Europe's oldest political organization, the Council of Europe, celebrated the advancement of democratic values on the continent during a two-day summit in Warsaw. Now it's seeking its reason to exist.
Council of Europe: defining its role
The Council of Europe firstly wanted to fete itself and its mission. The speakers at the two-day summit had nothing but positive things to say about the 46-member Council of Europe, which was founded in 1949.
"Never before has Europe been so strong, so safe, so close to being united," said Polish president and host Aleksander Kwasniewski on the first day.
At the close of the summit, leaders from the Council of Europe signed a declaration and endorsed an action plan charting the future of the organization, which has become the continent's leading forum for dialogue to foster understanding among peoples.
"The tree of democracy has taken root on European soil," said Council of Europe Secretary General Terry Davis (photo). "We want that tree to grow high. The task of the council is to spread democracy."
Yet the council, whose member states extend from Iceland to Vladivostok with a toal population of over 800 million people, is in a crisis of sorts. The European Union has vastly more economic and political clout and overshadows its lesser-known cousin.
Nobody on either side wants to hear this though. The two should not be taking jabs at but should be complementing each other instead, a point underlined by Luxemburg's Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, whose country holds the EU presidency at the moment and who headed a think-tank that is supposed to pave the way for better cooperation between the EU and the council.
"We must establish order to make the specificities of both organizations clear and end the stupid rivalry," he said. "Up to now, we have put up with this rivalry, but that meant that one hand did not know what the other was doing."
Schröder hails council's role
German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder listens during the second day of the Council of Europe Heads of State and Government Summit in Warsaw
German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder (photo) spoke on Tuesday at the summit. His country, which was divided by the Cold War, benefited directly from the council's pioneering role as a force of democratic and peaceful change in Europe. When the council was founded in 1949, only Western European countries were included.
"But as soon as the Berlin Wall came down, the council rapidly opened up to central and eastern Europe. The Council of Europe always saw itself as an organization trying to promote universal values. This vision and role still apply: protecting democracy and rule of law, protecting rights and minorities are still the role of the council. ... But to remain viable in the future, the council must not rest on its laurels."
It would seem that the council isn't resting on its laurels. The Warsaw summit has turned into a meeting place for various leaders to try and patch up existing quarrels. Schröder and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan met on the sidelines to tackle the controversy surrounding the Turkish airline, Onur Air, whose planes are currently prohibited from landing in Germany after Berlin and three other EU countries raised questions about the airline's safety.
Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili (right) is looking to resolve a military base question with Russia
Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili also said on the sidelines that the row with Moscow over the question of Russian army bases still remaining in the Caucasus country was making progress.
"We agreed on the highest level with Putin that we should move (on this issue). I know we want to move," Saakashvili told reporters at the summit.
Maybe its goal -- of being a forum to foster better understanding -- will be the main raison d'etre for the Council of Europe. Yet it has to be featured more prominently than at the occasional summit, which may indeed be difficult to achieve.