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17 May 2005
16 May 2005
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-(To be checked against delivered speech)

Speech by John Prescott, Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

16 May 2005

Thank you, Chairman. I would like to express my thanks and appreciation for the hospitality and organisation of our Polish hosts.

I am proud to have been associated with the Council of Europe for many years.

Thirty years ago I was a member of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly and then, as a British MP, I became a member of the European Parliament (before it was directly elected). It has indeed been part of my European education.

In 2003, when I spoke at the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities in Strasbourg, I supported the idea of a summit which would work for a "Greater Europe without Dividing Lines,” especially with its emphasis on local governance.

So it is a great personal pleasure to be here.

The last time many of us saw each other, was a week ago, at the Russian Federation's commemoration of the 60th Anniversary of the end of the Second World War.

That ceremony in Moscow reminded us of the huge sacrifices of tens of millions of victims of that War. And it was particularly moving to see the truckloads of veterans parading through Red Square past old allies – and former enemies.

We honoured veterans instead of looking at the military hardware which we all remember from the past - when East and West faced off.

That ceremony in Moscow reminded us how easily Europe can be torn apart by fear and hatred. And it reinforced the importance of the East and West coming together, and building nations and communities based on common values, consensus, peace and prosperity.

Mr President, as many people have said today, where better to hold our summit than here, in Poland and especially in Warsaw?

Last year, I was honoured to speak at the 60th Anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising, and I was profoundly moved by the courage of this great city and its people. They suffered more pain and loss than any of us can comprehend today.

And even when they were liberated after 6 long years of war,
the Polish people – like many other nations represented here today – still had to wait decades for real freedom.

Today, Poland, like many other ancient European nations, has regained its place at the heart of a democratic Europe, a new Europe with a different political order.

A Europe in which we settle our differences through dialogue.

A Europe in which peace and reconciliation means prosperity and renewal. A Europe in which we are so much stronger working together than we are apart. A new and wider European solidarity.

The Council of Europe has played a key role in the creation of a new Europe because it stands for common values.

When the Council of Europe was established in 1949, the British Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin, said he hoped it would achieve “greater unity among our peoples realising the ideals which we have in common."

And the French Minister Robert Schumann said at that ceremony in 1949 - “we are laying the foundations of a spiritual and political co-operation from which there will arise the European spirit."

Since then, to its eternal credit, the Council has played an important part in building democracy across Europe with the acceptance of human rights as an essential part of the rule of law in any democratic country.

The Council of Europe has been crucial in facilitating the enlargement of the EU, which has grown from just 6 states, to 9 nations in 1977 when I was a member of Parliament in the EU, to 25 today.

In 1949, the Council of Europe began with 10 states. When I was a member of the Parliamentary Assembly, it was 20. Now it includes 46 states, bringing together over 800 million citizens who are united by common ideals and values.

That’s why, Mr President, you were so right in your opening address to say never has Europe been so safe, so close and so united. The Council of Europe is right to be proud of its role in bringing that about.

Those values are social justice, democratic participation, and mutual respect.

Those values are now threatened not by nations at war but by acts of terrorism. Therefore, it is vitally important that we work together in the face of new challenges from terrorism. That is why the United Kingdom, with others, is signing the Convention on Terrorism today.

Many nations represented here today have been victims of terrorist attacks or have suffered the fear of being attacked.

In the UK we have comprehensively reviewed the whole range of our response to the terrorist threat. As chair of the G8 and as next presidency of the EU, the UK is giving these matters the highest priority.

Mr President, you and the Secretary-General emphasised the importance of the rights of individuals with regard to the state, whether in the human rights court or their participation in local democracy.

Any democratic society requires the active involvement of its citizens in the decision making process, at national, regional and local level. Good governance is essential to good government.

So I welcome the fact that the proposed Summit Declaration commits us all to intensify our work within the Council of Europe, and within our own states, "to promote and sustain effective democracy and good governance".

It is particularly important that the Declaration recognises that
"effective democracy and good governance at all levels are essential for preventing conflicts, promoting stability, facilitating economic and social progress, and hence for creating sustainable communities where people want to live and work, now and in the future."

The time is right for the Council of Europe to celebrate our values of democracy, rule of law and human rights, and find new ways to make them stronger, including, and especially through, reform of the European Court of Human Rights and the rapid implementation of Protocol 14.

The Council needs to focus on these values as its core objective in the years ahead – and all its activities must contribute to this aim.

We can only make our values stronger if we make our communities stronger and more sustainable than at present.

Across Europe, there are outstanding examples of sustainable communities which are places in which people feel proud to live and work. Places which promote economic prosperity and social justice, so that everyone has the chance to fulfil their potential.
Places in which the confidence of the people is expressed in superb architecture and welcoming parks and open spaces.

We know that creating sustainable communities means looking beyond the need for housing, though that's important enough.

That means providing high quality public services like schools, hospitals and transport, and a more devolved decision making process. And it means giving people a greater role in what goes on in their locality, especially in its planning and environment.

It’s essential to recognise that people want to do things for themselves. They don’t want things to be done to them, often without being involved in the decisions that directly affect them.

So, for all these reasons, I am delighted that the draft Declaration of Warsaw places such emphasis on creating sustainable communities.

During the UK’s forthcoming Presidency of the European Union, I want to develop and discuss a European approach to creating sustainable communities.

To discuss the establishment of a common European code for sustainable communities – which would reflect the rich diversity of our towns, cities and peoples.

Such thinking could create a new framework to consider the newly emerging regional policy – not focused on simple, narrow economic objectives, as important as they are, but on achieving sustainable communities.

But let me emphasise that this debate must go further than the European Union. Across the world, from Chicago to China, I've seen the importance of sustainable communities and partnerships inside those communities.

Indeed, economic prosperity and social justice are two sides of the same coin in any democratic society.

Of course, we face many practical challenges to make this idea of sustainable communities more of a reality. We have to learn from the successes and mistakes of the past. And we have to develop and share the right participatory, democratic skills.

Creating sustainable communities a big challenge for us all. It is a vision which is exciting and will benefit the whole continent.

Greater prosperity. More jobs. Communities that are cleaner, safer, greener, with more devolved decision making. Putting more power in the hands of ordinary people.

Sustainable communities is a big idea for a bigger Europe, for a stronger Europe and a more democratic Europe.

So, 60 years on from the end of the most disastrous war in our history, a war which left this city shattered and its population annihilated – at this time, let the Declaration of Warsaw stand as our commitment to common values.

To democracy. To human rights. To the rule of law. To a greater participative democracy.

Let us create those sustainable communities where our people and our values will thrive and prosper within a vigorous democratic framework.