Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Austria and President of the Council of the European Union

Speech made to the Assembly

Tuesday, 11 April 2006

My dear Călin and dear Jean-Claude, let me first of all clear up a little misunderstanding: I am speaking here as the President of the European Council and not for the Council of Europe. Unlike you, I do not, of course, represent the whole of Europe, but I do speak for an important part of Europe.

No one calls into question the Council of Europe’s claim to represent the entire continent. It is very important to stress the differences here and to make it clear that the EU can only speak for part of Europe – you represent the continent as a whole.

Unlike Jean-Claude Juncker, I am at a disadvantage in that I cannot express my own personal opinion here but am forced to speak to you on the basis of the common denominator of all member states.

It would certainly be nice to discuss some issues from a personal point of view, but you will understand that I have to address you here as the President of the European Council.

As the President of the European Council, I find it a particularly happy coincidence that Austria is currently celebrating the 50th anniversary of its accession to the Council of Europe. It is at the same time an opportunity to try to take stock. We Austrians have a tendency to confuse taking stock with a wistful look at the past, but this would be wrong because, although a review should take account of past experience, our eyes should be directed towards the future.

I am proud of Austria’s work at the Council of Europe during these fifty years and our commitment has been just as strong since we joined the European Union as it was in the early years of our membership of the Council.

Tribute has repeatedly been paid to this commitment on the part of Austria. Here, I would just point out that my country has provided three Secretaries General of the Council of Europe during these fifty years – Lujo Toncic-Sorinj, Franz Karasek and Walter Schwimmer – two Presidents of the Parliamentary Assembly – Karl Tschernitz and Peter Schieder – and one head of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities – Herwig van Staa, who only recently stepped down as its president.

In addition, a number of Austrian personalities have been involved in the process of European integration through the Council of Europe. For example, right at the beginning our Minister for Foreign Affairs, Leopold Fiegel, signed the document of accession and stressed that, by joining the Council of Europe, our country wanted to underscore its membership of the community of democratic states.

I should like to thank Peter Schieder for his achievements as President of the Parliamentary Assembly – it was after all possible to admit Serbia and Montenegro to the Council of Europe under his presidency, in spite of the opposition of some members, and thus make a great contribution to the stability of the entire region. The Council’s involvement in the creation of the PanAfrican Parliament, proposals to inject new life into the parliamentary process, and the implementation of democratic standards in the new member states are all down to Peter Schieder’s initiative, as are the campaign against the death penalty and measures to protect minorities. Similarly, Walter Schwimmer worked to bring about the Council’s enlargement and a major reform of its organisation.

We have attached considerable importance to this work at the Council of Europe from the outset. After all, Austria is the native country of Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi, the founder of the pan-European movement, so it was quite natural for us, after signing the State Treaty in 1955, to begin to play an active part in the political unification of Europe together with other democratic states.

Nor was it a coincidence that the first Council of Europe summit took place in 1993 in Vienna, where such revolutionary issues were discussed as the protection of national minorities, the fight against intolerance, racism and xenophobia and improving peace and security on the continent of Europe through the development of democracy. The fact that many central and eastern European countries have since become members is an indication that the ideas put forward at that first summit have been taken on board.

(The speaker continued in English) Ladies and gentlemen, in my capacity as President of the Council of the European Union for the first half of this year, I should like to welcome the report of Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker as an important contribution to discussion of the multilateral architecture of Europe. The issue is all too rarely addressed in a coherent fashion, for obvious reasons. There are many vested interests, institutional inertia and political reservations to overcome. Mr Juncker’s approach of giving his very personal view is probably the only way to produce such a clear and concise paper, as it would never have passed through a committee.

The European Union, the Council of Europe and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development are all vital parts of the European architecture, each with its own vocation and its own comparative advantages. We should not shy away from the fact that that architecture is in need of modernisation if it is to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Huge changes in the international environment, as well as internal developments, simply leave no room for duplication. In order to maximise the effectiveness of our actions, we must maximise co-operation and coordination between our organisations.

I hope that clear consensus will emerge as we continue our debates on the Juncker report. The project outlined would move us in the right direction by focusing the work of the Council of Europe on its core strengths – democracy, human rights and the rule of law. We can take a significant step towards creating a stronger European architecture.

The Council of Europe and the European Union already have a history of close and successful co-operation in helping countries through transition processes, and that is something that we can and should develop further. From the EU’s perspective, the Council of Europe is, and will remain, an irreplaceable partner. We rely heavily on its excellent contributions on monitoring the compliance of candidate countries with the so-called political criteria for accession. Monitoring reports, the assessments of the Commissioner for Human Rights and specialist work on racism, torture, corruption and so on are tremendously important resources for us. We make use of them when we prepare the democratic and political sections of our own reports, and we should probably express our gratitude more often than we do for the valuable input and expertise of the Council of Europe.

The Memorandum of Understanding between the European Union and the Council of Europe is a decisive matter for us all. Particular focus should be placed on how the EU and its member states can make better use of the Council of Europe’s instruments and institutions. We should all benefit from closer links between the Council of Europe and the European Union. The memorandum should deepen and extend the political dialogue between the two institutions, building on the existing agreements of 1987 and 2001. We should build on the attachment of both organisations to the same values – our common commitment to the promotion of pluralistic democracy, respect for and protection of human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law. It is easy to say that, but nothing is perfect, not even legislation or the implementation of all our laws and commitments. But we are on the way; we are moving in the right direction.

Let me briefly mention, in accordance with the report, some of the principles that should guide the Council of Europe and the European Union. First, there is the strengthening of relations in the fields of human rights and fundamental freedoms, the fight against all forms of discrimination and xenophobia, the promotion of pluralistic democracy and the rule of law, and political and legal co-operation, social cohesion and intercultural dialogue.

As a second priority, our co-operation should include an enhanced sharing of information, dialogues on strategy and policy issues, and developing common views on priority areas. Thirdly, as Jean-Claude outlined, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe should be encouraged to participate in frequent inter-institutional meetings to reinforce cooperation. Fourthly, civil society non-governmental organisations must be involved, a point on which the Council of Europe has been strong for decades. Fifthly, we must develop increased co-operation among the countries participating in the European Union’s Neighbourhood Policy and the stabilisation and association processes. Sixthly, legal co-operation should be further developed – for example, by accession by the European Union to the Council of Europe’s conventions.

I know that there is some concern in the Chamber about the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency. Let me be clear, the agency is not a danger to the Council of Europe but an opportunity for it. It is an opportunity further to increase co-operation and to contribute towards greater coherence and enhanced complementarity. It can enhance co-operation with the European Commission in acting against racism and intolerance. The European Union’s monitoring centre has already proved excellent on that.

The two bodies, in working closely together, have developed clear methods of co-operation, have avoided duplication and have created synergies. The Council of Europe and the European Union can, through the agency, increase the opportunities for cooperation. We are certainly not in favour of any duplication, let alone the replacement of any of the excellent methods and institutions of the Council of Europe.

It is a great coincidence that I can celebrate Austria’s fifty years in the Council of Europe at the same time as we discuss the guiding plans inaugurated by Jean- Claude Juncker for a European architecture of the future. I wish us all good luck.

THE PRESIDENT (translation)

I should first of all like to congratulate you most warmly, Chancellor, on the fiftieth anniversary of your country’s membership of the Council of Europe. As you yourself have said, history imposes on us a duty for the future.

We welcome your tribute to the Council’s values, as we do the contribution that Austria and its citizens have made to this Assembly’s work. I personally hope that when you discuss current ideas at the next summit in Brussels there will also be a paragraph on Prime Minister Juncker’s report to underscore the political importance of the relationship between the Council of Europe and the EU for the heads of state and government.