06 Jul, 2020

Unity in Diversity: Interview with Rik Daems

Rik Daems, a long-standing liberal and Belgian Senator, was elected President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in January 2020 for a two-year mandate. Prior to his election, he was the leader of the ALDE Group in the Assembly.

We interviewed Rik Daems on his visions, values and priorities for PACE, its member countries and Europe, before the COVID-19 outbreak hit the continent in full force. This interview was originally published in the ALDE Party Liberal Bulletin in June 2020.

What is the main priority for PACE during this mandate?

It is imperative that we as a Parliamentary Assembly have impact. We must try to make a better Europe for the 830 million citizens in the 47 member states this Assembly has. We will only achieve this if we work according to the logic of the trialogue. The assembly asked the Committee of Ministers ten years ago to start the procedure on the Protocol concerning climate or environment. Unfortunately, this has remained on the shelf. Now, I have put the recommendation back on the agenda of the Committee of Ministers.

The Committee of Ministers, the Assembly and the Secretary General should work hand in hand towards a stronger link between the environment and fundamental rights. We can achieve this through a three-step approach, beginning in the Assembly on a recommendation on the subject to the Committee of Ministers; then, working in parallel on the drafting of a specific Convention and ultimately drawing up a protocol to be annexed to the European Convention on Human Rights. I know this is quite ambitious, but I will try to convince all the member states – I will make the case to all capitals. The Protocol to the convention would enable the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg to create a level playing field, with judgments handed out in several member States.

Why are shared values increasingly important in the current European and global context?

Shared values help us understand each other better, and since our world is becoming more globalised, it is increasingly important to be able to speak to each other and to be understood.

However, it’s not only shared values that are important. It’s equally important to be aware of which values are shared. At the Council of Europe, we focus on very specific values: democracy, human rights, and the rule of law – values that are at the very core of liberalism.

But let’s not hide it, there are multiple interpretations of democracy, human rights and the rule of law, including quite illiberal ones. So, values should somehow be linked to standards because that is how you achieve a common understanding among humans in the most transparent and, probably, the most efficient way.

Therefore, when speaking about the values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law, the Council of Europe refers to the highest standards that our continent has so far achieved in these fields.

Having common values is a process. This process may be very long, uncertain and painful, but we can consciously contribute to making it more transparent and goal oriented. The Council of Europe is a fine example of how an understanding of the need to have shared values on the European continent arose at the end of the World War II. After the war, a multilateral tool that can actually help us stimulate this process was set up. But of course, it is up to our societies, up to us as elected representatives and respective governments to actively engage in this process and to live up to the highest standards. We do not simply need shared values, the values we want to share should help us build a better Europe and a better world together. This is what I meant in my inaugural speech when I referred to “Unity in diversity”.

Why is ‘trialogue’ or cooperation between different institutions so crucial to achieve results?

One of the priorities of my PACE presidency is to improve cooperation between the three bodies of the Council of Europe: the Parliamentary Assembly represents the 47 national parliaments; the Committee of Ministers speaks on behalf of member states’ governments and the Secretary General oversees the Council of Europe’s work. I call this reinforced cooperation a trialogue.

Trialogue does not mean subordination but systematic exchange and flow of information between the three key players of the Council of Europe, while each of them retains its independence, scope of responsibilities and instruments.

When we act together, we should be able to be a lot more efficient when we deal with complex subjects, such as artificial intelligence, environment and human rights, gender equality or democratic standards. By establishing a new joint procedure that the three bodies can trigger in response to a serious violation by a member state of its statutory obligations, we have already taken the first step. In the past, we have seen that such procedure was lacking. Of course, when we coordinate our efforts, we can achieve a lot more, act more efficiently and have a greater impact. 

You can follow Rik Daems on twitter by clicking here.

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