60th anniversary of the Council of Europe - event at the Austrian Parliament
Bundesminister Dr. Spindelegger, dear friends,
Before I start, let me thank Dr. Schüssel for inviting me to this conference, and for giving me an excuse to come to Vienna, a place
where I feel very much at home. It's a spectacular capital, almost everywhere you turn you find history of European culture and drama – a very suitable arena for a politician.
The map of Europe clearly shows that Austria is a meeting point for East and West, North and South. Maybe that is why Vienna is one of these rare places where one really can feel the European journey towards a humanistic culture of civilisation.
I should say, that may also be the reason why Austria has had
3 Secretary Generals heading the Council of Europe, among them my former colleague, Dr. Walter Schwimmer who is with us today! I also like to greet a friend and former president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe; Dr. Peter Schieder.
Commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Council of Europe earlier this year, the English newspaper, The Guardian wrote that our organisation spends less in a year than the European Union does in a day - and as such, being the continent's "other club" we inevitably live in the EU's shadow. But that we - the Council of Europe - the original expression of the internationalist ideal - remains the only forum to span the whole map, from the Atlantic to the Urals."
I take this to be a concise observation of what the Council of Europe has been all about and what it will continue to be all about.
The internationalist ideal expressing our roots in the age of enlightenment, our way to liberal democracies moving from desperation and poverty to comfort and prosperity.
It is an ideal of moving from misgivings and wars to trust and peace, from intolerance and unfairness to righteousness and justice, simply by uniting nations in a community of humanistic values.
When I look at Europe today, I see the greatest peace project ever in history. What has happened on our continent after the two world wars in the past century is a miracle. And the Council of Europe has been indispensable in that respect.
Enhancing human rights and democracy is the best way to build peace. Unlike the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which entails political commitments, the European Convention on Human Rights is a legally-binding charter, creating enforceable rights for individuals who can ultimately appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.
We must never forget what the famous philosopher Edmund Burke said: "Where the rule of law stops, tyranny begins." That is our mission: to make sure that the rule of law always applies and that tyranny never begins.
No doubt, it was the Common Market that got economic integration and prosperity on the way. That too was an outstanding achievement.
But at the end of the day, promotion of democracy and the rule of law remains the heart and soul of European identity. Every time a citizen access directly the European Court of Human Rights, we are reaffirming this ideal.
In Europe, society exists for the sake of the individual. Not the other way around. This is the essence of our democracies. No European state can use its citizens as tools for religious or political purposes.
It's unprecedented in history. And it has made us who we are.
But let us be clear in a year of celebration - Europe isn't a result of competition among institutions. The Council of Europe, the EU and the OSCE all have their share in the making of modern Europe.
And when we look ahead to the future, all three of us will have our share of responsibility. To ensure that Europe and its values remain meaningful, relevant and accessible to people in all parts of our continent.
Now then, what will the future bring?
From my office in Strasbourg, I see 3 major political issues I would like to share with you:
First and foremost: the European Union is increasingly becoming a more coherent political actor with the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty. It will have a stronger voice and become an even mightier partner.
The hopeful accession of the European Union to the European Convention on Human Rights will create a single haven for human rights and fundamental freedoms - stretching from Lisbon, over Brussels to Vladivostok.
A more consistent, clear and loud EU will reinforce the internationalist ideal, and it will put renewed strength into international politics.
This will be good for Europe and its citizens.
Second, I think it is time to recognise that the Wall has been down for 20 years now, and we, and by that I mean both sides, should clean up the remaining pieces of the Wall.
This includes recognizing that Russia is the major European player it is. Mikhail Gorbachev recently wrote in the International Herald Tribune that "Too many Europeans politicians do not want a level playing field with Russia".
It cannot be a question of Western Europe or Eastern Europe. It can only be question of one Europe. Europe must be a home for all Europeans - East as West.
This too will be good for Europe and its citizens.
And thirdly – as many hoped that the end of the Cold War would lead to final liberation from ideologies and conflict we have seen new conflicts based on identity and religion.
In recent years street riots have been unfolding, cars burning and ethnic groups clashing. To a large extent this is the result of people not identifying with their society.
One of the great challenges for the EU is that its political successes never have translated into real popular appeal.
People simply don't fall in love with framework programmes, or distant institutions. Or to quote the comedian Groucho Marx: "Marriage is a wonderful institution, but who wants to live in an institution".
This is why I believe that the future of Europe will depend on our ability to appeal, to engage and to share our vision for Europe.
We must understand the urge to belong. But we must never step back from our fundamental values.
We have the opportunity to become greatly enriched by multiculturalism, but it will depend on the understanding and communication of our shared values – and identity. A common identity based on democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
This European identity does not come at the expense of our national or individual identity. To the contrary, it reinforces it, and helps us develop a larger European community.
This is good for Europe and its citizens.
I believe international politics has come to an important crossroad. Lessons from recent confrontations are learned across the Atlantic. The challenge of climate change are increasingly pulling all the great players together. There is a window of opportunity today for a new multilateralism, adapted to the challenges of the 21st Century
It has become time for forceful persuasion, instead of persuasive force.
That is why the Lisbon Treaty is important.
That is why we must develop a true partnership with Russia.
And that is why we must renew the social cohesion of our societies.
The Council of Europe must play its part in all of this. And it is from here that the debate on the future of our organisation should start.
There is no need to reinvent the Council of Europe or its mission. Our task – to defend and extend the humanist and democratic foundations of the European societies and build unity, was written into our statute sixty years ago.
But to be able to follow the words of John F. Kennedy that as "our problems are made by man, they can be solved by man", we must make sure that we are as relevant to the citizens of Europe, as we are to the real owners of this organisation – our 47 governments. To solve the problems of our time.
Therefore we must adapt our structures, our approaches and working methods to the constantly changing world in order to be able to carry out our mandate effectively.
We must simply become a more coherent, flexible and adaptable Organisation which deals with the new realities in the world.
And this we can only do together.
I have been elected with a strong mandate to reinforce the political role, the visibility and the influence of the Council of Europe on the European and international scene.
The political role and the visibility of the Council of Europe are indispensable to the effectiveness of our standard-setting, monitoring and assistance work.
We are the guardians of an arsenal of legally-binding international rules, but our role cannot be reduced to the caretaking of conventions and their mechanisms.
I will seek to raise the political profile and visibility of our organisation on the European and international scene – co-operating closely with our European and international partners, and especially with the European Union and the OSCE.
I will work to build our relationship on the basis of genuine partnership, based on common interests, compatibilities, comparative advantages, rational division of responsibilities, equality and mutual respect.
This year we have celebrated the great achievements of the Council of Europe. In promoting and protecting democracy, in defending human rights and in building the rule of law in Europe.
We have all reasons to be proud of what has been achieved.
But let us not look at the future in the rear view window. Our task is far from completed. We must continue to reflect and adapt to the changes our societies are undergoing and we must retain our ability to ensure that democracy, human rights, justice and solidarity are respected – everywhere and every time.
We are the depositaries of the great vision of the great persons who created the Council of Europe 60 years ago. With that come responsibilities for the sake of 800 million people, the generations of today and those yet unborn. Those who aspire to live in a peaceful society respectful of the rights of each and every fellow person.
Obama spoke in Berlin about remaking the world. I think we should speak here in Vienna about continuing to make Europe. That is our task today.
Thank you for your attention.
22 December 2017
Letter to the President of Romania, Klaus Iohannis