Polish Leader Urges Europe to Help East Become More Democratic

Roger Wilkison

Poland's President Alexander Kwasniewski, left, shakes hands with Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko
Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski says members of the European Union must support democratic reforms in countries on the continent's eastern fringe, so that they, too, can one day enjoy freedom and prosperity. Mr. Kwasniewski opened a summit of the Council of Europe, the continent's oldest political organization.

The Council of Europe, based in Strasbourg, France, was founded in 1949 to oversee the democratization of Western Europe after the World War II. With democracy now thriving among the 25 members of an enlarged European Union and improving among those countries that seek to join the bloc, the Council of Europe has become the continent's main human rights monitor, tasked especially with helping countries carry out political and legal reforms and exposing breaches of civil liberties wherever they occur.

All of the countries of greater Europe, except Belarus, ruled by an authoritarian government, are members of the Council. And most of those that are not members of the European Union want to join the EU as soon as they can.

Mr. Kwasniewski, as host of the two-day summit, has been pushing hard for the EU, now suffering from enlargement fatigue after incorporating 10 new, mostly former communist members last year, to keep the door open to countries further east. And first among those is Poland's neighbor, Ukraine. The Polish president says the EU has a duty to bring such countries into the European fold, if the continent is to be truly united.

"We must lend our support to all of those who want to live in accordance with European standards and democratic value in whatever region of our continent," he said.

Mr. Kwasniewski, referring to another of Poland's neighbors, Belarus, says no European country should be forgotten or abandoned to its own fate.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, who is trying to get the EU to consider his country for membership, warned against the side-by-side existence of a Europe of haves with one of have-nots. Noting that his government has dropped visa requirements for EU citizens, he called on the bloc to reciprocate by simplifying visa rules for Ukrainians.

With the EU planning to set up its own human rights agency, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe also monitoring Europe-wide compliance with human rights and the rule of law, Council of Europe Secretary-General Terry Davis wants the continent's leaders to clarify his organization's mandate.

"The challenge facing this summit is to answer the question 'what is the purpose of the Council of Europe?' We cannot find the answer in the past. Instead, we must focus on the future," he said.

Mr. Davis says the people of greater Europe want more democracy, more respect for human rights and more attention paid to the rule of law. That may be so, but most of the leaders of Europe's great nations, Britain, France and Russia among them, have stayed away from this summit, calling into question the Council of Europe's relevance as the influence of the EU spreads ever wider.

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemeni
Henry Ridgwell
October 12, 2015 4:03 PM
The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemen

The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video No Resolution in Sight to US House Speaker Drama

Uncertainty grips the U.S. Congress, where no consensus replacement has emerged to succeed Republican House Speaker John Boehner after his surprise resignation announcement. Half of Congress is effectively leaderless weeks before America risks defaulting on its national debt and enduring another partial government shutdown.

Video New Art Exhibit Focuses on Hope

Out of struggle and despair often comes hope. That idea is behind a new art exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. "The Big Hope Show" features 25 artists, some of whom overcame trauma and loss. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy as US Holiday

The second Monday of October is Columbus Day in the United States, honoring explorer Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the Americas. The achievement is a source of pride for many, but for some the holiday is marked by controversy. Adrianna Zhang has more.

Video Anger Simmers as Turks Begin to Bury Blast Victims

The Turkish army carried out new air strikes on Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets on Sunday, a day after the banned group announced a unilateral cease fire. The air raids apparently are in retaliation for the Saturday bombing in Turkey's capital Ankara that killed at least 95 people and wounded more than 200 others. But as Zlatica Hoke reports, there are suspicions that Islamic State is involved.

Video Bombings a Sign of Turkey’s Deep Troubles

Turkey has begun a three-day period of mourning following Saturday’s bomb attacks in the capital, Ankara, that killed nearly 100 people. With contentious parliamentary elections three weeks away, the attacks highlight the challenges Turkey is facing as it struggles with ethnic friction, an ongoing migrant crisis, and growing tensions with Russia. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Afghanistan’s Progress Aided by US Academic Center

Recent combat in Afghanistan has shifted world attention back to the central Asian nation’s continuing civil war and economic challenges. But, while there are many vexing problems facing Afghanistan’s government and people, a group of academics in Omaha, Nebraska has kept a strong faith in the nation’s future through programs to improve education. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Omaha, Nebraska.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video In 'He Named Me Malala,' Guggenheim Finds Normal in Extraordinary

Davis Guggenheim’s documentary "He Named Me Malala" offers a probing look into the life of 18-year-old Malala Yousafsai, the Pakistani teenager who, in 2012, was shot in the head by the Taliban for standing up for her right to education in her hometown in Pakistan's Swat Valley. Guggenheim shows how, since then, Malala has become a symbol not as a victim of brutal violence, but as an advocate for girls’ education throughout the world. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.

Video Paintable Solar Cells May Someday Replace Silicon-Based Panels

Solar panels today are still factory-manufactured, with the use of some highly toxic substances such as cadmium chloride. But a researcher at St. Mary’s College, Maryland, says we are close to being able to create solar panels by painting them on a suitable surface, using nontoxic solutions. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs