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17 maja 2005
16 maja 2005
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Speech by Bertie Ahern, Prime Minister of Ireland

Warsaw, 17 mai 2005

Mr. Chairman, colleagues,

I wish to congratulate the Polish Government for organising this important Summit. I would like to pay tribute to Foreign Minister Rotfeld for his country’s chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers which has skilfully guided us to this landmark event.

It is fitting that the Third Council of Europe Summit is taking place in Poland. This is a country that has contributed immensely to dismantling Cold War divisions and constructing a new order of liberty and democracy on the European continent.

In honouring the achievement of the Polish people, we also salute the outstanding contribution of the late Pope John Paul II. He was indeed an eloquent advocate of many of the values that lie at the heart of the Council of Europe - the dignity of the individual, tolerance, commitment to peace, justice and freedom and to cross-cultural and inter-religious dialogue.

Poland’s achievement over the past fifteen years is mirrored in the expansion of democracy and the advance of economic prosperity throughout Central and Eastern Europe in that period.

As President of the European Council, I had the honour of acknowledging this expansion on the occasion of enlargement of the European Union on 1 May, 2004. Today’s European Union of 25 Member States might never have come to pass if the Council of Europe had not conceived and sustained the vision of a united Europe based on democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

The core values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law are the defining attributes of the Council of Europe. They remain the touchstone for emerging democracies, as valid today as they were in 1949. The Council of Europe still serves today as an inspiration for countries in transition, especially those in the Western Balkans and the Caucasus.

Ireland values highly the role the Council of Europe plays in supporting these countries’ transition to democracy. We have provided funding for local democracy and human rights programmes managed by the Council of Europe in the Western Balkans and Russia since 2001. We have also committed to contributing one million euro to similar Council of Europe programmes over the next three years.

The enduring significance of the Council of Europe for emerging democracies is clear from its having been the first multilateral port of call for Presidents Yushchenko and Saakashvili following peaceful democratic change in their countries. We remain concerned that the Council’s destiny as a truly pan-European organisation has still to be achieved.

I would encourage Belarus to commit itself whole-heartedly to the standards of the Council of Europe and to join this community of states. Europe would then be truly a continent without divisions where human rights, fundamental freedoms and democratic standards for all are the most highly prized goals.

Mr. Chairman,

The Council of Europe cannot rest on its achievements. It must press ahead with strengthening respect for the standards set by the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. And it must do so while addressing also the many challenges that face a modernising and changing Europe.

I see this Summit and the adoption of the Action Plan and the Political Declaration as the catalyst of a movement to renew and reshape the Council of Europe, so that it can maintain its unique place in the institutional architecture of Europe.

Ireland is committed to enhanced co-operation between the Council of Europe, the OSCE and the EU. A sound foundation for cooperation between the European Commission and the Council of Europe Secretariat has been in place since 2001.

The Memorandum of Understanding which is to be drawn up between the Council of Europe and the European Union will provide a helpful framework for practical co-operation and political dialogue. The EU should recognise and utilise the particular areas of expertise and experience of the Council of Europe. This could be useful, for instance, in regard to the Union’s European Neighbourhood Policy.

The early accession of the European Union to the European Convention on Human Rights is vital, not only for renewed co-operation between the European Union and the Council of Europe but also, and more fundamentally, for safeguarding human rights in Europe.

I welcome this Summit’s endorsement of a Declaration on Co-operation between the Council of Europe and the OSCE. The relationship between these two organisations should be based on complementarity, transparency and democratic accountability. We should avoid unnecessary duplication and both bodies should demonstrate their resolve to work together to confront common threats and challenges.

The work already under way in the Council of Europe-OSCE Co-ordination Group on developing a common response to the threats of terrorism and trafficking in human beings, as well as to the challenge of protecting the rights of national minorities and promoting tolerance and non-discrimination is an excellent model.

The three conventions relating to these issues, which we are endorsing at this Summit, will facilitate a coordinated engagement between the Council of Europe and the OSCE. Most importantly, they lay down a strong marker that these evils within European society are unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

Mr Chairman,

Enhanced co-operation between European institutions and organisations must seek, first and foremost, to protect and promote the comparative advantages of each institution and organisation. The comparative advantage enjoyed by the Council of Europe lies unquestionably in standard setting and monitoring in the areas of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. We must therefore continue and, if possible, enhance our support for the relevant Council of Europe instruments and bodies, whether in relation to racism and intolerance, torture prevention, national minorities, democracy, human rights, or the rule of law. I am happy that a new Forum for the Future of Democracy will emerge as a lasting achievement of this Summit.

The Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and the European Court of Human Rights are the bedrock of human rights protection in Europe. Indeed the Convention is the most robust human rights treaty anywhere.

The Court of Human Rights has become a vital and living instrument for the defence and protection of human rights in Europe. And this is due in no small measure to the remarkable achievement of successive judges and experts who have served the Court.

The reform of the Court is a vital issue and one to which Ireland attaches the very highest priority as we look ahead. An effective and well-functioning Court is essential. We need this to safeguard Europe’s human rights heritage, to ensure the protection of human rights for each one of our citizens and to meet the demands of our changing times. I believe that achieving reform is the number one challenge and primary responsibility facing us as Members of the Council of Europe.

The adoption of Protocol 14, which Ireland has signed and ratified, was undoubtedly a positive step. This protocol aims to streamline and simplify the procedures of the Court and thus improve the processing of cases. Ultimately, it is up to the Member States to ensure that the effects of Protocol 14 are fully realised. I therefore encourage all those who have not yet done so to ratify this vital Protocol without delay, so that it enters into force at the latest by May 2006.

The Court’s work in preparing the ground for the entry into force of Protocol 14 is already yielding some good results in improving efficiency and productivity.

However, even with the entry into force of Protocol 14, the Court and the Strasbourg Human Rights system will still face overwhelming problems. The volume of petitions which the Court must examine has doubled in the last five years. This creates a huge backlog of cases and it continues to rise. The reality is that the European Human Rights Convention system - which is unique - has become the victim of its own openness and success.

My message to all around this table is that Protocol 14 will at best solve only part of the problem. We must begin without delay to think hard about long term reform. Our aim must be to secure the effectiveness of the Court on a permanent basis and to give it the guarantee of stability. A group of wise persons is to be established under the Action Plan to look at the long-term effectiveness of the Court. Ireland believes that this work should proceed on the basis of a number of important principles:

• Firstly, the panel’s deliberations must neither provide a pretext for the non-ratification of Protocol 14, nor detract attention from the priority of providing the Court with the necessary financial, human and administrative resources to meet its short-term requirements. This is all the more imperative in the light of recent audit reports;

• the Court should be encouraged to continue to review its own internal processes, so that urgent reforms which are not treaty-based are implemented immediately;

• the group of wise persons should begin work without delay and without waiting for the entry into force of Protocol 14. A most constructive proposal was made en marge yesterday, which deserves full consideration;

• the reflective process can be wide-ranging and take into account the likely impact of Protocol 14, so that we can move quickly to correct any deficiencies that may emerge; and

• finally, and most importantly, the group of wise persons should be independent and eminent in the field of law and justice. They should not shy away from ‘radical thinking’ about the future of the Convention system in the 21st century. It is essential that our citizens should have the reassurance and protection of this unparalleled European achievement.

The ultimate responsibility for long-term effectiveness of the Court lies squarely at the feet of the Member States. Whatever the eminent persons recommend, difficult choices and hard decisions will have to be made. If we are all agreed that the over-riding objective is the strengthening and protection of human rights for all our citizens, then a lasting solution will be found. There can be no other outcome if the future of the Council of Europe itself is to be assured.

To conclude, Mr Chairman, my vision for the future of this organisation is of a Council of Europe that works to its strengths, drawing on its unique and indispensable achievements to date.
A Council that focuses on its core business – democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

A Council that draws on its comparative advantage when working with other key institutions and organisations in furthering a Europe based on common values.

A Council that faces the challenges of an ever-changing Europe with determination, without complacency and in a spirit of co-operation and mutual understanding. Most importantly, a Council that has as its core an effective and thriving system for the protection of human rights.

I believe that the implementation of the Action Plan we are adopting today can lead to a Council of Europe consistent with this vision. We need to ensure that the Council of Europe has a secure place in the institutional architecture of Europe, and will cement the fundamental values of human rights, democracy, respect and tolerance into every aspect of European society.

Thank you.