Speech at the opening of the 3rd part of the 2019 Ordinary Session
Ladies and gentlemen,
The part-session which we are starting today is taking place in extraordinary circumstances. Our Organisation is going through a crisis which has serious implications for the European human rights protection system and for the stability and sustainability of our own institutions.
In January, at the opening of the 2019 plenary session, I called for us to assume our political and institutional responsibilities and seek solutions to the crisis we were going through. Since then, we have made several important steps and taken various decisions. We now have a duty to finish the work we have started.
I should like now briefly to go over the main steps we have taken since January.
Firstly, we have stepped up dialogue with the Committee of Ministers and held several meetings between the Presidential Committee and the Bureau of the Ministers' Deputies. In this connection, I should like to thank the two respective chairmanships – of Finland and France – for their outstanding and constructive collaboration.
Secondly, we have completed our process of reflection on the role and mission of the Assembly, the challenges facing us and the means of tackling them. In this connection, we took a number of key decisions during our April part-session. In particular, we reiterated clearly that membership of the Council of Europe entailed an obligation on all member states to participate in both statutory organs and that all member states were required to honour fully their statutory and financial obligations. We also called on the Russian Federation to appoint a delegation to the Assembly and resume the obligatory payment of its contribution to the organisation's budget. Lastly – and from my point of view, most importantly – we proposed to the Committee of Ministers that we work together on setting up, alongside the existing procedures, a joint mechanism for responding to situations in which member states fail to honour their obligations or respect the values championed by our Organisation.
Thirdly, the Committee of Ministers, in turn, took our proposals on board at the 129th ministerial session in Helsinki. In particular, it affirmed that all member states should be allowed to participate on an equal footing in both statutory organs of the Council of Europe, while stressing the need for everyone to meet their financial obligations. The Committee of Ministers also underlined the importance of the national delegations of all member states taking part in the work of the Assembly. Lastly, the Committee of Ministers accepted our proposal to work together on a joint response mechanism as described by the Assembly to supplement the existing procedures.
We must now find the means of implementing these respective decisions, which were approved by large majorities of the members of the Assembly and of the Committee of Ministers. We have therefore asked our Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs to make proposals. The Committee has prepared a report and a draft resolution which we are going to consider this afternoon.
What do these proposals involve?
Firstly, the committee is proposing that we allow, on an exceptional and ad hoc basis, the parliaments not currently represented in the Assembly – those of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Russia – to submit the credentials of their delegations during this June part-session It is important to underline that the Committee does not call into question the possibility, duly provided for by our Rules of Procedure of challenging the credentials of a delegation
Secondly, the committee is proposing that we clarify the list of the rights of participation and representation of members in activities of the Assembly and its bodies which may be suspended or withdrawn by the Assembly when it votes on challenges to or reconsideration of delegations' credentials.
I do not want to – and cannot – influence the debate. Individual members will be guided by their consciences. I hope – and I will do my utmost to achieve this – that the debate will take place in the best conditions of mutual listening and respect.
In taking our decisions today, we must all remember the origins of the crisis we are experiencing because there are incontrovertible facts which the Assembly can neither ignore nor accept. We are therefore going to continue to defend with conviction and determination our positions and the principles of international law that are so important to us.
At the same time, we must also shoulder our institutional and political responsibilities.
In this year when the Council of Europe is celebrating its 70th anniversary, it is our duty to do all we can to ensure that our Organisation can continue to promote "a closer union" between the nations and peoples of Europe and the values on which it is founded: peace, dignity and human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
We must therefore find a way to move forward. We all have the same objective: to defend the common interests of 830 million Europeans who expect to be able to enjoy – without any exclusion whatsoever – the protection of the European Convention on Human Rights. Let us always keep this in mind.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Our work on the report of the Committee on Rules of Procedure must not divert our attention from the other topics on the agenda of this part-session which relate to fundamental human rights issues: gender equality, combating violence against women and the implementation of the Istanbul Convention, ending violence against children as part of our contribution to implementing the Sustainable Development Goals, the investigation into the murder of the Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, the post-monitoring dialogue with Bulgaria and the investigation into the murder of the prominent Russian opposition figure, Boris Nemtsov. I count on your active participation in these debates.
Another highlight of this Session is the election, on Wednesday, of the future Secretary General of our Organisation. I count on you to take an active part in this election so that the future Secretary General can be assured of the strong support of our Assembly.
In this context, I would like to pay tribute to the current Secretary General, Mr Thorbjørn Jagland, for whom this part-session will be the last in his current position.
Secretary General, dear Thorbjørn,
On behalf of the Parliamentary Assembly, I would like to thank you for your commitment and your contribution to our Organisation. During your two successive terms of office, you have initiated and carried out reforms that have enabled our Organisation to be more visible, more responsive and more present on the ground, and indeed more relevant in the European architecture. As a convinced European and "constitutionalist" as you describe yourself, you have always placed emphasis on strict compliance with the standards promoted by our organisation, as a common, uniform legal reference framework for the fundamental rights and freedoms of all those on our continent.
Your statements to the Assembly have always elicited a great deal of interest from Assembly members. In addition to your annual communication, you have spoken in several debates, in particular on the human rights aspects of the massive influx of refugees into Europe and on the reform of the system of the European Convention on Human Rights. You were the first Secretary-General – during each of our part-sessions – to hold spontaneous question and answer sessions, a practice that we hope to be able to continue with your successor.
I wish you, already, a new stage of life as rich and exciting as the one you have just lived for 10 years, but perhaps a little quieter and compatible with a social life and hobbies, not to mention the time needed to write, since I was told that this was your project!
This is the last part-session you are attending in this capacity, but – in the months to come – we will doubtless still have the opportunity to continue our collaboration, not least as we reflect together on the joint response mechanism to which I referred just now. I would therefore like to assure you of our continued full support until the end of your term.
And now, dear colleagues, before we begin our work, I would like to give the floor to the Secretary General, Mr Jagland.