Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz met with heads of state and government of the 46 member states of the Council of Europe in Reykjavik, Iceland on 16 and 17 May 2023.
In a press conference he held on the second day of the summit, Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz made it clear that the message from the summit participants was unambiguous: "The 46 member states of the Council of Europe stand united in their support for the fundamental values of peaceful coexistence in Europe based on a firm commitment to law and order, not the law of the jungle."
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The member states of the Council of Europe, said the Federal Chancellor, were firmly on Ukraine's side and had therefore decided to compile a register of damages. The purpose of the register, he said, was to document the damages and losses caused by the Russian offensive in Ukraine. This documentation will be used in subsequent court proceedings. The Council of Europe is well placed to oversee the compilation of such a register, thanks to the expertise of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
As such, said Scholz, the Council of Europe "is making a significant contribution to international efforts aimed at holding Russia accountable for the consequences of its brutal actions". As a founding member of the Council of Europe, Germany will participate in the funding and operation of the register of damages.
In the same context, Scholz also announced that the Council of Europe would also be providing support for the reconstruction of Ukraine.
A total commitment to fulfilling our obligations as members of the Council of Europe
Another result of the summit, Scholz said, was that the Council of Europe had been strengthened in its role as the guardian of human rights, democracy, and the rule of law, which would enable it to meet current and future challenges in an effective manner. To this end, he continued, all member states of the Council of Europe would have to "take their existing obligations arising from their membership extremely seriously". The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), he said, must therefore be accepted as the basis of the Council of Europe and implemented "with no ifs or buts".
The provisions of the ECHR are legally binding in all 46 member states of the Council of Europe. The Convention guarantees important fundamental rights, such as the right to life, the prohibition of torture, and freedom of expression. Anyone who feels that their human rights have been violated has the right to sue for redress at the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). All member states are legally bound by the court's rulings, which is why the ECtHR has repeatedly been able to boost support for human rights activists, which benefits all of the approximately 680 million Europeans living in the member states.
Securing peace and freedom throughout Europe
The Council of Europe, said Scholz in his , had to do everything in its power to ensure that democracy, human rights and the rule of law would eventually become established throughout Europe, although, he admitted, this currently seemed far-fetched with regard to Russia and Belarus. Yet, he added, the war between Russia and Ukraine will eventually end. "And one thing is certain," Scholz emphasised, "it won't end with a victory for Putin's imperialism, because we will continue to support Ukraine until a just peace is achieved."
Support Ukraine, demand accountability from Russia
Until then, he said, the Council of Europe should keep the doors open to the representatives of a different Russia, a different Belarus, which would hold out the prospect of a peaceful, democratic future for both countries, "however unlikely this may seem to us today".
Scholz said that this was in line with the founding idea of the Council of Europe, which was that freedom, democracy and the rule of law are the essential prerequisites for peace abroad. And this, he said, was in line with the aim of "securing peace and freedom for every citizen everywhere within our continent".
Tackling the challenges of the future together
In a post-summit press conference, Federal Chancellor Scholz touched upon the other challenges currently facing all member states of the Council of Europe including the impact of climate change and the use of artificial intelligence in the field of human rights, areas in which he said
the Council of Europe was doing important work. It was, he said, currently working on a "new convention on the application of criminal law in the protection of the environment and another on artificial intelligence". Federal Chancellor Scholz gave his assurances that the Federal Government would be supporting the Council of Europe's efforts on both conventions.
Among other things, he said, this would include Germany making a voluntary contribution of ten million euros to the Council of Europe over and above its obligatory contribution, because, Scholz told the assembled reporters, "the Council of Europe will only be able to fulfil all these core tasks if we provide it with the necessary financial resources."