(To be checked against delivered speech)

Speech by President of the Republic of Finland, Tarja Halonen,

Warsaw, 16 May 2005

We Europeans are united by common values - democracy, human rights and the rule of law. The European Convention on Human Rights, which is based on these values, and the European Court of Human Rights, have created a solid foundation for European integration.

The Council of Europe has done well in guiding its new members along the path of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. I hope that the success we have achieved so far will encourage us to continue the process of reform in all the member countries. Whether we like it or not, there are new challenges already facing us, challenges that we will only be able to respond to through close cooperation and strong democracy.

Globalization and a new open world bring us many opportunities for increasing people's wellbeing. At the same time, however, this permits the spread of negative phenomena at a much faster rate than before. Terrorism, trafficking in human beings and organized crime are common enemies which upset the basic security of Europeans and deprive many people of their human dignity.

In order to combat these new threats we need effective cooperation. In this cooperation and in our national activities, we must comply with our shared principles and values.

Even the fullest cooperation between authorities is no substitute for mutual respect and cooperation between individuals. Acceptance of our common values also gives us a safe and secure opportunity to be different from each other. It is precisely this which is our great richness. Successful interaction between cultures is an important requirement for an equal, democratic and tolerant tomorrow in Europe.

I hope, that the Council of Europe will also show greater interest in promoting gender equality in all areas. I am happy to note that the Council of Europe action to combat violence against women is now intensified through a pan-European campaign. Violence against women, including domestic violence, is a human rights violation and a challenge for every country.

Democracy is an essential requirement for a modern society, but is not sufficient on its own. Democracy is based on the rule of the majority, but human rights belong to everybody. Thus, even in a democracy we have to pay attention to the position of minorities. Last year, the European Roma and Travellers' Forum was founded in conjunction with the Council of Europe. I should like to take this opportunity to thank all for helping to turn this initiative of mine into reality. The purpose of the Forum is to ensure that the voice of the Roma is in decisions affecting them. The needed expertise that is now available to us and the Forum itself will help to enrich our image of the Roma people and their culture, and along with it our own position as Europeans.

Transparency is part and parcel of democracy. It is important that people can take part, at all levels, in decision-making affecting them. This also means that they should know where and how decisions are made. It is only with the participation of people that democracy becomes reality.

An active and critical civil society has been vital in building European democracies. Human rights can be advanced in the best and most effective way through open and mutually respective cooperation between governments and non-governmental organizations. Similarly good governance is a crucial requirement for implementing human rights and democracy genuinely in people's everyday lives.

In building an open and democratic Europe, the Council of Europe has to examine its own ways of working, of course. It is a challenge for every government to increase openness and transparency. The same challenge applies for the Council of Europe, as well.

Preserving the effectiveness of the European Court of Human Rights is the most topical challenge facing the Council of Europe. It is essential that Protocol 14 to the European Convention on Human Rights be ratified without delay. Then we can consider further how to improve the efficiency of the European Court of Human Rights while respecting the individual right of application. Effective implementation of the rule of law within the member countries will go a long way to increasing the efficiency of the Court and reducing the burden of its work.

The European Court of Human Rights has a vital and unique role in the system of human rights in Europe, but we need other effective ways of advancing human rights alongside it. Human rights work by the Council of Europe has gained strength and become more visible as a result of setting up the Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights. I am pleased to see that the office has proved its worth as an independent, non-aligned and extremely practical, operational institution. Mr. Alvaro Gil-Robles, the first Commissioner, deserves our thanks for this.

The Parliamentary Assembly monitors closely the development of human rights in the member countries and is an important forum for European parliamentarians. As European integration proceeds, there will be greater emphasis also on the role of the local and regional level.

The Council of Europe has a key role in creating common European norms. One excellent example of this is the three very topical conventions that are to be adopted here in Warsaw: on trafficking in human beings, on the prevention of terrorism and on the financing of terrorism.

Terrorism is a global phenomenon, so it is quite clear that the United Nations has a crucial role in combating terrorism. The Council of Europe has its own natural role to play in issues where the Council's own special competence is called for – that is expertise on human rights issues. The cooperation, coordination and division of labour between different organizations bring added efficiency to work on combating terrorism.

Trafficking in human beings is one of the key human rights challenges of our time, both globally and in Europe. The Council of Europe Convention on action against trafficking in human beings is a sound example of how national and international activities must be linked together properly so that we can protect the victim at the grassroots level.

By joining the European Convention on Human Rights, the European Union will help to construct a stable foundation for common European space on human rights. The Council of Europe has much to give to the European Union and vice versa. To my mind, it is important that the EU makes full use of Council of Europe expertise on human rights.

The Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe complement each other. The OSCE plays an essential role in resolving acute crises and conflict situations, and its distinct strength is in operational work in the field. The Council of Europe, on the other hand, focuses on long-term crisis prevention and institution building.

I am confident that the role of the Council of Europe in promoting peace and stability in our continent will be instrumental also in the future. I am sure we can all agree that the basic task of the Council of Europe will continue to be the advancement of democracy, human rights and the rule of law within the continent of Europe. This is a major task and a challenging one.