Jan Peter


Prime Minister of the Netherlands

Speech made to the Assembly

Wednesday, 28 April 2004

In 1517, Desiderius Erasmus, the Dutch humanist philosopher, published The complaint of peace, in which the allegorical figure Peace speaks to the world. She is completely distraught and, in a heart-rending plea, laments her tragic fate. She is rejected by all the peoples of Europe, despite her efforts on their behalf. War and violence have plunged millions of Europeans into misery. “Why,” she asks, “do people use their reason to bring about their own ruin rather than to ensure their happiness?” Erasmus wrote The complaint of peace for a planned European summit. Its objective was to provide a forum for Europe’s greatest rulers to sign a peace treaty, but the summit never took place and the peace treaty was not signed.

Since 1517, Europe has not given peace a chance to stop weeping. Our history unites civilisation’s most beautiful creations with mankind’s worst expressions of repression, violence and horror. For Erasmus, peace was the highest objective of European politics. He was not alone in thinking so. Many European philosophers – Immanuel Kant, for example – have thought the same.

History has taught us that peace has no chance so long as there are no shared moral values or so long as there is no common ideal on which to draw for fresh inspiration and the courage to move forward together, even in difficult times. The Second World War made clear how essential it is to have a system of shared values. When the United Nations General Assembly issued the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, it had good reason to state that “disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind”. The declaration also states that the antidote to the poison of tyranny and repression is “a common understanding” of these rights and freedoms.

In that spirit, the Council of Europe was established in 1949. The Council represents a community of values, set out above all in the European Convention on Human Rights and in the European Social Charter, which have been consolidated in the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights. Europe’s essence as a community of values has since been reaffirmed again and again. I recall the milestone of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act. Another milestone is the European Union’s draft treaty establishing a constitution for Europe, although the real milestone will be the day – hopefully in the not-too-distant future – when we can delete the word “draft”.

What are the values which bind us and are set out in our conventions? They can be seen on three levels. First, on the level of people, as individuals and members of social groups, the overarching value is respect for human rights and human dignity, which means that everyone has the right to life, protection from inhuman treatment, a fair trial, respect for privacy and freedom of expression. Tolerance belongs to the same group of values. Then comes the level of the state, with the values of democracy, the rule of law, equal treatment and social justice. Thirdly, we come to the values which concern relations between states: the sovereign equality of states, international co-operation and the peaceful settlement of disputes.

After the horrors of the Second World War, do those values really guide us today? Anyone looking back at the past 60 years will see facts and developments that inspire courage and confidence. More and more European countries have cast their lot with one another. The number of member states in the Council of Europe has grown from 10 to 45. The European Union originally had 6 member states, but today the number is about to rise to 25. East and West were reunited after the breakthrough year of 1989. Two separate Europes became one, with one common ideal of civilisation.

Democracy continues to spread its roots across the entire European continent. Never before have so many Europeans lived under a form of government which guarantees liberty. For 50 years, most of Europe has been spared the catastrophe of large-scale armed conflict, and never before in our history have we witnessed that. Never before has there been such a long a period of relative calm in large parts of Europe.

There is still much cause for worry. Terrorism is again rearing its head, but now as never before. Violent clashes between different ethnic groups have not been stamped out. There is still great human suffering in Europe. Rights and freedoms are still not universally guaranteed in equal measure. Social exclusion and injustice still exist, sometimes on a very large scale. Still, optimism prevails. Our problems, concerns and conflicts are pits, sometimes gaping pits, on an uphill road. Whether we will be able to move forward will depend on the extent to which we can draw on the springs from which our strength flows. Our true strength comes from ideals and ideas rather than money. Research shows that that is true. Since the early 1980s, several European universities have been conducting a multi-year investigation into European values. Among other things, the results reveal that today’s citizens consider material well-being a necessity, but they seek to satisfy their deeper needs at a less material level with a happy home life, personal development and health. We would do well to keep this conclusion in mind.

Reflecting on values is not simple. Many people claim that values are abstractions – not something that you can hold on to – but the power of these values lies in the fact that they are abstract because they create space and freedom, open the door to opportunity and possibility, and are boundless. They inspire and they motivate.

This is what distinguishes them from norms. Norms make clear what is not permitted. Norms set limits and place restrictions on freedom.

Freedom is an essential feature of the European ideal of civilisation, but freedom is never boundless. Even Adam Smith – often said to be the champion of free-market individualism – knew very well that there can be no freedom without a moral foundation and a solid legal system. We sometimes forget that he wrote not only An inquiry into the nature and causes of the wealth of nations, but also The theory of moral sentiments.

Absolute freedom stands in the way of the freedom of others. This is why it is important to speak of values and norms. We all know the Enlightenment slogan “liberty, equality, fraternity”. At issue is the essential question of how freedom can strengthen fraternity, in the sense of commitment to one another, instead of limiting it.

We etch our values into stone – on monuments, under statues and over entrances to public buildings. This does justice to their importance. But when we set our values in stone, we do not do justice to their true essence, because they form a dynamic, living whole. They require care and must be constantly vitalised. They constantly need renewed inspiration. Europeans have learned that lesson from the great changes of the past few decades. Prosperity has increased in many parts of our continent. Educational levels have risen sharply. More and more people have the chance to develop their talents. Yet, at the same time, we have witnessed the disappearance of many traditional tightly knit social structures. For many, the church is no longer the anchor it once was. Individuals attach increasing importance to their personal freedoms.

Greater prosperity and opportunities for personal development and personal freedom are extraordinary achievements, but they have a dark side too. Too often, the result of these achievements is that we throw money at problems without delving into their causes; that other people’s freedom is limited by the freedom that we demand for ourselves; that egotism makes our society a less civil one; that society as a whole splits and splinters into groups that no longer have any common ground and no longer even wish to engage in dialogue.

In many countries, including the Netherlands, these developments have led to growing discomfort and to the understanding that renewed reflection about our values and norms is now an urgent necessity. For a long time, politicians failed to take this as seriously as they should have. However, over the past few years, public discussions on the subject have exploded. What is the glue that really binds us? That is now the core question. How do you strike a balance between personal freedom and personal responsibility?

Other developments are again compelling us to seek the right balance between freedom and responsibility. The first of these is the increased threat of terrorism. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the threats to security do not come from large-scale conflicts between states; they come from small groups of fanatics who spare nothing and nobody and who pursue their private goals through terror. They are bent on destroying the rule of law, and with it the very foundation on which the European community of values has been constructed.

Religions do not set off bombs. Belief systems do not attack innocent people. Islam is not the problem. Islam – like Christianity – is a religion that preaches peace. The danger lies not in religion but in the people who misuse it to achieve their goals by violence. Every act of terror shocks us all. A terrorist act in one member state affects us all. The attacks of 11 March in Madrid showed that Europe is united in its determination to put an end to terrorism. The protocol amending the European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism supports this aim. We must continue to act with one mind. Disunity in Europe creates a breeding ground for terrorism. The fight against terrorism creates new dilemmas and conflicts of values, and it requires renewed reflection on our norms. For example, we need to strike a new balance between collective security and individual privacy.

A second development that affects us all is the penetration of information and communication technology into our societies. We can no longer conceive of daily life without the Internet, but although our reality has become digital, our way of thinking has often remained analogue. Freedom of expression and the right to privacy in the digital era must be protected with as much energy as it was in the age of paper. But this simple observation is not a solution. We must remember that the Internet is also a lightning-fast medium for spreading hate, discrimination and slander. It is also used for unlawful practices like child pornography. The sources of this poison are often difficult to identify. This adds urgency to the need for values and fresh norms.

The third development is that large groups of migrants are entering many European countries.

Europe is no longer a continent of mono-ethnic states. Ethnic minorities in the Netherlands now make up about 10% of the population and one third in the cities. The newcomers have brought their own cultures with them. Cultural diversity must be treasured, but it also leads to clashing values and behaviour patterns among people who form one society and frequently live around the corner from one another.

The founders of the Council of Europe had the appalling experiences of the Second World War fresh in their minds, which explains why special emphasis was placed on individual rights. We have developed a unique judicial process, which makes it possible for any citizen to file an application against a member state if he feels it does not respect the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. We must be proud of this grand achievement, but we cannot rest on our laurels. A society that guarantees justice when individual rights are violated is not necessarily one that does justice to individual potential. That is possible only with a foundation of common values that all members of the society experience and subscribe to. Those values create the common ground needed to prevent us from being torn apart by internal conflicts. If integration is to succeed, clarity on common values is an absolute precondition.

The nineteenth-century French historian and statesman, François Guizot, saw diversity as the hallmark of European civilisation. Differing beliefs in Europe have never succeeded in blotting one another out. One single doctrine has never remained dominant. Tyranny has never taken firm root. Guizot shows us the importance of the Enlightenment for Europe, but he also points to the positive influence of Christianity on European civilisation and to the precious freedom of conscience, which the separation of church and state made possible.

Alexis de Tocqueville, another Frenchman from the nineteenth century, emphasised the importance of interpersonal ties in a pluralistic, democratic society when he wrote: “In democratic countries, knowledge of how to combine is the mother of all other forms of knowledge; on its progress depends that of all others.”

Diversity forms the essence of European civilisation, which is why the values that permit difference – freedom of religion and expression, equality before the law and the sanctity of life – apply to everyone in Europe, without exception. If Europe does not resolutely protect this shared canon of values, it will put the essence of its civilisation at risk. Diversity without unity cannot exist. For this reason, a crucial task for us as governments, and you as representatives of the people, is to continue to propagate and protect these values in a multicultural Europe.

We know how difficult this is. Values can be set out in declarations, conventions and laws. They can be etched into monuments and sung about in national anthems, but this does not mean that they are fixed in people’s hearts and minds. That is why education, both at home and at school, and civic education in a broader sense, are so important. That is where concepts like tolerance, respect for others and a sense of responsibility are passed on – concepts without which it is almost impossible to honour our shared values.

It is precisely in a society where everything within the confines of the law is possible – where no government, church or organisation prescribes what people must do, think and say – that everyone must learn to take responsibility for their acts and words. Problems arise when people want total freedom for themselves but reject responsibility for the consequences of their acts.

The Council of Europe is a community of values in which these topics must also be discussed. Our challenge is not only to protect the values we have set out together but also to keep them alive in a time of tremendous movement and change. The day we stop living those values is the day Europe’s heart stops beating.

Your role as representatives of the people and as members of the Parliamentary Assembly is crucial. The Assembly is an extremely valuable arena for dialogue on values in Europe. The Committee of Ministers translates the values into norms, and is the organ in which the member states can call on one another to respect the norms which we have all agreed to. In particular, we must keep our eye focused on our core tasks: human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

We can be proud of what we have accomplished since 1949 and since 1989. Peace – rejected and scorned for so many centuries – has increasingly found a home here. In large parts of Europe, war and violence are no longer the rule, but the exception. However, peace is more than the absence of war and violence. It is also a peaceful and prosperous society of people within the European community of values. That is the task that lies ahead – in all its beauty and complexity.


Thank you very much, Prime Minister, for your most interesting address. Members of the Assembly have expressed a wish to put questions to you.

I remind them that questions must be limited to 30 seconds and no more. Colleagues should be asking questions and not making speeches.

I will allow supplementary questions only at the end and only if time permits. The first question is by Ms Aguiar.

Ms AGUIAR (Portugal)

Prime Minister, considering the situation in your country, and in democracies in general, in the context of the growing threats to peace that arise in the post-September 11 world, how do you think that we can achieve a balance between European ideals of solidarity and control of borders, the movement of people and restrictive policies on foreigners among us, without putting at risk moral values, traditions of fraternity and human rights in our open – or at least formally open – societies?

Mr Balkenende, Prime Minister of the Netherlands

Thank you for your question; I see the meaning of it in the context of my speech. In the discussion on the Dutch return policy, claims were made that the Netherlands was planning a mass deportation of refugees and asylum seekers. Those claims are unfounded. The return plan for asylum seekers residing in the Netherlands for a considerable time deals only with asylum seekers whose claims have, in compliance with international standards, been irrevocably rejected. All returns will take place on an individual basis and in compliance with all relevant international standards.

Many asylum seekers have been in asylum proceedings for a considerable time. It is estimated that a total of some 26 000 asylum seekers who sought asylum in the Netherlands before 1 April 2001 are still in reception facilities, and 2 200 asylum seekers who have been awaiting a decision for more than five years, or for whom a rejection would cause unreasonable hardship, have been granted a residence permit as a result of a special amnesty.

Asylum seekers who sought asylum before 1 April 2001 will receive special treatment. For the purpose of their return, extra facilities will be granted, including temporary shelter in the Netherlands while preparing for their return. Financial support for return will also be offered. Returns will be individual, planned and supported. When it is established beyond doubt that a rejected asylum seeker cannot return because of circumstances beyond his influence, he will be granted a residence permit, and in the next few years, whenever the Netherlands needs to adopt measures to encourage departure and return, we will continue to establish and maintain co-operation with countries of origin.


The Prime Minister might think that he has already answered this question, but my question is slightly different. Today, a motion for an Assembly resolution on the new asylum policies in the Netherlands has been tabled. My question is: is the Prime Minister surprised to hear that, or does he understand why it is necessary for the Parliamentary Assembly to discuss his government’s asylum policies?

Mr Balkenende, Prime Minister of the Netherlands

It is good that this question has been raised already. I have already given an answer to the earlier question on the same subject, but I am not surprised that there is discussion of that subject in this forum, because it is an important issue. However, when I hear words such as “deportation”, I have to say that in my opinion that description is not accurate. If there are formal procedures, and an asylum seeker has had the opportunity to go to a judge, and the judge’s decision has been made clear more than once, what follows is not deportation; it is a matter of the rule of law. That is the reality. I can imagine that there are discussions about that in this forum, because it is a relevant subject, but if we are thinking about the content of the issue, I have to repeat what I said in answer to the earlier question.

Lord JUDD (United Kingdom)

Prime Minister, thank you for a profoundly challenging, and in many ways moving, address. What does your government see as the dividing line between political asylum and economic immigration, and what does it see as the role of the movement of labour in the operation of a global market? Does the promotion of the global market without the free movement of labour not involve a contradiction that unavoidably leads to so-called illegal migration in one form or another? How do we resolve that dilemma?

Mr Balkenende, Prime Minister of the Netherlands

I thank Lord Judd for his question. Political asylum is granted to a person on the basis of the Geneva Convention, on the basis of the European Convention on Human Rights, on humanitarian grounds, or on the grounds of the overall situation in the country of origin. Those grounds all relate to a situation in which the life of a person is in danger.

Economic migration results from the need for movement induced either by a need for employment or simply a wish to take up employment elsewhere, owing to family ties or an interesting working environment. With regard to the relationship between those two, it is a fact that many asylum applications are rejected.

Many people applying for asylum status are thus in fact economic migrants. They fled their country owing to lack of employment or because they wished to improve their living conditions. In that respect, it is difficult to distinguish between the two migration streams. To a large extent, the reality is that there is a mixed stream.

The role of the movement of labour in the operation of the global market is to a large extent positive. It has been an impetus for the world to become as global as it is, but it is also a requirement for its continued good functioning. This world requires mutual understanding, which is fostered by the movement of labour. The European Community is also an excellent example. It has created a truly common market in which not only capital, services and goods but also labour can move freely.

Of course, we also need to ensure that human rights are protected. There are many examples of forced or semi-forced labour. Tackling that should be an absolute priority.

Mr WILKINSON (United Kingdom)

Can the Dutch Prime Minister say whether his government will be able to use their chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers and the successive presidency of the Netherlands of the Council of Ministers of the European Union to enable the Union to be monitored by the Council of Europe as regards whistleblowers? Whistleblowers have been discriminated against when they reveal malpractice or maladministration, especially in the field of financial practices. Thank you, sir.

Mr Balkenende, Prime Minister of the Netherlands

On the question of whistleblowers, there have been all kinds of developments. It is good to take whistleblowers seriously and to listen to their comments. It is also a reality that the Netherlands, in its presidency, will talk about those issues. This is an important question and we shall continue to debate the issues that have been raised.

Mr SEVERIN (Romania)

Mr Prime Minister, my country is a member state of the Council of Europe, ready to take part in reinforced co-operation within the European Union starting on 23 January 2007, the date of its supposed accession. How do you foresee the results of the Intergovernmental Conference and their implementation, taking into account your future responsibilities towards the European Council in the second part of this year?

Mr Balkenende, Prime Minister of the Netherlands

Please allow me to answer this question, Mr President, even though it is not of direct relevance to the Council of Europe.

Reinforced co-operation already exists in current treaties. It was introduced by the Treaty of Amsterdam and reinforced by the Treaty of Nice. The current draft constitution produced by the Convention makes further changes to the reinforced co-operation procedure, such as the possibility of moving from unanimity to qualified majority voting. It remains to be seen whether the Intergovernmental Conference will adopt those changes.

So far, the instrument of reinforced co-operation has never actually been used. In a union of twenty-five or more member states, it will be more likely that at some point a group of member states will want to make use of that option within a well-defined area of activity. That is not a bad thing; ambitious groups of states should not be held back by other states’ power of vote.

However, getting reinforced co-operation off the ground is not our main priority at the moment. Right now we need to put our energy into adopting and ratifying the European constitution. All the member states, new and old, need to get ready to make that happen.

Mr FRUNDA (Romania)

Let me congratulate you, Mr Prime Minister, on your speech. I hope that it reflects your credo politic.

How do you explain, Mr Prime Minister, the fact that the Netherlands belongs to the small group of member states that has not so far ratified the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities? Is not the restricted definition that is now taken into consideration a discouraging example for other member states?

Mr Balkenende, Prime Minister of the Netherlands

The Senate will soon debate the bill to ratify the framework convention, and the government expect to adopt that bill very soon, before 1 June. Ratification was delayed somewhat because parliament would not agree to include ethnic minorities within the meaning of the term “national minorities”. Ratifying the treaty is a high priority for the Netherlands, so the declaration accompanying the treaty was changed and resubmitted to parliament.

Ethnic minorities residing in the Netherlands legally are one of the groups at which integration policy is aimed. It is important to note that the minority rights included in the framework convention are already agreed by Dutch legislation. Therefore, the fact that the framework convention does not apply to ethnic minorities will not harm their legal status.

Mr BRAGA (Portugal)

Mr Prime Minister, at present the Netherlands’ education system offers different origin language teaching for its significant minority population, for example, the Portuguese. However, as far as we know, next year your government will stop that model and there will be no further progress on offering that kind of choice. How can the cultural rights of migrants be guaranteed in the future?

Mr Balkenende, Prime Minister of the Netherlands

Thank you for your question. On 2 May 1996, the Government of the Kingdom of the Netherlands officially notified the Council of Europe that the Netherlands had accepted the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, following the acceptance of a bill to that effect by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the States General. In doing so, the Netherlands became the fourth member state of the Council of Europe to accept or ratify the charter.

The charter came into force on 1 March 1998, following its acceptance, ratification or approval by at least five member states of the Council of Europe, in accordance with the provisions of Article 19. Every

member state of the Council of Europe that binds itself to the charter undertakes to apply as a minimum the provisions contained in Part 2 of the charter unless it has made one or more reservations as referred to in Article 21. In addition, a member state may undertake to apply certain provisions from Part 3 of the charter in accordance with Article 2.

On accepting the charter in 1996, the Netherlands undertook to apply the provisions contained in Part 2 of the charter for the following regional or minority languages spoken within its territories: Frisian, Yiddish and the Lower Saxon and Roma languages. The provisions of the charter entered into force for the Kingdom of the Netherlands on 1 March 1998. As far as the Kingdom of the Netherlands is concerned, the charter applies only to the Netherlands. On 19 March 1997, the Government of the Netherlands submitted an additional declaration to the Council of Europe concerning the official recognition of Limburghuis as an official regional language within the meaning of Article 2 of the charter. In doing so, the Netherlands has also undertaken to apply the principles in Part 2 of the charter in relation to Limburghuis.

In respect of the Frisian language in the province of Friesland, the Netherlands has also undertaken to apply a minimum of 35 paragraphs or sub-paragraphs chosen from among the provisions of Part 3 of the charter. On accepting the charter, the Netherlands undertook to apply 48 provisions in respect of the Frisian language in accordance with the above-mentioned classification. The choice of those provisions was influenced by prevailing government policy on the Frisian language and culture.

In 1999, with a view to the periodic report as prescribed in Article 15 of the charter, the Frisian Academy prepared an initial inventory of the measures adopted by the Netherlands in application of the provisions it had adopted from Part 3 of the charter in relation to the Frisian language, as requested by the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations. The present report may be classified as a periodical follow-up report in accordance with Article 15 of the charter. This year, the Netherlands has been monitored for the second time by the committee of experts under the charter. We are looking forward to the committee’s conclusions. The members of the Committee who came from the Netherlands are well known and experienced in European politics and minority languages. Sadly, one of those members died last year.


Thank you. We now come to the supplementary questions. Such questions must, in the widest sense, have something to do with the first question or with the answer.

I call Ms Aguiar to ask the first supplementary question.

Ms AGUIAR (Portugal)

Thank you very much, Prime Minister. I want to go further than the Netherlands and asylum seekers. Do we today in Europe look at foreigners’ different faces and customs and see them as friends or enemies? Thank you.

Mr Balkenende, Prime Minister of the Netherlands

I have always said that Europe has a history of tolerance and diversity in language, culture and history. That is the richness of European culture. Foreigners are part of society. However, we must be aware of the fact that people can communicate and integrate. If people from other countries are willing to stay for the rest of their lives in another country, it is also important to consider the conditions that are necessary to communicate and to integrate. That is one of the reasons why it is important that people are able to speak the language of the country that they want to live in. That is also the experience of the Netherlands.

If people are not able to communicate – to speak the language – they never will; they cannot become friends because the distance between them is too big. That is why we have to consider the reasons for an integration policy. It is never right to talk in terms of enemies. If we have a world society, it is important to work together and talk about the good things and the bad things. Consider the struggle against terrorism, where we need one another on a worldwide scale. So it is not right to talk in terms of enemies, but in terms of friends. That is the reality, but to become a friend, you have to consider the conditions that are necessary and being able to communicate and speak the same language is a very important condition.


Thank you, Mr President. In connection with the asylum policies, it has been feared that people who have been staying, working and paying taxes for many years in the Netherlands and even families with children born in the Netherlands will or can be expelled from the Netherlands. Can the Prime Minister give any guarantee that this will not happen?

Mr Balkenende, Prime Minister of the Netherlands

I have made the situation in the Netherlands very clear. We have our procedures before the courts and the judges. That means that I cannot give the guarantee that has been asked for. That is a matter of respecting the rule of law, and we also have to respect the outcome of the legal procedures. That is the reality, and it is also a matter of being fair. If people are told that the answer is no after they have had the necessary time to get legal status, we have to respect the outcome of the legal procedures.

Lord JUDD (United Kingdom)

Do you agree, Prime Minister, that one of the greatest dangers to stability is people’s lack of a sense of security in their own identity and that therefore it is terribly important to enable people to have a sense of their identity and roots from which they can move forward to collaboration and co-operation? Would you not also agree that one of the problems in migration is that the pressures fall on the parts of our community – in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom – where people are least prepared and where the social issues are already the gravest? Do you agree that we have to put that right contextually? Finally, do you agree that, if we are to get this right internationally, we have to recognise that the global market cannot be turned into an all-embracing dogma because we have to have compensatory policies to make up for our refusal – our inability – to cope with the free movement of labour at this juncture?

Mr Balkenende, Prime Minister of the Netherlands

Lord Judd, you made a very important remark when you talked about the necessity of having a sense of identity. It is important that we in a world society have a dialogue between cultures and religions. Remember also that the famous Swiss theologian, Hans Kung, said that a dialogue between world religions is necessary. That is also true when talking about world security, saying no to terrorism and so on. But a dialogue is only possible, exactly as you said, if people have a sense of their own identity. You talk about diversity in European culture. We have to respect that. We need to treat everyone with respect. Therefore, we need dialogue and people need a sense of their own identity. However, that does not detract from the fact that if people want to live in a certain country, they must be aware of the rules of that country and the language and that they have to obey the rule of law and the legal order. That is one of the necessary elements in order to participate. You also mention the global market. That is also a very interesting question.

I remember when we saw the changes in the political regimes in the former communist states in central and eastern Europe. In the beginning, the attention was focused on the concept of a free-market economy, but we could see that after some years, there was also another discussion about the role of civil society and the role of non-governmental organisations. That was a very important shift in the orientation because it is not only a matter of talking in terms of the role of the free market economy, but also of talking about people’s responsibilities for themselves and for other people. Therefore, it is also important to talk about the concept of a civil society. On the world scale, we have to work with the World Trade Organization. We have to consider the interests of Third World countries and development co-operation. All those things are very important. So it is not only a matter of having a global market; other conditions are also necessary, and it is a matter of having a balance between them.

Mr WILKINSON (United Kingdom)

I was encouraged by the Prime Minister’s reply to my question on whistleblowers in the European Union. Is it not the case that, if the EU accedes to the European Convention on Human Rights, it will be subject to the same standards and the signatory states represented here? Could it not therefore be subject to the same monitoring procedures?

Mr Balkenende, Prime Minister of the Netherlands

I think that I can say yes on that question. When we talk about human rights and about monitoring, we know how to act and to monitor them. So I can say yes to your question.

Mr SEVERIN (Romania)

Mr Prime Minister, the purpose of my question is to hear your assessment of the prospect for the European Constitution to be adopted. Bearing in mind that you will have the presidency of the European Council and bearing in mind the keen interest of this Assembly in such an adoption, can you give us some details about that? Thank you.

Mr Balkenende, Prime Minister of the Netherlands

We all hope that the Constitution can be finalised at least by halfway through June. That is what we discussed during the March meeting of the European Council, and I think that we can be a bit optimistic that the atmosphere was different. But a few months ago, in December, it was not possible to reach an agreement. That was a bad signal because if we talk about enlarging the European

Union on 1 May, officially, it is also important that we can finalise the new Constitutional Treaty. That is the reason why the Netherlands will support the Irish presidency in its efforts to finalise that. Then, it is not only a matter of finalising it, but of national parliaments ratifying it with referendums and so on. So the first important step will be to finalise the negotiations. I really hope that we can reach that goal in June, but then it is the responsibility of the member states to continue.

It is also important for the new member states that they are working on a new Europe and a new phase of European history. It is necessary that we can finalise that. The Convention under the presidency of Valéry Giscard d’Estaing has done a very good job. When he presented his conclusions, everyone seemed to be against them. We should now finalise things as soon as possible, so I was not very happy in December, as you can imagine. None the less, I think that the atmosphere at the March Council was very good, and I really hope that in June we can say that things are over with and we can reach our goal and that the Constitutional Treaty is ready.

Mr FRUNDA (Romania)

There is no difference between national minorities and ethnic minorities. The term “national minorities” comes from Latin and the term “ethnic minorities” comes from Greek. When you make such a distinction, do you differentiate between traditional minorities and immigrants? If so, why did you exclude the new minorities from the definition of national minorities? Thank you.

Mr Balkenende, Prime Minister of the Netherlands

You can never say that a national minority is the same as an ethnic minority. Differences which are not ethnic differences can exist in a country. If we are considering the legal status of ethnic minorities, one has to look to the laws of a country. I have already answered a question about the position in the Netherlands, where our Senate voted on an issue to do with the role of minorities. However, we must be aware that national minorities cannot be identified only as ethnic minorities. Differences in definition can exist.

Mr BRAGA (Portugal)

Are you able to say whether migrant communities will have their rights to learn in their original language guaranteed, if that is their wish?

Mr Balkenende, Prime Minister of the Netherlands

On the role of migrants, I can say a little about our experience in the Netherlands. Of course, I understand that people say that migrants must have the opportunity to speak their language because that has to do with their identity. However, the consequence of that view is that some people cannot integrate the labour market or the society in which they live. A few weeks ago, I was in Portugal where I discussed the matter with the Prime Minister. I was asked about the facilities in the Netherlands for learning Portuguese. I made it clear that it is essential for those who want to live and participate in Dutch society to speak Dutch. We must be honest about this important matter. Migrants have problems with finding opportunities in the labour market and participating in society because of their lack of knowledge of a country’s language. In a country such as the United States, people are proud to become a member of that society, get American nationality and sing the national anthem. However, they are obliged to learn the language. One has to relate the role of migrants to their ability to communicate and participate in the countries where they live.


That brings to an end the questions to Mr Balkenende. I thank him most warmly on behalf of the Assembly for his address and for his remarks in answering the questions. Thank you very much, Prime Minister, for coming to our Parliamentary Assembly. All the best for your country.