Council of Europe rejects ‘EU empire building’

14 April 2006

Council of Europe rejects ‘EU empire building’

The European Union's plan to usurp the core tasks of the Council of Europe by establishing its own agency for human rights has been rejected by Members of Parliament from its forty-six member states. Such an agency would mean throwing away millions of euros in reproducing the work of the Council of Europe, which has for more than half a century concerned itself with human rights issues, via its parliamentary assembly (PACE), the European Court for Human Rights (ECHR) and the European Commissioner for Human Rights.

Tiny KoxSP Senator Tiny Kox, a member of the Netherlands' PACE delegation and spokesman for its left parliamentary group, described the European Union's proposal as "EU empire building". He proposed that the millions of euros which the EU wanted to make available for the initiative would be better simply handed over to the Council of Europe's various human rights agencies and initiatives. '"This would avoid reproducing its work," he argued. Not that, as far as the Dutch delegation went, there was any controversy over this. When delegation leader Senator Dick Dees proposed that the EU plan be roundly rejected, he did this confident in the knowledge that the Senate had previously voted unanimously in support of a motion to the same effect.

The German delegation also had hard words for the plan. "Germany pays 40% of the costs of the EU and only 12% of the costs of the Council of Europe," ran a joint statement of the governing coalition parties, the social democratic SPD and centre-right CDU/CSU. "How are we supposed to sell to our taxpayers the idea that we should now invest €30 million in a new EU agency intended to do work that the Council of Europe has been performing perfectly well for years?" Numerous representatives pointed to the huge amount of money already handed over to the European Union compared to the extremely scanty budget for the Council of Europe, with Tiny Kox noting that "this entire assembly costs in total less than the proposed agency alone."

One of the rapporteurs for the proposal, Dick Marty (Switzerland) called on all national parliamentarians to follow the lead of those in countries such as the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Britain and speak out unambiguously against the proposed agency. In the end the parliaments of the EU member states would have the power to say no, as the agency could only be established by treaty and this would require unanimous ratification by the twenty-five member states.

The debate took place in the presence of the prime ministers of Austria (current holders of the EU's rotating presidency), Romania (current holders of the presidency of the Council of Europe), and Luxembourg (named as mediator), as well as José Barroso, President of the European Commission, and Elmar Brok, Chair of the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee. Mr Brok was asked by Senator Kox to commit the European Parliament to resist the EU's empire building and respect the Council of Europe's work in the area of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Any treaty establishing the new agency would require the European Parliament's assent.

Mr Kosachev, Russian Rapporteur on the proposal, received unanimous support for his proposal that agreements regarding relations between the two European organisations could only be made if the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has been formally consulted and its opinions wholly incorporated into such the agreement in question.

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