“At a time of great and dramatic challenges – from terrorism to migration, from poverty old and new to mistrust in representative institutions, from the re-emergence of racism and xenophobia to the desperate solitude of so many people – we must offer a response to nationalist and chauvinistic temptations to close ranks, to centrifugal pressures and to conflicts by reasserting the need for peace and justice on our continent,” said Michele Nicoletti, new President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). He was elected during the ongoing plenary meeting in Strasbourg (January 22-26), after a turbulent period experienced by the Assembly, marked by heated controversies and internal divisions, coupled by the risk of losing public credibility. Hon Nicoletti, Professor of Political Philosophy at the University of Trent, serves as MP with the Democratic Party in Italy. The PACE President serves for a one-year term of office, which may be renewed once. The Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) consists of 324 members of the national Parliaments of the 47 nations members of the Council of Europe, the first continental organization established in the post-war period (1949) with the mandate of preserving peace in post-war Europe. The organization is dedicated to upholding human rights (the CoE oversees the European Court of Human Rights), democracy and European cultural identity. The CoE cooperates with the European Union in various areas.
Mr. President, in your first speech you mentioned democracy as being “under pressure” today: could you expand on this concept? It can be said that over the past years Europe has gone through a major democratization process. The post-war years are in no way comparable to the situation today. Furthermore, due reflection should be given to the breakthrough brought about with the fall of the Berlin Wall, whereby democracy and rule of law were extended to a great number of Countries. It was neither a simple nor a linear process, with slowdowns both in eastern and western Europe. Today, as an example, the same could be said of the difficult situation in Turkey. To continue with contemporary examples, we could mention the state of affairs in Poland – notably the serious challenges posed by the division of powers and the independence of the judiciary. In other States we could refer to the ways in which minorities are treated, the situation of NGOs or universities and freedom of education …
Thus problems abound also in Western Europe, marked by a longer democratic tradition… Exactly: we are witnessing strong populist and nationalistic drives against representative democracy, a historic, landmark achievement in Europe. On top of that we witness the growth of nationalistic movements that tend to voice fierce criticism of European institutions, questioning their very existence – see what happened with the Brexit vote – proposing nationalistic measures in their stead: yet it’s evident that national responses fail to resolve new, major challenges such as migration, terrorism and environmental protection.
What about human rights? Are they upheld in full across Europe? It’s a situation with lights and shadows. With time, legal tools for the defence of human rights have been improved, the Court of Strasbourg is increasingly efficient: if we look at the situation 70 years ago, when the Council of Europe was created, we will realize the increasing extent of their defence. Yet many rights of children, women and migrants fail to be respected. Critical aspects linger on in terms of law and sentences enforcement (i.e. the situation in prisons and the rights of convicts). There is equal concern over increasing episodes of racism, xenophobia, hate speech against migrants, often amplified on social media across our continent.
In this case the answer must involve not only the rule of law but also the cultural and social realms.
What’s your primary, major goal as PACE President? Dialogue directed at peace among our organization’s 47 member Countries. This is something that should not be taken for granted; suffice it to mention the ongoing conflict in some regions between Russia and Ukraine. There ensues that our primary commitment should be overcoming ongoing conflicts for the achievement of lasting peace.