Address by Minister Soini at the Session of the PACE

Address by Timo Soini, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Finland, Chairman of the Committee of Ministers, at the Session of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly on 22 January 2019.

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Your Excellencies,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am honored to address the Parliamentary Assembly. I highly value our dialogue and I look forward continuing the exchange of views that we began during the Standing Committee meeting in Helsinki last November.

Finland´s Presidency has been as busy as we expected. The challenges the Organisation faces are not small. Political, economic and institutional questions in the Council of Europe require responses from all of us. I will share my thoughts on this with you.

Before that, however, I wish to say a few words about our presidency priorities and activities as well as reflect on some topical questions.

Finland’s first priority is to strengthen the system of human rights and the Rule of Law in Europe.

We believe that - at the present situation - it is very important to highlight the benefits that respect of universal human rights and rules-based multilateral cooperation has provided for people in Europe. These rights embody what European values mean.

At the end of November, we celebrated the 20 years of a single, permanent European Court of Human Rights. Together with the Court and the Steering Committee of Human Rights, we organized an event where we had the opportunity to take stock of the Court’s first twenty years. The event also took a look at the challenges it will face in the years to come. I wish to thank all the co-organizers, especially the Court, for this valuable event.

I am particularly inspired by the project that focuses on how to communicate about the impact of the Court’s work to ordinary people. International institutions are not an everyday issue for most people. Therefore, it is very important to show ordinary people the results and benefits of the work of these institutions. I would like to invite you all to take a look at the website presenting the Council of Europe project called “Impact of the European Convention on Human Rights”. There you can learn about the experiences and the impact of the Court’s decisions to the lives of individual people.

Events under this priority still to be organized include a Rule of Law Conference in Tampere, Finland on 5 February, and a High Level Conference on Artificial Intelligence and Human Rights in Helsinki on 26-27 February.

Our second priority is equality and women’s rights. This is Finland’s long-term policy priority both in the Council of Europe as well as in other fora. I would like to raise one issue that I feel strongly about -  that is sexual violence against young girls and boys. We need to be aware that in this context, social media has provided a new and risky tool to which we need to pay more attention.  Later in the spring, we will also organize events for example on the rights of Roma women. 

Our third priority is openness and inclusion, as well as a focus on young people and the prevention of radicalisation. A free and active civil society and respect for freedom of speech, assembly and association are key to a democratic society.

Right at the beginning of our presidency, the Committee of Ministers adopted a landmark recommendation on the need to strengthen the protection and promotion of civil society space.

In a workshop organised immediately after the adoption of the recommendation, we were able to bring attention to the difficult situation of human rights defenders in the regions of the Council of Europe. The Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights continued on the same topic in a Round Table they organised in Helsinki in mid-December.

Prevention of violent extremism and radicalisation leading to terrorism is still a very topical question. Terrorism is a threat that requires our joint response. We are committed to fighting against it. The Council of Europe has conducted important work to prevent terrorism. The recent attack in Strasbourg nearby the Christmas market was a shock to us all. 

I believe that more measures can be taken to prevent radicalisation and violent extremism. Focus on youth and prevention of marginalization as well as promoting the principle of non-discrimination are among the most important tools. Schools have an important role to play. We need to listen to the youth. They have concrete ideas on how to prevent radicalization.  This is the reason why I have personally visited several schools. This topic is the theme also in the conference in Helsinki in April.

To guarantee the economic sustainability of the Organisation in the longer-term is a crucial task. During the spring, the Council of Europe will continue with its reform process. This process affects the whole Organisation and all of the institutions. Securing and even strengthening the key areas of the Council of Europe work – human rights, the Rule of Law and democracy - should be our aim.

Distinguished members of the Parliamentary Assembly,

Our continent continues to face crises and conflicts. As Chairman of the Committee of Ministers, I have expressed my concern on the events in the Azov Sea and Kerch Strait. I call on all parties to avoid escalating the tensions. The situation in Crimea and eastern Ukraine cannot be ignored. I recall the Committee of Ministers’ commitment to the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognised borders. The basic principles of the European security, international law and respect for territorial integrity of all countries must be defended.

We need effective rules-based multilateral co-operation to prevent instability and conflicts. The Council of Europe is an important forum in this context. Furthermore, its mandate includes respect of human rights, democracy and the principle of the Rule of Law. This makes it possible to raise these issues with member States.

If a country is a member to the Organisation, other member States can hold it accountable on its commitments. In fact, this is our duty.

The European Convention of Human Rights allows people to lodge applications to the European Court of Human Rights if they have been denied justice at home. Only member States of the Council of Europe are under jurisdiction of the Court.

Let me now turn to the question that touches us all. I refer to the situation of the Russian delegation not participating in your work (in the Parliamentary Assembly) and the non-payment of their membership fees. My staff and I have worked hard on this issue. We have tried to listen to all stakeholders in order to find possible solutions in co-operation with others. 

One issue, however, is very clear: all member States must pay their membership fees.

When it comes to the issue of participation of member States in the work of the institutions of the Organisation, I believe that only constructive co-operation between the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly can bring answers and resolve deadlocks. I trust that if the two institutions work together, a solution will be found.

What I propose - is an enhanced dialogue between the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly to form a process resulting in a solution to the question. There are no easy solutions or shortcuts. We cannot find a way out of the impasse without willingness to compromise. All parties involved need to demonstrate flexibility and take concrete steps.

Finally, I want to invite you to the event marking the 20th anniversary of the Office of the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights. The event, which is organised together with the Office of the Commissioner, will take place immediately after this exchange of views in Room 1. All the four Commissioners that to date have held the Office, will be there to discuss the evolution of human rights in the past two decades and the current and emerging challenges. The event will be followed by a reception where we can continue these discussions.

Thank you.

Speeches held by Ministers and the top leadership of the Ministry.