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WEBEDITION
No. 1 - Jan. 1997
Vol. 45 - pp. 4-9

The Council of Europe:
strengthening European security
by civilian means

Daniel Tarschys
Secretary General of the Council of Europe


Solana & Tarschys
(Right to left) Mr. Tarschys and Mr. Solana, NATO Secretary General (24Kb)
In the last six years, the Council of Europe's membership has risen from 23 to 40 member states. Through this dynamic policy of enlargement and a clear commitment to pluralistic democracy, human rights and the rule of law, the organization has increased its contribution to democratic security in Europe. The Council has lent its full support to the international efforts to implement the Dayton agreements, its activities in Bosnia-Herzegovina being concentrated on building democratic institutions which are capable of ensuring peaceful cohabitation between the different communities. Accession to the Council of Europe has already led to tangible results in the new member states which, when they join, commit themselves to promoting its core principles both at home and in the continent as a whole. Thus, at long last, one can say that Europe is united on the basis of shared values.

Last July, thanks to the new Europe, I had the distinction of being the first Secretary General in the history of the Council of Europe to address NATO's North Atlantic Council. Both organizations were set up in 1949 and, in fact, with the same mission: to defend the democratic free world against the totalitarian threat posed by communist rule, one by military, the other by civilian means.

The political events of 1989 in Central and Eastern Europe opened up new prospects for Europe and its cooperation and integration structures. In the Paris Charter for a New Europe of November 1990, all member states of the then Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) (1) gave most emphatic support to the principles of pluralistic democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights. This was a solemn confirmation, for the whole of the European geographical area, of the Council of Europe's basic democratic ideology, inscribed in its statute of 1949.

NATO initiated dialogue and cooperation with the new democracies in Central and Eastern Europe, setting up the North Atlantic Cooperation Council (NACC) in 1991 as part of this process. Emphasis was placed on the need for institutional interaction to guarantee stability in Europe by a system of interlocking institutions. Each organization contributes its particular expertise and resources to this common aim, particularly NATO, the European Union, the OSCE and the Council of Europe.

The Council of Europe's Heads of State and Government expressed in their Vienna Declaration of 1993 the need for fuller coordination of the organization's activities with those of others involved in the construction of a democratic and secure Europe. In terms of membership, all the European member states in NATO are also members of the Council of Europe, and recently the United States and Canada obtained observer status, thereby allowing these two countries to participate in the intergovernmental activities of the organization as well as in the subsidiary bodies of the Committee of Ministers.

Furthermore, all those countries of Central and Eastern Europe which are aiming for membership in NATO or looking for close cooperation agreements with it are already members of, or have applied to join, the Council of Europe. All countries which were involved in the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia or in the implementation of the Dayton peace agreement, are either members of, or applicants to, the Council of Europe with, at the time of writing, the one exception of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

In just six years, Council of Europe membership has risen from 23 to 40 member states with the accession of Croatia on 6 November 1996. Through this enlargement, the surface covered by the organization has quadrupled, and the population has more than doubled. Five other countries are seen as potential future members - Belarus and Bosnia-Herzegovina, as well as Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, all of which enjoy special guest status with the Parliamentary Assembly and have applied for full membership of the organization.

Such a rapid enlargement will impose a particular burden and political responsibility on the Council of Europe which needs to be able to interact with other institutions. To this end, during recent years, the Council of Europe and the European Union have jointly developed and financed programmes to help reform the institutional and legislative systems of a number of these countries. Programmes in Albania and the three Baltic States have been followed since 1995 by a special initiative for Russia and Ukraine.

Democratic security as a basic element of stability

Through its dynamic policy of enlargement and its definition of clear commitments based on its achievements in the fields of pluralistic democracy, human rights and the rule of law, the Council of Europe has increased its contribution to democratic security in Europe. The concept of democratic security is of recent vintage and was launched by the Council of Europe at the 1993 Vienna Summit. If the basis for security was previously predominantly discussed in military terms, recent decades have seen a gradual broadening of the debate - as became evident from the development of the CSCE process from the Helsinki Final Act and its three baskets to the 1990 Paris Charter for a New Europe and the final constitution of the OSCE.

We have increasingly come to understand more about the economic, political and cultural foundations of security, about the need to base it on confidence and trust between peoples and nations. It is in this perspective, too, that we must view the Council of Europe and its contribution to our common security.

In this respect, the message of Vienna was twofold: First, absolute insistence on pluralistic and parliamentary democracy, the indivisibility and universality of human rights, the rule of law and a common cultural heritage enriched by its diversity, as fundamental preconditions for security. Second, a strong emphasis on European cooperation on the basis of these values as a method of building networks of trust across the continent, networks that can simultaneously prevent conflicts and help find solutions to common problems.

Building such confidence has been the mission of the Council of Europe from the very outset. When it was established in 1949 in Strasbourg, a city symbolising the need for Franco-German reconciliation, this choice was intended precisely to mark its role in the great project of post-war European reconciliation and reconstruction. And it set out to do just that: adopting one convention after another, starting one cooperation project after another, building Europe brick by brick, consolidating the foundations of its societies.

The promotion of democratic security helps in the task of dealing with a significant range of security risks in Europe. Apart from the risk of a return to totalitarian rule, it responds to challenges stemming from: serious and massive violations of fundamental freedoms and human rights, including discrimination against a part of the population; major deficiencies in the structures for the rule of law; aggressive nationalism, racism and intolerance as well as inter-ethnic tensions and conflicts; terrorism and organized crime; social disintegration, disparities and tension at local and regional level.

The defence of these basic principles, or the fight against challenges which endanger them, is the essence of the Council of Europe and the alliance among its members. To that end, it established a system of collective enforcement of the respect of these principles through mutual cooperation and control. Consequently, the implementation and protection no longer belongs to the exclusive domestic sphere of member states, but has become a legitimate concern for all of them, individually and collectively.

The main features of the Council of Europe's comprehensive cooperation networks are: a strong legal and institutional basis; a permanent framework for political debate among members of national parliaments (Parliamentary Assembly) and political dialogue among governments (Committee of Ministers) and representatives of local and regional administrations (Congress of Local and Regional Authorities in Europe); the ongoing creation of instruments containing legally binding norms (coupled with formal legal procedures for the control of their implementation); a wide range of intergovernmental programmes of activities bringing together a wide network of experts in a significant number of branches of policy and administration; implementation of programmes of assistance for the development and consolidation of democratic reforms; confidence-building measures bringing together people from different communities in civil society and across national borders with a view to defusing potential tensions, for instance in minority situations, demonstrating examples of good practice and contributing to good neighbourly relations.

Through what I call a culture of cooperation, the Council of Europe brings its member states ever closer together through their participation in common activities on an equal footing.

Consolidation of security and democratic stability in Bosnia-Herzegovina

In accordance with its statutory mission to unite the peoples of Europe around the values of pluralistic democracy, human rights, the rule of law and the culture of tolerance - the absolute requirements for peace and stability in Europe - the Council of Europe fully subscribes to the efforts of the international community to implement the Dayton agreements.

The main objectives of the Council's activities in Bosnia-Herzegovina are to further the protection of human rights, to develop legal, institutional and administrative structures and to promote attitudes and behaviour in civil society in keeping with these values. To achieve this, the organization is in the process of integrating Bosnia-Herzegovina into the Council of Europe as a full member, following its application for membership submitted in April 1995; and contributing to the implementation of the peace agreements in close cooperation with the other implementing agencies under the coordination of the High Representative, Carl Bildt.

With regard to the latter, we are seeking to contribute to the establishment of the rule of law. In this connection, the rights and freedoms set forth in the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR) and its Protocols are applicable law in Bosnia-Herzegovina according to Article II.2 of the country's Constitution. Three other relevant conventions, listed in an Appendix to the Constitution, are to be ratified by Bosnia-Herzegovina, i.e., the European Convention on the prevention of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; the European Charter for regional or minority languages; the European Framework Convention for the protection of national minorities.

Following specific mandates in the Dayton agreements, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe appointed 8 out of the 14 members of the Human Rights Chamber for Bosnia-Herzegovina. In the context of its close cooperation with the OSCE, the Council of Europe provided logistical, legal and staff support to the Chamber, as well as to the Ombudsperson for Bosnia-Herzegovina, appointed by the OSCE. Furthermore, the President of the European Court of Human Rights was entrusted with the appointment of three of the nine members of the Commission for the Real Property Claims of Displaced Persons and Refugees. He has also appointed, in consultation with the newly elected Presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina, three out of the nine members of the Constitutional Court.

Future increased involvement of the Council of Europe in Bosnia-Herzegovina will be linked to the procedure for the country's accession to the organization. To qualify for admission, applicant countries must meet certain requirements. The priority areas for activities to be carried out in Bosnia-Herzegovina therefore focus on the need to set up democratic institutions capable of ensuring a peaceful cohabitation between the different communities. They concentrate on constitutional guarantees of human rights, including the rights of minorities, the re-establishment of the rule of law, local democracy, education, culture, pluralistic media and civil society.

In the human rights field, these activities should include harmonization of legislation with European human rights standards, improving knowledge of these standards through training of decision-makers, judges, lawyers and law-enforcement agents, and support for and strengthening of pluralistic and independent media as well as the establishment of public sector broadcasting.

In the legal and constitutional fields, the Council's work aims at ensuring the compatibility of the constitutional and legislative practice of the Entities with the constitution of Bosnia-Herzegovina and at effective functioning of judicial human rights protection mechanisms. Other areas of assistance concern legislation on citizenship (at the central state level) and expertise on the criminal and civil codes (at Entity level). Special attention is being devoted to property issues and to the problem of the execution of judgements.

In the area of local democracy, as an initiative of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, "Local Democracy Embassies" have been set-up in Sarajevo and Tuzla. They are the result of a partnership between a municipality in Bosnia-Herzegovina and several other European municipalities with a view to encouraging democratic processes by establishing intra- and inter-municipal confidence-building measures. There is also a programme designed to help in establishing a legal framework for the functioning of cantons and municipalities.

Confidence-building measures aim at rebuilding trust between the different communities through activities carried out in common. Among the projects sponsored by the Council of Europe are a study on the Romany population in Bosnian cities and a school of civil society implemented by the Sarajevo and Tuzla "Local Democracy Embassies". Within the field of the protection of national minorities, the confidence-building measures programme supports pilot projects aimed at fostering relations between different communities, through, inter alia, the creation and development of independent media and sponsoring of activities aimed at bringing young people from different ethnic backgrounds together through cultural, educational and sports activities.

Finally, the Social Development Fund of the Council of Europe could become instrumental in making funds available for projects in Bosnia-Herzegovina. A first such project, for an amount of US$ 5 million, involves the co-financing by the Fund and the World Bank of a programme of emergency medical aid and rehabilitation of health services for war victims and refugees in the country.

The good cooperation between the OSCE and the Council of Europe in the setting-up of the Human Rights Commission (composed of the Office of the Ombudsman and the Human Rights Chamber) in Sarajevo has proved that institutional interaction in Europe works and that the call for a system of interlocking institutions, in order to guarantee security, stability and cooperation on the continent, has been more than a pious hope.

Similarly encouraging cooperation with the United Nations has been undertaken in Eastern Slavonia. Within the framework of the mandate of the UN Transitional Administration for Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Sirmium (UNTAES) and following requests made by Jacques Klein, the Transitional Administrator, the Council of Europe has assisted UNTAES in the fields of human rights and culture. Following a decision by the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers, the Swedish government has made available its Ambassador to the Council of Europe to chair the UNTAES Joint Implementation Committee on Human Rights and a member of the Secretariat has been made available to chair the UNTAES Joint Implementation Committee on education and culture. Moreover, the Council of Europe, in cooperation with UNTAES and other actors in the area such as the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, is organizing a series of workshops for the members of the Joint Implementation Committees with a view to helping the reintegration process by expanding the dialogue to civil society representatives. The workshops cover fields such as: human rights, the media, judiciary, refugees and minorities, education, and so on.

Enlargement as a contribution to continental cohesion

Russia has a vital role to play in Europe, and as US Secretary of State Warren Christopher said in Berlin last September, "Now, an integrated, democratic Russia can participate in the construction of an integrated, democratic Europe."

Kuchma & Tarschys
Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma (left) with Secretary General Tarschys during the President's visit to the Council of Europe in April. (18Kb)
An important step in this process was taken when, on 28 February, after more than four years' active partnership (as a special guest in the Parliamentary Assembly and full partner within the European Cultural Convention), Russia joined the Council of Europe as a full member. A large majority within the Parliamentary Assembly voted in favour of the Russian accession after a lengthy and arduous procedure. This included a comprehensive questionnaire submitted by the Assembly on deficiencies in legislative measures and other democratic reforms. In response, the Russian authorities submitted a very detailed memorandum on their plan for the improvement of the country's legislation and law enforcement practice in accordance with Council of Europe standards. This document was signed by the President, the Prime Minister, the Chairman of the Federation Council and the Chairman of the State Duma - a rather exceptional and highly significant act.

No doubt, there are member states where democratic institutions and behaviour are still at a formative stage. This sometimes leads to the criticism that the expansion at the Council of Europe has been too quick, with adverse developments in new member states often invoked to make this point. Of course, we know that there are still serious problems in the geographical area now covered by the organization. But the key question is a different one: Has membership in the Council of Europe strengthened the prospects for democratic stability in Europe and respect for human rights?

Here the evidence is quite clear. Cooperation within the Council of Europe has already led to tangible results in the new member states. Reforms have been carried out both before and after membership, training programmes and exchanges have been organized, advice has been given on draft laws and institutional frameworks, from the drawing up of a new constitution to the very basic requirement of a functioning local democracy.

The recent member states have varied backgrounds: some lived under dictatorship for more than 40 years, others for over 70 years; some had previously experienced democracy, while others never had; and some had never existed before as an independent state. This is also why accession to the Council of Europe is often an arduous process which can go on for more than four years, with each single application judged on its own merits. Moreover, accession is accompanied by strict commitments undertaken by the new member states, in agreement with the Parliamentary Assembly, to continue their reforms.

I disagree, therefore, with those critics who present the enlargement process as a triumph of politics over principles. On the contrary, it should rather be seen as the politics of principles: the conviction that Europe can only be built on the solid foundations of shared values and that joint efforts are needed to strengthen these foundations, for nowhere are they rock solid. This is true both in Central and Eastern Europe, where the economic vicissitudes of the transition and stark new inequalities pose constant threats to the great achievements that have already been made in building free and democratic societies, and in Western Europe, where new tensions and social cleavages tend to erode civic confidence in established political institutions and procedures.

While the core values are normative, defining our common ideals, the actual behaviour of both citizens and governments may diverge from them. Membership in the Council of Europe is, however, a solemn pledge. A state joining the organization seriously commits itself to promoting and defending the core principles both at home and in the continent as a whole. In this lies the profound significance of the Council of Europe's enlargement in the 1990s: at long last, Europe is united on the basis of shared values.

As one of the major consequences, monitoring has become one of the key functions of the Council of Europe. It concerns all member states, old as well as new, and is closely linked to various support activities. Condemnation alone leads nowhere. Instead, we see mutual supervision and mutual help as two sides of the same coin.

If there are serious shortcomings in some countries - as there are - that is not only their problem, but also ours. Unstable and non-democratic neighbourhoods breed fears, suspicion, instability.

That is why democratic security is so important throughout the continent. Without pluralistic democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law in all parts of Europe, there will always be a risk of new confrontations. If there is one lesson to be drawn from the Helsinki process started in 1975, it is that governments must always be reminded of their pledges and principles. Another lesson that can be drawn from the experience of the Council of Europe is that mutual efforts help us to approach and achieve these goals.

The accession of three members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (Moldova, Ukraine and Russia), hopefully to be followed in the years to come by another four (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus and Georgia), has significantly extended the borders of the Council of Europe. The integration of these states into the organization's many cooperation structures is an important political act, confirming our governments' determination to avoid new rifts in the continent and to build a common European civilization of democratic nations.

This unification of Europe presents us with great opportunities which the Council of Europe is in an excellent position to seize. It should do so in cooperation with the other international institutions and organizations on the basis of comparative advantages, efficient use of resources and pursuit of optimal synergy.

The new European security architecture should not create new dividing lines in Europe. Security on this continent is a matter for European institutions whose membership may or may not overlap, but whose goals are interdependent. In this respect, the Council of Europe's efforts are complementary to those of NATO, including its work through the NACC and the Partnership for Peace.

Footnote:

  1. Subsequently renamed the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe or OSCE.


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