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Remarks by Mr. Jüri Luik at the Committee of Ministers meeting of the Council of Europe

10. November 1994 - 8:32

Mr. Jüri Luik, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Estonia
10 November 1994, Strasbourg



Mr. Secretary-General,
Mr. Chairman,
Dear Colleagues,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to be here again in Strasbourg to see old friends and some new faces. We congratulate the Principality of Andorra on its accession today and welcome Andorra into our midst.

Today is special day for Estonia as well. Today, for the first time, my country stands before this forum free of foreign troops on our soil. The moral support that the Council of Europe has displayed on this issue beginning in 1960 and continually throughout the most recent years played no small role in helping achieve this goal. For this reason, it is a special privilege to be able to represent my country here today.

Mr. Chairman,

During the informal part of our meeting this morning, we discussed at length the political aspects of continued Council of Europe expansion. I would at this point like to add Estonia's thoughts on some of the organizational implications of enlargement discussed in the report drawn up by the Ministers' Deputies.

Our common cultural and historical heritage unites those of us in this room. It is this common heritage that gives birth to the shared values we hold in such high regard in this Council. We in Estonia believe strongly in maintaining and strengthening of those values in potential member states. We worked hard to bring our legislation and implementation procedures into compliance with the standards of the Council and we continue to do so. We encourage others to do the same. It is not for the Council of Europe to alter its standards, but for would-be members to change their approach, to become consistent with objective standards.

The choice we face is simple. We can either decide to lower standards to fit subjective conditions, or we can maintain those standards to the ultimate benefit of European values. Estonia's position on this point is clear. We believe the Council must be careful to apply human and civil rights standards non-selectively. There can be no exceptions because of size or geographical location, because of cultural heritage or history, because states are in transition or because the political situation is delicate. The standards that are applied to one must be valid for all other Council of Europe states. In other words, there can be no rubber rulers.

One a more technical note, allow me to address the idea of increased cooperation between the Council of Europe and other organizations. As a small state with a strong commitment to fiscal responsibility, Estonia wholeheartedly supports increased coordination among complementary bodies as a way to avoid duplication of effort.

Another advantage of increased cooperation is bolstered credibility for the Council. If the CSCE and the Council begin to exchange better and more timely information, if these organizations take into account more fully the work done by others, then every organization will be regarded with the respect it deserves. In fact, I believe that ignoring the efforts of others could inadvertently undermine the credibility of various bodies and posts, such as special commissioners, which have been created by those bodies.

Finally, increased cooperation also follows a certain political logic. We share the view of others in this room that when Russia meets the requirements of being a democratic state that honours human rights, it should join the Council as a full-fledged member. At this time, the Council of Europe possesses limited means to help potential new members meet those standards, relative to organizations such as the UN and the CSCE. For this reason, we should utilize more fully the principle of comparative advantage and cooperate with those organizations which are currently better placed to provide assistance to potential Council members. Such a strategy will lead us more effectively to our goals.

This leads me to the next organizational point to which you, Mr. Chairman, refer in your Non-Paper as the means and resources we might use to achieve or strengthen the standards necessary for accession. In speaking just now of the Council's ways of helping potential member-states bring their performance up to standard, I used the word "limited" on purpose. Our mechanisms are limited compared to those the UN and the CSCE enjoy, but we have by no means exhausted the Council's possibilities. Estonia supports the establishment of an even more energetic pre-accession strategy for would-be members, including more legal expertise for getting laws in order, more practical instruction in implementing those laws, more seminars and workshops on the role of the judiciary in law-based states, and so forth. We speak from experience--this was helpful in our preparations to join, and we are convinced it will help others. All of this will cost more money, but a stronger pre-accession program will ultimately work to our benefit, as would-be members will already be in a position to abide by the rules of the game once they join.

I have one more comment on accession, and that concerns timetables. We in Estonia were gratified to learn that our neighbour to the South will most likely join us next January. Through this move, the Council will acknowledge what we have recognized for some time: that Latvia's legal system is based on universally recognized principles of justice and that Latvia is a democratic state which honours and fully respects human rights.

Estonia also supports the view that there are other Commonwealth of Independent States whose potential membership deserves the same careful attention focused on the Russian Federation. I am speaking here of Ukraine. This state has achieved substantial progress in the theory and praxis of establishing democratic institutions. These efforts deserve to be recognized by the Council.

Mr. Chairman,

Estonia has a brief comment on the monitoring procedures that have been discussed here. We support regular and automatic monitoring of Council standards for all members. We believe that an element of automaticity rather than a weak triggering mechanism will help both assure compliance and avoid skewing this monitoring procedure, which should be technical, rather than political in nature.

Mr. Chairman,

I would close by thanking the European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance for its energetic efforts over the past year. We support further development of the Declaration and Plan of Action that came out of the Vienna Summit last year, and we are working on ways to implement the European Youth Campaign envisaged in that Plan.

As a point of information, Mr. Chairman, I would note that in Estonia's specific situation, racism is not a day-to-day concern for us. Racism and intolerance instead grow out of a hatred for foreigners, a hatred which carries over into foreign policy. After repeated news reports and endless official pronouncements, even rationally thinking people will begin to believe, for instance, that foreigners are responsible for leaks in oil pipelines, that foreigners are responsible for the spread of AIDS and for a decline in the value of the national currency. After a while, all that is foreign or comes from a foreign country becomes synonymous with harmful and dangerous tendencies. This phenomenon we know as xenophobia is just as harmful as racism. For this reason, Estonia is gratified that the fight against xenophobia is also an important component of the Declaration and Plan of Action that has grown out of the Vienna Declaration.


Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

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