26 May 2006 - PRESIDENT PIERRE LELLOUCHE OPENS THE SPRING SESSION OF THE NATO-PARLIAMENTARY ASSEMBLY IN PARIS [PRESS COMMUNIQUE]
President Pierre Lellouche today (Friday) opened the Spring Session of the NATO-Parliamentary Assembly (NATO-PA) in Paris with a call for a strong European presence in the Alliance in partnership with North America.
"The Alliance needs a strong European pillar in which France has a vital role to play," he told the opening plenary session. He said Europe needed a powerful voice within the Alliance but that it was necessary to "do this in co-operation with and not against the United States."
The five-day session brings together some 310 national parliamentarians from the 26 NATO countries, 13 associate delegations from Central and Eastern Europe, Ukraine and Russia; 3 Mediterranean Associate delegations from Algeria, Jordan, Israel and several nations with observer status.
In a wide-ranging speech, Mr Lellouche outlined some of the issues parliamentarians are set to debate including the continued development and enlargement of the Alliance 15 years after the end of the Cold War.
As someone who has also represented a Parisian constituency in the French National Assembly since 1993, he also told a packed session he was delighted to welcome them to the city of his birth.
"Like all Parisiens, I am in love with my city, with each and every one of its stones, of its roads and bridges," he declared.
NATO-PA's five committees (Political, Defence and Security, Science and Technology, Civil Dimension of Security, Economics and Security) will meet over the weekend and discuss reports ranging from Iran and the nuclear issue, Afghanistan, the transformation of the Alliance, and relations with the Islamic world.
After the formal opening, the session was addressed by Borys Tarasyuk, Ukraine's Foreign Minister and special envoy of the Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko. He received several plaudits from members of the audience for his country's admission into the democratic fold.
Finally the session heard an account of the current political situation in Belarus - which the United States terms "Europe's last dictatorship" - from Alexander Milinkevich, the leader of the united democratic opposition forces in the country. This was followed by a lively exchange of views.
The NATO-PA's closing session next Tuesday will be addressed by NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe (SACEUR) General James Jones.