Interview with Ambassador Daryal Batıbay, Permanent Representative of Turkey (27 October 2010)

What are the main items on the agenda, the principal topics during Turkey’s Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers? What will be changing at the Council of Europe during the Turkish Chairmanship?

Ambassador Batıbay: Turkey’s Chairmanship happens to coincide with an interesting period. The Council of Europe has a 60 year history, and like any organisation reaching its 60th year, it is in the process of working out where it is going to go from here. One year ago, the Council of Europe elected a new General Secretary who promised reform and change: Norway’s former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Thorbjorn Jagland. Turkey is giving its support to the drive for reform, so that the Council of Europe will be stronger and be better able to maintain its role within the political architecture of Europe. Our priority in our work during our Chairmanship will be to accelerate these endeavours for reform. At the Committee of Ministers meeting which will take place in Istanbul on 11 May we will be working hard to obtain some concrete outcomes from these reform efforts. Another priority in this context is the Group of Eminent Persons established by the General Secretary at the recommendation of our Foreign Minister, an initiative of Turkey.

The fundamental aim of the group, chaired by Joschka Fischer, is to confront and discuss the recent problems and difficulties which we have experienced in living together in Europe, and to make recommendations and proposals to the governments. Looking at Europe, we can see that serious problems, serious obstacles to living together, have arisen in a number of countries. We all know how vital this issue is, particularly for people of Turkish origin who have settled in Europe. There is a dilemma here for the European nations. On the one hand we know that the population in Europe is ageing, and that life expectancy has increased. This ageing population makes migration a necessity, because an ageing population needs a working population to support it. A combination of slowing population growth and longer life expectancy will present great difficulties. Europe can only achieve population growth through migration. But this need for migration has become apparent at the same time as the problems created by migration. We see that it has provoked a number of reactions. On the one hand we have this need for migration and on the other we have the problems created by migration. We hope that this Group of Eminent Persons will develop useful recommendations for the governments of the Council of Europe to show us how we can find a way out of such quandaries, and how we can work out rules for living together, integration, multiculturalism and respect our differences—issues which are very much on the agenda, of course. It was with these thoughts that Turkey took the lead in the establishment of the Group of Eminent Persons.

Another priority for us is reform of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). As you know, the ECtHR is facing an increasing caseload. At the moment, there is a queue of more than 140,000 cases which is getting longer every day. Consequently, the ECtHR is now unable to comply with its own recommendations to member states: the Court is finding member states guilty of violations arising from long drawn out trials, but its own proceedings are breaching its own guidance on prolonged proceedings. So reform of the ECtHR is now unavoidable. A start was made on this last February at a reform conference in Interlaken. We want to move these efforts to reform forward, and we hope to produce some results even during the period of our Chairmanship. With this in mind, we will be organising a high-level conference in April in Izmir. Our aim, as I have said, is to give momentum to ECtHR reform.

How do you see the future of the Council? What kinds of reform will the Council of Europe need to undergo in order to be able to play a more effective political role?

Ambassador Batıbay: When we look at the Council of Europe at the end of its first 60 years, it is certainly true that it is somewhat overshadowed by the EU. The reason for this is that a very advanced form of cooperation, and by that I mean integration, is envisaged for the 27 member states of today’s EU. The Council of Europe, by contrast, is an intergovernmental form of cooperation. While the EU is built on the basis of unity, and the Council of Europe’s foundation is togetherness. Consequently, the EU, with its concept of advanced integration, and its considerably more powerful financial resources, stands as the preeminent institution on the European continent. Nevertheless, the Council of Europe has some advantages which the EU does not have. It has a membership structure which comprises the entire continent. The EU will never be an institution which represents the whole of Europe—Russia is never going to be an EU member, for example. So the Council of Europe’s greatest advantage is the fact that it is a platform for cooperation which encompasses the whole of the continent. The second characteristic I would draw attention to is that this is not a talking shop. It is a forum for collaboration based on binding legal conventions. Collaboration with whom? With all European countries. Today we should be strengthening this characteristic, which is really unparalleled, and which cannot be fulfilled by any other European or international organisation. The Turkish Chairmanship will be working very much along these lines. Obviously, this is not something which can be achieved by the efforts of Turkey alone. All member states should support this effort, and demonstrate their will to improve the political functionality of the Council of Europe. It is my opinion in this connection that an important duty falls on the shoulders of the larger states of EU and the Council of Europe in this respect. I firmly believe that if we can achieve their closer engagement in the work of the Council of Europe, the future role of the Council of Europe will grow, thanks to those unique characteristics which I have described.

This is an extract of the interview, which took place on 27 October 2010, with Ambassador Batıbay, Permanent Representative of Turkey to the Council of Europe.

Full text and recording of the interview