-(To be checked against delivered speech)
Speech by Benita Ferrero-Waldner, European Commissioner for External relations and European neighbourhood policy
Mr President of the Parliamentary Assembly,
Mr Secretary General,
I am delighted to be here to represent the European Commission on behalf of President Barroso. It is a pleasure to see so many old friends and colleagues around this room.
Strong European values promotion and defence of democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law have been at the core of the European integration for more than 50 years.
It is in part thanks to the Council of Europe, and its role as standard bearer for fundamental values on our continent, that the EU is the organisation it is today.
In this session devoted to European values I would like to recall the long standing and excellent co-operation between the European Commission and the Council of Europe. Numerous initiatives within the European Union or to the benefit of other Council of Europe Members through our joint programmes and projects are extremely successful in many different areas such as the promotion of pluralistic democracy and the rule of law, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
The Commission and the Council of Europe have also a long history of cooperation on education. Whether it is in the field of higher education, with our joint work in the field of recognition of qualifications and on the “Bologna process”, in relation to language learning, or of education to democratic citizenship, I can only praise our excellent cooperation.
I attach particular importance to human rights education which has been on top of my political agenda for many years, including when I was chair of the Human Security Network – we produced a Manual on Human Rights Education.
The European Commission and the Council of Europe should increase their cooperation in this area.
Our joint task is to build on this and see where we can go further.
In this context let me just remind you that for many years the European Commission has been calling for accession to the European Convention on Human Rights. Now, finally, the EU Constitution includes a commitment that “the European Union shall accede to the European Convention”. This will be a historic achievement for the protection of human rights in Europe, and a strong symbol of the EU’s and Council of Europe’s commitment to pan-European values.
I am therefore very pleased to announce today that the European Commission, as the institution responsible for negotiating the accession treaty on behalf of the EU, will take two steps towards putting that into practice.
First, the Commission will immediately begin preparatory technical discussions with our Member States on the various legal and technical questions surrounding a future accession treaty. These discussions should allow us to clarify the issues at stake.
Second, the Commission is ready to begin informal exploratory talks with the Council of Europe as early as this autumn. These will take place in parallel with talks with our own Member States, and will of course depend on the outcome of those discussions; but I believe that it is important that we lose no time in setting this process in motion.
Accession negotiations can only begin once the EU Constitution has entered into force, and we do not want to anticipate the process of ratification. However, by starting the preparatory work on these rather complex technical questions the Commission will fulfil its duty to the other EU institutions and above all to our citizens. They rightfully expect that the EU’s accession to the Convention a long-awaited step for the protection of their fundamental rights will become a reality without undue delay.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
During this Summit we will all make abundant references to the European values embedded in the Council of Europe. However let’s remind ourselves that it is not enough to cherish them. We must also safeguard these values as our common heritage. In addition we must consolidate them with the view to further promote the democratic sustainability of our institutions and the well-being of our citizens.
This is an important message from all Europeans to the rest of the world.