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Speech at the 123rd Session of the Committee of Ministers

Strasbourg , 

 I would like to start by congratulating you, Minister, and your able team for the way you have chaired the Committee of Ministers over the past six months. This was a crucial time for the Council of Europe during which we have brought the reform process forward.

Specific proposals for the future are described in the report that has been distributed. I would like to underline five important messages

The first is about the collective responsibility of the member states. The adherence to the European Convention of Human Rights gives a lot of political credibility and stability, which is also important for economy and investments.

What needs to be given back in return is compliance with the Convention. If one country fails to comply with its obligations, the entire system is undermined. This is a collective responsibility - one for all and all for one.

Second, European Convention on Human Rights is not only a document, but a key part of a system consisting of other conventions, monitoring bodies, assistance programs and of course the European Court of Human Rights. There is a very strong inter-relationship between all the component parts.

For instance, the growing number of cases before the European Court of Human Rights is not coming from heaven, but from member states. I congratulate the Court for the reforms, it has implemented to increase effectiveness and productivity, but this will not help if applications from member states continue to grow.

This is why monitoring is so important. It is crucial to identify the shortcomings and the needs for assistance to remedy them. This is what the reform launched in January 2010 was all about– to use our resources in a better way, with a more focused programme and budget, with more work being done in our member states, in partnership with other European institutions especially the EU. We must do much more together and on the ground. This is why we had this winter a discussion on how to improve the functioning of our monitoring mechanisms and how to improve the work on their findings. This is what the reform process is all about and we are entering its crucial stage.

My third message is that Europe is in crisis, an economic one but also a crisis of institutions.  The Council of Europe has no means to solve the economic crisis but we are witnessing worrying trends like corruption, extremism hate speech social exclusion, which are all contributing to the deepening of the crisis and undermining the trust in institutions, both at national and European level.

How can the Council of Europe help to restore that trust? We must focus on securing well functioning judiciary, on protecting freedom of expression, especially media, and protecting the civil society that is a source of inspiration and renewal in any society.  This brings us back to the core issues of the Council of Europe - how to build and uphold the system of checks and balances and independent institutions– which is the only way to restore trust.

So; we must put our act together, be more assertive on obligations, more effective on identifying shortcomings in our member states and be more assistance oriented to help remedying these shortcomings.

Fourthly, we must also prepare ourselves for carrying out our responsibilities after the EU accession to the European Convention on Human Rights. This will bring together all European states and the EU under the same standards and the same court. We must ensure we will be the effective guardian of the pan European system for the protection of human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

My last message is that we must pay the highest regard to the specific added value of the Council of Europe; namely its pan-European scope, the legally binding character of its obligations and the non-political character of the monitoring of the member states' compliance. 

My proposals on how to improve the functioning of our monitoring mechanisms and reinforce the follow up to their findings are in the document presented to you. I hope you will support it so I can carry out the reform until the end of my mandate and prepare the ground for the future.

I will conclude by reiterating the key message; we must revive the spirit of collective responsibility for the European Convention on Human Rights that we are the guardians of.