State of human rights and democracy in Europe
- Parliamentary Assembly
- Assembly debate on
18 April 2007 (15th Sitting) (see Doc. 11203, report of the Political Affairs Committee, rapporteur:
Mr Gross; Doc. 11202, report of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human
Rights, rapporteur: Mr Pourgourides; Doc. 11215, opinion of the Committee on Economic Affairs and Development,
rapporteur: Mrs Pirozhnikova; Doc.
11218, opinion of the Committee on Culture, Science and Education,
rapporteur: Mrs Melo; Doc. 11219, opinion of the Committee on the Environment, Agriculture
and Local and Regional Affairs, rapporteur: Mr Platvoet; Doc. 11220, opinion of the Committee on Equal Opportunities for
Women and Men, rapporteur: Mrs Čurdová; and Doc. 11221, opinion of the Committee on Rules of Procedure and
Immunities, rapporteur: Mr Čekuolis). Text adopted by the Assembly
on 18 April 2007 (15th Sitting).
1 Membership of the Council of
Europe, founded in 1949, is based on three pillars: the enjoyment
of human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons within the
jurisdiction of its member states, the consolidation of the rule
of law, and the existence of a genuine pluralistic democracy, based
on the spiritual and moral values which are the common European
heritage. The Council of Europe’s achievements in the field of human
rights and in the establishment and consolidation of democracy are
2 However, we must never allow ourselves to become complacent
with respect to this acquis, even though it has surpassed the Organisation’s
founding fathers’ most optimistic dreams. The Parliamentary Assembly
of the Council of Europe, composed of parliamentarians from the
Organisation’s 46 member states, therefore feels duty bound not
only to acknowledge the Organisation’s outstanding achievements,
but also to highlight the new tasks and challenges confronting it
in the 21st century.
I. The state of human rights
i. The Council of Europe, Europe’s human rights watchdog
3 The Assembly recalls the Council of Europe’s irreplaceable
role as the leading human rights organisation in Europe: had it
not been set up in 1949, it would now need to be created.
4 The Council of Europe now encompasses almost the entire continent
and is the point of reference for and the guardian of human rights,
democracy and respect for the rule of law in Europe. It possesses
an array of effective control mechanisms, among which the European
Convention on Human Rights (ETS N°. 5), the European Convention
for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment
or Punishment (ETS No. 126), the European Social Charter (ETS N°.
35) and the Framework Convention for the Protection of National
Minorities (ETS N°. 157) are at the forefront. These instruments
possess independent review bodies, such as the European Court of
Human Rights (the Court), unique in providing for the international
judicial protection of human rights. This arsenal for human rights
protection has been reinforced, notably by the creation of the European
Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) and the institution
of the Commissioner for Human Rights.
5 In addition to its standard-setting and monitoring activities,
the Council of Europe runs co-operation, assistance and awareness-raising
programmes in the legal and human rights fields, which include legislative expertise,
capacity building and training. This work, often carried out in
partnership with the European Commission, the Organization for Security
and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the United Nations and its specialised
agencies, such as the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as
well as non-governmental partners, contributes effectively to the
constant improvement and consolidation of legal norms and their implementation
in member states, thus strengthening democratic stability in Europe.
The role of the Council of Europe in stimulating and actively supporting
the creation of independent national human rights structures in member
states is an example of the Organisation’s contribution to the consolidation
of human rights institutions in Europe.
6 One of the greatest achievements of the Council of Europe,
and of its Parliamentary Assembly in particular, is the de facto
abolition of the death penalty in peacetime in all member states.
7 The Assembly recalls that these successes have been achieved
with very limited resources, as the total budget of the Council
of Europe – including that of the Assembly and the Court –, of less
than €200 million in 2007, amounted to less than 15% of the 2007
budget of the European Parliament alone.
ii. Major human rights challenges
8 While recognising that much progress has been made in member
states, there remains a need to reduce the gap between standards
on paper and the reality on the ground. The full implementation
of existing human rights in everyday life is an unfinished task.
Human rights can most effectively be defended when they are embedded
in the culture of its citizens, which requires adequate cultural
and education policies by all member states and the Council of Europe.
9 The Assembly remains deeply concerned that human rights violations,
including very serious ones, still take place in Europe.
10 In several European countries, human rights defenders are
harassed and face a worsening climate of repression. Unimpeded work
of human rights defenders, in particular non-governmental organisations,
lawyers and journalists, is crucial for the protection and promotion
of human rights in Europe.
11 The rule of law is still not fully respected in several European
countries. Judicial independence and the effectiveness of legal
proceedings need consolidation and strengthening in many instances.
Moreover, there continue to exist geographical “black holes” where
the Council of Europe’s human rights mechanisms cannot be fully
implemented. This concerns Belarus, a non-member country, and certain
areas within member states whose authorities are not internationally
recognised and/or which are not under their de facto control, such
as Nagorno-Karabakh, Kosovo, the “Moldovan Republic of Transnistria”,
South Ossetia and Abkhazia, as well as northern Cyprus.
Even the most serious human rights violations, such as enforced
disappearances, extrajudicial killings, secret detentions, torture
and inhuman treatment, still occur in Europe, as indicated in the
report of the Assembly’s Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights
13 Impunity, even for these most serious human rights violations,
has not been eradicated in Europe. Impunity needs to be rooted out
by prompt, thorough and impartial investigations and prosecutions.
14 Terrorism is one of the key challenges for Europe’s open societies;
it can and must be vanquished without violating the very principles
of human rights, the rule of law and tolerance that terrorists set
out to destroy.
15 Trafficking in human beings, especially women and children,
is the modern form of the old worldwide slave trade. Human beings
are treated as goods to be bought and sold. This phenomenon is widespread
in Europe and constitutes a serious violation of human rights. The
new Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in
Human Beings (CETS N°. 197), opened for signature in May 2005, is
a major step in the fight against this scourge.
Throughout Europe, there are persons in particularly vulnerable
situations whose rights need further and enhanced protection.
16.1 The treatment of persons deprived
of their liberty deserves increased attention, be they detained in
police cells, prisons, psychiatric hospitals, or other detention
facilities such as holding centres for irregular migrants. The eradication
of all ill-treatment of persons detained, including the most serious documented
incidences of torture, the existence of which has been established
by the European Court of Human Rights in different regions of Europe
and in particular in the North Caucasus, must continue to be given
16.2 Too many refugees and internally displaced persons are
unable to return to their homes in safety. Asylum seekers have difficulties
entering Europe and, once in a member state, they are often faced
with the de facto impossibility of having their application dealt
with fairly because of administrative procedures of unacceptable
complexity; this situation is made worse by substantial differences
of treatment from one country to another. In addition, migrants
– especially those in an irregular situation – often suffer discriminatory
treatment in obtaining access to their social and economic rights.
16.3 The rights of children, the elderly and persons with disabilities
also require better protection.
16.4 Special efforts must be deployed to integrate better socially
excluded persons, including Roma and Travellers.
17 Violence against women, including domestic violence, is still
widespread and must resolutely be fought against at all levels.
Forced and child marriages, so-called “honour crimes” and female
genital mutilation also constitute grave human rights violations
which need to be addressed without further delay.
18 Racism, xenophobia and intolerance have not been eradicated
and discrimination based on racial, ethnic or religious origin remains
widespread in European societies. The upsurge of anti-Semitism is
of particular concern, as is the disturbing increase of islamophobia.
19 Discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation is prevalent
in a number of states. The denial or unacceptable restriction of
rights, such as freedom of expression, association and assembly
based on grounds of gender or sexual orientation, is intolerable.
20 Similarly, in many member states, respect for the rights of
persons belonging to national or other minorities, as well as the
integration of minority groups into society, in particular Roma
and Travellers, remain major challenges.
21 Social and economic rights need to be fully respected, notably
as regards access to education, housing, health care, employment,
minimum income, social benefits and pensions. All member states
should consider themselves bound to uphold these rights in accordance,
inter alia, with the principles laid down in the revised European
Social Charter (ETS N°. 163).
22 Cultural rights are part of human rights, in particular the
right to education under Article 2 of the Protocol to the European
Convention on Human Rights (ETS N°. 9) and the right of everyone
to take part in cultural life under Article 15 of the UN International
Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Member states must
respect these rights and those enshrined in the Council of Europe
Framework Convention on the Value of Cultural Heritage for Society
(CETS No. 199), as well as academic freedom and university autonomy.
23 The Council of Europe has also drawn up the only comprehensive
set of international standards for bioethics in the Convention on
Human Rights and Biomedicine (ETS N°. 164) and its protocols.
24 Sustainable development is another major European and global
objective. Everyone should have a right to a healthy, viable and
decent environment. This right is interdependent with and inseparable
from the fundamental values of peace and the rule of law, respect
for human dignity and human rights, equity between generations,
social and spatial cohesion and economic development. It must be
guaranteed if sustainable, solidarity-based development is to be
achieved for present and future generations.
iii. The necessity to strengthen the Organisation’s human
25 In view of the above challenges, the Assembly considers that
the Council of Europe’s statutory mission remains equally – if not
more – relevant as it was at its inception in 1949. The Organisation
must be further strengthened as Europe’s “moral conscience”.
26 In order to guarantee the long-term effectiveness of the European
Convention on Human Rights, implementation of the reform process
must be accelerated. The swift entry into force of Protocol No.
14 to the Convention (CETS N°. 194) is necessary, but not sufficient.
Human rights must first and foremost be enforced at the national
27 Considering its limited resources, the Council of Europe,
including its Parliamentary Assembly, should focus on its areas
of excellence – human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
28 The credibility of the Council of Europe as Europe’s leading
human rights organisation depends on the capacity of the Committee
of Ministers, the Organisation’s decision-making body, to live up
to its responsibilities in the face of major human rights challenges.
Decision making by consensus may paralyse the Organisation’s human
29 Another major challenge for the Organisation’s human rights
protection system is the risk of unnecessary duplication of its
activities by European Union bodies, which could lead to double
standards and new dividing lines in Europe. Such duplication would
also waste scarce budgetary resources at a time of general austerity. The
European Union and its member states should make better use of existing
Council of Europe instruments, with accession to the European Convention
on Human Rights now being an urgent priority. Active consideration
should also be given to EU/European Community accession to the revised
European Social Charter. Complementarity and the search for added
value should also govern relations between the Council of Europe
and the newly-founded European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights.
iv. The way forward
The Parliamentary Assembly recalls its previous resolutions
addressing specific human rights issues referred to in the present
text and in the report of the Assembly’s Committee on Legal Affairs
and Human Rights (Doc.
31 The Assembly is concerned by the gap between solemn declarations
and commitments undertaken by member states – including at the 3rd
Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Council of Europe,
held in Warsaw in May 2005 – and the situation in practice, where
human rights violations often remain without redress or remedy.
This gap undermines the credibility of all our national leaders,
our parliamentary bodies, of the Organisation, and that of the whole
European continent and the universal values it upholds.
32 The Assembly considers that it is now time to end hypocrisy
and to turn words into deeds. Τhe Assembly further considers that
the most effective method of preventing human rights violations
is by showing zero tolerance towards such violations.
33 It therefore resolves first and foremost to mandate itself,
with respect to its future work, to give higher priority to human
rights and the rule of law, inviting the Committee of Ministers
to do likewise.
It also calls upon all member states of the Council of Europe,
and in particular their respective parliamentary bodies, to address
all the issues raised in the reports and opinions underlying this
resolution and in particular, to:
prompt and full implementation of the 2005 Warsaw Summit Declaration
and Action Plan, notably measures ensuring the continued effectiveness
of the European Convention on Human Rights and those aiming at protecting
and promoting human rights and the rule of law through other Council
of Europe institutions and mechanisms;
34.2 take all appropriate measures in a resolute effort to
eliminate all human rights violations, and in particular enforced
disappearances, extrajudicial killings, secret detentions, torture
and inhuman treatment, and to effectively investigate these crimes
and prosecute the perpetrators. In this respect, the Assembly recalls,
again, that the right to life and the prohibition of torture and
inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment are non-derogable rights
under the European Convention on Human Rights;
34.3 root out impunity of human rights violators by swiftly
and firmly condemning such violations at the highest level, by ensuring
that law-enforcement bodies carry out effective, impartial and transparent investigations,
and by holding the authorities accountable before parliament;
34.4 protect effectively human rights defenders and their work,
including the unhindered access of individuals to the European Court
of Human Rights;
34.5 give full effect, at national level, to the rights guaranteed
by the European Convention on Human Rights and other international
human rights instruments, thereby making human rights a reality
for people everywhere in Europe;
34.6 fully implement the judgments of the European Court of
Human Rights within the legal order of all member states;
34.7 develop human rights education as a basic requirement
of school education and lifelong learning;
34.8 fully respect human rights while fighting terrorism, as
already requested by the Assembly on numerous occasions, refuse
to expel or extradite any individual to a country where there is
a real risk of their being subjected to serious human rights violations,
regardless of assurances received, as well as to sign and/or ratify
at the earliest opportunity the Organisation’s conventions and instruments
pertaining to human rights, including those on combating terrorism;
34.9 eliminate trafficking in human beings. In this respect,
the Assembly calls on member states to sign and/or ratify the Council
of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings
without delay so that it enters into force as soon as possible;
in any event, to apply forthwith its most important provisions.
The Assembly also calls on the European Union to sign and ratify
this convention as soon as possible;
34.10 better protect the rights of persons in particularly vulnerable
situations, notably persons deprived of their liberty, refugees
and internally displaced persons, missing persons and members of
their families, asylum seekers and migrants, children, the elderly,
persons with disabilities, socially excluded persons, including
Roma and Travellers, and fully co-operate with relevant treaty-based
and other bodies working in this field;
34.11 effectively combat domestic violence, forced marriages
and child marriages, as well as so-called “honour crimes” and female
34.12 concerning the fight against domestic violence, continue
and step up their efforts to implement the programme of the Council
of Europe Campaign to Combat Violence against Women, including domestic
violence, alert public opinion and pass laws prohibiting domestic
violence against women;
34.13 combat effectively all forms of discrimination based on
racial, ethnic or religious origin, in particular the upsurge of
anti-Semitism and islamophobia, and in this respect, sign and ratify
Protocol No. 12 to the European Convention on Human Rights (ETS
No. 177), providing for a general prohibition of discrimination,
and fully implement ECRI’s recommendations;
34.14 combat effectively all forms of discrimination based on
gender or sexual orientation, introduce anti-discrimination legislation,
partnership rights and awareness-raising programmes where these
are not already in place;
34.15 better protect the rights of persons belonging to national
and other minorities and better ensure integration of minority groups
in society, in particular Roma and Travellers;
34.16 sign and/or ratify the revised European Social Charter,
as well as the Charter’s collective complaints procedure, and fully
uphold and apply social and economic rights, notably as regards
access to facilities for vocational guidance and training, housing,
health care, employment, minimum income, social benefits and pensions,
with a view to building a more human and inclusive Europe;
34.17 fully respect the right to education under Article 2 of
the Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights and the
right of everyone to take part in cultural life under Article 15
of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights;
34.18 become party to the Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine
and to its protocols;
34.19 seek gradual and complete eradication of poverty;
34.20 take legislative measures in favour of joint sustainable
management of resources, to protect the environment, to stimulate
the use of renewable energy sources, to implement energy-saving programmes
in industry, offices and housing, to stimulate public transport
and sustainable water management, and to put in place an agriculture
policy in which food safety, animal welfare and the sustainable
use of resources are central elements;
34.21 more generally, sign and/or ratify all of the Council
of Europe’s main legal instruments in the human rights field without
reservations or restrictive interpretative declarations, and withdraw
those which have already been made;
34.22 enhance the role of the Council of Europe as an effective
mechanism of pan-European co-operation in protecting and promoting
34.23 ensure that complementarity and the search for added value
governs relations between the Council of Europe and other international
organisations and bodies working in the human rights field, and
in particular with the new European Union Agency for Fundamental
Rights, in order to avoid duplication of activities and waste of
34.24 consider the swift accession of the European Union to
the European Convention on Human Rights as an urgent priority and,
for those states which are also members of the European Union, take the
necessary measures to ensure such accession;
34.25 make better use of Council of Europe instruments and institutions,
and ensure that the Organisation’s resources are considerably increased
on account of its important achievements in the human rights field.
35 The Assembly further resolves, in close co-operation with
the national delegations of the Assembly, to invite the competent
committees of the parliaments of member states to an annual conference
of parliamentary legal and human rights committees in order to take
stock of shortcomings and progress in the field of human rights
and the rule of law, to exchange good practices and identify any
necessary improvements for national legislation and possible future
Council of Europe action in the field.
36 In view of the significant contribution of civil society,
including human rights defenders, to the promotion and protection
of human rights, the Assembly invites its Bureau to establish an
annual award of the Parliamentary Assembly for outstanding civil
society action in the defence of human rights as well as the criteria for
selecting the candidates.
II. The state of democracy in
i. The Council of Europe, home of democracy
37 The Assembly recalls that the Council of Europe is the oldest
pan-European institution standing for democratic values and principles.
Acceptance and realisation of the principles of democracy, the rule
of law and human rights and fundamental freedoms are a necessary
condition for membership in the Organisation.
38 Since its creation fifty-eight years ago, the Council of Europe
has established an important acquis in the field of democracy which
constitutes a valid reference for the development of democracy.
It includes 200 conventions, treaties and charters, as well as recommendations
of the Committee of Ministers, recommendations, resolutions and
opinions of the Parliamentary Assembly, recommendations, resolutions and
opinions of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the
Council of Europe, reports of other Council of Europe bodies, in
particular, the European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission),
the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) and
the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO), as well as various
background reports and publications that support the activities of
the Council of Europe and the output of interdisciplinary projects.
39 The Council of Europe’s acquis in the field of democracy is
aimed at assisting standard setting and it seeks to do this through
the elaboration of legal instruments, and at establishing particular
institutional structures or practices. Apart from this legal basis,
the development of democratic institutions and practices in member
states is addressed through the activities of the Council of Europe’s
organs and bodies which provide guidelines for the identification
of democratic priorities and concerns.
40 The Council of Europe has played an essential role in supporting
the democratic transformation processes of the mid-1970s and early
1990s, which are still ongoing in some European countries, and in consolidating
democracy in its member states.
41 From pre-accession co-operation through to the formal accession
and subsequent monitoring procedures, the Council of Europe has
effectively guided countries through the difficult process of democratisation
by offering its expertise, legal assistance and co-operation programmes,
and by identifying deficiencies and proposing concrete remedies
and solutions in compliance with democratic standards.
42 Because it is an open, never-ending process in which the freedom
of all citizens to affect their own lives should be increased, democracy
is still a challenge for all Council of Europe member states. In
many of them, citizens are not satisfied with the state of their
democracy and try to overcome democratic deficits and improve the
quality of their democracy. Democracy can best flourish and succeed
when it is embedded in the culture of its citizens, which requires
affirmative education and cultural policies by all member states
and the Council of Europe.
43 With a view to further developing and deepening the reflection
on different critical issues in the field of today’s democracy in
all Council of Europe member states, the Forum for the Future of
Democracy was established in 2005, following the 3rd Summit of the
Council of Europe.
ii. Major challenges to democracy
44 While expressing satisfaction at the unquestionable achievements
and progress in the implementation of democratic standards in the
European continent over recent years, the Assembly expresses its
concern over the increasing number of deficits in democracy which
may be observed in all Council of Europe member states.
45 45. The Assembly notes, with great concern, the increasing
political discontent and disaffection among citizens, which is well
illustrated by a declining turnout at elections and a growing disappointment
or indifference towards politics, especially among the younger generations.
As a result, people are losing confidence in democracy and the gap
between political institutions and citizens is increasing.
46 This phenomenon is interrelated with the dysfunctioning of
some political institutions in many countries: political parties
have partly lost their capacity to be a link between citizens and
state; representativeness of parliaments is all too often questionable;
basic principles of democracy such as separation of powers, political freedoms,
transparency and accountability are widely perceived, and sometimes
rightly so, as being insufficiently implemented or not implemented
47 In some “old democracies”, the decline in interest towards
the dominant parties and parliament is not an expression of a lack
of political interest but of a critical assessment of the work of
these institutions. In these cases, the traditional institutions
of representative democracy should open themselves to more citizen participation
in order to overcome their own shortcomings and to remotivate those
citizens who are concerned with their dysfunctioning.
48 In such democracies, thought could usefully be given as to
whether traditional systems of representative democracy need to
take more account of the rapid changes in communications and access
to information leading to the evolution of systems of direct democracy.
49 The Assembly is deeply concerned by reported cases of violations
of basic standards of democracy in a number of Council of Europe
member states. In particular, there have been worrying reports of
restrictions of freedom of expression, attempts to limit freedom
of association, of the absence of free and fair elections and of
distortions concerning representative, participatory and inclusive
democracy. Likewise, there is evidence of insufficient implementation
of other basic democratic principles, including separation of powers,
checks and balances and the rule of law.
50 The Assembly is also seriously concerned by reported cases
of lack of the effective separation of powers and adequate checks
on the potential abuse of power.
51 All countries of our continent – old and younger democracies
– have to be more aware of the quality of their democracy. Otherwise,
the political power loses the greatest achievement of a well-established
and well-functioning democracy: its legitimacy.
52 Freedom of expression and information as well as media pluralism
and diversification are of crucial importance for genuine democracy.
Recent murders of journalists, restrictions imposed on independent
media and sanctions inflicted on journalists raise major concern.
Examples of excessive media concentration are also of concern, as
such a concentration is detrimental to pluralism and diversity.
Manipulation of institutional advertising to put pressure on the
media must be strongly condemned.
53 The increasing role of the media, which in many cases tend
functionally to replace political parties by setting the political
agenda, monopolising political debate and creating and choosing
political leaders, is a matter of concern. Media are too often primarily
business-driven institutions and, by prioritising their business interests
over the service to the citizens and democracy, inevitably contribute
to the distortion of democracy. The role of the media in setting
political agendas, transmitting political debates and forming opinions
about political leaders underlines the importance of independent,
pluralist and responsible media for a democratic society.
54 Reports on restrictions to freedom of association, including
bureaucratic obstacles and unjustified taxation, are also a reason
for concern. In some countries, certain professional or ethnic groups
do not have the right to organise or form a political party. Yet
freedom of association constitutes one of the most basic political
rights and a fundamental condition for a well-functioning democracy.
55 Representativity of parliaments is obviously a key element
of a representative democracy. In this context every kind of discrimination,
be it on gender, ethnic, religious or social grounds, must be eliminated
as regards to the right to vote and stand for elections.
56 Citizenship is the crucial political and legal link between
the state and the individual. The situation of mass statelessness
in certain countries raises serious concern. Steps aimed at limiting
statelessness and promoting acquisition of citizenship should therefore
57 Equal participation of women in decision-making processes
is a sign of a properly functioning democracy. Unfortunately, parity
in politics is far from being achieved. In certain parliaments,
women make up as little as 4.4% of members, while the proportion
of women in executive bodies at the middle and highest levels is
sometimes even worse.
58 In well-established democracies, there should be no thresholds
higher than 3% during the parliamentary elections. It should thus
be possible to express a maximum number of opinions. Excluding numerous
groups of people from the right to be represented is detrimental
to a democratic system. In well-established democracies, a balance
has to be found between fair representation of views in the community
and effectiveness in parliament and government.
59 Holding free and fair elections is an essential element of
a democracy. Much has been done in terms of establishing electoral
standards and monitoring their observance. However, recent experiences
of diverging assessments of elections in some European countries
show that there is significant room for improvement in this field.
60 Reported cases regarding the lack of independence of the judiciary
or parliaments must raise justified concern.
61 Consideration could usefully be given by member states as
to whether direct democracy (for instance, referendums and citizens’
initiatives) could play a more prominent role.
62 The principles of subsidiarity and proportionality have to
be implemented as they are necessary to achieve good governance,
which is essential to strengthen democracy.
63 The Assembly acknowledges the importance of local and regional
democracy as the foundation and a guarantor of democracy in Europe,
and finds it regrettable that the principles of the European Charter
of Local Self-Government (ETS No. 122) are not always genuinely
applied. The fact that this charter has not yet been approved is
64 The Assembly is deeply concerned by the existence of a number
of geographical areas in Europe, including one country, Belarus,
and several regions in Council of Europe member states not under
their de facto control, where democratic principles are not implemented.
iii. The necessity of strengthening the Organisation’s
action in the field of democracy
65 In view of the above-mentioned challenges, the Council of
Europe has a major role to play in continuing to assist, encourage
and orient its member states in eliminating their shortcomings in
democracy. The Assembly calls on all the Organisation’s statutory
bodies to give due attention to the problems addressed in this resolution
and its explanatory memorandum.
66 The Assembly believes that the Council of Europe’s standard-setting
function should be instrumental in facing deficits in democracy.
Profound analysis and identification of problems and solutions should
be followed by suggestions for action, recommendations for reforms
and ideas for guidance. In particular, the identification of the
challenges should be followed by the elaboration of legal instruments
or policy guidelines.
67 Monitoring procedures should be strengthened. At the same
time, measures should be taken in order to ensure better compliance
by member states with recommendations made in the framework of these procedures.
National parliaments have an important role to play in this respect,
and the co-operation between them and the Assembly should be stepped
68 Projects and co-operation programmes, including those aimed
at enhancing public awareness of the European Convention on Human
Rights and the rights and freedoms it guarantees, should be established
in areas of particular concern for democracy.
69 The Venice Commission should be given adequate resources to
be able to step up its action in providing legal advice and assistance
in democracy building. Furthermore, it is encouraged to carry out
a study which would develop the concept of classification of categories
of democracy building and would illustrate how it could be used
as a basis for future assessments of the state of democracy in Europe
and thereby enhance the ability of the Assembly to propose useful
70 The Forum on the Future of Democracy constitutes an excellent
tool for further reflection on democracy, assessment of its state,
identification of deficits of democracy and promotion of the principles
of democracy and good practice. It should be given due importance
and adequate resources for further action.
71 The Assembly calls on the Congress for Local and Regional
Authorities of the Council of Europe to pursue its activities in
the field of local and regional democracy and to further reflect
on the challenges to democracy in its areas of competence.
72 The Assembly resolves to closely assess the state of democracy
in Europe, to improve its ability to propose the necessary reforms
and to hold a debate on this matter on a regular basis.
iv. The way forward
73 Democracy is an ongoing process of political and procedural
74 The Parliamentary Assembly recalls its previous resolutions
addressing different aspects of democracy and its functioning in
75 It calls on all member states to give due attention to the
issues raised above and to address them with a view to improving
the situation. A number of shortcomings in the functioning of democracy,
identified in this resolution, should be remedied without delay.
76 In particular, in order to improve representativeness of parliaments,
the categories of people excluded from voting and standing for election
should be reviewed in every Council of Europe member state with
a view to limiting their number. Moreover, genuine steps towards
eradicating statelessness, decreasing the voting age, granting the
right to vote to lawfully residing non-citizens and the elimination
of all kinds of discrimination, be it ethnic, religious, social
or gender-based, should be closely examined, and adequate and necessary measures
should be taken. The undemocratic practice of “family voting” must
77 The member states should take adequate measures in order to
strengthen national and international mechanisms for promoting the
balanced participation of women and men in decision making with
a view to achieving a target of a threshold of at least 40% of women
in decision-making political bodies, be they local, regional, parliamentary
or governmental, by 2020.
78 The Assembly also recalls that since the beginning of European
integration the right to form a political opposition has been considered
an essential element of a genuine democracy. It notes that the opposition
in parliament is increasingly granted rights in connection with
the setting up of inquiry committees, the calling of special sittings
of parliament and the possibility to bring cases before the constitutional
court. In some countries it is also proposed to give these rights
to individual opposition parties or political groups. Opposition
parties and their members cannot only ask for rights and means,
but should also show responsibility and willingness to use them
and make their best efforts to enhance the efficiency of the parliament
as a whole. They should not restrict themselves to only carrying
out their natural but perhaps insufficient role of criticism. The
parliamentary majority, however, also has the responsibility to
respect the right of the minority to dissent from the majority’s opinion
and to promote alternative policies.
79 In order to ensure maximum representativity of elected bodies,
the granting of voting rights to nationals of Council of Europe
member states lawfully residing in another member state and persons
who have lost their nationality involuntarily, at least at a local
level, should be positively considered.
80 The issue of different forms of distance voting (including
electronic voting) should be given close attention with a view to
clarifying all the implications and potential challenges.
81 Participatory rights of all citizens should be increased.
In particular, consideration should be given to introducing elements
of direct democracy such as the right to ask for a referendum or
propose legislative initiative. They have to be carefully designed
in order to make democracy more representative and to increase the
integration and learning capacities of our countries and societies.
82 In Council of Europe member states, political parties have
a responsibility to ensure a fair minority representation in elected
institutions, taking into account proportionality. There is no one
method to achieve this objective and a range of possible measures
83 Only strict adherence to the principles of good governance
can prevent corruption from seeping into and changing the nature
of democratic institutions. The Council of Europe should insist
on the need for a comprehensive legal framework and its enforcement,
effective prosecution of law breakers and a continuous adaptation
of institutions to better withstand economic crime.
84 All restrictions on freedom of expression should be in accordance
with the European Convention on Human Rights and the case law of
the Strasbourg Court; pluralism of the media should be ensured and measures
should be taken to prevent and dismantle media concentrations. The
Council of Europe should establish a specific mechanism to monitor
freedom of expression and of the media, which would follow and examine
the situation in all Council of Europe member states.
85 At present, few Council of Europe member states have laws
regulating the question of lobbying. The Council of Europe should
contribute to the debate on the need for such instruments at national
and European levels, and, for its part, elaborate guidelines on
86 Education for democratic citizenship and human rights is an
important condition for the effective protection and promotion of
human rights and democracy. The Council of Europe should step up
its work in this field in accordance with the outcomes and evaluation
of the 2005 European Year of Citizenship through Education. This
work should be reinforced by the elaboration and implementation
of national programmes in this area.
87 Local and regional authorities should be endowed with all
the powers, responsibilities and resources necessary to enable effective
implementation of sectoral policies in full accordance with the
principles of subsidiarity and good governance and for the benefit
of Europe’s citizens.