Rik Daems (Belgium, ALDE) has been elected President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).
Succeeding Liliane Maury Pasquier (Switzerland, SOC), he becomes PACE’s 33rd President and the third Belgian representative since 1949 after the Assembly’s founding father, Paul-Henri Spaak (1949-1951), and Fernand Dehousse (1956-9). Only one candidate was in the running.
In his opening speech the newly-elected President urged the Assembly to focus on values rather than national interests. “Interests divide, but values unite," he said. “We are sent by our national parliaments, but I doubt we are sent here only to support our national interests. We all signed the European Convention on Human Rights and we are here to defend human rights, the rule of law and democracy,” he underlined. “We may be a Council of Europe, but we are also a Council of Europeans. Being equal doesn’t mean we are all the same, but to cherish and uphold the same values. This is what ‘unity in diversity’ means, this is what the Council of Europe is all about.”
The President said the connection between human rights and the environment would also be a priority for him - he called for a new protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights on climate change. He will be asking the Committee of Ministers to follow a previous PACE recommendation and start work on this soon. Another priority will be gender equality and the Istanbul Convention.
Finally, the new President announced that he would work hard to encourage the three branches of the Council of Europe – the Assembly, the Committee of Ministers and the Secretary General - to work together in the form of a “trialogue”, with the aim of strengthening the impact of the organisation’s work. “It takes two to tango - but it takes three to dance!"
“We need politics by results, we need to make an impact on the daily lives of our 830 million citizens,” he concluded, announcing that he would like to visit all 47 member States to make PACE’s work better known in national parliaments. "I'll be a full-time President!" he told the members.
Speaking at the solemn ceremony to mark Georgia’s 20 years as a member of the Council of Europe, Liliane Maury Pasquier, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), congratulated the country for having progressed far along the path of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
“Georgia’s accession to the Council of Europe 20 years ago was a major step in consolidating democratic institutions and a huge boost for reforms in several important areas. I highly congratulate Georgia for the significant progress made over 20 years: it is a more stable Georgia, based on strong democratic institutions, that is preparing to chair the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe from November 2019 to May 2020,” said the President.
Ms Maury Pasquier welcomed, in particular, the significant progress made in a number of key areas, including the fight against corruption, reform of the judiciary and the smooth functioning of Parliament. She emphasised that this progress was made possible thanks to the political will and constant efforts of all Georgia’s institutions and political players, along with input from Council of Europe bodies and experts.
“I am proud that Council of Europe bodies and institutions – including the Venice Commission, the Human Rights Commissioner, GRECO and also our Assembly – have been associated with the most important reforms in order to provide the most appropriate expertise. I am sure that this close co-operation will be further strengthened over the next 20 years, and that Georgia will continue to take advantage of our expertise and put our recommendations into action, and that the Council of Europe will continue to benefit from Georgia’s experience and achievements,” she said.
“Georgia now needs to preserve and further develop this democratic acquis, and I am sure that, with the support of the Council of Europe, it will be able to meet the remaining challenges and continue to make progress. In the same way, I hope that with Georgia’s support and input into our organisation, we will also be able to meet the challenges we face,” she concluded.
During her working visit to Georgia, Ms Maury Pasquier met with the Speaker of the Georgian Parliament Irakli Kobakhidze, President Salome Zourabichvili, Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze, Foreign Minister David Zalkaliani and the members of the Georgian delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly.