Mr Chairman, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen
The Council of Europe stands for democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Its achievements in these areas are unquestionable. The comparative advantages of this organisation are particularly significant when evaluating changes currently taking place in European organisational architecture.
The European Union is going through a historical process of enlargement with the accession of 10 new member states in the spring of 2004. At the same time, the future Constitutional Treaty can be expected to contain inter alia a list of fundamental rights applicable in the EU and also a legal basis for the accession of the European Union in the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
This development of a steady basis for the EU human rights culture is to be warmly welcomed. However, it should be borne in mind that this set of issues is at rather an early stage of development in EU. The Council of Europe, for its part, has elaborated standards and well-functioning implementation mechanisms. It has acquired expertise in promoting human rights over a period of several decades already. Such expertise in the field of shared European values – democracy, human rights and the rule of law – should be made use of. When developing standards and policies in the field of human rights, the EU greatly benefits from what the Council of Europe can offer.
United action and a genuine dialogue between the two organisations should therefore be encouraged. The accession of the European Union in the Convention on human rights is a step in the right direction – towards creating one united space of human rights on this continent. It is our wish that the way for the accession can be paved as soon as possible. Even prior to the accession, other concrete forms of rapprochement between the EU and the Council of Europe should be identified. For instance, as the drafting of the EU Charter on Fundamental Rights follows to a great extent the language of the European Convention of Human Rights, a close cooperation between the Courts in Luxembourg and in Strasbourg should be warmly welcomed in order to ensure coherent interpretation.
The Council of Europe implies an all-European perspective and a wider reach across the continent through its broad membership. All its 45 member states can participate on an equal footing. The member states have over the years developed a culture of addressing a wide range of European issues together. This is relevant in the context of the EU discussion related to the ”Wider Europe” and formulating policies and activities in the new situation.
Some creative thinking may still be needed to develop the practices and the modalities of an extended cooperation between the two organisations also in the light of the results of the EU Inter-Governmental Conference. But let us not start with practicalities. What is now essential is to express the political will to work increasingly together. Particularly at his period of change in Europe the time is right for partnership. Both organisations will benefit – and so will above all the citizens of Europe.
The general theme suggested for the Third Council of Europe Summit is ”Europe without Dividing Lines”. But what does this notion imply? I try to outline some elements.
The architecture of the continent has been in constant change since the second Summit in 1997. The new and restored democracies have developed fast, assisted by the common norms and mechanisms of the Council of Europe. The European Union soon covers more than a half of countries on this continent. In this setting it is pertinent to analyse the future agenda of the Council of Europe.
The most effective dividing line in Europe ever as symbolised by the Berlin wall during the cold war became history over a decade ago. Since then also other dividing lines have been weakened through the growing cooperation all over the continent. We need to continue this process of unification in Europe and also to defend these acquired standards in the wake of new challenges like terrorism and international organised crime.
Mr Chairman, dear colleagues
The strategic goal of enlargement for this organisations was defined at the first Council of Europe Summit in 1993 and pursued since. The mission of enlargement is now almost concluded and the time has come to review the agenda. Ten years after the Vienna Summit we should maybe stop and ask ourselves to what extent and in what respects we have made real and lasting progress in terms of promoting human rights and democracy in Europe.
It is important, to take one example, that the Court of Human Rights reflects our work to create a truly united space of human rights in Europe. While reforming the court practices we need to make sure that its fundamental elements are maintained. For instance, the right for individual petition before the Court of Human rights is of paramount importance. One can say it is the trade mark of common European space of human rights.
The contribution of the Council of Europe has made genuine difference in making Europe better. Examples are many, both in the area of standard setting – a new protocol on death penalty could be mentioned – and in the areas of promoting the rule of law and the full enjoyment of human rights in practice.
Membership criteria have served and continue to serve this purpose. These criteria continue to be monitored in the so called new as well as the old member countries. While the monitoring by the Parliamentary Assembly continues to work well, I am happy to notice that real discussion has started on reforming also the Committee of Ministers monitoring process.
However, serious challenges to human rights still exist in different parts of Europe. Trafficking in human beings, in most cases women and children, is a major human rights issue that is even on the increase as we speak. Trafficking takes place across national borders and affects countries all over Europe and therefore has to be an issue for action both at national level by Member States’ Governments as well as one for increasingly concerted international efforts.
Among remaining key challenges, improving the situation of the Roma should be highlighted. The task to follow-up the proposal to establish a European Roma Forum was given a year ago to the Deputies. I am glad to note that the work has been progressing well. It is our wish that decisions in this matter could be reached already at the Ministerial Meeting in Spring 2004.
The Third Summit must be substantial and well-prepared so that it can fulfil its purpose. The Summit should reaffirm the promotion of human rights as the principle task of this organisation. But this is not enough. The Summit provides us with an opportunity to cast a critical eye on the tools to perform this task and, in general, on the way we work.
One valuable tool worth sharpening is monitoring. We have to have courage to address human rights violations wherever they occur, being aware that acute problems may arise anywhere, also in settled democracies. At the same time we must focus our efforts on the most serious human rights situations.
Human rights work cannot be successful without lively interaction and dialogue with the civil society. This can be effective, in monitoring as in other activities, only through consistent openness and transparency. Openness would also make the Council of Europe better known by the public and thus increase its legitimacy. It is interesting to note that the EU since some time is striving towards more transparency and openness in its activities, with a view to improve its legitimacy in the eyes of the citizen.
The basic task, raison d’etre, of the Council of Europe is to secure peace, stability and security in Europe. They are not and never will be a ”fait accompli”, a task fulfilled but require constant vigilance and work. The Council of Europe is instrumental in preventing conflicts by promoting democracy, human rights and the rule of law. This basic purpose should guide the setting of our future agenda.