Speech by Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov at the 116th Session of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on the Priorities of the Russian Chairmanship of the CMCE in May-November 2006, Strasbourg, May 19, 2006

Esteemed colleagues,

Russia proceeds from a long-term strategic vision of the European perspective in the present-day multipolar world, in which the processes of globalization and multilevel regional integration are developing simultaneously.

The motto of our chairmanship is "Towards United Europe without dividing lines." There is a lot of work ahead on the way towards this goal.

The formula adopted in the Council of Europe: democracy, the rule of law, respect for human rights reflects much, but like any formula cannot fully encompass the full multifacetedness of the ideas of dignity, freedom, security, justice and prosperity, for which people and society are striving.

It is likewise clear that common values are to be converted into reality in the forms that correspond to the traditions, way of life and socioeconomic development of countries.

We see the overall task of our chairmanship in helping the implementation of the totality of all the provisions of the Third Summit's Action Plan. By developing CE activities in the various fields of competence of the Organization, Russia will concentrate especially on the following priorities.

1. Reinforcing national human rights protection mechanisms, development of human rights education and protection of rights of national minorities.

In undertaking measures to solve individual tasks - such as the entry into force of Protocol No. 14 - the Council of Europe must strive to preserve a single human rights protection space in Europe, including the protection of rights of national minorities, avoid the appearance of a multiplicity of systems and standards and devise a long-term strategy for reform of the ECHR mechanism.

The key element of human rights protection efforts is human rights education and awareness-raising on relevant norms and standards and their application. Russia is for the elaboration of a comprehensive program to implement the appropriate CMEC recommendation and the decisions adopted on that point at the Third Summit.

2. Creating a common European legal space to protect individuals from modern-day challenges. This theme is one of the key components of the activities of the CE, which remains the holder of unique functions for elaborating pan-European norms and standards.

Legal cooperation, we believe, must be oriented, first and foremost, towards protecting individuals and their rights from modern-day challenges. The Council of Europe could intensify work on implementing the available legal instruments - on combating incitement to terrorist acts and defending their victims; and on preparing new conventions and protocols aimed at counteraction against terrorism, including cyberterrorism.

3. Improving access to social rights, protection of vulnerable groups. Based on the internationally recognized principle of the indivisibility of human rights, Russia regards the themes of social cohesion as important as the other domains of activity of the CE. The insufficient level of guarantee of social rights is a hurdle for exercise of the entire complex of human rights. We hope that the idea of an interrelationship of different rights will form the basis of work on a review by a high-level group of the CE's social strategy.

4. Democracy, civic participation, effective governance.

The questions of improving the forms of democracy in specific national conditions, expanding the participation of civil society, and adopting effective methods of governance directly affect the interests of citizens and the policy of states. One of the main elements of democracy is elections. Uniform legal standards for their conduct and monitoring are currently lacking, which gives food for biased and politicized assessments that are subsequently laid at the core of foreign policy decisions and generally create a ground for various kinds of misunderstanding. The CE can fill the legal vacuum in international standards of democracy by working out a convention on standards for holding democratic elections. It would be useful if in this matter the CE cooperated with the OSCE.

Present-day democracy is unthinkable without an active role of non-governmental organizations and civil society. As part of its chairmanship, Russia will boost this process in cooperation with the Conference of International NGOs of the Council of Europe.

The Warsaw Summit paid special attention to developing democracy and good governance at the local level. The preparation of a CE Code of Good Administration will be a conceptual contribution to the accomplishment of this task. For the purpose of developing practical cooperation between Europe's regions Russia intends to promote and support the development of inter-regional and transborder cooperation on the basis of the Madrid Convention. We will advance the CLRAE initiative to set up a Center on inter-regional and transborder cooperation.

It goes without saying that we will pay attention to problems of sustainable development.

5. The theme of intercultural dialogue is coming to the fore in CE activities. Russia, with its centuries-old experience of the coexistence of different ethnic groups, cultures and religions, believes that this notion must incorporate dialogue within European communities, an open exchange of ideas and cultural achievements among the peoples living in Europe, and engagement with the neighbors of the CE. The most important thing is that the dialogue should be held on the basis of equality, mutual respect and the striving of participants to understand each other. We hold that all European cultures should be drawn into the dialogue.

Our Organization is working for Europe's future and must pay special attention to youth education and youth contacts. Higher education is inseparably linked to science. The establishment of university cooperation networks on these issues can be an important element in the Council's activities.

Given the growing popularity of sports, especially among young people, Russia will strive to ensure that an upcoming meeting of sport ministers in Moscow gives a new impetus to European sport cooperation.

Another priority of the Russian chairmanship will be implementing the Third Summit decisions on reform of the Council of Europe, including its personnel policy, in particular, with reference to a major principle for any international organization of an equitable geographical distribution of posts.

Incidentally, we were surprised that this provision, set forth in the decisions of the Third Summit, did not find reflection in the report on Council of Europe reform that was presented to the participants of the present session.

Esteemed colleagues,

We are well aware that success of any chairmanship depends on close cooperation among the member states of the Council, their Permanent Representatives, the Secretariat of the Council and each member of its staff. It is equally important to continue close cooperation with the PACE.

Separate thanks for the kind words addressed to us. We will try our best to justify your expectations. We hope for reciprocal cooperation for the sake of common success.

May 19, 2006