(To be checked against delivered speech)
Speech by Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly President René van der Linden during his visit to the Luxembourg Chamber of Deputies
23 March 2005
The Third Council of Europe Summit, scheduled to be held in Warsaw on 16 and 17 May of this year, is an event of prime importance for the Council of Europe’s future.
The Third Summit, which will be taking place in a changing Europe, should address the challenges that Europe will have to take up and draw attention to the Council of Europe’s importance for the continent. It should define the Council’s place among the European institutions and give it a specific political mandate for the coming years.
Geographical enlargement (including the long-term outlook) and the broadening of the range of activities and responsibilities of the European Union have important consequences for the European institutions as a whole.
Given that your country is currently chairing the Council of the European Union, allow me to share a few thoughts concerning relations between the 46-member Council of Europe and the European Union.
What does the Council of Europe represent?
800 million Europeans
630 national parliamentarians
nearly 200 Conventions, which have replaced 25,000 bilateral agreements
the European Court of Human Rights
unique implementation machinery in the form, inter alia, of :
- the Commissioner for Human Rights
- the European Commission for Democracy through Law (the “Venice Commission”)
- the Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT)
- the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO)
- the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI)
- and the European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice (CEPEJ).
As President of the Parliamentary Assembly, I feel bound to point out that it was in the Council of Europe Assembly that the idea of setting up a European Coal and Steel Community was mooted for the first time by Robert Schuman, in the 1950s.
If certain member states had taken a different line at the time, I would not have had to make relations with the European Union one of the priorities of my term of office. Nor would I be in the privileged position today of being familiar with two institutions from the inside.
As a member of the Convention on the Future of Europe, I am very pleased that the Constitutional Treaty has recognised this need by providing for the possibility of EU accession to the European Convention on Human Rights, which would establish a formal institutional link between the most far-reaching project and the most ambitious project in Europe.
The message is clear and unambiguous: the European Union should take full advantage of the experience of Council of Europe bodies and instruments.
It is not enough to take over the flag and the anthem: the European Union should also adopt the Council of Europe's achievements.
Unfortunately, the very clear signal given by the Constitutional Treaty is being somewhat blurred by contradictory signals from the European Union institutions. I am thinking of the sometimes enthusiastic efforts made to reinvent what already exists, be it a human rights agency, a committee against torture or a language-training body, to quote only a few recent examples.
Let it be remembered that the Convention for the Prevention of Torture, with its unique system of surprise visits, the Venice Commission, the Commission against Racism and Intolerance and the Human Rights Convention are likewise examples of very effective machinery. One must not try and reinvent them!
While it is true that some of the EU work that duplicates that of the Council is justified because of its impact on public opinion, this clearly means that the Council of Europe should make an effort to explain to the public what it is doing already.
To avert further divides, the European Union, its member states and countries that do not belong to it, or not yet, should make use of the unique forum represented by the Council of Europe. I am thinking, of course, of the candidate countries, but also of the countries concerned by the stabilisation and association process, the European “good neighbour” policy and the strategic partnerships. The Council of Europe is the only forum where all these countries co-operate on an equal footing with the 25 EU members and the members of the European Economic Area.
It should be remembered that the Copenhagen criteria set by the European Union for the examination of membership applications are nothing other than standards drawn up and implemented by the Council of Europe. Parliamentary diplomacy such as our Assembly has developed continues to play an overwhelmingly important role in the implementation of these standards.
I should like to pay tribute to the Luxembourg Presidency of the EU for submitting proposals to our Committee of Ministers, in the context of preparations for the Summit, concerning co-operation between the EU and the Council of Europe.
For its part, our Assembly suggests that the Summit invite the EU:
- to consider the Council of Europe as the ideal place for promoting and implementing its “good neighbour” policy;
- to accede to all the Council of Europe Conventions that are open to it in order to make for the establishment of a single European legal area;
- to make use, systematically and openly, of the expertise embodied in the machinery and instruments of the Council of Europe.
In its Recommendation 1693, our Assembly made a substantial contribution to preparations for the Third Summit. The recommendation contains many points, of which the following are essential. The Summit should:
- Provide the Organisation with a clear political mandate for the coming years;
- Stress the unity of a Europe based on shared values without dividing lines, as embodied by the Council of Europe;
- Recognise the Council of Europe’s overwhelmingly important role in establishing legal rules concerning democracy, human rights, the rule of law and certain aspects of modern society;
- Highlight the unique role of the Council of Europe as a forum for political dialogue between European Union member states and non-members;
- Urge the European Union to make use of the experience, instruments and machinery of the Council of Europe;
- Emphasise the importance of the promotion and observance of basic democratic principles and guidelines likely to improve the functioning and development of democratic institutions and civil society, which are confronted with a multitude of new and difficult tasks and challenges. Their first point of reference should be the citizen;
- Make the commitment to continue to combat all forms of violence, including domestic violence and trafficking in human beings;
- Reaffirm that education for democratic citizenship, based on the rights and responsibilities of citizens and the values of the Council of Europe, will remain a priority for the Organisation’s future activities;
- Express a willingness to co-operate with other international organisations wishing to set up similar bodies in other parts of the world and enable them to benefit from the Organisation’s expertise,
- Highlight the Council of Europe’s role as a unique forum for the promotion of intercultural and inter-religious dialogue;
- Stress the urgent need for far-reaching reform of the European Court of Human Rights and decide to assess, as a matter of urgency, strategic options that go further than Protocol No.14, which should be ratified as soon as possible;
- Decide to review, as a matter of urgency, arrangements for drafting legal instruments ; acknowledge the Parliamentary Assembly’s key role in this process; in particular, provide the Parliamentary Assembly with the right to initiate legislation, and especially to submit to the Committee of Ministers, for consideration or joint discussion, draft standard-setting instruments prepared by the Assembly or at its request;
- Decide to establish a “Codex” of key Council of Europe conventions with deadlines for signature or ratification.
The Third Summit should reaffirm the unity of a Europe without dividing lines, based on shared values.
We are counting on your support in ensuring that our recommendations are acted on by the Heads of State and Government.