The Council of Europe: A Tool to Consolidate Democratic Security in Europe
His Excellency Indulis Berzins
Foreign Minister of Latvia
Recently Latvia concluded its first presidency of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. I would like to take this opportunity to share with you our experiences and ideas on the role that the Council plays and should play in promoting and consolidating democratic security in Europe. By democratic security the Council means a stable political environment based on the shared principles of pluralist democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.
THE ROLE OF THE COUNCIL OF EUROPE
The Council of Europe's central task is to defend and promote the standards and principles of a democratic society in which people and their rights are respected. It also promotes security in Europe by playing a preventive role-one that is less spectacular than fire fighting but just as necessary. The integration into the Council of Europe of all European states that share our common values and principles has been the key element in enlarging European democratic security. A number of the Council's recent activities are also making a contribution to long-term conflict prevention in Europe. With the accession of Armenia and Azerbaijan, the Council of Europe has grown to 43 member-states. The new members' accession has given strong impetus to the democratization efforts already under way in their countries, and will promote stability in the region as well as advance the objectives and goals of this organization. When I visited Armenia and Azerbaijan in my capacity as Chairman of the Committee of the Ministers of the Council of Europe, both countries expressed willingness to work hard in order to fulfill the accession commitments. It was also my understanding that the two new member-states will need further assistance and encouragement to fulfill their commitments.
IMPLEMENTATION OF ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS
Strengthening democratic developments through assistance programs and preparing candidates for Council of Europe membership are two major tasks of the Council, particularly in the Balkans. In March of 2001 I headed a Council of Europe delegation that visited Sarajevo and Belgrade. In order to ensure the continuity of the Council of Europe's policy towards the region, the delegation included the ambassadors of the future presidencies-Liechtenstein, Lithuania, and Luxembourg. In our contacts, we clearly registered the wish of both Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to join the Council of Europe, and their readiness to take the necessary steps. In the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, we discussed the compatibility of its legislation and practices with European standards, cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, constitutional matters, and regional cooperation. We offered the advice of the Venice Commission with regard to constitutional matters, namely, to Montenegro. Our overall interest is to see that Montenegro remains on the path to democracy and stability both for its own good and the good of the region. I believe that the Council of Europe has every opportunity to make a positive impact on the situation in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, especially now that the Council of Europe has an office in Belgrade under the same roof and in close contact with the OSCE. During the Latvian presidency, the Council of Europe continued its efforts to help Bosnia-Herzegovina meet the criteria for Council of Europe membership. The Council has been actively involved in setting up and providing support for human rights-protection institutions in that country. During my visit there the delegation recognized the progress made regarding common institutions at the state level, namely, the establishment of the Council of Ministers and the bicameral Parliament. I hope that both state institutions will move ahead, in close cooperation with each other and the international community, with the necessary reforms to enable Bosnia-Herzegovina to join the Council of Europe. Bosnia-Herzegovina's membership would also make a significant contribution to peace and stability in the region, as would the membership of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Through the setting and implementation of standards as well as democracy-building activities, the Council of Europe is making a major contribution to democratic security.
WORKING TO RESOLVE ISSUES IN CHECHNYA
The very serious situation in Chechnya remains a matter of great concern. At present, the Council of Europe is the only international organization with representatives on the ground in Chechnya. Three Council of Europe experts are members of the office of Mr. Kalamanov, the Special Representative of the Russian President for Human Rights in Chechnya. I am pleased that during the Latvian Council of Europe presidency these experts' term was extended until October 2001 and the scope of their activity was widened. Disappointingly, the OSCE Assistance Group has not yet been able to return to Chechnya.
SUPPORTING DEMOCRATIC POLICIES AND COOPERATING WITH OTHER INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS
Investing in democracy and human rights is the best investment for long-term peace and stability in all European regions affected by conflict. In my opinion, the Council of Europe and other international organizations are the key players in this regard. However, I would like to stress that no organization can do more than its member-states allow it to do. Furthermore, the policies of the international organizations should be supported by their member-states in their bilateral contacts with the countries concerned. It is also important that representatives of different branches of power-most importantly, the legislative and executive branches-do not send contradicting political messages to the violators of human rights. Our experience shows that it is very important to cooperate with parliamentarians working within the framework of the Council of Europe-the Parliamentary Assembly. This partnership is key to delivering a clear, strong message. The fundamental values of the Council of Europe are shared by other international organizations of different sizes and profiles. When we discuss the specific role of the Council of Europe in the Balkans and the Caucasus, it can only be done in the context of cooperation and division of labor with these other organizations, notably the EU, the OSCE, and the UN. All these organizations have complementary tasks and should work in a mutually reinforcing fashion. We must make these institutions interlocking, and not allow them to become inter-blocking. We can do this through close and frequent contacts between the different headquarters and the people on the ground-just as we did with our Romanian colleagues who chaired the OSCE. We must all continue the process of cooperation and coordination, and work with the Council of Europe, the OSCE, and other organizations to achieve our common goal-a Europe whole and free, a Europe at peace.