Minister of Foreign Affairs of Malta and Chairman-in-office of the Committee of Ministers
3 April 2003
Our meeting today is held in the shadow of war in Iraq. I have noted with interest the urgent debate which has been held this morning in this Assembly on this situation and welcome the dialogue which is taking place within this forum. One can only hope that this war will come to an early end and that all the suffering and disruption experienced by ordinary Iraqi people will also cease in the very short term.
Our Chairmanship of the Council of Europe comes at a most opportune moment in Malta's history. Today, I would like to share with you the historic choice in favour of accession to the European Union made by the people of Malta, when in the referendum held last month on the 8th of March, they voted for Malta’s accession to the European Union. The choice expressed by the Maltese in favour of seeking a future in close association with our European friends, will have a positive impact for the future of Malta and will continue to generate stability and growth for our islands. It will also in no small way, contribute to the further reunification of Europe and its people. This will also complement the existing friendship between Malta and other nations represented within the Council of Europe.
I would like to take this opportunity to also thank the representatives of the European Union, applicant states and the associated countries which have warmly welcomed us with their congratulatory messages. I congratulate Slovenia for their own successful referendum result and augur that there will be a positive outcome in the referenda being held in fellow acceding countries.
Speaking of new associations, it was a pleasure for me to participate this morning, in another historic moment, this time within the Council of Europe, whereby we welcomed into our family, the state union of Serbia and Montenegro. This new member state will add a new dimension to our Council and further contribute to the stability of the region.
I would like to express again my deepest condolences for the tragic and shocking loss of Serbian Prime Minister, Zoran Djindjic, whose unstinting efforts in the reform process at home these past three years have been witnessed by us all. I encourage those parliamentarians seated here today to persevere in constructive dialogue through this Assembly, for the further development and stability of their country, for this and future generations.
From my part, I reiterate Malta’s support and assistance throughout our Chairmanship to Serbia and Montenegro, and look forward to greeting my counterpart Goran Svilanovic, at the 112th Ministerial session which will mark the end of this Chairmanship. His words to the Committee, last week and this morning, demonstrate his country’s firm resolve to fulfil the obligations of the Council of Europe. They also reflect his personal resolve and energy to pursue the difficult road ahead in the process of democratisation and modernisation within Serbia and Montenegro.
Since last taking the floor in January, the Committee has continued to work hard in safeguarding and promoting the principles of the Council of Europe. This morning, I will outline but some of our achievements. A more detailed report has been distributed for your perusal.
Indeed, a post accession strategy for Serbia and Montenegro has been drawn up on the basis of the recent exchange of letters I have had with the highest authorities of Serbia and Montenegro who have confirmed their commitment to ensure compliance with these obligations. As with previous members, assistance towards this end, will be given through the co-operation and assistance programme, to accelerate this transition process, in line with the principles of the Council of Europe.
I would also like to extend my congratulations to Bosnia and Herzegovina, on the first anniversary of its membership to the Council of Europe. This past year, the Committee of Ministers has continued to implement the post-accession strategy adopted for this country. I welcome the progress made following the recent setting up of democratic institutions, which will enable the new authorities to undertake the necessary reforms for the democratisation process. I encourage the authorities to continue with their concerted efforts in the fields of human rights and in providing assistance to refugees and internally displaced persons, and the necessary reforms for an efficient judicial system with particular emphasis on the fight against the threat of corruption and organised crime.
Post monitoring strategies continue to be implemented in Armenia and Azerbaijan, where notwithstanding active participation in the work of the organisation, further progress needs to be registered by both members.
You will agree that recent dissatisfaction expressed by the international observer teams warrants that we focus our attention on the fundamental rule to hold free and fair elections.
The Committee of Ministers will thus follow the preparation and organisation of the parliamentary elections to be held in Armenia next May and the presidential elections scheduled for the autumn in Azerbaijan, under the reforms of the electoral code, currently taking place.
In the same vein, Georgia’s democratic development is suffering as a result of unresolved conflicts which hinder its compliance with its commitments. This situation deserves our close attention through regular monitoring of the compliance of the commitments strengthened by a planned visit. The Committee, also for this country, urges careful preparation of the forthcoming parliamentary elections, bearing in mind that the legitimacy and stability of the ensuing political authorities will depend on their being elected to office properly.
Last January, I informed you, I had sent a letter to the Ukrainian authorities, drawing their attention to the media situation and on the measures foreseen in order to achieve the necessary progress. Following this letter, I welcome the agreement given by the Ukrainian delegation to make public the report of the Secretary General’s experts on freedom of expression and I look forward to the progress report on the implementation of the recommendations which is expected from the Ukrainian authorities in mid-April.
I will now draw your attention to the continued dialogue with Moldova. On behalf of the Committee, earlier this month, I sent a letter to President Voronin where I informed him that we identified four priorities and set out a detailed timetable for conducting dialogue with a view to the future Moldovan chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers. Following a recent evaluation, I am pleased to note that there is now undoubtedly a positive dynamic which has led to substantial progress in several areas, particularly dialogue between political forces in the country, prospects of political settlement of the Transnistria conflict, and local democracy. Progress will continue to be monitored by the Committee, and I urge the Moldovan authorities to continue their good work to meet the given deadlines.
The situation in Chechnya continues to be monitored by the Committee of Ministers with particular reference to the constitutional referendum held in Chechnya on 23 March. In this context I took note of the decisions of the Bureau of this Assembly and the Secretary General and refer you to the declaration adopted by the Committee of Ministers on the 26th March. In the same vein, I express hope that adoption of the Constitution of the Chechen Republic will pave the way for the formation of legitimate bodies of power through democratic and fair elections, the restoration of peace, the rule of law and full respect for human rights in the region. For its part, the Committee of Ministers reiterated that the Council of Europe is ready to continue cooperation with the Russian Federation in promoting Council of Europe standards of democracy, human rights and rule of law in the Chechen Republic.
It is with pleasure that I now refer to Malta’s programme of priorities. Our main focus was on the social dimension in the Council of Europe’s activities. You have by now received the Valletta declaration calling for the improvement of access to social rights, which was adopted during our conference in November of last year. This declaration defines the principles of the policies required to promote effective access to social rights by everybody, and in so doing to guarantee their effectiveness.
In the same context, I look forward to welcoming those amongst you who will be attending the conference on migration policies, which will be held in Malta on the 10th and 11th April. Malta, like many other countries at the periphery of Europe, finds itself caught in the middle of the mass exodus of people leaving North Africa for Europe. This exodus is made up of refugees leaving their countries for political reasons, and migrants who leave to improve their economic conditions by settling in Europe, even if illegally. We believe that the problem of illegal migration has to be tackled at source.
Invitations have therefore also been sent to non-member states of the Council of Europe, namely Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Algeria, where past patterns reveal them to be countries both of origin and transit. Two “sending” countries from the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia and Somalia, have also been invited, as they too have been identified as countries of origin. Our geographical position and friendly relations with our neighbouring partners have ensured a healthy dialogue which we use to facilitate the repatriation of illegal immigrants in accordance with international rules. Malta views this conference as a necessary step to study the implementation of the strategy for managing migratory flows drawn up by the Council of Europe in Helsinki and as a means by which to set up a framework for continued future co-operation.
Regular dialogue with our neighbouring regional organisations has given added value to the work of the Council of Europe. Referring to the 3+3 meeting held with our OSCE counterparts on the 5th of February in the Hague at the kind invitation of my Dutch counterpart, I would like to share my thoughts with you. Co-operation on all levels with the OSCE should continue to be a priority on a regular basis. I welcome the high level discussions and shared experience and subsequent conclusions which arose out of the Hague meeting and I now look forward to dialogue with the Greek European Union Chairmanship in the context of the Quadripartite meeting.
I also look forward to our next meeting in May, during the 112th session of the Committee of Ministers, which ends the Maltese chairmanship. Allow me to take this opportunity to inform you of the preparations currently taking place for this session.
Discussions on aspects of the Third Summit of the Council of Europe have continued as a means of implementing the decision taken during the 111th Session of the Committee of Ministers last November. Given the importance of regular dialogue with the Assembly on this issue, I am pleased to refer you to the Committee of Ministers' reply to your Recommendations 1568 and 1578, which were adopted last January.
On 12th March the Ministers’ Deputies agreed, in principle, on a reform of the current system of ministerial sessions. It was agreed that only one annual ordinary ministerial session will be held, in principle, although the current system of a six-month term for the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers, will remain. The new system will be effective as from 2004, initially on an experimental basis. The future Dutch and Norwegian Chairmanships will then present, before the end of the year, concrete proposals on the modalities of this new system.
The process of reform of the Court and the institutions of the European Convention on Human Rights, continues to be discussed. In early March, the Liaison Committee between the Ministers’ Deputies and the Court was informed that the work being carried out at the intergovernmental level, is progressing. I look forward to the contribution of the Assembly, a major key partner, on this issue which will undoubtedly further contribute to the discussion, in preparation of the next Ministerial session.
Three new treaties will be open for signature on the occasion of the next ministerial session of 15th May, namely a Convention on contact concerning children, an additional protocol on strengthening the fight against corruption and the amending protocol to the European Convention on the suppression of terrorism. I urge you to bring these conventions and protocols to the attention of your Governments in order to facilitate taking the necessary steps for signature. I attach particular importance to the amending protocol to the European Convention on the suppression of terrorism, which marks a new step in the Council of Europe’s contribution to the international action against terrorism and is the fruit of the hard work and contributions our experts have given in the past months. It is now time to reap the harvest.
The Maltese chairmanship will be followed by that of Moldova. It will inherit a number of achievements and challenges. I encourage the parliamentarians of Moldova present today, to continue to focus their energies on the political dialogue in the Round Table and on their preparation for this very important role of their country.
This chairmanship has been an enriching experience for Malta - one which we expect will be as beneficial for our successors as it has been for us.
In conclusion, may I say it has been a pleasure for me to have this opportunity to address such a distinguished gathering. I would also like to wish you further success in your tenure of office and in the work of the Parliamentary Assembly.
Malta will continue in its commitment to the invaluable work conducted by this august organisation, both now and in the future.