President of Malta

Speech made to the Assembly

Thursday, 27 June 1996

Madam President, Mr Secretary General, ladies and gentlemen, I thank Madam President for her kind words, and for her good description of my country’s stance and the way in which we look to the Council of Europe.

The twin European organisations brought into being in the aftermath of the second great war have at least two features in common. The Council of Europe and the Community, now the European Union, are both conceived as normative and both put faith in liberty and forgo compulsion. The highly practical character of those two pan-European bodies can be explained by the overwhelming trauma experienced during the war and the considerable cathartic effect of the almost unprecedented inhumanity of some of the concomitant happenings. This moral charge was, in a sense, original and has, sadly, perhaps remained unique.

Post-1918, it had remained mostly vae victis. The losers were punished, but the basic underlying assumption, that national interests were best served by the use of force, was, if anything, reinforced. From 1945, however, it was realised that the seeds of war were sown by evils that were not solely the result of international rivalries and conflicts of economic interests. The events that led to the war and the brutality with which it was waged convinced most nations that power play was no longer a satisfactory way of achieving peace through the balance of might. Total war had created the awareness of the need for total peace. One had to build again on deeper foundations; one had to try to extirpate hate and prejudice; and one had to guarantee democracy and human rights as well as the rule of law.

At the very basis of these two pan-European associations of states, two concepts were seen to be paramount and innovative. First, democracy, the safeguarding of human rights and the rule of law, were seen as common European concerns. What happens in a particular European nation state influences the well-being of the others. While no compulsion was contemplated – indeed, free voluntary adherence and free secession were the only imaginable method of association – it was understood that a moral, indeed normative, imperative would ensue from membership. The second concept was based on wisdom. The more intense the mesh of collaboration and common interest, the tighter would be the bonds of obligation towards the common ideals and norms. If it was hoped that success in the cultural and economic spheres would underpin further development, that hope was largely fulfilled. During the decades since then, both the Council of Europe and the economic institutions which have evolved into the European Union have, to a large extent, satisfied the aspirations of the founding generation.

The fields of collaboration have widened and, in certain respects, intensified. Most members of the Council of Europe have now submitted to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights. This voluntary limitation of the sovereignty of the various states vis-à-vis their own citizens is not only novel but points towards a further transcendence of absolute sovereignty as hitherto vested in the nation state.

The parallel existence of both organisations may have given flexibility and elbow room for progress to be made by the pragmatic solution to emerging problems, but the different criteria adopted by the two bodies may at times have obscured the fact that the original aim of the framers of the Treaty of Rome was that it should be as omnicomprehensive as the Council. Perhaps in a few years the stage may be reached when the present dichotomy will be resolved and a more formal constitutional framework agreed.

Our Council of Europe has been responsive to the vocation of embracing all the nations of our continent. The challenges which every new member state has to meet to adopt the spirit and culture of European unity vary according to a state’s passage through recent history. Most can draw on a centuries-old tradition traceable to our common background, rooted in the Judaeo-Christian, Greek and Roman, medieval, Renaissance and Enlightenment ideas and values. Most have some memory of the practice of parliamentary constitutional government predating periods of dictatorship. The longer the absence of the experience of free elections and alternation of government, of an independent judiciary, guaranteed personal rights and liberties, the harder would seem the task of assimilation into the smooth practice of full democracy.

The change of people in power seen as non-cataclysmic; the impartiality of the courts and the guarantee of human rights seen as a matter of undoubted necessity; a free press and pluralism in the media as essential agents of information and channels for the expression of public opinion: all this has to permeate societies that were for decades structured around the state’s omnipotence and monodirection and in which liberty was not regarded as having a social value.

However, one ventures to believe that such is the superiority of democracy on the plane of civilisation that the thrust towards the resolution of difficulties and the removal of the traces of the former oppressive systems will prove irresistible and irreversible. Elections alone will not heal the wounds, but experience has shown that even the act of asking for a popular mandate and taking account of popular opinion will have a great beneficial effect. As Ovid said, Usus opus movet hoc. One also invests some hope in the dissemination, through the channels of academic institutions as well as through the unleashed energy of the many-voiced media, of the great thesaurus of philosophy, political theory and plain good sense to which thinkers and also common minds have contributed in all European countries.

There is also the challenge of further development. Within the countries of Europe – west and east – a welfare net has been knit to protect against illness, accident or need arising from just plain misfortune. Abject poverty, unaided and untreated illness, unassisted needs, are no longer tolerable. In short, solidarity has become an essential part of the totality of community living, and not merely a virtuous option, with the advent of a welfare society strengthening the welfare state. A community that does not guarantee an education for all its citizens, medical assistance for all and provision for maintenance for all in the case of need is deemed in Europe as no longer civilised. This actuality is not, however, part of the normative instruments of the Council. While Maastricht provided a social charter for the European Union almost as a necessary corollary of equal conditions in economic competition within it, the Council of Europe, which also has a social charter, could consider including this aspect of the state into a minimum requirement for membership. It is true that liberty and equality preceded fraternity by sixty years in the three-word compendium that revolutionary France adopted as a motto. It is high time, however, to formally entrench the irreversibility of the welfare state and consciously to recognise as indispensable what was a common feature – no doubt also born of the war experience – on both sides of the former iron curtain. The acceptance of community responsibility for the education and welfare of all is, to my mind, an acquis of modern European civilisation.

No single country’s model of political, cultural and social structure is perfectly – or, in certain cases, even adequately – adaptable to another. New democracies may, however, be tempted to look towards a pattern that has the accolade of economic success. One is perhaps entitled to describe as too raw or crude the type of society that one observes in the apparently triumphant Asian economic miracles. The mirages of quick development brought about through the loosening of the ties of solidarity and legal guarantees are as dangerous to the new democracies as the nostalgia that certain leaders might have for strong action without the inhibitions and counterbalances of parliamentary democracy and the rule of law.

As for providing models, the pattern that has been established by the Council of Europe itself merits some extension into other regions and continents. My country has proposed the setting up of a council of the Mediterranean, because although we realise that the area lacks the substratum of cultural homogeneity of Europe, there are enough common ideas and norms of political behaviour to render useful a freely entered into grouping exerting influence towards conformity to even a bare minimum of the agreed standards.

Though still an aspiration, we dare express our determination to persist with that proposal. A stability pact for the region can be seen as a first step towards achieving such a council.

Another challenge that the Council of Europe has to meet is that provided by the intercontinental relations that we have inherited as a result of the extroversion that our Europe has shown throughout previous centuries. No great land mass has remained uninfluenced by our cultural and political outgoing. America, north and south, Australia, and to some extent Africa, are partly European. Even for Asia, Europe is a reference point. Happily, colonialism is dead but there are too many lingering traces of an obsolete scramble for exploitative influence. Perhaps a normative or ethical approach with a stronger environmental conscience contributing thereto is also an achievement towards which we should aim.

A signal contribution was made by European scientists and researchers throughout the centuries leading up to the modern age. This European prowess in the pursuit of knowledge should be a spur to maintaining primacy. Technology has made scientific knowledge useful and there is no gainsaying the global access to the ever-growing and astounding performance of technology in the service of mankind. We are challenged into persisting in the dedication to pure science, to research and its possible application, resisting the temptation of being dazed by the success on most planes, including the commercial, of the latest technology.

The Council of Europe was and, we hope, will continue to be a collective organisation for people. The dictum, I venture to say dogma, that states exist for the benefit of persons turned out to be of great importance when one saw the result of its denial and the glorification of the state in totalitarian regimes.

A revolution has come about whereby the rights of every individual person are seen as transcending even the sovereignty of the nation state. A revolution has also occurred whereby regionalism and minority cultures and ethnic groups are not seen as merely tolerable, but as an accepted manifestation of subsidiarity and diversity. Let no counter revolution occur, even in the face of the most upstart and uncalled-for divisive movements. The challenge to the Council, which now links so many smaller nations, such as mine, to the larger European countries is that of advancing further into the realm of greater equality. The Czech citizen, or the San Marinese for that matter, has the same rights as the Frenchman or the German. The establishment, operation and popular acceptance of the supranational jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights is a great and original advance in human governance. We should not turn back, rather we can look forward to a further strengthening of every man’s right to defence against abuse of power. We share ideals and we share rights.

The glory and function of Europe in the world is that of spreading the civilisation of the dignity of man – all men. Our extroversion should not stop. On the other hand, our yearning for further internal refinement should likewise not cease. Europe has a soul: a conscience with a voice. This Council’s importance not only for the peoples of our continent, but for those of the whole world, lies in its unique ethical and civilising message.


Thank you very much, Dr Mifsud Bonnici, for your most interesting statement. Members of the Assembly have expressed the wish to put questions to you. I remind them that the questions must be limited to thirty seconds and no more. The first question is from Mr Eörsi of Hungary.

Mr EÖRSI (Hungary)

According to the Malta-Cyprus formula, six months after the IGC finishes negotiations will start with Malta. The same rules seem to apply for central European countries. Despite some warnings that it may slow down your integration, do you feel that we are competitors of your country in any sense in the enlargement process of the European Union?

Mr Mifsud-Bonnici, President of Malta

No, we do not feel that there is really competition. However, there could be complications. Linkages that are not natural should not be forced. You will understand that some countries may have difficulties which Malta, in its present stage of development, does not have. We feel that every application should be treated on its own merits and that there should be no linkage and no conditioning. Have I replied to your question?

Mr EÖRSI (Hungary)

I should just like to express my best wishes to your country, as I do to all countries, for successful integration.

Mr Mifsud-Bonnici, President of Malta

I reciprocate with regard to your country, sir.

Mrs OJULAND (Estonia)

As Malta is heading towards membership of the European Union, what in your view is the contribution that small countries can make to the Union and how can small states benefit from it? I ask that question because I also come from a tiny country.

Mr Mifsud-Bonnici, President of Malta

Compared with Malta, your country is quite large. Contributions are made by people from small countries and from large countries. We are separate human beings: everybody has his own persona. Contributions are also made by nations. Malta has a unique experience. It has suffered because we are at the crossroads of the Mediterranean, but we have also been enriched by our history, which is unique. For example, for a long time the Order of St John was sited in Malta and eight European languages were spoken in Malta. That has given the country a special flavour. In Malta, there is a confluence of many interests and I doubt that any other country in Europe has imbibed so much from so many European countries. Perhaps we can contribute that and repay a little.


Mr President, you followed the discussion about the question whether or not Nato should be extended to the central European countries. Would you present your position on that issue? Do you envisage an alternative security structure, different from Nato, for example based on the Conference on Stability and Co-operation in Europe or another institution?

Mr Mifsud-Bonnici, President of Malta

We are not members of Nato; in fact, our constitution contains a clause that precludes us from being members of a military alliance. We are part of the Partnership for Peace. We have had an experience of war in our area and we still have, and will continue to have, a stake in peace and stability in that area; but perhaps it is a stability which has to be established in another way, and the Government of Malta is thinking of having a stability pact between all the Mediterranean states, without any military component as of now. The complications that might attach to a military side of such a treaty in the beginning mean that it is perhaps not prudent at this stage.

Mr DINÇER (Turkey)

Your excellency, we observe with appreciation Malta’s efforts and dynamic attitude towards increasing security and stability in the Mediterranean as a part of the new European security architecture. What do you think about the new role of Nato outside its region? What additional efforts could it bring to the security and stability in the Mediterranean region as a whole, especially when a more effective peace-making function is needed, as in the case of the Nato implementation force application in Bosnia and Herzegovina, without losing time as we did in that case?

Mr Mifsud-Bonnici, President of Malta

The difficulty with the Mediterranean area, the whole European structure, is that the lower side of the Mediterranean basin is non-European, and the problems that attach to that region are significantly different from those in Europe. Nato was, I think, conceived in the era of the cold war and confrontation between the East and the West, and it is now transforming itself into an alliance, not against a threat from the East, but to assure peace in Europe.

In the Mediterranean, the same conditions do not apply. Nato is seen by some Arab countries as an alien, almost an enemy, organisation, so it is difficult for Nato to perform the same role and the same adaptations that it is assuming in the east of Europe. Perhaps Nato should not be involved in the process of stabilising the Mediterranean in the first instance. The experience in Bosnia and Herzegovina shows that Nato has the military capability, but perhaps if we can avoid even the possibility of military strife in the Mediterranean basin, that would be the best possible line of action.

Mr MUEHLEMANN (Switzerland) (translation)

Mr President, your country is probably the most important link in the bridge between Africa and Europe. Can you imagine there being closer co-operation between Europe and Tunisia? Could you imagine Tunisia being accorded special guest status?

Mr Mifsud-Bonnici, President of Malta

Yes. I think that the difficulties that we have in the Mediterranean area are partly the result of internal issues in some of these countries in addition to the matter of Palestine, which is still a difficult problem to be solved, but which has been given a lot of attention by the western powers and by most countries. It was on the road to peace, and we imagine that that road can be continued. There is, however, a further threat within most of the countries on the southern side of the Mediterranean littoral.

Tunisia is in a privileged position in that it is the most stable and has the best internal conditions in that part of the world. It is a country where the spread of education has been going on for a long time, where there is considerable economic development and where there is interchange with the outside world because of tourism and other factors.

Tunisia is perhaps the best place from which to begin, and already it is partly looking towards Europe because it has a French culture, which is very pervasive, and good relations with Italy, and with many countries in the area, including mine. Relations between Tunisia and Malta are very good. It would be very good if the Council of Europe were to look towards Tunisia and see whether Tunisia can enter into the spirit and practice of the Council of Europe.


As Mr Muehlemann does not want to ask a supplementary question, that brings us to the end of the questions.

Dr Mifsud Bonnici, I would like to thank you most warmly on behalf of the Assembly for your statement and for the remarks you made during the course of the questions.