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Opening speech of the 2nd part of the Ordinary Session of 2018

Opening speech of the 2nd part of the Ordinary Session of 2018
Strasbourg, Monday 23 April 2018

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Dear colleagues,

In the Statute of the Council of Europe we read: "the pursuit of peace based upon justice and international co-operation is vital for the preservation of human society and civilization".

Today, these words are as ever important, relevant and topical. The lesson that the founding fathers of the Council of Europe have taught us is that peace is the fundamental basis for the protection of all other values: no human rights, no democracy, no rule of law can be defended properly in a state of war. In this sense peace building represents the highest mission of politics: neither economy nor religion or culture per se can create a peaceful condition.

The path chosen by humankind after the Second World War to achieve peace was peace through law, to use a famous expression of Hans Kelsen.

As he wrote in Peace through Law, published in 1944, "war is mass murder, the greatest disgrace of our culture, and that to secure world peace is our foremost political task [….] for there is no essential social progress possible as long as no international organisation is established by which war between the nations of this earth is effectively prevented".

Bearing this idea in mind, the founding fathers of the Council of Europe created our Organisation as an international multilateral mechanism to prevent wars on the European continent and to allow the peoples of Europe to live together and co-operate in peace.

They found the courage to put aside disagreements and differences, fuelled by centuries of confrontation, thirst for supremacy, territorial claims, as well as civil wars, in order to look into the future and lay the foundations for a Common European Home where the protection of rights of individuals according to a common uniform standard would be put at the centre and where pluralism and political freedom would serve as safeguards against totalitarianism and the upsurge of populism.

They were convinced, as Alcide de Gasperi said, that "the future will not be built through force, nor the desire to conquer, but by the patient application of the democratic method, the constructive spirit of agreement, and by respect for freedom".

The importance of these words and ideas cannot be underestimated today.

Our Assembly is not a "battlefield" to confront national agendas. On the contrary, it is a place where bridges between peoples and governments are built and where parliamentarians from all over Europe defend the "common good".

Dear colleagues,

Whenever our values are threatened – within our geographic borders and outside – we must raise our voice. 

For the past years, the war in Syria has been constantly in the focus of our attention.

The war in Syria affects us all directly because, for the sake of universality of human rights, we cannot remain silent when millions of civilians are enduring unthinkable suffering and the worst atrocities of modern warfare, including the use of chemical weapons.

This is totally unacceptable.

The rule of law must be upheld and those responsible for such atrocious attacks against human rights must be brought to justice.

At the same time, we must uphold the rule of law, by means that respect international law and within the framework of multilateral mechanisms that were created – by common agreement – to maintain peace and security.

As the Secretary General of the United Nations recently stated, when dealing with matters of peace and security, member states have the obligation to act consistently with the Charter of the United Nations and with international law in general, and that the primary responsibility for maintaining international peace and security lies with the UN Security Council.

We must keep in mind these fundamental rules of international law and act consistently. We must use the potential of diplomacy to the full in the search for a political solution to this terrible conflict, because it is only through political means that a lasting peace can be restored for the people of Syria.

All member states of the Council of Europe should shoulder their international responsibilities in this respect. And our Assembly should also give its contribution by reflecting on how, in the present situation, conflicts within States and among States can be prevented and settled, being faithful to our ideal of peace through law.

We cannot accept the idea that hard power is the only tool to solve problems. Facing an increasing number of critical situations, we have the responsibility to invent new peaceful solutions. Citizens, NGOs, governments all over Europe are watching us. They expect from our Assembly not only words of condemnation of violence, nor a resignation to the Realpolitik, but words of wisdom and hope, as well as action.

* * *

Ladies and gentlemen,

Trust and credibility are an important prerequisite for the effective functioning of our institutions.

European citizens who – through national Parliaments – have appointed us to the Parliamentary Assembly must have trust in the strength of our commitment to uphold human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

Member states must have trust in our institutions and mechanisms because, by virtue of international agreements, they gave this Assembly important powers and the role of a Pan-European parliamentary platform for dialogue where the plurality of views of 830 million Europeans is represented.

In this context, we were appalled by allegations of corruption in our ranks voiced a little more than a year ago. While firmly condemning practices that cast shadow on the credibility of this Assembly, we felt it necessary to take bold action by conducting a thorough, independent and external investigation into all allegations of corruption.

At the same time, we decided to review our own Rules and strengthen considerably our Code of Conduct to ensure that effective mechanisms for preventing conflicts of interest are put in place, taking advice on this from the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO).

You will be aware that yesterday afternoon the Bureau met with the three members of the investigation body set up to look into the allegation of corruption made against certain members and / or former members of the Assembly and that after this meeting the report of the investigation was made public and is on the internet site of the Assembly.

You have the report so I will not seek to summarise it. What I would however like to do, is to inform you of the decisions taken in the Bureau last night in the light of the report and its findings. In this respect the Bureau decided to:

- invite the current and former members of the Assembly whose behaviour has been found by the investigation body as unethical or in violation of the Assembly's code of conduct, or who have refused to co-operate with the investigation body, to suspend all their activities within the Assembly with immediate effect;

- invite the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs to consider further possible actions;

- invite the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs to ensure proper follow-up to the recommendations for the Assembly's ethical framework made in the report.

I would like to take this opportunity of publicly thanking the three members of the Investigation Body, Sir Nicolas Bratza, Mr Jean-Louis Bruguière and Ms Elisabet Fura, as well as their Secretariat, for their important work, and I would also like to thank all of those who co-operated with the Investigation Body, including Parliamentarians, members of the Secretariat, civil society representatives and others.

Dear colleagues,

Corruption is not only an illegal and unethical use of money or one's power. It can be something much worse. It can affect human life in the most negative way: it can take lives. Let us be reminded of cases of journalists investigating corruption: sometimes their investigative work can produce violent reactions including psychological pressure, physical aggression and even murder. For this reason, corruption has to be considered a potentially mortal disease.

During the last part session, I had the opportunity to meet here in Strasbourg the sons of the Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana. I was impressed by their dignity, their calmness, their determination to demand truth and justice for their mother and for everyone who is fighting corruption around the world. They came to Strasbourg, to the Council of Europe, to our Assembly. They knew that we do not have superpowers to solve the mystery of their mother's death. They were aware of our imperfections since we also have been accused of corruption. Nevertheless, they asked for our support; for our solidarity with the victims - not with the perpetrators; for our commitment to use all instruments at our disposal to help them. I believe that if we want to restore the confidence of new generations in democratic institutions, we owe them this commitment. This is the only way for a civic and democratic society to praise and honour those who are hungry and thirsty for justice.

* * *

Dear colleagues,

Ladies and gentlemen,

We have a busy part-session ahead of us, including visits by important guests and debates on several reports dealing with human rights – our core business. There are several proposals of debates under current and urgent procedure and we shall come to these in a few moments.

For now, allow me to wish us all a fruitful part-session and to thank you for your attention.