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Ladies and Gentlemen,
Nearly 70 years ago, Count Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi lamented that "there is a large and wonderful country but it does not know itself. This country is called Europe." Just look how much our continent has accomplished since then; this Europe, which for centuries experienced armed conflicts which, if it has given birth to mankind’s most beautiful works, has also committed the worst atrocities in its territory.
And so this meeting here in Warsaw is quite symbolic, since this is where Frederic Chopin and Marie Curie were born, but this city was also occupied, martyred. Yet Warsaw never allowed itself to be beaten down. No occupier has succeeded in extinguishing this city’s desire for freedom, since it is still here and has been rebuilt. Today, this 3rd Council of Europe Summit is being held in a Poland that is free, a Poland that is proud, and a Poland that finally has its seat at what is now the European table.
When the Council of Europe was created and for decades thereafter, no one would have dared imagine that one day a Summit such as this one could be held in the Polish capital. But Europe kept the promise of Winston Churchill, who said (in 1948 at the European Congress in The Hague): "Our aim here is not confined to Western Europe. (…) We must aim at nothing less than the union of Europe as a whole, and we look forward with confidence to the day when that union will be achieved."
While in the beginning there were only ten States, today there are 46, and they recognise themselves in the common values defended by the Council of Europe. As representative of the European Union, which unites 25 European States, I pay tribute to the action of the Council of Europe that for 56 years has promoted the building of a democratic, stable and prosperous Europe.
The Council of Europe was our continent’s first common democratic institution. When it was created, the history of Europe took off. The principles that directed its action from the first day have resisted all trends and those principles are still as valid today as they were on 5 May 1949: the defence of human rights and fundamental liberties, the promotion of pluralistic democracy, and the pre-eminence of law.
The Council of Europe gave birth to what is probably the most noble of the common institutions that Europe created, the European Court of Human Rights. The recognition that men and women have inalienable rights is the very basis of the European idea. Observance of these rights, which the Court in Strasbourg oversees with great wisdom, is a prerequisite for being part of the European family.
Consequently, it is also the responsibility of the Member States to ensure that the mechanisms that guarantee the observance of human rights work effectively. This is especially true for the European Court. Today, 78,000 cases are pending in Strasbourg. The Court is on the verge of suffocating. Standing there with arms folded while huge backlogs in proceedings accumulate would be inexcusable. In this context, the European Union highlights the importance of the ratification and prompt implementation of Protocol 14. This is an essential step.
The European Union supports the efforts to strengthen the resources of the Council of Europe’s other bodies. Their activities of monitoring all the Member States constitute an essential guarantee for our citizens.
The Council of Europe continues to be completely relevant. We saw this after 1989, when it became the natural meeting place of all the European nations that had been separated for so long by an iron curtain. And today, if one can be a member of the Council of Europe without being a member of the European Union, it is completely inconceivable that a State that calls into question the values upheld by the Council of Europe could join the European Union. The Copenhagen criteria are there to confirm this. The European Union’s support for the European Convention to safeguard the fundamental rights and fundamental liberties that the Constitution will make possible for Europe is a fundamental challenge, for which I would like the technical preparatory work to begin.
The Council of Europe’s undeniable expertise is especially valuable now that our continent must confront the threats of international terrorism. The European Union praises the Council of Europe’s action in this area, and in particular the latest Convention to prevent terrorism and the guidelines on the observance of fundamental values and rights in the fight against terrorism adopted in 2002.
Even back in 1948 Winston Churchill said that "we need not waste our time in disputes about who originated this idea of a united Europe." Both the Council of Europe and the European Union are rooted in the same rejection of war and in the same optimism of the European pioneers such as Count Coudenhove-Kalergi, Aristide Briand or even Gustav Stresemann. Both the Council and the Union noted, as did Coudenhove-Kalergi (1923), that: "A divided Europe leads to war, oppression, and hardship; a united Europe leads to peace and prosperity."
Essentially, there need be no rivalries between the Council of Europe and the European Union. The European Union could not take over the safeguarding of human rights, cultural action and its action in standards from the Council of Europe.
The Council of Europe and the European Union are highly complementary in their areas of action and their experiences.
Thus it is incumbent upon us to work together for greater cohesion and unity in Europe in the context of a partnership between our two organisations. For this partnership to be able to flourish, each organisation’s prerogatives and areas of excellence must be mutually respected. The conversion of the Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia in Vienna into a Human Rights Agency will have to respect this spirit. Enriching models of cooperation for both sides exist and are working in practice. Let us hope that they shall guide us also in other areas in which progress still needs to be made. And therefore I express my wish for the adoption of an ambitious memorandum on the development of relations between the European Union and the Council of Europe based on guidelines already prepared.
Our continent continues to need the Council of Europe. The reunification of Europe is not the end of its action, but on the contrary, it is the beginning of its true mission. The Warsaw Declaration and the action plan that this Summit plans to adopt draw the framework and set the direction for future action.
By implementing them, the Council of Europe will strengthen its role and purpose: that of a melting pot and European memory; that of the guardian of democracy, of the Rule of Law and Human Rights. The task is ambitious yet achievable.
The Council of Europe is irreplaceable as a forum for dialogue on the European scale, as a distinguished school for the observance of human rights where standards in law and good practices are forged.
I hope that the Council of Europe remains what it has been for all of the decades since 1949: an organisation characterised by a high level of requirements.
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