The common future for all the European citizens: Theme 3 of the Conference of Presidents of Parliaments of the Council of Europe member states
On the second day of the European Conference organized by the Hellenic Parliament in Athens the Presidents of Parliaments of the Council of Europe member states discussed the useful lessons learned from their common past, the multiple challenges that they need to confront in the present and the prospects for a better common future for all.
At the beginning of the discussion at the instigation of the President of the Hellenic Parliament Mr Constantine Tassoulas, a minute’s silence was observed in honour of the British MP Sir David Amess, who was murdered on 15 October 2021, while holding a surgery in his constituency.
Before the speeches of the keynote speakers, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, Speaker of the UK’s House of Commons described the late MP and underlined the need to tighten security measures of MPs and continue to stand united in defending democracy.
The first keynote speaker, Stephanie D’ Hose, Speaker of the Belgian Senate, noted that the pandemic was a wakeup call that changed our lives and offered us an incentive to respond to new challenges quickly and effectively. A special reference was made to the need to protect the environment and in relation to the “EnvironmentRightNow” she stressed that we are overwhelmed by the intensity of the changes taking place around us, but this era calls for us to take immediate action and we should proceed in a creative future, protecting Democracy at every step of the way. “We could have a common future only through joint action. Words should be transformed into action and the choices for the future should be brave”, she concluded.
The President of the Cypriot House of Representatives, Annita Demetriou, was the second keynote speaker, who talked about the unprecedented conditions that the world had to face due to the pandemic, pointing out that after this development “the world has undoubtedly changed”. Ms Demetriou explained that “Covid-19 not only has claimed the lives of over 1,000.000 Europeans, but at the same time led many people to poverty, especially women, while most member states had to face unprecedented challenges”. “The pandemic exposed the inequalities not only within our societies but also within the member states”, she noted, and underlined the right to “live in peace, prosperity and security”, as well as the importance of the imperative right to “health and a healthy environment”. “It is necessary to cooperate in terms of human rights, the right to social security, housing, as well as the broader issue of poverty” pointed out Ms Demetriou. However, she noted that “we need to rely on the international rule of law and our founding values and principles’’ and warned that “the adherence to these principles and values is being challenged on many fronts and we need to face these challenges, otherwise the cracks in the system will become deeper”.
The President of the National Assembly of the Republic of Slovenia Igor Zorčič stressed that “the pandemic has taught us a tough lesson” and revealed “the vulnerability of human kind”, proving that only cooperation can guarantee that the problems will be solved and that a multilateral approach is very important in order to face these new challenges. He expressed his conviction that “we all wish to live in an environment of economic and social security and have a European identity along with our national identities”, while respecting our rights. Mr Zorčič underlined the importance of promoting the political participation of young people in decision making, an objective that is being implemented through specific actions of the Slovenian Assembly. Finally, he underlined the need to accelerate the accession process of the Western Balcan countries to the EU, since this will contribute to the stabilization of the region.
The Speaker of the Albanian Parliament Lindito Nikolla pointed out that “our European future would be better if we could contribute to addressing some of the developmental assymetries that exist in our planet and he supported that the enlargement policies should be merit-based otherwise the values of the Council of Europe are undermined”.
The Speaker of the Armenian Assembly Alen Simonyan pointed out that “the political and economic system of the European countries is tested. The common future of all the European citizens can be achieved only through a peaceful environment”. Mr Simonyan added that there should be a peaceful solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict based on principles of both parties, stressing that the values and the rule of law in Europe must not be questioned.
The Vice-Speaker of the Spanish Parliament Gloria Eliza stressed that “it would be an important step if Europe gains more weight in the human rights issue”. He expressed the need to “increase citizen’s direct participation in the democratic institutions and modernize the way elections are held”.
In his intervention the Vice-President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly Attila Mesterhazy pointed out that NATO emphasizes the importance of democracy, and this is why the Center for Democratic Resilience was created in order to support member states, when requested, as well as support the democratic principles. He mentioned the multiple threats democracy is facing among member states, by authoritarian regimes and the misuse of new digital technologies, and added that “the NATO PA opposes Russian aggression against Georgia, Ukraine and Moldavia”.
In his speech the President of the Swiss Council of States Alex Kuprecht talked about the necessary solidarity among European member states and the strengthening of democratic institutions. As he pointed out, “Switzerland has developed a system of direct democracy. The system is about the right of the citizens to participate in direct referendums and the results are respected. This is the basis of democracy”.
The President of the Moldovan Parliament, Igor Grosou, emphasized that the Council of Europe is a firm partner in promoting a culture of democracy and good governance, the rule of law, democratic elections and human rights.
The President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe), Margareta Cederfelt, referred to the organization, which includes 57 countries and is addressed to 1 billion citizens, in order to consolidate peace and cooperation in Europe. She called national parliaments to include
public debate on the activities of multilateral organizations, such as the OECD, in order to make citizens more aware of their actions, while stressing that national governments should also highlight their activities of these international organizations. She also stressed the need for national governments to monitor compliance with the decisions that their national delegations co-sign participating in multilateral organizations in Europe.
The President of the National Assembly of Hungary, Mr. Laszlo Kover, stated that "European citizens have much more common values that unite us than those that divide us". He pointed out that "our common future must be based on strong democracies, the realization of parliamentarism, the successful cooperation of our nations, strong solidarity with national minorities and the principles of sustainability."
The President of the German Federal Council, Mr. Reiner Haseloff, stressed, among other things, that human dignity is inviolable. "Human rights apply to everyone, even those who knock on the door of the European Union," he said. He also pointed out that "the establishment of the Council of Europe in 1949, the European Charter of Human Rights and our common home, Europe, is the answer to the disruption of the continuity of civilization. "Our obligation to uphold these values is the timeless thread that can lead us to new forms of democracy in the digital age, and that is the measure to build our common home."
A key condition for the future of Europe is the friendship of the peoples and not the imposition of power, said in his speech the President of the Parliament of Montenegro Aleksa Bečić and referred to his country's efforts for EU accession, the which, he said, is based on friendship, mutual understanding, respect and solidarity between countries.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Denis Zvizdic, considers that "it is impossible to talk about the common future of all European citizens without all European citizens from an enlarged and united Europe". He noted that "peace and prosperity in Bosnia and Herzegovina means peace and stability in the Western Balkans and throughout Europe. "Because no one benefits from instability at its borders." And as he noted, "the border between Bosnia and Herzegovina and the European Union is a thousand kilometers."
The Speaker of the Parliament of Azerbaijan, Sahida Gafarova, noted, among other things, that "we as parliaments must take action to address the challenges facing our democratic institutions and political systems." "We must focus on cultural diversity, on tolerance, so that there is no discrimination."
The Vice-President of the Lithuanian Parliament, Mr Vytautas Mitalas, referred to the problems regarding democracy and the defense of human rights on the European continent, focusing on the situation in Russia and Belarus. He wondered if European people could be indifferent to the violation of democratic values and human rights within Europe, and noted that the Council of Europe had set up a Standing Group on Human Rights in Belarus, which also monitors the instrumentalization of immigration by the Belarusian authorities.
The President of the Baltic Assembly, Mr. Andrius Kupcinskas, stated that "today no one knows what our common European future will be like in the coming years". He noted that "the future of European citizens will be determined by our ability to meet the challenges posed by the pandemic, climate change, digital transformation, and the questioning of a democratic climate." He stressed that "we are not afraid to say that mistakes were made, but in these unprecedented situations mistakes are expected".
The President of the Dutch Senate, Anthonie Bruijn, referred to the need to give more opportunities to young people through the upgrading of education systems. As he said, “the power of education extends beyond the development of the skills we need for financial success. "Our basis for building a common European future for future generations is precisely to give more opportunities to our youth."
The Vice President of the National Council of Slovakia, Mr. Gabor Grendel, spoke about the rule of law, without which human rights cannot be guaranteed, and stressed that the Parliaments must create stable conditions for its establishment.
The President of the Polish Parliament, Mrs. Elzbiieta Witek, stressed that Europe must be a safe port of peace and condemned any policy of instrumentalizing immigration, while also emphasizing the need to restore stability and security at Europe's borders.
The Vice-President of the French Senate, Pascale Gruny, emphasized the need to reaffirm the human values of the Council of Europe, noting that human rights are fragile and questionable, so we must rediscover our common values and national parliaments will play a key role in this context.
The Vice-President of the Norwegian Parliament, Morten Wold, referred to the growing skepticism within the EU as the basic principles of the Council of Europe are being contested. "We are 47 different states, we must ensure the framework of common principles while maintaining our autonomy," he said.
The President of the Senate of Poland Mr. Tomasz Grodzki referred to the importance of international cooperation in crisis situations and stressed that it is our basic obligation to safeguard the EU and make it more resilient to future crises, as there is no other solution.
The President of the Parliament of Northern Macedonia, Mr. Talat Xhaferi, stressed, finally, that more opportunities should be given for democratic participation of young people in the decision-making process. He also referred to the issue of the effective response to climate change.
Following the conclusion of the debate and the third thematic unit the outcome of the Conference is expected.