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Parliamentary Assembly Session: 25 to 29 January 2010


Address by Franco Frattini, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Italy

on the occasion of the
first part of the 2010 Ordinary Session
of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly

(Strasbourg, 25-28 January 2010)

(Extract of the verbatim records)

Mr FRATTINI (Minister for Foreign Affairs of Italy) thanked the President for the opportunity to address the Parliamentary Assembly and to present to the Assembly the views of the Italian Government on identity in a globalised world. The Council of Europe had established its raison d’être in the field of human rights and the rule of law. It was now necessary to ensure that, during a period in which the balance of global forces was being redefined, Europe left its mark. In recent years, there had been a backlash against globalisation and this was fuelling calls for new allegiances and partnerships to be formed. The Lisbon Treaty process demonstrated the need to come to terms with European identity. While it was important to acknowledge the identity of others, the identity of Europe should not be betrayed.

Past generations had had to shoulder enormous responsibilities in the pursuit of freedom. Europe was conceived to protect those freedoms and, in today’s world, it was imperative that strength be drawn from the common values held by European states. Europe had progressed from a period of war, hatred and totalitarianism, but it had yet to achieve a true common identity. For instance, too often Europe had, in contrast to Islamic states, suppressed its religious values; it was now time for the religious identity of Europe to be assigned greater value.

When talking about the separation of church and state, it was necessary to recognise the religious identity of Europe. The Council of Europe and the Organization for Co-operation and Security in Europe needed to work closely with each other with regard to this issue. It was important to ensure dialogue between cultures, without eroding fundamental principles, and to promote security and solidarity, while respecting the rights of all people.

With the globalisation of human rights, it was necessary to consider whether rights were relative or absolute. It was important to teach human rights in schools and also to recognise that there were values and rights, such as the right to human dignity, which were universal. There had been a gradual and progressive shift of power from the west. That movement could be considered a positive, in that there was now a wider range of countries able to shoulder international power, but it was essential that universal rights should not be compromised. Europe had a vital role to play in defending the integrity of universal rights, such as the right to freedom of expression, especially for the weakest and most vulnerable, including women, children and religious minorities. The rights to attend school and to enjoy a healthy environment were also fundamental.

The promotion of universal rights should involve close co-operation between religions and cultures so as to enable those rights to be properly integrated; it was not about exporting rights as they were construed in the European context but about ensuring that they could flourish in other countries. Europe had to defend universal rights. That was an important issue, on a par with nuclear disarmament. Europe had supported human rights by creating an international judicial system – the commitment of the European Union to human rights had been demonstrated by the legal status of the European Convention on Human Rights – but national governments also needed to shoulder some of the responsibility.

The cultural diversity of Europe had to be safeguarded. Europe had a vital role to play in monitoring the scourges of fascism and xenophobia; it also had to deal with immigration and the vexed issue of Islamophobia. The role of rights was central to the discussion about identity and immigration. There had been mistakes in the past and it was necessary to look to the future. The multicultural approach based on group rights rather than individual rights was not working. The rights of individuals had to be protected above the rights of groups: the pre-eminence of the rights of groups could mean that a Muslim girl in Europe might be treated differently from a Christian or Jewish girl, based on the beliefs of her parents.

Italy was committed to human rights and had recently set up an observatory to monitor human rights. It was focusing on three main areas: the rights of women, the rights of minors and the rights of religious minorities. When considering the rights of children, one could not ignore the very serious situation in Haiti. Europe should be encouraging people who wished to adopt Haitian children. But this was not enough. The whole of Europe should feel a responsibility towards Haiti and should try to help. Although it was important to co-ordinate an international response, European co-ordination was also needed.

In terms of the rights of women, in 2009, the Italian Government had launched an international conference on violence against women, as part of the Italian Presidency of the G8. Italy had also promoted a resolution condemning female genital mutilation as a human rights violation. He himself had been invited by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, to join a network of men committed to fighting violence against women.

A strong European identity had to be rediscovered and established. Migration needed to be managed, rather than passively accepted, in order to ensure that Europe could reap all the benefits of migration. The European approach to migration needed to be fine-tuned.

Italy had to fight against illegal migration and to manage migratory flow. A modern approach to the issue required that the complex nature of migration should be taken into account. All countries, particularly European and African countries, had to work together. They needed to adopt a firm and open approach which respected the law and human rights. Public opinion was not always properly informed about the vulnerability of Italy to illegal migration. The action taken by Italy against illegal migration was on behalf of all European countries, including those in the north. Italy was committed to saving lives, and had rescued more that 40 000 migrants from the Mediterranean Sea. But it was important to use to the full the penalties available to punish traffickers and also to work with countries of origin.

The issues were complex and the challenge of tackling illegal migration could not fall solely on those countries that were most exposed. The whole of Europe needed to do more. The approval of the Stockholm programme was an important step towards this, as was the establishment of a European asylum support office and the development of internationally protected territory outside Europe.

When considering migration, it was necessary to look at what the starting point for a successful migration policy should be. It involved schooling and fostering a respect for the rights of individuals, leading to citizenship. Citizenship needed to be fought for and won.

Italians had developed the Venice Commission and they were planning a series of events to commemorate the Commission in Venice this year. Italy planned to work on human trafficking issues in the G8, as well as in other forums such as the North South Centre of the Council of Europe. Italy wanted the Council of Europe to be more effective and also to improve dialogue with the European Union. As for the European Court of Human Rights, reform should enable that body also to be more effective.

It was difficult to grapple with the complex web of public hopes and fears; it was difficult to convey to the public the issues surrounding different religions and life styles. There needed to be dialogue. If a mosque were built, it should also be possible for a church to be built. There needed to be freedom of all religions. The focus should be on tolerance, diversity, democracy and solidarity. The lessons of history about developing friendship amongst different peoples needed to be learned.