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Monday, 24 January 2011

Jagland: "Europe Torn Apart By Globalisation, Xenophobia And Social Exclusion"

Speech by Thorbjorn Jagland
Secretary General of the Council of Europe 

To the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

Monday, 24 January 2011

Main News Report

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 sixty 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 EU, and cooperation in the field of security in the framework of OSCE.  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, cooperation 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 in Europe”.  I agree.  And violence against Christians is increasing in our neighbourhood.  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 they have nothing to fear, that the economic crisis will eventually pass 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 citizens need and have the right to expect.  Yes, national political institutions have to take their share of responsibility.  EU must take on its responsibility as well.  I am glad to see that the EU 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 EU once more will prove how great this project is in creating stability and peace on our continent. 

But the EU cannot do it alone. 20 countries are outside the EU, including big countries like the Russian Federation and Turkey. 

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 togetherness for the entire continent.  To pave the way for pan-European action. 

The Council of Europe has 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 interrelationship between our ability to uphold basic standards and public moral.  If tagging on the underground is not removed, tagging will increase.  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 over 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; what happens there will affect us.  And we need to exploit the full potential of cooperation with our partners, the European Union and the OSCE.  What they do help 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 right 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 cooperation 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 was the phase of construction.

The comprehensive system for protection of human rights and democracy that was established, represents the only real follow up and implementation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 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 would never have been able to expand so rapidly.

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

But 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 EU accession to the European Convention on Human Rights.

The year behind us also saw an unprecedented intensification of cooperation 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 close and regular policy coordination 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 EU 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 have 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 react in our work to defend and promote freedom on our continent.

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 starting with the  EU. 

We have established a policy planning cell in the Secretariat for being able to anticipate new developments.  We have reached an agreement for a biannual 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.

We have started to reform our interaction with the civil society.  The existing Conference of International NGOs does not include important organisations such as the Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.  When we needed to consult with the Roma society, INGO Conference was not able to facilitate such consultation with the largest minority in Europe.

These are only a few examples why the INGO Conference in its present form cannot monopolise our interaction with the civil society.  Our contacts must go broader and further with what is a cornerstone in our democracies, namely a pluralistic civil society.

We have also undertaken measures to contain staff cost.  Without this, mechanical increase of staff costs 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 meeting 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 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, backlog-free European Court of Human Rights at its core.
- 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 grow.

- Because we once again have to 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 also 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.

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. The Council of Europe approach must combine all three aspects into effective and comprehensive responses to the problems faced by the member states.

Liu Xiaobo was sentenced to eleven years in prison based on China’s criminal law.  It was the rule of law.  The verdict said that he had tried to undermine “the people’s democratic dictatorship”, which means the power monopoly of the communist party.  For us rule of law means upholding the sovereignty of the people.  The sovereignty to elect the government, the sovereignty to control the government by an elected parliament and the sovereignty to replace the 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 Council of Europe should be part of a security concept that goes deeper than the one we have today.

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 the Parliamentary Assembly, in our field offices for action.  We have to establish a system in which the 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 EU goes 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 EU.  Because if the EU joins the European Convention on Human Rights and become 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.  No, I am wrong.  The Russian Federation was the first.  Actually, Turkey which is increasingly becoming a global power, demonstrates every day that might does not 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 rule of law. 

Another strategic priority must be to find solutions for multi-cultural interactions which will 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 multicultural 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 ghettoized and marginalized, but when they openly express themselves and mix with other cultures.

We should strive for something that goes beyond multiculturalism as we know it today.

This is part of the study by the "Eminent Persons Group” 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 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 marginalization. There should be no second class citizens.

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. 

We have to reflect together with our partners on what should be the next step from our side.  We need a pan-European strategy that also includes the Russian Federation. Belarus has to make a choice:  not between Russia and the EU.  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. Shouldn’t it be in our interest to define Kazakhstan a country with a significant stabilising role in Central Asia - as an important partner?

Security policy and economic interests suggest that Europe should strengthen its commitment in its neighbouring area.  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 adhere to Council of Europe conventions, in particular those which are dealing with new and emerging threats. 

Furthermore, we could discuss whether the Assembly’s Partnership for Democracy could not serve as a model for future relations of our neighbours with the organisation as a whole. The formula, in my view, could be a framework for meaningful, practical cooperation in areas of strategic interest, conditioned upon a benchmark based on Council of Europe values and standards. 

Finally, this decade must be the decade of European partnerships.  Ever closer cooperation with our European and international partners must be our strategic priority.  We should make sure that we fully exploit the potential of cooperation with other international institutions in particular with the European Union, but also with the OSCE and the United Nations.

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

First of all to focus our resources to 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. 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 meaningful evaluation of impact should be dropped.

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

We have also started a review of the conventions.  How many are active, which ones are dormant?

What I am saying, 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.

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 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.

We want that change not because we have doubts about the Council of Europe, but because we believe in it – and in the values it stands for.

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

Thank you very much.

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