Thorbj?rn Jagland: ECHR Ruling on Turkey's Terror Laws Can Help in Dispute with EU
Minutes after Bulgaria's rotating chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers with the Council of Europe had come to an end, CoE Secretary General Thorbj?rn Jagland spoke to Novinite about the priorities touched during the committee's sessions, key issues Bulgaria is facing, and problems in other countries.
Mr Jagland, who served as Prime Minister of Norway between October 1996 and October 1997, is now two years into its second term at CoE, an office he has assumed since 2009.
During the Committee of Ministers' sessions between December and May, media freedom, children's rights, strengthening the rule of law, and the situation in Ukraine were among the highlighted issues.
Mr Jagland, Bulgaria’s Foreign Minister Daniel Mitov has talked a lot about the importance of media freedom during the country's rotating Chairmanship of the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers. But what should Bulgaria do to boost media freedom and to prevent it from sinking further in the global charts, given that the CoE has also highlighted it has some problems with in this aspect?
I have highlighted in my report certain problems related to the media freedom. One thing is that protection of journalists and journalism, another thing is concentration of ownership in the media which as I understand it is maybe a problem here. I have heard they have realized this, but what can be done is not to me to judge, actually, it is to the authorities and the political parties.
But the CoE has had some recommendation about what can be done in terms of legislation?
In a number of other states they have legislation regarding ownership in the media. This is something which Bulgaria can look into and see if can implement the same kind of regulation actually. These are laws that are regulating how much ownership can one have in a particular outlet and media company and so on. There are many good practices in Europe which one could look into.
Judicial reform has been an essential part of the chairmanship. You personally have welcomed Bulgaria's effort toward the reform and have been outspoken about your hope it will be successful. Nevertheless, here in Bulgaria a number of governments have committed themselves to a number of reforms that have all stalled. What makes you think the current effort will work?
Well, I have seen that some reforms have been made. When I was here in the spring, I got an overview from the Minister of Justice, she seems to be very committed on further reforms and making the judiciary totally independent and to do the same with the Supreme Judicial Council so that this can also function according to the European standards. There are still things to be done, and what I have heard and seen is that there is real commitment to going down that road.
During a judicial conference held last month Bulgaria's Prime Minister Boyko Borisov suggested that the monitoring applied to Bulgaria's judicial system should be used elsewhere in Europe. What do you think of such a proposal?
But that's what we are doing, we have two very prominent bodies – Consultative Council of European Judges and the Consultative Council of European Prosecutors.They are scrutinizing all the 47 member states and making huge reports, so we are following very closely what is going on in all member states in the judiciary.
Borisov was referring to this particular report based on the monitoring mechanism created for Bulgaria and Romania by the EU.
This is not my business, what the European Union is doing. Actually, we are providing them with information from these two bodies which I referred to. But how the European Union is dealing with it is up to them, not to us.
What about post-monitoring dialogue? Because I think it was earlier this year that Foreign Minister Mitov called the Parliamentary Assembly with of the Council of Europe to end the dialogue as Bulgaria remains the single EU state still subjected to post-monitoring.
This is entirely up to the PACE, they decide up to their own findings.
A little before Bulgaria took over the chairmanship, the migration crisis was highlighted as a possible issue of discussion, but then wasn't much discussed in the media. During these Committee of Ministers sessions, was common ground reached among the participating countries about what to do with regard to the migrant crisis?
It is fair to say there is not sufficient common ground on how to handle the refugee crisis, but then I am talking about how the Schengen area shall handle this. I think there is broad agreement about how the Council of Europe can act because our mandate is not about how many refugees shall be received, sent back and all this. What we are involved in is how we are actually treating these people that actually are on the European side. We are looking into how the conditions in the reception centers and they are up to the standards, we are looking after the rights of the children. About these things there is broad consensus; but the broader picture, how to handle the influx of people between EU and Turkey, visa liberalization and the quotas - this is not our business.
From a human rights perspective, has the situation of migrants deteriorated since the EU-Turkey deal entered into force?
According to what I hear is that there are less people coming and not so many are returned, but that could be a good sign - maybe because they have time to deal with each and everyone on an individual basis, so that takes time and not many applications are processed. For now we can say it is working. But I do not have sufficient information to go into that and do not know whether this will be the case three months from now.
The EU and Turkey entered into a dispute about visa liberalization, and the EU insists Turkey should revoke its anti-terror laws. Does the CoE have any position on this?
Not on the deal between the EU and Turkey – but [on the anti-terror laws]: we have not only a position, but Turkey has concrete obligations towards the CoE on the terrorism legislation related to freedom of expression. I am talking now about the judgement from the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg which has handed down a number of judgments related to this. So, here, Turkey has obligations to implement these judgments and accordingly change legislations and judicial practices. We are not a apart of the [EU-Turkey] deal, but what we can say is that the judgement can be helpful for finding a solution to the dispute between the EU and Turkey.
How have developments over the past months in Turkey affected your position on the observation of the rule of law and human rights in Turkey?
Yes, we are concerned in the way they are applying the terrorism legislation and how this affects freedom of expression and the security of journalists. We are raising this with the Turkish authorities.
You met the Ukrainian Foreign Minister a few hours ago [during the Committee of Ministers session]. What was the gist of the meeting?
We discussed future cooperation, not only the future but the current reform process where we are heavily involved, priority there, what is going on in Donbass and Crimea, so this was a regular meeting between two very important partners. We have a huge assistance program for Ukraine, so we have regular contacts.
Over the past two years you have said a few times there is no Cold War over the conflict between Russia and Ukraine as of the moment, but there could be. What do you think now?
I hesitate to say it is a Cold War. Many things are going on now between Russia and United States, Russia and Europe, their relations are very strained, that is the truth, but I fail to see that we have the same situation that we have after the Second World War. It was much harsher and the contacts were very limited, the military confrontation was much bigger than today. So I hesitate to compare what we have now with what we had at the time.
How are relations of Russia with the CoE affected by its rift with PACE?
I hesitate to say “our relations” between the Council of Europe and Russia because Russia is a full member of the CoE. We also have many concerns on Russia related to freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, the annexation of Crimea, their involvement in Ukraine and there are a number of issues, but Russia is still a full member of the CoE.
Do you think Belarus is going in the right direction in terms of human rights and democracy, with the prospect of becoming a member of the Council of Europe one day?
I can't say that Belarus is going in the right direction, but I am convinced that Belarus will become a member. When, I don't know, but you can only look at the map and you will see a black hope. It cannot be like that forever, but how things will change, I don't know.
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