Speech during the ceremony to mark the 70th Anniversary of the European Convention of Human Rights
Athens, Wednesday 4 November 2020

Madame President,
Madame Secretary General,
Mr Chair of the Committee of Ministers,
colleagues and friends of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms,

It was a little bit over 71 years ago, specifically on 8 September 1949, that the Parliamentary Assembly, in a recommendation to the Committee of Ministers, called for the drawing up of a draft convention, and I quote: "providing a collective guarantee, and designed to ensure the effective, enjoyment of all persons residing within their territories of the rights and fundamental freedoms referred to in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights".

Ce n’est donc pas sans fierté que je suis devant vous aujourd’hui pour cette célébration des 70 ans de la Convention, puisque vous savez que le premier Président de l’Assemblée parlementaire du Conseil de l’Europe était un belge, un grand homme politique, Paul-Henry Spaak.

From the very moment the Convention opened for signature in Rome, on 4 November 1950, exactly as today 70 years ago, the Assembly recognised the importance of this treaty, and considered from the very start that the willingness to ratify this convention would be the sine qua non condition to be a member of the Council of Europe.

This is the basis of our great institution, that we have, in the Convention, created - and this is unique and so different from the Universal Declaration - a single legal space, protecting today more than 830 million European citizens. This is the importance of this Convention. It has an impact on the daily life of more than 830 million citizens, within the same legal space.

And the Council of Europe is a very specific Organisation. We have the Secretary General, who is a bit of a turntable for everything that happens in the Organisation. We have the Committee of Ministers, who make Conventions come to light. We have the Parliamentary Assembly, who, to a certain extent, provides for the substance of Conventions, as it did 71 years ago with the recommendation to come to the basic Convention on human rights and fundamental freedoms. On top of that, we have a Court, whose President is among us, who enforces it. So, a single legal space,  protecting fundamental rights and fundamental freedoms in the daily life of more than 830 million European Citizens. That is what we are talking about, and it is of paramount importance.

The Convention as such is a living legal instrument - we had some discussions with the President of the Court about that - and it is, as far as I am concerned, a remarkable contribution to the universal recognition and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. But, it is also a living creature, if you wish, which means that, living through this difficult Covid times, we have seen suddenly new rights and a new generation of rights coming into the light. They existed already, but we see them very clearly now, which basically means that the work is never finished. It is not that we have the Convention that is 70 years old now. We have a Convention today with a number of Protocols, and tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow and the coming years and decades, we will need to work on this new generation of rights. One of them, which, as you know Madame President, I believe is extremely important, is the missing link between environment and human rights. Another one is the free will of people deciding for themselves and not being influenced, wrongfully so, by the abuses through artificial intelligence. The right to know the truth is one of these rights that is coming up very strongly now, because, we all know that Social Media, largely, are not giving any value to the truth. So the right to know is also one of these new generation rights. And this is why, we, as an Organisation, the Committee of Ministers, the Parliamentary Assembly, the Secretary General, with the contribution of the Court, we need to address this. Why? Because we need to ensure that all of our European citizens today, tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow, are protected according to a common and uniform standard.

Because this is what multilateralism is all about; setting out common standards on a multilateral basis, where everyone is treated equally. And Madame President, if I may address you personally on this matter, maybe being equal is important, but being equal doesn’t mean we are all the same. And this is why, in my view, Europe is basically unity and diversity. This is what Europe is all about. Where unity is on the basis of common values, it is on the basis of common values and terms of human rights, in terms of democracy, in terms of rule of law and in terms of fundamental freedoms.

And let me just, concluding, address fundamental freedoms with a quote from the great greek Pericles. He said "Freedom is the sure possession of those alone who have the courage to defend it." Madame President, I bless me for you, the Parliamentary Assembly and the Council of Europe as a whole, that at all times we will have the courage to defend it.