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17 May 2005
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To be checked against delivered speech

Parliamentary Assembly President René van der Linden made the following statement:

“It would be difficult to think of a better place to organise the first ever Summit of the whole of Europe than Warsaw.

A city which became the symbol of the horrors of World War Two.

A city that saw the winds of change which ended the division of our Continent.

A city that today welcomes a united Europe for the first time in history.

A Europe which has been united by the power of values, not by the power of arms.

For centuries, different ideologies competed to dominate Europe. Now, it is clear that the winner is freedom represented by democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

* * *

The Council of Europe has achieved much in a remarkably short time since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The values we uphold are the basis of peace, stability and prosperity on our Continent.

We must help those that cannot, and put pressure on those that do not yet fully apply our standards or comply with their obligations and commitments.

* * *

Europe should be one - our 800 million citizens should enjoy the same rights and freedoms.

First of all comes the right to life.

Today, nobody in Europe must try to solve conflicts by force. This is not acceptable.

Moreover, Europeans must be protected against fanatics who put bombs in our schools, homes and train stations. Fighting terrorism must be our priority.

However, I do not believe in a clash of civilisations.

There is only a clash between human civilisation and barbarity.

Hence the need for a much increased intercultural and inter-religious dialogue, building on our work in fighting racism, anti-semitism, intolerance and xenophobia.

The Council of Europe and its Assembly, with more than 630 directly elected representatives of the people, is the ideal forum for this dialogue.

Education for democratic citizenship, transmitting our core values, should be a key component of our efforts.

So is the freedom of expression which, regrettably, is still often in danger, even in the Council of Europe member states.

Persecution and imprisonment for political reasons simply must not exist in Europe today.

Our values are not just declaratory.

They are embodied in conventions.

Over one third of these find their origin In the Parliamentary Assembly.

* * *

For me, the main challenges that lie ahead for the Council of Europe in the coming years are:

First, to ensure the practical implementation of our values in the everyday life of citizens.

This includes the right to live in dignity, which is not written in conventions, but is fundamental to me.

Second, to ensure that our standards are respected by all and in the same manner.

There should be no double standards.

Third, to further develop a common legal framework for the whole Europe.

There must be no more dividing lines in Europe.

Fourth, to be more convincing to our citizens. We must respond to their needs.

Therefore, we must strengthen the parliamentary dimension and work more closely with civil society.

Fifth, our key Convention, the European Convention on Human Rights, is in serious danger because of the evergrowing backlog of cases before the Court.

We must save it from collapsing.

And lastly, we have to avoid duplication and waste of money.

The Council of Europe is the European House for all European nations and their 800 million citizens, hopefully also soon for Belarus.

We will not find any better, or more cost-effective, instrument to strengthen the unity of Europe based on common values, than the Council of Europe.

The decisions you are about to take will enable us to meet these challenges - but only if YOU have the political will.”