Democracies in Europe are stagnating, says new Council of Europe secretary general

Democracies in Europe are stagnating, says new Council of Europe secretary general

Former Swiss President Alain Berset first of his countrymen to be elected to head Council of Europe

By Timo Kirez

GENEVA (AA) - New head of the Council of Europe on Wednesday pointed to a worrying trend of democratic decline.

“Democracies are stagnating, in Europe and in other countries,” Alain Berset, 52, the council’s new secretary general, told a news conference in Bern, Switzerland.

Berset, a former Swiss Confederation president and senior statesman, was elected the council’s new secretary general by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on Tuesday evening. He is the first Swiss national to hold this office.

At the news conference, Berset first thanked the current Swiss president, Viola Amherd, for supporting his candidacy. He also thanked the other Council of Europe countries that elected him. Calling the runup to his election "very intense," he said he traveled to 25 European capitals over the past few months.

His most important goal is to promote peace in Europe, said Berset, citing the June 15-16 Ukraine Peace Conference in Burgenstock.

Stressing the importance of democracy and freedom of expression, Berset added that "disinformation bothers” him.

"You have to think about whether to set up regulations for this. Perhaps it would make sense to issue international rules in this regard," he suggested.

As the Council of Europe chief, he "does not represent Switzerland," he stressed, but said he wanted to "represent the values of Europe with Swiss DNA."

In this context, he referred to direct democracy in his home country. "Direct democracy is very important. For example, during the pandemic, we voted three times on the management of the pandemic," said Berset.

According to Berset, this example shows how democracy works in Switzerland.

He also emphasized that the Council of Europe is not politically comparable to the EU Council, a European Union body that it is sometimes confused with.

Rather, the Council of Europe is "about values," about "supporting the rights of individuals," he added.

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