Your Excellencies the Captains Regent,
Honourable Members of the Congress of State,
Honourable Members of the Grand and General Council,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to take part in this prestigious Investiture Ceremony. I would first like to congratulate Your Excellencies, the Captains Regent, for your election and to express my gratitude to the Republic of San Marino for having granted me the privilege of being the official speaker today.
It is also an honour to be attending an event which is deeply rooted in the political traditions of the Republic of San Marino, one of the world's oldest parliamentary democracies.
An event which is also a very good demonstration of the principle of power sharing since the Captains Regent are chosen every six months from opposing political parties.
This can be seen as an example of the confidence and trust that citizens place in their leaders in a mature democratic state.
Another example of this can be found in the "Istanza d'Arengo" - a very old institution which gives citizens the opportunity to put questions to the Captains Regent and also to suggest to Parliament a piece of legislation of public interest. This gives a sense of direct democracy in San Marino.
As such, the Republic of San Marino can serve as an inspiration for a major community of states like the Council of Europe.
I am not saying that democracy needs to follow one single recipe, as national traditions and history will always affect a state system. But rather that we should never be short of inspiration when we speak about democracy, and never refrain from looking at each other's political experience.
I believe that one of the reasons why democracy, human rights and the rule of law have made such an impact and progress over the past twenty years is precisely because European countries have had greater possibilities to compare and share their different political practices, especially in the broader Europe - which the Council of Europe offers.
Recognising that we share a common outlook allows us to acknowledge that, despite our differences, there are strong bonds which hold us together: we all understand that without democracy, no country can prosper. We all understand that sustainable social and economic development depends on democracy. And we all understand that democracy cannot be an abstract notion. It cannot exist in a vacuum.
Democracy also requires a balance between permanence and change. Genuine democracy cannot be built around immovability as the prime goal, it requires change – change of political power, change of people in power and change of ideas.
But what we also must understand is that all the achievements in the democratic field are fragile and in no way irreversible. And many people will recognise that despite the progress made in the past, we are now witnessing a crisis of democracy in Europe. This crisis is characterised by a growing gap between the institutions and the citizens, a lack of public trust in democratic mechanisms and people's disillusionment with democratic processes as a whole. And democracies are also under stress from economic forces and growing populist tendencies.
What can we do? What is our response?
I believe that it is precisely because democracies are under stress that it is even more important that we insist upon compliance with our fundamental values and democratic norms, which in many parts of Europe are being attacked.
We must preserve and reinforce the system of checks and balances which is indispensable to the normal functioning of democracy. For that, we must focus in particular on free and fair elections, freedom of media and an independent and effective judicial system, bearing in mind that problems and threats differ from country to country.
When we talk about the system of checks and balances at national level, we should also keep in mind the European dimension nourished by the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights. The role of the Court is twofold: firstly, to help member countries to adapt legislation to the Convention and secondly, to prevent any return to authoritarian rule. It is the ultimate guarantor of the system of rule of law on the continent and of long lasting stability and peace.
There are important challenges faced by the Court, the first one being that it receives too many and very often repetitive applications. Too many applicants are obliged to bring their applications to Strasbourg because their national authorities are failing to resolve well-known, widespread problems. As a result of this, the Court is spending far too much of its resources on work that falls outside its core function. This is undermining its efficiency and authority.
That is why one of the priorities of my mandate is the reform of the Court so that it will keep playing a crucial role in the safeguarding of human rights in Europe.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the authorities of San Marino for the very active role they played in 2007 during their Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe in the consolidation of the Organisation's human rights protection system. The initiatives taken during the San Marino Chairmanship were instrumental in identifying, through a series of specific activities, the priorities for the reform of the Court's work in the short and long term.
The San Marino Chairmanship also made repeated efforts to support the call for the complete abolition of the death penalty. This is an objective to which the Council of Europe, has long been committed, and an issue on which the State of San Marino, one of the first in the world to do away with capital punishment, has always taken a firm stand in every international arena.
The recent executions in Belarus remind us that our campaign to eradicate this brutal form of punishment is not yet over – not in Europe and certainly not globally.
The Republic of San Marino paid equal attention to the rights of children and women, supporting the campaign "Building a Europe for and with children" and the "European campaign to combat violence against women, including domestic violence", the latter prompting San Marino to take a wide range of social, educational, legal and cultural measures at national level.
It would be too long to list all the positive results achieved during the San Marino Chairmanship, but it would be difficult for me not to mention the highly-appreciated San Marino contribution to the promotion of intercultural and, in particular, inter-religious dialogue.
Right here, in April 2007, the authorities of San Marino succeeded in bringing together numerous representatives of the religions traditionally present in Europe (Jews, Christians and Muslims), representatives of civil society and the academic world, experts and delegates from Council of Europe member and observer states to discuss the implications of cultural and religious diversity in Europe with a view to promoting diversity as a source of mutual enrichment.
Europe has always been a place of diversity. But this diversity is multi-dimensional – religion is part of it, but it is only one element, sometimes coinciding with others, sometimes intersecting with them.
Where it does coincide with others, it can still be a source of division and conflict. The most flagrant recent examples in Europe are in the Balkans. But let us not forget Northern Ireland, or the religious background of anti-Semitism. That gives a special obligation to religious leaders to work together to overcome such divisions and to stress what they have in common.
I believe that inter-religious dialogue is of utmost importance in the current European context in which discrimination, intolerance on religious but also ethnic grounds and – as I was saying before, populist tendencies - have been substantially increasing in the past few years.
We can all see today that minorities like Roma or Muslims are even more marginalised and stigmatised; that anti-Semitism in on the rise. With the current financial crisis, these trends have been reinforced.
Yes, Europe has always been a place of diversity.
But why then do we seem to be struggling in the democratic management of such diversity?
It is precisely to answer this question and to offer possible solutions, that I asked a group of nine experts, academics and former politicians under the leadership of Joschka Fischer to prepare for the Council of Europe, a report taking stock of the challenges arising from this resurgence of intolerance and discrimination in Europe, to analyse "the threat" and to propose "the response" for living together in open European societies, especially as regards the integration of migrants.
The main conclusion of this report is very clear: if Europe wants to remain a region of peace and prosperity, we have to embrace diversity; to take advantage of it. This must be based on equality before the law, respect for human rights and sharing certain rights and obligations in our societies.
The report contains clear recommendations on how to do better, on how to transform diversity from a potential threat to a real benefit for our societies.
The purpose of this report has been to launch a process of debates and action. The first part we have been very successful with, but we must now move to the second part.
We are at a point of time when we need both a strong political statement at a high level and a concrete impulse for action. It is essential that political leaders restore the deeper sense of security and confidence in our societies.
All actors have their share of responsibility in finding common ground to overcome an issue crucial to furthering cohesion and unity within and between our societies, but I think that our primary task should be to call for this renewed responsibility and commitment by European leaders to:
- move the debate on migration from emotion to facts (cultural diversity is a historical feature of Europe and is here to stay);
- stand up and clearly speak out against extremism, discrimination, racism and intolerance towards any social, cultural or religious group; and ensure that the mainstream political rhetoric in Europe promotes sustainable integration and takes a clear stand against hate speech;
- recall the fundamental values that bind us all together (as enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights) and the absolute necessity to abide by them without giving up one's religious or ethnic identity.
As a specific recommendation on the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue, the report invites the Council of Europe and member states to establish a platform to improve our relations with high-level representatives of religions and non-denominational organisations.
This recommendation is certainly a good way to build upon the farsighted initiative which the Republic of San Marino promoted five years ago.
As I reiterate my heartfelt thanks for allowing me to address you, I should like to conclude by expressing to their Excellencies the Captains Regent my most sincere wishes for every success in the mission that has been entrusted to them and my gratitude for the warmth and hospitality I have received from the people of San Marino.