Statement at the opening of the 4th part of the 2018 Ordinary Session
Strasbourg, Monday 8 October 2018

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Welcome to Strasbourg for this fourth part of the 2018 session, which will be largely dominated by the debate on possible changes to our Rules of Procedure.

The question facing us is whether our rules and our procedures – as they stand – enable our Assembly to perform its functions effectively or if they need to be adapted to new realities, or strengthened.

To answer that question, the context in which we work must be fully understood, so allow me to mention briefly three aspects: historical, political and institutional.


Firstly, the historical context.

The question of a possible revision of the Rules of Procedure forms part of a global review of the Assembly's role, mission and internal functioning that we have been carrying out for 18 months, firstly for the preparation of Mr Nicoletti's report on the 4th Summit, then in the framework of discussion in the Bureau's Ad hoc Committee, and now in connection with the report itself that will be debated tomorrow.


Secondly, the political context.

The question of whether or not our rules must be changed has created a few divisions among our members, as it has been heavily linked with another question, namely the importance of all delegations participating in the Assembly's proceedings.

I think that these questions have to be dealt with separately.

On the one hand, as regards the rules, the aim of our review is to strengthen and consolidate our mechanisms and working methods so that the Assembly can fully play its role as a statutory organ, a political forum for dialogue and a guardian of the values and standards upheld by our Organisation.  We need Rules of Procedure that apply to all countries and all situations.

On the other hand, relations with the Russian Parliament are a political issue.

In this connection, I held talks three weeks ago with Russian parliamentarians and the Speaker of Russia's Federation Council, Ms Valentina Matviyenko, in the margins of the Second Eurasian Women's Forum, where I was representing the Parliamentary Assembly.  We must pursue constructive, frank and open dialogue, bearing in mind the values uniting us within the Council of Europe and the numerous Resolutions of the Assembly, and also the need to find tangible solutions to the existing disagreements, in order to ensure the sustainability of the system of the European Convention on Human Rights, as a Pan-European mechanism protecting the fundamental rights of all persons living on our continent.  It is our responsibility as politicians representing 830 million fellow citizens.  I am aware – as are we all – of what is at stake here and I intend to continue along the path of dialogue.


Thirdly, there is the institutional context.

In the current complex political situation and in the face of the existing divisions, it is important to remain focused on the interests of our Organisation. We have to put our personal, partisan and national political interests to one side and concentrate on what brings us together: the desire to safeguard our Human Rights Convention system and make it function effectively.

We must seek a consensus, and that inevitably means seeking a compromise without ending up with a "zero-sum game" or "a win for one side over another".  That consensus must be the expression of broad agreement resonating with the interest of all our fellow citizens, the very people who entrust us – through our respective parliaments – with the responsibility of representing them in this Assembly.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The right response to any crisis is to pull together and work side by side in a constructive way.

Let us remember that we are pursuing a common goal – that of keeping the Continent unified around a common political and legal framework for protecting fundamental rights – and each and every one of us must, within its specific roles and institutional prerogatives, contribute to attaining it.

It is important, therefore, that this afternoon the two statutory organs – the Committee of Ministers and the Assembly – engage in discussion together within the framework of the Joint Committee.  I would also like to inform you that on Thursday we will be holding an informal meeting between the Presidential Committee and the Bureau of the Ministers' Deputies. This meeting will also provide an opportunity for dialogue between the statutory organs, dialogue which is more necessary than ever.


Dear Colleagues,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I will close my statement by reminding you of an important date coming up for our Organisation. In 2019, we will be celebrating the Council of Europe's 70th anniversary.

In those 70 years, we have succeeded in making Europe a continent of peace, democracy and respect for fundamental rights and the principles of the rule of law. But we must not forget that those values were never a foregone conclusion – they were the fruit of political commitment and a relentless combat against authoritarian backslides.  The Václav Havel Human Rights Prize we will be awarding today serves as a reminder that human rights can never be guaranteed, and that our responsibility is to tirelessly champion the cause of human rights on our Continent and also beyond its boundaries.

I invite all of you to join me, at 12.30, in the Assembly chamber, for the award ceremony.

Finally, there is another event I would like to inform you of today.

As you know, October is breast cancer awareness month.  To show your solidarity and support, I would ask each of you to have your photo taken and pick up pink ribbons and bracelets at the stand set up in the Assembly chamber lobby.  I also invite you to join me on the Council of Europe forecourt this evening, at ten past seven on the dot, when our building will be lit up in pink – colour of solidarity of this worldwide campaign – against a disease that continues to strike more severely women from the most disadvantaged society groups, throughout our countries, due to lack of prevention and information. Thank you for your solidarity!

Thank you for your attention.