Speech at the opening of the meeting of the Standing Committee
Copenhagen, Friday 24 November 2017

Honourable Madam Speaker,
Honourable Madam Minister,
Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is an honour for me to open this meeting of the Standing Committee which we are holding in Copenhagen at a time when Denmark is chairing the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. Allow me from the outset to thank the Speaker of the Folketinget, Ms Pia Kjærsgaard, and through you, the Danish Parliament and the Danish authorities for their warm welcome and hospitality.

We have a rich agenda today, which includes the introductory statement by Ms Pia Kjærsgaard, Speaker of the Folketinget, and two exchanges of views, respectively, with the Minster of Development and Co-operation of Denmark, Ms Ulla Tørnæs, on behalf of the Danish Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers, and with Mr George Tsereteli, President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. Let me welcome both eminent guests to our meeting.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Before we proceed with the agenda, allow me to say a few words of introduction.

More than 20 years have passed since Denmark chaired the Committee of Ministers of our organisation in 1996. During the last twenty years Europe and our Organisation have changed profoundly. Yet, despite profound geopolitical changes, the raison d'être of the Council of Europe remains as ever relevant today. Our statutory aim is to build peace and closer unity between Europeans on the basis of a set of values we share – democracy, human rights and the rule of law. These very values are at the centre of the priorities of the Danish Chairmanship.

The system of the European Convention on Human Rights – the Convention system, as we commonly call it – has created a common Pan-European legal framework that brings together under one roof and one flag 47 member states. It offers the 835 million Europeans protection of their fundamental rights and freedoms, and constitutes the cornerstone for a European public order, based on respect for international law, multilateralism, democratic principles and the rule of law.

The Convention system is under huge pressure today and one can understand the first priority of the Danish Chairmanship: "the European human rights system in a future Europe".

Clearly, the main responsibility for guaranteeing the rights under the Convention lies with the national authorities and courts – the Strasbourg Court cannot act a Court of fourth instance. It is therefore essential to improve the national implementation of the Convention and the execution of the Court's judgments. As you are aware, the Assembly is actively involved in building up the capacity of national parliaments to play an active role in the implementation of the Convention.  We are looking forward to sharing this experience with the Danish Chairmanship and to contribute to the reflection process about the future of the Court beyond 2019. Therefore, you can count on our support and contribution to the High-Level Ministerial meeting which the Danish Chairmanship plans to hold in April 2018.

As regards priority number 2 of the Danish Chairmanship – "Equal opportunities" – you will be aware that for years, the Assembly has been pioneering equal opportunities and gender mainstreaming policies within the Council of Europe member states. Therefore, our Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination will be your natural interlocutor for a constructive and successful co-operation on this front.

We can say the same about priority number 4 – "Changing attitudes and prejudice about persons with disabilities". This issue falls within the mandate of our Committee on Equality and Non-discrimination and our Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development. Therefore, I am sure that synergies can be developed in this field, also in close co-operation with the Human Rights Commissioner.

Last but not least, let me welcome priority number 3 "Involvement of children and young people in democracy". Children's rights are a top priority for me and I started working on this issue long before I became involved in politics. In the face of the political challenges our democratic institutions are facing, it is crucially important to invest in young people and children from an early age, so as to help them acquire the necessary competences for becoming active and responsible citizens caring for the well-being, cohesion and prosperity of their communities. Therefore, I am sure that we can build synergies in this area and our Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media will be your natural interlocutor.

Honourable Madam Speaker,
Honourable Madam Minister,
Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Before I reach the close of my introduction, I should add that the Danish Chairmanship starts at a crucial moment for the Council of Europe as we face the political and financial consequences of the Russian Federation's decision to suspend the payment of the remainder of its 2017 contribution and the announcement by Turkey of their intention to discontinue their status as Major Contributor to the Council of Europe's budget.

While addressing the financial consequences of these steps, we should not forget about their political implications for the Organisation's ability to deliver its statutory objectives – that is, to promote European unity and co-operation around a set of shared values. The Convention system is the result of 68 years of Pan-European co-operation and it is the shared responsibility of the member states and of the Statutory Bodies of the Council of Europe to preserve it and to guarantee its effective functioning. All 47 member states and both Statutory Bodies should co-operate fully and constructively towards achieving this objective. Therefore, as President of the Parliamentary Assembly, I would like assure you that the Assembly stands ready to actively contribute to the search of ways to overcome the problems we are facing, in a spirit of constructive co-operation and dialogue.

I thank you for your attention.