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To be checked against delivered speech

Address by Michel Barnier, Minister for Foreign Affairs of France

Parliamentary Assembly session : 24 to 28 January 2005

Strasbourg, 26.01.2005

Ladies and gentlemen, in greeting each and every one of you on behalf of the Government of the French Republic, with your varied political leanings - which are only to be expected in a democracy - and your different nationalities, I should like to say how pleased I am to have been invited to address you for a few minutes, for several reasons.

First of all, because my country’s government is naturally pleased, proud and honoured that France should be home to the Council of Europe. I say that not only on behalf of the French Government, but also on behalf of the French parliamentarians who sit among you, who are likewise proud and honoured to do so.

Secondly, as René van der Linden has just pointed out, for the past five years I had the honour of being the European Commissioner responsible for one of the finest policies of the EU, that of solidarity with the regions - a policy of economic cohesion, social cohesion, Ms Azevedo, and territorial cohesion, which really goes to prove that the EU that has been taking shape over the last 50 years and which has kept its promises of peace and stability is not just a supermarket but a mutually supportive community, and that it wants to have a political role to play in the world.

I also had an opportunity, with your President and others, to work in the Convention as a member of the Praesidium and to address issues that concern and interest you, on which many of you have worked. I am thinking of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which will, I hope, have constitutional force once the Constitution has been approved, and of the European Union’s accession to the Convention on Human Rights.

Quite apart from this commitment to Europe, which has underpinned my own work since I took public office, it is not so long ago that I myself was a member of my national parliament, having been so for nearly 20 years. That puts me in a position to pay tribute to your own commitment in your various countries to putting into practice these values that have brought us together today.

Since you have given me the opportunity to do so, I should like in turn, Mr President, to say a few words about the Third Council of Europe Summit, that very important event scheduled to take place in Warsaw on 16 and 17 May. To my mind, the Summit must not only reflect a commitment but also provide an opportunity to take stock and, probably, to give the Council new impetus.

Firstly, therefore, it will be an opportunity for a commitment: that of a Europe determined to promote human rights, democracy and the rule of law, a Europe resolved to continue with its own transformation. At a time when other regions, in a very disorganised world, are still hesitating about their own future and at a time when many of them are lapsing into violence, we are offering the image of a unanimous Europe gathered together in support of a number of core values, which are those of the Council of Europe. That is an extremely powerful message.

I can vouch for that for, in my capacity as Minister for Foreign Affairs, I have travelled this disorganised and dangerous world where, although it is not for us to tell the other regions what to do, what we do here serves as an example or reference. It is, as I say, a powerful political message in today’s world, one whose impact we were able to witness again only a few days ago as we listened with respect to the Ukrainian people, whose President addressed you a few hours ago.

Secondly, the Summit will be an opportunity to take stock. The Council of Europe is on the brink of an important step in its history: with the exception of Belarus, it has successfully completed its enlargement. It reflects and safeguards the progress of democracy in Europe over the last 50 years and more. Half a century later, the time has no doubt come to reflect on the activities of our Organisation: where has it been successful, and what difficulties does it face? How can it best rise to current challenges, particularly the need to establish links with the other European institutions, which have themselves been radically transformed? These concerns must be central to the Action Plan the Committee of Ministers is preparing, to which your Assembly is to contribute.

Lastly, having taken stock, the Summit must give new impetus to the Council of Europe. We must look resolutely to the future, while bearing in mind the lessons of history. I heard Mr Wilkinson refer to the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps. Tomorrow I shall be in Auschwitz with many others, and on Monday I was on the rostrum of the United Nations in New York, taking part in the exceptional commemoration session, alongside Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel. On behalf of the French Government, I made the point that that commemorative event was an opportunity to put across a strong message concerning the duty to remember and the duty to be vigilant.

Ladies and gentlemen, your Assembly, which was the first European response in the wake of the liberation of the camps, immediately after the tragic “new civil war”, to borrow the expression Victor Hugo used when talking of wars between Europeans, must be a forum that militates in favour of vigilance, and must become more so every day. I am thinking of everything that, in various parts of the world, is calling into question the values and principles of democracy. I am thinking, in particular, of the resurgence of anti-Semitism and racism.

France is convinced that the Council of Europe has a responsibility for the future. Our Organisation, which differs in its tasks and size from the European Union, has an irreplaceable role to play in achieving the grand design for Europe. It provides - and we here in this Assembly provide - the foundations for that grand design. As far as I know, no construction, however ambitious, can do without foundations. It is also necessary, however, for certain conditions to be met.

The first is that the Council of Europe should be steadfast in the areas in which it excels and maintain its level of excellence, continuing to be intransigent over issues about which it knows more than anybody: the protection of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. It is this contribution that gives our Organisation its strength and its specificity. It is for that reason that I hope that the Warsaw Summit will clearly set, as a priority, the preservation of the role of the European Court of Human Rights, which offers a right of individual petition to 800 million European citizens. The Court is not at present in a position to deal with the influx of applications within a reasonable time. We must rise to this challenge and complete the reform provided for in Protocol 14, aiming to ensure that it is ratified by all by May 2006. We must also undertake to provide the Court with long-term financial support.

Allow me to pay tribute to the actions of the Commissioner for Human Rights, Alvaro Gil-Robles, whose work is of a different sort but just as outstanding.

In the same spirit, we must ensure that conventions are implemented. What is the point of working on them if the way in which they are applied is not monitored, assessed and remedied when necessary?

As you said to the Assembly on Monday, Mr President, the Council of Europe must take action in areas that affect people’s lives in practice. To this end, legal instruments must be backed up by monitoring, evaluation and supervisory machinery. Issues connected with democracy and human rights are not, of course, set in stone. On the contrary, they are constantly affected by new challenges. The Council of Europe understood this perfectly when it addressed the complex subject of cybercrime.

The most serious of the new challenges in this dangerous world in which we live is no doubt terrorism, which the Council can obviously not ignore. It must make its own contribution to, for example, efforts to combat those who seek to justify terrorism, and to compensating victims. This contribution must have its place in the multilateral efforts to counter terrorism, a global threat if ever there was one.

The second prerequisite for new impetus is improved co-operation between the Council and other international organisations. I am thinking of the OSCE, the United Nations and, in particular, the European Union, which has grown much larger and is set to become larger still, and which is about to take a decisive step in introducing a Constitution after some 50 years. It is a step to which several of you, in your capacity as parliamentarians, including yourself, Mr President, greatly contributed within the Convention, which, for the first time in 50 years, drew up a founding text, or rather a new founding text, for the EU, a new Treaty of Rome, otherwise than within the secret confines of a diplomatic conference. The doors and windows of the Convention, in which national parliaments were involved, were open. As one of those who worked in the Convention, I can say that this is probably one of the reasons why it was ultimately successful.

Be that as it may, the roles of the new EU and the Council are, and will naturally remain, complementary. In this connection, in the light of my own experience, I can only plead for more venues and occasions for consultation, whether political or administrative. I would mention, among others, the possibility of involving the Council in programmes run by the EU with its new neighbours and, in another field, the role that it should play in the new EU Fundamental Rights Agency.

The third condition is that the Council should be more outward-looking in its work. It should be an ideal partner for civil society, academic networks, NGOs and the media. It should use its Parliamentary Assembly and its Congress of Local and Regional Authorities to offer elected representatives from Greater Europe a unique forum in which to discuss and disseminate good practice. It should make a special effort to train elected representatives and elites.

So, in a spirit of openness, why not organise, on the occasion of, and in connection with, the Warsaw Summit, a forum for NGOs and experts in order to involve them in our work?

Ladies and gentlemen, vigilance and even intransigence when it comes to democracy and human rights, co-operation with the European Union and an openness to the outside world: these three conditions are within the grasp of the Council of Europe as the Warsaw Summit approaches. It can, to this end, count on the ambitions of the Polish Chairmanship, which is proceeding with the preparations with determination. I can bear witness to that, having met the Polish Government, which is pressing ahead with this work. It can also count on the outstanding work of your administrative team and of Secretary General Terry Davis and his administration, to which I should like to pay tribute.

Equally, it should remember that it can count on France’s willingness to help and on the importance it attaches to Greater Europe.

Thank you most sincerely.