Rebelo De Sousa

President of Portugal

Speech made to the Assembly

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Madam President, Mr. Secretary General, Excellency, Ladies and gentlemen,

There are moments in our lives that we never forget. This was in 1975, one year after the “Carnation Revolution”. I was only 26 years old, I was even the youngest member of the delegation of the Portuguese Constituent Assembly invited to explain to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe what was happening in Portugal. A Constitution voted in the middle of a revolution.

I remember this session as if it was happening today. We wanted to know everything, to understand everything, to decipher everything, and it was very difficult to explain an ongoing revolution and to detail the content of a Constitution that was being debated and written. We knew very well what we wanted: a political, economic, social and cultural democracy for Portugal.

Forty-four years later, the young Member of Parliament of 1975 has now become the President of the Republic, elected by universal suffrage in a democratic and social State governed by the Rule of law.

With the Constitution and accession to the Council of Europe, both voted in 1976, the negotiations on entry into the European Community concluded in 1985, the community of Portuguese-speaking countries created in 1996, a youthful dream has come true.

In addition, the Secretary General of the United Nations, the President of the Eurogroup, the Director General of the International Organisation for Migration, are Portuguese. Portugal now lives in a democracy, has overcome budgetary and economic crises – the most serious of which occurred between 2010 and 2014 –, had a primary surplus in 2018, a nominal budget deficit of 0.5%, growth that exceeds the euro zone average, an unemployment rate of 6.8%, and is reducing a heavy public debt. Our main concern is to seek to strengthen the quality of democracy and transparency in political life. Because democracy is a daily conquest and is never achieved, and must be achieved day after day.

Its external policy is based on historical alliances – Portuguese-speaking countries, the European Union, the Atlantic Alliance, the Ibero-American organisation – but is complemented by membership of the Council of Europe, the United Nations and other multilateral organisations, adopting a very clear position in defence of International law, Human rights, the Rule of law, multilateralism, the role of international organisations, the free movement of persons and international trade, dialogue for the peaceful resolution of conflicts, the understanding that the world has changed and is changing at an astounding rate.

But always safeguarding the primacy of Human rights. It is an honour to be able to testify here in this House of Human Rights, which in 2020 is celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Convention that proclaimed them, which is the leading institution in the field of Human rights, democracy and the Rule of law, and which continues its fight against the death penalty, and which closely follows the constitutional development of the Member States, extends Human rights to the field of social rights, local authorities, North-South dialogue, all the major issues of modern and post-modern societies, including gender equality, the fight against violence and harassment, non-discrimination policies, children, children's rights, youth, citizenship education, drug dependence and cultural routes.

The Council has always affirmed itself as a singular reference for the application of Human Rights, in the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, in the parliamentary recommendations, in the Council's decisions, in the monitoring and pedagogical mission of the Commissioner for Human Rights, in the persistent activity of European and universal dialogues, in the North-South centre celebrating its 30th anniversary, the Venice Commission and the GRECO, both celebrating their 20th anniversary, are remarkable examples.

The North-South Centre, based in Lisbon, is a pioneer in opening up to realities that too many European states have only discovered with recent migration. The Venice Commission, ensuring that the bulk of Europe's cultural and civic contribution is not forgotten. The GRECO, insisting –and well - on the importance of transparency in public life through the fight against corruption.

Portugal has owed you a permanent inspiration since 1976. Inspiration on which our democratic consensus was largely based. A democratic consensus that requires permanent commitment, permanent demands from institutions and citizens.

Madame President, ladies and gentlemen.

In '75, when I first had the honour of sitting in this hemicycle, the world was still suffering the Cold War between the United States of America and the USSR. And Europe was one of the stages of this bipolar world's conflicts.

European communities were digesting British succession, and debating whether to deepen integration or to enlarge, including new members – some of them former dictatorships – like Portugal, Spain or Greece. One of the main subjects of prospective discussions was if and when Comecon and the Warsaw Pact would implode. And many more countries, coming from Eastern Europe, would join the list of European Democracies.

The 80s started giving an answer to that question. At the end of the decade, bipolarism was replaced, for a short while, by what was considered to be absolute monopolarism in the world. And Europe saw the beginning of a substantial change in many political, economic and social regimes in Eastern Europe.

This intense evolution, also lived in the 90s, was soon to be followed by successive demands of accession to the European Union and the conversion of the world's absolute monopolarism. Some people believed that the USA could go from being the police of the universe, to an imperfect or conditional monopolarism. Where the United States of America needed allies and depended on them to intervene in areas they scarcely knew, and understood, like Africa and Asia.

The new century was even more challenging. After having known a period of apparent low profile, the Russian Federation, not accepting to become a mere regional power, reaffirmed its diplomatic and political space of manoeuvre in Near and Middle East, Northern Africa, the Mediterranean and even Central Africa. Of course, always being very attentive to Eastern Europe.

China went on preparing and implementing with patience, as well as economic and financial presence everywhere, their conversion into a world power. While waiting, also, for the outcome of a multi-secular fight for the world's future economic centre. Whether in the west, as it had happened after the Industrial Revolution, or in Asia: China, India, Japan, Korea. As it used to be until the Industrial Revolution.

The world, little by little, became aware of a certain unavoidable multipolarism. And that coincided with a sudden, apparent, new trend in the most important global actor. The USA seemed to change some of its foreign guidelines. Opting, at least tactically, for more unilateralism, protectionism and trade tensions, not only with an economically expansionist China, but also with classic allies like Canada, India or the European Union. Undermining the role of International Organisations whenever they could mean less power of intervention.

Europe sometimes looked like a casualty in this new scenario. Squeezed by internal and external strategies, both from the East and the West. But not only that, too many European party systems revealed signs of crisis. The traditional centre-right and centre-left parties, which had been the basis of support of the European Union, took too long to adjust to different social needs and requests. These needs and requests were steaming from the economic crisis. The recipes used to fight them, like inorganic movements, digital participation, but also populistic leaderships, were very similar to those coming from the other side of the Atlantic. Ecological appeals, very much deepened by climate change worries, joint faster with women empowerment, the fight against all the new inequalities and different worries concerning the social effects of scientific and technological disruptions, like the digital revolution.

If we add to this setting both European cleavages, concerning neighbouring regions, migrations and refugees or Brexit, and the redesigning in some European countries, that are adopting constitutional or legal reforms, questioning some of the traditional patterns of representative democracies, we will easily understand the debate that has been going on about Europe and its values.

Madam President,

Ladies and gentlemen,

In my opinion, there are only three ways for Europe – the whole of Europe and not just the European Union – to face its heavy and decisive challenges.

The first one, which I reject, is to renounce to its values. To accept that democracy, the rule of law, and Human Rights are the values of the past, overtaken by time and social dynamics. By the digital revolution, by the new media, by direct contact between people and governments, by the speed of events, by unilateral leadership, by twitter, by the simplicity of political discourse, by the appeal of emotions, by the death of reason.

This path is based on the principle that this phase is irreversible, and that much of the democratic deficit cannot be recovered. I do not share this vision, both of the world and of Europe as a whole. We are not at the end of history. Neither Marxism nor Liberalism are over. For some who are believers, even the most religious ones, it is not sure that this end is only to enter another world.

For me, the values affirm themselves. The weight of their content, attached to the dignity of individuals and Human Rights, makes them valid in themselves. Democracy is absolutely valid and has an absolutely positive content, but also, the procedure itself is inseparable from the content of Human Rights.

A second path, opposite to the first one, and which I also do not share, is that of rejection of reality. Since we know that the values are absolute, let us stay away from the world. Let us ignore this world and insist on formulas, solutions, concrete applications, and the time will come when we will be recognized for all reason. The Principles are enough for us, everything else will pass, it is a matter of patience and waiting.

This path is almost as wrong as the first one. The person who tells you this has always been a law professor. To ignore reality is to understand nothing, neither about that reality, nor about Law, nor about values. What are values worth if the structures, methods and behaviours to apply them are incorrectly chosen? If we miss the example of those responsible, if institutions, like people, are no longer able to represent these values, to give them life, to bear witness to their fundamental content. What is the purpose of procedures that are not inextricably linked to the content of values? On the contrary, they hide and render the values and deprive them of all meaning.

The path is to combine truly crucial values with a reform of structures and people, before it is too late. We must be able to discern, what must be preserved as untouchable content, and what must be reformed with a vision for the future.

Untouchable values are, in my opinion: the dignity of people, their fundamental rights and duties, the rule of law, the separation of powers, the independence of the courts, the freedom and authenticity of citizens' votes, the pluralism of thought and expression, beliefs, religions, philosophical, political, social, economic and cultural choices, respect for others, tolerance, non-discrimination, the prohibition of monopolies of truth or patriotism, or the domination of a community, region, country or continent over another.

All the rest can be rethought and reformed, if necessary, by the parties, the social partners, the systems... But above all, by the people, the citizens. In this reform, the role of the Council of Europe is increasingly important, because it places citizens as the number one priority. Not the States, not the powers – because they change –, but the citizens, who are at the heart, with their dignity, at the heart of the raison d'être of this institution.

That is why the Council is paying attention to climate change, the Paris Agreement, the 2030 Agenda, anything related to Human Rights. Sustainable development – which has a very close relationship with Human Rights – the protection of social rights threatened by the new economic powers, and even new technologies, the effects of artificial intelligence, action against cybercrime, the fight against corruption. But also the fight against racism and intolerance, against all forms of discrimination, violence against women, freedom of the press and pluralism, the situation of migrants and refugees.

Your recent recommendation "Life Saved, Rights Protected", challenges us all against a growing rhetoric that dehumanizes Europe and challenges its civilisational heritage. Cooperation between Member States and NGOs and, above all, the third countries from which migrants come from, supporting their development, is the way forward to constantly combat criminal practices and organised networks. Without ever sacrificing the principle of principles, the protection of human life.

Everything must therefore be done to preserve the Council of Europe's pan-European composition and heritage. To provide it with the means and resources necessary for its irreplaceable mission.

Madam President, Ladies and Gentlemen,

We Portuguese, we believe in human dignity. In Human Rights, democracy and in the rule of law, which are enshrined in the historic European Convention of Human Rights.

We know that, to make them win the souls and the minds of citizens and of societies, we have to understand reality, and change structures and behaviours. Count on us to achieve it. Count on Portugal to achieve it, with conviction and courage.

Conviction that is more than just faith or belief. And courage that is more than just boldness and determination.

The same conviction and courage of 44 years ago, when I was sitting here. As a young member of our constituency, and when we were starting our journey to freedom and democracy. Thank you.

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER, Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly (translation)

Thank you very much, Mister President, for your words and for your comprehensive analysis of the situation in which we live, finally, as citizens of the world.

Thank you also for your personal support and for your country's support to this Organization.

Thank you, above all, for pleading in favour of the values we share.

We will now turn to the questions. I would like to remind my colleagues that these questions should not exceed thirty seconds, and that you should ask a question and not make a statement.

The first speaker is Mr VAREIKIS, on behalf of the Group of the European People's Party.

Mr Egidijus VAREIKIS, Lithuania, EPP/CD, Spokesperson for the group

Thank you, Mr President.

We Council of Europe countries, European Union countries, we suffered the quite severe refugee crisis in recent years. You mentioned in your speech a little bit that you are solving somehow this crisis. I know from mass media that Portugal is very often like Coca-Cola's success story for crisis management and integration, maybe you can say in a few sentences, what is the secret of your success?

Mr Rebelo De Sousa, President of Portugal

Well, thank you for your question. It's a very simple answer. We are a country of migrants. We are all around the world. We are 10 million inside our territory and 10 to 12 million abroad. In every continent. So for us, migration and the drama of refugees is a reality we have known for centuries.

We have had a dictatorship. Several dictatorships. The last one until 1974, which means we know what fighting against a dictatorship means. So we do understand the drama of migrants and refugees. We do know how important it is to understand the dramas of those societies because we have troops fighting in central Africa with humanitarian purposes. They're fighting wars, avoiding instability, working for sustainable development with economic and social aid.

So we know how important it is to create conditions in those countries around Europe, the Middle East, Northern Africa, even central Africa. I don't speak of some other Asian or Latin American countries at this point. So we do understand to have a democratic consensus on that subject. From the far left to the far right, all the parties agree on that subject in Portugal.

We know that there are several questions. The first one is the protection of human life. Then there is, of course, the fight against illegal or criminal activities. There is the need for common policies, European common policies concerning both migrants and refugees. There we have a very open vision. The best solution would be to try to find multilateral solutions. If not possible, let us at least bilaterally through agreements or unilaterally adopt positions accepted by the countries that don't want to go as far as Portugal does. Accepting, receiving, including in every sense of the word.

So that's the reason. I mean, history explains a lot how people are and how people do understand certain problems. But we do understand also that for other countries it's more difficult, without having this experience, to have the same position Portugal has. That's why tolerance, dialogue, understanding and institutions like these are so important.

The world is full - it's one of the last fashions - full of unilateralism, full of protectionism, full of egocentric ideas. Let us try to keep on moving the institutions where there is multilateralism, where there is the tolerance that is dialogue. Because no country, even the most powerful superpower, is an island. Nobody is an island in this world. Everybody depends upon all the other countries.

And mostly, let us think of the citizens, of the people. Those people were born where they were born. They didn't choose where they were born. They have the right of being treated... Protecting and respecting their dignity. That's my answer.


Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER, Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly (translation)

Thank you.

Mr SCHENNACH has the floor for the Group of the Party of Socialists, Democrats and Greens.

Mr Stefan SCHENNACH, Austria, SOC, Spokesperson for the group

Thank you, Mr President for this answer of tolerance, far from fear. You see it's possible.

I want to thank you for your coastal vessel, which saved so many lives during Mare Nostrum in the Mediterranean Sea. Now this programme is over. But now, young human rights activists from Portugal were saving lives but got into trouble with the Italian government. Is Portugal helping those people who are now in trouble because they only save lives?

Mr Rebelo De Sousa, President of Portugal

Well, of course, we respect the sovereignty of any state, but it's our duty to diplomatically support our citizens through all means accepted by international law. Most of all, this is when we think that they are fulfilling an important mission, when they are thinking mostly of that value I've spoken of, protection of human life. But, we do not forget that we need to find the way of trying to define policies and take measures at the European level. I mean, unilateral actions are very important. Citizenship is very important. The role of the citizens, young citizens, all the citizens, is vital, because that's the key to democracy that is alive all over Europe. But, I think, at the same time, European states, at different levels, must consider and make an effort to find common solutions and, once accepted, to implement them. Because I do believe in multilateralism. But my answer, yes, of course, the Portuguese state is doing whatever is needed and is possible under the legal point of view to protect one citizen, every citizen, in such a situation.

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER, Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly (translation)

Thank you.

Mr DUNDEE has the floor for the Conservative Group.

Lord Alexander DUNDEE, United Kingdom, EC, Spokesperson for the group

Mr President, in view of recent Council of Europe structures, what action is your government taking to prevent mistreatment of prisoners, particularly at the time of arrest, and to improve prison living conditions, including within psychiatric institutions?

Mr Rebelo De Sousa, President of Portugal

Well, that's the problem. I think it's a universal problem, it's a European problem, it's also a Portuguese problem.

Why? Because courts now implement decisions or take decisions that, in most cases, mean preventive measures that increase the prison population up to thousands, thousands of people in different situations and circumstances. So, there is a need for reform. Not only a reform of logistics, which is very important, the physical situation of those that are in prison, in jail, but also as you mentioned, psychiatric and psychological support, permanent support, in conditions that are very different, very, very different, because there was also a change in the kind of criminality.

We were used to physical criminality against people. Now, we have very much the development of economic, financial, social criminality. Of course, we have developed measures concerning other alternative measures. I mean to be in prison at home, to have electronic control, to develop these kinds of - and follow-up of people that used to be detained and be in jail.

This has developed very much, but I do admit, we need to do more. And we must do more in the very near future even because there are different situations, it depends on ages, on the kind of criminality, and also there is a problem of the social conditions of living inside prisons. The social conditions are a very worrying problem, I think, at the European level, at a universal level, but also at the Portuguese level. But I think it's one of the reforms that will be taken – will be debated – during the next electoral campaign, very much debated, and we'll have its follow up in the next four years, I'm sure.

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER, Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly (translation)

Thank you.

I call Mrs RODRÍGUEZ FERNÁNDEZ, on behalf of the Liberals and Democrats.

Ms Melisa RODRÍGUEZ HERNÁNDEZ, Spain, ALDE, Spokesperson for the group (interpretation)

Mr President,

The last GRECO report told us that Portugal is the country which is doing the least for the fight against corruption. Amongst the recommendations drafted by the Council of Europe with a view to guaranteeing the independence of institutions, Portugal ignored 50% of those rules and only partially implemented, only partially, 40% of them. It is also well known that the government has placed high-ranking officials and family members from the main party in important positions. So, President, what do you intend to do so as to ensure that Portugal takes the fight against corruption more seriously?

Mr Rebelo De Sousa, President of Portugal (translation)

That was a very important subject, which I mentioned in my speech and which is very topical.

There have been GRECO recommendations concerning transparency in public life in different areas. As far as the status of judges is concerned –and we will vote– it took time. It has taken time to negotiate with the judiciary, with the Union Associations representing judges, and we will vote next week, before the end of the legislature, on the new status of judges. Similarly, with the Public Prosecutor's Office, which is a very important institution, for the fight against corruption, we will approve today or tomorrow in Parliament the new statute of the Public Prosecutor's Office.

The concerns are precisely as follows: to affirm a rational principle of the independence of judges and courts, to affirm the autonomy of the public prosecutor's office and to strengthen its resources in terms of functional and financial status.

At the same time, there is the problem, which you mentioned, of transparency in political life. This requires other measures, which are addressed, for example, to Members of Parliament or officials in the public administration. It was a long negotiation that took four years.

You know, it is very difficult to debate and vote on this type of measure. I am a suspect, since I have always supported them, before becoming President of the Republic, as a professor of law, but I admit that it is a long and difficult negotiation, on incompatibilities, on the property status of political and administrative leaders, on relations with the private sector, on relations with professional life, but also you, as you mentioned, with regard to family ties or excessive proximity ties that can allow the appearence of clientelism. This is a very important subject because populisms appear very often because of this type of argument. It is easy to say that the system is "rotten" where the system has examples of crises concerning transparency in public life and sanctions for political leaders.

Well, these transparency laws are going to be passed – this is the part of the recommendation that was not followed last year, it took time – before the end of this legislature. I myself – you know, the Head of State has no power to present bills – informally, I have submitted to the government a regulation on the same subject within the Presidency of the Republic. Not necessarily for the President of the Republic, this was not the case, but if it is necessary to do so, of course, there is the law that provides for it, but concerning everyone who revolves around the President of the Republic.

I hope that all these laws are passed, I have to enact them. This is the first time that lobbying, which was not settled in Portugal, neither at the level of the parliament, nor at the level of the government, nor at the level of local or regional authorities. This is a very important step, in my opinion, decisive for the quality of democracy in Portugal.

It is not enough to look back, to say what we have done from a dictatorship to change, to enforce a democratic Constitution, to replace revolutionary military power, to have a strong political system. Democracy must be permanently recreated. That means a lot more quality in our democracy. This means that many of the recommendations of GRECO that have waited until now will be observed, I hope, by the end of July, through the approval and promulgation, if necessary, of laws concerning transparency in public life and also the status of magistrates, judges and the public prosecutor.

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER, Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly (translation)

Thank you.

The last question on behalf of the political groups is from Mrs GORROTXATEGUI, from the United Left.

Ms Miren GORROTXATEGUI, Spain, UEL, Spokesperson for the group (interpretation)

Mr. President, I'd like to welcome you today. You're a source of inspiration for us. You're a head of a country in which progressive forces have improved the economy are fighting inequality and ending policies of austerity.

I'd like to know whether you agree if the fight against climate change must be one of the overarching priorities of the policies which need to be adopted in the European continent.

If so, what do you think could be done to ensure that this issue figures very high in European political agendas, including in this House? Thank you.

Mr Rebelo De Sousa, President of Portugal

I think that democracy is not just personal democracy, political democracy. It's also economic, social and cultural democracy. There is no full democracy if you don't have, of course political rights, personal rights. If you don't have separation of powers, Rule of law.

But you don't have full democracy if you're not worried about social rights, economic rights and cultural rights and if you do not fight against inequalities. Different kinds of discrimination, unfair discrimination at a national level, at a regional level, at a local level, at European level, at a universal level.

We know it's a difficult fight. We are facing it in Portugal with a broad consensus. There is a broad consensus because we feel it's not just a party question. It is really a problem of human dignity. A problem of respect for Human rights. Human rights must be respected by the right-wing and left-wing parties, far right and far left-wing parties. I myself am a centre-right politician coming from the centre-right. The government in Portugal is a left-wing government as you know. We have centre-right and right-wing parties in the opposition that are always very attentive to Human rights and social rights.

The question is how to really convert those social rights into a priority in the European agenda. When sometimes one speaks much more about the budget, about budgetary deficit, of the control of that budget, of external budget, you have mostly a very financial point of view. Most of it. As a head of state I should have it, but I have personally, a mixed position on that subject. I think it's useful and important to have control over budget and public debt because we know that the reality, the financial reality of the world, is what it is. If you don't have it, if you do not fulfil those objectives, we will be facing, as we faced, a serious crisis, and it will be impossible to create the base, a sound base, for strong economic reforms.

But at the same time we cannot forget the appeal not only for social rights concerning the change in technology, in science, but also that huge appeal that some people ignored for a while and still ignore, that is climate change. We cannot deny it. I read very carefully all the declarations by politicians denying that reality, but you cannot deny reality. I just came from Portugal where one is not freezing but where the weather is very cold. Seasons have changed completely. I find myself here as if I was in a tropical country.

But that is just a detail. What is not a detail is what we see being an ocean country. The problem of the oceans. Having islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. What we see. of he effects of climate change. Just to give you an example of realities that go beyond just a financial point of view, that go beyond just a strict economic point of view.

And then you have common people, the citizens. They are people with their needs and their requests. Needs and requests mean social rights. So the European Union for instance should be more attentive to the social pillar, to sustainable development. At the same time, one is very attentive concerning financial and economic situations. One should look at it and not just because not looking at it is losing most of what matters for younger generations. Not just for that reason but for a substantial reason. It matters also for those that are ageing. European societies, not all of them, but many of them are ageing very very quickly, with social problems. Social needs. That means social rights. So I believe and I hope that the European agenda for the next couple of years will introduce, all together – with the traditional way of seeing what is more important for European integration – introduces social concerns, social policies, social commitments and climate change. Not doing it would be for Europe to lose one of the reasons why Europe is so important in the world.

I believe that Europe, the whole of Europe, is important for the world. Because I believe that the the world will be multipolar. It won't depend on one president. Presidents change. Administrations change. Reality is stronger than every day heads of state or governments. In this multipolar world Europe has a role to play that begins in that concept of Human rights, in the broad vision of Human rights. There it's at ease to play that role. It's stronger than every other power. And it is irreplaceable. That's why the Council of Europe is so important: because you must have a place where people try to make bridges and not to cut bridges. We have enough in the world to cut bridges. Every day we have news of walls, disruptions, unilateral decisions. This is a place of understanding. That's why Portugal is really very much committed in supporting the Council of Europe.

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER, Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly (translation)

Thank you, Mr. President.

If you agree to allow more colleagues to speak, I will group the questions together, and take three successive questions before giving you the floor for the answer.

I give the floor to Mr. HOWELL.

Mr John HOWELL, United Kingdom, EC

Thank you, Mr. President. On my recent visit to Lisbon with the Council of Europe, I witnessed the Jewish community employing heavy guards to guard their synagogues. I had always associated Portugal with being a Jewish-friendly place. What does this say about the current rise of anti-Semitism in Europe, and what part does that play in Portugal?

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER, Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly (translation)

Thank you.

The following question was asked by Mr VARDANYAN.

Mr Vladimir VARDANYAN, Armenia, NR

Madam Chairman, Your Excellency. Prevention of genocides is one of the main priorities of Armenian foreign policy. Using this opportunity, I would like to express our gratitude for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide by the Portuguese Parliament. My question is, what could be the possible role of the Council of Europe in the prevention of genocide and crimes against humanity? Thank you.

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER, Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly (translation)

Thank you.

And then there is Mrs MENDES' question.

Ms Ana Catarina MENDES, Portugal, SOC (translation)

Thank you, Madam President.

Mr President, the Portuguese Delegation is honoured by the speech of hope you gave here earlier, at the Council of Europe. However, today we have many threats to democracy here in Europe: hate discourse and Human Rights violations, accompanied by nationalism and the rise of populism.

In this context, what role can Portugal play, within the Council of Europe, to deepen democracy on a daily basis?

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER, Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly (translation)

Mister President, you have the floor.

Mr Rebelo De Sousa, President of Portugal (translation)

So I'll be very brief.

First of all, there is no anti-Semitism in Portugal. We have a tradition today. This was not the case in the past; one of the faults, one of the mistakes in our history has been the persecution of the Jews, it has been recognised, and today we are witnessing the development and enlargement of the Jewish community in Portugal, especially in Porto, to the north, also in Lisbon, less so, and in the interior of the country, where there is a tradition. My family, on behalf of my mother, has a very strong Jewish root. There is no such thing.

When I see anti-Semitism sometimes, I have the same feeling as I do about any discrimination. Any discrimination is unacceptable and unfair and must be combated. First of all, it fights in the field of ideas. Let's start with education, by the youngest, by the children. But any discrimination! We have to do it.

Secondly, it is not the President of Portugal who is going to tell the Council of Europe what to do about a problem that is a problem at the heart of the debates in this Parliamentary Assembly. What I can say is that in all cases where Portugal or a Portuguese body has considered an act as genocide it has condemned the genocide. But here again, the problem is a cultural rather than a political one. We know that history is always written by the winners, never by the defeated. That is why history has been rewritten many times over the centuries and millennia. That being said, I consider that having a principled position on Human rights helps a house like this to deal with issues like the one you mentioned.

Finally, I would like to say this to you, the Portuguese Member of Parliament. Portugal has a tradition as a country of emigration. It is all over the world. Yesterday I had lunch with a very well-known Swedish politician, a good friend, who discovered at the end of lunch that Portugal had played a role – and is playing a role – in the world, which it did not know about. Why? Because we have Portuguese in the United States, Canada, Latin America, Australia, New Zealand, China, India, Africa, everywhere in Africa, everywhere in Europe. This makes us even more responsible in this fight for the values that are essential for the Council of Europe.

We have our faults. I recognized them as Head of state. We should do better. We're doing better now. We'll try to approve, for a change, to match your recommendations. I didn't come here to make the nationalist optimism speech. No. Not at all, since I am very against hyper-nationalism. To fight against hyper-nationalism, xenophobia and Human rights violations, we can count on Portugal. Because we are very open to understanding others, to dialogue with others. We understand dictatorships; we have had dictatorships. We understand persecutions; we have persecuted, we have been persecuted all over the world. We understand wars; we have had wars, we have fought, we fought in the Great War. Last year I was with the French president in northern France: thousands of Portuguese fought for a country they did not know, in France, that they will never know. Their families came to visit this country through this ceremony.

We are in missions of the European Union, missions of the United Nations, several, too, of the Atlantic Alliance, in several countries, with humanitarian objectives and I believe that in this Council of Europe, the Portuguese must always be present, in the committees, the subcommittees.

The North-South centre axis is essential for dialogue. Without this dialogue we will have unsuspected problems for some Europeans. We have to work on the area where we have the presidency, at the Pompidou Group: drug addiction. One thing where we have policies that are very advanced, but successfully.

In the area I know we are discussing a little: there are some who do not understand the diaspora. The diaspora are the Europeans who are everywhere in Europe; the British who are in Portugal, the French who are in Portugal, not only the Portuguese who are in France, the Europeans who are in Europe, but of course the people who are elsewhere and the others who are here. There is such a thing! There is no denying that. We cannot consider that by building walls we will stop the circulation of ideas, science, technology, finance, the economy and people. There is no such thing!

That is why I think you are right: we have a role to play and we must carry it out with even greater vigour.

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER, Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly (translation)

Thank you, Mr. President.

Dear Colleagues, we must now conclude the questions to Mr Marcelo REBELO DE SOUSA, whom I thank once again very warmly for his presence and his answers to our questions.

Dear colleagues, the votes for the election of a Vice-President of the Assembly in respect of the Russian Federation, for two judges of the European Court of Human Rights and for the Secretary General are now suspended. They will resume this afternoon from 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Voting is therefore suspended.

The next sitting will be held this afternoon at 3.30 p.m. with the agenda of this part-session.

The meeting is adjourned.

I wish you an excellent appetite.