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PACE - Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (assembly.coe.int)

European Conference of Presidents of Parliaments
Strasbourg, 20 - 21 September 2012

The next Conference of Presidents of Parliament will be held at the Council of Europe Headquarters in Strasbourg, France, on 20 and 21 September 2012.

The Conference is composed of Speakers and Presidents of the Parliaments of the 47 Member States of the Council of Europe; of parliaments enjoying observer and partner for democracy status with the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) and of international parliamentary assemblies. The Parliaments of Central Asia and Maghreb are also associated.

The Conference will deal with three major topical issues:

Jean-Claude Mignon

A word from the President

On 20-21 September 2012 the Presidents of the parliaments of the 47 Council of Europe member states, parliaments enjoying observer and partner for democracy status, parliaments of other neighbouring countries and international parliamentary assemblies will meet in Strasbourg for their biennial meeting to discuss major political issues facing society today.

First of all, we will consider the role of national parliaments in the future of the European Court of Human Rights. We will then address the question  “Is representative democracy in crisis?” and then debate the challenges and opportunities presented by the Arab revolutions.

The European Court has done a great deal to foster respect for human rights both within Europe and beyond over the last 60 years, but it is now facing serious problems to which a lasting, global solution must urgently be found so that the system of the European Convention on Human Rights can continue to be effective in protecting the rights and freedoms of over 800 million people in Europe.  This is what the States Parties to the Convention undertook to do at three high-level conferences, the last of which took place in Brighton on 19 and 20 April 2012, (the first was held in Interlaken in 2010 and the second in Izmir in 2011).

The parliamentary contribution to the application of the Convention and to the functioning of the Court is essential. While the Court’s main mission must continue to be to safeguard international human rights norms in Europe, States must above all guarantee the effective protection of human rights at national level. It is therefore important that national parliaments systematically verify that their draft legislation is compatible with the Convention, that they closely monitor the action taken to execute judgments against their States and that they ensure that national legislation is in line with the measures advocated by the Court. The Parliamentary Assembly also plays an important role as it elects the judges to the Court and monitors the state of democracy and human rights in member states as well as the execution of the Court’s judgments.

The second topic of the conference - “Is representative democracy in crisis?” - is designed to give a more global dimension to the concerns we all share as elected representatives. The economic and financial crisis exacerbates phenomena such as the erosion of citizens’ confidence in institutional authority, loss of interest in elections and the tarnishing of politicians’ image in the public eye. Europe is therefore faced with the possibility of an even more serious threat: a threat to its fundamental values. A clear sign of this is the rise in euroscepticism, populism and extremism in several European countries. At the same time, new popular movements are emerging, often in a spontaneous manner and on social networks.  They all require our attention.

The Strasbourg conference will provide the opportunity to consider what can be done to ensure that elected representatives refocus on people’s real needs and concerns, and effectively transmit these concerns to all levels of government; how can they set an example in upholding fundamental values and not to give in to compromises and simplistic solutions for electoral purposes, what can be done to counter the populism and extremism which are gradually infiltrating our national parliaments through political parties who place themselves under their banner.

The Strasbourg meeting will be the first since the Moroccan parliament and the Palestinian National Council were granted the Parliamentary Assembly’s new “partner for democracy” status.  Other parliaments of neighbouring countries of the Council of Europe are expected to follow. The conference will therefore be the ideal framework for discussing the “Arab Spring”. 

The events taking place on the southern shore of the Mediterranean provide an unprecedented opportunity to facilitate the emergence of an area of democratic stability in these countries, which share the same values and the same commitment to democracy, human rights and the rule of law. It is equally important to avoid military or theocratic regimes from taking power and to ensure that the prolonged absence of government does not degenerate into chaos or civil war.

We cannot stand back and do nothing when confronted with widespread, systematic and serious human rights violations or crimes against humanity committed by military and security forces in response to the uprisings in some countries, of which Syria is the most tragic example. Nor can Europe ignore the humanitarian tragedies resulting from these uprisings, in particular that of the thousands of refugees.

The Parliamentary Assembly is the widest forum where the voice of the representatives of the people of Europe can be heard. The Conference of the Presidents of Parliaments is therefore a unique opportunity for political leaders at the highest level to identify common solutions to the challenges with which we are all confronted.

Mr Jean-Claude MIGNON
President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe