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CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY 21.06.2010
Mr President, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great honour for me to present my first report to the Assembly as Chairman of the Committee of Ministers. I had the opportunity to welcome a number of you to Skopje in May for the meeting of the Standing Committee and I greatly appreciated our frank and constructive exchanges on that occasion. But today is the first time that I am addressing the plenary Assembly. As I said just now, it is a great honour, but also a source of great pride, because this is my country’s first time in the Chair, fifteen years after joining the Council of Europe.
As you know, each Chair seeks to build bridges between its predecessors and successors. We endeavour in this way to ensure continuity and consistency in the activities of the Committee of Ministers. This approach is all the more important in that Europe and the Council of Europe, the oldest European political organisation, are at a crossroads and must be able to rise to the challenges before them.
My country is determined to focus its Chairmanship on carrying out the Organisation’s core missions, in other words protecting human rights and strengthening democracy and the rule of law. Its aim is to follow in the wake of the advances made by its predecessors while adding its own specific contribution focused on the construction of a multicultural and inclusive European society.
Our Chairmanship coincides with the 60th anniversary of the European Convention on Human Rights. This unique and highly regarded Council of Europe legal instrument was the starting point for our thinking and a source of inspiration in setting our priorities. Despite the difficult economic circumstances in which Europe finds itself, it is vital to ensure the sustainability of the human rights protection system established by the Convention, both at national level and at the level of the Organisation as a whole. This was re-affirmed at the highest level of the state by our President, Mr Gjorge Ivanov, at his meeting with the President of the European Court of Human Rights on 10 June.
In this connection, we will give our full support to the Interlaken process and to meeting the deadlines set in the Interlaken Declaration and Action Plan.
At the end of September and beginning of October, in the context of our Chairmanship, we will be organising a conference on “Strengthening subsidiarity: integrating the Court’s case-law into national law and judicial practice”, which is fully in line with the decisions taken by the Committee of Ministers on 11 May. Representatives of all the member states and of the Assembly will be invited to attend this event and to contribute to a discussion which we hope will be fruitful on this important issue for the reform of the Court.
In this context, I am particularly gratified by the entry into force of Protocol 14 on 1 June. This is a first step in the process of increasing the Court’s efficiency. I recently discussed in Ohrid with President Costa the effects of this development on the work of the Court but also on strengthening the mechanisms for the implementation of the Court’s judgments.
The second of our priorities is cultural plurality in Europe. The aim is to establish, in an increasingly multicultural environment, a more inclusive society which respects diversity and sees it as providing the assets required for the economic and social development of our member states. We are fortunate enough to have a set of standards laid down by the Council of Europe in this field.
Strengthening the social cohesion of European societies, particularly by integrating national minorities while respecting their diversity, is a key aim for our Chairmanship. In my opening address at a conference on this subject in Skopje on 7 and 8 June, I stressed the importance of the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. I welcome the fact that this event was attended by representatives of the Assembly and many other institutional and international partners. The co-operation at all levels – international, national and local - was stressed as an important prerequisite in the implementation of Article 15 of the Framework Convention on the effective participation of persons belonging to minorities in cultural, social and economic life and public affairs, as the most concrete way of achieving de facto integration. In this respect, the Council of Europe is considered as having a wealth of good practice and we have to exchange our experiences in order to find appropriate solutions to each specific case.
The integration of marginalised groups, such as Roma, is another of the Council of Europe’s objectives. Our Chairmanship is focusing on dealing with certain important practical problems facing Roma, such as access to personal identity papers. We organised a regional conference on this subject which took place in Skopje on 14 and 15 June. The conference confirmed some of the observations and conclusions contained in the Assembly’s report on the “Situation of Roma in Europe and relevant activities of the Council of Europe” which is on your agenda tomorrow. Despite the fact that the subject of this conference was a sad one, the high attendance of Roma representatives coming from the governmental institutions, elected local authorities, parliamentarians and NGO representatives is to be most welcomed. It is a testimony to the fact that the situation is gradually changing and that Roma are more and more involved in deciding on issues of concern to them. But, we should not be satisfied with this.
My country has a long tradition of cultural and religious co-existence. We therefore felt that it was only natural for us to become actively involved in the field of intercultural dialogue, and more especially its religious dimension. In this context, we will be hosting, in Ohrid on 13 and 14 September, the 2010 Council of Europe Exchange on the religious dimension of multicultural dialogue, which this year will be devoted to the role of the media in promoting this dialogue. I am pleased to hear that the Assembly will be well represented at this event.
Europe’s future depends on young people’s active support for its values. It is for this reason that, under our Chairmanship’s third priority, we have chosen to emphasise the participation of the younger generations in European democratic processes, more particularly in south-east Europe.
We hope, via this major initiative, to give young people in our region the opportunity to leave behind a difficult past and forge stronger links among themselves which will guide them in their present and future lives.
We will be launching this concept in Ohrid on 10 and 11 September. I am counting strongly on the support and participation of all the countries in the region and of the other Council of Europe member states to help create an exchange forum for the younger generations to foster their participation in the political decision-making and political reform process in their respective countries. Assembly support for this initiative will be welcome.
Several major political issues continue to command the attention of the Committee of Ministers. The first, which was the central topic at the ministerial session on 11 May, concerns Bosnia and Herzegovina. This is a highly topical issue, particularly in view of the judgment by the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Sedjić and Finci against Bosnia and Herzegovina. On that occasion, I made a joint statement with the outgoing Chair, Micheline Calmy-Rey, in which we urged the authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina to give priority to bringing their country’s Constitution and legislation into line with the European Convention on Human Rights.
Since then, I have been personally to Sarajevo, where I met my opposite number, Sven Alkalaj, on 1 June. While reiterating the call made on 11 May, I assured him that the Council of Europe is ready to provide the assistance and support needed to carry out constitutional reform.
The situation observed in certain other member states is also mobilising the attention of the Committee of Ministers. For example, as regards the constitutional crisis in Moldova, the Committee of Ministers has strongly encouraged Moldovan political forces to do their utmost to resolve the crisis, in particular by calling on the services of the Venice Commission.
In this connection, I congratulate the Secretary General on the results of his mediation. I also welcome the willingness shown by the Moldovan authorities to co-operate closely with the Council of Europe in carrying out a series of reforms in the fields of democracy, the rule of law and human rights.
As Chairman of the Committee of Ministers, I intend to continue the efforts made by my predecessors and the Committee of Ministers as a whole to deal with the consequences of the events of August 2008 in Georgia. I am pleased that the Secretary General wishes to step up the Organisation’s work on this issue. I hope that his proposals to the Committee of Ministers on this subject can be implemented rapidly.
On the issues which I have just mentioned, it is important that we should jointly continue our efforts in order to develop an optimal response to the current challenges facing the Council of Europe.
Strengthening of the Organisation’s strategic position must be combined with an intensification of co-operation within Europe, and especially with the European Union. Just as it did with the Spanish Presidency of the EU, our Chairmanship will maintain the closest possible contacts with the Belgian Presidency in the months ahead.
I welcome the EU’s undertaking to accede to the European Convention on Human Rights and can only reiterate the call made at the ministerial session on 11 May for prompt completion of the negotiations and the earliest possible accession. I hope that the Deputies’ exchange of views on 7 July with Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the European Commission, will pave the way for this.
In order to consolidate its influence and assert its expertise regarding the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms, the Council of Europe must step up co-operation with all its international partners. Our Chairmanship will focus on close co-operation with Kazakhstan, which is chairing the OSCE in 2010.
I went to Vienna on 10 June and set out in a speech to the OSCE Permanent Council our vision of the benefits to be gained from proper co-ordination of our activities. I stressed both organisations’ respective advantages, whose combination can only help to ensure lasting respect for the common values we uphold.
Instigated by the questions raised by the members of the Standing Committee at the meeting in May in Skopje, I used my stay in Vienna to visit the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights and had a useful exchange of views on co-operation with the Council of Europe. I understand that the Assembly will discuss the report on this issue on Thursday. In this context, I would like to stress that we should take advantage of the existing complementarities and build upon the exchange of data and analyses.
On 28 and 29 May 2010, I participated in the 3rd Forum of the United Nations Alliance of Civilisations, held in Rio de Janeiro. On that occasion I took the floor on behalf of the Committee of Ministers, in the presence of many international figures, to remind the Forum of the Council of Europe’s involvement and its many standard-setting instruments in common fields of action, namely intercultural dialogue, democratic management of diversity and youth policy. I duly reported on the activities undertaken by various Council of Europe bodies in these fields, including those of the Assembly.
Finally, I would like to add a few comments about relations between the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly. I very much hope that the good relations seen between the two bodies under the Swiss Chairmanship will continue over the next six months.
Following the meeting between the Bureau of the Committee of Ministers and the Assembly’s Presidential Committee on 26 April, I will be organising a meeting of this kind next Thursday. I thank the Secretary General for his report on the enhancement of dialogue and co-operation between the two statutory bodies and await with interest the outcome of the discussion on this subject at Thursday’s Joint Committee meeting.
For my part, I look forward to frank, informal and constructive dialogue with the Assembly over the coming period, and I know that I can count on your support in carrying out the priorities of our Chairmanship.
Thank you for your attention. I will be glad to answer any questions.