Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe 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 27-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 members drawn 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. However, it is the Assembly which is usually regarded as the "motor" of the organisation, holding governments to account on human rights issues, pressing states to maintain democratic standards, proposing fresh ideas and generating the momentum for reform.
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 member states 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
- demand action from the 47 Council of Europe governments, who - acting through the organisation'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
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 the Council of Europe's three core statutory aims, defending human rights, promoting democracy and upholding the rule of law.
Election of judges to the European Court of Human RightsJudges 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 made up of parliamentarians with legal experience – 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. Judges are elected for a period of nine years and may not be re-elected.
Although the European Convention does not, in itself, require member states to present a multi-sex shortlist of potential appointees, in a 2004 resolution 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. As a result, around one third of the current bench of are women, making the Court a leader among international courts on gender balance.
Birthplace of the European Convention on Human RightsAt its very first meeting, in the summer of 1949, the Parliamentary Assembly adopted the essential blueprint of what became the European Convention on Human Rights, selecting which rights should be protected and defining the outline of the judicial mechanism to enforce them. Its detailed proposal, with some changes, was eventually adopted by the Council of Europe's ministerial body, and entered into force in 1953. Today, more than sixty years later, the European Court of Human Rights - given shape and form during the Assembly's historic post-war debates - is regarded as a global standard-bearer for justice, protecting the rights of citizens in 47 European nations and beyond, and paving the way for the gradual convergence of human rights laws and practice across the continent. The Assembly continues to elect the judges of the Court.
Support for emerging democraciesOver the decades, the Assembly has been at the forefront of supporting democratic change in successive waves of European nations at key moments in their history, negotiating their entry into the Council of Europe "club of democracies". In the 1950s it led the way in embracing recently-defeated Germany, in the 1960s it took a strong stand during the Greek crisis, and in the 1970s it welcomed post-Franco Spain and Portugal into the democratic fold. Above all, it played a key role after the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, creating a path towards membership for former Communist countries with its "Special Guest status", paving the way for the historic reconciliation of European nations under one roof.
Exposing torture in CIA secret prisons in Europe: the "Marty reports"In two reports for the Assembly in 2006 and 2007, Swiss Senator and former Prosecutor Dick Marty revealed convincing evidence that terror suspects were being transported to, held and tortured in CIA-run “secret prisons” on European soil. The evidence in his first report in 2006 - gathered with the help of investigative journalists and plane-spotters among others - suggested that a number of Council of Europe member states had permitted CIA "rendition flights" across their airspace, enabling the secret transfer of terror suspects without any legal rights. In a second report in 2007, Marty showed how two member states - Poland and Romania - had allowed "secret prisons" to be established on their territory, where torture took place. His main conclusions - subsequently confirmed in a series of rulings by the European Court of Human Rights, as well as a comprehensive US Senate report - threw the first real light on a dark chapter in US and European history in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, kicked off a series of national probes, and helped to make torture on European soil less likely.
Historic speeches made to PACEIn 2018 an online archive of all speeches made to the Parliamentary Assembly by heads of state or government since its creation in 1949 appeared on the Assembly's website, the fruit of a two-year project entitled . At the time of its , the archive comprised 263 speeches delivered over a 70-year period by some 216 Presidents, Prime Ministers, monarchs and religious leaders from 45 countries - though it continues to expand, as new speeches are added every few months.
Some very early speeches by individuals considered to be "founding figures" of the European institutions, even if they were not heads of state or government at the time, are also included. Addresses by eight monarchs appear in the list as well as the speeches given by religious figures and several leaders from countries in the Middle East and North Africa.
The full text of the speeches is given in both English and , regardless of the original language used. The archive is searchable by country, by name, and chronologically.
LanguagesThe official languages of the Council of Europe are English and French, but the Assembly also uses German, Italian and Russian as working languages. Each parliamentarian has separate earphones and a desk on which they are able to select the language which they would like to listen to. When foreign guests wish to address the Assembly in languages other than its working languages, they are invited to bring their own interpreters.
Sanctions against the Russian delegationIn 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. The sanction applied only to Russian parliamentarians in PACE, the Council of Europe's parliamentary body, and Russia continued to be a full member of the organisation as a whole.
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, January 2018 and January 2019.
On Tuesday 25 June 2019, after an eight-hour which ended in the small hours, the Assembly to make clear that its members should always have the right "to vote, to speak and to be represented", acceding to a key Russian demand and paving the way for the return of a Russian parliamentary delegation. Within hours the Russian parliament had presented the of a new delegation, which - despite being challenged - were without any sanction by a of 116 in favour, 62 against and 15 abstentions. As a result, the Russian delegation returned to PACE with its full rights after a gap of five years. In protest, the Ukrainian delegation protested before the Assembly, and announced Ukraine will leave the institution. Ukraine returned to PACE in January 2020.
The Armenian ConnectionOn March 6, 2017, ESISC published the report “The Armenian Connection,” claimed that a number of NGOs specializing in human rights protection or researching human rights abuses and corruption in Azerbaijan, Turkey and Russia aim to create a network of PACE deputies, who will participate in a political war against Azerbaijan. This network included the then member of PACE Christoph Strässer, Frank Schwabe, Pieter Omtzigt, René Rouquet, François Rochebloine and others. The report stated that Strässer and Schwabe were, within the SPD, the main actors of a campaign promoting the recognition of the 1915 Armenian genocide, and Pieter Omtzigt had close connections with the Armenian lobby in Netherlands. René Rouquet was the President of the French-Armenian friendship socialist parliamentary group; François Rochebloine presided the “France-Karabakh” Circle, and was active in organizing “solidarity” trips to the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan occupied by Armenia.
According to the Freedom Files Analytical Center, the ESISC report is propaganda and seeks to stop criticism of lobbying and corruption. The European Stability Initiative stated that “the ESISC report is full of lies”.
Alleged corruptionIn 2013, the New York Times reported that “some council members, notably Central Asian states and Russia, have tried to influence the organisation’s parliamentary assembly with lavish gifts and trips”. According to the report, said member states also hire lobbyists to fend off criticism of their human rights records. 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.
In January 2017, following a series of critical reports by the European Stability Initiative NGO, and concern expressed by many members of the Assembly, the Assembly's Bureau decided to set up an independent, external body to investigate these allegations of corruption. In May 2017, three distinguished former judges were named to conduct the investigation: Sir Nicolas Bratza, a British former President of the European Court of Human Rights; Jean-Louis Bruguière, a French former anti-terrorist judge and investigator; and Elisabet Fura, a former Swedish parliamentary Ombudsman and judge on the Strasbourg Court. There are no other known examples in recent history of an international organisation setting up an independent, external anti-corruption probe into itself.
The investigation body, which was to carry out its task "in the utmost confidence", appealed for anyone with information relevant to its mandate to , and held a series of hearings with witnesses. The investigation body's final was published on 22 April 2018 after nine months of work, finding "strong suspicions of corruptive conduct involving members of the Assembly" and naming a number of members and former members as having breached the Assembly's Code of Conduct.
The Assembly responded by declaring, in a , "zero tolerance for corruption". Following a series of hearings, it sanctioned many of the members or former members mentioned in the Investigative Body's report, either by them of certain rights, or by them from the Assembly's premises for life. It also undertook a major overhaul of its and Code of Conduct.
Cultural divisionsAlthough the Council of Europe is a human rights 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. 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.
Resolution on children's right to physical integrityIn October 2013, following a motion by the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development a year prior, the Assembly passed a resolution and an accompanying recommendation on children's right to physical integrity. These documents argued that while PACE had addressed forms of child abuse such as sexual violence and domestic violence, it was also necessary to address what they called "non-medically justified violations of children’s physical integrity which may have a long-lasting impact on their lives". They called for a ban on the most harmful practices, such as female genital mutilation, while also calling for increased dialogue on other procedures they viewed as harmful, such as infant male circumcision, intersex medical interventions, and body piercings.
While none of the above documents called for an outright ban on male circumcision, they did call for the procedure to be regulated and debated, and an accompanying report referred to the practice as a "human rights violation". This condemnation received criticism from religious groups and figures, such as Shimon Peres, the president of Israel at the time, as well as the Anti-Defamation League, which argued that circumcision was an accepted medical procedure and that the resolution interfered with religious freedom and was anti-Semitic. In response to these criticisms, Liliane Maury Pasquier of the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post arguing that medical evidence against circumcision was presented in the Assembly's hearings and that the child's right to physical integrity overrode the parents' right to religious freedom. This op-ed was further criticized by the Anti-Defamation League.
In 2015, PACE passed a resolution on religious freedom and tolerance that referenced its previous resolution on circumcision and reiterated its view that the procedure should only be performed under appropriate medical conditions. Though some outlets reported that PACE had retracted its anti-circumcision stance, PACE clarified that it had neither cancelled nor replaced the old resolution and that they had never called for infant circumcision to be banned in the first place.
MembersThe Assembly has a total of 648 members in total – 324 principal members and 324 substitutes – 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. 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. While not full members, the parliaments of Kyrgyzstan, Jordan, Morocco and Palestine hold "Partner for Democracy" status with the Assembly - which allows their delegations to take part in the Assembly's work, but without the right to vote - and there are also observer delegates from the Canadian, Israeli and Mexican parliaments.
The costs of participation in the Assembly - mainly travel and accommodation expenses - are borne by the national parliament of the delegation concerned. The few members who are appointed as rapporteurs, when they are carrying out work for the Assembly, have their costs covered by the Council of Europe.
Some notable former members of PACE include:
- former heads of state or government such as Britain's wartime leader Sir Winston Churchill, former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, former Turkish President Abdullah Gül, former Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides, former Finnish President Tarja Halonen, former Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, former Albanian President Sali Berisha, and many others.
- Dick Marty, appointed in late 2005 as rapporteur to investigate the CIA extraordinary renditions scandal and organ theft in Kosovo by the Kosovo Liberation Army from the Kosovo war, in 1998–2001
- Marcello Dell'Utri, convicted for complicity in conspiracy with the Mafia, a crime for which he was found guilty on appeal and sentenced to 7 years in 2010.
- the Scottish soldier, adventurer, writer and MP Sir Fitzroy Maclean, author of the autobiographical memoir and travelogue Eastern Approaches, who was a member of PACE on two separate occasions, in .
Composition by parliamentary delegation
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||5||2002|
The special guest status of the National Assembly of Belarus was suspended on 13 January 1997.
Parliaments with Partner for Democracy statusParliaments 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.
Parliaments with observer status
Parliamentarians with observer status
|Turkish Cypriot Community||2||2004|
Composition by political groupThe Assembly has six political groups.
|European People's Party||Aleksander Pociej||154|
|Socialists, Democrats and Greens Group||Frank Schwabe||148|
|European Conservatives Group and Democratic Alliance||Ian Liddell-Grainger||72|
|Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe||Rik Daems||90|
|Unified European Left Group||Tiny Kox||36|
|Members not belonging to any group||59|
PresidentsThe Presidents of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe have been:
|1949||Édouard Herriot||Radical Party|
|1949–51||Paul-Henri Spaak||Socialist Party|
|1952–54||François de Menthon||Popular Republican Movement|
|1954–56||Guy Mollet||Socialist Party|
|1956–59||Fernand Dehousse||Socialist Party|
|1959||John Edwards||Labour Party|
|1963–66||Pierre Pflimlin||Popular Republican Movement|
|1966–69||Geoffrey de Freitas||Labour Party|
|1969–72||Olivier Reverdin||Liberal Party|
|1972–75||Giuseppe Vedovato||Christian Democracy|
|1975–78||Karl Czernetz||Social Democratic Party|
|1978–81||Hans de Koster||People's Party for Freedom and Democracy|
|1981–82||José María de Areilza||Union of the Democratic Centre|
|1983–86||Karl Ahrens||Social Democratic Party|
|1986–89||Louis Jung||Group of the European People's Party|
|1989–92||Anders Björck||European Democratic Group|
|1992||Geoffrey Finsberg||European Democratic Group|
|1992–95||Miguel Ángel Martínez Martínez||Socialist Group|
|1996–99||Leni Fischer||Group of the European People's Party|
|1999–2002||Russell Johnston||Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe|
|2002–2004||Peter Schieder||Socialist Group|
|2005–2008||René van der Linden||Group of the European People's Party|
|2008–2010||Lluís Maria de Puig||Socialist Group|
|2010–2012||Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu||European Democratic Group|
|2012–2014||Jean-Claude Mignon||Group of the European People's Party|
|2014–2016||Anne Brasseur||Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe|
|2016–2017||Pedro Agramunt||Group of the European People's Party|
|2017–2018||Stella Kyriakides||Group of the European People's Party|
|2018||Michele Nicoletti||Socialists, Democrats and Greens Group|
|2018–2020||Liliane Maury Pasquier||Socialists, Democrats and Greens Group|
|2020–||Rik Daems||Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe|
The Assembly elected Wojciech Sawicki 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.