Strasbourg, 22-26 April 2002
A few days before the start of Luxembourg’s chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, it is a great honour and a special pleasure for me to address this august assembly of elected representatives of Greater Europe, meeting here in the oldest of our European institutions. For more than fifty years the Council of Europe’s activities have played a decisive part in shaping the renewal and development of our continent.
At the beginning was the European idea. It marked the start of a new era, reflecting its founders’ finest beliefs. The idea materialised because it was forward-looking, geared to learning from the past and essentially aimed at ending the violence and horror that had left their imprint on European history. It infused a heart and soul into the old continent.
We have received our unshakeable faith in Europe from that brave and visionary generation of men and women who, after experiencing the unspeakable themselves, decided to endeavour to prevent such horrors from ever taking place again and undertook first to bring about reconciliation, then to change people’s attitudes.
The European idea was one but not indivisible. It gradually took on many shapes and developed along flexible lines, in several organisations which were set up in the 1950s and focused their attention on a given sphere of activity or a particular form of dialogue and co-operation. For forty years this process was confined to the western half of Europe.
A closer look reveals that the values promoted by the Council of Europe are universal and therefore underpinned the efforts to unify Europe from the outset.
The Council of Europe, which grouped the western democracies together for nearly forty years, was leading its own institutional life, without fuss and even – if I may say so – in a somewhat inward-looking manner. Equipped with its precepts, it progressively delineated a wide range of good practices and drew up legal instruments which proved – and still prove – to be of great relevance to the development of the member countries’ societies.
That being said, the Council was living in the shadow of the fantastically dynamic process of economic then political and institutional integration in which some of its members were involved as part of the European Community and later the European Union.
That is incidentally why some people, including some inside the Organisation, wonder about the future of the Council of Europe as its younger sister goes from strength to strength and steadily broadens its membership.
In actual fact, I am convinced that the two institutions are and will remain forceful and original expressions of the ideas initially underlying the renewal of Europe. Both pursue the aim of a European area in which human rights are protected and a common legal system ensures peace, freedom, justice, security and stability. In doing so, they strengthen and complement each other. What distinguishes them is their chosen methods.
The basic standards which inspire the Council of Europe’s work are constant and unchanging. Their legitimacy stems directly from the obligation, which is also the primary aim of states governed by the rule of law and pluralist democracies, to provide all those countries’ populations – and each individual European – with the best possible environment in which to lead fulfilling lives, by making their societies fairer and more respectful of everyone’s rights and freedoms.
Thanks to the Council of Europe’s tireless and dedicated efforts, these standards have been constantly refined upon, with a deliberate policy of always carrying the process a step further. That is how the Council’s corpus of standard-setting instruments – and consequently the member states’ legislation – are gradually developing into a fabric that covers, protects and nurtures countless aspects of life in our modern societies.
Like the European Convention on Human Rights, which from the outset laid down ambitious minimum standards for the protection of human rights, and the activity of the Court, which constantly encourages improvements, the entire Organisation is dedicated to improving the management of public affairs in its member states.
Starting with the basic protection of these fundamental and unchanging rights, the Council of Europe has quite logically become involved in all the most promising areas of our societies, such as social affairs, education, culture, youth, sport and the environment.
What I find most attractive in the Council’s approach is its faith in the future and its obstinate belief in what is best in human beings. The oldest political organisation on our continent steers clear of the purely spectacular and carries on quietly working for the common good. It has been doing so with considerable patience and perseverance, and with all the qualities of a builder, for more than fifty years. Its assets are persuasion, dialogue, co-operation and assistance.
One of the Council’s prime qualities, in my view, is its regular monitoring of compliance with the commitments freely made by its member states when they joined. Monitoring is an essential, across-the-board activity deriving from the certainty that all governments are fallible and that everyone may need reforms at one time or another. On several occasions the Grand Duchy has also carried out reforms based on the Council’s work or on the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights.
The variety and complementarity of the statutory organs are one of the Council of Europe’s original features because they effectively reflect, inside the institution, the democratic principles and machinery that it advocates for the outside world.
The Organisation derives its strengths and its wealth of experience from the combined activities of its constituent bodies. However, I should like to pay tribute:
- to the Parliamentary Assembly’s role as a witness upholding human rights and democracy and as a political stimulus for the Council’s work;
Luxembourg, which is proud of having been a founding member of several European organisations, has always felt at ease in this great democratic family in which the rule of law is observed and all the member states are represented on an equal footing. It has therefore been involved, as a committed partner, in the quest for ways to unite Europe ever more closely around the same key values and basic aims.
That is why the Luxembourg government has made good governance and achievement of the Council of Europe’s basic aims the theme of its six-month chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers.
Together with its founding partners, my country welcomed the initial stages in the Council of Europe’s enlargement, then its opening up to the fledgling democracies keen to join it in the wake of the great upheavals at the end of the 1980s.
We all remember President Gorbachev speaking in this very building, in this Assembly Chamber, of the “common European home”. And it is true that thanks to the Council of Europe, that structure is being gradually built, step by step, on the basis of the Council’s founding texts and its wide range of conventions, in order to achieve the Europe without dividing lines celebrated during the Council’s 50th anniversary in Budapest in May 1999.
The far-reaching transformation of this process into a great pan-European venture, initiated in the wake of the first Council of Europe Summit in Vienna in 1993 and confirmed by the second summit in 1997, has already yielded results. On the basis of the experience acquired, it has enriched the Organisation’s long-standing members and given new members hope and prospects for the future.
The most striking feature of the Council’s recent history, confirming its contribution and dedication to reconciliation and European integration, is the fact that it has had the courage, political will and ability to open up to countries beset by domestic difficulties or emerging from internal disputes and civil conflicts in order to support them from the inside.
The accession of Bosnia and Herzegovina, scheduled for this week, is a welcome and tangible example of this. We should like to express our warmest wishes to this new member state, in the hope that luck will favour it at last on the eve of its integration into Europe.
My purpose in speaking here today as head of a state which experiences the building of Europe on a day-to-day basis, including the attendant benefits of peace, stability, security and prosperity, and whose commitment to Europe is a matter of sheer conviction, was also to express, from the bottom of my heart, the full extent of Luxembourg’s attachment, and that of its entire population, to the aims and values of the Council of Europe.