Speech at the opening of the 4th part of the 2019 Ordinary Session
Strasbourg, Monday 30 September 2019

Ladies and gentlemen,

This part-session will be the culminating point of the celebrations to mark the 70th anniversary of the Council of Europe. On Tuesday 1 October, at the Opéra in Strasbourg, we will pay tribute to the achievements of the Council of Europe and it will be an honour for all of us to welcome the President of the French Republic, Mr Emmanuel Macron, who will also give a speech here in the Parliamentary Assembly.

In this context, I think it is particularly important to point out that over these seventy years, this Assembly has been a unique forum, in which many political leaders, including Heads of State and Government, have expressed their ideas about the present and their visions for the future of the European architecture.

These visionary statements have guided our work and helped the Council of Europe and the Parliamentary Assembly to play a prominent role in the process of European unification and the construction of a “Common Home”, which now houses 47 member states.

This “common home” belongs to all of us. As members of the Assembly, representing Europe’s citizens, our responsibility to see to its upkeep is all the greater.

We must tirelessly underpin the foundations, launching ground-breaking ideas and promoting the drafting of new conventions, as we did for instance with the Istanbul Convention, which has now been signed by practically all the member states of the Council of Europe.

Every time the values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law are called into question, we must find the resolve and courage to take strong positions and raise our voices to oppose anti-democratic abuses and widespread human rights violations.

However, even in the most serious crisis situations, we should never close the door on dialogue. For when we live under the same roof, we need to talk to one another to understand each other better, to listen and share, and seek solutions which should always be aimed at providing increased protection for all citizens living on the European continent.

Dear Colleagues,

As you will be aware, the next part-session to be held in January 2020 will see one of our members elected to the presidency of our Assembly, so this is the last time I will be addressing you at the opening of the part-session and I would like to take this opportunity to share with you some thoughts on our work, seen from the very special position I have held as a result of the trust you placed in me by electing me as President.

Just now, I referred to the importance of the Parliamentary Assembly as a forum for dialogue and I did so because this is one of our key tasks, one of our fundamental responsibilities.

It is not by chance or for the sake of show, that the Statute of the Council of Europe provides, among its only two statutory bodies, alongside government representatives, for a parliamentary assembly which brings together members of the 47 national parliaments who, although their voice is in most cases only consultative, have the responsibility to come together, meet and debate in order to seek answers and solutions to the problems they face.

That is precisely why the Parliamentary Assembly is one of the two statutory bodies of the Council of Europe.

By becoming a member of the Council of Europe, by living in our "Common House", our 47 member states have agreed to participate fully and constructively in all our activities. This participation is in no way optional! It is simply part of our basic obligations.

Moreover, if we all made the effort to engage in this necessary dialogue in a constructive way, without any preconceived assumptions and with the sole aim of finding solutions, we would not only be more effective in our work – and therefore closer to the solutions we are seeking – but also more able to deal with all the problems we encounter, to react to the excessive number of breaches of democracy and the rule of law, to the excessive number of human rights violations that unfortunately we can see taking place but to which we do not have enough time to respond.

In recent years, we have devoted a great deal of energy to solving our internal problems – such as the fight against corruption, the introduction of a procedure for dismissal of those holding senior positions, and the divergences between the statutory bodies – and even though these problems were of such seriousness that they required answers as quickly as possible, it must be acknowledged that they also prevented us from addressing other issues with the speed and efficiency that they too required!

Only a constructive dialogue between us all and an unwavering commitment to consider all the issues and all the problems, without focusing all our efforts on a single issue, will enable us to properly fulfil our role as guardians of democracy and human rights defenders!

Providing a forum for dialogue and, even better, a pan-European platform for dialogue, this is the role of the Parliamentary Assembly and I am counting on all of you to work actively on this in the years to come.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I will move on now to current political matters.

If I had to identify a lesson to be drawn from the crisis that our Organisation has just been through, I would point without hesitation to the importance of dialogue and co-operation.

When faced with an unprecedented situation, we were able to live up to our responsibilities.

Through increased dialogue between the Assembly and the Committee of Ministers we were able to find a way of preserving the unique, pan-European nature of our Organisation and the system of the European Convention on Human Rights. The importance of our work to protect 830 million Europeans should not be underestimated.

However, we know very well that, even though a very large number of us supported the decisions taken, neither at the level of the Assembly nor that of the Committee of Ministers do these decisions attract unanimous support.

As President of the Assembly, it is my duty to listen to everyone’s voice, including criticisms from members who have told me about their feelings of disappointment or a certain loss of trust in the Parliamentary Assembly.

Although I do not share this feeling, I can understand where it comes from so it is my job to alleviate the concerns and fears that some members have expressed.

In this context, I would like to emphasise three main ideas.

Firstly, the decisions taken in Helsinki and Strasbourg should not be seen as a “victory” for one camp or a “defeat” for the other. The Council of Europe is not a setting for “geopolitical battles” but a mechanism to defend the human rights of 830 million Europeans. The purpose of our decisions is to protect their fundamental rights and freedoms more effectively.

Secondly, the fact that the delegation from the Russian parliament has returned to the Assembly opens up the possibility for the Assembly to work with the Russian parliament again. From now on, we can focus on subjects of common interest but also on matters which, quite rightly, are causes for concern. We are all perfectly aware of the origins of the crisis, and our position on this remains the same. We will continue to follow up on this matter in a frank and open dialogue with the Russian parliamentarians. I note, in this context, that there has been some progress, including the release of some Ukrainians detained in Russia. We need therefore to continue to work together to arrive at the implementation of all the points in this Resolution, along with those in all the other relevant Assembly resolutions.

Third, dialogue and co-operation with the Ukrainian delegation are particularly important to me and all of us, because, as a member state of our Organisation, Ukraine should be entitled to our full support; Ukraine can rely on our unequivocal commitment to international law and our shared standards.

In this context, I regret that the Ukrainian Parliament did not transmit the credentials of its new delegation in time for the opening of this part session.  I hope that this will be done shortly, within the deadline foreseen in our Rules. It is my intention to engage as soon as possible in a dialogue with the new Ukrainian delegation and the Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada, a dialogue which will allow us to ensure that the stands and legitimate concerns of the Ukrainian delegation are fully taken into account.

* * *

Dear Colleagues,

The work between the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly on the new complementary response mechanism in the event of breaches by a member State of its statutory obligations is now entering a new stage.

Increased dialogue between the Presidential Committee and the Bureau of the Ministers’ Deputies has made it possible to identify the main political lines which the future procedure might follow. The time has come now for consultations with the representatives of all the member states. At Assembly level, an initial consultation will be held tomorrow, with the participation of the chairs of all the delegations. We will then continue our discussions through exchanges between the Presidential Committee and the Bureau of the Deputies, and at the Joint Committee meeting on Thursday.

In this context I would like to express our appreciation for the work of the French Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers and the personal commitment of Ms Amélie de Montchalin, Secretary of State to the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, responsible for European Affairs. This afternoon, we will have an opportunity to continue our dialogue with Ms de Montchalin after her Communication to the Assembly.

The Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Ms Marija Pejcinovic Buric, also has a very important part to play in this process. We are glad therefore that we will be welcoming her here in this Chamber on Wednesday for her first speech to the Assembly, to be followed by a series of statements by Assembly members. I call on everyone to contribute to a constructive and fruitful exchange.

* * *

Ladies and gentlemen, colleagues,

I would like to end my statement by talking about a joint project, which a large number of you have participated in – the #NotInMyParliament initiative. The success of this project is particularly close to my heart and I am very happy to see that we have made great progress on it together!
I would like to thank all the members who have supported this initiative by disseminating information, rallying their colleagues in national parliaments to the cause, and promoting the project in various ways.

I would like to thank all the parliamentarians who have supported this initiative by sharing information, mobilising their colleagues in their national parliaments and by promoting this initiative by various means.

I would also like to welcome the measures taken in the member states’ national parliaments to combat sexism, harassment and violence against women, for example in Austria, France, Iceland and the United Kingdom. I am sure that laudable work is being done in a large number of other parliaments, which it would be worth sharing and highlighting.

In this context, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that the Inter-Parliamentary Union is currently finalising a compendium of good practices in this area, which will be presented at its next plenary session, in Belgrade, on 16 October 2019. I will take part in this debate personally to highlight the Parliamentary Assembly’s contribution.

I am relying on all of you therefore to show your support for the fight against sexism and harassment in parliaments also this week and I encourage you to visit the photo stand with the #NotInMyParliament visual in the lobby of the hemicycle. We have already achieved a great deal together but I am convinced that we can do more! If we want to make difference, we need everyone on board!

Ladies and gentlemen,

I have to end my address on both a solemn and a sad note.  I would like to pay homage, in this Assembly chamber, to Jacques Chirac, former President of France, who passed away last Thursday.

Jacques Chirac came to the Council of Europe twice, in 1987 as Prime Minister, and then in 1997 as Head of State.  When addressing our Assembly, which he described as a "forum of the parliamentary democracies", he emphasised "the principal responsibility of the Council of Europe to help preserve and consolidate the democratic area in Europe".

In his eyes, European construction was "a force for peace between nations and a framework for prosperity [and] a crucial requirement in […] enabling our old and beloved continent to return to its rightful place on the international scene, conserve and preserve its cultural and historical values and exert a growing influence on the decisions by which its future will be conditioned, also to serve as an example of humanity for the rest of the world, which is its central purpose".

Today, we can say without a shadow of a doubt that the Council of Europe has lived up to that vision.

Our continued commitment to the values of peace, unity and human dignity is, in my opinion, the best way of paying tribute to the memory of Jacques Chirac, as well as to the memory of the women and men who inspired that European construction.

To give visibility to this homage, I invite all of you to gather in the Assembly chamber at 3pm on the dot to observe, like elsewhere in France, a minute's silence in memory of Jacques Chirac.

I thank you for your attention.