Council of Europe adopts Warsaw Declaration but leaves many questions open

Photo: Council of Europe

The Council of Europe, Europe's oldest and largest human rights organisation, was set up in 1949 to promote democracy on the continent. Leaders from its forty-nine nations met in the Polish capital Warsaw to reform the body. But after winding up its summit with several documents outlining future actions, observers are asking what next?

The leaders adopted the so-called Warsaw Declaration and an action plan for the coming term when the Council of Europe will be presided over by Portugal. The first is a summary focusing on democratic transformations which have taken place in Central and Eastern Europe; the second is devoted to maintaining democratic standards and respecting human rights in member states of the Council. That means in all European countries, except for Belarus, whose absence had been noticed with great concern.

'Mr. Lukasenko's regime is further isolating itself and the people of Belarus from the family of free European nations.'

...said Lithuanian president Valdas Adamkus. Presently there are three big organizations in Europe which play a major role in forging its policies - the EU, OSCE and the Council of Europe. In the opinion of Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Bondewik, tightening cooperation between them is mandatory.

'We need to ensure that all three organizations cooperate and coordinate their activities and do not compete with each other.'

Terry Davis, Secretary General of the Council of Europe underscored the importance of its joint effort with the OSCE against the "three hostages of humanity: terrorism, human trafficking and money-laundering".

"We have different strengths. The OSCE have much different presence in countries of their activities than we do. But we are generally accepted as being stronger in the area of standard setting. So, we are going to work very closely together between ourselves and the OSCE."

However, conventions on those issues must be ratified by individual member states before they can take effect. All this has urged critics to claim that the Council of Europe is only a facade for disseminating ideas, however noble, without concrete practical results in implementing them. Christopher Bobinski, political analyst and expert on EU affairs.

'The problem of the Council of Europe is that it's an organization which is basically intergovernmental, set up by governments which have retained their autonomy, retained their freedom of action. And that means that the organization has never really developed past the talking shop. Whereas, the European Union, which was set up a few years later, because it's an integrated organization, has made much more progress. Maybe this is the time to look seriously at the Council of Europe and to ask whether it's still necessary. I think these are subjects which should be discussed and I hope they will be after this summit.'

A case in point might be the anti-war demonstration during the Warsaw summit.

'Today we are marching for peace.'

'Today we are marching for tolerance.'

Today we are marching for everybody's dignity and right to live in peace.'

The protesters' main reservation towards the Council meeting participants had been the discrepancy between verbal declarations and inability to cope with the harsh reality of military intervention in Iraq or Chechnya, to mention but two of numerous such examples.