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‘You have to win in argument’

What teeth does the Council of Europe have? Apart from the court, does it have any other power? When you talk about power, or sanctions, it is a little like a military deterrent. They only have that ultimate sanction of suspension or expulsion. That’s only happened once. I hope and pray it never has to happen again with any country in Europe; otherwise it depends on persuasion. Sometimes it takes too long, as it did with the Loizidou case. But in the end, they do get implemented. Double standards Is there a feeling that new members feel they are being held to a standard that older members are not held to? People from Eastern Europe, particularly, complain that there are two standards. Well there must not be two standards and we must treat everybody the same. Do you feel that that is not done now? Well there are complaints about discrimination. I am quite aware that there are some countries in the Balkans that complain that they are in some way inferior. And also some countries in the South Caucasus feel that they are not being treated as equals. It may not be true but they feel that there is discrimination. And if I am secretary general I will have to be tougher on the UK than on any other country, otherwise you do not have credibility. You voted against your government when you voted in favor of holding a referendum on an EU constitution. Isn’t that a dangerous idea in Britain right now? It’s absolutely essential. Of course, the government have now changed their view. They’ve come into line with me on the question of a referendum on the constitution. I’ve always thought it was necessary to settle this issue about the European Union. Just because we’ve had a significant minority vote for the UK Independence Party… But there’s a lot of people who feel like that, who would like Britain to withdraw from the European Union. Some members of the Conservative Party feel that way as well. But you need to defeat those people in a referendum, not try to avoid it. My point is that if you’re a democratic politician you meet those things head on. You have to defeat them in debate, in argument and in votes. But a referendum is so simplistic – it doesn’t carry all the weight of what really is at stake. It becomes a simple yes or a no. We saw that in Cyprus recently. Isn’t there a danger of Britain finding itself outside the EU? There’s always that risk. Of course, just as there was a risk that the Greek Cypriots would vote no, as they did. But what was the alternative? To impose it on the people, to impose something that they don’t accept? That’s not democracy, is it? It was essential to hold a referendum on Cyprus and there was a risk, as it happens, and it’s unfortunate and the international community obviously was disappointed but the Greek Cypriots had the right, and if you’re a democrat you have to accept that. You don’t avoid this by trying to – especially in the case of Cyprus – say, «you will not have a choice, we are telling you what’s going to happen.» I would have been totally opposed to that. It was absolutely right to have a referendum. Is it at all feasible that one might see countries leaving the EU? I think so. Why not? You can’t keep people in against their will. History tells us you cannot keep people within a union or federation, whatever you want to call it, and you don’t have to look far from Greece to see the truth of that. That is what happened in Yugoslavia. What happens if some day you get a lot of racist, xenophobic parties represented in the Council of Europe assembly? How would that affect your mission against those problems? I don’t think this would ever happen, but if you ever had a majority of members of the assembly who were xenophobic this would create a crisis. I don’t believe that will happen. This dilemma is going to be discussed in future. There will be a report on it to the assembly. Is there any understanding for the Greek-Cypriot position or has the issue ended with the referendum? I think that the attitude of most people in the international community is that the ball is with the Cypriots. It is for the Cypriots to get together and try to make some progress. And it is probably too soon to be trying to do that since April. I’m not making a judgement whether the Greek Cypriots were right or wrong. The point I’m making is that it was a disappointment. I think there was not much understanding of the reasons. All the people saw was the headline. Having talked with representatives of the Greek Cypriots I can understand better now why the majority of Greek Cypriots were not willing to vote for the plan. Cypriot property cases One of the things that the Greek Cypriots were concerned about with the Annan Plan was an end to European Court of Human Rights cases regarding their property. Where are we on that now? Well, in the Loizidou case the judgment has been implemented. I assume all the outstanding cases will come forward. Because all those people have rights. If the Annan Plan were being implemented it would have been superseded. But I cannot see how the court could refuse to deal with the cases. Are there things the Council of Europe is doing that it shouldn’t be doing? I need to go through the organization very carefully to answer that question. Is that one of the things you will be doing? If I’m elected, nothing will be taken for granted. I will not accept people in Strasbourg saying to me, «We do that, Mr Davis, because we’ve always done it.» Do you feel that it has lost any recent opportunities to create a better Europe? I feel that its response to terrorism was regrettably slow.