Speech by Foreign Minister Tuomioja at Ministerial Session of the Council of Europe in Vilnius

110. Ministerial Session of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers, Vilnius 2-3 May 2002

Address by Mr. Erkki Tuomioja, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Finland

Mr Chairman, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I wish to thank you Mr. Chairman and your government for proposing to convene this ministerial session here in Vilnius.

The integration of Europe involves a complex fabric of regional organisations which vary by the scope of their mandates and by their coverage in membership. The multiplicity of organisations is a challenge, which I prefer to view as a flexible potential for progress.

Today we are to take stock of existing regional cooperation, compiling best practises that could be found generally useful to all regions of Europe. The Council of Europe is an organisation with a pan-European coverage and a remarkably broad mandate. As such it is well suited for this exercise. It is very pertinent to discuss this theme here in Vilnius, since long a meeting point for many regions and cultures.

Mr. Chairman,

In accordance with its Statute the Council of Europe promotes freedom, social progress, the rule of law and enjoyment of human rights by all, which are all cornerstones of democracy. The recent elections in France demonstrate that this aim is just as pertinent as ever and that Europe must remain alert to movements which threaten tolerance and democracy.

This organisation has proved to be remarkably adaptable and vigorous in its main fields of competence. The rapid enlargement of the organisation has been paralleled by an enhanced commitment to democracy, human rights protection and the rule of law. No other organisation requires as far-reaching and detailed undertakings by States in this field. Today it harmonises norms and practices of governance from the Atlantic Ocean to the eastern frontiers of Europe and beyond.

In the Council of Europe standard-setting is carried out through the power of persuasion and expertise and by codifying best practices. It is important that standards for the future Europe are crafted in this spirit rather than in a spirit of power-sharing. The role of this organisation as a guardian of norms protecting the interests of individual Europeans is unique in the European architecture. No other organisation has corresponding human rights mechanisms for an impartial and objective review and monitoring of the situations in all member states alike.

Mr Chairman,

Human rights protection, in order to be effective and credible, always requires recourse to remedies that are external and international. That is why all member States, irrespective of their own constitutional human rights protection system, are required to accede to the European Convention on Human Rights and accept the jurisdiction of the Court. The different institutions of the EU certainly are exercising authority in areas, which we cannot afford to exempt from human rights control. Just like States do, the EU too needs both internal and international control to ensure compliance with human rights law. Finland sees the accession of the EU to the European Convention on Human Rights as a logical and necessary step.

Mr Chairman,

New forms of regional cooperation and European integration bring minorities closer to minorities in other countries and open new potential for cooperation. In the future we should give thought to ways and means to facilitate participation of minorities in decision-making processes at the regional and European levels. It was with this perspective in mind that the President of Finland Ms.Tarja Halonen in January 2001 made an initiative on the creation of a pan-European advisory body for the Roma - a body that would not only represent the Roma minorities in Europe but also consists of their representatives.

Given the widespread discrimination that Roma face in our societies, the Government of Finland considers this initiative of utmost importance. It has gained plenty of support and is now being actively studied by an informal exploratory group. The group comprises experts as well as representatives of Roma NGOs, international organisations and the present and incoming presidencies of this Committee of Ministers. Within some months a first proposal on the aims and objectives, composition as well as the working methods of the suggested body should be available for consideration.

Mr Chairman,

In our globalized world inter-dependence has become the norm. New challenges require joint and concerted action. Based on experience in our region, I am convinced that closer cooperation between the states of a given region is mutually beneficial. In addition to cultural and economic cooperation we need to promote democratic stability and address human security issues, including crime prevention and environmental protection.

Regional cooperation in Northern Europe is of particular interest to my government, which is active in promoting cooperation between the states in the region. Finnish authorities at all levels are involved in a wide range of technical cooperation and informal activities with a view to promote democratic stability in the Baltic Sea region. We have achieved to establish, between the authorities and civil societies of neighbouring states, channels of communication, which enable dialogue and promote understanding.

To date we have allocated about one billion euros funding various types of projects in the adjacent and near-by areas, half of which has been allocated through the international financing institutions. I should think that this demonstrates our commitment to regional cooperation with and amongst our neighbours.

Mr Chairman,

The five Nordic countries cooperate very closely in the framework of the Nordic Council and the Nordic Council of Ministers. Far-reaching achievements in regional integration include mobility of citizens, open labour markets and shared social services, which were adopted long before the EU even took these on its agenda.

Minority rights and cooperation in the fields of culture, education and research are also given importance. I may add that both Nordic councils are actively involved in Nordic-Baltic cooperation on a regular and frequent basis.

The Arctic Council is a unique forum for co-operation bringing together national governments and indigenous peoples. The Council deals with all dimensions of sustainable development in the Arctic. Many Arctic concerns, such as climate change and the impacts of global pollution, need wider international attention. Under the present chairmanship of Finland the Arctic Council has acquired the role as the international mouthpiece of the Arctic, particularly in the UN context.

Finland supports strongly the coordination and coherence between the work of the Arctic Council and the Barents Euro-Arctic Council. Europe needs to pay more attention to the potentials and the challenges of the Barents region, which comprises the European Arctic, including Northwest Russia. This region is rich in natural resources but faces social, economic and demographic problems. A dividing chasm between Northwest Russia and the rest of the region is a cause for concern and calls for attention by European institutions. Finland is the initiator of the "Northern Dimension" to EU cooperation, a developing concept of the EU that concretely embraces all the aspects of regional cooperation with geographic focus on the countries bordering the Baltic Sea and on the Northwest Russia.

In the Baltic sea region we have witnessed that regional cooperation can prevent the development of harmful divides between our societies and lower existing barriers for interaction between our citizens. This unfinished process, which benefits all parties, will continue.

The cooperation between the existing institutions for regional cooperation in our part of Europe has for years been quite active. Regional cooperation arrangements in different parts of Europe could also contribute with models of innovation to one another. While the regions may differ from each other positive experiences of cooperation should be exchanged. The Council of Europe could be instrumental to facilitate such an interchange. As my government is about to assume the presidency of the Council of the Baltic Sea States I would like to assure of our firm intention of further deepening, developing and expanding the cooperation between the CBSS and the CoE.

Mr Chairman,

Terrorism is a threat to everything that this organisation aims to achieve. Terrorism attempts to undermine democracy and destroy the foundations of an open, tolerant and humane society. States have undertaken to ensure respect for human rights and to promote a life free from fear for everyone. This includes an obligation to ensure the security of person. States must take effective measures to prevent and eradicate terrorism.

Freedom from fear, which is so prominently highlighted in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, is of fundamental importance to democratic societies. Just as no one should have to fear for his or her life, no one should have to fear arbitrary detention, unfair sentencing, degrading treatment or discrimination on grounds of origin, belief or other status. States should permit no trade-off between protective measures to combat terrorism and compliance with human rights obligations.

The combat against terrorism must be pursued with determination, insight and with a wide range of means. For a successful result in the long term we need to realize and remove the reasons which nourish this abhorrent phenomenon. At the same time there is an urgent need for measures preventing the recurrence of terrorist attacks and ensuring that perpetrators are brought to justice.

I am pleased to note that the Multidisciplinary Group on International Action on Terrorism has made good progress in its work, both as regards updating of the 1977 Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism and as regards the identification of areas of counter-terrorism where the contribution of the Council of Europe could make a difference. The group should continue to focus in particular on making more efficient use of existing Council of Europe legal instruments.

Needless to say, the GMT should in all its work, in order to promote effective action against terrorism, never loose sight of the ultimate goal of this fight, which is the defence of democratic values and human rights.

Thank you Mr.Chairman

Arktinen neuvosto
alueellinen yhteistyö
pohjoismainen yhteistyö