Conference “Council of Europe – European Union facing the challenges of the contemporary world"

Warsaw , 

Speech by Mr Thorbjørn Jagland,
Secretary General of the Council of Europe
Conference "Council of Europe – European Union facing the challenges of the contemporary world'

Warsaw, 15 September 2011

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There are images in one's life which one will never forget. Some are tragic like the shooting of President Kennedy in Dallas or when the terrorists flew the hijacked planes into the World Trade Center.

But other images portray hope. We have all seen images of when Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon and we all remember when Lech Wałęsa in August 1980 stood on top of a van in front of the gates at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdańsk to address the striking shipyard workers.

At that very moment, I personally felt like I had witnessed the birth of Polish democracy, and I remember thinking that democracy could actually reach Eastern Europe.

Democracy came to Poland and in turn Poland played a key role in bringing democracy to the rest of Eastern Europe.

Distinguished colleagues, dear friends,

Twenty years ago Poland became the 25th member state of the Council of Europe. Today these celebrations coincide with Poland's Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

Over the past twenty years Poland has significantly changed. Europe, the European Union and the Council of Europe have also changed.

From a country left traumatised by years of bitter historical experiences, Poland has emerged as a model of successful transformation and as one of the leaders of European co-operation.

Europe is going through a difficult period. Financial crises are putting a strain on the European integration project. Societies are struggling to deal with internal tensions. Globalisation and mass migration are provoking fears of a marginalisation of Europe in world affairs.

Against this background, I still look to the future of Europe with optimism.

In seeking solutions to the current crisis, responses must be sought from the very organisations which we blame the crisis on.

Greater synergy is needed among European organisations so that they can play an important role in upholding the ideals of integration, co-operation and common values.

The Council of Europe and the European Union are often referred to as "sister organisations". The European Union represents the political and economic powerhouse of Europe, but the process of ensuring stability and security throughout the entire geographical scope of Europe goes beyond the realm of the European Union and the OSCE.

It is much deeper than simply managing the relations between the European Union and non-European Union members.

The Council of Europe has for over 60 years provided a platform for political dialogue between all states — European Union and non-European Union, large and small, rich and poor, old and new democracies — and brought unique results to the table.

Of these achievements we count first and foremost the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights as its guardian. Key conventions which are all legally-binding to the contracting parties have been established.

From the outset, the founding fathers of the Council of Europe wanted to serve both the membership governments and their citizens, sometimes providing an open challenge to the governments.

Today this particularity remains a groundbreaking achievement in world politics, and in our understanding and interpretation of fundamental and universal human rights.

The Council of Europe is the embodiment of the lessons learnt in Europe - that you cannot build trust on the continent relying merely on geopolitics and realpolitik.

States cannot be trusted solely on the basis of how they behave towards each other. These states have to be judged on the basis of how they treat their citizens.

The Council of Europe has developed its credibility through the promotion and the defence of human rights, democracy and the rule of law which provide the foundations of its strategic mission.

Today, the political strength of the Council of Europe is that it brings together, on an equal footing, the countries of the European Union, Russia, Turkey and others.

It has unique competence in the fields of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. We cannot permit a two-speed Europe in these areas.

The Council of Europe has recently undergone a deep reform. We had reached a point where our activities were spread too thinly, where we had lost sight of our most important responsibilities and our administration had become too rigid.

Through this important reform process, the organisation we have today is ready to take the main lessons learnt from the past 60 years into the future with the understanding:

That the sustainability of progress in Europe can only be based on upholding the universal values of human civilisation – the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

I would like to make it clear that the key to the effective fulfilment of our mission is a symbiotic relationship with the European Union.

As Secretary General, I made it my priority to immediately foster a new quality in our relationship with the European Union. Our mission cannot be a question of rivalry. It can only be a question of bringing our expertise and resources together for the benefit of 800 million Europeans.

No one should forget that the European Union is the Council of Europe's most important partner for co-operation activities.

Joint programmes represent the largest source of funding to sustain our technical assistance and co-operation projects in support of democratic reforms in the countries of South-Eastern and Eastern Europe, the South Caucasus and Turkey.

To this end, we have increased regular political dialogue and co-ordination on top-level policy, and we have reinforced the Council of Europe Liaison Office in Brussels. The European Union has strengthened its delegation to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg.

The results have been immediate: We play a stronger role in EU External Policies, within the context of the European Union enlargement.

The Council of Europe has become an important partner to the European Union in the neighbouring regions, including the Southern Mediterranean, the Middle East and Central Asia. A Joint action and South "Facility" to cover Morocco, Tunisia and possibly Egypt is currently being discussed with the European Union.

However, looking to the horizon, the key priority is of course to secure the accession of the European Union to the European Convention on Human Rights.

Mandated by the Lisbon Treaty, the accession negotiations are about to reach a successful conclusion.

Having the European Union as the 48th party to the Convention will bring a historic dimension. Europe will become a single area of legally-binding commitments and rights. The European Union community legislation can be tested at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

It will be the first time that a global power such as the European Union has voluntarily chosen to submit itself to a superior court. Great powers always want to have freedom of action.

The European Union will be on an equal footing with the other 47 member states of the Council of Europe, committing each and every one of them to the principles of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.

Dear friends,

Yes, I am a strong believer in Europe. In the past that European nationalism led to destruction and mass suffering. European institutionalism has been our saviour. Europe has moved from conflict and war to solidarity and peace.

We have done so because of the values we believe in. Values which have underpinned our societies so that individual human being are considered as equals regardless of their differences.

Europe no longer absorbs the world with its problems. Neither does it absorb the world with its ambitions. Our political path and role to play in the world today is different from what it once was.

Some columnists diagnose Europe as afflicted with a mid-life crisis. But they overlook the fact that after the mid-life crisis comes the time when most people feel the greatest satisfaction with life.

However, our satisfaction with life must not make us passive. Strong political and institutional leaders are more in demand than ever.

As an old Polish saying goes: "for our freedom - and yours." That is what Europe, the European Union and the Council of Europe is all about. Thank you.