President of Slovenia

Speech made to the Assembly

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Thank you, Mr President. Distinguished members of the Parliamentary Assembly, distinguished Secretary General, ladies and gentlemen, it is obviously a great pleasure to be with you today, before this esteemed Assembly. It is also an honour to address you on the day on which the official commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Council of Europe is to take place.

Let me emphasise right from the outset that I consider this Parliamentary Assembly to be a particularly important body in the international framework. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe is the bedrock of legitimacy of the political work of the Council of Europe. We have to understand that Europe does not have a single constituency – a single demos. Europe consists of peoples and nations. Each has its own demos. Therefore, it is extremely important that the authentic representatives of those different peoples come together, work together and provide the basis of legitimacy for everything else that happens in the Organisation.

I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Mr Thorbjørn Jagland on his election this week as Secretary General of the Council of Europe. We now have a Secretary General who measures up to our hopes. He, in turn, has a great challenge ahead of him. He can count on my support, and, I am convinced, the support of all member states of the Council of Europe.

The arrival of a Secretary General to any organisation brings a certain momentum and with it heightened optimism for the future. This momentum must be taken advantage of. We all have a shared responsibility in facing the challenges ahead of us.

I take this responsibility with a great sense of engagement, but also confidence. My own interest in the activities of the Council of Europe is genuine. It has been nurtured throughout my work as a human rights activist and an international law professor, and in my diplomatic and political life. In all my functions, I have striven to strengthen the core values defended by this Organisation, be it at the national level or through my work at the United Nations.

I agree with those who consider that an anniversary should provide an occasion to look forward and to contemplate how best to shape the future. However, we cannot look to the future without understanding the past.

From its inception after the gruelling years of the Second World War to these first years of the 21st century, the challenges and difficulties that modern society brings have always characterised the work of the Council of Europe, which has been a witness both to dramatic events and gradual changes and has shown the strength and flexibility to adapt accordingly. It has played an essential role in bringing unity and security to the European continent. Most importantly, it has served as a bulwark of the core values of Europe: human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

Twenty years ago, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain was an important milestone for the Council of Europe. It provided the Organisation with a very particular role, as the organisation most appropriate to welcome yet another wave of new democracies and construct a new and greater Europe. It rose to the challenge and huge advances were made.

Today, we are 47 European states bound together to defend those crucial values which are ours – democracy, human rights and the rule of law. This is indeed a feat worthy of celebration. However, the family is not yet complete, and I look forward to the day when Belarus will be in a position to join our number.

We must also recognise that the ultimate vision of the founding fathers of the Organisation – a Europe united around common values – is still not fully realised.

We have only to look at our recent past, where we witnessed serious and sometimes devastating clashes and conflicts within the borders of the Council of Europe. We all have horrible memories and images in our mind, especially those of us who were witnesses to, and sometimes victims of, wars in south-east Europe.

We are also aware that some areas of our greater Europe are yet to find a solution to unresolved conflicts and find peace and unity within their territories or with their neighbours. My own country, Slovenia, has known such difficult times. It has been a close witness of fighting and destruction in the region of south‑east Europe. However, it has also seen how such disputes can be, as they must, and are, overcome. I would therefore insist that the pursuit of a united Europe, where dividing lines have really been erased, should remain the priority of the Council of Europe.

Today’s world is an uncertain one. The Organisation has adapted to past challenges, but it must remain vigilant and flexible. Be prepared to address new phenomenums and changing circumstances. The Organisation should not take its acquis for granted. It must be active and confident in its capacity to adapt and defend those values and standards, which are fundamental to the security of our common European home.

The 3rd Summit of Heads of State and Government paved the political path for the Council of Europe reaffirming its core objective of preserving and promoting human rights, democracy and the rule of law. That is where the expertise of the Council of Europe lies. Pushing forward this objective is therefore essential for the sake of our 800 million citizens, whose interests are at the heart of the mission of the Organisation.

Looking to the future, we can build on the valuable tools of the Council of Europe that have been developed in the last six decades. The Organisation brings together 47 governments. It houses our Assembly and your extensive collective experience as our citizens’ elected representatives. Let us never underestimate the importance of the citizens’ elected representatives. The basis of the Council of Europe and its mission is the citizen, and citizens’ elected representatives have to have a lead role in shaping the strategy and vision for the Council of Europe.

The Congress provides a unique forum for local and regional authorities, which is another dimension of the Council of Europe. Their role is essential at the grass-roots level. That adds to the importance of the concept of the citizen, as well as practical meaning.

The Organisation has carved out a unique place for non-governmental organisations within its walls. That is another important dimension that adds to the legitimacy of the Organisation. The Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights, 10 years after its creation, is a well-reputed and most appreciated institution. We need human rights activism and we need initiative. The Commissioner for Human Rights is the embodiment of that need.

The Council of Europe is indeed a multi-faceted organisation, but it is the richness of its structures that adds to its effectiveness and uniqueness. Finally, the European Court of Human Rights is, as we all know, the jewel in the Council of Europe’s crown. However, that jewel needs to keep its shine and must therefore receive our constant and focused attention. We all agree the Court is one of a kind. It is crucial in ensuring that our citizens are guaranteed their fundamental rights. However, the Court is still desperately struggling with its caseload, not surprisingly after the expansion in number of the members of the Council of Europe. The measures recently decided by the member states in Madrid, including the adoption of Protocol No. 14 bis which has entered into force today, are of course to be welcomed but are not sufficient. Ensuring the long-term effectiveness of this mechanism remains a priority.

The greatest support that member states can give to the Court is to work tirelessly to improve human rights protection at the national level. It is within states that violations of human rights occur and it is within states where violations have to be remedied and effective preventive action must be taken. Each member state must strive fully to respect its commitments and this includes not only implementing the judgments of the Court but paying the required attention to the many conventions, conclusions and recommendations of the other monitoring mechanisms of the Council of Europe, and bodies such as the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the European Committee of Social Rights, the Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings and the Advisory Committee to the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. All these bodies contribute to the strengthening of human rights provisions and guarantees on home ground, but decisive action must take place in member states and you, as parliamentarians, can make a critical contribution to that.

Education and awareness-raising, the promotion of tolerance and non-discrimination, ethnic pluralism and integration of immigrants are all indispensable in order to cultivate a human rights culture in all our member states. We need informed citizens, individuals who are aware of our values and principles and willing to promote them in order to firmly root them in the ground. Promoting an active citizenship in an era of globalisation is certainly one of the major challenges ahead of us, and the Council of Europe has a distinctive role to play in that respect. The future of Europe lies not in consumerism, but in responsible, active and decisive citizens. Rhetoric must become reality and responsibility should be assumed by us all – heads of state, governments, parliamentarians, local and regional authorities and indeed NGOs.

Fundamental as it is, the nature of the work of the Council of Europe does not always lend itself to attracting the attention of the press or other publicity agents. The press itself is part of the consumer society and the ideology of consumption. It is therefore important that we, who are fully cognisant of the value of the Council of Europe, make the effort to promote it.

My aim today was not to enter into complex discussions on specific issues relating to human rights, democracy and the rule of law, the defence of which is close to our hearts. You will have sensed from my remarks how important I consider these issues to be and how basic they are to the future of Europe and the world. Today, I simply wish to pay tribute to the Council of Europe, an Organisation which has thrived for over 60 years now, labouring, sometimes thanklessly, sometimes almost invisibly, to bring democratic peace, security and unity to our continent. We must not rest on the laurels of past achievements. The future may not always be easy, but it is our collective responsibility to ensure that the Council of Europe, our home of democracy, continues its necessary work and, as the ultimate watchdog for human rights on our continent, continues to be effective.

I hope that will continue to be the future of the Council of Europe and I thank you for your attention.

THE PRESIDENT (translation)

Thank you very much, Mr Türk, for your most interesting statement. Members of the Assembly have expressed a wish to put questions to you.

The first question is from Mr Santini on behalf of the Group of the European People’s Party.

Mr SANTINI (Italy) (interpretation)

said that Mr Türk had emphasised with conviction the value of cohesion between peoples. Taking this forward was a sensitive process which could occur only gradually: security issues were sensitive and the views of those concerned had to be taken into account.

Slovenia was Italy’s neighbour in the south of Europe. Many Italians felt that Italy had been the target of flows of immigrants which were, of course, difficult to control. What, then, were Mr Türk’s comments on borders and border policy?

Mr Türk, President of Slovenia

I fully agree with the philosophy of the question. Cohesion in Europe is extremely important for our future, but it has to be constructed gradually and through the effective solving of problems. One of the fundamental problems has been and will be the question of immigration. Traditionally, Europe has been an area of emigration, but some parts of Europe have had more experience with immigration. However, immigration as a pervasive phenomenon is relatively recent and European governments and institutions do not have a well-developed set of policies, let alone a common philosophy, on this matter. We feel that deficit on a daily basis.

Some countries are facing this problem every day and some are less exposed. I suggest that we need concentrated action and to share our experience. The Council of Europe can be of critical importance in that respect. When it comes to the European Union and its policies, execution will take time and will be characterised by differences of opinion. The Council of Europe includes members such as Switzerland, with a long experience of immigration. It has not always found immigration the easiest problem to address, but on the whole it has been successful. Similarly, we must learn from relatively new members of the EU and their immigration policies before they became members. From the richness of diverse national experiences, we need to learn the best possible lessons and use them in the formulation of our common European policy.

Today, I do not wish to enter into specific questions about immigration or particular situations, and I know that Italy is in a particularly sensitive place in Europe as it is – I use the word cautiously – exposed in different directions. As far as Slovenia is concerned, we are taking the question of immigration very seriously. We are an open society, and also an orderly society, and I believe that Italy and Slovenia will be able to develop a constructive and useful partnership in the future.

Mr GROSS (Switzerland)

Mr Türk, thank you for your speech. We took it as encouragement for the Council of Europe. I would like you to share with us your ideas on how the Council of Europe can encourage United Nations reform. Just a few weeks ago, we had a conflict between ministers, ambassadors and parliamentarians, and we pushed each other to another level. That shows how important parliamentarians can be. That is why I would be really interested to hear how you, as someone with great know-how about the United Nations, think that we can be a source of input into the United Nations.

Mr Türk, President of Slovenia

Thank you for the question, Mr Gross. Obviously, it is good that the Council of Europe and its parliamentarians think about global issues, too, because Europe has never thought of itself as an isolated place in the world. It has to interact with the rest of the world, and it has to inspire, wherever that is possible.

To come specifically to the question of the Council of Europe as a possible source of inspiration to the United Nations, I shall mention two examples, although there are many more. You mentioned one of them yourself: the whole experience of the strengthening of the parliamentary role within the Council of Europe. We have to be aware that the role of the parliamentarian dimension has not stayed the same since the beginning. There was an assembly called the Consultative Assembly of the Council of Europe, which had a rather limited consultative purpose. Now we have a Parliamentary Assembly. As I emphasised in my statement, it is important that we understand the basis of legitimacy that that very fact brings, and that we understand the weight of the recommendations made by the Parliamentary Assembly, which are special precisely because the parliamentarians represent the people of the Council of Europe.

Furthermore, taking advantage of recent experiences and discussions held in the past month, I would say that the United Nations still lacks a parliamentary dimension. It does not have a consultative, let alone parliamentary, assembly. Of course, one might say that the United Nations is a much more open organisation, and parliamentary democracy is not something that the United Nations has put at the centre of its system, but things are changing. We have seen changes over the past 20 years that certainly call for a parliamentary branch of the United Nations. Perhaps there could be a consultative body to start with, a body that is open to all those member states of the United Nations who would like to express their parliamentary dimension more clearly and with more focus.

I should like to mention another area, one that has proven sensitive for the Council of Europe for many decades, but is now a much more daily and normal consideration: the issue of minorities. There was a time when the Council of Europe was not able to deal with the issue of minorities in all its dimensions, but that is in the past. Now, with the various instruments that we have adopted, and the work of the expert bodies, that has changed. The United Nations is not moving at the same pace, although the problems are such that they require much more sophisticated treatment than they currently receive.

The United Nations too often waits for ethnic tensions to degenerate into open armed conflict before it is dealt with by one of its organs. That is far too late. Things have to be addressed much earlier, and there have to be structures that allow that to take place. That is not happening, and perhaps the Council of Europe, with its current expertise and its historical experience, can be of help. Those are two examples that I can quote today. There are many more, Mr President, but if we wanted to discuss them, we would need to organise a special conference.


That is a good suggestion. Thank you. I give the floor to Mr Kox on behalf of the Group of the Unified European Left.

Mr KOX (Netherlands)

Mr Türk, thank you for praising our Council of Europe. In doing so, you are in line with all the other presidents and prime ministers who come here and declare their love for our Organisation, but why is it then so hard to put your money where your love is? If you love us so much, why do you starve our budgets, and why do you allow the European Union to take over ever more of our responsibilities, with its own assemblies for southern and northern countries, and its agencies on human rights? Could you give us a clear signal of your true love for our Organisation?

Mr Türk, President of Slovenia

Thank you, Mr Kox. I would like to start my response on a slightly more philosophical note. Love, as you know, is a complicated emotion, and it would therefore take a lot of time to discuss it in all its dimensions, but you mentioned two of those dimensions. One is the budgetary dimension, and the other is the question of competences, which of course arises any time that one links love and politics.

On the budget, Slovenia is a relatively new country, and I must admit very openly that we have not yet fully adjusted to the fact that we are contributing to a number of international organisations. We need to go through a long education period. I say that with a degree of self-criticism, because as President, I could perhaps do more. As someone who has worked in the United Nations, I understand things better, perhaps, than many of my compatriots. There is always a problem when it comes to how to contribute to international organisations, because we are not yet used to doing so. Of course, other countries are richer, older and have more experience, and they could perhaps be more aggressive, in the sense of providing funds.

Secondly, the EU and its evolution is an important matter to discuss. There is a process under way right now. There was a time, years ago in another period, when a special Committee of Wise Men was established to look into those relations. We have a similar need now, partly for the reasons that you mentioned. I am not sure about all the different initiatives that expand the work load within the European Union; one has to consider that.

Above all, I am slightly concerned about an issue that I mentioned at the beginning of my statement – legitimacy. The European Union has a basis of legitimacy through, obviously, the international treaties that constitute it, but it certainly needs more if it is to be really able to express the opinion of the peoples of the European Union in its work. We should not be satisfied with what we have now. The German Federal Constitutional Court, which is often mentioned these days, has addressed the question of what it termed structural democratic deficits. We have to look into that problem as well. I am sure that the Council of Europe can help the European Union on that, and this Parliamentary Assembly could be of importance in that regard. The legitimacy issue within the European Union has to be discussed in a much more focused way.

Mrs GAUTIER (France) (interpretation)

said that in 1992, one year after its independence, Slovenia had withdrawn the residency status of a large number of people of Romany descent. Such action had been against the Slovenian Constitution. What measures would the President take to address this injustice?

Mr Türk, President of Slovenia

Thank you for your question. You touched on one of the core problems as regards human rights in Slovenia. During the first year of my tenure, which was last year, I went to the parliament in April and made a strong plea for constitutionality. I was very concerned by the fact that the governmental bodies and the parliament were not implementing the decisions of the Constitutional Court. As you rightly emphasised, the nature of that measure that is called “erasure” – which led to the change of status of a large number of people – was anti-constitutional. It was not only a matter of human rights standards in general, but was a problem caused by our constitutionality.

The Constitutional Court made its pronouncement and until recently our problem was that that was not implemented. As I have said, four months after my election I went to the parliament and made a strong plea for change. There was a change at the end of last year and the government has started the process of individual decisions to take care of each individual who is affected by the decisions of the past. This process is ongoing, and the government has expressed a firm commitment to it. There has been very detailed and tough discussion in the parliament, and the government stayed the course. I have every confidence that it will continue to do so. When that part of the process is finished, we will have to see whether there is the need for another piece of legislation or any other act that would completely remedy the situation.

We are in the process of remedying every single case. We have to look into the individual circumstances. This is a change in policy and an improvement for the individual people affected. I hope that we will be able to stay the course – I am sure that we will – until the very end.


I want to express my admiration for the efforts of the Slovenian chairmanship of the Council of Europe. Two days ago, we elected our Secretary General after months of intensive debate. However, the European Union paid conspicuously little attention to this event. Should that tell us something about the role of the Council of Europe, particularly as regards the EU member states? How successful do you think that you were in your presidency of the European Union in attracting the attention of your colleagues among the European Union member states to the Council’s agenda?

Mr Türk, President of Slovenia

As far as relations between the Council of Europe and the European Union are concerned, I expressed my view in answer to an earlier question. Let me emphasise that there are two key areas in which we need to improve our performance. One concerns the specific issues on the agenda of the two organisations and the other concerns the basis of legitimacy. We must work on both of these areas. As far as Slovenia is concerned, we have done our part to some extent during our presidency of the European Union in the first half of 2008. We had some programmes at the time that put some of the matters that are important to the Council of Europe at the forefront of the European Union. Ethnic issues were among them. These matters require a long-term commitment and the best way to make real progress would be to put them on the agenda of two organisations. We could perhaps have a discussion on an independent report and could figure out specific conclusions.

I do not think that individual presidencies can do much more. The system in the European Union is predetermined by a number of decisions from the past so it is very difficult to add much more that is new or to add another dimension. That would be the basis of my sense of where the process should go in the future.


Mr President, in Europe there is an urgent problem of growing immigration, and in particular illegal immigration. How do you see the role of the Council of Europe in dealing with that problem while still safeguarding human rights, which is the main mission of our Organisation?

Mr Türk, President of Slovenia

I am happy that you mentioned human rights in that context, because obviously the first item on the agenda is the protection of the human rights of every individual, including those who enter the countries of the Council of Europe from other parts of the world. That has to be addressed in the ways that the Council of Europe has already established. There is a wider policy issue on which I would like to elaborate further. It is the question of attitudes towards migration in the 21st century.

Some countries of the world, such as the United States, Australia and New Zealand, have incorporated large numbers of immigrants and have developed very good models of integration while at the same time respecting the human rights of every individual and the cultural identities of different groups. I fully understand that these issues are complex and sensitive, but Europe has to do more. We have to be better in our immigration policies. That applies not only to the European Union but to countries that are not members of the European Union.

Let me give you an example that shows an aspect of the policy dilemma. How does one improve the upwards social mobility of immigrants who have entered a country legally or who have legalised their presence after immigrating? Let us address that part of the population; one could call it the easier part. What does one do to ensure that they have access to good-quality education and jobs, that they are integrated and that they can then move upwards? How do we guarantee upwards social mobility? We still have too much marginalisation and ghettoisation.

Critical decisions are in the hands of national governments. They are not made by larger organisations. We have to think about this much more thoroughly and find solutions. Europe as a whole is ageing and we need immigration. Immigration is not only a problem – it is part of the solution for the future of Europe. Policies that can be put in place have to be discussed seriously and solutions have to be found.

Perhaps we could do more to identify success stories. Perhaps we can build on them, wherever they are. Europe may not have enough success stories and if that is the case we have to look to other countries that we have traditionally seen as being countries of immigration, as they are overseas. They have developed experiences that can be of help to Europe today. That is a major policy challenge for all European governments and institutions. Perhaps the Council of Europe can play its part in identifying policy issues, and not only general principles and matters to do with human rights. Those policy issues can be addressed fully and policies can be formulated with the necessary sense of detail. That is all that I would like to say on this occasion.

Mr DÍAZ TEJERA (Spain) (interpretation)

noted that the Council of Europe was celebrating its 60th anniversary, and asked what advice President Türk would give to the Assembly on how it should seek to protect the human rights of some European citizens who were currently suffering human rights abuses.

Mr Türk, President of Slovenia

The Council of Europe has already proven to be a unique institution in that regard. Obviously, if one looks at the system as a whole, one will see that the central element, the European Court of Human Rights, has its own problems. Those problems will have to be addressed and resolved. I am looking forward to the conference in Interlaken that will pursue that issue. I would not like to go into that matter because your question was not directed to issues that categorise the typical cases before the Court, although massive and more flagrant violations can also enter the Court’s process.

If one looks into torture and other aspects, one will see that the Council of Europe has had important successes in combating torture. I take as an example atrocious, fundamental violations of human rights. We must take stock of everything done so far and see where new additional instruments may be needed. I am not sure whether we need so many new instruments, because the basic violations have been identified and addressed. One has to look at the effectiveness of the work of the current bodies.

To continue to use the example of the torture committee, it would be useful to look at that committee from the point of view of geographical focus. Sometimes cases of torture are reported, sometimes they are not. Some cultures tolerate torture more than others. I believe that we need a sensitive discussion as to where the current regional focus should be. I do not wish to go further. I do not wish to blame anyone for anything, but I would like to take the positive experience of the anti-torture activities of the Council of Europe as an excellent example of how a mechanism can make a difference. That matter needs to remain a priority. It needs to be considered from the point of view of future geographic orientation and geographic priorities.

THE PRESIDENT (translation)

Thank you. That concludes the questions.

I thank you, Mr Türk, for pursuing the Slovenian Presidency of our institution and for your work in person. I thank you in particular for your unstinting support since our visit to Ljubljana and following that your presence here over the summer. I thank you for your interesting statement and the answers that you were kind enough to give to the questions put to you. We now have a much clearer idea of your view of the world and our part in it.