Speech by Gabriella Battaini-Dragoni
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Dear Members of Parliament,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Together, we have gathered to tackle the task of fine-tuning our foreign policies, making them more in line with human rights and our core values.
We meet at a testing time for democracy. Within our continent and beyond, democracies are being confronted by new challenges.
This initiative is therefore a very timely one.
It is a pleasure for me to be back home in Italy. The city of Turin, or Torino, is celebrated not only for its Fiat cars and its football.
Torino is also known for its contribution to social progress.
It was for this reason that the European Social Charter was opened for signature here in 1961 and, some 30 years later, chosen for launching the process leading up to the Revised Charter.
And it is a city prepared to deal with new challenges.
As one of the cities taking part in the Council of Europe's intercultural cities programme, Turin is actively seeking to manage and explore the potential of the new cultural diversity we are now witnessing in communities all over Europe.
Turin has also been able to come a long way in dealing with the problem of the lengthy proceedings in the Italian judiciary.
The Council of Europe was founded as a response to the horrors of fascism and Nazism. "Never again" was the guiding principle of the European leaders who came together to create our Organisation.
In order to make the promise of "never again" a reality, the founding fathers crafted a legally-binding document, the European Convention on Human Rights, which to this day continues to be one of the strongest – and most functional – human rights instruments in the world.
In the six decades since the creation of the Council of Europe, our human rights system has evolved and expanded.
Today, more than 800 million people living in forty-seven countries benefit from our protection system: namely a pan-European legal space made up of more than 200 conventions supported by monitoring bodies and the European Court of Human Rights.
But without a doubt, we have much to be proud of. We have come a long way. However, it would be foolish to become complacent in the face of the monumental challenges that we face today.
For the Council of Europe Human Rights and foreign policy implies two things - the foreign policies of our individual member States and the policy of our Organisation towards countries which are not members.
We obviously do not determine our member States' foreign policy strategies on human rights and democracy.
But since you should always "practice what you preach", the Organisation contributes to credibility by consolidating Human Rights at home and throughout Europe.
For many of our neighbours, the events of the past year have yet again highlighted the vital link between human rights and democracy.
The vicious crackdowns in Syria, the protracted conflicts in the Middle East and, closer to home, the repression in Belarus, remind us of the universality of human rights.
They remind us of peoples' aspiration to live in democratic systems. In freedom and in dignity.
At the same time, the violent protests on the streets of Cairo last week are a sober reminder that change of this magnitude does not happen overnight.
Real reform does not come from the ballot box alone.
Along the way, there will be good days and bad days but it is our duty to offer our assistance and expertise to those who need it.
We believe this because the ideals on which the Council of Europe was built – Democracy, Human Rights, and the Rule of Law – are not exclusively European ideals. They are universal ideals.
For all the imperfections of our system – and yes, there are several – our European system of human rights protection is one worthy of emulation.
And here I come to the foreign policy of the Council of Europe - the policy towards our neighbouring regions.
Building on the Partner for Democracy status created by the Parliamentary Assembly, Secretary General Jagland has launched a new neighbourhood policy as one of the main priorities of the Council of Europe.
This is a policy of demand-driven, flexible and carefully tailored co-operation and assistance.
It sets out three main objectives:
First, to facilitate democratic political transition, notably through electoral legislation and the observation of elections.
Second, to help promote good governance within countries in the Council of Europe neighbourhood. This will be done on the basis of Council of Europe benchmarks in areas such as the functioning of the judiciary and the fight against corruption.
Third, and finally, we are looking to reinforce the Council of Europe regional action in combating trans-border threats such as human trafficking, organised crime and terrorism.
Let us not forget that we have an impressive tool-kit for putting this neighbourhood policy into action.
These tools include Council of Europe structures, such as the Venice Commission and the North-South Centre, which stand ready to contribute.
But they also include the wealth of experience of our member States.
Our Organisation has played a central role in promoting democratic transition in Central and Eastern Europe.
It is now our duty to pass on this experience to our neighbours so that they can benefit from it.
Furthermore, countries willing – and able – to forge closer links with the European legal space based on Council of Europe values and instruments will be able to accede to relevant conventions in the area of human rights protection, good governance and the rule of law.
The Council of Europe provides a framework for the implementation of this policy through action plans on specific co-operation activities, which ultimately develop a democratic culture in the country concerned.
These plans, called Neighbourhood Co-operation Priorities, are concluded between the country concerned and the Council of Europe, in consultation with international partners and financial contributors.
The Secretary General has proposed to further consolidate this policy and place it in a long-term perspective by introducing a new status for countries in the neighbourhood.
Of course, the Council of Europe is not alone.
Our strategic partner par excellence in our neighbourhood regions is the European Union which provides us with indispensable political and financial leverage.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The events of the Arab Spring showed us what happens when foreign policy neglects human rights for too long and focuses solely on economic and geopolitical interests.
So the question is: how do we weave human rights considerations into our foreign policy?
How do we make them a permanent fixture within our member States decision-making structures?
Above all, as outlined in the Parliamentary Assembly resolution adopted in October, our member States should be doing more to project our standards and values in their national foreign policy strategies.
This should apply to their dealings with all countries, but in particular countries inside the Council of Europe and beyond whose governments act in blatant disregard of fundamental democratic and human rights principles.
I strongly believe that the promotion of democracy and human rights should be fully integrated in any foreign policy strategy, be it at the national, European or international level.
Human rights need to be at the forefront of trade policy and development co-operation.
Human rights need to be at the forefront of migration and asylum issues.
Human rights need to be at the forefront of our educational policies.
Human rights need to be at the forefront of conflict prevention work and security policy.
These are shaky times for our continent but the ongoing economic crisis should not be used as a pretext for those who want to dilute certain rights or priorities.
The Council of Europe is doing its bit. Our member States must also be consistent in their approach.
Consensus and co-operation are key to safeguarding human rights.
It is in this spirit that I wish you all a successful – and productive – conference.