The recent Council of Europe Standing Committee (The Hague 1-3 March 2023) held an impressive event to celebrate the 75 years of multilateralism since the Congress of Europe in the Hague in 1948 and to look where this was going. It was an appropriate moment to reflect on those 75 years and the contribution that multilateralism still makes to Europe and the world today. This is something which some in my own political party sometimes forget. As if to remind us, we started with a Pathé news video of Winston Churchill as Honorary President of the Congress of Europe in full multilateral form.
Multilateralism is based on a system of shared principles and rules where countries have come together to pursue one or more common goals. In Europe, there is no better example of this than the Council of Europe which we should continue to celebrate and value and which we should seek to improve. It is true that the Council of Europe was born out of the Second World War and some may say that the world has changed since then. But if you look at the advancement of far-right political parties across Europe in recent elections and to the vicious war taking place in Ukraine, it is clear that the need for the Council of Europe (and incidentally also for the European Court of Human Rights) has never been greater. The war of aggression being pursued by Russia against Ukraine has tipped the geopolitical balance even more in the Council of Europe’s favour if it can rise to the challenge.
Of course, multilateralism faces its own challenges today but through the Summit of the Council of Europe in Reykjavik this May we need to renew and strengthen that multilateralism to face the next 75 years. Just look at the period of peace and prosperity we have enjoyed as a result over this time. Those who gathered in the Hague 75 years ago could see that sharing sovereignty and international co-operation allowed us to think and act in a bigger way. It was how the system of conventions used by the Council of Europe was created; a voluntary system based on agreement between countries and so different from a system where all simply pursued their own objectives or were told what to do.
The final clip from the Pathé video showed the standing ovation Churchill got for his speech at the Congress of the Hague 75 years ago. It was one which even the Dutch Royal Family joined in, standing on their feet to praise the vision he had set out. We should recognise that it is up to us to take that vision forward for the future. To quote Churchill:
“It is time indeed that (our voice) should be raised upon the scene of chaos and prostration…… amid dangers which lie about us in the present and cloud the future.”