President of the Italian Republic

Speech made to the Assembly

Wednesday, 24 April 1991

Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, it is with great pleasure, conscious as I am of the importance of the event and the honour done to me, that I take the floor today before the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. This is a privilege not just for me in person but for Italy, and accordingly it also provides an opportunity to express, on behalf of the Italian nation, the keenest appreciation of the work carried out, in a period of more than forty years since its inception, by the Council of Europe, the first institutional expression of our continent’s aspiration to unity, which has gradually emerged over the years. Tangible progress has been made in recent decades, but this cherished aspiration has still not been completely satisfied.

The Council of Europe remains the widest geographical framework for the vast, ramified process of European unification, but even more it remains the source of a constant stream of new initiatives in every debate about the future of Europe, faithful to the ideals which inspired its founding fathers – from Churchill to Spaak, from Schuman to De Gasperi and Adenauer – and to those values of freedom, democracy and the promotion and protection of human rights which symbolise the very foundations of the European edifice emerging from the ruins of the second world war.

The extraordinary march of progress and the great economic and social achievements of our countries over the last forty years have not exhausted their potential in exclusively material development, narrowly linked to economic circumstances but, on the contrary, have been accompanied by a parallel process of true civic development, thanks to a steadily growing awareness of the vital importance of those ideals, which today form the most remarkable and essential feature of our societies.

An original and invaluable contribution to this process has been made by the work carried out assiduously every day by the Council of Europe through its resolute action in defence of individual rights, developed on the basis of the European Convention on Human Rights, whose fortieth anniversary we solemnly celebrated in November last year in Rome.

This unique and irreplaceable moral inheritance now forms an integral part of the great legacy of European and world culture; however, it is necessary to protect and consolidate it, since it runs the risk in future, if not of being lost, then at least of being treated with more lukewarm enthusiasm and greater indulgence. In fact, the commitment with which the countries of Western Europe have pursued the promotion and protection of human rights, seen mainly as civil and political rights, has hitherto been sustained by the much-proclaimed differences between the West and what was once referred to as “the other Europe”, and particularly by the advantage the West derived from comparisons between the two.

Now that those considerations no longer apply, thanks to the irresistible yearning of all nations for freedom and democracy, our attachment to the cause of human rights must not weaken, even though it has ceased to be an exclusive badge or banner in the jousting between incompatible political systems. On the contrary, it must find new and more constructive ways of achieving the same objectives, in our continent and throughout the world.

This applies not only to us in the countries of Western Europe, but also to the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, which, full of trepidation and hope, are turning once again to the practice of democracy. They must not be tempted to think that their adoption of the market economy will solve all their problems. This will not be a unique panacea for all their ills.

On the contrary, the future holds in store for us so many urgent challenges, old and new: mounting nationalism, a resurgence of regional and ethnic conflicts, prejudice and intolerance, xenophobia and racism. All of these are returning and gaining hold throughout almost all of Europe, projecting their threatening shadows over human destiny, human dignity and human rights.

With the European Convention on Human Rights and with the attention it has always paid to the problem of minorities — and I am thinking in particular of the important work being carried out in this field by the European Commission for Democracy through Law in Venice — the Council of Europe constitutes the necessary focus for concerted joint action which alone can provide an effective means of combating these scourges.

The system set up by the 1950 Convention has reached its full maturity with the recognition by all member states of the right to address individual petitions to the European Commission of Human Rights and the compulsory jurisdiction of the Court, and with the establishment of an impressive body of case-law by the organs of the Convention. Consequently, the individual has really been placed at the centre of the system, and rightly so.

However, we must also recognise that the wonderful European system for the protection of human rights is mainly intended to protect civil and political rights, whereas there is still a long way to go in the field of economic, social and cultural rights. The European Social Charter, signed in Turin on 18 October 1961, is an instrument which certainly has many merits, but much remains to be done to relaunch the activities aimed at promoting the protection of social rights. All must lend their support to this relaunch, which could be given a boost in October of this year on the occasion of the celebrations, appropriately enough in Turin itself, to mark the Social Charter’s thirtieth anniversary.

This task is all the more urgent and essential now that we are being joined by the young democracies of Central and Eastern Europe, whose newly won civil and political freedom would have very fragile foundations if it was not accompanied by guarantees of social justice, heralding the necessary economic development.

Although it is true that in recent decades the priority of asserting economic and social justice was proclaimed in a vain attempt to hide violations of civil and political freedoms, restoration of these freedoms is not sufficient to dispense with the need to tackle the problems caused by the bankruptcy of centralised, sterile, bureaucratic systems both at the political and civil level and at the economic level.

Freedom does not flourish in poverty and despair, nor does purely formal liberalism which ignores the concerns of the weakest have any moral value. That is why, today above all, countries with a more long- established and consolidated tradition of freedom and tolerance, such as the countries of Western Europe, must show wisdom and humility when listening to the demands of those who, after making their way 4th Sitting through a long dark tunnel, are turning their faces to the bright sunlight of democracy. Freedom is not license. Freedom is not indifference for those who are less rich, less prosperous, or less well endowed than those who reached the finishing line first.

Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, one of the founding fathers of Europe, Jean Monnet, used to say “Without men nothing is possible, without institutions nothing lasts”.

It was that principle which inspired the states of Western Europe when, more than thirty years ago, they established forms of cooperation and set in motion processes of integration intended to reinforce a comprehensive framework of stability, cooperation and enhancement of international institutions.

The Council of Europe is one of those institutions, and as such it is now called upon to play an essential role not only in bringing the peoples and countries of the East closer to Western Europe and its values, but also more generally in establishing a dense, interconnected network of agreements, intended to reinforce co-operative links between all the countries of Europe.

I would like to emphasise, as the head of state of a country which has always firmly and unwaveringly believed in the importance of a united and mutually supportive Europe, the need to enhance the role of this institution, being well aware that it is one of the many pieces which go to make up the complex and interconnected mosaic of Europe.

There is no doubt that for Italy, engaged together with its partners in a more ambitious project of economic and political integration, the European Community is an absolute priority, and its reinforcement is a primary objective of our endeavours, supported not only by all political forces but also by economic and social forces and a very large majority of the public.

Today more than ever, we find ourselves committed to a new stage of intensifying and speeding up the process of integration within the Community, and we hope that the two intergovernmental conferences, on economic and monetary union and on political union, will make a decisive contribution not only by extending the Community’s field of action but also by steering an authentically supranational entity into a decisive change of direction.

We are all collectively committed to this enterprise, though with different degrees of emphasis, convinced as we are of the inevitability of further progress in a movement which has become an essential point of reference for an ever-growing number of countries.

However, we are looking to the strengthening of the Community as an integral part of a wider, more comprehensive redefinition of balances and relations in post-communist Europe. The European Community not only cannot and must not turn in on itself, but must form one of the pillars, no doubt the central pillar – and we say this not with arrogance but with a responsible acknowledgement of the facts – around which the new common European home will be built.

Together with NATO and the CSCE, the Council of Europe also forms, in our view, an important part of this new balancing system, which will represent for our continent and the whole world a new guarantee of peace, stability and civilised, constructive coexistence between peoples.

In the new situation miraculously created by the stirring, epoch-making events of the past few years, Europe has a historic task to perform; for this our countries will have to deploy considerable initiative, which itself requires imagination and faith, and determine what needs to be done to sustain the reform process in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe.

Economic and technological aid are certainly necessary, and steps are already being taken in this direction under an “open doors” policy. It is, however, the political and legal structures which constitute the true foundation of democratic institutions. The countries of Western Europe, with their rich, long-standing heritage, must therefore co-operate with those of Central and Eastern Europe to enable the glorious traditions of our common history to revive and flourish there.

I am convinced that, alongside the European Community and the CSCE, the Council of Europe has a vitally important part to play in the process of European integration as a “bridge” opening the way to an initial version of the “common European home”, within which new forms of co-operation will be possible.

The Council of Europe’s new pan-European role is evidenced by the recent admission of Hungary and of the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic, which we have welcomed most warmly. We hope that these admissions can soon be followed by that of other countries, first Poland, and then Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and Romania. Appropriate and increasing forms of co-operation will also be developed with the Soviet Union and, as democratisation there advances, with Albania.

In the context of the new architecture of Europe, all existing institutions will have to be used to the full and their activities increasingly coordinated.

I therefore believe that the steps already taken to promote dialogue, including political dialogue between the Council of Europe and the European Community, and achieve effective complementarity between the two institutions will be reinforced.

Furthermore, in the major operation of drawing up a new international code of conduct based on respect for fundamental freedoms, the Council of Europe’s valuable experience and knowledge could be of vital importance. The Council of Europe is in fact, as was acknowledged in the Paris Charter, the institution to which the CSCE countries may most usefully refer for the purposes both of realising human rights and fundamental freedoms and of establishing a parliamentary dimension for the Thirty-five.

Among other particularly innovatory forms of intra-European co-operation, I would particularly like to mention the growing importance of regional integration models, a development which the Council of Europe finds congenial. In fact, with the new Europe being seen as a subtle balance between many forms of diversity – as the Secretary General, Mrs Lalumière put it – it has been suggested that the Council of Europe could become the focus for these varied but complementary realities, and so make an important contribution to uniting the peoples of Europe. To this end, significant strengthening of the bond between the Council and the Assembly of European regions could be valuable.

The ending of East-West confrontation has not – as events in the Gulf have shown – removed the threats to peace, and these threats can be overcome only in a new framework of international relations based on rigorous observance of the principles of the United Nations and on full compliance with the rules of international legality.

In common with others, the Council of Europe condemned Iraq’s attack on Kuwait.

Now that the crisis has passed its peak, we must make sure we learn the lessons of those dramatic events.

In particular, the prestige and authority acquired by the United Nations by military means must be used appropriately to facilitate rapid progress towards lasting peace and stability not only in the Gulf but also in regions bordering on it.

But, above all, steps must be taken to develop Europe’s natural role as a fully open-minded and receptive partner in the shaping in the Middle East of conditions for peace, stability and development in a framework of regional economic solidarity guaranteeing the dignity and security of all the peoples in the area.

The disastrous consequences of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait cannot and must not undermine the bonds of friendship and co-operation which exist between Europe, the southern shore of the Mediterranean and the Arab world in general. Nor must there be any further evasion of a solution to the still unresolved Palestine problem, which has for years been a source of tension and concern in an area close to us and to which a lasting and fair solution based on the relevant Security Council resolutions should be found.

The trend in the international situation is towards growing integration and world-wide cooperation in an ever more interdependent world.

In this context, I am convinced that the Council of Europe has a particularly important role to play in the process of European integration as the pivotal institution between the Europe of the Community, the members of the European Free Trade Association and the countries of Central and Eastern Europe.

The Council of Europe and its Parliamentary Assembly can and must be a fundamental reference point for any truly innovatory concept of Europe and for our efforts to make available to the new democracies in Central and Eastern Europe, in the course of fertile and mutually enriching exchanges, the experience which Western societies have acquired in the fields of human rights and social rights, fields which are vital for the harmonious growth of democracy illuminated by freedom.

Thus will we ultimately be able to come closer to what Kant regarded as the ideal condition for everlasting peace, when we warned that the violation of a right in any one part of the world should be regarded as a violation in every other part of the world too. Thus will we ultimately be able to give Europe a new role; it will cease to be simply a point of arrival and become too a driving force in a process which should lead us to the ideal goal of a vast world-wide community based on the rule of law. Thus will we be able fully to restore this glorious continent of Europe to what Mazzini called its “torch-bearing role”, a role which it has long performed and which entails offering to humanity as a whole the great ideas which have flowered in it and turning them into universally applicable lessons. (Loud applause)