Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany

Speech made to the Assembly

Wednesday, 27 September 2000

Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I am really very pleased, for many reasons, to take this opportunity of addressing you at this year's autumn session of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly.

First of all, the Council of Europe and the peoples of Europe are this week celebrating a particularly important anniversary: the fiftieth anniversary of the Council of Europe’s adoption of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Secondly, it is almost fifty years to the day since the first German delegates were allowed to take their seats in what was then the Council’s “Consultative Assembly” – an important step towards Germany's return to the European family of nations. Thirdly, the Council of Europe is again having to prove itself today in one of its essential functions, as the moral – and also political – authority responsible for safeguarding basic human rights in Europe.

Last Sunday, the people of Yugoslavia opted for democratic change. There is no doubt about that. I think it is now up to all of us to stand together and insist that the wish expressed by the Serbian people must be respected and, above all, that there must be no escalation into any kind of violence. A democratic Yugoslavia – in other words, a Yugoslavia which respects human rights – will once again take its rightful place in a Europe of equal nations.

Ladies and gentlemen, it has repeatedly been said that our continent cannot be defined in geographical terms only. Throughout its history, Europe has also been a political project – for better or for worse. Europe is the creation of its people. That was what made it so important for courageous people to set about building a new, free and just Europe, in the immediate aftermath of the genocide and devastation of the second world war.

In May 1948, over 1000 delegates from more than twenty countries met in the Hague for that purpose. At the end of their conference, they decided to work for economic and political union in Europe, based on a common charter of fundamental human rights. That was the beginning of the Council of Europe and also – I think its members can be proud of this – the real beginning of the European Union. Incidentally, the founders of this movement were by no means politicians only. They were men and women who were convinced of the validity of the principles of the Enlightenment – of the ideals of human freedom and dignity, and the rule of law – and who were determined to uphold them. Even in Germany – the country that had brought so much suffering and destruction on its neighbours and itself – many people, and especially young people, joined this “Council of Europe movement”. The Council of Europe, founded in 1949, gave the fledgling Federal Republic of Germany an ideal opportunity to show that it was serious about democracy, the rule of law, and respect for other cultures and other people. The Council of Europe was the first international political organization which the Federal Republic of Germany was allowed to join. This turned former enemies into partners.

Further stages on the path to European unification followed, leading to political, economic, social and monetary union – all things that the Council of Europe's founders could only have dreamed of. That is why the Council still symbolises the successful first step towards something we all take for granted today – Germany being a full part of a Europe which is growing together. Let me say clearly here that Germany and Germans owe the Council of Europe an enormous debt of gratitude – and know it.

Ladies and gentlemen, since 1989-90 at the latest, when the major changes set in, the Council of Europe has acquired truly pan-European significance. In a few important areas, the new face of all Europe is being shaped here. As in earlier decades, the Council is again supporting the establishment of law-based democratic structures in our continent. Since the Berlin wall came down, your organisation has admitted sixteen reformed central and east European states, and two more will be joining shortly. Neither the political nor the practical importance of the opening of the Council of Europe to central and eastern Europe, which began in 1990, can be overestimated. It is an example of solidarity in action, focused on the building of a Europe based on shared values. Step by step, the Council is realising the vision of a Europe with no dividing lines.

Joining the Council of Europe also means joining a community of values, centred on the protection of certain inalienable rights. Europe is built on this foundation of political, social and economic rights – in short, the whole list of civil and human rights. This must never be questioned. Monitoring and protecting those rights are the Council’s special contributions to the building of our continent.

These shared values provide a reliable framework for intensive co-operation between all the countries of Europe. That is why full integration of new members from central and eastern Europe within the Council of Europe plays an important part in helping the whole continent to converge, economically and politically. And Council membership remains the condition for participation in the process of European unification within the European Union.

The Council of Europe also contributes significantly to the harmonisation of law and the emergence of a shared understanding of law. It has adopted over 170 conventions, covering – from cultural co-operation to biomedicine – a broad range of social issues, and all reflecting the same determination to defend basic rights against all arbitrary interference.

In the last fifty years and more, the Council of Europe has created a legal framework which has enabled politically enlightened, tolerant and peace-loving civil societies to develop in Europe – a massive achievement, even if it has not always hit the headlines. Ladies and gentlemen, protecting human rights in Europe is the most important of our shared tasks. The European Convention on Human Rights is our general signpost here. It, and the European Court of Human Rights which grew out of it, are important instruments for protection of the human rights of the now nearly 800 million people who live in the forty-one Council of Europe member states. Ensuring respect for human rights is, and will remain, an ongoing task.

In the past ten years, conflicts between countries – and increasingly within countries too – have repeatedly made it all too clear that the end of the cold war did not mean the end of all conflicts. Europe has learned some important lessons from this. In recent years, it has become noticeably better organised. It has tried to find joint answers to the challenges that face it, and a joint platform for its action. There are, however, three essential areas where we must push ahead with our joint efforts.

First of all, we must try even harder than we have so far to make the European legal area a reality, and ensure that the European community of values, and the duties which go with it, are respected. The Council of Europe has a pioneering role to play here.-More than any other European organisation, it has, in recent years, devised effective instruments to monitor member states’ compliance with their commitments. Potential irregularities can thus be recognised at an early stage, and corrective action taken. The monitoring procedure of the Parliamentary Assembly and the Committee of Ministers plays a key role here. The Committee for the Prevention of Torture, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, and the Human Rights Commissioner, whom the Council appointed for the first time last year, are further vital instruments in its preventive armoury.

It would certainly be useful to let people in the member states see more clearly just how beneficial these institutions are. One way of doing this might be to publish the results of the Committee of Ministers’ monitoring procedure.

Secondly, a Europe of people and of human rights – which the Council of Europe has proclaimed as its objective since it was founded — is incompatible with racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia. The history of the last century has shown that we Europeans must tackle these murderous tendencies early and resolutely. The fact that racism has not been eradicated, and that there are people who refuse to learn from this bloody past, is clear even today on Europe’s streets – and, sadly, I have to say, on Germany’s too. I assure you that the federal government's position on this is firm and uncompromising: a tolerant society cannot – and will not – allow intolerance and racist violence under any circumstances. In the fight against right-wing extremism, Germany is committed to defending the rule of law and the state’s exclusive right to use force, to protecting minorities and the persecuted, and also to engaging in dialogue with all those who feel excluded and are still prepared to accept dialogue. At the same time, ladies and gentlemen, although state action is important and necessary, we must rely, above all, on one thing – on a democratic civil society’s power of resistance.

We – not just the federal government, but the whole of democratic Germany – feel that our efforts in this area get tremendous support from the Council of Europe’s activities. Its programme of action against racism and intolerance is genuinely exemplary. I do not intend to go into details here, since you all know about it, but I would like to emphasise the Council’s “best examples” programme. As I see it, this scheme, which publicises and rewards commendable initiatives and projects taken by governments – and especially individuals – throughout Europe, is a good example of the path we must all follow. These “best examples” show us that racism and intolerance not only must be resisted, but can be resisted – by anyone who wants to do so.

Thirdly, it is in Europe’s interest that people in the member states should take more notice of the Council of Europe than they have so far. Europe must not be seen as a construct put together by technocrats. It is people who give the European idea life and substance. However, people can identify with the European idea only if the great Europe embodied in the Council of Europe respects the cultural diversity and the identity of the nations gathered under its roof.

Language, as you all know, ladies and gentlemen, plays a vital role here. I would thus be particularly pleased if German – which is, with Russian, the most widely spoken mother tongue in the Council of Europe area – were given greater weight in the Organisation.

Ladies and gentlemen, at the start of the twenty-first century, the range of tasks facing the Council of Europe is as broad and demanding as ever. When he first addressed the Parliamentary Assembly on 1 August 1950, Carlo Schmid said: “We are expected to play the liveliest part in the endeavours of democratic Europeans who are in the process of creating a Europe of freedom and justice in whose midst injustices and discord can be resolved in a spirit of peace and liberal human rights.” Now that it has successfully incorporated nearly all the states of Europe, the Council of Europe already symbolises the solidarity of the continent's peoples. It should therefore throw its full potential weight behind I the forthcoming major reforms, and emphasise the independent, complementary role it can play in the process of broader European integration.

To create a modem European society, we need the Council of Europe's contribution too. Action to combat corruption and money laundering, and racism and xenophobia, and action to promote social rights, are particularly important in this age of globalisation. There are other questions, too, which the Council has recently been tackling – such as bioethics and Internet crime. All of these problems will be important in the future, and the Council must take them up and pursue them resolutely. In doing all of this, it will also be playing a decisive part in securing Europe’s future as a base for business and industry. Now more than ever, we need its expertise and commitment to support our continent’s development in various key areas.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Council of Europe combines great experience of international co-operation with its function as a “factory of ideas”, as Robert Schuman once called it. That is why it is still a basic key element in the architecture of Europe – and why I am confident that it will continue to make a pivotal contribution to building Europe in the twenty-first century. Thank you for your attention.


Thank you, Chancellor Schröder. Your address was replete with a wide understanding both of the Council of Europe’s responsibilities and of the difficulties and demands to which we must respond.

We now come to questions. There are ten names on my list and we have fifteen minutes left. I hope that we shall be able to deal with all of them. If the twenty-four members who have been disappointed send their questions to me in written form before the end of the week I shall convey them to the Chancellor, who has generously agreed to give them written answers. I call Mrs Poptodorova.

Mrs POPTODOROVA (Bulgaria)

On a point of order, Mr President, I would be betraying my duty if I did not raise the following matter. Tomorrow, European Union Ministers of the Interior and for Justice will meet to discuss, among other things, the deletion of two countries, Romania and Bulgaria, from the so-called Schengen blacklist. My question was connected with that meeting. I know that there are time constraints, Mr President, but I beg your indulgence in the hope of having my question added to the list, and the Chancellor’s indulgence in the hope of his answering it today.


We have only fifteen minutes, Mrs Poptodorova, so it is not fair of you to do this. You have other means whereby you can contact the Chancellor and raise the matter with him.

The first two questions relate to relations between the European Union and the Council of Europe, and both were asked by Socialists. The first is from Mr Llms Maria de Puig of Spain and the second from Mr Wolfgang Behrendt of Germany, who is of course known to the Chancellor, and who will answer the two questions together. I remind you that you have a maximum of thirty seconds each to ask your questions I call Mr de Puig.

Mr de PUIG (Spain) (translation)

With regard to relations between the Council of Europe and the European Union and the future of our institution, which you have just been discussing, we often feel that governments tend to focus their efforts on enlarging the European Union, while the Council of Europe is, to a certain extent, ignored. For example, some important aspects of the Council of Europe’s work are more or less being transferred to the EU, which has drawn up its own social charter, something we already have. The EU has also just created its own version of our European Convention on Human Rights.

Is this transfer of the Council of Europe’s powers to the European Union likely to continue? I believe it would be a terrible mistake.

Mr BEHRENDT (Germany) (translation)

Mr President, I can also put questions to the Chancellor in the Bundestag, and so I should like to let Mrs Poptodorova use my time. I think it more important that she should ask her question.

Mr Schröder, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany (translation)

I think we have to realise that Europe has various organisations, with various jobs to do. The interplay between them can also work to our advantage. I see the Council of Europe’s main role as that of helpihg to deepen European integration – I am thinking, for example, of legal and constitutional policy. The Council can play a major part in implementing the project we agreed on Helsinki – the creation of an area of law, security and freedom in Europe. This is one of the areas where I feel that European parliamentarians from countries outside the present EU zone can make an important contribution. This is not to say that co-operation between the various European organisations could not be improved, with a view to avoiding duplication – but I really do not feel that this need make us fear that the Council of Europe may lose its functions.


Thank you, Mr Schröder. The next questions relate to the European charter of fundamental rights and its relationship with the European Convention on Human Tights. The questions have been tabled by Mr Sold Tura, Mr Magnusson and Mr Atkinson. As Mr Sold Tura is not here, I call Mr Magnusson.


I have been told that I would not have the opportunity to ask a question, so I am glad to have this chance to put a question to the Chancellor. My question relates to the relationship between the European charter that is to be created this autumn and the European Convention on Human Rights. What is the Chancellor’s opinion of the possibility of the European Union acceding to the Convention?

Mr ATKINSON (United Kingdom)

Do you share the concerns of the British Government and of many members of this Assembly that, were the charter of fundamental rights to be given legal status, it would cause confusion with the European Convention on Human Rights, chaos for the European Court of Human Rights, and complications for those countries that are implementing the Convention into their national law? Will you urge the Nice meeting to agree that the charter should be regarded merely as a checklist of standards to which members can aspire, and not be made the subject of European Union law?

Mr Schröder, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany (translation)

Answering your second question first, I totally disagree with what you have just said – and also doubt whether this is the British Government’s view. The fact is that the EU’s charter of Fundamental Rights goes further than the European Convention on Human Rights, so there will be no contradiction – at least in the long term – if the charter is adopted in Biarritz or Nice, which I assume it will be. The Convention will then be incorporated into the charter. There are a few points on which the charter goes further than the Convention – that is the relationship between the two texts. I am fairly sure that the distinguished experts on constitutional and international law who are working on the charter have anticipated any difficulties which British or other courts are likely to have in interpreting it, and that such conflicts of interpretation between the two texts can therefore be ruled out.

I do not believe that the situation we have makes it hard for the British Government, given the UK’s different constitutional traditions – which we know and respect – to accept the charter. I am fairly sure that we can deal with any objections, even on the level of concepts, in the coming talks. We are prepared to respect constitutional traditions as far as ever we can, and so I do not expect that there will be difficulties of interpretation between the two texts, or that the charter will not be adopted. Indeed, it must be adopted since – and the Council of Europe should also support this – it marks the start of a constitutional debate within the EU which we need, not least, to divide powers between the EU and its member states, for example after enlargement. The things the Convention gives us, and the charter will continue to give us, must feed into a constitutional debate, which will also have to sort out these problems of dividing powers and responsibilities between individual member states and the EU, with its various policy-making levels.


The next two questions deal with European Union enlargement, and are asked by Mr Ebrsi, a Liberal from Hungary, and Mr Wojcik, a Christian Democrat from Poland. I call Mr Eörsi.

Mr EÖRSI (Hungary)

Mr Chancellor, I appreciated your words about Council of Europe enlargement and I feel encouraged about European Union enlargement. I understand that Mr Verheugen, who I believe is not only your countryman but a fellow member of your party, leaked it to the German press that there was a plan for a referendum in Germany on the question of European Union enlargement, but I have just heard you say that that is not the case. I ask you to reiterate your position on a referendum in Germany and European Union enlargement. Will there be a referendum on the subject for the first time in the history of the European Union?

Mr WOJCIK (Poland)

Within the next few years, several member states of the Council of Europe will become members of the European Union. Do you agree with the opinion expressed by some German politicians, notably Mrs Erica Steinbach, that this will reopen the question of property in the territory of countries neighbouring Germany? Do you agree with the opinion that EU legislation will allow for any restitution? Finally, do you think that possible applications to the European Court of Human Rights in this regard would be justified?

Mr Schröder, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany (translation)

First of all, Commissioner Verheugen said this on his own responsibility. It is not my intention, or my business, to comment on the position of Günter Verheugen, for whom, incidentally, I have great respect. If my memory serves me, he made it clear to the European Parliament that he did not mean that the European Union needed more support, and that there must therefore be more discussion among the actual citizens of the member states. He did not say that he thought referendums should be held on enlargement – wherever it might take place.

Having said that, I would add that the German Government's position is totally clear. We decided in Helsinki that the Europe of the Fifteen should be ready to take in new members by the end of 2002. We are trying to give this process every possible impetus. We are, for example, very anxious that the French Presidency – and, above all, the Nice Summit, where decisions will have to be taken on the institutional reforms – should be a complete success, because this is one of the prerequisites for the enlargement process. We are doing everything we can to make sure that it is. Under the Helsinki resolution, applicant countries must themselves decide whether they are in a position to join, whether they can take on the full responsibilities of membership – and this will determine who joins at the beginning of 2003. The good old principle, “to each according to his efforts and abilities”, holds good here – and we can make no distinctions in applying it. Germany does not intend to hold a referendum on enlargement – and indeed could not do so, under the Basic Law.

Secondly, I do not intend to say anything here about statements by members of the German opposition. Let me make one thing clear: for us, there are no conditions, beyond the ones we decided in Helsinki, which could stop any country – Poland, for example – from joining. So what Mrs Steinbach has said is her personal opinion. Whether it is also her party’s opinion, I do not know. At any rate, this is not the German Government’s opinion. She is not a member of the government, and will not be while I am in office.


I am sure Mrs Steinbach will note that, Chancellor. I call Mr Toshev of Bulgaria and the Christian Democrats.

Mr TOSHEV (Bulgaria)

I congratulate Germany op the decision to make a donation to the Council of Europe. That money should be used for Council of Europe activities in the framework of the Stability Pact for South-Eastern Europe. However, some scepticism has recently been expressed in Germany concerning the Stability Pact for South-Eastern Europe, and the construction of a second bridge over the Danube between Romania and Bulgaria was called into question.

Has there been any change in Germany’s position and its support for the investment project under the Stability Pact, and does Germany support the construction of pan-European corridors No. 4 and No. 8, including the second bridge between Romania and Bulgaria?

Mr Schröder, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany (translation)

First of all, allow me to say this. Forgive me, but I do not know exactly where individual bridges are located. If I had known that questions concerning the bridges between Romania and Bulgaria were going to be asked, I would have got details from my Minister for Transport – but I did not. And so I can tell you nothing about individual bridges.

I can, however, tell you something about the efforts you and we have been making to implement the Stability Pact. I think that the Council of Europe is playing an important role here, especially concerning Table I of the pact. Indeed, it is performing various tasks in that connection. Individual projects which it has made its own are being backed by Germany, to the tune of 3.6 million Deutschmarks, if my memory serves me.

As far as the pact as a whole is concerned, it must be said that Germany played a decisive role in developing it after the end of the Kosovo conflict. We consider it a really important part of our foreign policy in that region. As you know, the coordinator – who is doing good work down there – is a German politician. Perhaps this makes it clear that we are not only anxious to help, but are genuinely prepared to take on responsibilities. This can also be seen from the contribution which Germany made last March at the donor conference.

All of this will show you that we are – and intend to remain – totally committed in this region. It is our belief that making its people see that accepting the values you stand for here will also benefit the whole area economically is the only way of convincing them that democracy, freedom and the rule of law are worth supporting in the long term. Faring well economically and supporting these values are, if I may put it like this, brothers and sisters. They are linked together. People in this region must understand that. One of the most important issues will be making it clear in Yugoslavia that integration – not just political, but also economic – will be the response of the western community of states to the opposition’s victory, which is in no doubt. This is what makes the Stability Pact so important. Our efforts to support its implementation will proceed at full speed.


Thank you, Chancellor. We have three more questions, but it is almost 12.45 p.m. Shall we try to complete them? The questions are all on different subjects, but I will invite each member to ask his or her question. The members are Mr Gjellerod, Mr Schweitzer and Mrs Durrieu. First, I call Mr Gjellerod.

Mr GJELLEROD (Denmark)

After what I heard the Chancellor say about the fight against racism, extremism, xenophobia and intolerance, I do not need to ask a question. I merely thank the Chancellor for his clear statement.

Mr SCHWEITZER (Austria) (translation)

Chancellor, the co-ordinated sanctions imposed on the new Austrian Government by the fourteen other EU states have proved totally unfounded and also untenable, as the report of the so-called three wise men makes clear, when it actually gives Austria very high marks for its policies against racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia, and also its treatment of minorities. In the light of this positive report, will you again be intensifying the good neighbourly relations and the friendship between our two states?

Mrs DURRIEU (France) (translation)

Chancellor, I would be interested to hear your personal views on the recent initiative by the European Central Bank, the American Federal Reserve and Japan to intervene on the foreign exchange markets in order to prevent the euro from falling even more sharply. Do you think that this step, which demonstrates the euro’s impact on American companies and the world economy, is sufficient to stabilise the currency or will further action be necessary?

Mr Schröder, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany (translation)

Dear lady, just imagine what would happen if I were to answer your question. For good reasons, and also out of respect for the European Central Bank's independence, we decided in the European Council that only the President of the Ecofin Council, or at any rate the ECB’s President, would answer questions of this kind. The less we discuss things in general terms like this, the better it will be for a currency whose strength – given the European economy's solidity – is undeniable. So do not misunderstand me when I feel that, in saying this, I have dealt with your question. I am quite sure that the President of the European Central Bank will be happy to answer all your questions privately.

Secondly, Mr Schweitzer, I do not know which report you have read. It must be different from the one the wise men submitted, because they expressly say that what you call the sanctions – that is, the bilaterally imposed measures – were successful but would, for that very reason, start to become counterproductive if they were maintained. No one wanted that. Your question is based on an assumption which is, quite simply, incorrect. So you must have read a different report from the one I read, or only read half of it. I, however, read all of it.

Otherwise, relations between Germany and Austria have traditionally been good, and there is absolutely no reason to change this.


Thank you Chancellor for extending your time. Thank you again for your speech which was an encouragement to us and a good augury for us.

I remind you that members who are on the list and present in the Chamber but who have not been called to speak may submit their speeches in typescript to the Table Office within twenty-four hours of the end of the debate for publication in the official report. Mr Schröder will supply a written answer which will also be published in the report.