Secretary General of the Council of Europe
Speech at the Royal Institute of International Affairs
London, 7 June 2011
The Council of Europe - addressing new challenges
to democratic societies
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Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman (Robin Niblett).
It is a pleasure to be introduced by such an experienced chair with a reputation both at the LSE and here at Chatham House. And let me thank the Royal Institute of International Affairs through its Director, Robin Niblett, for the honour of inviting me to address you today. I am also very grateful to Professor Timothy Garton Ash - one of the authors of the report we going to discuss - for his dedication to the project and his readiness to present its findings here today.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Allow me by way of an introduction to set out the context of the organisation which I represent today.
Many of you may know the Council of Europe. But some of you may not. And it is not only in the UK that media often confuses our organisation with the EU.
What does the Council of Europe stand for - and where does it stand in relation to the European Union today?
Inspired by Winston Churchill, and founded in 1949, the Council of Europe was the first European institution and its working methods have remained firmly intergovernmental until the present day. Although it shares the same flag with the institutions in Brussels, the Council of Europe is really a very different kind of animal.
Through our legally-binding conventions, we promote the fundamental principles and values of European integration; human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
Of course, being a value-based organisation does not mean, or imply, that all our 47 member States attain the same levels in all areas of policy.
But it does mean that our member countries - which include Russia and Turkey - agree on common standards in specific areas. And they are all subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights.
The European Union has built on these fundamental values to pursue further political and economic integration. It is worth recalling that membership of the Council of Europe was a precondition to EU membership in the context of EU enlargement.
Today, an increasingly important partnership with the EU is about to reach a new level, with the currently negotiated EU accession to the European Convention on Human Rights.
It is perhaps a little-known fact outside expert circles, that the European Union itself will soon be subject to the jurisdiction of the Court in Strasbourg. When this happens, the Council of Europe will bring together – under the same system of legally-binding standards and under the same court – all major powers in Europe and the European Union.
The benefits of a single, Europe-wide human rights system are evident. A recent article in the Economist suggested that EU accession to the intergovernmental human rights convention of the Council of Europe may in practice work out as a positive system of "checks and balances". I find this an attractive proposition. And I know that many observers in the UK share this view.
Like the EU, the Council of Europe has over the years developed activities in a very wide range of areas.
It is clear that if we want to be effective as an intergovernmental organisation we need to refocus our work on issues where we can provide a real added value. In particular, the Council of Europe must develop the capacity to address the new and emerging challenges confronting democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
Our conventions in the fields of combating terrorism, cybercrime, human trafficking, and safeguarding data protection are examples of how the Council of Europe is already dealing with some of these important cross-border challenges. These conventions are open to non-member countries and in many cases also provide the basis for legislation at the EU level. What distinguishes them from most other international instruments is that they combine mechanisms for robust cross-border law enforcement cooperation with human rights safeguards.
Another strand of our work concentrates on protecting the rights of minorities, including Roma, children's rights and child protection. At the meeting of the Committee of Ministers in Istanbul, 13 countries signed a new convention to prevent and combat violence against women and domestic violence.
I also want the Council of Europe to become more active in upholding media freedom and freedom of expression which lies at the heart of our common European values. It is in this context that I have agreed with Prime Minister Erdogan to send a Council of Europe envoy to Turkey to assess the situation of media freedom there.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Despite the advances in integration promoted through organisations such as the Council of Europe and the European Union, there is no doubt we are currently witnessing a trend of re-nationalisation in Europe.
Moreover, there are signs that the old consensus of open societies co-operating for the sake of mutual prosperity and stability, may break apart. This is reflected in recent discussions about the future of Europe's open, multicultural societies.
In recent months political leaders, including Prime Minister Cameron, Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy, have said that - more or less explicitly - that multiculturalism has failed. Does this mean that these leaders are against cultural diversity? Surely not. And certainly not in the UK. Indeed, the UK has on the Continent often been regarded as a model of a culturally diverse society.
But there is nevertheless a growing feeling – reflected in the statements of Cameron, Merkel and Sarkozy – that something has gone wrong; a realisation that traditional policies have not worked.
Instead, people are living next to each other in our societies, but not living together. As a result, we are seeing the emergence of so-called parallel societies, leading in their most extreme form to home-grown terrorism.
At the same time, we are witnessing increased discrimination in Europe. Minorities like Roma, as well as Muslims, are being marginalised and stigmatised. Anti-Semitism is also on the rise in several countries. Even before the current refugee crisis, xenophobic parties have been gaining popularity in many European countries. A recent article in the Italian Corrière della Sera, counted 17 anti-immigration and anti-European parties who have increased their representation in national parliaments.
As a result of extremism – in all camps – our societies are becoming ever more polarised. If this trend continues, it will soon present a very real and concrete danger to stability and security in Europe.
This is why, last year, I asked a group of nine distinguished experts, academics and former politicians to identify the threats to open societies and put forward recommendations of how we can truly live together.
The resulting report was presented for the first time at the Council of Europe's Ministerial meeting in Istanbul on 11 May. The report's main message is that if Europe wants to remain a region of peace and relative prosperity we have no other choice than to embrace diversity, and to embrace it fully.
But this will only work if we acknowledge what unites us as citizens of free democracies: that we are equal before the law, respect human rights and share certain rights and obligations in our societies.
I think the report has drawn up some very useful guiding principles and recommendations in this respect. The report will now be discussed in our member States and presented to different audiences in European capitols. Today is the second such event.
By the end of the year, I expect member States to agree on a concrete political follow-up.
It is now my pleasure to give the floor to Timothy Garton Ash who will give you his perspective on the conclusions and recommendations of the report.
Thank you for your attention.