23.06.08

OPENING STATEMENT

OF MR LLUĺS MARIA DE PUIG

PRESIDENT OF THE PARLIAMENTARY ASSEMBLY

JUNE 2008 PART-SESSION

(Strasbourg, Monday, 23 June 2008, 11h30 a.m.)


Ladies and Gentlemen,

The opening of a part-session is always an opportunity for asking ourselves what has changed around us, what has changed in the world?

Even if we cannot pinpoint any radical change in the space of just two months, we have now finally realised that in a few decades we will be living in a completely unknown world, a world that will almost completely lack all the resources which have served to build up human civilisation.

It is still hard even to imagine such a world, and yet it will be the one in which our children and even some of the younger among us here will have to live. So it is time we realised that we only have ourselves to rely on for our whole future development as human beings and as a society.

We must rely on our capacity for innovating and creating new wealth, but also on our wisdom and ability to distribute the latter more fairly and equitably, in order to prevent any new gaps opening between rich and poor, leading to new and devastating conflicts.

The soaring price of oil, the increasing cost of living, which is intolerable for more and more people, the shadow of economic recession threatening our interdependent world, and the recurrent natural disasters that highlight our vulnerability: we obviously have no appropriate short- or long-term responses to any of these serious issues.

We often tend to see economic, agricultural and environmental issues as separate from our Organisation’s core objectives. It is not a case of changing direction: we must simply realise how intimately all aspects of human life and the functioning of our societies are bound up with human rights.

It is a case of broadening our horizons and dealing with issues in all their complexity, precisely in order better to defend human rights.

The right to food, clothing and housing is an essential human right. The right to work for one’s living and enjoy appropriate social protection is a human right. And the right to live in a healthy environment is also a human right, as I stated on the occasion of World Environment Day, when I also advocated a new additional protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights on the subject.

The Council of Europe is an ideal platform for advancing together, drawing on our shared concerns and the values which unite us. Last month in The Hague, the European Movement celebrated the 60th anniversary of the process which launched European integration and whose first practical result was the setting up of the Council of Europe. On that occasion I reminded European Union officials that Europe consists of all European countries.

Some of these may never become members of the European Union, but in the Council they all work together on an equal footing.

We parliamentarians have a specific responsibility as representatives of the vox populi. I might mention here the European Conference of Presidents of Parliament which took place here in Strasbourg on 22 and 23 May 2008, producing a plethora of good ideas and recommendations in two vital fields, namely our relations with civil society and the potential ways for parliaments to help consolidate our values throughout the European continent.

Moreover, it is no wonder that the Council of Europe’s model is increasingly attractive in other parts of the world. First of all, we must continue and expand the co-operation process in the Mediterranean Basin, which is the cradle of European civilisation. Our Organisation is perfectly suited to this task because our main strength is dialogue and the sharing of ideas and values.

International parliamentarianism is currently thriving, and in fact at 1 pm this Wednesday I shall have the pleasure of presenting you with my latest publication, an examination of all the international parliamentary assemblies operating in the world. Many of these assemblies pursue the same goals as we do, defending human rights, pluralist democracy and the rule of law. During my term of office I am therefore intending to intensify relations with some of these assemblies. For example, I have just got back from a visit to the Latin American Parliament, with which we have decided to liaise and co-operate more closely.

Dear colleagues,

If we wish to place our expertise at the service of others, we must ourselves be beyond reproach vis--vis our own values. Although the 47-State Europe which we represent is in itself an enormous success, there are still many problems in a fair number of our member States.

I shall begin with South-East Europe. Europe is as divided as ever on the matter of Kosovo’s efforts to affirm a national identity, most recently with the entry into force of our constitution.

I would sincerely hope that in Serbia the dichotomy between a European future and a dark past will be resolved in the best interests of Serbian citizens, who do not deserve isolation. I am very glad that We will be able to discuss this matter with President Tadic this Thursday.

A debate under urgent procedure has been requested on recent developments in the functioning of democratic institutions in Turkey. It is normal for people in any democracy to have different ideas and views. The main thing is that disputes are settled by democratic means, in compliance with the Council of Europe’s values. I hope that the Turkish institutions will shoulder their responsibilities in this area. But we too have a responsibility, that of providing Turkey with a clear, unequivocal European perspective.

There are still serious concerns in the Caucasus, both in the wake of the presidential elections in Armenia and in the run-up to those in Azerbaijan. I shall be visiting these two countries in July. I shall also try to organise an early visit to Georgia, whose internal political situation is by no means facilitated by the threats to its national security and sovereignty in Abkhazia and Southern Ossetia.

I would at the same time like to express my great hopes as regards Cyprus. I hope that this island will set a shining example of peaceful reunification, for the sake of a prosperous future for all its inhabitants. My dear friends from both communities, you can be assured of my full support in all your efforts.

Lastly I would mention Russia, a country of which we have high expectations. I am greatly encouraged by the declarations of the new Russian President, Mr Medvedev, who has undertaken to create “a free society” in Russia and to promote a new agreement signed by Russia, the European Union and the United States.

My dear friends,

On my first day as President of this Assembly I shared with you my desire for a more humane Europe, a Europe which would listen to its citizens and open up to the rest of the world. I am afraid that such a Europe is proving difficult to achieve, and that it is even regressing in some ways. Although economic liberalism remains the main driving force behind growth and prosperity, we must be careful to ensure that the laws of the market always remain compatible with human, social and civic rights. One of the most striking examples is the increasing production of bio-fuels, which are very cost-effective but are causing famine in whole regions of the globe. However, we need not always go so far afield to find reason for concern: we could take the example of the recent European Directive which sets weekly working hours at 48 but nonetheless allows a maximum of 65!

We must also be careful about security issues that can potentially violate the fundamental human rights. So-called “security measures” can lead to serious tension in society and have the opposite effect of increasing insecurity. The current debate on immigration in Europe, especially the legislative package on security adopted last May in Italy, is raising serious questions. Are we really prepared to apply the same standards to ourselves as to others?

I am very concerned that the aforementioned difficulties and many others besides are being used by a considerable number of citizens to challenge the future of European construction, rather than uniting us in action to solve them. We saw this with the French and Dutch “No” to the draft European constitution, and have just seen it again with the Irish rejection of the draft Lisbon Treaty. We cannot continue along this road. Dialogue and exchange of ideas are vital, because we must find joint responses.

So I hope that we will take full advantage of our unique opportunity of meeting here in Strasbourg four times a year. I hope that your debates will be fruitful and constructive. I also hope that we will all return home with a wealth of ideas which will enable us to advance, each of us in our home countries and all of us together.