Dear colleagues and friends,
It is an honour to address you at the opening of this important international conference.
International terrorism, together with violent extremism and radicalization are a global danger to democratic societies. To confront it, we must stand united. Stepping up international and inter-parliamentary co-operation, is more necessary than ever.
I have the privilege to serve as President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the oldest and largest Pan-European organisation representing the interests and protecting the rights of over 830 million European citizens.
The Council of Europe and our Parliamentary Assembly play an important role in facilitating international co-operation in the legal field, putting in place measures, both domestically and internationally, to prevent terrorism and the violent extremism that causes it, to protect and provide care to the victims while fully respecting the human rights principles.
Just two weeks ago, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe adopted the Guidelines on the links between terrorism and transnational organised crime which provide our 47 member States with practical advice to help relevant national authorities to better prevent and fight terrorism, and to enhance their understanding of the links between organised crime groups and terrorist organisations who are increasingly co-operating to advance their dangerous agenda.
We must admit that, however important the terrorist risks are, our lives have been dominated, for more than a year, by a completely different kind of threat: the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic which has affected over 130 million people worldwide and has claimed nearly 3 million human lives.
The Covid-19 pandemic has brought about unprecedented, multifaceted, wide-ranging and possibly long-lasting consequences for the social, economic and political life of our societies.
It has also been a crash test for the governance systems and institutions at national and international level.
It is therefore not by chance that I suggested that at least one session of our joint conference should be dedicated to the Covid-19 pandemic, and I am grateful that our partners have accepted this proposal.
Since the outbreak of the pandemic, our Assembly – and the whole Council of Europe – have dedicated a lot of work to the challenges that it poses to the very fundamental principles of our Organisation: Democracy, Human Rights and the Rule of Law.
As early as 24 March 2020, I urged European governments to abide strictly by the European Convention on Human Rights when adopting emergency measures to deal with the COVID-19 crisis and warned that “without appropriate guarantees, such measures create serious risks for democracy, human rights and the rule of law.”
In the face of the rapidly developing COVID-19 pandemic, the Assembly’s agenda included a new political priority: upholding Council of Europe values in the context of a serious public health emergency and supporting national parliaments in addressing the consequences of the pandemic by making full use of the Council of Europe standards, practical tools and expertise.
Since the beginning of national lockdowns, the Assembly has organised an impressive number of events which included dozens if not hundreds of institutional meetings, public exchange of views and hearings, webinars and election observation missions.
The Assembly also engaged with the 47 national parliaments offering guidance and sharing practical tools to address the consequences of the pandemic based on the Council of Europe’s values and standards.
Last but not least, Assembly’s Resolutions and Recommendations provide clear and useful guidance to national and international authorities on the action and measures needed to tackle the pandemic and uphold human rights.
I am proud to say that the Assembly Committees, in addition to their regular work, finalised, often under time constraints, a series of fundamental reports that focused on the consequences of the pandemic for our health systems, democratic institutions, human rights and the rule of law, equality and non-discrimination, violence against women and domestic violence, the situation of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers and recommendations for action by governments and parliaments to address them. In January, the Assembly debated another crucial issue related to Covid – the vaccination policies.
It is important to note that to ensure coordination, avoid duplication and increase impact, we continue to engage actively with our regional and international partners. By way of example, on 16 April 2020, together with the Presidents of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, and the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE, we issued a joint statement on the role of Parliaments in times of pandemic and the importance of close co-ordination with parliaments at national and international level.
The World Health Organisation is also an important partner and the Assembly has engaged in comprehensive exchanges with its Director General.
Sharing our respective experience makes all of us stronger and wiser – and that is the best guarantee that we will win over the challenges we are facing – be it the deadly pandemic or horrendous terrorist crime.