Communication from Mr Jagland, Secretary General of the Council of Europe to the Parliamentary Assembly (24 January 2011)

Mr President, distinguished parliamentarians, ladies and gentlemen, all great projects in history combine vision with pragmatism. Believing in something even very enthusiastically is not enough; it is what we do that makes the difference between great ideas and great illusions. That was true 60 years ago when our Organisation was created, and it is very true today.

In 1949, Europe had not yet healed after a devastating war. Its economies had not recovered while ominous signs of a possible new conflict had already begun to appear. It was a time of uncertainty and fear. The response of European governments was the Council of Europe – an organisation embodying a vision of European unity combined with practical ways of implementing that vision.

Afterwards, the European project developed step by step – economic and later political integration in the framework of the European Union and co-operation in the field of security through the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. I mention that because none of those things could have taken place without the framework that was created by the Council of Europe. The Council of Europe also helped to foster a culture of tolerance, co-operation and humanism at grassroots level, which was also a precondition for the broader European project.

The great European project cannot move forward without the Council of Europe. I emphasise that point because I feel that Europe is being torn apart again, this time by centrifugal forces of economic globalisation, xenophobic tendencies and social exclusion. Basic values such as freedom of the media and freedom of religion are being relativised. Terrorism is spreading fear, and is being used as an argument by those who claim that Islam is a violent religion. We should listen to what a member of the British Government, Baroness Warsi, rightly said recently: Islamophobia has been widely accepted. I agree, and violence against Christians is increasing in Europe’s neighbourhood as well. Unfortunately, anti-Semitism has still not disappeared from all societies.

Extremist forces in Europe and in Europe’s neighbourhood are feeding on each other. Many of our citizens feel that society is under threat from the multitude of social, political, cultural, religious and other tensions, which foment mistrust and fear. There is growing distrust of political institutions at the national and European level. People feel that their political institutions are ineffective in addressing their concerns. That offers fertile ground to nationalist and populist forces. We are witnessing a process that weakens the culture of togetherness that we built after the war. A cold wind is blowing over Europe.

The way to respond is not to tell our citizens that we have nothing to fear, and that the economic crisis will eventually pass and we should all simply calm down and weather this out. What we need to do is restore the ability of political institutions to solve problems, and to act and produce results that our populations need and have a right to expect. National political institutions have to take their share of responsibility, and the European Union must accept its responsibilities as well. I am glad that the EU is slowly moving towards taking a more active role in sorting out the economic problems that global markets have caused in Europe. I am confident that the EU will once again prove how great its project is in creating stability and peace on our continent, but the EU cannot do this alone. Twenty countries are outside the EU, including major countries such as the Russian Federation, Turkey and Ukraine, as well as all others with lower populations, of course.

Dealing with the most urgent challenges of today must be a pan-European project that includes everyone. Therefore, we must build a common sense of togetherness through common legal standards and continue to build a culture of living together as a basis for concrete political action. After the war, we built togetherness among democracies in the western part of Europe. Today, we have to build it for the entire continent, to pave the way for pan-European action.

The Council of Europe has a key role to play in this, of course. Our mandate is to safeguard the moral and legal ground for European unity, not only between states but, more importantly, between peoples, cultures and religions. Our task is to see to it that Europe is fertile ground not for extremism, but for political action on a pan-European level.

The great European project after the war started with a recognition deep down in society that everyone was in the same boat, that they had the same rights and that they shared the same values. We have to start from this point again, and we have to build on one of the lessons that has been learned, namely that there is a strong inter-relationship between our ability to uphold basic standards and public morale. We have learned that if tagging on the underground is not removed, graffiti will increase. If nothing is done to tackle corruption, corruption will spread. If political leaders violate the law, then the people will do it as well. If there is not justice for all, there will not be justice for anybody. This is why we must strengthen the ability to uphold the basic values enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights.

We also need to have a geographical scope that includes other neighbourhoods beyond Europe. I have already suggested why that is the case: because what happens there will affect us, as Foreign Minister Davutoğlu just said. We also need to exploit the full potential of European co-operation with our partners, the European Union and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. What they do helps us, and what we do helps them.

This is what the reform must be about: sharpening our tools so that we can implement the rule of law based on democratic and human rights standards throughout the entire continent; building a culture of living together; broadening our interaction with our neighbourhood; and exploiting the full potential of co-operation with our partners.

Let me put the reform in its historical perspective. The Council of Europe has developed in various phases. Until the fall of the Berlin Wall, it was an Organisation of democracies on the western side of the east-west divide, and the task was to develop common standards with regard to democracy, human rights and the rule of law and to establish that member states comply with their obligations. We can call this the construction phase. The comprehensive system for the protection of human rights and democracy that was established represents the only real product of the universal declaration of human rights under the United Nations.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Council of Europe proved very attractive to countries seeking to establish their European identity and determined to develop societies based on human rights, democracy and the rule of law. This was the phase of expansion. It enabled us to play a crucial role in the emergence of a new Europe; for example, without the Council of Europe, the EU could not have expanded so rapidly. During the period of expansion, standard setting continued with an increasing number of programmes and activities. Standard setting had to continue, of course. We also had to adapt our conventions to the new realities; for example, we are starting a review of the data protection convention as we have to strike a new balance between the public sector and the private sphere because of technological developments. However, I do not foresee that standard setting will be as heavy and comprehensive as in the past. After expansion must come a period of consolidation.

In my view, the third phase of the Council of Europe – the one we have not yet entered – must be the phase of implementation of our standards and principles across Europe and in each and every one of our member states. This is the underlying philosophy of the reform. We must sharpen our implements and focus our resources.

As I have said, this work has already begun, and let me briefly record the achievements of 2010. The year started with the ratification of Protocol No. 14 by the Russian Federation, and continued with the Interlaken conference on the reform of the European Court of Human Rights and with the opening of talks on EU accession to the European Convention on Human Rights. There was also unprecedentedly intense co-operation with our main institutional partners. In respect of the United Nations, I shall only mention for now my three meetings with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The other partners are the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the EU, with which we have developed a new quality of relations. We have now established the basis for a close and regular policy co-ordination and consultation with the European Union at the highest level. We have also recently signed the first facility envelope for €4 million in the framework of the EU eastern partnership, a shift in financing by providing a lump sum instead of a large number of small amounts for individual projects. That reflects a qualitative improvement in our relationship through lobbying for strengthening the partnership and long-term strategic planning in our joint activities.

In 2010, we succeeded in mobilising a group of personalities with outstanding experience, knowledge and authority on European affairs to examine and report on some of the key challenges that societies face today and will face in the future. The report of the Group of Eminent Persons, led by Joschka Fischer, should help us to plan and act, rather than react, in the work of living together in Europe. Following the high-level meeting on Roma last October, we have a mediating role in overcoming the political deadlock in Moldova. That demonstrated that the Council of Europe can provide quick and concrete political responses to situations relating to other members, which is a precondition to political relevance and impact.

All the achievements I have mentioned reflect the growing political relevance and impact of the Council of Europe in European affairs. In parallel with these political achievements, we have also undertaken the first stage of reform. We have instituted reforms by reducing the number of offices and reinforced those which we really need – namely, those where we are conducting assistance programmes. If we did not do that, we would lose all credibility and relevance as partners of the important donors on the ground.

We have established a policy planning cell in the Secretariat in order to be able to anticipate new developments. We have reached an agreement for a biannual budget and a budget on the programme of activities which are now concise, clear and easy to understand, contrary to the 700-page document that we had before. We can now set priorities on the basis of a long-term perspective and intelligible figures.

Our relations with civil society are very important for the Organisation. That is why this area is a part of the reform process. Different civil societal representatives and non-governmental organisations, be they small or big, should have an opportunity to present their views to the Council of Europe and to be listened to and heard without a filter. This is not the case today. We cannot limit ourselves to having contacts with only a few – we need to reach out to all NGOs and the whole of civil society, which is very pluralistic. We have to broaden our perspective in this respect.

We have also undertaken measures to contain staff costs. Without this, the mechanical increase in staff costs with a stagnant budget would have threatened the entire Organisation.

The second stage of the reform goes deeper, and it also involves a clarification of the strategic goals of the Organisation. I hope that that can be concluded at the ministerial session in Istanbul in May. I have already started consultations with member states on what should be our political objectives for the next decade. In my view, the first strategic priority comes from what I have already explained – that at the end of this decade, we shall be able to say that we have consolidated and implemented the rule of law in all the member states and that we have created a genuine common European legal space with a fully functioning and credible, backlog-free European Court of Human Rights at its core. Why? Because this is the only way of securing popular confidence in the national political institutions and in the European institutions as well. People do not trust institutions that are unable to uphold laws, because new threats such as corruption, money laundering, human trafficking, terrorism and cyber crime can be combated only through the rule of law. If we do not do that, these threats will increase, not decrease.

The most recent reminder of the terrorist threat to security that we are facing happened only a few hours ago at the Moscow airport of Domodedovo. According to BBC reports that I saw 10 minutes ago, 30 people have been killed, but there will probably be more. I express my sympathy with all the victims and with the Russian population. That only proves what is happening on this continent.

We also have to stress implementation of the rule of law to highlight once again the interrelationship between the rule of law and democratic and human rights principles. For a Council of Europe member state, the rule of law means full compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights, other legally binding instruments and the judgments of the European Court. This relationship is not only formal. For example, corruption cannot be contained without a free press. There have to be checks and balances to avoid a misuse of power. The Council of Europe must therefore strengthen its role in securing freedom of expression.

I will give you another recent example. We are still in shock about what happened in Tirana last Friday. I hope that I will be able to receive some clarification from Prime Minister Berisha when he comes here. It is already clear at this stage, without any attempt to apportion responsibility, that a key part of the solution to the crisis will be respect for the rule of law, an independent and credible inquiry into the deaths of the demonstrators, and respect for Albanian legislation and the Albanian state institutions. When I spoke to Commissioner Füle of the European Union about the situation in Albania, we agreed on the need to have a clear and common position on what should be done to overcome this very serious situation.

The focus on the rule of law does not come at the expense of the work on democracy and human rights – on the contrary, as I have explained. The Council of Europe’s approach must combine all three aspects into effective and comprehensive responses to the problems faced by member states. Let me use an example to illustrate this from outside the Council of Europe area. Liu Xiaobo was sentenced to 11 years in prison based on China’s criminal law. That was the rule of law according to the understanding of the Chinese. The verdict said that he had tried to undermine the people’s democratic dictatorship, which means the powerful monopoly of the Communist Party, which is enshrined in the law. For us, the rule of law means upholding the sovereignty of the people, and the sovereignty to control the government, to elect a parliament and to replace a government.

We must also put this emphasis on the rule of law in the context of security. History clearly shows that lasting peace has been achieved only in regions where the rule of law and human rights have been safeguarded. Nowadays, there are tendencies to relativise universal values in many places. This is a creeping threat to our security. The Council of Europe must therefore be an uncompromising guardian of these values as part of a broad-based security strategy for Europe. As the only convention-based pan-European organisation, the Council of Europe should be part of a security concept that goes deeper than the one we have today.

Another strategic goal should be to use our enormous machinery of monitoring bodies of expertise in the office of the Human Rights Commission of this Parliamentary Assembly. In our offices for action, we have to establish a system in which countries are confronted with their weaknesses and thus made more accountable in the field of the rule of law.

Dear friends, bear in mind that if the accession negotiations for the European Union go well, we will have the responsibility to oversee that this global power runs its business in accordance with the rule of law. Can you see the historical perspective? This means that everybody will be under the same rules and the same Court. Once again, I salute the European Union, because if it joins the European Convention on Human Rights and becomes a party to the Court, that will be first time in history that a global power has decided voluntarily to be under an international court. I am wrong, actually – the Russian Federation was the first. Turkey, which is increasingly becoming a global power, also demonstrates the need for might not to be at the expense of accountability. We must understand thoroughly the kind of historic project that we are carrying out. Therefore, we have to be serious and credible in our core business – that of upholding the rule of law.

Another strategic priority must be defined solutions for multicultural interactions that actually work and allow individuals and communities to live with each other – not only beside each other or even against each other. The geographic expansion of the Council of Europe resulted in greater cultural diversity. It can never be a goal to reduce the importance of national cultures and identities, but it is all the more important to define clearly what unites us – namely, our values.

We need to reach a higher degree of understanding about how to live together in a multicultural and multi-religious reality. It is not sufficient to say that we tolerate each other. Living together should mean that we accept cultures as living entities that evolve and prosper through encounters with other cultures. That means that cultures will thrive and command respect not when they are ghettoised and marginalised but when they openly express themselves and mix with other cultures.

We should strive for something that goes beyond multiculturalism as we know it today. That is part of the study of the Group of Eminent Persons led by Joschka Fischer. It should be a priority for the Council of Europe to be a leading institution in this field. At the same time, the Council of Europe should contribute to more social cohesion. In our day and age, it is not difficult to see the connections between democracy, human rights and social rights. Poverty, unemployment and other kinds of social exclusion increase political extremism and put democratic values under pressure. Achieving more social cohesion should be seen as part of a security concept for Europe that goes deeper than what the traditional tools, including military tools, can provide.

The Council of Europe should devote special attention to specific categories of persons who are particularly exposed to social, legal, economic, professional or any other form of inequality, discrimination or marginalisation. There should be no second-class citizens in Europe. That is why we have paid special attention to the Roma people. The Council of Europe now has a decisive role in transforming a decade of speeches about Roma people into concrete action.

Now I turn to another strategic goal for this decade. We need to look at the map of Europe and fill the gaps. We also need to reach out to our neighbours and decide how we could work closely together. When it comes to the first aspect, the key priority is, of course, Belarus. After the recent elections and the crackdown on the protests that followed, I said that unfortunately another opportunity to end the self-imposed isolation of Belarus in Europe had been missed. However, we should be able to continue to pursue a genuine opportunity to bring Belarus closer to Council of Europe values and standards. Without Belarus, the Council of Europe is not complete. However, I would like to make it clear that those people imprisoned after the elections must be released. That is the first step for new action.

We have to reflect together with partners on what should be the next step from our side. We need a pan-European strategy for that, including the Russian Federation. Belarus has to make a choice, not between Russia and the European Union, but between Europe and isolation from Europe.

When it comes to our neighbours, I also think we should pay special attention to Kazakhstan. In the geographical sense, Kazakhstan is both a European and an Asian country. The country is playing a significant stabilising role in central Asia as an important partner. Security policy and economic interests suggest that Europe should strengthen its commitments with countries in the whole neighbourhood. That includes central Asia, as well as the Middle East and North Africa. The Council of Europe can play a great role. The first strategic objective in this respect should be to get countries from our neighbourhood to accede to Council of Europe conventions, in particular those that are dealing with new emerging threats.

Finally, as I see it, there should be, as I have already mentioned, a strategic goal to exploit the full potential for co-operation and co-ordination with other European institutions. What are the concrete measures in the second stage of the reform? First, we must focus resources on the most important issues. We need to restructure the programme of activities. Let me explain what the challenge is.

Currently, leaving aside legally binding committed activities, the available amount for the overall operational programme is limited to around €40 million. Together with the European Union, we are running joint programmes for about €60 million. Today, we have spread our work to over 130 programmes with these limited financial resources. We are doing too many things with too little money. With very poor prospects for budgetary increases in the foreseeable future, we are obliged to concentrate our resources and reduce the number of programmes. Their size and design will be determined by the expected impact. Programmes below a minimum threshold for a meaningful impact should be discontinued.

As a consequence of the new programme, we need to review the intergovernmental structures. Today, we have about 60 intergovernmental committees. Do we need all those? We have also started a review of the conventions. How many are active? Which ones are dormant? The objective is to identify those conventions that will contribute to the consolidation of common legal space. What I am saying, dear friends, is that we need to streamline and rationalise. In the process of reform there should be no sacred cows.

We should look at every aspect of our work critically but with one objective only – to make ourselves stronger and more effective in the conduct of our mission to defend and extend democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Restructuring of the Secretariat is unavoidable, but it should not be seen as a threat to the staff. On the contrary, it is not satisfying to be employed in activities that do not have a real impact. The staff deserve to be on a winning team, on something meaningful. I should like to express my admiration for the competence and commitment of the staff, and I thank them for their support of the reform effort. I understand their concerns and I am extremely attentive to all suggestions and criticisms. However, I also understand that concerns and criticism do not reflect opposition to the reform, and that the vast majority among the Council of Europe staff, and also the governments, parliamentarians and the NGO community, and others who know and care about this Organisation, expect and want change. Benjamin Disraeli once said that “Actions do not always bring happiness, but there is no happiness without action.” That is what we are up for now – to have action and change because we want to make the Council of Europe stronger in order to implement the rule of law on the entire continent. I hope that within this decade, that will be a goal for all of us.