(Strasbourg, Monday, 25 January 2010, 11h30 a.m.)

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Esteemed Colleagues,

It is a great honour for me to have benefited from your confidence and trust in electing me President of our Assembly. I assume this high office with gratitude and the ambition to do my absolute best.

First of all, I thank you for honouring by a minute of silence the victims of the Haiti earthquake. I very much hope that the Assembly during this week will discuss concrete ways of how European countries should help in this kind of terrible tragedies in the most urgent and efficient manner.

Even though my dream was always to be active in politics, never could I have imagined, as a young boy working on my father’s farm in Alanya-Antalya, that some day I would become the President of an Assembly representing 47 states and 800 million Europeans.

My sincere thanks to all of you - members of this Assembly. I thank those who proposed and supported me as candidate. I thank my political group, the European Democrat Group and also all members of other political groups, particularly their leaders. I thank the members of the Turkish delegation, whose forerunners have faithfully served this Assembly ever since the Council of Europe was created in 1949.

In that year, the Turkish Vice-President of this Assembly, Mr. Kasım Gülek, said in a speech to the founding members of this house and I quote: “Some day, all the countries and peoples of Europe will be represented in this Assembly”. Today, after sixty years, this dream has come true, making our Parliamentary Assembly the only truly pan-European body. We are waiting for Belarus to be able to join us.

Allow me also to thank the Turkish Government, an eminent member of which is among us today, Minister of European Affairs, Mr. Bağış, and the Turkish Grand National Assembly, not only for the support and encouragement they have given me, but also for the many reforms they have recently undertaken in Turkey – reforms that have led to ending the Parliamentary Assembly’s monitoring of my country, and to the further strengthening of human rights, democracy and the rule of law there.

I wish to pay tribute to my predecessor, Lluís Maria de Puig. His good sense of diplomacy, his kindness and consideration for all around him, irrespective of their political belonging – these qualities have made him a truly excellent President over these past two years, and he has guided us through many difficulties. The same appreciation also goes for our former president Rene van der Linden, and now President of the Dutch Senate, who is with us today.

At this point, allow me to express a few words in Turkish as well

Dear colleagues,

I have always believed that to be in politics is to bring a difference to people’s lives, to bring about change and make things better. I am delighted to have the honour of being the first Turkish citizen to hold this post, the youngest person – and paradoxically also the person with the least hair on his head.

Dear colleagues,

In the era of globalization we unavoidably face challenges: The economic crises, environmental problems and, last but not least, the increasing intolerance and discrimination in our societies. Tolerance remains an important European goal which we cannot set aside. Creating new fault lines with the false image of the other and the disrespect towards difference must be fought with renewed urgency and vigor. We must first breakdown the walls in our minds. Unless we do that there is no real freedom.

The foundation of our common European home must be built on an open society based on respect for diversity not on exclusion, not on discrimination, not on fear and not on hatred. Migration must be seen as an opportunity rather than a threat. We must enhance inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue. We must eradicate racism, xenophobia, anti-semitism, Islamophobia and all kinds of similar phobia leading to discrimination and intolerance.

In this connection, allow me to quote the very famous philosopher Mevlana Rumi:

Come, come over, more over,

For how long more such schism?

For how long more such fuss and fight

As you are me and I am you.

How long this discrimination of you and I?

We should strive for the European ideal to allow for everyone to live in dignity and security. In this regard terrorism as one of the main threats against these values, should be condemned and fought in full cooperation whilst respecting democracy, humans rights and rule of law.

I am particularly proud to take on this responsibility at a time when there is such a need to reform the Council of Europe - reflecting on its past 60 years.

Today the need for reform is as strong as ever. We must work hard to uphold the values of our communal life – the functioning of democracy, the rule of law and, most important of all, the protection of human rights. The Council of Europe, and this Assembly especially, have a central role to play.

While we are talking about reform, I believe we should fully support the reform process of the European Court of Human Rights.

As a member of this Assembly for seven years, working with three Presidents and two Secretaries General, I recognize that now - with a new President and a new Secretary General - we have a golden opportunity, all of us working together, to develop our analysis for a reform of the Council of Europe.

We cannot safeguard freedoms and rights by being distant from the ordinary citizen. We, the Parliamentary Assembly, represent the ordinary citizen. We have our fingers on the pulse of what the citizens require and are able to assess the actual effects of the Council of Europe initiatives on our citizens.

Therefore, the Parliamentary Assembly must give support to the Secretary General to achieve the institutional improvements that he is aiming for. We, within the Parliamentary Assembly, must also begin to discuss reform regarding our own working methods, procedures and structures. We must reflect on how to increase the relevance and effectiveness of our work.

Towards these goals, I will engage with all political groups and the Chairs of Assembly Committees.

To the Committee of Ministers, I offer the hand of friendship and a willingness to work with them. The Permanent Representatives of member states will always find my door open. Needless to say, that door of mine will also be wide open to all of you, fellow members of this Assembly.

I want to use my term in office, not to reshape the Assembly, but rather to build on its strengths. I would like to encourage the Assembly to open a path, to give people throughout Europe renewed confidence that we are an Organization that does more than talk, that we are prepared to listen, and deliver a positive outcome.

I shall defend the rights of this Assembly, whenever and wherever. In so doing, I will have three main responsibilities as the President of this Assembly.

-       to defend the values of the Assembly;

-       to defend the rights of people to come to this Assembly and participate in free debate;

-       and to champion the cause of the Parliamentary Assembly throughout Europe.

Following the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, new avenues of cooperation with the European Union have emerged. Strengthening relations with the European Union must be our priority.

Distinguished guests and

Dear colleagues,

I come from a country which has prided itself for two millennia on being a bridge among continents. I want to bring that political understanding to a new level, to act as a bridge for the peoples of Europe, whether they are in the frozen Arctic or on the warm beaches of Antalya. And by Europe I mean the entire Europe - from Reykjavik in the west to Vladivostok in the east, from Hammerfest in the north to La Valetta in the south. I want all 800 million Europeans to feel that in the Parliamentary Assembly and the Council of Europe they have an Organization that will look, listen and respond with positive action, and protect those values that every person in this room upholds so dearly.

This Organization, representing those 800 million Europeans, is made up of many parts – but nothing is more important than the values that bring these parts together. The post of President holds the key to both making that cohesion work and delivering on the issues that this Organization cares for.

I know that my task is not going to be easy, but I did not enter politics to have an easy life. Still, I hope there will also be moments when I shall be able to relax and think that we have succeeded. Of course, I will not be able to succeed without your support, particularly the support of our Secretary General, Mr. Sorinas, and his staff. I will cherish, with humble appreciation, the opportunity the Assembly has given me. I will work with you and for you.

Concluding with the words of the first elected President of this Assembly, Mr. Paul-Henri Spaak, “Now to work!”

Thank you.