(Kharkiv, Ukraine, 23 August 2010)


Dear Mayor,


Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honour and pleasure for me to be with you here today in KHARKIV, as head of a delegation from the Council of Europe. My parliamentary colleagues from Germany, Ireland, Monaco and the United Kingdom, and specially Mr Axel FISCHER, the Chairman of the Sub-Committee on the Europe Prize which decided to award the Europe Prize to your town, have all been glad to come to KHARKIV for this major event in the life of your city.

I would also like to welcome here Ambassador Ake PETERSON, who is the Representative of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe in Kiev and last, but not least, the Mayor of ANKARA, Mr Melih GÖKCEK, winner of the Europe Prize last year and who made us the great honour to be with us today.

For my part, it is the first time that I attend this kind of event and it is also worth mentioning that KHARKIV is the first Ukrainian town to be awarded the highest price, the Europe Prize.

The Organisation I am representing here today, the Council of Europe, and its Parliamentary Assembly have expanded significantly since the events of 1989. Before then, the Council of Europe had 23 member states and Ukraine joined the Council of Europe in 1995. Now the figure of member states has doubled. 47 states are members of our organisation, thereby confirming their commitment to shared values such as respect for democracy, human rights and the rule of law, on the basis of which we are seeking to build a peaceful common future.

However, building Europe and upholding democracy and human rights should not just be left to states, ministries, chancelleries or even parliaments. At the Council of Europe, we have always said that the process of European construction is so important that all citizens must be involved.

In this joint effort, the democratic bodies closest to the citizen, in other words, towns, villages and municipalities, have a key role to play, as they are the very foundations that ensure the stability of the European Home we have been building for three generations.

Indeed, that is why the Council of Europe in 1957 set up what has become the Congress representing the local and regional authorities in our 47 member states.

In establishing the Europe Prize in 1955, the aim of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe was to demonstrate, through a political decision, the importance it attached to the European action of local authorities.

The prize, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in Santiago de Compostela five years ago, has been awarded to 65 municipalities throughout Europe since it was first established. The most recent winners include ANKARA in Turkey last year, KATOWICE in Poland in 2008, NUREMBERG in Germany in 2007, SZEGED in Hungary in 2006 and as I told just before, it is the first time that it goes to an Ukrainian town.

The prize is therefore a great success for your city, and also for the values you represent. And it is a well-deserved success because, as you can imagine, KHARKIV was not the only candidate for this great distinction this year.

The members of the Committee on the Environment, Agriculture and Local and Regional Affairs were very favourably impressed by both the number and the depth of the friendly ties you have built up through your numerous twinning projects and co-operation agreements. These efforts had already been noticed a few years ago, when Kharkiv was awarded the European Diploma in 2003, the Flag of Honour in 2004, and the Plaque of Honour in 2008.

And we were very pleased to note that these contacts have, in fact, enabled large sections of the population to take part in exchanges and enjoy new experiences at international level, which is most enriching for them. It is that spirit of openness which we wish to praise.

Through your seventeen twinnings in the world, including former winners of the Europe Prize such as Bologna in Italy and Nuremberg in Germany, you developed a very dense network of international contacts, thus offering the possibility to co-operate as well with East European as with West European countries. International events like the Kharkiv civic festival, the international junior football tournament and the competitive ballroom dancing festival attract every year numerous participants from the twin-towns.

It was because of KHARKIV’S contribution to European unity that our committee members unanimously agreed that the city deserved to be included in the list of winners of the Europe Prize alongside cities such as ISTANBUL, BURSA and ANKARA in my own country, Strasbourg, Vienna, The Hague, Lausanne, and Berlin elsewhere in Europe, just to name few of them.

I hope the award of the Europe Prize will be seen as a well-deserved reward for the efforts made so far and an encouragement to keep them up in future.