Retour Reception to mark the 60th anniversary of the accession of Switzerland to the Council of Europe

Bern 9 May 2023
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As delivered by Bjørn Berge, Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe


President of the Swiss Confederation,

First Vice President, 

President of the Parliamentary Assembly,

President of the Congress, 

Secretary General of the Parliamentary Assembly, 

President of the Venice Commission, 

Members of Parliament,

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen,

When a country joins the Council of Europe, it is an important moment in their national history.

Its constitutes a historic step forward in safeguarding human rights, democratic standards and the rule of law.

It constitutes the ratification of the European Convention on Human Rights –

An obligation to abide by the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights –

And a commitment to the protection and promotion of the highest standards as regards human rights, democracy, and the rule of law –

At the same time, one is joining an international partnership of equals –

A family of nations seeking cooperation and not confrontation, seeking to safeguard the rights of every individuals.

When Switzerland took that step 60 years ago, there was an added dimension –

The question of neutrality.

Ultimately, this country’s leaders took the view that this would not be compromised.

And they were right.

The Council of Europe’s aim is to ensure peace based on the greater unity of our member states –

Democratic security for all.

And for six decades now, Switzerland has been a resolute partner in that quest.

Implementing the European Convention has certainly played a role in important, positive, and sometimes sensitive decisions –

As it does for all our member states .

On judicial reforms to child protection laws, for instance –

Executing the judgments of the Strasbourg Court has also led to lasting and historic changes in so many areas of a society.

Let me give you just a few concrete examples:

These cases and others have made a material difference to people’s lives –

Not just here in Switzerland –

But throughout the entire continent.

Because judgments issued by the Court, while applicable to one country, may be relevant for all 
46 of our member states –

So that the investment each country puts into our Organisation produces a dividend shared by all.

This also holds true for our broader work –

Over the years, Switzerland has taken a proactive role in developing a diverse range of our tools and treaties –

And ratifying them.

In recent years alone, examples have included everything from the prevention of terrorism –

To stopping the manipulation of sports competitions – with the Macolin Convention –

To combating violence against women and domestic violence.

Throughout, Swiss experts have also played a key role in negotiations of treaties.

And Switzerland’s voluntary financial contributions have helped fund many of our Organisation’s efforts, such as to promote Europe’s shared Cultural Routes –

Some of which run through this country –
The safety of journalists –

Who today face increased violence and intimidation throughout parts of Europe –

And reform within Ukraine –

A member state that we offer every support possible, in facing a completely unacceptable Russian invasion. 

Next week, you Mr President, and the leaders of all our members states will have an opportunity to further extend that support –

When they meet in Reykjavik for the 4th Summit of the Council of Europe’s Heads of State and Government.

Among the pledges they will make is a commitment to ensure accountability for Russia’s ongoing crimes in Ukraine –

Including the creation of a Register of Damage –

As a necessary first step to a comprehensive compensation mechanism.

There will be many other important issues to address as well.

Such as how to stop and reverse the democratic backsliding that we see in many countries across Europe.

How to safeguard the essential role of the Court and the Convention system. 

And, at the same time, how we can move forward and develop new standards to the challenges of today’s Europe –

Not least the rise of Artificial Intelligence and the mounting threat of environmental harm and climate change –

All of which have stark implications for our human rights –

And require a clear recommitment to the values that have underpinned the Council of Europe over seven decades.

For this – and the important work ahead – I know that we can always rely on Switzerland.

On the ongoing contribution of its government within our Committee of Ministers –

On the talent and insights of its experts who participate in our efforts –

And on the outstanding efforts, determination and dedication of Swiss members and rapporteurs within Parliamentary Assembly, as well as in the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities.

Now, at this moment of war and the rise of aggressive nationalism in Europe, our Organisation –

Our dedication to our values and principles, matters even more today, than in the past. 

I believe we will move forward, stronger together, relying on Switzerland as a key partner.

So, I offer both my gratitude for what this country has done and will go on to do –

And my heartfelt congratulations on the 60th anniversary !

Thank you for your attention.