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17 maja 2005
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Address by Terry Davis, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe

“Role of the Council of Europe in the construction of a democratic Europe”

Europe of Citizens: the political architecture of Europe and the citizen’s influence on its shape

Warsaw, 14 May 2005

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Poland’s active participation on the European scene did not begin with its accession to the European Union a year ago. When it joined the Council of Europe in November 1991, Poland became a member of the family of States working together towards European unity based on the principles of respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

This week the heart of Europe is beating in Warsaw. A city which was rebuilt from the wreckage of the war is becoming, for a few days, the symbol of the Europe of citizens.

The impressive number of civil society events which surround the Third Summit of Heads of State and Government of the 46 Council of Europe member States, and your presence here today, confirm that Europe is not a playground for politicians but an endeavour which draws its creative energy from the civil society. Citizens of all ages and walks of life participate in these events, giving a clear sign that the Council of Europe’s project for pan-European unity is fundamentally about people and their commitment to build a common future. The Council of Europe has been working to build this common future since its creation in 1949.

A year later, on 9 May 1950, it was Robert Schuman who said “Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity”.

So what are the concrete achievements of the Council of Europe?

First and foremost, the Council of Europe has become the watchdog of human rights and fundamental freedoms. It is the Council of Europe which provides the unique mechanism for the protection of human rights – the European Convention on Human Rights enforced by the European Court of Human Rights. Indeed, to many Europeans, the Council of Europe is little more than the European Court of Human Rights. But although it is impossible to exaggerate the importance of the Court, the mandate and endeavours of the Council of Europe throughout its 56-year existence testify to a much broader agenda and contribution. The Council of Europe has developed, throughout the years, considerable expertise in a wide range of fields, such as the protection of national minorities, social cohesion, democratic stability and the development of a European cultural identity, to mention just a few.

It was the Council of Europe which conceived and developed the notion of a European cultural identity, enshrined in the European Cultural Convention whose 50th anniversary we are currently celebrating.

Already in the middle of the 1980s, convinced that unity in diversity was the basis of Europe's heritage, the Council of Europe recognised that the common cultural tradition of all countries in Europe gave them the potential to join the “club of democracies”. It stretched out a welcoming hand to countries in Central and Eastern Europe and helped them to establish political systems guaranteeing respect for human rights and the rule of law. It is not a mere coincidence that in 1985 the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe adopted a Declaration on Cultural identity which laid the foundation of pan-European unity based on shared values. A few years later, accession to the European Cultural Convention became the first step towards the integration of emerging democracies in Central and Eastern Europe with European structures.

During this period of 56 years, the Council of Europe has developed pan-European standards and policies in a broad range of areas including emerging fields such as cybercrime, bioethics and e-voting; and it has monitored and assisted democratic development and good governance. And this work has not come to an end. The latest examples of the Council of Europe’s pioneering work concern the protection of victims of human trafficking and action to deal with public provocation to commit acts of terrorism and the recruitment and training of terrorists. The negotiation of these Conventions has been complex because it is never easy to strike a balance between the legitimate concerns with security and the protection of human rights. But the acceptance of these three new Conventions by all 46 Council of Europe member States demonstrates that it is possible to achieve this balance.

I will not attempt to make a complete presentation of the Council of Europe. In fact, it is impossible to present it in a nutshell – trying to do so would do no justice to the ambition of its mandate and the complexity of its structures.

Of course, several other organisations and institutions share the European scene. The Council of Europe, the European Union and the OSCE all have broad mandates; they are naturally eager to react and adapt to the developments of the modern world and therefore keen to continuously enlarge their competence. The shape of their future relationship is therefore one of the key issues to be addressed by the Council of Europe Summit during the next few days.

In my view, the diversity of platforms for European political dialogue and co-operation is not in itself a problem. With the European Union, the Council of Europe shares the European symbols and the values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. In fact, the Copenhagen criteria for EU membership are based on Council of Europe standards in these fields.

As for the OSCE, this organisation and the Council of Europe are both working in areas such as democratic elections and human trafficking, and they are increasingly working together.

Apart from the obvious differences of membership, working methods and instruments, the diversity of European organisations and institutions encourages the pluralism of ideas and approaches.

However, I am far from the “let a thousand flowers bloom” approach – not only because of its dogmatic connotation, but because there are very clear limits to the resources which our societies can devote to the European political infrastructure. At the same time I do believe that the European architecture cannot be effective if it is monolithic – the complex problems of our time require flexibility and a variety of platforms for co-operation.

I also believe that Europe’s political architecture should not be an ivory tower for a political elite. It should not be a fortress for a chosen few but a forum open to all players - governments, elected representatives and civil society alike.

The Council of Europe has been faithful to this principle: it provides a platform for political dialogue for governments, members of national parliaments, local and regional elected representatives and to this list must be added the representatives of civil society. Throughout the decades, the Council of Europe has consolidated its parliamentary dimension and strengthened its commitment to local democracy. But it has also intensified its relations with NGOs, conscious that civil society organisations are an indispensable element of the fabric of democratic societies, a guarantee for a vibrant democratic culture.

Nearly 400 international non-governmental organisations have been granted participatory status with the Council of Europe. This status, unique among international organisations, is much more than a label. It is the basis for true partnership. Indeed, NGOs have become indispensable partners in many Council of Europe activities. The fact that the President of the NGO Liaison Committee, as well as the President of the European Youth Forum which is a pan-European platform for youth NGOs, will for the first time take the floor at a Council of Europe Summit is a telling illustration of the Council of Europe’s deepening engagement with civil society.

Europe needs an architecture which helps to overcome the divisions which still persist on our continent, but this architecture should also enable Europe to engage in a political dialogue with other parts of the world, establish close relations of confidence with its neighbours and position itself clearly as a continent committed to building a peaceful and sustainable future for an increasingly interdependent world.

If I put great emphasis on partnership, it is not because I am an idealist. It is because I am a realist looking at the world as it really is. The fact is that today’s international organisations and institutions operate in a complex web of relationships and partnerships with countless local, national and international bodies established by public authorities and civil society. It follows that partnerships are a key feature of European and world architecture, and the Council of Europe could not accomplish its mission without its many partners.

In the same way as culture was the basis for the Council of Europe’s opening to Central and Eastern Europe in the 1980s, I believe that partnership will the especially important in the future as we develop intercultural and inter-religious dialogue with our neighbours in Africa and the Middle East. By definition, dialogue involves partnership. Otherwise, it is not dialogue. It is monologue. And the days when people in Africa and the Middle East would listen to a monologue from Europe are long gone.

The success of this dialogue between Europe and other regions and continents will also require active partnerships with other global and regional organisations such as UNESCO, the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (ISESCO) or the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organisation (ALECSO).

Other Council of Europe flagship projects such as the European Year on Citizenship through Education or the forthcoming youth campaign on diversity and participation inspired by the 1995 campaign “All different – all equal”, designed to tackle the scourge of racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and all other forms of intolerance, will also require partnerships with fellow international organisations as well as with civil society - as will the proposed Forum on the Future of Democracy which will, we hope, become an international platform for the exchange of experience and a means for modernising democratic practice and broadening and deepening democracy in all our member States.

Over the last 15 years, the Council of Europe has repeatedly demonstrated its capacity to meet the challenges of a rapidly changing geopolitical environment and to respond to them in a timely and effective way. The democratic transformation of central and eastern Europe not only led to a spectacular increase in membership of the Council of Europe which grew from 21 to 46 member States in only fifteen years, but also helped the Council of Europe to evolve from the rule-maker of Europe and the guardian of a pan-European legal and human rights space of nearly 200 international treaties into an organisation capable of promoting development and change through direct interaction with institutions and organisations in member States and other institutions and organisations in Europe.

To convey Europe’s humanistic legacy and shared values to everyone in Europe and beyond, to develop collective responses to the challenges of a new century, to enable everyone in Europe to live in security, freedom and dignity on the basis of equality and mutual respect: such is the mandate which I want the Warsaw Summit to give to the Council of Europe for the coming years. If we are given this mandate, we will not fail.