Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland today confirmed Hungary’s willingness to “dialogue” with the Council of Europe over the country’s new legislative changes.
In his speech to the Parliamentary Assembly, Jagland referred to the Hungarian offer, revealed in a letter received last Friday from Foreign Minister János Martonyi. The Secretary General published his reply to the letter three hours earlier.
Audio report: Thorbjørn Jagland answers Parliamentary Assembly question on Hungary
Jagland also hit out at efforts to undermine confidence in the European Court of Human Rights. “It is our role to defend it,” he said. “ We must stand up against the campaign smearing the reputation of the Court on the basis of distorted facts and prejudiced exaggerations.
In his review of the past year’s achievements, Jagland pointed to the training of 500 Roma mediators and the extension of the training scheme to more countries and the help given to Turkey to enhance media freedom.
The Secretary General also revealed that the Council of Europe’s neighbourhood policy could be extended to “build confidence” between Israel and Palestine.
Jagland said the changes to the organisation which he had overseen had transformed it from “the sleeping beauty of the River Rhine” and made it “more reactive, more operational and a more political organisation.”
This was reflected in the “close partnership” with the European Union and the increases to voluntary contributions from European states – up 35 per cent on last year and EU receipts – up 18 per cent. He added: “These are clear figures which are demonstrating a growing trust in our capacity to deliver.”
Outlining his “blueprint” for the future, the Secretary General warned that European integration will continue to be tested by “the old ghost” of nationalism.
“We know from the past that nationalism always comes from something bad and always leads to something even worse,” he argued.
“Because democracies are under stress from new technological and economic forces and growing populist tendencies, it is even more important that we insist upon the compliance with democratic norms and values. The reality is that, in many parts of Europe, these are under serious threat.
“We must preserve and reinforce the system of checks and balances which is indispensable to the normal functioning of democracy. While problems and threats differ from country to country, I see three groups of issues on which we should focus in 2012 and the years to come. These are – free and fair elections, freedom of media and an independent and effective judicial system.”
Jagland called for a break with the past and efforts to mobilize the generation of “internet, Facebook and Twitter,” to participate in policy-making. “If we fail,” he said “the gap between those who govern and those who are directly concerned will continue to grow.”