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83rd Plenary Session of the Venice Commission

Venice , 

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Mr President,
Your Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to attend for the first time this plenary session of the Venice Commission in this marvellous city.

I should like to start by underlining why I chose to run for the office as Secretary General of the Council of Europe. I decided to do so because
I sincerely believe in Europe. In our liberal democracies and in how they have developed since the end of the Second World War for the benefit of hundreds of million of Europeans.

There is a lot of criticism of Europe nowadays. As there has always been. But I do not think that this criticism is justified. In spite of the economic crisis,
I think that we are doing well. Europe is a history of crisis. But we have over come each and every one of them. We will do so this time as well.

The reason for that is because we have raised from the ashes of
World War II by building a democratic foundation which gives comprehensive respect for human rights. In Europe we are individuals as citizens of a country, but also as citizens of a European system of human rights as guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Council of Europe is a crown with many jewels. Each and every one of them provides for a unique institutional set up which is unparalleled in history. European solidarity is known these days as helping countries in financial need. But the true meaning of solidarity is found in the human rights guaranteed to more than 800 million citizens in Europe. This is also why the question of Europe is not necessarily how to broaden it but, I would say, to deepen it.

Europe may survive without financial solidarity, but it cannot survive without the solidarity of human rights.

Therefore, upon my election as Secretary General last October, I announced that I intended to make sure that, by 2014, the Council of Europe would be the reference Organisation in Europe and beyond, for human rights, democracy and the rule of law, acting as a bridge between countries and organisations.

For this to happen, the Council of Europe must regain the capacity to anticipate challenges and to propose innovative solutions to these challenges, by using its unique instruments, skills, expertise and networks.

Today, our strengths lie in the expertise gathered in the many bodies and institutions making up our organisation. Still, we must remember that we are one organisation, as we are one Europe.

We must regain strength through co-operation and coherence.

It is the only way for the Council of Europe to be more effective, influential and, therefore, more politically relevant.

The Venice Commission will play a very important role in this respect. You are the Council of Europe's unique instrument for intelligent constitutional advice.

You are a weapon of democratization – inspired by Council of Europe standards – which can be deployed quickly and effectively anywhere in the world. In this regard, I cannot but refer to your official title "European Commission for Democracy through Law", a title which is often forgotten.

This name explains why your Commission represents an added value which has no match in Europe: you make the link between democracy and law and your work shows that law without democracy is a dictatorship and democracy without law is a farce.

You have been instrumental in overcoming constitutional crises in several European States. You often act in a highly political environment, but you are not a political body and that is your strength. You deliver legal opinions which have a political impact on the constitutional and legal situation of a given country. As an independent legal body based you are respected by politicians, media and the general public alike.

The quickest way to illustrate the importance of what the Venice Commission is and what it does is to look at the agenda of this Plenary Session. It is impressive both in terms of its geographical scope and the significance and complexity of the subjects you are going to discuss.

In Moldova, through its legal opinions, the Commission has assisted in interpreting the Constitution. The Commission has also indicated a possible way to overcome the constitutional deadlock in a manner respectful of the principle of the rule of law.

Yesterday we succeeded in brokering a solution to end the constitutional crisis which has made stable governance of that country practically impossible. The advice of the Venice Commission was a key part in our success.

With the opinion of the Venice Commission in hand we could mediate a solution to the Moldovan governing parties, making it possible to act responsibly and constructively.

Another Council of Europe member State, Georgia, is seeking the Venice Commission's advice in adopting a more balanced State structure with more powers in the hands of the government, accountable to the Parliament. The Council of Europe supports this change, in which the Venice Commission has been involved since the very beginning, and I believe that with its support and that of the Council of Europe as a whole, Georgia will succeed in its efforts.

Elections are the crucial expression of democracy, and the Venice Commission has provided its assistance and support in developing democratic electoral systems and processes in an exemplary manner.

I have noticed that in this field the Commission has established an institutional co-operation – unique within the Council of Europe - with the Parliamentary Assembly and the Congress (the Council for Democratic Elections). In addition, it has established remarkable co-operation with the OSCE-ODIHR, not only in the field of elections, but also in the areas of freedom of assembly and freedom of religion.

This co-operation resulted in concrete achievements. On today's agenda there are four important opinions on electoral legislation, concerning Georgia, Moldova, Montenegro and Belarus. There is also the opinion on the law on freedom of assembly of the canton Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

I encourage the Venice Commission to pursue this work, which combines legal expertise with political wisdom and knowledge of the situation in the field.

Democracy is never fully and permanently acquired. The adoption of constitutions or laws which are inspired by democratic standards does not shield a country from further challenges.

When a European country faces such challenges, the whole international community is concerned, and the Council of Europe should play a role in helping to overcome them through democratic means, through the strengthening of our common values: democracy, the rule of law, respect for human rights.

I am proud of being able to count on the Venice Commission to assert and promote the principles of the Council of Europe.

Thank you for your attention.