Statement at Session 3: Sofia Declaration of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe: The need for convening the Fourth Summit of the Council of Europe
Sofia, Tuesday 9 February 2016

Dear colleagues,

Ladies and gentlemen,

In November last year, at our meeting in Sofia, we unanimously adopted a declaration calling for a Summit of Heads of State and Government in order for the member States to reaffirm, at the highest political level, their commitment to the common values and principles of democracy, human rights and the rule of law upheld by the Organisation.

We recalled the mission of the Council of Europe, which is to achieve a greater unity between its members for the purpose of safeguarding and realising the ideals and principles of democracy, human rights and the rule of law which form the foundations of a Europe without dividing lines.

We praised the contribution of our international partners to this process. I am thinking in particular of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the Helsinki Final Act, whose 40th anniversary we celebrated last year. It was a landmark event in European history and an important step to brining to an end the Cold War.

As we have seen earlier today in our debates, the numerous political challenges Europe is facing, both within and around its borders, call for a common response on the basis of shared principles and values, dialogue, trust and solidarity. Our Organisation and our member States should focus on what unites them rather than what divides them, and avoid raising new walls and drawing dividing lines.

We need to reaffirm our political commitment to what unites us – the principles of Democratic Security – as well as to update – and develop further – the strategic lines of action for our Organisation and our member states, in order to pursue and deepen the process of European co-operation.

Our today's conference gives us a possibility to reflect about the different elements that could contribute to implementing the idea of the Summit.

To launch a discussion, allow me to highlight three elements.

Firstly, let us put the idea of a new Summit in a historic perspective.

The Council of Europe has held 3 Summits so far – in 1993 in Vienna, in 1997 in Strasbourg, and in 2005 in Warsaw.

The 1993 Vienna Summit embodied the Council of Europe's geographic expansion to the East.

The 1997 Strasbourg Summit symbolised the consolidation of democracy in our new member states which were undergoing the process of democratic transformation.

The 2005 Warsaw Summit was the "Summit of European Unity" – all European states (with the exception of Belarus) were finally reunited under one roof on the basis of shared values and common objectives.

The idea for a Council of Europe Summit devoted to Democratic security was launched by the Secretary General of the Council of Europe in 2014.

The Secretary General's two reports on the State of Democracy Human Rights and the Rule of Law in Europe provide background data and analysis of the challenges to our values and standards. They also assess the degree to which Council of Europe member states deliver Democratic Security.

Of course, the situation varies from country to country and it is always difficult to make comparisons. I do not want to single out here and now one or the other of our member states. Improvements could be made in all member states. Problems do not go away if we just ignore them; all of us have some homework to do. 

From this analysis, one thing seems obvious to me: the key priority of our member states and of the Council of Europe for the years to come must be to focus on the implementation of our standards at national level. It is first and foremost the responsibility of the member states themselves. If we fail to guarantee the respect of our standards at domestic level, there is a risk that our unique Pan-European Convention system may collapse.

Ideological, ethnic, territorial, and religious issues posed by minorities put at risk the democratic security of member states.

In addition to these localized conflicts, there is the ubiquitous threat of jihadist terrorism.

In the midst of this turmoil and tension, in new and demanding situations, the Council of Europe should seek to find innovative responses on the basis of its enduring principles.

Democratic security means deeper reforms at domestic level so as to address possible shortcomings, and deeper co-operation within the Council of Europe framework, so as to use fully the expertise that our Organisation can offer.

We need more action nationally and more co-operation at Pan-European level.

This is all the more important today as we are facing new challenges relating to counteracting terrorism and extremism, as well as in addressing the consequences of the refugee crisis and of the mixed migratory flows. We have to make our societies more inclusive, better integrated, more tolerant, and, therefore, more secure.

Secondly, in today's interdependent world, we have to stay united in the face of the many challenges we are confronted with.

Europe will be lost, if it stays divided. Europe will not be able to be a strong and successful global player unless it acts in unity and focusing on its strengths.

I entirely agree with the Secretary General that democratic security is a responsibility that all nations share. "In Europe we are only ever as secure as the states which surround us", to quote a sentence from his report.

Therefore, supporting and promoting good neighbourly relations is one of the priorities of my mandate as President of the Assembly. I am convinced that, on the basis of our history and past experience, we should and can achieve broader reconciliation in Europe.

The Council of Europe brings together all states of Europe and offers diplomatic, parliamentary and juridical mechanisms which can contribute to creating common ground between states in dispute.

However, that may not be enough as exemplified by still outstanding conflicts, in some cases after many years.

The current Council of Europe's political mandate was defined by the third Summit of Heads of State in Warsaw.  Although we have no political mandate to resolve conflicts, we play an important role in conflict-prevention. As we saw this morning, democracies do not wage wars on each other. This is the essence of Democratic Security.

The Assembly is a forum in which mechanisms of review, monitoring, and peer pressure not always function with mutual acceptance by all concerned.

In the light of recent events across Europe, our Organisation could have done better if it had assumed a new leading negotiating role as well.

As I said in my inaugural speech at the Parliamentary Assembly, all of us must shoulder our responsibilities, be ready for dialogue, and seek solutions together. Dialogue is a two-way process or, rather should I say "an all-inclusive process".

Moreover, we should not forget that we do not live in isolation: stability on our external borders is as important as internal stability is. We have to co-operate with our neighbours in addressing common challenges and threats, for example, that of international terrorism, migratory flows, and inter-cultural dialogue.

We have to provide support to our neighbours in building stronger, more democratic and more pluralist societies, based on the respect for fundamental rights and freedoms, tolerance and non-discrimination.

As President of the Assembly I intend to work closely with our new Partners for Democracy in order to help them maximise the benefits of the partnership.

Thirdly, genuine European unity can never be achieved without co-operation and synergies between all actors and, in particular, international partners.

The European Union, with its 28 members, all member states of the Council of Europe, is of course our key ally and strategic partner.

We share the same values, the same political objectives and the same standards. We must work together to complement our respective actions, create new synergies, without competition or rivalry.

Of course, our shared strategic political goal is the accession of the European Union to the European convention on human rights so as to build a coherent Europe-wide system of protection of fundamental rights. At the same time, we must promote European Union's accession to other core Council of Europe.

We should also co-operate closely with the OSCE, with the UN, its bodies and Specialised agencies within the scope of our mandate. The New Sustainable Development Goals focus on promoting peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. The Council of Europe's contribution to achieving these is clearly relevant and appropriate.

Dear colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

Having made these introductory remarks, I am looking forward to hearing the contributions of other members of the Assembly and national parliamentarians.

The decision to convene the Summit – and the identification of the appropriate moment for this – belongs the Heads of States and Governments of our Member states. As Parliamentarians we support this idea and we are ready to contribute to the preparations of this important event for our Organisation.

Our Committee of Political Affairs has been seized for a report on the issue of a Council of Europe Summit to defend and promote democratic security in Europe. Therefore, our debates today will provide useful food for thought in order to take this work forward.

I thank you very much for your attention.