Chairman, Secretary General, dear friends,
I am here with you on the tenth anniversary of the Memorandum of Understanding between the European Union and the Council of Europe. It's an important date for us, but you will forgive me if my first words will not immediately strike a celebratory tone, because we are going through a very delicate moment in international affairs, when cooperation on a regional and on a global scale is more important than ever. But also more difficult than ever. From the war in Syria to the situation in North Korea, from terrorism to migration, none of the issues we are facing can be successfully addressed by individual countries, even if they are regional or global powers.
And yet, every day we face a striking paradox. There are forces in different parts of the world, also in Europe, that are putting into question the importance of a cooperative global governance, of the United Nations, of invaluable regional organisations such as the Council of Europe. Instead of investing in cooperation, some are disinvesting, disengaging, and delegitimising these cooperative institutions.
The European Union has no doubt about where we stand. We stand on the side of a more cooperative global order. We stand on the side of multilateralism and international agreements, such as the deal with Iran and the Paris agreement on climate. We stand on the side of human rights, and of organisations such as the Council of Europe, that celebrate and protect our common European values.
Last year we stood by the International Criminal Court when some of African Partners threatened to leave. And we managed to achieve some results. And we will continue to stand by the organisations that promote human rights and justice. We are ready to discuss how to improve them but never available to put their foundations into question.
With this, I don't want to say that the situation of human rights inside the European Union is perfect. It is not. The struggle for human rights, fundamental freedoms and civil liberties is a never-ending process, a work in progress. No country can claim to be perfect. New challenges emerge every day and we need instruments to face these challenges. And for this very reason we, in the European Union, value our cooperation with the Council of Europe so much.
On migration, for instance, Secretary General [Thorbjørn] Jagland and Human Rights Commissioner [Nils] Muižnieks have constantly pointed at our common responsibility to welcome and to save lives, and this is something I am very grateful for. While we need to find solutions, day after day to the migration crisis, we need to build such solutions on solid foundations, not rush towards cutting corners that ultimately lead to violations of rights that are at the core of our institutions.
This is my constant commitment, and this is why Human Rights play such an important role in all of our external initiatives, from the training of the Libyan coastguard to offering protection to those fleeing Boko Haram in the Lake Chad basin. Or take our response to terrorist attacks on European soil.
Two years ago the European Union joined the Riga protocol adopted by the Council of Europe, setting the legal standards in how we address the issue of foreign terrorist fighters and terrorist recruitment. Since then, we have taken many steps to make the European Union more secure, including last month's Council decisions on counter-terrorism. And each step was taken in full respect of the standards we have set together, not only inside the European Union, but in this larger European family.
When rules are agreed together, we believe they do not represent a constraint, but a guarantee for all. And this is particularly important for those, like us, who live side by side, and share the same part of the world. This is why we want cooperation between the Council of Europe and the European Union to become even more intense and structured. We are different, and we are complementary. And we want to invest in this complementarity more and more.
The Council of Europe is a key partner within the broader process of enlargement. It has been by working hand in hand that reforms have been promoted and - thanks to this common work - Europe, all of Europe, is a better place to live in for our citizens and for all those that see in the EU an objective to reach.
It is no mystery that we want to join the European Convention of Human Rights. This is not only an obligation deriving from our Treaties. This is a political priority for us. We are still in the reflection period after the European Court of Justice’s opinion and we are moving forward when the time is right, relying on the support of all CoE Member States. The Court today needs our common support.
In the meantime, it is essential for us to strengthen the European Court of Human Rights, and to make sure it can continue to deliver on its mandate, that is for us a fundamental mandate. The Court today needs both political and financial support. Politically, there is a duty to always respect its decisions, even when some of us do not agree with them. This is the very essence of the rule of law.
But there is more. Following recent decisions, the Court might be faced with an unprecedented number of cases. I think it is in our common interest that all Member States will intervene locally to prevent this excessive amount of cases coming to the Court. But on top of that, all Member States should secure the necessary financial resources for the Court. And we, as the European Union, are willing to show our support to secure the functioning of the Court.
The same is also true for all other institutions linked to the Council of Europe. We all share an interest in making this organisation work and work at its best because in this complex moment for our region and the world, we need to take any opportunity for dialogue and cooperation. The Council of Europe is a unique forum for dialogue among the members of the European Union, our partners in the Western Balkans, our Eastern Partners and all non-EU countries in this continent. When disagreements emerge inside this organisation, we should all work to address them, and swiftly go back to work in a cooperative manner. Withdrawing funds can only weaken this institution – and that is truly in no one's interest.
The people of this continent are tied together by a common history and by shared values – behind the borders of the current European Union. The right of each person to liberty and security. The right to a fair trial. The right to not be discriminated because of the colour of your skin, of your gender, of the way you pray (or don’t pray). And beyond that, the Council of Europe has been the framework for our common work on children, on higher education, through the Bologna process, and to stop violence against women with the Istanbul Convention.
The Council of Europe and the European Union share the same values. And for us, for the European Union, this means a lot. It means that there is room for dialogue and for understanding and for cooperate well beyond the borders of our Union. There is one European space, which we all share. And we all have an interest to make it as peaceful ad as cooperative as possible.
It is often said that you cannot choose your neighbours. It's true, but you can choose to seek cooperation with your neighbours, and avoid confrontation to manage difficulties. There European Union has chosen cooperation, and for this reason, we will continue to be the strongest partner and the strongest supporter of the Council of Europe.