January 2017 PACE Plenary Session: opening speech by Josette Durrieu

First sitting

Monday 23 January 2017 at 11.30 a.m.

3. Address by the doyenne of the Assembly

The PRESIDENT – Colleagues, this is the second time that I have sat in this position, according to established practice, as the doyenne of the Assembly – its longest-serving member. I started here in 1992 and my term will come to an end in September. The links that tie us to this institution are vital. Alongside you, I have been able to experience the history of the Council of Europe – a history forged, done and undone before our very eyes in this crucible in which strong, unshakable European conscience should be developed.

However, in the face of idealism there is the harsh reality of Europe as it is today. Threats and challenges are emerging, some of which are not being extinguished. Borders are not being respected or are closing, and countries are leaving the European Union – Brexit was a shock. There are disappointed hopes and shared responsibilities in our democracies, which are struggling with populism and demagogy. We therefore need to rediscover the strength of a collective ambition, which is the only guarantor of peace. It is around those universal values of human rights that we must reforge the European identity that is so keenly sought. The mission of the Council of Europe and of the European Court of Human Rights, created in 1959, is imperilled, and we must protect and defend it.

Some countries wish to leave the European Court of Human Rights, which imperils it. Protectionist and nationalist feelings of an aggravated nature are also threatening it. However, through its judgments the Court has strengthened freedom and justice across the continent. Human rights and justice are therefore more important than ever. Here, first and foremost, in the Council of Europe, we must denounce justice that results in killing – that should never be our justice. We wish to see the universal abolition of the death penalty. One hundred and forty-one states out of 198 have abolished de jure or de facto the death penalty, but in 2015, 1 304 people were put to death in 25 countries. And the country we thought the most democratic, the United States of America, has practised the death penalty in several States.

Let us also denounce all forms of corruption: the deep-seated evil that undermines States, institutions and individuals. More than elsewhere, it is in the Council of Europe that we should be vigilant. Some parliamentarians who are members of our Assembly seem to have been implicated in matters relating to their mission and function. They seem to be implicated in matters that are being dealt with by the courts and which would have involved other parliamentarians, so the circle has expanded. The centre of this vicious circle means that the Council of Europe needs to grapple with the problem.

These doubts and suspicions are unbearable for the image of the Council of Europe. Our strength is not financial; our strength is not military. We have no army; we have no great wealth. The strength of the

Council of Europe is moral. We are the vehicles and the guarantors of universal values. The external pressures being exerted upon us are obscuring these realities, and we in the Parliamentary Assembly wish to see clarity. An independent outside investigation must be launched and swiftly. I am speaking directly to the President of Assembly, who is to be designated shortly. He is being challenged and he is directly concerned by this challenge.

Let me conclude by saying that we should give birth to a community of rights. This is a major achievement for our universal civilisation. We must once again take on the mantle of the sublime mission of the Council of Europe. Let us unite peoples in peace, justice and the lofty moral values of the society we wish to build. (Applause.)


4. Election of the President of the Assembly

The PRESIDENT – The next item of business is the election of the President of the Assembly.

I have received one single candidature, that of Mr Pedro Agramunt of Spain, from the Group of the European People’s Party, for re-election.

Under Rule 15, I declare Mr Pedro Agramunt re-elected as President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe for this ordinary session.

Mr Agramunt, I invite you to take the presidential chair. Let me convey to you my compliments and my best wishes for a successful performance in this lofty office.

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