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Prime Minister's Office

Opening address at the Reykjavik Summit of the Council of Europe - May 16th 2023

Distinguished colleagues, dear guests.

It is a pleasure and a privilege to welcome you to Iceland, to the Reykjavík summit of the Council of Europe... Bienvenue à tous.

Depuis sa fondation, Le Conseil d´Europe a servi comme organisation directrice fondamentale á ses Membres pour faire progresser les droits de l´homme, la démocratie et l´État de droit. Si le principe fondamental de l´égalité des droits de tous, quelles que soient les circonstances, reste une notion radicale pour quelques-uns, il constitute la base de la Convention des droits de l´homme.

It is to that core mission that the Parliamentary Assembly, the European Court of Human Rights, the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, the Missions in Strasbourg, and the Secretariat and our institutions and missions are dedicated.

We are not gathered here in celebration but under the cloud of war. Russia´s aggression against Ukraine is the gravest assault on peace and security in Europe since the Second World War; in addition to huge military casualties, it has led to massacres, rapes, and murders of civilians.

To the people of Ukraine and to President Zelensky I want to say this: We have tremendous respect for your determination to resist. We will continue to stand with you – and to call on Russia to withdraw its forces from Ukraine as the first step toward ending this war. We also demand accountability and a just peace. The victims of this war have a right to be heard and not to be subjected to oblivion.

This senseless war in our continent is contrary to all the values for which we united with the founding of this Council; it is a grave assault on the very principles that make Europe more than just a continent, but a common cause.

Dear colleagues:

In recent years, we have witnessed increasing political attempts to undermine basic values, subvert democratic practices, and weaken the rule of law. Democracy has come under strain due to various forms of authoritarian encroachments. We are facing a widespread and violent push-back against women’s rights and freedoms, gender equality and LGBTI rights. We should not forget that the democratic concept that underpins the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Social Charter is inclusive; it requires that the rights and interests of all are considered, including those most vulnerable to violations of their basic rights.

The very concept of “human rights for everyone” continues to be contested – and without firm resistance, hard-earned rights can disappear in an instant or wither away in silence. It is also a reminder that a democratic political system is not a given; it can survive only if it is embedded in a society that allows it to prosper. 

The Reykjavik Summit has three main objectives:

First, to reaffirm our support for Ukraine, to adopt concrete measures to address accountability for war crimes, and to strengthen the Council of Europe’s role as a leading human rights organization.

Second, to renew, in general terms, our commitment to the democratic human rights values that our societies are based on and that must be nurtured and protected.

And lastly, by recommitting to our values, we seek to meet pressing global challenges. The climate and biodiversity crisis is affecting all parts of the world, with rising temperatures fueling natural disasters, food and water insecurity, economic disruptions and wars. The exponential growth of artificial intelligence raises profound questions about its detrimental as well as its beneficial effects – about the nature of knowledge production, control of information and, ultimately, its influence on democracy.

We have a duty to make this gathering a meaningful undertaking; we are here to discuss problems that need urgent action – let us make the most of this opportunity.

In conclusion: I hope that the Reykjavik Summit will be remembered as an event when European leaders stood in solidarity with Ukraine as well as a venue for reaffirming core values in a time of war and democratic backsliding. To ensure that our common cause – Europe – will be able to meet the enormous challenges ahead.

With these words, I declare the Reykjavik Summit of the Council of Europe formally open.


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