President of the French Republic

Speech made to the Assembly

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Madam President of the Parliamentary Assembly,

Madam Secretary General of the Council of Europe,

Mr. President of the Congress,

Mr. President of the European Court of Human Rights,

Madam Commissioner for Human Rights,

Ministers, Members of Parliament, Ambassadors,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you, Madam President, for the words of warm welcome that you have had for France, and also thank you for your kind words about President Chirac. I must admit I am very moved by what you have said. I myself, and the entire nation, would like to thank you.

I also want to thank you for the support, and congratulate you on the proactive approach you have just displayed.

If I am here today, it is first of all to pay tribute to this Assembly, and also to the institution that hosts us: the Council of Europe. I would like to thank you for your kind invitation, and I would also like to thank Mr JAGLAND, and wish the best of success to the new Secretary General Mrs PEJČINOVIĆ-BURIĆ.

I am very pleased that the French Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers has given me the opportunity to be here, before you, the representatives of 47 Member States, of 820 million citizens, on the 70th anniversary of this Organization. Before anything else, I wish to reiterate France's unwavering commitment to this Organization, as it has been the case since the very beginning.

Charles Peguy said that "freedom is a system of courage". And perseverance, fighting for freedom and dignity, in the face of all adversities, is at the heart of this Organization. It was born in a city that was demolished three times by fratricidal wars. I do not believe in coincidences: unity can only be envisioned in those places where the flames have been most vivid. This Organization is the product of European humanism.

From an act of faith, came the possibility of reconciliation in our continent, based on the respect for human dignity and considering it sacred. At a time when it seemed almost impossible to believe in this, it was an act of faith, it was our act of faith, and it still is.

The Council of Europe has allowed us to move forward in terms of respect for fundamental rights, democracy and the rule of law in Europe. It has allowed us to almost completely eradicate the death penalty on the European continent, by making its abolition a prerequisite to join this Organization. Torture has also been pushed back, preventing it from being used in places where there is deprivation of liberty. It has allowed us to adopt instruments on the protection of children, against their exploitation, on the prevention of violence against women. It gave birth to the European Convention on Human Rights, which, under the leadership of René Cassin, required a court with a binding force that would ensure that States comply with its judgments. It has pushed forward social rights, housing, health, education, employment, freedom of movement, which is guaranteed by the European Social Charter. Furthermore, this Organization has helped us build the rule of law, which today is taken forward in Moldova through the Venice Commission. It has been a visionary organization with a precursory role when it comes to the protection of personal data. It has made our continent more democratic with election observation, by fighting corruption, by defending freedom of expression. It has made it safer by defining common rules to combat terrorism or cybercrime.

Inevitably, I cannot give you a complete list of all that has been done over the course of the last 70 years of struggles, 70 years of conquests, that are the treasure of our Organization.

We have forged here, for the whole continent, and despite all the obstacles, a common architecture in the name of the European fraternity Victor Hugo dreamed of. With the will to build a common house for Europe, evoked by Mikhail GORBATCHEV before this Assembly in 1989.

Thirty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the walls of this common house are showing some cracks. That is because fundamental rights are being questioned on our continent, and we must face this fact and discuss it in this forum. In Turkey, where the rule of law is declining, where the judicial proceedings opened against human rights defenders, journalists, academics, this must be subject to our vigilance. Russia, where repression of the demonstrations this summer raises many legitimate concerns, which France shares and clearly expressed. There is also fascination with authoritarian regimes in the European Union, as our democracies in crisis have failed to provide our citizens with the protection they aspire to. They were fractured under the illusion that freedom could be mechanically imposed everywhere, that the peoples of Europe would eventually unite around a set of rules and norms, where the weight of their past, of their culture, would eventually be diluted. The return of history puts an end to this belief, or this hope. This is why the times we live, where the cracks are starting to show, call for a certain strength of soul, of lucidity and courage.

I believe that for the future, we must set ourselves at least two requirements, which I would like to mention. The first is to safeguard and rebuild the unity of our continent on the basis of our common values. This is what France defends within the European Union, to build economic, digital, ecological and strategic sovereignty with our partners. For that, first, we need solidarity, full and entire, among its members. It also involves strengthening the rule of law in the European Union and, therefore, taking into account the work of the Council of Europe in that regard and the accession of the UE to the ECHR. There is no incompatibility, no competition between projects and organizations, quite the opposite. I am deeply convinced that this European sovereignty will be all the better supported if we are able to lay the foundations of trust, on a continental scale, based on the values ​​that bring us together in the Council of Europe.

To build Europe is not a given task. It is what we have achieved over the last seven decades, after a millennia of conflicts, of European civil wars and conquests coming from the outside. I firmly believe that it is in the Council of Europe where the fractures of our continent can be repaired. Because we have learned, precisely here, to overcome the divisions of war, the divisions of the cold war; because it is the place where the European conscience is built and where it is discussed. It will not be without tension. I know that in this Assembly there have been profound debates this year, about the place of Russia within the Council of Europe. Your Assembly and the Committee of Ministers have chosen to maintain Russia in the Council of Europe. And without the joint effort that we have made with the Finnish Presidency, without the commitment of our countries and this House, in order to return to the normal functioning of the Council of Europe, the crisis could not have been overcome. And it would have been followed by negative consequences for our peoples and the protection of their rights.

I fully support the choice to keep Russia in the Council of Europe, because I believe that the Russian people feel fundamentally recognized in European humanism. Because they participated in its construction, because the geography, the history and culture of Russia are fundamentally European. And because when one of our members moves away from the bedrock of our common values, the division would be yet another failure, which would condemn us to impotence. This helplessness would be the victory of those who do not believe in our common ground, or in our values. Doubts and criticisms are audible, legitimate. But, what would have happened if we had just done nothing?

Let us never forget everything the entry of Russia into our Organization has actually brought us, specifically. Everything that it meant for all Russian citizens: the moratorium on the death penalty, the right to individual petition and the compulsory jurisdiction of the court; the possibility for Russian citizens to defend their rights before the European Court of Human Rights against their own government. Your Assembly has made the sovereign choice to welcome back the Russian delegation. If that hadn't happened, the risk was that sooner or later Russia would have simply left the Council of Europe. Then Russian citizens would have been deprived of the right of appeal, the very possibility of enforcing their rights. You have made this decision and I support it without being naive. I am aware of the fact that the role of the Council, the Committee of Ministers, this Assembly, is not to replace the governments, which are responsible for bringing the Minsk agreements to a successful conclusion, the Normandy procedures, or any other legitimate debates. Your duty is to defend the rights of all citizens.

I strongly believe that this decision in no way weakens our common determination, and it does not mean that we have any double standards within the Council of Europe. This decision in no way weakens our determination to put an end to frozen conflicts, which are still painful scars of the divisions in our continent: in Ukraine, in Georgia, in the Caucasus, in Transnistria. It's not a gesture of complacency; it is a decision attached to requirements. Requirements for Russia to fully respect its obligations and fulfil its duties towards the Council of Europe. Requirements for our Organization to be stronger and more effective in such situations, to act with more predictability, responsiveness and credibility. This is the purpose of the new joint procedure that your Assembly and the Committee of Ministers have decided to initiate. I hope it will be operational next January. We must have credible and strengthened tools to enforce Council of Europe decisions, and to ensure that each Member State fully respects its own commitments and obligations.

Before joining you here, I was with Oleg Sentsov. He is here today in Strasbourg: free. This is an outcome of the exchange of prisoners between Russia and Ukraine a few weeks ago, which also allowed the release of 24 Ukrainian sailors. Others are still waiting. We owe them our commitment to dialogue and reconciliation in our continent. Oleg Sentsov is one of those people who believes — as Bernanos — that the freedom of others is as essential to us as our own freedom; one of those people who believes that there is no point in having ideals if we are not prepared to fight for them against all odds. If we look at history and at the course of our lives, I think that holds true. This makes him a great European, because being European, fundamentally, is never to give up in the fight for freedom and dignity. And what we are working towards, as we have done, and as we continue to do, is the unity of our whole continent around these values, to give them full effectiveness, as the philosopher Simone Weil said.

The second requirement we must set ourselves is to look at human rights, freedom and democracy in the face of great contemporary challenges. I will not be exhaustive here either, but I wanted, as head of state, to share some unfinished reflections on the collective situation we are experiencing today, which is — I believe — deeply novel. This is undoubtedly the main challenge of European humanism in the 21st century, because the principles and values ​​that bring us together in the Council of Europe are not only threatened by our divisions, they are challenged by the transformations that we live. Challenged from the outside by the world as a whole, the return to an era of brutal exercise of power, where violations of fundamental rights, the most basic humanitarian law, are no longer punished and there doesn't seem to be any kind of proper response to it.

The era we live in — which David Miliband described a few weeks ago as a "new age of impunity" — is a historical setback in the respect for human rights and humanitarian rights, in the major theatres of war in many of our societies. Where we thought, until a decade ago, that this movement was unstoppable, that its purpose was always the extension of rights, the completion of democracy, the conquest of human rights. The victory, yet again, in every State, of new centimetres of democracy and rule of law: that is no longer the case. This is due to an unprecedented weakening of the multilateral system, which is a deep source of insecurity for all, and also calls into question the very spirit of an Organization like ours, the Council of Europe. The building of peace based on cooperation between nations and respect for the rights of all. The challenge to our principles and our values ​​is also internal, as history accelerates at a great speed. They are challenged by the terrorist threat, the digital, climatic and demographic transformations, the crisis of globalized capitalism, which has not been able to deal with inequalities.

All of these phenomena have logics and dynamics, sometimes profoundly different. But they all come together in our societies and mark the return of great fears, that we see growing everywhere. And with them, irrationalism: fear of decommissioning, loss of values, fear of the world, loss of confidence in who we are, in our relationship with the world, in the very truth of the facts, sometimes even in the rule of law. Faced with this, two radically opposed voices assert themselves today. The first is what I would call disintegration. It is that of those who claim that, in order to protect ourselves from the upheavals of the world, we should narrow the space of our rights and freedoms, turn in on ourselves; those who accept elections, but reject pluralism and are wary of counter-powers that limit the exercise of their authority; those who use the counterterrorism argument to silence their political opponents; those who believe that the answer to contemporary challenges, to build a strong State, is the deconstruction of what we have built. This voice exists. It has triumphed in some European countries and it is getting stronger in many of our countries. And I believe that if we yield into that we would be forgetting who we are, Europeans. Like you, I unfortunately see polls that show the growing fascination of our peoples with authoritarian regimes, and that they are sometimes ready to make concessions, as they believe that perhaps a more efficient authority would be the right answer to these fears and threats. I think that would be a historical mistake, we would be losing our way and taking the risk of disappearing.

The second voice, sometimes raised by the opponents to the first category, is what I would call illusion. It feeds on a sort of dryness of reason, that intends to erase the mark of history. It is the voice of those who, most of the time, sincerely in love with the ideas of freedom and rights, want the world not to be what it is, and for people not to be who they are. They would like to say that people are wrong, that their fears are illegitimate, and answer them only using a discourse of reason, sometimes of exclusion or sermon. This would mean forgetting that the rule of law is a fragile construction that must be the object of daily nurture, intelligence, perseverance, and this also implies facing our contradictions. It would also mean to give in to a form of magical thinking when it comes to human rights, forgetting history and the women and men who helped build that history. It would mean forgetting that human rights are an unfinished struggle and that, with modesty — as René Cassin said, to whom we owe so much —, we should be "the infantryman", and not only the eye-catching guardian. The infantryman, yes. Because it is a battle that goes hand-to-hand, understanding the fears and the limit situations they can produce.

I believe that it is our collective task here, in the Council of Europe and all together, not to give in to either of these two voices, but to try to build another one. We must think about our objectives, such as a space for freedoms and rights in our world as it is, with questions that seem simple, but are precisely the questions that we need to address. For instance, how do we protect our fellow citizens from terrorism at the same time we preserve their individual rights and freedoms? How do we defend freedom of expression while hate speech is spreading? How do we respond to the increasing violence in our societies while making our democracies stronger? How do we protect the right to asylum while responding to the legitimate demand of control of migratory flows? What new rights do we need to build in the digital age, the age of artificial intelligence, in a world where human life is increasingly dematerialized? These are some of the questions that we must face here, together with others, and there are no easy answers.

In my view, the challenge is to give proper grounding, a factual historical reality to the building of rights and freedoms. For all of those who no longer believe in this, we need counter arguments, and we need to look at the building that we have made moving on from illusions and other wrongful ideas. The challenge we face is to make our democracies stronger by rediscovering the very meaning of what makes us Europeans. The conviction — and, above all, the demonstration — that our strength in the face of the transformations of the world lies, not in the weakening, but in the defense of our rights and freedoms. This requires, first of all, clarity of mind. It is always easier to criticise liberal democracies than authoritarian regimes. Always easier. You can perfectly well criticize liberal democracies, and even more so, liberal democracies that ratify the most treaties. We can criticise all we want in liberal democracies that authorize it. But, let us beware the risks of falling into the trap of the illiberals and the authoritarian regimes. No, it's not the same thing to maintain public order than to repress a demonstration. It is not the same thing to protect one's borders than to undermine the right to asylum. It is not the same thing to fight against hate speech and misinformation than to restrict freedom of expression and opinion.

Let us be careful with the accuracy of our language, the precision in the analysis of facts. I say this for all of us: democracies can run out of steam if there is confusion in our minds. That is why we all must show great responsibility, lets avoiding any shortcuts. It also requires courage to confront these great challenges, in each of our countries, and we must accept to have a debate here in the Council of Europe. I want to mention a couple of examples where we have had discussions and even criticism in this House. Criticism is valuable to democratic dialogue, and to the very construction of our rights. As for the answer, it isn't entirely here, in our respective countries, that are being discussed, criticized or judged. It is in this dialogue, in the existence of this dialogue and in the dialectic it produces. The first question, which I have mentioned briefly, is the fight against terrorism in a democracy. I mentioned it two years ago, before the European Court of Human Rights. There is no distinction between protecting our societies against terrorism and defending our rights and freedoms. It is one and the same fight, since in fact, what the terrorists want is to destroy these rights and these freedoms in our societies, our way of living. The goal is, therefore, to make our democracies stronger against terrorism, while strengthening the guarantee of rights for our fellow citizens. It is the very notion of safety, that should never be confused with obsession with security.

It was in this spirit that the law to strengthen domestic security and fight against terrorism, from November 1st 2017, was prepared, debated and adopted in France. It enabled France, first, to put an end to the state of emergency and return to the confines of the European Convention on Human Rights, by abandoning the mechanism provided by Article 15. I could answer all the questions that arise with this subject, but I believe that this law has allowed us to return to ordinary law, to respond to the challenges we were faced with because of terrorism in our societies, and to protect the safety of all peoples. The second example I wanted to mention is the issue of maintaining order in our democracies. Like other countries, France is facing profound changes in terms of public demonstrations in our streets. And again, there can be no shortcuts, no confusion, when addressing this issue. Therefore, let me say before this house: that we have looked very carefully at the work of the Council of Europe on the use of certain so-called intermediate weapons.

The Government has responded in detail and publicly to the comments of the Commissioner for Human Rights. But it is true, also, that this new situation, that this unprecedented violence we have been confronted with, which might not have started yesterday, but is something that has been developing over the course of the past ten years in France as in other countries, must lead us to rethink our own Organization with great humility, pragmatism and commitment to all our principles. This situation implies, therefore, a deep reflection on the means to respond to these new forms of violence. Again, without using any shortcuts or simply pointing at each other, starting with the forces of order, whose very reason is to preserve the public space so freedom of expression can be exercised. If we fail, it is the freedom of manifestation itself that would be challenged. That is why I asked my government to take into account all the observations made by the Commissioner for Human Rights, but also all the discussions that have taken place here by human rights defenders. All of this in order to rethink and propose a new doctrine, which is currently being developed. This new doctrine of homeland security and public order will be debated, made public and it will be transparent. The third example is the fight against misinformation. The recent elections, notably the European elections, have shown the existence of massive campaigns to disseminate false information, intended to change the normal course of the electoral process. While the civil and criminal responsibilities of the authors of false information could be sought on the basis of pre-existing laws, we must note that they are still deeply insufficient — in France as in many other States. For instance, how can we quickly withdrawal the contents online, to avoid their spread and the distortion of the democratic exercise?

The law of December 22nd 2018, thus imposed an obligation of transparency on Internet platforms, in order to facilitate the work of law enforcement authorities to detect and to better inform users about the identity of advertising content broadcasters. This is just one example, and this work must continue, but it shows how much we need to think about a form of democratic public order in the Internet. Preserving, of course, freedom of expression and freedom of information. But this new space, of the Internet and social networks, has been conceived, thought, as a new space where our primary values ​​do not have to be respected. Imagine: we had to respond in recent months after what happened in New Zealand, a response against terrorism on the Internet, that was held in Paris in the month of May, and was comforted a few days ago in New York. There is no public order today in social networks and the Internet, I say this to those who legitimately defend freedom. There is no freedom without public order. Liberty, as Montaigne said, is a freedom which is expressed through the laws of the sovereign. There is no absolute freedom, that would be expressed in the denial of the freedom of all the others: it does not exist. It is, however, what we are experiencing today. Freedom is not the freedom of the anonymous author who would utter the worst hate speech, the worst disinformation. That is not what freedom is about. It's the appearance of freedom, but It's the opposite. So, this being the point, we also have to reconcile opposing points of view.

The fourth example, and I will stop here, is the control of migratory flows and the protection of the right of asylum. The right of asylum is now threatened in Europe by the speeches of those who want to confuse everything, who believe that Europe must barricade itself behind walls, and no longer welcome those fleeing from war and persecution, who need our protection. The French Constitution, since the end of the Second World War, and as our constitutional text here at the Council of Europe, carries the right to asylum, that is to say the protection of freedom fighters. This is one of our most fundamental achievements. It's part of who we are and it was invented here, in this continent. However, If we are not able to respond effectively to the migratory challenge, if we do not have the courage to face the demand for control expressed by our fellow citizens, if we do not have the clarity to see that, in many cases, asylum applications come from deeply safe countries — some of which are in the process of opening negotiations with the European Union, or with whom we have complete freedom of movement, and that today demand asylum —asylum is obviously subject to distortion. If we fail to remember this, I don't think we would be entirely honest with ourselves. We would not be honest with our laws, with the principles of this right, and with what our people are telling us. If we let the right of asylum become object of diversion, of human trafficking, it will disappear.

And it is not the democrats who will make disappear. It will be authoritarians, elected by people because they are afraid, and they think "these people are not serious about our rights, they mix up everything and protect us from nothing". Our peoples, by choosing to protect the freedom fighters of the world, have not decided to abolish all borders. And this has been decided legitimately, so they want to continue to decide as sovereignly. Sovereignty sets boundaries and respect for the law. This is the reason why France, domestically and at European and international levels, is subscribing to a comprehensive agenda for major migratory flows. Which do not affect Europe first and foremost; but Africa and within Africa itself. We must have a responsible development policy, a policy to fight against all forms of trafficking, but also we need to protect the respect for our European borders. That is what a European public order is about, we need a harmonization of our rules. Here too, we must improve our own Organization. On each of these topics, I want to make you feel, deep down, what I would call the ethical tension that comes through our democracies. And that makes your work — our work —, undoubtedly, deeply original and historic. I believe that our generation, no longer has to just build progress of rights everywhere in Europe. That is, the advance of rights, of the common ground that we built, towards countries that had not yet accepted them and, therefore, to push a geographical extension of these rights, or simply to create new rights. No, now we also have to deal with this tension, the new phenomena that come to play in our societies. Because these phenomena are as radical as terrorism, so profoundly new as the migratory fact, in its scale and characteristics, so profoundly unseen technologically as social networks and the Internet, that we must rethink our Organization without taking any shortcuts. I think it's our job. This Assembly is not an assembly of legal experts. With all due respect to lawyers and judges, who have their role to play.

We have political work to carry out in the most noble sense of the term, which is, basically, to fulfil, in the public sphere, the purpose of ethical thinking. So we have to think about these borderline situations, this new framework, without no shortcuts, never forgetting where we are from and what is happening all around us. These are some of the convictions I wanted to share with you, ladies and gentlemen, dear friends, before answering your questions.

We need unity, lucidity, but we also need to think about this new framework, this new paradigm. I believe that is the challenge of our Council, this Assembly, the Committee of Ministers, the Court. This is the challenge that is also posed by artificial intelligence. I do not want to be long, but it is something that we also must address in all European jurisdictions. This challenge is historic. This is the challenge of Europe, and it is a challenge that we must face together.

I was rereading, while preparing my intervention, some texts to try to think about what most characterizes, deep down, this Great Europe that our Organization embodies. Undoubtedly, one is the ability to meet these challenges, which we see, have incomplete and unequivocal answers everywhere else in the world. We have taken that on board, assuming the tensions I have just mentioned. I found a text from 1992, in a book directed by Koslowski, called "Imagine Europe". A book written by one of my masters, to which I owe a lot, Paul Ricoeur. He called it "a new ethos for Europe". I wanted to end my remarks with a few ideas that illustrate the debates we have had in recent months, and those that will guide us in the coming months. Basically, he was trying to qualify Europe. He said that there are three pillars. It's a model of translation. I have often mentioned it, citing Umberto Eco: "The European language is that of translation". It is true that what characterizes our Great Europe — this Assembly illustrates it marvellously — is, basically, this form of linguistic hospitality which consists in accepting all the languages ​​of Europe. And no continent — look at the map — has such a concentration of languages, cultures, and thus has accepted the translation. Translation is accepting the other with his differences and welcoming it in my language. It is not a dream of Esperanto, that would reduce all differences; it is the capacity for hospitality and, therefore, to accept our dissonances, our differences. Even if they are — and especially if they are — momentary. Then, he said, it is a "model of exchanges of memory". Basically, Europe is not just a reconciliation of memories — and we can see that in frozen conflicts. The divisions that there may have been in this House have shown, there are memories that are still fractured, divided. But in Europe, at least, there is an exchange of memories. That is to say that they talk to each other.

Many would have us believe that there is a frozen European identity. Sometimes, even, some say there is a frozen European way of life, as if it were established. I believe very deeply that there is, above all, in Europe, to paraphrase Ricoeur, what I would call a narrative identity. There is a common history that we share together. Sometimes we have different versions, but we talk to each other, we write it together. It is a dialogue, it is made of controversies, and these controversies will continue, and therefore this exchange of memories is irreducible. This is why the Observatory of History Education, which we strongly support, is to me, in this essential undertaking, one of our fundamental roles and, in particular, it is for your Assembly. Finally, he said it is "a model of forgiveness", Europe. When we have had so many wars, when we have divided so much, there is a moment when the Spartan decree must apply. It is forbidden to recall the words of the past, you have a duty to remember, towards history, but also, at some point, a duty to forget. Not an oblivion that erases traces, but an oversight that allows you to live together.

This model of forgiveness is constitutive of who we are. That means to regulate things, but to have what I will call the intelligence of the future. Because we have to live together. This is Europe, its inevitability our treasure. We have to live together and we are here together. These were, ladies and gentlemen, some convictions that I wanted to share with you. This Great Europe is being made here, sometimes in this division, in its traumas. We forget too often in the time we live that controversy is essential, it is deeply democratic. The incessant controversy will not weaken us. On the contrary: it is one of the great luxuries of democracy and the rule of law. Long live. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much.

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER (Switzerland), SOC, President of the Assembly (translation)

Thank you very much, Mr President, for painting a complete picture of past successes, present-day concerns and the challenges of the future.

And I think we have listened with great interest to your speech, your convictions, which we share.

I hope we live up to the courage shown by the pioneers in defense of European humanism.

Earlier you alluded to the questions that were going to be put to you, and I do not hide anything from you by saying that 87 people have registered on the list to ask you these questions. I think there will be a lot of frustration and, therefore, I would like to suggest that you actually listen to five questions.

Five questions posed by the spokespersons of the five political groups, to which you will answer afterwards, I am very sorry for the others.

I give the floor to Mrs BAKOYANNIS, on behalf of the PPE Group.

Ms Theodora BAKOYANNIS (Greece), EPP/CD, Spokesperson for the group (translation)

Mister President,

Welcome. Congratulations on your speech.

You talked about the migration crisis. I am Greek, and in my opinion, we are facing a new great crisis. During the three summer months, 20,000 people arrived on the Greek islands via Turkey. It is very clear that Turkey makes no effort to stop this flow, on the contrary, it facilitates this migratory flow.

Turkey is putting pressure on Europe for financial reasons — it wants a new agreement —, it wants Europe to accept its policy in Syria, and for there to be no reaction to the flagrant violation of sovereign rights in the exclusive economic zone of Cyprus.

What, Mr President, will be the policy of France on this subject, where everyone agrees that burden sharing is necessary for a common and united European policy?

Thank you very much.

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER (Switzerland), SOC, President of the Assembly (translation)

I give the floor, afterwards, to the five spokespeople, so that you may be able to regroup some answers. I give the floor to Mr. SCHWABE for the Socialist Group.

Mr Frank SCHWABE (Germany), SOC, Spokesperson for the group (translation)

Thank you, President.

I would like to express my sincere thanks for the French Presidency of the Council of Europe.

You have led this Council of Europe into a new era. Russia is back, but we have agreed that we will create a new mechanism to deal with the countries that do not follow the rules here. I can only encourage you to continue on this path consistently.

I'd like to follow on to what Ms BAKOYANNIS has said. I think it is a disgrace that we in Europe are allowing people in the Mediterranean to die. We have 928 people have died so far this year in the Mediterranean, and more will no doubt die. My question is: How are we going to move forward with this? German Chancellor Merkel has proposed the creation of a new EU mission, a state-owned maritime rescue service, so I want to ask how France feels about it.

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER (Switzerland), SOC, President of the Assembly (translation)

The next question is put by Mr LIDDELL-GRAINGER for the Conservative Group.

Mr Ian LIDDELL-GRAINGER (United Kingdom), EC, Spokesperson for the group

Thank you, Madame President.

Mr President, you said in your speech -- you mentioned a couple of countries -- and I am very grateful for that, but imagine if a member state that has invaded two other members and said it would execute its citizens on the Council of Europe soil and has committed serious violations of the Convention of Human Rights, and yet continues to have the full support of the "grand payeur" countries.

You said you would not, as a country, exclude a member state from the Council of Europe. Then what is the threshold of violations that would result in France -- France -- calling for such an expulsion?

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER (Switzerland), SOC, President of the Assembly (translation)

For the Liberal Group, I call Mr DAEMS.

Mr Hendrik DAEMS (Belgium), ALDE, Spokesperson for the group (translation)

Mister President,

Thank you for your important and motivating comments.

But I have a very specific question: will your new approach to dialogue with Moscow change France's position on the illegal annexation of Crimea? More concretely, will you sooner or later accept the annexation of Crimea by Russia?

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER (Switzerland), SOC, President of the Assembly (translation)

Thank you. The last question is put by Mr KOX for the United European Left.

Mr Tiny KOX (Netherlands), UEL, Spokesperson for the group

Mr President,

May I first thank you and Madame de Montchalin for the great help France gave to get this organisation back on track again. Thank you very much. M erci beaucoup.

Do you agree with -- could you agree with -- me that the next major step that we should take is the accession of the European Union to the European Convention of Human Rights so that we indeed can strengthen the whole system of human rights, the rule of law and democracy. As you know, in the Lisbon Treaty it is already agreed, but it has taken ten years, so can we again count on France as the main advocate for a quick accession to the Convention, as Madame de Montchalin also favoured in her introduction speech yesterday?

Thank you very much.

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER (Switzerland), SOC, President of the Assembly (translation)

Thank you. Mr Speaker, you have the floor.


Thank you very much, Madam President.

Thank you for having spoken in French, Madam Bakoyannis, I am very grateful for that. And thank you for your comments.

I am, of course, fully aware of the difficult period Greece is going through. It's true to say that we've seen a surge in migration here and the problems are focused primarily in the Eastern Mediterranean. You are quite right in saying that. And you are also right in saying that Turkey is, or could be, using this is a means of applying pressure. Let me start by stressing that I don't think it would be right for us to cede to such pressure.

I think we have to work with Turkey. In 2015-2016 we negotiated with Turkey, and those negotiations led to an agreement that we must comply with. That agreement doesn't call for additional measures at this stage. At the same time, I don't believe that our agenda in Syria should be dictated by this pressure from Turkey.

We have agreements regarding the situation in northeastern Syria and we've reached an agreement in Turkey. And within the Istanbul Process, Germany, France, Russia, Turkey, and the United Nations have been working together to secure progress on that. So I am very much committed to that agreement.

With regard to migration policy, you talked about the need for burden sharing; this is essential, and it must be an important part of our reforms of the migration policy. The setting up of the European Commission must enable us to accelerate the speed of this now.

We've seen the effect of the migratory crisis in Greece, and indeed in Italy – not over the last few months when the numbers of migrants have been considerably smaller, but think back to Mare Nostrum, the operation set up back in 2015, when the migratory flows were at their height.

At that time, there was a severe lack of European solidarity and this European solidarity is still sorely lacking. What we need is a European policy focusing on the needs and on the situation in the countries of origin. We've been talking about the borders on the Eastern Mediterranean, but we have a genuine need for Europe-wide coordination on this issue.

Secondly, we need an effective European policy that enables us to protect our borders. Border protection cannot simply be seen as the responsibility of the first countries of entry. France has committed to increasing funding for Frontex and increasing new staff for that agency. But we have to do more. We also have to share the cost of protecting our borders.

Personally, I believe this whole debate on balancing responsibility and duties has to be addressed in a different way. The number of countries which were welcoming refugees – called the second countries of entry – were in effect placing the responsibility on the initial countries of entry. So I think we have to step up our sense of financial responsibility to the initial places of arrival of refugees.

If somebody who comes from outside Europe is registered in Eurodac, we use the word "migrant", but I do not like the word migrant because it covers so many different forms of reality. We all have to share responsibility in dealing with these individuals, not just the country of entry. Otherwise, we end up with a situation where the inflows will be unacceptable for the initial country of origin and inhumane for so many of these refugees.

So the first requirement for me is to work towards genuine European solidarity, which is something that is far from complete. The cost of integration has to be shared by the whole of Europe, which will enable all countries to cooperate together. Thirdly, we have to improve procedures within the Schengen area, in particular for refugees, and the measures we can use to support refugees.

So, once again, not only do we have to reduce the burden of the initial countries of origin but also we have to reduce these non-managed flows. Human traffickers take advantage of our short-comings and imperfections to exploit the dreams of people who have no hope of achieving asylum. You see people coming and spending three to four years in Europe, from countries which are safe, and in many many cases, they can't even go back to their countries of origin or they find themselves living deplorable living conditions. At the same time, we have people who are entitled to asylum — they also pay the price for this because they will also have to wait three to four years before they can benefit from the protection they are entitled to. In the meantime, they live in terrible conditions.

We have to have a genuine European policy to take migrants back to their countries. That's also a condition for the success of our system. So, yes, we do have to find a more effective way of sharing the burden. We need a Europe-wide, a genuine European mechanism for sharing the cost of this, and we also have to ensure that we have a genuinely shared, uniform approach to asylum policy.

Thank you, Sir, for your comments. You talked about the rescue mechanism at sea, which is another strand of the migration policy. This concerns the central Mediterranean and Libian zone in particular. I've never wanted to get caught up in discussions about figures. Every human life that is lost in the Mediterranean is a shame for each and every one of us, and that's even more the case if it's due to our collective failings.

We have clear responsibilities here. First of all, to avoid playing into the hands of networks of human traffickers. They are the first culprits of what is happening; they promise young people – young adults or young children – living in Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea, Senegal, Mali or elsewhere, that their future can only be built in Europe, so they travel across the Sahara, the Sahel, and in many cases spend many months living in Libya, before risking their lives trying to cross the Mediterranean.

So we have to lead a merciless battle against these organised groups. We've been working in cooperation with the UNHCR and the International Office of Migration and the African Union to try to tackle this problem of these inhumane and degrading conditions in which people are forced to live in Lybia.

Last July, after the Helsinki meeting, it was in France that the Interior and Foreign Affairs Ministers, together with UNHCR and IOM, came together to condemn the strikes against refugee camps while at the same time, as we did at the end of 2017, establishing conditions to make it possible for those whose request for asylum was received to return safely to their country of origin, together with the support they needed. This initiative we launched on 28 August 2017, working together with a series of transit countries from Africa. Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister Gentiloni and several other European leaders supported this. The most important priority is to support those who are entitled to asylum and we have to ensure they have a safe place in transit countries. This is what we did with Niger.

When it comes to mechanisms for rescue at sea, in many ways it's too late. That is, once refugees try to cross the sea, it's too late. However, we've adopted a series of simple principles. The right to assistance and international maritime law must be respected in the sense that the nearest port should receive those boats. France has taken its share of refugees in recent months. Moreover, we've taken more than anybody else despite the fact that our ports aren't necessarily the nearest or the safest. I refuse to abandon that rule.

This is the rule which has prevailed over the last few months, despite efforts to play political games with this. So we adopted a mechanism, which was established back in July by the ministers – first in Helsinki and then in Paris – regarding maritime search and rescue operations. And this is what Chancellor Merkel supported, as well as eight other countries. Some of the countries have refused to live up to their political commitments, I want to emphasise that. So, as far as this European maritime rescue operation is concerned, we have to share responsibility via the Commission. That's what we agreed on in July and that's the only way to solve this humanitarian problem.

As I said, once again, if things reach that stage it's already too late. If we do find an effective way of sharing responsibility and sharing the burden when it comes to helping and dealing with refugees, that problem of distributing refugees will no longer arise; it will be solved by shared responsibility and solidarity.

At the same time, we also have to find a way of finding permanent settlement for those entitled to asylum. This requires, once again, solidarity within the Schengen area. My personal belief is those who do not want to comply with this duty of solidarity should be excluded from the Schengen zone. That makes perfect sense in my view. The Schengen zone is an area of freedom of movement, which brings with it certain obligations.

As far as your next question is concerned – in fact, several of your questions were quite similar – the next two questions pertained to Russia. The first question, Sir, was related to limitations. I don't for a moment underestimate the indignation which many feel when a member state of this Council invades another member. The question we have to ask ourselves is what we can achieve with our decisions. We should never forget that. So the decisions we take must be legally watertight. So, would a decision taken by the Parliamentary Assembly alone have been fully watertight, legally speaking? I think probably not.

Secondly, we have to evaluate the consequences. Would any such decision have an impact on Russia's invasion of Ukraine or potential consequences elsewhere? I think it's clear that it wouldn't. One of the consequences might have been Russia simply leaving the Council of Europe. And that, in my view, would have been very much against the intentions of those taking such a decision. If the Russian Federation were to have left the Council of Europe, that would have meant that Russian nationals would no longer be able to access the European Court to defend their rights, including against their government.

So, let me say that I understand your indignation, but I think that the decision initially made wouldn't have actually been effective in translating that indignation into reality. As a result, I think you made the right choice.

Now, the question of limits – and clearly the new joint approach will be subject to limits – which I can tell you I support fully, as I said. The question we have to ask is what will be instigated. We have to ensure the limits are directly connected to the effective consequences of what we do. Otherwise, this does not make sense. If sanctions mean that countries would no longer pay and those countries would no longer be able to enforce their rights, that's surely not what we're trying to achieve with a country that is not cooperating.

Therefore, I believe that the sovereignty of member states, members of the Council of Europe, is inviolable. And, in practical terms, the limit has already been crossed, and so the question now is what can we do to ensure our legal and political decisions are watertight? I think that we can do this, that we have the institutions, we have the work of the Parliamentary Assembly, the work of the Committee of Ministers, the work of the Court and, of course, the role of the European Union.

In this specific case, France wanted to use the European Union and its bilateral agreements to establish mechanisms to sanction the country in question. We believe that's more effective. And that's also what we decided to do via the Minsk Agreements and the Normandy Process, which I believe is the most effective way forward. But that does not mean that we are neither naive nor that we're turning a blind eye or pretending that a red line hasn't been crossed. But I would apply the same logic here as I would for other borderline cases. How can we act effectively and efficiently? There's no point in taking ineffective or counterproductive action.

On the other question regarding Ukraine: the Minsk Agreements, and nothing more. Our position has not changed at all. Our position, when it comes to reinitiating dialogue with Russia, is also the direct result of our historical and geographic circumstances, but we can't establish a dialogue of confidence if we're not honest and lucid. This is why we have a need for the Minsk Agreements. We've continued to try to secure progress with Chancellor Merkel and Presidents Zelenski and Putin. In the coming weeks, we will have a summit with Heads of State and Government in Normandy, and hopefully, that meeting will enable us to further build on the agreement we reached this summer. We reached an important agreement on a prisoner exchange.

We now need to move forward on the basis of the so-called Steinmeier compromise, or formula, so as to move towards the implementation of these Minsk agreements, on the contact line, Donbas, Crimea, and other topics. And I think that's a decision we have a duty to take.

Finally, I'd like to confirm the full support of France for EU accession to the Convention. This is something I touched on in my speech and, as a minister underlined yesterday, we fully support this process – without ambiguity.

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER (Switzerland), SOC, President of the Assembly (translation)

Thank you, Mr. President,

Many thanks for these answers and, once again, for the time you have taken to address this Assembly.

Unfortunately, we have to interrupt the series of questions here. I would like to point out to my colleagues that, of course, we will meet again this afternoon for the 70th anniversary ceremony, but that the next sitting of the Assembly will be held tomorrow morning at 10 o'clock, in accordance with the order of the day of this part-session.

The meeting is adjourned.