Strasbourg, 27June 2012
Distinguished President of the Parliamentary Assembly,
Distinguished Secretary General of the Council of Europe,
Distinguished members of the Assembly,
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
It is a distinct pleasure and honor to address you today in this historic European institution which brings together parliamentarians from all corners of Europe.
The founding fathers of the Council of Europe envisaged this hall to serve as a parliament of Europe. However their dreams seemed idealistic back in 1949, in Europe divided and still healing the wounds of war, without their ideas and activism we would not have come so far in overcoming the challenges and rising above the dangers.
Strasbourg is not only a seat of European institutions, but rather a symbol of how a difficult history and old quarrels can be put aside in a united Europe. This remarkable city has served as a source of inspiration for Croatia since attaining its statehood and commencing the process of adhesion to international organizations. The European idea, and commitment to abide by its standards and values, guided us in our request for membership of the Council of Europe.
On my way to this session I was reminded that even before Croatia acceded to the Council of Europe, Lujo Tončić Sorinj, an Austrian politician and a Croatian national, acted as the Secretary General of the organization. I am certain that he, himself profoundly European, would have enjoyed the fact that one day the country of his ancestry, Croatia, has taken a seat at this pan-European table.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am addressing you today as the Prime Minister of the Government of the Republic of Croatia that came to power in December last year following general elections. Let me reiterate that my Government espouses all the ideas that the Council of Europe stands for: multilateralism as the core of our foreign policy; a state based on the protection of human, civil and minority rights with the rule of law in its foundations; independent judiciary; gender equality; tolerance and non-discrimination; solidarity and prevention of corruption.
President of Croatia Ivo Josipović delivered his address before this Assembly two years ago and presented a comprehensive view on the transformation of Croatia and consolidation of its democracy. Today I can proudly state that during past two years Croatia has continued along its path of further democratization which resulted in fulfilling all preconditions to achieving one of our major national goals, membership in the European Union. Along with completion of EU accession negotiations, cooperation with neighboring countries was further increased and contribution to the maintenance of international peace and security was strengthened.
The main task of the Croatian Government is to create a stable and prosperous country, placing strong emphasis on accountability toward its own citizens. We strive to build a society in which the principles of social justice and solidarity prevail, as well as respect of minorities regardless of their ethnicity, sex, belief or choice. The new Government has continued making further progress in preventing corruption, fighting organized crime, reforming the judiciary, prosecuting war crimes at the Croatian courts and cooperating with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in the Hague. All of these issues have been subjects of ongoing monitoring by the EU, and the Government is in constant close communication with our European partners, but also with the civil society in Croatia.
At the same time, allow me to use this opportunity to call on all present parilamentarians from the EU Member States that have not yet ratified our Accession Treaty with the EU to work with your Governments and with your colleagues in national parilaments to conclude the procedure timely, so that Croatia can become the 28th member of the EU on 1 July 2013, as it is envisaged by the Treaty.
As we prepare for the EU membership, we remain realistic, conscious of the challenges in the EU such as the economic and financial crisis, the rise of populist rhetoric and extremism among some of its political parties. I welcome the fact that you included the debate on the impact of financial and economic crisis on our societies and democracies in your deliberations. This proves that the Parliamentary Assembly is keenly aware of the enormous responsibilities that the European citizens have entrusted upon it.
As I will be heading to attend the meeting of the European Council tomorrow, I am aware that while the issues of fiscal discipline and economic governance feature prominently on our agenda, the bearings that these issues might have on the future of Europe as our common home, its values and standards, should not be overlooked.
The foundation upon which this Organization is built lies on its relevance and upon its credibility. This was tested some time ago when the Council of Europe and its parliamentarians played a critical role in admitting a large number of countries, including mine, into the membership, thus helping us to further develop our European vocation and commitment to European ideas and democratically stabilize the continent.
It was precisely upon this ability to remain relevant and to rise up to the challenge that the Council of Europe has become the bearer of European torch in carrying further the individual freedoms and human rights. Maybe the concept of human rights has been invented elsewhere, but no other organization has developed such a comprehensive structure in safeguarding them.
Excellences, ladies and gentlemen,
Last year in Croatia we celebrated 15 years of our membership in the Council of Europe. Throughout this journey we went a long way from dealing with traumatic past resulting from the war to present outlook of the country which is a reliable member of European community of nations.
With our own determination, and assistance offered by organizations such as the Council of Europe, we crossed a threefold transition: a transition from a communist one-party system to a multiparty democracy, a transition from an imposed conflict to post-conflict peace and stability, and a transition from a centralized planned economy to a free market economy, which is becoming increasingly competitive at the European stage. All three transitions were accompanied by overall economic and societal changes in a relatively short time-span. I know that many of you here today coming from countries with similar historical background are familiar with these transitions and their inherent consequences. At the end of this process, Croatia not only benefited from the expertise of and membership in the Council of Europe, but this membership served as a vehicle of transformation for the entire region.
I am particularly pleased that our partner and ally in South Eastern Europe, Albania, is at the helm of the Committee of Ministers and we wish them all the best in their endeavors. The region is given a chance to prove its full potential. In particular, I appreciate the focus of their presidency on diversity and promotion of intercultural dialogue.
Now, all the countries of the region are full-fledged democracies and members of the Council of Europe, with the exception of Kosovo. The on-going bilateral and regional cooperation, which not only includes political cooperation, but spreads to justice and home affairs, defence, trade, economy, energy and transport sectors, points out to the fact that it is owned and driven at the regional level.
The troubled legacy of the conflict in the 1990s is often best reversed by concrete and resolute measures which testify to the commitment of regional leaders to work together to create conditions for a better future for all. Here I refer to the closure of the issue of refugees and displaced persons at the recent regional conference in Sarajevo. All four involved countries – Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia – have made sincere efforts and were assisted financially by the international community in finding durable solutions to this prolonged situation. This is a proof of maturity of the countries concerned and of their responsibility.
Let me turn to Croatia’s view on current trends in Council of Europe and challenges ahead.
Regarding the reform of the Organization, Croatia strongly supports the ongoing reform process launched by the Secretary General to make the organization, in his own words, “more relevant, more effective and more visible”. We share the opinion that, in the new European architecture, the Council of Europe should focus on the area of its proven excellence. In that respect, we welcome actual streamlining of the activities and financial resources around three fundamental pillars: Human Rights, Rule of Law and Democracy, which represent a core business of the Council of Europe.
Ensuring long-term effectiveness of the European Court of Human Rights remains another important challenge which requires full commitment and support of the whole membership of the Council of Europe, with a view of preserving its pivotal role and unique character among the human rights protection mechanisms worldwide.
The European Court is trusted by our citizens and Croatia has always been a strong supporter of the Court and the Convention mechanism. The right of individual application represents in our view a cornerstone and a key element of the Strasbourg mechanism. Preservation of the right of individual application represents a key element in ensuring the access of all individuals to the Court.
It is our firm view that the important legacy of the Strasbourg system lies in its direct impact on the promotion and protection of each and every individual in Europe. The adoption of Brighton Declaration and its dynamic follow-up in the coming months would certainly give a new impetus for the effective application of the European Convention on Human Rights and indispensable reform of the Court with the view to ensure, through our joint efforts, the viability of the unique system of human rights.
As a member of the Council of Europe and an EU acceding country, Croatia also strongly supports the accession of the EU to the European Convention on Human Rights. In our view, the accession of the EU to the Convention remains essential in the context of achieving full coherence of the Strasbourg mechanism of human rights protection as well as in the context of avoiding possible loopholes in human rights protection in Europe.
Croatia has ratified all core treaties relating to the protection of human rights, having often drawn inspiration from the Council of Europe’s work in this field, Croatia strongly supports on-going efforts of the Organisation to perfect the pan-European area of human rights and to ensure wider acceptance of the standards set out in these instruments, including in those states on our continent that are not yet members of the Council of Europe.
Ensuring protection of human rights in all parts of Europe remains one of the important goals of the Council of Europe, as a true pan-European organization. The central mission of our Organization, to promote core values across the European continent, cannot be fully realized if non-member states and respective territories and peoples in Europe are left outside.
In that respect, Croatia supports the pragmatic Recommendation 1739 (2010) of the Parliamentary Assembly aiming at promoting direct and significant contact between Council of Europe staff and Kosovo authorities at all levels, focused on targeted and concrete cooperation and projects. This would benefit the strengthening of standards of democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Kosovo, and represent an additional contribution to the attaining lasting peace and democratic stability in South East Europe.
Croatia is following with great interest and appreciation active engagement of this Organisation in some of the countries in the region. Croatia recognises the key role that Council of Europe plays in the process of consolidation of democratic stability in the region. We support the existing assistance programmes, and encourage the Council of Europe to continue providing its expertise to help those parts of the region in which it is most needed.
There have been positive developments in the region in the past decade, evidenced most notably by a prevailing readiness to settle outstanding open issues peacefully, in a true European spirit. As an example, let me remind you that Croatia and Slovenia reached an agreement in 2010 to resolve a longstanding border dispute through arbitration. At the same time, we must acknowledge that there are some worrisome signals indicating that certain countries and their leaders have not yet made a sincere effort in confronting the past.
Regardless of these isolated instances, the positive momentum in the region must not be further compromised. Countries and peoples in South Eastern Europe have reached a solid level of mutual trust and reconciliation. This has to be further strengthened in order to preserve the security and prosperity of the region and Europe as well.
We expect the region to receive an additional boost by the European Council’s decision to open accession negotiations with Montenegro at its meeting tomorrow. The validity of the EU project, Magnet Europa as Konrad Adenauer called it, and which in the aftermath of the Second World War started as a peace project with its enlargement policy tool, is still holding its relevance.
In this context, I would like to stress that one significant achievement of the European integration project which has probably made the biggest difference when compared to other instances of political unions in the past is cohesion, or more precisely, reducing regional differences in the level of development and well-being. Unlike the case of former Yugoslavia, where the difference between the richest and the poorest region has remained virtually constant in the 70 years of its existence, the European Union is a successful example of using cohesion policy to bring underdeveloped states and regions more in line with the EU average.
With this in mind, we support our neighbours in their European Union bid, firmly convinced that it will represent the best framework for their overall development. Croatia has been actively assisting them in transferring our negotiating know-how and creating a network of bilateral agreements on Euro-Atlantic partnership.
Let me inform you that I have chosen Bosnia and Herzegovina as the first foreign destination in my capacity as a newly elected Prime Minister of Croatia, which demonstrates Croatia's commitment to the preservation of its sustainability, territorial integrity and equality of its three constituent peoples on the entire territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Croatia shares the longest borderline with Bosnia and Herzegovina. In recent months my Government has been actively working, in partnership with the EU officials, to allay fears that after our accession to the EU this border will become a dividing line, given the magnitude of our common interests. We see a lot of potential to further exploit this opportunity for increased cross-border cooperation and exchanges to the benefit of citizens of both countries.
The implementation of the Sejdić-Finci judgment in Bosnia and Herzegovina represents one of the challenges ahead, not only for Bosnia and Herzegovina, but also for the Council of Europe and the credibility of its Convention system. We hope that political dialogue and readiness for compromise will produce concrete results allowing the full implementation of the judgment.
Croatia sees the implementation of Sejdić-Finci judgment as a part of a wider set of necessary constitutional, legal and institutional reforms in Bosnia and Herzegovina, including those in electoral legislation. The reforms would lead to a more functional state in which the full equality of three constituent peoples and all citizens will be guaranteed and practically implemented at all levels, thus ensuring the long-term stability of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Excellences, distinguished parliamentarians,
We highly appreciate the Council of Europe’s response to the developments in the in the Southern Mediterranean and other neighbouring areas through its „Policy towards neighbouring regions“, which is the most obvious proof of relevance of our Organization and its capability to anticipate and address, timely and adequately, social and political challenges in Europe and beyond.
In that respect, the Parliamentary Assembly deserves a special mention, both for its early response to the vast upheavals in the Arab world and for dynamic cooperation already established under the Partnership for Democracy arrangements.
Bearing in mind the fact that the development of societies based on respect for democracy, rule of law and the protection of human rights remains the sole guarantee of the long-term peace and stability in our neighbourhood, we firmly believe that the Council of Europe, through its legal instruments and proven expertise, may provide, within a demand driven pattern, significant assistance in facilitating the necessary reforms to our neighbours on their way to democratic transition.
As the future EU member with particular experience in post-conflict rehabilitation and democratic transition, Croatia stands ready to share this experience not only with our imminent neighbourhood but also with other post-conflict and fragile societies, including Southern Mediterranean countries. Particular experience and knowledge in the areas such as the return of refugees and displaced persons, confidence building, protection of the rights of national minorities, strengthening of judicial system and cooperation and partnership with civil society that Croatia acquired in its transition processes and EU accession negotiations could serve as an important tool for institution building in any country, offering particular benefits for post-conflict and transitional societies.
As part of the overall efforts aimed at supporting democratic processes and transition in the European neighbourhood, one session of this year’s Croatia Summit which will be held in Dubrovnik on 6 and 7 July, will be devoted to the to Partnership and Institution Building in the Southern Mediterranean.
Ladies and gentlemen,
By way of concluding allow me to once again pay my tributes to the excellent work done by the Council of Europe in general, and the Parliamentary Assembly in particular. I congratulate the newly elected Deputy Secretary General Mme Gabriella Battaini Dragoni and wish her all the best in discharging of important duties.
I pay tribute to all the people who laid foundation for this great organization to work. Eminent politician and visionary Sir Winston Churchill said of the Organization back in 1949: „The dangers threatening us are great but great too is our strength.“ As always we should continue to build on our strength and shared vision.