News & Info : Press Office

Press Office

Athens, 21 October 2021

Speech by the President of the Hellenic Parliament Mr. Constantine Tassoulas at the opening of the Conference of Presidents of Parliament of the Council of Europe member-states

It is a great pleasure and even greater honor, as the President of the Hellenic Parliament, to welcome you at the capital of the Greek State, celebrating this year its 200th anniversary of the revolution for its national independence, physically and not online.

We are here, 48 Presidents of Parliament, 36 General Secretaries of Parliament, 39 Ambassadors representing your countries, a total number of 400 members attending this Conference.

I welcome the return to normality that we missed so much in the last 20 months of the global health crisis. It is precisely because of this ongoing distress that we cannot welcome you in the Plenary Room of the Hellenic Parliament, because the big number of attendants could not be accommodated in the meeting room of our national assembly.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The topic of our Conference has to do with three controversial issues of our times. Issues that are contentious not so much for discussion, but rather for action. This is a great chance for the parliamentary assembly of the most prominent inter-state organization of Europe, the Council of Europe, to prove that it is indeed able not only to promote dialogue and discussion, but also, by advising Governments, to promote action, which is needed now more than ever for addressing such issues.

Important speeches and interventions will be delivered on how Democracies and Parliaments have coped with the last tough months of the pandemic, an event that had not happened for over a century.

We shall discuss about the most special, the newest, the most vital human right, the new generation of human rights, i.e. the right to the environment and how the Council of Europe, the flag-bearer of human rights, can incorporate this protection in its institutional matrix and, further, turn it into action.

In the 3rd session, we are going to discuss about the future of Europe’s citizens, 800 million citizens; a future that does not concern us only, it rather concerns the entire world, as the current interconnection makes us feel that anything happening on the major topics concerns the entire world.

The Hellenic Parliament, as all other parliaments, was faced with the attack of the epidemiological crisis in the beginning of last year -quite in bewilderment I have to admit- but despite our bewilderment the very first moments and days, we have indeed adjusted. We reacted quickly, mostly by giving the example of a cautious continuation of the parliamentary activity.

Keeping the parliament open, in early March 2020, when we did not know exactly the impact and power of this new demon that entered our lives, we wanted to show the society that institutions do work, but they also give the example of protecting the supreme good for people, their very life.

Because democracy and rights and parliaments and opposition parties are all institutions for the “world above”, as we used to say in ancient Greece, they are not for the “underworld”. So, our priority has been to protect life, but also to carry on our work.

Lawmaking was continued, parliamentary scrutiny was carried on, and I can say that it has been smoother than lawmaking. Any measure taken, any weighting and any priority had to be scrutinized by people’s representation. And this was continued smoothly during all those months of the adventure.

As President of the Hellenic Parliament, I wish to thank many of you with whom we communicated during the pandemic and exchanged experiences on how we handled this invasion of the pandemic, and what measures we had to take in order to continue our work while protecting life at the same time.

I can see Mr. Sobotka in front of me, who has taken initiatives; we discussed the way in which we have to resolve jointly issues caused by the bewilderment of the pandemic for the parliamentary proceedings.

I wish to thank the Council of Europe, the Secretary General Mme Buric, who provided quite early the Council of Europe with a precious toolkit, a model for all of us, on how we should respond to this new situation.

I would also like to thank Mr. Rik Daems, President of the Parliamentary Assembly, and the European Parliament and other parliaments, because, by seeing and copying the best practices, we ended up with a modus vivendi, which has both protected democracy and fulfilled the health requirements.

The question of return to normality is answered by your presence here today. We are coming back to normality, very carefully; and the key for this is the completion of vaccination, without any reservation, without any hesitation, without surrendering to the incredible conspiracy theories undermining our faster return to normality. We know today, thanks to science, that coronavirus will only be combated by the immunity of each one of us, either by vaccination or, unfortunately, by being infected. 

The next topic of the Conference is something that is already here, in front of our eyes, not behind us or nearby: the climate crisis, as the Greek Prime Minister recently called it, because of the great suffering we had recently with the floods this summer. The whole Mediterranean is a sensitive ecosystem; Italy knows, Cyprus, Greece and other countries know it. Climate crisis is, thus, a topic that is not conducive to public relations anymore, neither to sensationalism; it only requires action. In view of the climate crisis, which has concrete effects, parliaments are required to take their places and support, not to say encourage, as people’s representatives, the Governments for the respective action to be taken.

Europe, the world, have set their targets: climate neutrality by 2050, 55% reduction of carbon footprint by 2030, the Paris goals six years ago, the Glasgow targets to be set soon that will be much more decisive, I imagine. This all sets the tone of a new behavior that needs to prevail in all our activities.

My country responds to all this and is ahead or very close to these targets, in terms of our industry, our agriculture, our household consumption and e-mobility; we pay attention to all this, and we are reducing our energy footprint. We are doing the same for Greek shipping, which, as you know, is a world leader and we are convinced that Greek shipping will also be a leader in its green dimension very soon. We are shutting down in a few years all our lignite plants, although the transition to friendly forms of energy is not fully organized yet, and an essential balance needs to be observed here.

I would like to tell you at this point, in view of the need to turn consultations, reflections and decisions into action, that the example of the joint procurement of medicines and vaccines, mostly by the European Union, is a model of joint collective action; for this reason, our country, with the support of other countries present at the Summit today, will suggest joint action for the procurement of natural gas by the whole Europe in response to the imminent energy crisis, and distribution on the basis of the same criteria, i.e. population criteria.

It is time for action. And parliaments will support any action to protect human rights and the environment.

The third topic concerns the future of Europe, which is not different nor separate from the two previous topics and the new challenges we are faced with.

As politicians are physically coming back to their battlements here, in Athens, in Strasburg, in Brussels, culture is also bouncing back. On the 7th of December, the Teatro alla Scala in Milan stages the famous opera by Verdi adapting Shakespeare’s work “Macbeth”. Culture is coming back live, not digitally, with Verdi’s famous opera. The most frequently repeated word in “Macbeth” is the word ‘fear’. Fear for the unknown is dominant in Macbeth’s behavior; and this is precisely what Shakespeare wants to show, that this deep and inscrutable fear can lead man to incredible situations.

We are here today, representing 830 million Europeans, to undermine, to defeat this unbearable feeling of fear, to tell the entire Europe and the world that the Council of Europe via its Parliamentary Assembly will remain the contemporary protector of the rule of law, human rights and parliamentary representative democracy.

These are our roots, and the new branches on these roots are: protection of the environment, protection against fake news, protection against health crises, artificial intelligence. These new branches of human rights, this new generation of human rights will grow strong because they are supported by strong roots. And I wish to make an appeal, at this Athens Conference, to keep in mind that protection of the environment and the messages about its resilience and people’s wisdom are always pertinent and originate from this very city, which is not only the birthplace of Democracy, but also the cradle of resourcefulness that is needed today.

To conclude, ladies and gentlemen, Athens was named after goddess Athena, daughter of Zeus, goddess of wisdom, who competed against Poseidon on the Acropolis of Athens over who would be the lord and the god of the city. And do you know what Athena offered to Athenians in order to gain their trust? She offered an olive tree. What is an olive tree? It is long-lasting, resilient, very fruitful, and does not need a lot of care. It is the most environment-friendly tree in the Mediterranean. This myth evidences that people have been appreciating the wisdom of nature and conciliating with it since antiquity. Today, we are also seeking solutions that will be long-lasting, fruitful, cost-efficient. And I am sure we will find them.

We are here in Athens, Greece, in a year when we celebrate 200 years since the Revolution of Greeks for their liberation, in 1821, which led to the establishment of the new Greek state in 1830. Many people think this revolution was isolated. But it was not. There was an international dimension of the Revolution and Greece has been the pioneer in establishment of the nation-state, which later on, when Belgium, Italy, Germany were established, has led to the collapse of totalitarian, multinational empires.

Today we have member-states of regional and international organisations, we are both nation-states and member-states at the same time. We have today inter-state cooperation, and I am sure that the Council of Europe with its Parliamentary Assembly will support the best ways of inter-state cooperation, so that we can set up our new olive tree, the new, long-term, sustainable solutions for environmental protection as a human right that can be included in the charter of human rights, solutions for addressing the energy crisis and any crisis we may be faced with from now on.

Thank you for your presence, which is a cautious return to normality, thank you for your participation. I am certain of your contribution in ensuring that Europe and the entire world will take action. Welcome and keep safe!


 High resolution images

Related files

The Hellenic Parliament's Web Portal uses cookies as specifically mentioned here