CM/AS(2011)2 26 January 20111
Communication on the activities of the Committee of Ministers
Address by Mr Ahmet Davutoğlu, Chairman of the Committee of Ministers, to the Parliamentary Assembly (Strasbourg, 24 January 2011)
Since my address to the Standing Committee on 12 November 2010, barely two days after taking over the Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers, I have been looking forward to being able to address this plenary Assembly and present the objectives of the Turkish Chairmanship. I can assure you of the close attention which I pay to your work and of my desire to foster co-operation between the Committee of Ministers and your Assembly. I am therefore delighted to speak to you in my capacity as Chair of the Committee of Ministers in this common house representing 800 million Europeans. Turkey, as a founding member of this organisation, has assumed the Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers for the seventh time since the very beginning. We, the Europeans, in this pan-European organisation, are represented by our governments and you, the elected representatives of the European continent. This gives us a common responsibility for the future of our fellow Europeans.
We are here not only because we share a common geography and our nation states are linked together by our borders, be they short or long. We are here also because we have shared a common history, from which we have drawn significant conclusions. On these conclusions we have established ideals and values that it has become our common duty to defend and take further. Today, these are in no way under the hegemony of “Europe”, where they have been born and nourished, but are to be shared by all mankind. Therefore, we are frequently gathered under this roof as “European Governments and Parliamentarians” where we set the highest benchmark for all.
The priorities which we have set for our six-month chairmanship are closely linked with the Council of Europe’s key objectives and reflect the urgent issues concerning the future of this organisation. We are focusing on five main areas: support for the reform of the Council of Europe and, carrying on from the efforts of our predecessors, implementation of the reform of the European Court of Human Rights, strengthening the Council’s independent monitoring mechanisms, the process of accession by the European Union to the European Convention on Human Rights, and, lastly, ways and means of overcoming the challenges which arise in multicultural European societies.
To quote what I said in the Committee of Ministers at the handover of the chairmanship, “we will make every effort to put the Council of Europe back on the international scene as an innovative, more flexible and visible organisation so that it can adapt itself to the changing political landscape”. I am delighted to be able to share with you and with the Secretary General the exciting task of giving this new political impetus to the Organisation.
The first major subject which I wish to discuss with you is human rights and, more particularly, the continuation of the Interlaken process concerning the future of the European Court of Human Rights. Implementation of the process is progressing well, thanks to the positive momentum provided by the various players involved.
For instance, with a view to exercising its responsibility for supervising the judgments of the Court as effectively as possible, the Committee of Ministers last month approved a new procedure to increase the effectiveness and transparency of the supervision process.
This procedure came into force on 1 January 2011. We hope that it will come up to the expectations we have placed in it, and we will review it at the end of the year.
Another issue which the Committee of Ministers has considered is the election of judges to the European Court of Human Rights, with a focus on ensuring its authority and credibility. The discussions have led to the establishment of an Advisory Panel of Experts on Candidates for Election as Judge to the Court, which your Assembly supported in principle at its last session. The panel, comprising seven eminent legal figures from different member states, has the task of advising the High Contracting Parties as to whether the candidates for election as judge to the Court meet the criteria laid down in the European Convention on Human Rights. It will hold its constituent meeting this week, on 27 and 28 January. We hope that, together with your Assembly, it will ensure that the Court has the authority that is vital for its decisions to be complied with.
I am pleased to say that the Court itself has also taken steps to contribute to the implementation of the Interlaken process. In particular, it has published a handbook for legal professionals on admissibility rules and, at the beginning of this year, set up a team in the Registry responsible for initial filtering of applications.
I am pleased by these various developments. However, there is still more work to do. The European Court of Human Rights and the Convention system continue to face major challenges. They are mainly related to the length of time to deal with applications, the quality and coherence of the Court’s judgments and finally the effectiveness with which its judgments are executed.
We have to continue our joint efforts in order to strengthen our shared responsibility as High Contracting Parties with the Court, in conformity with the principle of subsidiarity. The credibility of the Convention system needs to be ensured to avoid the weakening of the system.
We have therefore decided to hold a high-level conference on the future of the European Court of Human Rights in Izmir in April as part of our chairmanship. The conference will be an important opportunity to begin taking stock of the implementation of Protocol No.14 and the Interlaken Declaration and to draw conclusions to be utilised in the process concerning the future of the Convention mechanism including through possible amendments to the Human Rights Convention itself. Your Assembly will, of course, be invited to take part in the process and I am counting on your input.
I would not wish to conclude this section without mentioning the question of the accession of the European Union to the European Convention on Human Rights, which can also be addressed in Izmir.
We strongly believe that this accession will offer the whole of Europe a coherent and credible system for the protection of fundamental rights by creating a single and binding legal space in our continent. I hope most sincerely that significant progress will be made in the coming months so that this can come about at the ministerial session to be held in Istanbul in May. You will have an opportunity to discuss the matter in greater detail later this week, at the Joint Committee meeting.
Another area on which the chairmanship is focusing is the challenges related to European multicultural societies and ways and means of living together in harmony and mutual understanding. Unfortunately, the last few months have shown that the challenges here are very acute, in Europe and internationally. The financial crisis, growing unemployment and marginalisation unfortunately aggravate the problems in societies, leading to the manifestation of various forms of discrimination and intolerance, mainly xenophobia and racism against those perceived as different. Intolerance and extremism are on the rise everywhere, sometimes at the cost of the lives of people whose only fault is to be different because of the colour of their skin or their religion. These unacceptable attacks, which we thought were behind us now and belonged to the era of atrocities which Europe suffered for far too long, are a challenge to us all. We cannot just stand idly by.
New ideas and a renewed commitment by governments and politicians are needed to reflect on how to live together in multicultural societies. In this respect, I subscribe to the declarations which you made on the subject, Mr President. We strongly believe that, because of the large geographical area it covers, its standard-setting work and its expertise, the Council of Europe remains the organisation best suited to taking up these challenges on the basis of the universal values of human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
In order to focus our efforts more effectively, I proposed that we set up a group of eminent persons with recognised expertise and a particular interest in this area. I am pleased that the Secretary General has acted on my proposal. I myself met the eminent persons on 13 and 14 January in Istanbul. They are working intensively and we are looking forward to the outcome of their discussions in time for the Committee of Ministers Session in May.
To back up the Council of Europe’s work in the area of combating discrimination based on racial, ethnic, religious or other bias, we recently held a joint seminar on the subject in Ankara with the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI). The seminar not only placed the spotlight on the important recommendations made by ECRI in this area but also offered many national and international experts a forum for discussing and exchanging views about the new challenges in combating racism and racial discrimination.
Indeed, the strengthening of the monitoring bodies like ECRI or treaty based ones such as CPT, is another priority of the Turkish Chairmanship. Among them, the Commissioner for Human Rights is also of particular importance. In mid-February, we will organise, with the Commissioner, an international seminar on migration which is a highly topical issue for our organisation to contribute to.
The standard-setting work, which indeed makes our organisation unique, is also continuing. In this context, I am delighted that the Ministers’ Deputies have very recently transmitted the draft convention on combating violence against women and domestic violence, to your Assembly. We eagerly await your opinion so that the instrument can be opened for signature in Istanbul in May.
The Council of Europe is the only pan-European organisation which has the mandate and the necessary tools to effectively and comprehensively monitor the compliance by member states with their obligations on respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law. This requires the Committee of Ministers to follow the political developments in the European scene.
Among the many topical political issues which the Committee of Ministers deals with, I should like to address that of Belarus more closely. The recent presidential elections did not comply with the democratic principles to which we subscribe here. The worrying developments that took place in the wake of the elections raise a number of questions. Unfortunately, these developments have only widened the gap between Belarus and the rest of the democratic European family. On 12 January, at its first meeting after the elections, the Committee of Ministers issued an appeal to the Belarus authorities calling for the presidential candidates, journalists and human rights activists who were arrested to be released and for their fundamental rights to be duly respected. The Council of Europe nevertheless remains willing to support Belarus’ European integration process, provided that the country’s authorities respect the values and principles which we defend.
I should also like to say a few words about the co-operation between the Council of Europe and Moldova. As was the case with the constitutional referendum in September, the Council of Europe provided support for the holding of the early parliamentary elections in November 2010. I am pleased by the positive assessment of the electoral process issued by the international observers present in Moldova, who included several members of your Assembly. I would underline that, in the difficult situation currently facing Moldova, the Council of Europe is willing to continue to offer it all possible assistance to help consolidate its democratic institutions.
South-eastern Europe remains a particular focus of attention for the Council of Europe, too. In recent months, the Committee of Ministers has recorded notable progress in the implementation of the commitments of Serbia and Montenegro. These are very encouraging developments, which I welcome. As we are all aware, the process of reconciliation and rapprochement is of great importance in that region. In this connection, I welcome the gesture by presidents Tadić and Josipović on the occasion of the commemoration, which I too attended, of the 15th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre. For the sake of peace and political stability in the region, I hope that this process will continue to move forward throughout 2011.
I know that your Assembly is also continuing to pay particular attention to the situation in Kosovo. I can assure you that the commitment to offer all the inhabitants of Kosovo a European perspective and the enjoyment of the same standards as all other Europeans in the areas of democracy, human rights and the rule of law remains very high on the agenda for the Committee of Ministers. The chairmanship fully supports the strengthening of the Organisation’s activities in this respect.
Georgia also remains high on the Committee of Ministers’ agenda. In this connection, I would inform you that the Secretary General in November presented a fresh six-monthly report describing the situation on the ground and reviewing the activities conducted by the Council of Europe. In this context, the Committee of Ministers has taken note of new measures to build confidence and develop human rights standards. By way of example, I would refer to the training seminar on balanced coverage of politically sensitive events held in Istanbul in November for journalists from Abkhazia and other regions of Georgia. For many of the participants, it was the first time they had met colleagues from the other side of the Inguri to exchange points of view and share professional experience. I hope that activities of this kind will expand and that the contacts between the parties will move forward in a spirit of openness and co-operation. The Turkish Chairmanship is willing to support them all.
As I said in the introduction to my remarks, one of our chairmanship’s priorities is to revitalise the Council’s political role. To this end, we must actively continue the process of reform initiated by the Secretary General, whose efforts I welcome and support. With its extensive body of binding legal standards and monitoring mechanisms, the Council of Europe has a unique role to play on the European arena. We must continue to build on and expand these assets. The Turkish Chairmanship is therefore looking forward with great interest to the proposals which the Secretary General will shortly be submitting to the Committee of Ministers concerning the second wave of reforms in the Organisation.
One issue of special importance in this context is the relationship between the Council of Europe and the European Union. The chairmanship hopes that the relationship developed on the basis of the 2007 Memorandum of Understanding, in which the EU recognised the role of the Council of Europe as the benchmark for human rights, the rule of law and democracy, will continue to develop in a spirit of complementarity and mutual reinforcement. That at least is the approach which I intend to take to this issue at a forthcoming tripartite meeting at political level with the European Union.
The recent signature by the Secretary General of the Council of Europe and Commissioner Füle of a “facility” under the EU’s Eastern Partnership is an interesting development here.
Of course, our Organisation also has other very important international partners. The chairmanship therefore intends following in its predecessors’ footsteps regarding co-operation with the United Nations. It paid close attention to the adoption in December by the UN General Assembly of the resolution on co-operation between the Council of Europe and the United Nations in various areas. I hope that this co-operation moves forward, in particular at the annual exchange of views to be held in March with experts from national capitals on human rights issues.
Another important international partner for our organisation is the OSCE. We plan to continue the already existing co-operation between the two organisations.
I know that your Assembly is keenly interested in all the areas which I have just mentioned and wishes to contribute to them. I therefore hope that the new relationship of co-operation and dialogue between your Assembly and the Committee of Ministers established over a year ago by my predecessors will continue. You can count on my support in this respect. I will be glad to answer any questions.
Note 1 This document has been classified restricted at the date of issue; it will be declassified in accordance with Resolution Res(2001)6 on access to Council of Europe documents.