SEECP Ministerial Conference on Justice and Home Affairs
It is a pleasure to be back in Bucharest and I am grateful for the invitation to address you today. The topic goes directly to the core mandate of the Council of Europe.
I would like to congratulate our Romanian host on their Chairmanship of the South-East European Co-operation Process (SEECP).
We have learned in recent months that upholding the rule of law, human rights is essential.
A few weeks ago, I released the first report on the State of Democracy, Human Rights and the Rule of Law in Europe.
The number and magnitude of challenges identified in the report are quite worrying and are present in all European States.
Let me concentrate on two of them, which figure high on the list and which are also on your agenda today: corruption and the trafficking of human beings. I will also briefly touch upon cybercrime which is a major transversal threat to our continent.
Corruption is by no means unique to countries in this region. It is a European problem. And a very serious one.
According to the 2014 Eurobarometer survey, 76% of Europeans think that corruption is widespread and 56% think that the level of corruption in their country has increased over the past three years.
The Commission’s first European Union Anti-Corruption Report, released in February 2014, indicates that one in twelve Europeans has experienced or witnessed corruption in the last twelve months, and they estimate the cost to European Union member States to no less than 120 billion €.
Last week, the International Monetary Fund reminded us that corruption is also hampering economic growth in the SEECP member states.
Last month, at the SEECP Regional Anti-Corruption Conference here in Bucharest, Minister Corlăţean pointed out that the fight against corruption is part of the effort to internalize European values.
It is about cementing values such as integrity, fairness and transparency within our societies.
It is precisely for this reason that the prevention and control of corruption, including the question of political finances, remains a priority of the Council of Europe and of its Group of States against Corruption, GRECO.
I call on all countries of this region to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the Council of Europe’s tools and mechanisms to prevent corruption from undermining our societies and fundamental values, which means fully translating into law and practice the anti-corruption standards set by the Council of Europe and to make full use of our capacity-building programmes under GRECO.
Let me move on now to trafficking of human beings, a complex criminal activity and a transnational threat that has no respect for borders and which has clears links to other forms of organised crime.
Figures from the Council of Europe’s Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA), the expert body which monitors the implementation of the Convention, show that the number of trafficking victims identified in only 10 European countries monitored in 2013 was close to 5000. And we have reason to believe that this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Human trafficking sadly also remains a serious problem in South Eastern Europe.
More effort must be made to take account of all forms of trafficking: we cannot sweep this issue under the carpet.
Budgetary and human resources devoted to anti-trafficking should be re-evaluated.
In this vein, civil society should also be involved by governments in strategic partnerships.
Above all however, more needs to be done to address the root causes of human trafficking.
We cannot ignore push-factors such as poverty.
We cannot ignore unemployment.
We cannot ignore discrimination and gender inequality.
It is therefore important to also mainstream anti-trafficking action into anti-discrimination and education policies.
GRETA’s evaluation reports reveal the need for additional assistance and protection adapted to the needs of vulnerable groups.
This includes children.
I am encouraged to see that GRETA has noted a number of good practices relating to social and ethnic groups that are in greater danger of being trafficked.
For example, in Serbia, 75 health mediators have been trained in the prevention of trafficking of women and children in the Roma community, a group which has been identified as being particularly vulnerable to human trafficking.
The mediators perform outreach work in Roma neighbourhood, improve access to health care and help families send their children to school.
The GRETA reports have also highlighted a number of “best practices” within this region.
For example, the collaboration in Moldova, Croatia and Serbia between authorities and victim support organisations in the identification of victims of trafficking.
For its part, the Council of Europe is ready to do whatever it takes to support member States in reinforcing their anti-trafficking efforts and implementing GRETA recommendations.
Before I conclude, let me also thank the Romanian authorities who are doing their bit to help countries worldwide to strengthen their criminal justice capacities on cybercrime. This is a major transversal threat to our continent and figures also on your agenda today.
To this effect, the Council of Europe has just established its Cybercrime Programme Office here in Bucharest.
Not only does the Office help countries improve their legislation and strengthen cybercrime units, it also trains law enforcement, prosecutors and judges.
These are early days, but I am sure we will be hearing much more about the Office in the very near future.
The building in which we are today is a powerful reminder to all those who believe in this region’s capacity to change and reform.
Once a symbol of despotism, it is now the hub of Romania’s developing democracy.
It is home to the parliament and constitutional court of a democratic and free Romania that is an important member of the European Union and the Council of Europe.
It is a reminder of how far this country, and this region, has come and how far it can still go if we all work together.
Coming back to what I said at the outset: not upholding the rule of law leads to instability. We can put it the other way around: the rule of law and human rights constitute the basis for a single legal space, which is a precondition for open borders.
22 December 2017
Letter to the President of Romania, Klaus Iohannis