What is the purpose of the Council of Europe?
by the Secretary General of the Council of Europe Terry Davis
Democracy, Human Rights and the Rule of Law
Warsaw, 16 May 2005
The challenge facing this Summit of Heads of State and Government is to answer the question: what is the purpose of the Council of Europe? In a world crowded with international organisations, what is the Council of Europe for?
While we can be proud of our achievements as the first international organisation to be created out of the ashes of the Second World War, and we now count 46 out of 47 European countries as our members, we cannot find the answer in the past. Instead we must focus on the future.
I believe that the Council of Europe IS the future. The Europe of the future is a united Europe – a unity based on the values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. I believe that the people of Europe today want MORE democracy, MORE respect for human rights and MORE attention paid to the rule of law. It follows that our most important tasks are to develop and disseminate democracy, defend and extend human rights, advocate and encourage the rule of law. And everything else, all our activities and institutions, are only means to this end.
I hope that this Summit will authorise the Committee of Ministers and the Secretariat to raise the level of our work on democracy, at the local as well as the national level – not at the expense of our work on human rights, but by raising our work on democracy to the same level. We must also do more to campaign against the new evil of terrorism and the old evil of racism. Within the field of human rights, we must expand our work to prevent all forms of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment of our fellow human beings.
If there is one distinctive characteristic of the Council of Europe, it is our connection to the individual citizen and to the representatives of civil society. We all know that our Court of Human Rights is unique in giving the right to every individual to take action against a member government for an abuse of human rights. But the right of petition to the Court is not our only link with the people of Europe. We have a strong and increasingly stronger relationship with non-governmental organisations who play an active role in keeping us up to our own standards.
Why this emphasis on democracy, which is alive (and sometimes kicking) in our 46 member countries? Democracy is based on electoral codes which define the rules for elections, but it is much more than electoral codes. It is about how political parties behave, how their leaders and members show respect for each other’s differing views, how citizens share in an open and fair process of choosing their governments, and how abuse of power can be challenged.
The role of the Council of Europe is to advocate and encourage the application of these principles to strengthen the democratic process. That is why our relationship with international non-governmental organisations and the European Youth Forum is not only special but also essential. They are the basis on which we are building and strengthening participatory democracy across Europe.
The best tribute we can pay to the sacrifices of our parents’ and grandparents’ generation sixty years ago is to translate their vision into reality
- a vision of a more democratic Europe in a more democratic world
- a Europe not only of economics but also of values
- a Europe not only of work, but also of culture
- above all, a Europe where people are both safe and enjoy their lives.
It is not a coincidence that the hymn of Europe is the Ode to Joy.
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