Committee of Ministers Chairmanship – Netherlands : November 2003 - May 2003 

(To be checked against delivered speech)

Opening of the Dutch Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe

Speech of the Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Maud de Boer-Buquicchio (The Hague, 7 November 2003)

There are people who think Europe has too many institutions. In fact, there are not as many as all that - the last time I counted there were four: two with exclusively European membership, and two which include allies from other parts of the world. The quickest way to check my calculation is to count Jaap de Hoop Scheffer’s hats. At this very moment - believe it or not - he is juggling three on his head and holds the fourth in his hand.

I believe that this is the first time that the same person, virtually simultaneously, holds key posts in the four European and Euro-transatlantic organisations. Today, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer is a member of the EU Council of Ministers, Chairman of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers and the OSCE Chairman in Office. Shortly, he will become the Secretary General of NATO.

Personally, I would have preferred it if you had waited with your NATO hat for just a couple of months longer, in order to allow the Council of Europe and the Dutch Chairmanship to benefit from your personal contribution, talent and experience, but you cannot always have everything you want, and I am certain that your successor will do his utmost to fill your shoes.

Minister, you are a veteran diplomat and a seasoned politician. You have that touch of magic that is required to succeed in national and international politics. Those who have some experience with magic know that there is often more to hats than meets the eye. To a casual observer, they may all look the same, but someone with Jaap de Hoop Scheffer’s knowledge and experience is bound to look beyond appearances. He knows very well that from some hats you can pull a rabbit, others may hide a bouquet of roses, or a string of coloured scarves, while others may not hide much at all.

It therefore does not come as a surprise that your analysis of the Council of Europe’s future and its role in the European architecture is so precise, thought through and on the mark.

I would, if you will allow me, like to add only a few additional remarks. In your introduction you spoke at some length on the need to co-ordinate the work between the European Union, the Council of Europe and the OSCE. I completely agree. As we all know, three’s a crowd, if some ground rules are not set, clear to all and respected by all. For the Council of Europe, co-operation, or synergy, to use a Brussels buzz-word, is not only a priority, but an absolute necessity. For some years already, our Organisation has been reorganising itself and focusing on the essential parts of our mandate, seeking, whenever possible, co-operation with other European partners. This is done for the reasons of common sense and institutional responsibility, motivated, also, by budgetary restraints.

However, speaking of the latter, I should like to warn against excessive cuts. While dieting will make you lean and mean, starvation will only make you lean and ultimately emaciated. The Council of Europe is getting close to this stage, and this should set off alarm bells for all those genuinely concerned about costs and human rights alike. A drained standard-setting body and a toothless watchdog is not what Europe needs, or can afford.

It goes without saying that member states which finance, directly or indirectly, the different parts of the European institutional architecture have the right to request “value for their money”. However, I have some difficulties with the criterion of “added value”, which seems to be the prevailing one in the assessment of the future role of different institutions.

First and foremost, the Council of Europe has an intrinsic value, not only added value. It is a unique organisation, with an all-European membership, bringing together 45 countries and representing 800 million Europeans. The Council of Europe is not about “added value”, it is about values. These values - democracy, human rights and the rule of law - are safeguarded by legal instruments, not political declarations. They are based on binding conventions, not speeches and - when it comes to human rights - supervised by a Court, not conferences.

It is true to say that the implementation of Council of Europe standards and principles may help OSCE efforts to promote security and co-operation in Europe. It is also worthwhile to recall that the European Union’s institutions should be legally bound to respect the rights protected by the Council of Europe’s Convention on Human Rights. At the same time we must make it absolutely clear that the mandate of the Council of Europe cannot be reduced to just adding value to others. The Council of Europe is building democracy and protecting human rights in Europe for the sake of democracy and human rights, and for the benefit of European citizens. By doing so, it is of course facilitating the work of others, be it its member states or partner organisations, but this is an effect, and not the purpose of our work. The protection of human rights and democracy cannot be regarded as an auxiliary task, but as the starting point of all our endeavours, be they focused on building security and co-operation, or pooling sovereignty on our continent.

I was encouraged by Minister de Hoop Scheffer’s address during the Secretary General’s fireside chat earlier this week in Chisinau. For those less informed, a fireside chat is not some kind of Disney-like institutional extravaganza, but a euphemism for an informal meeting on the margins of the Council of Europe Ministerial meeting.

At the last such meeting, the Minister said that the Council of Europe had a role to play in its own right, which, in essence, confirms the point I am trying to make.

During this meeting in Chisinau, the Dutch Chairmanship also presented the programme for the next six months. Again - and at the risk of being regarded as partial to my fellow countrymen - I was impressed by the effort and the thought invested in its preparation. The Dutch Chairmanship is awaited with great expectation in Strasbourg and other capitals, and from what we have seen so far, the odds are that this Chairmanship will meet these expectations.

Two points of the programme deserve special attention, namely the monitoring of obligations, and activities in favour of social cohesion. These two areas are rightfully identified as essential in bridging the gap between our principles and their implementation.

The bottom line is that Council of Europe conventions are a part of international law. Our member states are legally bound to respect them. This compliance must be monitored, through legal mechanisms - such as the European Court of Human Rights, or through political ones - such as the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly. The monitoring of obligations must be comprehensive and coherent. It should be seen not only as an instrument of control, but first and foremost as an instrument of assistance.

It is no secret that the Court, but also other parts of the Organisation involved in monitoring of obligations, are in an extremely precarious position due to the acute and chronic shortage of money. We should do our utmost - and I believe that the Dutch Chairmanship is in agreement - to prevent a “garage sale of principles” where respect for obligations will be given up in the name of excessive budgetary zeal.

Social cohesion is another priority of the Council of Europe, included in the programme of the Chairmanship. It has both an intrinsic and an added value. Intrinsic, because social rights are human rights, and they deserve the same level of effort and vigilance, but also added value, because social inequalities create, perpetrate and aggravate tensions in our societies. Social cohesion must be an integral part of any long-term effort to safeguard and further develop human rights and democracy and I am encouraged by the importance attached to this area by the Dutch Chairmanship.

Finally, let me conclude with a few brief remarks on the Council of Europe’s future relations with the European Union. The historic enlargement of the former will come to an end at the time when the latter starts its own expansion to East and Central Europe. For some, this development is a threat to the future of the Council of Europe. I do not agree for several reasons.

The first reason is that we should not compare hats, but what is in them. You can swap your old hat for a new one, but why should you give away your rabbit if someone offers you a bouquet of flowers? The Council of Europe and the European Union may share the same flag and anthem, but they are very different in what they do, and how they do it.

The second reason is that even after the present enlargement of the European Union, there will be some twenty European countries which cannot, cannot yet or do not want to join the European Union. It is clear that many important issues will be dealt with in bilateral arrangements between the European Union and European non member states, but it is in the interest of the European Union and the non-EU member states to maintain a multilateral framework for political dialogue, on an equal footing and based on legally binding international instruments. This is the main motive behind the Secretary General’s initiative for European Union associate partnership with the Council of Europe.

A Europe of partners is a new model for the continent at the end of the post cold war period. It is a model for the 21st century. We are making our first steps, but during the next six months we shall make these steps in Nederlandse Klompen. They are solid and down to earth, but from personal experience, I can tell you that they can be as fast as Nikes - and last a long time. I am sure that by May next year, we shall have covered a lot of ground.

I thank you all for your attention and I wish Minister de Hoop Scheffer all the best in his future activities, both for the next two months and after.