The Council of Europe, the continent's oldest political organization, has ended a two-day summit in Warsaw by reaffirming its mission to spread democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law. The council is also worried that its role may diminish in the years ahead as the expanding European Union becomes the continent's preponderant voice.
The Council of Europe was set up after World War II to harmonize human rights law and democratic practices in Western Europe. But in recent years, with the emergence of new, post-Soviet democracies on Europe's eastern fringe, it has become the continent's main human rights monitor.
As they ended their summit Tuesday, representatives of the council's 46 members issued a reaffirmation of the core values on which Europe is built, namely democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
Council of Europe Secretary-General Terry Davis says those values are thriving in most of Europe but must be helped to grow in those countries where they are still fragile.
"It is clear that the tree of democracy has taken root on European soil,” said Mr. Davis. “Our ambition today is to make sure that it grows high. The task of the Council is to spread the culture of democracy throughout our continent because, without a genuine democratic culture, we will not be able to build a Europe of citizens, a Europe of justice and a Europe of social cohesion."
The council wants European leaders to clarify its mandate at a time when the European Union is planning to establish its own human rights agency and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe also is engaged in promoting human rights and democracy. Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency, complained that, often, it is difficult to know which organization has what mission. So he agreed to draw up a report on how the EU and the council can better coordinate their work.
The council's special strength is its legal competence. And during the summit, several countries signed three Europe-wide conventions drawn up by the council aimed at fighting terrorism, financing of terrorism and trafficking in human beings. But the council's European Court of Human Rights is reeling under a backlog of tens of thousands of cases. Delegates agreed that a panel should be set up to recommend how best to ease the court's workload.
The council brings together every country in greater Europe except Belarus, which has been kept out because of its authoritarian government. For Polish president Aleksander Kwasniewski, who wants the council and the EU to engage his country's eastern neighbor, Belarus is a priority. As far as he is concerned, Europe will not be whole and free until the people of Belarus are able to enjoy democracy and justice.