Address to the Members of the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia (anglais uniquement)
Belgrade, mardi 4 octobre 2016

Honourable Speaker,
Distinguished Members of the National Assembly,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Dobar dan I hvala vam na pozivu.

[good afternoon and thank you for your invitation]

It is an honour to address you today, as President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

I would like to thank Ms Maja Gojkovic, the Speaker of the National Assembly, for her kind invitation, warm welcome and friendly hospitality in Belgrade. I am very happy to be here today.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear colleagues and friends,

I was born 65 years ago. I am almost as old as the Council of Europe is today!

I saw Europe in evolution: post-war reconstruction and reconciliation, the Cold War and ideological confrontation between the East and the West, the end of totalitarian regimes and the transition to democracy, including in my own country.

I know from my own experience the benefits European integration has brought to our Continent which, despite the difficulties we are facing, remains a major global actor, an area of relative prosperity, and a common legal space where individuals benefit from the highest level of protection of their fundamental rights. 

The pursuit of peace based upon justice and international co-operation, the values of individual freedom, political liberty and the rule of law, the idea of a unified Europe from the Atlantic to the Pacific – these are not just words for me. This is the essence of the European project which started 67 years ago. It has yet to be completed and, as Europeans, we are the main actors in this process.

Therefore, when we are faced with difficulties and challenges – as it is the case in Europe today - we have to recall the origins of our common project and the events that preceded the process of European construction: the Second World War and the horrific Nazi regime, its barbarism and its hatred, the terrible suffering and atrocities, war crimes, the Holocaust…

We must remember that the Council of Europe was established to ensure peace and stability on our Continent, so that such atrocities could NEVER AGAIN happen.

Our key mission was and remains to promote reconciliation through dialogue and co-operation. It is a continuous challenge.

Dialogue and co-operation are our tools to move forward. We must use these tools to the full:  seek solutions together where there are issues that divide us, be ready to listen and talk to each other; seek compromise to achieve our common goals.

Upon my election as President of the Assembly, I have decided to focus my action on 4 key challenges that we are confronted with. These challenges are also key priorities for our Assembly.

First, international terrorism constitutes a fundamental, multi-faceted danger.

Second, the refugee crisis, which has triggered much debate about European identity and values.

Third, the wave of left and right-wing populism, rising nationalism and the erosion of democratic principles and human rights.

Fourth, the conflicts still unresolved in Europe and reconciliation.

These challenges are so manifold and sizeable that no country can tackle them alone.

The only way to protect ourselves and to move forward is to be aware of our inter-dependences and to focus on what unites us, privileging dialogue over confrontation.

We have to work together and seek solutions to the challenges we are facing. Parliaments play a special role in this process because as directly elected representatives of our citizens, we have to shoulder our responsibilities and respond to their concerns.

Two weeks ago, a European Conference of Presidents of Parliaments took place in Strasbourg. This Conference, which has brought together more than 50 Speakers and Presidents of inter-parliamentary assemblies, provided an excellent platform for a broad political debate about the issues at stake. I am extremely grateful to all Presidents of Parliaments for their active participation in our debates. My special thanks go to Madam Speaker, Ms Maja Gojkovic, for her participation in the Conference as one of the keynote speakers.

Our debates provided a lot of food for thought and for action for our National Parliaments, as well as the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and I would like to share with you some ideas about what we could do together.

First, on counteracting terrorism.

It has become clear that we cannot counteract terrorism effectively only by tightening our security policies and measures. Despite our efforts, terrorists find ways to infiltrate our societies and propagate their destructive ideologies. They seek to create division among us and to propagate hate. They seek to create an atmosphere of suspicion and fear.

We must resolutely oppose this and, as politicians representing our citizens, we have a special responsibility to denounce the hate and fear that terrorists propagate. It is for this reason that our Assembly launched a hashtag initiative #NoHateNoFear. Through this initiative, we call on politicians to shoulder their responsibility to speak out publicly against fear and hatred, and to promote fundamental freedoms and the values of tolerance, non-discrimination and respect for human dignity. I am grateful to the Speaker of the National Assembly, Ms Maja Gojkovic, for having accepted to join in this initiative. I count on the Serbian delegation in the Parliamentary Assembly and on all of you to promote our initiative #NoHateNoFear further in Serbia, in your constituencies as well as at the regional level.

The second issue I would like focus on is the refugee crisis. About a year ago, your region in particular was affected by a massive arrival of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants. This crisis was predictable. Yet, we have failed to provide an adequate and commonly-agreed response to it.

The refugee issue continues to divide our member states and our citizens. Our debates in Strasbourg two weeks ago clearly confirmed this. However, despite the differences that divide us, we all agree on two main issues: the current refugee influx will not stop in the foreseeable future and no country alone can cope effectively with the challenge.

Therefore, we need a common and realistic approach based on solidarity and a fair responsibility-sharing. Unilateral response to migration and asylum is bound to be inadequate and short-lived. International co-operation, especially, at regional level is key.

Agreements reached at multilateral level must be respected; not challenged and undermined by unilateral actions.

Serbia's approach to the refugee crisis has to be commended. I remember very well last year's address of your country's Prime Minister, Mr Aleksandar Vucic, to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, in October 2016. "It is really not a big deal for an organised State" he said, speaking about the 200 000 refugees crossing Serbia within several weeks. Serbia did it utmost to provide care for them and to allow them to cross the country within the best possible conditions.

Of course, we must acknowledge that Serbia is mainly a country of transit. Countries of destination have to face more complex challenges, including relating to integration of newcomers within the host societies. But, whatever the specific situations we find ourselves in, we need a realistic and practical approach to seek common and comprehensive solutions.

The debates during the European Conference of Presidents of Parliaments highlighted the prominent role that National Parliaments should play in addressing the refugee crisis and the migration phenomenon, using their dual responsibility as legislators, as well as representatives of citizens. We must ensure that our laws and policies respect our human rights and international standards and are focused on a long-term vision, a comprehensive approach including integration, as well as co-operation with non-European countries of origin and transit, so as to promote development, restore peace and reinforce stability. We must explain policy decisions to our citizens, so as to resolve misunderstandings and dispel unsubstantiated fears.

This brings me to the third challenge we have address – the raise of left- and right-wing populist and extreme movements. Against the background of the economic crisis, political instability, security threats and massive arrival or refugees and migrants, populist movements capitalize on the citizens' fears by proposing so-called "simple" and "efficient" alternatives. We must resist the temptation to present our citizens with a false choice between security, on the one hand, and dignity and liberty, on the other. We have to dispel the myth that by raising barriers and isolating ourselves from the rest of the world, problems will disappear.

To counteract populist movements, mainstream political parties across the board should develop a clear and realistic political narrative, guided by democratic values and the respect for human rights standards. I count on you to support this approach.

The fourth challenge we have to face is unresolved conflicts and reconciliation.

The Council of Europe has been, since its origin, a central driving force of reconciliation. The success of the reconciliation between Germany and France in the aftermath of the Second World War, was crucial for building a strong, prosperous and united Europe. Yet, as we know from history, after the fall of the Iron curtain, we have not managed to immunise Europe against conflicts. You know this very well from the experience of your own country and of the region. Fortunately, wars in the Balkans have stopped and reconciliation is progressing. There is still homework to do, of course, including on the issues of refugee returns, missing persons, regional co-operation and prosecution of war crimes. But, what is really important is that some courageous steps have been taken by politicians who have shown leadership, vision and responsibility.

Talks between Belgrade and Pristina are a good example of this. They show that with leadership and vision, dialogue is possible, even when deep disagreements exist and emotions are high. These talks are very important first and foremost for the citizens whose everyday concerns must be addressed. This is a powerful boost for reconciliation and an important factor for the stability of the region as a whole.

I commend Prime Minister Vucic for his commitment to the improvement of relations between Serbia and Albania. Intensification of bilateral co-operation between the two countries is a strong driving force for regional co-operation in South-Eastern Europe.  I also welcome inter-parliamentary co-operation between the two countries. Madam Speaker Gojkovic visited Albania last year and I would welcome a visit by the Speaker of the Albanian Parliament to Serbia, so as to continue discussions about concrete projects of inter-parliamentary co-operation.

The participation of Prime Minister Vucic in the commemoration of the Srebrenica tragedy last year was also a very strong message in favour of reconciliation.  It takes a great deal of courage to face the past. Such symbolic gestures should be encouraged further by all.

The reconciliation efforts in South-East Europe should serve as an example for all member states of the Council of Europe which are still, unfortunately, divided by conflicts. The lesson we must learn from Europe's history is that there is no alternative to reconciliation. War and violence never brings a solution – only destruction and human suffering.  Europe must be a continent of peace; not a battlefield or an arena for confrontation.

As Europeans, we must solve the conflicts that divide us, in line with international law and respecting the territorial integrity of all states. Because our common interests in protecting human rights, democracy and the rule of law, both at national and international level, are stronger than the issues that divide us. We must shoulder our responsibilities to address – in a frank, open and committed manner – the difficult points and disagreements that exist among us in order to work together to resolve them and to continue building a Europe without dividing lines. All 47 member states of our Organisation must participate fully in this process and, as President of the Parliamentary Assembly, I am committed to making every effort to achieve this.

Ladies and Gentlemen, dear colleagues,

As I am drawing my statement to a close, I would like to mention briefly one more issue – the progress Serbia is making on the path of European integration and the co-operation between Serbia and the Council of Europe in this context. 

EU integration is a strategic goal of Serbia and a factor of broad consensus among the Serbia's population and the political class. There has been important progress made on the road to the EU, and the recent opening of negotiations on Chapters 23 and 24 of the EU acquis is an illustration of this. I would like to congratulate you on this achievement.

The preparation of the accession implies serious and far-reaching reforms in the sectors of judiciary, anti-corruption, respect for fundamental and minority rights, freedom of the media, as well as security. In all these areas, the Council of Europe stands ready to provide valuable expertise to help you achieve your strategic goal.

The co-operation between Serbia and the Council of Europe is very good and we are ready to make it even stronger. As you are aware, the European Union and the Council of Europe are jointly running a Horizontal Facility for the Western Balkans and Turkey to support beneficiaries in South-East Europe to comply with Council of Europe standards and European Union acquis in such areas as justice, economic crime, anti-discrimination and the rights of vulnerable groups. Our Expertise Co-ordination Mechanism allows you to benefit from the Council of Europe expert advice in all areas covered by the Horizontal facility, as well as in the field of freedom of expression and the media, and constitutional matters.

In my talks with the authorities, I encouraged Serbia to make use of these tools. As members of Parliament you could do the same: encourage government and ministers to seek expert advice, study experts' recommendations and proposals, so as to use them in the legislative process, encourage government and officials to provide feed-back to the Council of Europe expert bodies. Together, we can make progress much faster.

I wish you every success in the realization of your reforms and political aspirations and I count on your support within the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Together, we can make Europe stronger and more united around the fundamental values that we share, so as to respond effectively to the challenges we are facing.

Thank you very much for your attention and, once again, thank you very much for your invitation and hospitality.

Hvala vam puno

Thank you very much