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Speech by Terry Davis, Secretary General of the Council of Europe

Seminar on ''The Council of Europe – Politics and practice. Is there a place for the Council of Europe in a changing European landscape - Oslo, 6 and 7 September 2004

Oslo, 06.09.2004

Mr Chairman, Minister, Mr President, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Human rights, democracy and the rule of law are the values, which distinguish Europe from most other parts of the world. These values are the basis on which the Council of Europe is working for greater unity through tolerance, mutual respect, consensus and cooperation.

It is to realise this potential that I was elected Secretary General of the Council of Europe and it therefore gives me great pleasure to be with you today to discuss the place of our Organisation in the changing European landscape.

I am particularly glad that my first visit to a member country since taking up my duties last Wednesday is to Norway for two reasons. First, I have great personal affection for Norway and the Norwegian people. Second, because the Norwegian chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers is playing a very active and constructive role in the Council of Europe.

This meeting is but one example of many initiatives your country has taken during your chairmanship. I would therefore like to take this opportunity to thank the Norwegian authorities for the support they are giving the Council of Europe and for the assistance given to me by the Norwegian Ambassador and his team in Strasbourg as I take over the reins of an organisation which caters for upwards of 800 million people in 45, but soon to be 46, countries, with the accession of Monaco in a few weeks time.

Mr Chairman, Europe is changing and if there is one place where everyone is aware of that change it is most certainly in Strasbourg at the Council of Europe. In just 15 years membership has doubled from 23 in 1989 to 46 by the end of 2004. Sadly these changes have come just as Europe is having to face up to new threats such as terrorism, trafficking and organised crime.

In today’s interdependent world the international political agenda has never been fuller. However, even in our democratising Europe, there are still large – and sadly increasing - numbers of people who think their differences, whether religious, political or ethnic are more important than our common values.

There remains much work to be done across Europe to consolidate democracy, human rights and the rule of law so that all Europeans enjoy a genuine sense of shared values, shared responsibilities, and a shared future. Ever since its inception, the Council of Europe has been at the forefront of European cooperation, breaking new ground and developing ideas, many of which have helped shape European society as we know it today.

I am thinking of pluralistic parliamentary cooperation which was unheard of before the establishment of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly. I am thinking of the European Court of Human Rights before which ordinary women or men can sue their governments for alleged violations of the 1950 European Human Rights Convention. I am also thinking of work in fields such as data protection, bio-ethics or cybercrime, to name but a few.

This thumbnail sketch of the Council of Europe’s contribution to the European project, sheds some light on our Organisation’s assets and comparative advantages. The Council of Europe has become an indispensable part of the international and European institutional structure, working, alongside the United Nations, the European Union and, since 1989, the OSCE and many regional organisations.

Since 1950, the Council of Europe has been implementing at European level ideas and principles developed by the United Nations. That is true of the European Human Rights Convention which transposes much of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights into the European context and, equally important, establishes an appropriate mechanism for its implementation.

The same is true of the Council of Europe’s Convention for the Prevention of Torture, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment. The same is also true of the European Prison Rules which are based on the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, and which will no doubt figure in your discussions tomorrow on prison reform in transitional societies.

Needless to say, cooperation with the United Nations and the United Nations family, covers many other areas and takes on different forms. I have been following this work closely for a number of years, both in Strasbourg and at the General Assembly in New York. I intend returning there this year to see how we can step up our cooperation and give it a more effective and action-oriented focus.

At European level, the OSCE, which now deals with many issues also covered by the Council of Europe, is a valued partner for our work in many of our member countries.

It is vitally important that both organisations have agreed positions on sensitive questions to avoid forum shopping, and it is essential that where there is overlap we avoid senseless duplication. That is why I particularly welcome the initiative taken by the Norwegian chairmanship to look into how the Council of Europe and the OSCE interact, and to see how cooperation between the two organisations could be enhanced.

I am fully committed to such a review because both organisations have a duty to the citizens of our member and participating states not to squander the funds made available to us on duplicating work which has already been carried out. As someone who has also worked in the OSCE sphere for seven years, I intend taking a direct personal interest in this question since I know something of the strengths and weaknesses of both bodies.
However, it is of course for the Council of Europe member States and the OSCE Participating States to determine who should do what. That is why I welcome the proposal to involve states to a much greater extent in our inter-institutional relations both at the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna and at the Committee of Ministers in Strasbourg.

Naturally, the European Union is also one of the Council of Europe’s major partners and will continue to be so as it enlarges even further and is given its own Constitution. The Council of Europe and the European Union share the same values and, to a large extent, the same goals. Although they operate in very different ways, they can and do cooperate in their own spheres of excellence and the European Union is, for example, currently contributing upwards of 7 million euros to joint cooperation programmes in South Eastern Europe.

Following enlargement of the European Union, the role played by the Council of Europe today as the only exclusively European paneuropean organisation is of added importance in the new European landscape. It is helping to achieve a Europe “without dividing lines”, a commitment proclaimed by the Committee of Ministers in its solemn Declaration on the occasion of the Organisation’s 50th anniversary in 1999, to which those who were separated by the iron curtain for several decades are particularly attached. After all, there is only one Europe, made up of over 800 million men and women, who all aspire to a better and fairer world for themselves and their children.

The Council of Europe and the European Union are working towards harmonised law and legal cooperation to create a common legal area, but it is clear that there are many problems which cannot be solved at European Union level alone. Drug trafficking and organised crime know no frontiers. Money laundering and corruption extend across our continent and beyond. Such questions must be tackled jointly if we are to be successful. The same goes terrorism and human trafficking.

The Council of Europe has developed instruments and agreements in all these areas. It is now essential to devise appropriate ways for the Council and the European Union to cooperate fully and work together in fighting these fundamental abuses of human rights. Events, from Turkey, to Spain and to Russia, must surely have convinced all of us that terrorism is not going to go away, that it is not something which can be defeated by national governments acting alone- nor by an institution which is restricted to 25 countries in Western and Central Europe. Someone must take the lead on a paneuropean basis.

Today, in the shadow of Beslan, I can report that during the 3 years since the shock of September 11th, the Council of Europe has provided a forum for discussions between experts from our member countries about what can be done to protect the most basic human right of all, the right to life, while at the same time respecting the values which the Council of Europe was established to defend and promote. It is my personal objective, indeed my responsibility to bring this work to fruition as a matter of urgency.

All these questions provide the backdrop to the Summit of Council of Europe Heads of State and Government, which will be hosted by Poland in Warsaw on 16 and 17 May 2005 during the Polish Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers.

The purpose of the Summit is to set priorities for the Council of Europe and reinforce its position as a key partner within the new 21st century European architecture. The Summit is expected to adopt a new Council of Europe mission Statement reflecting its statutory objective to achieve greater unity among member states, based on the core commitment to democracy, human rights and the rule of law, as well as to social cohesion, education and culture as enabling factors for their development.

I welcome this opportunity because we need greater clarity about the role, which our member States want the Council of Europe to play in the future. I have pledged to work with governments to negotiate a clear agreement about the role and responsibilities of the Organisation. Once we have achieved this we need to agree a set of core standards to be observed by all member States and this point is essential to an understanding of the difference between the OSCE and the Council of Europe.

In a word, the criterion for membership of the OSCE is geography. But to be a member of the Council of Europe requires more than geography. It requires an acceptance of our values of Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law, which mean the independence of judges, freedom of expression, freedom of the media, protection of national minorities and observance of the principles of international law.

The Council also distinguishes itself from other organisations by the legally binding nature of the obligations into which member States have entered and by the collective model of cooperation to ensure their compliance with these obligations.

Special legal and political monitoring mechanisms have been set up for this purpose. If member States face specific problems they can count on the Organisation’s assistance through its programmes for the strengthening of democratic stability. But if a member State persists in violating the Organisation’s basic values, as a last resort the Statute provides for expulsion of the country concerned.

That stage has only been reached on one occasion and I hope it never happens again with any of the member States. The alternative is, of course, to use the force of persuasion. It may take longer than one would like but with a little perseverance, I believe we can achieve a lot. Thus the Council of Europe, on the basis of its Statute and its political mission in European post-war history, fully contributes to peace and stability by its activities.

It has thus become a firm feature of the European landscape and continues to pursue its statutory aim to achieve a greater unity between its members for the purpose of safeguarding and realising the ideals and principles which are their common heritage and are indeed the ingredients for a secure and stable Europe.