“As the UK prepares to leave the EU, the Council of Europe will be just as important to us. Indeed, it will become more important to us.”
These were the words of the Minister for Europe in a recent House of Commons debate about the work of the Council of Europe, on which I am honoured to represent the United Kingdom.
The debate was partly to raise awareness about the Council of Europe, of which the UK was a founding member, and the work which it does. This work will continue as we shall continue to be members of the Council after the UK leaves the European Union. Those people who say that only the institutions of the EU can provide this country with the structures and opportunities we need might have forgotten about the Council of Europe, which focuses on human rights, democracy and the rule of law across Europe.
It was the Council of Europe, for instance, which led the way on ending the death penalty across Europe, by making this an accession condition. After 1989, the Council helped the former communist countries move towards democracy.
Established on 5 May 1949 in London, with Winston Churchill’s involvement, the Council’s aim is to defend and sustain democratic freedom and the rule of law, alongside freedom of expression and tolerance. Although the original founders might have thought the Council’s work might be done within 20 or 30 years, new challenges have a way of appearing and must be addressed. For example, after the massive displacements of the second world war, there were many refugees in Europe. After more than 70 years, there are still refugees displaced by fresh conflicts.
I am pleased to be the vice-president of the Council’s political affairs and democracy committee, currently the ‘rapporteur’ on the commitment to introduce fair referendums in member states, bringing to it my personal experience in Wales. We are currently evaluating the Kyrgyz republic, Morocco and Jordan as partners for democracy, looking at the political transition in Egypt and working on strengthening co-operation with NATO – the list and the work goes on.