Grand Duke of Luxembourg

Speech made to the Assembly

Monday, 22 April 2002

A few days before the start of Luxembourg’s chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, it is a great honour and a special pleasure for me to address this august Assembly of elected representatives of greater Europe, meeting here in the oldest of our European institutions. For more than fifty years, the Council of Europe’s activities have played a decisive part in shaping the renewal and development of our continent.

In the beginning was the European idea. It marked the start of a new era, reflecting its founders’ finest beliefs. The idea materialised because it was forwardlooking, geared to learning from the past, and essentially aimed at ending the violence and horror that had left their imprint on European history. It infused a heart and soul into the old continent.

We have received our unshakeable faith in Europe from those brave and visionary men and women who, after experiencing the unspeakable themselves, decided to endeavour to prevent such horrors from ever taking place again, and undertook first to bring about reconciliation and then to change people’s attitudes.

The European idea was one, but not indivisible. It gradually took on many shapes and developed along flexible lines in several organisations set up in the 1950s that focused their attention on a given sphere of activity or a particular form of dialogue and cooperation. For forty years, the process was confined to the western half of Europe.

A closer look reveals that the values promoted by the Council of Europe are universal, and therefore underpinned the efforts to unify Europe from the outset.

The Council of Europe, which grouped the western democracies together for nearly forty years, was leading its own institutional life, without fuss and even – if I may say so – in a somewhat inward-looking manner. Equipped with its precepts, it progressively delineated a wide range of good practices, and drew up legal instruments that proved, and still prove, to be of great relevance to the development of the member countries’ societies.

That being said, the Council was living in the shadow of the fantastically dynamic process of economic, then political and institutional, integration in which some of its members were involved as part of the European Community and later the European Union. That, incidentally, is why some people, including some inside the Organisation, wonder about the future of the Council of Europe as its younger sister goes from strength to strength and steadily broadens its membership.

In fact, I am convinced that the two institutions are and will remain forceful and original expressions of the ideas initially underlying the renewal of Europe. Both pursue the aim of a European area in which human rights are protected and a common legal system ensures peace, freedom, justice, security and stability. In so doing, they strengthen and complement each other. What distinguishes them are their chosen methods.

The basic standards that inspire the Council of Europe’s work are constant and unchanging. Their legitimacy stems directly from the obligation – which is also the primary aim of states governed by the rule of law and pluralist democracies – to give all those countries’ populations, and each individual European, the best possible environment in which to lead fulfilling lives, by making their societies fairer and more respectful of everyone’s rights and freedoms.

Thanks to the Council of Europe’s tireless and dedicated efforts, those standards have been constantly refined, with a deliberate policy of always carrying the process a step further. That is how the Council’s corpus of standard-setting instruments, and consequently the member states’ legislation, is gradually developing into a fabric that covers, protects and nurtures countless aspects of life in our modern societies.

Like the European Convention on Human Rights, which from the outset laid down ambitious minimum standards for the protection of human rights, and the activity of the European Court of Human Rights, which constantly encourages improvements, the entire Organisation is dedicated to improving the management of public affairs in its member states.

Starting with the basic protection of these fundamental and unchanging rights, the Council of Europe has quite logically become involved in all the most promising areas of our societies, such as social affairs, education, culture, youth, sport and the environment.

What I find most attractive in the Council’s approach is its faith in the future and its unshakeable belief in what is best in human beings. The oldest political organisation on our continent steers clear of the purely spectacular and carries on quietly working for the common good. It has been doing so with considerable patience and perseverance, and with all the qualities of a builder, for more than fifty years. Its assets are persuasion, dialogue, co-operation and assistance.

One of the Council’s prime qualities, in my view, is regular monitoring of compliance with the commitments freely made by its member states when they joined. Monitoring is an essential, across-the-board activity deriving from the certainty that all governments are fallible and that everyone may need reforms at one time or another. On several occasions the Grand Duchy has also carried out reforms based on the Council’s work or on the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights.

The variety and complementarity of the statutory organs are one of the Council of Europe’s original features because they effectively reflect, inside the institution, the democratic principles and machinery that it advocates for the outside world.

The Organisation derives its strengths and its wealth of experience from the combined activities of its constituent bodies. However, I should like to pay tribute to the Parliamentary Assembly’s role as a witness upholding human rights and democracy and as a political stimulus for the Council’s work; to the efforts to promote the contribution made by towns and regions to the architecture of the continent, through the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe; to the defence of human rights through the judges of the European Court of Human Rights and the work of the Commissioner for Human Rights; to the commitment shown by specialist bodies such as the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance and the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture; to the Committee of Ministers’ management of political affairs; to the contribution made by the conferences of specialist ministers to resolving the problems confronting all of our societies; to the steering committees and other expert groups which maintain a broad network of contacts and exchanges throughout Europe.

Luxembourg, which is proud of having been a founding member of several European organisations, has always felt at ease in this great democratic family in which the rule of law is observed and all the member states are represented on an equal footing. It has therefore been involved, as a committed partner, in the quest for ways to unite Europe ever more closely around the same key values and basic aims.

That is why the Luxembourg Government has made good governance and achievement of the Council of Europe’s basic aims the theme of its six-month chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers.

Together with its founding partners, my country welcomed the initial stages in the Council of Europe’s enlargement and then its opening up to the fledgling democracies that were keen to join it in the wake of the great upheavals at the end of the 1980s.

We all remember President Gorbachev speaking in this very building, in this Assembly Chamber, of the “common European home”, and it is true that, thanks to the Council of Europe, that structure is being gradually built, step by step, on the basis of the Council’s founding texts and its wide range of conventions, in order to achieve the Europe without dividing lines celebrated during the Council’s fiftieth anniversary in Budapest in May 1999.

The far-reaching transformation of this process into a great pan-European venture, initiated in the wake of the first Council of Europe summit in Vienna in 1993 and confirmed by the second summit in 1997, has already yielded results. On the basis of the experience acquired, it has enriched the Organisation’s longstanding members and given new members hope and prospects for the future.

The most striking feature of the Council’s recent history, confirming its contribution and dedication to reconciliation and European integration, is the fact that it has had the courage, political will and ability to open up to countries beset by domestic difficulties or emerging from internal disputes and civil conflicts in order to support them from the inside.

The accession of Bosnia and Herzegovina, scheduled for this week, is a welcome and tangible example. We should like to express our warmest wishes to this new member state, in the hope that luck will favour it at last on the eve of its integration into Europe.

My purpose in speaking here today as head of a state that experiences the building of Europe on a day-to-day basis, including the attendant benefits of peace, stability, security and prosperity, and whose commitment to Europe is a matter of sheer conviction, is also to express from the bottom of my heart the full extent of Luxembourg’s attachment, and that of its entire population, to the aims and values of the Council of Europe.


Thank you very much, Your Royal Highness, for your most interesting statement and for the support that you have expressed for the Council of Europe and its activities. We fully agree with you when you say that this pan-European organisation will be needed in future even after the coming enlargement of the European Union. The main feature of our Organisation is that all member states can work together on an equal basis. This will help to avoid new dividing lines in Europe. Your speech and our private conversation demonstrate your deep interest and support for our Organisation. We are happy that we can count on you in Luxembourg's coming chairmanship.

We now come to what I would like to call a “parliamentary premiere”. His Royal Highness has, exceptionally, agreed to answer questions put by the leaders of each political group. I call Mr Davis on behalf of the Socialist Group.

Mr DAVIS (United Kingdom)

Thank you very much for your address, Your Royal Highness. You referred to the enlargement of the Council of Europe. It is certainly true that the Council of Europe has enlarged considerably in recent years from twenty- three member states in 1989 to forty-four with the accession of Bosnia and Herzegovina this week. You also referred to the values of the Council of Europe. Some people argue that enlargement has been made possible only by diluting the values of the Council of Europe. Others do not agree with that statement. What do you think?

His Royal Highness, Grand Duke of Luxembourg (translation)

We should be mindful of the history of the Council of Europe, the first institution founded after the second world war to preserve peace in western Europe. Unfortunately, at that time the eastern part of our continent was under the regime we all know about, and integration was impossible then. This approach became viable only following the radical upheavals that occurred at the end of the 1980s. Over the last twenty years, the Council of Europe has done remarkable work in endeavouring to bring virtually all countries of eastern Europe within this Assembly.

It is vital for the entire European continent to find a forum where the foundations of democracy are revered and human rights are so fittingly presented. This will enable the new democracies to learn from Europe what we have been learning for more than fifty years past, to gain from our experience so that they too may find their place and, after so many years of misfortune and war, we may live on a continent which forms Europe and, as General de Gaulle used to say, stretches as far as the Urals.

Mr VAN DER LINDEN (Netherlands)

Your Royal Highness, thank you for your encouraging address. You stressed the role of the Council of Europe as a valued community. The Council of Europe played a pioneering role in the field of biomedicine when it drew up the Oviedo Convention an Human Rights and Biomedicine as well as several additional protocols. Do you believe that that normative action represents a good balance between the immutable principle of human dignity and the possibilities that are open to science?

His Royal Highness, Grand Duke of Luxembourg (translation)

Yes indeed, medicine and science in general have made quite extraordinary strides in recent years. This, like any advance in the new technologies, must take into account human dignity, that is essential. In all our parliaments we have ethics committees that review the progress of medical sciences.

You have decided to prohibit cloning of human beings, a very wise decision in my opinion. It is unimaginable to create a uniform human race without disparities; that would be a very dismal outlook.

Obviously you will be discussing every aspect of the development of genetics and the human embryo, all of which you examine with great wisdom. I often read your documents on these subjects. You are adept at walking the tightrope between the ethical and moral difficulties and the development of science. We can rely on your wisdom to advise the members of your Assembly. I hope they will concur with your recommendations.

Mr EORSI (Hungary)

I join my colleagues in thanking His Royal Highness for sharing his views about the values of the Assembly, which we represent and which are so important for us. My question refers to one of our important values. The Assembly made its first recommendation in favour of the abolition of the death penalty in 1994. That action led to the adoption of Protocol No. 6 to the European Convention on Human Rights, abolishing the death penalty in time of peace. In Vilnius in a few days time, Protocol No. 13 will be open for signature, which abolishes the death penalty in all circumstances. Does that fill you with satisfaction and pride? Do you believe that Europe, especially greater Europe, has advanced European civilisation in the world, and in what way?

His Royal Highness, Grand Duke of Luxembourg (translation)

The first principle of the Council of Europe’s philosophy is to protect and respect the human person, to preserve human dignity and life as such. It is fortunate that you bring this philosophy to life. Since 1994, it has allowed considerable progress along the path towards total abolition of capital punishment.

I am in favour of life. Man cannot destroy man, whatever the circumstances. Some countries belonging to your Assembly are on the verge of achieving abolition, and I am glad. In the months and years ahead, all Europe will at last put aside the destruction of a human being.

The pronouncements of the Council of Europe in this connection are an example to the whole world. The death penalty, the direst punishment, is no solution. Nor does it prevent criminal acts from being committed. Since the abolition of capital punishment by most of our countries, there have been no dramatic changes. This is also the case on other continents. I support you totally, for the example you give to the world is highly beneficial; it points to the betterment of global society.

Mr ATKINSON (United Kingdom)

Your Royal Highness, we appreciated your address to us. Luxembourg has the highest GDP of all the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries. Yours is quite simply the most prosperous country in the world. What is your secret?

His Royal Highness, Grand Duke of Luxembourg

Do you want a response or a recipe?

(The speaker continued in French) (Translation) Luxembourg should be seen as a region. There are other far richer regions, Brussels, Paris, Ile-de- France, London. We have succeeded in creating a strong economic environment by good fortune, admittedly, but also thanks to our work. A situation like this attracts a great many people, of course. We consider ourselves the economic centre of a region: more than 100 000 workers come across our frontiers to work every day.

We have no secret, just good governance. I myself over the last twenty years, before taking up my present responsibilities, chaired the Economic Development Committee. I travelled all over the world in order to diversify Luxembourg’s economy, attract new enterprises to our country, and sell our products worldwide. I am well acquainted with this area of trade. During my travels, I invariably emphasised the distinctiveness of Luxembourg, the fact that as a country at the centre of the European Union it is a stable country politically and socially, with a very strong social consensus.

As the economic situation is very good, we have attracted large enterprises.

It is always claimed that the financial market created the wealth of Luxembourg. That is not true. Up to 1860 or 1870, our country was extremely poor. A third of the population left for the United States and Brazil. Luckily we discovered iron ore in the south; that led to the industrial revolution and the resultant wealth.

Thereafter, we diversified. The steel industry recession came, and we tried to get other firms to come and set up in our country. We then created the financial market, endeavouring to be competitive and find niches.

A satellite technology company was founded that is now the world leader in the field. Likewise, we developed a steel industry that, thanks to the synergies between various companies, has also become the world’s best.

Though a small country, we try to be competitive in relation to the others.

We go about our work, and there is sometimes a little envy concerning us because we have achieved great success. One should not be fixated on the fact that Luxembourg is the richest country in the European Union. It has participated hugely in development aid and pays a large part of our contributions. Luxembourg is to be regarded more as a region.

Mr LAAKSO (Finland)

Perhaps there is a secret. However, I will not ask about the secret of foreign bank accounts in Luxembourg. This is my question: do you believe that the total liberty of the free market economy can be regulated only by the market itself and that at the same time it can guarantee justice and social cohesion?

His Royal Highness, Grand Duke of Luxembourg (translation)

The individual is central to European values. That is the main difference between what we are doing in Europe and what happens in another democracy, such as the United States. If we placed our economies entirely under the sway of the market, it would not work, as we have seen with certain governments of certain European countries. There have been difficulties. The government’s presence in various fields can be beneficial. We certainly cannot allow the economy complete freedom.

We have built a social consensus in Europe. I may say, to hold up Luxembourg as an example once again, that during the steel industry recession in the 1970s the government founded an institution known as the “tripartite” in which the members of the government, the trade unions and employers participated. Thanks to this body, the restructuring of the steel industry went off without strikes, unemployment or mass dismissals, in a climate of consensus. This is a conspicuous example of how, in our countries, economic freedom can be successfully combined with a presence by governmental bodies.


Thank you, Your Royal Highness. That brings an end to the questions to Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg. With your applause, colleagues, you are thanking him most warmly for his statement and the answers to your questions. Thank you very much, Your Royal Highness, for coming here and answering those questions.