Speech to the Standing Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly
Honourable Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs
Colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,
At the opening of the Standing Committee, allow me to express our solidarity with the people of Belgium and the Belgian authorities following a brutal attack on police officers that occurred in Liège, last Tuesday.
I strongly condemn this unacceptable act of violence.
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is an honour for me to open the Standing Committee which we are holding in Zagreb to mark the beginning of the Croatian Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.
Our meeting in Zagreb is all the more important because this is the first time, since accession to the Council of Europe in 1996, that Croatia is holding the chairmanship of our Organisation. In 22 years, Croatia made tremendous progress in implementing European standards of democracy, human rights and the rule law as well as, on the road of European integration, becoming the European Union's 28th member state on 1 July 2013.
Therefore, the Chairmanship is not only an opportunity to provide political leadership for the Council of Europe, but also an opportunity to promote your achievements and share your experience with the other 46 member states of the Council of Europe. This is especially important in the regional context, as all Croatia's neighbours are engaged in the process of European integration. Croatia's experience is vital for them and we encourage you to play a leading role in regional co-operation, so as to help advance key reforms relating to European integration.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Allow me to welcome warmly the priorities of the Croatian Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, as these correspond fully to the priorities of the Parliamentary Assembly.
As regards fight against corruption and I cannot agree more with you that corruption directly jeopardises human rights, destroys morals and endangers the stability and economic advancement of the state. Corruption destroys trust in our democratic institutions and procedures and it is our responsibility as politicians to combat it firmly on all fronts. It is particularly important to lead this battle by example, adhering to the highest standards of political ethics and behaviour in our own activities.
As you are aware, recently, the Assembly substantially reinforced its own rules and working methods, relying in particular on GRECO's advice. We are making progress in addressing the consequences of the past allegations of unethical behaviour and corruption within the Assembly and - although we must continue to remain vigilant - I would like to reassure you that today strong and efficient moral and legal safeguards against corruption exist within the Parliamentary Assembly.
At the same time, we are eager to support the Council of Europe's work to combat corruption, in particular through the idea of setting up an Academic Network on the Council of Europe Conventions against corruption. As you may be aware, at its recent meeting, the Political Affairs Committee adopted a Statement calling on academic institutions, academics and scholars in all member states to come together to form a European Network. The aims of the Network would be to share knowledge and good practices about the Council of Europe Conventions and the ways member states implement them. It would also be a platform for co-operation with international partners, including in particular the OECD. We look forward to discussing with the Chairmanship – as well as the Council of Europe competent bodies – concrete synergies in this process.
The second priority of the Chairmanship – efficient protection of rights of national minorities and vulnerable groups – also deserves our full appreciation and support. Let me mention that I am particularly interested in this issue, coming from the region of Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol, in Italy. Respect for minority rights and the use of minority languages are important factors for cohesion and harmonious development of local communities. Equally, crossborder co-operation between regional and local authorities is an important factor for regional stability and co-operation.
Therefore, the Council of Europe legal instruments on protection of minority rights and minority languages are tremendously important. The legal framework that they establish helps preserve Europe's unity in diversity. I am confident that our Committee on Equality and Non-discrimination will actively contribute to the Chairmanship's activities in this field.
Turning to the third priority – decentralisation and local self-government – let me assure you that we fully appreciate the importance of the Chairmanship's activities in this field. Strong and efficient local and regional governments are essential for good governance and efficient and effective management of public policies and resources. Strong local and regional authorities are also important to restore trust in our democratic institutions, especially in the current context of growing populist trends across Europe. As we all know, democracy starts at the local level.
Finally, allow me to warmly welcome the fourth priority of the Chairmanship – the protection of cultural heritage and cultural routes. European culture is an important factor of European unity. Therefore, promoting knowledge about European cultural heritage is a way of reminding us of our origins and common history. This is particularly important today when our institutions are facing unprecedented political challenges, from within and at international level. By focusing on what unites us, we can find the strength to overcome emerging divisions, tensions and conflicts. I am confident that the Croatian Chairmanship's contribution will be most important in this respect.