Prime Minister of Denmark

Speech made to the Assembly

Tuesday, 29 January 1991

Mr President, Madam Secretary General, ladies and gentlemen, “Change is not made without inconvenience, even from worse to better.” The English theologian, Richard Hooker, already said that in the sixteenth century. It is not difficult to agree with that statement when we look at events in Europe in the last couple of years.

The speed and enthusiasm with which central and eastern European countries have obtained their new freedom is impressive. Although many difficulties lie ahead of us, and a wide variety of problems call for action – the appalling situation in Yugoslavia is a vivid example of this – we do have reason to hope more realistically for progress in our continent today than only a few years ago. The picture of this new Europe which we can now begin to see outlined is one of a Europe constructed upon the very ideas and values on which the Council of Europe was founded. Let me therefore first of all express my sincere appreciation for this opportunity to address the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. It is a pleasure and a privilege.

Let me start by declaring – and this cannot be repeated too often – that the eastern and central European people themselves brought about the dramatic changes that we have witnessed. The latest example took place only a few weeks ago in the Soviet Union. The credit for obtaining their own freedom should go to those very peoples who have tolerated lack of freedom and poor living conditions for decades.

However, the efforts that the West has made did have a positive outcome. I refer to our constant insistence on, and persistence in, exerting respect for democracy and human rights – efforts that we have not least maintained through the Council of Europe and in the CSCE. But I am also alluding to the way in which the West has structured its co-operation, thereby producing examples and visions of a different and better Europe. European Community co-operation in particular, but NATO also, should be mentioned in this connection. From such a starting-point in our structure of co-operation, we will strive for a new Europe freed from antagonism.

But, in the present period of transition, we – belonging to a more fortunate part of Europe – are responsible, individually as well as through our joint organisations, for taking charge of the neighbours that have now come so much closer to us. Success would mean a Europe whole and free. I dare not think of the consequences of failure. On this new European stage that is hopefully emerging, the Council of Europe plays an active and vital role – the vital role of promoting and developing the European identity, an identity built on respect for human rights, for democracy and for the rule of law.

The European Convention on Human Rights was signed more than forty years ago. Its institutions, the European Commission and the European Court of Human Rights, constitute the most advanced machinery to safeguard human rights in the modern world. The right of individual petition and the Court’s compulsory jurisdiction are key elements in this unique system. Common human rights standards set out in the Convention are not only guaranteed and upheld, but further developed through the living impact that these institutions’ decision-making exerts on the legal systems of member states.

The developments in central and eastern Europe have already opened up a vast new field of activity for the Council of Europe. I am deeply impressed by the activities undertaken within the framework of the Demosthenes programme. It includes aid to constitutional, legal and administrative reforms. There is also the programme for advanced studies and training in science and technology, the FOR EAST programme. The Council of Europe has the expertise in these areas, and I am happy to see that it is being used also in the central and eastern European countries to assist in the process of building up the new democracies.

With an even wider base than the Council of Europe, the CSCE has come to play a significant role. The CSCE is an essential component in the new European picture. I would especially like to point out that the CSCE encourages a transatlantic dialogue as well as enabling the Soviet Union to maintain a broad relationship with the rest of Europe. It is important that we promote a continued North American engagement in Europe, but at the same time we must avoid the Soviet Union in its new shape, whatever that may be, once again isolating itself from the rest of Europe. But it is naïve not to face the limitations of this co-operation in the CSCE at present. That leads me to stress the possibilities and responsibilities of the European Community which cannot, of course, remain unaffected by the changes now going on in Europe. In some places, there is an argument about whether one should spend efforts on a widening of co-operation rather than strive towards a deepening of it; in other words, extend the member group and avoid intensifying the co-operation. In my view, that is a false outlook on the problem. What also makes the Community attractive to non-member states is its dynamic character. The answer, therefore, is that we should continue integration and, at the same time, demonstrate an outward openness as the Community has shown throughout its existence.

In the present situation, that means, first, that we must carry through and conclude the ongoing intergovernmental conferences. Secondly, we must be prepared to start negotiations with the European countries that qualify and are now applying for membership. Thirdly, we must give the countries still not qualified for membership the vision that, in the long run, they can expect to become members. That is what is happening with the so-called “association” agreements. In this respect, there is no point in giving countries aid and denying them trade access. An unhappy dependence could be the result, and I believe that it would be absurd, and even dangerous, to preach virtues on the free market and practise old-fashioned protectionism.

One may wonder why, while unions in the East disintegrate, we go on constructing them in Western Europe. What is the reason for this phenomenon? It is obvious that, during recent years, the economy has been undergoing a process of rapid internationalisation. This is the case in the West, and the East has come to the same conclusion. Those basic economic tendencies take place concurrently with a cultural movement in the opposite direction. The need for cultural and national identity intensifies and, at the same time, society must adapt to modern economic realities.

I am convinced that the communists’ denial of those facts has contributed to the disintegration we have witnessed. On top of that, we note that nationalism – in a more sinister shape – has emerged. In many cases, conflicts and contrasts which have remained “deep-frozen” for seventy-five years have now been nourished. In Western Europe, nationalism led to a catastrophe only fifty years ago. Nevertheless, today, we live in confident and growing co-existence. At the same time, each and every one of us is fully conscious of our own national and cultural identity. This is a convincing argument for the model we have chosen. That does not mean that we have found the only truth once and for all. Our belief in cultural decentralisation is growing forever more. Those tendencies are conceptually linked to the ideas of regional co-operation as well as subsidiarity.

We can now hope that the massive security problems characteristic of the European landscape throughout four decades may now play an unobtrusive role. But of course, we cannot ignore the fact that Europe will have to look after its security interests – internally and in its relations with the outside world.

NATO co-operation is still a needed and realistic security basis for member states, not least because it maintains the necessary ties across the Atlantic. But NATO, which is adapting to the new situation, also forms a strong and necessary element of stability and predictability in the entire European security picture. President Yeltsin must also have felt likewise when, in the middle of the most dramatic part of the Soviet crisis a few weeks ago, he phoned NATO head-quarters during the Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Brussels.

One thing is absolutely certain: the European picture, or the European architecture, will become much more complex than what we have observed during the last decades. New states have been born, with maybe more to follow. At the same time, our existing basis of co-operation will meet with new challenges. It will be an exciting but also extremely difficult period for all of us. The history of Europe is full of sinister failures. Now, we must unite our efforts to avoid a repetition. While we are sorting out our own matters, we must face the fact that relations with the surrounding world are becoming more and more important. That is the case in trade policy, as well as in our contribution towards coping with global challenges. The world has indeed become smaller. This has also led to greater pressure on the borders, not least from desperate people from the Middle East or from countries on the other side of the Mediterranean. It is obvious that no European country can absorb unlimited immigrants. It is just as obvious that we – as part of the more prosperous part of the world – have an obligation to render various forms of assistance. We are working – within the framework of Community co-operation – at a solution to this matter. But I welcome the fact that this forum is also dealing with this important issue.

In this new and more complex Europe, it seems that many forms of regional co-operation come to life. I consider this to be a very positive trend, and, as you know, we have also predicted such a tendency within the framework of the Community. As a Dane, it is quite natural to point to the Nordic co-operation as an example of trustful and smooth-running regional co-operation. We have been able to carry out this co-operation not least because of our almost homogeneous cultural background, but also because each and every one of us has endeavoured to approach each other further. In the new European development, there are distinct tendencies that demonstrate that the Nordic countries are approaching the rest of Europe. As you know, Sweden has applied for membership of the European Community and, in Norway as well as Finland, it is a topic for debate. As members of EFTA, these countries look forward to a closer association with the European Community in the so-called EE A (European Economic Area) co-operation. I shall make no secret of the fact that, from a Danish viewpoint, it would be desirable if the entire Nordic region could one day become members of the Community. Our regional co-operation – as mentioned – will be revitalised. But new and interesting perspectives are opening up in our neighbouring area as well. I am thinking of future intensified co-operation in the Baltic Sea region. We have just had the great pleasure and satisfaction of welcoming the Baltic countries as members of the European family.

How closely can we approach each other, how intimately can we co-operate? To a high degree, this eventually would depend on our ability to reach a point where we can share the same ideals and values. Treaties and alliances are excellent and necessary measures. But the most solid foundation for co-operation is the mutual trust which springs from drawing closer in one’s concept of values. This is where I see the most important mission for the Council of Europe in the years to come. You in the Parliamentary Assembly have already done a great and valuable job.

On numerous occasions, the Assembly has demonstrated its capability of establishing contacts, and not only between the peoples of member countries. You made a valuable contribution in preparing the path that the Baltic states are now following. Only this summer, in Helsinki, you took an important initiative. I would like to stress that – as a result of its line of action – the Parliamentary Assembly fulfils important tasks and creates many opportunities, and this is indeed respected very much in Denmark.

You have the possibilities – and may I say you use them successfully – of creating co-operation and contact between people across boundaries. In those contacts, you develop and propagate the fundamental values upon which democracy is built.

I think it is very important to emphasise this particular point. It is of course possible, through assistance programmes, to help build up new structures and systems. However, democracy is built by the people of the country. The dimension which this Assembly develops and nurtures is of paramount importance to forming new democracies.

The Assembly’s ability – through its recommendations and debates – to produce new ideas to the Committee of Ministers, is also very important. Your debates on foreign policy, in particular your debates on the role of the Council of Europe in the new European context, are important sources of inspiration. They create new thoughts and ideas of how we want to organise ourselves in a new Europe where the ideals of the Council of Europe are growing ever more dominant.

The debate has been going on for some time already, and I am sure that it will continue as Europe is still undergoing changes.

Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, let me once more express my gratitude at being given this opportunity to address you by saying with Walter Hallstein: “Anyone who does not believe in miracles in European affairs is not a realist.”

That is true. (Applause)


Thank you very much, Mr Prime Minister, for your interesting and substantial speech. Many members of the Assembly have expressed a wish to ask you questions. As we have only limited time, I shall ask the honoured members of the Assembly to ask questions, not make statements and to use only half a minute for each question. I call Sir Geoffrey Finsberg.

Sir Geoffrey FINSBERG (United Kingdom)

Could you clarify two points arising from your speech, Mr Prime Minister? First, when you spoke about NATO, did you mean that you believe that the defence of Europe should remain the responsibility of Western European Union and not become part of the Community? Secondly, can you confirm that you meant that the future organisation of Europe lies within the Council of Europe, not the weird confederation being floated by one country?

Mr Schlüter, Prime Minister of Denmark

I believe that NATO is the important instrument for defence for the years ahead of us in Europe. It is vitally important not to try to substitute anything else for NATO. Of course, NATO must develop. The role, technique and strategy of NATO in the years ahead of us will be very difficult from that which we are used to. But I am sure that NATO and the link over the Atlantic is still very important. Consequently, I believe that the Western European Union should play a lesser role than hitherto. WEU exists, is good, and will have a role to play in the future, but it should not become a substitute for NATO.

My view on a confederal European co-operation is clear: I do not like it.


Thank you very much, Mr Prime Minister, for your clear answer. There are many speakers on my list and, as I understand it, Mrs Ekman and Mrs Arnold both wish to ask questions about the Baltic states, so if they are taken one after the other, the Prime Minister can answer them together. I call Mrs Ekman and then Mrs Arnold.

Mrs EKMAN (Sweden)

Denmark made an important contribution to this issue with its early reopening of diplomatic relations with the Baltic republics. What concrete measures can now be taken to integrate the new Baltic states into our European cooperation ?

Mrs ARNOLD (Denmark)

I am sorry, but I am not going to ask about the Baltic states so I shall reserve my question for later.

Mr Schlüter, Prime Minister of Denmark

It is true that over the past few years the Danish Government, like other Nordic governments, has been eager to open up close relations with the Baltic states. If history should also find that the pressure that we have brought to bear has contributed towards the independence of the three nations we shall be very happy.

It was wise of you to accept the three Baltic states here. I am happy that you did that so quickly – they deserve it. Now we must try to help these independent states, especially economically. It is most important, too, that we find ways of exchanging thousands of personnel – experts with know-how in all areas. We must invite many younger people from those three states to our educational institutions and try to teach them what they need to know about technical matters and management. We have a special responsibility towards the three new Baltic states in addition to our obligations towards the other old communist regimes which have become democracies. It is a vast problem and we must deal with it responsibly.


Mr Prime Minister, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, which operates under the auspices of the Council of Europe, has issued a report on conditions in Danish prisons. Denmark decided to open up the report to the public, a step which was followed by an open, detailed and critical debate on the problems pointed out in the report.

What were the reasons behind the taking of that step? Did the Danish Government have any reservations or hesitations about doing so? Will the Danish Government make an active effort to persuade other countries to publish reports from the committee?

Mr Schlüter, Prime Minister of Denmark

Nowadays, I believe that it is correct to make public reports of that sort. That sits well with our modern democracy. The public must be given important items, and the media must be given a chance to focus on and to criticise them. That was why it was decided to publicise this report on the condition of prisoners in Danish prisons.

There were some criticisms in the report. That is fine: we need criticism and the government will deal with it and try to sort out the points at issue. I would be happy if other governments decided to publicise similar reports on their prisons, so that the public could participate in making sure that things which are wrong are put right.

Mr BANKS (United Kingdom)

I thank the Prime Minister for his excellent speech on developments in Europe. I should like to ask him a question which, in the great cosmos of events that he has just described, may not seem too significant.

My question concerns the Faeroe islands. I realise that Denmark has only limited responsibility for the Faeroes, but is the Prime Minister aware of the deep concern felt in the United Kingdom about the continued slaughter of pilot whales by the Faeroe islanders? The pilot whale is an intelligent, warm-blooded creature, and seeing such beautiful creatures being destroyed and the sea around them turned blood red gives rise to a great deal of revulsion in the United Kingdom. Is there any chance of the Prime Minister using his good offices to get the Faeroes to stop this slaughter?

Mr Schlüter, Prime Minister of Denmark

I am glad that you ask that question because there is often some misunderstanding of this matter. The Faeroe islands depend almost totally on fish and all that goes with it. The catch of pilot whales is part of their 1 000-year-old tradition. How the catch is done is of course important – as is its extent.

As the Prime Minister of Denmark, I am responsible for Danish-Faeroese relations, but the Faeroe islands are autonomous to a high degree – and that goes for their whaling activities as well. Whaling is dealt with by the local authorities in the islands.

The scientists say that the pilot whale is abundant – that at least is the opinion of most of them – and that the Faeroese catch does not harm the stock. I believe that in recent years the Faeroese have applied fairly strict standards to their catching methods. I hope that this will not continue to be such a hot issue as it has been made by certain elements of the media in recent years.

Mr ROWE (United Kingdom)

Mr Prime Minister, you made the point that you would like to see the European Community extended and not erecting barriers. By far the most commonly available product in many of the newly emerging countries of the East is agricultural produce. Do you feel as dismayed as I do by the fact that the European Community seems to be making it harder for those countries to export such produce to the Community?

Mr Schlüter, Prime Minister of Denmark

In the negotiations with some of the new democracies in eastern and central Europe, the import of their goods for consumption by our consumers is naturally a main issue, and I regret that the line hitherto adopted has been so restrictive. We must accept that importing certain foodstuffs is quite natural. There are restrictions on our production in Europe and that is painful for our farmers, so we cannot have a completely free import system. But we must open up to a certain extent and the solution may be to import a certain amount of raw food material, to process it in our factories and to turn it into a more sophisticated product for consumption in Western Europe and possibly for export to other parts of the world that lack food.

If we want association and to be able to export our products freely to the new democracies in eastern and central Europe, we must also accept to a certain sensible degree that they can sell us what they usually produce, including food.

Mr KÖNIG (Austria)

Mr Prime Minister, immediately following the positive results of the two intergovernmental conferences on political union and on economic and monetary union in Europe, is your government prepared to support immediate negotiations with Austria and with Sweden as soon as the Commission publishes its report on the Swedish application ?

Mr Schlüter, Prime Minister of Denmark

I should like the negotiations on Swedish and Austrian membership to start tomorrow. Of course, all the Community officials are terribly busy these days, but I should like Sweden and Austria to join us as soon as possible. I believe that Finland may follow within a few months. That is certainly what I want.

I said a few moments ago that I was against what is known as “confederal European co-operation”. I did not outline my argument, but I fear that that concept could develop into an excuse for not allowing more members and I do not want that excuse to be given even a chance. In a few years’ time – in about the year 2000 – I should like the European Community to have not twelve, not seventeen but more than twenty members. Of course, that would mean that our working methods would have to undergo a terrific change. We would have terrible problems. (Laughter) But we all know what they would be because we are all encountering the same problems. There is no valid argument for excluding any country that is seeking membership of any international organisation, if it qualifies for membership by meeting the conditions of that organisation.

Mr REDDEMANN (Germany) (translation)

Prime Minister, in view of the crisis in Yugoslavia, do you see a possibility that the member states of the Council of Europe may agree to joint activities which are not only written down on paper – or do not even get written down on paper – or do you consider it to be a better idea for the consolidation of European political union, which has just been discussed, to be accelerated in such a way that Europe, at least those countries forming its core, can speak more quickly with one voice than is currently the case?

Mr Schlüter, Prime Minister of Denmark

As you know, the next summit is to take place in Holland in mid-December and I believe that the two governmental conferences can finalise their work in December.

We shall strengthen co-operation on matters relating to security and foreign policy. Although I am sure that it will become more common for us to speak with what is called “one voice”, that must be achieved naturally. I personally do not believe that important matters of foreign policy should be decided by majority voting. I do not think that that is a good thing, and, although we should nevertheless strive to co-operate and to work more and more closely together, we should do so naturally. Do you believe that France, Germany, Italy or Great Britain is ready to be ruled down on vital issues? I do not think that that is realistic. As I have said, let us try to co-operate and to speak with one voice on foreign policy. It would be a good thing if we could do that as often as possible and as a general rule, but we should not make it impossible for member states to follow their own view on special occasions or on certain matters where their tradition or their domestic background requires it.

Mr LAAKSO (Finland)

I come from Finland, Mr Prime Minister. As you know, there is a serious dispute between Denmark and Finland about the construction of one or two bridges. You had some positive words to say about Nordic co-operation, so do you think that we might find a compromise that is acceptable to both countries?

Mr Schlüter, Prime Minister of Denmark

That is a good question. I wish that I could offer a solution right now, but I cannot. The problem is that Denmark is building a bridge between our two main islands and that another bridge is planned to join Denmark and Sweden. From the historical and moral perspective, that is a fine thing because it means that the Nordic area and the European continent are being brought closer together. However, when one builds a bridge, one encounters the technical problem of how high it should be allowed to be. That also involves an economic problem. The bridge over the so-called “great bel” is 65 metres high, but a Swedish shipyard has claimed that it occasionally builds oil rigs that are more than 65 metres high.

I hope that we can find a practical solution, but we have not yet done so. It would be terrible if the International Court of Justice had to decide the matter. I should hate it if my Finnish friends totally lost the argument. That would not be very nice, so let us find the compromise on which we are working so intensively.

Mr FOURRÉ (France) (translation)

Mr Prime Minister, when I put my name down for a question while one of my colleagues was speaking, I had a certain conception of the future confederation and your first reply did not entirely satisfy me. I thank you for clarifying it subsequently by indicating that you would prefer a more resolute commitment rather than a confederation prior, that is, to the consummation of European unity at a much later date.

I appreciate your preference, which will continue to be the subject of lengthy debates between our various governments, among ourselves in the Parliamentary Assembly and in many other organisations.

I am therefore pleased to note that, while your first reply appeared to give satisfaction to our colleague, your reasons for making it were in fact the reverse of those of the author of the question.

In this connection, and bearing in mind the choice you have expressed, is there not a risk, in the long run, that the Council of Europe will no longer have a role to play and will disappear, giving way to the enlarged Community which you have described?

Mr Schlüter, Prime Minister of Denmark

I, too, believe that although the membership of the European Community will increase over the years, the Council of Europe will still have an important role to play because the membership of the two groups will not be identical. Some issues are dealt with best by your – or rather by our – Organisation. They include many legal matters as well as those relating to human rights, an ever more important issue. It might be possible for us to establish a mechanism under the aegis of the Council of Europe to solve ethnic minority problems in Europe. Believe me, as there will be many such difficult problems in the future, it is important that we find an efficient mechanism for tackling such issues. That is a natural and important job for the Council of Europe.

There will be many other problems. So, regardless of what happens in the Community, which will become a stronger and bigger organisation, I am sure that you will not become unemployed in the foreseeable future.


Thank you very much, Mr Prime Minister. The way in which you have answered nine questions in twenty-five minutes clearly demonstrates your long parliamentary experience – including some years in this Assembly. You have been very frank and outspoken, as well as brief. We thank you very much for coming and for answering the questions as you have done, and for the support that you have expressed today for the Council of Europe.