Kjell Magne


Prime Minister of Norway

Speech made to the Assembly

Wednesday, 23 June 2004

Distinguished members of the Parliamentary Assembly, it is a great pleasure for me to be back here in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. In the past, I have, as mentioned by the President, served as a member of this Assembly, and I still have many good friends among the Representatives. I also have many happy memories from my years in the Assembly, and I follow your work with keen interest.

Many people, when they talk about Europe, are usually only thinking about the European Union. But the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe are important because they focus on areas of policy that the EU does not give such weight to – areas that deepen the understanding between the countries of our continent. These two bodies also include a number of countries that are not members of the EU. As regards the Council of Europe, this applies to twenty countries. That makes the Council of Europe an important meeting place between established and new democracies and a vital arena for fostering a common understanding of the values that are essential for the development of democracy and respect for human rights.

As a founding member of the Council of Europe, Norway is a firm believer in the Organisation, and strongly supports its activities. During our chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers we will do our utmost to further strengthen this Organisation and help it adapt to new and changing realities. I believe that the Council of Europe needs to be open to reform and change, so that it can perform its tasks as effectively as possible. We should focus on the Organisation’s core values and areas of expertise.

First of all, we must focus on the European Court of Human Rights. That body has been and is the key institution in European efforts to advance human rights. Reform is vital to guaranteeing its effectiveness. We must now take immediate action to ensure that the necessary reforms are carried out. The Court’s longterm effectiveness can only be guaranteed if we, the member states, make substantial efforts to reduce its workload. I therefore also encourage you, the parliamentarians, to initiate the relevant changes at national level.

Secondly, the Council of Europe must seek to renew and strengthen its relations with other organisations. We have much to gain from improving the co-ordination of activities with the OSCE and the European Union. We need effective co-operation and co-ordination, not unnecessary competition. Only through a constructive dialogue with the other organisations will we be able to succeed. That will also ensure more visibility for the Council of Europe and its activities, and will attract more attention to it.

Thirdly – and this is close to my heart – there is the need for dialogue and in particular dialogue between cultures and between religions. History has shown us that nations and cultures are interdependent. A uniform society cannot endure. Tolerance and the exchange of ideas, goods and people are key factors for change, development and peace. We should not let differences in culture or beliefs take a negative direction, and develop into conflict.

Extremists and populist movements are exploiting people’s fear of “those who are not like us”. We can see the consequences in the form of terrorism and racially motivated violence. To fight terrorism more effectively, we need to know about its root causes. In my opinion, fanaticism and hatred are root causes. They are often the result of humiliation and fear, which come from ignorance, frustration and an insecure identity. Extremists often try to spread the message of hate in the name of God; yet nothing is further from true faith than hatred. On the contrary, those who have a strong faith are often better able to understand and respect the beliefs of others. That is tolerance.

I am convinced that by discussing the similarities and differences between the various religions, we will be able to identify common values such as respect for what is sacred, for human dignity and for reconciliation.

In some of my travels abroad I have had meetings with the leaders of a number of different religions. I have done this in Sarajevo, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Cairo, New York and Geneva. In many conflicts religion is regarded as part of the problem. In my view, it should be the other way around. Religion must become part of the solution. A harmonious relationship between religions does not in itself resolve conflicts, but in some conflict-ridden areas it can pave the way for lasting, peaceful political solutions – not only in the Middle East and the Balkans, but also in Africa and on other continents.

The Council of Europe promotes democracy, human rights and good governance in our part of the world. We have a unique set of common values: human dignity, the rule of law, mutual respect and reconciliation. These values are vital in supporting reconciliation and preventing conflicts.

Dear fellow politicians, as political leaders we must do our utmost to promote and protect these fundamental values. As political leaders we should use a humanistic approach to break down religious and cultural barriers that have been erected between peoples, societies and individuals. We should take responsibility for helping to build bridges between the different faiths and cultures. We should promote dialogue and tolerance.

There has always been cultural diversity in Europe, but in our time – in the era of globalisation – changes are occurring faster than ever before. Even countries with traditionally homogeneous populations, like my own country, have become increasingly multicultural. This development has great possibilities, but it also challenges us to take the initiative to promote understanding.

Fourthly, countless children in the world today are being raised in an atmosphere of hatred and intolerance. Countless children are being denied their basic human rights. Let us make sure that our children know their rights. Let us teach our children that Europe stands for harmony, not conflict; for co-operation and co-existence, not alienation and hostility.

Our children are our future. We must promote sound values in our schools. Our schools must therefore foster tolerance and understanding; they must be a means of combating hatred and fear of those who are different. At school, pupils must learn compassion and consideration for others.

The English clergyman – I am myself a clergyman – and writer Dean Inge put it thus: “The aim of education is in the knowledge not of facts, but of values”. Education has a great potential to achieve concrete improvements in our societies. As the American writer James Baldwin put it: “The paradox of education is precisely this – that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which one is being educated.”

It is important to promote systematic information on how knowledge of different cultures and religions can contribute to the development of mutual understanding and respect. The Council of Europe has an important role to play in these efforts. I suggest that this could be an important topic in the preparations for the next Council of Europe summit.

Two weeks ago, we hosted a Council of Europe conference in Oslo on the religious dimension in intercultural education. By discussing similarities and differences between the various religions, we will be able to identify common values such as respect for human dignity and reconciliation, and the commandment of love and sound stewardship.

In 1997 we introduced the subject “Christianity and general religious and moral education” in Norwegian schools. This subject aims at giving the pupils knowledge and understanding of different religions and faiths. It shall pass on traditions and preserve religious identity, as well as build bridges that lead to insight, tolerance and dialogue. The objective is to contribute to mutual tolerance and respect for different views and beliefs.

Every society must work continuously to ensure that mutual respect and trust are the defining values in every aspect of society – cultural, social, ethnic and religious. At the international level, this objective must be achieved through discussions, agreements and the exchange of information.

Through education we can build bridges between different faiths and cultures. Through education we can build understanding and respect for different religions and cultures. Let us therefore today give the Council of Europe a leading role in these efforts.

My fifth and last point is the need to work together and build networks. Since the last time that Norway held the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers – in 1989, when I was Norway’s Foreign Minister – the number of member countries of the Council of Europe has doubled. A comprehensive network of co-operation has been established, which is based on almost 200 Council of Europe conventions. These deal with a large number of areas, such as legal co-operation, social cohesion, human rights, the media, education, health, culture, youth, local co-operation and the environment. In other words, this broad network is assuring the fundamental rights of 800 million citizens.

The strength of this co-operation is that we can contribute to improving norms and standards through the exchange of views, and through consultations and negotiations. In these efforts, the Council of Europe is able to draw on a large number of ministries and experts in the member countries.

It is reassuring that we have strong elected bodies to support the work of the Council of Europe. Both the Parliamentary Assembly and the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe are, in Norway’s opinion, driving forces in our Organisation. Let me mention improving guidelines for the intergovernmental sectors of the Council of Europe, and the important initiatives that have been taken on new conventions and major topical issues. Also, the Parliamentary Assembly’s monitoring activities are widely respected and appreciated.

I firmly believe that the Council of Europe has a unique role to play in preventing conflict and creating stability.

In summing up, let us strengthen the European Court of Human Rights, while also making substantial efforts to reduce the Court’s workload. Let us renew and strengthen the co-operation with other international organisations such as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the European Union. Let us take new and bold initiatives for dialogue between different cultures and religions. And let us have a focus on education. Finally, let us build strong and effective networks.

Dear members of the Assembly, you can count on Norway’s support. During our chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers, we will do our utmost to help strengthen this Organisation, and the values and norms that it represents.


Thank you very much, Mr Prime Minister, for your most interesting and inspiring address. Members of the Assembly have expressed a wish to put questions to you. I remind members that questions must be limited to thirty seconds and no more.

Colleagues should ask questions and not make speeches. I will allow two supplementary questions to each question. The first question is from Mr Atkinson.

Mr ATKINSON (United Kingdom)

Prime Minister, you have just referred very movingly to your visit to Bethlehem and Jerusalem. As you know, the Oslo initiative of more than ten years ago almost – almost – led to peace in the Middle East. Is it not now time for a new Oslo initiative to put the Middle East map back on the road to peace?

Mr Bondevik, Prime Minister of Norway

It is right that Norway contributed to the peace process leading up to the Oslo accords. Now, there is a new situation. We have the road map for the Middle East, which was introduced by the so-called Quartet of the United Nations, the European Union, the Russian Federation and the United States. I believe that the efforts for peace and reconciliation between the Israelis and the Palestinians have mainly been within the framework of the Quartet. We must commit the parties to the road map, because today that road map constitutes the guidelines for peace.

The Oslo accords and the road map are rather like each other – the differences are not so very big – but the road map is even more detailed than the Oslo accords. Norway is willing to contribute to the peace efforts, and we are doing so. It is my impression that both parties trust Norway, and in that regard we can play a role. We are especially doing so now, through chairmanship of the Ad hoc Liaison Committee – the donor group – for the Palestinian areas. If the Israelis are to withdraw from the Gaza Strip, as they have committed themselves to doing, it is very important that all countries encourage them to do so. Then we will know that the Ad hoc Liaison Committee will play an even more important role in order to improve social and economic living conditions, especially in the Gaza Strip.

The initiative now should be to bring the parties back to the negotiating table. The Quartet has an important role to play in placing the necessary pressure on them. Norway will contribute to that. We are in frequent contact with the parties and we will play a role, particularly as Chair of the Ad hoc Liaison Committee. If it achieves a final settlement, that could be confirmed by the United Nations Security Council, which would improve and increase the legitimacy of the negotiated solution that will hopefully be reached.

Mr ATKINSON (United Kingdom)

As you know, Prime Minister, one of the outstanding issues in the Middle East is the future of the 3.5 million refugees,

1.5 million of whom live in squalid camps, which is a source of terrorism, and for whom there can be no realistic right of return. Do you know that this Assembly has passed a resolution that proposes a solution to the situation in the shape of a final status fund to fund the future accommodation of those refugees? Will you support that plan as a solution to the problem?

Mr Bondevik, Prime Minister of Norway

That is a good idea. I agree that in practice it would be very difficult to return 3.5 million refugees to such a small area, but that is one of the most difficult final negotiating issues. Other remaining issues include borders, refugees, settlements and, of course, Jerusalem – the most difficult issue, which was negotiated and discussed at Camp David under the leadership of President Clinton. I talked to President Clinton about that. They got so close to finding a solution – even closer than many people know – but, unfortunately, they failed. They continued in Taba, but did not achieve a final solution.

Regarding the refugees, I think that in principle they have the right to return, but in practice it will be very difficult to return them all. It is a good idea to introduce such a fund to improve their accommodation, and that should be brought into the final negotiations.

Mr BANKS (United Kingdom)

Prime Minister, the received image of Norway is that of a civilised, wealthy country that is supportive of international agreements. That being so, why does Norway continue to slaughter minke whales in the name of science in defiance of the International Whaling Commission and world opinion?

Mr Bondevik, Prime Minister of Norway

I am a dedicated environmentalist. In fact, I resigned from my post as Prime Minister in 2000 because I would not compromise on an important environmental issue. My government gives priority to the preservation of the biological diversity of species. It follows that we strongly support the protection of all endangered whale species. As you said yourself, Norwegian whaling is limited to the minke whale stock in the North Atlantic. The scientific committee of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) has clearly documented that this species is in no way threatened.

Norway’s whaling policy therefore remains unchanged. It is based on the 1946 International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling and on the principle of sustainable harvesting and renewable and natural resources, as whales are. The government recently presented to parliament a White Paper on marine mammal management. The government determines catch quotas on the basis of the best available scientific advice and in accordance with mechanisms established by the IWC – the so-called revised management procedure. This year’s quota is 670 animals. The government has not set any quota for 2005 or for any following years. That will be determined in due course in accordance with the best scientific advice.

Mr BANKS (United Kingdom)

I thank the Prime Minister for his answer. He knows very well that the IWC does not support Norway’s application for scientific whaling. The only bit of science that one needs to know is that if one kills 670 minke whales, one has 670 fewer than one had the season before. It is impossible to kill a sea mammal humanely. Why does he think that other traditional whaling nations have given up all forms of whaling, including scientific whaling?

Mr Bondevik, Prime Minister of Norway

It is estimated that we have 170 000 minke whales from which we take 670. You should be aware that that is the proportion. Our harvesting of minke whales is based on scientific facts from the scientific committee of the IWC. I draw your attention to the fact that it is a question of the balance of different species in the seas. To put it simply, if we do not harvest minke whales we will have an imbalance in the seas because the whales will eat more fish. It is a question of the ecological balances between species in the seas.

Mr BANKS (United Kingdom)

My last point is that the decline of fish stocks is due to overfishing by human beings, not the necessary predation on fish stocks by sea mammals. I ask the Prime Minister to address this point: how can one humanely kill a minke whale? That is the real issue, not the question of Norway’s attitude towards the traditional occupation of whaling.

Mr Bondevik, Prime Minister of Norway

Human beings have a right to harvest – or to kill, as you say – animals, and we are talking about an animal. It is a question of the balance between the species in the seas – there is no doubt about that. You are right, of course, that from time to time problems are caused by overfishing, but believe it or not it is a fact that whales eat fish. If there is an imbalance between the species in the seas, that is an ecological problem. You should be aware that we are both engaged in environmental policy and ecological issues.

Mr LLOYD (United Kingdom)

The Prime Minister is as aware as I am that all members of our European family face threats from organised crime, drugs and terrorism, as well as from people trafficking. What is changing is that those different forms of activity are becoming interlinked and intertwined, posing new threats to all our societies. Does he have any plan during the Norwegian chairmanship to take any initiatives to advance a common defence on these issues?

Mr Bondevik, Prime Minister of Norway

Mr Lloyd is focusing on a key issue. In my opinion, it is important to recognise and understand the threat of terrorism and organised crime. The Council of Europe is well placed to make an important contribution in our efforts. First, we should take active steps to strengthen international law against terrorism and develop effective instruments that can fill any existing lacunae in this area. We strongly support efforts with regard to a European convention against trafficking in human beings and my government has developed an action plan against trafficking. The plan is instrumental in determining Norway’s national and international efforts, including measures to identify, assist and protect victims; witness protection; voluntary return to the country of origin; rehabilitation; and enhanced efforts to investigate and prosecute traffickers.

I appeal to all member countries to join in the work to agree on a European convention as early as possible. We also strongly support other important efforts in the legal field, such as measures against corruption and money laundering, as well as other important challenges dealt with by the Council of Europe and other international organisations.

Mr LLOYD (United Kingdom)

I warmly thank the Prime Minister for his answer. He referred earlier to the new democracies and the more established ones. Does he accept that the very challenges that he has just discussed pose threats to all our democracies and to human rights? Does he accept that we must get the balance right between taking all the necessary steps to fight against terrorism and crime and making sure that that is done within the framework of respect for human rights and democracy? These threats can destroy us in two ways; one directly, and the other by our inability to react properly and acceptably.

Mr Bondevik, Prime Minister of Norway

I fully agree that we must not fight terrorism in a way that violates human rights. The fight against terrorism, organised crime and trafficking must be done in a way that respects human rights. I take that for granted. But I agree that that is not the case everywhere. It is important to underline to all countries, including the new democracies, that when we fight terrorism, organised crime and trafficking, we must do so in a way that respects human rights. That is also important for the old democracies. If we use military forces in Arab and Muslim countries to fight terrorism, and do so in a way that does not respect human rights, that will give a very bad picture of the democratic world in those countries. To be frank, I am thinking also of what happened with some prisoners in Iraq. I regret that but I am glad that the leaders of the United States have acted. Those actions gave a very bad picture of the West in that part of the world.


Thank you very much. That brings to an end the questions to Prime Minister Bondevik. I thank him most warmly on behalf of the Assembly for his address and for the remarks he has made in the course of questions. I also thank State Secretary Odd Jostein Sæter. We wish all the best to your country.