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Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz: “Avoiding a new divide in Europe”

Poland is chairing the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers for the next six months. On taking the chair, the Polish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, reviews Polish priorities and the summit of heads of state and government to be held in Warsaw in May 2005.

Interview (12.11.2004)

Question: Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, you are Poland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and on 10 November you took over as Chair of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers for the next six months. The highlight of your chairmanship will be the third summit of Council of Europe heads of state and government, at Warsaw in May 2005. What, besides the summit, are the priorities of the Polish chairmanship?

Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz: Firstly, and paradoxically, we believe that the question of European unity is assuming importance. Paradoxically, because on the one hand we are seeing European Union enlargement, but on the other we are realising the consequences for the peoples and nations who will not be joining the European Union and who may be feeling left out at a time when European institutions are growing and taking on increasing importance. No one is better able than the Poles to understand what it means to find yourself on the wrong side of a dividing line. That is why we are particularly anxious to avert development of sentiments of that kind.

Secondly, as regards the Council of Europe itself, we are still not satisfied about standards of compliance with the organisation’s democratic principles and human rights. We all need to reaffirm our commitment in those areas. That must be part of the declaration to be adopted at the Warsaw summit.

On 10 November a number of countries signed or announced ratification of Protocol No.14, reorganising the European Court of Human Rights in order to make it more effective, simplify its procedures and ensure better implementation of the Court’s decisions. We still have a lot of work to do to persuade all the member states of the importance of acceding to the protocol. If we fail to do so the protocol will be a mere scrap of paper. That would be extremely damaging for the Court. More and more Europeans are aware of their rights and want to exercise them. As a result the Court is overwhelmed by the influx of petitions.

Much also needs doing to ensure more effective, more accurate co-operation between European institutions - the Council of Europe, the European Union, OSCE - and also to push ahead with intercultural dialogue.

Lastly we must also continue giving support to local authorities in their co-operation and partnership action. In Poland we are fortunate to have great experience in that area. Our local authorities are particularly active in that field. For example, we have 16 Euroregions on our borders with our seven neighbours. That means we have a great deal of experience to pass on.

Lastly, we have to get beyond the past traumas that continue to divide our European nations. Unfortunately, memories of the past still too often override everything else, generating fears and obstacles. Next year will be the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War and it presents an opportunity to deepen action in that sphere. The Warsaw summit will come a few days after a major event in Moscow commemorating the 60th anniversary. We are therefore counting on support from our friends, partners and neighbours for action in that area.

Question: You have just called on Council of Europe member countries to make a reaffirmation, at the Warsaw summit, of their commitment to the Council of Europe’s basic values, particularly democracy, the rule of law and human rights. When you visited Strasbourg on 10 November you referred to Kosovo and Transnistria, but not to Chechnya.

Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz: There is a long list of difficult situations, including Chechnya, the Caucusus and Belarus - and while Belarus is not a Council of Europe member its citizens are Europeans and therefore, in practice, have the same entitlements as others. All these cases need our active attention and we shall be continuing our predecessors’ efforts in connection with them.

Question: You have announced that your first official visit as Chair of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers will be to Ukraine. Does that mean you are afraid that the outcome of the current presidential election there - the second round is on 21 November - may help create the “new divide in Europe” that you mentioned a moment ago?

Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz: No. First, we must respect Ukrainians’ right to freely select their next president. That is the only issue. Ukrainians have the right to freely choose the president they want. That means there has to be a fair and honest electoral campaign. As you know, after the first round, the Council of Europe, at Poland’s instigation, made known its position, putting it on record that we hoped that democratic electoral principles would be fully observed in Ukraine. That is important to all of us and has implications for everyone, including Ukraine in its relations with the European Union.