Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany

Speech made to the Assembly

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

thanked the Assembly for its invitation. She said that it was no coincidence that Strasbourg had been described as the capital of Europe; the two parliaments meeting in Strasbourg had shaped Europe’s past and future. It was a pleasure for her to address the Assembly for the first time. The Assembly was a very special place, and the first of its sort in European history. The diversity of Europe was represented in the Assembly. The very fact that members of parliament from 47 countries held discussions gave the Assembly a credibility and importance that went beyond Europe, which was important in a time of increasing globalism. There were many differences within Europe, but diversity had to be an advantage. What happened in Europe influenced the rest of the world, and challenges were shared globally. Foreign policy became domestic policy, and vice versa – the lines between the two were blurred.

There was an increasing awareness of the common responsibility for peace in Europe, and the Assembly represented this. Throughout its existence it had made a vital contribution towards unity and common understanding. For over 60 years it had been defending the principles of democracy, human rights, peace, justice and solidarity. Europe had to aspire to those core values. There was a common wish to shape the positive future for Europe. Through the euro, Schengen and the internal market, Europe had created a different form of co-existence based on mutual trust and respect. That had led to a period of history with considerably less conflict. In the Assembly there was a common and shared goal. There was also an aspiration to bring others into that forum.

Germany had joined the Council of Europe in 1951, and in addressing the Assembly the then Chancellor had said that it was highly significant for the political development of Europe that representatives of Europe could share concerns and anguishes, wishes and hopes, and make common progress in the spirit of fairness. In the Council of Europe, he had said, we had the conscience of Europe. For some 60 years the Council had been the European conscience, based on the dignity of the individual. The Council of Europe had helped to ensure that governments acted according to the dignity of human rights. Human dignity was indivisible and of equal value across Europe. The translation of human dignity into reality differed, but was vital.

Pope John Paul II had told the Assembly in 1988 that European identity was not an easily grasped concept. Since then, Europe had changed considerably, and had gained a much clearer European identity. With the fall of the iron curtain and the end of the Cold War, the unnatural division of Europe had ended. Europe had a shared identity for the first time.

The Chancellor said that she had lived in the former German Democratic Republic when there had been no facility for challenging discrimination in the European Court of Human Rights. The situation had changed dramatically with the fall of the Berlin Wall. During the 1990s, many countries in central and eastern Europe had managed to shift from dictatorship to democracy, with multi-party systems, effective oppositions, independent judiciaries, division of powers and free media. Those changes were hard won and had to be defended to the hilt.

She had great personal conviction that change was possible. Many of those in the Hemicycle were a living testimony to that. She was personally convinced that the success story of the Council was a signal to the rest of the world; to regions where stability seemed impossible, it should be a vision and should become the reality.

Europe was a perennial challenge and needed to strive continually to improve; European states would be more successful the more they shared. The German presidency had worked on the issue closely: the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome had been celebrated in Berlin with a declaration that underlined the values that brought Europe together and on which Europe wished to build its political future. Europe needed to make sure that it acted according to its words. It needed to give globalisation a human face: it needed to stand up and combat climate change decisively. Trade should not outweigh human rights: economic issues and human rights issues were not in opposition. An example was the need to make sure that European values were applied in the ground-rules of business dealings. European values must not be abstract; they had to be applied. Europe had to revisit its challenges daily, and the Council of Europe would continue to serve as the independent guardian of Europe’s values.

The Chancellor gave two examples: the fight against terrorism and the protection of minorities. She said that ever since the terrorist attacks on Madrid and London the need to extend the fight against terrorism had been clear, but there was also a clear need to protect the rights of individuals: security and legal precepts had to be balanced, including through participation. It was crucial to find a way ahead. An important role was played by the Human Rights Commissioner. The Commissioner’s visit to Germany in autumn 2006 had showed the importance of constructive criticism. Shortcomings had to be ironed out to make the good even better. The duty in Europe to become involved in the business of others was good, especially in human rights; there was no such thing as internal matters when it came to human rights, which had to be applied universally. Supranational institutions such as the Council of Europe had a special role, and the Council was very conscious of that. There was a system of mutual oversight which did not shy away from pointing the finger. The Council guaranteed that ordinary people could bring their complaints before the Court. The decisions made regarding security needed to be the right ones, without excessively curbing freedoms. The common commitment to the values of Europe had to be carried out seamlessly.

The treatment of minorities was a huge challenge throughout the world, which still saw a number of unresolved conflicts. There was no ready-made solution to the problem of balancing separatism and national cohesion but violence could never be the correct response. Only dialogue would lead to greater agreement, but that was easier said than done. The number of migrants in Europe was increasing and society was accordingly becoming more diverse, making it necessary to include new members of society in the mainstream, including those people who were religious. She had appointed an adviser on migration and the German Government had begun a dialogue with citizens involving an open exchange on both expectations and criticisms. She welcomed the intercultural dialogue that the Council of Europe had launched. Combating terror and integrating communities were two examples of difficulties on which the Council of Europe provided common values and a platform for discussion.

The European Court of Human Rights was unique in allowing some 50 000 people a year to bring cases involving the violation of rights, and that number was an impressive testament to people’s confidence in the Court. The Court’s President had spoken of the work done by judges but had said that the Court had reached its limit. The Court needed to be reformed and there must be no hold-up in that reform. Those who sought delay questioned our common values.

During Germany’s presidency of the EU, talks had been held with President Putin and the Speaker of the Duma on Protocol No. 14. Assembly representatives from the Duma had lobbied for its ratification. The European Convention on Human Rights had existed long before the Charter of Fundamental Rights, but the EU would have been inconceivable if the Council of Europe had not paved the way. All EU members had first been members of the Council of Europe, and the two bodies were complementary. The German presidency of the EU had obtained a new memorandum of understanding and there were many connections between the two bodies.

The Lisbon process had sought to give the EU a legal personality that would allow its accession to the European Convention on Human Rights. Citizens of the European Union would be able to lodge complaints against Brussels.

The Council of Europe was a huge success story, with significant achievements on democracy, human rights and the rule of law. People believed these things to be self-evident, but new generations needed to be aware of what had been done in the past, which in turn showed what needed to be done in future.

She made a plea to all to continue to shape the debate and set the pace for a Europe based on peace, freedom and democracy. Europe could set the world an example when it came to resolving intractable conflicts and it could help others to do so in the rest of the world.


Thank you very much, Chancellor, 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. Colleagues should ask questions and not make speeches.

We will have to interrupt the questions at about 1 p.m. The first question is from Mr Van den Brande, on behalf of the Group of the European People’s Party.


Given the basic human rights that underpin our common European values and the economic prospects of our countries, I want to know what policies your government will pursue with the Russian Federation as part of the latter’s relationship with the Union and also the configuration of our Council of Europe, and in what manner you propose to ensure Europe’s energy supply.

Ms Merkel, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany (interpretation)

said that the EU was involved in discussions with Russia on partnership and co‑operation and that a new agreement would be discussed soon, which would include energy policy. During the Lisbon process, the EU had discussed such matters in the Council. The whole Assembly had an interest in good relations between Russia and the European institutions, and she called on Russia once again to sign Protocol No. 14.


Eight years ago, in Lisbon, it was decided that Europe should constitute the most competitive region in the world in terms of education, training, lifelong learning, research and development, employment, social cohesion and welfare. Unfortunately, European countries have taken very few measures in that direction. Nowadays, Europe is not more competitive than the United States, and perhaps even less competitive than south-east Asia. In view of those facts, how do you, as one of the leaders of Europe, see Europe’s future? Should the principles be modified, or the political practice?

Ms Merkel, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany (interpretation)

said that the theoretical base was sound. Goals had been set in the Lisbon strategy and the Council was keen to know who had met them. There was a crisis in the United States, but the euro was robust even if there was always room for improvement. The EU was trying to cut red tape by 25% as a matter of urgency, to improve innovation among small and medium-sized enterprises and to embed its sustainable development policies. There was a need to demonstrate that growth could be sustainable and the EU had already provided a model for others.


We welcome the fact that one of your government’s priorities is integration, but some of the measures that it has implemented and some of its legislation contradict most of the resolutions and recommendations that we have adopted here. We would like to know whether the German Government takes or will take into consideration the guidelines on migration and integration adopted by the Council of Europe when working on contentious legislation.

Ms Merkel, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany (interpretation)

said that she would bear that information in mind. Any legislation on immigration needed careful tailoring to particular circumstances. For example, in the case of spouses following their partners, some minimum standards might be necessary. A basic knowledge of the language was required in Germany; without it women would be unable to get basic services, be able to express themselves or ask for help when necessary. Rational and calm discussion was required, but basic linguistic competence meant that people could live a reasonable life in the countries to which they moved.

Mr EÖRSI (Hungary)

In your speech, you awarded to the Jewish organisation B’nai B’rith the gold medal for combating anti-Semitism. We congratulate you on that. You also put a question: “How can we improve the opportunities for all people to live in freedom and peace?” Can you answer your own question in the context of the Council of Europe? How can we perform better? How can we work better to make your vision come true?

Ms Merkel, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany (interpretation)

said that she could not fully answer that question in 30 seconds. People did shy away from doing the right thing sometimes and the question was whether people would show the civic courage to act. Both ordinary people and politicians knew when they should speak out. Speaking openly ensured that people got along.

Mr KOX (Netherlands)

Madam Federal Chancellor, I fully agree with you that we do not want new dividing lines in Europe, but do you agree with me that if an ever-stronger, and sometimes a bit more arrogant, European Union disputes with Russia over the United States missile shield and the ever‑eastward-growing NATO, that might increase the danger of new dividing lines occurring? What can we expect from the German Federal Chancellor to prevent or to tackle that danger?

Ms Merkel, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany (interpretation)

said that NATO and Russia had discussed the missile shield. NATO was an alliance affording its members mutual protection. It was no longer a geographical alliance, as it had been during the Cold War, but continued to be based on values that the EU and NATO shared. The key concept was tolerance. It was correct to say that NATO and Russia should meet more frequently than every six years. Any country that wished to join NATO should seek to do so.

Mr MANZELLA (Italy) (interpretation)

noted that Mrs Merkel had spoken about the right of involvement and interference and asked about the way ahead for fundamental rights in the Mediterranean region and whether she would clarify Germany’s position on the Union for the Mediterranean.

Ms Merkel, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany (interpretation)

said that there had already been discussions within the European Union about the definition of what constituted a Mediterranean country. The subject of human rights was an issue for the EU as a whole, regardless of whether a country shared a border with the Mediterranean because challenges such as migration and terrorism affected all EU member states. It was hoped that the French presidency of the European Union would further build on the Barcelona process and promote that approach. Furthermore, countries that did not share a border with Mediterranean countries were already co-operating with that region.


Chancellor, Germany’s road to leadership in the democratic world also passed, in the post-war era, through a recognition of and atonement for the Holocaust. That is indeed a great political-ethical example for our Europe and our world. What would your counsel be to those member states, and other states around the world, that have genocides and crimes against humanity in their history in order to confront that history and to move forward to participation in and leadership of the contemporary world? Is there a connection between the two?

Ms Merkel, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany (interpretation)

said that Germany had had to come to terms with its history, with its Nazi past and its involvement in the Holocaust against the Jews. Germany had had to recognise and overcome its past and that had been widely discussed over time. She suggested that such events that took place in history had been recognised by Germany and it had had to be reconciled with its history in order to move on. In the past it had not always been easy to envisage shaping a better future; that applied to every country. Within the European Union there was a common thread of freedom and tolerance. Tolerance meant seeing the world from the perspective of another country or person.

Mr KOSACHEV (Russian Federation) (interpretation)

said that he would ask his question in Russian because of Mrs Merkel’s affinity towards the Russian language. He stated that Mrs Merkel had not addressed the issue of Russians being denied citizenship in Baltic states and asked whether her concern for human rights was limited to the EU rather than to the Council of Europe as a whole.

Ms Merkel, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany (interpretation)

replied that the creation of new states was not without complications and that this was a minority issue specific to the Baltics. She stressed the importance of dialogue in helping to build trust and encourage progress, and noted that the Baltic states observed human rights.

Mr BIBERAJ (Albania)

Madam Chancellor, following the new situation in the western Balkans, created after the independence of Kosovo and the NATO membership invitation for Albania, Croatia and soon, hopefully, for “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, do you think that now is the proper time to speed up the process of EU integration for the western Balkans, and that that should be one of the most important priorities in European policy in the short term?

Ms Merkel, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany (interpretation)

said that the enlargement of the European Union was already a priority. Discussions with existing EU member states over the accession of Croatia in the EU were at an advanced stage and the EU was working closely with Serbia on that issue. The European perspective of enlargement could form the basis for taking things forward in the western Balkans in countries such as Albania and its neighbours. Furthermore, the Lisbon Treaty had provided the basis for future EU enlargement, which meant a European Union of more than 27 countries, and good progress had been made towards the possibility of granting membership to Croatia.

Mr ROCHEBLOINE (France) (interpretation)

asked Mrs Merkel how she viewed the relationship between France and Germany in the context of the Union for the Mediterranean.

Ms Merkel, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany (interpretation)

said that she needed to reply within the context of further developments of the Barcelona process. The EU conference in Paris, under the aegis of the French presidency, would increase EU efforts in this matter. Within the EU, there were sufficient resources for co-operation with Mediterranean countries as well as the implementation of bilateral projects in respect of transport and education systems. Inevitably, that process was led by the EU because it provided the funding, but the establishment of a secretariat would also mean increased involvement by Mediterranean countries, which would put them on a more equal footing.

Ms KEAVENEY (Ireland)

The Lisbon reform treaty referendum is due to be held in June in my country. From your visit to Ireland this week, you will know that a big issue is the question whether decisions on taxation and the European Union should be taken unanimously; perhaps you would comment on that. As we see it, the main effect of the treaty is to equip Europe to be more efficient, effective and democratic, and so better able to deal with the challenges ahead. Is that how you see it also?

Ms Merkel, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany (interpretation)

thanked Mrs Keaveney for her question and informed the Assembly that she had in fact visited Ireland the previous day in order to put the case for the Lisbon Treaty forward. Her mission had been to allay the fears of opponents to the treaty. World Trade Organization negotiations were a separate issue from the Lisbon Treaty and she expressed the sincere hope that Ireland would vote in favour of the Lisbon Treaty.

Mr JAKAVONIS (Lithuania) (interpretation)

asked about the Nord Stream pipeline in the Baltic Sea, which had been described by Gerhard Schröder as a safe project despite the presence of radioactive waste, and asked specifically for Mrs Merkel’s view on the initiative.

Ms Merkel, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany (interpretation)

confirmed that the Nord Stream pipeline procedure had been set in motion and agreed that it was a sensible proposal in the interests not only of Germany but of other EU countries such as Poland which would benefit from the pipeline. Countries involved in the South Stream pipeline such as Italy and Bulgaria had already made good progress. It was important for northern EU countries to secure their own energy supply and encourage energy solidarity, although it was also important to take environmental considerations into account. She reiterated that, although the project was strategically sound, it could not be completed without proper environmental scrutiny. Environmental considerations would be taken into account, as had been the case with the pipeline between Norway and the United Kingdom in the North Sea. She was adamant that the Baltic pipeline could achieve that too.

Mr SLUTSKY (Russian Federation) (interpretation)

asked the Chancellor why Germany had been so quick to recognise the independence of Kosovo and why she thought the situation in Kosovo was unique.

Ms Merkel, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany (interpretation)

confirmed that the situation in Kosovo was indeed unique. She welcomed the UN draft resolution. She recognised that time was required to find a sustainable solution which would meet the requirements of Serbia. She confirmed that the declaration of independence in Kosovo had been recognised by Germany but believed that that should have no implications for regional conflict.

Mr OMTZIGT (Netherlands)

Federal Chancellor, you know that Belarus is probably the worst dictatorship in Europe. What is your opinion on how we can get that country back into the European fold and into a democratic state? How will you help the people who are being held in prison for using their normal legal democratic rights and who then disappear?

Ms Merkel, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany (interpretation)

said that it was necessary to address this issue time and time again. Belarus was the only country missing from the rostrum of Council of Europe members. It was necessary to support the opposition in Belarus. She knew from the history of the Cold War that it was important that Europe concerned itself with individual cases; Belarus must not feel that it had been forgotten. The Council needed to do everything within its power to deal with human rights in Belarus; she knew from history that success would one day be achieved.


We must now conclude the questions to the Federal Chancellor. On behalf of the Assembly, I thank her most warmly for the answers that she has given to questions.