The changes taking place in Europe provide the Council of Europe with a meaningful context in which to debate its role. Change gives us an occasion to see where our strength lies and what really is the added value of the Council of Europe today. What can we do better than others on this continent?
To my mind, the answers to these questions lie with human rights and the promotion of democracy. Although the activities of the Council of Europe today cover a wide array of important fields, one thing is singularly clear. The human rights standards and mechanisms of this organisation are unique. There is in this respect no true equivalent anywhere to Council of Europe achievements. Therefore, let us build our vision of the Council of Europe on the added value this organisation has brought and will undoubtedly continue to bring to democracy, the rule of law and human rights in Europe.
The initiative of a possible Third Summit has been linked to the development of Europe and the role of the Council of Europe in the new situation. To make sure a Summit meets our expectations, careful preparation of the agenda is needed. Europe based on human rights and democracy can only be realised by not letting new dividing lines emerge. In this respect, the Council of Europe has a lot to offer. Finland believes that through careful planning and through allowing adequate time for the preparations, a Third Summit of the Council of Europe could contribute to a more unified and democratic Europe.
In my opinion the process of reform in the European Court of Human Rights is perhaps the most important theme of the 111th meeting of the Committee of Ministers.
It is also worth noting that only four years have passed since the Strasbourg control mechanism was restructured through the entry into force of the 11th Protocol. However, despite careful preparation, that profound reform has now proved to be inadequate. This reminds us that the protection of human rights is a process that requires continuous adaptation, not only of our own national legislations and practices, but also of the institutional framework.
The importance of the adaptation at hand is underlined by the fact that the European Convention of Human Rights, which was signed 52 years ago, has been a milestone achievement in the protection of human rights in Europe. The Convention, and the control mechanism which has been built around it, has over time become the most visible achievement of the Council of Europe, in Europe and worldwide. It is something that we, as members of the organisation, can truly be proud of. Indeed, if one had to name one distinctive feature of our control mechanism in comparison with similar mechanisms elsewhere, it is the effective right of individual application. This unique right must be safeguarded. Without it, the whole mechanism would lose its credibility in the minds of all those Europeans who have learned or are learning to respect the Court as the highest guardian of their human rights and fundamental freedoms.
The importance of the mechanism will increase if and when the European Union accedes to the Convention. We strongly support this initiative, which would enhance the protection of the rights of the individual in the EU area.
It must also be acknowledged that both Europe and the Council of Europe have undergone significant changes, especially in the past decade. One result of this development has been the continuing increase in the number of individual applications lodged with the Court. On the one hand, this is a success story, but on the other hand it is clear that in the future the Court will no longer be able to function effectively unless some amendments based on fresh ideas are accomplished. It may be noted here that the Court has almost doubled its output in a short period of time, but even this is not enough as the number of new applications constantly exceeds the number of decisions issued, with the result that the backlog of cases continues to grow.
A number of changes are needed. We need to seek ways to accelerate and simplify the filtering and other processing of applications. Special efforts should also be made to prevent so-called repetitive cases, which already constitute about 70 % of all the cases in which violations are found by the Court. But we must also look at possible further measures at national level to better adjust and streamline our own legislation and administrative practices with the requirements of the Convention. It is important that our national authorities closely follow the wording and spirit of the Convention and that States fully implement the judgments of the Court in conformity with the legal nature of the Convention procedure.
Since the 109th meeting of the Committee of Ministers, our national experts have made remarkable efforts in studying all aspects of the reforms required. The interim report before us provides us with a useful basis for our deliberations and at the same time gives further guidance to our experts so that they will be able to present their final conclusions well in time before the 112th session under the chairmanship of Malta. The Declaration which is to be adopted today should not restrict the innovative work of the experts but should rather constitute a solid political basis for their future work. We look forward to receiving their final report.
We have arrived at a certain turning point and now we must take stock of the progress achieved. We want to signal our determination to safeguard the achievements of the mechanism based on the right of individual application. At the same time, we have to look at all available options for reform with an open mind.
Action in the fight against terrorism must be conducted with full respect for human rights and the rule of law. This basic precept is equally relevant in all international forums and in all parts of the world. I am delighted to see that the work of the Council of Europe and its multidisciplinary group on terrorism has progressed well. As for amending the Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism, Finland recognizes that the compromise reached was the best possible outcome. To us, it is clear that terrorist crimes can not be justified by any political considerations.
Finally, let me share with you some thoughts on the topical issue of the Roma and the Finnish initiative related to a ”European Roma Forum”. The situation of the Roma in Europe has become an increasingly topical issue over the past few years. In response to the widespread discrimination against the Roma, several governments have established advisory committees or similar bodies to engage Roma in national decision-making processes. National and local programmes for improvement of the legal, social and cultural position of the Roma have also been launched. Similar efforts have been undertaken by international institutions. The Council of Europe, too, has considerably stepped up its Roma-related activities in recent years. I believe that our organisation could and – indeed – should continue to play an important role in this field.
There are Roma living in practically all member states of the Council of Europe. In this respect, their situation is unique. According to some estimates their number amounts to some 8-10 million people in Europe. The circumstances in which Roma live and the problems that they face differ in gravity and extent from one country to another but the overall picture is by and large the same: Discrimination against the Roma in various fields of life constitutes a serious social problem. The negative consequences of this phenomenon, including social exclusion and migration, leave no European country untouched.
The forthcoming enlargement will roughly double the number of Roma inside the European Union. Economic transition may further aggravate the situation of this population and amplify their existing problems. The social distress that Roma face is therefore a problem that has to be dealt with as a matter of urgency. Problems should be addressed where they occur – migration is not the right solution.
There is no doubt that improvement in the position of the Roma is a challenge that can be overcome only through co-operation among European countries. Pan-European problems require pan-European solutions. In our view, a European forum for the Roma, functioning under the auspices of the Council of Europe, would provide an excellent consultative platform where effective solutions could be developed in co-operation with representatives of the Roma. The best solutions can be found by engaging the Roma in a constructive exercise, not by excluding them from processes that have direct effects on their lives.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.