In a speech to the Assembly today, the Chair of the Committee of Ministers, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, paid tribute to the Council of Europe, referring to it as an “institutional pillar of our united continent” setting “human rights protection standards worldwide with the European Convention on Human Rights".
At the same time, he warned that “what we have seen in recent years is that our peaceful and tolerant Europe cannot be taken for granted”, referring to violence and war, “most recently in Nagorno Karabakh, but also in eastern Ukraine”.
“Images like those we saw at the weekend from many Russian towns and cities – of police officers beating, dragging away and arresting peaceful demonstrators – are in blatant contradiction with the obligations which we all entered into as members of the Council of Europe. We therefore demand that Russia immediately release the arrested demonstrators. And we expect the release at once of Alexei Navalny,” he continued.
“We must be resolute in opposing the erosion of our European human rights architecture,” Mr Maas stressed.
He also called on PACE members to regard diversity as an opportunity, as President Biden put it. “That must apply even more to Europe and to the Council of Europe, which unites 47 nations in their diversity. Of course, differences of opinion will keep on coming up between us. But you, as parliamentarians, and we all as democrats have a duty to resolve these differences together – with respect, willingness to compromise and a human approach."
"I also say this quite deliberately with reference to the debate about today’s participation of some Russian parliamentarians. The Council of Europe has always stood for exchanges that also transcend ideological boundaries. That also means voicing criticism openly – and putting up with it. In my view, however, burning bridges is the worst option. Only if we keep up an open dialogue with one another will we be able to preserve what Edouard Herriot in 1949 described as a far-off goal: a Europe of peace, co-operation and human rights,” he concluded.