President of the Federal Republic of Germany

Speech made to the Assembly

Monday, 22 April 2013

Mr President, distinguished members, Secretary General, your excellencies and distinguished guests, many thanks for your very warm welcome. You have been so kind as to invite me here and to grant me all the latitude that any speaker could wish for. Today, we are not bound by a strict parliamentary protocol that would restrict what I might discuss: there is no set topic, and there is no pre-determined, limited freedom of negotiation, set before the first sentence is uttered. It is a tremendous privilege to be able to speak freely and for one such as me, given my age and my origins, it is indeed an historic gift. I wish to use that gift of speaking freely to thank you, members and partners of the Council of Europe, for your work.

I also wish to fortify you for politically uncomfortable discussions. I am concerned by the following question: how can we help this precious, but sadly often under-estimated, institution to emerge from the shadow of the European Union and be appreciated for its true worth? After those thanks, I wish to explain that I have come as a friend and advocate of the Council of Europe. I believe that the Council of Europe and its Parliamentary Assembly deserve greater attention and greater support, so that you may discharge your remit to the full. I stand here as your ally.

My visit to Strasbourg has, of course, an overarching theme – human rights – which is why I wish to address one of my chief concerns at the outset. We continue to need the Council of Europe – we need it more than ever – as a critical forum for human rights. I stand before you because human trafficking and forced prostitution must stop. Members of opposition groups should not have to fear persecution or to fear even for their lives. People should not face discrimination, whatever the reason.

"We should never seek to economise on human rights"

May I begin by thanking you for your achievements? I speak to this body, the oldest political organisation of Europe, as the President of Germany. The Council of Europe came into being as a reaction to two dreadful wars that claimed the lives of millions of people and split the continent for almost half a century. Article 1 of the Statute of the Council of Europe states: “The aim of the Council of Europe is to achieve a greater unity between its members”. Ladies and gentlemen, as you may imagine, or as you may know, that was tremendously significant in 1949. There was a tremendous longing for peace. It took courage to work together and co-operate politically, and the idea was difficult to get across then: bringing together the peoples of Europe more closely in economic, social and cultural terms.

The Council of Europe embodied the vision of a political Europe way before the European Union developed into a formal political community through economic interdependence and the adoption of a common currency. The Council of Europe has always been in development, and it held a particularly strong attraction at the end of the Cold War. Many people, including me, remember that with deep gratitude.

Here in this very Chamber, in the summer of 1989, Mikhail Gorbachev was the special guest, and he set out at the lectern his idea of a common European house as an aspiration for the whole continent. That was three months before Hungary opened its borders and four months before the fall of the Berlin Wall. History has recognised that Gorbachev was right on that point. Ideological opponents became partners. Over a good 10 years, with two exceptions, all the former communist States of Europe joined this Organisation. Human rights, democracy and the rule of law are therefore a paradigm for central and eastern European States.

Today, more than 800 million citizens from 47 countries are represented in the Council of Europe. There can be no doubt that the Council of Europe is the largest house that we have ever built on this continent. It is distinguished from all other European institutions by virtue of that pan-European character. The Council of Europe expands our view to the whole continent and is the guardian of our values and founding principles far beyond the borders of the European Union. Therefore, it is indeed an honour to be with you today.

As I said, there are 47 member States – a large and multifarious group. The Council of Europe constitutes a community from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from the Northern Cape to the Bosphorus, but it is perceived differently from different points of the compass, used in differing ways and often valued in differing fashions. The western European public usually discuss European issues in relation to the institutions of the European Union and very rarely discuss the Council of Europe. In the east of our continent and in the Mediterranean area, the Council of Europe has and still enjoys a much stronger significance.

I remember very well that during communist times the Council of Europe was, in addition to the United Nations, an important beacon for human rights activists and opposition groups. Later, it afforded support in building the new national democracies of central, eastern and south-eastern Europe. It is easy for me to act as an advocate for an institution with that history and that political and ethical basis. In addition to that, I also put my shoulder to the wheel and fought alongside you. Before I look to the future, I emphasise that it is important to understand our own identity and how we build on that going forward. For me, that is linked to the expectations that I have of the Council of Europe.

Rights and freedoms on paper do not suffice; they must be guaranteed in practice. Accession to the Council of Europe has always been voluntary; however, the commitment made at the moment of accession must be lasting and reliable. Council of Europe members commit themselves to the values and legal standards of the Council of Europe. In addition to the European Convention on Human Rights, we have a further 211 conventions – an impressive number. Member States are pledged to transpose those conventions into their national legal order as swiftly as possible. National bodies may not undermine that shared canon of values.

That applies in particular to the guarantees offered by the European Convention on Human Rights. In my view, the credibility of the Convention relies on our viewing it and dealing with it in practice as a shared asset. I recently signed legislation that became necessary because the European Court of Human Rights had found Germany to be in breach of human rights standards, and it was necessary to guarantee that national law and the actions of public bodies were human rights-compliant. All 47 member States have to draw the relevant consequences from decisions of the European Court of Human Rights.

I emphasise these perhaps obvious points because, prior to 1989, my experience, living in the east, was of a State that did not consider itself bound by its own law or by international conventions. This was an era when the letter of the law bore no relation to reality. Therefore, I particularly value the fact that we now enjoy a Europe where, in addition to a national legal area, there is a European area. That reduces the danger of abuses of fundamental rights going unrecognised or being dismissed. We are able to address that which is of concern to us.

I was particularly concerned last year when the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture reported ill-treatment in European prisons. I am always concerned when agreed standards remain a dead letter or are consigned to the bin because arbitrary behaviour, corruption and cover-up prove stronger than the courageous Council of Europe or NGO voices of admonishment.

We need to insist tirelessly on the values of human rights, democracy and the rule of law; otherwise we will lose credibility and be reduced to an empty husk. We need to engage in regular self-affirmation in each country, and we should not be prevented from so doing by a government. It is a good thing that the Council of Europe’s monitoring reports are consulted and cited, and that the work of the Venice Commission attracts so much interest. That helps all those who stand up for the implementation of democracy, the rule of law and human rights. I know that the Council of Europe, like many other institutions, is under pressure to make savings. Allow me to make a minimum demand: we should never seek to make savings at the expense of offering practical help to ensure respect for human rights.

That brings me to my second point. Politics is always about human rights policies. Fortunately, the Cold War is now behind us, and yet we are astonished and afraid when we see that there is still a continuation of an old conflict, albeit in nuanced form. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, Germany and other western European countries found it rather hard to speak out openly about human rights violations in the eastern part of Europe. Indeed, they were afraid that by speaking out they would jeopardise the policy of change through rapprochement. In the meantime of course – we all witnessed this – the communist regimes had to yield. States of western, central and eastern Europe now all abide by the same consensus of democratic values. Having said that, when it comes to dealing with human rights breaches, there is still a fair amount of controversy, as there was in the past.

Some will argue, as they did back then, that defending human rights could in some way contradict a successful implementation of our political and economic interests. Let me just say one thing in response to that: the argument according to which good economic co-operation would necessitate compromises on human rights issues is even less convincing today than it was back then. After all, a person will decide to invest if they feel that there is certainty in planning and a stable legal framework. Around the world, reliability is a crucial factor for business. We are at a time of globalisation, when States are becoming more and more dependent on one another. If you look at the current developments in economic relations here on the continent of Europe, you will find that being critical and having a critical discourse about human rights in no way constitute an obstacle to increasing trade.

Most importantly, it should be remembered that member States of the Council of Europe have agreed to a clear framework of co-operation. In practice, that means that human rights are – I will employ the jargon used by business people – simply non-negotiable. We want to ensure that all those who enforce the rights that have been anchored on paper, in whatever country they are in, are not abandoned; we cannot abandon them.

For my generation, the key word was Helsinki – that was what saved us. For many civil rights activists today, particularly in societies that are undergoing transformation, the key words are the European Convention on Human Rights. If a member State of the Council of Europe violates its rules, bearing in mind that that member State had signed up to those rules when it joined the Organisation, that violation cannot go unmentioned or unpunished. We need to feel that we are entitled to intervene; indeed, it is our duty to intervene. We, as Europeans, have an obligation to do so on the basis of the Convention.

We also have an obligation as citizens of the world, on the basis of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Human rights, and the responsibility for them, are universal and indivisible. This February, I attended a session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva as a guest. I met delegates from all over the world. That audience represented an incredible diversity in background and experience, and faced with them I was reminded that our human rights achievements after the Second World War were an immense civilising feat. At that time, we were gazing into the deepest human abyss, which forced us to open our eyes to what is essential. The international community of all those who signed up to human rights was born not primarily out of ideological battles, but out of existential crises. We realised that if human beings lost their rights, we would lose everything: mutual respect, dignity, our lives and our future.

I sincerely hope that in all parts of the world – many will say that human rights constitute western values, but I hope in the western world as well – we will look upon human rights as a catalogue of rights, which would mean that human rights find their sources in all parts of the world and on all continents, and that their imperatives prevail worldwide. After all, human rights are the most important global common good. Human rights are innate and inalienable, and they apply to everyone. They are premised on the irrefutable fact that all human beings, because they are human beings, are equal, whatever cultural, religious, social or other differences we may have between us. Those who strengthen human rights strengthen humanity as a whole.

My third point is that implementing human rights is a standing item on our agenda and an ongoing task. I am aware that such matters have political consequences and that societal change requires time, particularly in countries undergoing transformation. After all, those countries have a completely different political and historical background compared with other countries in Europe that have had democracies for decades if not for centuries.

That being said, sometimes the time factor may surprise us all. Look at what happened in the heart of Europe. Look at how rapidly change took place. It was quicker and more successful than some of us may have thought initially. I have been talking to the Polish President, Bronisław Komorowski, about our expectations, if not 50 years ago, then 25 years ago, vis-à-vis Europe and what has happened in the meantime. Comparing the two, we have every reason to believe in the creative power of our European societies, more so than what some politicians are wont to do.

We cannot have double standards or a two-tier system on human rights in Europe. We cannot have any differentiation in treatment between member States. The Council of Europe examines issues of human rights, democracy and the rule of law and applies the same standards across the East and the West. The Council of Europe will of course take into account the complexities of each situation, but it will uphold the same standards for all. I want to thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for that work.

One of the many tasks that we are confronted with at the moment, which is of great interest to us, is the fight against racism and intolerance. The Council of Europe set up a committee to deal with that in 1993, at a time when, even in my own country of Germany and my own hometown of Rostock, there were, unfortunately, horrific racist riots and clashes. I was shocked to experience such events. A little later, a series of murders was carried out by an extremist right-wing organisation. The solving of those crimes still keeps us on tenterhooks in Germany.

Currently throughout Europe we are experiencing discrimination and violence in many forms. Some majorities discriminate against minorities, while there are minorities who discriminate against majorities or against other minorities. There is a particularly relevant issue: the exclusion of Sinti and Roma people. I welcome the fact that the Council of Europe has used that topic for a public relations campaign that speaks out against all forms of discrimination. The campaign is entitled “Dosta!”, which means “Enough!”. We need more such campaigns.

A big poster campaign is under way in Germany. For example, one poster has a picture of a famous actress, with the slogan, “If you’ve got something against Muslims, I am a Muslim.” Another poster has a prominent politician, with the slogan, “If you’ve got something against gay people, I am gay.” I do not know whether such activities can in future be rolled out in all member States of the Council of Europe. Perhaps we could have a co-ordinated campaign. That would be a positive common learning process that leads us to the same goal. The learning curve will impact on all our personal experiences and on the development of our societies.

I have been and continue to be filled with optimism when I look at the young generations in central and eastern Europe. They are growing up with a new self-image and a new identity, which they have turned into a motivation for political demands. Some young human rights activists are in the public gallery today. They know what they want and, as committed citizens, they also know who can come to their help in achieving that: the Council of Europe. Civil society needs a dependable reference or contact point where people can seek a hearing, lodge their complaints, and seek assistance and support.

We should not forget two countries in particular when talking about defending civil rights. They are on the continent but are not yet members of the Council of Europe. I hope that the domestic political situation in Belarus will change to such an extent that we can start seriously to talk about the accession of Belarus. That could happen, for instance, if the death penalty were abolished, if political prisoners were released from detention and, indeed, if democratic reforms took place in that country. That would be wonderful.

Then we have Kosovo, where the political situation is somewhat different. It is very positive that Kosovo and Serbia have recently reached an historic and unprecedented agreement. Of course, the Parliamentary Assembly has been very active. You have worked on this issue, particularly since the beginning of this year, and we know from your work that more of an effort needs to be made by Kosovo in fighting corruption and organised crime, but integration into the international community will provide an important impetus for that country’s future development. That is why I would very much like all member States of the Council of Europe to recognise Kosovo as a State. People in Kosovo and in Belarus also have the right to take part in our community of values within the Council of Europe. They are entitled to the protection of their human rights, which should prevail throughout the whole of Europe, and they should be entitled to lodge complaints before the European Court of Human Rights.

The European Court of Human Rights is often the last hope for those who are desperate and dispossessed, those who have been deprived of their rights and those whose human rights have been violated. The number of cases pending before the Court is constantly on the increase. We need to make sure that the Court can be reformed, to ensure that it does not become a victim of its own success because of the sheer volume of its enormous case load. The Court needs to be functional and it needs to save those who protest against human rights violations and who risk so much – sometimes even their lives. One of them is in the audience today.

Dear champions of human rights, ladies and gentlemen, honourable representatives of European non-governmental organisations, I turn to you because I would like to take this opportunity to speak of my great respect for you. I shall meet some of you personally a little later, but I would like to address myself to all of you who are here and all those who would like to be here. I would like to thank you. I think that I can safely say that, without your courage, some of the promises made by the Council of Europe would be only promises on paper. Without your vehement, loud and clear voices, democracy would not survive. Indeed, without your solidarity, which you show in such practical terms and which you will continue to show in the future, our demands for universal and indivisible human rights would remain just demands; they would not be a tangible reality for every human being here.

Therefore, ladies and gentlemen, I call on you to defend humanity and to make the Council of Europe the best possible organisation that it can be. Internally, it needs to be a strong community within Europe. Despite all differences, it needs to generate and strengthen cohesion within its ranks. Vis-à-vis the outside world, we should be a convincing example of living democracy, the binding rule of law and universal human rights. Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT (interpretation)

Thank you very much indeed, Mr President, for a fine speech, which moved many members of the Assembly, who interrupted you with their applause, and which will constitute a marker and stand out as one of the great statements made here in the Chamber that we will turn to in the future.

We have a number of speakers on the list. I suggest that we take them in groups of three or four. They have 30 seconds to ask their questions. I call Mr Volontè, on behalf of the Group of the European People’s Party.

Mr VOLONTÈ (Italy) (interpretation)

I, too, would like to very much thank Mr Gauck for what he stands for and his statement. We have been touched by his words. Human rights are, indeed, for us all, but they are a shared responsibility, and the Council of Europe should be open to all. We are talking about the European spirit of not only the 27, but Europe as a whole. We have often forgotten to cast our minds forward to the future. How can we overcome the anti-European sentiment that seems to be rife in Europe today?

Lord ANDERSON (United Kingdom) (interpretation)

I thank you very much, Mr Gauck, and welcome you. Given your personal biography, I think that you are a very positive example. You stand for what is good in Germany. Unfortunately, Germany has a bad press in a number of European countries today. Are you concerned about that? How do you think that we can improve the image that Germany enjoys today?

Ms BRASSEUR (Luxembourg) (interpretation)

I thank you very much indeed, Mr Gauck, for the commitment that you have shown to the Council of Europe and for your remarkable statement here this morning. My question is about religious freedom. We have differing religions. Many people here are of no particular religion. As a theologian, not as the President of the Federal Republic, how do you view the co-existence of various religions here in Europe?

Mr Gauck, President of the Federal Republic of Germany (interpretation)

Mr Volontè, it is somewhat alarming for older Europeans that we seem to have reverted to a previous mindset. Of course, that is all bound up with the financial and monetary difficulties that weigh heavily on Europe today. The joy that we have seen in the development and expansion of Europe seems to have been put to one side. We can come up with all manner of rational arguments about that. Economists are giving all sorts of advice and talking about concepts that were very much in vogue before monetary union. We could consider what is detrimental to the economy in those terms, but the rational element is just one part of the debate. We need to adduce the right kind of argument, but we need a stronger sense of cohesion in Europe.

I say that in the knowledge that those who are contributing to the debate in Europe portray Germany as wanting to exercise a dominant position. That is wrong. Germany certainly does not seek to do that, but one needs a certain empathy in putting across one’s position, and that must be met with a certain empathy, too. We need greater sensitivity about the differing political circumstances that prevail in different parts of Europe. We must be able to talk about our differences with one another, so that we can strengthen what we have in common. We cannot do that if we constantly ask Europe to explain itself. We need to consider and hold on to what members of the Council of Europe have contributed to the European Union. We need to do the kind of things that I am doing in my role as President of the Federal Republic.

Lord Anderson, the perception of Germany worldwide is often like that of America – to some extent, being the most economically successful power in Europe lends itself to that. We are not talking about the Germany of the past, however, as it no longer exists. We are talking not about a Kaiser Wilhelm-style Germany, but about a European Germany. Over the years, there has been a sense of continuity in the European ideal and we need to get that across to our European partners. I am a little concerned that the old clichés are being heated up and served out once again, despite the reality of today’s Germany, and we must do something about that.

I am channelling all my energies into those efforts. There is much to do, particularly in translation. Some countries are based on different economic concepts – those in the north compared with those in the south, for example – and work is taking place to translate those concepts. Some ideas about readiness for reform and for economic reform could serve us all, so we need to find the right language. We do not need to lecture anyone as though they were a child who knew nothing. We need to find a common language to convey those ideas.

Ms Brasseur talked about cohesion and co-existence. We can achieve those aims if we are sure of our own values. I sometimes have the impression that some groups in society tend to be intolerant because they are less sure of their own identity and that is why they need to define others as very “other”. People who are particularly attached to their own religion seem to me to be ready to accept differences. When we are sure of our own identities, we can afford to live together peacefully. It is important that we acknowledge the rights of others even though they are different and that form of tolerance is born of conscience of one’s values. A twofold strategy should be employed when talking about religious tolerance. We need to be confident in and aware of our values while paying attention to the principle of diversity. Of course, cohesion is based on diversity, but if diversity is conceived to be positive we will not discriminate. Of course, there are those who wilfully wish to discriminate and misunderstand, but we need to contest and fight that.


Research by the Amadeu Antonio Foundation shows that 187 fatalities resulted from right-wing extremist violence in Germany between 1990 and 2005. We are particularly concerned by the neo-Nazi NSU killings in Germany that claimed the lives of eight Turkish small shop owners and one Greek small shop owner. What policies and strategies will Germany implement to protect its minorities from racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia and effectively to combat extreme far-right racist political parties as well as ideologies?


Thank you for your statement, Mr President. You spoke of human rights, which are not to be negotiated or debated. Last month, a report from the Council of Europe declared that extremism is a threat to democracy and human rights. Can we do anything without changing our policy, which is based on a strong Europe and a strong euro, when there is so much inequality in the European Union?

Mr REIMANN (Switzerland)

My question is more or less identical to that asked by my Italian colleague, Mr Volontè. As my country is a direct neighbour of Germany, I am concerned about the new anti-German movement and the unfortunate analogies drawn between today’s Germany and that of the long-distant past, so I thank you for your clear words in answer to that question.

Mr Gauck, President of the Federal Republic of Germany (interpretation)

In my address, I did not wish to gloss over the fact that we have had a dreadful experience in Germany. A far-right group was responsible for a series of murders some 10 years ago and people were simply cut down for no obvious reason. Indeed, one victim was a German police officer who was shot by the trio concerned. A committee of inquiry of the German Bundestag has determined that the problem was not an omission in the legal order of things but the fact that the authorities in the Länder and at federal level failed to co-operate fully. The Länder have responsibilities for constitutional protection, too. MPs have said that although we have federalism, it should not be allowed to operate to the detriment of the country. A federal commission, with representation from the Länder, will examine the matter and propose solutions. We wonder whether the authorities paid sufficient attention to the far-right attacks, and Germany has been criticised – there is also a lively debate on the matter in Germany. I am not trying merely to allay your fears, but you must appreciate that we Germans are so repelled by the Nazi terror regime that we will never tolerate people who espouse those values achieving any established position in the country.

Some people think that certain associations should be outlawed. That is not appropriate, but there are many active citizens in Germany and we have a double front against such extremists, in that we have the State, its institutions and its legal order – indeed, the trial is about to begin – and we have a very active citizenry. When there are far-right demonstrations, counter-demonstrations are run alongside by groups of active citizens numbering 10 or 20 times the number of participants. Outlawing political parties and associations is controversial in Germany, because it is felt that people will meet in the shadows and be even more difficult to track if they are formally repressed.

I was unable to follow everything that was said, but we have recognised extremism as a threat and Germany does not treat extremists with kid gloves. We take a harsh position on extremism and, together with the other members of the European Union, we are combating the enemies of our democracy. We will allow them no quarter and they will not get into the German Parliament, irrespective of whether they are outlawed as a political party.

There were some other points regarding extremism that I cannot address now in sequence but if you can give me the details of your question in writing I should be able to answer it more satisfactorily later.

Ms LĪBIŅA-EGNERE (Latvia) (interpretation)

Germany is a key player in the European Union and in ensuring the protection of fundamental rights in Europe. In your address you reminded us of our shared common values of freedom and tolerance and of the fact that we should never lose sight of those values. How do you see the challenges facing Europe in terms of these values? There are problems in the eurozone and in the European Union. Do you think that the Council of Europe can help resolve those challenges?

Ms ZIMMERMANN (France) (interpretation)

Mr President, in your statement on Europe on 22 February at Schloss Bellevue you advocated a single language for Europe, such as English. As a member of this Assembly and as a member of parliament I believe that such a proposal goes against the Council of Europe’s efforts to preserve the teaching of languages other than English and its efforts to promote linguistic and cultural diversity. Will you clarify Germany’s position on this very important topic?

Mr TOSHEV (Bulgaria)

Mr President, you are well aware of the social divisions in central and eastern Europe that are a result of the lack of justice in addressing crimes committed by former communist regimes. Many of those who are responsible for those crimes were never brought before the courts because of the prescription periods. As the President of Germany, are you committed to legislating at European level to eliminate the prescription periods covering the investigation and prosecution of the people from those regimes who perpetrated these crimes?

Mr Gauck, President of the Federal Republic of Germany (interpretation)

On the first question, I tried in my address to emphasise one specific point – that the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights are crucial in ensuring the protection of human rights in countries that are undergoing transition. That is why this Organisation has such a special role to play compared with that of the European Union; it is what sets you apart. Discussing political values and ensuring that these principles can be appealed before a court in countries undergoing transition represents one of the most important tasks of the Assembly and of the Council of Europe as a whole. In my address I mentioned a “House of Europe”. I did so because I believe that, for many people, signing the European Convention and, indeed, the United Nations convention is equivalent to signing up to a project. In fact, however, it is completely different. We are talking about signing up to treaties and to something that will have immediate legal effect from the moment of signature. There is a sort of contradiction here. We need to be patient and act collegiately. We also need to discuss it with our fellow member states. Some will say that we need more time to anchor the rule of law and to ensure that the state is governed by the rule of law, but I disagree. We have the rule of law and it is inalienable. That is my focus.

Ms Zimmermann asked about the use of English. I would love it if everyone throughout Europe could speak German and we could all understand each other in German but I am a realist – I know that for the next 250 years or so, that will probably not be the case. I would simply take a look around and ask: what is the language most used by those who want to communicate? People from the former eastern bloc – the Poles, Czechs, Germans from the eastern part of Germany, Romanians and Bulgarians – used to have to learn Russian, but when we get together we do not revert to our rusty Russian, we use English. English has become the lingua franca. This is a result of developments in science, technology, the banking sector and in economics as a whole. English is the preferred language. French speakers and French-speaking countries do not like that at all, and I can understand that, but it seems to me that the most straightforward solution is to use English. I made that point not because I wanted to appeal to people in the United Kingdom and encourage them to stay within Europe but for a perfectly rational reason. Incidentally, the German language and culture is not something that I want to give up on – absolutely not. We want to harness what we have because it is very special. It is our culture and we want to nurture it. We also want to create a basis for better communication in future.

There was an interesting question about many of the post-communist countries. It is true that many of the crimes that were committed are statute-barred. Perhaps I could share a thought with you, and perhaps you would like to mull it over. There is a possibility to talk about responsibility and guilt and to do so outside of a court context. Karl Jaspers, the German philosopher, talked about this possibility, and about guilt and responsibility, in post-war Germany. We can talk about this in different dimensions – in terms of criminal law, moral responsibility, religious responsibility and so forth. In each of these dimensions there are different bodies to which we can turn, and the court is one such possibility.

There is a statute of limitations and it forms part of our community of liberal values, and I would not question that. Nevertheless, it should be possible for us to talk about political responsibilities, to name and shame and to talk about the responsibilities incurred. There are bodies that can be entrusted with this task, and public discourse is one forum where these matters can be discussed. Civil society can therefore be brought into the discussion. Surely it must be possible to talk about what happened and who did what even if you cannot bring these matters before a court. I would say that it is possible to discuss these matters of responsibility. It is important for us to have a public debate. It is important for people not to be disfranchised or to take themselves out of this debate. Let us have this debate. I think that it would be a learning process.

Mr DÍAZ TEJERA (Spain) (interpretation)

I trust in the words that you, Mr President, used in your statement but I trust particularly in your history, which is proof of what you have said today. In reality, however, political decisions are being taken in Europe the result of which is that cultural, economic and other rights are not being respected. However, these decisions are exactly what bankers are demanding. Do you think that we can do more to ensure that politics are not hostage to the markets? Can we do more to work against tax havens, for example, so that politics is based only on the common interests of human beings?

Ms PASHAYEVA (Azerbaijan)

My question concerns the Turkish population residing in Germany. Assaults against German citizens of Turkish origin have been increasing lately and German citizens of Turkish origin have been expressing their deep concern in this regard. In your capacity as president, are you concerned about the anxieties expressed by your Turkish citizens, and are you satisfied with the steps that your government is taking to prevent the developments that are causing these concerns? Are you satisfied with the actions being taken against these terrorist organisations and the national socialist underground?

Ms BULAJIĆ (Serbia)

The economic crisis is threatening to turn into an even deeper social and political one. Given the present mistrust between citizens and political leaders throughout Europe, do you agree that it is time to bring us all back to a more ethical approach to overcoming the crisis whereby citizens can have a say? If so, particularly bearing in mind your present political role but also your political background, what political response would you propose to enhance citizen participation in decision-making processes?

Mr Gauck, President of the Federal Republic of Germany (interpretation)

Throughout Europe, in particular those countries most affected by the crisis, questions are rightly being asked about unbridled financial markets. I have had lengthy discussions with economists about whether it is right to discuss a dictatorship of the markets, about which we are seeing more talk in some countries and political groups than in others, but given the political reality I would not go along with that. It is electoral discourse in exaggerated form. When discussing such a dictatorship, we should be talking about a danger. It is important that politics continues to have an influence. As someone from eastern Germany, I am not convinced that a greater degree of State intervention in economic processes will lead to greater prosperity and well-being. We have seen several State institutions intervene in the economy and engage in rather risky financial enterprises. We should not undermine economic freedom in any way, but we need to establish a proper legal context that gives the economy sufficient freedom but does not enable it to undermine social structures.

The attacks in Germany were organised. However, this small group of murderers does not equate to some kind of National Socialist structure with murderous intent; it is a relatively small group of unpleasant, awful and deplorable activists. Whether within or outside party confines, such groups are a cause for considerable concern, but they are not such a threat to the Turkish community that we need to erect barricades throughout society. Germany is based on the rule of law and has sufficient resources to contest this racism and xenophobia, and the German legal order reflects international standards. I do not share the view that NS organisations constitute a threat to entire groups within the population. Integration is constantly on our agenda, and I am very much involved in such discussions. When my predecessor left office, I promised him and German society that integration would remain an important issue, and it is of course one that concerns our fellow Turkish citizens. Integration is writ large.

I was asked about an ethical counter model to that of the domination of the economy. I will always be on the side of those who want to provide a context for economic activities, because anti-capitalism really does not have much potential. One can draw a parallel with when sportspeople are guilty of doping: we need free economic enterprise, but those who are economically active need to play the game according to the rules, which is what is happening in Germany, Europe and worldwide. We need to look at new ethical models or guidelines. There is an interesting debate going on in the universities and publications of America about having confidence in the economy but with new ethical considerations. Those who are strong in the economy should not necessarily be given free rein. We owe that to the weaker in society, but we should not go down the path of outright anti-capitalism either. We need to work together with unions and employers, who need to play a greater role. Their position should certainly not be weakened. There is a trend of playing down the role of unions, and people can have problems with joining unions and with unionisation, but a strong economy presupposes strong trade unions. I do not want to get embroiled in a moral discourse, but employees’ economic interests need to be recognised. Their role needs to be recognised in society. Workers are actors; they are not the mere victims of those who wield economic power.

THE PRESIDENT (interpretation)

That concludes the questions. I thank colleagues for sticking to their speaking times, but, most importantly, I thank you, President. Thank you for your remarkable address, which I am sure will go down in the history of the Council of Europe and of its Parliamentary Assembly. You said many encouraging and supportive things that will help to bolster the work that we have been doing since 1949 and to continue it in the future. Thank you for being here and for answering questions. There were many speakers on the list, so I think you will have to come back so that everyone can get an answer. We were delighted to have you here.