'The only way to protect ourselves is to privilege dialogue over confrontation'

“No country can erect a wall against terrorism or the economic crisis. No country can build a barrier to keep out the instability caused by frozen or active conflicts, which have brought about the occupation and annexation of territories belonging to member states. The only way to protect ourselves and to move forward is to be aware of our inter-dependence and to focus on what unites us rather than what divides us, privileging dialogue over confrontation,” the PACE President stressed in his opening speech to the European Conference of Presidents of Parliament in Strasbourg.

“In this Assembly for over six decades, the democratically elected representatives of European citizens have met, debated and developed a common conscience of the meaning of democracy, human rights and the rule of law, and forged a common European identity. Today, 15 September, is the International Day of Democracy. I cannot think of a more appropriate place to celebrate this day,” he added.

“Certain dates define our history and shape our collective memory, our perceptions and our responses. One such defining moment was the attempted coup d’Etat in Turkey,” he said stressing that this was “a reminder that we should never take democracy for granted and that the best defence against attacks on democracy is through more democracy and respect for human rights and the rule of law, not less.”

Another such moment came with the Paris terrorist attacks, when ordinary people across Europe realised that they were the primary target. This “made us change our understanding of the danger,” President Agramunt said, adding that “despite the pervasive sentiment of a threat, fear and hatred must not prevail.” He called on the 60 or so Presidents and Speakers of Parliament present at the conference to join his initiative against terrorism #NoHateNoFear, and invited them “to bear witness to our commitment to defeat terrorism while remaining true to our values.”

He also highlighted that, “none of us will forget Aylan, a three-year-old Syrian boy who drowned while trying to reach Europe’s shores, becoming the symbol of a human tragedy to which Europe cannot find an answer. A divisive issue that has illustrated the tension between national interests and the need for solidarity and responsibility-sharing.”

Recalling that efforts to ensure that several generations of immigrants feel fully part of our societies have not always succeeded, he stressed that “the inclusiveness of society is the strongest shield against the power of extremist propaganda. We will not forget what happened in Utøya: the extremist hatred that murdered so many young people.”