Speech by the Minister for Development Cooperation of Denmark, Ms Ulla Tørnæs, at the meeting in the Standing Committee in Copenhagen 24 November 2017
Dear Madame President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Dear President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, Dear parliamentarians,
The Council of Europe plays an essential role in promoting of human rights, democracy and the rule of law across the continent. The importance of this organization as a guardian of these values and its role as a forum for dialogue between European countries cannot be overestimated. .
Denmark has been a member of the Council of Europe for almost 70 years. We were one of the first countries to sign the European Convention on Human Rights. Since the very beginning we have been closely involved in supporting, strengthening and promoting the work and development of the organization. We are deeply committed to the European Convention of Human Rights and the Court.
We will continue in that tradition with increased intensity and commitment over the coming six months. We will do our best to support the Council of Europe in continuing being an organization with strong values that protects human rights, democracy, gender equality and the rule of law.
Our continent faces many challenges: Extremism, terrorism and organized crime are creating insecurity and fear, which are reinforced by other developments like migration. Fundamental European values and freedoms, including the freedom of expression, equality, freedom of assembly and freedom of religion, are under pressure both from the inside as well as from the outside.
The Council of Europe is not immune to these challenges. We must address them openly and in honest dialogue with each other. We must preserve and protect the organization and make sure that it remains strong and relevant in the future. And we must stand firm on our values.
This is why our chairmanship programme carries the overall title: “Europe in a time of unrest and upheaval – strong values and a future-proof Council of Europe”. We need a strong Council of Europe and we need a strong European legal order built on democracy and based on the rule of law and with respect for human rights.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The Convention system has done a remarkable job in promoting
human rights, democracy and the rule of law, all over Europe. Yet, at the same time, the system is not perfect. The enormous caseload of the Court is deeply troubling. And it is equally troubling that many of its decisions and judgments are not being implemented. It is also a problem if there is a perception that the practice of the Court does not resonate with the general public’s understanding of human rights.
We need to find ways to deal with these challenges facing the convention system. Rather than close our eyes on the problems, we need to engage in a constructive, open and honest dialogue on how to deal with them.
During the current reform process great emphasis has been on the principle of subsidiarity. And for good reason. Accepting the shared responsibility between Member States and the Court is vital if we are to future-proof the Convention system.
Our focus will, first of all, be to ensure that reforms already agreed are put into effect. This requires, among other things, that all member states ratify Protocol number 15 agreed in Brighton. We will work actively to ensure this.
We also want to explore new tools on how to ensure a closer dialogue between the European and national level, ensuring that Member States have a fair say on the interpretation of the Convention.
Making it easier for Member States to intervene in cases before the Court – and argue their case – will be a specific priority for us. We see this as a important tool for enhancing a constructive dialogue on the interpretation of the convention. Other ideas should also be explored.
We started these important discussions at a High- Level Expert Conference here in Copenhagen this week. Based on the discussions at that conference [which I hear have so far been very good and substantial], and subsequent dialogue with stakeholders, we will host a ministerial meeting in Denmark in April next year with the purpose of adopting a political declaration that will contribute to the process of future-proofing the Convention system. That is our ambition.
Ladies and gentlemen,
However, during the chairmanship we will furthermore focus on a number of other priorities.
Equal opportunities has been a longstanding priority for Denmark, and it is a personal priority for me. As Minister for Development Cooperation I have put great importance on Equal opportunities in development countries, especially in relation to sexual reproductive health and rights for women. Exactly equal opportunities, both gender equality and equal opportunities for LGTBI persons will also be a priority for our chairmanship. The new gender equality strategy of the Council of Europe will be launched at a conference in Denmark in May 2018. In addition we will - in close cooperation with you in the Parliamentary Assembly - organise a conference focusing on good practices and inclusive policies on marriage and adoption in same-sex families.
The education of democratic citizens and the creation of inclusive communities are crucial in combating radicalization and extremism. It is important to involve children and young people in democracy.
The involvement of children and young people is also something I have put great focus on in my capacity of Minister for Development Cooperation. This October I had the pleasure of attending the 4th Africa-Europe youth summit in Abidjan in the Ivory Coast, which brought together 120 youth leaders from all over Africa. This was a build up to the 5th African Union-European Union summit in Abidjan this November which will have Investing in Youth as its main focus. This is a key priority for Africa and the EU as 60% of the African population is under the age of 25.
We wish to build on the Council of Europe's reference framework and strengthen democratic competencies such as mutual understanding, reflection, critical thinking and knowledge of freedoms and solidarity among people in Europe.
Further, Denmark wants to strengthen the cooperation between member states on disability rights and with particular focus on changing attitudes. The aim is to secure real enjoyment of human rights by persons with disabilities including prevention of violence and abuse of particularly girls and women with disabilities.
For many years, the fight against torture has been a key priority for Denmark. It is very important for us to promote this further. Torture is often committed in the early stages of police custody and pre-trial detention. Therefore, we wish to give special attention to the prevention of torture in that regard. We will host a conference on this issue in March 2018 in Copenhagen. The aim will be to share and develop best practices. We will also focus on engaging the youth in the fight against torture.
Let me not forget the daily but not less important work of the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly. We are following your valuable work in the Parliamentary Assembly closely, and we very much look forward to cooperating with you.
It is our ambition that during the Danish Chairmanship we find solutions and craft compromises that contribute to the strengthening of this great organization. Some of the difficult issues that we will have on our agenda over the next six months must be handled with great care. I can assure that we stand ready to listen to you in the Parliamentary Assembly and that we always will perform our duties with an open and constructive attitude.
Let me finally express my appreciation to the Danish delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly, which we have a very constructive dialogue with. We look forward to extending this dialogue to all members of the Parliamentary Assembly.
One occasion for such dialogue will be the PACE-session in January where the chairman of the Committee of Ministers, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Anders Samuelsen, will attend and be accompanied by Her Royal Highness the Crown Princess Mary as well as the Danish Nationals Girls Choir.