Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

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The emblem of the PACE

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) is the parliamentary arm of the Council of Europe, a 47-nation international organisation dedicated to upholding human rights, democracy and the rule of law. The Council of Europe is an older and wider circle of nations than the 28-member European Union - it includes, for example, Russia and Turkey among its member states - and oversees the European Court of Human Rights.

The Assembly is made up of 324 parliamentarians from the national parliaments of the Council of Europe's member states, and generally meets four times a year for week-long plenary sessions in Strasbourg. It is one of the two statutory bodies of the Council of Europe, along with the Committee of Ministers, the executive body representing governments with which it holds an ongoing dialogue, and is often regarded as the "motor" of the organisation.

The Assembly held its first session in Strasbourg on 10 August 1949, making it one of the oldest international assemblies in Europe. Among its main achievements are:

  • ending the death penalty in Europe by requiring new members to stop all executions
  • making possible, and shaping, the European Convention on Human Rights
  • high-profile reports exposing violations of human rights in Council of Europe member states
  • assisting former Soviet countries to embrace democracy after 1989
  • inspiring and helping to shape many progressive new national laws
  • helping member states to overcome conflict or reach consensus on divisive political or social issues

Powers[edit]

The hemicycle of the PACE at the Palace of Europe

Unlike the European Parliament (an institution of the European Union), the Assembly does not have the power to create binding laws. However, it speaks on behalf of 820 million Europeans and has the power to:

  • demand action from the 47 Council of Europe governments, who - via the CoE's executive body - must jointly reply
  • probe human rights violations in any of the member states
  • question Prime Ministers and Heads of State on any subject
  • send parliamentarians to observe elections and mediate over crises
  • set the terms on which states may join the Council of Europe, through its power of veto
  • inspire, propose and help to shape new national laws
  • request legal evaluations of the laws and constitutions of member states
  • sanction a member state by recommending its exclusion or suspension

Important statutory functions of the PACE are the election of the judges of the European Court of Human Rights, the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights and its Secretary General, as well as the members of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture.

In general the Assembly meets four times per year in Strasbourg at the Palace of Europe for week-long plenary sessions. The nine permanent committees of the Assembly meet all year long to prepare reports and draft resolutions in their respective fields of expertise.

The Assembly sets its own agenda, but its debates and reports are primarily focused on defending human rights, promoting democracy, protecting minorities and upholding the rule of law.

Election of judges to the European Court of Human Rights[edit]

Judges of the European Court of Human Rights are elected by PACE from a list of three candidates nominated by each member state which has ratified the European Convention on Human Rights. A 20-member committee – meeting in camera – interviews all candidates for judge on the Court and assesses their CVs before making recommendations to the full Assembly, which elects one judge from each shortlist in a secret vote.[1]

Although the European Convention does not, in itself, require member states to present a multi-sex shortlist of potential appointees, in a 2004 resolution aimed at improving the gender balance of the Court, PACE decided that it "will not consider lists of candidates where the list does not include at least one candidate of each sex" unless there are exceptional circumstances .[2] As a result, around one third of the current bench of 47 judges are women.

Members[edit]

The Assembly has a total of 636 members (as of 2016) – 318 principal members and 318 substitutes[3] – who are appointed or elected by the parliaments of each member state. Delegations must reflect the balance in the national parliament, so contain members of both ruling parties and oppositions. While not full members, the parliaments of Kyrgyzstan, Jordan, Morocco and Palestine hold "Partner for Democracy" status with the Assembly, and there are also observer delegates from the Canadian, Israeli and Mexican parliaments. The population of each country determines its number of representatives and number of votes. This is in contrast to the Committee of Ministers, the Council of Europe's executive body, where each country has one vote.

Some notable former members of PACE include:

Composition by parliamentary delegation[edit]

Parliament Seats Accession date
Albania Albania 4 1995
Andorra Andorra 2 1994
Armenia Armenia 4 2001
Austria Austria 6 1956
Azerbaijan Azerbaijan 6 2001
Belgium Belgium 7 1949
Bosnia and Herzegovina Bosnia and Herzegovina 5 2002
Bulgaria Bulgaria 6 1992
Croatia Croatia 5 1996
Cyprus Cyprus 3 1961 - 1964, 1984
Czech Republic Czech Republic 7 1991
Denmark Denmark 5 1949
Estonia Estonia 3 1993
Finland Finland 5 1989
France France 18 1949
Georgia (country) Georgia 5 1999
Germany Germany 18 1951
Greece Greece 7 1949
Hungary Hungary 7 1990
Iceland Iceland 3 1959
Republic of Ireland Ireland 4 1949
Italy Italy 18 1949
Latvia Latvia 3 1995
Liechtenstein Liechtenstein 2 1978
Lithuania Lithuania 4 1993
Luxembourg Luxembourg 3 1949
Republic of Macedonia Macedonia 3 1995
Malta Malta 3 1965
Moldova Moldova 5 1995
Monaco Monaco 2 2004
Montenegro Montenegro 3 2007[7]
Netherlands Netherlands 7 1949
Norway Norway 5 1949
Poland Poland 12 1991
Portugal Portugal 7 1976
Romania Romania 10 1993
Russia Russia 18[8] 1996
San Marino San Marino 2 1988
Serbia Serbia 7 2003
Slovakia Slovakia 5 1993[9]
Slovenia Slovenia 3 1993
Spain Spain 12 1977
Sweden Sweden 6 1949
Switzerland Switzerland 6 1963
Turkey Turkey 18 1949
Ukraine Ukraine 12 1995
United Kingdom United Kingdom 18 1949

The special guest status of the National Assembly of Belarus was suspended on 13 January 1997.

Parliaments with Partner for Democracy status[edit]

Parliaments with Partner for Democracy status pledge to work towards certain basic values of the Council of Europe, and agree to occasional assessments of their progress. In return, they are able to send delegations to take part in the work of the Assembly and its committees, but without the right to vote.

Parliament Seats Date
Morocco Morocco 6 2011
State of Palestine Palestine 3 2011[10]
Kyrgyzstan Kyrgyzstan 3 2014[11]
Jordan Jordan 3 2016[12]

Parliaments with observer status[edit]

Parliament Seats Date
Canada Canada 6 1996[13]
Israel Israel 3  ?
Mexico Mexico 6 1999

Parliamentarians with observer status[edit]

Parliamentarians Seats Date
Turkish Cypriot Community 2 2004[14][15][16][17]

Composition by political group[edit]

The Assembly has five political groups.[18]

Group Ideology Chairman Members
Socialist Group Social democracy, democratic socialism Michele Nicoletti 200
European People's Party Christian democracy, liberal conservatism Axel Fischer 191
Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Liberalism Jordi Xuclà i Costa 77
European Conservatives Group Conservatism Ian Liddell-Grainger 61
Unified European Left Group Democratic socialism, communism Tiny Kox 37

Languages[edit]

The official languages of the Council of Europe are English and French, but the Assembly also uses German, Italian, Russian and Turkish as working languages.[19]

Presidents[edit]

The presidents of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe have been :

Period Name Country Party
1949 Édouard Herriot (interim)  France Radical Party
1949–51 Paul-Henri Spaak  Belgium Socialist Party
1952–54 François de Menthon  France Popular Republican Movement
1954–56 Guy Mollet  France Socialist Party
1956–59 Fernand Dehousse  Belgium Socialist Party
1959 John Edwards  United Kingdom Labour Party
1960–63 Per Federspiel  Denmark Venstre
1963–66 Pierre Pflimlin  France Popular Republican Movement
1966–69 Geoffrey de Freitas  United Kingdom Labour Party
1969–72 Olivier Reverdin   Switzerland Liberal Party
1972–75 Giuseppe Vedovato  Italy Christian Democracy
1975–78 Karl Czernetz  Austria Social Democratic Party
1978–81 Hans de Koster  Netherlands People's Party for Freedom and Democracy
1981–82 José María de Areilza  Spain Union of the Democratic Centre
1983–86 Karl Ahrens  Germany Social Democratic Party
1986–89 Louis Jung  France Centre of Social Democrats
1989–92 Anders Björck  Sweden Moderate Party
1992 Geoffrey Finsberg  United Kingdom Conservative Party
1992–95 Miguel Ángel Martínez Martínez  Spain Socialist Workers' Party
1996–99 Leni Fischer  Germany Christian Democratic Union
1999–2002 Russell Johnston  United Kingdom Liberal Democrats
2002–2004 Peter Schieder  Austria Social Democratic Party
2005–2008 René van der Linden  Netherlands Christian Democratic Appeal
2008–2010 Lluís Maria de Puig  Spain Socialist Workers' Party
2010–2012 Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu  Turkey Justice and Development Party
2012–2014 Jean-Claude Mignon  France Union for a Popular Movement
2014–2016 Anne Brasseur  Luxembourg Democratic Party
2016 - incumbent Pedro Agramunt  Spain People's Party

The Assembly elected Wojciech Sawicki (Poland)[20] as its Secretary General in 2010 for a five-year term of office which began in February 2011. In 2015 he was re-elected for a second five-year term, which began in February 2016.

Controversy[edit]

Russia suspension[edit]

In April 2014, after the Russian parliament's backing for the occupation of Crimea and Russian military intervention in Ukraine, the Assembly decided to suspend the Russian delegation's voting rights as well as the right of Russian members to be represented in the Assembly's leading bodies and to participate in election observation missions. However, the Russian delegation remained members of the Assembly. The sanction applied throughout the remainder of the 2014 session and was renewed for a full year in January 2015, lapsing in January 2016.

In response, the Russian parliamentary delegation suspended its co-operation with PACE in June 2014, and in January 2016 - despite the lapsing of the sanctions - the Russian parliament decided not to submit its delegation's credentials for ratification, effectively leaving its seats empty. It did so again in January 2017, leaving empty seats in the Assembly for a further year.

The sanctions applied only to Russian parliamentarians in PACE, the Council of Europe's parliamentary body. Russia continues to be a full member of the Council of Europe, and retains full rights in the organisation's other bodies, including its statutory executive body, the Committee of Ministers.[21]

Alleged corruption[edit]

In 2013, the New York Times reported that “some council members, notably Central Asian states and Russia, have tried to influence the organization’s parliamentary assembly with lavish gifts and trips”.[22] According to the report, said member states also hire lobbyists to fend off criticism of their human rights records.[23] German news magazine Der Spiegel had earlier revealed details about the strategies of Azerbaijan’s government to influence the voting behaviour of selected members of the Parliamentary Assembly.[24] In January 2017, following concern expressed by many members of the Assembly as well as a number of NGOs, the Assembly's Bureau decided on a three-step response to these allegations, including the setting up of an independent, external investigation body.

Cultural divisions[edit]

Although the Council of Europe is a human rights watchdog and a guardian against discrimination, it is widely regarded as becoming increasingly divided on moral issues because its membership includes mainly Muslim Turkey as well as East European countries, among them Russia, where social conservatism is strong.[25] In 2007, this became evident when the Parliamentary Assembly voted on a report compiled by Liberal Democrat Anne Brasseur on the rise of Christian creationism, bolstered by right-wing and populist parties in Eastern Europe.[25]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ PACE creates a special committee for the election of judges to the European Court of Human Rights, 24/06/2014.
  2. ^ Adelaide Remiche (August 12, 2012), Election of the new Belgian Judge to the ECtHR: An all-male short list demonstrates questionable commitment to gender equality Oxford Human Rights Hub, University of Oxford.
  3. ^ This number is fixed by article 26.
  4. ^ "Members since 1949". 
  5. ^ "Council of Europe". coe.int. Retrieved 10 June 2015. 
  6. ^ http://www.rainews24.rai.it/it/news.php?newsid=142469
  7. ^ previously part of Serbia and Montenegro: member since 2003
  8. ^ http://assembly.coe.int/nw/xml/News/News-View-en.asp?newsid=5980&lang=2
  9. ^ Previously part of Czechoslovakia, member since 1991
  10. ^ http://assembly.coe.int/nw/xml/XRef/X2H-Xref-ViewPDF.asp?FileID=18022&lang=en
  11. ^ "PACE: News". coe.int. Retrieved 10 June 2015. 
  12. ^ "PACE grants Jordan's Parliament Partner for Democracy Status". coe.int. Retrieved 1 February 2016. 
  13. ^ "Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly". coe.int. Retrieved 10 June 2015. 
  14. ^ "Turkish Cypriot Chamber of Commerce". ktto.net. Retrieved 10 June 2015. 
  15. ^ "Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly". coe.int. Retrieved 10 June 2015. 
  16. ^ "Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly". coe.int. Retrieved 10 June 2015. 
  17. ^ James Ker-Lindsay The Foreign Policy of Counter Secession: Preventing the Recognition of Contested States, p.149: "...despite strong opposition from the Cypriot government, The Turkish Cypriot community was awarded observer status in the PACE"
  18. ^ "Political groups". 
  19. ^ "Turkey's presence at Council of Europe increased". DailySabah. 24 May 2015. 
  20. ^ "Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly". coe.int. Retrieved 10 June 2015. 
  21. ^ "Russia suspended from Council of Europe body". EuropeanVoice. 10 April 2014. 
  22. ^ Judy Dempsey (February 4, 2013), Corruption Undermining Democracy in Europe New York Times.
  23. ^ Judy Dempsey (April 27, 2012), Where a Glitzy Pop Contest Takes Priority Over Rights International Herald Tribune.
  24. ^ Ralf Neukirch (January 4, 2012), A Dictator's Dream: Azerbaijan Seeks to Burnish Image Ahead of Eurovision Der Spiegel.
  25. ^ a b Stephen Castle (October 4, 2007), European lawmakers condemn efforts to teach creationism International Herald Tribune.

Further reading[edit]

  • (French) Le Conseil de l'Europe, Jean-Louis Burban, publisher PUF, collection « Que sais-je ? », n° 885.

External links[edit]