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Dutch Chairmanship’s motto: Building bridges with standards

The Dutch chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers will endeavour to build bridges between agreed standards on human rights, democracy, good governance and social cohesion, and their actual implementation in the member states, says Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. In an interview, he talks about the chairmanship’s priorities and the Council of Europe’s future role.

Interview (13.11.2003)

Question : Your country, the Netherlands, is to hold the Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe for six months. To which questions will you be giving priority?

Jaap de Hoop Scheffer : During its presidency, the Netherlands will focus on three themes:
- the protection of human rights and the effectiveness of monitoring mechanisms;
- integration and social cohesion;
- the promotion of synergy between the Council of Europe and other international organisations.

Referring to the Council of Europe’s principles, the Dutch chairmanship will endeavour to build bridges between agreed standards on human rights, democracy, good governance and social cohesion, and their actual implementation in the member states. Hence the chairmanship’s motto: The Council of Europe: Building bridges with standards.

Question : Do you think that the EU's enlargement to 25 countries and more will entail an adjustment of the role and activities of the Council of Europe? The Strasbourg-based organisation has been well-known for many years for its human rights protection machinery, but what do you feel will be the other fields in which it will be able to play a specific role in future?

Jaap de Hoop Scheffer : The EU is on the eve of the accession of ten new member states and of the adoption of a Charter on fundamental rights. Some member states fear that these developments may lead to new dividing lines in Europe. The Council of Europe has always played an important role in creating stability on the European continent in the field of democracy, human rights and rule of law. Drawing on this expertise, the Netherlands will use its chairmanship to promote European cohesion and thus to prevent new dividing lines to arise or old ones to be deepened. The Council of Europe as a Pan-European organization with 45 member states is pre-eminently equipped to do so.

With respect to the future role of the Council of Europe, I have asked the Advisory Council on International Affairs to prepare an advisory report on the future role of the Council of Europe. The results of this reports will be used in defining the Netherlands position.

According to me, the major assets of the Council of Europe are:
- Standard-setting for human rights, democracy and the rule of law;
- Platform for dialogue on issues of moral/ethical nature;
- Monitoring implementation of principles & standards, as laid down in conventions, and assistance to member states;
- Link through the Parliamentary Assembly and the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities (CLRAE) between national parliaments and local authorities and the Council of Europe.

Therefore I think that the Council of Europe’s future role should be linked to three themes:
- Platform for political dialogue;
- Custodian of member states’ commitments;
- Provider of assistance to member states in implementing commitments.

Question : Do you believe that your country's Chairmanship of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers will help to improve the organisation's image in the Dutch media?

Jaap de Hoop Scheffer : First of all I want to state that the problem lies not so much in the image of the Council of Europe in the Netherlands, but more in the visibility given to its work.

The Dutch government however, wants to make its chairmanship a success not only for the citizens of Europe, but with them. So we have asked non-governmental organizations wherever possible to help with the plans.

During the chairmanship a series of lectures will be given in the Netherlands on various subjects that are part of the council of Europe’s remit. They will include amongst others media freedom, elected mayors and trafficking in human beings. These lectures will be organized in co-operation with the Netherlands European Movement and the Netherlands Association for International Affairs.

Moreover a seminar on “implementation human rights is being organized in co-operation with the Netherlands Jurist Committee Human Rights. Working with the European Platform for Education, it will be examined how to include the Council of Europe in primary en secondary education. Moreover the Netherlands National Youth Council will host a meeting of the Council of Europe Affairs Committee of the European Youth Forum.