Committee of Ministers Chairmanship – Luxembourg: May - November 2002 

Communication by Lydie Polfer on the activities of the Committee of Ministers

Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg
Chair of the Committee of Ministers

Questions and answers

(Strasbourg, 25 June 2002)

THE PRESIDENT. – We thank the Chairman-in-Office of the Committee of Ministers for her most interesting speech and for presenting us with the outline of an engaged Luxembourg Chair in the Council of Europe. I hope that you will accept, Madam Minister, our condolences on the death of Mr Pierre Werner, the former Prime Minister, who was a member of this Assembly in the 1970s. In him, Luxembourg and Europe have lost an outstanding person and a dedicated European.
We now come to parliamentary questions for oral answer. I remind the Assembly that the Minister will answer questions only from those members who are present.
Fourteen questions have been tabled. They are contained in Document 9498. There are no direct links between the questions and we will therefore take them one by one.
I will invite Mrs Polfer to give an answer to each question in the document and then call the member concerned to ask a supplementary question. All supplementaries are limited to thirty seconds sharp, in accordance with the guidelines printed on page 102 of the Rules of Procedure.
Any questions that are not reached in the time available will receive a written answer, which will be published in the official report.
The first question is No. 1, tabled by Mr Atkinson.
“Question No. 1:
Mr Atkinson,
To ask the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers,
If she will make a statement on the prospects for a Third Council of Europe Summit.”

THE PRESIDENT. – I call Mrs Polfer to answer that question.

Mrs POLFER thanked the President for expressing his condolences, which would be passed on to Mr Werner’s family and to the Luxembourg government. She said that Luxembourg had a very open attitude in relation to the proposal for a Council of Europe Summit and wished to produce a consensus that would be agreeable to all members and member state governments. The programme and dates for any such summit needed to be organised and this would have to be discussed with the governments. The Council of Ministers was waiting for the outcome of the following day’s debate on the future of co-operation between European institutions, which would undoubtedly impact upon the plans for any summit. The principal difficulty at present was creating consensus on this issue.

THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you. I call Mr Atkinson to ask his supplementary question.

Mr ATKINSON (United Kingdom). – Madam Minister, in your written communication to us, you have said that any decision to hold a Council of Europe summit will be taken in November, which will be less than a year from when this Assembly is likely to recommend that it should be held, which would be autumn 2003. I put it to you that, should the European Union convention make recommendations to the intergovernmental conference that might threaten areas of our competence or undermine our assets, such as the Strasbourg Court, it would be more prudent for us to agree a date much sooner than this November for a Council of Europe summit.

Mrs POLFER said that she would do her best to secure an early decision, but she needed to respect the tight schedule of the Convention. She would try and achieve a consensus as soon as possible.

THE PRESIDENT. – The next question is from Mr Hovhannisyan.

“Question No. 2:
Mr Hovhannisyan,
Recalling the Vilnius Declaration on Regional Co-operation and the Consolidation of Democratic Stability in Greater Europe, in which the Council of Europe’s Ministers of Foreign Affairs stressed the importance of regional co-operation as a factor for consolidating democratic stability in various parts of the European continent,

Recalling the conclusions of the Chair of the Committee of Ministers at the end of the third tripartite UN/OSCE/Council of Europe meeting, stating that regional co-operation between Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia would facilitate efforts to find a solution to conflicts in the region,
Emphasising that the Council of Europe does much to develop a regional approach in its co-operation programmes,
Supporting with the fullest commitment these regional co-operation activities but noting, with regret, that the Azerbaijan authorities are placing difficulties in the way of such co-operation,
Welcoming the forthcoming visit of the current Chairman of the Committee of Ministers to Armenia and the other countries of the southern Caucasus,
To ask the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers,
Whether it is her intention during this visit to take practical steps in conjunction with the authorities of these countries to encourage the development of regional co-operation programmes in the Council of Europe’s spheres of activity.”

Mrs POLFER replied that she planned to encourage Council of Europe programmes in regional co-operation. She noted that the question made reference to the current work of the Council of Europe. This had been important for those living in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. She planned a visit to the Caucasus countries in July and was also talking to other ministers for foreign affairs to urge them to support an end to the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which had been allowed to go on too long.

THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you. I call Mr Hovhannisyan to ask his supplementary question.

Mr HOVHANNISYAN (Armenia) said that he was satisfied with the answer and awaited Mrs Polfer’s arrival in the Caucasus with interest. Perhaps it would lead to a new push forward for peace in the region.

THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you. The next question is from Mr Čekuolis.

“Question No. 3:
Mr Čekuolis,
To ask the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers,
What is her opinion on the recent conflict between the Belarus authorities and the OSCE, and how this conflict could influence relations between the Council of Europe and Belarus.”

Mrs POLFER replied that all member states of the Council of Europe were also members of the OSCE, so Belarus could not ask for retaliatory action against the OSCE on the part of the Council of Europe. The Council of Europe could only support the OSCE and its AMG group. “Forum shopping” should be avoided and the OSCE agreed with this view. The report by Mr Behrendt endorsed this.

THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you. I call Mr Čekuolis to ask his supplementary question.

Mr ČEKUOLIS (Lithuania). – Thank you. I am fully satisfied with that answer.

THE PRESIDENT. – In that case, we can move to the next question.

“Question No. 4:
Mr Landsbergis,
To ask the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers,
What is the likelihood that the Committee of Ministers may overcome Russian restrictions, which exploit the principle of consensus, on any independent activities by the Committee of Ministers to stop the killings, tortures and rapes constantly perpetrated by the Russian military on the civilian population in the Republic of Chechnya.”

Mrs POLFER replied that the continuing efforts on the part of the Council of Europe to re-establish the rule of law in Chechnya appeared on the agenda of the Committee of Ministers at least once a month. The mandate of the Council of Europe expert was to help implement the improvement of the governmental and judicial system at local and regional level, working with various officials; to develop education, especially civic education and to contribute to the Unesco project to improve education in the Russian Federation; and to provide psychological support to women and children who had suffered trauma. The President of the Russian Federation was expected soon to appoint a new representative to the Committee of Ministers who would be very important in this process.

THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you. I call Mr Landsbergis to ask his supplementary question.

Mr LANDSBERGIS (Lithuania). – My idea was to consider ways of coping with ineffective routine in the Committee of Ministers, concerning the office of mail services and extensions of mandates, and how we can change the style and become truly active in our efforts to stop atrocities. Luxembourg, which is not the greatest consumer of gas, is more independent of Russia than many other countries. If you can, please make the Committee of Ministers more efficient, despite Russia’s continued power of veto.

Mrs POLFER. – We are well aware that the situation is very difficult and I hope that the new mission, whose representatives we expect to be nominated very soon, will be more effective and take a more severe attitude towards what is happening in Chechnya, which is certainly a most problematic area for us.

THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you. The next question is from Ms Severinsen.

“Question No. 5:
Ms Severinsen,
Noting the failure of the Committee of Ministers to comply with the recommendation of the Parliamentary Assembly regarding Ukraine; and noting the statement of the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers at the first part-session in January 2002 that the Committee ‘continues to follow closely the investigation into the disappearance and death of Mr Georgiy Gongadze. Further progress in this investigation is essential. The Committee of Ministers reiterates to Ukrainian authorities the importance of conducting a full and transparent investigation of the case and reminds member states’ governments of their call for international assistance in this regard’,
To ask the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers,
Why the Committee of Ministers has not succeeded as regards the aims of the request in Recommendation 1538 Article 3, namely to initiate a new investigation into the disappearance and death of Mr Gongadze and to set up an independent commission of inquiry, including international investigators for this purpose;
What has been done by the Ukrainian Government and other bodies since January 2002,
And whether any member state has offered technical assistance in order to set up an international investigation.”

Mrs POLFER replied that the investigation in Ukraine into the death of Mr Gongadze was being monitored by the Committee of Ministers with great attention. The Committee continued to believe that a full and transparent inquiry into the event must be held and had made this view clear to Ukraine. In June 2001 Ukraine had asked for help in identifying a body found near the Russian border, a discovery which might be of significance in relation to this case.

At the start of April the German Government had offered expert assistance to the Ukranian authorities. However, there had been a mix-up and the offer had not been received. The Ukranian authorities hoped that the enquiry would continue and several member states had indicated a willingness to provide staff for an investigative committee. The problem was that Ukranian law did not allow for such a committee. This might change following the recent elections to the Ukranian Parliament which might lead to judicial reforms. However, there was no doubt that this had been a missed opportunity. It appeared that the Public Prosecutor could have taken action in the summer of 2001 but neither the Ukranian authorities nor the Council of Ministers had at that time pushed for such action.

THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you. I call Ms Severinsen.

Ms SEVERINSEN (Denmark). – Thank you for a clear answer. May I take it that Council of Europe countries and the United States offered assistance with forensic investigation and prosecutions? Ukraine asked for assistance, but it has said that its legislation forbids that. The only way to resolve that is to tell the Ukranian authorities to clarify their legislation so that the prosecutor can co-operate with international bodies to end the stalemate.

Mrs POLFER confirmed Ms Severinsen’s understanding of the situation. Help had been offered but the request for assistance had not been specific enough. There were lessons to be learned for the future.

THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you. The next question was tabled by Mr Cox, but he is not here so he loses the right to have his question answered. We therefore come to Question No. 7 from Mr Jurgens.

“Question No. 7:
Mr Jurgens,
Welcoming the Committee of Ministers’ Resolution DH (2002) 59 of 30 April 2002 which urged Turkey to comply with the European Court’s judgment in the Sadak & Zana case by erasing the consequences of the grave violations of the right to a fair trial;
Deploring that, nearly a year after the Court’s judgment and despite the Committee’s and the Assembly’s repeated demands, Turkey has still taken no action to implement the judgment, thus showing disregard of its obligations as a States Party to the Convention and as a member state of the Council of Europe;
Stressing again the particular urgency to ensure compliance with the above-mentioned judgment, as the applicants continue to serve heavy prison sentences imposed through grossly unfair trials,
To ask the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers,

What action the Committee of Ministers plans to take to ensure that Turkey urgently complies with the European Court’s judgment in the Sadak & Zana case, and whether she could inform the Assembly of the progress achieved in time for its next part-session in September 2002.”

Mrs POLFER said that she was pleased to report that the Committee of Ministers had already adopted a resolution which asked Turkey to comply with the European Court’s judgment in the Sadak & Zana case. The Turkish Government had promised to reopen the proceedings in this case but no progress had yet been made. The Committee of Ministers would undertake a further examination of this case at their summer 2002 meeting.

THE PRESIDENT. – I call Mr Jurgens to ask a supplementary question.

Mr JURGENS (Netherlands). – I thank the Minister for her answer. I hope that she agrees that the Assembly condemned the fact that parliamentarians have been imprisoned. The trial was declared unfair by the European Court, so it is odious that people should remain in prison when such a decision has been made. Will the Minister pass that on to the Turkish Government immediately?

Mrs POLFER. – I agree completely. I assure you that next time I see my colleague Ismail Cem I shall personally raise the matter with him.

THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you. We now come to Question No. 8, which was tabled by Lord Russell-Johnston and Baroness Hooper. It is not quite correct that two people should table a question, but only one person be present in the Chamber. However, perhaps I should not be quite so strict, because everyone will say that I am not kind. I shall therefore accept the question, but I will not accept such questions in future. I do not want to set a precedent, because questions should be asked by one person only. If by mistake a question by two people is accepted, both should be in the plenary for it to be answered.

“Question No. 8:
Lord Russell-Johnston, Baroness Hooper,
Recalling the central role of the Council of Europe as one of the major contributors to the education sector in Bosnia and Herzegovina, for example in legislative assistance and in facilitating meetings of the Education Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina; and being informed of the possible transfer of responsibility for education matters in Bosnia and Herzegovina to the OSCE,
To ask the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers,
What future role is foreseen for the Council of Europe in the development of education reforms in Bosnia and Herzegovina.”

THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you. I call Mrs Polfer.

Mrs POLFER said that she could confirm that the Council of Europe had not been involved in the development of the education programme in Bosnia and Herzegovina although they had expected to be involved. The Council of Europe had played some role in education in that area and in fact had given help exceeding that given to other regions. The Council of Europe would continue to offer its expertise and in this respect the Office of the High Representatives had an important role to play.

THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you, Mrs Polfer. Would you like to ask a supplementary question, Baroness Hooper?

Baroness HOOPER (United Kingdom). – Thank you, Mr President, for allowing this important question to be answered. The Chairman-in-Office may wish to know that in a meeting of the Assembly’s Sub-Committee on Youth and Sport this morning, a group of fifty young Bosnians, here for the OSCE successive generations project, discussed this issue and, in particular, the opportunities for higher education in Bosnia. Can she assure us that every effort will be made by the Council of Europe to encourage the Bosnian authorities to ensure that any opportunities for higher education operate fairly and equitably between the different ethnic groups?

Mrs POLFER. – Of course. I can assure you that we will make all efforts.

The PRESIDENT. – Thank you, Mrs Polfer. The next question is No. 9, tabled by Mr R. Huseynov.

“Question No. 9
Mr R. Huseynov,

Taking into account the ongoing research on preparation of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons in Armenia in active collaboration with Iran and Russia, and the placement of the research laboratories in the occupied Daglig Garabakh region and other lands of the Republic of Azerbaijan, which leaves that research beyond the international control;
Noting that the US State Department has recently issued new sanctions against several companies involved in nuclear technological innovations, including Armenian companies situating their operation centres in the occupied Azerbaijani territories;
Noting also the confirmation of Armenia’s conductance of toxicological and nuclear research in several international reports and official statements, including the opening of the offices of the Russian “NELK”, “MOSKOM”, TERNA” JS, “SVV” companies, engaged in nuclear and laser technological research, in Armenia and the occupied Azerbaijani lands in April of 2002;
Taking into account that a number of Armenian companies are engaged in trafficking nuclear technology and substances and materials of the strategic-military aerospace industry to third parties, and do so through the uncontrolled occupied territories and in co-operation with nuclear research centres based in the Russian Federation, the People’s Republic of China, etc.;
Noting the fact that the Republic of Armenia being an aggressor state is occupying 20% of another member state to the Council of Europe – the Republic of Azerbaijan;
Taking also into account that the research and commercial operation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons takes place in Armenia, which poses a real threat to the entire world community, because of the fact that the existing Armenian state regime endorses terrorism on the state level by hosting some notorious international terrorist groups, organisations and/or their members,
To ask the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers,
Whether the Council of Europe envisages being involved in the establishment of constant observation of the ongoing research into the preparation of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons in Armenia and the occupied Azerbaijan territories; and why the Council of Europe does not issue sanctions against the Armenian side so rudely defying the principles of international security, for the future security and stability in Europe and respect to the provisions of its Statute.”

THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you. I call Mrs Polfer.

Mrs POLFER replied that issues regarding military and defence matters were beyond the remit of the Council of Europe. This explained why the Council of Europe had had little to say on the subject in the past and why her report had not touched on this issue.

THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you. I call Mr R. Huseynov to ask a supplementary question.

Mr R. HUSEYNOV (Azerbaijan). – The functioning of Armenian nuclear laboratories on the occupied Azerbaijani territories is a matter not only of security but of stability, confidence and the entire future of the region and its population. Do you think that the Council of Europe should take a political position to prevent such dangerous activities by Armenia?

Mrs POLFER. – I look forward to visiting Armenia and Azerbaijan next month, and I will happily discuss this matter again with you in September.

THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you. The next question is tabled by Mr Marty.

“Question No. 10:
Mr Marty,
Noting that in a judgment of 13 February 2000 in the case of Krombach v. France, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the French procedure for hearing cases in absentia was not in compliance with the Convention, thereby overturning the French assize court’s conviction of Mr Krombach, who lives in Germany, and his sentencing to fifteen years’ imprisonment for the manslaughter of his stepdaughter;
Considering that the victim’s father has drawn the attention of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights to the fact that the Court’s decision would represent a denial of justice for him if there was no fresh hearing,
To ask the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers,
Whether in considering this case, the Committee of Ministers can help to rectify the denial of justice to the victim’s father.”

THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you. I call Mrs Polfer.

Mrs POLFER replied that this was a delicate and complex question. The Court had made its ruling and this spoke for itself. It was not for the Committee of Ministers to interpret the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights. The Committee of Ministers had expressed satisfaction with the Assembly and the Court’s rulings. It was important to avoid any questioning of the Court’s independence.

THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you. I call Mr Marty to ask a supplementary question.

Mr MARTY (Switzerland) said that he agreed with Mrs Polfer about the independence of the courts. However, he maintained that in some circumstances with in absentia cases there could be an objectionable denial of justice.

THE PRESIDENT. – Mrs Polfer does not need to answer the supplementary question.
I call the next question, which is tabled by Mr Gross.

“Question No. 11:
Mr Gross,
Noting that when the Principality of Liechtenstein was admitted to the Council of Europe, doubts were expressed concerning the compatibility between the democratic rights of the people and parliament on the one hand, and the position of the Prince on the other;
Considering that the new draft Constitution, which has received strong backing from the Prince himself, seems to be raising this same question,
To ask the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers,
If the considerable extension of the Prince’s rights as provided for in the draft Constitution is still compatible with the Statute of the Council of Europe.”

THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you. I call Mrs Polfer.

Mrs POLFER stated that her predecessor was perhaps better placed to answer this question and possibly Mr Gross could ask her predecessor when he saw him. At present this was a draft constitution and negotiations were continuing in Liechtenstein. As such it was premature to give a view on this matter. The sovereignty of member countries needed to be respected. The Committee had met the Prince of Liechtenstein the day before to discuss a possible solution. However, the final text of the proposed constitution in Liechtenstein would be subject to approval in a referendum.

THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you. Before I give you the floor, Mr Gross, to ask your supplementary question, will you explain why you are sitting in place No. 154?

Mr GROSS (Switzerland). – I am a Substitute, Mr President.

THE PRESIDENT. – To the person who normally sits in that place?

Mr GROSS (Switzerland). – No, to a colleague from Luxembourg.

THE PRESIDENT. – You should sit in the place of the person for whom you are a Substitute. Who are you representing in the Assembly this morning?

Mr GROSS (Switzerland). – Mrs Vermot-Mangold.

THE PRESIDENT. – Then you should sit in her place. Please ask your supplementary question.
Mr GROSS (Switzerland). – Thank you Mr President.
(The speaker continued in French.)
He acknowledged that this was a difficult issue. The draft constitution stated that the Prince was superior to the people and could overrule them. This needed to be addressed.

THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you. I call Mrs Polfer to reply.

Mrs POLFER replied that the Committee of Ministers was considering the way forward on this matter.

THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you. The next question is No. 12.

“Question No. 12:
Mr Goulet,
To ask the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers,
Given the ambitious programme that she has presented to us, how she intends to stimulate and encourage member states to make a more substantial contribution in response to the needs of our Assembly;
Whether she agrees that it is more than time to finish with the zero growth that too many member states, and by no means the smallest, apply to our institution’s budget.”

Mrs POLFER said that she took Mr Goulet’s reference to the ambitious nature of her programme as a compliment. The programme regarding better co-operation between institutions and within institutions could save money. Such cost savings would be beneficial.
She believed that the Council was moving away from the notion of “zero growth” in terms of its budget. States mentioning “zero growth” were not in the majority and even many of them accepted the need for increased contributions. Generally speaking, budgets were limited and spending had to be prioritised.

THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you. I call Mr Goulet. Ah, you are not Mr Goulet. Mr Legendre is sitting in Mr Goulet’s place. I think you should be sitting in place 220. Are you sitting in your own place? According to this list, Mr Goulet should be sitting in place 219. We shall check this out afterwards. I beg your pardon. We come to question No. 13.

“Question No. 13:
Mrs Burbienė,
During the last spring part-session the Assembly expressed its opinion (No. 236) on the “Budget of the Council of Europe for the financial year 2003”. It said in the opinion that calculation of the contribution scales used until now lacked solidarity and recommended that it be reviewed in such a way that GDP per capita would be the basis for estimation;
To ask the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers,
What has been done up till now and what is planned in the near future in this respect.”

Mrs POLFER replied that in June 2001 the Deputies had set up an ad hoc working group to study the revision of the calculation method for contributions to the Council of Europe. This group was open to any interested parties and had been exploring comparative information on the funding of other international organisations. It had held its last meeting in June 2001. The current formula was based on population and GDP figures, with the GDP being the more important, and set minimum contribution levels. It was difficult to establish a new calculation method and no consensus had emerged on revising Resolution 31. In light of this, the chairman of the working group was still exploring alternative solutions.

(Mr Azzolini, Vice-President of the Assembly, took the Chair in place of Mr Schieder.)

THE PRESIDENT (Translation). – Thank you. I call Mrs Burbienė.

Mrs BURBIENĖ (Lithuania). – Thank you, Madam Minister, but I must mention that the Assembly has twice referred to changes to the contribution estimate. In your opinion, what can be the first budget year using the changed estimate?

Mrs POLFER said that she was unable to reply as no consensus had emerged on a new calculation method. She begged leave of the President to not answer the last question, owing to her need to greet the Queen of the Netherlands, who was to arrive shortly.

THE PRESIDENT (Translation). – That brings to an end the questions to Mrs Polfer. I remind members that oral questions not reached will receive a written reply, which will be printed as a supplement tomorrow. I thank Mrs Polfer most warmly on behalf of the Assembly for presenting the communication and for her remarks during questions.