Felipe VI

King of Spain

Speech made to the Assembly

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Mr President, Mr Secretary General, ladies and gentlemen, members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, on 10 March I had the pleasant task and personal satisfaction of receiving the Standing Committee in Madrid as part of the celebrations marking the 40th anniversary of Spain’s accession to the Council of Europe. I now have the great honour of addressing the Parliamentary Assembly to underscore Spain’s undertakings as a member of the Council of Europe, an institution that embodies, defends and represents our best values, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. I especially thank you for your kind invitation in this anniversary year, which is so important to Spaniards and relevant to Europe and its institutions.

On 24 November we will celebrate the 40th anniversary of Spain’s accession to this institution. The anniversary prompts us to consider the past four decades and the path that we are following towards the future. Above all, it invites us to record that democracy must be preserved and perfected at all times with determination and constancy, and with the firm undertaking of everyone, as it concerns us all and protects us all.

Democracy, human rights and the rule of law, as I have just indicated, are the three pillars upon which the Council of Europe was founded. It is the common home of all Europeans. Freedom, equality, justice and political pluralism are the higher values that are proclaimed in the Spanish constitution of 1978, and that inspire our living together in democracy. Spain shares with the Council of Europe its values and principles. Both hail from the recognition of the dignity of people as an essential prerequisite for living together in political and social action. The acknowledgment and protection of that dignity is Europe’s greatest bequest. We should never forget that that is the reason for our identity as Europeans and that it constitutes a fundamental reference for progress and for the essential dignity of humanity at large.

“If we stay true to these values, Europe as a civilisation zone will continue to be a source of inspiration for other regions throughout the planet.”

It is for that reason that I wish on this occasion to pay tribute to the founders of that Europe, which emerged from the Second World War after being largely destroyed. Europe rebuilt its moral, political and legal foundations, thanks to the assiduous efforts of a generation that was firmly convinced that the highest meanings of human rights and democracy are antidotes to tyranny, dictatorship, oppression and exploitation. Thanks to those pillars, this institution is the engine that promotes democratic values across Europe, and its vitality is a thermometer for the health of a civic and democratic Europe.

Forty years ago, the democratic heart of Spain beat in unison with the heart of Europe, as represented here. Indeed, after the referendum to approve the law on political reform, 1977 was a year of extraordinary political importance in Spain’s history. On 15 June that year, we held the first democratic elections in which the Spanish people, freely voting, full of hope and with great emotion, opened the path towards democracy, and thus began one of the brightest and more transformative periods in our country’s recent political history.

Spain’s entry into the Council of Europe in 1977 – a year before the approval of our constitution –meant that there was important support for the success of our political transition. In an address to your Assembly in October 1979, His Majesty King Juan Carlos expressly underscored your Chamber’s decisive role in Spain’s joining the Council of Europe, doing away with “custom, in both form and timing, so that its faith and hope in the transition to democracy in Spain might prevail.” Democracy reached Spain because of men and women who generously sought dialogue and understanding in order to overcome confrontations and differences caused by our country’s history that, until that point, had seemed unresolvable. Those men and women set aside their legitimate political differences because they agreed with the fundamental aim of providing their country with a regime of freedom. They were the Spaniards of reconciliation, and we must honour and perpetuate their memory and example. The Council of Europe knew how to prompt and accompany such an undertaking, and it gave us active support to overcome the difficult early steps in our return to democracy and our encounters with a free Europe.

We Spaniards are European in our identity, culture, history and geography, and also by choice and political will. Our constitution of 1978 included rights and freedoms that materialised in western Europe following the Second World War. Respect for the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms is guaranteed through our amparo appeal before the constitutional court and the system of individual applications to the European Court of Human Rights. The Court’s doctrine strengthens our State where the rule of law is concerned. I cannot refrain from stressing the importance of the European Social Charter to economic and social rights.

Since Spain joined in 1977, 27 other States have adhered to the Council of Europe, which now has 47 members. We must attach importance to that great success for democracy, which results from a process of recognition, expansion and the universalisation of democratic values in which Europe has been a decisive protagonist and an unrivalled leader. In the globalised world of the 21st century, Europe must continue being a reference point for freedoms and integration. We are indeed proud of its values, and, as an area of civilisation, Europe will continue to be a source of inspiration for other regions of the globe. If, on the other hand, we renounce those values, we will give up what we can best contribute to the world and what defines us.

More than ever before, global challenges require unity and strength in our democratic institutions. We are going through a historic period of convulsions and uncertainties, and the complexities and difficulties test those institutions. Some effects of globalisation produce mistrust, insecurity or withdrawal, while living together is affected in many areas by war or barbaric and cruel terrorism. In that context, uncertainty has cast doubts among many Europeans. They wonder what the best way is to respond to threats to peace and international security and breaches of humanitarian international law, to the risks that have an impact on sustainable life on earth and to the great displacement of persons fleeing war, terrorism and poverty. With that state of mind, it is necessary to confront challenges in a decisive, but reflective, manner. The response cannot be to step back or to return to a past that we have been trying to overcome for some time. We should provide global responses to global challenges in an intelligent, courageous, generous and respectful manner.

The policies to face those challenges should be based on the values and principles of democratic systems. We should remain united and reaffirm rights, freedoms and the rule of law as substantial, non-renounceable elements of Europe. This complexity should not let us forget that democracy requires the bringing together of emotion, reason, trust, participation, a constructive attitude and a conciliatory spirit. It requires sincere dialogue and, as a consequence, the taking of decisions in a responsible manner. I bid you, as democratic representatives of Europe, our common fatherland, to follow democratic reason. A total respect of the democratic rule of law is the most effective instrument to confront contemporary challenges collectively.

Spain’s recent history provides examples of our overcoming grave problems, and we can serve as a model globally. Terrorism has hit our country for more than four decades, with the aim of imposing its totalitarian senselessness on the ability of Spaniards to live together in peace. However, the integrity and firmness of Spanish society, and the solidity of the rule of law, have won the day and have routed terrorism. With that victory, the dignity of the victims of terrorism – we respect and honour their memory – is an example of civic courage, which we are proud of as a country and that deserves greater recognition and justice. Do not doubt that with determination and consistency we shall also overcome the terrorist threat that hits many parts of the world. Major world alliances are required to confront it efficiently and coherently. Terrorists should know that we will not fail to combat barbarism and we shall not cease until they account for their crimes. The values that inspire our democratic living together will prevail in the face of fanaticism, intolerance and violence.

Europe also has the responsibility of dealing with the great displacement of persons – refugees and migrants – fleeing war, terrorism and extreme poverty. It is a moral duty to welcome them, as is within our capacity, so that they are able to live a dignified life. We must also do what we can to promote the conditions that allow them to return to their homes. That means putting an end to conflicts and establishing the basis for bellicose clashes to give way to political processes, leading to inclusive and democratic societies that do not act against life and freedom. We aspire to the respect of fundamental rights – a trait that is constituted in and concomitant with Europe – becoming universal. We cannot conceive of peace without the enjoyment of human rights.

Spain wishes to continue to contribute to a prosperous and integrated Europe. We are a plural country in which our constitution guarantees the rights and freedoms of all citizens, independent of the territory in which they reside. It also protects the cultures, traditions, languages and institutions of the nationalities and regions that constitute the Spanish nation. Thus, the self-governance of our autonomous communities, combined with the principle of basic equality between Spaniards, contributes to our living together. A democratic, constitutional Spain, which is a united plural democracy in which all the State’s powers hail from its citizens, granting them legitimacy, is the best, active model we can contribute to a Europe that is always strong in the defence of its values – a Europe whose strength, development and progress are founded on respect for the rule of law, which guarantees that all European citizens can live together in freedom.

Ladies and gentlemen, as I come to the end of my address, I reiterate Spain’s trust in and attachment to the European project. Despite uncertainties and fears, Europe continues to be a positive enterprise, and its ability to adapt to changes without renouncing its principles is the guarantee of its better future in a world that is constantly under transformation. Spain certainly looks towards a Europe that is more just and equal, and more cohesive and integrated, under the structures of the European Union and the Council of Europe. Above all, we look to Europe as a project for living together while recognising the inalienable dignity of all human beings, because Europe is more than just a geographical space defined by history. It is also a project, an idea; some might say a dream. It is an enterprise for which it is worth fighting, however arduous the path may be.

Spain established its first liberal constitution in Cadiz in 1812, and has since 1978 had a fruitful period of democratic development, which we have undergone hand in hand with your Organisation. Like those men and women of Spain of the past who wanted to open themselves to new worlds, we wish to offer the best of ourselves, so that in this era of globalisation, Europe can be an example of people living together with respect for each other’s dignity, rights and freedoms.

These 40 years of joint effort spur us on to build, in a determined, confident and ambitious manner, a future that guarantees more freedom, equality and prosperity to all European citizens, and all those who come to us seeking peace and security. We have to give them hope about Europe and what it represents. When the anniversary of the next 40 years takes place, I hope that our best achievements will be that Europe can look us in the eye; that despite all the challenges that we faced, we were able to keep moving forward and, between us all, build a space and time in which it was worth living; and that we were able to continue making a reality of the founders of Europe’s dreams – of uniting persons, as Jean Monnet said, and of having an awareness of ourselves, as Salvador de Madariaga said. We rely for that on the Council of Europe and your Assembly, which have been and are an essential beacon on this path. This Council and Assembly have an ally in Spain – a sure friend in the defence of democracy, human rights and freedom. Thank you.

The PRESIDENT (interpretation)

Your Majesty, I am very grateful for your words, and for the significant message that you leave with us. Your irrefutable defence of European values, and your steadfast commitment to promoting and cultivating them, deserve the recognition of this entire Chamber. I agree with Your Majesty that in these times it is crucial that we take action together, and that action should be complemented with strong leadership and the ability to bridge differences between great Europeans such as Your Majesty. Let me repeat our gratitude to you for being with us today, and I wish you every success at the helm of the Spanish State.

Thank you, Your Majesty, for your most interesting address.