President of the French Republic

Speech made to the Assembly

Friday, 5 May 1989

Mr Chairman of the Committee of Ministers, Mr President of the Parliamentary Assembly, Mr Secretary General, ladies and gentlemen, as has already been said – and it is also our reason for being here together – forty years ago to the day, ten European countries signed the convention embodying the Statute of the Council of Europe. Today, this anniversary is being celebrated by twenty- three states.

I feel it an honour to be here with you on this occasion as I was nearly seven years ago.

For the war generation, the foundation of the Council of Europe represented, so soon after the end of hostilities, resounding recognition of the supremacy of our democratic values over totalitarianism. The birth of the Council of Europe was seen as an act of faith in a Europe pledged to human rights, as an appeal for reconciliation and for unity in Europe.

The choice of Strasbourg as the site of the new institution was also symbolic. The Alsatian capital, the victim fought over in three successive wars, was – through the exorcism of the past – to be the incarnation of European reconciliation. It would be a good thing if that were better remembered.

As I contemplate the progress made since the Congress of The Hague in 1948, an event dear to my heart for reasons you know – the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers has just mentioned that – I can appreciate the efforts made by your predecessors and yourselves, the extent and quality and, I think, the historic significance of those efforts. Allow me, then, to underline the merit of those women and men who have contributed to this venture, to congratulate those who, more recently, have set about giving it fresh momentum and widening its influence. I must add my own thanks to those expressed by the Secretary General to the President of your Assembly.

There has been continuity throughout these past years and those whom you have chosen to organise and direct your work have followed in the footsteps of the founding fathers.

Europe’s identity, what gives our continent its impact in the world, rests on the values on the basis of which the Council of Europe has developed its action. I would say simply, like you and after you: the freedoms, all the freedoms; human rights, all human rights. How, in this year when we are celebrating the bicentenary of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, could we fail to salute the decisive progress represented, with the European Convention on Human Rights, by the unprecedented possibility afforded to each and every European citizen to arraign his own state before an international court of justice, the European Court of Human Rights?

This machinery is being constantly improved, whether we consider procedures or the actual convention. I am thinking for example of the prevention of torture, a convention on which was signed in 1987.

We know, of course, that serious breaches still occur in our continent of what we regard as inalienable rights. Our free countries must show solidarity in condemning those breaches, brooking no argument, and demanding that they cease. It is up to the Council of Europe, in this most important field, to exercise constant vigilance, to set a moral example.

As the pioneer of its institutions, your Council marked the beginning of Europe. Some months before the foundation of the OEEC, later to become the OECD, it was also a precursor. Does not the first article of its statute state the objective of: “achieving a greater unity between its members for the purpose of safeguarding and realising the ideals and principles which are their common heritage”?

The Council of Europe, in the words of the jurist Paul Reuter, has become “the only organisation in which all the European countries sharing a certain democratic ideal can meet to discuss any European question”.

With the exception of defence problems, explicitly excluded from its remit, there is no European issue that cannot be debated in this chamber.

Your institution includes the twelve countries of the European Community, the six of EFTA and five more states. I note that Finland has joined the Council this very day, bringing the number of members to twenty-three. I welcome this development in the presence of Finland’s representatives, as in 1985 I welcomed that country’s contribution to the EUREKA technology programme.

Your institution, in keeping with the vocation affirmed from the outset, has accordingly become a meeting place and a place of dialogue where relations can be developed among its various components. Institutional co-operation has been intensified – with the European Community – in a spirit of co-operation, not competition.

I have observed to what a great extent the Council of Europe has shown itself able to tackle new and important issues, whether it be in the Assembly’s work on North-South questions, the European Social Charter, the European Code of Social Security, the conventions to protect migrant workers, or on health problems, consumer protection, cultural exchanges, legal and judicial co-operation, local and regional authorities – the list is too long for me to mention them all.

It is the quality, the diversity and the richness of this participation in the activities of the Council of Europe that have made it possible to associate with the “necessary dream”, of which Jean Monnet wrote in his memoirs, a fruitful field of discussion and action.

Many issues that exercise people do not, of course, pay any heed to frontiers or political divides. Increasingly often they find an echo in what is sometimes called – the expression is fairly apt – the right of future generations, particularly – and the need for this is deeply felt – the right to an unscathed, uncontaminated and healthy earth, the right to a clean environment with pure air and pure water.

You have already done a considerable amount of work in this respect. I have particularly in mind the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats of 1979. But so much remains to be done, as we can observe every day! For example, people talk of the warming up of the atmosphere, which might result from the excessive quantities of carbonic gas released by human activities – the figure of twenty thousand million tonnes a year is mentioned.

And so the danger is increasing, but fortunately, thanks to a wholesome shift in people’s thinking, awareness of the danger is also increasing. And I am talking to an assembly that has made a significant contribution to this awakening and that should continue to prevent or combat everything that jeopardises the future of the human species itself.

Your Council will, I believe, be able to continue its work in the same way and with the same tenacity for the creation of the European cultural identity.

This subject was dwelt on by the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers, and rightly so. Let us take care to preserve the culture and, in the first place, the language of each of our countries and, within each country, those of minorities. Let us make this effort because, when a language disappears, that signifies the death of a long history and, probably also, the death of a hope.

While on the subject of Europe’s identity, it is surely impossible not to refer to the audiovisual sphere. There is a certain tendency on the part of our countries to import a growing proportion of their programmes and to resort increasingly to third technologies, the term coyly used to describe quite simply technologies produced outside our continent.

It is up to Europeans to give themselves the capacity to make their own productions. The present production of television and cinema in our countries is estimated, I am told, at 20 000 hours a year, whereas our countries’ needs amount to 125 000 hours for the year 1990. It is up to Europeans to develop their own techniques, improve quality and avoid easy solutions.

They possess a European standard and a European system of high-definition television that can provide a basis for the future of the audiovisual industry in Europe, and which illustrate the existing capacities while also showing the way ahead.

I say this with all my conviction, reiterating Jean Monnet’s words which have just been quoted. Do not let us miss this appointment. Let us study this problem in an equitable manner, with a desire to serve each of our cultures. Some are threatened in the immediate future; others will be in the medium term. While there are a few, a very few privileged countries that can rest assured of the future – thanks to the concentration of information and the rapidity of exchanges – it is necessary, without mistrusting them, without organising ourselves against them, to equip ourselves with the means of disseminating throughout Europe a whole culture drawn from the very sources of its member countries. Otherwise, a large part of ourselves will soon have disappeared, abolished and swept away by the great movement of history.

There you have the problem, and it is far from having been solved. Nor is it always very well formulated, and I think we shall all of us make progress here. In fact, we discussed the matter at the European Council in Rhodes last December. I regard it as very important and everyone in Europe can join in, help take the decisions and benefit from what is a joint safeguard.

When all is said and done, it is as well to ask a simple question, which it is for each of you to answer: Are Europeans any less capable than anyone else of making and broadcasting their own programmes? Can they possibly believe that merely broadcasting other people’s programmes, however good or necessary they may be, will leave Europe and Europeans as history has made them, intact?

All Europeans share a common destiny, whether they belong to the part of Europe represented here today or to the other part. Our history has proved it and so does geography. There has to be a genuine political will to move in that direction. What I have just said about audiovisual matters is just as relevant to what is termed, crudely and inappropriately, Eastern Europe. After all, both Eastern Europe and Western Europe have a north and a south. Moreover, not all of Western Europe lies to the West and not all of Eastern Europe to the East. But as the terms are understood, I have used them, though I do not like them very much.

I am aware that contacts have been established, some of them by you, either by the Parliamentary Assembly or through governmental co-operation. Ventures are under way with Hungary and Poland, and your Assembly has established contacts with the Soviet Union. It is my belief, and France’s too, that the time has come to establish closer links between these two Europes, new links – outside any predetermined framework – whenever this is made possible by development in the direction the founders of the Council of Europe had in mind, the direction of freedom.

No one need feel disqualified from taking part in this great tendency, which, I am sure – without wishing to prophesy – will be the making of Europe of the next millennium. There is virtually scientific evidence which indicates that peoples who hold fast to one another have every prospect of enduring, developing and asserting themselves if they are capable of recognising their affinities.

The Council of Europe can continue taking bold initiatives for co-operation between its members and with all others who are interested. Responding to the expectations of those who, wherever they may be, cherish freedom and, like us, see themselves as having inherited and as inhabiting the same Europe, is – and this is the lesson you have taught me – one of the Council of Europe’s primary functions.

The Council of Europe, and all of us, must respond to the divisions born of war by generously holding out community of culture and exchange as a basis for further progress. In the short term, why not reconsider the requirements for granting observer status or consider new forms of association with states in the other Europe, under arrangements it is of course for you to decide?

I believe that it is consonant with the spirit of the Council of Europe to be prepared to go out – as the historian, Fernand Braudel, once put it – “in all the directions of the wind”.

A little poetry does no harm.

An anniversary, whether in private or public life, is an occasion for taking stock. I should like this 40th anniversary to let the Council of Europe show that Europe, while consolidating itself, is not impervious to any matter of worldwide interest and that it is responsive to urgent humanitarian needs and to ethical and intellectual aspirations.

Mr Chairman of the Committee of Ministers, Mr President of the Parliamentary Assembly, Mr Secretary General, ladies and gentlemen, need I say how pleased I am to have come to Strasbourg to remind you that France is proud to count itself one of the founder members of the Council of Europe, proud of what it and its partners have achieved in these forty years, and that it will be proud, too, to see the Council of Europe continuing its work on French soil? This, surely, is what being a European capital is about.

On France’s behalf, I unreservedly reaffirm France’s confidence in the Council of Europe and in all of whom it is composed.

(Lengthy and enthusiastic applause)

(The President of the Parliamentary Assembly presented the President of the French Republic with the medal struck to mark the 40th anniversary of the Council of Europe before accompanying him out of the Assembly Chamber.)