In his address to the Assembly today, the President of the French Republic Emmanuel Macron paid tribute to the “70 years of battles and conquests that are all part of the Council of Europe’s wealth of experience”. “The Council of Europe has advanced respect for fundamental rights, democracy and the rule of law in Europe. It has led to the almost total eradication of the death penalty on the European continent, a reduction in torture, the adoption of texts on the protection of children and the prevention of violence against women. It gave rise to the European Convention on Human Rights, providing for a court responsible for ensuring, with binding force, that states comply with its judgments. It has furthered social rights, guaranteed by the European Social Charter and made our continent more democratic through the observation of elections, the fight against corruption and the defence of freedom of expression,” said President Macron.
“Together, spurred on by the supreme spirit of European fraternity, we have crafted a common architecture with the will to build our ‘common European home’,” he said, stressing the need to ensure that the unity of our continent is re-established on the basis of our common values, as we face the challenges to fundamental rights and see the walls of this common home beginning to show some cracks. “I sincerely believe that it is at the Council of Europe that the divisions of our continent can be healed because it is the place where European consciousness is formed and debated,” he added.
Referring to recent debates on Russia’s place in the Council of Europe, he stressed that, without the joint efforts of the French and Finnish Chairmanships, without the commitment of member States and the Assembly to move forward together towards a return to the normal functioning of the Council of Europe, the crisis could not have been overcome and would have had harmful consequences for the people and the protection of their rights. “This decision in no way undermines our common determination and does not mean that there are multiple standards in the Council of Europe”, he said, referring to the new joint procedure that the Assembly and the Committee of Ministers had decided to initiate. “I hope that this procedure will be operational next January; we must have credible and enhanced mechanisms to enforce the decisions taken by the Council of Europe and ensure that each member State fully respects its commitments and duties,” he said.
However, “the principles and values that unite us are not only threatened by our divisions, but challenged by the major transformations we are experiencing”, said President Macron, citing “an unparalleled weakening of the multilateral system” and new phenomena – radical, such as terrorism, profoundly new such as the magnitude of migration flows, unprecedented technological developments such as social media and the internet – which are encroaching on existing rights in our societies. “This new context means that we have to reconsider the way we are organised, without opting for the easy way out. We have some political work to do, and that is to bring about ethical thinking in the public space,” said Mr. Macron.
He believed that the collective task within the Council of Europe was to provide anchorage, a factual reality, to the construction of rights and freedoms, while tackling the following challenges: protecting citizens against terrorism by preserving their individual rights and freedoms, defending freedom of expression amidst the proliferation of hate speech, responding to violence in our societies by making our democracies stronger, protecting the right of asylum by fulfilling the legitimate requirement to control migration flows, and developing new rights in the digital age and the era of artificial intelligence.
“Our strength in the face of global change lies not in weakening but in defending our rights and freedoms,” he said.
“Europe is shaped by its divisions, by its traumas, but we too often forget that controversy is essential, it is profoundly democratic. Constant controversy is not a weakening but rather a luxury of democracy and the rule of law”, President Macron concluded, mentioning the importance of setting up an Observatory for history teaching in Europe.