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Opening Speech at the 4th European Symposium on Ethics and Governance in cooperation

Opening Speech at the 4th European Symposium on Ethics and Governance in cooperation
Paris, 29 March 2018

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am particularly pleased to address you at the very opening of this Symposium.

Please allow me, from the outset, to thank the organisers, and especially Professor Roxana Family, for the invitation to address this distinguished audience and to represent the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe at this important event.

As you know, the Parliamentary Assembly is the largest forum for dialogue between elected representatives on the European continent – it is one of the two statutory organs of the Council of Europe, which is the oldest European institution.

The Council of Europe is a truly impressive and unique example of a pan-European organisation, uniting, as it does, 47 member States around the same values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. It is based on the idea that Europe is not only a geographical entity, but a way of living together, based on the respect of human dignity, freedom and justice.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We are meeting today because we believe in these ideals, and because we truly trust that there can be no just society without upholding the highest standards of integrity.

Governance needs ethics that is action based on universal values and not on the interests of one single individual or one part of society. And ethics, on the other side, has to be shared ethics and needs good governance.

Today and tomorrow, issues such as a collaborative approach in combatting bribery and corruption, whistle-blower protection, and ethics in business will be addressed. This symposium provides us with an excellent platform to reflect on what we have achieved in these areas and – more importantly – what still needs to be done. I am happy to see at this symposium participants from a diverse range of backgrounds – only by adopting an interdisciplinary approach and by developing synergies and sharing expertise, can we achieve concrete results.

It goes without saying that the topics to be discussed at this symposium are all of great relevance to the Council of Europe and to the Parliamentary Assembly.

The Council of Europe, as you may know, has developed – and continues to do so – legal instruments and policy guidelines: Conventions, Resolutions and Recommendations to the 47 member States. But the Council of Europe does not only develop a normative framework for our member States, it also monitors and supports its implementation, thanks to the work of its monitoring body, the GRECO – the Group of States against Corruption.

The key word of GRECO's work is prevention.

It recommends to its 49 participating States - because it includes also the United States and Belarus - to take measures to prevent corruption in the first place, in other words before corruption occurs. These measures are addressed to all levels of society, including central government, members of parliament, judges and prosecutors.

These measures focus, for example, on managing conflicts of interest, developing ethical principles and rules of conduct, and publishing declarations of interests and assets. Transparency is essential. These measures also address issues such as regulating post-employment restrictions and relations with lobbyists, introducing a general ban on gifts, and developing effective supervisory and enforcement mechanisms.

No one is immune to corruption attempts and we all need to lead by example. But, as a politician, I am particularly sensitive to the importance that we, elected representatives, be, and be seen as an example of transparency and accountability.

At the heart of democracy lies the essential trust our citizens put in others to work on their behalf and to fairly pursue the common interests of all people.

Insufficient accountability has generated a perception of quasi-impunity of political elites. And when core institutions in a democratic society, political parties, parliament, public administration and the judiciary, are under the shadow of corruption, unfortunately they cease to be regarded as responsive to people's needs and problems.

Therefore we must spare no effort to eradicate corruption from our political systems, and develop a "morality of governance" that merits the respect of our citizens.

And this morality of governance has to be developed at all levels.

Let me now share with you some remarks on the steps taken by the Parliamentary Assembly in this matter, and on my initiative on academic networks which would not only further strengthen our fight against corruption, but also the role played in this fight by civil society, which is the main driving force for democratic change for our continent.

Promoting integrity in governance to tackle political corruption was the message that our Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe launched in June 2017 in its Resolution 2170, putting emphasis on the work we all need to do on integrity at all levels, in particular when it comes to public governance.

The Assembly invited all 47 Council of Europe governments to step up the fight against corruption by promoting integrity and transparency in public life at all levels, in particular by adopting sound rules on the declaration of assets, income and financial and other interests, making such declarations easily accessible to the public and setting up independent supervisory bodies and regulating lobbying activities.

As I mentioned before, parliaments play a pivotal role and should lead by example.

The Parliamentary Assembly supports the idea that all parliaments develop a code of conduct covering guidance on the prevention of conflicts of interest, gifts and other advantages, while ensuring that parliamentary immunity does not protect members of parliament from criminal prosecution for corruption-related acts.

We all know that unacceptable behaviour undermines democracy, weakens social justice and fosters populism. Public awareness, anti-corruption campaigns and integrity education programmes in schools and universities are therefore the keys to successful anti-corruption strategies.

The OECD's work on education is exemplary in this respect, not only in terms of education on integrity – this was also among the themes discussed yesterday during the OECD Global anti-corruption and integrity Forum – but also in strengthening integrity and fighting corruption in education.

In this field I believe that further research is also needed and, as I stressed during my meeting with Secretary General Gurria in February, the OECD could join forces with the Council of Europe to set up an academic network on the respective Conventions against bribery and corruption.

We would like to invite schools, teachers and students of the  universities of our member States to create a network for sharing the results of their research work and  best practices in teaching and training of professionals. Furthermore we would like to promote  common research projects and other initiatives at graduate conferences, with the active participation of PhD students and young scholars.

It would be a credit to pay particular attention, through further comparative research, to the ways in which corruption is embedded in social and cultural values in individual member States, with different traditions and different cultures, as these values provide the essential environment in which anti-corruption initiatives can succeed.

Francis Fukuyama said that transparency initiatives on their own often fail, and only collective-action mechanisms can bring about change. Both political will and strong grass-roots backing from citizens are therefore needed for integrity initiatives to succeed. Hence, the real challenge is to create a broad coalition of groups in society opposed to an existing system of corruption and unethical behaviour.

Today's and tomorrow's discussions will certainly give food for thought in this matter and help us understand the context in which old and new forms of unethical behaviour operate, and  help us strengthen the implementation of existing OECD and Council of Europe's standards and recommendations to member States.

The ideas that will emerge from the Symposium will also feed the debate on the activities of the OECD, which is held every year in Strasbourg during the Parliamentary Assembly October part-session, in the framework of an "enlarged assembly" composed of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and delegations from the national parliaments of non-European member States of the OECD.

Therefore I am really looking forward to the results of this symposium.

Again, thank you very much for having invited me and for your attention.