Speech by Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock in the German Bundestag to mark 75 years of the Council of Europe

16.05.2024 - Speech

“The last chance” of salvation for Europe – that is how the then French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman described the founding of the Council of Europe 75 years ago. “The last chance!”

When ten states dreamt the dream of reconciliation, they did so on the ruins that fascism and nationalism had left in Europe, on ruins for which our country was responsible. That is why, for me as German Foreign Minister, today is a day of deep gratitude.

Because Germany, our country, has grown into a democracy in Europe and through Europe. 19 days after the founding of the Council of Europe, our Basic Law entered into force, with these famous words in its preamble: “Inspired by the determination to promote world peace as an equal partner in a united Europe...”.

But it took time until we were able to shoulder this responsibility in Europe. A fully-fledged democracy does not appear instantaneously upon the adoption of a constitution and the establishment of the relevant institutions. It needs time to grow. It needs to be filled with life. More than 80 million people breathe this life into our constitution, give it heart and a passion, in freedom and in peace – in Germany and above all with our neighbours, who have become our friends. They do so on a firm foundation of common values and rules, with institutions like the Council of Europe that encourage us to constantly scrutinise ourselves, and to reflect on ourselves as democracies, because democracy isn’t a stationary object, but like life itself is constantly expanding.

It grows through institutions such as the European Court of Human Rights, a court that enables almost 700 million people to assert their rights – their human rights and basic freedoms – against their own governments. When this court was established in 1959, it was revolutionary. That, too, should never be forgotten. It reflected a new understanding of the relationship between the state and the individual. It embodied the conviction that every human being has the same rights regardless of their gender, origin or religion.

It showed that a state can be held accountable – not only when it disregards these rights, but also when it fails to actively uphold them.

That is the power of the tools developed by the Council of Europe – which we can now call our Council of Europe. And also – and this is something we shouldn’t forget when we talk about values and rights in the present day – it is a power, a force that is also felt in other countries, that makes institutions like the Council of Europe so attractive. For example to Kosovo, the youngest democracy in Europe that should be part of our Council of Europe.

That is why we are calling on all those involved and those in positions of responsibility in Kosovo to do everything possible to ensure we have the necessary majority for Kosovo’s accession as soon as possible – and let me say I am really grateful for all the hard work being done by the democratic MPs and parliamentary groups, who are all pulling together in one direction here.

But we also know, and this is part of our critical self-reflection as a democracy, that our European way of life and the values of our Council of Europe are now being challenged as never before since the end of the Cold War.

From without, by autocrats like Vladimir Putin, who has brought a war of conquest back to Europe. But also from within – with hatred and the return of “völkisch” populists who want to imprison journalists and manipulate the courts and who are fomenting hatred against so-called “foreigners”.

We have repeatedly seen how hatred can lead to violence, and how it can affect anyone and everyone.

Even if we do not yet know all the details of the attack on the Prime Minister of Slovakia, let me say now that our thoughts are with Robert Fico, his family and our Slovak friends.

We are European democrats and we will defend our European democracy.

Ladies and gentlemen, the autocrats from without and the demagogues from within have one thing in common.

They think our democratic values are a weakness.

But they are mistaken – and you, too, you AfD hecklers!

What could be stronger than the promise that an individual has the right to lead a self-determined life in peace and in freedom, regardless of where they come from?

This promise is stronger than hate. Indeed – my dear AfD – our constitution stands for this promise.

Our Council of Europe has stood for this promise for the last 75 years. That is a reason to rejoice, a reason to be deeply grateful and a reason that makes it incumbent on us to live up to our commitments.


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