Speech on the occasion of the High-level Conference “European Convention on Human Rights at 70: Milestones and major achievements"
Strasbourg, Friday 18 September 2020

Dear President of the Court,
Dear Secretary General,
Dear Minister, Dear Chairman,
Dear Judges,
Your Excellencies,

It is a great honour and pleasure for me to be here with you today.

This morning, when walking over from the Palais de l’Europe to the European Court of Human Rights, and seeing this lovely building, I couldn’t help having this image in front of my eyes of the Council of Europe as a mighty, proud building composed of blocks of rights and liberties.

We all know that in a building there are two main important stones: the cornerstone at the bottom and the capstone at the top keeping the building together. For me, the capstone of this building is the European Court of Human Rights. It should be stable, it should be there holding the building as one, and no one should tamper with it. It must be independent, and it should be firmly in place because if the capstone comes down or is not stable, the whole building risks collapse.

The cornerstone at the bottom is also very important because if it is not well calibrated and if it deviates by only one small millimetre the whole building might fall over.

I use this image to say that the cornerstone for me is the European Convention on Human Rights. And, to me, this Convention is more like a pan-European constitutional pillar of rights and liberties. It is for all of us to cherish it. It is for us to look after it. This Convention is not like any other. It is in evolution; it is not something that stays the same all the time. Again, it needs to be calibrated and it needs to stay 100% in a straight angle. Which is why I think that at a certain stage we need to look into it – and this anniversary is a very important date for doing so.

If something positive has to come out of the COVID19 crisis, it is the conviction that once the crisis will be over and, although life will look different, our values must prevail. This reflection gave rise to a second thought: out there, there is a new generation of rights – il y a une nouvelle génération de droits. And this is not in the calibration of the cornerstone and it does not allow us over time to keep it 100% straight and to avoid having an angle at the top which may cause the building to fall down. Which is why I think we should address this new generation of rights without delay. And I will give you some concrete examples.

We all know that artificial intelligence is going to impact the daily lives of our citizens for the better – but maybe also for the worst. And we all know that our Convention is the basis of a pan-European legal space allowing people – more than 830 million European citizens – to live united in diversity, but on the basis of common values and rights. And if it would be true, and I do believe it is, that there is a new generation of rights, then we should address it, the cornerstone should address it, and the capstone should ensure it.

And let me give you just one more example which is close to my heart: out there, in this new generation of rights, there is a missing link – and it has already been there for a long time – between environment and human rights.

Environment is not a set of conditions allowing us to live together: no, environment is, as far as I am concerned, a matter of principles. This is why the message I would like to convey to you today is that environment is a human right.

Thank you for your attention.