CM(2008)47 final 7 May 2008
118th Session of the Committee of Ministers
(Strasbourg, 7 May 2008) –
The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe meeting for their 118th Session under the chairmanship of Mr Ján Kubiš, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Slovakia, reviewed the Council of Europe’s contribution to common stability and security in Europe and took a number of decisions on future orientations.
The Ministers reiterated the crucial political role of the Council of Europe in building a Europe without dividing lines based on the common values of human rights, democracy and the rule of law, as well as on the member states’ obligation to respect all their commitments, thus enabling the fulfillment of the Council of Europe statutory mandate.
1. Consolidation of the Council of Europe system of human rights protection
The Ministers stressed the indispensable role of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the need to actively pursue the work to enhance the effectiveness of the Convention’s control system. They expressed their wish to receive a full report at their 119th Session in 2009.
An important way of improving protection of human rights is to ensure that the Convention is effectively implemented at the national level, thereby contributing to a reduction in the workload of the European Court of Human Rights. The Ministers invited all member states to draw on the examples contained in the comprehensive report on the follow-up to their “Declaration on sustained action to ensure the effectiveness of the implementation of the European Convention on Human Rights at national and European levels” of 2006. They welcomed the valuable efforts of the Commissioner for Human Rights to promote further progress in this respect.
In addition to the recent adoption of a recommendation to member states on efficient domestic capacity for rapid execution of the Court’s judgments, this follow-up work has identified many examples of good practice in the implementation of five earlier Recommendations which seek to enhance the implementation of the Convention at national level and thereby reduce the workload of the Court.
In this context, the Ministers welcomed the “Seminar on the role of government agents in ensuring effective human rights protection” organised by the Slovak Chairmanship in Bratislava on 3-4 April as well as the initiative of the Swedish Chairmanship to convene a Colloquy “Towards stronger implementation of the ECHR at national level”, to be held in Stockholm on 9-10 June. They asked their Deputies to consider how to promote further measures to enhance implementation of the Convention in the light of the results of these meetings.
Reflection should be intensified on practical proposals for the supervision of execution of the Court’s judgments in situations of slow or negligent execution, as well as on the developing practice of the Court and the Committee of Ministers on the so-called pilot judgments.
The Ministers also took note of an interim report on the follow-up given to the report of the Group of Wise Persons on the long-term effectiveness of the Convention’s control mechanism commissioned at the Warsaw Summit.
The Ministers felt compelled to note that four years after its adoption Protocol No. 14 has still not entered into force. The Ministers recalled their position on this issue expressed at their 117th Session in May 2007, stressing the significant efficiency and capacity increases that it would introduce to the benefit of European citizens. The Ministers once again underlined that the measures aimed at improving the ECHR system and in particular those contained in Protocol No.14, should be implemented in the nearest future. In addition, it would make it possible to follow up on the recommendations of the Wise Persons in a comprehensive and meaningful way, as had been requested at 117th Session.
Reiterating the need for solidarity between all member states and their obligations as collective guarantors of the Convention, the Ministers stated again their strongest hope that all those in a position to contribute to this goal will seize any opportunity to do so in earnest.
The Human Rights Trust Fund established by the Council of Europe, Norway and the Council of Europe Development Bank on 14 March 2008, to support projects for furthering the implementation of the European Convention on Human Rights at the national level, was welcomed by the Ministers. They also noted that the interim report on the European Programme for Human Rights Education for Legal Professionals (the “HELP” programme), showed positive results.
2. Relations between the Council of Europe and the European Union
The Ministers stressed the importance of the relationship between the Council of Europe and the European Union. A year after the signature of the Memorandum of Understanding between the two institutions, the effects of the new impetus given to the partnership are visible.
Consultations have increased at all levels and working relations have been strengthened in the areas of common interest. Ministers called for a continued intensification of effective co-operation in priority areas as foreseen by the Memorandum. A new dynamic in working relations is demonstrated for example by joint efforts to develop pre-electoral assistance with countries concerned, through the Joint Programmes in the South Caucasus, Moldova and Ukraine and close co-operation in the countries participating in the European Neighbourhood Policy or the Enlargement process. Furthermore, the co-operation agreement between the Council of Europe and the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights has been adopted and there is an increasing tendency to consult the Council of Europe on draft EU legislation as well as to make reference to Council of Europe standards in European Union policies and legislation.
The Ministers stressed that other mechanisms of co-operation mentioned in the Memorandum of Understanding, including those aimed at the reinforcement of political dialogue on issues of mutual interest –where positive developments are already noted – may be further explored. They instructed their Deputies to examine, in close co-operation with the European Union, the potential of the Memorandum for further progress in this regard, as well as on the question of improving people-to-people contacts between Europeans throughout the continent.
Work also continues on the follow-up to the more general report on the relations between the Council of Europe and the European Union prepared by Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, at the request of the Heads of State and Government.
Several recommendations by Prime Minister Juncker have already been taken into consideration:
· the reform of the ministerial sessions has resulted in shorter and more result-oriented meetings with more direct involvement of the outgoing and incoming chairs;
· enhanced co-operation has been achieved between the Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner and the European Union institutions;
· the reinforcement of the resources of the Office of the Commissioner is ongoing.
The Ministers also recalled, with a view to the election of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe in 2009, that they had committed themselves a year ago to present candidates for the post of Secretary General matching the profile recommended by Prime Minister Juncker.
They asked their Deputies to prepare an overall assessment of the relations between the Council of Europe and the European Union, including action taken on the Juncker Report – to be submitted to the High-level follow-up group to the Juncker Report, in time for it to be examined at the 119th Ministerial Session in May 2009. To this end, they asked their Deputies to identify the main priorities for future action in time for the handover of the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers from Sweden to Spain in November 2008.
3. Follow-up to other priorities resulting from the Warsaw Summit
The Ministers reaffirmed the importance they attach to continued efforts as regards the complete implementation of the Warsaw Summit decisions and the achievement of the main aims of the Statute, both through streamlining activities in order to better focus on the Council of Europe’s fundamental objective of preserving and promoting human rights, democracy and the rule of law, and through the ongoing reform of its organisational structures and working methods for greater efficiency and transparency. They asked their Deputies to prepare a report on the reform process for their 119th Session in May 2009.
Strengthening democracy, good governance and the rule of law in member states
The development of Europe as a zone of free and fair elections is of fundamental importance for the promotion of the principles of democracy, good governance and the rule of law. In this context, the Ministers highlighted the valuable contribution provided by the pre-electoral assistance of the Council of Europe to countries concerned through, in particular:
- joint programmes and action plans;
- the expertise of the European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission);
- enhancing the capacities of the media to ensure free, independent and unbiased coverage of the pre-election campaign and of the elections themselves;
- training programmes and advice to electoral commissions and their members.
The Ministers called for increased attention by the Council of Europe to this area of co-operation with member states in need of such assistance as well as intensified co-operation with other organisations.
The Ministers stated again the importance they attach to reinforcing democratic stability in Europe. They reiterated the concern expressed at the Third Summit as to the unresolved conflicts that still affect certain parts of the continent and the readiness of the Council of Europe to continue contributing to the creation of an environment conducive to the peaceful settlement of these conflicts.
Emphasising the essential contribution made by non-governmental organisations and the role of civil society in general in the development and realisation of democracy, the Ministers instructed their Deputies to make a first evaluation of the implementation of the Recommendation on the legal status of non-governmental organisations in Europe adopted on 10 October 2007, as well as of the follow-up given to the Committee of Ministers Declaration on Council of Europe action to improve the protection of human rights defenders and promote their activities, adopted on 6 February 2008.
Noting the valuable contribution of the 3rd Forum for the future of democracy in Sweden on the theme “Power and Empowerment – The interdependence of democracy and human rights” in the summer of 2007, the Ministers welcomed the choice of the theme of electronic democracy for the 4th session to be held in Madrid on 15-17 October 2008 as a further step to strengthen the pan-European work for democracy.
The Council of Europe network of schools of political studies plays an important role for promoting dialogue and confidence-building measures; the opening of a school benefiting citizens of Belarus should contribute to this aim.
The Ministers expressed the hope that the forthcoming Parliamentary elections in Belarus would take place in conditions conducive to the development of democratic government, thus opening the way for closer co-operation between the Council of Europe and Belarus.
The Ministers reaffirmed the importance of the rule of law for consolidating democracy and the respect for human rights. The Council of Europe’s activities in the field of the rule of law, in particular on the legal framework for, and organisation of, a democratic state, the independence and overall functioning of justice and citizen’s security, will continue to receive high priority. The Ministers emphasised in particular the work of the European Commission for the efficiency of justice (CEPEJ) and that of the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) and asked their Deputies to examine how full use can be made of the Council of Europe’s potential in enhancing the rule of law and good governance and report back on the occasion of the handover of the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers from Sweden to Spain in November 2008.
Building a more humane and inclusive Europe
The report completed in November 2007 by the High-Level Task Force on Social Cohesion in the 21st Century, opens new areas for future Council of Europe work in this field. The Ministers instructed their Deputies to take appropriate follow-up action, keeping in mind the necessary focusing of activities and streamlining expected from the Secretariat, as decided during the Warsaw Summit.
The Ministers welcomed the fact that following the adoption of the “Council of Europe Action Plan to promote the rights and full participation of people with disabilities in society: improving the quality of life of people with disabilities in Europe 2006-2015”, work had been consolidated, as from 2008, to strengthen co-operation in this field and to allow for effective exchange of information, experience and best practice in a structured way throughout the 47 member states.
The programme “Building a Europe for and with children”, launched at the Summit had resulted in improved co-ordination and mainstreaming of work on children’s rights throughout the Council of Europe. The Ministers agreed that guidelines for the future of this programme should be reviewed, on the basis of the outcome of the conference to be held in Stockholm 8-10 September, at the latest on the occasion of the handover of the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers from Sweden to Spain in November 2008. The Council of Europe will launch an initiative in Croatia on 15 June 2008, as a follow-up to the Third Summit decision to take specific action to eradicate all forms of violence against children.
The Ministers welcomed the large number of signatures of the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, opened for signature in October 2007. Stressing the importance of this Convention they called on all Council of Europe member states to ratify it rapidly.
The Campaign to Combat Violence against Women, including Domestic Violence, will be closed at a conference in Strasbourg on 10-11 June 2008. The Ministers instructed their Deputies to carefully evaluate its results with a view to identifying future action of the Council of Europe in this field.
The Ministers adopted:
- the European Convention on the Adoption of Children (revised);
- the Additional Protocol to the Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine concerning Genetic Testing for Health Purposes and
decided to open them for signature on the occasion of the handover of the chairmanship from Sweden to Spain in November 2008. They called on member states to consider signing and ratifying these instruments.
Finally, the Ministers welcomed the recent entry into force of the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings.
The Ministers launched the Council of Europe White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue approved by their Deputies, which provides various orientations for the promotion of intercultural dialogue, mutual respect and understanding, based on the core values of the Organisation. They welcomed it as a significant pan-European contribution to an international discussion steadily gaining momentum as well as to the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue. The Ministers emphasised the importance of ensuring appropriate visibility of the White Paper, and called on the Council of Europe and its member states, as well as other relevant stakeholders, to give suitable follow-up to the White Paper’s recommendations. They agreed to resume consideration of the issue of the contribution of intercultural dialogue to the core objective of the Council of Europe at one of their next Ministerial Sessions.
The Ministers were informed about the Council of Europe 2008 Exchange on the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue, held on an experimental basis in Strasbourg on 8 April 2008 and its forthcoming evaluation.
The Ministers welcomed the Memorandum of Understanding between the Council of Europe and the Alliance of Civilisations, to be signed by the Secretary General of the Council of Europe and the UN High Representative for the Alliance of Civilisations.
Co-operation between the Council of Europe and other international and regional organisations
The Ministers instructed their Deputies to continue their efforts with regard to co-operation with other organisations at the global, European and regional levels. Beyond the close and enhanced relationship with the European Union, they welcomed the good co-operation with the OSCE overseen by the Co-ordination Group on the four priority areas, i.e. the protection of persons belonging to national minorities, action against trafficking in human beings, the fight against terrorism and the promotion of tolerance and non-discrimination as well as regular and close contacts between the field presences of the two organisations. As to the Council of Europe’s relations with the United Nations, they noted with satisfaction the developing co-operation. In the framework of the global efforts regarding the universal abolition of the death penalty, they stated their determination to support once again the adoption of a resolution on a moratorium on the use of the death penalty at the 64th Session of the UN General Assembly.
The role of the Council of Europe and the situation in South-East Europe
The Ministers present discussed the role of the Council of Europe and the situation in South-East Europe in an informal context. The Committee was informed of the summing-up made by the outgoing and incoming chairs, following the informal working lunch.
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The Ministers took note of the report of the outgoing chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers presented by the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Slovakia, Mr Ján Kubiš and of the priorities of the incoming chairmanship, presented by the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sweden, Mr Carl Bildt.