Prime Minister of Luxembourg

Speech made to the Assembly

Thursday, 27 January 1994

Mr President of the Parliamentary Assembly, Madam Secretary General, ladies and gentlemen, it is an honour and a pleasure for me to address you in this Assembly Chamber. I thank you, Mr President, for giving me this opportunity to pass on a few thoughts to this distinguished audience on the outlook for the “new Europe” which we hear of virtually every day but whose actual form is still very vague.

This Assembly is a prime instrument for promoting the construction of a united and peaceful Europe. You have been pioneers in opening up the Council of Europe to eastern Europe, and the Assembly, made up as it is of elected political forces from all over Europe, is a productive meeting place for parliamentarians from some forty different countries.

This “new Europe” was represented at the recent Council of Europe Summit in Vienna. The Council was confirmed in its role as a pan-European organisation, called upon to help to create a vast area of democratic security on our continent.

Your Assembly was in the forefront of preparations for the summit. I am convinced that you will ensure that the political impetus imparted in Vienna is sustained.

The task now is to put the promising results obtained at the summit in to practice – the reform of the supervisory mechanisms of the European Convention on Human Rights; the action plan against intolerance; the protection of national minorities – in order to make the most of the potential created in Vienna.

The year 1994 will be a crucial one for Europe and the world. Europe has entered a particularly turbulent phase in its history. The profound upheaval we have witnessed over the last few years has changed the political map of the continent.

The collapse of the totalitarian regimes in eastern Europe has given the citizens of these countries access to a freedom which had been denied them for several decades. This peaceful revolution provides irrefutable proof that man can only recover his dignity through freedom and that the problems of society can be solved only through dialogue and solidarity, not confrontation and oppression.

The transformation of the political systems has gone hand-in-hand with that of the economic systems. It has cost a great deal in social terms, not to mention the psychological effects, which are hard to quantify. However, while the transition from the state economy to the market economy is painful, it is none the less indispensable.

The inevitable restructuring of economic activities has, at least temporarily, caused unemployment and an occasionally dramatic drop in living standards.

The effects of such upheaval and the economic depression which prevails in both the east and the west of our continent are accentuated by the tragic conflicts raging in the former Yugoslavia and the Caucasus.

It would be illusory to believe that the radical political, economic and social changes affecting our neighbours in the East will have no impact on the West. We live in an increasingly interdependent Europe and world, the whole of which is hit by the shock waves of regional upheavals. One of the major problems facing us is the risk of a huge upsurge in migration, not only in the east but also in the south.

Thousands of individuals are prepared to leave everything behind and emigrate in order to escape social pressure, poverty or even armed conflict.

I do not wish to be unnecessarily alarmist, but the combination of the factors I have just mentioned, to which I might add the “restored freedom of movement throughout the continent”, cannot leave us indifferent.

We have had to cope with a large number of refugees from the former Yugoslavia. Special efforts have had to be made to accommodate them in terms of the ability to absorb and integrate them into our societies.

Cultural arguments are increasingly being advanced against continuous immigration. The presence of different cultures is often considered a nuisance. Fear of the foreigner is cunningly exploited to political ends. Extreme right-wing demagogues blame immigrants for all the country’s ills, stirring up nationalism for mainly electoral purposes.

What should we do? While I agree that only a purposeful policy of providing the economic wherewithal for populations to remain in their countries of origin can prevent a mass exodus, we must not, for the time being, yield to the temptation to use increasingly repressive means of preventing all types of migration.

We might also note that on the economic front immigrant labour helps create our wealth. In demographic terms, it offsets declining west European populations. Where culture is concerned, the encounter between the indigenous and immigrant populations is a factor for mutual enrichment, the value of which should be recognised.

In Vienna, we recalled that “the diversity of traditions and cultures has for centuries been one of Europe’s riches, and that the principle of tolerance is the guarantee of the maintenance in Europe of an open society respecting the cultural diversity to which we are attached”.

The evolution towards a multicultural society is a phenomenon which we in Luxembourg experience on a day-to-day basis as 30% of our population is made up of foreigners. Faced with a choice between the development of a two-tier society and forced assimilation, we have opted for gradual integration of the immigrant community. The national education system has thus been adapted to enable foreign children to be taught in their national language, alongside their normal education.

We are well aware that encounters between different cultures can cause tension. However, we must not tolerate manifestations of racism. Children must very early on be educated in the school of tolerance.

The temptation of nationalism and xenophobia, with their retrograde mentality, is one of the greatest dangers for Europe today.

The situation in the Balkans and the former Yugoslavia shows us the extremes to which excessive nationalistic thinking can lead and its consequences for ordinary people.

It is our duty not to ignore such threats, and to have the courage to face them with determination and clear-headedness. There is, however, no standard response. We must answer chauvinism and nationalism, populism and protectionist rhetoric with all the resources provided by the workings of democracy.

The declaration which we adopted in Vienna and the action plan against intolerance which we have launched are weapons against the resurgence of the ills of racism, anti-Semitism and exacerbated nationalism. I can assure you of my country’s support for such initiatives, especially for the European youth campaign.

In Vienna, we confirmed the Council of Europe’s pan-European destiny and underlined its essential contribution to creating a vast area of democratic security in Europe.

This definition of the Council of Europe’s role leads me on to a number of remarks on the enlargement of our Organisation, the relations between member states, democratic security, the place of the Council of Europe and its relations with the other European institutions.

First, enlargement. While confirming its openness to all European countries which have opted for democracy, the Council of Europe must ensure that the criteria for membership are respected.

The Parliamentary Assembly, which has a decisive role to play in the accession procedure, has particular responsibility in this connection.

Without discouraging young, fragile democracies by setting the pass mark too high for membership, we must maintain our requirements on respect for the principles and values on which all democratic systems are based.

We have to strike this delicate balance, bearing in mind that it is in the interests of peace and security on our continent to integrate into the democratic system those countries which might be tempted to embark on a different road, particularly under the influence of exacerbated nationalism.

Here we come to the particular question of Russia’s accession to the Council.

In a Europe whose geographical contours are hard to locate, Russia is destined to become a member of the Council of Europe. It will shortly be linked to the European Union through a partnership and co-operation agreement.

Nevertheless, the following paradox still subsists. While the collapse of the Soviet ideology led to an extraordinary bloom in democratic life, it also caused a formidable revival of particularism and nationalism.

We must use all the means at our disposal to help the democratic forces in Russia. The programme of activities drawn up jointly by the Russian Federation and the Council of Europe will also help to reinforce the process of democratization. I would suggest that priority be given to its implementation.

At the same time, it should be clear that Russia can draw closer to the Council of Europe only if its foreign policy unambiguously respects the principles of international law. The stationing of its troops in neighbouring countries without the latter’s agreement is contrary to these principles.

My second remark concerns the relations that must be established between new and old members, between small and large countries. The Council of Europe, the democratic institution par excellence, has always ensured equality among all its members. The Europe we wish to construct is a Europe which draws its riches from our diversity and respect for individuality.

During a visit to Luxembourg about a year ago, President Mitterrand expressed an opinion with which I wholeheartedly concur: “everyone has the same rights, and we are working with equal dignity... in a status which accords the same rights to very different and differently-sized countries.”

In a rapidly expanding Europe we must perhaps consider the institutional changes which will be needed if the existing organisations are not to grind to a halt. These changes can only come about if we respect the basic principles which form the richness and originality of European integration.

This is the subject of the current debate which the European Union is holding on its enlargement. We must avoid the pitfall of only considering the number of seats to be filled. The challenge lies elsewhere. We must provide the resources and procedures to enable every country, in the near future, to participate fully in the construction of the common edifice.

At the end of the day, the rule of law is the surest guarantee of individual freedom as well as equality between states. We have everything to gain from developing a law-based Europe – an area where law wins over force.

This is the Europe which the Council of Europe can help to create by establishing democratic security and implementing the values which we all share: pluralistic democracy with free elections, human rights, respect for minorities, tolerance and solidarity.

The Council of Europe is called on to accept all European democracies on an equal footing – it may well be the only organisation capable of doing so in the short term. Are we really making the most of this unique forum? I am not sure we are.

The attraction exerted by the European Union occasionally throws the Council of Europe’s work into the shade, the Council often being considered as a mere stepping stone towards membership of the Union. But the fact is that this Organisation has its own raison d’être, its own specific role; the Council of Europe is the framework for co-operation in the new Europe. The biggest challenge it will have to face in coming years is the successful integration of, and the consolidation of democracy in, the countries of central and eastern Europe.

This is a matter to which the Organisation must give priority, stepping up its co-operation programmes with the new democracies, possibly to the detriment of more traditional activities, which, although important, are not quite so urgent.

How will the European edifice look in the future and what are the key ideas and guiding principles for constructing tomorrow’s Europe?

Will the Council of Europe be the nucleus of this European structure, this “European confederation” earnestly desired by President Mitterrand, in which all members will address common issues on an equal footing?

There are still too many uncertainties for any definite prediction of the institutional future of our continent.

What we can do is to make the most of the established institutions, provide them with the requisite human and financial resources to perform their tasks, and encourage any initiative liable to increase the cohesion of Europe.

We must therefore step up co-operation and identify and concentrate on sectors where complementarity is possible between the various institutions to which our countries belong: I am thinking particularly of the European Union, the CSCE and the Council of Europe.

Let us take the example of protection for national minorities; this issue is a potential threat to peace and stability in Europe. It is in everyone’s interest to ensure that the efforts to find appropriate solutions should produce results as quickly as possible: an additional protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights, a “stability covenant”, action by the CSCE High Commissioner for National Minorities.

We must also avoid overlapping and promote the better use of resources. It would also be in our interest for the Council of Europe and the European Union to consult each other more for the sake of greater co-operation between the PHARE and Tacis programmes of the Union and the Council’s Demosthenes, Themis and Lode programmes. Fuller co-operation should also be pursued between the Council of Europe and the G-24 in the field of assistance with the establishment of democratic institutions.

The important thing is that these efforts should be complementary and that the various institutions should be able to rely on each other for support, each of them making their own contributions to the search for common solutions.

That being the case, the question is what lines of action should be followed in the years ahead? I have already outlined some of the kinds of action we could undertake within the Council of Europe.

They can succeed only if other action is taken in parallel. I shall talk about some other kinds of action, more specifically relevant to the European Union, while bearing in mind the potential for interaction between our two organisations.

The first task, of course, will be to do everything possible to combat unemployment, which is reaching dramatic proportions in some of our countries.

New hope and new motivation must be given to the millions of Europeans who have lost their jobs or are afraid of losing them. The White Paper put out by the Commission of the European Communities has shown the approach to be adopted in restoring economic growth, making business competitive once again and substantially reducing unemployment.

Of course, the White Paper does not contain any miracle solution. Indeed, there is no miracle solution to the problem. But the plan of action adopted as a result of the White Paper is designed to banish the mood of resignation and mobilise energies in order to create the largest possible number of jobs. The turnaround which we hope to bring about soon should benefit not only the Twelve but the whole of Europe.

The measures to be taken must do nothing to undermine the social model we have built up, which is the foundation of cohesion in European societies.

Secondly, it is for the member states of the European Union to ensure the full-scale application of the Maastricht Treaty, which came into force on 1 November last.

The objective of bringing about economic and monetary union (EMU) was confirmed on 29 October 1993 by the heads of state and government of the Twelve.

The start of the second phase of EMU, on 1 January 1994, provides a new framework for consultation and co-ordination in monetary matters. The creation of an area of monetary stability at the heart of Europe will certainly be to the advantage of all the countries of this continent.

The other major objective of the Maastricht Treaty is the common foreign and security policy (CFSP). This should enable the European Union to respond to the hopes raised by the end of the cold war and to the challenges generated by the upheavals that have occurred on the international stage.

Of course, a common foreign and security policy cannot be imposed by decree. Situations change, new developments arise, and the CFSP has to be constantly reworked. Nor will it provide a magic wand to solve the regional conflicts involving age- old enemies. But the increased effort which the Twelve will make through their “joint actions” will undoubtedly bear fruit.

The member states of the Council of Europe will have an opportunity to influence the substance of the European Union’s action, and indeed to be associated via the political dialogue envisaged in the association agreements. In this connection, I would also mention the possibilities opened up by the institution of political dialogue within the Council of Europe.

The “partnership for peace” that was decided on at the Nato summit on 10 January 1994 will for its part make it possible for the security needs of the countries of central and eastern Europe to be taken into account without erecting new barriers in Europe.

Another result of all this will be to make it easier for the Council of Europe to perform its new function in constructing a wide democratic security area.

Consolidating democracy also implies economic development in the countries of central and eastern Europe. Several of these countries are still suffering from economic recession, with very painful social effects. In others there are signs that production is again moving upwards, bolstered by a rapidly expanding private sector.

The western countries, and particularly those of the European Union, are conscious of their responsibility in this connection. They are devoting substantial resources in an effort to help all the countries concerned to transform their economies successfully, despite their own economic difficulties which are at present placing limits on their scope for action.

Moreover, as President Delors recently observed, the main effort to help central and eastern Europe is being made by the European Union, which provides 60% of all the assistance that is going to those countries and imports 78% of all the goods purchased from them by the members of OECD.

There must be no let-up in our economic co-operation efforts. But we can do better still. I would point out, by way of example, that access to our own markets remains a vital factor in the success of this immense undertaking.

We are living in a historic period, full of challenges and promises.

Europe has not been standing still in recent years. The yoke of communism has gone. Yet history has not stopped moving forward. A new European order is in the process of emerging.

After the second world war, Luxembourg deliberately chose the path of European integration. That choice was the result of economic necessity, the need for a steel-producing country to join its neighbours and principal trading partners in order to set up the coal and steel community. It was above all a political choice, for that bold venture on the part of six states offered the prospect of ending the Franco-German rivalry which had already set the continent ablaze on several occasions.

Contrary to what might have been feared, the move towards integration has not destroyed national identities. In the case of Luxembourg, where the concept of nation state was still new, it has probably protected that identity and enabled it to develop: for the European Union has given Luxembourg political weight quite disproportionate to its size.

I am convinced that institutions are the best safeguard of sovereignty for all states.

Uniting Europe successfully means taking full account of the wealth of different identities it encompasses, in the underlying spirit of the following extract from the Vienna Declaration:

“To bring about a democratic and pluralist society respecting the equal dignity of all human beings remains one of the prime objectives of European construction”.

The Council of Europe has a quite special responsibility in this connection.

Thank you for your attention.

THE PRESIDENT (translation)

Mr Prime Minister, thank you very much.

Mr Santer has agreed to answer questions from Assembly members. We thank him for this. A number of colleagues have indicated that they wish to put questions.

I would remind you that questions, including supplementary questions, must concern matters within the competence of the Council of Europe. They must also be brief and be questions, not speeches. However, we do have sufficient time at our disposal. I call Lord Kirkhill.

Lord KIRKHILL (United Kingdom))

Last Monday, after a debate on equality between women and men, the Assembly adopted a resolution inviting the governments of member states: “to include the principle of equality in their respective constitutions and draw up anti-discriminatory legislation, and to set up machinery to promote and supervise respect for the principle of equality between women and men”.

What are your intentions regarding the follow-up to this resolution?

Mr Santer, Prime Minister of Luxembourg (translation)

I read the resolution adopted by your Assembly last Monday very carefully and was very favourably impressed, especially as it had been tabled by a rapporteur from the Luxembourg delegation. In fact, unless I am mistaken I should say a “rapporteuse”, because it was Mrs Err, who is present in our midst today.

We need to identify the requisite measures for implementing the resolution at national level.

I would be rather more reticent as regards the Constitution, because a constitutional review would lead us into extremely complex institutional procedures. It is not even for a Prime Minister to pronounce on such matters. We are much too deferential to our constitutions to express our individual feelings in a brief statement. On the other hand, I have noted that measures have already been taken at European and national levels to achieve a number of the aims set out in the resolution.

I am pleased to note that at least the Luxembourg delegation to your Assembly has already attained one of these objectives in that it provides for adequate female representation here. Unless I am mistaken, it comprises equal numbers of male and female parliamentarians. So we have done our duty, especially as I note that our permanent representative is also a woman. (Applause.)

We have also come a long way in the field of equal rights between men and women, thanks to several European Community programmes. For instance, the 1974 social action programme provided for a number of social initiatives along these lines. And we inserted measures designed to ensure equal rights between men and women – or at least eleven of us did – in the Social Charter adopted at the European Council held here in 1989, under the French presidency.

As you can see, we have been slowly but surely achieving the aims which you have set. However, we should not delude ourselves: the important thing is attitude. We must attempt to change attitudes in our respective national societies, if your objective is to be fully attained.

THE PRESIDENT (translation)

Lord Kirkhill, do you wish to put a supplementary question? I note that you are satisfied, although we might almost suspect that your question was pre-arranged, because the Prime Minister really had all the facts at his fingertips for an ideal answer. (Laughter) I call Mr Maruflu.

Mr MARUFLU (Turkey)

First, I extend my thanks to the Prime Minister for his excellent statement. A plan of action was adopted at the Vienna Summit to combat racism and xenophobia. What are your views on the resurgence of racism and xenophobia in Europe and what will be Luxembourg’s contribution to that action plan?

Mr Santer, Prime Minister of Luxembourg (translation)

This is true, racism was one of the main subjects at our Vienna Summit, and rightly so, because we are witnessing a certain resurgence of this phenomenon. The spectres of the past are re-emerging! But that was a part of history which none of us wish to relive! We must therefore be on our guard. That is why I am pleased to note that the Council of Europe’s follow-up work includes a very thorough action programme, which is already under way, on the measures needed to combat racism.

It is a very serious problem. I think that in order to solve it we must also involve our young people, through education and training. My country has set up several organisations responsible for providing our young people with relevant information not only on what has happened but also on our conception of our societies’ democratic values, so that youngsters are not taken in by the facile arguments of demagogues and populists.

My country has also set up an international antiracist league – in fact I attended its general assembly the other day – in which all the energies of the nation are represented: all the traditional political parties, all the trade unions, and all the Churches and denominations. Its aim is to stir the whole population to action against an evil which threatens, ultimately, to devastate all our societies unless we do our utmost to prevent it.

I shall therefore be supporting all the Council of Europe’s initiatives aimed at following up our achievements at the Vienna Summit, as part of this large-scale campaign which will, I think, span the period from 1994 to 1996, alerting the public to these problems of such deep concern to us.

Mr GOERENS (Luxembourg) (translation)

I must congratulate the Luxembourg Prime Minister on his very clear comments about developments in Europe, particularly in central and eastern Europe. My question concerns the economic and social development of that region.

There is no need to hark back to the importance of this subject, it is quite simply vital. Not only the interests of central and eastern Europe but also our own interests are at stake.

The question is whether the response of the international community, notably the European Union and the Council of Europe, is equal to the challenge. We may be forgiven for doubting it, because Europe’s first reaction to any new challenge in this field is apparently to set up a new agency or institution. I would quote the example of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. We will end up unable to see the wood for the trees!

THE PRESIDENT (translation)

You have put me in a difficult position because you have exceeded your speaking time. I had to interrupt some members yesterday, which displeased them immensely. I must now ask the Prime Minister to answer your question.

Mr GOERENS (translation)

I do not wish to make life difficult for you, I would just like to finish.

THE PRESIDENT (translation)

No, that is impossible. I call the Prime Minister of Luxembourg.

Mr Santer, Prime Minister of Luxembourg (translation)

Unless I am mistaken, Mr Goerens is asking whether Europe is creating too many institutions in response to specific needs. He mentioned the EBRD.

If we look at the history behind the financial institutions of Europe and the world, we note that they have always been set up in response to a specific objective. Let us take the example of the Bretton Woods institutions after the second world war: the IMF and the World Bank were in keeping with the needs of the time.

Having been a Governor of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank for a fairly long time when I was Minister of Finance, I can tell you that these organisations have come up to expectations, especially in financing balances of payment; but I shall not labour this point.

However, there are also a number of problems. Mr President, you yourself set up the Social Development Fund, or the Social Fund as it is called here at the Council of Europe, a body which has, I know, given rise to certain comments. When it was first established it was geared mainly to financing reception facilities for refugees. It therefore met a specific need. After the revolution in the countries of central and eastern Europe the EBRD was set up. It is true that at the time different options might have been considered. I personally had thought of extending the functions of the European Investment Bank. Other European Council colleagues agreed, but the decision was to associate these east European countries with the capital and structures of this new financial institution. For the first time the European Union, the European Investment Bank and the United States of America are all represented on the same governing board. This makes it a much wider forum than initially planned.

Does the EBRD fulfil all the functions assigned to it? We shall find out at the General Assembly in St Petersburg in mid-April, when the institution’s future strategy will be discussed.

It is important to stress that every financial institution should pursue a specific main objective in order to avoid duplicating the activities of the others.

Where the Social Development Fund is concerned, in view of developments over the last few months, we must decide which objective should be assigned to it so that it can revert to its principal function, namely the social function of financing reception facilities for refugees.

I do not know if I have really answered your question, not having heard it in full.

Mr GOERENS (translation)

I would take this opportunity to ask Mr Santer if he sees any complementarity between the various organisations he has just described. If so, how would he organise cooperation between them? What limits would he set on such co-operation?

Mr Santer, Prime Minister of Luxembourg (translation)

Co-operation and its limits would mainly depend on the objectives assigned to each financial institution. The primary role of a financial institution is obviously to raise capital to finance projects, which means that it must also have a comfortable rating on the capital market. In fact all the international institutions are rated 3A and have access to the capital market, but they must not, and this is a crucial point, they must not compete with member states when raising capital on the financial market. They must therefore select very specific projects which are consistent with their objectives and functions and can be financed according to the rule book, with guarantees, and at the same time they must preserve their vital rating.

Mr SOLE TURA (Spain) (translation)

Prime Minister, my question is political rather than technical. In view of the strategic position held by Luxembourg, what in your view are the real prospects for a European audio-visual area as a factor for economic and cultural integration?

Mr Santer, Prime Minister of Luxembourg (translation)

I am glad the honourable member has put this question, because I find it extremely important. Luxembourg is well placed in the audio-visual field because it has numerous companies which broadcast throughout Europe. We have always been interested in this problem. We have always aimed at creating a European audio visual area based on the “Television without Frontiers” directive. Moreover, I am a partisan of what is known as the “cultural exception” or “cultural specificity” in audio-visual matters.

The important thing for me is not the cultural exception or specificity in itself because, as I said, all our countries have their own civilisations and cultures which we can use for mutual enrichment. Nevertheless, we must find ways of promoting genuine audio-visual production in our own countries. We cannot just “wait and see” or fall back on protectionism: we must steadfastly promote audiovisual production using our own resources.

So much remains to be done! We have such a rich culture, such an important civilisation, such a diversified history that we can and must achieve a corresponding level of audio-visual production, exerting its influence not only throughout Europe but also worldwide. We must not confine ourselves to creating a European cultural area, we must ensure that this European influence extends beyond our continent.

We still have much to contribute to other continents. We must not let ourselves be intimidated by the inroads made by audio-visual output from elsewhere. We have the strength and energy to produce, so let us do just that!

Mrs JAANI (Estonia)

My question is provoked by a newspaper article written by the former Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, concerning President Clinton’s visit to Europe and his view of European security problems concentrated in the programme, “partnership for peace”. Mr Kissinger said: “In putting forward the partnership for peace the administration did not just delay east European participation, it emphatically rejected the principle, despite many misleading statements to the contrary.”

The practical consequence of the partnership for peace programme will be to bring about an unprotected no-man’s land between Germany and Russia, which has historically been the cause of all recent European conflicts. What is your opinion on that and on the security guarantees for eastern European countries, including the Baltic states, which I represent?

Mr Santer, Prime Minister of Luxembourg (translation)

The question which the honourable member has just asked concerns a crucial part of the discussions which we held at the last Nato Summit in Brussels on 10 and 11 January.

I think I can say that the formula presented by the American Administration, which was adopted, namely “partnership for peace”, is appropriate at the present time in that it allows the countries of central and eastern Europe to be associated with Nato while at the same time offering them the prospect of subsequent full membership. I consider this important.

On the other hand, and this is a dilemma, we had to avoid going any further than this and risking the creation of new boundaries between eastern Europe, continental Europe, western Europe and Russia, because otherwise we would have prompted new unwelcome reactions from certain quarters in Russia. The formula chosen is thus sufficient to guarantee some degree of security for central and eastern Europe.

Everyone is entitled to express his opinion, but those who have no political responsibilities often find it easier to comment or criticise, as they do not have to face the political consequences of their remarks.

In my view, the solution, which has been accepted by all the Nato member states, is a step in the right direction because it will ultimately provide a genuine, definite prospect of Nato membership for these countries, given the right conditions.

THE PRESIDENT (translation)

That brings us to the end of the questions. Mr Santer, I should like to thank you most sincerely on behalf of my colleagues.

If the information provided by my assistants is correct, you have been in government for twenty years, a feat which I think warrants inclusion in the Guinness Book of Records. We parliamentarians, who have to seek a new mandate every three or four years, can only stand back in awe, indeed envy, before a man with such experience.

We receive your opposite numbers from all the member states, but with you we have the feeling of welcoming a friend, a true and very dear friend to us all. I thank you, Prime Minister.