Ref. :  000030440
Date :  2008-10-02
Language :  English
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Prime Minister of Sweden - ''Council of Europe has to act when international law has been violated''

''We must stand up for our commitments when international co-operation is challenged in order to ensure respect for human rights, democracy and international law,'' declared Fredrik Reinfeldt, Prime Minister of Sweden on 2 October in his speech to the Parliamentary Assembly. ''If the Council of Europe wants to remain credible, it has to act when international law has been violated,'' he added while outlining the possible steps identified during the informal ministerial meeting held last week in New York. The Prime Minister underlined the utmost importance of the work of the European Court of Human Rights and urged the Russian Duma to approve Protocol No 14. ''If we do not get assurances that the Protocol will enter into force in the near future, member states will have to consider other ways to solve the problem,'' he concluded.

Speech by Fredrik Reinfeldt, Prime Minister of Sweden delivered at the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly Session (29 September to 3 October 2008)


Mr President,

Mr Secretary General,

Distinguished Members of the Parliamentary Assembly,


Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to start by thanking you for inviting me to Strasbourg, and giving me the opportunity to address the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. It is indeed a great honour and pleasure to meet members of parliament from almost all of Europe.

The Parliamentary Assembly has played an important role in Swedish politics. Many prominent Swedish politicians have gained their international experience here in Strasbourg, at the Parliamentary Assembly.

This is a time of challenges. International cooperation is challenged. It is challenged by the situation on the financial markets. It is challenged by an armed conflict.

The financial markets are suffering great losses, now not only at a distance across the Atlantic but also here in Europe. Many European countries are experiencing how the economic growth they had become used to is now coming to a halt. We see how financial institutions in various European countries are struggling with payments and loans.

We see how ordinary people are becoming more and more careful, slowing their consumption and worrying about their savings. The fact that no country is unaffected by this is of course yet another illustration of how interdependent we have become. We are all highly integrated with one another.

In Europe. And with the rest of the world. I still believe we should keep our economies open and eliminate barriers restricting the free flow of trade and investments.

This is not a task for the Council of Europe. It must focus on its core issues. But the Council of Europe and all international organisations might suffer if the response to the financial crises were to include a general abandonment of international cooperation in favour of national solutions.

As Chancellor Merkel has pointed out, we must stand up for our commitments even in difficult times, and not let national trade policy considerations take precedence over respect for human rights, and, I would add, democracy and international law.

International cooperation is also challenged by an armed conflict. The Council of Europe was created against a dark backdrop. It was built on the ruins after the Second World War. It was built after years of unprecedented tyranny, oppression, racial persecution and genocide. All the values that had developed over the course of at least two centuries, since the Age of Enlightenment, had been violated.

The Council of Europe was created to make sure that we would never have to experience that again. And yet, in August two member states were in armed conflict with each other. We are facing a completely new situation. A situation we would have considered inconceivable just a few months ago. A serious challenge to the very aim of the Council of Europe and the values it stands for.

Fundamental principles of international law have been violated, including

· the obligation to solve conflicts by peaceful means,

· the sovereignty of member states and

· the right to territorial integrity.

There have also been violations of specific commitments that member states of the Council of Europe entered into when they joined. The right of each state to decide freely how to shape its own future, including its own path in security policy matters, has been questioned.

We have seen, with deep concern, the escalation of violence on both sides in South Ossetia. However, no matter what has happened, the Russian decision to launch a large-scale military operation in Georgia cannot be justified under any circumstances.

The military aggression and the Russian recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia are violations of international law. If it wants to remain credible, the Council of Europe has to act. It is our responsibility to act when international law has been violated.

This is the reason why the Parliamentary Assembly has put Georgia at the top of the agenda. The Chairmanship’s report from the informal extraordinary ministerial meeting in New York identifies important possible steps in addressing the situation.

First, the establishment of enhanced monitoring by the Committee of Ministers of Georgia’s and the Russian Federation’s obligations and commitments to the Council of Europe.

Second, enhanced cooperation between the Council of Europe and Georgia and the Russian Federation, respectively, in order to strengthen the implementation of human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

Third, support for the Human Rights Commissioner’s six principles for urgent protection of human rights and humanitarian security.

These measures will be of benefit both to the people affected and to the peace process. They will show that the Council of Europe is as relevant today as it was when it was founded. They should therefore have our support.

The Council of Europe has a unique role as a values-based organisation. Its core values – democracy, human rights and the rule of law – were clearly manifested from the outset in the Statute of 1949. These values were also reaffirmed in the decisions of the Warsaw Summit in 2005.

Democracy and human rights are interdependent and necessary preconditions for each other. Full respect for human rights is only possible in democracies. Full respect for human rights is not possible without the rule of law.

But democracy, human rights and rule of law are also powerful factors in the economic and social development of every state. This should not lead us to believe that Europe has always been a model to the world in these respects. Today, to be sure, almost all European states may be said to be democracies and to respect human rights.

But let us not forget that in, say, 1980, this was true of only about half the states of Europe. A few decades earlier, in 1960, it was true of less than half. And, again, in 1940 it was true of a mere handful.

The Council of Europe has formulated a model for European states by setting standards for human rights, democracy and the rule of law. This is a great achievement.

Can we lean back and enjoy this success? My answer is no. The core values of the Council of Europe must constantly be reconquered, defended and developed. We must all consistently keep on working to promote the core values of the Council of Europe in societies which are not free and open. But by the same token, we must never forget to safeguard them in our own societies, so that they are not abused and forgotten.

When Sweden chaired the Committee of Ministers in the 1990s we were living in a quite different world. The old Soviet empire was crumbling. Many new member states were knocking at the door of the Council of Europe. Yugoslavia was falling apart and the wars were to come.

At that time the Council of Europe only consisted of about 20 member states, as opposed to 47 today. The outcome of the collapse of the Soviet Union was uncertain.
The new democracies were often fragile. They needed help and guidance to create the structures necessary for a peaceful transition.

At that point the Council of Europe, and not least the Parliamentary Assembly, made an important strategic choice, between inclusion and exclusion. It did not demand that these states had to live up to all the standards of the Council of Europe before becoming members. It welcomed them into the family and supported them in building functioning democratic states based on the principles of human rights and the rule of law.

Has this strategic choice been a success?

Yes and no.

In many countries it has been a tremendous success. A wave of democratisation swept across Europe in the 1990s. Many countries have developed very positively and are now well-functioning democracies. The credit for this goes mainly to the countries themselves. But the Council of Europe has played a significant part in the process by highlighting the values that European states are based upon.

Yet, in some other countries developments have been less positive. Elections can still hardly be said to be free and fair. The judiciary is sometimes less than independent of the administration.

This is a challenge to the very core of the Council of Europe, and to its credibility. Both parliamentarians and governments will have to address this issue, regardless of geopolitical considerations.

In this context we must also continue our efforts to contribute to a democratic development in Belarus. But the key to this development lies in the hands of the Belarusian leadership. The Council of Europe is willing to help, and has the tools. What we need is a clear signal that the country is moving in the right direction. Therefore, it is unfortunate that the elections this Sunday showed that the Belarusian leadership is not ready to send this signal.

Cooperation between the Council of Europe and the EU played a significant role in how the new democracies developed in the 1990s. Both of these organisations have the same roots, in the endeavour to rebuild Europe on the rubble of the Second World War. They work together for the same goals.

Let me assure you once more of Sweden’s continued support for further enlargement of the European Union. This process has been a powerful driving force for political, legal and economic reforms in Council of Europe member states in the past. It will continue to be so in the future.

Let me turn to an issue currently facing the Council of Europe. The European Convention and the Court of Human Rights are the greatest achievements of the Council of Europe. The Court’s task is not only to enable individuals to seek justice on an individual level. The Court also has a central role in bringing about reforms in member states.

I grew up in a society which had been living in peace for a couple of centuries. The principles and values of the Council of Europe were almost taken for granted. Or so we thought.

When the creation of the Council of Europe was discussed in the Swedish Parliament, one member asked “Haven’t we got enough international ladies’ sewing circles already?” And the foreign minister later concluded that the Convention would have hardly any immediate practical effects.

But the Court of Human Rights has taught us, on several occasions, that we, too, have homework to do. It has helped Sweden to develop our protection of human rights and the rule of law.

The work of the Court is of the utmost importance to the role of the Council of Europe in the field of human rights. We all know too well that the Court is burdened by an excessive and increasing workload.

Increasing the financial resources available to the Court will not solve the problem. It is also important to carry out reforms in the work of the Court. This issue concerns the credibility of the entire Council of Europe. The coming into effect of Protocol 14 is only a first step towards a necessary reform of the Court.

I thus urge the Russian Duma to approve Protocol 14, as all other 46 member states have done. If we do not get assurances that the Protocol will enter into force in the near future, member states will have to consider other ways to solve the problem.

Mr President, Mr Secretary General, Ladies and Gentlemen, through its norms, its institutions and its wide membership, the Council of Europe is a unique and powerful forum for cooperation. As members of the Council of Europe, we must see to it that we make full use of its capacity and opportunities.

Thank you.

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