(Abstract of the verbatim report of the Assembly)
24 September 2002
PRESIDENT COX. – Mr President, members of the Council of Europe and colleagues from the European Parliament, I am extremely pleased to have this opportunity and that we have the privilege of sharing a joint meeting between our two institutions. I am especially pleased at this time to speak about the theme that we have picked as a focus for our remarks.
In the European Union, we are on the eve, looking to the weeks that will come in the course of the Danish presidency, of an historic political choice about the next enlargement, which will be the largest and the most diverse enlargement of the European Union ever. The Council of Europe has done so much to prepare the way for that enlargement, and I believe that this meeting is timely and appropriate in those terms.
In acknowledging the presence of so many colleagues from the European Parliament, I should like to pay a particular word of tribute to my colleague, the Vice-President, Catherine Lalumière, who maintains for the European Parliament a special link with the Council of Europe and who, in her formidable professional capacity, has served the Council of Europe so well and for so long.
On today’s theme of the rule of law and specific fundamental freedoms, it has been a great strength and hallmark of your work at the Council of Europe since your inception that you have managed to prepare the way in such depth. The publication of 200 conventions in fifty years has contributed to the democratic development of our continent and to forming an indispensable pathway to the part of the project that we wish to bring to fulfilment inside the European Union with the challenge of enlargement. Your avant-garde role is and remains essential to the future of the peace and justice agenda and rights and freedoms agenda to which we have all aspired since Mr Gorbachev spoke to you on 6 July 1989 of building a common European house in this chamber.
It is not by chance that fifteen member states of the Union will soon be joined by many more. We already have thirteen candidate states and one can see others waiting in the wings to apply for that status. It is not surprising that they have decided to go further and pool resources and sovereignty one step more in the creation of the European Union and its role in the wider continental politics of Europe. In some ways, I think that that is the logical and historical sequel to the ground-breaking efforts of the Council of Europe. In that context, the issue that should be stressed today between our two institutions is one of complementarity rather than competition in our respective roles to date and in future. I believe that continuity should be the spirit and letter that motivates our activities arising from today’s joint session.
The development of the European Union was set out in Articles 2 and 6 in the Treaty of Amsterdam – the part of the treaty that deals with the Union’s founding on the principles of liberty, democracy and respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law. In addition, the solemn proclamation made in Nice in December 2002 on the charter of fundamental rights brought us to a new threshold in relation to the European Union and its treaties. That is a positive policy instrument. The charter was adopted as a general measure. It does not yet, of course, serve as a legal instrument. Article 51 explicitly states that the charter “does not establish any new power or task of the Community or the Union”.
I am well aware that the legal foundations of EU competences in the area of human rights, unlike those in other fields of administrative and constitutional law, are sometimes contested. Some member states are clearly reluctant, on good and understandable grounds of subsidiarity, to adopt a legally and constitutionally based human rights policy and have a certain reserve about some of the steps in that direction. I am also aware that some human rights organisations occasionally criticise the EU for being keener to look out than to look in. The challenge to create a holistic, consistent policy is important for us collectively, and especially for the European Parliament. We have a central role in insisting on accountability and in monitoring the executive, Council and Commission in the execution of policy, especially as it relates to all the areas in which human rights clauses are part of our engagement with states but not necessarily yet as an active part of the process of proper accountability.
The European Parliament has moved from having a specialised committee or sub-committee on human rights to charging a number of committees to look at the issue. We look forward to improving the joined-up writing between the committees, in order to ensure that we have a coherent and consistent platform.
In the relations between the EU and the Council of Europe on matters of human rights and jurisprudence, I believe that synergy and complementarity are the challenge, not competitiveness. As President of the European Parliament, my understanding is that in the ongoing discussions on the Convention on the Future of Europe, currently being led by Mr Giscard d’Estaing, the working group on the charter has to date been positive about integrating the charter and the treaties and about the accession of the European Union to the European Convention on Human Rights. If this were to come about – it is yet to become the policy of the Convention, after which it must go to an intergovernmental conference – it would give the EU autonomous confidence and a legally binding instrument. We should not forget that the charter leaves the door open to the more extensive provisions of the Convention.
We agree on the value of recognising the fundamental dignity of the human being and the idea of a healthy synergy between the Convention and the charter. It is not beyond the bounds of our collective energy and imagination to achieve such a positive synergy and to avoid, as you, Mr President, have remarked, useless and competitive horse trading; that diminishes both parties equally. It is a question of recognising the common values and building on the common strengths. My message is about the need for synergy. The European Convention on Human Rights is and remains an essential part of the armoury of Europe. I hope that it will be a core part of the armoury of the European Union.
In specific cases in which the EU has adopted measures against, for example, corruption or cyber-crime, we have based our work substantially on the texts and work of the Council of Europe, demonstrating the synergy and complementarity that I have emphasised. it would not have been possible to work so speedily on the European arrest warrant had it not been for the simplifications achieved by the Council of Europe Convention. The avant-garde role of the Council of Europe offers a primary platform that assists us in speedily responding to some of our challenges,
Enlargement will be the culmination of so much collective European effort, finally bringing about a great act of reconciliation on the continent in a way desired by the free wills of the people of those states who are now at a late stage of the accessions process. It will bring new challenges. For example, you are already engaged in an interesting and necessary debate on Kaliningrad. On 15 October, my colleagues on the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament and I will meet colleagues from the Federation Council of Russia, the Duma in Moscow, the Duma in Kaliningrad and colleagues from Lithuania and Poland, not to place ourselves in the role of negotiator or mandated to act in a governmental way but to understand that parliamentarianism is necessary for the dialogue that creates the space that begets the solution.
It is important to be an active part of that process, and I welcome the interest that you show in the sensitive matter of Kaliningrad. You are well placed because your Council already includes the key players, some of whom are included in the EU and some of whom are yet to join as full members.
You, President Schieder, have remarked on a number of issues that will appear in the common test. Let me emphasise for the European Parliament how strong is the conviction of this House that we must do all that we can to eradicate the death penalty, and how much we celebrate that it is now part of our treaty order, how much we celebrate the fact that we derive and share it through the Council of Europe and how much we are determined to advocate it on every international and global platform.
This week we will debate the International Criminal Court and developments since the instrument of ratification converted the ICC into an active institution. The European Parliament has been a determined and committed ally in the project. We see it as a method of getting at despots and dictators, not as a charter for getting at democrats. I travelled to the United States of America and engaged in extensive dialogue with many people on Capitol Hill and with people in the US administration on the United States reserve. The European Parliament is determined to continue its efforts to underpin and consolidate the most significant step forward in human rights, marking a brave new departure at the beginning of this new century. We will promote and defend the Court. At the request of colleagues I have communicated with my counterpart in the Chamber of Deputies and Senate in Romania, where Romania-US relations and the ICC will be discussed. Each of us must respect the other’s parliamentary integrity. I did not and would not seek to impose a view on the free and sovereign parliament of another people. I have invited the Speakers of both chambers to have regard to the determined commitment of the European Union and Parliament to promote the ICC. I have asked them to seek to work with us to establish a coherent European response among member states and candidate states, and, if there must be an accord with our American friends, to make common European cause and not to allow Europe to be diminished by its own diversity.
Let me close by quoting someone who I have found inspirational in so many addresses in so many European forums – President Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic. He said, “The voice of the choir and the voice of the soloist cannot be compared. The common and harmonious voice of the two bodies is important.” That is my message today. Both in our choirs and in our solos, if we share common values and a common purpose, the mission of a meeting such as this one today is to find the synergy, the complementarity and the harmonies that make us stronger together in promoting the Europe of values that we believe in and discuss here today.