In recent weeks, we sent a number of letters to European policy makers with concrete suggestions how Spain, Germany and others might move ahead in addressing the current Mediterranean migration and rescue crisis. Here is a summary of some of the concrete things that we suggested in these letters (and in a few meetings):
– A strong joint commitment to sea rescues. There are two main arguments:
o It is unacceptable to let people drown who might be saved with more effort. In June 2018 – the first month with Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini – more people drowned than in any June in the past decade!
o While it is crucial to send more rescue boats this is not in itself enough to reduce deaths. The deadliest six-month period in the Mediterranean was actually the period May-October 2014, when Italy was fully engaged in its ambitious rescue mission (Mare Nostrum): then, in six months, more than 3,000 people died on the way to Italy. (The deadliest full year was 2016, this was also the year when most rescues took place.)
– If the goal is to rescue everyone, while discouraging boats from leaving then there are three ways to achieve this:
o discourage people who have no need of protection from coming, by sending a clear message that those who do not need international protection will be returned to their countries of origin quickly, following a fair but fast asylum procedure.
o work with transit states that stop boats leaving (as Spain did with Senegal in 2006 and with Morocco since; as Italy and the EU have done, much more problematically, with the Libyan coast guard since early 2017; or as the EU and some members have done working with Niger to stop smugglers taking people through the Sahara).
o send back people who are rescued to North Africa, or to some “processing platforms”, as Matteo Salvini, Viktor Orban and Sebastian Kurz have long advocated as an “Australian solution”, modelled on Nauru; an option the last EU council requested should be studied. This is both highly problematic legally (and morally) and completely impractical. When some European leaders present such platforms as their proposal what they really appear to want is a thin cover for push-backs to Africa.
This first option is by far the best. It presents a real humane alternative to Salvini’s current approach – practically, legally, politically. It combines control and empathy, sea rescues and returns and should be able to get the necessary support of democratic majorities of publics in countries like Spain and Germany.
Can such a strategy be implemented? Yes, it can. This would require three concrete measures:
o European RICs – registration and identification centres, perhaps what the European Council called “controlled centres” (the term hotspot, discredited by the awful conditions on the Greek island, should be dropped): i.e. humane, decent accommodation centres, set up in European Mediterranean countries of arrival, jointly funded, perhaps even jointly run, as concrete expressions of solidarity. The opposite of the current Greek hotspots in three crucial aspects:
Ensuring sufficient space and decent treatment of everyone (modelled on Dutch Ter Apel asylum centre; or European “Ankerzentren”, as agreed in the German coalition agreement), these should set a model how a coalition of European countries respects human dignity. There should be full transparency.
A time limit: nobody will be kept in a RIC longer then 2 months at most. The goal is to ensure that a first asylum procedure and an appeal are possible within 6 weeks for most cases.
Set up an immediate coordination board of senior officials from reception and asylum services of European countries that want to make this possible: the Dutch, French, Germans, Benelux, Portugal, Nordics, but also inviting Swiss and Norwegians, both members of Schengen and Dublin. Create a small secretariat to set out realistically the human resources needed for this (perhaps based in Madrid.) Appoint a credible coordinator with administrative experience to ensure that resources arrive in time.
Learn from Greek islands experience: outsourcing this to EASO, under current procedures, is not going to work, as can be seen in Lesbos or Chios.
o Immediate outreach to key African countries of origin for LARS (Legal Access and Return statements). Appoint a joint team (one Spanish, French, German) to go to West African countries first to offer simple and transparent statements – to explore this already this August! These statements should include:
Commitment from EU MS to annual contingents of legal migration and scholarships to countries of European coalition in the next five years.
Commitment from African partners to take back everyone who cross the Mediterranean after a day X and does not apply for or receive asylum in the EU. The goal is that the announcement itself sharply reduces arrivals.
Start negotiations with African countries now (Senegal, Ivory Coast!) It is vital that other countries in Africa see this as attractive and want similar arrangements.
o Commitment by European members of this coalition of concerned countries to quickly relocate those who get protection in these RICS, so there is no special burden for Spain – relocating recognised refugees, not asylum seekers.
The goal is to show concretely how a future European migration, border and asylum policy might actually work in the Mediterranean even beyond Spain.
If France would offer to host such a centre in Corsica (for people rescued in the central Mediterranean), if Malta would as well, it would be even better. Then such RICs should replace the current hotspots in Greece – to help accelerate asylum procedures, increase returns from the islands to Turkey (which currently stand at only 25 a month!) and to relieve the humanitarian crisis on the islands.
France, Spain, Germany and others should provide more rescue boats outside the Libyan territorial waters – perhaps doing it through Mission Sophia or as a coalition effort. The goal must be to ensure that nobody drowns; and that arrivals are reduced without push-backs.
May I suggest other questions put in a similar mindset?
Provide safe, clean water for people, in big cities, 24 hours a day? What a crazy idea. How would this ever be possible?
Run a hospital in any of our countries decently? Ensure that somebody maintains machines, pays bills, manages personnel, ensures enough medicine is available?
Choose leaders of a country by elections: how could this possibly be done? Just think of all the things that might go wrong when millions of people have to vote on the same day! How can anyone ensure they only vote once? How can we move so many ballots quickly?
Ensure that all airports in Europe guarantee basic security on and off planes. What, really: “all”? How can this possibly be done? Ok, we understand Amsterdam and Frankfurt: but nobody serious will expect Greece or Bulgaria to ensure safety in their airports? (Of course we do. And it works. Every day)
We can go on. The food safety of all dairy products sold in our markets every day? Education systems teaching millions of pupils (who come to school all on the same day in September!)? Environmental policy, product standard policy, security of online systems and communication. ANY field of policy requires effort and investment and serious planning to get any results. Everywhere. Always.
In reality, the implicit defeatism in discussions about sea rescue, asylum and returns reveals an astonishing lack of seriousness.
A German politician was quoted yesterday saying that any proposals to accommodate and process asylum applications of a few thousand people (in spain or anywhere) would inevitably lead to inhumane camps for masses of people. The same party proposes policies which aim to change the effect of human societies around the globe on the climate.
We understand the scepticism. It was not possible in 2.5 years on the Greek islands, to our ongoing frustration. Some now wonder if it is ever possible anywhere.
Of course it is. What Greece shows us is what happens when any serious interest in implementing what one decides is missing. When leaders and institutions don’t care. If we assume from the start that nobody cares about the decisions we take in the EU, though, or the goals in our own laws and conventions, then we might as well go home.
Civilisation takes effort. It has done so ever since our ancestors moved out of their caves.
Kernpunkte dieses Vorschlags sind: eine Koalition von betroffenen Staaten, in denen das Recht auf Asyl noch verteidigt werden soll; transparente und rechtskonforme Beschleunigung von Asylverfahren, schnelle Rückführungen jener, die keinen Schutz in der EU brauchen, freiwillige dezentrale Ansiedlung anerkannter Flüchtlinge und Umsiedlung von Schutzbedürftigen aus der Türkei. Und dadurch konkrete Ergebnisse noch vor dem Europaparlamentswahlen 2019.
Im Format einer „Verstärkten Zusammenarbeit“ vereinbaren Frankreich und Deutschland im Verbund mit den Niederlanden, der Schweiz und Schweden den südeuropäischen Ankunftsländern Griechenland, Italien und Spanien solidarisch bei der Durchführung schneller qualitätsvoller Asylverfahren und der dezentralen Ansiedlung von anerkannten Asylbewerbern sowie bei der Rückführung nicht anerkannter Flüchtlinge zu helfen. Es geht um eine Demonstration von Erfolg, der die gesamte europäische Debatte beeinflussen soll: es ist möglich Kontrolle und Empathie zu verbinden.
Die Asylverfahren sollen in griechischen, italienischen und gegebenenfalls spanischen Hotspots inspiriert vom niederländisch/schweizerischen Vorbild, das Qualität mit Geschwindigkeit verbindet, ablaufen. (Das ist im Einklang mit bestehendem nationalem Recht in diesen Ländern möglich). Durch sofortige Zuordnung von bezahlten Rechtsanwälten zu den Asylsuchenden und von Nichtregierungsorganisationen zu den Verfahren werden Schnelligkeit und Solidität der Verfahren erreicht. Einschließlich Revision brauchen sie dank juristischer Kompetenz und dank hergestellter Transparenz höchstens zwei Wochen bis zu einer Erstinstanz-Entscheidung, und weitere höchstens 6 Wochen bis zu einer Berufungsentscheidung. Personal aus anderen europäischen Ländern soll bei der kompetenten Prüfung der Asylanträge helfen. Die Asylzusage gilt für alle Mitgliedsländer der „Verstärkten Zusammenarbeit“.
Für die anerkannten Flüchtlinge bieten die genannten Länder sofort eine freiwillige Aufnahme an, wie sie Deutschland aus Griechenland noch im Herbst 2017 durchführte. Zugleich wird ein neues Verfahren freiwilliger dezentraler Aufnahme von anerkannten Flüchtlingen durch die Kommunen und Städte eingerichtet. Kommunen sind eingeladen, auf der Basis beratender Multi-Stakeholder Beiräte (Vertreter der Gemeindeverwaltungen, der Unternehmen und von Nichtregierungsorganisationen, einschließlich, wenn möglich, wissenschaftlicher Beratung) darüber zu entscheiden, ob und in welcher Zahl sie im Rahmen ihrer eigenen weiteren Entwicklung Flüchtlinge aufnehmen wollen. Ihre Angebote schicken sie an die Hotspots, wo die anerkannten Flüchtlinge sich ihrerseits für drei Städte/Kommunen bewerben können. Hierzu muss ein Matching-System eingeführt werden.
In der ersten Phase zahlen die Mitglieder der „Verstärkten Zusammenarbeit“ in einen Fonds ein, der außerhalb des EU-Haushalts angelegt ist und bei dem die Gemeinden die Erstattung ihrer Integrationskosten beantragen können. Sie erhalten dann für ihre eigene Entwicklung (Wohnungsbau, Infrastruktur, Bildung, Kultur etc.) zusätzlich die gleiche Summe.
Perspektivisch sollte die EU im nächsten mehrjährigen Finanzrahmen einen solchen Fonds als „Kommunalen Integrations- und Entwicklungsfonds“ anlegen, der neben der Flüchtlingsintegration zielgenau kommunale Investitionen fördert. Die Mitgliedstaaten beschließen, Flüchtlingen, um die sich Kommunen aus ihrem Hoheitsbereich bewerben, die Einreise zu gestatten. Wenn sie das ablehnen, können ihre Kommunen aus dem Fonds keine Investitionsförderung erhalten.
Jene deren Antrag abgelehnt wird oder bei denen entschieden wird, dass die Türkei für sie ein sicheres Land ist, werden in die Türkei zurückgeführt. Dazu wird eine glaubwürdige Ombudsperson für das Abkommen berufen, die in jedem Einzelfall der Frage der Behandlung jener nachgehen kann, die in die Türkei zurückgeschickt werden. Dazu werden wo möglich freiwillige Rückkehrprogramme in Herkunftsländer und Rückkehrberatung ausgebaut.
Parallel beteiligen sich die Mitglieder der betroffenen Länder verstärkt bei der in der EU-Türkei-Erklärung vorgesehenen Umsiedlung von Schutzbedürftigen aus der Türkei.
Ankara sollte weiters angeboten werden, die EU-Türkei-Erklärung auch auf die Landgrenze mit Griechenland auszudehnen – im Gegenzug könnte die schon versprochene finanzielle Hilfe für Flüchtlinge in der Türkei noch verlängert und aufgestockt werden (das ist im Interesse aller) .
Ein realistisches Szenario für Griechenland 2018
Eine realistische Annahme ist, dass im Rahmen einer solchen Initiative die Zahl derjenigen, die aus der Türkei nach Griechenland kommen, zunächst schnell wieder auf das Niveau der ersten Jahreshälfte 2017 fällt (mit etwa 1.500 Ankommenden im Monat), und dann noch niedriger. Wenn 1.000 abgelehnte Asylwerber im Monat in die Türkei zurückgeschickt würden, würde die Zahl der Ankommenden schnell fallen.
Dafür sollten EU-Staaten für jeden in Griechenland von dieser Mission anerkannten Flüchtling (500 im Monat?) einen Flüchtling aus Griechenland aufnehmen, und die Zahl der Umsiedlungen aus der Türkei ausbauen (auf mindestens 2.000 im Monat). So könnte die EU Griechenland helfen, die unzumutbaren Zustände auf den griechischen Inseln beseitigen, ein Model für schnelle qualitätsvolle Asylverfahren liefern, den Balkan entlasten, und den Druck auf die Grenzen Deutschlands spürbar reduzieren. Und all das im Einklang mit europäischem Recht und ohne Asylsuchende schlecht zu behandeln. Und die Verteilung anerkannter Flüchtlinge könnte zum Ausbau eines auf Freiwilligkeit beruhenden Systems flexibler europäischer Solidarität führen.
For this reason, like President Lech Wałęsa, we voice our support for the European Union with regard to the current proceedings taking place before the Court of Justice of the EU on the matter of the Polish Law on Ordinary Courts and we are impatiently awaiting the Court’s verdict.
We appeal to the European Committee to take without delay the Law on the Polish Supreme Court to the Court of Justice of the European Union in accordance with the provisions of Article 258 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union and to file the relevant motion for applying interim measures.
The history of our continent teaches us that when the foundations of our common liberties are demolished, their restoration becomes extremely difficult.
As Piotr Buras and I wrote, exactly one week ago, in “European tragedy”: this is not a Polish issue only, but an existential issue for all Europeans, which touches the future of the rule of law anywhere in the EU. The more European media highlight what is at stake in Poland today, and what might still be done; the more policy makers across the EU respond, and call on their governments and the EU to act … the better for our common European future.
The EU has no future as a community based on laws if there are no independent courts in all member states.
For more background on what is at stake, and why so many Poles react so strongly in recent days, read the full report here: www.esiweb.org/poland:
“Concrete swift actions by the European Commission, member states and the European Court of Justice can still pre-empt the worst if
– the European Commission vigorously pursues the ongoing infringement procedure against the Law on the Ordinary Courts, which it launched in December 2017 before the Court of Justice of the European Union. The worst signal at this moment would be to withdraw this before it allows the Court of Justice to assess the state of courts in Poland today;
– The European Commission launches an infringement procedure against the Law on the Supreme Court immediately before the Court of Justice, with the aim to stop the mass dismissal of judges set to take place in early July and which would be almost impossible to reverse later.
– Important EU member states voice their support for both steps. At the same time the Council must ensure that the European Commissions “reasoned proposal” on the rule of law in Poland, based on Article 7 of the EU’ treaty, is put to the vote as soon as possible, and receives broad backing from member states.
The Polish government’s assault on its judiciary represents a threat to the EU’s legal order and long-term political stability. The EU and national legal orders are now so intertwined as to make up a single patchwork quilt, from which so great a hole cannot be cut, without the whole unravelling.
The rule of law is central to the very existence of the European Union. The second article of the Treaty of the European Union states confidently: “The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights.” The EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights states: “Everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal previously established by law.” What is at stake in Poland today is the future of the EU as a project based on core principles such as the rule of law, separation of powers and human rights.”
I would like to express my deep concern about the crisis caused by the far-reaching changes to the Polish judiciary. These raise fundamental doubts at home and abroad. The violation of the independence of Polish courts threatens very negative consequences, for Poland, but also for the entire European Union. The EU, which is the anchor of the Polish raison d’etat, cannot function without free courts in each member state.
That is why I am calling on the Polish government, the European Commission and all political forces in Poland to do their utmost to prevent the irreversible consequences of the changes to the judiciary and the political crisis they have caused.
Only the verdict of an independent court can solve the problem of the independence of the Polish judiciary today. Political agreements cannot serve as a response to these dubious propositions, wherein the tripartite separation of powers, the fundamental principles of law and the Polish constitution are at stake.
That is why I favour asking the Court of Justice of the European Union to evaluate the most questionable changes to the judiciary system, as its judgments are binding both for the European Commission and for EU member states.
I support the European Commission in relation to the proceedings pending before the EU Court of Justice concerning the law on common courts, and I am awaiting the Court’s decision. I am also calling on the European Commission to refer the law on the Supreme Court to the EU Court of Justice under Article 258 of the EU Treaty. Due to the reduction of the retirement age provided for in this law, about 40 percent of the Supreme Court’s judges will have to end their calling prematurely on 3 July.
These provisions raise very serious legal doubts, and the Tribunal should be given the opportunity to judge them. I appeal to all political forces in Poland to support this legal path, which may lead to the protection of the rule of law in Poland and the EU, and to a resolution of the political conflict. I also appeal to the Polish government to refrain from taking any actions that would hinder such a solution.
Just as in 1980 there could not be freedom without solidarity, so today there cannot be freedom without the rule of law!
As Italy votes – the case for a humane migration policy that works
John Dalhuisen and Gerald Knaus
“Those making moral calculations must reflect on the fact that the only real alternative – in this imperfect world – is not something better, but something much worse.”
Just over a year ago, the Italian government struck a deal with the Libyan authorities to intercept migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean. Following the arrival of half a million refugees and migrants in just three years, the centre-left Democratic Party – the same party that set up the ambitious search and rescue operation, Mare Nostrum, back in 2013 – decided that it had to act. A short Memorandum of Understanding was followed by a string of agreements with Libyan mayors and tribal leaders negotiated – often personally – by Italy’s Minister of Interior, Marco Minniti. The policy had an immediate effect: arrivals in the second half of 2017 were down 70 percent compared to the same period the year before, and deaths at sea declined equally sharply.
Italy’s Libya strategy was backed by the rest of the EU but has been roundly criticised by NGOs and UN agencies for trapping thousands of migrants in a lawless country, in which they risk torture, extortion and slavery, sometimes at the hands of the very groups these agreements were struck with. The Libyan coast guard stands accused of handing over those it intercepts to inhumane detention centres, where abuse is common.
And yet, as Italians head to the polls today one thing looks certain: whichever coalition forms the next government, it is likely to continue the policy of the current minister of the interior, who has become one of the most popular politicians in the country. No political party polling more than a few percent is opposed to the policy. In an election dominated by migration, promising to control borders is a pre-requisite for success.
This sobering reality highlights the true challenge for those who care about the right of refugees and migrants trapped in Libya. It is this: how can one persuade those who will shape Italy’s Mediterranean policy in the coming years that a policy that combines control with empathy, effectiveness with humanity, and reduced irregular migration with human rights is not only possible but also electorally preferable for the next Italian government?
A humane policy must aim for zero deaths at sea. It must ensure that all those rescued by European boats have access to a fair, effective asylum procedure. It must ensure that nobody who is intercepted by the Libyan coast guard ends up in inhumane detention centres. And it must protect those in need of protection from being pushed back into danger in their home countries.
How can these goals be met? The next Italian government should propose to its European partners a realistic plan that includes the following four elements.
First, a common effort is needed to ensure sufficient search and rescue capacity beyond Libya’s territorial waters. In the first six months of 2017 more than 2,500 refugees and migrants drowned. 600 people still drowned in the second half of the year despite the reduction in departures. Instead of demonising NGO rescue boats or leaving it to the Libyan coast guard or the Italian authorities, all European countries should make an even bigger effort.
Second, Western support to the Libyan coast guard and the Libyan authorities should be linked to a clear condition: that anybody intercepted/rescued by its boats and taken back to Libya should be offered immediate evacuation to Niger by IOM. The numbers involved make this possible: in 2017 the Libyan coast guard intercepted less than 1,500 people a month on average. In Niger, those who choose not to apply for asylum should be offered assisted return to their countries of origin via IOM. Those who do should be resettled to a safe country if found to be in need of protection. The same should happen with all those (around 5,000) currently held in Libyan detention centres.
Third, securing European agreements with key African countries of origin for the return of all failed asylum seekers arriving after an agreed date should be a priority. The challenge is to find a humane, legal way of reducing irregular economic migration. This can best be achieved by changing the incentives that currently exist for would be economic migrants. Currently the only disincentives to travelling to Europe are the cost and the risk of the journey. The vast majority of migrants who make it to Italy can be confident that they will be able to stay, whether they are granted international protection or not. Last year 130,000 people applied for asylum in Italy, a majority from West African countries. The same year 12,000 applicants were granted international protection. But (almost) everybody stays in Europe, regardless of their asylum status. One obvious reason for this is the reluctance of countries of origin to cooperate in the identification and return of their citizens. In 2016 more than 100,000 people arrived in Italy from six West African nations; around 4,300 citizens of these countries were granted international protection. And 255 returned, voluntarily or by force. Successive Italian authorities have found it easiest to allow migrants to either move on to other European countries, or integrate, however precariously, into Italy’s thriving black economy. Countries of origins should be offered an annual contingent of regular visas (not just by Italy) for work or study. Such agreements will only work if they are found to be in the interests of countries of origin.
Fourth, seriously discouraging irregular economic migration also requires a quick, but fair, asylum process that should seek to award a protection status or move to deport those found to have no claim within two to three months at most. This need not come at the expense of quality: the Netherlands have one of the best systems in Europe and it consistently delivers informed decisions within this timeframe. It may require keeping most asylum-seekers in closed centres for this duration. It would certainly require the financial and administrative support of other EU countries, which should relocate recognized asylum seekers. This would not be cheap to run, or easy to set up, but as a joint European effort it is doable.
This plan would not end all arrivals in Europe – which is not the goal – but it would sharply reduce numbers – which is. It would create legal channels for refugees and economic migrants. It would reduce deaths at sea and not condemn people to torture in Libyan detention centres. It would guarantee access to asylum for those who do reach Italy and uphold the core principles of the Refugee convention for those who do not.
But would such a “Rome plan” be in the interest of the next Italian government? We believe that it would. Italian politics highlights realities which are true for most of the EU today. Any political party that fails to promise to control borders renders itself unelectable. At the same time there are a lot of voters who care about the right to asylum and do not want to see those who cross borders treated inhumanely. Offering such policies would distinguish mainstream parties, on the left and on the right, from racists on the far-right.
And the human rights community? Many will welcome the commitment to legal paths, but baulk at the prospect of more returns, faster procedures and closed asylum processing centres. But those making moral calculations must reflect on the fact that the only real alternative – in this imperfect world – is not something better, but something much worse. Demagogues are best defeated by demonstrating – with conviction and through effective policies – that a world in which empathy has a central place, is possible.
Such a plan is in Italy’s interest. The EU should back it. So should anyone who cares about human rights in the Mediterranean and about the welfare of those so desperately trying to cross it.
John Dalhuisen is ESI Senior Fellow and former director for Europe @ Amnesty International; Gerald Knaus is ESI founding chairman
Human rights, corruption and what is at stake for the Council of Europe
This week, a rebellion is unfolding in Strasbourg, directed against Spanish senator Pedro Agramunt, the President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).
This rebellion is a response to allegations of serious corruption in PACE in recent years, as well as concern over the autocratic capture of this, the oldest, human rights body in Europe. It is a story involving the regime of Ilham Aliyev in Baku, Russian ultra-nationalists such as Leonid Slutsky, Italian Catholic politician Luca Volonte, who received 2.3 million euro from Azerbaijan, and in the last episode even Syrian president Assad in Damascus.
This week, the assembly has had enough, and a coalition of politicians, across party lines and from different national groups, decided that Pedro Agramunt could no longer remain president; this was stated in public, as well as strongly communicated in private.
To explain the frustration and collapse of trust in Agramunt, booed off stage while chairing the opening of the spring session in the Palais de l’Europe in Strasbourg on Monday, one has to see how different developments came together:
First, Agramunt made his career in PACE working on and with Azerbaijan. He visited Azerbaijan more often than any other MP in the assembly; he observed, and helped whitewash, elections in Baku for many years. As one of the rapporteurs of PACE for Azerbaijan he subverted the assembly’s work on political prisoners. As more evidence came out how Azerbaijan operated its lobbying machine in recent years, these actions appear in a different light, and raise serious questions how he understands the role of PACE.
Second. since late 2016 Pedro Agramunt resisted; and even worked to block; serious proposals for an investigation into corruption allegations involving Azerbaijan, as demanded by over 100 MPs in January 2017. In this, Agramunt cooperated with his others, including Spaniard Jordi Xucla, who leads the liberal group in Strasbourg. They used excuses and procedural tricks to oppose any investigation. Why don’t they have any interest in clarifying what happened?
For a short introduction, see the latest ESI newsletter:
Third, Agramunt (together with Destexhe and Xucla) went to Syria in March. He went with Russian ultra-nationalist Leonid Slutsky on what was a Russian PR tour to bolster Assad. There was no other point to this trip: it served no humanitarian purpose and Agramunt did not “build any bridges” either. So why did he go?
Fourth, Agramunt did a bad job addressing many serious concerns and question of the assembly. He offered implausible and contradictory explanations. He apologized for the reaction by the members to his visit to Assad. He apologized for having been manipulated by Russians (Agramunt and Slutsky have been friends for years). What Agramunt did not apologise for was having visited a war-criminal with a Russian delegation.
Agramont, Xucla and Destexhe represent what is wrong in the Council of Europe today. Their cynical views about human rights, their close relationship to autocrats, procedural games and striking vision of the role of the Council of Europe have contributed to lead this institution into its biggest credibility crisis in decades.
This week the assembly in Strasbourg also decided on an external and independent investigation – an unprecedented step – into these corruption allegations in Strasbourg. ESI has worked on this issue for six years now. Here is more:
On 26 January the Immunities Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), chaired by Social-Democrat Liliane Maury Pasquier from Switzerland, adopted a unanimous declaration on allegations of corruption “to send a clear message of zero tolerance”:
“The committee calls on the Bureau of the Assembly to set up an independent external investigation body to assess the functioning of the Assembly and shed light on hidden practices that favour corruption, the only measure which would end impunity for abuses and restore confidence in the Parliamentary Assembly, its actions and decisions.”
On Friday 27 January the PACE Bureau responded and unanimously agreed:
“… that an independent external investigation needs to be set up to shed light on hidden practices that favour corruption. The Bureau charged the PACE Secretary General with the preparation of a Memorandum on the draft terms of reference of the independent external investigation body.”
Then, on 3 March 2017, Wojciech Sawicki, the Secretary-General of PACE, presented a concrete proposal for an independent external body to investigate corruption allegations (see below).
This is an encouraging and constructive outline. If it would be adopted PACE would be able to restore its honour and credibility. At the same time it would be naive not to expect strong resistance on the part of those who resist (or even fear) transparency.
At a meeting of the Bureau in Madrid on 9 and 10 March no agreement could be reached on how to respond to the Sawicki proposal. It is certain that some will now try to water it down, or to present an alternative plan, that would fall far short of what the Bureau decided on 27 January.
The best would be for the Bureau of PACE to forward the Sawicki proposal to the next regular PACE plenary meeting in April. On a matter of such importance, it is the whole assembly that needs to be brought into the debate. As a background to this discussion: this is the text of the proposal made by the Secretary General.
3 March 2017
Bureau of the Parliamentary Assembly
Allegations of corruption within the Assembly – setting up of an independent external investigation body
Memorandum by the Secretary General of the Parliamentary Assembly
At its meeting on 27 January 2017, the Bureau of the Parliamentary Assembly decided to set up an external investigation body to shed light on the allegations of corruption within the Assembly. This decision was taken in response to the concerns expressed by numerous national delegations, the EPPD/CD and SOC political groups, many Assembly members, as well as non-governmental organisations working in the field of the protection of human rights and the fight against corruption. This decision is in conformity with the position of the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs, to which the matter had been referred by the Bureau on 23 January, as it appear in the declaration adopted by the committee on 26 January.
The Bureau instructed the Secretary General of the Parliamentary Assembly to “prepare a memorandum on the draft terms of reference (legal basis, composition, duration, tasks, competences)” of the independent external investigation body as proposed by the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs.
It should be pointed out that the decision for the Assembly to set up a strictly external investigation body, in such a context, is an unprecedented one. Furthermore, as is the case in many national parliaments, the Assembly has thus far opted for internal parliamentary committees (ad hoc committees comprising members of the Assembly), in accordance with the means and procedures traditionally implemented by parliaments in application of their investigative powers. There was unanimous agreement, both within the Rules Committee and the Bureau of the Assembly, that this option was inappropriate to the case at hand and would not meet the many clear calls for an independent external investigation body.
The aim of this memorandum is to establish the legal and operational reference framework of the investigation body, which should be set up as quickly as possible.
Statutory and regulatory framework
Pursuant to Article 24 of the Statute of the Council of Europe, the Parliamentary Assembly “may with due regard to the provisions of Article 38.d,establish committees or commissions to consider and report to it any matter which falls within its competence under Article 23, to examine and prepare questions on its agenda and to advise on all matters of procedure.”
This was the case for the “Commission of Eminent Statesmen”, known as the “Colombo Commission”, established by the Assembly through Recommendation 994 (1984) on the future of European co-operation. This Commission, tasked with working out future prospects for European co-operation “beyond the present decade”, comprised eight eminent European figures from various member states serving in individual capacity.
Accordingly, the Assembly has the authority to establish an independent investigation body, whose terms of reference must be approved by the Assembly (in the framework of the Progress Report of the Bureau and the Standing Committee).
Draft terms of reference of the independent external investigation body
3.1 Title and length of the term of office
The Assembly decides to set up an independent external investigation body to look into allegations of corruption within the Assembly.
It shall begin its duties with effect from the appointment of its members and its duties shall terminate on the submission of its final report, or at the latest on 31 December 2017. The Bureau of the Assembly may extend the investigation body’s terms of reference, if need be.
The purpose of the investigation body is to carry out a detailed inquiry into the allegations of corruption and fostering of interests made against certain members or former members of the Assembly, to examine the practical functioning of the Assembly in tis various activities (including, but not restricted to part-sessions, committee and sub-committee meetings, rapporteur missions, election observation missions and participation in various events) and its decision-making mechanisms in order to:
– verify whether there are any forms of individual conduct by members of the Assembly or former members of the Assembly which have not respected the provisions of the Code of Conduct for members of the Parliamentary Assembly and other relevant codes of conduct;
– identify any practices contrary to the Assembly’s ethical standards, and determine the extent thereof;
– establish, in light of these findings, whether there is sufficient proof to take action against members of former members of the Assembly, pursuant to paragraphs 19 and 20 of the Code of Conduct for members of the Parliamentary Assembly;
– draw up recommendations on the measures to be implemented to rectify the shortcomings and fill the gaps in the Assembly’s ethical framework.
The investigation body shall comprise three members, independent senior figures, from institutions enjoying the highest moral reputation, having proved and acknowledged professional competence, expertise and experience in connection with the mission of the investigation body (such as ethics office, financial auditor, fraud examiner, legal processional having server as an investigator, prosecutor, judge or expert in procedures for monitoring ethical standards).
Members must have experience of parliamentary functioning and, if possible, knowledge of the functioning of the Council of Europe.
Members are appointed by the Bureau of the Assembly, which shall seek a suitable balance of skills and knowledge – and wherever possible a gender balance. These appointments are submitted to the Assembly for ratification. Once appointed, members cannot be dismissed.
A vacancy caused by resignation or death shall be filled for the remainder of the term of office by the Bureau of the Assembly, subject to ratification of the appointment by the Assembly.
3.4 Procedure and competence
The investigation body shall decide on its mode of operation, its working methods and the procedures required to enable it to fulfil its mission, in keeping with the legal and regulatory framework of the Council of Europe.
The investigation body shall gather and make use of all relevant information and all documentary, testimonial and material evidence necessary for the fulfilment of its mission. It may, in particular:
– summon anyone, in particular any member or former member of the Assembly and any member of the Assembly secretariat, to give evidence,
– hear any witness wishing to be heard by the investigation body,
– request the assistance of any national authority of a member state,
– have access to or request the provision of any document it deems relevant for its investigation, irrespective of its form or medium – printed, manuscript, electronic, photographic, audio/video recording – or its nature – public or private.
The investigation body shall have no jurisdictional competence. It may decide to transmit the information it has gathered to any national judicial authorities, on official request, in the context of ongoing criminal investigations or proceedings, in keeping with the legal and regulatory framework of the Council of Europe.
The work of the investigation body shall enjoy the utmost confidentiality.
The investigation body shall report back to the Bureau of the Assembly, presenting a final report. This report shall be made public. The investigation body may decide that parts of this report shall remain confidential.
The working languages of the investigation body shall be the two official languages of the Organisation.
The investigation body shall sit in Strasbourg (at the seat of the Council of Europe) and may, in the exercise of its mission, travel to any member state.
In drafting its recommendations, the investigation body shall refer to the ethical standards in force in the Assembly and shall take account of the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights and the work of the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO), MONEYVAL and the Venice Commission.
3.5 Status of the investigation body
The members of the investigation body shall serve in an individual capacity, independently of their national obligations.
In the exercise of their duties, the members of the investigation body shall enjoy the privileges and immunities granted to experts of the Council of Europe (applicable under Article 2 of the Protocol to the General Agreement on Privileges and Immunities (ETS No. 10)). Council of Europe member states are called upon to facilitate the mission of the investigation body and, in particular, guarantee the freedom of movement of its members within their respective territory.
Privileges and immunities are granted to the members of the investigation body in the interests of the Council of Europe, not for their personal benefit, in order to enable them to carry out their duties in an independent and efficient manner.
3.6 Rights and obligations
Pursuant to paragraph 21 of the Code of Conduct for members of the Parliamentary Assembly, the members and honorary members of the Assembly shall undertake to co-operate fully within the investigation body, in the exercise of its mission and at every stage of its investigation. They shall be required to provide any information demanded of them and any document in their possession.
Staff of the Council of Europe Secretariat, including the Assembly secretariat, shall be covered, from the point of view of whistle-blowing, by the provisions of Rule No. 1327 of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe of 10 January 2011 on awareness and prevention of fraud and corruption.
The protection recognized by the above mentioned Rule No. 1327 shall apply to any witness heard by the investigation body who, although they are not Council of Europe Secretariat members, participate in the Council of Europe’s activities, wherever they may be held – in particular trainees, experts, consultants.
The rules governing the access to, holding of and exploitation of Council of Europe documents apply to the investigation body. The Secretary General of the Council of Europe is called upon to facilitate the mission of the investigation body by putting at its disposal the documents, of any kind, which the investigation body believes are necessary. The investigation body shall make use of confidential or restricted documents only if they are directly related to the investigation it is tasked with.
In its final report the investigation body shall mention any refusal to co-operate, or any refusal to disclose information or to give access to or transmit any document necessary to carry out its duties. In case of non-cooperation or insufficient cooperation, members or honorary members of the Assembly would be liable to the sanctions provided for by the Code of Conduct for members of the Parliamentary Assembly.
Means and material conditions of operation of the independent investigation body
The Secretary General of the Parliamentary Assembly shall ensure that the investigation body is provided with the administrative and financial resources required to fulfill its mission and covering all operating costs of the investigation body and its secretariat (wages, fees, per diem, travel expenses in accordance with the rules applicable to Council of Europe official journeys, insurance).
The investigation body shall be assisted by a secretariat with knowledge and expertise in the functioning of the Council of Europe, that is however independent of the Parliamentary Assembly.
The premises made available to the investigation body shall ensure a working environment guaranteeing confidentiality, security and calm.
The Bureau of the Assembly is invited to consider the above proposals and:
– adopt the draft terms of reference of the investigation body, as it appears in Part 3. This must be ratified by the Assembly, in the framework of the Progress Report of the Bureau and the Standing Committee;
– instruct the Secretary General of the Parliamentary Assembly to hold private talks with relevant institutions/ senior figures likely to accept the mission assigned to the investigation body, and to come up with proposals on the composition of the investigation body at the next Bureau meeting;
– instruct the Secretary General of the Parliamentary Assembly to guarantee the investigation body the resources required to ensure its proper functioning, in accordance with the stipulations contained in Part 4 and, to this end, make provisions in the Assembly budget for the appropriations necessary for the functioning of the investigation body, and if need be, in accordance with Article 38.d. of the Statute of the Council of Europe, ask the Secretary General of the Council of Europe to allocate a specific budget for the investigation body.
The success of the independent investigation body’s mission shall rest on the full co-operation of the members and former members of the Assembly, and on that of the staff of the secretariat of the Council of Europe, in particular of the Assembly. Having regard to the rights and obligations of staff members and the guarantees conferred upon them by their status, it is essential to notify the Secretary General of the Council of Europe of these terms of reference. Council of Europe staff members are responsible to the Secretary General, pursuant to Article 2 of the Staff Regulations, and the latter shall therefore be invited to formally impose on the staff members a duty of co-operation with the investigation body.
The mission of the independent investigation body may also require the full co-operation of the national authorities of certain member states – national parliaments, Ministries of Foreign Affairs and of Justice, judicial services, etc. Accordingly, the Committee of Ministers should be informed of the arrangements put in place by the Assembly and be invited to adopt a Resolution in which it would officially call on the member states to support and facilitate the mission of the investigation body, to pledge to fully co-operate with the investigation body, in particular to guarantee the freedom of movement of its members within the territory on of their respective state, and to ensure that any witness will be afforded legal protection at national level.
 Parliamentary delegations of Switzerland on 17 January, Luxembourg on 24 January, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway and Sweden in a joint letter on 25 January, Belgium, the Netherlands on 25 January, France, Germany on 26 January and thereafter delegations of Italy on 3 February and Austria on 17 February.
 See Written Declaration No. 624 on 25 January 2017 on Parliamentary Assembly integrity (Doc. 14256).
 The opinion of the Directorate of Legal Advice and Public International Law was sought for the purposes of drafting this memorandum.
 Article 38.d: „The Secretary General shall refer to the Committee [of Ministers] requests from the Assembly which involve expenditure exceeding the amount already allocated in the budget for the Assembly and its activities“.
 In compliance with Article 29 of the Stature and Rule 41.a of the Assembly’s Rules of Procedure, an Assembly resolution establishing committees or commissions shall require a two-thirds majority of the representatives casting a vote.
 The draft terms of reference are based on existing precedents for independent committees of inquiry set up over the past decade at international level.
 Representatives attending meetings convened by the Council of Europe (…) shall, while exercising their functions and during their journeys to and from the place of meeting, enjoy the following privileges and immunities:
Immunity from personal arrest or detention and from seizure of their personal baggage, and, in respect of words spoken or written and all acts done by them in their official capacity, immunity from legal process of every kind.
Inviolability for all papers and documents.
The right to use codes and to receive papers or correspondence by courier or in sealed bags.
Exemption in respect of themselves and their spouses from immigration restrictions or aliens registration in the State which they are visiting or through which they are passing in the exercise of their functions.
The same facilities in respect of currency or exchange of restrictions as are accorded to representatives of comparable rank of diplomatic missions.
The same immunities and facilities in respect of their personal baggage as are accorded to members of comparable rank of diplomatic missions.”
The representatives, however, “shall not be exempt from arrest and prosecution when found committing, attempting to commit, or just having committed an offence.” Lastly, “the immunity from legal process in respect of words spoken or written and all acts done by them in discharging their duties shall continue to be accorded, notwithstanding that the persons concerned are no longer engaged in the discharge of such duties.”