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Parliamentary Assembly Session: 24-28 January 2011

Speech by Thorbjørn Jagland

Secretary General of the Council of Europe

Communication to the PACE

Monday, 24 January 2011

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All great projects in history combine vision with pragmatism. Believing in something, even very enthusiastically, is not enough. It is what we do about it which makes a difference between great ideas and great illusions.

This was true 60 years ago when our Organisation was created, and it is very much true today.

In 1949, Europe had not yet healed from a devastating war, its economies had not recovered while ominous signs of a possible new conflict had already begun to appear. It was time of uncertainty and fear. The response of European governments was the Council of Europe, an Organisation embodying the vision of European unity combined with very practical ways to implement this vision in practice.

Afterwards the European project developed step by step; economic, and later political, integration in the framework of the European Union, and co-operation in the field of security in the framework of OSCE. I mention this because this could not have taken place without the legal framework which was created by the Council of Europe. The Council of Europe also helped to foster a culture of tolerance, co-operation and humanism at the grass root level which was also a precondition for the broader European project.

It is a matter of fact that the great European project cannot go forward without the Council of Europe.

I say this because I strongly feel that Europe is being torn apart again by the centrifugal forces of economic globalisation, by xenophobic tendencies, by social exclusion. Basic values like freedom of the media and freedom of religion are being relativised. Terrorism is spreading fear and is being used as an argument by those who claim that Islam is a violent religion. Listen to what a member of the British government – Baroness Warsi - rightly said recently: “Islamophobia has been widely accepted”. I agree. And violence against Christians is increasing in our neighbourhood. Anti-Semitism has unfortunately still not disappeared from our societies. Extreme forces in Europe and in Europe’s neighbourhood are feeding on each other.

Many of our citizens feel that our societies are under threat from the multitude of social, political, cultural, religious and other tensions which foment mistrust and fear. There is a growing distrust in political institutions at national and European level. People feel that the political institutions are ineffective with regard to their concerns.

This is fertile ground for nationalist and populist forces.

We are witnessing a process that weakens the culture of togetherness that we helped build after the war.

A cold wind is blowing over Europe.

The way to respond is not to tell our citizens that we have nothing to fear, that the economic crisis will eventually pass away and that we should all simply calm down a bit and weather this out.

What we need is to restore the ability of political institutions to solve problems – to act and produce results which our populations need and have the right to expect. Yes, national political institutions have to take their share of responsibility. The European Union must take on its responsibility as well. I am glad to see that the European Union is moving slowly towards a more active role to sort out the economic problems that the global markets have caused in Europe. I am confident that the European Union once more will prove how great this project is in creating stability and peace on our continent.

But the European Union cannot do it alone. 20 countries are outside the European Union, including big countries like the Russian Federation, Turkey and Ukraine and of course all the others with less population.

Dealing with the most urgent challenges today must be a pan-European project which includes everyone.

Therefore, we must rebuild a common sense of togetherness, through common legal standards and continue to build a culture of living together as a basis for concrete political action. After the war we built togetherness among democracies in the western part of Europe. Today we have to build this for the entire continent; to pave the way for pan-European action.
The Council of Europe has of course a pivotal role to play in this. Our mandate is to safeguard the moral and legal ground for European unity, not only between states, but more importantly between peoples, cultures, religions. Our task is to see to it that Europe is not a fertile ground for extremism, but a fertile ground for political action on a pan-European level.

The great European project after the war started with the recognition deep down in society that everyone was in the same boat, that they had the same rights and shared the same values.

We have to start from this point once again.

We have to build on the lesson learned. Namely that there is a strong inter-relationship between our ability to uphold basic standards and public morale. If tagging on the underground is not removed, tagging will increase. That is what we have learnt. If nothing is being done against corruption, corruption will continue to spread. If political leaders violate the law, people will do it. If there is not justice for all, there will not be justice for anybody at the end of the day.

This is why we have to sharpen the ability to uphold the basic values enshrined in European Convention on Human Rights.

And I would like to say this: we need to have a geographic scope that includes our neighbourhood. I have already indicated why; because what happens there will affect us as Minister Davutoglu also said. And we need to exploit the full potential of European co-operation with our partners, the European Union and the OSCE. What they do helps us. What we do helps them.

This is what the reform is about;

to sharpen our tools so that we can implement the rule of law, based on democratic and human rights standards, throughout the entire continent;
to build a culture of living together;
to broaden our interaction with our neighbourhood;
to exploit the full potential of co-operation with our partners.

Let me put the reform into a historic perspective.

The Council of Europe has developed in different phases. Until the fall of the Berlin Wall, it was an Organisation of democracies on the western side of the east-west divide. The task was to develop common standards with regard to democracy, human rights and the rule of law, and to establish mechanisms to ensure that member states comply with their obligations. This we can call the phase of construction.

The comprehensive system for protection of human rights and democracy that was established, represents the only real follow-up of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and United Nations. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, this made the Council of Europe very attractive for the countries seeking to establish their European identity and determined to develop societies based on democracy, human rights and the rule of law. This was the phase of expansion. It enabled us to play a crucial role in the emergence of a new Europe. Without the Council of Europe, for example, the European Union could not have expanded so rapidly.

During the period of expansion standard-setting continued along with an increasing number of programmes and activities.

Standard-setting had to continue, of course. We have also to adapt the conventions we have to new realities; for example the data protection convention. We are starting a review of this convention; we had to strike a new balance between public sector and the private sphere because of the technological developments. This is only an example but I do not foresee that the standard-setting will be so heavy and so comprehensive as we have had in the past.

What I am saying is that after expansion must come consolidation. In my view, the third phase of the Council of Europe – the one we have now entered – must be the phase of implementation of our standards and principles – across Europe, and in each and every one of our member states. This is the underlying philosophy of the reform. We need to sharpen our instruments and focus our resources.

And as I said, this work has already begun. Let me briefly recall the achievements of 2010.

The year started with the ratification of Protocol 14 by the Russian Federation, continued with the Interlaken Conference on the reform of the European Court of Human Rights and with the opening of talks on European Union accession to the European Convention on Human Rights.

The year behind us also saw an unprecedented intensification of co-operation with our main institutional partners, the United Nations – let me only mention my three meetings with the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon - the OSCE, but most of all a new quality in relations with the European Union.

We have now established the basis for a close and regular policy co-ordination and consultation with the European Union at the highest level, and we have also recently signed the first “facility” envelope of 4 million Euros in the framework of the European Union Eastern Partnership. A shift to an envelope financing – providing a lump sum instead of a large number of small amounts for individual projects - reflects a qualitative improvement in our relationship, allowing for strengthened partnership and long-term, strategic planning of our joint activities.

In 2010 we succeeded in mobilising a group of personalities with outstanding experience, knowledge and authority on European affairs to examine and report on some of the key challenges our societies face today and will face in the future. The report of the Group of Eminent Persons, led by Joschka Fischer, should help us to plan and act, rather than to react in our work to living together in Europe.

The High Level Meeting on Roma last October, as well as our mediating role in overcoming the political deadlock in Moldova, demonstrated that the Council of Europe can provide quick, concrete political responses to situations related to our mandate, which is of course a precondition for political relevance and impact.

All the achievements above are reflecting a growing political relevance and impact of the Council of Europe in European affairs.

In parallel with these political achievements we have also undertaken the first stage of the reform. We have reformed our external presence by reducing the number of offices and reinforced those we really need, namely where we are conducting assistance programmes. If we did not do that we would have lost our credibility and relevance as partners to important donors on the ground.

We have established a policy planning cell in the Secretariat for being able to anticipate new developments. We have reached an agreement for a biennial budget. And the budget and the programme of activities are now concise, clear and easy to understand, contrary to the seven hundred pages document we have had. We can now set priorities on the basis of a longer-term perspective and intelligible figures.

Our relations with civil society are very important for the Organisation. That is why this area is a part of the reform process. Different civil society representatives, the NGOs be they small or big should have a possibility to present their views to the Council of Europe to be listened to and to be heard without filter. This is not the case today. We cannot limit ourselves to having contacts with only a few; we need to reach out to all NGOs and the whole civil society, which is very polaristic and this is why we have to broaden our perspective also in this respect.

We have also undertaken measures to contain staff cost. Without this, the mechanical increase of staff costs within a stagnant budget would have threatened the entire Organisation.

The second stage of the reform goes deeper.

And it also involves a clarification of the strategic goals for the Organisation, which I hope can be concluded at the Ministerial Session in Istanbul in May.

I have already started consultations with member states on what should be our political objectives for the next decade.

In my view, the first strategic priority comes from what I have already explained: that at the end of this decade we shall be able to say that we have consolidated and implemented the rule of law in all our member states. And that we have created a genuine common European legal space with a fully functioning and credible, backlog-free European Court of Human Rights at its core.

Why?

- Because this is the only way of securing popular confidence in the national political institutions and in the European institutions as well. People do not trust institutions that are not able to uphold laws.

- Because new threats like corruption, money laundering, human trafficking, terrorism, cybercrime can only be combated through the rule of law. If we do not do that, these threats will increase, not decrease. And these are huge threats over security that we are facing.

The most recent reminder of the terrorist threat happened only a few hours ago at the Moscow airport of Domodedovo. According to BBC reports that I got 10 minutes ago, 30 people have been killed, but there will be more probably. I will use this opportunity to express my sympathy with all the victims and also the Russian population. And it only proves what we are up against on this continent.

- We have to stress the implementation of the rule of law in order also to once again highlight the interrelationship between rule of law and democratic and human rights principles. First of all, for a Council of Europe member state, the rule of law means full compliance with the European Convention of Human Rights other legally-binding instruments and of course the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights.

This relationship is of course not only formal. An example: corruption cannot be contained without a free press. There has to be checks and balances to avoid a misuse of power. Therefore the Council of Europe has to strengthen its role in securing freedom of expression.

And let me give you another, even more recent example. We are still under shock of what has happened in Tirana last Friday. I certainly hope that I will be able to receive some clarifications this week from Prime Minister Berisha when he comes here. But already at this stage, without any attempts to apportion the responsibility, it is clear that the key part of the solution to the crisis will be the respect of the rule of law; an independent and credible inquiry into the deaths of the demonstrators and the respect for the Albanian legislation and the Albanian state institutions.

This afternoon I also spoke to Commissioner Füle in European Union about the situation in Albania and we agreed on the need to have a clear and common position on what should be done to overcome this very serious situation.

Consequently, the focus on the rule of law does not come at the expense of the work on democracy and human rights, to the contrary as I have explained. The Council of Europe approach must combine all three aspects into effective and comprehensive responses to the problems faced by the member states.

Let me use an example to illustrate this from outside the Council of Europe area. Liu Xiaobo was sentenced to eleven years in prison based on China’s criminal law. It was the rule of law. According to their understanding, the verdict said that he had tried to undermine “the people’s democratic dictatorship”, which means the power monopoly of the communist party which is enshrined in the law. For us rule of law means upholding the sovereignty of the people. The sovereignty to control the government by an elected parliament and the sovereignty to replace a government.

We must put this emphasis on rule of law also in the context of security. History shows clearly that lasting peace has been achieved only in regions where rule of law and human rights have been safeguarded. Nowadays, there are tendencies to relativise universal values in many places. This is a creeping threat to our security. The Council of Europe must therefore be an uncompromising guardian of these values as a part of a broader security strategy for Europe. As the only convention-based pan-European organisation, the Council of Europe should be part of a security concept that goes deeper than the one we have today.

And all this is why another strategic goal should be to use our enormous machinery of monitoring bodies, our expertise in the Office of the Human Rights Commissioner, in this Parliamentary Assembly, in our field offices for action. We have to establish a system in which countries are being confronted with their weaknesses and thus made more accountable in the field of rule of law.

And dear friends, keep in mind that if the accession negotiations with the European Union go well, we will also have the responsibility to oversee that this global power runs its business in accordance with the rule of law.

Can you see the historic perspective? Everybody under the same rules and the same court? Once again, I would like to salute the European Union. Because if the European Union joins the European Convention on Human Rights and becomes a party to the Court, it will be the first time in history that a global power decides voluntarily to be under an international court. Well, I am wrong actually. The Russian Federation was the first. Actually, Turkey which is increasingly becoming a global power, demonstrates, also the need to come at the expense of accountability.

We must understand thoroughly what kind of historic project we are carrying out. Therefore we have to be serious and credible in our core businesses, namely to uphold the rule of law.

Another strategic priority must be to find solutions for multi-cultural interactions which actually work, and allow individuals and communities to live with each other, not only beside each other, or even against each other.

The geographic expansion of the Council of Europe resulted in greater cultural diversity. It can never be a goal to reduce the importance of national cultures and identities. But it is all the more important to define clearly what unites us, namely our values.

We need to reach a higher degree of understanding on how to live together in a multi-cultural and multi-religious reality. It is not sufficient to say that we tolerate each other. Living together should mean that we accept cultures as living entities which evolve and prosper through encounters with other cultures. This means that cultures will thrive and command respect not when they are ghettoised and marginalised, but when they openly express themselves and mix with other cultures.

We should strive for something that goes beyond multi-culturalism as we know it today.

This is part of the study by the Group of Eminent Persons led by Joschka Fischer. It should be a priority for the Council to be a leading institution in this field.

At the same time, the Council of Europe should contribute to more social cohesion. In our day and age it is not difficult to see the connections between democracy, human rights and social rights. When poverty, unemployment and other kinds of social exclusion increases, political extremism and democratic values are under pressure. Achieving more social cohesion should be seen as part of a security concept for Europe that goes deeper than the traditional tools, including military tools can provide.

The Council of Europe should devote special attention to specific categories of persons who are particularly exposed to social, legal, economic, and professional or any other form of inequality, discrimination and marginalisation. There should be no second class citizens in Europe.

This is why we have paid special attention to the Roma people. The Council of Europe now has a decisive role in transforming decades of speeches into concrete action.

Now, to another strategic goal for this decade. We need to look at the map of Europe and fill the gaps. We also need to reach out to our neighbours and decide on whether and how we could work closer together.
When it comes to the first aspect, the key priority is of course Belarus. After the recent elections and the crackdown on the protesters which followed, I said that, unfortunately, another opportunity to end the self-imposed isolation of Belarus in Europe has been missed. However, we should be able to continue to pursue any genuine opportunity to bring Belarus closer to Council of Europe values and closer to Council of Europe standards. Without Belarus, the Council of Europe is not complete.

But I would like to make it clear: those people imprisoned after the elections must be released and it is a first step for new action.

We have to reflect together with our partners on what should be the next step from our side. We need a pan-European strategy also here that also includes the Russian Federation. Belarus has to make a choice: not between Russia and the European Union. But between Europe and isolation from Europe.

When it comes to our neighbours, I also think we should pay special attention to Kazakhstan. In the geographical sense, Kazakhstan is both a European and an Asian country. Kazakhstan is playing a significant stabilising role in Central Asia - as an important partner.

Security policy and economic interests suggest that Europe should strengthen its commitment with countries in its own neighbourhood. This includes Central Asia, as well as the Middle East and North Africa where the Council of Europe can play a greater role.

Our first strategic objectives in this respect should be to get countries from our neighbourhood to accede to Council of Europe conventions, in particular those which are dealing with the new and emerging threats.

And finally, as I see it, there should be, as I’ve already mentioned, a strategic goal to exploit the true potential of so-operation and co-ordination with our other European Institutions.

Now, what are the concrete measures in the second stage of the reform?

First of all, we must focus our resources on the most important issues. We need to restructure the Programme of Activities.

Let me explain what the challenge is. Currently, leaving aside legally-binding, committed activities, the available amount for our operational programmes is limited to around 40 million Euros and we are running, together with European Union, joint programmes, of around 60 million Euros. Today, we have spread our work to over 130 programmes with these limited financial resources.

We are doing too many things with too little money. With very poor prospects for budgetary increase in a foreseeable future, we are obliged to concentrate our resources and reduce the number of programmes. Their size and design will be determined by the expected impact. Programmes which are below a minimum threshold for a meaningful impact should be discontinued.

As a consequence of the new Programme, we need to review the intergovernmental structures. Today we have around 60 intergovernmental committees. Do we need all these?

We have also started a review of the conventions. How many are active, which ones are dormant? The objective is to identify those Conventions which will contribute to the consolidation of a common legal space.

What I am saying, dear friends, is that we need to streamline and rationalise.

In the process of reform, there will be no sacred cows. We shall look at every aspect of our work, critically, but with one objective only – to make us stronger and more effective in the conduct of our mission to defend and extend democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

Restructuring of the secretariat is unavoidable. But it should not be seen as a threat to the staff. To the contrary. It is not satisfying to be employed on activities that do not have a real impact. The staff deserves being on a winning team, on something meaningful.

And I should like to express my admiration for the competence and commitment of the staff and thank them for their support to the reform effort.

I understand their concerns and I am extremely attentive to all suggestions and criticisms. But I also understand that concerns and criticisms do not reflect an opposition to the reform, and that a vast majority among the Council of Europe staff, but of course also the governments, parliamentarians, the NGO community and others who know and care about this Organisation, expect and want a change.

Benjamin Disraeli said that “action may not always bring happiness, but there is no happiness without action.”

This is what we are up for now, namely to have action and change, because we want to make the Council of Europe stronger in order to implement the rule of law on the entire continent, I hope within this decade.

This should be a goal for all of us.

Thank you very much.