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President: Speech at opening 2013-09-30 Strasbourg

Opening address by Mr Jean-Claude Mignon, President of the Parliamentary Assembly, Fourth part of the 2013 Ordinary Session
Strasbourg, France, Monday, 30 September 2013

Dear Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Mounting tensions in the Middle East have dominated the international political agenda since our last part-session. The civil war in Syria has reached extremely disturbing proportions: over 100 000 dead and more than two million refugees in two and a half years of violence.  

The recent large-scale use of weapons of mass destruction in Syria is very alarming. A few weeks ago, an international military intervention seemed imminent. Fortunately, diplomatic efforts made it possible to avoid this outcome.

Two weeks ago, in Geneva, I discussed the war in Syria with senior UN officials. On that occasion, we kept a close eye on the talks in progress between the US Secretary of State and the Russian Minister for Foreign Affairs on the placing of Syria's chemical weapons under international supervision. I welcome the fact that a resolution was finally adopted in the UN Security Council last Friday after two and a half years of deadlock.

The adoption of this resolution, described by the UN Secretary General as historic, is an extremely encouraging development. However, the fighting goes on, with such violence that it seems difficult, and even impossible, at this stage to envisage a process of political transition in Syria. Yet, as we all know, weapons offer no solution.

The people of Syria are suffering greatly as a result of the fighting, and we are following developments closely. As European elected representatives and members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, we cannot remain silent in the face of this terrible war taking place on Europe's borders.

Our Assembly has looked several times at the question of the humanitarian consequences of the civil war in Syria and has suggested a series of practical measures to the member states for meeting the needs of the refugees and displaced persons.  But that is still not enough; only an end to violence can bring about a real improvement in the situation of these thousands of people and families.

I therefore consider that it is the Assembly's duty today to try to make a political contribution to the resolution of this conflict. This naturally involves supporting the efforts by diplomats in our member states to outline a perspective for resolving the conflict. At the same time, a strong message must be sent to all our capitals urging our governments to do everything within their power to ensure that international humanitarian law is respected by all belligerents.

In this connection, I welcome the fact that our Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy has proposed the holding of an urgent debate on the situation in Syria. I am counting on your support to approve this proposal.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Durant this part-session we will be discussing our Monitoring Committee's progress report. Monitoring of compliance with our standards is one of the Organisation's priorities. As you know, I attach particular importance to this question and I am convinced that the proposals emerging from the informal consultations which I started in June with the heads of national delegations will provide constructive input for this debate. 

During the session we will also be discussing reports on the honouring of commitments by the Republic of Moldova and on the functioning of democratic institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Our Assembly plays a key role in democratic change in these two states and we must continue to provide them with our support.

I am confident with regard to the Republic of Moldova. I recently commended the pro-European commitment of the authorities and all political forces during a working visit to this country. The political situation in the Republic of Moldova is of course still fragile, but I think that this country's strategic goals – namely progress towards Europe and compliance with our democratic and human rights standards – should make it possible to achieve political consolidation and continue the necessary reforms. In this connection, I hope that the Assembly report will provide a sound basis for the launch of further targeted co-operation programmes with this country, so that the reforms can be quickly carried through to completion. 

Although I usually have an optimistic outlook, I am seriously concerned about the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The political situation in that country remains tense and the reforms needed to meet the commitments entered into at the time of accession are making very slow progress. The lack of progress in implementation of the Sejdic and Finci judgment is a real source of concern, given the parliamentary elections coming up in autumn 2014. In this connection, I fully understand the frustration of our rapporteurs: their findings leave little room for optimism.

Nevertheless, I think we must persevere on the path of dialogue, even if there is no certainty of achieving results. I hope, therefore, that the resolution adopted on Wednesday will prove useful in giving a fresh impetus to dialogue between all political forces on the execution of the Sejdic and Finci judgment and a more general constitutional reform.

For my part, I will shortly be holding talks with our European Union partners, including the Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy, Mr Füle, in order to study the possibility of co-ordinated political action at the highest level to support the reform process.

Dear friends,

This week, as usual, we will be receiving a number of eminent European figures: the President of the Republic of Armenia, Mr Sargsyan, the President of the Republic of Serbia, Mr Nikolic, the Speaker of the State Duma, Mr Naryshkin, and the Chairperson of the Committee of Ministers, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Armenia, Mr Nalbandian. The fact that these eminent figures are coming to address the Assembly testifies to their support for the European project and the values promoted by the Council of Europe – democracy, human rights and the rule of law.   If we are to be successful, we need this support and that of all politicians in our member states. I am counting on your contribution to ensure lively and stimulating discussion.

Dear Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,

As a member of the Assembly since 1993, and as its President, I am very proud to have participated in a series of innovative initiatives launched and supported by our Assembly in the fields of democracy and human rights. Today, I feel particularly honoured to have the opportunity to participate with you in the first ceremony to award the Council of Europe's Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize. Above all, this prize is an acknowledgement of the outstanding work done all over the world by men and women committed to the defence of human rights. It constitutes recognition in the eyes of all those who are fighting to ensure respect for human dignity and fundamental human rights and freedoms, who resolutely uphold those values, often in extremely difficult conditions and at the risk of their lives.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In conclusion, I would like, on behalf of the Assembly, to express my gratitude to the Armenian authorities for the magnificent stained-glass windows embellishing the upper facade of the Assembly Chamber. This mosaic of bridges winding towards a single goal will henceforth accompany us in our work.

Thank you for your attention.