Session of the Parliamentary Assembly
Check against delivery
History is not a linear process. Sometimes history runs slow, nowadays it does not. We live in times in which changes that previously took years can happen in a minute.
Political leaders do not know how to react and political institutions are not set up to tackle all the changes which are taking place at such a rapid pace.
Therefore we are witnessing a number of crises.
Indeed Europe is facing several concurrent and closely inter-related crises.
We are facing an economic crisis but also a crisis of institutions.
European institutions are struggling to cope with the economic crisis and are often perceived as unable or unequipped to deliver immediate, concrete and effective responses to the problems we are facing.
The crisis of institutions breeds the third crisis, the crisis of confidence.
The sharp decline of trust in public institutions is not restricted to European bodies. It is also dramatically reflected in people's attitudes with regard to their national institutions of government and their political class.
The economic austerity has certainly reinforced these sentiments, but it would be wrong to blame all these problems on the current economic and financial crisis alone. Many of the challenges predate it and are also linked to other developments.
The cumulated effect of these three crises is the fourth one – the crisis of values. We have perhaps not lost our belief in them, but there are many signs that we may have lost the stamina to live up to them.
It is reflected in the rise of extremism and hate speech, new nationalism, vilification of immigration and any other form of otherness.
Countering these preoccupying trends is, and must remain the key priority for all governments in Europe, and for this organisation.
I would like to outline what I believe should be our focal points, our political priorities.
The first priority should be on the fight against corruption and other forms of misuse of power. Corruption is today's biggest threat to democracy and it undermines citizens' trust in the rule of law.
According to the EU Commission's data, almost three quarters of EU citizens perceive corruption as a major problem in their country and almost half think that the level of corruption has risen over recent years. We find it in all countries. For example, Finland is prosecuting leading managers in a major armament company for alleged corruption in several countries in South-Eastern Europe. In one of these countries, Slovenia, the government is at risk of collapse following the publication of the Anti-Corruption Commission's report involving both the Prime Minister and the leader of the opposition. In my own country there has recently been a lot of focus on corruption at the municipal level. We thought we were clean, but we are not.
In Italy the scandal regarding pollution from industrial waste is growing. People are getting increasingly angry when learning about how the mafia has been able to infiltrate political bodies to keep it going on for so long time.
The former President, as well as the current one, has said that corruption is the biggest challenge in the Russian Federation.
The first precondition for fighting corruption is a trustworthy, effective and independent judiciary. In many countries it is a long term process to develop an independent judiciary – for example in Ukraine.
There has been a rush on visiting Mrs Timoshenko in prison, which is good, but far too often the visitors think the job has been done when the visit has been carried out and a picture in the media has been printed. But it does not change much. Only hard work on reforms and practices that slowly will develop an independent judiciary will make a difference. This is what we are doing by implementing a broad reform programme of the entire judicial sector in Ukraine, and this is what we will continue to do even if it is costly.
Overall, we need to concentrate our resources in order to achieve results.
Fighting corruption also requires genuine freedom of expression. Without free and independent media the system of check and balances cannot function and there can be no effective safeguards against the misuse of power and incompetent governance. Again, we are dealing with a Council of Europe prerogative par excellence, one that should be – and will be – further reinforced in the future.
Similarly, there can be no effective fight against corruption without a genuinely autonomous parliament that is willing and able to control the executive power. Unfortunately, too many parliaments in Europe have immunities that make it attractive for powerful people, particularly in business, to seek a seat in parliament.
Having a seat in parliament when the judiciary is ineffective with lengthy procedures in the courts and if you also can control the media, you can keep it going for quite a long time without being brought to justice.
Unfortunately this is the situation in some of our member countries.
Dear friends, I appeal to all of you, as an autonomous assembly, to stand up and combat this evil in our democracies. Otherwise we run the risk of losing further confidence.
GRECO together with MONEYVAL are our main weapons in fighting corruption. I urge you all to get your governments and national parliaments to look into their recommendations and to implement them speedily.
The second priority focus should be the fight against intolerance and hate speech.
Also this evil is widely spreading and is, as always, the first sign of something more worrying ahead.
I see this focus as the follow up to the exercise started with the report on Living Together. Not a day has passed since its publication without Europe being reminded of its relevance, sometimes in the most dramatic and even tragic fashion.
Remember what happened in Norway on 22 July 2010. Or what happened at a soccer game in Northern Italy, which may seem less dramatic in the first place, but can lead to a similar dramatic action tomorrow. Words pave the way for action. The Milan soccer team walked off the field after the fans of the opposing team shouted against black teammates. Another example: The fan club of the Zenit soccer team in St. Petersburg issued an open letter saying that it would not accept dark skinned players being "forced down Zenits throat".
Dear friends, this concerns the hottest issue in the public debate across Europe, namely what is our identity. If it ends up in an increasing divide between "us" and "them", Europe is heading for more violence.
The Council of Europe must take a leading role in combating all forms of extremism and violence so that we can continue to live together in diversity because Europe is a diverse continent.
The third priority is closely connected to this, namely protection of minorities. It concerns the relationship between majorities and minorities. I believe these relations are the best reflection of the general state of democracy and human rights in our societies. This is where our commitment to values and standards is exposed to the most rigorous tests.
At the very heart of this exercise should be our work on Roma. The discrimination against the Roma, the biggest minority on this continent is a shame for all of us. The Council of Europe and the European Union have joined forces to go from nice speeches to concrete action. We will continue with our concrete action, but again we need help from you. In particular to speak out against racism and all kinds of prejudices which probably is the biggest impediment for getting something positive done at the local level.
There are also other minorities and vulnerable categories of population, be they ethnic, religious, sexual or any other group of people who require a special attention when it comes to the protection of their human rights and human dignity.
The fourth and final set of priorities concerns the consolidation of the Council of Europe legal space.
First of all, the need to fill territorial gaps and to ensure that Council of Europe standards and mechanisms are applied throughout Europe.
Belarus is the first such gap. It is my strong intention to continue with a proactive attitude and manifest our readiness to engage in a meaningful dialogue and
co-operation. But the pace of that process will depend on the progress which Belarus demonstrates in terms of democratic and human rights conduct. The abolition of the death penalty and the release of political prisoners remains at the top of our expectations, but it is not the only task Belarus should accomplish before it becomes eligible for Council of Europe membership. It is clear that Belarus is part of Europe and it belongs with this Orgnanisation – we should try and do what we can to make this happen.
The other territorial gaps in the application of Council of Europe standards and instruments are the so-called zones of frozen conflicts.
In this respect, Kosovo* is a special case. First of all, because of the UN Security Council Resolution 1244 which provides the basis for international involvement and activities in Kosovo*.
In the past year, we have had some important advances regarding our involvement in Kosovo*, creating the basis for a qualitative and quantitative expansion of our activities. We are now in a position to interact directly with relevant and competent authorities in Kosovo*, to implement our programmes with the EU, and I am particularly pleased that this breakthrough, which is in line with a long-standing recommendation by this assembly, has been achieved in dialogue with the authorities in Belgrade.
When it comes to other so called grey areas, the absence of a UN framework limits the possibilities of involvement, but I am determined to continue with efforts focusing on confidence-building measures. The ultimate objective is and will remain to allow every European citizen to benefit from Council of Europe standards, regardless whether they live in Oslo or Tsinkhvali. I believe that it is acceptable that human rights instruments can be used in these grey areas.
Another gap is related to our neighbourhood. The concept which has served as the basis for the post-war and post-Berlin Wall reconstruction of Europe, namely that peace, security and prosperity must be built with your neighbours, not without them, has to be applied today in a much broader geographical space, first and foremost in North Africa and the Middle East and Central Asia. This is not a vision, this is a necessity.
It is also the basis for the Council of Europe neighbourhood policy launched successfully a year and a half ago. Today we already have co-operation agreements with Tunisia, Morocco and Jordan.
The next step, in my view, should be to offer a prospect for a formal status to the countries in the neighbouring regions, which would be interested and qualify for a more structured relationship with the Council of Europe. As such a status would largely be based on the participation in relevant Council of Europe Conventions, it would be both a boost for the larger Council of Europe legal space as well as an important incentive to build their post-Arab spring future in line with the universal standards of democracy and human rights.
The third dimension in the completion of the European legal space is geopolitical rather than geographic. It concerns the accession of the European Union to the European Convention on Human Rights.
I am concerned that the negotiations have stalled. The accession, decided by the Lisbon Treaty, will close an important gap. It will bring everyone in Europe under the same set of rules and the same court. This will, in return, create the basis for a dialogue, on equal footing, among all geopolitical players in Europe. The potential benefits for lasting stability and security on our continent are huge, and we should spare no effort in bringing about a speedy conclusion to the accession process. Jeopardising this for some short-term, narrowly defined interests would be both short sighted and irresponsible.
Again I would appeal to you to look after what your own government is doing in this respect.
The fourth dimension of the common legal space we are building is virtual. The Council of Europe has made some very important advances in adapting our standards to the rapid progress of technology, especially information technology. But we are only at the beginning of this exercise and we shall be investing maximum efforts to ensure that our human rights, democratic and rule of law standards are applied and complied with not only off line but also on line.
In order to achieve all this, we have to continue to improve our working methods.
We have to further consolidate partnerships, especially with the European Union but also with the OSCE, the UN and the most prominent NGOs.
We also have to further develop and expand the practice of action plans for assistance to Council of Europe member states. An action plan provides a framework for a more structured, coherent, comprehensive and targeted assistance, guaranteeing a much more effective use of resources and better results. I have mentioned one example; Ukraine.
The blueprint for action plans is based on the data provided by the Council of Europe conventional and non-conventional monitoring and evaluation mechanisms, including the Assembly and Commissioner's reports and Court judgments.
An integrated analysis of these data helps us to identify the shortcomings and appropriate remedies.
I have the intention to improve the way we benefit from our monitoring and evaluation mechanisms, and I will discuss this with the Committee of Ministers in the coming weeks.
There is still a huge unused potential which lies in a better, more integrated and better targeted processing of this data. I believe all member States should have the possibility to benefit from an aggregated x ray of their overall performance and a dialogue on problems and possible solutions. Which is what I would call the Council of Europe matrix.
The matrix should be non-political. Our work and advice should be based strictly on legally- and politically-binding obligations.
The matrix should be based on dialogue. This is not about the Council of Europe dictating what to do. The objective is to work together with the authorities in question, both when it comes to identifying challenges and to drawing up their possible solutions.
The matrix could be accompanied by a Council of Europe Action Plan designed to implement the matrix conclusions.
The matrix would not add any new monitoring mechanisms or procedures, it would simply ensure a more effective return on the existing efforts invested by the member states and the Council of Europe.
I believe that Council of Europe has come to a crossroad. There are a number of human rights and rule of law problems in several of our member countries. Actually there are problems in every member country. If we cannot prove that we are able to provide an effective response, we will slowly undermine the credibility of the organisation and the Convention system. Therefore we have to differentiate between the member states which clearly recognise that they have shortcomings and want to work with us to find remedies and those who have problems, but on the contrary do not recognise it and do not want to commit to concrete action plans.
Those in the latter group must face increasing pressure otherwise we will collectively lose credibility.
I will conclude with the words I started with.
Yes, the political and economic situation in Europe is worrying. At the same time there should be no room for pessimism. After all, the construction of Europe has its origins in a far bleaker period in almost every aspect. Its founders saw the co-operation and integration based on trans-European solidarity as a way to overcome the economic, social, political and security challenges of the post-war era. It worked at the time and it can work again. We simply have to recapture the meaning of European solidarity. And the perspective must be pan-European. It is in everybody's interest that the EU overcomes its economic crisis. At the same time we have to keep in mind that Europe is more than the EU and more than economy. Without common values that are for all, Europe will not be held together.
What Europe needs is a pan-European alliance based on common values interpreted through commonly agreed standards and supervised by common mechanisms in which every partner has the same rights and the same responsibilities. What Europe needs is the Council of Europe.
* All references to Kosovo, whether to the territory, institutions or population, in this text shall be understood in full compliance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 and without prejudice to the status of Kosovo.