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Opening statement, October 2016 Part-Session

Opening statement, October 2016 Part-Session
Strasbourg, Monday 10 October 2016

Dear colleagues,

Ladies and gentleman,

Fear is present in the atmosphere within our societies. Fear of terrorism, fear of war, fear of the "other" – foreigners or migrants coming to our societies. These various fears taken together have created a wave of quickly expanding anxiety throughout the world.

When fear appears, tensions between nations surface more quickly.

When states turn away from each other, extreme forms of nationalism gain ground.

When nationalism returns to the main scene, manifestations of demagoguery and xenophobia resurge and bring with them serious risks.

This was one of the reasons that motivated us to launch the #NohateNofear initiative that in little more than three months has received the support by this Assembly, and by leading figures and dozens of parliaments and governments of member states. I have also shared information about this initiative with our partners from the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, the European Parliament, NATO Parliamentary Assembly, Parliamentary Assembly of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation and the CIS Inter-Parliamentary Assembly – all have expressed enthusiastic support.

This proves, yet again, that our Assembly has a unique capacity to respond to the challenges of the 21st century. I count on you to support and promote this initiative further, and hope you will attend the hearing I am organising with the Political Affairs and Legal Affairs Committees tomorrow at 2pm. Antoine Leiris, reporter for France Info who lost his wife in the Bataclan attack and whose message of not giving into hatred and fear lies at the heart of this initiative, will also participate.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today, in too many parts of the world, including on our continent, the death penalty remains in force. While the death penalty has been abolished in many countries, there are unfortunately more and more people campaigning for reintroducing it.

This reflects, at least in part, the overall crisis of values of human rights and democracy, as well as the failure of our institutions to protect people and ensure that their fundamental rights are respected.

Today is the World Day Against the Death Penalty. As members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, we are proud of our achievements to create a death-penalty-free zone in Europe bringing together 47 states. But we must remember too that the abolition of death penalty is a continuous fight to uphold the values we share, within and outside our borders.

We should resist and publicly oppose any attempt to undermine our human rights acquis by extreme and populist movements. We should also not forget that two of our observer states – the US and Japan – still apply the death penalty.

We should continue efforts to convince them to abandon this practice which is incompatible with the modern human rights acquis. We should continue working with our Partner for Democracy Delegation from Jordan, to ensure that the moratorium on executions is applied consistently, in line with the commitment taken vis-à-vis the Assembly.

Dear colleagues,

Today, in partnership with the Václav Havel Library and the Charta 77 Foundation, and the Government of the Czech republic we are awarding the Václav Human Rights Prize for outstanding action in defense of human rights in Europe and beyond our borders. It will be a great honour for me to tell you the name of the Winner of the Prize later today, at 12.30 noon.

Dear colleagues,

This summer, Europe, our institutions and our values have experienced a terrible blow.

On the night of 15 July, Turkey, one of our member states, was exposed to an attempted military coup that threatened democracy and the rule of law. Tanks rolled over the streets as well as over people; helicopters and military vehicles opened fire on civilians; Parliament was bombed.

241 citizens lost their lives and more than two thousand were injured.

Thanks to the wide mobilization of Turkish citizens, thanks to their heroic actions on that night, this coup attempt failed. Therefore, solidarity with Turkey and the Turkish people is a priority issue for us. The best defence against attacks on democracy is through more democracy and respect for human rights and the rule of law. This Assembly – as well as all Council of Europe bodies and institutions – must provide support and the best of their expertise to help Turkey achieve this and overcome the consequences of the coup.

This is especially important as Turkey is facing unprecedented challenges today, including the refugee crisis and terrorism. Yesterday another deadly attack happened in Turkey's south-east and I condemned it strongly and expressed condolences and solidarity to the families of victims, the injured, the authorities and the people of Turkey.

One lesson we have learned from the 15 July events is that the coup failed because of the Turkish people's determination to defend democracy and constitutional order – the fundamental principles that define our political and institutional model. We should never take democracy for granted. Neither should we worship it. It must be nurtured and strengthened on a daily basis. Therefore, our common goal as politicians is to provide an environment within our states where democratic institutions can thrive. We need to ensure respect for the rule of law, human rights, political pluralism, guarantee checks and balances, and free and fair elections.  This is a continuous challenge.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I already said in my inaugural address, on 25 January 2016, that we should look at each other as being "one of us."

If we focus on the "otherness" of others, common policies will be hard to sustain.

Our current agenda transcends the nation-state and cannot be managed alone without broad interstate cooperation: flows of refugees who seek escape from failed and failing states; the fight against international terrorism; threats to global peace and stability; the rise of radical Islam and related radicalisation and violent extremism; environmental issues; the unregulated and potentially divisive world of cyberspace; and much more.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has a unique place in the multilateral world order.

Therefore, in my visits to member states, I constantly repeat the message of shared responsibility, cooperation through negotiations and respect of our principles and values.

Since the last session I have had the opportunity to meet the political leaders of Russia, Georgia, Turkey, Iceland and Serbia, in their respective capitals. The European Conference of Presidents of Parliaments was also a valuable opportunity to meet Speakers from practically all of our member states, listen to their views and ideas, understand better their concerns.

I am convinced that, without capable allies and partners, no state and no institution alone can effectively respond to the challenges we are facing. 

Dear colleagues,

To resolve the tensions and conflicts, it is crucial to eradicate mistrust amongst nations and to hold direct talks.

We should listen. We should understand. We should anticipate and not only react.

That has been one of the lessons we learned from Shimon Peres, former President, Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Israel, who passed away two weeks ago. Shimon Peres addressed our Assembly on two occasions – in 1986 and in 2002. We have lost a friend, and I would like to repeat my sincere condolences to the family of Shimon Peres and the people of Israel.

His memory and legacy should guide us in bringing back confidence among our member states as well as within our Parliamentary Assembly which has the political mission to guarantee peace and stability on our Continent and provide a political platform for dialogue among parliamentarians from 47 member states, representing 820 million Europeans.

I am convinced that a situation where one of our member states – Russia – is not present in the Assembly benefits no one: not this Assembly, not Russia, and not any of the 46 remaining member states.

You are well aware that, since my election as President, I have taken steps to re-engage dialogue with the Russian Parliament. I did so in full transparency, always involving in my discussions the leaders of our Political Groups and informing the members of the Bureau.

Far too often, I have seen essential action towards dialogue being blocked by small groups. While we must listen to everyone and give due consideration to the interests and concerns expressed, we should not lose sight of the bigger objective: overcoming divisions and working together to solve the problems we are confronted with. Excluding anyone from discussions does not help make progress. On the contrary: it contributes to alienating interlocutors further and stimulates confrontational rhetoric which can be easily used by populists, nationalists and xenophobes.

During this session, we have agreed that Political Group Leaders should have consultations in their respective groups about this situation.

I would like all of us to have a transparent, open and inclusive debate about this issue.

At the same time, I must stress that the aim of pursuing dialogue among all 47 should by no means undermine our principles. We should continue to defend our values and denounce any violations of international law. It is imperative to preserve the territorial integrity of states – I would like to emphasise ALL STATES - and uphold the principle of refraining from the threat or use of force. Borders cannot be changed unilaterally or by force. Therefore, the conflict in Ukraine and the illegal annexation of Crimea, conflicts in Georgia, Republic of Moldova and Azerbaijan are unacceptable. As Europeans, we have to resolve the conflicts that exist within our common living space and parliamentary diplomacy is an appropriate tool to engage political negotiations. We have to discuss the problems that divide us, openly and face-to-face in this Assembly Chamber, so as to find solutions together.

In the same vein, we should adhere strictly to our principles and rules, whenever we are faced with violations of our standards within our member states. While each situation is specific and requires a tailor-made response, our approach should be the same line, without double standards.

We should react firmly whenever anyone within our jurisdiction faces persecution for his or her political views or activities, because the existence of political prisoners in Europe is unacceptable.

Derogations from the European Convention on Human Rights on the grounds of an emergency situation should be exceptional and their effects and consequences must be closely scrutinized, irrespective of the reasons that compel the authorities to resort to such a serious measure.

Member states cannot pick-and-choose which judgments of the European Court of Human Rights to implement. Obstacles relating to national sovereignty or constitutional order cannot be used as an excuse because execution of Court judgments is a legal obligation according to article 46 of the Convention.

Anyone within our jurisdictions must enjoy the same level of protection of human rights. Discrimination on any ground is unacceptable.

This Assembly must follow these principles and I count on you to support this approach.

Dear colleagues,

Increasing inequality in an increasingly globalized world, promotes corruption, perpetuates poverty, sparks popular unrest, heightens xenophobia, deepens personal despondency, and undermines public faith in democracy and free markets.

As you can observe, there are no simple answers in a complex world.

Often however it is dangerously oversimplified by populism.

We cannot effectively respond to the challenges we are facing by simply asking our citizens to choose among two or three options in a proposed referendum whenever serious and complex issues are on the table.

Understanding the problems in depth is the first step toward understanding their solutions.

Managing the refugee crisis and the migration phenomenon is a good illustration of this and has to be done in a global approach based on international law and international commitments.

As a result of very complex negotiations, Turkey and the EU implemented a tough but necessary deal to control the flow of refugees. This deal gives a legal possibility for those who need international protection to receive it. It has resulted in a radical decrease of flows - and most importantly- deaths, in the Aegean. This has not solved the problem, especially, on Europe's southern shores, but it is a step forward and an example of how agreements can be reached even under the most complicated conditions.

On the contrary, projects like the "great wall of Calais," transmit the opposite message: keep out. This is against the European spirit and our standards. And this will not contribute to solving the problem.

In this context, today more than ever, we need a strong international commitment to establish a new global framework for refugee management. Our Assembly must play a leading role by providing a political forum for debates. I strongly believe that among 47, we can achieve what looks unrealistic within a smaller group. Because, as 47 we are much stronger on the international and global scene.

Building upon our past work, I believe that this Assembly should consider the possibility of holding a major debate devoted to the Migration issue and the management of the current refugee crisis. Given the transversal nature of the challenge we should involve all our committees concerned to look at the various aspects of the issues at stake. We should seek an input from other Council of Europe bodies, in particular, the Secretary General and his Special Representative on Migration and Refugees as well as our independent monitoring bodies. We should focus on analyzing the experience, views and position of all member states of the Council of Europe, so as to propose concrete recommendations and – I hope – solutions. I hope you will support this idea.

Dear Colleagues,

Our Assembly continues to be a prominent platform for political dialogue at European level. This week we are extremely privileged to receive in this Chamber such leading political figures as the President of France, François Hollande, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey, Mevlüt Ҫavuşoğlu, the Federal Foreign Affairs Minister of Germany, Dr Frank-Walter Steinmeier, as well as the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Estonia, Mr Jürgen Ligi. Their statements will provide – I am sure – a lot of food for thought and for action for our work.

I wish you good session and fruitful work during this week.

Thank you for your attention.