The European Conference of Presidents of Parliament of Council of Europe member states has been organised under the auspices of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe since 1975. It brings together Speakers and Presidents of the Parliaments of the 47 member States of the Council of Europe, as well as of the Parliaments of the states enjoying observer or partner for democracy status with the PACE and of international parliamentary assemblies. The parliaments of central Asia and Maghreb countries are also invited (a total of 99 Speakers/Presidents).
This year the Hellenic Parliament has the pleasure of hosting the European Conference of Presidents of Parliament in the cradle of democracy, Athens.
After a considerable period of physical distancing, due to the health crisis, we are given the opportunity to meet again and exchange views and experiences on the crucial challenges we face and which are on the agenda of this year’s Conference:
1. Democracies facing the Covid-19 public health crisis: sharing experiences
During the recent period of the global health crisis we have been tested in many ways under unprecedented conditions. The unprecedented pandemic altered the course of the world as we knew it. It functioned as a magnifying glass of our societies’ inequalities and vulnerabilities. Particularly alarming has been, inter alia, the increase in violence against women and domestic violence.
The pandemic has affected how our democracies function. It has led to additional measures to protect the right to life and public health, often including necessary restrictions on certain individual rights and freedoms. At the same time, however, it accelerated scientific developments and bold breakthroughs in the policies of states and governments trying to address the pandemic, especially where the vaccine is concerned.
In these difficult circumstances, the Greek Chairmanship of the Council of Europe in 2020, a digital chairmanship for the most part, with the Declaration of Athens, focused precisely on the need to protect human life and public health in a pandemic with full respect for human rights and the principles of democracy and the rule of law. It was a significant challenge for the National Parliaments of the CoE member states to highlight their role in these difficult circumstances and the contribution of the Parliamentary Assembly to this end was decisive.
The Conference of the Presidents of Parliament will provide a unique opportunity to share experiences and promising practices on how to move forward, useful in the current health crisis, but also for addressing similar future crises.
2. #EnvironmentRightNow : national parliaments and the right to a healthy and sustainable environment
A key goal of policies worldwide now and in the near future is to address the vital challenge of climate change. There is no point to any programme for prosperity, economic progress and innovation if we fail to do that. If we don’t protect our environment immediately and for the long haul, then we will be deprived of the framework within which we are accustomed to building our lives, taking it for granted and considering it unassailable.
Five years after the Paris Climate Agreement and with COP26 in Glasgow on the horizon, Europe must prove its firm commitment to “climate governance” at all levels and must be committed to the UN goal of “zero CO2 emissions”.
The role of parliaments is very important in setting national priorities, providing guidance and oversight in their implementation and ensuring sufficient resources for this purpose. Their contribution to the promotion of dialogue between stakeholders at local, national, regional and international levels is also important.
We have the knowledge and the framework, it is now necessary to mobilise the democratic political will.
3. Τhe common future of all European Citizens
The recent experience of the pandemic, which interrupted life’s certainties and the world around us by acting as a catalyst, along with changes that were already under way, saw the emergence of a dire need for a wide discussion on establishing a new balance and on the common future of all European citizens.
The peoples of Europe, united by the values embodied in the more than 220 CoE conventions, must strengthen our democracies and adapt them to the challenges of our time. We must prepare to emerge from this crisis more united and stronger, by strengthening the voice of our citizens. Without exclusions or discriminations. By strengthening the voice of young people. By strengthening the institutions, their credibility, but more importantly their effectiveness. By pursuing progress, innovation, development towards a technological future, but also by ensuring democratic control and that no one is left behind.
It would be worth making the years that follow years of responsibility for everyone. In order to continue to exercise our acquired rights and secure new ones, we need participation, responsibility and leadership and this is the message that the reputable institution that is the CoE can convey, but also the national parliaments.