memorandum, by Mr Jean-Claude Mignon, rapporteur
1 At the 119th ministerial session, held in Madrid
on 12 May 2009, the Committee of Ministers adopted a declaration
on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Council of Europe,
which sets out a series of principles and guidelines for the Organisation’s
2 At its meeting held in Paris on 26 May 2009, the Political
Affairs Committee took note of this document and considered that
a wider-ranging, more detailed debate on the future of the Organisation
was necessary. It accordingly proposed to the Bureau that a general
policy debate on “The future of the Council of Europe in the light
of its 60 years of experience” be included on the agenda of the
Assembly’s autumn 2009 part-session.
3 The Bureau accepted this proposal. In May 2009 the Standing
Committee referred the matter to the Political Affairs Committee.
The latter held an initial exchange of views on the subject in June
2009 and appointed me as its rapporteur.
4 The aim of this report is therefore to propose, with a view
to the general policy debate to be held in October 2009, some food
for thought on the evolving role of the Council of Europe and its
adaptation to the realities of modern-day Europe.
5 While preparing the report, I had discussions with a number
of people, including many colleagues in the Parliamentary Assembly,
as well as with several member states’ Ambassadors to the Council
of Europe. I wish to thank them for their valuable input. I also
look forward to the Conference on What
future for human rights and democracy in Europe? The role of the
Council of Europe which our Committee will hold on 11
September 2009, and I intend to attach the summary of discussions
of this conference as an appendix to this report.
of the Council of Europe’s activities and its place in Europe
2.1 Principal achievements
of the Council of Europe
6 In this year of the Council of Europe’s 60th anniversary
it is worth recalling the ground covered by our Organisation since
its inception, the role it has been able to play and that for which
it is destined, its position in relation to other European organisations,
its strengths and its potential, not forgetting its flaws, weaknesses and
limitations. It is only through such a critical, frank, sometimes
even painful, analysis that an in-depth debate can be held on the
state of this institution, its development prospects and its possibilities
of adapting to new challenges. An open-minded debate should result
in the identification of measures to be taken to enhance our Organisation’s
relevance, functioning and effectiveness.
7 The foundation of the Council of Europe in 1949 was a challenge.
In a Europe where relations between states were determined by power
struggles and by differing, or even conflicting, “national interests”
– a Europe ravaged by the years of war, hatred and hostility, the
cause of so much human suffering – the founders of the Council of
Europe proclaimed loud and clear that the fundamental values of
democracy, the rule of law and human rights constituted the foundations
on which a new Europe – a Europe of peace and co-operation – must be
built. The newly created Organisation was accordingly given the
task of asserting, safeguarding and promoting these common principles
8 Today, after sixty years in activity, the Council of Europe
is an element to be reckoned with in European politics and a key
player on the continent’s institutional stage. It has had a major
role in the democratic transformation of a number of countries within
our continent. It now brings together virtually all the countries
of Europe and, thanks to mechanisms for monitoring the fulfilment
of the binding legal obligations entered into by states upon their
accession, scrutinises the implementation and the upholding of the
principles of democracy and human rights in the member states.
9 The key role of the Council of Europe, and the very cornerstone
of its activities, therefore consists in defining, codifying, protecting
(not least by legal means) and promoting the fundamental principles
and values set out in its Statute – human rights, democracy and
the rule of law.
10 Attention must also be drawn to the Council of Europe’s role
in establishing a Europe-wide common legal area based on the rule
of law. This area is determined by the Organisation’s standard-setting
activities and its approximately 200 conventions, a number of which
are open to non-member states, including countries outside Europe.
Among these conventions, the Convention for the Protection of Human
Rights and Fundamental Freedoms is of particular importance as a
legally binding instrument of European public policy and thus enjoys quasi-constitutional
rank. Mention must also be made of the binding case law of the European
Court of Human Rights, constituting a key source of European human
11 The Council of Europe is also an important forum for pan-European
political dialogue and co-operation at different levels: intergovernmental,
parliamentary, local government, civil society representatives.
One of its main strengths is its capacity to address problems confronting
society in the medium-to-long term, thereby serving as a “think
tank” and devising common policy responses. It is also an ideal
context for pursuing close co-operation between ministers and governmental
experts in specialist areas.
12 In addition, it continues to be a broad, inclusive political
forum, encompassing European Union member and non-member states,
Russia and Turkey in particular, and open to political and intercultural
dialogue with neighbouring states in Northern Africa, the Middle
East and Central Asia.
13 The parliamentary dimension of the Council of Europe is one
of its key assets. The Parliamentary Assembly constitutes a debating
platform for the representatives of the national legislatures and
opens up unprecedented prospects for parliamentary co-operation.
14 Over its sixty years of existence, the Council of Europe has
often played a pioneering role in many areas of co-operation. At
the same time, it has had to adapt to changing circumstances and
to curtail some of its activities, taken up by other institutions.
In this connection, mention can be made of the decisions adopted
at the three consecutive Summits of Heads of State and Government
of the member states of the Council of Europe, held respectively
in Vienna in 1993, Strasbourg in 1997 and Warsaw in 2005, which
redefined the Organisation’s activities in line with political developments,
so as to contribute to its essential goal of safeguarding and promoting
human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
2.2 Weaknesses and
15 The unquestionable results achieved by the Council
of Europe should not conceal the fact that it has come up against
some difficulties, nor preclude a detailed analysis thereof. It
is only by pinpointing and recognising the flaws that action can
be taken to eradicate them. A brave and bold discussion is absolutely essential
to determine the tangible measures that can improve our Organisation’s
16 The difficulties encountered by the Council of Europe are
of two types: firstly, there are external factors, over which the
Organisation itself has no control, that have to do with the European
architecture, Europe’s institutional structure and the political
will of European leaders.
17 Secondly, there are internal or institutional limitations
within the Organisation that can undermine the effectiveness and
success of the Council of Europe’s action and the attainment of
18 With regard to the external factors, the place and importance
of the Council of Europe in the European architecture primarily
depends on its member states’ degree of commitment to it. Although
the Council of Europe is the oldest of the existing European organisations,
it is not alone. Two other organisations, the European Union and
the OSCE, are particularly significant in terms of their standing,
their fields of activity and their membership. It can be noted that
these three European institutions are increasingly converging as
regards their membership and their spheres of competence. A number
of questions relating to the need to co-ordinate their activities
are therefore on the agenda.
19 Following the decisions taken at the 3rd Summit of Heads of
State and Government of the member states of the Council of Europe,
which came out in favour of enhanced complementarity between the
three institutions, taking into consideration their respective competences
and fields of excellence, co-operation agreements (Memorandums of
Understanding) were signed with each of the organisations concerned.
A report taking stock of the implementation of these co-operation
arrangements is currently being prepared by our fellow Assembly
member Mr Wilshire, who will submit it to us in the near future.
For my part, I believe that it is necessary to work more actively
in the sense of a privileged partnership with the OSCE. Even if
the activities of our two organisations sometimes give way to certain
frictions or misunderstandings, the Council of Europe and the OSCE
are really complementary, since the OSCE has competencies in matters
of security that the Council of Europe does not have.
20 Nevertheless, even if the agreements are fully implemented
and complied with, co-operation is no substitute for the political
will of those in power within the member states to give the Council
of Europe a status and an importance commensurate with its assigned
21 It is true that the member states make many declarations of
unwavering support for our Organisation, but at the same time there
can be no misreading certain signs, which are a cause for concern.
The foreign ministers’ low level of participation in the ministerial
sessions is one of the most visible of these signs. Our ministers,
who together compose one of the statutory organs of the Council
of Europe, see each other far more often in other contexts (the
United Nations, the European Union, the OSCE) than they do in the
Committee of Ministers’ meeting room.
22 The budget of the Council of Europe, the ordinary part of
which has been subject to a zero growth constraint for a number
of years now, says a great deal about where the Organisation comes
in the member states’ priorities. By refusing to give the Council
sufficient resources with which to perform its tasks, are the governments
not showing their preference for other formats when it comes to
dealing with priority issues?
23 Can it not be said that the increasingly frequent practice
whereby, when decisions are taken within the Committee of Ministers,
the European Union member states tend to rally to the position of
the EU presidency also reflects a worrying trend: a shift of the
decision-making centre from Strasbourg to Brussels, a growing disinterest
for the Council’s affairs among the members of the EU and attempts
to sideline the Council to the EU’s advantage? This state of affairs
would appear to be even more serious if account is taken of the
tendency of the EU candidate and partner states to side with the
24 Other worrying signs include the half-hearted attitude of
certain member states when it is a question of acceding to Council
of Europe conventions, which they nonetheless have helped to draw
25 Lastly, there is the disturbing tendency to play down, and
sometimes even question, the importance of the various independent
“monitoring” mechanisms established within the Council of Europe
(such as the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and
Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT), the European
Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), the Framework
Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM), the
European Social Charter (ESC) and even the Court of Human Rights
and the Human Rights Commissioner).
26 The Parliamentary Assembly is also not blameless. We have
long noted a very low level of participation in debates and committee
meetings. The measures taken to improve members’ attendance records
have unfortunately not brought any tangible results, and this situation
can be a source of embarrassment when the press publishes the voting
27 One key, highly sensitive issue question concerns a potentially
very dangerous, worrying trend that has been evident for some time
now in the Organisation’s functioning, namely a degree of “politicisation”
of issues of relevance to the Council’s fundamental values, to their
detriment. Some people even call this “double standards” or a lack
of courage and political will. Although they may be regarded as
unduly harsh, these criticisms cannot be ignored and must be discussed.
28 In this connection, we have an obligation to cast a critical
eye on certain decisions of the Assembly – or rather the lack of
decisions – in so-called sensitive matters. Do we always have the
necessary political courage to censor, using the means at our disposal,
behaviours which we regard as contrary to our principles and values?
Do we not too easily give in to the temptation to resort to “Realpolitik” rather than doing our
duty of safeguarding these principles and values?
The second type of limitation on the action of the Council
of Europe concerns the Organisation’s internal functioning, the
inter-institutional balance and the democratic dimension. Although
all these questions are more a matter for the committee that deals
with inter-institutional affairs (the Committee on Rules of Procedure),
I feel obliged to raise them here, while referring, inter alia
, to the relevant reports
by the competent Committee.Note
30 Alongside the Committee of Ministers, the Parliamentary Assembly
is one of the two statutory organs of the Council of Europe. Composed
of members of the lower and upper houses of the member states’ national parliaments,
it is intended to embody the democratic nature of the Organisation
and to ensure that European citizens are represented in the European
31 It is therefore a genuine political driving force for the
Organisation. The national elected representatives sitting within
it systematically relay to the European level the major societal
issues they come up against at the national level, so as to identify
common responses to them. The Assembly moreover derives most of
its legitimacy from this representativeness; its political independence
and its ties with the national parliaments help to reinforce its
institutional position both within the Organisation and well beyond
32 However, it must be acknowledged that the Assembly’s statutory
powers to influence the policy directions of the Council of Europe
are fairly limited. Unlike the European Union, the Organisation
has no co-decision procedure. Authority to take decisions on behalf
of the Council of Europe lies with the Committee of Ministers alone,
acting on instructions from the national governments, and the Committee
of Ministers is not obliged to give the Assembly’s recommendations
a positive follow-up.
33 The Committee of Ministers’ replies to the proposals made
by the Assembly in its recommendations are increasingly unsatisfactory.
They are often lacking in substance and tend to come rather late.
34 Moreover, when the Committee of Ministers requests a statutory
opinion from the Assembly on a draft convention, it increasingly
does so at the last moment. This practice must also be changed so
that the Assembly has a reasonable time-limit for fulfilling its
responsibilities without being subjected to undue pressure. In addition,
the Assembly must be informed of the follow-up reserved by the Committee
of Ministers to the amendments proposed. It can be noted that these
points were raised in Recommendation 1763 (2006) on the institutional balance at the Council of
35 The recent friction between the two statutory organs concerning
the election of the new Secretary General is but one example showing
that the institutional balance and democratic functioning of the
Council of Europe should be reviewed and improved. The current state
of affairs undermines the Council’s credibility and does not fail
to raise questions as to the democratic nature of the functioning
of our Organisation, whose very role is in point of fact to safeguard
and promote democracy!
36 The European Court of Human Rights, the Council of Europe’s
flagship in the field of protection of human rights, is also finding
it increasingly difficult to perform its role under the rising pressure
of its constantly growing caseload. The hopes of getting justice
at last resort which the court inspires in the people of Europe
far exceed its processing capacities. Its slow-moving proceedings
involve the same delays as it has the task of remedying in cases
where they are attributable to the national courts. This situation
may bring discredit on the system, with disastrous consequences
for the people concerned.
37 An illustration of the above-mentioned causes for concern
is the fact that Protocol No. 14, which is intended to simplify
and speed up certain procedures at the European Court of Human Rights,
has not entered into force. It is to be hoped that the rapid implementation
of Protocol No. 14 bis will partly remedy this problem.
38 Another cause for concern is the execution of the Court’s
judgments. The Assembly recently addressed this problem, and our
fellow Assembly member Mr Pourgourides is monitoring the situation
on behalf of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights.
39 Despite a considerable increase in its budget, the Court has
not succeeded in eliminating its backlog. There is every indication
that exponentially increasing the Court’s expenditure to the detriment
of other parts of the Council of Europe is not in itself a good
3 Reinforcing the
effectiveness and action of the Council of Europe
40 On the basis of the above observations, the Assembly
should initiate a debate on the measures to be taken to enhance
our Organisation’s effectiveness in both institutional and political
terms. It goes without saying that some steps fall outside our competence
and must be taken by the Committee of Ministers, while others are
a matter for the political will of Europe’s leaders. However, I
consider that it is our duty to draw their attention to the problems,
to highlight our findings and to formulate recommendations.
3.1 The commitment
of the Organisation’s member states
41 It is absolutely vital to reverse the member states’
dangerous tendency to disengage and ensure that their commitment
to the Organisation is beyond doubt and confirmed by tangible acts.
What is at stake here is the future of the Council of Europe and
the survival and effectiveness of its mechanisms.
42 With regard to the ministerial sessions of the Committee of
Ministers, a distinction can be drawn between two aspects: the substance
of the agenda and the ministers’ excessively busy time-tables. With
regard to the substance, it is the duty of all Council bodies to
enrich it. The Assembly must also make a more active contribution
in this area. As for the ministers’ overloaded timetables, their
participation in other events to the detriment of the Council of
Europe clearly shows a lack of commitment to our Organisation. Why
not introduce clear attendance requirements and penalise countries
not represented at the necessary level?
43 The budgetary situation of the Council of Europe is unacceptable,
and certain strategic decisions in budget matters must be reviewed.
The Assembly has called for such an approach on several occasions
in its opinions. However, so far the Committee of Ministers has
not acted on the Assembly’s recommendations in these matters. Since
the Assembly is statutorily unable to have a fundamental impact
on the budget process, its members should make active use of their
national parliamentary mandates in order to bring influence to bear at
the level of their governments, so that the latter translate their
declarations in favour of the Council of Europe into tangible support
for its activities, materialised by budgetary decisions.
44 All the member states, regardless of their positions vis-à-vis
other organisations, must play their role to the full and assume
their responsibilities as individual, fully-fledged members of the
Council of Europe.
45 As long as the European Union is not a collective member of
the Council of Europe, its influence on decision-making within the
Committee of Ministers must be reduced, without this affecting the
necessary complementarity and co-operation between the two organisations
in accordance with the terms of the Memorandum of Understanding.
46 In view of the experience of the three Council of Europe Summits,
which gave the necessary impetus to the Organisation’s activities,
it would be a good idea to propose the holding of such summits at
regular intervals, in order to take fundamental policy decisions
on where the Organisation is heading. The effectiveness of a summit
naturally depends on the quality of the preparations and on its
political agenda. It is therefore essential that the agenda should
not solely be a matter for the Ministers’ Deputies and should take
full account of the contributions of the Assembly and other Council
of Europe bodies.
47 I also consider it desirable to give greater significance
to the Council of Europe’s conferences of specialised ministers
and to reinforce their links with and impact on the Organisation’s
day-to-day activities. The Ministers’ Deputies are currently reviewing
the rules governing the holding of conferences of specialised ministers.
In this context, thought could be given to allowing national ministries
to contribute to the financing of certain Council of Europe activities
within their areas of responsibility in exchange for delegating
some of the Committee of Ministers’ powers to a given conference,
notably with regard to the choice of priorities for the Organisation’s
intergovernmental activities, as proposed in the Committee of Ministers’
Resolution (89)40. For its part, the Assembly must widen the practice
of inviting the various specialised Ministers to come to express themselves
in the framework of the plenary debates dedicated to these current
events which fall within their competences.
48 At the same time, the Council of Europe would strengthen its
standing in the member states and win additional support if it involved
even more in its activities civil society representatives in the
broad sense. To that end, it can take advantage of a unique institutional
framework – the participatory status granted to a large number of
non-governmental organisations gathered together within the Conference
of INGOs of the Council of Europe.
3.2 The internal democratic
functioning of the Council of Europe
49 It is absolutely essential that the Committee of
Ministers review its working methods so as to be able to respond
more rapidly (for example within six months at most) and, above
all, with far more substance to the Assembly’s documents. In this
connection, it can be recalled that the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities
and Institutional Affairs was recently seized for a report on "The
lack of appropriate follow-up, by the Committee of Ministers, to
the work of the Parliamentary Assembly".
50 It is undeniable that a stronger, more active Assembly that
is more listened to (and better heeded) would help reinforce the
Organisation as a whole, its democratic legitimacy and its effectiveness
in serving the people of Europe. This makes it important to envisage
means of enhancing the Assembly’s political status, authority and
potential. In this context, the proposals contained in the above-mentioned
Recommendation 1763 (2006) remain very relevant. It is moreover
to be hoped that the recent informal meetings between the Presidential Committee
of the Assembly and the Bureau of the Committee of Ministers, which
have so far allowed some constructive exchanges of views, will bring
the desired results.
On the same subject, mention can be made of the requests issued
by the Assembly on a number of occasions – not least in Recommendation 1763
– concerning the necessary reinforcement of its statutory
role, particularly with regard to its involvement in the drafting,
adoption and application of legal instruments of the Council of
Europe, its place in decision-making and its powers relating to
the budgetary process, scrutiny of the Organisation’s activities
and a number of other fields. It is regrettable that most of these
requests have not been followed up by the Ministers’ Deputies.
52 The existing channels of dialogue between the Assembly and
the Committee of Ministers are over-formalised and far from efficient.
Inventive solutions must be found to restore continuity, openness,
dynamism and consistency to this dialogue.
53 In this connection, mention should be made of the recent regular
informal meetings between the Presidential Committee of the Assembly
and the Bureau of the Committee of Ministers, and the contacts between
the President of the Assembly and the Chair of the Ministers’ Deputies.
These practices should be developed, in particular so as to co-ordinate
the viewpoints of the two organs of the Council of Europe, particularly
on topical issues, on the prevention of conflicts or with regard
to crisis situations.
54 The traditional exchanges of views that take place between
the new Chairmanships of the Committee of Ministers and the Assembly
within the context of the Standing Committee’s meetings should also
be given a higher profile and more political substance.
55 Cross-participation of representatives of the Assembly (for
example Committee Chairs and Rapporteurs) and of the Deputies (for
example the Chairs of the Rapporteur Groups) in the other body’s
work should be encouraged and promoted.
56 The functioning of the Joint Committee must also be reviewed.
In its current form it is of scant usefulness as a forum for dialogue
and consultation between the Assembly and the Committee of Ministers.
Would it not be justifiable to revert to the principle of a Joint
Committee at ministerial level, meetings of which would be convened
only if necessary to permit a genuine dialogue between political
3.3 The role of the
57 Apart from the inter-institutional aspects, it is
within the Assembly itself that its importance and relevance are
determined. Its role is shaped by the commitment of its member parliamentarians,
by we ourselves my dear colleagues, by our courage, our tenacity
and our determination. It is essential that we remain loyal to our values,
that we protect them without compromising them and that we sanction
any breaches thereof without hesitation, while remaining open to
constructive dialogue and co-operation. The Assembly must remain
the conscience of Europe. For that reason, we must not allow “Realpolitik”
to gain the upper hand over our basic principles and values.
58 It is also important that the Assembly should be able to make
full use of the strength it derives from the national legislative
powers of its members. I refer here to the report presented some
months ago by our fellow Assembly member Lord Tomlinson on “Use
by Assembly members of their dual parliamentary role – both national
and European.” As national parliamentarians, Assembly members enjoy
certain powers in respect of their home countries’ governments.
They should make more active use of their national mandates to promote the
values of the Council of Europe, make its activities better known,
defend the Assembly’s standpoints and thereby influence the stances
adopted by their respective ministers and diplomatic agents within
the Committee of Ministers.
59 At a more general level, the Assembly’s relations with the
national parliaments should be intensified and be transformed from
mere formal exchanges into a genuine partnership. The Assembly should
be able to count on strong support for its initiatives by the national
legislative assemblies, and vice versa. This would help reinforce
parliamentary democracy in Europe at the national and the international
levels, and would ultimately serve voters’ interests.
60 In this connection, mention must be made of the European Conferences
of Presidents of Parliaments organised by the Assembly every two
years. Would it not be appropriate to consider means of reinforcing
the link between these conferences and the work of the Assembly,
so they can contribute to the definition and the implementation
of the Assembly’s priorities?
61 Another way of reinforcing the Assembly’s influence on political
choices and decisions to be taken at the level of the Organisation
could be to establish more active, advance co-operation with the
rotating Chairmanships of the Committee of Ministers. These Chairmanships
have an essential role in determining the priorities of the Council
of Europe for their six-month terms. At present, the country next
to hold the Chairmanship does not consult the Assembly on the priorities
it plans to promote, and the Assembly has only limited means of
reacting once these priorities have been decided and made public.
62 Consideration should be given to making arrangements for the
Assembly (for example through its Bureau) to hold an exchange of
views with the parliamentary delegation of the country next to hold
the Chairmanship before the priorities are finalised, that is to
say in advance. This would make it possible to involve the parliamentary
dimension, and the Assembly a voice, in the choice of policy directions
for the Organisation’s activities, while allowing the future Chairmanship
of the Committee of Ministers to take account of the suggestions
made and concerns expressed by the representatives of the people
of Europe. Thought could also be given to the desirability of making
the Chairs of the parliamentary delegations of the “troika” countries
(the outgoing, current and next Chairmanships) ex officio members
of the Bureau. This would allow a reinforcement of parliamentary
influence on the Chairmanship and ensure greater continuity in the
63 To enhance the relevance of its work and the credibility of
its decisions, the Assembly should be more rigorous when selecting
the themes of its debates, even if that means producing less reports.
At present, attempts to utilise the Assembly’s authority to attain
narrow partisan or national political objectives, or to put pressure
on a given state, government, parliament or political party, are
a not infrequent occurrence.
64 Such practices harm the image of the Assembly as the trustee
of Europe’s collective conscience and may undermine the credibility
of its decisions. It is accordingly necessary to prevent the Assembly’s
reputation from being exploited and to ensure that its work concerns
general interest European political issues and new challenges to
European societies, without ever losing sight of the three key fields
of human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
Many reports and resolutions have been published on the problem
of the low profile of the Assembly’s work and of the Council of
Europe as a whole. However, it can but be said that little has changed
here, and the Assembly is still not well known among the general
public. It is true that some of the proposals set out in Resolution 1498 (2006)
“Enhancing the visibility of the Council of Europe”
have been implemented and have allowed a revision of the Assembly’s
communication strategy. Nonetheless, further efforts are needed
with regard to the content of communication to give greater prominence
to the most emblematic activities of the Assembly. The positive
experience of the recent campaign to combat domestic violence against
women could serve as an example here.
66 Activities targeting certain social groups should also be
developed to enhance the Assembly’s influence and reputation in
these circles. In this connection, the regular holding of a Council
of Europe Youth Assembly in Strasbourg might be envisaged as a means
of involving representatives of the young people of Europe in the
political life and work of our Organisation. Such an Assembly, focusing
on the key issues relating to the functioning of democratic societies,
could help reinforce Strasbourg’s image as a pole of reference in democratic
matters – a sort of “Davos of democracy”. I will say more about
this in paragraph 89 below.
67 To guarantee greater continuity of the Assembly’s action,
I deem it appropriate to reconsider the recent decision to set a
two-year limit on the terms of office of the President of the Assembly
and the Chairs of committees. I am aware that this is a matter for
the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional
Affairs. However, it is our duty to pose the problem in political
terms, since the President of the Assembly and the Chairs of the
committees play an important role in determining priorities and
exercise considerable influence over the Assembly’s activities.
So they can play this role to the full, the previous three-year
limit should be reinstated.
68 The Assembly has a sound international reputation and benefits
from an extensive network of institutional partnerships ranging
well beyond the confines of Europe. Its experience and work are
of interest to, and serve as an example for, a number of parliaments
and parliamentary associations of states not members of the Council
of Europe. It has close relations and co-operation agreements with
a number of regional assemblies both in Europe and in other parts
of the world.
69 It should continue to turn this interest to advantage in spreading
the Organisation’s values and principles. In particular, co-operation
with the parliaments granted observer status by the Assembly should
70 The new status of “partner for democracy” opens up further
possibilities for stepping up the Assembly’s co-operation with the
parliaments of Europe’s neighbouring states, broadening the Organisation’s acquis beyond the borders of its
member states and offering the new partners the benefit of the Council
of Europe’s expertise and experience in its fields of excellence.
It should help to reinforce our standing as a leading international
3.4 The Court – how
to break the deadlock?
71 I have already mentioned the problems arising from
the non-entry into force of Protocol No. 14 and the interim solution
offered by the rapid implementation of Protocol No. 14 bis, which
would permit a partial improvement in the situation. In this connection,
I would point out that the Assembly has adopted a position of principle
as to the absolute need for Russia to ratify Protocol No. 14, so
that it can come into force. However, it must be acknowledged that
Protocol No. 14 is no miracle solution. The Court’s real problem
is the weakness of the member states’ domestic justice systems,
the lack or insufficiency of effective remedies and the deficiencies
in the execution of judicial decisions, including the judgments
of the Court, to mention but a few difficulties. The main effort
should therefore focus on repairing the systemic flaws of the national
justice mechanisms as the sole means of restoring public confidence.
Without gong into details, I refer here to the work of the Committee
on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, notably the report being prepared
by Ms Bemelmans-Videc on “Guaranteeing the authority and effectiveness
of the European Convention on Human Rights”.
3.5 Enhancing the Council
of Europe’s relevance for the member states and for all Europeans
72 I am convinced that the Council of Europe remains
the organisation best suited to guarantee the protection and promotion
of the fundamental principles and values enshrined in its Statute,
which are the common heritage of all Europeans. To preserve its
pioneering role in such matters and develop its potential to the
full, the Organisation must continue to exercise vigilance regarding
changes taking place within our states, identify new societal issues
and trends, permit the pooling of national solutions and rapidly
propose appropriate common responses, have no hesitation about dealing
with controversial subjects, ensure better implementation and more
transparent follow-up of its decisions (for example by more forcefully
promoting the signature and ratification of its conventions), significantly
enhance its visibility and raise its profile among decision-makers
and the public, be attentive to others and increase the number of
two-way communication channels so as to enhance its contacts with
all strata of society, not least the public at large.
4 Where does the
Council of Europe’s future lie?
73 Although the Council of Europe’s track record over
its sixty years of existence can be considered satisfactory, this
achievement alone offers no guarantees as regards the Organisation’s
future, especially as it has to face a number of new challenges.
4.1.1 Are the Council
of Europe’s values still relevant today?
74 The Europe of 2009 is very different from that of
1949. The concepts of democracy and human rights have taken a firm
hold in the minds and daily lives of the people of Europe. But does
this mean that these principles and values no longer need to be
75 I am deeply convinced that the efforts to promote democracy
and human rights must never cease, first and foremost because human
societies are far from perfect: they involve a multitude of day-to-day
conflicts affecting individuals and communities and setting them
one against the other; it comes as no surprise that certain rights
may be breached in this process. It is therefore of key importance
that our societies, which have asserted their attachment to our
fundamental values, should be in a position to guarantee their protection.
76 Account must also be taken of the fact that democracy and
human rights are not immutable concepts. On the contrary, they evolve
at the same pace as life itself, which is constantly changing. New
aspects of democracy and human rights emerge as a result of technical
progress, social trends or new challenges confronting society. Our
efforts to promote and protect the fundamental values must therefore
be attuned to these developments.
77 Lastly, in an increasingly globalised world, the universal
nature of our human values, such as human rights and democracy,
is becoming a contemporary concern owing to the fact that it is
often challenged; some countries seek to play down or even refute
this universality, invoking their own “systems of values”. The universal
protection of human rights and democracy is becoming a major issue.
4.1.2 Is the Council
of Europe still the appropriate body within which to promote and
protect these principles and values?
78 It is reassuring to note that, over the years, the
protection and promotion of fundamental principles and values have
come to occupy an important place in international relations. Several
international and European organisations are active in this area.
79 At world level, reference can be made to the efforts undertaken
within the United Nations, which enshrined human rights in its fundamental
instruments – the Charter (1945) and the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights (1948). Mention must also be made of the activities of the
UN Human Rights Council and of the various committees set up by
this organisation to implement the international treaties on human
rights, as well as of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and
the special rapporteurs.
80 In Europe, the principal institutional partners of the Council
of Europe, namely the European Union and the OSCE, are also active
in this field. For the European Union, human rights, democracy and
the rule of law are essential values embodied in the founding treaty
and reinforced through the adoption of a Charter of Fundamental
Rights (2000). A European Union Fundamental Rights Agency was established
in 2007 to provide the EU’s organs and member states with assistance
in these matters.
81 The basic texts of the OSCE (such as the Helsinki Final Act
of 1975, the Charter of Paris for a New Europe and the 1990 Copenhagen
Document on the human dimension) also refer to human rights, democracy and
the rule of law and require the OSCE’s participating states to protect
and promote these values. The OSCE devotes an important part of
its activities to these fields. It also has a specialist body to
deal with these matters – the Office for Democratic Institutions
and Human Rights.
82 However, the Council of Europe is the sole pan-European organisation
whose statutory aim is to achieve a greater unity between its members
for the purpose of safeguarding and realising the ideals and principles, based
on spiritual and moral values which are their common heritage –
political freedom, personal freedom and the rule of law – on which
all true democracies are founded.
83 The mechanisms put in place within the Council of Europe to
promote and protect these principles and values are without doubt
the most elaborate world-wide. They cover all aspects of human rights,
democracy and the rule of law, are capable of adapting to developments
and meeting new challenges and serve as a reference for other organisations.
The experience amassed through these mechanisms, including the case
law of the European Court of Human Rights, constitutes a key asset
and achievement. Naturally, if the Council of Europe is to retain
its pioneering role in these matters, care should be taken to ensure
that its instruments remain fully operational, are kept in line
with societal trends and, above all, are implemented fully and effectively.
4.2 New challenges
84 The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the communist
regimes in Eastern Europe allowed the peaceful reunification of
Europe on the basis of shared principles and values. The ideological
dividing lines of the past no longer threaten Europe’s unity and
stability. Nonetheless, it cannot be assumed that our continent’s peace
and security are guaranteed once and for all. The Council of Europe
must remain vigilant so as to anticipate new challenges to democracy
and human rights and step up its efforts to respond to the “traditional” threats
that continue to affect European societies.
85 The war in the Caucasus in August 2008 was a failure of the
European crisis prevention system. The risk of clashes continues
to exist in many so-called “frozen conflict” zones, endangering
the stability of Europe as a whole. The Council of Europe should
be doing far more than before in the field of conflict prevention,
using the specific means at its disposal and in co-ordination with
the other European and international players concerned. The Forum
on Early Warning in Conflict Prevention which the Political Affairs
Committee is organising in September 2009 could provide new food
for thought on this subject. The political mediation capacities
of the Organisation’s various bodies should be pooled and more actively
utilised. It is essential that, when faced with a conflict or a
crisis, these bodies adopt a co-ordinated response.
86 Although their nature and causes are different, terrorism
and political extremism (movements which are ready to use violence
or which spread hatred and intolerance) both seek to misuse the
benefits of the democratic system for purposes that run counter
to its fundamental values. The Council of Europe has already made
considerable efforts to identify common, carefully measured responses
to these phenomena. At the same time, it has stressed the absolute
need for strict compliance with the basic principles and values
and with human rights standards when seeking to combat them. Reference
can be made here to the stances adopted by the Assembly in relation
to the two reports submitted by Mr Marty entitled “Alleged secret
detentions and unlawful inter-state transfers of detainees involving
Council of Europe member states” (June 2006) and “Secret detentions
and illegal transfers of detainees involving Council of Europe member
states: second report” (June 2007). The underlying causes of these
phenomena should be more thoroughly analysed, and a greater prevention
effort should be made, but without relaxing our vigilance in matters
of respect for human rights.
87 Many cities in Europe have experienced a recrudescence of
urban violence and the emergence of genuine lawless neighbourhoods.
Pooling national experience of preventing and managing this dangerous social
phenomenon is a task for the Council of Europe in view of its expertise
in the social field and in rule of law matters. The debate on these
problems initiated by the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities
of Europe should be broadened and deepened.
88 The public’s declining interest in politics and lower election
turnouts, both of which are clear to see in many European countries,
are also a danger for the stability of democratic systems, since
they diminish the social foundations of democracy and its legitimacy.
The Council of Europe must reinforce its activities relating to
trends in democracy and give consideration to consolidating the
common legal basis in these matters.
89 In this connection, it must be acknowledged that, although
the Council of Europe has a high public profile and an undoubted
reputation as regards the protection of human rights, the same cannot
yet be said of its activities relating to democracy. Our Organisation
nonetheless has a number of mechanisms and structures that lend
themselves to a consolidation of its pioneering role in this field:
the annual Forums for the Future of Democracy, the Assembly’s biennial
debates on the state of democracy in Europe, the Venice Commission, the
Summer University for Democracy, which brings together in Strasbourg
the young leaders participating in the Schools of Political Studies
network. Is it not now time to reinforce, co-ordinate and give more
visibility to all these activities so as to establish their Strasbourg
base as a genuine “Davos of democracy” – a high profile think tank
and debating forum on democracy?
90 In the same order of ideas, I believe that an important thorough
work is needed on the fundamental values defended by the Council
of Europe. In a more and more globalised context, where principles
and values, traditionally conceived as universal (such as human
rights …) are more and more criticised as an emanation of a particular
culture (by China, Iran, by the Western relativism itself) we need
to reaffirm them in new formulations, adapted to our times. Obviously,
the universal character of the values defended by the Council of
Europe does not exclude the promotion of the cultural diversity,
to the contrary. Its exactly the articulation between universality
and particularity that offers the the most certain means to make
applicable our fundamental values. Why not make, under the aegis
of the Council of Europe, a vast european network of politicians,
academics, philosophers and theologians, work on these questions?
91 The current global economic crisis is putting many issues
on the agenda: the business sector’s social responsibility, protection
of human and social rights in periods of recession and, more generally,
the economy’s impact on democracy and human rights. This is also
an opportunity to reassert the importance of social cohesion as
a foundation for the political stability of society. The activities
aimed at combating social exclusion and eradicating poverty should
92 Globalisation is not a danger in itself, but one consequence
of it is that local or regional problems increasingly have implications
for other parts of the world. It is no longer possible to hope to
guarantee stability in Europe if the neighbouring regions are not
also stable. The Council of Europe’s work must necessarily take into
account the extra-European dimension of the issues addressed. Along
the same lines, an effort should be made to extend the Council of
Europe’s legal standards beyond its borders, first and foremost
to Europe’s neighbouring regions (the southern and eastern shores
of the Mediterranean, the Middle East and Central Asia), inter alia
through conventions and other instruments open to third countries.
93 This is naturally only a small cross-section of the challenges
and threats confronting our societies which could usefully be addressed
through common action at the level of the Council of Europe. Our
task is therefore to ensure that our Organisation’s pre-emptive
and reactive capacities are fully put to use to serve the interests of
our member states and, above all, of the people of Europe.
94 The member states have entrusted the Council of Europe
with the role of guardian of the values they consider fundamental
to European civilisation – democracy, human rights and the rule
95 Over its sixty years of existence, our Organisation has shown
itself to be equal to this task. It has succeeded in devising specific
standards which transform the fundamental values into binding obligations. Today
it has a considerable array of mechanisms that serve to guarantee
compliance with these standards.
96 Thanks to the activities of the Council of Europe, the principles
of democracy, human rights and the rule of law are now part and
parcel of Europeans’ daily lives and form the pillars of European
unity. However, in our constantly changing societies, these principles
are continuously being tested afresh and always need to be redefined,
reasserted and protected.
97 This is why the states and citizens of Europe today need a
Council of Europe that is watchful, combative and flexible, always
ready to defend and consolidate the principles that form the common
basis of European societies. The Organisation must draw lessons
from the critical analysis of its achievements and its missed opportunities,
its strengths and its weaknesses and deficiencies, and continue
to adapt itself to the requirements of today’s world so as to be
equal to its role and serve the people of Europe as best it can.
The Council of Europe’s action must be supported and reinforced
so as to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.
98 At the same time, it is vital that the Council of Europe,
while retaining its specificity, should offer European states which
are not destined or do not intend to accede to the European Union
an institutional possibility of participating on an equal footing
in the process of building a united Europe.
99 In addition, both the European Union and the OSCE make reference
in their instruments and activities to the values of democracy,
human rights and the rule of law, protection of which is the statutory
aim and the raison d’être of the Council of Europe.
100 These principles and values naturally do not belong to our
Organisation alone. However, the Council of Europe’s mechanisms
for their effective protection, on the basis of the well-defined,
legally binding standards it has developed, and its expertise in
this field are unique and serve as a reference in these matters.
Weakening this role would seriously harm the existing system for
safeguarding these fundamental values and would have consequences
for Europe’s institutional balance. Our duty is therefore to ensure
that the Council of Europe remains equal to its role and true to
its vocation as the guardian of democracy, human rights and the
rule of law.