Opening statement - Standing Committee
Honourable Minister of Foreign Affairs,
Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is an honour for me to open this meeting of the Standing Committee which we are holding in Cyprus, to mark the beginning of the Cyprus Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.
On behalf of the Parliamentary Assembly, let me congratulate the authorities of Cyprus on taking up this important responsibility and let me wish you every success in your activities.
From the outset, let me also thank our hosts – the House of Representatives of Cyprus – for the warm welcome and hospitality, as well as for the excellent organisation of our meetings. It is a happy coincidence that your Chairmanship takes place during this part of the year and I am sure that during the winter months ahead of us our strong motivation to support your activities will be even further strengthened by the opportunity to visit your country and to enjoy a little Mediterranean sun!
I also hope that you will bring the Mediterranean spirit to Strasbourg and one of the first opportunities to do so will be the visit of H.E. Nicos Anastasiades, President of Cyprus, who will address our Assembly on 24 January 2016. I cannot guarantee the weather, but I can assure you that our welcome in Strasbourg will be as warm and as friendly as today, in Cyprus.
Also let me say that we come to Cyprus at what could be a historic period for the ongoing process of talks on the reconciliation of the island and its people. Although progress of these talks in Switzerland were promising, the last meeting unfortunately did not meet the expectations hoped. I would like to underline that the Assembly fully supports President Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci in their efforts to reach a solution to a conflict that has run for 42 years.
Let me also highlight that today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and a statement will be made by the Assembly's General Rapporteur on violence against women, Ms Gafarova.
On behalf of the Parliamentary Assembly, allow me to express our full support to the Cyprus Chairmanship of the Council of Europe. Your country is taking this important role at a crucial moment, when Europe has to face major challenges, including terrorism, the refugee crisis, the rise of populist, nationalist and extremist rhetoric, as well as "frozen" and active conflicts, and the emergence of new dividing lines.
Therefore, the priorities of the Chairmanship are timely and appropriate. Reinforcing democratic security in Europe – which is the overarching theme of your Chairmanship – is a joint endeavor by all European states and actors. Therefore, the Council of Europe which brings together 47 European states and defends, as part of its core business, the fundamental principles and standards that underpin Europe's unity, is more important than ever.
The European Convention on Human Rights lies at the heart of our action and I would like to welcome your commitment to our Convention system, especially, as you are celebrating the 55th anniversary of accession of Cyprus to the European Convention on Human Rights. The implementation of the Convention at national level as well as the execution of the Judgments of the Strasbourg Court is an essential condition for the effectiveness of our human rights protection mechanisms. You can count on the Assembly's support on this front.
As far as the specific priorities of the Chairmanship are concerned, let me highlight a couple of initiatives which are of particular interest for our Assembly.
We welcome your focus on the drafting of a new Convention on Offenses related to Cultural Property. Rest assured that the Assembly will give its support to this important legal instrument and shall actively contribute to promoting it within our member states.
Our Committees on Social Affairs and on Equality and Non-discrimination will be eager to contribute to the Chairmanship's activities relating to the promotion of equal rights for persons with disabilities, as well as to combating discrimination against LGBTI people, especially focusing on combating homophobic and transphobic hate crime.
Furthermore, we are looking forward to the Conference on "Social rights in today's Europe: the role of domestic and European Courts" which will be an important opportunity to foster the implementation of the European Social Charter.
I am particularly interested in the Chairmanship activities relating to democratic citizenship. The planned Ministerial Conference on "Securing Democracy through Education" will be an opportunity to assess the implementation of educational aspects of two of our major Action Plans, relating respectively to "the fight against violent extremism and radicalisation leading to terrorism" and "building inclusive societies".
This is especially important in the light of the discussions during the recent Forum for the Future of Democracy which provided useful food for thought and for action for us.
In this context, let me highlight one specific element of the Assembly's contribution to these activities – the #NoHateNoFear initiative which is gaining momentum. We have already secured the support of a great number of parliamentarians as well as high-level political figures. I am confident that the Cyprus Chairmanship will help us continue this dynamic – I count on your support.
Let me also welcome the organisation of the Youth Peace Camp entitled "the role of young people and youth policy in peace-building and intercultural dialogue". I attended this year's previous session of the Youth Camp and I was really impressed by the commitment of the young people to dialogue and to overcoming divisions and build up confidence between communities. In 2017, the Youth Peace Camp will be held the week following the Assembly's April part-session and I hope to be able to participate once again in this event.
Finally, let me express our full support to the consultation process you intend to launch, in co-operation with the Secretary General, concerning the holding of the 4th Summit of the Council of Europe Heads of State and Government. As you know, the Assembly fully supports this process and our Rapporteur, Mr Nicoletti, - as well as all relevant Assembly bodies – stand ready to make our political contribution in the preparation of the Summit.
Today, we will consider and adopt a Declaration entitled "Call for an inclusive constituent process to tackle today's challenge". This text affirms the momentous challenges that Europe is facing: terrorism, migrants, refugees, inequalities, Euro-scepticism, nationalism, populism and xenophobia, frozen and open conflicts, divisions between member States and wars at Europe's frontiers.
In the face of these challenges, we need to re-launch the Council of Europe's core mission. To do so, it is urgent and imperative for the Organisation to adapt and be better equipped to tackle the current challenges. Our Assembly should be prepared to start an in-depth reflection on its identity, role and mission, and to consider whether its mechanisms, tools and rules of internal functioning are sufficient or if they need updating. This Declaration is the first step in this process and I hope that you will support the proposed text.
Thank you for your attention and let me now give the floor to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Cyprus, Chairman of the Committee of Ministers, Mr Ioannis Kasoulides.
Minister, it is a great pleasure to give you the floor.