Secretary General, Deputy Secretary General, Madam President of the Parliamentary Assembly, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
“I am now going to say something that will astonish you.” These were the words of Winston Churchill in his famous speech given at the University of Zurich in September 1946, when he first introduced the idea of a united Europe.
Churchill spoke about the need for partnership between former enemies, the need for small and large nations to contribute to the common cause. In re-creating the European family, he said, “the first practical step will be to form a Council of Europe.”
It was indeed astonishing how quickly this step was taken. At the time of his speech, Europe still lay in ruins after the devastating war. Less than two years later, in May 1948, the Congress of Europe met in The Hague.
In its resolution, the Congress called for a European assembly, a charter of human rights, and a court of justice to ensure compliance with that charter. And in May 1949, ten states agreed on the establishment of the Council of Europe and signed its statute. The idea began to turn into reality.
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Today, seventy years later, there is much reason to celebrate. We have succeeded in building a Europe that is based on the respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
A major contributor to this common cause has been the Council of Europe. It has evolved into a genuine pan-European organization. With forty-seven member States, it comprises over 830 million people. All of them, all of us, can enjoy the human rights the Council protects.
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These are remarkable achievements. But at the same time, we cannot afford to be complacent. These common achievements need to be firmly defended. And we need to be prepared for new threats and challenges.
And as we all know, the international rules-based system itself is increasingly under threat. This rules-based organisation, the Council of Europe, is no exception. It is going through the deepest political, economic and institutional crisis in its history.
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In the midst of difficulties and uncertainty, we must not lose sight of the common cause. Perhaps more than ever during the past 70 years, we now need a strong Europe. A strong Europe needs the Council of Europe, every one of its member states. And even more importantly, the people in every member state need the Council of Europe.
Let me take this opportunity to thank Secretary General Jagland for his invaluable service to this Council during his two terms. Before giving the floor to him, I want to wish the Council of Europe, and all of us as its members, a happy anniversary.
The best way to celebrate is to continue our tireless efforts to defend and improve our common Europe, our European family. A Europe based on the respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law.