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European Conference of Presidents of Parliament

Opening of the Conference

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER

President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe 

11:06:30

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Ladies and Gentlemen,

I invite you to take a seat.

Madame Secretary General,

Dear Colleagues,

It is a great honour and pleasure for me to welcome you all today to Strasbourg for this European Conference of Presidents of Parliament, which is of particular significance this year as we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Council of Europe.

I am deeply convinced that the reason we are celebrating this anniversary is because Europe and, in particular, our fellow citizens need an organisation like ours. Indeed, our political mission – to build greater unity among European states in order to defend and promote human rights, democracy and the rule of law – is now more legitimate and important than ever. We therefore need to focus on all that we have achieved and establish the main lines of future action for our organisation. The themes chosen for our debates will guide us in our deliberations and, if I may, I would like to briefly introduce them.

In order to have a better idea of how the future will look, we will start by examining the state of our “European Common Home” as it celebrates its 70th anniversary. This home is built on a solid foundation but, given the rapid changes taking place in our societies, it faces many and diverse challenges.

First of all, there are external challenges with the growing question marks over our multilateral co-operation mechanisms. Today, we are witnessing a degree of disengagement in the multilateral implementation of international human rights standards. This is reflected in particular in the challenging of the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights and in a certain “politicisation” of fundamental human rights issues. In addition, frozen and open conflicts in Europe and at its borders are a considerable obstacle not only to international dialogue and co-operation, but also to our human rights protection system, as conflict-affected territories are “grey areas” in which individuals are de facto prohibited from accessing our mechanisms for the protection of their human rights.

As you are all aware, our organisation has had to face an institutional and political crisis in recent years. Fortunately, we have managed to shoulder our responsibilities. We must now move forward, but we must not forget our commitment to respect for international law, which must be fully reasserted through a frank and open dialogue between all the member states of our organisation.

Then there are the internal challenges to our democratic institutions and mechanisms. Faced with growing inequalities and the marginalisation of certain sections of the population, we are witnessing an erosion of trust in the institutions of representative democracy. At the same time, direct democracy mechanisms, coupled with the exponential advances of new means of communication such as social networks, are increasingly being used or even manipulated by populist or extremist movements.

Lastly, we cannot ignore global challenges such as, for example, digitisation and the ever-growing use of artificial intelligence, climate change and migration. In order to tackle these new challenges, we need to develop a human rights-based approach in order to continue to defend all that we have achieved for the well-being of our 830 million fellow citizens.

In this context, the role of parliaments is absolutely crucial. I look forward to hearing your ideas and proposals on what we can do together to meet these challenges and together write the narrative of the Council of Europe for the next 70 years.

Dear colleagues,

I now come to the second theme of our debates.

The United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is of particular importance to the Council of Europe and all our member states. This Programme seeks to implement human rights for all, without any discrimination, an objective that our Organisation has always pursued.

The Council of Europe is actively contributing to implementation of this Agenda. Many of our Conventions, such as the Istanbul Convention on Combating Violence against Women, the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime and our Conventions against Corruption, are open to non-member states of the Council of Europe. Accordingly, our normative framework can serve as a model for the development of worldwide regulatory provisions in several areas covered by the UN 2030 Agenda.

Here too, the role of parliamentarians is of particular importance and I am sure that by comparing our respective experiences, our debates this afternoon will enable us to identify good practices and avenues for joint action.

Ladies and Gentlemen, dear colleagues

Finally, I come to the third theme of our debates, but it is certainly not the least important. This is indeed a topical political issue, I would even say that it is a matter of some urgency.

Gender equality is one of the fundamental democratic principles: without equality, societies cannot develop in the best possible way, because it is inconceivable, in a healthy and solid democracy, to exclude half of society from decision-making processes and from the opportunity to fully exercise their capacities, to the detriment of society as a whole.

Inequality is expressed in a variety of ways, and sexism, harassment and violence against women are clearly the most subtle of these forms.

Exactly one year ago, the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe unveiled a regional study on sexism, harassment and violence against women in European parliaments. The results of this study – which you have all received in your files – are staggering.

What can we do to reverse the trend? There are indeed several avenues, one of which is the Assembly’s initiative #NotInMyParliament. Tomorrow, we will have the opportunity to share our experiences in order to identify common courses of action. I hope that, thanks to the commitment of each and every one of us, the #NotInMyParliament initiative will grow into a real movement against sexism and harassment in all spheres of our societies, with endless possibilities such as #NotInMyOffice, #NotInMyCity, etc.

Dear colleagues,

Let me conclude these introductory remarks with a few questions.

Before we begin our debates, let us ask ourselves why we have all come here today. What have we brought with us that we want to share and what will we take back home, to our national parliaments, after two days of intensive debates and bilateral meetings?

These questions are very important, because the European Conference of Presidents of Parliament is not only a place for exchanges and meetings but also an opportunity to deliver common political messages and launch joint initiatives.

What can we do to help strengthen the role of the Council of Europe in addressing the many challenges facing democracy, the rule of law and human rights? As you may be aware, we have embarked upon a major project to set up – through dialogue between the Committee of Ministers and the Assembly – a new joint procedure for responding to situations where one or other of our member states fails to comply with their statutory obligations. In order to supplement this work, we need political commitment at the highest level, within our Governments and Parliaments, and I count on your support.

At the same time, our internal procedures and mechanisms will have only a limited impact if we do not have the material resources to support our member states and provide our fellow citizens with the protection to which they are entitled. However, the zero nominal growth policy implemented in recent years has greatly weakened our organisation. As parliaments, we have budgetary responsibilities in our member states and we must therefore give serious thought to this issue in order to provide the Council of Europe with the financial means to fulfil its political role.

Returning more specifically to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, how can we, together, strengthen its political role and the impact of its action? Should we focus on just a few priority issues? Undoubtedly. However, let us not forget that our Assembly represents the voice of Europe in all its diversity and plurality. We must therefore ensure that it continues to be a forum for debate and exchange, without shying away from addressing the most controversial issues, because it is in our Assembly that we can set out the political guidelines for tackling the major challenges of the future. The active participation of all Assembly members in our work is therefore vital to ensure that our resolutions and recommendations receive the widest possible support from European parliamentarians.

Finally, how can we contribute to strengthening dialogue and co-operation on our continent? Let us remember that it was indeed through dialogue and co-operation that we were able to reconcile the continent after the Second World War and to eliminate ideological divisions after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Today, we must continue to vigorously defend our political role: that of building greater unity among European states in order to defend and promote – together – human rights, democracy and the rule of law. We have been building our Common Home for 70 years now and yet, if we do not show commitment and political will, there is a danger that it will crumble, leaving 830 million Europeans without any multilateral means of redress to protect their rights and freedoms.

That is our responsibility.

I hope that these few questions and thoughts will guide the many bilateral discussions that we will hold during and in the margins of this Conference.

Thank you for your attention, and I now ask Mrs Marija PEJČINOVIĆ-BURIĆ, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, to please address you a few words.

Ms Marija PEJČINOVIĆ BURIĆ

Secretary General of the Council of Europe 

11:19:55

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Thank you, Madam President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe,

Dear Speakers and Presidents of Parliaments,

Mr President of the European Court of Human Rights,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to begin by welcoming you to Strasbourg, the capital of Europe, and more particularly to the Council of Europe, the main human rights organisation in our continent.

As we are celebrating its 70th anniversary, our organisation must remain for its members a unique pan-European platform for dialogue and constructive cooperation.

The Council of Europe must also remain a reference in the promotion and protection of democracy, human rights and the rule of law on our continent. In fact, this role must even be strengthened, and it is clear from our Statute that respect for these fundamental values is an essential obligation for all Member States and a test of our credibility.

The Council of Europe's raison d'être is to work with Member States to set common standards and make sure they are fully applied and respected.

The Court of Human Rights is responsible for ensuring that the European Convention on Human Rights is respected in our 47 Member States. Each of them has ratified the Convention and all their citizens therefore have the right as a last resort to apply to the European Court.

However, the primary responsibility for defending the Convention system and executing the Court's judgments lies at the national level: it is a legal obligation for governments and it is, of course, the role of parliaments to remind them of this responsibility and to ensure that national legislation is in full conformity with international law.

Consequently, when the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Social Charter and the many other treaties and instruments that have followed are in danger, it is clear that national parliaments have a central role to play in preserving and promoting common standards and values in today's Europe.

I am therefore not only pleased to welcome you here today, but I would also like to thank you for your role as Speakers and Presidents of Parliaments. I also urge you to continue to work in your area of competence to ensure that the debate and action, which are highly necessary to defend the common European legal space, find their place there.

Admittedly, the task is not an easy one, as the subjects you will be discussing over the next two days show this very clearly.

The achievement of the objectives within the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development deserves all our efforts.

This programme, of course, emphasises that the respect, protection and promotion of human rights are the responsibility of States. The Council of Europe has made clear its determination to integrate sustainable development objectives into its work, with the nine operational programmes included in our proposed programme and budget for 2020-2021, supporting the full implementation of the United Nations programme.

Ms Marija PEJČINOVIĆ BURIĆ

Secretary General of the Council of Europe 

11:24:34

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When it comes to women in politics and in public discourse, the issue that you will consider is really a form of discrimination that discourages women from contributing fully to public life. Harassment and hate speech towards female politicians is unacceptable and it must be stopped. And this forum is the perfect place in which to share your experiences of this problem, and best practices by parliaments for addressing it.

Certainly, the Council of Europe has undertaken a range of related initiatives: from the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence to the Committee of Ministers' recommendation on preventing and combating sexism. We are working with member states to prevent harassment in every walk of life, including the workplace. In addition, and with great thanks to you Madame President of the Parliamentary Assembly, last year the "not in my Parliament campaign" was launched to help members of this audience to end sexism, harassment and violence against women inside national parliaments.

And within our own Secretariat, we have a Commission against harassment and our current CARE campaign to ensure respect between colleagues. But before these debates, you will discuss this morning "Our Common European Home: the next 70 years". Within this title, there are two implicit assumptions. The first is that the Council of Europe belongs to all of us, and the second is your commitment to its success in the long term. I'm greatly heartened by both. Yes, the achievements of the past 70 years have been enormous and unprecedented. The application of our common standards has improved the lives of every citizen, better protected the range of minorities who live within our societies and created a 47-strong block of states in which the death penalty is no longer applied.

No other continent has achieved this, but there is still a great deal for us to do together; long-term and recurring challenges that must be met. These include corruption threats to independent judiciary and journalists and the free media, restrictions on civil society and human rights defenders, persistent gender inequality and gender-based violence, and the surge in hate speech and populist rhetoric that aims to generate support by appealing to prejudice and fear. Persistent and sometimes increasing poverty and inequality mean that we should also consider how we can better promote the social charter and social rights in Europe.

And new challenges continue to emerge, not least, the rapid rise of the new technologies. Their influence poses important questions about the application of human rights. Artificial intelligence has already made a significant impression on some sectors of employment with a disproportionate impact on the female workforce. Immediate attention is therefore required to explore carefully how artificial intelligence and other new technologies can develop in ways that enhance our human rights rather than undermine them, and what guidelines or other tools we should therefore develop.

The Committee of Ministers has already agreed on the terms of reference for a new intergovernmental steering committee that will address this and work is underway. I know that you will be familiar with these issues, that they feature in the debates, discussions and decisions of your national parliaments. But my point is this: that for the next 70 years to build on the progress of the last, we require -- as our statute says -- greater unity between our member states.

Member states are expected to contribute the ideas, the commitment and the financial resources to provide for an adequate environment to ensure that human rights, democracy and the rule of law are respected and upheld. And national parliaments have a vital role to play in supporting these efforts and in taking innovative measures in this respect. 

I hope that this morning's debate will generate new thinking about the best ways in which that can be done, creating a renewed impetus for our concerted and tangible actions. 

I wish you all a very successful conference.

Thank you. 

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER

President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe 

11:30:20

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Thank you, Madame Secretary General.

Dear Colleagues,

I now invite you to adopt the agenda for our conference, which you know will address the three themes that have been mentioned. The session, which begins now, will continue into the afternoon and will be devoted to the discussion of our first theme for reflection: "Our Common European Home: the next 70 years". The second theme for discussion, "Implementing the UN 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals: contribution by Parliaments", will be debated in the afternoon. Indeed, in view of the large number of presidents who wish to speak on the first topic of reflection, I propose that we continue the exchanges on this topic until around 5:30 p.m., so that the discussion of the second topic can begin in the late afternoon.

The discussion on the third theme for reflection: "Women in politics and in the public discourse. What role can national Parliaments play in combatting the increasing level of harassment and hate speech towards female politicians and parliamentarians?" will take place tomorrow morning from 10:00 a.m. Finally, I will have the honour of presenting the conclusions of our conference at the end of the session.

Are there any comments about our adjusted timetable? This is not the case, so it is adopted.

The rules of the conference are also on file, and I have the pleasure and honour to inform you that Mr Gérard LARCHER, President of the French Senate, Mr Richard FERRAND, President of the French National Assembly, will be Vice-President of the conference today and that Ms Tone WILHELMSEN TRØEN, President of the Norwegian Parliament, will be Vice-President tomorrow morning.

Our first topic of discussion concerns "Our Common European Home: the next 70 years", two of our colleagues will introduce this theme: Mr Richard FERRAND, President of the French National Assembly and Ms Marina CAROBBIO GUSCETTI, President of the Swiss National Council.

I therefore give the floor to Mr FERRAND, President of the French National Assembly, to present his introductory contribution.

Theme 1: "Our Common European Home": the next 70 years

Mr Richard FERRAND

President of the National Assembly, France 

11:32:47

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Madame President,

Madame Secretary General of the Council of Europe,

Dear Colleagues, Presidents of the Parliamentary Assemblies of the Member States of the Council,

Mr President of the Court,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Europe is no longer just a nation of many; this is what Montesquieu taught us. The Council of Europe is this unique, indispensable place where all these nations – whether or not they belong to the European Union – can meet, talk and get to know and understand each other better. That is why I am particularly pleased to take part with you in this conference of the Presidents of the parliaments of the member States of the Council of Europe, in this highly symbolic city of Strasbourg. This meeting provides us with a unique opportunity to reaffirm our common conviction for greater cooperation between our parliamentary assemblies for the exchange of information and good practices, but also for concrete actions.

It is an honour to appear before you because – like all the French authorities – in the first place, the President of the Republic, our Assembly and myself attach great importance to the Council of Europe. It is an international organisation that has laid the foundations for a continent that is at peace, that is deeply humanist, and in which individual rights, democracy and the rule of law are not abstract concepts but requirements. It is also an ambitious challenge, to say the least, because it might seem presumptuous to claim that we can sketch out what the future of the Council of Europe will look like over the next 70 years.

Sir Winston Churchill's famous speech calling for the creation of the United States of Europe, delivered at the University of Zurich on 19 September 1946, is often cited as the first step towards the creation of the Council of Europe. Undoubtedly, this was also behind the 1948 Hague Congress, which promoted European unification and was then followed by the signing of the Treaty of London and the establishment of this organisation on 5 May 1949 right here in Strasbourg.

It was, at that time, the very first European organisation with the official objective, according to its statutes, of achieving a closer union between its members.

The history of the Council of Europe began against the backdrop of the Cold War, but it was also part of a process that saw the birth of a large number of institutions on our continent.

Created at the same time as the European Organisation for Economic Co-operation, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the European Coal and Steel Community, the Council of Europe has played a key role in protecting the fundamental rights of citizens and in unifying and integrating the continents.

I will mention just a few of its achievements: the eradication of the death penalty throughout most of Europe, the reduction of torture, the improvement in prison conditions, and the fight against corruption.

While the Council of Europe is very much influenced by the relationship that has been established with what was to become the European Union, it does however have its own identity and areas of expertise. It has experienced high points but also crises, too. Three major periods have marked its 70-year history: first of all, its establishment from 1948 to 1969; then its quest for a new identity from 1969 until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989; and finally, the period of its enlargement and affirmation as a pan-European organisation welcoming the countries of Central and Eastern Europe and European countries from the former Soviet Union.

From that point on, the idea of a common European house – evoked in this very place by Mikhail Gorbachev in a speech delivered in July 1989 – has become a reality. Throughout its existence, the Council of Europe has demonstrated its capacity for adaptation and innovation. It has accompanied the waves of enlargement by introducing new tools and new forms of assistance for the countries concerned.

As proof of this, I would particularly like to mention the aid programmes and the Venice Commission, from 1990 onwards, as well as the establishment of a procedure for monitoring human rights obligations – known as monitoring – to ensure that member States' commitments were respected. This was set up in 1994.

Similarly, major institutional changes have been decided at several summits of Heads of State and Government. The Vienna Summit in 1993 gave impetus to the creation of a single human rights court as well as the establishment of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities. The Strasbourg Summit in 1997 launched the idea of a European Commissioner for Human Rights, while the Warsaw Summit in 2005 initiated the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with the European Union.

But, above all, I would like to stress that the Council of Europe has served as a forum for internal governmental cooperation providing concrete responses to the problems and threats affecting our modern societies. Thanks to the dialogue between member States, parliamentarians and experts, conventions on biomedicine were drawn up in 1997; on cybercrime in 2001; on preventing and combating terrorism in 2005 and 2007; on combating violence against women in 2011; and on trafficking in human organs in 2015.

This summary would not be exhaustive without a special mention of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and its implementing body and instrument for the effectiveness of these rules: the European Court of Human Rights. Particularly appreciated by all our fellow citizens, it has established itself as an international court of reference whose views must be taken into account by the member States.

The last piece in the overall structure, Protocol No. 16 to the European Convention on Human Rights, now offers the possibility for national supreme courts to consult the Strasbourg Court on any matter likely to be the subject of future litigation before it.

Clearly, this is a major step forward and I am pleased that France has allowed it to enter into force through its ratification on 12 April 2018. Similarly, I am pleased that the French courts have used this new instrument since 5 October 2018.

We are therefore a very long way from the time when General de Gaulle spoke of the Council of Europe as an organisation "sleeping on the Rhine". On the contrary, it is as active as it is inventive, and that is why France is proud to see that this 70th anniversary of the creation of the Council of Europe coincides with its presidency of the Committee of Ministers. This is an opportunity for representatives of national parliaments such as ours to formulate thoughts for the future.

Although forecasting is never an exact science, I believe that the Council of Europe will continue to make its contribution to the defence of common values on our continent for decades to come. In what forms, and with what objectives, and for what purpose? These are – it seems to me – the questions we are being asked today.

In my opinion, the Council of Europe embodies the ambitions of the original European construction. What gives primacy to the value of man in society, what affirms his place, is a political philosophy, a set of elaborate legal rules developed, maintained, defended, perfected, among others, by the Council of Europe, which was the first to reflect this ambition. In this respect, it would make sense for the European Union to accede to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms.

The primacy of democracy, the rule of law and human rights are based on an extraordinarily fragile set of values and legal principles. As we all know, the implementation of the Strasbourg Court's case law is sometimes difficult. A fragile but very precious foundation, judging by the attraction it exerts on many countries on the fringes of our continent, such as Morocco and Jordan, which have been granted the status of partners for democracy. They are striving for convergence with Council of Europe standards and, in many respects, they demonstrate that the ideal underlying the foundation of this organisation remains very relevant.

Should the Council of Europe, therefore, assert itself in the future as a school of democracy or rather as a democracy club? The enlargement following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the choice of an open convention – à la carte – with ratification by the member States, tend to favour a space for constructive, fruitful and encouraging dialogue. The ideals of human rights and the rule of law, towards which member States must strive, remain a powerful lever for action towards countries whose democratic transition is still recent.

History teaches us that pluralism, the rule of law, and individual or collective freedoms take time to prevail. And current events show us that the rule of law can be re-established within the Council of Europe's member States themselves. In order to continue to have real added value, the Council of Europe must continue to adapt continuously to new challenges related to the exercise of human rights in order to respond to citizens' concerns. These issues cover topics as varied and important as artificial intelligence, bioethical issues or the manipulation of information. The Council of Europe must also further improve its monitoring procedures and mechanisms. Much progress has been made over the past 70 years, including the election of judges of the European Court of Human Rights, the election of candidates for the Committee for the Prevention of Torture, and the election of the incumbent as Commissioner for Human Rights – to mention only the most significant ones.

Work is already underway to set up a procedure for joint reactions by the Parliamentary Assembly and the Committee of Ministers in the event of a breach of its obligations by a member State or a failure to respect fundamental principles and values.

I hope that this work can be completed in the coming months.

For my part, I am firmly convinced that national parliaments must be given a greater role in the monitoring of work carried out within the Council of Europe's institutions. Of course, this assembly is – in a way – their very essence. But it would probably be very simplistic to confine the mission of our assemblies, fellow speakers, to the periodic review of the activity of our respective delegations in Strasbourg and to confine it to a careful analysis of the resolutions adopted. Our national parliaments must monitor more comprehensively the actions carried out within the various institutions of the Council of Europe. This means that they must pay close attention to the case law of the European Court of Human Rights with regard to our respective States. They must pay close attention as well to the conclusions of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture in places where there is deprivation of freedom, or to the observations made by the Commissioner for Human Rights, in order to ensure much greater dissemination.

This follow-up could give rise to, why not consider it, debates in the committees in charge of international organisations, or even in public meetings, more exceptionally given the agenda constraints inherent to our assemblies. This would undoubtedly make the work and actions of the Council of Europe better known.

I also think that the Council of Europe would benefit from encouraging its various officials to come and address some parliamentary bodies in the member States. Doing this, even if exceptional, would certainly increase awareness of the work they carry out to serve the 840 million Europeans living in the organisation's geographical area.

Like all of you here, I am committed to preserving and defending the Council of Europe's contribution to peace, respect for collective and individual rights, and democracy on our continent. I hope that the conference we are attending today will make a useful contribution to this.

Thank you for your attention.

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER

President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe 

11:49:52

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I now call on Ms Marina CAROBBBIO GUSCETTI, President of the Swiss National Council, to present her contribution.

Ms Marina CAROBBIO GUSCETTI

President of the National Council, Switzerland 

11:50:04

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Dear President of the Parliamentary Assembly, dear General Secretary, esteemed colleagues and esteemed colleagues Presidents of Parliaments,

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,

Europe, a continent, 50 countries, even more languages and dialects, over 800 million inhabitants. So different, but so united. This is Europe. Almost all of it was brought together under the institutional umbrella of the Council of Europe, which today includes 47 countries and has signed 220 conventions. The glue between the various entities is not, however, limited to institutional agreements and supranational treaties, but what really holds us together are our common values. Even when we look back over the history that led to the founding of the Council of Europe, we see that values play a fundamental role. As he pointed out when the Treaty of London was signed on 5 May 70 years ago, the Foreign Minister of Great Britain at the time, Mr Ernest BEVIN. "This agreement – he said – lays the foundations for something new and full of hope for life in Europe. Today we are witnessing the creation of a new democratic institution common to this ancient European continent." It is therefore a first step towards greater economic, political and social cooperation between the European States, which was then considered essential for maintaining peace. Thought then, but still valid today. Collaboration not as an end, but as a means of lifting Europe from the rubble in not one but two wars; a means of bringing prosperity and prospects to the new generations and, above all, a means of ensuring that something like this never happens again.

This year, therefore, we are celebrating 70 years of the Council of Europe. 70 years of peace and unity in Europe. A continent that has been able to learn from its mistakes and rebuild itself. An ambitious reconstruction process, oriented towards values such as peace, respect for human dignity, individual and collective freedoms, democracy and minorities. But also based on equality, the rule of law and human rights. In addition to the need to share these values, European states are characterised by pluralism and solidarity. Values partly denied by intolerance, racism, xenophobia or gender discrimination. But as with any federal or confederal political entity, the right balance must be found between the openness and sovereignty of individual states, between collaboration and independence. This balance does not, according to some, exist at the moment, having conferred excessive powers on supranational institutions and thus depriving the nation state of them.

Personally, I don't think that is the case. Precisely because many of the challenges that we are facing and that await us in the future do not stop at national borders. Climate change, migration and digitisation – to name but a few – are global issues that require responses beyond the competence of individual states. It is therefore essential to find global answers without, however, wanting to diminish the importance that the national Parliaments play in the implementation of these answers. It is the Parliaments that have the competence to create the laws, adapting them to the specificities of each country and, above all, it is the national Parliaments that have the direct link with citizenship and have received the democratic mandate from them. National parliaments, however, must be very attentive to the discussions and decisions that are taken in the Council of Europe, reporting and discussing what has been discussed and what has been analysed.

I think that what we have achieved must not, however, lead us to take for granted the achievements we have made and the values we have found. That's why the next 70 years in this community home are so important. We must remain vigilant. The questioning of common principles that underpin democracy is multiplying and gaining ground in many regions. It is not just a question of criticising the European institutional structure, but also of criticising the values which it represents and which we represent. There are more and more people and movements questioning values that should be intrinsic to any modern and democratic society. Values such as equality, equal opportunities, protection of minorities, mutual respect and solidarity. We live in an age in which there are people who want to build visible and invisible walls, real and imaginary, to divide people on the basis of criteria such as nationality, ethnic, religious or social origin, but also gender.

As a representative of a linguistic minority in my country, the Italian minority, I consider myself to be a supporter of minority rights and I have made this a subject in my presidential term. I sincerely believe that our differences should not distract us, but should instead serve to enrich our cooperation. The defence of linguistic and cultural minorities, their recognition, inclusion and participation help to reduce the distance between citizens and institutions. Just as the fight against economic and income inequalities, the fight against poverty and the strengthening of the rights of women and minorities must be clear priorities that parliaments must have.

By giving space to the opinions of others, by recognising international law and by defending democratic mechanisms, we can therefore strengthen confidence in the institutions. I come from a country – Switzerland – where direct democracy plays a central role. However, I am aware and convinced of the importance, also in my country, of involving and making citizens more and more involved in decision-making and public life. This also means, in fact, that information must be accurate and impartial. Coming from a country where direct democracy plays such an important role, I am aware of the need to reflect on how to involve the population more, how to involve the younger generations more in political discussions and decision-making. This anniversary cannot and must not, therefore, be merely a reminder of the well-being of unity and peace found in Europe, but, as we shall be discussing today and tomorrow, also a warning and a hope for the future.

Let us not take for granted what has been achieved, but let us commit ourselves every day to safeguarding and protecting these achievements and above all these common values. Today, tomorrow and for the next 70 years.

That is why, not only in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, not only in these meetings of the Presidents of Parliaments, but also in the National Parliaments, we must increasingly talk about values if we want to give a future to our common home.

Dear colleagues, 

In order to face the challenges mentioned above, I think it is also essential to encourage these moments of meeting and discussion, conferences like this one, but also other mutual exchanges. We must try to strengthen the platforms for inter-parliamentary exchange, stressing the importance of the discussions that are held by the Parliamentary Assembly, the discussions and decisions that are taken by the European Court of Human Rights. This exchange is necessary in order to provide answers to the citizens, even in the age of globalisation, by making them understand the importance of multilateralism and the need to have the Council of Europe in the future too, a Council of Europe capable of discussing, analysing the situation and defending the values I spoke of earlier.

On behalf of the Swiss Parliament, it is therefore a great honour to be able to speak here today and to be able to say a few words of introduction to the important debates that we will have this morning, today and tomorrow. Above all, however, it is important for me to stress the importance of the Council of Europe and the work that is being done here, but above all, I would like to thank you for the important work that you are doing to defend the Europe of solidarity, unity and peace. Thank you and let us remember not to take for granted what has been achieved, but let us commit ourselves every day to safeguarding and protecting these achievements.

Thank you.

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER

President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe 

12:00:22

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Thank you to Mr FERRAND and Mrs CAROBBIO GUSCETTI for their valuable contribution to the reflection of this conference.

We now come to the general debate.

The list of speakers has been distributed. In accordance with our Rules of Procedure, the order was decided by drawing lots this morning at the meeting of the secretaries of the national delegations before the opening of the conference, for speakers who were already registered.

I invite the Speakers of Parliament who would like to add their names to this list to approach the services of the sitting at room 1076 behind the Presidency.

Finally, when the list of speakers is exhausted, and depending on the time available, I will invite, if necessary, any President who wishes to take the floor to react or comment on the previous statements.

I would remind you that each speaker has five minutes' speaking time.

The first speaker on the list is Mr Andreas NORLÉN, Speaker of the Swedish Parliament. I would also like to announce the name of the next speaker, so that he will be ready to approach the rostrum – you may have noticed that the chairs of this hemicycle were difficult to move – which will save you a few minutes. After Mr Andreas NORLÉN, I will therefore give the floor to Mr Viktoras PRANCKIETIS, President of the Lithuanian Parliament.

You have the floor, sir.

Mr Andreas NORLÉN

President, Riksdag, Sweden 

12:02:03

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Madame President,

Highly honoured speakers and colleagues,

Ladies and gentleman,

Thank you for kindly allowing me to take the floor. 

I've only been in the speaker of the Swedish Parliament for a year now, but I have actually managed to become somewhat historic during this short time. I had the dubious honour of taking care of Sweden's longest process ever of forming a government, which took 134 days. In Sweden, it is the speaker's task to present a proposal for a new prime minister to the Riksdag and it wasn't until the third attempt that I succeeded in getting support for a candidate.

During the process of forming a government, I deliberated with each of the party leaders seven times and they were also having talks with each other. In order to successfully conclude the process, three components were of central importance: negotiation, confidence and broad support. Negotiation to reach political agreements, confidence to enable meetings to take place with an open mind, broad support because our political parties are member-based democratic organisations.

The process of forming a government was thus an example of democracy in practice. When there is no broad support, there is no confidence; when there is no confidence, there is no trust; when there is no trust, democracy becomes weaker. So a high level of trust in society is of tremendous importance. If we don't rely on each other, the result will be that all relations, transactions and actions will become more expensive, more difficult and more troublesome. So if people meet corruption, lack of freedom and bad service in society, obviously, they will have no trust in suppliers, no trust in us as elected representatives, and no trust in societal institutions. So when feelings of trust in democratic governments are undermined, in this way, other forces may take over internal and external enemies of democracy.

So a society built on core values represented by the Council of Europe, democracy, human rights and the rule of law must be founded on the trust of its citizens and such societies, which, in turn, strengthens the trust of the citizens in societal institutions. You cannot build a house and then believe it's finished. Houses need to be renovated and maintained. This is also the case with our common European home.

Values such as democracy, trust and the rule of law are facing challenges in Sweden and in Europe as a whole. Authoritarian regimes are once more gaining ground. Political extremists, of various kinds, are challenging our open societies. Also, in this organisation there are member states where democratic institutions are being weakened or even destroyed. This organisation itself was a few years ago stained by corruption. This shows that we can never take democracy for granted.

The Council of Europe was formed in the aftermath of the Second World War as an association of the democracies of Europe. Let us stop to think for a moment when faced with this simple truth: the democracies of Europe. It was the democratic countries of Europe who came together to create mechanisms that were to safeguard and strengthen the democratic systems of our countries and make them resilient to powers that wanted to challenge and fight democracy. Democracy means not only free and fair elections and the rule of law but also respect for minorities and human rights, such as freedom of expression, academic freedom, freedom to demonstrate and freedom of association.

I think that, while being cautious not to exaggerate too much, one should at the same time be open with recognising the fact that there is a gap between the many states who wish to continue to develop, deepen and strengthen our democratic social model and the few countries where governments do not trust their own people and therefore cannot trust the unit power of democracy.

However much we want to restart or reset troubled relationships, we cannot pretend that that gap does not exist. Because of this, I cannot stress enough the importance of the tasks of the Council of Europe and the values we defend. We must strengthen these important values and safeguard institutions, such as the European Court of Human Rights. In consolidated democracies, each new generation must be one for the cause of democracy. In the new struggling democracies, we must work tirelessly to strengthen democratic institutions because we care about the citizens of those countries and because it is in the interest of all of us. When the light of freedom in 1989 was lit throughout eastern Europe after more than 40 years of darkness, that light shone across all of Europe.

So, ladies and gentlemen, the rule of law, human rights and development are the tools we have used to build our common European home. They will also be used by the generations to come over the next 70 years and thereafter.

Thank you.

Mr Richard FERRAND

President of the National Assembly, France 

12:07:38

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Thank you, Mr NORLÉN.

The next speaker is Mr Viktoras PRANCKIETIS, who is President of the Seimas, the Lithuanian Parliament. And he will be followed by Mr Ararat MIRZOYAN, the President of the National Assembly of Armenia.

Mr Viktoras PRANCKIETIS

President, Seimas, Lithuania 

12:07:55

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Madame Secretary General,

Presidents of Parliaments,

Honourable guests,

Europe is strong when it speaks with one voice. I believe that what unity requires is the perception of unanimity, a common identity. This can be built in an active process involving individuals who are not just objects, but rather the actors, participants of the process. Today, here in Strasburg, we are the participants of this process, who certify that the values of democracy and human rights are one of the key elements of European identity.

We have assembled here to build "the common European home". "The common European home" is a well-worn phrase. However, it is still quite attractive to many. The question then arises: what is it? Is it a reality, a dream, a myth, or just a joke? More persuasive, at least for me, is "the home in common Europe". My country, Lithuania, has marked the centenary of its statehood. Soon it is going to mark the thirtieth anniversary of the restoration of its independence. That was Lithuania’s return to Europe.

So, what have we managed to build in the last three decades? We can welcome the achievements ranging from free elections, freedom of expression and freedom of the press, freedom of the assembly, to gender equality and the protection of minorities. Today, none of the Council of Europe member States is applying the death penalty anymore. Lithuania refused it more than 20 years ago. The Council of Europe has carried out a number of important campaigns, including a campaign for child protection, a campaign against hate speech online and a campaign for the Roma, the biggest national minority in Europe.

The Council of Europe is assisting its member States in the fight against corruption and terrorism, and the enforcement of legal reforms. However, we have to take the courage to acknowledge that there have been, and there are still, moments in which we have not been equally successful, and discuss what we can do to achieve more progress. For as many as seventy years, this organisation has been building coherence, a philosophy based on shared values and objectives. This coherence is beginning to decay from the inside now. And this represents the biggest challenge for our future in the Council of Europe.

One of the solutions is the renovation of our common home, but this would only fit those who believe that Europe can be integral and free. You can find the ones who frequently speak about it but, in fact, there will be few that actually believe in it. Another approach is to build a new common home, but this requires strong will and funding. The third is the easiest, but also the most desperate way: neither redesign nor renovate, simply legalise what has already been achieved by carrying out annexations and save power plans and human rights abuses. Is this the way the Council of Europe is choosing now?

We do appreciate the fact that Russian citizens' rights will be further ensured under the European Convention of Human Rights. At the same time, however, we can see the negative consequences of the decision of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on Russia’s unconditional return. The grounds on which Russia was removed have not been eliminated, though. The Russian authorities are treating this decision as first step towards the recognition of Crimea as a part of Russia and the lifting of sanctions against Russia. The Lithuanian delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has taken a firm stand, together with parliamentarians from other countries, in defending the values and principles of the Council of Europe, and stands ready to use all the instruments available within the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in view of Russia’s liability for the violations of international law.

The divided approach of the Council of Europe member States towards the issue of the return of Russia to the Parliamentary Assembly has shown that his organisation is not fully united. It has also shown that human rights and democracy cannot be treated separately from security issues. That is why, when the Council of Europe marks its 70th anniversary, our countries must do the utmost to assure that this organisation continues to respond to the interests of the European people.

This can be achieved only by avoiding to apply exceptions and double standards for some members for their non-compliance with the Council of Europe principles. Today, we do not only need a strong overall response mechanism but also clear rules for its application. Sanctions must be applied immediately to the countries that violate the principles of the Council of Europe, the sovereignty of other countries, human rights and democratic values. May I once again congratulate you all on the beautiful anniversary of our organisation, while recalling the reasons and objectives for which it was created.

Let us use its strengths and achievements, and let us not be afraid to recognise our mistakes and correct them. Let us build and improve our common European home by choosing the way that is complicated but acceptable for all. Europe is strong when it is united

Thank you.

Mr Richard FERRAND

President of the National Assembly, France 

12:13:59

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Thank you.

I give the floor to Mr Ararat MIRZOYAN, President of the National Assembly of Armenia. He will be followed by Ms Cristina NARBONA, Vice-President of the Senate in Spain.

Mr Ararat MIRZOYAN

President, National Assembly, Armenia 

12:14:16

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Distinguished Madame President,

Distinguished Madame Secretary General,

Dear Colleagues,

Ladies and Gentleman,

It is a real honor for me to be here today, in the Chamber of the organisation that 70 years ago embarked on a fascinating, yet difficult journey of creating a Europe united in its determination to establish societies based on a universal system of values with human beings, human rights and democracy at its centre.

Using this opportunity, I would like to focus on recent changes and developments in my country, in Armenia. The non-violent peaceful revolution that happened in my country last year was purely about democracy, rule of law, human rights, independent judiciary and free and competitive economy. The revolution ended the nightmare era of injustice, systematic corruption, oligarchy, falsification of results of elections and etc. Under the strong pressure of citizens, the anti-democratic forces were driven out from power in May 2018. The snap parliamentary elections in December of the same year, which unprecedently were recognised as free and democratic by the international observers, became the final manifestation of democratic changes designing current features of executive and legislative powers.

During this year and a half, we already have managed to initiate some substantial political, economic, juridical reforms making sure that the democratic developments in Armenia are irreversible. However, there still exist some challenges and threats our young democracy is facing and countering that I would like to share with you.

The large-scale fight against corruption, investigation of many cases of corruption, illegal enrichment, as well as massive violation of human rights, at some point certainly deals with the judiciary system. Unfortunately, some in judiciary in my country haven’t gone through the process of self-transformation, being most probably and presumably themselves who are engaged in corruption and illegal enrichment -- investigations are going on and respect for the presumption of innocence doesn’t allow me to say more -- and/or having strong visible political motivation and political affiliations to the corrupt and antidemocratic forces fully rejected a year ago by the citizens of Armenia.

I am sad to say, but even the Constitutional Court of Armenia does not stay apart from these negative processes and, in the eyes of the people, it is perceived to be the symbol of the systematic injustice and a last stand of the past regime. The body, which ought to protect the constitution, ensure its supremacy and assure the checks and balances, is acting rather as a group of politically motivated people, deviating from their constitutional mission and consequently being a threat to common democratic values, which unite us under the umbrella of the Council of Europe.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We, the democratic and legitimate Parliament and the Government of Armenia, cannot, of course, keep a blind eye to the degradation of rule of law and collapsing of democratic institutions in our country. This situation is an imminent threat to constitutional security and stability, which may ruin the new democratic fundament of Armenia if appropriate measures would not be implemented.

Unfortunately, there are no proven universal solutions for such situations which we might usually see in transitional societies and young democracies. In some cases, young democracies fail to overcome these kinds of challenges, remaining in a trap where the literal interpretation of written procedures are underestimating the spirit and philosophy of law.

Anyway, I want to restate that the settlement we will find in Armenia, will be in accordance with incontestable principles of democracy, constitutional values, human rights and the spirit of the law because these are core values of Armenian leadership and Armenian society, and Armenia will definitely continue its way based on these values. It is a big honour for us to be united with the Council of Europe having these values in common and we will stand for them locally, regionally and globally.

Thank you for your attention.

Mr Richard FERRAND

President of the National Assembly, France 

12:19:36

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Thank you, Mr President.

I call Ms Cristina NARBONA, Vice-President of the Senate in Spain. She will be followed by Mr Michal SEWERYŃSKI, Vice-President of the Senate in Poland.

Ms Cristina NARBONA

Vice-President, Senado, Spain 

12:19:52

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President, colleagues, ladies and gentleman, 

I would like to start by thanking the Council of Europe for having agreed to our membership in 1977, a year before we approved our democratic constitution. What the Council of Europe was doing was showing confidence in the will of the Spaniards to overcome Franco's dictatorship and to commit to the principles of the rule of law and respect for human rights. Spain has indeed come to consolidate its democracy, and Council of Europe recommendations and resolutions are an extremely valuable point of reference as well as a stimulus for the constant improvement of the quality of our democracy. 

The documents that we are debating today can only lead us to think about how we, from the parliaments we represent here, can reverse the increasing mistrust on the part of our citizens towards public institutions. I think that we should speak with one voice in replying to those calls and namely that we can remedy the shortcomings in our democracies with more and better democracy. This means that we need to have better information, we have to counter falsehoods, we need to have a system in which truthful information is easily accessible to guarantee participation of citizens in public life. We also need better accountability and we need to make sure that we relieve the inequalities in income and wealth. Particularly, we have to fight against a lack of perspectives among the younger citizens in our societies. We have an increasingly deregulated labour market, in which people's qualifications no longer correspond to the kind of wages they receive. We also have to fully comply with the European social charter and we have to deal with the environmental collapse and planetary limits and in particular, climate change. 

So these are global challenges that no country working in isolation on its own, however powerful it may be, can deal with. That is why now, more than ever before, we need to coalesce around this union and diversity which has been the guiding principle of our history here in the Council of Europe and make sure we have greater political integration amongst the Member States of the European Union. A principle that was defended before the European Parliament by Josep Borrell who is the new High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Vice-president of the European Commission, and he said that if we are united, then we are stronger. But we can only proceed with integration in a gradual and consensual fashion, making sure that we do have multiple speeds within the European Union. We have to recognise that this is a reality. I believe this applies equally to countries that belong to the Council of Europe and we must have one overriding objective, which is to preserve the basic pillars of our common identity. 

We have recently celebrated the Council of Europe 70th anniversary and on that occasion, we heard an address by Felipe González who was our prime minister for 14 years. He said that there can be no democracy without respect for the law, but democracy can also reform laws in our constitutions by following established procedures to guarantee the rights of all citizens. I believe this is a particularly relevant observation at a time in which Spain is in the spotlight because certain representatives of a part of Catalan society to impose Catalonia's secession on the majority of the population in defiance of their wishes and also in defiance of the territorial integrity of our country, which is enshrined in our constitution, as it is indeed in many European constitutions. But as I say, there cannot be a democracy if there is no respect for the law on the part of citizens as well as their institutions. But we can overhaul our legislation, and indeed we must, with the greatest possible degree of consensus and this is what we have been able to do in Spain during our political transition. 

And that, indeed, is what is happening today. We are closing a chapter. The remains of the dictator Franco are being moved from their outsized monument where they have laid for 40 years and will be buried alongside his wife in the cemetery. There have been major revolutions that are transforming our societies in the 21st century: the empowerment of women, ecological considerations which are absolutely vital for just, safe and sustainable progress, as well as incorporating new technologies and digitalisation and artificial intelligence. All our parliaments must work together. I am particularly delighted to see the Ibero-American Court of Human Rights consolidate its work and set a good example. And Spain will work alongside the Council of Europe following the mandate that was given in Helsinki. Thank you very much for listening. 

Mr Richard FERRAND

President of the National Assembly, France 

12:25:37

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Thank you, Madam.

I call Mr Michel SEWERYŃSKI, Vice-President of the Polish Senate, while Mrs AliaHATOUG-BOURAN, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean, is preparing.

Mr Michał SEWERYŃSKI

Vice-President, Senat, Poland 

12:25:50

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Mr President,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Presidents and Speakers of Parliaments,

Seventy years ago, our continent, was subject to terrible tragedy with an enormous loss of life in the cruelest war in the history of mankind. And then it was torn in half by Soviet violence, which held its eastern part in the shackles of totalitarian communism. The continent was desirous of peace, freedom and security. And it was this desire that gave rise to the concept of the Council of Europe.

Two French citizens – Georges BIDAULT and Robert SCHUMAN – have translated this desire into practical action, while the Belgian citizen, Paul-Henri SPAAK, initiated of the creation of the European Parliamentary Assembly. The plan, not very realistic, to form a supranational European government was fortunately blocked by the British and Scandinavian opposition.

The Council of Europe was therefore born in the Netherlands. It grew and developed thanks to concrete action and enthusiasm on behalf of the French. It took shape following the concept of Belgian parliamentarianism and the old democratic traditions of Great Britain and Scandinavia, while fully respecting the sovereignty of nations. The enslaved nations of the eastern part of the continent were able to engage in this work only 40 years later – after the fall of the Soviet Empire.

The experience we have acquired encourages reflection on the future of Europe. Of course, predicting what's going to happen 70 years from now is more of a task for a fortune teller than for a responsible politician. However, politicians have a duty to identify impending challenges and plan appropriate actions.

I represent Poland, one of the oldest democracies in Europe. Last year, we celebrated the 550th anniversary of Poland's first bicameral parliament. We share various experiences of regional unions with our neighbours: the Polish-Lithuanian union, the Austro-Hungarian union or the Czechoslovak union, all of which are important for understanding the idea of European integration. Our vision of Europe's future comes from three sources: an old democratic tradition, the experience of regional international cooperation based on the principle of "free with free, equal with equal" and, thirdly, the memory of the price we pay for poorly identified dangers.

We know that this is sometimes the highest price. Poland was at one time a great power, and then it ceased to exist. That is a unique experience, so we know something that others cannot even imagine: we know that even if you are a great power, you can cease to exist.

So what are the challenges ahead? Above all, we must effectively resist the change of borders through force and violation of international law. The policy of appeasement is never fair because an aggressor cannot be appeased by concessions. If the aggression brings about benefits and advantages, it will be followed by subsequent aggression, by annexations and finally a great war. In this scenario, in 70 years' time, our European house will be in ruins.

For 70 years, it has been the Americans who have been responsible for the defence of Europe. We Poles are committed to the idea of transatlantic unity. If Europe breaks away from this idea, it will have to bear the cost of its own defence. This will be difficult at the necessary scale, given the fact that European societies are ageing – in both financial and human terms. The European home will, therefore, have to have a solid bridge, even in 70 years' time, linking it to the other side of the Atlantic.

The demographic crisis I've just mentioned – the ageing of Europe – is a challenge in itself. If we do not overcome it, we will cease to be Europe. Someone else will be there to build the European house according to his own architectural style. Even if we still called it "Europe", it would have as much in common with us today as contemporary Egypt has with the Egypt of the Pharaohs.

In order for our common European home to have solid foundations, healthy walls, a leak-free roof, watertight windows and a safe door in 70 years' time, we must meet a few conditions. We must base its structure on the ability to effectively resist aggression. It must operate on the basis of the democratic mandate given by its citizens in accordance with their national traditions and differences. It must renounce the ambitions of pursuing ideological objectives in order to identify the real challenges and the appropriate responses to them.

Let us, therefore, continue to base our European values on Greek philosophy, Roman law and Christian axiology. They will be the guarantee of a sustainable and prosperous "European home".

Thank you for your attention.

Mr Richard FERRAND

President of the National Assembly, France 

12:31:53

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Thank you, Mr Vice-President.

I now give the floor to Ms Alia HATOUG-BOURAN, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean. She will be followed by Mr Wolfgang SOBOTKA, President of the Austrian Nationalrat.

Ms Alia HATOUG-BOURAN

President, Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean, PAM 

12:32:16

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Madame President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe,

President FERRAND,

Madame Secretary General of the Council of Europe,

Dear Delegates, Heads of Parliaments, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Dear Colleagues,

It's my sincere pleasure to be here in Strasbourg to address this high-level conference on behalf of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean. The topic of discussion is dedicated to "Our Common European Home: the next 70 years". I come from Jordan, I myself from Jordan, and our Assembly comprises today 34 member parliaments of the greater Euro-Mediterranean and Gulf regions, out of which 19 are European States.

Being a Jordanian, I know very well what collaboration means. I know very well what the region and the south of the Mediterranean mean. Being a Jordanian, I speak with credibility when I say that this small country has hosted more than 1.3 million Syrian refugees. So when I'm here talking about the importance of the future and the importance of a unified Europe when it comes to the geopolitical aspects of looking and the relationship between the north and the south, I think this conference and this Assembly is extremely timely to be able to highlight the important points of our strategic relationship to the next 70 years and beyond.

That's why my address will focus on the very intimate and everlasting connection between Europe and southern and eastern neighbours with whom it shares many critical challenges. In addition to peace and security, these include mass migration, vulnerability of energy supply, climate change, poverty, food security, water, demographic trends, youth unemployment, and trade wars.

To ensure the security in our regions and to achieve this, we must all work together to end the conflicts in the Euro-Mediterranean region through political dialogue, and parliamentary diplomacy has proven effects in this field.

The Parliamentary Assembly is extremely concerned about the ongoing situation in northeastern Syria with new massive displacements and the conditions for foreign fighters and their families to escape from detention camps, thereby refuelling wars and multiplying the terrorist threats in our own countries, not to mention the expansion of Isis operating throughout Africa.

Throughout the crisis inside Syria, we have been saying that the most important thing is to stabilise the region and to stabilise Syria. And, you know, we are often asked: what makes a refugee go back home? Is it some statement coming from one politician saying that everything is fine and now, you know, the floods of refugees will be going back? Of course not. A refugee will only go back when he or she knows they're going to be safe, they're going to be living in dignity and they will be part of the future of that country.

This is what PAM is all about and this is why we always have stressed the point of the importance of integration and working together. PAM also believes that the countries should take responsibility for their citizens who joined Isis and repatriate, bear the responsibility and deradicalise these fighters as well as to rehabilitate the undocumented children born under the Isis regime. This is a necessary step to prevent an already foreseeable terrorist threat 5, 10, 20 years down the road.

We all know that the instability in Libya has a profound effect on Europe. By opening rules for irregular migration and resulting in horrible tragedies at sea, Libya is in its current state and has also become a hotbed for terrorism and organised crime, destabilising the entire Euro-Mediterranean region.

I just want to share with you that PAM was in Washington just a couple of weeks ago and we were talking about this issue with the administration, with the White House, and we were saying that the relationship between the north and the south is never in compartment. The relationship between the north and the south has an interrelated, interdependent relationship. It's not a compartment that says: "All these issues they are there just for the south and the north has nothing to do with it", or vice versa. This is not the case. This is the voice of PAM, this is wherever we go, this is the kind of language we speak with each and every nation that we believe we can have a voice for the future of better collaboration.

Thank you very much, I know I have exceeded my time.

Thank you.

Mr Richard FERRAND

President of the National Assembly, France 

12:38:11

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Thank you, Madame President.

I now give the floor to Mr Wolfgang SOBOTKA, President of the Austrian National Council. He will be followed by Vice-President Pat GALLAGHER, of Ireland.

Mr Wolfgang SOBOTKA

President, Nationalrat, Austria 

12:38:27

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Dear Mr President, Dear Chairman,

Today, after 70 years, the Council of Europe with its Parliamentary Assembly is a symbol for the "common house of Europe", as Mikhail GORBACHEV already mentioned in 1989. A Europe based on democracy, the rule of law and the protection of human rights.

The year 1989 marked the end of the division of the continent. The civil and dissident movements have made a very significant contribution to this. The names of dissidents such as Václav HAVEL, Lech WAŁĘSA or Andrei SAKHAROV are still light figures of common European history today.

Looking back on the founding of the Council of Europe and the year 1989, it is clear that our commitment to common principles and values demands an attitude; an attitude that must be learned and lived.

The European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights with its legally binding judgments are milestones of democratic development. They are an expression of the indivisibility of human rights, which are non-negotiable for us Europeans. I am proud that the European Convention on Human Rights is included in the Austrian Constitution!

A consistent democratic principle characterises many European societies today in a comprehensive way. This does not end at the gates of our parliaments, but permeates the whole of civil society, from families to schools, from associations to universities. Democracy also means seeking dialogue. I therefore very much welcome Russia's return to the Parliamentary Assembly.

It must be possible to work together to resolve conflicts under the auspices of the Council of Europe. I also see it as an important role for the Council of Europe to become more involved in integrating the countries of the Western Balkans in Europe and bringing the countries of Eastern Europe closer to common European standards.

The Venice Commission's election observations and constitutional expertise are proven tools of the Council of Europe for the development and strengthening of democracy and the rule of law.

Warnings from the Council of Europe about restrictions on fundamental and human rights must be taken more seriously than ever.

Let me pick out three issues on which I am counting on the voice of the Council of Europe in the future:

1. Climate change will change Europe, more than we realise. It is about understanding climate change in Europe as an opportunity to develop new climate-neutral technologies. The Council of Europe will be able to make a contribution to the legal framework.

2. In the field of digitisation, it is already apparent today that the existing legal framework does not adequately cover developments in the digital space. The Internet must not be a legal vacuum. It will be necessary to take action at the European level against hate postings in such a way that an editorial principle applies on the Internet and in the social media, as in the classical media.

There will also be a need for legal action in the development and use of artificial intelligence, and I welcome the fact that the Council of Europe has already started this discussion here.

3. The defence of democracy is a core task of the Council of Europe. The commitment to democracy also includes our resolute action against anti-Semitism and political Islam.

This means that we must reject parallel societies and cannot accept it a political Islam that ignores our basic democratic and constitutional values. In the same way, many Austrian and European Muslims wish for a European Islam that will be shaped by a new Enlightenment.

Holocaust researcher Deborah LIPSTADT concludes her analysis of democracy and anti-Semitism:

"Jews are something like the yardstick of society. Whoever attacks them attacks all democratic and multicultural values."

Anti-Semitic incidents in Europe are increasing at an alarming rate. Studies also show that anti-Semitic statements on the Net are becoming increasingly radical. We need broad European anti-Semitism research and not just research into individual right-wing extremist cases. We must fight left-wing and Muslim anti-Semitism, which is often related to Israel, just as resolutely as right-wing anti-Semitism. We must start with young people and invest in education.

The Council of Europe has experience in the fight against racism, and it has the weight to initiate campaigns and programmes that reach 820 million people.

In the spirit of Europe's historical responsibility, I consider the fight against anti-Semitism and against political Islam to be a duty to which we must devote more attention together.

Dear colleagues,

Let me close with an invitation.

In August 2020, the Austrian Parliament will host the fifth IPU World Conference of the Presidents of Parliament. We want to make the formation of democracy and the fight against violent extremism and hate speech an issue. I hope that this Vienna Conference will send out a strong signal from parliaments for democracy and common solutions.

In this spirit, I look forward to your coming and to seeing you again in August 2020.

Mr Richard FERRAND

President of the National Assembly, France 

12:44:07

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Thank you, Mr President.

I now give the floor to Mr Pat GALLAGHER, Vice-President of the Irish House of Representatives.

He will be followd by the President of the Senate of the French Republic, Mr LARCHER.

Mr Pat The Cope GALLAGHER

Vice-President, Dáil Éireann, Ireland 

12:44:23

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Madame President,

Secretary General,

Fellow speakers,

Colleagues and friends,

I'm pleased to be with you today on this special occasion and to have the opportunity to address this Assembly in the year of the 70th anniversary of the Council of Europe.

As one of the founding members, we are proud of our commitment to its values of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. As a member State prepares to leave the European Union for the first time, we've been pushed to take a closer look at the major role that the European project plays in our lives. The sheer scope and ambition of European cooperation have become clearer to many. Ireland has benefited immensely, both in social and economic terms, from our membership of the European Union.

The Union has enriched our relationship with other European countries and continues to enhance our capacity to promote our values and advance our interests on the world stage. Ireland's present and its future lies in cooperation, lies in interdependence and shared problem-solving at the heart of Europe. In turbulent times, we have even been encouraged by the clear evidence that Irish citizens strongly agree with this sentiment.

Recent polling shows that 93% of the people of Ireland believe that we should remain within the European Union. Ireland's National Citizens' Dialogue last year put more people into the conversation. What we heard from our citizens informed Ireland's national statement on the European Union, which set out our government's priorities to the EU strategic agenda for 2019 to 2024. Many of these priorities are now reflected in the strategic agenda adopted by the European Union or European Council last June.

Implementation of the strategic agenda is now key and the responsibility of all institutions. The new agenda strengthens the foundation for the development of the EU that we want to see by 2030. It focuses on the EU as a leader of climate change, deepening, strengthening and, ultimately, completing the single market and ensuring that Europe remains a place where people feel free and feel safe, where their rights are defended and those rights protected.

Together as parliamentarians, we must deliver a strong economic Europe. A Europe that achieves a competitive market for our businesses that creates jobs and improves living standards, while continuing to protect consumers. We must act to deepen and strengthen the single market, particularly in the area of services.

We also need a trade policy. A trade policy that champions liberalisation and opportunity. We need economic and financial policies that are socially responsible and fair to our citizens. Within the Council of Europe, we should all work to deliver the shared values on which the Council of Europe was formed some 70 years ago.

Madame President, to conclude, we've seen many changes in Europe over the past 70 years and no doubt there will be many more in the years ahead as Europe's place in the world is changing. The message from Ireland for the future of Europe is that people want a Europe that is fair: fair to its citizens, fair to the environment and fair in its dealings with the rest of the world. The role of the Council of Europe would be central to achieving these outcomes and Ireland will remain a proud and committed member of the Council of Europe.

Go raibh maith agaibh. Thank you very much.

Mr Richard FERRAND

President of the National Assembly, France 

12:48:54

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Thank you, Mr Vice-President.

I now give the floor to Mr Gérard LARCHER, President of the Senate of the French Republic.

Mr Gérard LARCHER

President, Senat, France 

12:49:07

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Mr President,

Dear Colleagues, Presidents and Speakers of Assemblies,

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

Allow me to say what a great pleasure it is for me to be here at this European conference. This conference is quite unique and gives us an opportunity to celebrate 70 years of the Council of Europe; 70 years, in other words, devoted to the reconciliation of people and to the defence of human rights in Europe.

In fact, since 1949, Europe has grown through the Council of Europe, or rather, it has returned to its origins. In doing so, it has vindicated General de Gaulle, for whom Europe extended from the Atlantic to the Urals. In a few days' time, we will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, which put an end to this terrible partition of our European continent. It was right here in this rostrum, at Easter, that he said, "Peace is based on the reconciliation of minds."

The "European common house", a word from 30 years ago, has expanded considerably, thus giving tens and tens of millions more citizens in Europe the possibility of finding new protection under the European Convention on Human Rights, which is the pillar of this institution and which restores a jurisdiction whose rulings are binding on all States' Parties.

If the foundations remain solid, the walls of this house are sometimes shaken. The member States where the rule of law itself is sometimes shaken are known. If there is the temptation toward exclusion, we are well aware that this is not the way to progress, which is why I share the Council's approach, which aims to keep the entire European family within it and thus enable millions of people to maintain effective protection of their fundamental rights. But the obligations that derive from membership apply to all States, without exception.

Therefore, after these seven decades spent building a foundation of values, what can we expect for the next 70 years? I believe that if we keep the same energy, the same requirements, then we will have the foundations to maintain and consolidate our building. Of course, we must remain vigilant to ensure that the rule of law remains our common foundation.

Now there are new difficulties on the horizon, related to the new information technologies as well as disinformation. One of the major challenges that democracies will face is the relationship between citizens and information. An evil is spreading: that of growing mistrust of information and traditional media, which is losing credibility. The preference is for rumours, conspiracy and "fake news", which contributes to sowing doubts about our institutions and democracy, which is why, for example, the Senate of the French Republic has taken the initiative to launch a fact-checking website for its own institution.

Another plague of disinformation lies in wait for us: the risk of information being manipulated by third countries. That is why we have taken the initiative -- moreover, in conjunction with our German and Polish friends -- to initiate a symposium entitled "Human Rights and Democracy in the Digital Age".

There is a disconnect that is growing, too, Ladies and Gentlemen, between the global and the local levels, between the centres of power and the territories. This is also a crucial challenge. Local authorities are a space where communities can learn to live together because our local authorities are the cornerstones of our democracies. European history is diverse, but it has been built on the foundations of common values.

Let me borrow the words of a French writer who was also a senator, Victor Hugo, who said the following words a hundred years before 1949, announcing the advent of the United States of Europe that would "crown the old world and give it expression without a gag, conscience without the yoke and truth without the dogma." Victor Hugo's principles may be the challenges for the decades ahead.

Thank you for your attention.

Thank you.

Mr Richard FERRAND

President of the National Assembly, France 

12:54:17

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Thank you, Mr President.

I'd like now to interrupt our debates and I'd like to thank the speakers for their valuable contributions.

I'd like to call on all Parliamentary Speakers and Presidents to join us in the foyer of the Chamber for our traditional family photo.

I am also pleased to invite you to the lunch that will follow, at the Council of Europe restaurant, and we will resume our work at 3 p.m.

Thank you.