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Speech on the history and future of EU-CoE cooperation by Mr Christian Leffler, Deputy Secretary General of the European External Action Service
(Strasbourg, 30 September 2019)
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a privilege for me to be invited to deliver this keynote address “honouring the history and future of EU-Council of Europe cooperation”.
Tomorrow, we are celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Council of Europe. This anniversary rightly fills us with pride. What a long way our continent has come in the last seventy years! Europe, though ravaged by warfare for centuries, produced many of humanity’s noblest works, but has equally perpetrated some of mankind’s worst atrocities. For most of us, Europe has never been as easy to live in as it is today. Comparing the problems which confront us today with the appalling trials our parents and grand-parents had to face, we can only say that history has been kind to us.
Undoubtedly, the history of the Council of Europe has been a success. Just think of the European Convention on Human Rights, ratified by all 47 Council of Europe member states, setting common standards on human rights, democracy and the rule of law for 830 million people across the continent, with implementation overseen by the European Court of Human Rights is an unprecedented achievement in European history and throughout the rest of the world.
The hopes and ambitions that inspired the EU founding fathers and which still drive our action spring from the same fountain. The EU and the Council of Europe are built on the same ideas, principles and values which have taken root firmly in Europe: human rights, democracy and the rule of law; societies build on respect, tolerance and equalities. The EU and the Council of Europe share a common vocation to promote these values and spread them further.
Yet, our joint European project faces increasing scepticism and hostility. Simply advocating “more Europe” does not imply progress. The European project cannot move forward unless we manage to regain the confidence of our fellow citizens. To do that, we must put European integration back into perspective, involve the general public at all levels, and ensure that the benefits of Europe are visible to all.
Pan-European co-operation is, undeniably, a key issue. The Council of Europe and the European Union are its leading exemplars. Both organisations want a Europe without dividing lines. This is why the enlargement of the Council of Europe to the states of central and Eastern Europe was so crucially important. The EU is keen to uphold the Council of Europe's universalist vocation and we reject the false dichotomy between maintaining the organisation’s pan-European character and defending its principles and rules. Of course we need both: extending and preserving our “European house” as well as protecting its values and ensuring its effective functioning. Europe and the states which compose it must also resist the temptation to turn inward. We cannot escape the accelerating process of economic and cultural globalisation. On the contrary, we must embrace and shape it. Europe’s great internal diversity, the mobilising power of its shared values, the lessons learned from its past experience of violence and division, and also its steps to overcome the past and move towards collective responsibility, will allow it – if it wishes and gives itself the means to do so – to make a major contribution to the dynamic changes under way across the globe.
We are rightly proud that democracy and the rule of law have taken root firmly in our continent – but the task of disseminating democratic, human rights and rule-of-law principles has still to be completed. It would be a mistake to delude ourselves that democracy, once acquired, is unshakeable. On the contrary, we have a burning duty constantly to reaffirm our democratic principles and consolidate our structures of governance. We must resist the trend towards alienation of politicians and state structures from the public. Democracy is a living thing. Although it has solid foundations, it needs to adapt and reinvent itself, to respond to the new political demands of citizens.
President-elect Ursula von der Leyen wants Europe to strive for more in nurturing, protecting and strengthening our democracy. This is why she has announced her intention to put forward a European Democracy Action Plan. It will not only address the threats of external intervention in our European elections, but also include legislative proposals to ensure greater transparency on paid political advertising and clearer rules on the financing of European political parties. At a time when human rights, the rule of law and democracy face increased pressures, the Council of Europe and the European Union stand up for a value-based agenda at the heart of multilateralism. In this endeavor we are inextricably linked and essential partners.
In a connected and complex world, we are faced with new dynamics and challenges that have a real and increasing impact on Europe and its neighbours. These challenges do not respect frontiers and require cross-border solutions. Our security and prosperity depend to a large extent on effective multilateral institutions. For the EU, engaging in a multilateral system based on respect for international law and the spirit of multilateral cooperation is a matter both of values and pragmatism. This cooperative approach remains the most effective way to serve our collective interests, because decisions taken in multilateral frameworks have proven to be more democratic, inclusive and sustainable. That is why promoting cooperative regional orders is an essential part of our follow up to the EU Global Strategy for Foreign and Security Policy. And that is why the European
Council’s new Strategic Agenda 2019-2024 from June of this year is explicit that the EU will remain a driving force behind multilateralism and the rules-based international order, ensuring openness and fairness and the necessary reforms, and will support key multilateral organisations.
Cooperation between the Council of Europe and the European Union finds its roots and inspiration in the spirit and letter of the 2007 Memorandum of Understanding as well as in the Statement of Intent from 2014, and is defined further in the biannual EU Priorities agreed by the EU Foreign Affairs Council for this purpose.
It is crucial that our common values are backed up by tangible actions. This is why the EU supports the work of the Council of Europe by contributing to its extra-ordinary budget and supporting cooperation in the legal field, fostering political dialogue, and funding joint programmes aimed at strengthening human rights in
Take the important example of those partner countries currently aspiring to join the EU, where the EU - Council of Europe Horizontal Facility for the Western Balkans and Turkey constitutes a successful instrument for more strategic and long term cooperation between our two organisations. The current phase of the Horizontal Facility, with an EU funding allocation of EUR 35 million, contributes to the roll out of the 2018 EU Strategy for the Western Balkans and the furtherance of the Council of Europe’s core values by giving priority to tackling shortcomings that exist in the rule of law, fundamental rights, and the fight against corruption and organised crime.
The Council of Europe and the European Union perform different, yet complementary roles: each benefiting from the other’s strengths, competences and expertise, while striving to avoid unnecessary overlap. Using its own instruments, pursuing its own goals and working within its own boundaries, each has developed a distinctive co-operation model. In doing so, we must seek out synergies by exploiting systematically and pragmatically our respective potentials. There are broad areas of activity where co-operation between the two organisations is natural, and the added value of our partnership undeniable. The complementarity we want must be based on continuous strengthening of human rights, democracy and the rule of law in a Europe of 800 million people.
For years, the EU and the CoE have been committed to political and legal cooperation as well as to cooperation through joint programmes. This strategic structured cooperation between our two institutions has developed into a unique success story. The first pillar of cooperation between our institutions is political dialogue, presently developed at all levels, in a climate of open doors and frank discussion. Just looking at the last year, highlevel meetings involved former SG Jagland and the Chair of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers with President Juncker, HRVP Mogherini, several EU Commissioners, the EU Political and Security Committee and the then President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani.
At the institutional level collaboration has further intensified, involving representatives of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly and the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities with the representatives of the European Parliament and the European Committee of the Regions.
On a more technical level, with an emphasis on cooperation in the legal field, collaboration between experts from the two institutions has become daily, discussing, planning, coordinating and implementing established partnerships. The annual Meeting of Council of Europe and EU Senior Officials allows us to give structure and coherence to this cooperation and to ensure effective follow-up in the year ahead. The second pillar of cooperation between the Council of Europe and the EU concerns joint programmes to promote respect for the rule of law, democracy and human rights. In 2018, 52 joint programmes were in operation, with the Cumulative Budgetary Envelope amounting to EUR 154.8 million and the Annual Budgetary Envelope equalling EUR 42 million.
Over the years, the European Union has consistently increased its predictable involvement in joint programmes covering countries who are candidates for EU accession as well as countries of the Eastern Partnership, Southern Mediterranean and Central Asia. It is also worth noting that EU Member States are already being covered by the Structural Reform Support Program or the Help programs. The EU continues to be the largest donor to CoE co-operation activities. We contribute because we believe in these programmes but also because they are complementary to our own policies and cooperation programmes. So our joint efforts are mutually reinforcing. A prominent example is the focussed support to political priorities and reforms reflected in the EU enlargement process and in the European Neighbourhood Policy.
A minute ago, I mentioned the relevance of the EU-CoE Horizontal Facility for the Western Balkans and Turkey. The CoE is also an important partner in the implementation of projects funded by the Instrument for Pre-Accession (IPA) in Turkey, with around a dozen projects either ongoing or in the pipeline under the Judiciary and Fundamental Rights areas – all under indirect management. Regrettably, in 2017 and 2018, the Commission had to suspend six projects in the judiciary and penitentiary domains, owing to serious concerns regarding the independence and effectiveness of the Turkish counterpart bodies. For 2019, no funds were allocated in the area of Judiciary, given the absence of a revised Judiciary Reform Strategy agreed with the EU and the Council of Europe. Unless the situation changes, no funds will be allocated under the bilateral dimension of the 2020 IPA either.
Serious and common challenges remain in many Eastern Partnership countries, especially when it comes to fighting highlevel corruption and to ensuring that justice is both transparent and effective. Phase II of the “Partnership for Good Governance” (PGG) will help address these challenges. It will also contribute significantly to achieving the 2020 deliverables that our Eastern partners committed to, in particular the targets under objectives 9 and 10 on rule of law, anti-corruption and key judicial reforms respectively.
Turning to the Southern Mediterranean, we are pleased that Phase III of the South programme has now begun. The EU contribution is EUR 3 million for a period of 3 years. Phase III aims to contribute to reinforcing human rights, the rule of law and democracy in the Southern Mediterranean region in accordance with European and other international standards based on a demand-driven approach. The ambition is to work in partnership with the countries concerned.
EU-CoE Joint Programmes also stretch beyond EU Enlargement and Neighbourhood countries, covering a wide range of other initiatives. Examples include projects in Central Asia, regional projects strengthening the rule of law in cyberspace, and the EU’s support to a Joint Programme in the Russian Federation entitled "Fight violence against women".
Legal Cooperation between the EU and the monitoring and advisory bodies of the Council of Europe is the third main avenue of our inter-institutional relationship. It has developed considerably in recent years, emphasising the unique role of the expertise of bodies such as the Venice Commission, the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO), CEPEJ, MONEYVAL and the Consultative Councils of European Judges (CCJE) and European Prosecutors (CCPE), not to mention the input transmitted directly through the implementation of the cooperation projects.
This type of legal cooperation finds its expression most clearly in the EU’s participation in or accession to Council of Europe Conventions and bodies. As regards the rule of law, the CoE’s position as the essential reference framework for human rights, the rule of law and democracy in Europe is generally recognised. The recent EU Commission Communication on further strengthening of the Rule of Law within the Union underlines the importance of European Court of Human Rights case law and the expert opinions of bodies such as the Venice
Commission and GRECO.
The EU has a strong interest in working with the Council of Europe and in capitalising on its expertise and experience. It is of vital importance that we, as partners, remain committed and united in protecting and promoting the core values that underpin and inspire the work in both our organisations. The EU will continue supporting the Council of Europe, the European Court of Human Rights and the Council of Europe Conventions system as the principal instruments for defending human rights in Europe.
Take the example of the essential advisory role of the Venice Commission. The EU benefits tremendously from the Venice Commission’s expertise and experience, not least in external action, where the EU relies on the know-how of the Commission to help improve constitutional standards and electoral law as well as to assist in judiciary reform process, in particular in the ENP countries. Ukraine, for instance, is working closely with the Venice Commission on a number of important reforms. For example, and as agreed in the joint declaration of the Eastern Partnership Summit, the EU expects Ukraine to fully take into account the 2017 Venice Commission Opinion on the Education Law.
The Group of States against Corruption is another example. Since its birth, GRECO has become the most comprehensive and dynamic anti-corruption monitoring mechanism in Europe. All EU Member States, as well as our close partners in the Western Balkans and the Eastern Partnership, are participating. We are glad that on 10 July 2019, the Committee of Ministers adopted by consensus the decision granting the European Union observer status in GRECO. This is a major step up. Before, GRECO was one of the few bodies of the Council of Europe where a formal framework of cooperation for the EU was still missing. Our participation in GRECO as an observer will bring real added value, not least by facilitating our joint work on capacity-building and implementing standards intended to strengthen the rule of law and the fight against corruption.
The next area where we need to make progress regards the EU’s full, formal accession to the European Convention on Human Rights. The EU remains fully committed to accession to the ECHR. This is not only a treaty obligation for us; it is the expression of respect for our fundamental values and it will support the effectiveness of EU law strengthen the coherence of fundamental rights protection in Europe. This accession has taken longer than we expected. As you know, the Court of Justice of the EU has raised serious issues of legal consistency. Consultations with our Member States in the Council of the EU are still ongoing. However, the current dynamic to take the issue forward and include the item into the agenda of the JHA Council of 7 October is a window of opportunity. At the JHA Council, we expect Member States to adopt supplementary negotiating directives with a view of resuming the negotiations with the other Council of Europe States on amendments to the draft accession agreement of 2013.
In conclusion, the Council of Europe and the European Union, while distinct and unique in their own way, are both necessary and complementary for the continued consolidation of Europe as an area of freedom, democracy and cooperation. Over the years, we have succeeded in building an increasingly intense, at times even intimate cooperation. Both sides benefit tremendously from this.
It is of vital importance that the Council of Europe and the European Union stay committed to protect and promote our fundamental values. Our strategic partnership aims to address the common challenges facing Europe by ensuring coherence between Council of Europe cooperation and the EU’s integration process and, ultimately, to consolidate a common legal space for human rights protection.
The Council of Europe, as a multilateral regional institution, can count on the EU’s partnership in the years ahead.