Retour Carlos V European Prize Award Ceremony - Cultural Routes of the Council of Europe

Cáceres, Spain , 

Check against delivery


Your Majesty,

Speaker of the Parliament,

Vice President of the Government,

President of Extremadura and of the European and IberoAmerican Academy of Yuste,

IberoAmerican Secretary General,


Prior of the Monastery of Yuste,


Members of the Academy,

Holders of the Charles the V award,

Ladies and Gentleman,

Dear Friends,


It is a great pleasure to accept the Carlos V European Award on behalf of the Council of Europe.

In doing so, Your Majesty, I wish to begin by thanking Spain and you, personally, for conveying this honour on us and for your strong commitment to the values and ideas that our Organisation represents.

Your 2017 visit to Strasbourg, on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Spain’s accession was a memorable one, and we greatly appreciated your description of our work as an expression of the “best values of our continent”.

This is certainly what we strive to achieve.

Since 1995 the Carlos V Award has been given to some of the great contemporary Europeans who have done so much to promote our common heritage, identity and integration.

Among them, Mikhail Gorbachev, Simone Veil, and my predecessor as Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Spain’s Marcelino Oreja Aguirre – who I am so pleased to see here with us today.

But, for the first time, this prize has gone to an institution, in recognition of our Cultural Routes Programme.

That Programme was launched in 1987, during Marcelino Oreja Aguirre’s term in Office – so perhaps he can stake a claim, uniquely, to being the first two-times winner.

Santiago de Compostela was the Council of Europe’s first certified Cultural Route, confirmed in the Declaration that bears its name.

And over the past 32 years, the Programme has gone from strength to strength.

Our Enlarged Partial Agreement on Cultural Routes – of which Spain was a founding member – will soon have its 33rd member state, when Latvia joins later this year.

As of today, there are a total of 38 certified Routes, crossing more than 50 countries in Europe and beyond.

And of these, 22 cross Spain, which remains one of the most active member states in the Programme.

The success of this project stems from the inherent demand from Europeans for a greater understanding of our common identity, underpinned by our common cultural heritage.

After all, this is not simply a network of physical pathways.

Rather, they are journeys across space and time.

Each is based on an historic route, a cultural concept, figure or phenomenon with transnational importance and significance for the understanding and respect of common European values.

Passing through at least three member states, each provides an opportunity for Europeans to know ourselves better, to participate in our shared culture, and to contribute to sustainable economic development along the way.

It is a testament to citizens’ own curiosity and commitment that this Programme has succeeded.

As we celebrate this month the Council of Europe’s 70th anniversary, we should be mindful of Europe’s extraordinary transformation since the end of the Second World War.

Today, the Council of Europe has 47 member states.

Each has ratified the European Convention on Human Rights, setting common standards on human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

And all 830 million people who live within those member states have the ultimate right to petition the European Court of Human Rights to protect them against the arbitrary use of state power.

The creation of such a common legal space is unprecedented in European history, and throughout the rest of the world.

Because of it the death penalty is totally forbidden, as is torture and forced labour.

Rights to a fair trial, freedom of expression and assembly are guaranteed.

And freedom of religion is a part of our common culture.

Over the past seven decades our Convention system has replaced conflict with co-operation.

It is the bedrock of our democratic security, a success story for multilateralism and a tribute to greater unity in Europe.

But it is also under increased attack.

In recent years, the rise of nationalism and extremism has accompanied worrying new trends.

There have been attempts to bring courts under political control.

Media and NGOs are under increasing pressure and journalists have faced physical attack.

The reasons are many and complex:

Loss of historical memory, rising poverty and inequality, and the perceived threat of the “other” in a globalised world where change comes fast and an individual’s standing can feel very fragile indeed.

Complex problems require considered solutions.

But we should be clear about the starting point: the application of the rule of law.

This is important at national and international levels alike.

You know, I am often asked to which ideology I belong.

My reply is this: constitutionalism.

I believe strongly that a state must be governed on the basis of a constitution – an agreed constitution – and that internal conflicts, whether legal or political, must be settled in that way.

That is not to say that a constitution cannot be amended.

But this must be done in accordance with the rules, most often a qualified majority vote.

This provides clarity, fairness and predictability.

It is the democratic way to uphold the rule of law: the same logic applies at the European level.

The principles of constitutionalism apply to the European Convention and the Strasbourg Court too.

These exist to protect people’s fundamental rights and have, by common agreement, supremacy over domestic law.

If governments wish to change the system – to alter the law – then they must argue their case and use agreed procedures, or leave the Convention system altogether.

No government has ever done that, nor do I believe that any government ever should.

Its citizens would, ultimately, pay a heavy price through the loss of their legal protections.

But, equally, the rule of law is there to be observed by all; it must not be manipulated for political advantage.

For the same reason, it is vital that member states work in good faith to implement the judgments of the Strasbourg Court and in good time.

Spain has long-demonstrated its deep commitment to the Council of Europe, to our values, and to multilateralism more generally.

But as Europe endures these turbulent times we need politicians of all persuasions, from all member states, to offer that same degree of leadership in the interests of citizens across our continent.

We need them to recognise that many of the gravest problems we face today apply across Europe’s borders and the most effective solutions apply likewise.

Over the years we have developed a range of instruments – an acquis – to achieve this.

Together, we have agreed common standards that protect national minorities and regional and minority languages and combat the sexual exploitation and abuse of children and violence against women and domestic violence. 

We have taken measures to prevent torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, to tackle trafficking in human beings and human organs and to stop the abuse of personal data and acts of cybercrime.

And we have also been active in ensuring the safety and integrity of sports, the accessibility of European culture, and education that promotes equality, inclusion and democratic citizenship.

More challenges lie ahead.

How do we harness the benefits of the artificial intelligence revolution, while identifying and mitigating its threats to human rights, democracy and the rule of law?

How do we best combat the scourge of modern slavery in our societies?

And how do we persuade member states to better apply the European Social Charter as a remedy to the poverty and increased inequality that we see in parts of Europe today?

These are just some of the areas in which our Organisation is advancing its work.

But to succeed, we need European citizens and leaders alike to recommit to our shared values.

For this, a deeper understanding of our shared culture and heritage is crucial.

Our founding fathers understood this well.

That’s why the first Council of Europe treaty to follow the European Convention on Human Rights was the European Cultural Convention in 1954.

It committed our member states to safeguard our common heritage and encourage the development of European culture.

Our Cultural Routes Programme is one example of our work in this area.

But it is a great success and a source of pride and we are humbled that it should receive this wonderful and prestigious prize on this, Europe Day.

On this day it is time for reflection.

Our common history, wonderful as well as tragic, tells us one thing:

That we must embrace living together, zusammen leben, vivre ensemble - convivencia

Thank you.