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[Luxembourg 2005 Presidency of the Council of the European Union]
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Jean Asselborn presents the priorities of the Luxembourg Presidency of the EU Council to the Council of Europe

Date of Speech : 12-01-2005

Place : Council of Europe, Strasbourg

Speaker : Jean Asselborn

Policy area : General Affairs and External Relations

Mr President,

Permanent Representatives,

Secretary General,

I am honoured to appear before this Committee in order to set out the priorities and perspectives of the Luxembourg Presidency of the European Union.

May I first of all pay tribute to the work accomplished by the Polish Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers, with which we expect to have an outstanding collaboration.

The European Union has a growing role within the Council of Europe, not only due to the increasing number of States, which are members of both organisations, but also thanks to the considerable efforts made by former Presidencies to increasingly involve the Union in the work of the Council of Europe.

The Council of Europe and the European Union are working towards the same global objective, namely the establishment of a united, democratic, stable and prosperous Europe. It is consequently only natural that relations between the two institutions are characterised by partnership rather than rivalry. The principle of cooperation with the Council of Europe was embodied in the original version of the EU Treaty in 1957, and it has developed alongside the evolution of their respective competences, in both thematic and geographical terms. However, we believe the time has come to afford this cooperation greater visibility and a more political approach.

With this in mind, and building on the work of the Dutch Presidency and in close collaboration with the United Kingdom, which is set to succeed us on 1 July of this year, Luxembourg intends to continue the work in progress, aiming at a strengthening of the ties between our two organisations. The summit meeting of Heads of State and Heads of Government to be held in May represents a unique opportunity to consolidate relations and to lay down the framework for strengthening our cooperation in political and institutional terms. This question concerns the Presidency of the EU in a very direct way, and will as a result remain a core priority during the entire term of our six month Presidency.

I should first of all like to present to you, very briefly, our priorities in relation to the internal agenda of the EU. This aspect of our Presidency's perspectives involves some major decisions which have to be taken, and which represent a real challenge. You are no doubt familiar with these, so I will be very brief on this point and would also refer you to our Presidency programme.

In order to ensure the dynamism of the European area, we have to first and foremost conduct the mid-term review of the Lisbon process, which we in fact consider extremely important. We aim to give the process new impetus, with a view to defining an agenda of reforms based on the three identified pillars, namely economic, social and environmental.

Subsequently, the Luxembourg Presidency will have to endeavour to find a political agreement on the financial perspectives, in order to draw up the pluriannual financial framework covering the period 2007-2013.

We also have a great deal of work to do in order to adapt the Stability and Growth Pact to the prevailing economic situation without watering down its general framework. It must again become an effective tool for the economic governance of the European Union.

Another of the EU’s internal priorities is to pursue its enlargement process, which has enabled us to intensify our working relations with the Council of Europe. The EU, over the course of the decades, has continued to grow, gradually opening up its borders to States which had previously been the subject of the highly effective surveillance mechanisms of the Council of Europe.

Thanks to the standards established by the Council of Europe, the EU’s enlargement can be continued with the planned accession of Romania and Bulgaria. Following official signature of the accession treaties in April, these two candidates for membership should actually join the EU on 1 January 2007.

Furthermore, the Luxembourg Presidency is counting on the full cooperation of Croatia with the ICTY, with a view to commencing membership negotiations between the EU and Croatia on 17 March 2005. Here too, the monitoring provided by the Council of Europe in this sphere is highly valuable for us.

As regards Turkey, Luxembourg welcomes the decision by the European Council on 16 - 17 December 2004 to begin negotiations in October 2005. The Presidency recognises the decisive progress that Turkey has already made in its extensive reform process, and will continue to closely monitor the progress made in the political reforms based on a partnership directed towards accession. The Council of Europe will continue to be a major support to us during its “post-dialogue monitoring."

The Luxembourg Presidency will also need to follow on the preparatory work begun by the Dutch Presidency and to monitor the national ratification procedures, with a view to achieving the adoption of the Union’s Constitutional Treaty. I would emphasise that the adoption of a Constitution, by way of an addition to the EU’s menu, will bring a remarkable breakthrough in relations between the EU and the Council of Europe. Integration into the Constitution of the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, which is largely inspired by the Strasbourg Convention of Human Rights, will strengthen the legal protection of human rights within the EU. Nevertheless, the EU’s accession to the European Convention on Human Rights which is provided for in the Constitution will enable avoidance of the risk of incoherences linked to the multiplicty of systems.

In parallel with its internal competences and geographical sphere of action, the EU’s external relations make up an ever-growing dimension for which the Presidency is responsible. The aim of the European Union is to establish a more stable, more prosperous world, more respectful of human rights, and it orients its external action towards the search for solutions to the major problems of society. The Luxembourg Presidency believes in the virtues of efficient multilateralism, be it in the implementation of its common foreign and security policy or in its European security and defence policy. It is with this in mind that our Presidency will seek to further strengthen the dialogue and cooperation with the EU’s international partner organisations such as the UN, NATO, OSCE and the Council of Europe.

As regards the EU’s relations with the Council of Europe, the Luxembourg Presidency will make every effort to contribute to the institutional strengthening of the cooperation between our two organisations. This rapprochement is made even more necessary because our activities overlap in both geographical and thematic terms. Moreover, it needs to take place on a fair and egalitarian basis between our two organisations, and we must take into account the EU’s specific nature as a quite unique supranational organisation of its type. In this context, I would point out that despite the fact that EU Member States are in the majority within the Council of Europe, the EU does not seek to lay down the law at any time within the Council.

A large number of mechanisms designed to give concrete expression to relations between the EU and the Council of Europe are already operational, and put into practice a certain level of cooperation between our two organisations. Excellent technical collaboration exists between the sections and departments of the secretariat of the Council of Europe and the Commission. The practice of joint programmes by the Union and the Council of Europe is also a fine example of the excellent cooperation which exists in different specific spheres and regions. However, the lack of an overall strategy and of a political approach to cooperation means that there is a certain degree of duplication, and in some cases incoherence, between the work of the two organisations.

In my view, the permanent presence of a representative of the Commission with the Council of Europe is a key element in enabling us to move beyond purely technical cooperation and to make our cooperation more visible. In this context, I wish to express my support of the very recent appointment of a roving ambassador from the Commission to Strasbourg, and I welcome his presence here today. We hope that the current situation, which involves a roving presence, limited to just a few days per week, will be temporary, and that the Commission will ultimately set up an Office in Strasbourg. The Luxembourg Presidency intends to become closely involved with the Commission’s representative during his preparatory work, in particular where relations between the EU and the Council of Europe are concerned.

I am convinced that the Commission’s presence within the work of the Council of Europe will help to establish a better framework for the prolific expansion of the activities and geographical coverage of our two organisations, which has been the root cause of some duplication of our work. Of course, this duplication cannot automatically be judged to be harmful. Where human rights are concerned for example, we can never do enough. Having said this, specialisation would be a good thing, so that we are able to develop and clearly exploit the specific strengths and competences of each of our organisations. The EU Presidency will make a constructive effort towards achieving a consensus in relation to the areas of excellence which should form the core of the activity of the Council of Europe over the coming years.

Once we have defined the Council’s competence, it will be easier to clarify and institutionalise its relations with other organisations having competence in similar areas, namely the EU and the OSCE. In this context, I would express my pleasure at the creation of a coordinating group with the task of strengthening cooperation between the Council of Europe and the OSCE.

A mechanism of the same type could also be envisaged for relations between the Council of Europe and the Union. At all events, the arrangements that apply to relations between the EU and the Council of Europe must be updated, in order to allow comprehensive use of the mechanisms and benefits offered by each organisation. This could be the subject of a mandate by the Third Summit, which would set out the principal directions of action, and would serve as a framework for the subsequent drawing up of a more detailed agreement.

The 26th Ministerial Conference of European Ministers of Justice, which is to be held in Helsinki on 7-8 April 2005 under the auspices of the Council of Europe, could thus represent an occasion on which to institute a political dialogue on institutional relations between the Union and the Council of Europe, in the legal sphere, etc. This dialogue should be fired by the desire to define the individual competences of each organisation. This should be undertaken with a certain degree of precision, whilst respecting the dynamics of the flexibility which is inherent to cooperation. The Luxembourg Minister for Justice, Mr Luc Frieden, will represent the EU Presidency at this Ministerial Conference.

The general topic of preparation for the Third Summit and the resulting strengthening relations between the Council of Europe and the Union will also be a core topic of the 21st quadripartite meeting. Provided all the participants give their confirmation, I intend to convene this regular meeting between the Presidents of the Council of Europe and the EU, the Secretary General and the European Commissioner for External Relations, in the margins of the General Affairs and External Relations Council in Brussels during March.

May I take this opportunity to add a word on the subject of the decision of the European Council to transform the Vienna Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia in Vienna into a Human Rights Agency. The Agency which the Governments have decided to create will play a key role in improving the coherence and continuity of the EU’s human rights policy. During the debate on the mandate to be given to this agency, the Luxembourg Presidency will pay very close attention to the risks of duplication with existing mechanisms. In this context, the Presidency supports the notion expressed by the secretariat of the Council of Europe, that existing cooperation between the current Monitoring Centre in Vienna and the ECRI should be used to inspire future relations between the Agency and the Council of Europe.

Within the context of the European Security Strategy, the Presidency will continue to work towards closer relations with Russia. The strategic partnership between the EU and Russia, based on common values and interests, is a key element of our security and prosperity. Luxembourg will make every effort to achieve an agreement on the “four common areas�? of cooperation, based on the document to be signed at the Summit between the EU and Russia on 10 May 2005.

The objective of a Europe that is globally more active and more involved in conflict management, a more coherent, political and visible action, link the Council of Europe and the EU in a spirit of complementarity.

2005 will be an important year for the Balkan region in particular. Following the route taken by the Dutch Presidency, we intend to resolutely pursue the process of integration into Europe of countries within the Balkan region, with the aim of advancing the Stabilisation and Association agreements. However, every country has its own rhythm, measured on the basis of the progress achieved in relation to the political, economic and institutional criteria, and of the conditionality inherent in the stabilisation and association process. Special attention will be paid to Kosovo, with further examination of the implementation of its standards, before any debate on its status.

Our key words are opening up and solidarity, and I believe that in this respect, the EU is in line with the basic principles of the Council of Europe, which has already accepted these countries into its midst, obliging them to meet very precise commitments. However, I should not like to see the Council of Europe reduced to the function of an antechamber to the EU. On the contrary, the work achieved here must serve us as a basis for our common goals, in particular as regards strengthening and improvement of regional cooperation, which is one of the items on the Thessalonica agenda. Major reforms, such as strengthening the legal state, combating organised crime, corruption and illegal migration, are all areas in which the EU and the Council of Europe can develop a true exchange of expertise.

In this context, may I also mention the European Neighbourhood Policy. Whilst it awaits finalisation of the plans of action for the countries of the Southern Caucasus, the EU is in the process of adopting an initial series of plans of action, specifically with Moldavia and the Ukraine, which have benefited significantly from the support of the Council of Europe. These plans, which give concrete form to the desire to avoid the development of new fracture lines, are intended not only to help export stability and prosperity, but also to strengthen democracy, good management of public affairs, the rule of law and human rights.

With this in mind, we wish to work with our partners towards the implementation of reforms and other agreed priorities. In this context, we also welcome the monitoring procedure exercised by the Council of Europe in all its Member States, be it via its thematic approach, through the Commissioner for Human Rights, the ECRI, the CPT or the Assembly.

As regards Belarus, the neighbourhood policy is open to them, however a plan of action will prepared on the basis of the regime’s development, consideration of which is based, amongst other things, on the Pourgourides report adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly. Our joint objectives must be strengthening civil society and the democratisation process, in particular via the workshop organised by the Commission, which is likely to be held in Lithuania in March.

I shall now turn to topics in which our action must be complementary. Since I need to restrict myself to a few priority subjects, I would first of all mention the fight against human trafficking. As the Council of Europe is preparing to adopt a new Convention in May on the fight against human trafficking, its work coincides with the EU's preocupation with this problem, and this explains its interest in acceding to this instrument.

Speaking of accession, I should like in passing to emphasise the importance of the signature and ratification with all speed of Protocol 14, which should help guarantee the effectiveness of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Turning briefly to the war on terrorism. Together with the incoming UK Presidency, and in accordance with the EU’s plan of action in relation to the war on terrorism, we intend to work, amongst other things, on developing exchanges of information between agencies endeavouring to repress terrorism, on integrating the assessments of terrorist threats into policy preparation, on progressing radicalisation and recruitment, and also on emphasising the importance of the war against terrorism by establishing contacts with non-EU states and other organisations, such as the Council of Europe.

We are tracking with great interest the work of Codexter, which is seeking to produce a special instrument for the prevention of terrorism, which should keep a fair balance between fighting terrorism and respecting human rights. I am pleased that an exchange of views with Mr de Vries will take place tomorrow, and will give you the opportunity of considering the potential of our respective activities. However, in our view the Council of Europe must also address the fundamental causes of terrorism, which frequently predate conflicts, and must bring into play an intercultural and inter-religious dialogue.

In fact, when working to the benefit of human rights, democracy and the rule of law, other factors, such as social cohesion and culture, must also be taken into account. In the sphere of culture for example, intercultural dialogue, alongside cultural tourism, will be one of the topics on which the Luxembourg Presidency will focus in particular, based on some of the proposals set out in the Wroclaw Declaration.

Our Presidency also coincides in part with the European Year of Citizenship through Education, declared by the Council of Europe to remind us of the importance of education in the promotion and protection of human rights. Active citizenship and effective participation are key ingredients for a democratic society, in particular in view of the relative electoral passivity specially amongst young persons.

Better understanding of Europe by young persons is in fact a subject dear to our hearts. In this respect, we welcome the Youth Summit to be held in parallel with the 3rd Summit, and we hope that this will encourage young persons to become more involved and to give us their views. We hope that forums such as the Council of Europe European Youth Centre and the recent initiative of the European Youth Pact will help to promote the powers of co-decision of the youth of Europe, since after all, “Europe is their project."

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The EU is laying the foundation for many years. The Third Summit will have a similar function as regards the Council of Europe. However, as I have just described, our common ground does not stop here. Europe, in the broad sense, must provide itself with the means to fulfil its ambitions, and greater cooperation between our two institutions would appear logical in this context. We are entirely convinced that only multilateralism and the respect of international law will guarantee the progress that we so profoundly desire.

Diplomacy means progressing one small step at a time. I am certain that through our respective actions, based on the increased pooling of our experience and know-how, these small steps will become large steps, to the good of all the citizens of Europe.

This page was last modified on : 14-01-2005

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