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Europe

British Labor MP Elected to Head Council of Europe

British Labor parliamentarian Terry Davis beat out two other candidates to be elected the new secretary general of Europe's top human rights organization, the 45-nation Council of Europe.

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Terry Davis (left) wants to stress European culture in his new position

Surprisingly, Terry Davis secured an absolute majority in the first round of the election with 157 out of 299 votes. That gave him a clear win over the Council's current secretary general, conservative Austrian politician Walter Schwimmer, who received 91 votes, and the liberal Estonian candidate, Kristiina Ojuland, with 51 votes.

Davis has been a member of the Council's Parliamentary Assembly for 12 years, and president of the Socialist Group in the Assembly since 2002. Davis said it was a "great honor" to be elected secretary general.

"I have a vision of Europe as part of a world where men and women are treated fairly and equally -- a Europe where people live in peace on the basis of mutual respect without any discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation, ethnic origin or religious belief," Davis said. "The Council of Europe is the best way to turn that vision into a reality."

Defender of human rights

The Council of Europe, situated in Strasbourg, France, is the continent's oldest political organization. It was founded in 1949, and groups together 45 countries, including 21 countries from Central and Eastern Europe.

The Council was set up to defend human rights and parliamentary democracy. Membership binds nations to uphold the European Convention on Human Rights, which provides individual Europeans the option to appeal human rights rulings in their own countries to the European Court of Human Rights, also located in Strasbourg.

Since 1989, the Council of Europe's main task has been to act as a human rights watchdog for Europe's post-communist democracies and to assist those countries in bringing about political, legal and constitutional reforms.

Cultural issues to take precedence

Speaking at a press conference after his election, Davis said that in addition to human rights issues, he intends to focus on cultural issues during his five-year term, which begins on Sept. 1.

"The Council of Europe should concentrate on culture, because European culture is far more than just the culture of the European Union," Davis said. "This area has not been given enough significance in the past."

When asked to explain what he saw as the difference between the Council of Europe and the European Union, Davis said that while the EU looks after the standard of living, the Council of Europe looks after quality of life.

"Of course there'll be times when we overlap, but we should take care to avoid this because it wastes time, money and effort," Davis said.

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