Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom, Spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) –
At the heart of this debate is the need for the Council of Europe to show that in the fields of democracy, the rule of law and human rights it is the pre-eminent Organisation in Europe. I believe it sits above the European Union in this respect. The European Union looks after 27 or 28 members, but this Council looks after 47 or 48 members. The European Union has assumed a role in some areas over its own members, but it has not done so over this Council. The European Convention on Human Rights remains the pre-eminent statement of human rights in Europe and also in many other places in the world. It is for the European Union to show that what it wants to put in place for its members at the very least conforms with our Convention and standards.
It would be wrong, for example, for the European Union to take on itself the work of the European Court of Human Rights, which remains a multilateral body. The expertise lies with this body and we must protect and indeed enhance it. That does not mean there should be no co-operation, but it needs to be based on this approach. This body has high standards of which we can all be proud, and it is crucial that it should have the highest job of monitoring these standards and principles.
If we as a body can monitor France, we can also monitor the European Union, and we should do so through the Monitoring Committee. It is necessary for the European Union to sign up to the European Convention and to be part of the system that has stood this continent in good stead for so long.
I cannot see what the European Union can do in this area that we cannot do. Of course, like any country, it can introduce rules to govern the human rights issues in its own area, but it cannot introduce rules to govern us. In other words, the Council of Europe must be seen as top dog and must hold ultimate responsibility for maintaining standards. Those standards have been established over a long period of time, with the help of the European Court of Human Rights, and we should make sure that they remain the standards to which Europe conforms.