Prime Minister of Luxembourg

Speech made to the Assembly

Thursday, 27 January 1977

Thank you, Mr President, for your kind words. We shall talk about statistics later, in private, to try and put the record straight and to bring the figures you cited up to date.

As to the problem which concerns you – which concerns us all – I believe it is symptomatic or, better still, symbolic that one of the first subjects broached by us in this magnificant new Assembly hall is the development of democratic institutions. There is no theme that could be more appropriate for the inauguration of your new premises, for a new beginning and a fresh start.

For me it is a rather daunting task to speak in this debate, not only because the subject is of such vital importance, but also because it was dealt with very thoroughly at the Conference on the Development of Democratic Institutions in Europe held in April 1976.

Every facet of the problem was examined at that conference which I did not have the advantage of attending and which was held in the presence of Rapporteurs renowned in the academic world. My colleague and friend, Dr Gerald FitzGerald, was much wiser than I. He preferred to make his splendid statement at the very beginning of your work, before taking part in it.

If I have nevertheless agreed to risk contributing to your discussions and participating in the debate, it is because I became aware, on reading through the report of the conference deliberations, that not all the questions have been answered and that there still exist some differences of opinion.

I hope that the brief comments of a modest practical politician at national and international level, like all of you present here, Ladies and Gentlemen, may help to shed a little light on some aspects of the problem.

In making these comments it is only natural and prudent that I should, on the one hand, keep to more general considerations and on the other, concentrate on the specific experiences of the European Community with which I am better acquainted after nearly eleven years as a member of the European Parliament and more than eight years of participation in the work of the Council of Ministers.

I shall now put my first question which, though it may shock some, is a fundamental one: is it worth defending and propagating existing democratic institutions as we know them? Without attempting to give a complete definition of what I mean by such institutions, I would like to emphasise the two aspects, and the only two, which seem to me to constitute their essential characteristics.

One is participation by citizens in the administration of public affairs, direct participation and more generally through the intermediary of free elections, and the other respect for fundamental rights and liberties.

There are only about thirty democracies left in the world, at least if we are thinking of those that function as parliamentary democracies, and most of them, at least as regards the number of countries, are represented in this Assembly. It is worth remembering these facts, for we note that almost all countries, outside this Assembly and apart from the parliamentary democracies, subscribe, at least on paper, to democratic principles, even to respect for human rights, and go through the motions of representing the people.

Such emulation, however superficial, tells us more about the excellence of our system than any theoretical proof. The very fact that even a pretence of democracy is more or less proudly proclaimed should encourage us. But it would be wrong to see in this a reason for pride. Democracy as we see it is, in fact, a complex system: it would today appear to be a product of luxury, one which necessitates an elementary level of economic development, social development and, let us say frankly, cultural development, if it is to work.

Personally I understand very well that young states facing the very serious and weighty problems of underdevelopment prefer, during the first stages, to use their meagre supply of educated people capable of serving the public in a way which seems to them less costly. The one-party system, in particular, would seem to ensure greater cohesion at the outset and to allow the forces which in a democratic system would be largely absorbed by the pluralist dialectics inherent in parliamentary democracy to be used for productive tasks.

In these developing countries there are certainly misguided leaders who are attracted by the mirage of absolute power rather than by concern for efficiency. But I am convinced, and I have often spoken of this to leaders and friends in Africa, Asia and Latin America, that most of these leaders see the future of their country in terms of freedom and democracy. For them, for the many countries which aspire to more freedom, to democracy, it is vital that there should exist, at least in the countries which can afford it, in other words in our countries, a vigorous example of democracy which can today and particularly tomorrow serve them as a model.

What is essential is that we should show our solidarity with them. There are those that ask themselves: do we wish, indeed is it in our interests, to propagate our system? My reply is: yes, we do want to propagate our democratic system in the world because we are firmly convinced that it is the best possible system, that it is an ideal worth sharing with others. But if we remain passive and indifferent, doubts may arise, doubts which will inevitably strengthen the influence of systems whose ideology we oppose and which are, let me remind you, both totalitarian and tentacular.

But if it is our legitimate ambition to export democracy, we must in the very first place do our share towards creating the necessary conditions for its survival, in other words we must give effective assistance to the development of the countries of the third world.

I hope, Mr President, that the events of recent years in the world in the economic sphere, will have rid us all of any illusion that our countries will for long be able to continue to form an island of riches indifferent to the sea of misery which surrounds it.

As regards our democratic institutions, the preparatory conference held by you last year and the debate held in the Assembly grasped the nettle by the root. You spoke of information, of pressure groups and other extra-parliamentary forces. I cannot claim to touch on all these aspects. I therefore propose, with your permission, to concentrate on the actual working of these institutions.

I was struck by a chapter heading in the information report submitted to your Assembly which reads: “Control of the government by parliament”.

Allow me to say – and here I may be laying myself open to attack – that this formulation seems to me to reveal a state of mind which places parliament possibly above, possibly below the actual exercise of power in the state, but certainly outside and far away from the exercise of such power. To me this is – and here I mean to shock – either too much or too little.

To speak of parliamentary control in a sceptical analysis would be to exaggerate. And in this connection, it is surely true that after the elections which are held in most of our countries every four, five or six years, a majority party is formed, if all goes well; thereupon the party leaders nominate the members of governments. These are then more or less automatically approved by parliament – for this read “given majority approval” – and this same parliament then enacts the budgets and laws proposed to it by the government.

In such cases, some parliaments – and unfortunately there are some! – are reduced to a very minor role, and frequently it is the party leaders who decide to dissolve a government even before parliament has had its say.

If, on the other hand, we go to the heart of the matter, this formulation says too little. The elected representatives of the peoples are, by virtue of this fact, the ones in whom power is legitimately vested. They themselves cannot govern – that is well understood – they cannot, in other words, exercise daily power, because many functions can only be exercised at government level in our countries by a relatively restricted circle able to deal with matters in detail and, I am sure you will agree, able to use the necessary discretion and at the same time take rapid decisions.

The basic aspiration, the definition of the bold outline and vigilance to ensure respect for the basic principles must and will, however, always remain a parliamentary prerogative. Only if we safeguard or finally return to real participation by the parliaments in the exercise of power will our democracies remain viable in the medium term and above all in the long term.

As for me, I believe such participation in power to be essential, not only at parliamentary level but also at other, lower levels. It matters greatly that the many authorities which decide the more or less important aspects of our future should be under the direct or indirect control of the persons affected by them.

Decentralisation may be horizontal, and here the Council of Europe has been such a pioneer that it is superfluous to emphasise the impact of local authorities, whether regional or municipal. A newer phenomenon, on the other hand, is the growing ascendance of numerous groupings representing professional or occupational interests, be they trade unions or the organisations of agricultural, industrial, crafts and other bodies.

Like you I welcome this development which makes it easier for each individual to have his say on subjects which are of immediate concern to him, provided always – and it should still be possible to emphasise this – that these groupings are not merely massive ones which can be manipulated by more or less ambitious persons, but are truly democratic both as regards representativity and the way they work. We must draw the line somewhere. These special groupings must be under the control of public authorities, the only bodies whose activities are dictated by the public interest.

Mr President, the report submitted to your Assembly gives a prominent place to information and particularly to the difficult question of assistance to the press. To my mind these questions go right to the heart of the matter. It is useless to expect our populations to show an interest in our democratic institutions if they do not know about them, that is to say if the necessary, indeed essential, information, is lacking.

As we all know, it is only thanks to the existence of the press, and of a many-sided press at that, that it is possible to make sufficient information available.

My country, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, is more or less ideally situated geographically for receiving a large number of television channels. I think I am right in saying that out of eight channels, only one – Radio Luxembourg – is private, that is to say commercial.

This privileged geographical position gives us access to an exceptionally varied national coverage and adds or appears to add to the mass of information available to us.

However, there are two features of television which, by contrast, spotlight the essential qualities inherent in the press. In the first place, by its very nature, television has to cover the entire country, to show in a more or less monopolistic fashion a comprehensive point of view which cannot take account of the great variety within each country. This is a weakness. Moreover, its technique is that of the “quick shot” which does not lend itself to treatment in depth, to reflection or to serious commentaries on cause and effect.

To me this proves the absolute need to safeguard the existence in all our countries of numerous national daily and local papers, which are independent and attractive and which together provide, in addition to audio-visual media, the data basis essential for the proper functioning of democratic institutions.

The participation, on which I would once again insist, of European men and women in the life of their democratic institutions and above all the active participation of their elected representatives in parliament is particularly necessary for our Europe. Speaking, if I may so put it, to the oldest, or should I say “senior”, European parliamentary assembly, in which the greatest number of countries are represented, I would like to emphasise the contribution made by your Assembly – as by other European assemblies – to the building of Europe.

Mr President, although your Assembly has only what are known as consultative powers, its views, inspired as they are by the interests of Europe as a whole, have always been of the greatest use to governments, and several of the Council’s greatest achievements are due to initiatives taken by you.

What else can I say, having had the honour of being a member of this Assembly for so brief a period?

Tomorrow the discussion between parliamentarians and Ministers will enable us to enter again into a dialogue which will I hope prove stimulating, at least at government level.

However, Mr President, fresh progress needs to be made at the level of European parliamentary government as a whole. A first step in the right direction has just been taken with the decision to hold elections by direct and universal suffrage for our European Community. Although this decision at present affects only nine of the countries represented here, I am sure, Mr President, that you will not object to my devoting part of my speech to this subject.

I cannot hide my extreme astonishment at the stir and the interminable, almost theological discussions, provoked by the concept of the European election in some countries, throughout its development and elaboration and particularly once the decision had been taken.

Honestly, Ladies and Gentlemen, what is so strange about wanting to implement – nearly eighteen years later – an undertaking freely contracted by an international treaty recognised by all the parliaments of the member countries of the Community? And which, moreover, is to be implemented in such a way as to give national authorities more leeway than originally provided for. I can only hope that this debate will serve the cause of Europe, at least by drawing attention to these European elections.

To my mind, there are two main questions.

First we must know whether we want Europe. Personally, my answer is yes, and my conviction is based on a simple fact. In the world of today the balance of power and relationships are such that there is not a single European country, unfortunately indeed not a single European country, which can, by its own efforts, preserve more than the semblance of an entirely separate identity and sovereignty. (Applause)

Of course I admit that it is easier for the representative of a small country to admit this than it is for those who feel able to assure the great or indeed the smaller destinies of Europe.

Nonetheless, Ladies and Gentlemen, facts are such that only a united Europe – please allow me to say this – will be able to ensure the survival of our moral and material resources and to guarantee that diversity which is the source of the unique originality of our countries.

Each country may fairly claim to put forward a policy for Europe, to propose basic changes in society if it considers them necessary. But to insist on a free hand in order to go it entirely alone is, in my humble opinion, to fall a prey to dangerous illusions, and in particular to run the very serious risk of achieving nothing at national level while blocking all action at European level.

The ritualised appeal for national sovereignty or more precisely for sovereignty which is exclusively national, based on reasoning which though very attractive sounds dangerously like a petitio principii, will make not the slightest difference to the realities of the 20th century.

Our nations which make up the Community will only be able to expand fully within a Europe as a Community, and this community will also need sovereignty if it is to live. It is no longer a question of accepting a European Europe, as described to us quite a few years ago, but of knowing whether we want it to be truly democratic. My reply, and I imagine yours to be the same, is in the affirmative. And this necessitates progress in the democratic process at European level.

At present, the Ministers who take decisions jointly are only responsible individually, and only to their national parliament. How can one, how can you, how can I approve this immobility in the absence of coherent guidelines? Is it even fair to reproach any one of the national Ministers when decisions necessitate the co-operation of his eight colleagues, since essential decisions must be taken unanimously.

Frankly, it is more and more obvious that even the European Council, that is to say a Council at head of state and government level, is loath to take decisions, and thus we gradually slide – this is so whether we like it or not – towards a Europe which is no longer guided, but simply administered or managed.

I hope that the new Commission at least will take on the role assigned it by the Treaties of forming and proposing concepts, thus confronting the governments fairly and squarely with their responsibilities. An elected Parliament, in the full assurance of its democratic legitimacy and sensitive to the common interest, will I believe be able to provide a new stimulus. The pressure of the electors will give Europe a chance to get its second wind. So many ambitious plans have been set aside in recent years. Take for instance the question of economic and monetary union or, more recently the fate reserved by the last European committee for Mr Tindemans’s report!

We simply must get out of the rut. European elections are if not the last at least the only chance, however uncertain, of achieving this.

Already political parties are being constituted on a European scale. The political groups formed in your Assembly and in the European Parliament have proved that ideological affinities can and must overcome national barriers. In this respect I am an optimist, and I am waiting to see the originatory constituent join or return – through the intermediary of European political parties – to the political scene from which he has too long been absent. Is it not precisely the individual voter who is represented by each one of us here and for whom we should work? And I hope that those opposed to direct elections will, as good democrats, play their part in future within the system and accept the rules so that the options available to the European voter are made perfectly clear.

What of the powers of the elected Parliament? Its present means and those provided for in the budget will give the Parliament an important place in the European Community. However at present parliaments are excluded, as you know better than anyone, from numerous areas for which they are not responsible at international level and which have for a long time evaded national parliamentary control. As parliamentarians you will agree that such a situation is unhealthy, one which we should long ago have done something about, and one which is of serious concern to us.

It is true, Mr President, that the question of an increase in powers does not arise at present and will not do so before the election. It would therefore be useless to attempt to discuss it and possibly to prejudge it.

Knowing as I do my parliamentary colleagues and also because of my own European parliamentary experience, I am convinced that this problem will be raised at the right moment. At that moment the main obstacle, continually invoked, to a genuine extension of the powers of a European Parliament, namely inadequate legislation or democratic legitimacy, will disappear. It will be possible to have a discussion on a sound basis. It will then be up to every government of the Community to shoulder its responsibilities anew. I share with you, Ladies and

Gentlemen, you who have been nominated by your national parliaments, the conviction that nomination at one remove is by no means a blot on a democratic European mandate and can never be so in an interparliamentary assembly.

Nevertheless, as direct election makes it possible to brush aside peremptorily any such groundless question or discussion, our common concern for our common European cause leads us, you as well as me, to consider it – or so I hope – a great step forward.

As for the powers of Parliament – and how could one speak of the development of our parliaments without speaking of their powers – I feel that a word of caution may not come amiss at the end of this brief statement: from now on, whatever the aim pursued and however impatient those who have waited too long – I count myself among them – it would be dangerous to try and suddenly upset the balance of existing institutions. For a long time to come, the main powers at European level will be in the hands of national governments. This should not change too rapidly. The elected Parliament would fail in its task if it attempted a brusque and ill-timed entry into politics, seeking a confrontation with the executive merely for the sake of confrontation. Only a proper balance – the basis of our parliamentary democracy – which will gradually become established and can adapt continuously, will enable it to justify the hopes placed in it by convinced Europeans. It is precisely this balance we have hitherto lacked.

Mr President, Ladies and Gentlemen, you who are members of the Assembly of the Council of Europe, still a consultative one although it has decided to call itself by a different name, you know from long experience that moderation and patient discussions more often lead to results than forced votes. For parliamentarians elected within the European Community who are to share a new experience the lessons culled from the history of the first of the European parliamentary assemblies will always be useful.

Mr President, Ladies and Gentlemen, you will forgive me for having spoken at such length on problems which, some may say, concern above all the other European organisation, which I do not wish to call a rival, but rather a complement of your own organisation. If I have done so, it is because the nine member countries of the European Community all belong to the Council of Europe. We are all in the same boat. Certainly some of us may move faster and go farther than others. But I persist in believing that we are all heading in the same direction, and not as rivals. I am sincerely convinced that every move to strengthen, every attempt to democratise, the Community today known as that of the Nine is also in the interests of a wider Europe, that of the Council and thus, to put it simply, of democracy. The Council of Europe in turn, thanks to experience accumulated over nearly thirty years and thanks to the wealth and diversity of opinions prevailing among its large membership, has a particularly useful role to play as guide and counsellor.

It is in this spirit, Mr President, Ladies and Gentlemen, that I conceive of co-operation between the European organisations in the interest of a more vital Europe and of the consolidation of the principles of liberty and democracy which are the justification of your work and ours. (Applause)


Thank you very much, Prime Minister, for your statement. Nobody in this room will think that it was in any way too long. We are very glad to hear a statesman who is a practical politician, who stands with both his feet on reality, and who is still an idealist. It was a balanced exposé, and we need that. As the Council of Europe of the Nineteen is the bridge between the Nine and the whole of the Nineteen, we need this co-operation and the spirit which you have just shown to this Assembly. We thank you very much.

I understand, Prime Minister, that you are prepared to answer questions, and I have two. The first is by Mr Valleix.

Mr VALLEIX (France) (translation)

I would like to tell Mr Thorn how greatly interested I was in his comments on election by universal suffrage to the European Parliament and in his remarks on the upholding of the powers of the Assembly of tomorrow in relation to its powers today, and beyond any “ill-timed entry”, as referred to by you. I think you are quite right, and I hope that in the same way the arguments of the French Constitutional Assembly, which certainly figured in your statement, will also be heard in months to come.

This being so, I appeal to Mr Thorn, not to ask us to chose between a democratic Europe and a European Europe. It is my wish that this democratic Europe should be European and that a European Europe should not cease to be truly democratic.

My question is the following: what importance does the Prime Minister attribute to the apparent implementation of the time-table of democratic reforms proposed by Mr Suarez, the Spanish Prime Minister, which began on 10 September 1976? And after the referendum of 15 December, after the liberalisation measures taken recently, such as the closing down of the special courts and the disbanding of the political police, after the various congresses and meetings of various political parties, including opposition parties held in Spain, does he think that the process of democratisation can be considered as being definitely under way in Spain? And finally does he believe, if elections are held in May or June 1977 in accordance with democratic procedure, under conditions which will allow all the political parties to carry on an election campaign, that a request for accession by Spain to the Council of Europe could be favourably considered?

Mr Thorn, Prime Minister of Luxembourg (translation)

If you wish me to reply to the questions one by one, Mr President, I am very willing to do so.

May I first tell my honourable friend that I have not got my crystal ball with me. I cannot therefore tell him precisely what the future has in store for us. All I would say is that up to now it seems to me that though some might have desired a rather faster advance towards democracy, we can only welcome what has been happening until very recently in Spain, the last few days excepted. Spain is advancing towards democracy, and things have gone better than might have been expected. In the last few days we have withessed a disquieting disturbance, but there is no need to exaggerate. In the interests of progress towards democracy it is necessary to facilitate the process. When we see that the opposition and the government have united to appeal for calm, it can only be hoped in such an Assembly as this that democracy is, to paraphrase a famous saying, on the march. We must support it, encourage it and not hamper it. Forgive me if I go no further. But I believe that after the referendum of last year, if the evolution which we witnessed then continues, Spain might after the general elections – since they after all are the touchstone – apply to accede either to your Assembly or to other, more restricted assemblies where it can be judged on its economic merit and on the more specific merit of its application.

No one here can, I believe, fail to welcome the progress made in so short a time, after democracy’s forty-year sleep in Spain. Let us hope that each of us individually and all together will do everything to favour this process.

Mr DELORME (France) (translation)

I thank the Prime Minister for his brilliant statement but, as I am no mind-reader either, I could not know that he would answer some of the questions I had intended to put.

All the same, I shall take the liberty of repeating what Mr Valleix mentioned just now, namely that the French Constitutional Assembly has recognised the constitutionality of elections to the European Parliament by direct and universal suffrage, understanding that its recognition was given on the proviso that the Parliament operated strictly within the powers set out in the Treaty.

Does the Prime Minister, whose experience is recognised by all the members of this Assembly, and who is truly the wise man of Europe, believe that the future Parliament will not be tempted to change and enlarge its powers?

I may be putting this question to a mind-reader, but it is certainly a subject we shall called upon to deal with in the future.

Mr Thorn, Prime Minister of Luxembourg (translation)

Mr President, when replying to Mr Delorme I find myself tom between wishing to reply as a member of government – which is what I am at the moment – and the desire to speak as a parliamentarian.

As member of a government I would say to you, Mr Delorme that enough unto the day is the evil thereof.

The future European Parliament will, I hope, be elected by direct and universal suffrage.

Mr Delorme did me too much honour in speaking of my experience: let us say merely that it is experience of relative political longevity. I took part in the European Parliament from its very beginnings in 1958 and since then it has always been my wish that, in conformity with the Treaty, it should be elected by universal and direct suffrage.

The question has been put: will it be elected? Will its powers be enlarged? When it was a question of its election, it was considered that it needed to have greater powers. When it was a question of giving it greater powers, the answer was that it must first be elected. Is it really inconsistent or wrong to believe that we should start with either one or the other? As we found it easier to agree to start with the election of the Parliament, would it not be better to do just that and to leave the other debate for later?

Until I have proof to the contrary, I shall believe that this Assembly contains only convinced parliamentarians who want this election. That is why I believe that we should not swell the ranks of those who oppose it, by arguments which, at least at the moment, are misplaced from the strategic point of view.

You speak of powers and you ask me what will happen tomorrow. Well, I hope that tomorrow in the same way as today and yesterday it will, like every elected parliament, by the repository of the people’s will and will know how to assume the powers which are the electorate’s by right.

Mr BOUCHENY (France) (translation)

The Prime Minister has painted a very rosy picture indeed of the situation. And yet information of a very serious nature for the whole of Europe has recently become known regarding the Europe of the Nine.

Questionnaires have been submitted to Community officials who have been deprived of the most basic rights. These questionnaires are an attack on the freedom of political opinion, on the right to travel and to a private life, and they call for denunciation.

The facts have aroused a great deal of disapproval and I would like to put five questions, while expressing surprise that the Prime Minister did not allude to the subject in his statement.

Firstly what are the measures taken by the European Community in Brussels to see that these anti-democratic measures cease?

Secondly, what are the measures taken to safeguard the freedom of officials from the machinations of the enemies of freedom?

Thirdly, does EEC intend to disband the so-called security bureau which goes in for inquisition and witch hunting?

Fourthly, can he tell us what guarantees there are that telephone tapping, denounced since 1970, will be discontinued and can he assure us that there has been no tapping of officials’ telephones?

Fifthly and lastly, the questionnaire given to German officials working for EEC mentions loyalty to a constitution. Is it the future European constitution that is meant here, and on the basis of which postulates will this constitution be considered as the achievement and final form of democracy in Europe?

Mr Thorn, Prime Minister of Luxembourg (translation)

What a lot of questions Mr Boucheny has put! He says that I see life through rose-coloured spectacles. That is a reproach I have rarely had to answer. But I would say that he sees life through red-coloured spectacles. However that is simply a question of colour and we shall not argue over it.

Mr Boucheny professes himself astonished that in my statement I did not even refer to this subject. One of us must be wrong. I had in fact thought that it was my duty to deal with a specific question of concern to this Assembly, that of the development of parliaments. It was not for me to answer the criticisms levelled by certain parties within the member countries of EEC – legitimately or not – at the executive of the Community. That was not the purpose of my statement.

As regards the questionnaire which is supposed to have been handed to certain officials of the Community, I can say quite sincerely to Mr Boucheny that on my honour it has never come to my notice. The first I heard about it was when, about an hour and a half ago, the document circulated by Mr Boucheny was brought to my notice.

I have been told that such questionnaires are circulated in many countries, in particular on human rights, and this was confirmed during my recent journey to Czechoslovakia.

I do not know how people are persuaded to answer them, in front of examining magistrates or elsewhere! Fortunately we have not yet come to such a pass.

Mr Boucheny’s question is addressed to the European Community which is not responsible to this Assembly. It will be necessary for it to answer, because such accusations must certainly be dealt with. That will be the task of whoever is the President of the Commission of the European Communities or of the present President who is, as you know, my friend, Mr Roy Jenkins.

For myself, I promise that I shall leave no stone unturned to see that light is shed on this question and that a reply is given with all the necessary data.

I hope, probably in agreement with Mr Boucheny, that everywhere in Europe, everywhere anyone invokes democracy, the reply will be as open and in as good faith.

Mr BOUCHENY (translation)

I shall take up only a very few more minutes of your time, Mr President.

I admit that I was wrong to say that Mr Thom saw matters in a rosy light. In fact I think that he has decided to draw a veil over this question and that he will refuse to see that matters are cleared up.

All he said in answer was that I saw life through red-coloured spectacles. He forgets that red is the colour of the sun which gives light, which is after all a good thing.

He also showed bias in speaking of Czechoslovakia. He is a sufficiently well-informed politician to know what our stand is on this question. I therefore find his reply very disappointing, since it is not by going to Prague that we shall solve the problem of the liberty of officials in Brussels.

Mr Thorn, Prime Minister of Luxembourg (translation)

As is his right, the honourable member has made a declaration. He will not expect an answer to a declaration.


May I say additionally that after all there is a court in the Community to which we may make reference. All member countries of the Community belong to the Council of Europe. Eight of the member countries of the Community have the right of individual petition. People may also go to the European Court of Human Rights. Therefore the way is open in all those respects.

I call Mr Minnocci.

Mr MINNOCCI (Italy) (translation)

Mr Minister, in your long and comprehensive intervention, you spoke in detail of the forthcoming direct elections to the European Parliament, attaching considerable importance to them, although they do not directly affect the Council of Europe. I too attach considerable importance to these direct elections to the European Parliament, and should therefore like to ask you whether you think it is quite certain the elections for the European Parliament will take place on the appointed date. I put that question Community of the Nine have subsequently not because on many occasions dates agreed by the been respected.

I should also like to ask you, Mr Minister, whether you think, as I do, that the failure to respect that date would have a deplorable effect on the credibility of the Europe of the Nine?

Mr Thorn, Prime Minister of Luxembourg (translation)

Mr Minnocci and I are both politicians. Who can say with absolute certainty what is sure, what is indisputable, what is certain, until it has happened? We have taken a decision, we have provided for it to become a reality some time in the middle of 1978. Who can say what will happen between now and then?

I would say very objectively and with the utmost conviction that all that has taken place during recent months within the Community and at Council of Ministers’ level makes me feel more optimistic about the possibility of this election. I had serious doubts after the reservations expressed by certain countries, but since then points of view have converged. All the same, I would not like to be so naïve as to say that there is no doubt at all about the date suggested, but as the months and weeks pass, differences of opinion are becoming attenuated. There are fewer and fewer problems and we are becoming more and more optimistic.

As an afterthought, indeed very much as an afterthought, I would add that in the unlikely event of a certain delay – technical, I hope, not political – I do not think there would be any change in quality, or in political orientation, but at most a question of certain difficulties that would need adjusting.

I think that we are on the right road. I think that differences between governments will grow less acute and that what we are all hoping for will happen.

A considerable delay, for political reasons, would be a serious blow, not to the credibility of a Council, not to the credibility of Europe as a Community, but to the credibility of certain governments and to the political will to create a united Europe.

Mr NESSLER (France) (translation)

In many areas the Prime Minister and I are in agreement, and I am sure he will concede that as a convinced European I have frequently seen eye to eye with him.

I have always said that the legitimacy of European institutions was based on universal suffrage, even if indirect, and if we have been meeting for a certain number of years, either in the Council of Europe, the European Parliament or Western European Union, it is that we always have the right to speak in the name of those who elect us.

The problem I put to you – and I am not sceptical by nature – is one which has always worried me, because I fear an irremediable false step in the work we have undertaken. It is this: if we speak as elected representatives – and we have the habit of doing so, at least some of us – we must know how the electorate will react in countries of a certain size. I am thinking of my country, of the United Kingdom, of Italy, of the Federal Republic of Germany. I repeat, I am afraid, and I have already told Mr Thom so personally, of massive abstention, utter and permanent lack of interest by the public. While it is true that extensive publicity might ensure a high enough coefficient of participation for the first European election, I am not convinced that we would not run the risk of calling into question the very destinies of Europe in the future.

That is the question I wished to put to the Prime Minister. He has a fund of idealism; possibly I am too realistic, but this is a problem which has always exercised me and which I put here openly to the Assembly of the Council of Europe.

Mr Thorn, Prime Minister of Luxembourg (translation)

I would reply spontaneously in the affirmative to all Mr Nessler’s introductory questions, that is to say as regards all the many points on which we have seen eye to eye throughout our careers as parliamentarians and politicians.

As to the basic question, which is at the heart of the debate, and which he has just raised, Mr Nessler of all people will understand just how awkward it is for me to answer that question since, when direct elections to the European Parliament were being debated, the main question was, could we manage to agree on a single election method.

At that time some governments more than others – and I say this in no polemical spirit – wanted the first European election to be modelled on national elections. So each country will be organising this election as it thinks fit. For some voting will be compulsory, for others not.

So you see what an embarrassing position I have been put in. Under the legislation of my country, voting will be compulsory in the European election. In Mr Nessler’s country it will be optional.

I do not believe that Mr Nessler is asking me to abandon my country’s concepts or to condemn those of his country.

Of course it would be possible to draw hasty conclusions from the coming European electoral consultation. I believe we should not do so. It should be remembered that this is an innovation, a new procedure, whose powers are not known, and we must not, we Europeans, allow ourselves to be haunted by an idea to which no credence should be given, namely that a low poll – above or below a certain coefficient – would be of any great significance at the first election. We shall do Europe no service by adopting such an attitude.

Speaking absolutely personally – and please do not consider this a criticism – I believe that everyone should say what he thinks. Upholding my national legislation – and please understand it simply as such – I prefer compulsory voting. Just as noblesse oblige, so does democracy. And even if at times you feel like saying “confound it all” – if you will forgive the expression – let us respond, at least every four or five years, to a democratic appeal.

I hope that at a further stage we shall all adopt this more or less common election method which will not allow anyone – I do not mean you or myself, but the enemies of the European idea – to draw the wrong conclusions.

Mr NESSLER (translation)

I apologise for again asking for the floor.

After an attempt at an interpretation, President Pompidou put the question to France in the form of a referendum. This resulted in massive abstentions. I myself tabled a bill in the French National Assembly, based on Luxembourg legislation, under which voters who neglected their electoral duty would have been struck off the register for a time – this would have been a moral, not a civic sanction. The proposal was unsuccessful in my own parliament.

In some countries, and not only in mine, we risk setting out on an adventure the end of which is not in sight. Our stand is no doubt the same, but our worries are different ones.

Lord DUNCAN-SANDYS (United Kingdom)

I would like to express my admiration and gratitude to the Prime Minister for all he has done for the European cause over the years. We all appreciate that. I think he will agree that Europe cannot stand still. Either the process of integration must advance or it will fall backwards.

I wholly support his view that we must concentrate now, so far as the European Parliament is concerned, on direct elections. We must not allow that process to be delayed by an argument about the enlargement of Parliament’s powers. Its powers will be enlarged automatically, in my view, once members are directly elected.

I would like to ask the Prime Minister a question about the Council of Ministers, because we are concerned not only with the European Parliament; we are concerned with the Community as a whole. At the moment the power rests with the Council of Ministers. May we hope that action will be taken to enlarge if not the powers at least the influence of the Council of Ministers, and with it the influence of the Community?

The best way of securing that is, in my view, to strengthen the process of co-ordinating foreign policy, because I am quite convinced, and I am sure the Prime Minister will share my view, that Europe must speak with a single voice or be ignored.

Mr Thorn, Prime Minister of Luxembourg (translation)

I thank Lord Duncan-Sandys for his kind words.

Indeed I hope we shall make considerable progress in procedural matters. We all know that the dispute of the two-headed executive is out of date and that power is in the hands of the Council of Ministers, even if it exercises it to some extent in relation to or in the presence and with the participation of the Commission.

I cannot give an optimistic answer to your question. During the past three years the Council of Ministers has not succeeded – I can say no less – in increasing its efficiency. That is a fact. At present the will to make progress exists on all sides. We speak, as Lord Duncan-Sandys has done, of progress in political co-operation. What does that mean? It means that everybody participates in international meetings and has to face up to world problems. Hence the absolute necessity for Europe to speak with one voice, to have a common policy. It is less important to take joint decisions down to the last detail than to make a joint analysis, to have common aims; and I fear that we shall not serve the cause of Europe – I hope you will not mind my saying this – by ill-conceived pragmatism. I believe that those who speak of furthering this cause by co-operation will not succeed in fulfilling their mission. There comes a time when, after joint analysis and joint exchange of views, certain binding procedures must be found, particularly when it is not simply a question of two or three, but of six, nine and possibly tomorrow ten or eleven, in order to arrive at joint decisions. Otherwise there is a danger that while our discussions become increasingly numerous, with agreement on a number of matters, in critical situations Europe will not speak with a single voice.

Of course we could make great play with figures and statistics and say that out of a hundred questions put us by the United Nations, eighty-two were answered by common agreement, but we must expect our enemies to say that it is the eighteen times where this was not the case that were really important or again that on the occasion of the eighty-two replies half of the participants had abstained. You know what I mean. .

Europe has certainly been co-operating for a long time. And the Europe of the Nine, and surely tomorrow that of the Seventeen, Eighteen or Nineteen, will view the situation in the same way. But the “jump”, the qualitative jump, is joint analysis to arrive at common synthesis, at common decisions and joint action while renouncing – all of us – more or less privileged connections.


In thanking the Prime Minister for his reply, I recognise that we have not reached a stage where we can have a common European foreign policy, but is it not possible for the governments of the member states to accept to a great degree the absolute obligation at least to consult with one another before taking decisions of importance in foreign affairs?

Mr Thorn, Prime Minister of Luxembourg (translation)

In replying to the honourable member I would say very frankly that that is my innermost conviction and that each one of the government representatives has accepted his thesis. I hope that tomorrow acceptance will be translated into fact.

Mr PÉRONNET (France) (translation)

I in turn would like to tell the Prime Minister how greatly French Europeans respect and admire him for his daily indefatigable work in the cause of the building of Europe.

I shall be brief. With the prospect of a European Assembly elected by universal suffrage, something we all welcome, how does the Prime Minister view the future, the objectives and the duties of the other European Assembly which concerns us, that is to say the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe?

Mr Thorn, Prime Minister of Luxembourg (translation)

I must say that rarely has such a loaded question been put by so good a friend! (Laughter)

My reply is that it is up to the Council of Europe, up to your Assembly, up to the Committee of Ministers which is at the moment meeting, unfortunately in my absence, to define its path.

I think we may say that we have made some progress in recent months, for, according to what I have noted this very day, this is one of the rare committees where all the countries are represented at ministerial level with, I believe, one exception.

What we had all hoped for some months ago has now occurred and there is a revival of interest, not only due to tomorrow’s inauguration of the new building, in the Council of Europe. And in this post-Helsinki and pre-Belgrade period, between two enlargements of the Community of the Nine, we all feel the need for the dialogue to be resumed, particularly at a time where, unfortunately, there is no intensification or strengthening of the Community of the Nine. This Assembly was at the very base of the foundation of the Community of the Nine. We know that for a long time the Community will not be able, for reasons inherent in certain constitutions, to include all the countries represented in your Assembly. But we believe that a democratic and political Europe must have its representative and that the geographical Europe goes beyond this Assembly. If this geographical Europe is to be, I dare not say the nucleus, but a more restricted circle of the Community of the wider democratic Europe, including neutrals, it will always need to represent and ensure the existence of relations within another wider circle.

I would like to say to Mr Péronnet that I believe that if it takes certain initiatives the Council of Europe will prove, in this as in so many other areas, the Assembly which, if it seizes its opportunity and has the courage to dare, will be able to open many doors and build many a bridge to the future.


Thank you, Mr Prime Minister. We have experienced a rare occasion today in your statement. We have had an open discussion and frank statements from a Minister of one of our member states. We appreciate that he has left the Committee of Ministers to devote his time to the Assembly. (Applause)