To be checked against delivered speech
Speech by Jan Peter Balkenende, Prime Minister of the Netherlands
Warsaw, 17 may 2005
This month Europe celebrated the end of the Second World War. Each country has its own ceremonies, its own traditions and its own monuments. The forms may be different. But the underlying meaning of every commemoration unites us. We share the living memory of the horrors of that time. And the conviction that we must join forces to preserve and protect peace and justice.
Europe is a continent of many peoples, historical events, cultures and religions. But what we have in common is the belief that some values are fundamental and universal. Peaceful diversity prospers only when it is firmly anchored in respect for human dignity, democracy and the law. That is the lesson one brutal chapter of our history has taught us.
The Council of Europe has been the guardian of our common values for fifty-six years. It plays a crucial role in the interaction between European countries. It links forty-six countries and eight hundred million people.
It is an organisation of values. And of standards. Standards enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights and almost two hundred other binding European conventions.
These conventions help to ensure that, in Europe, right, not might, has the final say.
Of course, Europe is not a utopia which has eliminated all injustice and violence. Still, step by step, we have succeeded in making our continent freer, more peaceful and more humane. And on the basis of the standards we share, we can openly criticise one another when we feel injustice.
The process has been taking place for more than fifty years and it must continue.
Achievements can easily be taken for granted. We tend to think of values as possessions we can always count on. But values are never really secure. They require constant attention. And they are a constant call to action.
Today, our values call on us to take a strong position against terrorism and trafficking in human beings challenges to our shared principles of human dignity and justice.
And to stand up against discrimination and xenophobia. Shutting out groups – excluding certain people is the first step towards a society ruled by fear. This is why discrimination cannot be tolerated. And why we must not only demand strict enforcement of the law but also promote dialogue and awareness.
This is a job for which we need parents, educators and civil society. In my country, volunteers who survived the horrors of the Second World War go with groups of young people from immigrant families to visit the Westerbork transit camp. They speak about their experiences. They answer questions. They show how great the danger of racism and discrimination is.
This teaches young people that Europe is a living mosaic of peoples and groups.
Europe has room for every belief, religion and culture. Attempts to put a fence around European identity would weaken Europe. Such a defensive attitude would not make it stronger, on the contrary, Europe’s strength has always been the free exchange of ideas. As the Polish poet Adam Zagajewski phrased it: “Europe invites criticism as a hallmark of our continent”.
Wherever dialogue takes root, misunderstanding and suspicion lose ground. And it is dialogue that the Council of Europe has fostered in every possible way. For the last fifteen years this dialogue has helped do away with historical dividing lines in Europe.
One important theme today is the relationship between the Council of Europe and the European Union.
We must never forget that the European Union owes a great deal to the Council of Europe. Many of the values and standards on which the Union is based were identified by the Council and have been enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights and other conventions.
The Council of Europe was and is a frontrunner in upholding European values. The European Union should remember this.
In 1993, at the first Council of Europe Summit, European Commissioner Hans van den Broek said that the Union should become a party to the European Convention on Human Rights. Ratification of the European Constitution by all twenty-five member states will open the door to doing so. I hope we reach that point soon.
Once this issue has been settled, the EU and its member states will have to work on their everyday, practical relationship with the Council of Europe. All twenty-five member states of the Union share a dual responsibility: they are both members of the Council and the Union. Along with twenty-one other countries, we share a common European house, as Mikhail Gorbachev so rightly observed in Strasbourg in 1989.
What is the best way for the Union and the Council to strengthen one another? Overlapping responsibilities do not produce better results. This is why – as we state in today’s Declaration – we must better coordinate our instruments and our activities. The Union must make much better use of the Council’s potential.
In that connection, Mr Chairman, I fullheartedly support the proposal made this morning to ask the President of the European Union to report to us in his personal capacity on his reflections on this very important relationship between the European Union and the Council of Europe.
Cooperation, not competition, is the way to meet the challenges we face.
The strength of the Council of Europe is its great legal experience and expertise.
I have in mind the expertise of the Secretariat and specialised entities like the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities and the Committee on the Prevention of Torture, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, the Venice Commission and the Commissioner for Human Rights.
I am also thinking about the Parliamentary Assembly, an instrument of great value for forming common positions and a democratic outlook. The Netherlands is proud that this body now has a Dutch president, René van der Linden.
All these bodies make the Council an ideal forum for the debate on cooperation between organisations within the European ‘architecture’.
Investing in the Council’s future.
We need a Council of Europe that is building bridges between values and actions. Are we prepared to work on strengthening our laws, our democracies, our civil societies and our social cohesion?
The Council is open to every European country prepared to fulfil the rights and obligations which come with accession. But once acceded, members should continue to respect those rights and obligations in their internal policies and in relations with other states. That requires strict monitoring and open debate. Are we prepared to adhere thereto?
We need a Council of Europe which focuses on its core activities – human rights, democracy and the rule of law – and at the same time makes the most of its role as a pan-European meeting place. Are we truly prepared to restrict ourselves to the Council’s core tasks and to provide it with the necessary means? Are we prepared to listen to the Council’s essential messages?
We need a Council of Europe with a Court that guarantees right and justice. The Court is at a crossroads, as President Wildhaber made clear. We do understand that there are limits to its absorption capacity. We will have to find ways to allow the court to perform its task. With the recent audit reports in hand my government will look for possible solutions and answers.
We do agree with president Wildhaber that the Group of Wise Persons, envisaged in our concluding documents, should start its work as soon as possible. We agree with prime minister Karamanlis that the former President of the Court in Luxemburg, Iglesias, looks indeed like the right person to chair this body.
Ensuring access to the Court, as well as its long term effectiveness, and ensuring that its decisions are honoured has a price. Is it a price we are prepared to pay?
We cannot run away from these questions. And this Summit should provide at least some answers to them.
Our Declaration today is absolutely clear, on one score at least, where it unambiguously states in its first operational paragraph: “The Council of Europe shall pursue its core objective of preserving and promoting human rights, democracy and the rule of law. All its activities must contribute to this fundamental objective.”
Working together with other nations, the Netherlands is prepared to continue down the road of freedom, peace and reconciliation.
And to do so, we are prepared to invest in an effective Council of Europe. A strong organisation of values, standards and actions.