15 January 1999
“Building Greater Europe without dividing lines” (report of the Committee of Wise Persons)1
Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights
Rapporteur: Mr Josť Luis Lopez Henares, Spain, Group of the European People's Party
1. On the eve of its 50th anniversary, and indeed of a new millennium, the Council of Europe as an organisation needs to face up to the challenges of the new world order, which is currently being built on the ruins of the Berlin Wall. The report of the Committee of Wise Persons on building Greater Europe without dividing lines points to one possible solution of the problems facing the organisation following its enlargement process, and suggests several avenues of reform. However, without wanting to question or diminish the value of the Wise Persons’ proposals in any way, I would like to point out that I would at times have wished for a grander vision of things to come; for a slightly more refreshing, and different approach; in short, for the rebirth of the Council of Europe as an international organisation.
2. It is always difficult to come up with completely new and radical ideas about the reform of an organisation of the size and age as ours – all too easily the status quo subconsciously influences our perspective, and geopolitical considerations of a larger nature can narrow the focus even more. However, I think it is necessary for the Council of Europe to break free from these shackles, and to fly high once again on the basis of the values it stands for. It is here that the Wise Persons, in my opinion, have not set the priorities of the organisation clearly enough. While I agree that the Council of Europe must become a more political organisation, for only a political organisation will have enough clout to put into practice its ideas and convictions, a political organisation of “general competence” is devoid of all meaning. After all, politics is the art of making things possible – but if we do not know what we want, how can we make it possible? I would thus plead for a stronger reorientation towards the fundamental values of the Council of Europe, defined in its Statute as the defence and promotion of pluralist democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
II. The effects of the enlargement process and the need for reform
3. The enlargement process has diversified the family of Council of Europe member states to an extent unimaginable just a decade ago. But let us be honest – this process, while a great success so far in enabling newly established democracies to benefit from the help and expertise of the organisation and of its older member states, has brought with it its own problems. Most member states – new and old – fulfil the basic standards of the Council of Europe in key areas, but there can be no doubt that some of the member states have had difficulties in attaining the higher standards. This has led to some core values and standards of the Council of Europe being put into question, if not actually watered down. In addition, innovative standard setting, which used to be the organisation’s hallmark, has slowed to a trickle, if not ground to a halt.
4. Let me give you some examples: Following the last execution on Council of Europe territory (before the enlargement process) in Turkey in 1984, all then Council of Europe member states applied moratoria on executions in practice, and many abolished the death penalty completely and signed and ratified the new Protocol No. 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Council of Europe as an execution-free zone on the way to a death-penalty-free zone was thus established as early as 1985. Unfortunately, many aspiring (and sadly, also some newly admitted) member states of the organisation called this Council of Europe standard into question – and put people to death, often in defiance of their commitments and obligations. Our Assembly had to debate the death penalty and executions no less than five times in four years, and had to threaten sanctions to exact compliance. Luckily, since April 1997 the Council of Europe has once again become an execution-free zone on the way to a death-penalty-free zone – but only 12 years and hundreds of deaths later. In December 1998, our Rapporteur on the abolition of the death penalty, Mrs Wohlwend, had to inform us that, once more, some member states were considering restarting executions, as high-ranking officials and politicians made public statements in this vein in Russia, Ukraine and Albania. This Committee will fight to uphold our organisation’s high standards in this field, and so, I assume, will the Assembly – but who can deny that it was the enlargement process which brought with it this problem of the continued putting into question of an established standard in the human rights field?
5. The other example I would like to give concerns the effect of the enlargement process on standard-setting – the rights and treatment of national minorities. The new member states are not the only ones with problems in this field, as is well known. But certain of these new member states were amongst those which put the brakes on an important standard-setting exercise the Heads of State and Government had mandated the Council of Europe to undertake at the Vienna Summit in 1993: the elaboration of an additional protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights on the protection of national minorities. The Assembly’s courageous proposal of Recommendation 1201 (1993) was ignored; the result was a Framework Convention with no teeth to it. And this in an age where our troubled continent has had to live through several bloody civil wars ignited on the fire-stone of the rights of national minorities or their violation – from Bosnia and Herzegovina over Chechnya to Kosovo.
6. The Wise Persons were, I think, aware of these developments, and made some recommendations which I can fully support; these recommendations are to be found on page 7 of their report. However, perhaps inevitably, these fundamental recommendations end up somewhat swamped by other, more detailed recommendations on the reform of the day-to-day management of the organisation, and are thus easily lost from sight. I will therefore now take the liberty to emphasise those recommendations which I find fundamental, and add a few considerations of my own.
III. Conclusions: The Council of Europe as a political organisation promoting and defending pluralist democracy, human rights and the rule of law
7. To be effective as a political organisation with the brief of promoting and defending pluralist democracy, human rights and the rule of law, the Council of Europe must:
i. stand together:
• All member states must be equal – not only in rights, but also in obligations. In other words, all member states must accept and implement established Council of Europe standards (in particular, but not exclusively, those set down in legally binding and enforceable conventions), and not only pay lip service to them, or pick and choose among those they like and those they do not. All member states must also strive towards the elaboration of even higher standards, especially in new and not highly regulated fields.
• Member states must be willing to help each other – through the good offices of the organisation and its co-operation programmes – to reach those standards they might so far have failed to reach, and must themselves make efforts at self-improvement.
ii. stand firm:
• All member states must submit to careful monitoring of their compliance with obligations and commitments, through all the relevant organs of the organisation, the Parliamentary Assembly, the Committee of Ministers, and (ultimately) the European Court of Human Rights. The monitoring procedures of the organisation must be strengthened and made more transparent and effective. More attention should also be given to the precursors of problems, so as to nip them in the bud.
• The Council of Europe should not accept a watering-down of its standards by its own member states. Systematic or especially grave violation of obligations and commitments should be punished according to a sliding scale of sanctions, to be decided upon by the relevant organs of the organisation.
iii. stand tall:
• Only an organisation sure of itself and its aims, and willing and able to defend and implement them, is going to be successful as an international political player. The internal functioning of the Council of Europe thus needs to be reformed, by streamlining the decision-making process (especially within the Committee of Ministers and its subordinate bodies), by providing for greater democratic accountability through empowering the Parliamentary Assembly, and by concentrating on its core tasks in the fields of safeguarding democracy, human rights and the rule of law while axing unnecessary, superfluous or marginal programmes.
• The Council of Europe can be proud of its standards and achievements. It should thus not be afraid of promoting and defending pluralist democracy, human rights and the rule of law also outside its own member states, especially in regions where the organisation’s unique expertise could provide a valuable input, such as in crisis situations or unstable European regions. To this end, it should co-operate with other international institutions and organisations and other major players (e.g. the United States of America), without letting itself be sidelined.
IV. Suggested amendments
8. I shall limit myself to a few technical amendments:
- Amendments to the draft opinion
Replace paragraph 6 by the following text:
"The Assembly shares the conclusion of the CWP that the Council of Europe is, as set out in its Statute, at the same time a political organisation, a standard-setting institution and a framework institution for promoting and defending pluralist democracy, the reflection of human rights and the rule of law."
Replace paragraph 7 by the following text:
"The Assembly considers that at present the most important role of the Council of Europe is to consolidate its role as a political pan-European organisation of general competence to attain democratic stability and an ever closer union between its members through intergovernmental cooperation on essential questions."
In paragraph 15 ii. f, replace the word “before” with “for”.
In paragraph 15 iii., add a further sub-paragraph after sub-paragraph a:
“introduce and apply a sliding scale of sanctions in the case of systematic or especially grave violation of obligations and commitments by a member State;”.
In paragraph 15 vi., add a further sub-paragraph after sub-paragraph d:
“improve its relations and co-operation with observer states (including, where appropriate, the establishment of Council of Europe liaison offices in the capitals of the states in question), while advising them to fulfil the same minimum standards in the fields of democracy, human rights and the rule of law as required of states enjoying special guest status with the Assembly.”.
- Amendments to the draft resolution
After sub-paragraph 5.i, add the following new sub-paragraph:
"ii. to present specific and concrete proposals every year, in order to attain the principal aims of the organisation, according to Article 1 of the Statute."
At the end of sub-paragraph 5.vi., add the following words:
"and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Central European Initiative."
Reporting committee: Political Affairs Committee
Committee for opinion: Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights
Reference to committee: Doc. 8261 and Reference 2343 of 4 November 1998
Opinion unanimously approved by the committee on 8 January 1999
Secretaries to the committee: Mr Plate, Ms Coin and Ms Kleinsorge
1 See Docs 8261 and 8286.