Addresses by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Estonian Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas are among the highlights of the summer session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) taking place in Strasbourg on 20-24 June 2016.
Topics for debate include the functioning of democratic institutions in Turkey, refugees at risk in Greece, violence against migrants, fighting the over-sexualisation of children, transparency and openness in European institutions, and promoting equality and putting an end to gender-based violence among women in the armed forces.
There has been a request for an urgent debate on: "An urgent call for increased solidarity between generations: the right to work versus the right to strike".
Estonian Foreign Minister and Committee of Ministers Chairperson Marina Kaljurand will present the activities of the Council of Europe's ministerial body and answer questions from parliamentarians. Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland will also take questions from PACE members.
The Assembly is due to elect a judge of the European Court of Human Rights in respect of the United Kingdom.
On the first day of the session, PACE President Pedro Agramunt will launch a Europe-wide iniative to encourage a response to terrorism founded on the twin themes of #NoHateNoFear.
Ahead of World Refugee Day, PACE President Pedro Agramunt calls on all Europeans to stand up and show their solidarity and support for the more than 50 million refugees worldwide.
“These 50 million refugees are not just numbers on a piece of paper, they are real people. Like me, like you, they have faces, names, and they have rights”.
“Violence, wars and political repression left them with no option but to leave their homes and countries. They have escaped from conflicts and often survived long and incredibly dangerous journeys. We have the legal and human obligation to do everything in our power to help them”.
On this World Refugee Day, PACE President invites all Europeans not to fall into the trap set by populist and xenophobic rhetoric, “open your hearts, speak to refugees, listen to their stories and their struggle. What refugees need is empathy, support and understanding for their suffering, not indifference or hatred”, he concluded.
“The release of my fellow PACE member Nadiia Savchenko is excellent news,” said Pedro Agramunt, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).
“I commend both Russia and Ukraine for making this possible, and I look forward to welcoming her in Strasbourg soon – perhaps even at the next session in June, if her health permits.”
The President added: “I hope that both sides can now build on the goodwill that made this possible in order to make further progress on implementing the Minsk agreements.”
“We are deeply concerned at the decision taken yesterday by the parliament to strip the immunity from prosecution of 138 members of the Turkish Grand National Assembly,” said the co-rapporteurs for post-monitoring dialogue with Turkey, Ingebjørg Godskesen (Norway, European Conservatives Group), and Nataša Vučković (Serbia, Socialist Group).
“Our concern is that this will disproportionately affect opposition parties, in particular the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), given that 53 of its 59 members face potential charges. Some of them, including the party’s co-chairs Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ, as well as PACE members Ertuğrul Kürkçü, Hişyar Özsoy and Feleknas Uca face terrorism-related charges for their statements.
“This decision will damage parliamentary life in Turkey. Parliamentary immunity enables elected representatives to do their jobs without fear of harassment by the executive, the courts or political opponents.”
“Turkey is facing huge challenges, not least the terrorist threat and the urgent need to solve the Kurdish issue peacefully. This step undermines the healthy political environment that Turkey needs to tackle these challenges.”
“We will closely follow the handling of these cases. We expect them to comply with Council of Europe standards on fair proceedings and trials and freedom of expression, which Turkey has pledged to uphold,” the co-rapporteurs concluded.
The Monitoring Committee will discuss a draft report on the functioning of democratic institutions in Turkey at its Paris meeting on 23 May. The Rules Committee adopted, on 17 May, a report on "Parliamentary immunity: challenges to the scope of the privileges and immunities enjoyed by members of PACE". Both reports are expected to be debated at the June 2016 part-session.
Georgia: PACE monitors regret Constitutional Court changes have not been sent to Venice Commission, as promisedThursday, 19 May 2016 14:37
The monitoring co-rapporteurs for Georgia of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), Boriss Cilevics (Latvia, SOC) and Kerstin Lundgren (Sweden, ALDE), have expressed their regret at the hasty adoption in final reading, reportedly undermining the transparency of the process, of amendments to the laws governing the functioning of the Constitutional Court.
They in particular regretted that these amendments were not sent to the Venice Commission – the Council of Europe’s independent group of constitutional law experts – for opinion after they were adopted in second reading in the Committee on Human Rights and Civic Integration of the Georgian Parliament, as was originally indicated to them during their visit in the first week of May 2016.
“We wish to reiterate that a Venice Commission opinion on these amendments, and the prompt implementation of their recommendations, could help ensure the efficient functioning of the Constitutional Court and counteract any possible attempts to unduly politicise these amendments, as well as the court itself, in the run up to the forthcoming parliamentary elections. We therefore urge the authorities to request such an opinion of the Venice Commission without any further delay. If not, we will propose that the Assembly’s Monitoring Committee itself request such an opinion at its forthcoming meeting on 23 May 2016.”
At the end of his official to Ukraine (12-13 May), Pedro Agramunt, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, welcomed the strong commitment of the Ukrainian authorities, and of the newly appointed Government, to move toward European values and standards.
During his meetings in Kyiv, PACE President ensured that “the Parliamentary Assembly is following closely the situation in Ukraine and fully supports it in face of the challenges is facing, both on the external borders, as well as on the internal reform front.”
“The Assembly firmly supports territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine and stands ready to continue assisting Ukrainian authorities in achieving peace and prosperity”, he said. “But in order to reach this goal, Ukraine needs to be strong and prosperous, with stable institutions and democratic structures. The new Government now needs to devote even more energy and political resources to continue the constitutional reform process”.
With all his interlocutors, the President underlined the importance to conduct a courageous fight against corruption, to carry out effective decentralisation, and to complete the reform of the judiciary. “This has to be done for the good of the people of Ukraine, who now need to see concrete results”. “All political forces, belonging to both the majority and the opposition, need to be more united than ever, engage in a constructive dialogue and find a minimum common denominator to allow reforms to go through”. “It is not an easy task, especially in this challenging time for Ukraine, but the Parliamentary Assembly stands ready to support the Verkhovna Rada in these efforts”, he said.
The situation of PACE member Nadiya Savchenko was also raised in his meetings. “I hope to be able to welcome her in Strasbourg soon”, he concluded.
During his official visit, the PACE President met the President of the Republic, Petro Poroshenko, the Prime Minister, Volodymyr Groysman, the Vice-Prime Minister for European Integration, Ms Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Pavlo Klimkin, and the Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada, Andriy Parubiy. He also met the PACE delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly and exchanged views with representatives of the diplomatic community and of international organisations working in Ukraine, as well as of the civil society.
Prime Minister of Georgia of Georgia Giorgi Kvirikashvili conducted a meeting with the co-rapporteurs of the PACE Boris Silevich and Kerstin Lundgren.
The conversation touched upon the conditions in the occupied territories of Georgia. Particular attention was paid to decision of the Council of Europe's Committee of Deputy Ministers concerning the human rights violations in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region. Pursuant to the Prime Minister, respective decision is a step forward in terms of protection of the human rights on the occupied territories of Georgia and showcases unwavering support of the CoE member states towards the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia.
Democratic reforms taking place in Georgia were also discussed during the meeting and progress in terms of media freedom and human rights protection was emphasized. The sides discussed Georgia's undertakings to Council of Europe as well as issues related to the Parliamentary elections scheduled in October. Hope was expressed that the elections will take place in democratic and fair environment.
The meeting at the Administration of the Government of Georgia was attended by the State Minister on European and Euro-Atlantic Integration of Georgia David Bakradze and the Vice Speaker of the Parliament Manana Kobakhidze.
The co- rapporteurs of PACE Monitoring Committee are meeting in Council of Europe office in Tbilisi. The meeting is holding with the representatives of Georgian Office. The main issue is organizational tasks.
In the framework of the visit, Boriss Cilevics (Latvia, SOC) and Kerstin Lundgren (Sweden, ALDE) will meet with the chairman of the Constitutional Court. After that the delegation will hold an audience with the State Minister for Reconciliation and Civic Equality Paata Zakareishvili. They will also meet the Chairman of CEC and the representatives of Supreme Court.
Boris Silevich and Kerstin Lundgren will hold the meeting in Tbilisi in next 3 years. They will meet the representatives of Georgian Government and the opposition.
Boriss Cilevics (Latvia, SOC) and Kerstin Lundgren (Sweden, ALDE), co-rapporteurs of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) for the monitoring of obligations and commitments by Georgia, will make a fact-finding visit to the country on 3-5 May 2016.
In Tbilisi, the co-rapporteurs are due to meet the President, the Speaker of Parliament, the Prime Minister and a number of ministers, as well as the heads of the Constitutional and Supreme Courts, the Public Defender and the head of the Central Election Commission.
Talks are also scheduled with the Georgian delegation to PACE, representatives of different political parties and factions in the parliament, diplomats and NGOs.
In a speech to Council of Europe parliamentarians today, Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili outlined the ways in which his country had embraced European values.
“We have made our choice,” he told the Assembly, “we have come a long way to be part of a Europe whole and free […] In joining the Council of Europe, we have become ‘European’ in the deepest sense of the term.”
Outlining reforms that have taken place in his country since 2012, he said that “abiding by European standards is an obligation that has become a habit”.
“We have delivered European values to Georgians, and we have surpassed Europe’s expectations of democratic consolidation and democratisation,” he said.
The Prime Minister cited reforms in the electoral field, the justice system and the media, as well as his government’s efforts to make progress on the situation in the occuped territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
“Dignity,” he concluded, “lies at the heart of our identity”.