President of Finland

Speech made to the Assembly

Wednesday, 24 January 2001

The Council of Europe has great importance as an organisation that is uniting the whole of our continent and removing dividing lines from within it. Respect for human rights and promoting pluralistic democracy and the rule of law are important in their own right, but they are also an indispensable part of this process of integration. When the cold war ended, new states with a commitment to democracy came into being on our continent. Supporting their development has been an especially demanding task, but also a rewarding one.

I want to congratulate all of us who have been involved in taking up the challenge of rapid enlargement, even if I am well aware that there are problems, including ones to be dealt with during this session. Meeting the requirements of membership and above all upholding and developing them are difficult processes both with respect to their contents and politically. It is absolutely right to demand that member states genuinely respect democracy and human rights. It is also wise to see correctly pitched interim goals and to encourage and support member states in their efforts to achieve them. Without the Council of Europe’s courageous work, the integration of our continent would have taken place at a much slower pace and would have been less stable.

Co-operation between the states of Europe is continuing to broaden and deepen. Both the European Union and Nato are still in the process of enlarging. In addition to that, the European Union is currently implementing difficult integration-related decisions. The decisions already made, not to mention the visions of the future, will require a strong democratic structure in the states involved.

The closer co-operation is, the more we shall be exposed to the weaknesses of each individual state and of the international co-operative systems that we have created. The same phenomenon is also visible globally. Nevertheless, the advantages of a world of open cooperation greatly outweigh its risks. It will pay to take up the challenge once again.

Several organisations are contributing to the development of European integration. Multilateralism is a good thing on the European level, but it presupposes co-ordination. I can tell you in the light of my own experience that co-operation between the Council of Europe, the European Union and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe is a lot better today than it was ten years ago. Similar efforts in the cause of peace, human rights and democracy in the western Balkans and Caucasus regions provide good examples of that. However, there is still room for improvement in co-ordination of functions. Non-governmental organisations should be drawn into this work more than they have been to date.

Every member state must better ensure that the national delegations to various organisations strengthen co-operation between themselves. Failures in communication can occur between officials working with, for example, the EU and the Council of Europe or the OSCE. Nor do members of the same legislative assembly or government always adequately co-ordinate their actions within different organisations. A fact that further underlines the need for co-ordination is that, broadly speaking, European organisations receive their funding from the same sources.

European actors have a very similar perception of security risks. The general perception is that the biggest risks stem from shortcomings in democracy and failures in implementing the rule of law and especially human rights. It is essential that the practical implementation of political rights and of economic, social and cultural rights extends to minorities. It is a difficult way of preventing crises, but it is the most effective way, it appeals most to all and it is even the least expensive.

In crisis management, we need more effective cooperation between European states as well as between international organisations. Such steps, which are taken to improve crisis management, are welcome, but the emphasis should be on the prevention of crises and on ensuring flexible co-operation between military and civilian crisis management. Unfortunately, armed forces seem to be needed in stopping and preventing violence, but no society can depend on them indefinitely. Resolving conflicts and building societies require the means that civilian crisis management provides and a functioning civil administration. In this work, the Council of Europe is irreplaceable.

Free and fair elections and equal political rights are hallmarks of democracy. In addition to them, every democratic system should respect all human rights, civil and political, as well as economic, social and cultural rights. Inequality and exclusion undermine confidence in the ability of the system to function and reduce willingness to participate in public decision-making.

Representative democracy gives the majority a right to make decisions that apply to all. Along with this right comes a responsibility to protect the status of minorities. The majority must also take into account the fact that every state is obliged to guarantee that the rights of minorities are implemented without discrimination. It is of the utmost importance that members of minorities participate in decision-making processes.

In all European countries, discrimination still exists in many different forms. Often, it is directed against members of minorities. Last year, the Council of Europe and the European Union made pioneering progress on the normative side to strengthen non-discrimination. I believe that the stronger anti-discrimination rules now approved will, in time, lead to a better human rights situation for European minorities. But prohibitions are not enough on their own; we must also bring positive measures to bear in order to lessen inequality.

The Roma are a true pan-European minority. In no country are they the majority, nor are they often seen in key tasks or influential professions. That is why there are very few voices to speak for them. It is high time that we took up the Roma cause vigorously. It is a genuine touchstone for human rights policy in an integrating Europe. The problem will not be solved through mass emigration, nor even assimilation. Our goal must be that their human rights are implemented in every European country.

Private and official bodies are guilty of discriminating against the Roma. The Roma are commonly discriminated against when they seek housing or work. Many of them have had to experience violence because of their ethnic origin. It is very important that the police and the courts take a very serious view of these cases. Inequality in the education system threatens to sow the seeds of today’s problems in the next generation as well. It is excellent that several countries have revised their legislation in this respect, but international agreements oblige governments to be active in promoting the non-discriminatory implementation of human rights.

Minorities must be guaranteed the opportunity to participate, at different levels of administration, in decision-making that concerns them. In many countries, advisory bodies with members representing minorities and administrations have proved to be an effective way of getting the views of minorities across to decision makers. I can confirm that on the basis of personal experience, because we in Finland have advisory bodies of this kind to deal with questions concerning both our Roma and Sami minorities. The Sami live in the north of the country.

Nowadays, the Sami Council, created in 1956, is a joint representative body for the Sami of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. It is appointed by the Sami Conference, which meets every four years. In the three Nordic countries where they live – Norway, Sweden and Finland – the Sami have their own assemblies, the members of which are elected on a system of proportional representation.

The Sami population’s experience of its regional representative body has been positive. It interacts closely with the minority and ensures that the interests of the minority are safeguarded more effectively in all the states in the region. It quickly brings the best ideas and practices to the awareness of decision makers in all the countries involved.

I know that work to improve the status of the Roma is being done within the Council of Europe. The OSCE has likewise stepped up its efforts. The Helsinki Summit in 1999 gave new emphasis to this issue within the EU, but we must further strengthen our co-operation if we are to achieve results. I propose that serious consideration be given to a need to create for the Roma some kind of consultative assembly to represent them at the pan- European level.

I have spoken at length about the rights of minorities, because this is a problematic field even in the developed democracies. Sometimes, however, majorities also find it difficult to obtain equal rights. Women and girls constitute 52% of the total population of Europe. These 380 million people are very commonly the target of discrimination.

It will soon be ninety-five years since Finnish women became the first in the world to attain full political rights. Women won nineteen of the two hundred seats when the first parliament was elected under the new system in 1907. However, it was not until last year that a woman was elected president. The pace of development varies from country to country but we can probably agree that in most countries it is too slow.

Today, most European women enjoy equality before the law in relation to their civil and political rights. Unfortunately, equality on the statute books has not been followed by equality in practice. Equal pay has fled like a mirage from those who aspire to it. In all member states, it remains far from being implemented. Throughout Europe, women are the victims of violence, including within the family, I am sorry to say. Finland is no exception. Europe has seen an alarming increase in trafficking in women, which undermines human dignity. The Council of Europe’s work to wipe out that evil trade deserves the support of us all.

I urge the Council of Europe to be even bolder in highlighting gender equality. It would be natural for the Council to redress shortcomings in the status of women, in the formerly communist countries, where for historical reasons the ideal of equality often had no meaning in practice. That is a task of central, essential importance in consolidating democracy and, therefore, in preparing applicant countries for EU membership. Nor should we blind ourselves to shortcomings in older member states. Sufficient resources must be made available for gender equality work if results are to be achieved – no money, no results is a good phrase.

I congratulate the Parliamentary Assembly on having in 1998 established its Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men and preserved its independence when other committees had been disbanded. It is gratifying that men, too – real gentlemen – are interested in working for equality and are seeking a new male role. I want to give you my full support. Nevertheless, let us not forget that, for a long time to come, achieving equality in practice will still require that work, for equality focuses on improving the status of women.

All of us receive in childhood an immeasurably valuable gift in the form of one or several mother tongues. Our mother tongue is the key to the development of our personality and thinking and the foundation on which that development takes place. It is only by learning one’s mother tongue early and well that a good ability to learn in later life can be ensured.

Europe is a hatchery for a great diversity of cultural languages. The continent has succeeded especially well in cherishing the idea of having one’s own written language, which is an important means of preserving national, regional and minority cultures. It is good that, nowadays, we have the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, the specific purpose of which is to promote linguistic diversity. I sincerely hope that states will accede to the charter as soon as possible. Let us also hope that measures to implement it are planned with a view to strengthening the position of the languages that they are meant to help.

As a country where several small languages are spoken, Finland has a special interest in preserving Europe’s richly diverse linguistic heritage. A growing and internationalising flood of communications has created a new situation for small languages. Nevertheless, their importance for the personal development of individuals and in shaping both national and local cultures has not changed. Finland has strengthened her laws protecting minority languages and is working to ensure that they are passed on to posterity. Finnish and Swedish are themselves quite small languages on the European scale of things and we consider it important to promote then- vitality.

I am pleased that, in the European Year of Languages 2001, Latvia has made linguistic diversity a central theme in the programme of her presidency. I congratulate Latvia on her decision to arrange a conference dedicated to minority languages in the Europe of the twenty-first century and sincerely hope that her presidency will bring added weight to that important matter.

Colleagues, I know that you are patient. I hope that I have not over-extended your patience. I warmly congratulate and support you. This is the heart of the Council of Europe – the famous Parliamentary Assembly.


Thank you, Madam President.

Some thirteen members want to ask questions. We have tried to couple them, as we usually do, according to subject. We will begin with two questions on the future of our Organisation from Mr Laakso and Mr Gross. I call Mr Laakso.

Mr LAAKSO (Finland)

The future of the Council of Europe depends, naturally, on the activities of Council of Europe member countries and the politicians of those countries. One of the key questions concerning the future is the fate of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which has been under discussion in the European Union. We know that, if the European Union accepts the charter as legally binding, it can threaten the very existence of the European Court of Human Rights of the Council of Europe. It will mean the implementation of a parallel system. How do you see the future of the Council of Europe in the context of the charter?


That was twice the allowed time. Please try to keep to within thirty seconds. I call Mr Gross.

Mr GROSS (Switzerland)

Madam President, I thank you for your speech. It showed your great commitment. We already knew that you were the President with the biggest commitment to the Council of Europe. No one else worked so much in the Organisation. You said in your speech, “no money, no results”. What is the view of the Finnish Government and Finnish state on the belief that this Organisation should get the money that it needs to do the work that you said it had to do? We get more and more work and less and less money. That is not the future for the Organisation.

Mr Halonen, President of Finland

We must emphasise two things. First, co-operation is vital between the Council of Europe, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the European Union. The EU has money of course, and it has been used effectively.

Secondly, the other side of the question is that the Council of Europe needs a higher profile in our individual nations. We must do our homework so that our domestic politicians and media know how important the

Council of Europe is. That would be one way towards receiving the money that we have asked for. No miracle would be needed if we are to receive that money. Visibility is vital and we must make our work better known. I am ready to do that.

The Council of Europe is fairly well known in Finland. We have been positive about investing in it, but I appeal to all my friends here to do your homework. As the Secretary General has said, we should appeal to the friends of Europe – those who work at the OSCE, the Council of Europe and the European Union. Those people can come together at national level.

In answer to Mr Laakso, I emphasise the importance of human rights. However, the European Union should not merely copy what has already happened. Very fine work has been done on basic human rights, and the Council of Europe has played its part in that. The EU is important and will become more so in the future, but it is not Europe. The basic rule of democracy is that members of an organisation should obey its rules.

The Council of Europe is a suitable organisation for the protection of human rights. I warmly welcome cooperation between the courts in Luxembourg and Strasbourg, but responsibility ultimately rests in the hands of politicians. Throughout the European Union and the Council of Europe member states, we must do all we can to strengthen human rights. We need both organisations to do that.

Mr LAAKSO (Finland)

Madam President, should the European Union become a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights? I think that that would be the most simple way to solve our problem.

Mr Halonen, President of Finland

I can give a five second answer – yes.

Mr GROSS (Switzerland)

Madam President, I thank you for your answer, and I am ready to do in Switzerland what you have done in Finland. In Britain and France, however, although our colleagues here will carry out that work, the governments and heads of government are not as open as you are.


The next two questions will be asked by Henning Gjellerod and Mr Nagy on the monitoring activities of the Council of Europe. I first call Mr Gjellerod.

Mr GJELLEROD (Denmark)

Madam President, Lord Russell-Johnston, our President, has already mentioned your work in setting up the monitoring procedure. One might describe you as the mother of monitoring. What do you think of your child? How do you feel about how we are conducting the monitoring procedure?

Mr Halonen, President of Finland

As all grown-ups know, all children have fathers, and the fathers of the procedure are here in this Assembly and in its Secretariat. The procedure has evolved and new tasks have been taken on. During a period of rapid enlargement of the Council of Europe, we had to convince both old members and newcomers that democracy is a process. Secretary General Schwimmer and I often said when we visited applicant countries that membership is not like an academic degree from a university, the work for which, once one has gained the degree, one can forget. Membership is more like a marriage. At a wedding, one promises a great many things, and as the years go by, one promises more. That is how members should act in the Council of Europe, and we have been successful in encouraging members to act in that way. People often say that the democratic process is a long one and that we must be patient. You have offered encouragement this week and will continue to do so.

Some old problems remain to be solved. To name but one, there is the difficulty with the Roma minority. In addition, we need to ensure that the monitoring system suits both old and new member countries. Both the Parliamentary Assembly and Committee of Ministers must continue their monitoring work, and I warmly welcome the Human Rights Commissioner. He is in only the first year of his work, but the results are already good. That post promises to be one of the greatest additions to our system.

I do not have time to discuss all the ideas that we have heard so far, but monitoring of both countries and items is necessary for the future. New members need guidance, but we should also occasionally shake older members into remembering that they are not perfect.

Mr GJELLEROD (Denmark)

Thank you, Madam President. Do you see the Monitoring Committee moving in future to monitor the older member countries?

Mr Halonen, President of Finland

That is a fascinating idea, but it is up to the Assembly to decide.

Mr NAGY (Hungary)

Madam President, my question is also about the monitoring system. What is your evaluation of the way in which the Committee of Ministers functions, particularly as regards national minorities? How can we harmonise the two systems and make them more transparent in future?

Mr Halonen, President of Finland

The systems could be more transparent, but, by their nature, the Parliamentary Assembly and the Committee of Ministers are different things. When ministers conduct monitoring, either of countries or of items, they must work with their parliamentary colleagues. The Parliamentary Assembly has the benefit of containing both members who support governments and members who are part of oppositions. For that reason, your monitoring system is naturally broader in character, and the Assembly should seek to maintain that.

Governments need encouragement. Transparency and co-operation could be improved, but you, more than I, are the masters of how that can happen.


We now have two questions on minorities, and if you do not mind, I will call the members to ask them one after the other. I call Mr Rogozin.

Mr ROGOZIN (Russian Federation) (interpretation)

said that the Russian Federation knew and respected the Finnish record with minority rights. He asked how Finland dealt with the Swedish minority and how they managed to preserve the national identity and culture of that minority.

Mrs HERCZOG (Hungary)

Let me thank you once again, Madam President, for the hospitality that I enjoyed as a member of the Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men when we visited Helsinki. What do you think about the minority question as an accession criterion in the future EU enlargement policy? Do you consider that there seems to be a lack of administration in the EU? How do you think the Council of Europe can achieve better co-operation with the EU and exchange documents, reports and views?

Mr Halonen, President of Finland

I start by answering the friendly question of our eastern neighbour. The development of minority rights in Finland is going well so far, but we are far from perfect. We have a different kind of minority because, although historically we have a Swedish-speaking minority, it is not concerned about the fact that it is a minority. We have two national languages, despite the fact that Swedish-speaking people now make up only 6% of the population, and that is why we have guaranteed all cultural rights to universities.

The fact that the Swedish-speaking population is so small creates practical challenges. I add that between Sweden and Finland are the Aland Islands which have autonomy based on the fact that it is a 100% Swedish-speaking region. However, its people are very good citizens of Finland, and can be compared to the Sami and the Roma peoples, who are also small minorities. It has been difficult to guarantee full educational opportunities, and we have tried to do our utmost. Our constitution guarantees such rights for those people.

Because of international agreements, we speak of our Swedish-speaking people as a minority in a juridical sense, although, as I said, we have two national languages, not a majority language and a minority language. A legal framework is very important, but I underline the importance of administrative instructions, training authorities and national plans of action. The ombudsman and the human rights commissioner are also important in creating the genuine spirit required to guarantee human rights to all people.

I turn now to the question of minorities in the European Union, which has had problems concerning human rights. One of the respected member states, Austria, had certain difficulties, which showed that it is not only applicant countries that experience problems. When we have good will on all sides, we can find ways to solve those problems. It is good for applicant countries to the EU to know that every one of the fifteen member countries faces the risk that minorities may have difficulties.

No state is guaranteed to be free from problems, and I hope that that will make us less arrogant.

The European Union does not have to do everything by itself. I hope that it will develop stronger co-operation with the Council of Europe. I welcome the progress that has already been made in the European Union, especially the document guaranteeing linguistic rights.

I finish by saying to Mrs Herczog that the EU welcomes new ideas and new members. It is not perfect and you are welcome to add to it.

Mr ROGOZIN (Russian Federation) (interpretation)

said that the Finnish experience was worthy of imitation by the Russian Parliament and the presence of Finns in that parliament might make the process easier.

Mrs HERCZOG (Hungary)

I thank you, Madam President, for your warm words. It is good to know that friends await our arrival in the European Union in the near future.


Thank you. We now have two questions on gender equality, from Mr Varela i Serra and Mrs Err who, by the way, has just become Chair of the Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men.

Mr VARELA I SERRA (Spain) (interpretation)

said that Finland had set a benchmark in gender equality and that some progress had also been made in Spain. There had, however, been a rise in domestic violence and he wondered what the Finnish experience had been and whether Mrs Halonen had any advice.

Mr Halonen, President of Finland

If I knew of a good solution, we would have already used it. We are working on that subject – it is a real problem. One question concerns the role of men. Mothers and fathers try to educate then- sons and daughters in the same way, but in my country we accept the difficulty of solving problems for boys and girls.

One problem is that the media, both in its depiction of wars and in entertainment programmes, sometimes suggests that it is easy to resolve conflicts and violence. We need a new model to solve the problem of violence. In Spain and Finland, we women are talkative and have sharp tongues. We use our linguistic skills to solve problems. History shows that there are many wonderful male writers, so why cannot men in ordinary families try to solve problems using language? I know that that is a challenge.

We try to help victims of violence by creating places in homes for mothers and children. We hope that they will be able to converse with the fathers. It would help if the committee visited different countries to see different models. We can make a good start by stating the problem openly and saying what we can do about it. I hope that we can give more time to this issue because we are at the beginning. Europe is still pioneering this work in global terms.

Mrs ERR (Luxembourg)

Madam President, I welcome you back as a former colleague. I am proud to have succeeded you in the Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men. I thank the people and politicians of Finland for showing Europe and the world a model of how equality can work in practice. How do you think that your country and the Council of Europe can adapt the Finnish model for the benefit of the countries of the Council of Europe?

Mr Halonen, President of Finland (interpretation)

I become very embarrassed when people say that Finland is a good model. At least, we have a long history in this area. However, one hundred years has not been enough to create equality in all sectors. We were the first to achieve full political rights for women. Policies such as gender quotas and a great deal of education and work were needed.

The Council of Europe is a good place to share experience. A model cannot be taken from one country to another but the study of other countries’ experience can save time, and the process takes time. I encourage the committee to compare the different experiences of countries such as Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Luxembourg. There are some things that we must study together.

Equality in working life is still an unresolved problem. Equal pay is easy to achieve on paper but with separate labour markets in many countries and with boys and girls entering different professions, it is difficult in practice.

There is also the question of family violence, which was raised by our Spanish colleague, Mr Varela I Serra. That is as old as mankind and we need co-operation. Finland will offer all its experience but I look to the Council of Europe and the committee to be a forum for the exchange of views on Europe. You also need the support of everyone else. Good luck.


Thank you. I apologise for having jumped the question of Mr Jaskiemia, whom I call now.


Some countries have treated the Council of Europe as a pre-school for the EU. You can therefore understand the great interest here in the enlargement of the EU. Will we be able to proceed with the next round during the good work of the Swedish presidency of the EU?

Mr Halonen, President of Finland

I understand that some Council of Europe member countries are working hard to achieve membership of the EU. I welcome that. However, there are also countries that have not made applications such as Norway, Switzerland and many others. The Council of Europe and its work is not a pre-school. It is a good place to start such work but I hope that Poland, when it joins the EU, will realise that the Council of Europe is valuable and that you will need it. I hope that EU enlargement will proceed as you hope. I fully support the Swedish presidency, which will work hard. Good results are in the hands of the negotiators. You should be happy that you have a very positive chairman country in respect of enlargement.


Thank you, Mrs Halonen. You may like to know that Jerzy Jaskiemia has written a long academic treatise on the Council of Europe.

There are two more questions, from Mr Zarubinsky and Mr Padilla.


Madam President, you represent a country that many people, including me, regard as a centre of peace making and democracy. Finland is also among the countries of Scandinavia and the Baltic region that have announced non-nuclear status. Given the experience of your region, what is your attitude to declaring the Black Sea basin a zone free of nuclear armaments?

Mr Halonen, President of Finland

The basic elements of my answer were contained in the question. Finland and the Nordic countries are positive about nuclear disarmament. Nuclear-free zones are one good way, among others, of achieving that. Such a policy requires a proper system for its achievement. We are satisfied at having such a zone in the north. I hope that you can convince the states and people of your area to do the same, but we cannot do it for you. We do not regret our decision.

Mr PADILLA (Spain) (interpretation)

asked about levels of nuclear and other contamination in the Barents Sea.

Mr Halonen, President of Finland

Yes, I think that the environment is an important area of co-operation between our neighbours and Russia. Problems and needs are so great that we have encouraged not only the Nordic countries but also European Union countries and organisations that are interested to enter into close co-operation with Russia in dealing with environmental issues.

The Barents Sea is relatively clean. Levels of pollution have increased temporarily due to weather conditions, especially in coastal areas. Many experts say that the present situation is not bad. We must deal also with non-nuclear waste, which is quite a significant problem in Russia and in some other parts of what was the Soviet Union. It is important to reach an agreement on a nuclear and non-nuclear environmental programme with the Russian Federation. Treaties provide a legal framework but we need money. We and the Russians have welcomed warmly the money that will come from outside Europe. The Canadians and the Americans have been interested in the project. There is no need to panic but we must work hard for the future.


Thank you. We have now to conclude the questions to President Halonen. On behalf of the Assembly, I thank her warmly for her encouraging and good statement and for her open, thorough and sympathetic answers to our questions.