presidential elections in Serbia and parliamentary elections in Armenia. On 16 April, of course, we had the very important constitutional referendum in Turkey.
      Ladies and gentlemen, as you will have seen for yourselves, this part-session is taking place against a rather unusual backdrop, to say the least. We are talking about an exceptional set of circumstances and a climate of tension. For that reason, the Bureau was unable to look at all the matters on its agenda this morning, which is why we plan to hold a second session of that meeting this afternoon, between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. I am therefore unable to present all the Bureau’s conclusions from this morning’s meeting.
      However, if I may speak on behalf of the leaders of the five political groups, later this afternoon I will present a proposal for a memorandum for an external investigation body to look into the allegations of corruption within the Parliamentary Assembly. This decision was taken back in January, and the Presidential Committee agreed in Madrid that it would produce a document. We are poised to publish that document, which will then be approved by the Bureau, but I will not have another opportunity to present a progress report, and therefore to comment on that report.
      The plan is that there should be three high-level experts, ideally former judges of the European Court of Human Rights – the Bureau will have to decide that – and possibly even former constitutional court judges from member States. I firmly believe that the investigation body must be external, because we need to place the matter in the hands of highly qualified individuals.
      The PRESIDENT – Order. Mr Xuclà, you are straying off the report and into matters that have not yet been decided by the Bureau. I must ask you to confine your remarks to the report.
      Mr XUCLÀ (Spain)* – Mr President, I understand your point and will heed your wishes, but I believe that this is an exceptional week. We have a progress report being introduced on a Monday and voted upon on a Friday, and clearly on Friday the Bureau will be voting on the appointment of an external investigation body. I will absolutely heed your injunction, because you are quite right that the Bureau will make that decision formally this afternoon. I just wanted to talk to colleagues here in the Chamber about an issue that they are already discussing widely. 

      I would like to conclude, using less than one minute of my speaking time, by apologising to this Assembly for the damage that I have caused by travelling to Syria. I will do so only if you will authorise me to continue using my speaking time in that way, Mr President. If not, then I will stop there.

 The PRESIDENT – Thank you, Mr Xuclà. You have just under five minutes remaining.
      Ms Dalloz, you now have two minutes in which to present the report of the ad hoc committee of the Bureau. We will endeavour to offer you some injury time, as I will explain later.

Ms DALLOZ , Photo : Council of Europe

      Ms DALLOZ (France)* – Thank you, Mr President. Colleagues, this was my first time heading a mission for the Parliamentary Assembly. I would like to thank everyone involved in the work with me. We were 15 parliamentarians from 12 different member States of the Council of Europe, and all five political groups were represented. I emphasise that the Venice Commission worked with us very well indeed; its work was excellent and added real value. I note that the Parliamentary Assembly has been observing all elections in Bulgaria since 1990 – 26 years – and it is therefore a long-term approach. 

      On polling day, we noted that voters were able to make a choice freely. The elections were generally well organised and the electoral code allowed all Bulgarian citizens, regardless of ethnic origin, to elect representatives to the parliament. A few problems were noted. Sometimes polling stations did not have disabled access. There were also some problems at the border with Turkey; we saw some vehicles with Turkish number plates that had brought in bunches of people to vote. We also saw that some procedures were not fully complied with at some polling stations. However, none of that had any effect on the outcome of the election.

      That is really all I have time for. There is so much more to say, and it is rather frustrating when you find that you have so little time. I want to emphasise that people and voters in Bulgaria truly feel disillusioned about politics in general. It particularly struck me that people feel disillusioned. We also noted fatigue; people are fed up because there have been so many elections in recent years. In fact, there have been six elections in the country since 2013. It is up to the newly elected Bulgarian assembly to think about the situation. They have to reduce tension, both within the country and beyond its borders. There is also a responsibility that has to be borne by all political parties and their leaders in seeking to combat all forms of discrimination and corruption in elections.

      I went to observe elections in a district in the town of Plovdiv. Where there is a poor level of education and people who do not speak Bulgarian as their first language, we find that they end up working in an underground economy – the black economy. That has to be condemned, because it does not allow them to exercise their rights fully. Nonetheless the elections were, generally speaking, transparent. We do, however, have to enhance transparency in a number of areas, particularly media ownership. They also have to look carefully at campaign accounting – the way funding is provided for political campaigns. Attention also has to be paid to the opening of polling offices outside the country, and it has to be ensured that everyone, whatever their ethnic origin, is able to participate fully in the electoral process regardless of their mother tongue.

      I am convinced, however, that we, the Assembly, will continue to work with Bulgaria through the monitoring process and in co-operation with the Venice Commission, and am sure that will all prove fruitful in the future.
      The PRESIDENT – Thank you, Ms Dalloz. I am grateful to you for your forbearance in terms of time, and know that the Assembly appreciates the hard work that you have put in to this matter. I must now interrupt the debate, which will continue on Tuesday afternoon at 4 o’ clock.


10. Next public business

      The PRESIDENT – The Assembly will hold its next public sitting this afternoon at 3 p.m. with the agenda that was approved this morning.
      The sitting is closed.
      (The sitting was closed at 1 p.m.)

Продължение – 25.04.2017, заседание от 15:30ч.
(Second part)
Thirteenth sitting
Tuesday 25 April 2017 at 3.30 p.m.


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 first call Mr Németh.

      Mr NÉMETH (Hungary) – 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.

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.

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 R. 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 EU’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 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 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.

От стенограмата на 24.04.2017г. - заседание от 15 ч. 

      . Free debate
      The PRESIDENT – We now come to the free debate. I remind members that this debate is for topics not already on the agenda agreed this morning. Speaking time is limited to three minutes. The free debate will finish at 5 p.m.
      I first call Mr Le Borgn’ to speak on behalf of the Socialist Group.
      Mr LE BORGN’ (France)* – This afternoon I am seizing the opportunity to draw the attention of our Assembly, the Committee of Ministers and our members to the situation of Alexey Pichugin, who has been behind bars in Russia since 2003. The circumstances are known to the European Court of Human Rights and, in fact, the Court has found against those circumstances. I refer you to its ruling. It is important for us in the Parliamentary Assembly to give some thought to his situation.
      Mr Pichugin was the first person arrested in what came to be known as the Yukos case, which the Russian regime used to expropriate a company and to expel its directors who were considered to be political opponents. Mr Pichugin was responsible for security matters in Yukos and, 14 years down the road, he is still being deprived of his freedom. His prison sentence was for 20 years, subsequently being made a life sentence for murder and attempted murder. He has always contested the accusation, and no evidence has ever been produced to prove the charges.
      The European Court of Human Rights required that Mr Pichugin should be given a fair trial, but that has not happened. Mr Pichugin has never been able to defend himself in any acceptable way. He has been interrogated without the presence of his lawyers and his close family have been threatened with arrest if he refuses to collaborate with the authorities against the former directors of Yukos.
      Mr Pichugin is imprisoned in Siberia, where the conditions are sordid, degrading and threatening to his health. I wish to speak out against that fundamental violation of the European Convention on Human Rights by the Russian Federation, against the lack of respect for the judgment handed down by the Court, and against methods that are tantamount to moral torture. We are talking about political persecution and a break with the rule of law and the values of the Council of Europe. As a member of parliament, it is my duty to speak out against those things. There can be no place for such inhumanity in our community of law.
      In 2005, our then colleague Ms Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger drew our attention to the situation of Alexey Pichugin. Since then, 12 years have gone by and nothing has changed. In fact, the situation is even worse. The European Court of Human Rights is apparently causing the Russian authorities headaches, and in fact a law adopted last year means that the Russian courts can depart from its case law. The abuse of power and political persecution continue, and that is why I wanted to speak today. I cannot remain silent when the human rights of an individual, Alexey Pichugin, are being negated, ignored and violated.
      The PRESIDENT – Thank you. I call the Earl of Dundee, on behalf of the European Conservatives Group.
      The Earl of DUNDEE (United Kingdom) – My remarks today are on the case for a strengthened role for the Council of Europe – why it is desirable, how it should be structured and how, as a result, our 47 States can benefit.
      To protect democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Europe, we rely upon this institution. Yet we have done so in any case since 1949, so why should we do so to any greater extent now? The answer may be paradoxical. For the European Union has a different agenda. So if that affiliation to the European Union happens to have become weaker, this in itself should not threaten our core principles and values at all.

Nevertheless, it does so all the same, because confidence in all shared arrangements in Europe has reduced. As a result – if paradoxically – confidence has also reduced in Europe’s shared standards of democracy, human rights and the rule of law, even though their protection did not fall to the European Union in the first place. That is why it is now the duty of the Council of Europe to become much more active and assertive in safeguarding those values.
      In structuring a stronger and more effective role for the Council of Europe, a key player will be the Committee of Ministers. It is for that committee to adopt and promote planned guidelines on civil participation in political decision making. The drafting of guidelines appears to be under way in the relevant intergovernmental committee, and it is essential that the work be completed as soon as practicable. The adoption and publication of the guidelines ought certainly to be aimed for well before the end of this year.
      These guidelines must be practical, setting out recommended measures that, if applied in member States at all levels – national, regional and local – can ensure compliance with best practice so that our shared standards on participation become a reality everywhere. The participation of citizens is at the very heart of the idea of democracy; and effective civil participation is of course a necessary component of our representative democracies – it is what enables them to work at all. The guidelines thus need to highlight key elements such as openness, transparency, accountability and the importance of mutual respect between all actors, as well as setting out important fundamentals including the provision of information, consultation and dialogue.
      The United Kingdom may claim to have made some degree of progress. One example is our current neighbourhood planning policy, through which more than 2 000 groups representing nearly 10 million people have already started the process of neighbourhood planning, introduced in a parliamentary bill in 2012. That is a small example, but the benefits of a stronger Council of Europe to all our states will be pervasive and affect all parts of national life, thus enabling us to bring back to Europe its confidence, purpose and morale.
      The PRESIDENT – Thank you. I call Ms Lundgren, on behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.
      Ms LUNDGREN (Sweden) – I assure the Assembly that the ALDE group condemns and strongly deplores the visit of three high-ranking members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to Syria.
 We had some debate about that this morning. The situation in Syria is well known to most of us, because it is now in its seventh year, and we have all seen the ongoing war crimes and crimes against humanity. The challenge to all of us is to find a way forward towards a solution to those crimes. The regime has used gas against its own people, and small children have been grasping on to life having been heavily bombed. We have seen that before, but now we see how Russia, one of our member States, is putting out fake news about what has happened to try to make us doubt what we have seen and what so many others have verified.
      Coming from Sweden, I have noticed that some Swedish doctors have become loyal fools of the Russian authorities, as other people have before. They have said that no gas was used. However, no one has heard of these doctors or seen anything of them before, so they are useful only to the Russian authorities in bringing forward their message. We must make it clear that we in the Assembly will not be used as fools in a way that makes it possible for crimes against humanity and war crimes to continue. I urge colleagues to be firm in demanding human rights for all people, even those in Syria.
      The PRESIDENT – Thank you.

Продължение – 26.04.2017

(Second part)
Thirteenth sitting
Tuesday 25 April 2017 at 3.30 p.m.


The PRESIDENT* – Thank you. I now call Mr Schwabe, who will speak on behalf of the Socialist Group.
      Mr SCHWABE (Germany)* – 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.

      The PRESIDENT* – Thank you. I cannot see Mr Liddell-Grainger in the Assembly, so I give the floor to Ms Brasseur, who will speak on behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.
      Ms BRASSEUR (Luxembourg)* 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 Xuclà. 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.

      The PRESIDENT* – Thank you. I now call Mr Kox, who will speak on behalf of the Group of the Unified European Left.
      Mr KOX (Netherlands) – 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 with regard to Turkey. 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.

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 Xuclà, 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 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 Xuclà, 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 being open to any condemnation by keeping it clean and very responsible.
      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 Xuclà 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 Xuclà, you have five minutes at your disposal to answer the comments.

                                                    Jordi Xucla         Photo: Council of Europe

      Mr XUCLÀ (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.

27.04. 2017
His Majesty the King of Spain Felipe VI before PACE :
" Europe remains an inspiring project !"
Photo: Council of Europe
Негово Величество Кралят на Испания Фелипе VI пред ПАСЕ :
" Европа остава вдъхновяващ проект !"

Photo: Council of Europe
(Mr Gutiérrez, Vice-President of the Assembly, took the Chair in place of Sir Roger Gale.)
2. Address by His Majesty the King of Spain
      The PRESIDENT* – We now have the honour of hearing an address by His Majesty the King of Spain.
      Your Majesty, gratitude best defines the finest aspects of humanity, and as Vice-President of the Parliamentary Assembly and on behalf of all parliamentarians, I would like to set out our gratitude to you for being here today, and to welcome you most warmly to this house of democracy, the rule of law and human rights.
      Today is the third time in the history of the Council of Europe, and since Spain’s accession to the Organisation 40 years ago, that the Spanish head of State has addressed the members of this Assembly. The first two times were in October 1979 and January 1988, with appearances by His Majesty the King, Juan Carlos. The Spanish monarchy has been committed to Europe for decades. Your Majesty is firmly engaged with Europe. You are a convinced European, and your involvement in strengthening European unity continues to be one of the main pillars of your reign.
      In the almost three years since your accession, you have visited almost all the European institutions and met many European leaders. Your Majesty has also taken part in the past two awards ceremonies for the Charlemagne Prize, and every year you preside over the awards ceremony for the prestigious Carlos V European Award, which takes place in the royal monastery of Yuste, which has historic links to the Spanish monarchy. Every year, on 9 May – Europe Day – the Carlos V European Award recognises the work of those people who have contributed to furthering European values and the unity of the continent.
      On 10 March, all members of the Assembly’s Standing Committee had the honour of being received by Your Majesty at an audience in Madrid’s El Pardo Palace. It was a unique and special occasion that was worthy of recognition. Thank you once again for the time you spent with our almost 100-strong delegation.
      Your Majesty has been kind enough to be with us today. You have come to Strasbourg to join in the acts of celebration marking the 40th anniversary of Spain’s accession to the Council of Europe, and to restate Spain’s commitment to the values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. We are honoured to have this opportunity to celebrate the anniversary with Your Majesty.
      Your Majesty, it is a huge pleasure and a great honour to give you the floor.
Photo: Council of Europe

Photo: Council of Europe
Photo: Council of Europe

      HIS MAJESTY THE KING OF SPAIN* – Mr President, Mr Secretary General, ladies and gentlemen, members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, on 10 March I had the pleasant task and personal satisfaction of receiving the Standing Committee in Madrid as part of the celebrations marking the 40th anniversary of Spain’s accession to the Council of Europe. I now have the great honour of addressing the Parliamentary Assembly to underscore Spain’s undertakings as a member of the Council of Europe, an institution that embodies, defends and represents our best values, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. I especially thank you for your kind invitation in this anniversary year, which is so important to Spaniards and relevant to Europe and its institutions.
      On 24 November we will celebrate the 40th anniversary of Spain’s accession to this institution. The anniversary prompts us to consider the past four decades and the path that we are following towards the future. Above all, it invites us to record that democracy must be preserved and perfected at all times with determination and constancy, and with the firm undertaking of everyone, since it concerns us all and protects us all.
      Democracy, human rights and the rule of law, as I have just indicated, are the three pillars upon which the Council of Europe was founded. It is the common home of all Europeans. Freedom, equality, justice and political pluralism are the higher values that are proclaimed in the Spanish constitution of 1978, and that inspire our living together in democracy. Spain shares with the Council of Europe its values and principles. Both hail from the recognition of the dignity of people as an essential prerequisite for living together in political and social action. The acknowledgment and protection of that dignity is Europe’s greatest bequest. We should never forget that that is the reason for our identity as Europeans and that it constitutes a fundamental reference for progress and for the essential dignity of humanity at large.
      It is for that reason that I wish on this occasion to pay tribute to the founders of that Europe, which emerged from the Second World War after being largely destroyed. Europe rebuilt its moral, political and legal foundations, thanks to the assiduous efforts of a generation that was firmly convinced that the highest meanings of human rights and democracy are antidotes to tyranny, dictatorship, oppression and exploitation. Thanks to those pillars, this institution is the engine that promotes democratic values across Europe, and its vitality is a thermometer for the health of a civic and democratic Europe.
      Forty years ago, the democratic heart of Spain beat in unison with the heart of Europe, as represented here. Indeed, after the referendum to approve the law on political reform, 1977 was a year of extraordinary political importance in Spain’s history. On 15 June that year, we held the first democratic elections in which the Spanish people, freely voting, full of hope and with great emotion, opened the path towards democracy, and thus began one of the brightest and more transformative periods in our country’s recent political history.
      Spain’s entry into the Council of Europe in 1977 – a year before the approval of our constitution –meant that there was important support for the success of our political transition. In an address to your Assembly in October 1979, His Majesty King Juan Carlos expressly underscored your Chamber’s decisive role in Spain’s joining the Council of Europe, doing away with “custom, in both form and timing, so that its faith and hope in the transition to democracy in Spain might prevail.” Democracy reached Spain because of men and women who generously sought dialogue and understanding in order to overcome confrontations and differences caused by our country’s history that, until that point, had seemed unresolvable. Those men and women set aside their legitimate political differences because they agreed with the fundamental aim of providing their country with a regime of freedom. They were the Spaniards of reconciliation, and we must honour and perpetuate their memory and example. The Council of Europe knew how to prompt and accompany such an undertaking, and it gave us active support to overcome the difficult early steps in our return to democracy and our encounters with a free Europe.
      We Spaniards are European in our identity, culture, history and geography, and also by choice and political will. Our constitution of 1978 included rights and freedoms that materialised in western Europe following the Second World War. Respect for the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms is guaranteed through our amparo appeal before the constitutional court and the system of individual applications to the European Court of Human Rights. The Court’s doctrine strengthens our State where the rule of law is concerned. I cannot refrain from stressing the importance of the European Social Charter to economic and social rights.
      Since Spain joined in 1977, 27 other States have adhered to the Council of Europe, which now has 47 members. We must attach importance to that great success for democracy, which results from a process of recognition, expansion and the universalisation of democratic values in which Europe has been a decisive protagonist and an unrivalled leader. In the globalised world of the 21st century, Europe must continue being a reference point for freedoms and integration. We are indeed proud of its values, and, as an area of civilisation, Europe will continue to be a source of inspiration for other regions of the globe. If, on the other hand, we renounce those values, we will give up what we can best contribute to the world and what defines us.
      More than ever before, global challenges require unity and strength in our democratic institutions. We are going through a historic period of convulsions and uncertainties, and the complexities and difficulties test those institutions. Some effects of globalisation produce mistrust, insecurity or withdrawal, while living together is affected in many areas by war or barbaric and cruel terrorism. In that context, uncertainty has cast doubts among many Europeans. They wonder what the best way is to respond to threats to peace and international security and breaches of humanitarian international law, to the risks that have an impact on sustainable life on earth and to the great displacement of persons fleeing war, terrorism and poverty. With that state of mind, it is necessary to confront challenges in a decisive, but reflective, manner. The response cannot be to step back or to return to a past that we have been trying to overcome for some time. We should provide global responses to global challenges in an intelligent, courageous, generous and respectful manner.
      The policies to face those challenges should be based on the values and principles of democratic systems. We should remain united and reaffirm rights, freedoms and the rule of law as substantial, non-renounceable elements of Europe. This complexity should not let us forget that democracy requires the bringing together of emotion, reason, trust, participation, a constructive attitude and a conciliatory spirit. It requires sincere dialogue and, as a consequence, the taking of decisions in a responsible manner. I bid you, as democratic representatives of Europe, our common fatherland, to follow democratic reason. A total respect of the democratic rule of law is the most effective instrument to confront contemporary challenges collectively.
      Spain’s recent history provides examples of our overcoming grave problems, and we can serve as a model globally. Terrorism has hit our country for more than four decades, with the aim of imposing its totalitarian senselessness on the ability of Spaniards to live together in peace. However, the integrity and firmness of Spanish society, and the solidity of the rule of law, have won the day and have routed terrorism. With that victory, the dignity of the victims of terrorism – we respect and honour their memory – is an example of civic courage, which we are proud of as a country and that deserves greater recognition and justice. Do not doubt that with determination and consistency we shall also overcome the terrorist threat that hits many parts of the world. Major world alliances are required to confront it efficiently and coherently. Terrorists should know that we will not fail to combat barbarism and we shall not cease until they account for their crimes. The values that inspire our democratic living together will prevail in the face of fanaticism, intolerance and violence.
      Europe also has the responsibility of dealing with the great displacement of persons – refugees and migrants – fleeing war, terrorism and extreme poverty. It is a moral duty to welcome them, as is within our capacity, so that they are able to live a dignified life. We must also do what we can to promote the conditions that allow them to return to their homes. That means putting an end to conflicts and establishing the basis for bellicose clashes to give way to political processes, leading to inclusive and democratic societies that do not act against life and freedom. We aspire to the respect of fundamental rights – a trait that is constituted in and concomitant with Europe – becoming universal. We cannot conceive of peace without the enjoyment of human rights.
      Spain wishes to continue to contribute to a prosperous and integrated Europe. We are a plural country in which our constitution guarantees the rights and freedoms of all citizens, independent of the territory in which they reside. It also protects the cultures, traditions, languages and institutions of the nationalities and regions that constitute the Spanish nation. Thus, the self-governance of our autonomous communities, combined with the principle of basic equality between Spaniards, contributes to our living together. A democratic, constitutional Spain, which is a united plural democracy in which all the State’s powers hail from its citizens, granting them legitimacy, is the best, active model we can contribute to a Europe that is always strong in the defence of its values – a Europe whose strength, development and progress are founded on respect for the rule of law, which guarantees that all European citizens can live together in freedom.
      Ladies and gentlemen, as I come to the end of my address, I reiterate Spain’s trust in and attachment to the European project. Despite uncertainties and fears, Europe continues to be a positive enterprise, and its ability to adapt to changes without renouncing its principles is the guarantee of its better future in a world that is constantly under transformation. Spain certainly looks towards a Europe that is more just and equal, and more cohesive and integrated, under the structures of the European Union and the Council of Europe. Above all, we look to Europe as a project for living together while recognising the inalienable dignity of all human beings, because Europe is more than just a geographical space defined by history. It is also a project, an idea; some might say a dream. It is an enterprise for which it is worth fighting, however arduous the path may be.
      Spain established its first liberal constitution in Cadiz in 1812, and has since 1978 had a fruitful period of democratic development, which we have undergone hand in hand with your Organisation. Like those men and women of Spain of the past who wanted to open themselves to new worlds, we wish to offer the best of ourselves, so that in this era of globalisation, Europe can be an example of people living together with respect for each other’s dignity, rights and freedoms.
      These 40 years of joint effort spur us on to build, in a determined, confident and ambitious manner, a future that guarantees more freedom, equality and prosperity to all European citizens, and all those who come to us seeking peace and security. We have to give them hope about Europe and what it represents. When the anniversary of the next 40 years takes place, I hope that our best achievements will be that Europe can look us in the eye; that despite all the challenges that we faced, we were able to keep moving forward and, between us all, build a space and time in which it was worth living; and that we were able to continue making a reality of the founders of Europe’s dreams – of uniting persons, as Jean Monnet said, and of having an awareness of ourselves, as Salvador de Madariaga said. We rely for that on the Council of Europe and your Assembly, which have been and are an essential beacon on this path. This Council and Assembly have an ally in Spain – a sure friend in the defence of democracy, human rights and freedom. Thank you.
      The PRESIDENT* – Your Majesty, I am very grateful for your words, and for the significant message that you leave with us. Your irrefutable defence of European values, and your steadfast commitment to promoting and cultivating them, deserve the recognition of this entire Chamber. I agree with Your Majesty that in these times, it is crucial that we take action together, and that action should be complemented with strong leadership and the ability to bridge differences between great Europeans such as Your Majesty. Let me repeat our gratitude to you for being with us today, and I wish you every success at the helm of the Spanish State.
      (The President continued in English)
      Thank you, Your Majesty, for your most interesting address.
3. Next public business
      The PRESIDENT – The Assembly will hold its next public sitting this afternoon at 3.30 p.m. with the agenda that was approved on Monday.
      The sitting is closed.
      (The sitting was closed at 12.25 p.m.)

Photo: Council of Europe

PACE Bureau declares ‘no confidence’ in Pedro Agramunt as President

The Bureau of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), meeting in Strasbourg today, resolved that it has no confidence in Pedro Agramunt as President of the Assembly.

It further resolved that Mr Agramunt is not authorised to undertake any official visits, attend any meetings or make any public statements on behalf of the Assembly in his capacity as President.

“The President chose not to attend the Bureau today, and has not presented a letter of resignation.

As a result, and in the context of the current Rules of Procedure under which the President cannot be compelled to resign, the Bureau felt it necessary to take these steps,” said Sir Roger Gale (United Kingdom, EC), Senior Vice-President of the Assembly, chairing the Bureau meeting.

“The standards and principles of the Parliamentary Assembly are more important than any individual member, and the integrity of our Assembly must be upheld,” he added.

* The Bureau is responsible for the co-ordination of the activities of the Assembly and of its committees. It assists the President in his or her functions and guides the Assembly’s external relations. It takes decisions on the organisation of part-sessions and plenary sittings. It consists of the President, the twenty Vice-Presidents of the Assembly, the heads of the political groups and the chairpersons of the Assembly’s general committees.

ALDE-PACE condemns and strongly deplores the visit of three high-ranking PACE members to Syria
Strasbourg, 24 April 2017

Statement by ALDE-PACE
ALDE-PACE reiterates its strong commitment to the respect of human rights and its condemnation of the hideous crimes perpetrated by the Assad regime, as well as the actions of those who support this regime for geopolitical reasons and make Syrian people pay the price with their lives.

We are dismayed by the attempts of the Russian media to present the 20-21 March 2017 visit of European politicians (including three high-ranking PACE members) to Syria as a sign of support to the Assad regime and to the Russian policy in the Middle East. It is clear to us that such an initiative could not contribute to a solution to the conflict devastating the country.

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 Xuclà. The meeting with Bashar al-Assad which took place during this visit raises particular concerns. We find it absolutely necessary that the PACE President consult the Bureau and seeks its approval before undertaking such actions that directly or indirectly involve our Assembly.
The Socialist Group at the Parliamentary Assembly at the Council of Europe:
Asking explanation about the visit of PACE President Agramunt in Syria and firm dissociation
Recent media articles in the Russian and in European press reported on the recent visit to Syria and meeting with President Assad by a delegation composed by lawmakers of Russia’s State Duma and including the President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the Chair of the ALDE Group, the Chair of the Legal Affairs Committee and a number of other European Members of Parliament, in order to establish a “constitutional commission” in the Syrian parliament. None of the PACE bodies was informed about this visit which was a total surprise for us and left the Socialist Group extremely concerned and worried.
Our Chair, Michele Nicoletti has immediately asked for an urgent and public clarification about the role of PACE in this story and about the direct or indirect impact of this initiative on our Assembly, but, unfortunately, this clarification has not been made.
Now, an increasing number of members of the Assembly, political groups and national delegations are expressing their concern and criticism.
Our political Group disassociates itself from this visit to Syria. Even if the visit has been “personal” and “private”, in no case the name of the Parliamentary Assembly can be involved in initiatives which can be objectively read as a support of Assad’s regime and its action against the Syrian population. Furthermore, the visit is reported to be organized by Russian parliamentarians. This point raises some questions as the Russian Federation decided not to present any parliamentarian delegation to PACE in January 2017 and is not participating in the work of PACE.
In this regard we recall PACE Resolution 1878 (2012) and Recommendation 2026 (2013) on the situation in Syria, as well as recent Resolution 2138 (2016) and Recommendation 2096 (2016) on the situation in Aleppo, which firmly condemned the widespread, systematic and gross human rights violations, amounting to crimes against humanity, committed by Syrian military and security forces, such as the use of force against civilians, arbitrary executions, the killing and persecution of protesters, enforced disappearances, torture and sexual violence, including of and against children. The Assembly equally condemned the indiscriminate attacks on civilians and other crimes in Aleppo, including the tragic situation of children, who have not received UN humanitarian aid, as many schools and hospitals have been hit by aerial bombardments and left many children to die.
After the tragic incidents arose in Northern Syria, at the beginning of April, in which suspected chemical airstrikes killed dozens of people, including many children, it is urgent that the PACE reiterates its condemnation of war crimes and killing of civilians and dissociates from any initiative which can weaken its capacity and credibility of acting as strong advocate for human rights.