Opening statement, April 2016 Part-Session
Strasbourg, Monday 18 April 2016

Dear colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Nothing is the same anymore.

Terrorism has hit Europe again at its heart. The attacks in Brussels are not only attacks against Belgium and its people; they are attacks on Europe – the values we share, our institutions and our way of life.

Terrorism is now truly global, from Paris to Istanbul and from Beirut to Bamako, not to mention the daily attacks in Iraq and Syria.

These all underscore the nature of the threat that we are facing and reinforce our determination to defeat DAESH and other terrorist organisations.

I would like to reiterate our solidarity for nations and individuals who have suffered from terrorism and send our sympathies to the families of the victims.

Colleagues, I would like to ask you to observe a minute of silence for all the victims of terrorism, new and old.


Ladies and gentlemen,

Terrorists want to instil fear in our societies, not only by killing people – in the most brutal way – but also by traumatising the whole population. The aim of terrorism is to make everyone fear that they will be a target.

When they intimidate and attack our people, they instil doubts and fears, thereby making the terrorists more powerful.

Terrorism wants to divide our societies.

Terrorism wants to destroy European unity, spread confusion, and undermine trust in our institutions and their capacity to protect citizens against terrorism.

But we will not be intimidated.

We will not be deterred.

We will defend ourselves and combat terrorism and its root causes.

In this I see two fundamental lines of action.

Firstly, we need a strong political narrative: we must stand together and protect our freedom. Only together will we overcome the fear that terrorists create.

Secondly, we must look into the root causes behind terrorism and extremism.

It is important to remember that the Brussels attacks, like the attacks in Paris last November, were carried out by European citizens.

Defeating this internal threat requires reaching out to marginalised Muslim communities where too many young people fall into Jihadism because they see no prospects.

All of us represent our own local communities back home. We must work with our communities, civil society and humanitarian organisations to reach the most marginalised groups and promote cohesion and integration within our communities.

We shall not make the same mistakes as in the past when we were pursuing the policy of "multiculturalism". This has isolated migrant communities in "ethnic ghettos".

Different communities should live and interact together; not in separation from one another.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Common problems can be solved only through joint efforts. No state alone can cope with all these challenges alone.

Often, after a barbaric attack, the most immediate reaction is to step up security measures at the expense of individual freedom.

This can have dangerous consequences. Far reaching restrictive measures and policies only serve the terrorists' goal, which is to weaken democratic societies by spreading fear and panic, turning citizen against citizen, feeding xenophobic sentiments and further alienating and radicalising Muslim communities, especially the young.

Don't let us fall into their trap!

Of course, appropriate security and police actions must be taken.

It is also necessary that our legislative arsenal be adapted to new challenges. But, any changes must be carried out cautiously, after a serious debate and with due regard for our human rights and rule of law standards.

Our response to terrorism must be the reaffirmation of core democratic values and the rejection of demagogic and xenophobic rhetoric.

As political representatives we have an important pedagogical role towards our citizens.

The equation "no Muslim immigration equals no terrorist attacks" is a wrong and dangerous idea that we have to eliminate.

As you know, one of my priorities is to foster individual rights and freedoms, so that all Europeans are able to live their daily lives, without having their freedoms restricted by terrorist threats or conflicts.

I would like to announce that we will launch during our forthcoming summer session a "NO FEAR" campaign –the right to live without fear-, to complement and further reinforce our on-going "NO HATE" campaign. I am going to hold meetings during the course of this week to develop this project further.

* * *

Dear colleagues,

Our strengths are also our Achilles' heel.

It took 25 years to consolidate the Schengen agreement, which allowed free movement of people across most of the EU. The Schengen agreement is one of Europe's most visible and tangible achievements – it is the practical realisation of our ideal to build a Continent without borders and dividing lines.

Yet, the refugee crisis represents a serious challenge to the Schengen treaty and, therefore, to the very foundations of the European project.

As the refugee crisis has escalated, divisions among EU member states have intensified with respect to responsibility sharing, relocation and resettlement of refugees and asylum seekers, in what has been a virtual domino effect. These divisions strain European unity as never before and create a breeding ground for populist rhetoric and political discourse.

Refugees require international protection under the UN Refugee Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights. This is our international obligation and we have to honour it by stepping up international co-operation and reinforcing multilateral mechanisms, while acknowledging the specific situation and concerns of frontline states which are most affected by the crisis.

At the same time, integration requires an effort on the part of the migrants and host societies as part of a two way process.

In this context, we should not underestimate the risks linked to the rise of far left and far right nationalist and anti-immigration parties that call for their nations to turn inward.

National interests must be subordinated to collective need.

Emotional and populist rhetoric plays into the terrorists' hands precisely at the very moment when Europe must address the unprecedented crisis with unity and resolve.

Political extremist forces use the doubts expressed by the mainstream political parties to spread their populist ideas. This has harmful consequences for our institutions.

It is time to come to a broad agreement among all political forces on the need to reject populist and extremist rhetoric. Our Assembly should set the example and we should denounce – in Strasbourg and in our capitals – any populist, xenophobic and intolerant rhetoric.

A month ago, I held a series of meetings with EU high-level interlocutors in Brussels. Their message was clear: the Council of Europe's work is and remains fundamental for the success of the European integration project.

Therefore, our Assembly must shoulder its responsibilities and address the common interest of all Europeans, from the 47 member states of our Organisation, irrespective of whether they belong to the European Union or not.

This week, we have the opportunity to hear the views of key European actors: the President of the European Commission, the President of Austria, the Prime Ministers of Turkey and Georgia. Their vision and ideas will greatly enrich our debates and I look forward to our exchanges of views.

* * *

Dear colleagues,

After the end of the Cold War, we had the impression that the liberal values of democracy, individual freedom and free market economy were spreading. We watched as authoritarian regimes collapsed and put our trust in transparency and rule of law providing effective safeguards against the resurgence of authoritarian trends and abuse of power.

Yet, today we see that democracy is in retreat.

Liberal values such as the rule of law and civil liberties are too often trampled.

We are extremely concerned when some states take decisions that contradict democratic principles enshrined in their own constitutions. In particular, I can refer to interferences with the operations of media outlets critical of official government policies.

In response to these challenges, our Assembly must sound the alarm bell and engage in a constructive political dialogue with the authorities, on the basis of our standards and commitments.

Upon my election as President of the Assembly, I undertook to deal with the issue of political prisoners across the Continent. I would like to share with you some of the results so far.

Recently, Azerbaijan freed a large number of political prisoners. As you are aware, I have been working extensively on this issue and, during my recent visit to Baku, I received assurances that the authorities would soon take steps to address the issue.

These assurances were largely met.

I am relieved and happy that so many people could return to their families – sometimes after many years in prison. We have to acknowledge that the release of these persons is a step in the right direction. I see it as a sign of good will to pursue co-operation with the Council of Europe and to begin to address the systemic deficiencies including in the functioning of the judiciary.

Equally, I would like to welcome the recent decision of the authorities of Azerbaijan to proceed to a re-run of the parliamentary elections in constituency 90. The results in this constituency were annuled due to irregularities and the re-run was recommended by the Council of Europe observers.

I shall continue my talks with the authorities to address the cases of those remaining in detention and in particular the situation of Ilgar Mammadov who has been in detention since February 2013, despite the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights finding serious violations of the Convention in the legal proceedings against him.

I also support the efforts of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe to step up co-operation with the authorities, including through the so called Article 52 Report, so as to ensure full implementation of the Convention in Azerbaijan.

In Russia, unfortunately, our colleague Nadiia Savchenko is still imprisoned and I continue to call for her release and the release of all hostages kept by the Russian and Ukrainian sides as a result of the conflict.

* * *

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is unacceptable that, 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, conflicts continue to divide members of the European family.

At the beginning of this month, violence sparked again in the conflict over the Nagorno-Karabkh region, causing a high number of casualties, including civilians along and around the contact line. I deplore this loss of life and the violence.

Thanks to the clear and unequivocal calls to stop violence by the international community, a fragile cease-fire has been put in place once again. I reiterate my strong belief that both sides have to de-escalate, end the violence and respect the ceasefire.

I have always expressed full support for the territorial integrity of all 47 member states and called for international law to be respected. International law provides a legal framework for the peaceful settlement of disputes.  Both Armenia and Azerbaijan have to live up to the commitments they have entered into upon accession to the Council of Europe and find the political will to resolve, in a peaceful manner, the conflict that divides them.

Although the Council of Europe has no direct mandate in the settlement of the conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, I believe that parliamentary diplomacy may help bring positions closer. As elected representatives, we cannot afford not to talk to each other. We must build bridges and help restore confidence and trust, which is essential for any meaningful discussion about the settlement of conflicts. I shall continue to keep this issue high on my agenda.

At the same time, I have to stress that, as Parliamentarians, we have to set an example for our citizens and refrain – in our discussions – from inflammatory rhetoric. We must show respect, utmost caution and restraint in our statements, and, avoid personal attacks. Our Assembly is the House of Democracy and we must live up to this high standard and expectations of our citizens.

* * *

Dear colleagues, Ladies and gentlemen,

As I am drawing my speech to a close, I want to share with you a thought about a very important issue.

This week marks one of the most important commemorations of this decade in the literary world: the 400th anniversary of the death of Miguel de Cervantes and of William Shakespeare.

Cervantes and Shakespeare, who both died in 1616, are universally acknowledged for their great literary achievements. Shakespeare witnessed one of the most spectacular attacks in early modern history – the gunpowder plot – which was an attempt by a group of fundamentalists to blow up King James I, together with other high dignitaries and Members of Parliament in 1605.

Today, we would have called it a terrorist attack.

Without doubt his "Macbeth" was influenced by these events.

By contrast Cervantes' character, Don Quixote placed himself above the law to protect the oppressed against injustice and outrage. The pursuit of justice has always been Don Quixote's credo.

Shakespeare and Cervantes wrote about what we now experience today when we witness the growth of uncertainty and scepticism, and the disturbing progress of intolerance, violence, and terrorism. Their works are part of our historic and cultural heritage.

So let us remember this heritage and draw lessons from our past.

Thank you for your attention.