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News report : 12-02-98

Brussels, 12th February 1998

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Algerian Parliament a reality


"The Algerian Parliament is a reality - we have met it."


This was the conviction expressed by André SOULIER (EPP, F), chair of the European Parliament Delegation to Algeria, at a meeting with the press in Algiers on 11th February. The MEPs, who held meetings over a three-day period with their counterparts from the Algerian Parliament, the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister and a broad cross-section of society, had a definite impression that things were starting to move in Algeria and that democracy was making progress.

Mr SOULIER's first conclusion was this: "The people we met want a genuine partnership in which no issues are overlooked: the fight against terrorism, which is condemned by everybody, arms trafficking and economic and social partnership." The trade unions, he said, had wished, with a view to the possible conclusion of an association agreement, to emphasize a number of points which in their eyes were of crucial importance: the free movement of persons, even if this was a problem for certain countries, transport, energy and management of other natural resources, particularly water - all of which were matters of mutual interest. "They asked us to speed things up!"

As to the question: "Who is killing who?", Mr SOULIER quoted the words of one of the religious representatives whom the delegation had met: "Don't keep on asking who is killing who. We know and the victims know too." Mr SOULIER himself added "Nobody, when speaking to us, pointed the finger at the army."

Mr SOULIER's second conclusion was that the Algerian Parliament was a reality but needed time to get going properly. "All the parliamentary groups", he said, "whether of the government side or the opposition, assured us that the parliament was working. We must not be dismissive of its work and the openings it may lead to. Our dialogue was very well informed and extremely frank on the subject of human rights and the Algerian MPs told us that their parliament was working on this matter within the framework of the separation of powers. We have no intention of interfering and we will not call for an international committee of inquiry. It would be wrong to demand everything at once." The situation was no longer what it had been last May before the legislative elections. "The Algerians", he continued, "will build their own future and we will not try to take their place. If we can help them through the partnership, let us do so".

Speaking of the meeting with Mr MEZZIANE, President of the Islamic Council, and Mgr Henri TEYSSIER, Archbishop of Algiers, who was accompanied by Father GONZALES, Mr SOULIER stressed the common thread running through their views: "Algeria does not need to be judged, it needs help and understanding."

The delegation concluded that - as always - things were not all black or white. Even the members of the government had acknowledged their errors and agreed on the need to rectify them.

In reply to questions from journalists, Mr SOULIER said there was no clear political line between the EU and Algeria. There were catalogues of measures but no single overarching approach. For his part, he wanted the European Parliament to contribute to devising a new EU policy covering all aspects of cooperation.

In conclusion, Mr SOULIER and the vice-chair of the delegation, Johannes SWOBODA (PES, A), declared "The challenge is enormous. A striking feature of our talks was the freedom with which they were conducted. No issues were ducked." If its request is accepted by the President of the European Parliament, the delegation will give details to Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday 17th February at the Strasbourg part-session. A decision will then have to be taken on what the next step should be.

Further information: Jacques NANCY (currently in Algiers), tel: 284 24 85

The chair of the European Parliament Delegation to Algeria, André SOULIER, will hold a press conference at 4pm on Thursday 12th February at Parliament's Paris Information Office (288, Boulevard St. Germain. For further information: Bernard CHEVALLIER, tel: 1.40.63.40.00)


Brussels, 12th February 1998


    EPIINFOTH

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Inauguration of new EP buildings Mr GIL-ROBLES' speech


Inauguration of new Parliament buildings in Brussels.

Mr GIL-ROBLES: "Democratic institutions have never been a luxury".


Today, 12th February 1998, the President of the European Parliament, Mr José María GIL-ROBLES, inaugurated Parliament's new buildings in Brussels in the presence of HM Albert II, King of the Belgians.

In his speech, Mr Gil-Robles said:

"Today, the entry into service of these new buildings is a visible testimony to how the original, purely consultative assembly has evolved over those forty years into what it is now: a Parliament which enjoys a large proportion of the powers required for it to make effective exercise of the vital function of democratic control over the activities of the Community.

The complex and plural nature of a European Union of fifteen Member States, all with equal rights and duties, has its most visible expression in the European Parliament, in which 626 Members with the most diverse geographical origins and beliefs work together, doing their best to overcome the problems caused by the decision of the Member State governments to maintain the status quo as regards the places of work, not to mention the necessary requirement of ensuring scrupulous respect for the equal status of the Union's eleven working languages. The significant financial cost of our practice of active multilingualism pales in comparison with the long-term implications of a Union which did not scrupulously respect the principle of the equal rights and duties of all its citizens.

The use of eleven languages in our daily business represents an asset which we have no desire to lose: it is a daily challenge to us, to overcome the barriers between us and not entrench ourselves behind one language or another - to be willing to speak, as a matter of course and a question of courtesy, the languages of our partners. There are those who speak of the Community institutions as a new 'tower of Babel' - forgetting that, whereas in the Babel story the diversity of tongues destroyed a common project, in our case it serves its construction.

The European Parliament, as the depository of a part of the power that resides in the peoples of the Member States, has the major responsibility of defending, at all moments, the solutions which best serve, not an individual interest or the interests of a few, but the common interests of all of us, of all those who make up the Union. We sometimes forget, in the heat of our national battles, that the Union is not a mere multilateral organization on conventional lines existing simply for the defence of individual countries' interests, traditions and viewpoints, however deserving of respect those may be.

The European Union is something very different from that - something far more pioneering, committed and united. Within the Union, the Member States cede a part of their theoretical sovereignty, in the awareness that this is the sole means of safeguarding and, indeed, advancing the welfare of their citizens. This is the raison d'être of our Parliament, and at the same time it obliges us all to bring our full commitment to the tasks entrusted to us by our voters.

At different moments in recent history, our countries have had to struggle to preserve or recreate their democratic institutions. Those institutions have never been a luxury; nor is that their fate within our Community.

Thanks to the new buildings which we are inaugurating today, as well as those which we will soon be able to occupy in Strasbourg, Parliament can now offer all its Members the indispensable tools they need to perform their duty of representing their voters, without which the word 'democracy' would be meaningless. I call on you all to make use of those tools in the correct and scrupulous fashion which our fellow-citizens expect of us."

Further information: Jaume DUCH - tel. 284 30 00



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