Parliamentary Assembly session : 31 March – 4 April 2003 

Speech by Walter Schwimmer, Council of Europe Secretary General on the occasion of the ceremony of accession of Serbia and Montenegro to the Council of Europe

Strasbourg, 3 April 2003

Today Serbia and Montenegro will become the 45th member of the Council of Europe. This is a long-awaited moment for our Organisation, for all committed Europeans and for me personally.

Today, we add the missing link in the chain of our South East European member States. The road towards further integration into Europe is now open for the whole region.

Our satisfaction is even greater because this process has not been easy - as our friends from Serbia and Montenegro know very well. It has involved and mobilised the international community and the authorities of Serbia and Montenegro in a great effort to consolidate this country’s path towards democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

The work done up to now is impressive on many accounts:

- relations between Serbia and Montenegro have been codified in the Constitutional Charter,
- modern legislation in the field of human rights and minorities has been adopted,
- reforms have involved almost all sectors of political and institutional life, and
- potential conflicts, such as in South Serbia, have been handled with remarkable restraint.

However, as Minister Svilanovic told us when he addressed the Committee of Ministers a week ago, the challenges ahead are still considerable:

- the courageous “clean-up” wanted and planned by the greatly missed Zoran Djindjic to rid the country of its most detrimental elements has only just begun,
- key steps to improving co-operation with ICTY have been announced - and here I would like to commend the decision taken to change the second paragraph of Article 39 of the law on co-operation with the Tribunal,
- attempts at finding suitable ways of discussing the future of Kosovo are still in the early stages.

We sincerely hope that membership of the Council of Europe will help Serbia and Montenegro to face these tremendous challenges. Specific co-operation programmes have been designed to that effect. However, as older members of this Organisation have experienced, membership is most of all a “living” process, requiring the active participation inside the country of a variety of actors: government officials, parliamentarians, locally elected representatives, civil society forces, NGOs, etc. - all working together to ensure that European standards are not only words, but also actions.

In this respect we must ensure that participation in the Council of Europe’s co-operation structures and frameworks does not remain the task and commitment of a restricted circle of people; it must have the full support of the civil society whose key role in bringing about the profound changes in the country has been clearly demonstrated in the past few years. My wish is to continue to see a vibrant, vital and attentive society, ready also to tackle the painful question of looking at the past in order to be able to look with more confidence and optimism to the future.

The future is our common European future, the future neither of an “old” nor a “new” Europe, but of One Europe, which should stay united around the basic values and principles which have been actively promoted and defended by our Organisation for 54 years now.

The “New Europe” is not defined by our differences on the war in Iraq, but by an area of democratic stability which is enjoyed by 800 million Europeans who are united for democracy, rule of law and human rights.

Let me conclude my words of welcome by repeating once more what I said on the occasion of the opening of our Belgrade office: