C Explanatory memorandum
by Mr Tiny Kox, rapporteur
1. The Committee of Ministers
is scheduled to hold its next ministerial session in May 2021. On
this occasion, it is expected that the Ministers should consider
the strategic framework for the Council of Europe on the basis of
proposals by the Secretary General.
2. In January 2021, the President of the Parliamentary Assembly
suggested that the Assembly should make a contribution to this discussion.
The chairpersons of all political groups agreed.
3. Following the presentation to the Bureau of the Assembly by
the Secretary General of her Strategic Framework for the Council
of Europe and ‘trialogue’ discussions on 26 January 2021, the Bureau
decided, at its meeting on 1 February 2021, to seize the Committee
on Political Affairs and Democracy to prepare a report – in time
for a debate by the Assembly during the April 2021 part-session
– on “The Assembly’s vision on the strategic priorities for the
Council of Europe”.
4. On 4 February 2021, the committee appointed me as rapporteur,
subject to the ratification of the reference. The Assembly referred
the matter to the committee at the meeting of its Standing Committee
on 19 March 2021.
5. When preparing my report, I had an exchange of views – amongst
others – with Ambassadors representing their governments in the
Committee of Ministers, including with Ambassador Rolf Mafael, Permanent
Representative of Germany, Chairperson of Ministers’ Deputies. I
thank them for their kind and useful co-operation.
and scope of the report
6. In my view, this report offers
an opportunity to state and reiterate the views of the Assembly,
as a statutory organ with general competence, on a limited number
of priority issues that we deem of strategic importance for the
Council of Europe. This is fully in accordance with the Assembly’s
statutory role, and its responsibility as political driving force
of the Organisation.
7. However, the report is not meant to be neither a catalogue
of Assembly work in all domains under the scrutiny of its committees
nor a comprehensive review of Council of Europe activities across
the board. Instead, to have an impact, it will focus on a few issues
only – which does not mean that other issues have no importance.
The aim of the Council of Europe is formulated in the Statute of
the Council of Europe (1949, ETS No. 1), to which I refer in the
first paragraphs of the resolution.
8. Moreover, as the strategic reflection on the future of the
Council of Europe will certainly continue well beyond the ministerial
session of the Committee of Ministers in May 2021, the Assembly
must be part of this process and positively contribute to it by
bringing in the political dimension.
9. It is worth recalling that
all strategic options that we consider must contribute to fulfilling
the statutory goal of the Council of Europe as enshrined in its
founding act: “… to achieve a greater unity between its members for
the purpose of safeguarding and realising the ideals and principles
which are their common heritage and facilitating their economic
and social progress” (Article 1 of the Statute of the Council of
Europe). This aim “shall be pursued through the organs of the Council
by discussion of questions of common concern and by agreements and
common action in economic, social, cultural, scientific, legal and
administrative matters and in the maintenance and further realisation
of human rights and fundamental freedoms.” (Article 1.b). “Every member
of the Council of Europe must accept the principles of the rule
of law and of the enjoyment by all persons within its jurisdiction
of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and collaborate sincerely
and effectively in the realisation of the aim of the Council” (Article
The Assembly has, on many occasions, expressed its views,
on strategic choices for the Council of Europe, both in general
and specific terms. In particular, reference should be made to Resolution 2277 (2019)
“Role and Mission of the Parliamentary Assembly: main
challenges for the future”, Resolution
“Call for a Council of Europe summit to reaffirm European
unity and to defend and promote democratic security in Europe”,
and Recommendation 2114
“Defending the acquis of the Council of Europe: preserving
65 years of successful intergovernmental co-operation” based on
wide consultation with national delegations and in which already
strategic priorities for the Assembly in particular as well as for
the Council of Europe in general were identified.
11. I refer also to the political guidance delivered by the Heads
of State and Government at the 3rd Summit (Warsaw, May 2005), including
the comprehensive Action Plan which, in the view of many member
States, remains of utmost relevance in its entirety. Most recently,
the policy decisions by the Committee of Ministers at its 129th
session in Helsinki (May 2019) and the Athens Declaration by the
Committee of Ministers Chairmanship (November 2020) have framed
the Council of Europe response to new challenges.
2 Strategic priorities
12. As mentioned above, summing
up the priorities which I believe to be of prime importance for
the Council of Europe, I very much rely on the previous and on-going
work of the Assembly. In fact, virtually all Assembly resolutions
and recommendations aim at formulating political positions with
regards to various existing and emerging challenges, thus contributing
to the strategic positioning of the Council of Europe.
13. In my view, the Council of Europe’s overall priority is to
remain the pillar of democratic security and successful and effective
multilateralism in Europe and preserve and reaffirm its own identity
as an independent forum for comprehensive and inclusive political
dialogue and co-operation.
14. The Council of Europe’s unique conventional system, comprising
more than 220 legally binding instruments with the European Convention
on Human Rights (ETS No. 5, “the Convention”) and the European Social
Charter (ETS No. 35) at its core, is one of the main strengths and
a comparative advantage of our Organisation. It constitutes the
basis of democratic public legal order in Europe. Many conventions
belonging to this conventional system are open to States non-members
of the Council of Europe and are also used as an inspiration in
drafting national legislations globally. In addition, the uniqueness
of this conventional system is that implementation of several conventions
is monitored, including by independent experts, and States parties are
supported in overcoming any shortcomings. This system must be further
enhanced, both internally, by promoting member States’ adherence
to, and compliance with, Council of Europe conventions, and externally, by
encouraging non-member States to adhere. Also, the relevance of
the system must be upheld by designing new instruments to respond
to emerging challenges.
15. The implementation of the Convention in all member States
must remain the top priority for the Council of Europe and for both
statutory organs. The Convention embodies the founding values of
the Organisation. This requires the continuous engagement of all
member States at the national level. The authority of the European
Court of Human Rights (the Court) as a remedy of last resort for
over 800 million Europeans must be upheld by all member States and
by the Council of Europe as a whole. This is consistent with the
principles of subsidiarity, which places primary responsibility
for the implementation of the Convention on the States parties,
and of shared responsibility, which obliges the Committee of Ministers
to take effective action to safeguard the Convention system.
Furthermore, in line with the Assembly’s principled position
expressed on numerous occasions, including, most recently, in Recommendation 2193 (2021)
“The implementation of judgments of the European Court
of Human Rights”, I must underscore that the execution of all the
Court’s judgments, as well as its interim measures under Rule 39,
must be ensured.
17. One of the strategic priorities for the Council of Europe
is the accession of the European Union to the Convention, in order
to complete a single common legal space from Reykjavik to Vladivostok
without exception. Accession would strengthen the credibility of
the European Union and the relevance of the Council of Europe and
the Convention for all its citizens and its member States. It would
further enhance human rights protection across Europe by making
all public bodies that are capable of interfering with individual
rights subject to the jurisdiction of the Court, which is a key
element of European public order in the field of human rights. Accession should
therefore be pursued urgently, in line with political decisions
to this effect already taken at the highest level.
18. In the context of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the Council
of Europe must rise more than ever to the social challenges currently
facing the peoples of our continent. Therefore, referring to the
decisions of the Committee of Ministers session in Helsinki in May
2019, I wish to highlight the need to put a stronger emphasis on
the protection of social and economic rights in the work of the
Council of Europe.
19. I also think that the Assembly should join the Committee of
Ministers in calling on member States that have not yet done so
to consider signing and/or ratifying the Revised European Social
Charter (ETS No. 163) and its Additional Protocol Providing for
a System of Collective Complaints (ETS No. 158). It should be recalled that,
at the Warsaw Summit in 2005, the Heads of State and Government
considered that the Revised European Social Charter should be regarded
as the minimum core of social rights which all member States should
20. It is also important to promote the European Union accession
to the European Social Charter system. Currently, nine of European
Union member States are not parties to the revised Charter.
The Council of Europe has been an active actor in promoting
genuine equality and respect of human dignity, and in combating
discrimination on any grounds. It must continue to contribute actively
to achieving these goals. Ground-breaking conventions, such as the
Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence
against women and domestic violence (CETS No. 210, “the Istanbul
Convention”), the Council of Europe Convention on Protection of
Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse (CETS No.
201, “the Lanzarote Convention”) and the Council of Europe Convention
on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (CETS No. 197) have
become global “gold” standards and their efficient implementation
must remain a key priority. Both Council of Europe multi-annual
Strategies on Gender Equality and the Rights of the Child provide
useful guidance on priorities where the focus should be placed with
the support of the Council of Europe’s multiple tools to use them.
In this respect, the Assembly should express its strong regret at
any attempts to weaken the international framework to protect human
rights put in place by the Council of Europe conventions. I refer
to the joint statementNote
by Council of Europe leaders in
reaction to Turkey’s announced withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention
(21 March 2021).
22. The Council of Europe must be more proactive in facing and
addressing existing and emerging threats to democratic societies
and democratic security, in promoting a contemporary and holistic
vision of human rights, including new generation rights such as
the right to a safe, healthy and sustainable environment, and in assessing
the impact of the inherent relationship between human rights and
23. I wish to particularly welcome the importance that our President
Rik Daems is placing on the new generation of human rights and notably
on making the case for environment as a human right. The right to
a safe, healthy and sustainable environment must become a principle,
not just a policy. The holistic contribution that the Assembly will
be making to this major challenge by adopting texts with proposals
from various Assembly committees will illustrate the uniqueness
of our Assembly in making a difference on issues that matter to
all our citizens.
24. In the same vein, we should support the conclusion contained
in the Athens Declaration that life and well-being on our planet
is contingent on humanity’s collective capacity to guarantee both
human rights and a healthy environment for future generations. I
welcome the fact that all 47 Council of Europe member States have
signed, and all but one have ratified, the 2015 Paris Agreement
of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate
Change, thus committing themselves to strengthening the global response to
the threat of climate change. It is of high importance to work towards
new legal instruments aimed at ensuring the right to safe, healthy
and sustainable environment for present and future generations,
and making it a legal obligation.
I also think that we should further stress the paramount importance
of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as set out in United
Nations 2030 Agenda and make achieving the SDGs a transversal priority. The
important contribution that the Council of Europe already makes
to this global task is welcome, but it should be made more visible
and explicit. I refer here to relevant Assembly resolutions and
, and I see it as a priority
that the United Nations and the Council of Europe continue to work
together, within their respective mandates, to accelerate the pace
of the implementation of the SDGs and fulfilling the 2030 Agenda. I
welcome very much the upcoming address of the Secretary General
of the United Nations to the Assembly, on the invitation of the
Assembly’s President, on the occasion of the June 2021 part-session.
26. As a recognised international standard-setter in the field
of human rights protection, the Council of Europe should keep pace
with the speed and scale of societal change, and focus on devising
common replies and establishing new standards to protect human rights
vis-à-vis new and evolving challenges.
In this context, I believe that the Council of Europe is the
appropriate framework for providing adequate responses to challenges
related with the emergence of new technologies, in particular artificial
intelligence (AI). It is important to prevent the potential negative
impact that its use may have on human rights, the rule of law and
democracy. Relevant Assembly Resolutions and RecommendationsNote
adopted in a joint debate in October 2020, contain key elements
for streamlining the on-going Council of Europe work in this field.
I would like to reiterate at this point the Assembly view that the
Council of Europe is in a strategic position to provide the necessary
guidance and support, in close co-operation with other European
and international institutions and organisations, for creating a
global regulatory framework for AI.
28. I wish to particularly point out one of the priorities of
the German Presidency of the Committee of Ministers, namely the
need to bring the Organisation closer to the people. Accordingly,
I strongly support the Committee of Ministers’ decision to examine
further options for strengthening the role and meaningful participation
of civil society organisations and national human rights institutions
in the work of our Organisation. Specific emphasis should be made
on engaging with the young people and children.
29. Turning to new threats and challenges, the Council of Europe
should not lose momentum on its traditional activities which are
of great importance for many member States, and indeed for all Europeans.
We must continue to keep high on our strategic agenda the search
for common responses to societal problems challenging the rule of
law, notably corruption, money laundering, terrorism and violent
extremism, by means of effective implementation of relevant legal
instruments and mechanisms or by establishing new ones if appropriate.
30. Although the monitoring of member States’ obligations and
commitments is often perceived as a sanction or a punishment, I
strongly believe that it constitutes an extremely important means
of ensuring, through co-operative action, that all member States
comply with their duties willingly signed to when joining our Organisation.
However, it is true that many simultaneous monitoring processes
by various institutions and bodies may lead to ‘monitoring fatigue’.
I think that the Assembly should reiterate its call, already backed
by the Committee of Ministers at its ministerial session in Helsinki
in May 2019, for a stronger and more structured co-ordination between
the monitoring activities of the Assembly, the Committee of Ministers,
the Secretary General and the Commissioner for Human Rights, as
well as of the various specialised monitoring and advisory bodies
and mechanisms of the Organisation, without prejudice to their independence.
More broadly, it is worth considering ways of co-ordinating more
efficiently monitoring activities with the other international organisations,
including the United Nations, in order to achieve more synergy,
avoid unnecessary duplication and alleviate the reporting burden
for member States. In line with my report on the role and mission
of the Assembly, I stipulate in this resolution that the Assembly
stands ready to engage in a constructive institutional dialogue
and will evaluate its own monitoring activities.
31. In order to consolidate its role as a pillar of co-operative
democratic order in Europe, our Organisation should further develop
effective and sustainable co-operation with other multilateral organisations,
both in Europe and beyond. We should engage more actively in promoting
the global outreach of our legal instruments, many of which have
played a pioneering role, for instance on the relevant international
platforms such as the United Nations. I also believe that the Council
of Europe should push further the reflection on its external action and
bypass the ‘geographical neighbourhood’ logic by seeking partnerships
with States and organisations sharing the same or similar values
32. As already stressed in the past, the unique nature of our
Organisation stems largely from the mere fact that it has a parliamentary
statutory organ composed of members from national parliaments, reflecting
the whole spectrum of political views including the opposition.
This must be also used to the benefit of the whole Organisation
when identifying priorities for the years ahead.
33. I believe that the Assembly and national parliaments should
play a more prominent role and strengthen their contribution as
guarantors of the Organisation’s core values, including by promoting
the Council of Europe key conventions in their countries and in
their national parliaments with a view to increasing the impact
of these instruments on national legislative and political processes.
This should include enabling parliamentarians to contribute to the
effective implementation of Council of Europe conventions by exercising
parliamentary oversight of the follow-up to the conclusions under
the reporting procedures. For instance, the Assembly could hold
regular debates on reports and conclusions by conventional supervisory
bodies, as well as on the resolutions and recommendations adopted
by the Committee of Ministers.
34. While keeping its political and institutional independence
and carrying out its work as the parliamentary part of the Organisation,
the Assembly should aim at developing effective synergy with the
activities of the Committee of Ministers and the intergovernmental
part of the Organisation. It can provide a significant holistic and
thematic contribution to all the priority areas of the Organisation.
The further development of a regular, meaningful and effective ‘trialogue’
between the Committee of Ministers, the Secretary General and the Parliamentary
Assembly should be considered as a means of ensuring the strategic
relevance of the Organisation.
35. It needs to be recalled that the membership of Europe’s oldest
and largest treaty-based organisation should never be considered
as granted for free and without commitments. Belonging to and participating
in the unique pan-European structures of the Council of Europe provides,
and should continue providing, a whole range of measurable and sustainable
advantages to any member State, in many respects and areas. In return, any
member State should fully respect its statutory obligations, to
the benefit both of its own people and of the whole community of
Europeans united under the auspices of our Organisation.
36. The new joint procedure, adopted in January 2021 by the Assembly,
which allows the two Council of Europe’s statutory organs, the Assembly
and the Committee of Ministers, and the Secretary General, to act together
in case of a blatant violation by a member State of its obligations
under the Statute may play a significant role both in preventing
and in finding the ways to end or correct such violations.
37. Moreover, it is necessary to increase the visibility of what
the membership of the Organisation means, both in terms of advantages
for the member States and their citizens, as well as the obligations
of all member States. It has to become obvious what the Council
of Europe is doing and can do for its member States and their citizens.
Member States should also question what they could contribute to
the Council of Europe by sharing common values. Protecting and promoting
the rule of law, human rights and democracy is clearly to the advantage
of all member States and all their citizens.
38. The Assembly should reiterate its call on the governments
of member States to consider all options to guarantee the financial
sustainability of the Organisation so as to enable it to remain
fully effective and politically relevant. While the agreement of
member States to depart from “zero nominal growth” policy and revert
to “zero real growth” for the current biennium must be welcomed,
I have to recall the long-standing Assembly position that member
States should invest more in democratic security as embodied by
the Council of Europe and therefore ensure a better funding of it.
Without financial stability, the relevance of the Organisation,
including its unique conventional framework, will lose impact. The
existence of the Council of Europe as such, and the advantages that
it provides to the member States, go far beyond financial costs.
It should be a strategic priority to make member States realise
this fact and to convince them that even a small increase of the
Council of Europe budget can lead to far bigger possibilities to
make the Organisation more effective and productive.
39. I believe that we should express support to the proposal to
pass on a future-oriented four-year strategic programming outlook.
It is indeed important to build a longer perspective for key priorities,
while leaving sufficient flexibility for addressing unforeseen challenges
that might come up during that period, including recommendations
from the Assembly. It is also important to focus on areas where
the Council of Europe has an added value and not to spread our resources
too thin, running the risk of losing relevance due to the lack of capacity
to monitor and support the implementation of the Council of Europe’s
40. On the basis of the elements
above, I have prepared a draft resolution suggesting the position
of the Assembly on priority issues that are of strategic importance
for the Council of Europe for the years to come.
41. In addition, a draft recommendation aims at conveying the
message by the Assembly to the attention of the Committee of Ministers
on the eve of its ministerial session to be held in May 2021.
42. The Assembly should continue its strategic reflection on the
future of the Council of Europe and the ways to further increase
its political relevance and prominent position as a leading European