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Die Resolution ist mit 87 gegen 1 Stimme bei einigen Enthaltungen angenommen worden!

Democracy is a substantial promise of fair distribution of life chances

Mr GROSS (Switzerland) – As you know, this is the fourth time since 2007 that we have tried here to understand the state of democracy in our countries. In the three previous debates, we learned that democracy is a notion that everyone likes – everyone gives it a positive connotation – but many of us have a very different understanding of it. It is not easy to analyse such a situation. Another lesson from the previous discussions is that democracy is an ongoing project and a process that will never come through perfectly.

In German, you can say that democracy is a Gesamtkunstwerk; it has about 200 components in movement. One of the basic messages of the report is that too many of these criteria are in regression; they are progressing not in the right direction but in the wrong direction. The idea of democracy – the project – is to enable us to be free to control the power, to legitimise the power, to have the power to control our lives, and to prevent conflicts that are natural children of freedom from being solved in a violent way. Violence is always counter to the quality of democracy. I never forget the lesson of the French Revolution: that life is not controlled by destiny. We have a say in our existence, and democracy should provide us with all the necessary institutions, proceedings and rights to have that say.

I try to have an overview of many European countries, so I have read many articles and I found a Portuguese quotation in a paper that explains the question to which the report tries to give some answers; in fact, it underlines the report. Portuguese scientists asked, «How to explain the apparent paradox that reflects the citizens’ massive support to the values of representative democracy and, at the same time, a high mistrust and suspicion in its core political institutions – including government, parliament, and political parties - as well as a significant cynicism and scepticism toward politicians generally?» That question can be answered only when you do not forget that democracy is also a substantial promise of fair distribution of life chances. Today, in the month of the 300th birthday of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who founded one of the most basic concepts of democracy – the people’s sovereignty – many people do not feel that any of their own sovereignty influences distribution of life chances. Life chances are so unfairly distributed that many people question the legitimacy of our democratic institutions; that is one of the answers that the report tries to develop.

We have to constitute democracy on the same level to prevent economic forces from blackmailing the state. That means that we have to lift democracy to the transnational level. We have to strengthen democracy to make it more representative at a sub-national level. To do that, we need a strong state. But we did not use that term in our report; we said a «sound state», which means a state with the legitimacy of the people, in which the people recognise themselves, which is controlled by the people and which can deliver a fair distribution of life chances and what they need to have a decent life.

That is a summary of the messages of the report, and I will be grateful to hear your comments and to have a good debate. I hope that we learn similar lessons from the debate to those that we learned in the three debates since 2007.


2. Teil als Reaktion auf Fraktionssprecher

Mr GROSS (Switzerland) – I thank colleagues for their comments. Let me say to the Earl of Dundee that I am very happy that the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development tried to reduce the gap between the resolution and the memorandum. You will see that we can support most of the amendments, and I would recommend that you do the same.

Like Pietro Marcenaro, I think that our report and that of Ms Dumery are closely linked, because we show that you cannot be free if you are fearful. Many people today are basically fearful, but instead of having the power to think about why they are so afraid, they produce scapegoats, which are then misused by others – politicians, parties and campaigns. Yesterday, Mr Hunko quoted Roosevelt in a positive way, and in this sense there is a clear link with what we are saying. Roosevelt’s basic message, which was also reflected in the foundation of the UN – and, indirectly, in the Council of Europe’s Convention on Human Rights – is that part of democracy is the privilege of not having to face life in a state of fear. I am not talking about total fearlessness – human beings are always fearful of death – but the essential point is that we should do what we can in society to overcome fear. What we do not want is for only privileged people not to face fear. This is the task of democracy. That is why, as our liberal colleague, Mr Kolman, from Croatia said, we need to link democracy and freedom. Without a good democracy, only those who are privileged are free. That is not the idea behind democracy in a free country.

I am happy that Mr Heald accepts what I said about the need for discussion. To answer his first point, a democracy should of course allow citizens to remove the government, but if a new government has no choice but to continue with the policies of the old one, people will no longer see any sense in democracy. That is why I invite you to think about deepening and strengthening democracy, in order to give people a real choice, including on election day.

3. Teil zum Schluss der Debatte

Mr GROSS (Switzerland) – I would like to thank all 50 speakers for their kind words. The general mood in the debate has been totally different from the one that we experienced in the committee in Paris. I am happy about that, because the committee caused me a lot of headaches and I was afraid that I might experience the same thing today. I am grateful that that was not the case.

(The speaker continued in French.)

He stressed to Mr Chagaf that he had not intended to make disparaging remarks on Morocco. Instead, the words «even Morocco» were designed to express surprise. He was willing to delete the words if necessary.

(The speaker continued in English.)

I would also like to thank Mr Chisu from Canada. I praise him for recognising the need for transnational political institutions that are able to limit market forces when they do not respect the basic needs of the majority of the people. We hear more conservative views being expressed in Canada these days, so I was pleasantly astonished to hear him praising this statement.

I like to should take this opportunity to apologise for using an incorrect number in relation to Lichtenstein. I mentioned a threshold of 9%, but it should have been 8%. Also, our Icelandic friend, Mr Árnason, told me that the formulation concerning the Icelandic democratic change was not totally correct, and I apologise for that as well. Perhaps we should have invited the Icelandic Finance Minister to stay on and give another speech. He showed that Iceland had come through its crisis by respecting the basic social needs of the people and even enhancing democracy. That is perhaps one of the basic lessons to be learned from this discussion. We can meet the needs of democracy only through democratic means.

I was also pleasantly surprised that many of you emphasized that, in order to save democracy, we have to constitute it at transnational level. I also thank those colleagues who added to the strength of the report by contributing information from their own countries. Their arguments made our case that democracy is fragile and that we need to strengthen it at home while enlarging it at transnational level.

We will return to this topic tomorrow in the current affairs debate, when we will have an opportunity to consider how this can be done in Europe. Some of our governmental presidents, and presidents of the European organizations, will be coming together at the weekend to think about the new design of various levels of the European Union. We need to ensure that democracy is not forgotten in that process, not only for Europe. We cannot strengthen Europe without democracy, and we cannot strengthen democracy without Europe.

I also want to thank Anne Brasseur for her kind words. It will be fantastic when some of us take the report back to our own parliaments, and if I can be useful in helping the discussions at home, please let me know. I would like to help you to do that.

LE PRéSIDENT – La parole est à M. Pozzo di Borgo.

M. POZZO di BORGO (France) – Je suis d’accord avec ce que vient de dire M. Gross. Notre conseil est une sorte de senat ! (...)

Mr KOX (Netherlands) – Andreas Gross said that we should broaden the debate beyond the insane decision, announced by Catherine Ashton, that the European Union is to appoint a special representative for human rights. I think we agree that it is not a wise decision. I agree with Mr Chope that it would cost a lot of money, and I agree with Mr Franken that it would duplicate our work. It should not happen, but it will happen. If the European Union decides something, it is not going to listen to us and change its mind. I agree with Mr Chope and others that we should send out this message, however. I also agree with my colleague Tuur Elzinga that we should mention the matter in our contacts with the European Union and the European Parliament.

Even more problematic is the fact that the European Union is developing itself into something new, but no one knows what it is going to be. People are talking about a banking union, a monetary union, an economic union and a political union. Those are fine words, but there is no book to tell us where it will all lead. I understand that people in the United Kingdom are worried about this. They are always worried about Europe. Winston Churchill’s proposal after the Second World War for a Council of Europe was in fact for a Council of Europe without the participation of the United Kingdom.

No one knows the direction in which the European Union will develop. We cannot predict the future, and there is nothing wrong with having one or two adventures, but the fact is that the European Union member states are making these changes under pressure from outside. The financial markets have no telephone numbers, no addresses, no names and no faces, yet they have decided that we should take action. If we do not do so, government debt interest rates will increase, as they have done today in Spain, and countries and banks will go bust. We are expected to carry out reforms in order to please the financial markets, and that is a stupid idea. We do not know who the financial markets are. Their goal is to earn money, and they will do that in any circumstances.

Instead of setting out on this adventure towards a European political union or super-state under pressure from an outside power, we should first decide what we want. I agree with Andreas Gross on that. It is clear that we cannot leave all decisions to be taken at national level, but it is stupid to transfer that decision making to a level at which democracy does not exist. I totally agree with Andreas – although I do not agree with all his federalist ideas – that to do that without any consideration for democracy would go against all this Assembly’s principles.

We have just held an urgent debate on Egypt in which we said that that country should take care to ensure that its democracy is sustainable, yet the way in which the European Union is now developing itself suggests that democracy will not be a priority. As Tuur Elzinga said, its priority is making money, being big and being competitive with others. Those are all interesting ideas, but the main focus for the European Union should be to promote democracy and the rule of law and to protect human rights. In the debate that has been started by the European Union’s usurpation of our terrain, we should make it clear that if the leaders of the European Union states are not prepared to put democracy first, we will all eventually pay the price.

THE PRESIDENT said that the list of speakers for the debate was concluded, and it had been useful that he himself had chaired it. There was no vote to be held, but some time remained to offer the floor to those who had not yet spoken, because the Assembly was designed to be a two-way dialogue which facilitated discussions. He reflected that insufficient thought may have been given to other measures that could have been used to improve the debate, such as a speech from the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, in order to consider his views. In any case, there was a meeting the following week with the Committee of Ministers at which the views of the Assembly would be reflected, and he would call for such views to be repeated in discussions with representatives from the European Union. He noted that Mr von Sydow, Mr Pozzo di Borgo and Mr Gross wanted to speak.

Mr VON SYDOW (Sweden) – I want to talk about the theme that Mr Gross and Mr Kox brought to our attention. There is an emerging discussion in Europe about co-decision involving the parliamentary spheres and what is going on in the European Council. The view has been expressed that there should be a space for something based on national parliaments, in the same way that we are. I think it is an idea that should be elaborated.

Today’s European Parliament is elected with declining turnouts in most European countries. However, most of the representatives elected – although not all of them – tend to think that the solution to almost any problem is to increase the federalistic elements of the European Union. Why do the electorates abstain from giving our colleagues in the European Parliament a true mandate? Those of us in this place – national parliamentarians – are elected with much higher turnouts. We interact closely with our electorates at home, but we need to interact with them and with our parliaments more on the issues raised in this debate, which could also be raised in the European Union.

The time has now come for us to tell the European people and the elites how an Assembly such as ours can operate. We have reformed ourselves, although we are still consultative. We must face up to the challenge: would it be possible for an Assembly such as ours also to be co-decisive? Would it be possible for us to sit in our parliaments at home and also attend this place, but in a way that would be even more demanding? I will leave the argument about our experience in this place to one side, but it is time for us in our parties – and perhaps some of our institutions – to start considering what an Assembly such as ours could contribute. Mr Gross and Mr Kox are right to set the issue that we are currently debating within the broader agenda of representative government in today’s Europe.

La parole est à M. Gross.

M. GROSS (Suisse) – Monsieur Pozzo di Borgo, vous avez dit que le Conseil de l’Europe était le Sénat européen. Ce n’est pas tout à fait vrai. Ce sont les Etats-Unis qui ont inventé le système des deux chambres avec des pouvoirs législatifs totalement équivalents. Selon les historiens, il serait hérité des Sioux. Le Conseil est peut-être virtuellement un Sénat, mais il ne l’est pas encore.

Au XIXe siècle, dans les Etats fédéraux européens, les membres des parlements élus au plan local ont désigné à leur tour leurs représentants à la seconde chambre, fédérale, qui se sont vus dotés des mêmes pouvoirs législatifs que les représentants directement élus par le peuple.

M. Chope a vécu une telle expérience. Il sera présent à la réunion d’octobre du Forum global de la démocratie. Nous pourrons donc lui demander de nous en parler.

Par ailleurs, puisque M. Peillon, le ministre français de l’éducation nationale, dit qu’il convient d’envisager et d’assumer une nouvelle étape dans la construction européenne, pourquoi ne pas l’inviter à débattre de ce sujet, ici, avec nous? Car cette étape est en train d’être franchie sans nous, sans le peuple et donc sans démocratie, ce qui est inacceptable.

Ne pas penser à tous les citoyens qui sont touchés par les décisions prises délégitime l’Europe et encourage le nationalisme, comme nous le constatons actuellement dans toutes les nations. En effet, s’ils ont le choix entre une Europe où ils n’ont rien à dire et une nation où ils peuvent s’exprimer, ils choisiront la nation!

J’ajouterai qu’il reste dans cet hémicycle, une tendance totalement contraire au fédéralisme. C’est pourquoi il est parfois difficile de se comprendre. En Amérique, un système centraliste renforce Washington tandis qu’en Europe prévaut un système décentralisé dans lequel la diversité a le pouvoir, bien que les membres de l’Union européenne aujourd’hui. Cela pourrait nous fournir l’occasion d’avoir ici un débat fantastique. Nous pourrions même rédiger un rapport.

LE PRéSIDENT – M. Gross vient de rappeler que nous avons effectivement la possibilité de saisir dès demain matin le Bureau pour qu’un rapport puisse être fait et le renvoyer vers l’une des commissions compétentes, à savoir probablement la commission des questions politiques.

Kontakt mit Andreas Gross

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