Marie Louise

Coleiro Preca

President of Malta

Speech made to the Assembly

Monday, 22 June 2015

Thank you, Madam President, Mr Secretary General, esteemed members of the Parliamentary Assembly, excellencies, ladies and gentlemen. It is an honour and a pleasure for me to address the Parliamentary Assembly. As Malta’s head of State, it is a privilege to be here to mark the 50th anniversary of Malta’s accession to the Council of Europe. It is also a pleasure to be here because I recall, from my long political career, the memorable moments as one of Malta’s delegates to the Parliamentary Assembly.

The Parliamentary Assembly represents the main political movements in the member States of greater Europe; thus, it is representative of the people of Europe. It is a gathering that functions as the symbol, as well as the mechanism, whereby civil society may truly share in the dialogue taking place in the Council of Europe through locally elected representatives. Such wide-ranging regional representation helps to bring to the fore a European reality that advocates human rights, respect for human dignity, upholding the rule of law and democracy, as well as the fundamental freedoms, as the basic expression of its nature and reason for its existence.

Today, I am proud to share with you a sense of Europe as a reality that pertains not only to Europeans and our geographical region, but to all people of goodwill who firmly share the tenets of democracy and freedom, vested in the all-embracing principle of human rights. Indeed, by adopting the European Convention on Human Rights in 1950, Europe was not only making a statement in line with its inherent social and moral values, but reaching a highly sophisticated mechanism that represents a coherent level of adherence with what is most conducive to change, which ultimately led to the establishment of the European Court of Human Rights in 1959. Malta reaffirms its commitments to the principles and measures set forth at Interlaken, Izmir, Brighton and, most recently, Brussels.

“Migration is a global phenomenon that requires global solutions”

I congratulate the outgoing Belgian presidency on successfully promoting the drafting and adoption of the Brussels Declaration during the high-level conference on the implementation of the European Convention on Human Rights, our shared responsibility, in March this year. Malta welcomes the conclusions adopted at the end of the 125th session of the Committee of Ministers on the state of democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Europe, but we are now looking forward to working with the chairmanship of Bosnia and Herzegovina during the next six months. In the current context, it is imperative that the human dimension remains central in our discussions and provides the required thrust in conducting the business of the Council of Europe.

As I already mentioned, I am here to share in the commemoration of a momentous occasion for my country. Soon after gaining independence in 1964, Malta became the 18th full member of the Council of Europe. On 29 April 1965, Malta acceded to the Council of Europe. Malta ratified the European Convention on Human Rights on 23 January 1967 and recognised the right of individual petition on 1 May 1987. That very same year, the European Convention on Human Rights was incorporated into the Maltese civil code. As a result, the rich case law of the Strasbourg Court became part and parcel of our national human rights heritage. I am pleased to note that Malta participates fully and actively in all the various organs, committees, conferences, seminars, workshops and programmes of the Council of Europe.

I will now dwell on some of my concerns, which I believe are also of concern to many of you. Malta fully supports all initiatives taken by the Council of Europe to strengthen its relations with the Mediterranean region and to assist the region in overcoming the significant challenges it faces as it passes through an era of unparalleled changes in the context of migration and issues relating to radicalism and extremism leading to unprecedented forms of terrorism.

Migration is a global phenomenon that requires global solutions. The most recent tragedies at sea have made us realise the risks faced by migrants crossing the Mediterranean. They have also highlighted the challenges faced by countries such as Malta in responding to these emergencies as being at the forefront of migratory pressures. Within the context of the European Union, Malta along with other front-line member States, called for effective action by the European Union in order to prevent further loss of life at sea and to tackle the root causes of migration in co-operation with the countries of origin and transit. The decisions taken at the highest political level in the European Union on 23 April 2015, as well as the set of actions proposed by the Commission, launched the European agenda on migration. These are timely and encouraging steps in the right direction.

While the need to strengthen operations to save lives at sea is now being addressed more intensely, we need at the same time to work further to address the root causes of migration in closer co-operation with countries of origin and transit in the Mediterranean and in Africa. We need to work harder to bring about an effective, comprehensive and holistic migration policy. Conversely, within the context of the Council of Europe, I note with appreciation that in its examination of Parliamentary Assembly Resolution 2059 of 2014, the Committee of Ministers has recognised the mounting pressures on certain Council of Europe member States, including Malta, in coping with the irregular flows of migrants in the Mediterranean sea. Notably, the Committee of Ministers acknowledges that methods of solidarity and responsibility sharing are the way out of this impasse.

Malta believes that an international anti-human smuggling coalition, mandated by the United Nations, should be set up and given a mandate to intervene and to disrupt human traffickers, who are making a profit from the plight of these poor people. Frankly speaking, I personally think that we, as the international community, have been quite passive for much too long in the face of such criminal activity. Now more than ever, passiveness should not be an option. However, we need to keep in mind that no single measure will provide a comprehensive solution to the problem of migration. I reiterate that we need to design a holistic action policy on migration, which is the only way to ensure that people may live decently and enjoy productive lives.

It is said that advocating migrants’ rights is a risky business. I can attest to this, as I often come under attack because I advocate such rights. After all, migrants’ rights are human rights, as embedded in the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and a number of European Union regulations and frameworks that uphold human rights. We need to think about ways in which people in peril can be protected and their human rights upheld. We need to think long term so that future generations are spared these tragedies and the loss of life is transformed into respect for diversity and inclusion at all levels.

Education is one asset we need to use as we facilitate education about different cultures that exist beyond our borders. The more we know about each other’s traditions, customs, culture, religions and so on, the more we can understand each other and live in harmony. Education can empower migrants. If education in specific skills is facilitated, migrants can become more empowered and employable. In consultation with migrants themselves, training can be provided in a variety of languages, professions and skills that will ultimately translate into their having more control over their future. By becoming employed, they will relieve the pressure on host States’ financial assistance. Migrants can become an asset to our economies. Hence, this should be considered not as burden sharing, but as opportunity sharing that will impact positively on our depleting workforce in Europe, and subsequently address our concerns regarding the sustainability of our welfare and pension systems.

Our children today are already benefiting from having migrant schoolmates. They can understand, in perhaps the most innocent and honest ways, that their migrant companions are children like them. This instilled sense of inclusion needs to be highlighted and celebrated throughout education systems so that future generations see diversity as an asset that adds value to the society we live in.

States and international and regional organisations need to fulfil their international legal obligations and do their part in tackling migration. Attention needs to be focused on the push factors that are ultimately driving people away from their homelands. Where there is instability, war and conflict to the detriment of innocent people, States need to take concrete action and facilitate reconciliation and peace.

Where the push factors are economic, the international community needs to do more to facilitate trade and development. If the economic situation improves, there will be more prosperity and therefore less incentive to leave. The assistance given needs to empower these countries economically so that their trade and economies can develop and flourish for the benefit of their people and of our peoples. In this context, the concept of South-South co-operation needs to be supported because it provides a viable path to balancing economic growth and equity that can ultimately promote prosperity for all. Encouraging this kind of co-operation will help us to move towards sustainable development that will in time eradicate the extreme poverty, inequality, malnutrition and overall vulnerability that affects millions of migrants today.

Migration may also be the result of climate change. Given dwindling access to water, the destruction of forests and rural areas and rising sea levels, migrants must be helped to migrate with dignity. Solutions must not only address the effects of migration or just provide hope; they need to be based on intelligent, cohesive policies that are comprehensive and pinned on human rights. The time has come when we should be looking at the evolving reality in terms of shared opportunities, rather than shared burdens.

It is positive to note that the Council of Europe is further developing its policy towards our neighbouring countries – mainly those in North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. The fact that various initiatives have been launched, such as the neighbourhood co-operation instrument, is proof of the added value of the existing relationships between the Council of Europe and those regions. We hope that such co-operation will not only lead to the countries embracing the values upheld by the Council of Europe, but ensure more stability and security within Europe, its neighbourhood and the world in general. Like the Council of Europe, the European Union also closely follows the social, economic and political development of its neighbourhood on its southern and eastern borders through the European Neighbourhood Policy and related programmes, such as the European Endowment for Democracy.

On another note, the recent spate of urban terrorist attacks in Paris, Copenhagen, Tunis and other cities, which have seen the haphazard killing of innocent people, once again highlights the urgent need to devise an adequate and rapid response to counter fully or at least contain this alarming inhuman upsurge. Malta expresses its gratitude to the outgoing Belgian presidency for its initiative focusing on the fight against terrorism announced in the Committee of Ministers meeting in Brussels in May. Malta reiterates its solidarity with other Council of Europe members and neighbours that have been deeply affected by such attacks.

Malta welcomes the adoption of the additional protocol supplementing the Council of Europe Convention on the Prevention of Terrorism, as it complements other international efforts to prevent terrorist groups from recruiting individuals who then seek to travel to join those groups. Unfortunately, Europe has witnessed a marked increase in the number of nationals seeking to join terrorist groups in Iraq and Syria. Why are young people born and bred in our democracies choosing to risk their lives, rather than enjoying the benefits afforded by human rights? What has gone wrong? What has affected their choices in life? Who failed them? Was it our attitudes, prejudice or policies?

We need to ask those questions, we need to analyse and we need to know. We need to address this scourge in the right way. Malta believes that we should not only address the phenomenon through legal instruments, but focus on empowering young people to build on their values and find their scope in life through positive action. We must also note the issues around the return of radicalised fighters, who may have disastrous effects on their home countries.

I am pleased to note that the International Institute for Justice and the Rule of Law, which was established last year in Malta, is providing training to lawmakers, the police, prosecutors, judges, corrections officials and other justice sector stakeholders on how to address terrorism and related transnational criminal activities within a rule of law framework. Given its location, the institute is paying particular attention to supporting countries in transition in the Middle East and North, West and East Africa. Such institutes are crucial in providing training and expertise to States working to develop their justice and security systems and institutions. Such initiatives help contribute to stability and can serve as a regional catalyst in countering terrorism, radicalisation and violent extremism.

Malta remains convinced that effective counter-terrorism strategies and the promotion and protection of human rights need to be reinforced and intrinsically linked with development. Malta believes it is necessary to engage more with our partners in neighbouring regions that are negatively affected by terrorist activity. Addressing security threats emanating from terrorist activity within our borders also requires strong co-operation with countries, particularly those in North Africa and the Gulf. Malta has also been playing its part in taking steps to combat terrorism internationally and domestically. The Money Laundering Bill and the additional protocol to combat terrorism are two of the salient measures taken in that direction.

Terrorism is not only evil and ruthless; very often it is devious and cowardly. It can hit and strike anyone, anytime and anywhere. The more innocent the victim, the greater the terror. The greater the bloodshed, the more terrorism delights in its misguided sense of glory. Our immediate concern, however, is to try to get to the root of this scourge on humanity and human values.

Gender equality is a core value of European societies. Nobody in Europe would argue with that, but the time is ripe to shift the emphasis from mere political rhetoric to tangible action. Sustainable progress on gender equality requires the equal participation of women and men in all spheres of public and private life. Progress has been noted in the recent past in tertiary education, for example, but gender gaps remain in a number of vital areas. Although there are others, I can immediately and easily identify at least three major systemic injustices against women: female under-representation in political bodies and leadership roles; discrimination in the labour market, including different pay scales to the disadvantage of women; and violations of bodily integrity.

First, there are still too few women in positions of leadership, not least in the political arena. For a variety of reasons, whether societal, domestic, traditional or even religious, women do not seem to be represented sufficiently in national parliaments. The imbalance can be significant – as high as two out of three in favour of men. Although things seem to be moving in the right direction, the momentum remains rather slow.

Today, women are appreciably present in the labour market. One direct consequence of that positive development is that women have become increasingly financially independent, but we cannot justify feeling comfortable about that. The employment rate of women in Europe in 2013 stood at 62.6%, as against 74.3% for men. Across European Union countries, labour statistics show that women on average still earn a staggering 16% less than men for performing the same job. Equally odd is the fact that studies show that young women find it harder than young men to enter the labour market. The gender gap in the work force in Malta in 2013 stood at 5.1%, which is the second lowest figure in the European Union.

We should not be satisfied with this reality. Women are more likely than men to take up part-time employment, or even interrupt their careers altogether to care for children or a sick or elderly parent. Even worse is pension inequality, which is to the detriment of women, as their pensions can be as much as 39% lower in certain cases. The bottom line is that we need to keep up the momentum by improving upon existing conditions in the labour market. Equal pay for equal work is a fundamental principle of justice, and the existence of a pay gap is a symptom of structural injustice that should be tackled much more forcefully.

I now come to an issue that is close to my heart and for which I have advocated most loudly. Violence against women stands out as one of the most glaring examples of gender inequality and, without doubt, it is one of the most widespread human rights violations in Europe and beyond. Domestic violence, in particular, is today recognised as a grave human rights issue, and authorities have a duty to take the necessary action to prevent and punish this form of abuse. As studies show, one in three women in the European Union experiences physical or sexual violence at some point in her life. It is simply unacceptable to refrain from taking proper action on the flimsy pretext that such abuses are largely hidden and difficult to prove. If truly so, we should stop and ask ourselves: why are there so few convictions in court?

I believe that the answer lies in the final report published last year by the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Mr Jagland, following the Vienna ministerial meeting in May 2014, when he reaffirmed that: “The right to justice is an important component of gender equality. Several persistent barriers limit women’s opportunities in this area, including fear, shame, lack of awareness of procedures and assistance, economic dependence, concern for children, impact of austerity measures, lack of trust in the justice system, lengthy criminal proceedings, high attrition, corruption and low conviction rates. The Council of Europe works with member States to address such obstacles and facilitate women’s access to the justice system.”

Where possible, Malta has sought to fill the gaps where domestic abuse still persists by adopting prevention, protection, prosecution and co-ordinated policies. In this respect, I am proud to have been responsible, as the then Minister, for starting the parliamentary process for the ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence by presenting the first reading of the relevant Bill in the Maltese Parliament. The Istanbul Convention, as the convention is more popularly referred to, represents the first legal instrument in Europe to provide a comprehensive set of legally binding standards. It is therefore with great satisfaction that I note that our expert from Malta, Dr Marceline Naudi, was elected to the Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence on 4 May 2015.

Gender issues, of course, go much further than violence against women. Gender stereotyping and sexism also hinder gender equality. Sexist attitudes hold back the advancement of women and limit the development of both sexes. It is most encouraging to note that the Council of Europe promotes the training of a broad range of professionals with the aim of raising the general awareness of gender equality and addressing stereotyping.

Like other harmful practices, female genital mutilation locks women and girls into a value system that is both unequal and detrimental to development and harmful to society as a whole. FGM has a profound lifelong impact on health and well-being, and can even lead to death, and Malta is committed to fighting this violation of human rights and children’s rights. As a member of the European Union, Malta has been fighting FGM on various fronts as part of a global strategy to promote gender equality. Malta urges all countries to prohibit and punish FGM and to undertake appropriate action to change the social norms underpinning it by putting it high on the agenda.

That last reflection – on training and general awareness – also applies to LGBTIQ, or lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, intersex and questioning, people and their civil rights. Unfortunately, a number of people in Europe and beyond continue to be stigmatised because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity. Instances still prevail where these individuals are being deprived of their rights to education, health care, housing or work. Some are harassed by the police or left unprotected when attacked by extremists. Also, some of their representative organisations are denied registration or refused a permit to hold peaceful meetings and demonstrations.

We therefore believe there is a need to promote policies and share good practices with respect to LGBTIQ human rights by raising awareness and creating greater recognition on this issue. It is also important to increase the visibility of the Council of Europe standards in this area through the Internet and social media. Malta enacted the Civil Unions Act in April 2014, which grants to same-sex and different-sex couples the possibility of entering into civil unions. Couples in civil unions enjoy the same rights, responsibilities and obligations as married couples, including the right to apply for joint adoption. So far, almost 50 couples have been regulated under this Act.

Furthermore, the protection afforded to trans, genderqueer and intersex persons in Malta is of the highest standard in the world. Indeed, gender identity is included in the provisions stipulating anti-discrimination in the constitution of Malta. Additionally, following the enactment of the Gender Identity, Gender Expression and Sex Characteristics Act in April 2015, all persons in Malta have the right to their gender identity and the right to their bodily integrity and physical autonomy secured by law. This new legislation ensures that all population groups in Malta enjoy equal rights in all aspects of life.

I would like to speak about another important issue that deters human beings from reaching their full potential and often hinders them from their rightful participation in our democracies. Shamefully, poverty is increasing throughout Europe. When I addressed a conference on poverty in Brussels last autumn, I noted that the overall figure for absolute and relative poverty in the European Union alone stood at 80 million. There was hope that the figure would reduce substantially by 2020, according to a European Union strategy meant to combat this scourge, but at that conference, outgoing European Union Commission President Barroso told us in no uncertain terms that, rather than moving forward, Europe had been moving backwards in this regard.

I am under no illusion that poverty can be readily solved, given the society in which we live, the policies that inform it and the economic interests that drive these policies. Poverty is not only a matter of individual, family or community choice or deficiency; it is rooted in political, social and economic injustices. Policymakers are mostly driven by overarching economic strategies that often serve the people who devise them. Nonetheless, these strategies also condition people’s lives, and the various social systems that govern them.

We cannot afford to be complacent on poverty. This terrible situation is not acceptable. A purportedly social Europe needs to intensify its efforts to tackle this situation head on. The issue of the long-term unemployed, and now the issue of the working poor, has been on Europe’s agenda for a while. We need to revisit and revise some of the strategies used to combat those problems and explore their strengths and limitations.

I consider it a matter of urgency for the social partners to come together to discuss the issue of a social wage. Whatever avenue Europe decides to follow, tackling poverty should be at the top of its priorities. Poverty obstructs people from enjoying their rights and freedoms. Poverty impedes people from participating in a democracy. Poverty threatens the rule of law in our countries. Poverty hinders justice.

Malta is also party to various international covenants and has signed numerous conventions that bolster its position in protecting and promoting human rights. The Maltese Government has, over the years, also taken various legislative initiatives aimed at further safeguarding the implementation of particular human rights by instituting new legislation addressing various human rights aspects. Malta will continue to uphold the fundamental values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its subsequent covenants. These values are deeply enshrined in the building blocks of Maltese society, starting in the constitution and going all the way to the various bodies acting for the protection and promotion of human rights in all their facets.

As head of State, I will continue to do my utmost to ensure that Malta will further its implementation of human rights instruments and widen their reach, with a view to ensuring universal respect for and protection of human rights. The constant interaction among the three pillars of the Council of Europe – namely, human rights, democracy and the rule of law – gives coherence and renewed strength to its whole system.

The Council of Europe’s real strength also stems from its exalted goals and working methods, which are a blend of idealism and pragmatism. The achievements of the Council of Europe have been significant. Every now and then, individuals have a chance to take a look back in order to learn from the past. As far as the Council of Europe is concerned, if we were to take a look back we would see how much progress has been made for the good of all. Malta is a vibrant example in this regard, and today I have proudly shared some thoughts with you. May we all succeed in continuing our endeavours to bring about the necessary changes that will continue to make a difference in our peoples’ lives, so as to ensure that Europe will be a truly and effective model that upholds the values and freedoms that give humankind the dignity that all of us deserve, whoever we might be. Thank you.


Thank you very much. Perhaps I may make one comment on your very courageous approach. You are the head of State of a small country with a very strong voice. I thank you again. Colleagues would now like to ask you some questions. I call first Ms Rawert, who will speak on behalf of the Socialist Group.

Ms RAWERT (Germany) (interpretation)

We are all very critical regarding the tragedy that is unfolding in the Mediterranean, and we are all suffering from it. As we know, Europe has many good intentions and would like to see more transfers between small and large countries as well as between north and south and east and west. What results are you expecting from the Europe-Africa Summit to be held in Malta in the autumn in terms of developing sustainable relations between European countries and African partner countries to address issues of migration and refugees?

Ms Coleiro Preca, President of Malta

Thank you for your important question. You are right: we have to be results-driven, otherwise we will continue to pile one report on another and speak at cross-purposes. I would like this summit at least to start the process of establishing a comprehensive, holistic approach on migration. We also need to start to educate our people about the fact that migration is our past and our present and that it will be our future. We cannot continue to handle migration on a management-by-crisis basis. The issue has become such a high priority because of the spectacularly tragic situation in which hundreds of people are drowning in the Mediterranean Sea. It is an issue of concern not only for our region but for the whole international community. I am really looking forward to at least the start of a comprehensive, holistic approach.

Migration is a multifaceted challenge and perhaps there needs to be a change in the discourse. We have talked so much about migrants being a burden on Europe. If we really analyse the situation, however, we see that migrants can be an opportunity and an asset to many of our countries whose work forces are becoming depleted. It could help ease our anxieties about the sustainability of our own welfare and pension systems. I am looking for this summit to provide an opportunity to consider universal human rights. These rights are not the divine right only of European or advanced countries; they are universal rights. They belong to migrants from Africa as well as to migrants fleeing persecution in conflict zones or from war, poverty and even the effects of climate change. I would like to see that approach come out of the meeting.

Ms QUINTANILLA (Spain) (interpretation)

Madam President, I congratulate you: you and your country were one of the first to sign and ratify the Istanbul Convention, which is promoted by the Council of Europe and obliges all countries to fight against gender violence. Nevertheless, the figures on the participation of women in society in your country – in parliament, on company boards and in the world of labour – are still very low compared with those for other member States of the Council of Europe. What measures do you intend to take through your government to ensure that more women are involved at the decision-making level in parliament, company boardrooms and the world of labour? As you said, equality of labour is a fundamental human and social right.

Ms Coleiro Preca, President of Malta

Thank you for your question. A couple of years ago, an initiative was started to bring more women into the labour market. We now have universal nursery schools, accessible – because they are free – to everyone, and there has even been an initiative to provide breakfast at school to facilitate and encourage women joining the labour market. Compared with their European Union counterparts, Maltese women in the labour market were unfortunately often at the end of the classification in this regard; hence these important initiatives were taken to encourage Maltese women to enter the labour market. We have already seen progress. Obviously we have not reached the optimum situation, but the process has been initiated and hopefully, within a few years, all women who would like to be in the labour market will have all the facilities in place to do so. With regard to the pay gap, although, again, it is very low when compared with our European Union counterparts, we obviously need to keep working to bring it down to nothing. If we can manage that, we can be satisfied. In the long run, with regard to women’s representation on public authorities and boards, we have a national commission that seeks to promote equality in Malta, but much, much more needs to be done.

Lady ECCLES (United Kingdom)

This might come as a rather unusual topic, but during their annual journey between Africa and Europe, large numbers of wild birds fly across Malta. My understanding is that shooting to kill these vulnerable birds can be regarded as a sport. Could you please comment on what is being done to protect these remarkable creatures?

Ms Coleiro Preca, President of Malta

There are very strict rules in place, and the executive is very vigilant about anybody breaking those rules. There has been a referendum in Malta, which was won by the people who hunt such birds, albeit obviously within a legal framework. We are very clear about this: there is a clear legal framework, and there is also a vigilant executive on this matter. In fact, the season, which is very short – not more than 15 or 20 days – has been curtailed due to some situations.

Mr AZMANI (Netherlands)

I thank the President of Malta, on behalf of ALDE, for giving her views to this Assembly, especially on the big challenge of migration. As the southern border of the European Union, Malta deals with a high influx of migrants. In the European migration agenda, there is a proposal on the need mechanism on reallocation for only Italy and Greece. What is your – or Malta’s – feeling about that?

Ms Coleiro Preca, President of Malta

Malta is very much active in saving lives with Italy, Greece and now even some other member States of the European Union. Since last year, due to the response of the Mare Nostrum programme run by our Italian colleagues, Malta has not had such a great influx of migrants, but obviously a lot of work has been done to try to save people, so a lot of resources have been dedicated to saving people from the sea. In the event of Malta receiving a big influx of migrants, I am sure that that would be regarded as it has for Italy and Greece.

Mr KOX (Netherlands)

Madam President, as a former member of this Assembly, you are very well aware of the importance of upholding the standards of the European Convention on Human Rights and the authority of our Court. However, we see ever growing pressure from big member States, such as the Russian Federation and the United Kingdom, on the European Convention on Human Rights and the authority of the European Court of Human Rights. We also see that the European Union is now reluctant to do what it has promised and accede to the Convention. What could and should smaller countries such as Malta and my country, the Netherlands, do to protect the European Convention and the authority of the Court? Can I hear some words from you on this very important issue for this Assembly?

Ms Coleiro Preca, President of Malta

I will answer in the way that I understand the question, so I hope I understood it correctly. I think that issues such as human rights should not only be left for groups of countries; each and every country has a direct responsibility to do what it can, because if we disown that responsibility, we are really being irresponsible. I believe that countries such as the Netherlands and Malta still have that individual responsibility to do their utmost, not just in a group – I hope I understood the question correctly, because I am not really sure I did.


We have to be flexible in our procedures, so could you please repeat your question, Mr Kox?

Mr KOX (Netherlands)

The question was this. When some countries are putting pressure on the Convention-based system, would it not be good and wise if other member States acted to protect the Convention and the Court? If we leave it to the big member States to put pressure on the system, the results might be negative, so is there a role for the smaller countries, or should we leave it to the bigger countries?

Ms Coleiro Preca, President of Malta

Yes, of course, there undoubtedly is. I think small countries like ours should lead by example.

Mr DÍAZ TEJERA (Spain) (interpretation)

I thank you, Madam President, for that very inclusive address, because we have heard a discourse whereby millions of people are to be excluded from our prosperous societies. Yours was an inclusive statement, which I very much welcome. You are caught in a very difficult situation. Up until now, people have been talking about these issues in terms of migration and asylum seekers, but until we can change the rules of trade and the balance of power between rich and poor countries, what do you think can be done to bring about this change? We have to build hope in the countries of origin of those people who, in desperation, have to flee and find a way out for themselves and their families.

Ms Coleiro Preca, President of Malta

I believe that each and every one of us has to be courageous. We have to speak up. Talking of migration does not make us popular; I am not very popular in my country when I speak of migration, but I want to speak of realities. If I believe in human rights, democracy and the rule of law, I have to stand up and speak.

We cannot be egoistic about migration because the issue has always existed. Many of the populations of our countries have been migrants. Just looking at our surnames in Malta – and, I am sure, in each and every country in Europe – would reflect a kaleidoscope of nationalities. My father’s name is Portuguese and my husband’s name is Italian, but I am born and bred Maltese. Migration is an issue of the past, present and future. We need to be brave, even if we are not popular. We need to come together, voice realities and educate our people to understand that we cannot build walls around us or close borders so that there is no more migration. Continuing a certain type of discourse that some use would be putting our heads in the sand, like an ostrich.

Migration is not just an issue for the Mediterranean. For example, there is a different sort of migration to Spain. Different flows of migrants go to each and every country of Europe, so it is a multifaceted challenge, but we need to look at it as a challenge and an opportunity. Globalisation has brought all this and will continue to bring all this. Globalisation has resulted in more and more people looking to address their quality of life by moving. Even we Europeans have very qualified young people who go from one country to another to improve their situation and get a better quality of life. The aspirations of young Europeans are the aspirations of any other young person, wherever he or she was born. Migration is not just a national or a regional issue, but an international one. We should be brave and speak about realities to educate our people. We might not be so popular but, in the end, we would be vindicated because the process would be good for them.


Thank you very much. Unfortunately, I have to interrupt the list of speakers because we have to close the sitting. On behalf of us all, I thank you, Madam President, for your very strong commitment and voice. You are a strong voice of a small country. I have one regret – that you left the Assembly. You could have been more than an added value to our work. You gave us courage and we admire your courage. Thank you once again for everything you do, and good luck. We are proud that you are a former member of our Assembly.