26th Conference of European Ministers of Justice, 7-8 April 2005, Helsinki (Finland)
(To be checked against delivered speech)
"There is no contradiction between granting people more security and respecting the fundamental rights"
Helsinki, 7 April 2005
I would, first of all, like to say how pleased and honoured I am to be here today.
Our common aims with the Council of Europe have led to a very close and mutually beneficial cooperation: the Commission attends a range of the Council of Europe working groups that help shape the legal framework in these areas. We have many joint country-specific programmes designed to facilitate and support legal and institutional reform, mostly in the Balkans, Caucasus, Russia, Moldova, Ukraine and Turkey. There have also been multilateral thematic joint programmes, regarding, for instance, national minorities, the fight against organised crime and corruption, awareness-raising on the abolition of the death penalty, the preparation of the European conference to fight against racism and intolerance, action to promote the European Social Charter and a programme to strengthen democracy and constitutional development in the target countries.
The European Union aims to progressively establish and strengthen an area of justice, freedom, and security for our citizens; in this framework, the social aspects of justice are more and more present and important. Our successful cooperation has led to important accomplishments in this area, for instance the creation in 2002 of the European Day of civil justice, whose aim is to reach out to citizens and make Civil justice both more familiar and more accessible to them. The Directive on legal aid, adopted the same year, is also a concrete example of the social commitment of the European Union in an area where the Council of Europe has worked for a long time.
In the future, the social dimension of justice should receive an increased attention. Restorative justice, mediation (in criminal and civil matters), the treatment of offenders, in particular after they have served their prison sentence, to favour their reintegration into society, are all aspects to which we could devote our joint efforts.
I also ask myself whether we should organise, together a European Day against the death penalty: the absolute value of human life, common heritage of the states and peoples of Europe, could be a theme of great importance on which to create a common awareness.
The last European conference of Justice Ministers in 2003 in Sofia concentrated on the fight against terrorism and since then tremendous efforts have been made to develop co-operation to combat terrorism, in the Council of Europe and in the European Union, with the United Nations also playing a key role.
Yet, despite the enormous international effort put into the fight against terrorism, the risk of attack remains real, which is why we need to extend our level of preparedness. An important element of the approach adopted in the 2001 Action Plan on Terrorism is the need to strengthen the international coalition against terrorism, including through bilateral and regional co-operation. The European Council reaffirmed in its Declaration of 25 March 2004 the EU's commitment to fighting terrorism. The Declaration and associated Revised Action Plan of June 2004 set out a number of key areas for action by the EU.
However, international co-operation in the fight against terrorism is equally important, given the global nature of the terrorist threat. I am thinking about the suppressing of terrorist financing, combating money laundering, fighting organized crime and illegal immigration and protecting victims of criminality, particularly women and children.
A comprehensive and co-ordinated multilateral approach to combating terrorism is absolutely essential. The EU is committed to supporting the development of multilateral and regional responses to combating terrorism, through active involvement in counter-terrorism initiatives and co-operation in such bodies as the UN, OSCE, Baltic Sea Task Force, and of course the Council of Europe.
The European Union has supported the Council of Europe initiatives in the fight against terrorism, particularly your valuable work in creating a regional Convention on the prevention of terrorism that covers areas such as terrorist roots, public provocation to commit an act of terrorism, recruitment, training and many other relevant points. That's why I'll present, before the end of June, a Commission initiative on the international dimension of security.
We particularly appreciate and highlight the work of the Council of Europe in their mission to fight terrorism while respecting the basic principles of human rights. The Council of Europe Guidelines on Human Rights and the Fight against Terrorism are an essential tool to guarantee that the fight against terrorism is carried out respecting human rights and democracy - the main values we aim to protect through our fight. There is no contradiction between granting people more security and respecting the fundamental rights of persons. This appropriate balance is and will be the EU added value, given to the international coalition against violence, criminality and terrorism.
I look forward to our discussions in the panels today and tomorrow.
Thank you very much for your attention.