Prime Minister of the French Republic

Speech made to the Assembly

Tuesday, 31 January 1995

Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I was delighted to accept your invitation to address your Assembly.

I realise that doing so today, when you are admitting a new member, Latvia, is particularly symbolic. I salute Mr Gorbunovs, President of the Latvian Parliament, who is representing his country. With it, all the Baltic states are now in the Council of Europe. All these countries have made remarkable efforts in the economic and political fields and in the sphere of human rights, in order to rejoin the European family. Their place is here amongst us and gives me great pleasure.

Your invitation has given me the opportunity to visit one of the first European institutions of the postwar period and, indeed, the one which immediately came to symbolise what France holds dearest: the protection of human rights and democracy. On 18 August 1948, the European Movement proposed that a “representative European assembly” be convened to examine the constitutional, political, economic and social issues of the Europe that had just been discussed at the Hague Congress. Your Parliamentary Assembly is the product of this very first proposal. Your Assembly has succeeded in establishing its legitimacy and its work is of extremely high quality. This is a fact to which I should like to pay particular tribute.

Above all, I should like to highlight the irreplaceable nature of the work the Council of Europe is doing for the countries that are moving towards democracy. I should also like to make some comments on the role the Council of Europe should play in the institutions of our continent and the contribution it should make to European stability.

First of all, the role of the Council of Europe.

Is it possible to live together in an organised society without sharing common values? I personally know of no type of international organisation which has succeeded in the long term without being based on a number of undisputed values. Nor could I imagine that Europe should not be inspired by an ideal of freedom and dignity which is the very basis of human rights which, after all, lie at the heart of what European civilisation has offered to the rest of the world. That is why, immediately after the second world war, our continent began to seek reconciliation and to unite around the values that the Council of Europe has always excelled in expressing, defending and developing. That is your role.

Despite the momentum of European integration in the European Community, your Organisation has always maintained its role, as no other institution could take its place. The European Convention on Human Rights was the starting point in a whole range of codification work that has expanded into other areas and thus constantly improved the measures to protect human dignity in Europe. We have seen this, in particular, in the European Social Charter. No other institution has set out such generous provisions. And then there has been the Convention for the Protection of Individuals with regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data, the Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and also the draft bioethics convention, which should be completed shortly with your help.

These texts have no equivalents in other continents. In this sense, they are more than just the basis for a European identity. They are, in fact, the very foundation and source of a form of universal humanism. That is why the Council of Europe is irreplaceable. If Europe has come to be seen as a model in terms of the protection of human rights, it is to the Council of Europe that it owes most of this reputation. It is not merely a question of agreeing on a few major principles: it is a matter of putting them into practice on a daily basis.

The machinery for protecting individual rights under the European Convention on Human Rights is exemplary. Not only does it lay down particularly demanding international standards, it also enables each individual to appeal to the bodies responsible for applying these standards. Having become a victim of the success of the procedures involved, the European Court and Commission of Human Rights were in danger of being completely overwhelmed. That is why the Vienna Summit decided to merge the two bodies, by setting up a permanent Court and requiring states to accept the right of individual petition.

At a time when we are trying to move Europe closer to its citizens and make individual citizens aware of the benefit they themselves can derive from the building of Europe, the procedures you have set up are showing us the way.

What other continent can boast of giving individual citizens the right to appeal to a supranational body to defend themselves against abuses of state power? In 1994, the European Commission of Human Rights registered over two thousand applications in this respect.

But the Council of Europe has not restricted its role to human rights in the traditional sense of the term. It has extended its activities to all areas that contribute to the dignity of human beings and respect for the environment in which they live.

With the first signs of a genuine European awareness now emerging here, it is the Council of Europe we must thank for our societies’ first organised efforts to protect nature.

At the same time, the Council of Europe has appreciated the importance of culture in the definition of a European identity. Our friends in eastern Europe, including Russia, who have all signed your European Cultural Convention, know what benefit they can draw from the implementation of the Council of Europe’s Cultural Fund, the heritage protection conventions and the Partial Agreement on “Eurimages”, which is the only international support fund for the production and distribution of European cinematographic works. The Council of Europe has been a pioneer as regards the specificity of European culture, a notion which, you know, is dear to France and, I hope, to many other quarters in Europe.

Without wishing to be exhaustive, I should also like to mention the Council of Europe’s work in combating drug abuse and trafficking and in fighting intolerance and racism. Lastly, I would mention the 1993 “Plan of Action”, the efforts to deal with Aids and the exemplary recommendation of 18 June 1983 concerning the prevention of the possible transmission of the virus to patients receiving blood transfusions.

In the process, the Council of Europe’s work touches on, and has sometimes anticipated, the action of the European Union or OSCE. But we should not think in terms of competition or rivalry. It is only natural that the activities of these European organisations should be closely akin to each other for their common good, even if they sometimes overlap somewhat. In terms of human rights, the protection of citizens against the state or the definition of our continent’s cultural identity, the Council of Europe has often shown the way. Rather than taking offence at its example being followed, might I recommend that it congratulate itself on having inspired the practical implementation of so many of the principles and projects it has been the first to develop.

What place should the Council of Europe occupy in our continent at large?

Great efforts are being made to improve the organisation of Europe and take account of the major changes that have occured since 1989.

The Council of Europe is playing a full part in the process, and the particularity of its role lies in the fact that its frontiers are set to expand to the boundaries of democracy in our continent. Once the decline of communism began in Europe, the Council of Europe had a duty to expand and take in the new democracies. As you have just decided in favour of Latvia’s admission, the Council of Europe now has thirty-four members. Barely six years ago, in 1989, it had twenty-three.

As democracy gradually develops throughout our continent, the Council of Europe’s role will be to expand and take in all European countries. And this will be a big advantage in the long term: for the European institutions such as the European Union or WEU, which have very large political ambitions and are also engaged in a process of enlargement, are not destined to cover the whole of Europe. It is quite clear that Russia and the CIS have their own plans of a different kind. The OSCE is not in the same situation, since it spreads eastward as far as Vladivostok, but also westwards to Vancouver.

The Council of Europe will thus be the only organisation which is purely European and whose membership includes all European countries. There is, of course, no merit in excluding a particular country on principle, especially when it is an ally and friend. Other organisations, such as Nato, OSCE and OECD provide forums where we can co-operate with our partners on the other side of the Atlantic. It is, however, very useful to have a forum where Europeans can get together to share the values common to their history and cultures. It is important to have an organisation particularly dedicated to protecting human rights, for this is certainly Europe’s key contribution to world history.

Unfortunately, it is not yet clear what prospecet there is of extending the Council of Europe as far as the frontiers of the European and Caucasian republics of the Commonwealth of Independent States.

The Russian Federation is in a difficult position. It is understandable that it should want to preserve its territorial integrity. That is a principle essential to the stability of our continent. We are also well aware that the government of the Russian Federation is responsible for maintaining law and order in Chechnya.

But these principles should not be upheld to the detriment of human rights and international humanitarian law. The violence of the fighting, the savage destruction, the large number of victims and widespread suffering of the civilian population are cause for grave concern in all our countries. No one can ignore these problems and I myself, on behalf of the European Union and of France, which presides over it, have informed the Russian Prime Minister of our concern. My representations were accompanied by those of the Prime Minister of Hungary, which is currently presiding over the OSCE.

This is the ideal forum in which to express this concern, since it is the one where the moral obligation to respect human beings has been translated into a legal obligation. The Council of Europe should not on any account be accommodating when it comes to the human rights violations which have recently arisen out of the conflict in Chechnya and which are completely contrary to the code of conduct of the OSCE, to which Russia has subscribed.

Your Assembly has the legitimacy and competence to set strict conditions. If a country has clearly indicated its willingness to reform and has, to this end, put forward plans, together with a timetable, the Council of Europe should do everything possible to ensure that these plans are implemented.

For my part, I hope that, with the backing of the European Union, the OSCE and, of course, the Council of Europe, Russia will continue on the road to democratic reform, along which it has now been travelling for several years.

Russia, which is linked to Europe by its culture and its history, is undergoing trying times as it pursues economic and political transition. Let us hope that it is soon able to occupy the place it deserves at the Council of Europe and that it first does what is necessary to this end.

This is a legitimate hope for this great country, for we are well aware of the efforts of all those who in St Petersburg, Moscow and, indeed throughout the country, have dedicated themselves unstintingly to the democratic reform movement.

We can legitimately hope that Russia will join, for the sake of the Council of Europe itself, whose development and expansion would clearly be incomplete if it were to stop at the Russian frontier.

It would mean that we had, in a way, failed to achieve the democratic ideal which is our driving force. It would also represent a setback for Europe’s identity, that Europe-wide identity which, from the Atlantic to the borders of Russia, can best be expressed within this Organisation.

What contribution can the Council of Europe make to the stability of our continent?

On the strength of its enlargement, the Council of Europe should, to my mind, play an important role in consolidating stability in Europe. The heads of state and government who met in Vienna in October 1993 welcomed the fact that your Organisation had taken on this responsibility.

Working towards stability means, of course, dealing with the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, and all our governments are striving unceasingly to do so. The difficulty of the task shows just how important it is to prevent such situations from arising. It is for this reason that I said that I hoped our countries would have the courage and maturity to bring up the real issues and, in an atmosphere of confidence, pave the way for the settlement of the main problems as regards minorities and frontiers which face the countries that have applied for membership of the European Union. These problems, inherited from a history which is sometimes highly complex, are a source of conflict between some of these countries and must be solved by means of amicable agreements between neighbours.

The European Union decided to make the conference on the stability pact, which I had initiated, one of its joint projects. It appreciated how important a role the Council of Europe could play in furthering this project.

At the opening conference held in Paris in May, the participating countries referred to Council of Europe texts and to the confidence-building measures the Organisation has adopted, which provide essential reference points for all those who aspire to lasting stability in our continent.

We were able to rely on the co-operation of the Council of Europe and its experts, who often have unrivalled experience with regard to the rule of law and the problems of minorities, issues which are at the heart of the stability pact.

But the Council of Europe can contribute in areas other than in the political and legal fields. Its Social Development Fund, set up in 1956 to finance the resettlement of refugees, can add a new dimension to its aims and functions.

By providing loans totalling nearly one thousand million ecus every year, the fund has become a multilateral financial organisation in the true sense of the term and one which, while abiding by its objectives, could play a role in financing projects to promote good neighbourly relations, alongside the European Union’s Phare scheme and the actions of the EIB.

The reform of the fund, introduced in 1991, and the improvements that have been made to its procedures since then, should enable it to play a significant role in a scheme to ensure, in accordance with its original purpose, peace and stability through practical measures that meet the immediate needs of states and their citizens.

By virtue of the standards it has laid down, the implementing machinery it has set up, the political dialogue it can promote and the financial resources it can mobilise, the Council of Europe will be able to play an important role, promote the conclusion of the stability pact and help to follow it up in the coming years.

The closing conference on the pact is to be held in Paris on 21 March. There have been regular meetings around regional negotiating tables and a great deal of progress has been made. Many central and east European countries have made a substantial effort to reach agreements with their neighbours. Some such agreements are still pending. Without wishing in any way to interfere in the internal affairs of the states concerned, in an area which is a matter for their sovereignty, I should like to express the hope that fresh impetus will be given to these negotiations, so that they can be concluded in time for the closing conference. I would appeal to these countries and ask them what better sign of their determination to achieve peace and stability they could give to the international community than to conclude agreements with their neighbours, and what better sign that they are ready to join the European Union. I am personally convinced that they are resolved to take the appropriate action.

I should also like to look further ahead to a time when, I hope, the war-torn peoples of the former Yugoslavia will again choose to live in peace. I am convinced that, when the time comes, it will be necessary to add a new section to the stability pact with them, with the support of the European Union and the Council of Europe. These countries will have to meet at the negotiating table, in order to work out, together, on the basis of the principles which you uphold, the rules of good neighbourly relations in this highly complex region.

Ladies and gentlemen, please allow me in conclusion to say a few words about the way in which our continent is organised.

I have already had occasion to talk about the way I see the Europe of the future. To my mind, the European Union must provide the bedrock of European integration. It is a forum in which the concept of a unified Europe can be expressed in all its dimensions and where it is transformed into a driving force that benefits all the member states. In the coming years the European Union will have to face three major challenges: first, it will have to make a success of its internal reform, then expand successfully and, lastly, affirm its place in the international political arena. It is by successfully meeting the first two challenges that it will be able to achieve its political objective.

The consolidation of the European Union must not prevent those who are willing and able to do so to forge on ahead in certain prescribed areas, while at the same time remaining open to newcomers. It is now possible to envisage some areas in which closer co-operation of this kind could take place: currency and defence are uppermost in our minds.

The place of the individual in Europe will also be one of the key issues facing European governments in the coming years. How will the citizens of our countries see the European process? Will they regard it as a constraint or a promise, an asset? Will they find that it reflects their ambitions or that it is a distant image that has very little to do with the matters which directly concern them?

For my part, I hope that every French national will see European integration as an asset and an ambition to be achieved for the sake of a better life. The countries of the European Union will need to show determination and imagination if this requirement is to be met.

The Council of Europe is also making an important contribution here – and it alone can do this so well – by giving a very real meaning to the concept of European citizenship and giving individuals the unprecedented right to take their governments to a European court when their fundamental rights are flouted.

History in recent years and the fortunate upheavals that saw the decline of totalitarianism in Europe have drawn a circle larger than that of the European Union, one which delimits democracy in Europe. It is important that this circle should retain its full meaning and full strength. It is enshrined here in Strasbourg at the Council of Europe.

The term “democratic security”, coined by the Council of Europe Summit in October 1993, illustrates better than any other the ambition which brings us together here. It is a question of seeing democracy and human rights not only as a principle underlying the internal workings of states, but as the best means of guaranteeing world peace. History has taught us that democracies, if they are worthy of the name, do not make war on one another, even when their interests conflict. It is for that reason that the Council of Europe, its Parliamentary Assembly, its intergovernmental organs and its Secretariat are able to contribute to peace in our continent. Their role is irreplaceable and for that I thank them and you, ladies and gentlemen. (Applause)

THE PRESIDENT (translation)

Mr Balladur, thank you for your speech to which we listened with great interest and which will undoubtedly inspire us. It will have an impact far beyond this sitting.

Although he has a very tight schedule, Mr Balladur has agreed to reply to a few questions from the floor. But I cannot authorise members to put a supplementary question, as is general practice. I call Mr Eörsi to ask his question.

Mr EÔRSI (Hungary)

Prime Minister, you mentioned the European stability pact. I am happy to take the opportunity to ask a question about that as it was your initiative and is often referred to as the Balladur plan.

I wholly agree that the stability pact should focus on prevention. We all agree that the factors contributing to instability are border issues, separatism and ethnic violence. While we agree that the stability pact should provide guaranteed borders, how can it prevent minorities throughout Europe from moving towards separatism, and encourage them to become loyal citizens of their countries? What minority rights would be appropriate for inclusion in the European stability pact so that minorities can contribute to stability rather than prevent it?

Mr Balladur, Prime Minister of the French Republic (translation)

As far as progress to date is concerned, the two sets of negotiations covering the Baltic states and central Europe are underway. The European Union has launched a programme of transfrontier co-operation. The closing conference will issue a political declaration setting out the fundamental principles of stability in Europe – the text is being negotiated at the moment – and a list of agreements on good neighbourly relations concluded between the participating states.

The discussions between Russia and the Baltic states seem to be advancing satisfactorily. Negotiations have begun and are continuing between Hungary, Slovakia and Romania, which is progress compared with the situation before. I would point out that the main obstacles, concerning respect for the rights of minorities and the inviolability of borders, ought to be overcome on the basis of Council of Europe texts.

Mr Eörsi, you asked me in essence how minorities can contribute to stability in Europe.

The aim of the stability pact is precisely that minorities should not fuel instability in Europe. The stability pact is based on the idea that everyone must contribute to the basket of agreements that have been reached, in order to secure the legitimate rights of each and every individual.

As is always the case when political and human issues are at stake, we are faced with two pitfalls: not to respect the rights of minorities, which would be a setback for democracy and human rights, or to have an exorbitant notion of the rights of minorities, which would lead to the break-up of states and national units.

I do not think that we can solve all the issues through the pact. It establishes a number of principles with reference to Council of Europe texts but, to the extent that respect for borders is one of its two underlying objectives, it goes without saying that the action of minorities cannot result in the stability of borders being called into question.

The stability pact must therefore be seen as an exercise to achieve two goals: stable borders and respect for minorities, each element dovetailing with the other and enhancing its meaning. Borders will not be stable if the rights of minorities are wholly or even partly denied, that is self-evident, but neither can respect for the rights of minorities be secured in an unstable Europe. So there is no cut and dried legal answer to the question. The pact lays the requisite foundations and then it will be a matter of application.

Mr GALANOS (Cyprus)

Your excellency, as your country, France, now holds the Presidency of the European Union, what concrete steps do you propose to take during your Presidency to accelerate procedures for the setting of dates or a timetable as regards accession talks involving the European states of central and eastern Europe and also the Mediterranean island states of Cyprus and Malta? Will you please kindly inform us also of your plans and opinions about the necessary changes emanating from enlargement before the 1996 European intergovernmental conference, in connection with the internal structure of the Union?

Mr Balladur, Prime Minister of the French Republic (translation)

As things stand at present, I do not think that we should be confined by a strict timetable. The first thing we must do, during the French Presidency, is to draw up a list of questions to be submitted to the intergovernmental conference and to have some idea of how we ourselves, are going to reply to them. Of course we, the French, cannot expect that in the next few months our replies to such knotty issues will be adopted. Our responsibility is to prepare for this conference by drafting a questionnaire.

Secondly, as far as enlargement is concerned, our position is clear. We are in favour of it, although the way enlargement has worked to date has made the application of the treaty and the institutional machinery set up under it rather cumbersome and complicated. The intergovernmental conference must therefore pave the way for the adaptation of this institutional machinery before further enlargement can take place.

Moreover, thought must be given as to whether an even larger Europe will have the same economic, trade, agricultural policies, etc. as a Europe with a smaller number of members. This is a question facing all the countries concerned, not only those in western Europe, which are supposedly richer than the others. We must realise that there is no easy answer to agricultural and trade problems.

Lastly, my suggestion that we must not be too rigid in our thinking, but must visualise Europe progressing gradually within a system of concentric circles, would solve many of the problems of the applicant states. Besides, Europe has already signed trade agreements with these applicants to prepare for their membership in the future. This shows us the way forward.

Mr JUNG (France) (translation)

Prime Minister, for my part and on behalf of my colleagues in the European People’s Party, I would like to say how pleased we are that you are in Strasbourg today and we thank you for coming. We know here that peace along the Rhine is good for France.

You have just described the Council of Europe’s role in the overall process of European integration. Could you say whether you endorse our assessment that, in the long term, there will have to be an institutional link between the European Union and the Council of Europe, for the sake of effective co-ordination and rationalisation.

Mr Balladur, Prime Minister of the French Republic (translation)

As I said a moment ago, the question of how to organise Europe, how to sort out and bring some order to this profusion of political, economic, military, diplomatic, trade and cultural institutions is one that has to be addressed. Many European countries belong to all of them. They are members of the European Union, the Council of Europe, WEU, the Atlantic Alliance and the OSCE. But this is not true of every country.

I think I may say that France wishes to help to arrange greater complementarity between the European Union and the Council of Europe. That is why, during our Presidency of the European Union, we will strengthen co-ordination. A quadripartite meeting will again be held between the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, the President of the European Commission, the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe and the President of the Council of the European Union. No such meeting has been held for a long time. We will ensure that it takes place during the French Presidency.

Must we go further and establish the principle, a sort of legal rule, that it must be held once or twice a year, for example? That is something we can discuss. We are quite prepared to discuss it.

I would add that I consider it advisable for the Council of Europe and the European Union to extend joint action on the European continent as far as possible. As I said, the stability pact, which is an initiative of the European Union, is based on principles and methods established by the Council of Europe.

The implementation of the stability pact will entail economic assistance for the countries which sign it, economic assistance in which the Council of Europe can play an important role.

I think that this is the way in which we must prepare for the future. For I am certain that we will never achieve complete homogeneity, as not all European countries will necessarily be members of all the European organisations. If they were, we could just merge the lot! I do not think that we will arrive at this situation, certainly not in the foreseeable future. In the next few years we must therefore direct our efforts towards boosting co-operation above all between the Council of Europe and the European Union.

Mr PAHOR (Slovenia)

Mr President, Mr Prime Minister, the Council of Ministers of the European Union resolved in December to conclude European agreement with Slovenia during the French term of office. How do you assess that possibility?

Mr Balladur, Prime Minister of the French Republic (translation)

I see no reason why Slovenia should not follow the course mapped out, that is to say, conclude an association agreement to lay the foundations for the future. I know that some difficulties have been encountered recently, but Mr Juppé has told me that the diplomatic services of a number of countries, including France, are in the process of clearing away the obstacles. I hope that the matter can be sorted out.

Generally speaking, as I said before, I hope that the countries of the former Yugoslavia rapidly find a solution to their difficulties. This will mean that they will have to do their share, of course, but also that they will have to be helped in this respect and we are all prepared to do this. France is the European country which has taken the largest and most active part (together with others, but France has played a big role) in helping the countries of the former Yugoslavia to solve their difficulties.

If they find solutions, I repeat that they will be entitled to a new round of the stability pact, if I may put it like that. Having subscribed to that round, they will naturally be equally qualified to enter the European Union, especially those who, from the outset, have been the most peaceable.

I think that that answers the question.

THE PRESIDENT (translation)

Thank you, Mr Balladur. Other colleagues wanted to ask you some questions, but unfortunately we have run out of time.

Prime Minister, we have had a very important discussion and intend to continue it through Mr Mignon, who will be a valuable link between the Prime Minister and the Assembly. I have also been told that it is very likely that you will be visiting us in the not too distant future. We shall always look forward to your visits with much pleasure and feelings of friendship.

Before saying goodbye to you, I would like to greet Mr Hoeffel, as I have not already done so and we know that he is a very great friend of the Assembly and its President.

Thank you, Prime Minister, we look forward to seeing you again soon, very soon. (Applause)