Prime Minister of Luxembourg

Speech made to the Assembly

Tuesday, 11 April 2006

Mr President, Ladies and Gentlemen, here I am once again in Strasbourg, a European city par excellence, crossroads of so many European ambitions and ideals, home of European democracy, the starting point and culmination of so many European plans, projects and suggestions. This city is one I hold very dear, and I would like to pay tribute to its faithfulness to the European idea. It was here in the capital of Greater Europe, before you, elected representatives of the people of Europe, that I wished to present my report on relations between the Council of Europe and the European Union, a report that in May last year the heads of state and government of the Council of Europe asked me to draft.

The report I am presenting – and I have submitted it to the heads of state and government of the Council of Europe – is first and foremost a personal undertaking. Nobody has told me what to write. I have no institutional point of view to defend, other than the firm belief that the Council of Europe has a prestigious past which is greatly to its credit and an earnest obligation to develop in a multidimensional way.

This report is above all a realistic one. It should not be measured against what would be ideal. Moreover, one should never compare the ideas of a given time with an eternal ideal. It would have been easy for me to describe how things should be in an ideal world. I chose a different approach. I am proposing the desirable minimum, what is absolutely essential to enable the Council of Europe and the European Union to continue to develop in tune with the same idea, to be guided by the same spirit and to nurture the same ambition.

I have borrowed, and claim it for my generation, the perceptively accurate words spoken by Coudenhove-Kalergi between the two destructive 20th-century wars, “a divided Europe leads to war, oppression and hardship; a united Europe leads to peace and prosperity.”

The Europe I want to speak about is not limited to the borders of the European Union. I want to speak about Greater Europe, the Europe that has seen both historical and geographical reconciliation, the Europe that belongs to nobody yet belongs to all of us, the Europe that has so often been plunged into turmoil because national interests wished to supplant the general interest of the whole continent.

If the desirable and essential minimum is to have a chance, we have to accept a number of facts that our future projects must be shaped by.

The European Union is the greatest work of European genius thus far. The Council of Europe cannot replace it, nor should it wish to. It should not even try to imitate it at any price.

The European Union, a coherent whole which combines national sovereignty and shared sovereignty cannot alone speak on behalf of the whole of Europe. This is a vast continent for which the Council of Europe has intergovernmental and interparliamentary responsibility. The European Union is the particular project of those European countries which can and want to go further. The Council of Europe is not an antechamber for those who want to go further. It is not the aim or purpose of the European Union to absorb the Council of Europe.

The Council of Europe and the European Union are both different and unique. In order for Europe to be successful, they must reach a genuine partnership which is as structured as possible and ensure they complement each other in a sustained way, without futile and harmful rivalries.

Such a partnership will be built on a basis of common values. They are the values of the European Union as they are of the Council of Europe. I have based the 40 or so pages of my report on this idea of common pan-European values. I will not insult you by paraphrasing my report which you have all read or will be reading. I do not intend to elaborate here on all the conclusions reached.

I shall just dwell here on three or four points. We are all capable of rapid reading. I do not need to spell out for you the details of the report.

The Council of Europe and the European Union have a particular conception of human rights. This is to be seen in the parliamentary and political bodies of the European Parliament.

For a long time, the European Union member states were divided on whether the European Union should accede to the European Convention on Human Rights. During the preparatory work for the draft Constitutional Treaty, it emerged that the controversy of yesterday had now become a consensus.

Regardless of the pace of ratification of the Constitutional Treaty, I shall be proposing that the European Union acquire the necessary means to be able to accede to the European Convention on Human Rights. It will do so on the basis of Article 48 of the Treaty on the European Union. The national parliaments in member states will ratify as part of one and the same process, a protocol giving the legal basis it lacks today.

I hesitated for a long time before making this proposal. I am not unaware that it has its dangers since it could give credence to the idea that the European Union would no longer need the Constitutional Treaty. That would put paid for ever to the prospect of a European Union Constitution.

All the same, there is consensus, the Constitutional Treaty is not in force and there is an absolute necessity for the Council of Europe and the European Union to develop on the same basis and concepts, and to have the same ambitions with regard to human rights.

Next, I would like the European Union bodies to recognise the Council of Europe as the point of reference in the field of human rights throughout the continent. The judgments and conclusions of its monitoring mechanisms should be systematically cited as references, and consultation by the European Union of the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights and legal experts should become the rule when drawing up new draft European Union directives.

I would like the Commissioner for Human Rights to become an institution to which the European Union, like all the Council of Europe member states, could turn for all human rights-related matters not covered by the monitoring and control mechanisms in place. Of course, the Commissioner’s office would need to be given adequate resources to enable it to fulfil its many duties.

Lastly, the future European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency, on whose establishment the Austrian presidency is working with great energy and talent, will deal with respect for fundamental rights exclusively in the context of the application of Community law. It will not impinge on the uniqueness, validity and effectiveness of the Council of Europe’s human rights monitoring and implementation instruments. The European Court of Human Rights and the Council of Europe’s monitoring mechanism would, it seems to me, appear in the statute of the Fundamental Rights Agency as a key reference. The Commissioners for Human Rights should be mentioned as essential partners. In my view, it would be both useful and necessary for the Council of Europe to be represented on the agency’s governing bodies and the Commissioner of Human Rights should be involved in the agency’s work in a non-voting capacity.

I believe that the Council of Europe and the European Union have an obligation to establish in Europe a legal and judicial area to help bring about a Europe without dividing lines. In such an area with a minimum level of standards covering our 46 states, the European Union and the Council of Europe should make greater effort to co-ordinate their legislative initiatives and set up a joint platform to assess their respective regulations, seeking complementarity in their texts and, where necessary, the reciprocal adoption of standards.

Both the Council of Europe and the European Union can step up their co-operation activities through the Venice Commission, whose work is of an extraordinarily high quality. I would like the European Union to accede to the Venice Commission when the necessary instruments are available and attitudes ready to envisage such a step.

Human rights represent the noblest of the Council of Europe’s tasks, but I would not like us to think that this is the only one. The Council of Europe is also the European institution where best practice in youth, education and cultural matters should be formulated.

In these three areas, I would like the European Union and the Council of Europe to develop further the embryonic form of co-operation that we can see today. Both should promote intercultural dialogue so essential for the years ahead. I would like the work to be shared on this point: that the Council of Europe concentrate first of all on intra-European intercultural dialogue between its 46 member states; and the European Union to concentrate on what I would call intercultural diplomacy between Europe and other parts of the world.

If we did all that – and you will discover in the details of my report a host of suggestions in this respect – we would need to provide a framework for our approach by setting up an inter-institutional arrangement to help us further develop our co-operation.

I would like the meetings between the European Union and the Council of Europe to be taken more seriously than they currently are, to be less frequent – once a year should be enough – and to follow a sounder and more structured agenda. I would like the parliamentary bodies of both institutions to co-operate in a more structured way than the current arrangement. I cannot but encourage the respective presidents and parliamentary committees to meet more regularly, less sporadically and to pool the parliamentary initiatives taken by both the European Parliament and the Parliamentary Assembly.

I would like us to think of a new way of electing and appointing the Secretary General of the Council of Europe. The Secretaries General of the Council of Europe, with their own particular talent and energy, have to date carried out excellent work that is universally appreciated. But if, tomorrow, the Council of Europe and the European Union wish to dialogue on an equal footing in order to share out future and further-reaching tasks, then serious thought needs to be given to the way in which the Secretary General of the Council of Europe is appointed. The European Union has a rule – which was first of all unwritten but is now written down – that the President of the European Commission will be chosen from among well-known European figures, well-known not only among their colleagues but also among the general public. This means that in the normal course of events, we choose him or her from among the heads of state and government. Not all are willing to accept the role, but in the end we always find someone ready to take on this difficult task.

In future, therefore, we should appoint the Secretary General of the Council of Europe in accordance with the same rules to ensure that the inter-institutional meetings between the Council of Europe and the European Union can take place on a strictly equal footing.

It is also essential that the ministers for foreign affairs, as I told the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers, the Romanian Foreign Minister, take the Council of Europe more seriously. It is inconceivable that the Council of Europe should be viewed in the member states of the Council of Europe and the European Union as the forum for organised democracy in Europe if the Committee of Ministers, despite its excellent qualities, generally meets at ambassadorial level. No, the ministers for foreign affairs must take the trouble to attend meetings to show that they take the Council of Europe seriously. If governments themselves do not do so, how can the public and observers be expected to?

Lastly, I would like to see the European Union one day become itself a member of the Council of Europe. This could reasonably be achieved by 2010. Until that time, I would like to see the European Union represented at the Council by a resident permanent representative, in the same way that I believe the Council of Europe should be given diplomatic representation with the European Union.

Ladies and gentlemen, these are some of the main ideas in my report, summarised perhaps somewhat brutally rather than succinctly since I had only a quarter of an hour available to me, but you will be able to understand them in greater detail once you have read the report in full.

Mr van der Linden, thank you for the numerous words of advice that you have given me as President of the Parliamentary Assembly. I extend these thanks to all its members, including of course the Secretary General and his staff. Without the commitment of all of these people I would have been unable to draft the report in the time given to me.

I hope to see you again at least once a year to discuss the follow-up taken by governments and parliaments to this report.

THE PRESIDENT (translation)

True mastery is shown in brevity, and Mr Juncker is a great master. He is also living proof that a small country can produce great Europeans.

I am very pleased that he has been nominated for this year’s Charlemagne Prize. This is a great tribute to his work and achievements for Europe and we owe him a debt of gratitude. I should like to stress that he has presented a highly relevant report containing important and constructive proposals.