'The Council of Europe is the future'

Europe has never been so strong, safe or united, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski told leaders from across the continent as he opened the Council of Europe’s “unity” summit at Warsaw’s Royal Castle on Monday.

“Our continent is living the best years in its history. Never before has Europe been so strong, so safe, so close to being united,” Kwasniewski told the gathering, which will chart the future of the council, Europe’s oldest political organisation.

“Europe has many friends and allies. It is admired throughout the world,” he told delegations from the 46-member council, including 22 presidents and 13 prime ministers from across the continent.

Strict security measures were in place in Warsaw, with roads leading to the summit venue, on the banks of the Vistula River in the Old Town, closed and police highly visible on the city’s streets.

“The challenge facing this summit is to answer the question: What is the purpose of the Council of Europe?” council secretary general Terry Davis told the summiteers.

“I believe the Council of Europe is the future, which is based for Europeans on unity, rule of law and respect of human rights,” Davis, a former British lawmaker, said.

Among European leaders attending the summit were Ukraine’s President Viktor Yushchenko, Georgian leader Mikhail Saakashvili, and the presidents of the three Baltic states.

Among issues that will be debated at the summit are trafficking in human beings, terrorism, money laundering, organised crime, minorities’ rights and violence against children.

Conventions on human-trafficking, prevention of terrorism and the financing of terrorist acts are expected to be signed.

“Europeans must be protected against terrorism ...
against the clash between civilisation and barbarity,” the speaker of the council’s parliamentary assembly, Rene van der Linden, told summiteers.

Founded in 1949, the Council of Europe took in its 46th member, Monaco, in October last year. In addition to member states, five countries have observer status—Canada, Japan, Mexico, the United States and the Vatican—and former Soviet republic Belarus has applied to join.

Since the break-up of the communist bloc in eastern and central Europe in that late 1980s, one of the key roles of the council has been to act as a human rights watchdog for Europe’s post-communist democracies while helping them carry out political, legal and economic reforms.

The council, including 21 countries from central and eastern Europe, is distinct from the 25-member European Union, although all EU member states belong to it. Its legal arm is the European Court of Human Rights.—Sapa-AFP

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