Prime Minister of Belgium

Speech made to the Assembly

Tuesday, 21 September 1976

Mr President, Ladies and Gentlemen, I very much appreciate your invitation to address your Assembly. We know and can never forget that it is you who were the cradle of Europe.

You were born of a movement of opinion – and that in itself is remarkable – which was given expression at the Congress of Europe in The Hague, where Winston Churchill was the catalyst.

Your aims and objects are inscribed in the preamble and first article of your Statute. They are to promote those ideals which are common to us all, “the spiritual and moral values which are the true source of individual freedom, political liberty and the rule of law which form the basis of all genuine democracy”.

To achieve that aim, you were given very wide functions in “economic, social, cultural, scientific, legal and administrative matters and in the maintenance of human rights and fundamental freedoms”.

Certain institutions were set up in order to achieve these aims, of which your Assembly is the driving force. In 1949 it was really revolutionary to see members of parliament, quite independently of their governments, called upon to promote the unification of Europe. From the beginning, your desire has been to make yourselves the very embodiment of the idea of European solidarity by organising yourselves not in national delegations, but in political groups.

From the very beginning, too, you have had an exalted concept of your task. With your permission, I shall recall some of your major achievements, and then, in the second part of my address, describe briefly the relations between your organisation and European union.

You have many titles to fame. I cannot mention, them all, but here are some of them.

First of all, you have been and still are the centre of gravity, and thus the guarantor, of all states that respect the democratic ideal. In this context, vigilant guardian as you are of that ideal, you did not hesitate, when a military junta seized power in one of your member states, to force it to leave your organisation. No one can deny that on that occasion you assumed to the full the task assigned you in the preamble which I quoted just now:

“To promote the true source of genuine democracy based on individual freedom, political liberty and the rule of the law”.

Refusing to regard this ideal as a mere profession of faith, you proceeded to put it into concrete terms in a convention called “the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms”. That act, unique in the annals of international law, gave teeth to the declarations of intent inscribed in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. It went even further and ensured respect for those rights by superimposing on the executive and legislative organs of the member states a judicial body which is distinctly federalist in concept.

The essential merit of the European convention is thus to protect not only states but individuals, and to provide them with an instrument which enables them to claim from an international court the effective enjoyment of the rights guaranteed by the convention.

The importance of that convention as the manifestation of the conscience of all mankind is such that the European Communities have recognised its effects. In a famous judgement on that point – the Mulde judgement – the Court of Justice of the European Communities, after declaring that they could not admit measures incompatible with the fundamental rights recognised and guaranteed by the states, added that, in order to determine what these rights were, reference should be made to the international treaties on the protection of human rights which the member states had concluded or to which they had subsequently acceded.

No doubt finishing touches need putting to the work because the climate of the 1970s is different from that which prevailed when the European convention was signed. At that time, Europe was just emerging from the second world war and was faced with the problems caused by the cold war. The authors of the convention were thus deeply conscious of the need to endow European civilisation with a code of fundamental human rights.

But the rapid development of a technological, scientific and industrial society has produced a new set of problems in the matter of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Modern techniques have multiplied the threats to private life. The computer, whose merits are so widely vaunted, can, in the hands of unscrupulous authorities, become a terrifying instrument for investigation and constraint. Modern methods of interfering with personality through certain psychological techniques can be even more insidious. I know, and I am delighted to know, that you are concerning yourselves with these matters, with the idea of establishing a proper balance between individual freedom and the needs of society.

Doubtless it should not be ruled out that when the community is more deeply engaged in the process of political integration it will be obliged, in consideration of its own raison d’être, to place the accent on certain political freedoms or certain economic rights.

Your second title to fame is that you have provided the framework for the elaboration of a large number of European conventions in the most varied fields. They deal with social affairs, public health, education, culture and legal affairs.

There are three that I personally would like to talk about: the European Social Charter, the European Convention on Establishment and the Convention on the Equivalence of Diplomas.

The first is complementary, in the economic and social fields, to the European Convention on Human Rights. It defines social rights, that is to say, the rights essential for leading the kind of life proper to a democratic society, and for the first time it makes an effort to see that through international supervision these rights are respected on a European scale.

The second expresses the concern of us all for greater mobility and more equality between Europeans, that is, between people who share a common ideal. That convention in fact ensures equality between all the nationals of the contracting states, both in the enjoyment and exercise of their civil rights and in safeguarding them.

The third is designed to ensure greater possibility of exchange at educational and teaching level. This is fundamental, because although our generation wants to build Europe, the full weight of that vast undertaking will rest on future generations. It is they who must be soaked in the European idea and branded by it.

Finally, and this is the last point I want to make, and it is something that we should not underestimate, there is the fact that the Council of Europe provides a European forum which, thanks to the high level of its debates, can form European public opinion. Because your terms of reference are so wide, you have been able to act and must continue to act as a sounding-board for European public and parliamentary opinion whenever a current political issue demands general discussion.

Having recalled some of the Council of Europe’s achievements, I now want to outline ways in which co-operation could be established between your organisation and the European union still in embryo.

First of all, I think we must realise that the two organisations are pursuing common objectives. There can be no question of antagonism or rivalry because one or other of them wants closer union between its Members or has the safeguarding of democratic freedoms as its ideal. I subscribe without reserve to the statement by your Rapporteur, Mrs Gradin, that “the first objective of European policy remains to maintain and further closer cohesion amongst all the democratic states of Europe”.

Certainly there are differences. The first concerns our final objective. As your President, Mr Czernetz, said, the Council of Europe can only promote functional unity in various forms, but the ambition of the European Communities, through the supranational integration of the Six, now the Nine, is to create a common economy and a political union. There are also differences as regards means. You are an institution for co-operation, whereas the European Communities are among the so-called integrating bodies. Finally, in the strictly arithmetical field – and that must not be ignored – the European Communities consist of nine states and the Council of Europe of eighteen – tomorrow nineteen.

I would like to take this opportunity of offering my most sincere congratulations to the Portuguese Government which is declaring its wish to participate from now on in the building of a democratic Europe.

But our similarities and our differences, far from causing rivalry or antagonism, should on the contrary make us complementary to each other and provide a basis for co-operation between us. Such co-operation should be twofold: first of all by means of the links which can be forged between the Communities and some Council of Europe states which do not belong to them; then by further clarifying relations between the Communities and the Council of Europe as such.

So far as the relations between the Communities and some Council of Europe states are concerned, no one can fail to be aware that the European Communities have a variety of external co-operation arrangements: trade agreements, association agreements, preferential agreements, and so on.

Undoubtedly, association is the closest form of such co-operation. It has, among other things, made it possible for several Council of Europe states to forge special links with the Communities. Here I should like to remind you of what I said in my report and what my compatriot Mr Leynen stressed in his introduction. I wrote,

“We must pay particular attention to those European countries which have a democratic system similar to ours. We should establish relations with them which make it possible to take account of their interests and their points of view when formulating the union’s political decisions.”

And if I added that: “the habit of such co-operation will, in due course, facilitate the accession of those states wishing to join”, it was not because I considered association as a transitory phase necessarily leading to accession.

I realise that some states do not want to compromise their neutrality by acceding to something that involves a political commitment. For them, association or some other form of co-operation should provide an adequate framework for special relations with the European union. At that level, the Council of Europe could make itself even more effective by acting as the link between the union and the other countries, and that would, in fact, be quite in line with its mission.

Now, regarding relations between the two organisations, in my view there are four ideas which should form the basis of our consideration and action.

The first thing that should be done is to delimit the respective functions of each to the greatest possible extent. There are matters which, because of their nature, their character or their extent, are more effectively dealt with either by the Nine or the Eighteen or Nineteen. In principle, these problems should be dealt with where they arise and their solution should be sought where it can be most complete and effective. There are also problems which extend beyond the European framework and do not lie within out respective competences. It was what caused you very wisely to recognise, apropos of international terrorism, that in view of the world-wide nature of the problem, there was no satisfactory long-term solution except on a world scale.

This desire to define our respective competences, which should make it possible to avoid duplication and to ensure greater rationalisation of our efforts to unify Europe, about which we should be very pleased, led you to adopt a medium-term plan which defines the fields particularly appropriate for the activities of the Council of Europe.

But there are and always will be fields in which we compete. This is quite legitimate when the aims of the European Communities and the Council of Europe are specific in character. But care must be taken, by means of reciprocal information, to ensure that the solutions adopted in these competing fields are not in fundamental contradiction, at least so far as principle is concerned.

In the second place, if there is to be a closer link between our two organisations, participation by the European Communities as such and tomorrow by the union in certain Council of Europe conventions must not be ruled out. A start seems to have been made in this direction in that, after long negotiation, the Council of Ministers of the Community and the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe have agreed on a formula for participation by the European Economic Community in a Council of Europe Convention for the Protection of International Watercourses against Pollution.

It is also possible to imagine that, in some fields, common action might be undertaken in the form of setting up specialised authorities, institutions or agencies. This would in fact be a return, as they say, to where we came in, because it was your Assembly which, in 1949, proposed the creation of “specialised authorities” whose functions would be limited to certain strictly defined sectors.

Finally, while keeping the machinery for liaison between the Council of Europe and the European union, we must think of ways of strengthening and developing it. In this context, we may be entitled to wonder just how useful the Joint Meeting between the two Assemblies and the report presented annually to the Committee of Ministers are. I think we shall have to revise modes of co-operation that are more permanent and, above all, that are situated at the planning stage.

I want to conclude by saying that, in connection with the report on European union, your President has stated quite plainly that the eighteen member states of the Council of Europe and all the Representatives at the Parliamentary Assembly – those of the Nine as well as those of the other member states – unreservedly support any action which will strengthen the Community. We members of the Council of Europe Assembly believe, he said, that the European Community should progress and succeed; that is in the interests of all.

I am delighted that you have such a far-sighted and favourable attitude to the continued integration of the Nine. That should not sound the knell of the Council of Europe for, as I think I have shown, it still has a great many tasks to perform, the first being to make itself the rallying-ground for the whole European democratic family, with “the human being” as the centre of its preoccupations.

You therefore have a tremendous future before you, and your responsibility remains great in a world in which it has been said that there are still two dozen democracies.

You must make yourselves the favoured meeting-place of all the European democracies who together must assume their common responsibilities vis-à-vis the world. Our common devotion to democracy and its values imposes upon us co-operation for its common defence, for no one of our states in isolation will carry much weight.

The European union and the Council of Europe have their own functions, which are separate but complementary. Each in its own sphere of activity is working for the same ideal: “closer unity between the peoples of Europe”. (Loud applause)


Thank you very much, Mr Prime Minister. We are very glad that you took the time to come here and to address the Assembly.

We will now have a short time for questions. Before the questions come, I should like to say that we are extremely glad that you rule out any possibility of rivalry between the two institutions and that you are for close co-operation.

The European Communities and the Council of Europe must stick together. Europe has to move with both feet, step by step, one foot after the other. That is the dialectics of human walking. We do not ask for any special undertaking from your side. You know what problems there are at the moment. But we rely on your knowledge, wisdom and consciousness of the entity of a whole democratic Europe. Thank you again.

I now ask members to put short questions to the Prime Minister. First, I call Mr Vedovato.

Mr VEDOVATO (Italy) (translation)

Mr President, distinguished politicians have on many occasions in this august Assembly foreshadowed and emphasised the need not only for greater vitality in the Council of Europe in general, but also for the stepping up in particular of political co-operation between the European Communities and the other democratic states of Europe.

Prime Minister Tindemans has recognised this need, and I should therefore like to put a question to him as the author of the report on European union.

I should like to know how he envisages the integration, in the context of the European Communities, of the countries of southern Europe, that is, Turkey, Greece, Portugal, and probably in the near future Spain. Thank you very much.

Mr Tindemans, Prime Minister of Belgium (translation)

The Rome Treaty and the Paris Treaty are so-called open treaties, that is to say any country in Europe which has a democratic government and fulfils the conditions laid down in it can sign the treaty and become a Member of the European Economic Community.

I cannot at this moment analyse the specific position of the countries Mr Vedovato cited. But it is self-evident that the moment these countries fulfil the conditions they can become full Members, like the nine countries which are now Members of the European Community.

Mr RADIUS (France) (translation)

Does the Belgian Prime Minister think the direct election of the assembly of the European Communities by universal suffrage will involve a change in its powers? Does he not think that a combination of budgetary powers and its method of election will give that assembly its own, instead of delegated powers? Does that not mean a transfer of sovereignty by the member states to the Community institutions?

Mr Tindemans, Prime Minister of Belgium (translation)

That is an extremely ticklish question. I have not yet been able to find out exactly what decision the Foreign Ministers of the Nine came to at their meeting yesterday.

I have taken direct elections for granted because at the summit conference in Paris in December 1974, the President of the French Republic himself proposed direct elections by universal suffrage.

So in my report I have taken it that the member states have agreed to direct elections. I have also proposed that the parliament resulting from these direct elections should be allowed to take initiatives as part of its powers and functions. I did not propose that it should have legislative powers, for a number of reasons. As there is as yet no executive power proper, no government, I found it difficult to see how a parliament with legislative functions could operate where there was no executive or government to argue with, to channel discussions if necessary, and so that a governmental view could be set against what was decided by the parliament if need be.

In brief, in the interest of the parliamentary body itself, I did not think this was the moment to propose that it should have legislative powers or functions. Others do propose that, but the question is not yet finally settled. We have decided on direct elections by universal suffrage, but as to the functions of that parliament, the discussion is still open.

On the other hand – and you know your history – a directly elected parliament develops its own momentum, and all who are in favour of direct elections hope the Parliament will become the motive power for the future development of the European Community.


There are still six names on the list. Would you allow me, please, to close the list for questions now? After the questions have been concluded, I beg members please to remain here for the election of the Clerk of the Assembly. We need a quorum for that election. If we do not have a quorum we shall be in a hell of a trouble. Excuse me!

I call Mr Arne Christiansen.

Mr Arne CHRISTIANSEN (Denmark)

I listened with the same enthusiasm today, Mr Tindemans, as I felt when I read your report. I have, however, a less enthusiastic question to put to you. During your speech I received a telex from Copenhagen, according to which the Danish Foreign Minister, in a statement after the Council meeting yesterday, said that “the Foreign Ministers of EEC are not inclined to follow the proposal of the Tindemans Report that the countries should coordinate their foreign policy and find a common stand regarding majority decisions”.

I would appreciate your comment on that, Mr Tindemans.

Mr Tindemans, Prime Minister of Belgium

May I put it in French?

(Mr Tindemans continued in French.) The philosophy on which my report is based is as follows: Europe is in search of its own identity. The best way to find it, in my opinion, is to speak with a single voice on any international problems. If Europe does so, the world will know that Europe really has an identity.

That is why I propose in my report – and when we talk about European union, we mean of course far more than just the Community – that the member states should have the courage to choose the fields in which they are willing to speak with a single voice on behalf of Europe. I suggest four fields, but it is only a suggestion. Once a unanimous choice has been made, it is only logical, after the matter has been discussed in depth, for any minority to accept the views of the majority.

As I explained to my colleagues, this in no way means organising votes; it means a debate, such as is held within a government. A debate is held and a solution is found. Then everyone supports the majority which emerges from the assembly, from the government, in this case from the meeting of the Nine.

That is my proposal, which has not so far been accepted, but in my view if we want to bring about a European union, which is larger than the Community, I say – and may I remind you that during the sixties there was still talk of political union; the French Ambassador in Copenhagen, Mr Fouchet, was asked to draft a report on the subject and my instructions were to draft one on European union and, as the President has reminded us, to define European union – I say, I repeat, that in external relations, let us have the courage to choose where and in what circumstances we want to speak with a single voice.

Naturally every state has the right to accept or reject that proposal as of now, but I personally stand by my report.

Mr VALLEIX (France) (translation)

Mr Tindemans has proposed a Europe progressing at two speeds. Does he think that proposal will help to reduce the economic and social disparities between our different countries, or will it not, on the contrary, run the risk of transforming initially natural tensions into structural divergences, which such a formula would aggravate and might perpetuate?

Does he consider that his proposal has already been put into operation, and if so where, or does he have a feeling that it might be somewhere soon?

Mr Tindemans, Prime Minister of Belgium (translation)

That question concerns Chapter 3 of my report, which deals with economic and monetary union.

This is obviously not the right time to talk about economic and monetary union when we are suffering from an economic crisis and inflation.

I must start with a protest: I did not propose in my report that European union should proceed at two speeds. I explained all this at the Congress of the European Movement. What did I do? In all the communiqués issued since 1969, since the summit conference at The Hague, it has been suggested that economic and budgetary policies should be co-ordinated. In his report, Mr Valleix’s compatriot, Mr Marjolin, a member of the Commission, called these communiqués pious hopes because, he said, up to now absolutely nothing had been done in this field.

My own starting-point is this: there must be discipline if there is to be any co-ordination in economic and especially monetary matters. Therefore, if economic union is to get off the ground, there must be budgetary discipline. How is it to be done? A beginning has already been made in the Basle Agreement, commonly called the “snake”. The “snake” countries agree to defend themselves jointly against dangers from outside. I am proposing that there should also be agreement on an internal policy for defending the snake countries’ currencies. But I say: let us begin by turning the snake into a Community snake. For the moment there is nothing Community about it; the Commission does not even attend the snake countries’ meetings.

So let us make the snake a Community snake. Let us have more discipline. Let us agree to protect our currencies not only against external hazards, but against internal ones as well. And here, there is already some discipline. We must use that discipline as the basis for our action. That kind of restraint will in any case be necessary in future if we are to achieve economic and monetary union. So let us start from what already exists: the snake.

Obviously, the measures decided on in common for making monetary and some economic and budgetary problems Community matters cannot be accepted yet or put into practice immediately by all the member states because of their economic situation. But let us take the decisions jointly, and let us decide at the same time what steps the countries who cannot go with us at once should take to be able to do so later, when they are in a position to join those that can accept greater discipline straight away.

It is that paragraph in my report which has been misunderstood. People said it was a two-speed Europe; it is the very opposite. What I want to do is to make the snake, and therefore monetary problems, into a Community matter, not to create two Europes.

Mr CERMOLACCE (France) (translation)

I see from Mr Tindemans’s report, from the section dealing with crises in the European region, that he proposes laying down a common policy and acting together, with the restrictions that this entails, in all cases where important political problems or crises arise in Europe or in the Mediterranean area.

What is meant by important political problems or crises arising in Europe and the Mediterranean area and the restrictions consequent on them? Is this to be interpreted as a means of pressure, a possible threat to the Mediterranean countries, France, Italy, even Spain, which in response to the wishes of their peoples may acquire governments in which there are communists?

Mr Tindemans, Prime Minister of Belgium (translation)

That is an illustration of what I said in my reply on the attitude of the Danish Government. I believe that if the Europe of the Nine decides to speak with a single voice on certain international problems, problems chosen unanimously, logically the minority should accept the views of the majority.

Is it not quite normal and logical, when a problem arises on Europe’s doorstep – which is why I mentioned the Mediterranean – that Europe should adopt a common attitude to that problem? What is quite abnormal, and here I am talking about problems arising on our doorstep, is that the whole world should have its say, should make its opinion known, except the Europe of the Nine, which had no common attitude to the problem arising in the Mediterranean.

I will say no more about that. For the minority inside the Nine, that restriction consists in going along with the views of the majority arrived at after thorough debate. That is the exact meaning of the paragraph Mr Cermolacce referred to.

I was not thinking of any specific situation, but only in general philosophical terms. We must have the courage to choose the fields in which we are prepared to speak with a single voice. As I said, that is essential if we want Europe to have its own identity. Having made that choice, we must have the courage to say, “Now it is the majority that decides Europe’s attitude”. No more, no less.

Mr ILHAN (Turkey) (translation)

The Tindemans Report was the subject of hundreds of articles within Europe and outside. It has also been discussed at numerous meetings. I would now like to ask Mr Tindemans whether, in the light of the criticisms made, he has been able to make any changes? If so, in what parts of the report? Perhaps he could just indicate them briefly.

Mr Tindemans, Prime Minister of Belgium (translation)

My colleagues the heads of government and the head of the French Republic have entrusted the study of my report to the Council of Foreign Ministers; they have thus asked their Foreign Ministers to report on it before the end of the year. I must therefore wait for them to express their opinion before I can react myself.

Mr MÉNARD (France) (translation)

Mr Tindemans’s report abounds with excellent ideas, which inspires me to ask him a question with rather wide implications. Which of his suggestions does he consider to be a dead letter and more or less buried, and which can we hope may lead to some positive action in the more or less near future?

Mr Tindemans, Prime Minister of Belgium (translation)

I am very sorry, but I cannot answer that question. I most sincerely hope that all my suggestions will be accepted. As I said in my report, if the ideas I have formulated and developed are accepted, they will lead to that qualitative change which I believe European union to represent. I cannot say more than that; I am neither pessimistic nor optimistic. I await my colleagues’ conclusions.

Mr HOFER (Switzerland) (translation)

Mr Tindemans has given proof of understanding for the special position of the neutral states. We are grateful to him, because this has not always been the case in this House. He also mentioned that relations with the neutrals are to be intensified. I think I may say that this is also our wish.

Does he also see positive and constructive possibilities for a policy of neutrality within the framework of co-operation between West and East, as provided for in the Helsinki Final Act, and does he believe that such a policy would also be in the interests of European union?

Mr Tindemans, Prime Minister of Belgium (translation)

It is extremely difficult to answer such a fundamental question off the cuff. There are a number of neutral states. Their neutrality is not always the same nor is the reason for it, so I cannot at this point draw a distinction between their rights. As Mr Hofer is Swiss, he knows that traditionally we have always needed a neutral island in the heart of Europe. For many reasons, Swiss neutrality and what it implies have been extremely useful to the other European countries.

As I said, the best way for Europe to acquire an identity of its own is, in my view at any rate, to speak with a single voice on certain problems of international policy. Because of its neutral status, Mr Hofer’s country will not be able to support in advance any opinion that Europe may express. That goes without saying. But if Switzerland agreed with that opinion, it could always rally to the view adopted by the Nine. There is no doubt about that. So I do not want to make too hasty a judgement now about any future attitude that might be taken by Mr Hofer’s country.

Mr AUBERT (Switzerland) (translation)

As Mr Tindemans has already replied to the question I wanted to put, I withdraw my request to speak.


Thank you. That concludes the questions.

Before I thank the Prime Minister of Belgium, may I ask all members of the Assembly to remain here? You cannot demand political rights if you are not able to elect an officer of the Assembly.

Mr Prime Minister, in your report you spoke of the Assembly as the cradle of the European institutions. It would almost be correct to say that you brought the baby of European union into the cradle today. In fact, we have been discussing it even before it was born. It is a good thing that we have had this opportunity to debate your report. I thank you for coming here, listening to questions and answering them and presenting your view to the Assembly. Thank you very much. (Applause)