Parliamentary Assembly session : 31 March – 4 April 2003 

Speech by Simeon de Saxe-Cobourg Prime Minister of the Republic of Bulgaria

Strasbourg, 3 April 2003

Mr President, ladies and gentlemen,

It is an honour for me, as Prime Minister of the Republic of Bulgaria, to be able, at last, to address the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, an organisation that stands for democracy and respect for human rights, where economic development is reconciled with social progress and where tolerance and respect for minorities prevail.

Without wishing to be pompous, I would say that it is here that our common future, that of 21st-century Europe, is being forged. By Europe, I mean much more than the continent’s geographical contours: I am talking about a development model and the influence of a civilisation.

In today’s difficult international context, these values are threatened once again. We must, as Europeans, rise to the new challenges thrown up both by globalisation and by the growing threat of international terrorism. The new Europe is being forged by dint of determination, and this shared resolve will enable us to meet these new challenges. Let it not be forgotten that our differences are our strength, as long as we acknowledge that we have a common objective.

In this context, Bulgaria endorses the idea of a Third Summit, which would consider the Council of Europe’s role and contribution among the new institutions of our continent. Bulgaria also supports the reform of the European Court of Human Rights.

Mr President,

The most important value bringing us all here together at the Council of Europe is that of human life. Indeed, it is this that determines our attitude towards the alarming threat of terrorism. It is for this reason that my country welcomes the “Guidelines on human rights and the fight against terrorism” which the Council has adopted.

Indeed, it is this approach which likewise explains our attitude towards the Iraqi crisis. As a country that is not a permanent member of the Security Council, we have given priority to finding a peaceful solution at all costs. I deeply regret the fact that the diplomatic efforts of the international community to disarm Iraq without a war did not produce the desired results. Now that the die is cast, it will be necessary, once armed intervention is over, to make every effort to set up democratic institutions and preserve the territorial integrity of Iraq. It is this process that will make it possible to lift sanctions against this country, which has been so sorely tried, and restore normal political, economic and living conditions for the Iraqi people, who are long-standing friends of Bulgaria.

As you know, Bulgaria is part of European civilisation in both historical and cultural terms.

One of the Bulgarian Government’s key concerns is to continue with reforms and consolidate the rule of law, in accordance with European principles and standards, through work in such areas as:

- the reform of the judiciary and government departments;

- combating corruption;

- liberalisation of the private sector, in a favourable competitive environment.

Substantial changes have been made to our legislation and the electronic media have been partially liberalised in order to ensure their independence. A new law on religion, which Bulgarian society had been awaiting for over ten years, was passed in December. Among other things, it guarantees equal treatment and the protection of freedom of worship and encourages social and educational activities within the various faiths. A law on the ombudsman - an institution by which I set great store - is in the process of being passed, and a special law on the prevention of discrimination is also on the agenda.

Mr President,

Bulgaria’s history shows that the spirit of tolerance is the root of the wellbeing and security of society as a whole. Recently - in March - we commemorated the 60th anniversary of the rescue of Bulgarian Jews from the death camps, while paying tribute to the victims of the Holocaust. Bulgarian schools devoted an hour’s lesson time to civics, the spirit of inter-ethnic tolerance and democracy.

In this context, Bulgaria has suggested that 2005 be baptised European Year of Citizenship through Education. We consider that intercultural and inter-religious dialogue in education fosters a spirit of tolerance among young people.

Both politicians and Bulgarian society in general consider that the “Bulgarian ethnic model” is an asset and an experience that we can share with others. The government’s priority is the full integration of Bulgarian nationals from other ethnic groups. Examples are the government’s work with Rom NGOs and the outline programme for the integration of Roma in Bulgarian society, signed in 1999.

Mr President,

As a member state of the Council of Europe, Bulgaria is pursuing an active policy of upholding European values nationally and internationally. I am pleased to note that my country now contributes to stability and security in south-east Europe. Our policy is geared to close co-operation with the countries in the region, based on respect for democratic institutions and the rule of law.

I should like to take advantage of my presence here today to welcome the accession of Serbia and Montenegro as a fully-fledged member of the Council of Europe, and I am delighted at the idea of co-operating with it in this Organisation, which is the melting pot of 21st-century Europe.

In conclusion, I should like to repeat that I set great store by the blueprint for Europe, this grand design that draws us together. I am convinced that the debate on the future of our continent will enshrine and extend the role of the Council of Europe as the guarantor of democratic values, so as to make human rights, security and prosperity the lot of every European citizen.