Prime Minister of Romania

Speech made to the Assembly

Tuesday, 11 April 2006

Mr President, Prime Minister Juncker, dear Jean-Claude, Chancellor Schüssel, dear Wolfgang, excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, it is for me a great honour to address this Parliamentary Assembly in today’s debate on relations between the Council of Europe and the European Union.

An honour, but also a pleasure, since I find myself here with two friends, Jean-Claude Juncker, Prime Minister of Luxembourg, whose visionary speech we have just heard, and Wolfgang Schüssel, Chancellor of Austria, whose resolute support and effectiveness as President-in-Office of the European Union I deeply appreciate at what is, for my country, this decisive time.

You will certainly agree with me that we, the Council of Europe and the European Union, are all fortunate that a convinced European like Jean-Claude Juncker has been willing to devote his time and energy to a question which concerns us and indeed causes us concern – relations between our organisation and the European Union. He is, without any doubt, a European politician who really knows the two organisations which, each in its own way, are shaping our continent today.

There is certainly nothing fortuitous in his knowing them both so well. I remember, when the treaty on Romania’s and Bulgaria’s accession to the EU was signed in Luxembourg on 25 April 2005, noticing a house which bore a memorial plaque to Robert Schuman. What better symbol could there be of a country which helped to found both the Council of Europe and the European Union.

In Warsaw, when my colleagues asked him to prepare the report he is presenting today in a personal capacity, Jean-Claude Juncker was the longest-serving head of government, not only in the 25 EU countries, but also in the 46 Council of Europe member states.

This political longevity reflects powerful conviction, unwavering commitment, unflagging energy, and also outstanding human and intellectual qualities, of which courage and plain speaking are by no means the least.

Since the Warsaw Summit, Jean-Claude Juncker has completed an exemplary term in the EU presidency, has had the Constitutional Treaty ratified by referendum in his own country, has continued to chair the Eurogroup and has – as he promised – prepared this report. The fact that two prime ministers and the President of the European Commission are here today to listen to him in this Chamber, bespeaks the respect and the very special status which are his on the European scene. On behalf of the Chair of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, I should like to thank him most sincerely and warmly for his commitment to this Organisation.

It is an honour for Romania to be chairing the Committee of Ministers at an important time like this. It is its first turn to do this at the Council, which – at a watershed moment in our recent past, when we opted irreversibly for democracy – took us in and gave us its support.

After years of isolation and dictatorship, after the long years of the cold war, when government was arbitrary and freedom non-existent, we found at the Council the help we needed to build a democratic, law- governed state.

On the strength of that experience – an experience we share with the other countries of central and eastern Europe – I can only agree with Jean-Claude Juncker when he speaks of the Council’s indispensable role in the process of European integration.

Romania joined the Council of Europe in 1993 at the Vienna Summit, and today, in 2006, a year on from the Warsaw Summit, we are preparing to join the European Union.

In this sequence of events, all vital for my country, I see more than a symbol: I see living confirmation of the role which the Council of Europe is playing in Romania’s European destiny.

As you already know, joining the EU is Romania’s priority objective. We are now very close to attaining it, and we owe this very largely to the Council of Europe’s unwavering support. The Parliamentary Assembly has played a vital part in this, and I count on your continued commitment to promoting rapid ratification of the treaty on Romania’s accession.

Chance has given Romania borders with certain member states of the EU, which it is in the process of joining, and also with the countries covered by the European Neighbourhood Policy and the Stabilisation and Association Process. Some of the latter also hope to join the EU, and Romania is prepared to help by sharing its experience with them.

For us, enlargement of the EU is inseparable from parallel, solidarity-based strengthening of the role of the Council of Europe, of which we have been an active member for close to thirteen years.

The Council of Europe is the source of a panEuropean political culture which continues to remind us of the many meanings of democracy. This gives all of us yet another reason to strengthen the Council’s unique role, its potential for democratic stabilisation and, finally, the constructive regulatory role which it plays for democratic institutions throughout Europe.

The Council of Europe is a school for democracy and a source of stability and democratic security for our continent – which is why it cannot be relegated to serving as a mere waiting-room for the EU. That would be a huge diminution of its mission.

In fact, Europe’s sad history has taught us that democracy and security are never won finally and forever. All the countries of Europe still need the Council of Europe, and will continue to need it, whether or not they are members of the EU. It will remain our continent’s only strictly European forum for co-operation focused on the building of a Europe which has no dividing lines, and is based on democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

In building Europe’s future, our need of both organisations is greater than ever. Neither will find itself left idle, as we struggle to win back the trust of Europeans, who – and I quote Jean-Claude Juncker – “no longer dream of Europe”.

Faced with this challenge, we must put idle disputes and unseemly rivalries behind us, and build a more harmonious, more effective relationship between the two organisations, so that co-operation can intensify within a more clearly defined institutional framework. In this connection, Jean-Claude Juncker makes a whole series of practical proposals on remodelling the partnership needed between the Council and the EU.

As Chair of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers, Romania will be working, until its term ends, to ensure that these proposals are properly implemented in relations between the two organisations. I look for help on this from those who commissioned this report, the heads of state and government of all the Council’s member states – including, of course, the 25 EU countries. I am convinced that our efforts will be taken up and continued by the Russian Federation, which will be succeeding us in the chair on 19 May. It is our shared duty – and very much in our shared interest – to work together to consolidate the European family on the basis of the values which we all proclaim.

The support of this Parliamentary Assembly, of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe and of the President of the European Commission, as well as the commissioners concerned, will be indispensable here. We know that we can also count on the Austrian presidency of the European Union, and on Chancellor Schüssel, whose presence at this debate in Strasbourg speaks for itself.

The first stage will be the finalisation of the Memorandum of Understanding between the two organisations, which is currently being prepared. It was understood from the beginning that the initial draft, prepared by the United Kingdom presidency of the EU, was a basis for discussion, and would be enriched by the comments of the Council of Europe countries outside the EU. At their meeting in Strasbourg last November, our ministers of foreign affairs insisted, like the Parliamentary Assembly, that it should also take account of the ideas and suggestions contained in the Juncker report.

It is now up to us to move ahead on this, and include as many of Jean-Claude Juncker’s proposals as we can in this memorandum, which we hope to finalise before Romania completes its term in the chair. We shall also be looking closely at the recommendations made by the Assembly, which will be holding a major debate on this issue in two days’ time.

The Romanian chair feels that the memorandum should be a political document, which aims for the establishment of effective consultation and co-operation machinery, based on true partnership.

I hope that our member states’ leaders, and also the European Commission, will take maximum account of the Juncker report in planning and setting up that machinery.

It must include genuine structures and areas for cooperation, established and developed on complementary lines by the two organisations, for example, cooperation under the European Neighbourhood Policy, the planning of joint projects and increased co-operation in the human rights field.

Some of the Juncker report’s recommendations are longer term, and need more thought to be inserted in the memorandum at this stage. I am thinking, for example, of EU accession to the Council of Europe. Others are more structural and specific to the Council of Europe, for example, all the measures aimed at giving it a bigger political role.

I shall thus be asking the Romanian Minister for Foreign Affairs to include this question on the agenda for the Committee of Ministers’ 116th session, on 18 and 19 May, and propose the setting up (at ministerial level) of a monitoring group on the Juncker report. This group would include representatives of the Council of Europe and the EU. On the Council side, I would suggest the two ministers who are chairing the Committee of Ministers (outgoing and incoming), the Vice-Chairs, the Secretary General and the President of the Parliamentary Assembly.

I would suggest that Chancellor Schüssel make a parallel proposal at the EU, so that the group can start work as soon as possible, and report within a year to the Committee of Ministers and the EU Council.

These, ladies and gentlemen, are the main ideas and proposals which I wished to share with you. The task which awaits us is certainly difficult, but it is also exhilarating. In completing it successfully, we shall also be preparing a future for our children, and the generations which come after them. When those future generations take up the torch and look back on what we have done to improve relations between our two organisations and promote the European process, I hope they will feel as grateful to us as we do to Europe’s founding fathers. I know that I can count on your support in this, as you can count on mine.