President of the Italian Republic

Speech made to the Assembly

Wednesday, 27 April 1983

Mr President, Ladies and Gentlemen, in addressing you in this historic chamber that has welcomed distinguished European statesmen from Spaak to Adenauer, Schuman, Churchill, Bevin and the Italians De Gasperi and Sforza, I am fully conscious of the honour that you, Mr President, the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers, all the parliamentarians and your Secretary General have bestowed on me. I should like to take this opportunity to extend a special greeting to him. In the construction of Europe, this institution was in the political sphere the first, authentic offspring of the European movement. It was the first light of day, the ray of hope in the long European march that began more than thirty years ago and is not over yet. Enlightened and impassioned minds have wrestled with the idea of Europe, which found its first institutional expression here. Since then, other initiatives have lent their support to the realisation of the grand European design.

However, Strasbourg has advanced steadily and tenaciously on its chosen path and has pursued its painstaking and invaluable work without stopping or looking back. It has been and remains more than ever the chief reference framework for the entire range of activities aimed at European unity. It is the broad, free arena for all European discussion; the meeting-place and forum for consultation and co-operation between the different facets of the European prism. After the war the victors and the vanquished of Europe came together in this Assembly. In the years that followed, the European Community and non-Community Europe, aligned and neutral Europe worked side by side to find a basis for agreement and dialogue. This mixture of different voices has not unleashed a confusion of tongues. On the contrary, the work has from the outset been vigorous and has produced important results in the most diverse areas, as shown by the hundred or more conventions that have been drawn up. It is here that Europe, committed to the pursuit of its own unity, has found the opportunity, means and impetus to lay the foundations of its future. It has also established the major guidelines of its structural development. It is here, then, that Europe began to cast its own mould.

In view of your long-standing familiarity with the activity of the Council, it would be otiose and out of place for me to list the stages of its development one by one or to describe the multifarious aspects of your labours. It is more important, for me and for you, to emphasise that the basis of these successes – which have contributed to shaping, harmonising and stamping the European seal on many widely differing and far-flung areas of activity – that the basis of these results is ultimately clear and simple. The work of this organisation has been guided by a single lighthouse, one north star: the star of freedom, justice, law, pluralism, in a word democracy. This has been the perennial “animus” of the past thirty years or more of life and activity. Because of that spirit, the institution whose guest I have the honour to be today has had the courage to condemn and to part – not without regret – from such and such a member country, hoping with reason that time and events would ultimately justify the boldness of its sacrifice. In this hémicycle, free, democratic and civilised Europe finds its broadest expression. The unification of Europe is the noblest aspiration of modern times, yet you all know that the different approaches to the question have often led to divergences and at times even discord. However, Europe has never failed to look at its reflection in the mirror of Strasbourg to find its common denominator: a longing for freedom, a belief in the values and methods of pluralism and democracy and the inexhaustible and unexhausted desire of men and citizens for justice and their inalienable rights.

I have already said that I will not be able to list, even along general lines, the results of the vast work carried out by the organs of the Council of Europe. But what I can do, and feel I must do, is to mention those that appear to be the most significant and which have had the greatest impact on public opinion in Italy. Firstly, I must allude to what seems to me the most outstanding achievement. It is also the first chronologically and can, ultimately, be identified with the basic principle which guides the Council’s activity and to which I have already referred. The protection of human rights is to my mind the most original and characteristic aspect of this organisation’s work and helps to differentiate it from any other organisation in Europe and the world. The Convention, Commission and Court of Human Rights, the effective protection that for the first time they provide the individual against states, including his own state, and thus the recognition of the individual and the state as equal, represent a unique historical accomplishment and the culmination of a centuries-old process that has its roots in the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. As an old fighter for the freedom of my own country, I know that I am not exaggerating when I say that this Assembly has never failed – and has indeed acted promptly and forcefully to condemn violations of human rights while avoiding humiliating compromises, concessions or sacrifices to the pseudo-realistic “reason of state”. After the sad experiences we have been through, we all know today that contemporary society is still vulnerable to attack by the totalitarian “virus”. The state has very extensive means of persuasion and control of public opinion at its disposal. Free minds can be corrupted in an infinite number of ways. More sophisticated technology now enables the most unscrupulous, oppressive regimes to practise “soft and silent” violence, whereas in ancient times and also more recently brute violence was perpetrated and dissidents were physically annihilated.

Tocqueville grasped this development in one of his brilliant intuitions when he wrote in the early nineteenth century that the kind of oppression threatening democratic peoples would be unlike anything the world had yet seen. We all know that the functioning of democracy is undoubtedly more complex and delicate in this technological age. The democratic decision making process, because it is based on safeguards, is naturally slower, more arduous and perhaps less immediately effective than the mere expression of a tyrant’s will or blind obedience to a single party and its bureaucratic apparatus. However, despite its delays and at times its indecisiveness and great waste of energy, the democratic system does produce a much greater yield in terms of human and political cost-benefit than the totalitarian system. Of course, this is not to say that democracy prevails everywhere over totalitarianism. Sometimes it succumbs. To avoid this, it must above all have the courage to be itself. It must stand up for itself, and combat evil with its own characteristic arms: honesty, integrity, moral decency and, above all, respect for constitutional rights, even of those ready to violate them. Goethe remarked:

“When courage is lost, all is lost, and it would be better to have never been born.”

Democracy is above all an apprenticeship in civic courage. To have proclaimed these principles and sharpened the awareness of European peoples in respect of these eternal problems in modern terms and drawing attention to the new dangers of this age has been and remains the great achievement of this institution. In this way it has helped to make Europe more European.

Among the other activities I would like to mention that vast fresco of social achievements which began in 1961 in the Italian city of Turin, which for various reasons is bound up with the glorious history of the labour movement. I refer to the European Social Charter, an offshoot and extension in the economic and social sphere of the European Convention on Human Rights. The standards laid down in the Social Charter are now being examined in relation to the fight against unemployment and to vocational training. The Resettlement Fund is another highly important initiative, a concrete symbol of European solidarity and a means of protecting national refugees, also applied in all cases of surplus population. I hope that more resources will be allocated by member states so that its work can be made more effective.

Mr President, honourable members, on the basis of this outline, insufficient though it is and leaving aside the numerous other important areas where the Council has been working hard and is already looking to the future, it is possible to assess the invaluable contribution that it has made and will continue to make to the achievement of our common goal: the strengthening of European identity and greater co-operation in Europe. This goal – I repeat – is shared by both the Ten and the Eleven, the greater Europe of twenty-one states whose meeting-place is here. I know that fears have been expressed from these benches that this organisation’s role may tomorrow be restricted or in some way overshadowed by the vigour of the Communities’ activities. To my mind, these fears are unfounded. The paths followed and the methods adopted may appear and, at times, may actually be different, but in fact they are directed towards the same goal and are based on the same common interest. They are different contributions towards the same end. Of course, the vigour of the Communities’ efforts, particularly in the area of political but also of legal and cultural co-operation, cannot and must not weaken; but this does not exclude a commitment by all EEC countries to make maximum use of the co-ordinating function already being competently carried out by this organisation. This function will be intensified and speeded up by the Communities’ vigour. There is nothing to prevent the increasing development of what Italy has called, I think appropriately, the dialogo delle cose, that is to say the practical relations between the Communities and the agencies of this organisation and the fuller examination and discussion in the Council of Europe of every decision taken by the organs of the Communities with a view to wider agreement and application in a greater number of countries.

This is also the spirit of the European Act or the Solemn Declaration on European Union, the initiative launched by my friend, Mr Colombo and Mr Genscher which we hope will be adopted next June in Stuttgart. This spirit is expressed in suitable terms in the text of that Act which provides – as you all know – that the commitment to co-ordination between the Ten and the Eleven must be maintained and strengthened. As far as Italy is concerned, we shall seek every opportunity to activate and to strengthen the link between the two at the level of Community co-operation and European political co-operation. The action taken and the close contacts in recent times aimed at making the political dialogue in this organisation more effective and productive – at ministerial and expert level – show that these are not empty words. New measures aimed at strengthening the exchange of information and the preparation of policies common to EEC and non-EEC countries in the Council of Europe have recently been adopted. To cite one outstanding example, a meeting is to be held shortly – if it has not already been held – on the fringe of the present meeting of the Committee of Ministers between the Bureau of the organ of political co-operation and the representatives of the Eleven. In a Europe that is conscious of its identity, this Assembly is the only bridge between EEC and non-EEC parliaments. It must continue to serve as the fundamental forum for discussion of the major topics of our time, as it has done from the outset, and remain a source of invaluable inspiration and guidance for the process of European construction. Strasbourg, Ladies and Gentlemen, is and will remain the crossroads where all efforts and possibilities intersect. Every subject has been and will continue to be discussed here: the challenges of the present times, the delicate relations between North and South and the difficult relations between East and West. That is why I ask the question: Would Helsinki have been conceivable without Strasbourg?

Mr President, Ladies and Gentlemen, the moment has come to draw a conclusion and to speak of the objective that overshadows all others: Europe. I have chosen the term “objective” in order to give it as much meaning as possible. The history of Europe as an idea and in practice has represented everything: a myth, a dream, a feeling, an ideal; for some it has been and remains a source of melancholy, sadness and regret for a lost paradise, an Athens which, having given “worlds to the world”, having been a melting-pot for civilisations and having Europeanised the globe and spread its eternal values to the four corners of the earth, should now resign itself to disappearing never to be revived; and having been a great and dominant force while, by a strange paradox, its own civil wars were raging, it should now witness, powerless, its own decline, just when it is increasingly aware of the meaning and urgent need for its own unity. A pessimistic vision which reminds one of an etymological root of the word Europe as the land of the setting sun. In mythology, Europe has sometimes been a nymph of the seas and sometimes a sweet maiden, the daughter of Agenor carried off by Zeus, as in Veronese’s painting. In history, it has been in turn Hellas and Rome, twice an empire, a “Christian republic”, Renaissance and geographical discoveries, Reformation and Counter-Reformation, cosmopolitan republic of letters idolised by Voltaire, industrial, French and proletarian revolutions, equilibrium and concert of states, imperialism and colonial expansion. It has been – as Emmanuel Berl states – a museum and a machine, the embodiment of sacred and secular values, religion and philosophy, art, science and technology, a mosaic of peoples, a melting-pot of races, a battle-ground for opposing ethnic groups, the scene of invasions, migrations and seasonal movements of peoples and individuals, a point of departure for endless diasporas, a stage of terrible conflict and bloody violence which at times has seemed cloaked by the darkness of night where the light of the soul seemed extinguished forever. Its history is a tragedy. Europe has been and remains a mixture of languages, of discordant voices: some want one type of Europe, others want another. Some regard it as an unpardonable sin against the flesh and blood of the old nations, others think like Jules Romains, who describes the Rhine arriving at the sea chargé de nations, ses eaux charriant les frontières comme des épaves. Some think that nations are a thing of the past but that fatherlands continue to exist, but they have no confidence in a European fatherland. Others, however, believe that Europe is their fatherland, although scattered among its different nations, and that if they do not die Europe will survive. The Europe of states, peoples and fatherlands: these are different and largely irreconcilable definitions. Others again think that Europe is not even a geographic expression: let us admit, they say, that we do not know where it begins and ends, whether it goes beyond the Urals or beyond the Atlantic. The distinguished Italian historian Chabod remarked dejectedly in his introduction to Storia dell’idea d’Europa:

“There is enormous confusion in the minds of those who speak with enthusiasm and insistence of Europe. The concept is totally undefined, vague and confused.”

He was writing in 1944. Our ideas today have been clarified by events which, especially in regard to Europe, are millstones around our neck. I confess that I do not enjoy looking for the most appropriate definition or lingering over such thoughts whether they are pessimistic or inspiring. My view is very simple. As far as I am concerned, in this age of the “finite world” (which, Valéry warned, has already begun), where no part of the earth remains to be discovered, where nobody is a stranger to anybody else, where mountains and oceans unite rather than divide and where world powers are emerging, the universe has indeed become an electronic city and Europe no more than one of its boroughs. However, it is also true that, because of this revolution in space, Europe – by which I mean the great European land mass – has become an indestructible physical necessity, without which the societies on the continent would be unable to function. Europe is an absolute physical necessity and therefore it must survive. Somebody said aptly that it is more modest today because of historical events. However, it is more true to itself and therefore more united. The feeling among European peoples of belonging together has revived and the rapid succession of events will not allow that feeling to become dormant again., Europe is no longer a myth, a dream, a star that shines and guides from afar, nor – I would almost dare to say – is it an ideal: it is an absolute necessity that is within us and not outside us. It is, if you like, the indispensable ideal of modem times and today’s events in the areas of currency and defence show how indispensable it is. This necessity, which we cannot avoid, involves us all: not only the Ten and the Eleven, not only the twenty-one states of the Council, but all the countries of the continent and beyond. If I were not afraid of over-simplifying, I would paraphrase Benedetto Croce’s phrase: “We cannot but call ourselves Christian” and say that we today cannot but call ourselves European.

It is an over-simplification insofar as we cannot unite Europe simply by waiting inertly and passively. Europe is necessary, but this does not mean that it will inevitably come about. If it is not supported by political commitment, the project could vanish into thin air. Europe is above all a voluntary undertaking. What we are and will be depends to a great extent on our present and future attitudes.

Europe is not an isolated act of will, but a series of acts, a slow, painstaking process of construction with its ups and downs, its periods of stagnation and renewal. Fortunately, history is not progressing towards the final day of judgment; it is a continuum. There is no other way to build Europe than to continue to work towards this goal. Nor is it important, although it is certainly not desirable, that we are sometimes obliged to lower our sights and to progress in one area rather than another. Jean Monnet’s great lesson was to show that a policy of partial progress does not necessarily mean minimalism. Europe – added Perroux – est moins un champ qu’une semence. The important thing is not to lose sight of the goal and to remember always – it was Armand who recalled it – that if Carthago delenda est was an objective in Rome, we Europeans today believe that Europa constru enda est. During the heroic stage of the European movement, when we emerged from the bereavements and slaughter of war, it was possible and perfectly justified to have partly contradictory preoccupations and to believe like the great Italian European, De Gasperi, that “in order to unite Europe, it was perhaps more necessary to destroy than to build, to rid a world of prejudice, arrogance and rancour. How much did it not take to build Italy, where for many centuries of slavery each city had learned to hate its neighbouring city? We shall have to do the same in order to build Europe. We must write, speak, insist and never give up. Europe must be on the agenda.” He was right.

Today, however, the days of violence, anger, hatred and lack of understanding are buried. Europe can and must aim at uniting itself day by day, rather than destroying itself. In so doing it contributes to the development and reconstruction of the world. “Europe is peace”, observed another great Italian European, Sforza. Would a new world order capable of dealing with the enormous challenges and evils of our age ever be conceivable without a Europe that was united, independent, free and strong, at peace with itself and its neighbours and a genuine and active friend of the peoples of other continents?

Italy needs such a Europe just as Europe needs Italy. There is nothing degrading about admitting this. On the contrary I think it is courageous and only right to say so and proclaim it here. From the beginning this Assembly has also been aware of the necessity and need for Europe in our countries. Not only do our countries need a united Europe today, the entire world needs it. For centuries Europe has been a battleground, now let it become a land of peace.

Ladies and Gentlemen, peace today is based on a nuclear balance between the two superpowers. However, it is absurd to talk of peace based on the nightmare of nuclear disaster.

The great American journalist, Walter Lippman, warned in a memorable article that nuclear war could be caused by a political or technical miscalculation.

Ladies and Gentlemen, in the shadow of missiles we shall never have peace.

Let us think not of ourselves, who are coming to the end of our days, but of the young people coming after us who are today beginning their working lives.

We must be concerned about young people because we want to hand down to them a secure peace without any more bloodshed. We want them to live in peace, not in fear of war.

Young people are right to ask this of us, their elders. They are right to want to live their lives without the threat of nuclear war which would be the last one, because it would be the end of mankind. We believe in young people. There is a fringe that indulges in violence and drugs but the vast majority of young people are morally and politically healthy.

My own experience, Ladies and Gentlemen, is as follows: every morning between 500 and 600 students from all over Italy visit me in the Quirinal. In four years as President, I have received 100 000 of them. I do not deliver a speech, as they already hear too many. I talk with them, and I submit to a real interrogation. The nagging question that they all ask is: “Will there be a war, Mr President? Will our future be threatened by atomic war?”

We must answer this question because the future of our youth depends on us, the older generation who has the power to control the destiny of peoples.

And if we do not wish to be cursed by young people, who have the right to live life to the full, we must work towards total and controlled disarmament. Let atomic arms be destroyed and nuclear energy used only for the progress of humanity towards peace.

I have taken part in two world wars; in the first one I was still a youth and in the second one I was a member of the resistance and survived the fascist prisons. War is not “beautiful”, as a decadent poet from my own country once said. War is a greedy monster, a voracious ogre. It is anti-civilisation. We must not return to barbarism but, instead, aspire towards civilisation where the victors are thought, work and the solidarity of all peoples of the earth coming together in a common destiny.

Young people want to live – not die in a nuclear holocaust. We are with them. As long as there is life in us, we shall be at their side to keep the monster of war far away and to help them to live in dignity and serenity. Their life is a precious commodity: it should be a source of joy and a spring of exalting achievement in all spheres of human knowledge.

Man must prevail over beast, civilisation over barbarism!

We have fought all our lives for a future of peace and brotherhood between all peoples of the Earth.

Nos non nobis: we have fought and will continue to fight for the young people coming after us.

We shall fight so that peace shall always triumph, so that intelligence shall prevail over bestial instincts, so that men can feel themselves bound together as brothers in a common destiny, so that the strongest can help the weakest and can walk the path of life in unison.

We agree with the great playwright, Bertolt Brecht: humanity must dispense with the need for heroes in favour of men who, being free forever from the nightmare of war, can work together in the field of science so that mankind can progress and life can be lived nobly, and who use science not to perfect the weapons of death but to reach higher summits of human existence and to make life more noble and worth living.

With these words and this strong commitment, we stand alongside our young people, exhorting them to fight as though each day were their last day and their last day should never come.

A united Europe with its human, historical, cultural and technological potential can make its positive presence felt between the superpowers and can prevent a nuclear holocaust.

However, to acquire this authority, Europe must not refuse entry into EEC institutions. For example, to exclude nations like Spain and Portugal from the European Economic Community on the ground that it would upset the agricultural market would be an expression of nationalist, egoist greed: it is the reasoning of merchants and not of enlightened politicians who must be inspired by the desire for peace for all the peoples of the Earth. If the latter could express their intentions unanimously they would ask for peace and that the 650 000 million dollars being spent today on nuclear arms be spent instead to fight hunger in the world.

In one year millions of human beings die of hunger. This massacre of innocent people weighs like a curse on the conscience of every statesman, just as it does on mine.

Europe can and must demand this. However, to have this right, it must also have the necessary political authority which it can acquire only by strengthening its institutions. As regards the EEC, I think that the Council of Ministers must be able to decide by a majority vote and that the European Parliament, which also meets here, if it is not to remain an ineffectual chamber, must be given the power of overrule and legislation.

Only in this way, by going beyond nationalist, egoist greed, will European unity come about in concrete terms. Only in this way will united Europe have the political and moral authority to make its voice heard on behalf of peace. Only in this way will Europe be able to contribute actively to freeing humanity from the nightmare of nuclear disaster and to giving men greater freedom by fighting against governments that deny civil and human rights and oppress mankind through cruel and ignoble dictatorship.

Freedom is essentially the glorification of human dignity. An offence against that dignity is an offence against freedom itself. All these matters, it is true, are constantly on the agenda of your Assembly.

This is why we attach such importance to the protection of civil and human rights. Whoever is denied these rights ceases to be free and becomes a victim of arbitrary power. I have on numerous occasions defended individuals in other countries who were deprived of civil and human rights by the authorities and I was told that these were matters of domestic politics that were not subject to review. I replied that my action was fully justified because it was based on the rights of individuals and that every signatory to the Helsinki Agreement had to be accountable for violations to the other signatories.

Ladies and Gentlemen, despots and people who commit crimes against human dignity and violate civil rights must be put on trial before international public opinion.

The Prussian miller, who considered that his rights had been infringed by Frederick the Great, replied with serene pride:

“There must be a judge in Berlin to whom I can appeal in defence of my rights.”

The Court of Human Rights was set up here in Strasbourg. It should have the necessary powers to assert its authority to the extent that any individual in the world who considers he has suffered a violation of human rights can stand up to the despot and say: “In Strasbourg there must be judges to whom I can appeal and obtain justice.”

The protection of human and civil rights should be one of the noble duties of a truly united Europe.

Through his ingenuity, man has escaped from the law of gravity into space. He should know how to free himself from his egoism in order to espouse human solidarity and feel that all men are his brothers, the weak, the oppressed and the starving, and that the oppressors and the exploiters are his enemies.

I am proud to be Italian but I also feel I am a citizen of the world. I am on the side of those who combat hunger and fight for civil and human rights, and against the tyrannical abuse of power.

In accordance with these principles, to which I am profoundly attached, I have spoken openly to you, Ladies and Gentlemen. I have been honest with myself and with you.

Old Polonius said to his son Laertes as he left for France:

“This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.”

I have been honest with you. Naturally I will make enemies, but Amicus Plato, sed magis arnica veritas.

The truth in which I believe and for which I have personally paid a high price has been and will always be my guiding light. I shall continue the struggle to the very end no matter what the cost.

I would like to say this to young people: never be subservient, hold your heads high, always stand up for yourselves and be masters of your own feelings and thoughts.

Whoever betrays the truth betrays himself and would be better never to have been born.

We who are nearing the end of our days are preparing to hand over uti cursores this torch of freedom, brotherhood and peace to the young people, so that they may carry it forward and aloft with greater zeal. However, as long as there is life left in us we shall be beside them to fight against war and tyranny and to foster peace and freedom.

We shall approach our last day calmly, in the knowledge that we have carried out our duty as free men to the end. (Prolonged applause)