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Opening speech to the Standing Committee

Opening speech to the Standing Committee
Sofia, Friday, 27 November 2015

Speaker of Parliament,

Minister for Foreign Affairs,

Dear colleagues,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It gives me great honour and pleasure to open this meeting of the Standing Committee in Sofia, within the framework of the Bulgarian Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers. On behalf of the Assembly, I should like to thank the Parliament of Bulgaria for its warm welcome and hospitality, as well as for the excellent organisation of our meetings yesterday. I am extremely glad that Minister for Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria, Mr Mitov, has found time for an exchange of views with us later today.

Dear colleagues, we meet at a dramatic and tragic moment for Europe and the world.

Allow me to start this meeting by calling for a minute of silence to pay tribute to the numerous victims of the barbaric terrorist attacks against France and Russia earlier this month.

Il s'agit là d'actes barbares commis de sang-froid qui suscitent notre indignation à tous. Ils laissent dans leur sillage des familles éplorées, provoquent colère et désarroi. J'ai exprimé le soutien de l'Assemblée aux peuples de nos Etats membres – la France et la Russie – dans des messages de soutien aux Présidents de leurs Parlements.

[Minute of silence]

Thank you.


2015 should be a year of celebration with the 65th anniversary of the European Convention on Human Rights as well as the 40th anniversary of the Helsinki Act. Sadly there is little room for celebration as terrorism threatens and attacks the very roots of democracies and the fundamental values that the Council of Europe stands for.

We have to unite to defend democracy.

To do so, we must overcome political divisions to focus on the root causes of extremism and radicalisation. We must denounce hatred, discrimination and intolerance, and reaffirm the values of ‘living together'.

We also have to take further steps to tackle geopolitical divisions. This is crucial, as well as symbolic on the 40th anniversary of the Helsinki Act. In the draft declaration which we will hopefully approve later today we highlight "this agreement as a testament to what is possible when states make a concerted effort to set aside differences and strive for common understanding".

United, a great deal is possible. Today we need unity more than ever, because we have so much on our plate. And it is our utmost responsibility to make it possible to deal with everything that has to be dealt with.

The European family must stand together, concerted, undivided, and prove that there is an answer to terrorism in line with the standards and principles of the Council of Europe.

In this context, I would like, on the one hand, to call upon all of us to take the necessary steps in our Parliaments to ensure the swiftly ratification of the Additional Protocol to the Council of Europe Convention on the Prevention of Terrorism (CETS No. 217). This Protocol is more than timely as it addresses the issue of Foreign Terrorist Fighters. It criminalises the recruitment, financing and training of terrorists and, crucially, for the first time in international law, it criminalises the act of travelling for terrorist purposes. In my view it is a key and powerful instrument in our common response to all would-be terrorists. The large number of signatures - 20 - barely a month after its opening for signature, demonstrates the determination of our member states to fight against terrorism.

On the other hand, we have another powerful tool: the No Hate campaign. We cannot allow ourselves to fall into the trap of intolerance, liberticidal actions and amalgams between terrorists and migrants to site a few of the traps. Migration is not a threat to our democracies, but intolerance and hatred undoubtedly are.

Our common objective must be to combat terrorism, not to combat migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.

The dangers of populism feeding on hatred, fear and intolerance is greater than ever; populism wants us to sacrifice our freedom and to give up on solidarity on a false premise of more security. It is only by working together that we can solve the problems, not by working apart.

Priorities of the Bulgarian Chairmanship

I would now like to welcome the priorities that the Bulgarian Chairmanship brings to the table.

The first is one of the key area of work of our Assembly as it concerns children's rights – Strengthening the rights of the child and facilitating young people's access to culture. I welcome in particular the focus on access to culture of young people as culture is undoubtedly a key part of the answer to radicalisation. We will follow with great interest the event to be organised on this issue which will give food for thought for the work of the Assembly.

The second priority is also of great importance – Protecting media from external influence. We know very well that independent Media are a sine qua non for a vibrant democracy with free and fair elections. Unfortunately we have witnessed too many attempts within our member states to influence the media. There were also intimidation attempts, threats and even bans of certain Medias, especially in the context of elections. This is unacceptable.

We should also welcome the third priority of the Bulgarian Chairmanship – Protecting vulnerable groups.  The Western Balkans is in the focus again on the migration front. Bulgaria, like its neighbours, is on the migratory route for numerous refugees fleeing conflicts. The migration phenomenon is one facing all of us and there is a need to reinforce solidarity and transfrontier cooperation amongst all countries including Western Balkan countries, be they member of the European Union or not.

The international conference "Our Europe: Learning to live together in the 21st century – Migration issues" to be organised by the Bulgarian Chairmanship is of particular relevance in the context of the refugee crisis and its aftermath. Integration will be the key to living together, and by saying that I mean integration as a two way process. Given its expertise in this area, the Assembly stands ready to participate actively in this conference.

Indeed, when it comes to migration, there are 3 priorities: Integration-integration-integration.

 For our sake and for their sake, let's not marginalise refugees and migrants.

This cannot be only a top down process; this has to happen on the ground and work its way up. While of course governments have to show leadership by giving priority to integration and educational measures, it lies in our hands – at local and regional level – to make integration possible.

Regions and municipalities should be ready to take their share in helping to respond to this extraordinary situation. Too hot to handle is not an option at state level, nor is it an acceptable excuse at local and regional level.

Think global, act local – I have no need to explain to you how important it is to be active and support grass-root initiatives. We have to encourage our cities and communities, and together we should think of ways to recognise those who do outstanding work, possibly by creating a label of "Welcoming cities".

In this context, let me remind you that on 16 December our Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons organises in Paris a parliamentary conference on "A comprehensive humanitarian and political response to the migration and refugee crisis in Europe" with participation of chairs of relevant committees in national parliaments as well as in the non-member states concerned with the recent refugee crisis.

I encourage you strongly to ensure the participation of your respective parliaments.

Furthermore, on 18 December 2015, the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons organises coordinated visits to migration detention centers in all Council of Europe member states. It is expected that the Chair of the national delegation, or at least a member of the Migration Committee of that country carry out a highly symbolic visit to a migration detention centre to draw public attention to the problem of detained migrants.

I understand that for various reasons, it may not be possible in every member State for a member of the delegation to visit an immigration detention centre on 18 December. This is not an insurmountable problem. The important thing is that the visit takes place on the nearest convenient day and is planned in the overall context of the Assembly's project.

Your support in ensuring that your national delegation carries out such a visit is highly important and I encourage you to inform the secretariat of the Committee of the arrangements you have made.

Last but not least, let me mention that 25 November marked the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. It is essential to join forces in combating violence against women. In this sense, I supported the "Orange the world" campaign as did our Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination. It is my conviction that these kinds of actions are an excellent way to make this common fight visible while symbolising a brighter future and a world free from violence.

Dear colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for your attention and let me now give the floor to Ms Tsetska Tsacheva, President of the National Assembly.

Blagodarya. Merci.