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Interview with René van der Linden, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

Strasbourg, 4. May 2005

Question : Mr President, once the EU Constitution has been accepted, do you really believe that there will still be room for the Council of Europe to carry out its activities?

René van der Linden: More than 20 Council of Europe member states are not members of the EU. They too have undertaken to respect the Council of Europe’s democratic principles and human rights standards. Without the Council of Europe and the network of conventions it has established, new, sharper dividing lines would emerge in Europe. There is therefore no better place than the Council of Europe to implement the “good neighbourhood policy” which the EU plans to introduce.

Question : What difference will the EU Constitution make to the Council of Europe?

René van der Linden: As a result of the Constitution, the EU will no longer be only an economic community but also a community of values, which draws heavily on the standards established by the Council of Europe. This clearly represents added value for Europe. The EU will also become a legal personality and will consequently be able to become a party to the European Convention on Human Rights and other Council of Europe conventions. Nevertheless, there are also risks. The Union has plenty of money to tackle issues which we can deal with more efficiently and more cost-effectively in Strasbourg.

Question : Are you referring to the establishment of a human rights agency and an anti-torture committee that are mentioned in the constitutional treaty? Might this not even lead to a weakening of fundamental human rights?

René van der Linden: Undoubtedly. The Council of Europe has an extremely effective anti-torture committee, which conducts unscheduled inspections of prisons in all 46 member states of the Council of Europe. Given that its work covers the whole of Europe, it seems obvious that the EU should make use of this resource. How this should be done is open to discussion, as is the question of financial participation. Neither side should give the impression that it alone is responsible for the development of a pluralistic and democratic society.

Question : You already have EU President Juncker on your side. Do you think he can bring about a change of heart?

René van der Linden: I trust that he can, in the spirit of true partnership. The Council of Europe recognises that the EU is by far the most important organisation in Europe. But there are groups in Brussels which are too arrogant to accept the idea of co-operating with the Council of Europe. Many members of the European Council, the European Commission und the European  Parliament do not even know what the Council of Europe does. It is the Ministers of Justice who most appreciate our work.

Question : Should the Council of Europe also cut back its activities to avoid duplication?

Van der Linden: We should only do what we do better and more efficiently. I am therefore very much in favour of restricting our work to our core activities. Agricultural policy, for example, is not one of those activities. And if it is not clear what contribution the Council of Europe can make, then it should keep out of that particular field. That is why the Parliamentary Assembly has reduced the number of its committees from 14 to 10.