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Bucharest, May 30 /Agerpres/ - In a recent interview to Agerpres, Secretary General of the Council of Europe (CoE) Thorbjorn Jagland voices satisfaction over the fact that Romania has not taken the same route in the European elections as France and other countries did, setting a good example and showing that there is a culture in Romania of not going with the flow. Jagland argues that the explanation for this is the fact that Romania already experimented extreme political behaviour and does not want to repeat the experience. He also says there is more tolerance in this part of Europe for ethnic and religious diversity.
Jagland believes the election of Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko in the first round of the presidential ballot send a clear message about what the Ukrainian people wants. He voices hope that Russia will get the message, given that Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he will respect the outcome of the election in Ukraine.
In the interview, Jagland also says that the new rule of law mechanism introduced by the European Commission goes in the right direction. Soon, he adds, Romania and Bulgaria, the only two EU countries subjected to a cooperation and verification mechanism, could be on a more equal footing with the other member states in regards to the monitoring of how they meet the obligations incumbent on them. He also talks for the first time about an intention to set up a Roma institute at European level that will build up a stronger identity of the Roma and develop trust in their own culture and history.
AGERPRES: Mr Secretary General, you had meetings with President Traian Basescu, Minister of Foreign Affairs Titus Corlatean and Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies Valeriu Zgonea. What were the main topics of discussion?
Thorbjorn Jagland: First of all, what the Council of Europe and the Romanian authorities can do together in Parliament. We discussed the rule of conduct for the Parliament, in which we have been involved for quite a long time, how we can continue to work together to combat corruption, which is a wide spread problem all over Europe now. With the president and the foreign minister, we discussed also regional issues, the situation in Ukraine and Moldova in particular.
AGERPRES: I would like to ask you about the recent European elections, which is showing a mixed picture: on the one hand, we have, for the first time after the European elections started, we have better turnout than in the last elections. We have like 140 Eurosceptics in the new Parliament but, at the same time the main centre parties, the centre right and centre left parties, have kept their majority in the European Parliament. What is your comment on these elections, considering that the National Front has won in France and UKIP in GB?
Thorbjorn Jagland: Of course, it is worrying that these extreme parties have gained more ground, but we should not forget the mainstream parties still keep the majority in the European Parliament and I am very glad to see that Romania did not go down the same route as for instance France and some other countries. I would like to say that Romania has set a good example, that there is evident here a culture of not going with the stream, and that is very good to see. I think we should not exaggerate the outcome of these elections. Yes, the extreme parties have gained some more ground, but I think the mainstream parties can handle this if they want.
AGERPRES: What do you think explains the fact that Romania, a younger democracy than others, has no populist or extremist party in the European Parliament?
Thorbjorn Jagland: I think it may have to do with the fact that you have experienced extreme political behaviour and you do not want to have this again. Also, in this part of Europe you are more used to having minorities, diversity with regard to culture and religion, which other parts of Europe are worried about.
AGERPRES: In an April report for the Council of Europe, you wrote that serious human rights violations, including corruption, human trafficking, racism and discrimination persist across Europe. You also wrote that Europe is in the biggest human rights crisis since the Cold War. What can the Council of Europe do to reverse this trend? What should the first priority by of European leaders be in dealing with this situation?
Thorbjorn Jagland: First of all, what I think we should do is to work much more with our member states in order to get them to put in place legislation which is in conformity with the European Convention on Human Rights and /make sure/ that the political leaders take more responsibility for doing that and not sending all the case applications to the Court in Strasbourg. We have to focus now on getting member states to fulfil their obligations they undertook when they signed up to the European Convention, and this is the most important part of the reform which I am doing in the Council namely to be more assistance-oriented in my work, to provide all assistance to member states to make the necessary reforms.
AGERPRES: You may know that the European Parliament has adopted this year a human rights report and therein there was a request to the European Commission to adopt a mechanism to safeguard the European values like gender equality, the physically or mentally challenged persons. Do you think this could be a useful tool to achieve this?
Thorbjorn Jagland: I think that it was necessary for the European Union to do something in order to get their member states to uphold their obligations. On the other hand, it is important to say that the European Union does not have legal competence, a legal basis for taking action on many of the issues which are of interest to the public. That is where the Council of Europe comes in, and the European Union said clearly that they want to use the CoE where they cannot act on behalf of the Union.
AGERPRES: I would like to ask you now about another mechanism for which the European Commission is taking the first steps, namely the rule of law mechanism, which the European Commission proposed this year. This is establishing a three-step approach in cases where the rule of law has been infringed. I think the cases of Hungary and Romania were mentioned, cases you know of, in which you were involved. Do you think this mechanism is going in the right direction, and do you think this kind of mechanism should lead progressively to the elimination of the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism for Romania and Bulgaria, whicjh are the only two states in the European Union monitored in this way?
Thorbjorn Jagland: Yes, I think it is going in the right direction. It is appropriate that the European Union tries to be a little more assertive what it comes to upholding specific obligations with regard to the rule of law. The CVM has worked quite well for Romania and Bulgaria, and I can see a lot of progress. I think that very soon Romania and Bulgaria will be on the same line as everybody else, and this is also very much because of their active cooperation with the Council of Europe and that will continue in the future. We are coming closer to a situation where all the European member states are more on an equal footing, and that is very good.
AGERPRES: I would like now to take you to the Roma inclusion issue, in which I know you are very much involved. There have been some initiatives in the last years, you have been involved together with European Commissioner Laszlo Andor in the ROMACT project, of which Romania was a part. What do you think about the way that Roma inclusion could be taken forward? Do you think we have all the tools we need to increase Roma inclusion? You know, some people said that we need a commissioner for Roma, an agency for Roma inclusion. Do you think that the tools are there to increase Roma inclusion, or do you think we need other tools at European level?
Thorbjorn Jagland: I would not say that all the tools are there, but we have very good tools. The European Commission has big funds that the member states can use for improving healthcare, housing, that kind of things. We in the Council of Europe are also doing important things to educate the so-called mediators that work on the ground so that the Roma people can get access to social services and so on. There is a missing link, with which we are now trying to do something. I think there is a need for enhancing self-confidence among Roma people, to build up a stronger Roma identification and trust in their own culture, in their own history, and to spread the understanding of the Roma history and the Roma culture outside the Roma communities. That is why we are now trying to set up a Roma institute at a European level that can do exactly this. I think we have most of the tools, now we have to use the tools in a better way, to coordinate them and get them to work together.
AGERPRES: Regarding the crisis in Ukraine and Russia's military intervention in Crimea, do you think there is a risk of similar conflicts erupting in Europe?
Thorbjorn Jagland: It is, because what actually started the whole crisis was the fact that people went to the streets because they could not any longer tolerate the corruption, the mismanagement of power, so we got a revolution, which of course set all the things in motion we have seen in Ukraine. We have the same potential in many other places in Europe if we are not able to combat corruption, if we are not able to set an independent and efficient judiciary, to have independent institutions, checks and balances, separation of power. This is an old lesson, not only in Europe, but we saw it in south Mediterranean also. When you got widespread corruption, misuse of power, people make revolutions and that can happen in many places in Europe.
AGERPRES: We had a presidential election on Sunday in Ukraine, where Petro Poroshenko won a remarkable victory. Do you think Mr Poroshenko has now the kind of legitimacy he needs in order to work both with western partners of the European institutions and Russia, which is essential in tempering the escalation in eastern Ukraine?
Thorbjorn Jagland: I spoke with Mr Poroshenko an hour ago. I told him that I was very glad that he was elected, and elected in the first round. This sends a clear message to Ukraine and the whole outside world what the Ukrainian people wants, and if they are taking from there, and start a real constitutional process, which is inclusive, and also get elections for a new parliament , because they also need a parliament that is legitimate, then I think Ukraine is on the right path and that is indeed possible to keep the unity and territorial integrity of Ukraine. They have a very difficult situation, that is obvious, with regard to the economy, the situation in eastern Ukraine, but they have gone through the first phase in electing their own president, and that is very important.
AGERPRES: How do you think Russia will act in the next period?
Thorbjorn Jagland: It is difficult to say, but it is a clear message to Russia that Ukraine has elected its own person. Not all the people in eastern Ukraine were able to vote, but many of them, and Poroshenko also got support there. The message is very clear, and I hope the Russian Federation will adapt to that. I was glad to see that President Putin said that he will respect the outcome of the elections. That is a good first sign also from their side.
AGERPRES: I would like to ask you now about the frozen conflicts in the region. What is the lesson to be learned from the crisis in Ukraine, about the frozen conflicts? Is it important to do more to solve them now before they get really hot?
Thorbjorn Jagland: Yes, I think so. What is important also is that there are efforts to find political solutions in many of these conflicts, in Transnistria, in Nagorno-Karabakh. What is lacking is also to take a look at how important the rule of law and human rights are in this context. That's why I think we need to find a way of working in these areas, because I think it can help build up a lot of trust if people have access to the human rights protection system that we have set up in Europe. Let us hope that the crisis in Ukraine can teach us a lesson, namely that it is better to take some preventive measures rather than let things developing into major crises.
AGERPRES: I think you discussed with our foreign minister the issue of Transnistria. We know that the European Parliament adopted a resolution in which they were urging the respect of the rights of the Romanian-speaking minority there. There have been some steps taken. Do you think the situation has improved?
Thorbjorn Jagland: There were some signs of improvement after the elections in Transnistria; I would say a little bit more attitude of cooperation. I do not think that the crisis we have seen in Ukraine has helped in that direction. But maybe we come back to that. I think it is important what you said, namely the safeguard of the rights of all the minorities, not only there, but in particular in this region. By doing that, we can create more confidence, which is of importance to solving this conflict. We are working with so-called confidence building measures on both sides of the river, and we are trying also to use our instruments in these areas which can help upholding basic rights for the people there.
AGERPRES: You may know that Romania is one of the countries with a substantive minority in Ukraine. The Romanian minority had the right to use its own language. At some point, the new authorities in Kiev adopted a law that was amending an old law that was allowing this to happen. Now, Romania is asking the same thing, the same as other countries with minorities in Ukraine. Do you think the new authorities in Ukraine should allow them to use their own language?
Thorbjorn Jagland: There is an obligation that Ukraine has under the so-called charter for regional and local languages. I am sure that the new authorities in Kiev now will take very seriously the rights of the minorities in general, and in particular the rights to use their own language, because this is one of the core issues in the conflict we have seen in Ukraine. I have a special representative working in the Ukrainian Parliament in order to give them advice and assistance with regard to new legislation, and I know that this issue is quite high on the agenda. But, of course, they have had many other things on their plate. When things are coming down, they will come back to this very important question related to the rights of the minorities and their right to use their own language.
AGERPRES: Allow me to take you to a more philosophical question. What do you think the biggest challenge will be for the CoE in the years to come?
Thorbjorn Jagland: I think it is related to the fact that Europe becomes more and more diverse with regard to culture, religion. Minorities have always been a difficulty for Europe and we have seen it again, so coping with this diversity will be the number one issue for Europe. We have to get European peoples to not only accept this situation, that we have become a much more diverse continent, but also to get use of it. It is actually a good thing for Europe that we have got more people from the outside, otherwise we couldn't uphold the level of welfare we have, we are totally dependent on them. They are also contributing to diversifying our own culture, which is a good thing for us.
But to get the European people to accept this is a difficult task, and I think that this is much more of a challenge than the economic crisis has been. It can be overcome. I used to call a good challenge dealing with a society that becomes more and more pluralistic, but it is a very difficult and not accepted by very many. That is what we have seeing in the European elections, that the extremist parties are playing on this situation and create a lot of fear in the population. AGERPRES
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