Gérard Philipps, who currently chairs the Ministers' Deputies, hopes that the many events Luxembourg intends to organise over the coming month will emphasise the Council of Europe's role and how it can respond to the challenges of the modern world.
Question: Meetings on the European Union's accession to the European Convention on Human Rights, conferences on terrorism and local authorities, and freedom of the media - the coming weeks of the Luxembourg Chair will have much to offer. Is there a common theme to these activities?
Gérard Philipps: Our period of office is intended to emphasise Luxembourg's commitment to strengthening co-operation between the Council of Europe and the European Union, by showing the latter that the Council has already enormous achievements to its name and that there is no need to "reinvent the wheel". The Chair of the Committee of Ministers, Mrs Lydie Polfer, and the Secretary General, Mr Walter Schwimmer, plan to meet the President of the Convention on Europe's Future, Mr Giscard d’Estaing. They will discuss with him the Council's role in tomorrow's Europe. The EU must understand that it cannot run the continent alone.
Q. What is Luxembourg's position on EU accession to the European Convention on Human Rights?
Gérard Philipps: As our Prime Minister, Jean-Claude Juncker, recently noted, it is absurd for the EU to require applicant countries to abide by the Convention and then itself refuse to accept it! Besides, EU accession will represent one further move towards closer co-operation between the two institutions. As a first step, we will be organising a joint symposium for judges of the European Court of Justice and the Court of Human Rights, to look at ways of bringing the two bodies closer together. We also need to be thinking about the relationship between the EU's Charter of Fundamental Rights and the Human Rights Convention.
Q.You plan to hold a conference in Luxembourg on local authorities and terrorism. How do you see this event?
Gérard Philipps: Local mayors are directly affected by this problem, since towns and cities are all potential targets, while at the same time they are responsible for their citizens' immediate security, and in particular for civil defence. Yet, too many local officials show a lack of concern about these threats. Local councillors from towns affected by terrorism, in Spain and Northern Ireland for example, will describe their experience and the methods they have used to combat this problem. The former Deputy Mayor of New York, Mr Lhota, will speak about the September 11 attacks on his city. The Council of Europe also has a number of relevant tools, such as its anti-terrorism convention, which was drawn up at a time when the subject was less topical but is now extremely valuable. The EU and the Council are already co-operating closely in the legal field. There are a number of examples that need to be developed. Finally, the conference will also look at the multicultural dimension and measures to combat exclusion, which is often a contributory cause of terrorism. The Council has launched a number of important initiatives in these areas and we also want to draw attention to the valuable, but insufficiently publicised, activities of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe.
Q. A week later, Luxembourg will host a conference on freedom of the media. This is covered by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights but is this sufficient protection?
Gérard Philipps: Freedom of the media is far from being a reality throughout Europe. As well as serious violations in certain countries it faces other threats, such as concentration of ownership. This multidisciplinary meeting, which all the European institutions are attending, will focus on access to information, for both public and journalists, journalists' right to protect their sources and the problem of defamation. The aim is to help the media to adapt to the modern world, bearing in mind that media freedom can never be taken for granted. The conclusions will be widely circulated to members of the press, as well as to politicians and the general public. Together with our other priorities, this issue reflects Luxembourg's commitment to ensuring that our period of office will be both useful and relevant, with an emphasis on practical issues.