News item | 06-03-2023
On 2 March 2023, the Standing Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) gathered at the Peace Palace to commemorate 75 years since the Congress of Europe in The Hague. This congress led to the creation of the Council of Europe. Mr. Piet Hein Donner, chairman of the Carnegie Foundation, delivered the following speech to PACE’s Standing Committee.
Mr. President, Excellency’s, distinguished guests,
It is a great pleasure and honor for me, as chairman of the Carnegie Foundation, to welcome you here at the Peace Palace.
As was commemorated this afternoon it is seventy-five years ago this year that our forebears met in The Hague in the Hall of Knights to discuss the future of Europa, having survived two wars in a lifetime and faced with the immense task of reconstructing society devastated by total war. They came, not as representatives of nations or heads of state, but as representatives of all sections of European society. They came with an idea: to unite Europe, and they left with hope. The Council of Europe was born from that hope.
It is altogether fit that the standing committee of the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe, the heirs of that earlier meeting, gather here in the Peace Palace which was born from an even earlier meeting in The Hague and an even earlier surge of hope: the First Hague Peace Conference of 1899. That Conference was convened with the aim of finding means to end the seemingly endless series of wars and check their growing ferocity. The most important outcome of that conference was the Permanent Court of Arbitration with was set up to settle international conflicts by judicial process and arbitration, instead of by armed conflict. It started its work in 1902.
In following years, the idea emerged to build a permanent courthouse. This idea became reality in 1904 by the gift of Andrew Carnegie, the American steel tycoon. He donated one and a half million dollars “for the purpose of building, establishing and maintaining in perpetuity a Courthouse and Library, a Temple of Peace.”. The first stone was laid three years later during the Second Hague Peace Conference in 1907 and the Palace opened its doors in 1913 after six years of construction. In January 1914 the Hague Academy for International Law was set up which also was to have its seat in the Peace Palace. But all good intentions came to naught in august 1914 as the first world war erupted.
After the first world war the League of Nations established in 1920 the Permanent Court of International Justice which was housed here in the Peace Palace. After the Second World War this court was replaced by the International Court of Justice which is also housed here in the Peace Palace. This Court, the so called “World Court”, is one of the principal organs of the United Nations and the only one residing outside of New York. It adjudicates in accordance with international law general disputes between countries that may concern frontiers, maritime boundaries, sovereignty, violations of international humanitarian law, etc..
Thus, the Peace Palace houses nowadays the Permanent Court of Arbitration, the UN International Court of Justice and The Hague Academy of International Law which provides courses in international public and private law to some 900 young academics each year of all nationalities. It celebrates its centennial this year. The Peace Palace also houses one of the most prestigious and comprehensive libraries on international law, the Peace Palace Library.
In the course of time the Peace Palace has become a real ‘temple of peace’, a global icon of the hope for peace through justice. As such it is not only a monument for the world, but also of the world. During the second Hague Peace Conference a resolution was adopted inviting all participating countries to contribute to the construction and embellishment of the Palace. Many countries donated special building materials or works of art to the palace. Thus, the marble in the Hall comes from Italy, the tiles on the roof from Norway, the fountain in the courtyard from Denmark, the stained glasses from different countries. It is also a museum of a world that has since vanished. The Palace houses a monumental porphyry vase donated by the Czar of Russia, silk wall tapestries from the emperor of Japan, enormous porcelain vases from the empress of China, a huge tapestry from the Sultan of the Ottoman empire, an ironwork fence from the emperor of Germany and incense vases from the Maharaja’s of India.
The Peace Palace and the Council of Europe were born from similar ideals: peace, justice, and international cooperation. I hope this historical background will prove an inspiration for your work. I wish you wisdom, strength, and courage to face the problems of the present world and to transform ideals into practice. As Eleanor Roosevelt once said: “It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.”
I hope you will also be inspired by that earlier meeting seventy-five years ago. The problems our forebears faced when they met here, were even more daunting. Yet they went from here with a sense of common purpose and hope in their hearts; the hope for a future in which all Europeans could enjoy a life in liberty, security, and prosperity free from fear and want. If they could find the strength to take up their responsibility, could we do less?
So let us honour the pioneers of Europe by reaffirming their commitment to the hope of a peaceful and united Europe. Hope in the sense as Vaclav Havel expressed it; ‘Not the joy of things that are going well, or the willingness to invest in enterprises that are heading for success, but rather the ability to work for something because it is good. Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out. That is the hope that built the Peace Palace and that is the hope we should carry from here.
Allow me to toast to the success of your meeting.