121st Committee of Ministers Session

Istanbul , 

Speaking Notes by
Mr Thorbjørn Jagland
Secretary General of the Council of Europe

121st Committee of Ministers Session
(Istanbul, Turkey – 11 May 2011)

I would like to start by thanking the Turkish Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers for their many important initiatives and active work, and in particular Minister Davutoğlu. You have indeed helped make this Organisation more relevant and more political, which is the clear goal of the reform.

I was elected as Secretary General with a clear mandate to reform the Council of Europe.

The starting point for me was the three unique assets that makes our role in Europe indispensable.

First of all, the Council of Europe's defence of human rights is free from any economic, military and geostrategic considerations.

Secondly, the Council of Europe is the only genuinely convention-based pan-European organisation.

Thirdly, the Council of Europe is the only institution that has the mandate and the tools to monitor the compliance with the standards and values enshrined in the European Convention on Human rights.

The European Court of Human Rights is the ultimate guarantor of the whole system.

I do not under-estimate the role of the EU and the OSCE. On the contrary, an important part of the reform has been to establish closer relations with them based on complementarity.

But the Council of Europe reaches out to countries outside the European Union.

And the OSCE is not convention-based and its membership goes beyond Europe.

Only the Council of Europe is able to monitor that the countries on the entire continent uphold the obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights.

These assets have helped to build a Europe of unparalleled peace and prosperity. But the times have changed, and now we need to modernise the Council of Europe and make it relevant for the challenges of the 21st century.

There are six integral parts of the reform:

First, to streamline the use of resources to strengthen the programmes and institutions that make us relevant.

In that respect, I believe that the Council of Europe is now entering its Third historic phase. The First was about construction.

The Second, started after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and was about enlargement.

Now we have entered the Third phase. It must be about implementation of standards.

We must strengthen and co-ordinate our monitoring system and devote more resources to assistance programmes to help member states comply with their obligations.

Our goal should be a system of rule of law – based on human rights and democracy – in all member states within this decade.

Second, reform of the European Court of Human Rights is a cornerstone in the overall reform strategy.

We must never forget that the whole convention system will fall apart if the Court is not able to do its job.

At the same time the European Court of Human Rights is dependant on the Council of Europe's monitoring and assistance programmes, as the number of applications to the Court can only be effectively reduced through better remedies at national level.

Third, EU-accession to the European Convention of Human Rights is also an integral part of the reform.

EU-accession will safeguard the cohesion of the entire convention system. If we fail to achieve this, new dividing lines will develop in Europe.

The European Union is our most important partner and this is why a closer relationship – at political level – has been and will continue to be one of my top priorities.

Fourth, the reform is making the Council of Europe more action-oriented:

- what we are doing for the Roma people is a concrete example;

- we are using our expertise to help Moldova overcome the constitutional crises;

- as regards Georgia, we are conducting concrete actions to improve the human rights situation and build confidence between people living in the areas affected by the conflict.

Fifth, we have started a process of developing principles and standards which should help our member states to reinforce cohesion in societies characterised by growing cultural and religious diversities. The important Report of the Group of Eminent Persons is only a starting point for this process.

Sixth, we have established a more coherent policy for reaching out to our neighbours, in the South Mediterranean, North Africa, Middle East and Central Asia.

In doing so we will also help ourselves. Action against new or re-emerging threats such as terrorism, human trafficking, money laundering, cybercrime and corruption – which are all a priority of the reform - can only be fully effective if we involve our neighbourhood. And work in close co-operation with other international organisations and the civil society.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Everything we do is about what is stated in our Statute - to build greater unity in Europe.

That is why we have to strengthen the whole convention system by:

- using our resources in a more targeted way;
- reforming the Court;
- improving the monitoring system;
- securing EU accession to the Convention.

And we need to broaden our geographical scope and reach out to our neighbours with action based on universal values. When the Berlin Wall came down, our perception of Europe changed. We witnessed the rebirth of Europe. When people are going to the streets in the South Mediterranean countries for the same universal values that we enjoy, Europe is facing another historic opportunity.

This may reduce fear and xenophobic tendencies on our own continent, and we may witness once again a rebirth of our values.

Because then Muslims can prove that Islam and democracy can live together, as much as Christianity and democracy can live together.

Terrorism was never a part of Islam. But the fact that many terrorists claimed that they acted in the name of Islam, has probably caused the greatest damage. Because it has been used by many to create fear and new dividing lines within Europe.

I believe there is a real risk that nationalism will re-emerge as a dominant force in European politics if we do not act. We cannot ignore this risk or pretend it does not exist.

The great European project has been to unite nations.

The standard-setting role of the Council of Europe, the integration force of the European Union and the security mechanisms under OSCE, together have carried this project far.

Now it is time to use these institutions to pay more attention to uniting people.

We must strengthen the values and standards that hold us together. That is why the whole reform is about strengthening our value system.

We have to strengthen our values in Europe and also promote these values in our neighbourhood.