Corruptie is een sluipend gif. Daarom heb ik mijn verantwoordelijkheid genomen om als voorzitster van de Rules-commissie in de Raad van Europa streng toe te treden, na de publicatie van het rapport dat bewijzen voorlegde voor corruptie, voornamelijk uit Azerbeidzjan.

Op 26 april 2018 keurde het parlement van de Raad van Europa een duidelijke resolutie en een aanbeveling goed, gericht aan de 47 ministers van Buitenlandse Zaken van de 47 lidstaten.

Lees de aanbevelingen uit het rapport, alsook mijn tussenkomsten hieronder. Indien je het debat liever met je eigen ogen ziet, kan je het volledige debat herbekijken.

Urgent debate: Follow-up to the report of the Independent Investigation Body on the allegations of corruption within the Parliamentary Assembly

      The PRESIDENT – The first item of business this morning is a debate under urgent procedure on “Follow-up to the report of the Independent Investigation Body on the allegations of corruption within the Parliamentary Assembly”, Document 14540, presented by Ms Petra De Sutter, on behalf of the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs with an opinion presented by Ms Olena Sotnyk, on behalf of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, Document 14543.

      I remind you that there is a three-minute speech limit in this debate.

      I call Ms De Sutter, Rapporteur. You have 13 minutes in total, which you may divide between presentation of the report and reply to the debate.

      Ms De SUTTER (Belgium) – Dear colleagues, a year ago our Assembly was going through very difficult times. The allegations of corruption and fostering of interests made against some members and former members of the Parliamentary Assembly, revealed by a number of international non-governmental organisations and widely reported throughout European media, had called seriously into question as never before the credibility of the Assembly’s actions and positions. Its image and reputation had never been as tarnished.

      The situation led the Committee on Rules of Procedure to implement remedies swiftly as a first step in response to the extreme concern voiced not only by NGOs but by parliamentary delegations and members of this Assembly. The Committee asked that the Assembly conduct an investigation to shed light on the allegations. An independent external investigation body has been set up to carry out a detailed inquiry into the allegations of corruption made against some Assembly members and former Members. Its terms of reference were ratified by the Assembly in April 2017 and its composition was approved in June.

      In parallel, the Rules Committee reviewed the set of rules and mechanisms governing the conduct of Assembly members in order to better prevent corrupting behaviour in the Assembly in future. Its reflection has been to rethink the integrity framework of the Assembly by reaffirming the principles of transparency, accountability, integrity and the primacy of the public interest, which are essential to restoring public confidence in our parliamentary institution.

      After 10 months of investigations, the investigation body delivered its report. The Assembly cannot but express its thanks to the members of the investigation body, Sir Nicolas Bratza, Mr Jean-Louis Bruguière and Ms Elisabet Fura, for their invaluable assistance to the Assembly during this critical period. Of course, the content of the report generates legitimately high expectations in our Assembly and beyond. First, the investigation body has shed full light on covert practices facilitating corruption. It is now clear that these are no longer NGOs or media allegations, but findings. The facts are now indisputable. Secondly, it is also true that the report deals mainly with allegations and facts concerning Azerbaijan. Some members of this Assembly may be disappointed and feel that this is the tree that hides the forest. They expected the report to go further. It shall be pointed out, however, that the investigation body had to act in a short period of time, under time constraints and with a specific and restricted scope of investigation. Conclusions concerning the individual conduct of members or former members are the part of the report that has attracted considerable attention.

      The Rules Committee believes that the conclusions of the investigative body with regard to the individual conduct of members of the Assembly mentioned in the report require serious consideration and action. The Code of Conduct of members of the Parliamentary Assembly was revised in October last year. In particular, the Assembly set up a new mechanism that allows impartial examination of alleged breaches of ethical rules and principles, and the fair conduct of, and a faster start to, investigations of these allegations. The list of sanctions applicable in the event of proven breaches of the Assembly’s ethical standards has been reviewed simultaneously. This new mechanism has now become operational. We have already done a lot of work.

      Cases revealed in the report have been divided by the investigation body into three categories: first, corruption and the use of financial means and other corruptive activities as a means of influencing the Assembly’s work concerning Azerbaijan, including remunerated lobbying activities; secondly, violations of certain provisions of the Code of Conduct for Assembly members; and thirdly, refusal to co-operate with the investigation body.

      The report mentions the names of members and former members of the Assembly who “engaged in activity of a corruptive nature”. It also refers to the use of financial means and corruptive activities in influencing the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s work concerning Azerbaijan, and mentions the names of former members who took part in lobbying activities in the Assembly. The report also reveals a number of cases of breach of some of the provisions of the Code of Conduct for Assembly rapporteurs by members and former members of the Parliamentary Assembly.

      From now on, new oversight arrangements set out in the Code of Conduct for members of the Assembly will make it possible to expedite the opening of investigations into allegations of breaches of the rules of conduct by its members, including when such violations are reviewed by external sources, as well as impartial examination of such allegations of breaches of the rules. The draft resolution submitted today instructs the Rules Committee to implement as soon as possible the procedure provided for in the Code of Conduct in respect of the members mentioned in the report, including those who have refused to co-operate with the investigation body. The committee did not wait for the adoption of this resolution to start working on the list of members mentioned in the report. It held its first hearing yesterday and it will continue its task at a forthcoming hearing in May.

      In the context of its terms of reference, the investigation body was asked not only to carry out a detailed investigation into the allegations of corruption, but to examine the practical functioning of the Assembly in its various activities, to review the procedures and practices, and to make recommendations with regard to the measures required to address any weaknesses and shortcomings in its decision-making mechanism. This part of the investigation body’s report will also be dealt with by the Rules Committee.

      The report presented by the Rules Committee also includes a draft recommendation, since the conclusions of the investigation body shall also be brought to the attention of the Committee of Ministers. As mentioned in the report, “The fight against corruption…is not one for the Assembly alone”. Our Assembly requires integrity, transparency and responsibility. It requires that supremacy be given to the public interest, and it requires confidence and accountability. One can only hope that the publication of the report will restore confidence in the Assembly, its activities and its decisions.

      Dear colleagues, the report of the investigation body has led to high emotions. A lot of us, parliamentarians, members of staff, the Court, and the European community at large have felt betrayed. We feel betrayal because some of us have breached the very principles that a large majority of us feel are sacred. Those principles are the reasons why we are here fighting to defend human rights. This has led to wounds that are almost existential, and to sadness and anger. We are the doctors who should heal our patients and some of us have made our patients even sicker. This is unacceptable.

      Feelings of betrayal, sadness and anger are perfectly normal. They lead to the wish for retaliation and punishment. This too is normal, but we cannot focus only on punishment. The report and our debate today should be a moment of catharsis for our Assembly, a starting point for a change of culture. As the report illustrates, only a few of our colleagues have been rotten apples, but many knew and kept silent. This must change. We need transparency, protection for whistle-blowers and zero tolerance. The Assembly must be as pure as the values it defends. If we are not to be trusted in this, who will be?

      Colleagues, let me finish by reiterating that the human rights of some 825 million people in the larger European area need protection and that we are the ones who are there to protect them even in difficult times – I would say especially in difficult times. Let us therefore focus not only on the individual names of those to be punished or of countries misbehaving, but on the greater interest of all European citizens. Let us transcend our own profits, personal gain and national interests, and not look for enemies in this Assembly but for allies. We may be political adversaries but this is not a problem, this is democracy. But we must have the same aim, namely defending human rights, the rule of law and democracy. The very, very large majority of us want to proceed in a different way. Let us do this and let us succeed. Thank you for your attention.

      The PRESIDENT – Thank you, Ms De Sutter. You have three minutes and 49 seconds remaining.

      I call now Ms Sotnyk. You have three minutes.

      Ms SOTNYK (Ukraine) – Thank you, Mr President. I congratulate Ms De Sutter and the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs on their report on a crucial issue for the Assembly. I also pay tribute to the members of my committee, who have given me the honour and responsibility of presenting the committee’s opinion – and I intentionally highlight the connection between honour and responsibility. What primarily distinguishes us as members of parliament is the mandate that is given to us by our voters. They expect us to be responsible. When taking decisions, we need to remember that we are acting as role models for our citizens. Transparency, accountability and integrity are the qualities that establish the legitimacy of our decisions. I thank Ms De Sutter for saying that we should be as “pure” as the values we defend. We need always to remember that.

      The committee has a few comments on the report which mainly concern political responsibility and the need not only to talk but to act according to the principles outlined in the report. First, we stress that the Independent Investigation Body on the allegations of corruption within the Parliamentary Assembly did not have the usual investigatory powers held by national parliamentary inquiry committees or judicial authorities. The Assembly therefore cannot expect the IBAC to prove everything in the report to a judicial standard. We believe that that is the task of the competent national authorities. We, the Assembly and its national delegations, should therefore invite our authorities to follow up these matters appropriately. In some of our amendments, we ask our national parliaments, and especially the national delegations to the Parliamentary Assembly, to take action and then to give a follow-up report to the Assembly.

Secondly, the committee recalls and regrets that the IBAC report does not cover the scandalous visit to Syria by our former President, Mr Agramunt, former chair of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, Alain Destexhe, and former ALDE chair Jordi Xuclà. However, the relevant information was available to the IBAC within the public domain. That includes the implication, as instigators and organisers, of members of the former Russian delegation. We believe that future follow-up work should include those facts. After all, if Mr Agramunt received a reward from Azerbaijan, what would prevent him taking one from Russia?

Thirdly, the committee believes that when proposing further revision of the Assembly’s rules and code of conduct, the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs should not only give thought to IBAC and GRECO recommendations but implement them. If they cannot be implemented, a good explanation should be given as to why a specific recommendation cannot be implemented.

Last but not least, our committee recalls that in addition to legal responsibility, all those who have an elective mandate also have a political responsibility. Political responsibility includes the possibility of resigning – of giving back our mandate if we cannot adhere to the values of this Assembly.

I join all those who say that the real work begins now. We must all make a contribution by acting as role models for our colleagues in our national parliaments and for our citizens. We must establish and enforce a policy of zero tolerance of corruption and undue influence by any lobby or any country. Thank you for your attention.

The PRESIDENT – Thank you, Ms Sotnyk.

I call first in the debate Mr Kiral.

Mr KIRAL (Ukraine, Spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) – On behalf of my colleagues and on behalf of the group, I welcome the fact that, after many years, we are having this debate, and trying to tackle this issue. There is no doubt that the Council of Europe was, is and will be the key Organisation in Europe for work to prevent interstate and interpersonal violence and the degradation of our societies by brutality and the barbarism that occurred in the early 20th century. We must remain united, regardless of what happens and despite any attempts to discredit our Organisation, whether by the corrupt action of individual members or by co-ordinated campaigns by entire members States.

The report is important as it reveals many allegations. However, we should avoid pointing a finger at one country or one person because everyone who works in this Organisation, for whatever length of time, is guilty to some extent. The negligence highlighted in the report does not have a nationality or belong to one political group. All the delegates, national delegations, groups, group leaders, and the Council of Europe as a whole need to recognise that this is not a minor problem. Many of us have pointed it out in debates within the committees and the groups.

Today Ukraine marks the 32nd anniversary of Chernobyl. I should like to quote Svetlana Alexievich, who said: “Chernobyl was like the war of all wars. There was nowhere to hide. Not underground, not underwater, not in the air”. If we can learn any lesson from Chernobyl it is that it happened because of the negligence that existed under the occupation of the Soviet Russian regime. Unfortunately, Russia is not mentioned in the report although we know that it was present here and was behind a lot of corruption.

This negligence is not a minor matter. We all have to co-operate and to report what we have seen or heard. It is up to us to clean up this Organisation so that we can start afresh. I invite all colleagues to work on changing the rules of procedure to ensure that we can be more responsible in the future.

Mr van de VEN (Netherlands, Spokesperson for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe) – Dear colleagues, the allegations of corruption and unethical behaviour concern the integrity of the Council of Europe as a whole, both elected individuals and certain states. Individual PACE members named for unethical behaviour should consider their position, suspend their activities in PACE or even step down. Unethical behaviour is not only reprehensible; it greatly harms the Council of Europe and discredits the Assembly.

The national parliaments should consider further investigation by national authorities, possibly by the competent prosecutor, consistent with the findings of the report. The recommendations of the report should be fully implemented. This external review is the necessary wake-up call for us all. But we cannot stop here, and the report should not end up as a whitewash for unacceptable behaviour. The report should not be misused to limit or avoid individual and collective responsibility. We must act to preserve the core values of our Assembly and restore our credibility. Corruption involves the corrupted and the corruptor, and the report points at both. These corrupting actions must have consequences for and in the countries involved.

      The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe wonders what the next step should be. Do we proceed, through the Independent Investigation Body, to act on the explicit allegations in the report about other countries? As all groups welcome the findings of the Independent Investigation Body, the logical next step could be the extension of the external review to looking further into the allegations against those countries. We must also take it upon ourselves as members of parliament and elected politicians to follow up on corruption and unethical behaviour. ALDE proposes that we evaluate the status of this ongoing process in one year’s time. Thank you.

      Mr KOX (Netherlands, Spokesperson for the Unified European Left) – It is sad to recognise that this esteemed Assembly was hijacked by some cynical members and former members, who were in close co-operation with at least one government of a member State – maybe more – that had the sinister goal of unduly influencing debates and decision making in this Chamber. It is an utter disgrace that a former President of the Assembly and former president of one of our political groups used, instead of good arguments, foul money from a member State to reach top positions, and to manipulate and falsify decision making. It is a bitter shame that some former members of this Assembly used their status to distribute envelopes of dirty money to other members, to buy their voices, their votes, and their souls. Shame on those members of parliament who betrayed their voters and their hard-working colleagues here, and who discredited our unique, pan-European Organisation!

      Most of us, fortunately, were not involved, but too many were, and too many turned a blind eye to what was happening here. Even when it became evident that there was something really rotten in the state of our Strasbourg institutions, too many chose the side of those who wanted to block an independent external investigation, and even after the scandal was disclosed, some in the Assembly thought that they could use this horrendous scandal for their own narrow-minded, small interests. With disgust, I saw some colleagues misusing national media, or acting in such a way here as to take political advantage of this tragedy, thereby drawing attention away from the essence of the investigation report. I do not have to mention their names; they need only look in the mirror to recognise themselves.

      But never spoil a good crisis, it is said. The crisis that the Assembly put itself into could and should be used for some kind of catharsis. This is the moment to clean ourselves and this house of democracy, and to create a new atmosphere, in which a decent political culture can again develop. My Group of the Unified European Left wholeheartedly supports the resolution and recommendation of the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs, and will support any other serious proposals to improve our structures. Let us be aware that only a fundamental change in our political culture can give sustainable protection to this precious Organisation. So let us take care, be aware and be vigilant. Let us show zero tolerance from now on, to prevent such a scandal from ever happening again.

      Mr Kiral said that we all know – or, at least, that he knows – that there is evidence of corruption on the part of other States. I regret that he did not give that information to the relevant committee; that is a great pity. He should have done so; I hope that he will do it now.

      I thank our rapporteur for this excellent report, and I especially thank the staff of the Rules Committee. On such a sad day, we should cherish all our hard-working and highly professional staff, who are always there to support us. Thank you.

      Mr AKTAY (Turkey, Spokesperson for the Free Democrats Group) – Thank you. First, I remind colleagues that the chair of the Turkish delegation, Mr Kiliç, left this part-session in protest against Salih Muslim having been allowed to attend a side-event under this Organisation’s roof. There is a search warrant out for Muslim, who is a member of the terrorist organisation PYD, a Syrian extension of the PKK. He is being prosecuted for orchestrating a suicide attack in Ankara in 2016 that claimed 29 innocent lives. First and foremost, we therefore urgently need regulations to deny members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe the ability to sponsor terrorists’ participation in PACE events.

      The Independent Investigation Body has carried out very important work, and I thank it. I commend the rapporteur for her follow-up work, which details the gaps in our rules and regulations. However, I draw your attention to certain shortcomings and distortions of the Independent Investigation Body report that make it less objective. First, the report focuses solely on one country, and selectively on allegations relating to only one member State, Azerbaijan, which gives the impression that its aim is to tarnish the image of that member State. Its narrow focus gives the impression that there is an attempt to create problems for Azerbaijan’s relations with the Council of Europe. Secondly, PACE reports should rely on objective facts and criteria, which are the basis of the validity and credibility of its reports. Bias undermines the credibility of PACE in the same way that corruption does. For years, the Turkish delegation has suggested reforming the Monitoring Committee’s procedures to address certain problems. As the rapporteur points out, we need to draw out the consequences of the this report for the appointment of rapporteurs to certain committees, including the Monitoring Committee, In particular, we must pay attention to the need for rapporteurs to be objective and impartial.

      I take this opportunity to refer to the latest statement of the Monitoring Committee, which recommends that the Turkish authorities postpone the early election decided on by the Turkish Parliament, thereby underestimating the will of 80 million people and voters. Thank you.

      Ms KYRIAKIDES (Cyprus, Spokesperson for the Group of the European People’s Party) – Thank you. Colleagues, on behalf of the Group of the European People’s Party, I welcome this report, and once again thank the investigative body and all those in this Assembly – parliamentarians and staff – who contributed to the completion of this investigation. I also thank our rapporteur for this excellent report.

      This has been a long journey, and we have not yet reached our destination. Undoubtedly, this has been a traumatic experience both for members and staff of this House. As in all such cases, the healing process can be long and painful, but that is a bridge that one has to cross. Sadly, members of the EPP are extensively mentioned in this report, which hurts us all. I must say that since the publication of this report, despite the cloud over our group, I have been optimistic about the way forward. I am optimistic because this week, EPP members have held sincere discussions, in an effort not to avoid responsibilities – I must stress that – but to face up to these challenges, being well aware that this is the only way forward.

      Of course, as has been said, the report is not about one country or political group. When I was going through its pages, I could not but feel sad at seeing colleagues mentioned in it for various reasons; but I could not help but think even more of the impact that this report will have on all our citizens, who entrusted and honoured us with their vote, and who enabled us to be here. That trust, however, is not a carte blanche; it is full of expectations, stemming from the very principles that this Organisation represents. We therefore have a tremendous responsibility – and not only through our words; indeed, mostly through our actions – to try even harder from now on to restore that trust and the credibility of this august body, and not to let our citizens down.

      This process and how we follow up the report cannot be done hastily, but at the same time, it cannot be dragged out as this will not allow the Assembly to finally move on and start healing its wounds. I feel that the vast majority of our members want to turn a page, but leave no shadows behind.

      The important work of this Assembly is perceived as important only if it is credible to the public, to the citizens of our countries, making them feel safe, because what we do is not influenced by any government or other outside influences.

      It is up to each and every one of us to ensure that zero tolerance of corruption is not just a catchphrase, but a principle that determines all our actions.

      This institution is important for millions of European citizens because the work done here is inspiring. Therefore, we cannot afford to fall short of what is expected of us and the vision that we should provide for future generations.

      Those are some of the thoughts that I wanted to share with you, but they are not mine alone. They are the thoughts we have been sharing in our Group of the European People’s Party and with others over the past few days.

      Today, let us focus not only on the disappointment, but on change and hope.

      Mr SCHWABE (Germany, Spokesperson on behalf of the Socialists, Democrats and Greens Group)* – It is important for us to discuss the report this morning because it shows that we are in a position to take the consequences of what has happened. It has been emphasised that we are not yet out of the woods, but in the middle. Our institution has been criticised by the media, particularly in my country. Those criticisms are justified, important and necessary.

      However, let me also emphasise that, in the light of the authoritarian developments in different member States of the Council of Europe – the restrictions on human rights and the questioning of institutions – it is all the more important, a year before the 70th anniversary of European Convention on Human Rights, for us to have such an institution. It is also important to state clearly, here and to the outside world, that if we want to defend human rights, we can do that legitimately only if we do so within a clean Organisation. That is why we are going through such a painful process. It is not pleasant for all those involved, but it is of paramount importance.

      One country – Azerbaijan – is being investigated. We are talking about corrupt activities, corrupt people and people who are corrupting others. We must examine that because that does not involve just one country. The report does not focus on other countries that have been mentioned, and we need to bear them in mind in future.

      Four things need to be done. First, we need to adapt our roles, particularly with regard to election observation missions. Increasingly, we see colleagues from member States taking part in these strange election observation missions. I am sorry, but this cannot happen. If we want to undertake an election observation mission, but cannot do it legitimately, we should not be involved.

      Secondly, we should strengthen protection for whistle-blowers. We have talked a lot about the protection of whistle-blowers in reports. We should also protect whistle-blowers in this Organisation.

      Thirdly, we should give more thought to promoting transparency. I am an Assembly member, yet I find some of the decisions that have been made hard to understand. We need to introduce more transparency. Let us adjust the rules and ensure that the groups take the necessary consequences. I greatly welcome the fact that the Group of the European People’s Party, through Stella Kyriakides and Mr Daul, has taken a strong position on the report and stated that the people who have been named in it should draw the necessary conclusions. However, that concerns not only the Group of the European People’s Party, but all groups, including the Socialists, Democrats and Greens Group.

      Fourthly, national parliaments have a role to play. I welcome the fact that an amendment has been tabled calling on national parliaments and governments to take the consequences of the report and report back to us by the end of the year.

      The Council of Europe is going through a difficult period, but this is a wonderful opportunity for us to adapt to the new situation. We are here to protect hundreds of millions of Europeans; let us move forward together on this.

      The PRESIDENT – Thank you, Mr Schwabe. The rapporteur will reply at the end of the debate. The next speaker is Mr Nick. I have been informed that today is a special day for you, so I wish you a happy birthday.

      Mr NICK (Germany)* – Thank you, Mr President.

      I return to what I said in the debate on Monday. We have two core tasks, which we must fulfil on the basis of the report. We must check precisely where procedures and rules need to be changed so that such misconduct cannot be repeated and we must recognise the urgent need to act.

      I thank Ms De Sutter and the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs for presenting such a splendid report in such a short time. It helps us to emerge from this week with a clear decision and statement on how we intend to proceed.

      I want to emphasise two aspects. The first is the responsibility of the political groups in the Assembly. I warmly thank Ms Kyriakides for her commitment. At short notice, she was prepared to lead the Group of the European People’s Party through this difficult period.

      Secondly, Ms De Sutter, in your introduction, you rightly referred to the responsibility of national parliaments, parties and political groups in our member States and the way in which they deal with colleagues against whom allegations have been made. That is very important and makes a clear statement to this Assembly.

      My thanks also go to the President of the European People’s Party, Joseph Daul, who has accompanied us as we tackle these issues. He has also made the position of the European People’s Party on the matter crystal clear. He has called on our ranks to withdraw or suspend those members who have been found guilty. He has contributed to re-establishing the credibility of our political group here and the work of our Assembly. I am therefore pleased that our president has stated once again that the European People’s Party has a policy of zero tolerance of conflicts of interest or corruption or related issues. Now our task is to implement that in the work of our political group.

      Ms STRIK (Netherlands) – The investigative body has exposed the corruption within our Assembly incisively, and I thank it for that, and I thank the rapporteur for the proposals for the follow-up.

      The report prevents us from just continuing with our work as if nothing had happened. The level of corruption is alarming. A number of members have been receptive to bribery and others have not intervened. Former members have tried to influence our positions in exchange for money. That has affected the credibility and therefore the effectiveness of the Council of Europe as a whole, and I feel responsible for being the weakest part of the Council of Europe in that sense. Yet 850 million citizens depend on our credibility for being able to invoke their rights, in many cases against repressive regimes. It is highly urgent that we make our system resistant to corruption, and that includes being resistant to those repressive regimes that want to ensure that they can continue to violate the human rights of their people. Urgent action is needed, at all the different levels of the Assembly.

      Political groups have a heavy responsibility for the conduct of their members. They need a system of scrutiny of the nomination of rapporteurs and other positions in the Assembly, and for the observance of elections. At the committee level, there should be better scrutiny of the absence of conflicts of interest for rapporteurs. For the Assembly as a whole, we should immediately adopt and apply all the recommendations of the GRECO committee, 40% of which have not yet been applied.

      It is vital to enforce the rules and obligations. Impunity should be out of the question. An external ethical committee should be established that is accessible and has adequate competence, possibly for the Council of Europe as a whole. Unfortunately, an ethical committee consisting of our members does not offer sufficient guarantees. Furthermore, it is important that staff members remain loyal to our rules and values. That requires that we empower and support them to do so, and that we offer them adequate protection against attempts at intimidation by our members or former members. The Assembly should therefore urge our Secretary General to make sure that people feel safe to do their work with full integrity, and the ethical committee should also be accessible to staff.

      The members and former members who have proved to be corrupt must be punished, but we are all responsible for making sure that this does not happen again. We need not only reforms, but, as the rapporteur rightly says, a thorough change of culture, so that self-interest is no longer a priority. We must no longer be indifferent, but really be active as the watchdog that we always want to be.

      Mr YEMETS (Ukraine) – Corruption is a terrible disease for any country. If it is allowed to develop uncontrollably, very soon there will be no laws and no legitimate courts or government in the country. All the State institutions will be worth nothing to their own citizens, because they will know that any position or decision can be bought if someone has enough money. Moreover, any external enemy will easily destroy or subjugate a State weakened by corruption.

      Unfortunately, we are gathered here today because this problem went far beyond the limits of the individual subjects of the international community. Today, we are investigating corruption in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. I wish to share the experience of my own country, which for several years after the Revolution of Dignity has persistently tried to eradicate corruption. To be honest, we have not been successful so far, but we have a considerable amount of experience of the problems that arise along the path. The main task that needs to be resolved is the inevitability of punishment – criminal punishment. To catch a corrupt person and release him with just a verbal warning is to encourage him and others like him to engage in even more corruption.

      In Ukraine, we are currently creating a new specialised supreme anti-corruption court. I am convinced that internationally we also have to define an institution that will have jurisdiction over cases of corruption at the highest international levels. Perhaps there should be an international anti-corruption court, because there are serious doubts that the States that sent these corrupt delegates to PACE will be able to punish them in the proper manner and with the same severity. Without such measures, we will not succeed in defeating corruption in our respectable European institution. It is not enough to fight corruption; it is necessary to triumph over it, and to do so uncompromisingly and with strength, so that no one will ever again even dare to think that they can solve their problems in PACE with money.

      Mr GONCHARENKO (Ukraine) – Yesterday was the anniversary of the Chernobyl tragedy in Ukraine. What do radiation and corruption have in common? At first, you see nothing – everything looks normal – but then the consequences appear, and they are really awful and last for decades. We are speaking about the corruption documented in this report, but is it really only about Azerbaijan? Do we believe that this corrupt group inside the Assembly worked only for one country? Do we really believe that?

      I remind the Assembly that Mr Pedro Agramunt is mentioned in the report 171 times. Finally, and happily, we got rid of him last year. But why? Because of corruption? No. Because he went to Syria on a Russian Ministry of Defence jet. Do you think that Mr Agramunt really loves Russia, without any money – for nothing? I remind members, because perhaps they think that Mr Agramunt is now on a pension. He is not here at the moment – perhaps he is ashamed to come to the Assembly – but Mr Agramunt was there at Putin’s elections, and he stated that the elections in Russia were wonderful. He said that 77% for Putin and elections in occupied Crimea were wonderful, super. He received an honorary doctorate from the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration in Moscow in October last year. He continues his activities.

      I am sure that not all the names have been mentioned and that this corrupt group is still at work here, and that their next aim is to bring Russia back to the Assembly, without any sanctions. They will use any mechanism, including today’s ad hoc committee. They will use any normal mechanism to achieve their own aims. Please be cautious. When somebody says to you, “We need to change the rules. We need inter-parliamentary dialogue,” remember the story about Agramunt and remember this report. I am sure that the next report will be about Russian influence on what is going on here.

      I have one more concrete question. In our country, we say that the fish rots from the head, and that is true. Let me quote from paragraph 90 of the report, on page 24: “The Investigation Body heard evidence from Mr Arif Mammadov” – who is the former Azerbaijan ambassador to the Parliamentary Assembly – “that he had tried, both in his capacity as Ambassador and after leaving office, to raise awareness on all the issues happening around Azerbaijan with Mr Jagland and the then Head of his Private Office, Mr Björn Berge, but that there had been no reaction to the allegations he had made.” Why? We all need to hear the answer. Mr Agramunt is our past; Mr Jagland is present here. I think we should hear the answer. We need to react to this corruption scandal in the strongest possible manner. If we do not, what right will we have to demand that member States vigorously fight corruption? I want to hear concrete answers. The story is not closed.

      Mr SCHENNACH (Austria)* – I am going to speak very differently from the previous speaker. On Sunday, I landed in a nightmare in which a report was published about corruption and my name appeared. I was apparently too committed to human rights organisations, to human rights defenders and non-governmental organisations, to prisoners and to all the related work. Doubts were expressed about the neutrality and professionalism of my work. Everyone who knows me as the former Chair of the Monitoring Committee and rapporteur knows full well how neutrally and impartially I carry out my duties in the Assembly. That was also the case when I chaired the Sub-Committee on Conflicts between Council of Europe Member States.

      If you are appointed the rapporteur for a country where the rule of law is applied to a lesser extent, including to human rights, of course there can be an impact. Far too many people are sitting in prison in the country in question, and as the rapporteur you need to give clear thought to the people you should be defending. You also need to defend the NGOs, as strong anti-NGO legislation has been passed. I have worked with NGOs and with human rights defenders who have been honoured by the Chamber, such as Leyla Yunus and Khadija Ismayilova. Then, all of a sudden my name appears in this report and the nightmare commences.

      One thing we seem to have overlooked is that there can be misunderstandings. Perhaps it would have been better to have set aside some more time for this process before the report was published, because if there are misunderstandings and you are named, you have to defend your honour. I very much thank the Independent External Investigation Body that has dealt with this matter for now ensuring that today my nightmare has come to an end and my honour has been restored.

      I have always done my utmost to promote and defend the carrying out of this investigation and having it done by an independent, external body, which is ever so important. It is positive that we have done that and that we will draw requisite consequences from it. From my point of view, I have been through hell as a rapporteur. I simply wanted to protect the people who needed protection.

      Mr CORLĂŢEAN (Romania) – I commend the rapporteur, the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs and the Independent Investigation Body for their work. Theirs is necessary work that should be done and finalised, and action is necessary from a political point of view. We must take a stand today and react properly to the fact that, indeed – this may be shocking for some outsiders – there is corruption and inappropriate conduct even within this extremely important organisation for our European democracy. I fully support the draft resolution and the recommendations.

      Colleagues in the Standing Committee, committees and my political group will not be surprised by my comments. I will be less politically correct today. Some people will not be very happy, but I assure you I have no intention of offending any country or people in the Chamber. First, I come from a country, Romania, and from a region – central and south-east Europe – where after the fall of the Communists we learned that we should work hard to make reforms, build democracy and clean up immoral conduct. We were subject to corruption and corrupted, so we worked to develop high standards of legislation and mechanisms and institutions to combat corruption, and, having been advised by our European partners, including from this body and the European Commission, we did it.

      The positive result was that we succeeded in advancing in combating corruption. The negative point, which was neglected throughout, including by our European partners, was that sometimes – often, during recent years – the process of combating corruption became much more savage, not respecting fundamental human rights as preserved by the European Convention on Human Rights, violating the presumption of innocence and so on. That was neglected by European partners, invoking the need to combat corruption.

      From this report and in this building, I discovered that there is also corruption on the other side – the more democratic, healthy Europe. When we debated the need to adopt the declaration on assets and interests, in Western Europe, with all due respect I discovered opposition to more transparency and much more detailed statements, despite the fact that we were prepared for that. My conclusion is that there is a need to avoid double standards. We must establish common standards, including on the basis of what we will finalise in the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs. It is extremely important that we finalise that and that corruption is combated in healthy, wealthy, democratic western Europe. That is also important for us in central and eastern Europe.

      Ms ANTTILA (Finland) – I thank the rapporteurs for their excellent work. The recent allegations of corruption within the Parliamentary Assembly remind us once again of the importance of clear rules and codes of conduct, and of the harmful effect of corruption. The Assembly has rightly affirmed zero tolerance as regards corruption. The allegations should be investigated and actions should be taken as necessary to restore the credibility of the Assembly’s work.

      In the light of the report’s findings, citizens of member States will increasingly pay attention to their political and economic elites. Corruption destroys the people’s trust in democracy and poses a threat to the fundamental values of European society. We are all here because we have been trusted by so many. Without trust, there is no democracy and no one to represent the people’s will. Together, we need to rebuild the people’s trust in this Organisation and defend their rights instead of our privileges. To restore faith in the Assembly as a leading human rights defender, we need to study and where necessary revise and complement the Assembly’s Code of Conduct, as rightly suggested by the Rapporteur.

      To adopt, maintain and strengthen transparency and prevent conflicts of interest, we need to promote further integrity in governance and tackle the political corruption that has occurred using all means. It is also highly important that members States’ anti-corruption legislation is up to date and binding. As members of this Assembly, we are bound not only by the rules of the Assembly, but by the rules of the States we are here to represent. We must always remember that.

      In the last 10 years the Assembly has adopted various rules to govern the conduct of its members to preserve their integrity, but obligations on declarations concerning gifts and other benefits still lack consistency. In addition, even though the Assembly has played a key role in promoting the need to regulate and increase transparency in relation to third-party contacts, such things are not properly regulated as regards the Assembly itself. It is vital for the future of our organisation that the Assembly shows greater determination in raising members’ awareness and providing training and guidance on the implications of the rules of conduct. Moreover, that is crucial to restore public confidence in parliamentary institutions.

      Mr MASIULIS (Lithuania)* – I thank Ms De Sutter for her work on this report, which I think should be a first step, not the last. We have only just begun to hunt these corrupt animals in a wood of corruption, and Azerbaijan may not be the most important international environment to be breeding corruption. The role of Russia is barely noticed, but it is acting to corrupt others, and I am sorry but we need to consider how we can encourage Russia back into the fold by making changes. We should think about what it has done in Ukraine, and about the impact on people and families, which is what this boils down to.

      I am from the East – in the past, my country was under the influence of the former Soviet Union – and I think of corruption as the bitter legacy of Russian influence. In fact, this is the case throughout Europe, and its effect is perhaps even stronger in the West, as we are very aware of this potential problem – it can exist in all areas, from medicine to politics – and fight against this scourge every day. Politicians in more established democracies preach about this and claim it is easy to deal with, but much remains to be done, and we must make many changes, including in electoral monitoring. How can we observe elections and fail to notice the absence of a free press – just fulfilling formal requirements is pointless – or the fact that there are no rival political parties? We need to make a lot of changes in many areas.

      Mr VILLUMSEN (Denmark) – I thank the rapporteur for a good report. Corruption is a serious criminal offence. It is totally unacceptable, and we should have a zero-tolerance approach to corruption. Unfortunately, that has not been the case with some members of this Assembly. Their commitment to human rights has allegedly been replaced by money and prostitutes, and that is unacceptable. It is good that this report has finally been produced. The report points to problems involving members who are not only from one political group or one country. It clearly states, however, that the Azerbaijani regime allegedly has a network of corruption that includes members and former members of several political groups and from various countries.

      This is a serious report, and our fight against corruption does not end with it. Action should be taken not only in this Assembly, but in our national parliaments. We need to ask our legal authorities to look at whether illegal activities have taken place in our countries, and our governments need to act to fight corruption, including by raising this issue in the Committee of Ministers. We should be aware that we have a list of people who have most likely handed out money to suppress criticism of Azerbaijan, and they should be investigated. The police and the courts should examine these matters, and those responsible should be punished. Who has received the money, and which other countries have used the channel of corruption? This must also be investigated by the police and the courts. We cannot answer that question today, because it is not covered by the report, but we must find out.

      Let us take action to fight corruption, and to ensure that our legal authorities get involved and that those responsible are punished. Let us start to rebuild this Assembly’ credibility, and let those of us who have all along stood up for human rights state clearly today that we have zero tolerance of corruption. We should continue to fight against corruption, and we will never allow human rights to be put to one side, no matter what we are offered.

      Mr VLASENKO (Ukraine) – I thank the rapporteur, as well as the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights for its opinion. I especially want to thank the Independent External Investigation Body. It did not have any legal tools or instruments to ensure that people helped it in its investigation of corruption in this Assembly, but it has done a brilliant job.

      One of our colleagues has said that we have shamed the people mentioned in the report, and I agree. However, I also want to shame all those who did not co-operate with the investigation body because they, willingly or unwillingly, are covering up corruption. As a lawyer with 20 years of practice, I could propose 25 reasons why they should not co-operate with it, but it was up to them to do their best to help the Assembly to clean up this corruption and remove it from this Chamber. I agree with colleagues who have said that this is not just about one member State. Corruption is an issue for the Council of Europe as a whole, and we should all continue the struggle against it.

      Corruption can sometimes be used as a form of hybrid warfare by one member State of the Council of Europe against another, in the same way as an intervention in an election can. We in the Assembly already know how one member State may intervene in the election process of another member State of the Council of Europe, which is totally unacceptable. The main question is one of responsibility. We should in the same way punish those whose involvement in corruption has been proved by the investigation body. If we do not do so, it will be a case of just words rather than doing something.

      Sometimes we are acquainted with the situation that some countries have been ignoring our resolutions. Maybe we should start with ourselves. Maybe we should start enforcing our resolutions against those members whose involvement in corruption was proven by the investigation body and the decision of the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs. We should absolutely be careful, as we are not a court and we have no legal instruments, but when it is obvious, we should hold them to their responsibilities—political, disciplinary or any other kind. If that is not done, there will be only words. I am calling for actions.

      Mr SEYIDOV (Azerbaijan) – Ladies and gentlemen, I am proud to be from Azerbaijan. It is very important to stress that any attempt to shame my country, to point the finger at my country, is the real corruption. That country came to this Organisation because of its values. If you are looking for corruption, you should think about other States too and those who are sitting in this Assembly. Why think about only Azerbaijan?

      A month or so ago, in this hemicycle, you applauded Mr Serzh Sargsyan. Just two days, ago he was kicked out by the Armenian nation as a corrupt official. I ask those who said that Armenia is a very democratic State, and who welcomed Mr Serzh Sargsyan to this Organisation as a democratic representative of the Armenian people: where is Mr Sargsyan? Why do you not question yourselves and those who applauded that guy?

      To other States and people, Azerbaijan is in a situation of war. We lost our territories. We have 1 million refugees. We came to this Organisation to find the rule of law. However, instead of the rule of law, we see new terminology: “highly likely”. That is new international law, if I can put it like that.

      My name is also in the list of those presented to you as corrupt Azerbaijani guys. Even though the investigation body said, “Mr Seyidov is not connected to corruption”, my name is in the report. It is very difficult to explain to the rest of the world why my name is in the list and in the paper on alleged corruption. That is why it is very unfair to blame those who co-operated with the Council of Europe and went to the investigation body, and to give the floor to those who ignored the request to give evidence to the investigation body.

      Mr Schennach said that he has been in hell. I think that you are doing your best to send Azerbaijan to that hell. No – that is impossible. We will fight for our dignity and we will win, because we are thinking about the values of freedom and democracy. Those do not belong to the Council of Europe; they belong to the rest of the world. When I came to the Council of Europe 18 years ago, I said that this is my Council of Europe. Now I think: no: it is your Council of Europe. I do not want to be a part of this kind of Council of Europe.

      Ms BLONDIN (France)* – Corruption is a genuine scourge. It undermines trust in public authorities and compromises the principles of the rule of law, which our Organisation defends. If the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe is itself riddled with gangrenous corruption, it will no longer have any credibility. How on earth can we expect member States to comply with their obligations? I am happy at the Assembly’s courageous denunciation of corruption in its midst and its setting up of the Independent Investigation Body. I commend the work of the rapporteurs.

      Perhaps we should have reacted earlier. The very first report by the European Stability Initiative on so-called “caviar diplomacy” came out in 2012. The fact that the Strasser report was then rejected in January 2013 should have sounded the alarm. We need to step up our vigilance. The authority of our Organisation is based on its integrity. As President Nicoletti has stated, our Assembly is not a battlefield where members are entitled to use any strategy, even the most dishonest, to impose their point of view on others. Nor is it a place where governments can buy their way to respectability.

      To restore this tarnished image, we need to take the report’s recommendations into account and adopt sanctions. It is essential to reform our rules on appointing parliamentarians as rapporteurs or election observers. We make declarations and testify that we do not have any conflicts of interest, but does that suffice? Each parliamentarian accepting an assignment should ensure that there is no private interest that bars him or her from carrying out the task impartially.

      Parliamentarians are ultimately men and women of politics who are in the business of defending their convictions and values, in particular human rights, so I fail to understand the criticisms levelled against our colleague Stefan Schennach. Leyla Yunus is a human rights activist. It is the role of rapporteurs to meet NGOs and opposition members, above all if they are in prison, to hear what they have to say, so that one can come to an informed decision. There is a clear dividing line between taking a political position, and corruption and manifest conflicts of interest. The former is all about defending values; the latter is all about personal interest. To confuse the two is inexcusable.

      The PRESIDENT – Thank you. I have received two requests for interventions from people who have been mentioned in the debate. First, according to Order 316, the Secretary General, Mr Thorbjørn Jagland, has the right to take the Floor immediately. Mr Kiral has also asked for intervention, and according to our rule he has the right to intervene at the end of the debate. Secretary General, you have the floor.

      Mr JAGLAND (Secretary General of the Council of Europe) – After the contribution by Mr Goncharenko, I really saw a need to respond, because he is misusing this report in a way that cannot be justified at all. I can see the political reasons for it, and there are many other attempts here, but I am sorry to say that if it continues, the crisis will be even worse.

      He referred to Mr Arif Mammadov. The fact of the matter is that the investigation commission has never seen it necessary to ask me about it, for good reason. I have never been to a hearing with this commission. I had a courtesy call with the commission that lasted for 10 minutes, but I never asked about this; I probably did not see any necessity because everything was clear. The fact is that this former ambassador of Azerbaijan came to my office, and he had two messages. One was that I was seen, in Baku and by President Aliyev himself, as the biggest enemy of Azerbaijan; it was said that every time I speak, it is as if I were putting a knife in his stomach. The ambassador warned me about what may happen. Secondly, he told me about widespread corruption in Azerbaijan, how the regime was putting people from non-governmental organisations – human rights defenders – in prison, pushing evidence on them, and that there was no impartial judiciary to defend them.

      I of course thought it very strange that an ambassador from the country should totally undermine his own authorities. It was even stranger that when he left Strasbourg he became the desk officer of the Council of Europe in Baku. Afterwards, he became Azerbaijan’s representative at the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. I thought that was very strange. But what he said and what I had heard elsewhere led to the fact that in 2014 I had already published a broad article in The Guardian and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung talking about what the ambassador had said – referring not to him, but to what I had got from many sources. When the report about corruption in this Assembly started to come up from different institutions, of course I also started to think about what was happening. I started to ask for an independent investigation. When the Bureau dealt with this on 9 and 10 March 2017, it failed to set up such a commission. That is why I wrote a letter to the President of the Bureau saying that the matter was urgent; I referred to the fact that the Assembly was electing judges, a Commissioner for Human Rights, a Secretary General and a deputy Secretary General. Then the commission was set up.

      With regard to Azerbaijan, I should also say that what the information I got led to was that I, for the first time, invoked Article 52, which gives me a special possibility of investigating what is going on in a member State. When Azerbaijan blatantly rejected this, I started to talk in the Committee of Ministers about launching Article 46(4), bringing Azerbaijan to the European Court of Human Rights. Then the Committee of Ministers unanimously decided to do that, and now the matter is in the Court. This is the first time this article has been applied by the Council of Europe. It was historic, but absolutely necessary.

      What I would like to say here is that it is very, very sad to learn that while I did all this – for years: invoking Article 52 and asking the Committee of Ministers to apply Article 46(4) for the first time – three group leaders, including one who on Monday night was leader of the biggest group, did everything they could to undermine the authority of my office and the Committee of Ministers. It is a shame. It is a very sad story, and the Assembly has to focus on this now rather than starting the political battle that Goncharenko has tried here.

      By the way, a last comment: when I heard all this from the ambassador, I recalled how KGB agents often worked. They said very nice things very often to get you to say very bad things about the regime back home so that they could report back. I was, of course, very afraid of being dragged into this because my voice is also very important when dealing with human rights issues – at the European Court of Human Rights, for instance. I cannot be dragged into anything like that. But, again, what this ambassador told me about the situation in Azerbaijan horrified me and led to the actions that I took, but unfortunately they were undermined by forces in this Assembly.

      The PRESIDENT – Thank you, Mr Jagland.

      We now continue with the list of speakers. I call Mr Sobolev.

      Mr SOBOLEV (Ukraine) – Thank you, Mr President. I also thank all those who have addressed this important subject. After months of work, 198 pages of facts and hours of debate, today we have only one name. Whose name? The name of Schennach. We are not in one faction – we are voting in different ways – but if Schennach is the main person because he supported NGOs, I think that is a shame on this PACE building.

      Secondly, dear colleagues, we are discussing such a serious subject – and really, corruption is not national. It is not even just this Organisation’s investigations; it is a total problem for the whole world. So why is this investigation not as deep as we could make it? If you to page 99, you find a very interesting fact. No name of this person and no name of this company, but a person – a top, senior man who worked with four previous Presidents of this Assembly – went, after his second term, to work at LUKOIL, the Russian company. His position was frozen and he returns – there is no conflict of interest? Who appointed him to this position? Mr Jagland.

      Thirdly, we have had much discussion about soldiers of fortune. When somebody is a soldier in Georgia, Ukraine and Syria, they kill people, but there are other soldiers of fortune who went to occupy territories. For what money? Their taxpayers gave them money for their tickets – to go to Donbass, to Crimea, without the States whose territories were occupied allowing that. After that, what was published in all the newspapers was about the excellent position of those who killed women and children. Is that not also corruption?

      I think that this year we will stop all this because, according to our Code of Conduct, we will make electronic declarations, and all presents, hotels and services they give you must be in the electronic declaration. If they are not, there will be responsibility for that. I think that is the main idea that will stop corruption – not only in this PACE building, but in the whole world as well.

      Mr WENAWESER (Liechtenstein) – If, when dealing with this report, we simply argue in a legalistic way, we will fail time and again to reach the people we are supposed to represent. If we address guilt in the legal sense – with the political responsibility and moral criteria – we will lose further credibility. Sadly, at the moment we have little of that left to lose. If we tar all those people mentioned in the report with the same brush, we will fail to respond to the differing factual basis behind it. It would be hugely unjust to colleague Schennach, given his great work, if we were to mention him in the same breath as Assembly member Agramunt. If in clearing up this untenable situation we rely too much on national parliaments and State prosecutorial authorities, we will finally be conceding that we are unable to put our own house in order.

      If this were to be the case, I hope certain members who still have to answer for a certain journey to Syria should, on their own initiative and out of decency, do this Assembly a final parting favour.

      Mr HASANOV (Azerbaijan) – I have been in this Assembly since January, and recently I was shocked to hear about the report of the so-called Independent Investigation Body on allegations of corruption within the Parliamentary Assembly. I have read this report and come to the conclusion that this report is based on rumours. I believe that allegations of breaching the PACE Code of Conduct should be based on strong and clear facts. As a lawyer I was surprised to read phrases and words such as “Body found it difficult to establish”, “gifts were in general symbolic”, “were common in many countries”, “likely”, and “possibly”. Apart from that, the report refers to unidentified sources and allegations that Azerbaijani officials have allocated money for some purposes. I have a question: how can we blame the country with such vague and uncertain phrases? How can we accuse and think that someone probably bribed someone without specific facts?

      The report also says that “not everybody who had defended Azerbaijan in PACE had done so for material benefit”. The investigation also admitted that it “was unable to obtain any documented evidence of corruption”. In that case, how can we trust this report?

      The report refers to the so-called Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, or OCCRP. I believe that the news circulated by the OCCRP is unfounded and biased. Through this fake news, anti-Azerbaijani groups tried to tarnish the image of Azerbaijan and those who maintain friendly relations with our country and its politicians, public figures and journalists.

      Once again I stress that this case has been an obvious anti-Azerbaijani campaign aimed at harming the image of Azerbaijan and those who support our country. Individuals and some groups, misusing freedom of speech, organised a slanderous campaign against us. In this report, my colleague, the head of our delegation, Samad Seyidov, is accused of breaching the PACE Code of Conduct. Mr Seyidov is a respected MP with an impeccable 20-year political career and a man of the highest ethical standards. Obviously, it is recklessness to accuse him of violating ethical behaviour.

      Dear colleagues, unfortunately today the issue of corruption has turned into a political weapon for damaging independent figures and countries. I urge you to be impartial and rely only on clear facts, not baseless allegations. Thank you for your attention.

      (Mr Amon, Vice-President of the Assembly, took the Chair in place of Mr Nicoletti.)

      Lord FOULKES (United Kingdom) – Last week my colleague Vernon Coaker led an excellent debate in the |House of Commons about the importance of the Council of Europe in terms of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. All of that will be jeopardised if we do not approve this report overwhelmingly.

      I remember vividly Mr Agramunt sitting in the chair you are now occupying, Mr President, as if nothing was wrong – as if he was totally innocent, with that look on his face – and he is still around; I saw him at a meeting quite recently. I do not understand why he does not realise the kind of corruption he has been involved with, and why he did not own up earlier on.

      I am sorry that Jagland has gone – disappeared from the podium – because I am going to say a few words about him, too. I find him utterly complacent on this, as he was in the question time just the other day when Mr Kandelaki and I asked some questions.

      And it is not just Azerbaijan that has an influence on what is happening behind the scenes here; Russia does as well. That is a country that invaded, and still occupies, part of another member State, a country that poisons people on the streets of the United Kingdom – Skripal is not the first, because we had Litvinenko previously – and a country that has interfered in the recent election in the United States and referendum in the United Kingdom to try and undermine western democratic institutions; how can we imagine that it is not also involved in these kind of activities here in the Council of Europe? I believe that it is involved here behind the scenes, and that Mr Jagland should be here to listen to this and answer to this. And I hope that if he does hear this, he will come back in and answer to the influence Russia is having behind the scenes here.

      I welcome this report. It is an independent report; it is not based on rumour. I am glad the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs has made these recommendations, and I hope we will adopt the report overwhelmingly, and I also hope we will strengthen it with some of the amendments; otherwise, the reputation of this Parliamentary Assembly, which ought to be so high, will not continue to have the level of respect that we need in Europe today.

      Mr BEREZA (Ukraine)* – I thank Ms de Sutter for a wonderful report, because she has raised a very important problem: the problem of corruption in European institutions. The facts in the report show that our structures are being affected, and if there is no punishment, that will further discredit the Parliamentary Assembly and our institutions. The report should be the start of a process of purification, not of new cover-ups. We have heard today about Mr Schennach, but the other names have disappeared.

      Let us talk about Mr Agramunt and Mr Xuclà. They flew on a military aircraft from Russia to Syria. Was that not corruption – or was it just a personal wish to have a trip on a military plane? When the British newspaper The Independent spoke about how Russia is financing extreme right-wing parties in Europe and nobody says anything about that, and when Marine Le Pen says Crimea is not part of Ukraine and gets funding from a Russian private bank, is that normal for Europe?

      I also want to say something about Mr Jagland, who has left the room. He said Mr Goncharenko was manipulating, but manipulation is congratulating Putin on his re-election as President of Russia and not condemning the holding of elections in Crimea. I do not know how that can be defined as anything but corrupt.

      I shall now mention the most important thing. Every time the question of corruption is raised and Russia is mentioned, the Parliamentary Assembly just shuts its eyes. People are also trying to push Russia back into the Parliamentary Assembly. Are they motivated by noble goals, even though Russia is violating all its agreements, is not implementing any resolutions, is spitting on human rights and is effectively destroying European democracy, including through its lobbyists? Perhaps there is more to this than meets the eye. Perhaps we should say that Russia is indeed having an influence on events not only here but in the European Parliament and in other institutions. We also need to point out that Russia is an open lobbyist, not only ignoring the needs of Russia but the interests of the Parliamentary Assembly in order to carry out the orders of the Kremlin. If Mr Jagland is going to say anything, I would like to know what is motivating what he is saying.

      Ms FATALIYEVA (Azerbaijan) – From session to session here in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, I cannot stop wondering where we go from here with such attitudes and manipulation, with the exaggeration of one thing and the closing of eyes to another. The further we go, the more we do not follow the rules and principles of the Organisation, which used to be the basis of our work. The preparation of the corruption report is an obvious example of the fact that freedom, real democracy and justice no longer rule in this Organisation.

      In our work and activities in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, we have always been guided by real facts, not rumours. Declaring something in the beginning of certain reports or documents, we never denied it at the end. The absence of logic or a serious approach in the report makes me feel that there is an urgent and obvious need to blackmail my country and to remove it from the agenda of this Organisation. What is the purpose of these attempts: to turn Azerbaijan from its democratic way, to cause radicalisation in Azerbaijan or to try to change our values? The answer to this attempt is definitely no: I assure members that that will never happen. All these attempts are empty. Azerbaijan will never turn away from democracy. Despite all these unfair tricky games, pressure and injustice, we will keep our commitment to democratic values and to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe regardless of how fast the image of the Organisation is changing.

      We welcome the idea of the report and we welcome the initiative, because corruption is evil, but the way the report has been prepared is unacceptable. The report lacks real facts. If someone is blamed, real facts and proof must be provided. The report shows that the allegations are just allegations and suspicions.

      I speak today not only on my own behalf, but on behalf of the Azerbaijani people whose voice, dear colleagues, you did not hear for many years. For many years you have been deaf to our voices screaming about the occupation of our lands by Armenia, another member State. It is the voice of truth and justice, but instead of truth you hear only what you want to hear and see only what you want to see. There is a big question over the democracy, justice and transparency of this Organisation, which is undermining significantly its image and credibility.

      Ms TRISSE (France)* – Rapporteur and dear colleagues, this morning’s urgent debate addresses a serious and important issue. It is essential that we talk about it in plenary, so I am pleased that the Socialists, Democrats and Greens Group has taken this initiative.

      In January 2017, our Assembly was shaken by the revelation of the suspicions of corruption and lobbying by some States concerning certain members or former members in what some media have branded “caviargate”. The decision to entrust three recognised and independent magistrates with the inquiry to shed light on these allegations has been essential. The final report was made public on Sunday. As a recent member of the Assembly, I put particular store by the key values and principles of the Council of Europe. I have to say that their conclusions seem to be constructive in many regards.

      I will not speak here about the individual cases set out in the final report – we have spoken a lot about them already this morning – but I would like to say how important it is that we make the necessary reforms to ensure that this situation is not repeated in the future. Otherwise, the legitimacy and credibility of our institution will be significantly and permanently diminished. The report by Ms Fura, Mr Bratza and Mr Bruguière tackles several structural or procedural weaknesses that I myself had noted. The major problem relates to the absence of transparency, impartiality and accountability in appointments to the most sensitive committees, such as the Monitoring Committee and the Rules Committee, as well as to key positions as rapporteurs or members of electoral observation missions. That is heightened by real shortcomings when it comes to the prevention and scrutiny of conflicts of interest.

      Dear colleagues, today’s report by the Independent Investigatory Body means that we can no longer avert our gaze from the rules by which we govern ourselves. The role and mission of our Assembly, which we have talked about in the context of the ad hoc Bureau Committee, is such that we must be absolutely exemplary if we wish to continue to be able to talk about democratic principles and the rule of law in Europe. The work done so far is a step in the right direction, but it is not finished and crucial reforms lie ahead. For my part, I will support all the initiatives to come that will make it possible to make the way we operate more collective, more pluralist, more transparent and above criticism in the eyes of our fellow citizens.

      Ms GERASHCHENKO (Ukraine)* – The Ukrainian delegation commends the anti-corruption initiatives taken by the Assembly. This institution must rid itself of politicians who are ruining its reputation, as well as representatives of the Secretariat who violated ethical norms. The Assembly must restore its fundamental principles of good conduct.

      The Ukrainian delegation has always championed the values of the Assembly and referred to cases of violation of the basic principles of the Organisation by its former leadership. Not so long ago, the former President of the Assembly, with parliamentarians close to him, publicly violated ethical standards and European parliamentary professional ethics. Has the situation changed? Regrettably, no. We continue to witness violations of ethical and moral norms: the former President of the Assembly visited Bashar al-Assad’s Syria at the time of the chemical attacks; and Russian deputies, including Mr Slutsky from the Duma, have been involved in anti-Semitic and sex scandals, friendship with the Assad regime and the war against Ukraine.

      The Assembly is closing its eyes to violations of the ethical principles of the institution by these individuals and is calling for dialogue with them. We could mention the fact that the former President of the Assembly did not keep his word that he would resign. He has shouldered no responsibility after his visit to Syria. The Secretary General has admitted that he knew about these cases of corruption, so why did he do nothing to put a halt to them? That can only be called complicity.

      Corruption, bribery and blackmail are today constituent parts of hybrid war. All these methods work very well in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. That is why the resolution of these debates should not only condemn the culprits but impose responsibility for them. The key issue for the reputation of the Organisation and our political groups is to bring home to our electorate the message that the leadership, accused of violating ethical norms and fundamental principles of the Assembly, will bear its responsibility and that we will do everything possible to anticipate and rule out corruption. All the guilty employees of the Secretariat and other individuals should be dismissed from office not just for the duration of the investigation but for ever and the politicians whose names feature in the investigation should also resign.

      Mr HEER (Switzerland) – Everybody knew what was going on in our Council of Europe. The Swiss delegation initiated, with a letter to the Bureau, a request for an independent investigation body to look into the allegations surrounding us. We are pleased with the results of that work. They are not surprising. Our Parliamentary Assembly has been very busy for more than two years now and I am sure that that will continue.

      I am sorry to say it, but this report is not the end of the corruption but the beginning of the end of our Parliamentary Assembly. How have I come to this conclusion? The only headlines that the Parliamentary Assembly makes in the media are ones about corruption. Our highly esteemed President from Italy was not re-elected. That is a sign. If a President of our Assembly cannot be re-elected, it reflects the reputation of our Assembly in, for example, Italy. I do not want to use this report to point at a particular member State, as this is a fundamental crisis for our Body as a whole and does not involve just one country or the people mentioned in the report. We can also say that money was taken by people from western countries, from so-called democracies, and that really should give us pause for thought.

      Some of us forgot why we are here. We are here on behalf of 800 million people, to protect their rights to free speech, a free media, the separation of powers, the independence of justice, the rule of law, and democracy. We should not defend our governments or our nationalistic views here, as is done all the time. We are here for each and every citizen of our member States, whom we need to protect. I heard some applause in the Chamber this morning for some of the speeches. Today there is no reason for applause, because today is a black day for our Parliamentary Assembly. Let us face it: if each and every one of us is not willing to fulfil his task in an honest, transparent and decent manner, this Assembly will have no future.

      Ms SCHOU (Norway) – Dear President and colleagues, I am worried – I am worried for the future of this Organisation. The report on corruption has confirmed our suspicions that several members and former members have been involved in corrupt activity. So now, we must stop diverting the debate from the real task at hand. We must clean up and ensure that we develop an environment of zero tolerance of corruption and practices that lead to conflict of interest.

The facts are clear: the Assembly has systemic weaknesses that made it possible for three political group leaders to actively work for the interests of Azerbaijan. The misdeeds have been carried out by members of this Assembly, and the responsibility therefore lies on us to correct them. All the political groups are in some ways contaminated, and we all need to scrutinise our rules and procedures, both nationally and in the Assembly. I fully support mobilising the Committee of Ministers, and of course we also need the help of the Secretary General. However, I must emphasise that blaming others rather than taking responsibility for our own mistakes will not solve the problems at hand.

This whole process has been a struggle. Many were against an independent investigation body, and for far too long, many of us did not act even though we knew about rumours and suspicions of corrupt activity. As late as the last session, members of my political group mobilised to elect a group leader who is now on the list of those suspected for corrupt activity. It is time that we as members spent some time reflecting on the core tasks and mandate of the Council of Europe, rather than using the Assembly to push private and national agendas.

Our precious Organisation, the Council of Europe, is facing a number of serious challenges. However, to solve them, I insist that we do not mix them up, and certainly not with ulterior motives. We now need to focus and carry out a truthful and honest process. More than 800 million people are counting on us – we the parliamentarians –to restore the credibility of this Assembly.

      Ms GORROTXATEGUI (Spain)* – As five of those who have been under scrutiny in the report are Spanish, I, speaking as a member of the Spanish delegation, feel duty-bound to take the floor. The first point that I want to make is that corruption is not a widespread or chronic phenomenon in Spain. Secondly, those who have a public function, such as workers in the public authorities, work honestly. However, it is a fact that too many political representatives in executive positions are involved in corrupt dealings.

The issue transcends the specific problem that we are facing today, and it is very dangerous. Such cases tend to spawn in the public mind the idea that corruption is an inherent part of being in politics – and that is extremely dangerous. Once the idea takes hold that corruption is a natural phenomenon that is only to be expected and is linked to political activity, it compromises the whole principle of the rule of law. Our Assembly needs to be mindful of all the consequences that will flow from this report when we approve it. We need to shoulder the responsibility of restoring trust and confidence. I appeal to the Assembly and the relevant committees to be aware of this great responsibility on their shoulders.

Fighting corruption should not become a witch hunt. It cannot simply become a way of getting rid of political opponents. If that were to happen, we would fall short of our basic objective. On the other hand, we need to comply with the principle of proportionality. We need careful, conscientious scrutiny, and our work needs to be consistent and robust in fighting any violations or infringements of our code of conduct. The point is that we need to honour the truth, and our Assembly needs to show zero tolerance of corruption.

Ms KAVVADIA (Greece) – Dear colleagues, there is no question but that one of the most critical issues in this PACE part-session is the formal submission of the report of the external independent commission of inquiry on the serious allegations of corruption and unparliamentary conduct of several former and current members of this Assembly. As we are all aware, the commission concluded that there are serious allegations against several prominent members of this Assembly, including the former President. As we know, this scandalous affair effectively paralysed the Assembly for a long time, dealing a heavy blow to its credibility and prestige. At a time when the institutions of parliamentary democracy and the political representation of citizens at both the European and national levels are going through a profound crisis, resulting in their depreciation in the hearts and minds of European citizens, it is more urgent than ever that all the democratic political forces of Europe should shield themselves and their institutions.

Although I am very worried, I appreciate the fact that, here in PACE, we have taken initiatives to deal with the situation, assign political responsibility and, above all, strengthen our institutional framework, both in the rules of procedure and in the code of parliamentary conduct for our members. This could be an example of how political institutions, especially those that answer directly to citizens, could and should identify the phenomenon of corruption and misconduct, and those responsible for it, no matter how far up the scale of power they may be, and isolate them politically. It goes without saying that this must be done in parallel with any ongoing investigations by the judiciary, and without any political intervention in those investigations. It is obvious and well established that the two elements involved in such cases – the political and the judicial – should be separate.

      We politicians have a duty to the peoples of Europe, especially in times of crisis and threatened social cohesion, to be fully transparent and fully accountable. There can be no political tolerance of any parliamentary misconduct. It is equally important, however, that we do not embark on a witch hunt, put all cases in the same basket, or smear politicians without adequate evidence. It is a delicate balance, but we must find it. Thank you.

      Mr KANDELAKI (Georgia) – It is clear that this investigation should and must continue, but one thing should change in the proceedings, and some of the amendments would take us in this direction: staff of the Council of Europe who co-operate with the investigation should have their identity protected. I am convinced that many more members of staff will disclose significantly more important information if their identity is protected.

      I was shocked by the response of the Secretary General to the question from my Ukrainian colleague, Mr Goncharenko. Colleagues, please read carefully paragraph 90 on page 24 of the investigation report. It clearly paints a different picture of the meeting that took place in 2011 in the office of Mr Jagland. With all respect, if it comes to choosing between the words of Mr Jagland and this document, I believe this document. Mr Jagland therefore has to explain why he breached Council of Europe regulations on the protection of whistle-blowers. We have adopted resolutions, and there are internal Council of Europe regulations, on whistle-blowers, yet there was this whistle-blower in his office seven years ago. It is not possible for Mr Jagland to escape responsibility – alongside, of course, the people mentioned in the report.

      On page 99, there is just a small amount on Russia; that in itself is entertaining, to say the least. There, it says that a senior official of the Council of Europe – they are not named – who was, to my knowledge, chief of cabinet to three Presidents of the Assembly, at one point went to work for LUKOIL in Brussels. His position was kept for him, and he was allowed to return to Strasbourg. What is this? The civilised world does not dispute that Russia interferes everywhere – even in the United States elections. It poisons and kills people on the streets of NATO member States. Why is it not possible that the same interference would take place here? Everyone who has been here long enough knows that many of the actions, including criminal actions, described in the report were enabled initially by Russian interference in this Organisation, so one of the key questions that the continued investigation will have to answer is whether senior members of staff of the Council of Europe have been getting instructions on their work from places other than this building, and if so, where those places are. Thank you.

      Ms AGHAYEVA (Azerbaijan) – Thank you. Corruption is indeed one of the most dangerous social evils, as it can erode the whole system, and undermine development and welfare, so putting in safeguards in a timely manner is very important. In that sense, investigating any allegations seems logical and reasonable, but what is happening today, and the way that this report is being misused by some members of PACE, makes it clear that the real aim was not to find out problems and correct them, but to blacken the name of one member State – a new democracy; a small country in a very difficult neighbourhood that shares the Council’s values, despite all the difficulties and risks, and works tirelessly to benefit not only itself but its partners.

      I am convinced that the language of sanctions is counter-productive and does not further the aims of this Organisation. We should be thinking about how to bring member States closer together, not isolate them, by working on consolidating the solidarity and integrity of the Council of Europe. Thank you.

      (Mr Nicoletti, President of the Assembly, took the chair in place of Mr Amon.)

      Mr MOLLAZADE (Azerbaijan) – Thank you. Corruption in the Council of Europe is a very dangerous thing, damaging the credibility of not only the Council of Europe but many European organisations. We think that there should be serious investigation of all these issues. At the same time, it is interesting that the document presented to us focuses attention on just one country. Why? Because the goal is to push out of the scope of investigation others, who are involved in lobbying people who work with big countries, or huge international corporations.

      Azerbaijan, however, has been chosen for attention. This sends a dangerous signal. We are concerned that there are very dangerous trends in Europe; Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and xenophobia are growing. Was Azerbaijan chosen because we are Muslim? We in Azerbaijan were shocked when a Holocaust survivor was brutally killed, and when a Jewish guy was beaten in the centre of Europe just for wearing a kippah, because we are growing a tradition of multiculturalism and respect for all religions. What will we now have in Europe? Are we creating a closed Christian club, with growing anti-Semitism and Islamophobia?

      The Independent Investigation Body wrote that Samed Seyidov had no affiliation to the events involving corruption, but his name is on the list. Why? Because, again, European Armenian organisations, and all countries that are behind the Armenian occupation of Azerbaijan, have an interest in targeting and attacking Azerbaijan, while stopping any serious investigation of existing corruption.

      We should continue investigating, but stop blaming and targeting one country in this way. Investigations should be held into many other European organisations, because facts brought forward in the Council of Europe show us that there is a network in place that is very dangerous to our values. In Europe, we have to protect human values, such as the rule of law. Many points in this document remind me of the Soviet troika: no trial – nothing – and execution by the same person who gave the order to kill, because of suspicions that someone was anti-communist and anti-Bolshevik. Base your actions on the European rule of law, and not on rumours or the interests of big countries. Thank you.

      The PRESIDENT – Thank you.

      That concludes the list of speakers.

      I give the floor to Mr Kiral for a maximum of two minutes, on the basis of the right to reply regulation specified on page 108 of the Assembly’s Rules of Procedure.

      Mr KIRAL (Ukraine) – I felt, after Mr Kox named me, that I had to respond. I feel that Mr Kox is retaliating a little to my mentioning in his name on the first day in a point of order when we discussed the admission of delegates to the work of the Assembly and the ones who were mentioned in the report. We all know that Mr Kox failed to comply with the code of ethics and that he is specifically mentioned in the report as not responding to requests from the investigation body. I emphasise that this is nothing personal; I have nothing personal against Mr Kox. This is a general issue, which we have already started to discuss in the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs. I believe that, if we set up official investigation bodies, we must all co-operate because 95% of their material is information. If they do not get access to information, they do not reach conclusions. Today’s debate has demonstrated that we risk having a one-sided report and finger-pointing when we do not have information, conclusions and a good-quality process.

      Mr Kox also remarked that I should perhaps provide some information on the Russian Federation. After this debate and interventions from many colleagues from Ukraine, Georgia and Switzerland, that comment is ridiculous. The Russian Federation is even mentioned in the report, albeit in tiny comments. However, the Secretary General did not address them, especially those about the member of the Secretariat, who we now know is still running the Council of Europe’s Moscow office, employed by and directly subordinate to the Secretary General. We have lots of questions and we need to continue this investigation.

      The PRESIDENT – According to Rule 35.6, Mr Kox has the right to reply.

      Mr KOX (Netherlands) – Yesterday, after a hearing of the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs, it was decided that I did not breach the code of conduct in any way. Mr Kiral was there – he knows that. It is inappropriate that, although he knows that the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs, of which he is a member and whose meeting he attended, decided something, he now says something different. That goes against our Code of Conduct.

      Secondly, the only question I asked Mr Kiral – the Secretary General also asked it during the meeting of the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs – was to invite him and all members, if they have any information that might shed light on corruption, to share it with us. We all got that invitation and you did not deliver, Mr Kiral. Please deliver the information so that we can do something with it. That was my question. Please take care that you do that, but never again be a member of a committee that makes a decision and state the opposite of that decision here. That is not how we should work with each other.

      The PRESIDENT – Thank you, Mr Kox, for that clarification.

      May I remind members of our rules? “Members of the parliamentary Assembly shall behave in a courteous, polite and respectful manner towards each other and towards the President of the Assembly or any other person who is presiding.”

      I now give the floor to Ms Kyriakides for a maximum of two minutes on the basis of Rule 35.6 of the Assembly’s Rules of Procedure.

      Ms KYRIAKIDES (Cyprus) – I will be brief. I will just make a necessary clarification to what the Secretary General mistakenly said about the Group of the European People’s Party. He said that the leader of the biggest political group, mentioned in the report, was still there on Monday night. That is totally inaccurate. The report was received on Sunday afternoon and at our group meeting on Monday morning, a new interim president was immediately unanimously appointed. I repeat to everyone that the EPP has zero tolerance of corruption and that this is the only way forward that we see.

      The PRESIDENT – Thank you, Ms Kyriakides.

      That concludes the debate. I call Ms De Sutter, the rapporteur, to reply.

      Ms De SUTTER (Belgium) – I thank colleagues for the debate. It was inevitable that emotions were expressed. I will not go into the exonerating or accusing of individual persons or States, but I want to thank Ms Aghayeva from Azerbaijan, who is no longer here, because she made a reasonable intervention.

      I want to consider the criticisms of the investigation body’s report. If we are now saying that the investigation body did not deliver a good report, we should have thought about that before we gave them a mandate and terms of reference within the framework they had to do their job. We accepted from the beginning that, whatever the report delivered, we would work from there. We are politicians; we are not taking a legal action in the Assembly. It is appropriate to have a political debate, as we are having now, and to consider disciplinary action against members who are mentioned in the report in the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs, starting with facts and the investigation body’s interpretation.

      Many people, including Ms Trisse, raised the philosophical question of whether the whole Assembly is affected or whether we have a few rotten apples in the basket that we can easily eliminate. Having considered this, I think the answer might be both. There are rotten apples; there are corrupters and corrupted people, but there is also an environment that allows corruption to spread. People have said that it is like cancer, and that is a good analogy. Cancer starts with a few cells that go bad. Normally, in the human body – I speak as a doctor – your immune system will eradicate any cell that misbehaves. Our immune system here needs strengthening. That is exactly what we must do in the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs, starting with the recommendations in the investigation body’s report.

      I am sorry to contradict Mr Heer, but I am not a pessimist – I do not want to go down a pessimistic route. We have an opportunity to change our culture and our attitude, and I am sure that most people here are really willing to do that. I will not hide the fact that I was a bit scared that the amendments would go in the direction of blaming, shaming and exonerating. That was not the case. All the amendments were tabled with the intention of improving the report. I thank those who have tabled amendments for that.

      I remind members that we must talk about the people named in the report, and we are in the process of doing that. It is not that we are simply picking out which files to deal with – everyone named in the report will be heard. We are in the middle of a reform process and we need the collaboration of all political groups and all individual members for that, as was said in the new declaration of interest procedure that we have to put in place.

      Our Committee will take away and consider suggestions that we heard here, for example about the ethics committee, whistle-blower procedures, and more measures to fight corruption, perhaps empowering GRECO. We need to discuss the neutrality of rapporteurs. The applause that Mr Schennach received showed that the only thing we might discuss in his case is the neutrality of rapporteurs. However, it is not about Mr Schennach; it is a discussion that we will have to have in our committee about the function of rapporteurs.

      I finish by thanking the staff, especially Valérie, for the tremendous amount of work that she has done, together with the Committee, in preparing the report.

      The PRESIDENT – Thank you very much, Ms De Sutter.

      The debate is now closed.

      The Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs has presented a draft resolution, to which 26 amendments have been tabled, and a draft recommendation, to which no amendments have been tabled. I understand that the Committee wishes to propose to the Assembly that Amendments 12, 4, 5, 25, 9, 10 and 1 to the draft resolution, which was unanimously approved by the Committee, be declared as agreed by the Assembly. Amendments 2 and 8 were also agreed unanimously by the Committee, but because they are affected by other amendments, they must be taken individually. Is that so, Ms De Sutter?

      Ms De SUTTER (Belgium) – Yes.

      The PRESIDENT – Does anyone object?

      As there is no objection, I declare that those amendments to the draft resolution have been agreed.

      Amendments 12, 4, 5, 25, 9, 10 and 1 are adopted.

      I call Sir Roger Gale to support Amendment 11. You have 30 seconds.

      Sir Roger GALE (United Kingdom) – I congratulate the rapporteur. To be clear, all the amendments that we have tabled are designed to strengthen the report, not to weaken it. I know that the rapporteur’s wish is not to inject any element of triumphalism into the report, so it is slightly unfortunate that the very first sentence of the report contains the words “the Parliamentary Assembly took a courageous step”. It was not courageous; it was vital and absolutely necessary. We believe that those words should be deleted.

      The PRESIDENT – Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment? I call Ms Maury Pasquier.

      Ms MAURY PASQUIER (Switzerland)* – I wish to speak against the amendment because the Committee unanimously adopted Amendment 2, which we thought was better. If we adopt Amendment 11, Amendment 2 will fall. I am therefore really speaking in support of Amendment 2. It is on those grounds that I call for the rejection of Amendment 11, even if I agree with its thrust, which is to strengthen the report, as Sir Roger said.

      The PRESIDENT – What is the opinion of the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs?

      Ms De SUTTER (Belgium) – For the same reason as Ms Maury Pasquier, the Committee is against the amendment.

      The PRESIDENT – The vote is open.

      Amendment 11 is rejected.

      The PRESIDENT – I call Mr van de Ven to support Amendment 2. He is not here. Does anyone wish to speak in support of the amendment? I call Mr Kox.

      Mr KOX (Netherlands) – I attended the Committee meeting and, as Ms Maury Pasquier said, there was unanimous support for the amendment, so I wish to move it formally.

      The PRESIDENT – Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment? That is not the case.

      What is the opinion of the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs?

      Ms De SUTTER (Belgium) – The Committee is in favour.

      The PRESIDENT – The vote is open.

      Amendment 2 is adopted.

      The PRESIDENT – I understand that Sir Roger Gale wishes to withdraw Amendment 13. Does anyone else wish to move it? That is not the case.

      Amendment 13 is withdrawn.

      The PRESIDENT – If Amendment 6 is adopted, Amendment 14 will fall. I call Ms Sotnyk, on behalf of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, to support Amendment 6. You have 30 seconds.

      Ms SOTNYK (Ukraine) – The Committee thinks that there are particular facts in the report that concern other countries. The wording “probably also existed” does not reflect the reality, so we propose the words “clearly also been used by” to send the strong message that we realise that Azerbaijan is just the tip of the iceberg.

      The PRESIDENT – Thank you, Ms Sotnyk.

      Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment? I call Mr Kox.

      Mr KOX (Netherlands) – As I said in the Committee, the report does not give a basis for this amendment. The other allegations should be investigated. The original text was better and should be kept, so I am against the amendment.

      The PRESIDENT – Thank you. What is the opinion of the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs on the amendment?

      Ms De SUTTER (Belgium) – The Committee is in favour, by six votes to five.

      The PRESIDENT – The vote is open.

      Amendment 6 is adopted.

      The PRESIDENT – We come to Amendment 15, which is as follows: “In the draft resolution, paragraph 5, delete the second sentence.” I have been informed that Ms Maury Pasquier wishes to propose an oral sub-amendment.

      I call Sir Roger Gale to support Amendment 15. You have 30 seconds.

      Sir Roger GALE (United Kingdom) – I apologise for the fact that I was unable to attend the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs this morning because I was chairing the Monitoring Committee. I am therefore not aware of the oral sub-amendment, but I am perfectly prepared to entertain it. The purpose of Amendments 15 and 16 was to remove any question of self-congratulation from the report. We are not pleased with ourselves – we are rather ashamed – but apart from that it is a very good report.

      The PRESIDENT – The oral sub-amendment reads as follows: “In Amendment 15, replace the words ‘the second sentence’ with the words ‘with satisfaction’.”

      In my opinion, the oral sub-amendment is in order under our rules. However, do 10 or more members object to the oral sub-amendment being debated? That is not the case.

      I call Ms Maury Pasquier to support her oral sub-amendment.

      Ms MAURY PASQUIER (Switzerland)* – I would be sorry to see the complete deletion of the second sentence, because it is a source of satisfaction for us to see that most of our members have been active in trying to restore the credibility and quality of our Assembly. I can understand, though, that the tone is perhaps a little too triumphalist and that the thrust of the sentence is a little over the top, so I suggest that we keep the second sentence but delete the words “with satisfaction”.

      The PRESIDENT – Does anyone wish to speak against the oral sub-amendment?

      That is not the case. What is the opinion of Sir Roger Gale?

      Sir Roger GALE (United Kingdom) – In the spirit of consensus, I am very happy to accept it.

      The PRESIDENT – Thank you.        What is the opinion of the Committee?

      Ms De SUTTER (Belgium) – The Committee is in favour.

      The PRESIDENT – The vote is open.

      The oral sub-amendment is adopted.

      The PRESIDENT – We will now consider the main amendment, as amended.

      Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment, as amended? That is not the case.

      What is the opinion of the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs on the amendment, as amended?

      Ms De SUTTER (Belgium) – The Committee is unanimously in favour.

      The PRESIDENT – The vote is open.

      Amendment 15, as amended, is adopted.

      I understand that Sir Roger Gale does not wish to move Amendment 16.

      Sir Roger GALE (United Kingdom) – Not moved.

      The PRESIDENT – Amendment 16 is not moved.

      We come to amendment 17. I call Sir Roger Gale to support the amendment.

      Sir Roger GALE (United Kingdom) – Few people other than very new members of the Assembly have not been aware of the fact that there have been allegations of corrupt practices taking place. We all bear some responsibility for this. It is to our shame that we have done nothing about it before. This amendment, in a spirit of humility, seeks to reflect that.

      The PRESIDENT – Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment? I call Ms Maury Pasquier.

      Ms MAURY PASQUIER (Switzerland)* – While I understand the intent of the proponents of the amendment, I go back to what was said in the committee this morning. Paragraph 5 begins with the words “The Assembly believes”, and we cannot start by saying that and then have the wording of the amendment. The only acceptable wording is the initial text as proposed by the rapporteur. I ask you to go along with the committee and to reject the amendment.

      The PRESIDENT – What is the opinion of the committee?

      Ms De SUTTER (Belgium) – Against.

      The PRESIDENT – The vote is open.

      Amendment 17 is rejected.

      We come to amendment 18. I call Sir Roger Gale to support the amendment.

      Sir Roger GALE (United Kingdom) – Again, this amendment follows basically the same thrust as the others: we want to remove any sense that we are pleased with ourselves. We therefore simply seek to take out the words “seeking to restore its credibility”. We had a job that had to be done and we have done it.

      The PRESIDENT – Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment? That is not the case.

      What is the opinion of the Committee?

      Ms De SUTTER (Belgium) – Perhaps I can explain the phrasing. We had the feeling that we had lost credibility and we are in the process of trying to restore it, so we would like to keep the phrasing. We are against the amendment: the committee voted two in favour and seven against.

      The PRESIDENT – The vote is open.

      Amendment 18 is rejected.

      We come to amendment 19. I call Sir Roger Gale to support the amendment.

      Sir Roger GALE (United Kingdom) – We feel strongly that this is not a report about Azerbaijan; it is a report about corruption within the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. A senior member of the former United Kingdom delegation was involved, the Russian Federation has been involved and Spain has been involved along with Italy, Macedonia, Turkey, Germany and other countries. It is wrong in that context to single out one country. We therefore wish simply to remove the words “concerning Azerbaijan” to make it plain that it is rather wider than that.

      The PRESIDENT – Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment? I call Mr Kox.

      Mr KOX (Netherlands) – As my colleague Mr Omtzigt said on Monday, Azerbaijan is mentioned more than 900 times in the report. If you look at the report’s summary, you see it is a report about corruption and about corruption financed by Azerbaijan. To leave “concerning Azerbaijan” out of the report would look quite odd, and the committee was not in favour of removing those words.

      The PRESIDENT – What is the opinion of the committee?

      Ms De SUTTER (Belgium) – Against.

      The PRESIDENT – The vote is open.

      Amendment 19 is rejected.

      We come to amendment 20. I call Sir Roger Gale to support the amendment.

      Sir Roger GALE (United Kingdom) – I am under the impression that this amendment has been accepted. Quite clearly, it is a serious matter and it does need to be investigated further by the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs.

      The PRESIDENT – Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment? That is not the case.

      What is the opinion of the committee?

      Ms De SUTTER (Belgium) – Nine were in favour and zero were against, so we are in favour.

      The PRESIDENT – The vote is open.

      Amendment 20 is adopted.

      We come to amendment 21. I call Sir Roger Gale to support the amendment.

      Sir Roger GALE (United Kingdom) – I will not get any brownie points for criticising the authors of the report, but the fact is that a number of very courageous members of staff gave evidence and there are people and circumstances not reflected in the report. We feel strongly that we owe it to those people who gave that evidence to ensure that this is placed firmly on the record: there are other people involved who are not named.

      The PRESIDENT – Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment? I call Mr Kox.

      Mr KOX (Netherlands) – This amendment would constitute a serious criticism of the work done by the External Investigation Body. If there is any other proof, it should have been brought to the table, as I mentioned earlier in a discussion with others. It would therefore be wise to leave the text as it is.

      The PRESIDENT – What is the opinion of the committee?

      Ms De SUTTER (Belgium) – Against.

      The PRESIDENT – The vote is open.

      Amendment 21 is rejected.

      The PRESIDENT – I call Sir Roger Gale to support Amendment 22.

      Sir Roger GALE (United Kingdom) – The amendment is self-explanatory, and I understand that it has the support of the committee.

      The PRESIDENT – Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment? That is not the case.

      What is the opinion of the committee?

      Ms De SUTTER (Belgium) – In favour.

      The PRESIDENT – I shall now put the amendment to the vote.

      The vote is open.

      Amendment 22 is adopted.

      The PRESIDENT – We now come to Amendment 7, tabled by the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, which is, in the draft resolution, paragraph 12, after the words “the Assembly”, to insert the following words:“, recalling the principle of individual political responsibility, including the possibility for those elected to relinquish their mandates,”.

      I call Ms Sotnyk, on behalf of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, to support Amendment 7.

      Ms SOTNYK (Ukraine) – The purpose of the amendment is to recall the idea of political responsibility, which means that if you cannot live up to the values and principles of your mandate, you should step down.

      The PRESIDENT – I have been informed that Ms De Sutter, on behalf of the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs, wishes to propose an oral sub-amendment, which is, in Amendment 7, to replace “paragraph 12” with “paragraph 13” and to replace “the following words” with “the following paragraph”.

      In my opinion, the oral sub-amendment is in order under our rules. However, do 10 or more members object to the oral sub-amendment being debated? That is not the case. I therefore call Ms De Sutter to support her oral sub-amendment.

      Ms De SUTTER (Belgium) – Paragraph 12 is about general recommendations and conclusions, and it does not mention the responsibility of individuals. We therefore think that the wording works better in paragraph 13, which covers the responsibilities of individuals, political groups, the Assembly and so on, and would form the first sub-paragraph of paragraph 13. On the amendment itself, we absolutely agree with the additional wording proposed by the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights.

      The PRESIDENT – Does anyone wish to speak against the oral sub-amendment?

      Ms SOTNYK (Ukraine) – I want to explain the logic of putting the wording in paragraph 12. Paragraph 13 relates to the individual conduct of members or former members of the Assembly, and we believe that we should not limit the application of the amendment only to them. There are people who are elected within the Council of Europe – for example, the Secretary General– and they should also have to live up to their political responsibilities in such cases.

      The PRESIDENT – The Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs is clearly in favour of the oral sub-amendment.

      If the oral sub-amendment and Amendment 7, as amended, are adopted, Amendment 3 will fall.

      I shall now put the oral sub-amendment to the vote.

      The vote is open.

      The oral sub-amendment is adopted.

      The PRESIDENT – We will now consider Amendment 7, as amended. Does anyone wish to speak against it? That is not the case.

      What is the opinion of the committee?

      Ms De SUTTER (Belgium) – In favour.

      The PRESIDENT – I shall now put Amendment 7, as amended, to the vote.

      The vote is open.

      Amendment 7, as amended, is adopted.

      The PRESIDENT – I call Sir Roger Gale to support Amendment 23.

      Sir Roger GALE (United Kingdom) – I believe that the amendment, which is self-explanatory, has been accepted by the committee.

      The PRESIDENT – Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment? That is not the case.

      What is the opinion of the committee?

      Ms De SUTTER (Belgium) – In favour.

      The PRESIDENT – I shall now put the amendment to the vote.

      The vote is open.

      Amendment 23 is adopted.

The PRESIDENT – We now come to Amendment 8. If this amendment is adopted, Amendment 24 will fall.

      I call Ms Sotnyk, on behalf of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, to support Amendment 8.

      Ms SOTNYK (Ukraine) – I emphasise that I do not agree with those saying that this is the beginning of the end of the Parliamentary Assembly. The problem is not the Parliamentary Assembly, but the behaviour of its members, as well as the lack of transparency in decision making and a lack of control and of sanctions. We are calling for the implementation of all the recommendations made by GRECO and all the recommendations in this report, and that is the purpose of the amendment.

      The PRESIDENT – Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment? That is not the case.

      The Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs is clearly in favour?

      Ms De SUTTER (Belgium) – Yes, unanimously.

      The PRESIDENT – I shall now put the amendment to the vote.

      The vote is open.

      Amendment 8 is adopted.

      I call Sir Roger Gale to support Amendment 26.

      Sir Roger GALE (United Kingdom) – This wording ought to be put back in. I understand that such an amendment was lost in the committee, but I want the Assembly to think about this very carefully. We must take responsibility at local and national level, and it is not good enough to say that we can just skate over the matter. I feel very strongly about this, and of all the amendments that were not carried in the committee this morning, the wording of this one really must go back in.

      The PRESIDENT – Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment? That is not the case.

      What is the opinion of the committee?

      Ms De SUTTER (Belgium) – The committee is against because the amendment would take out the reference in the text to political groups in national parliaments, which it is important to keep in.

      The PRESIDENT – I shall now put the amendment to the vote.

      The vote is open.

      Amendment 26 is rejected.

      Mr KIRAL (Ukraine) – On a point of order, I think that there has been some mistake. I remember that in the committee’s debate we agreed that we would replace every use of the word “legitimacy” with “credibility”. I see that in paragraph 15 of the draft resolution there is still the term, “The full political legitimacy of the Assembly”. I would like to call on the rapporteur, the chair of the committee, to comment on that.

      The PRESIDENT – We have not been informed, so I ask the chair of the committee to respond.

      Ms De SUTTER (Belgium) – I agree that we initially discussed that point. From a procedural point of view, we have the text. I agree that the words could have been changed through an amendment, but I am not sure whether that is still possible at this stage. If it is procedurally possible, I would agree to it.

      The PRESIDENT – Mr Kiral, would you like to move an oral amendment?

      Mr KIRAL (Ukraine) – Yes, I would like to present the oral amendment: “In paragraph 15, replace “political legitimacy” with “political credibility”.

      The PRESIDENT – I remind the Assembly of Rule 34.7, which enables the President to accept an oral amendment or sub-amendment on the grounds of promoting clarity, accuracy or conciliation and if there is not opposition from 10 or more members to it being debated.

      In my opinion the oral amendment meets the criteria of that rule, and therefore can be debated. Does anyone oppose it being discussed? That is not the case.

      Mr Kiral, you have already spoken in support of the oral amendment. Does anyone want to speak against it? That is not the case.

      What is the committee’s opinion on the oral amendment?

      Ms De SUTTER (Belgium) – We cannot discuss it in the committee, but since we feel that we lost not our legitimacy but our credibility, I agree with Mr Kiral’s oral amendment.

      The PRESIDENT – The personal opinion of the rapporteur is that she is in favour. I shall now put the oral amendment to the vote. The vote is open.

      The oral amendment is adopted.

      We will now proceed to vote on the draft resolution contained in Document 14540, as amended. A simple majority is required.

      The vote is open.

      The draft resolution in Document 14540, as amended, is adopted, with 123 votes for, 9 against and 10 abstentions.

      We will now proceed to vote on the draft recommendation contained in Document 14540. A two-thirds majority is required.

      The vote is open.

      The draft recommendation in Document 14540 is adopted, with 124 votes for, 10 against and 8 abstentions.

      I express the Assembly’s gratitude to the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs for the report, as well as to the staff and all those colleagues who discussed it and contributed to amending it. It was a clear signal related to the follow-up of our discussion and the report of the external independent investigation body.

Bekijk ook een korte verklaring in het Nederlands of het Engels op mijn YouTube-kanaal: