(To be checked against delivered speech)
- I have a vivid recollection of our spirited exchange in January when I briefed you and your colleagues on the Council’s progress and the priorities of the Dutch Chair. These priorities are human rights and monitoring mechanisms, integration and social cohesion, and enhancing synergy between the Council and other international organisations. As our Chairmanship draws to a close, it is my pleasure to renew our acquaintance today.
- From the outset, let me say that I recognise that this is the place to be for independent counsel and critical response to the issues we face in the Council of Europe. Together, we are heading toward a momentous decision on how to respond to the challenge of a Third Summit and all it may contribute to a unifying Europe. Your views and advice are as welcome today as ever.
- In two weeks, the 114th session of the Committee of Ministers will be held. Since it will be the only meeting this year, the format will be different from previous sessions. The Netherlands and Norway will be chairing the proceedings. We are limiting the number of agenda items so that in-depth discussion and more interactive debate will be possible.
- There are several pressing concerns on the agenda. The most important, in my opinion, is the need to reform the European Court of Human Rights to whose effective functioning the Netherlands attaches tremendous importance. Progress has already been made in the field of institutional reform of the Court. A draft text for an amending protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights was recently adopted by the Steering Committee for Human Rights. It is the fruit of several years of intensive negotiations. I strongly urge those who still have difficulties with parts of the text to reconsider their positions in a spirit of compromise. If we are serious about protecting the individual human rights of our citizens, we must take decisions on reforming the Court by May. The Chair also considers that once institutional reforms have been made, the Court’s finances must be put on a more solid, predictable footing.
- The Committee of Ministers has declared its resolve to protect freedom of expression and to safeguard individual privacy in the digital age. With this in mind, the Netherlands has taken the initiative to promote a framework in which the subject of human rights in the information society can be developed further.
- The Ministerial session will note the progress of reform of the monitoring system of the Committee of Ministers. I am convinced that a more comprehensive approach to monitoring the Council of Europe’s norms and standards is needed to uphold its agreed acquis. All monitoring instruments applicable to human rights, the rule of law and democracy should have their proper place in this approach. I am also convinced that all the member states, old and new, should be permitted to participate to the fullest in the relevant monitoring arrangements. This should develop into a genuine peer review mechanism in the Committee.
- In this context, the Chair organised a meeting to deal with the subject the Implementation of Human Rights: the Efficiency of Justice in the Council of Europe and its Member States. The event was part of the framework of the first priority of our Chairmanship’s programme – human rights and monitoring mechanisms. It addressed issues like the enhancement of efficiency of justice in member states, access to justice and the role of the Council’s institutions in moving from monitoring to implementation. The results of the meeting will be forwarded to the Committee of Ministers.
- With regard to the second priority of our Chairmanship’s programme, integration and social cohesion, on 31 March, we organised a conference on integrity in the public sector. The event consisted of two seminars: one on public ethics in local and regional government and one on ethical standards and the police. The meeting launched a manual on good practice of public ethics at local level. In their final declaration, the participants called on the Committee of Ministers to encourage member states to develop action plans for shared ownership, implementation and monitoring of the good practices set out in the manual.
- Within this same context, we organised a seminar entitled Creating public paradise: building public libraries in the 21st century. The meeting of policymakers, experts and administrators from the European public library sector focused on the opportunities public libraries have to strengthen their positions as widely used information and heritage centres through optimal design of library facilities.
- In its forthcoming May session, the Committee of Ministers must not remain oblivious to important political developments in member states. The recent ratification of core Council of Europe human rights conventions by Serbia and Montenegro should be welcomed. I call on the Government of Serbia to restate its commitment to political and institutional reform. If Serbia and Montenegro wish to integrate further into Europe, the Constitutional Charter must be implemented. In Kosovo, a dialogue between Kosovo Albanians and Serbs is urgently needed in order to avoid further violent clashes like those we have witnessed in the recent past.
- Unfortunately, the referendum on 24 April made clear that Cyprus is not in a position to join the EU as a unified state. Our Committee should call on all parties to continue to work towards finding a lasting solution. The Council of Europe should be prepared to provide its expertise and assistance.
- The lack of democratic progress in Belarus is troubling. The authorities there have tightened their repression of civil society and its representatives. And there has been no improvement in respect of freedom of expression, freedom of the media, or human rights in general. The Council of Europe should hold fast to the hope that Belarus will make the kind of progress needed for it to qualify for membership. In this regard, I emphasise the importance of democratic elections in autumn 2004 which are in line with European standards.
- On a more positive note, it is heartening to see that Georgia has made significant efforts to strengthen its democratic processes and institutions. President Mikhail Saakashvili has lived up to the expectations raised during his visit to this august body on 28 January. In my view, the elections augur well for the consolidation of democratic stability and integration throughout Georgia.
An equally important item on the agenda of our forthcoming Ministerial session is the resurgent threat of terrorism in Europe. The Chair is convinced that the Council of Europe is on the right track in stepping up its work to improve existing mechanisms and taking further measures to combat all forms of terrorism. Of course, the fight against terrorism must be conducted with respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. Gaps in existing frameworks for international action against terrorism should be closed. The experts should continue their work in the light of these and other terrorism issues.
- The agenda item, the Third Summit of the Council of Europe, is important because of the profound transformations taking place in Europe as a result of EU enlargement and the new design of EU cooperation following the IGC. All bring with them the promise of expanded cooperation and closer ties among the European nations.
- A discussion of the Council of Europe’s role and tasks in the European institutional landscape would – if properly prepared – justify a Summit. At this stage, not all the members are convinced that this is warranted. Let us be clear on what we should expect from a Summit – at the very least, clear impetus to strengthen and rejuvenate the Council. The Council should instil a greater sense of ownership resulting from more participatory engagement of all its members and also retain the achievements on which its reputation is based.
- I believe that the Summit should, as a minimum, lay down the guidelines for the Council of Europe’s future action and provide direction for its interaction with other international organisations. When preparing the Summit, the Committee of Ministers must keep in mind the perspective of a common responsibility for the future of Europe in which the strategic goal of building a Europe without dividing lines is inextricably linked to a solid commitment to meeting the aspirations of all Europeans.
- Still, we should be even more ambitious and look beyond the horizon of the Council of Europe itself. A Council of Europe Summit should be a Summit on Europe and on future prospects for European multilateral cooperation. I believe that a Summit should give clear signals about the direction of pan-European multilateral cooperation to all institutions involved in the process.
- First and foremost the EU. On 22 March, my Irish colleague Brian Cowen, Commissioner Patten, Secretary-General Schwimmer and I met during the quadripartite meeting in Brussels to review the relations between our organisation and the EU. I value these meetings because they provide a forum for expeditious consideration of the essentials of our cooperation.
- On that occasion, we all recognised the importance of effective coordination of operational activities of common concern. Everyone acknowledged the important work of the Democracy through Law Commission, the Human Rights Commissioner, and the Committee for the Prevention of Torture. Participants looked forward to broader opportunities for the European Community to join relevant Council of Europe conventions.
- From an institutional perspective also, closer links are highly desirable. The question of permanent representation of the EU Commission here in Strasbourg should remain a priority of our agenda. Similarly, I am convinced that the EU should involve the Council of Europe more in relevant deliberations.
- We should always keep in mind that both the Council of Europe and the Union are committed to the pursuit of unity in Europe and, to that end, proceed from a commonality of values. I am encouraged that on 22 March the two institutions expressed a commitment to strengthening their cooperation constructively and productively and to sustaining their dialogue on the outline of their future relations.
- I propose that the OSCE and the UN and its regional and specialised bodies not be left out of a Summit devoted to shaping multilateral cooperation in Europe. Accordingly, I do not feel that it is unreasonable to make appropriate arrangements for all countries affected by the changes to participate fully in the Summit – including those countries which are not Council members but which have a recognised interest in the issues.
- At the ministerial session, the Netherlands will hand over the Chairmanship to Norway. The Netherlands will assume the Presidency of the European Union in a few weeks. Our Chairmanship of the Council has, once again, made us aware of its unique contribution in a unifying Europe. In our deliberations, I have valued the input of the Parliamentary Assembly in this endeavour. I would like to assure you that, after 1 July, the Presidency of the European Union will continue to engage the Council of Europe in our common efforts to achieve greater European unity.