4 - Better managed work is in the interest of delegations, capitals and the Secretariat. We cannot expect improvements in efficiency and transparency without good management between these three institutional players.
This report does not deal specifically with the Secretariat's presentation of documents or the future working methods of Steering Committees. However, both cases need further consideration bearing in mind concerns expressed by delegations on the inadequate and outdated presentation of working documents. They are usually too long, incomprehensible at first glance, often with insufficient identification of resource implication, political input or desired course of action.
How CoE´s documents are presented to delegations should be reviewed following one same pattern/model to all (uniform presentation). There is a perception that not every part of the house is following the same kind of approach and ensuring the same quality of documents. Documents should be concise, clear, and short, including an introductory summary, clearly defined recommendation for action to be taken as well as cost implications.
Delegations criticised the working methods of the Steering Committees and the relation of the Secretariat with them. It is often difficult for delegations to follow them. The new trend of Steering committees creating sub-groups or expert groups should be tackled as matter of priority with a view to reducing the large number of groups and sub-committees (more than 200!) and for reasons of transparency and cost-efficiency. An evaluation of all the sub-groups is needed in order to identify those that are still instrumental to the work of this organization and that are still of interest to the majority of Member States.
Steering committee reports and reports from other conferences held outside of Strasbourg are often presented to the Deputies many months after they have taken place. This leads to confusion. Suggestions were made that such reports should be presented to rapporteur groups within one month of the meeting.
It is important to recall that it is not up to the CM to duplicate work of committees.
In this case, the Secretariat should be invited to clearly identify all resource implication (human and financial). If they meet with no objections, these reports should then go into the box for items to be adopted without debate by the Ministers' Deputies.
The important role of GR groups /rapporteurs
5 - The practice of having GRs preparing decisions for CM should be kept but there is room for improvement to ensure efficiency, no duplication and transparency.
The selection of Chairpersons for GRs is crucial not only to the efficiency of the group but also to the productivity and transparency of the CoE ´s work.
When recommending a Chairperson to the CM, the Bureau should take into account all relevant factors in order to identify the right candidate for the position.
The Chairperson is responsible for encouraging a good working relationship between the Secretariat, delegations and themselves.
He/She should ensure that the rapporteur groups meet regularly according to an agreed timetable. They should also ensure that the agenda justifies convening a meeting, including items which are relevant to the majority of delegations and that documents are distributed on time.
The conduct of meetings of GR´s should follow the same guidelines, common to all groups. Clear rules and guidelines should also improve the Secretariat's efficiency: Advance knowledge of items for the agenda, a better planned timetable and timely distribution of documents.
► As general principle documents for discussion at rapporteurs groups must be distributed 15 workings days in advance. This is the only way to allow delegations and capitals to seriously consider the documents. The Secretariat and the rapporteur groups Chairpersons´ should be invited to fully respect this rule.
► The practice of holding preliminary debates or exchanges of views in the groups at the request of the Secretariat, the Chair or a handful of delegations should not take place if the documents were not distributed on time. Experience shows that these discussions or debates are not useful, are an inefficient use of our time and do not contribute to the productivity of work because the group will have to return to the issue at a later stage anyway.
► Using more often the “box”
When summing up at the end of GR meetings, chairpersons should be obliged to indicate those items (which were thoroughly discussed) that will be placed in the box for the Ministers' Deputies. This task is the primary function of the GR. It is surprising that fewer and fewer items discussed in GRs appear in the box, showing that the GRs are not as productive as they could be.
The box should be used as much as possible. This will allow the Ministers' Deputies to focus on real issues requiring political debate and input. Delegations should be discouraged from requesting the removal of an item from the box if that delegation did not express any difficulties with the item at GR level. The institutional triangle (RPs, Secretariat and capitals) should be aware of these rules and ready to accept them. There is a hope that capitals would also be less inclined to request postponement of an item which had been duly prepared.
► GR synopses should be produced and distributed within 4 days of the meeting (as is the current practice in GR-EDS which is greatly appreciated).
Better planning of GR Meetings and others
6 - The majority of delegations have complained about the way in which meetings are scheduled, many times without an agenda which justifies it. It is sometimes difficult to understand who is behind the request/pressure to convene a meeting (the Group, the Chair or the Secretariat).
A timetable, planned well in advance, could help the efficiency and productivity of the whole organisation. This is vital to allow delegations and the Secretariat to prepare themselves and - in the case of delegations - to ensure co-ordination between relevant Ministries in capitals. We should avoid a “à la carte” convening of meetings. There is a common feeling that some GRs are having too many meetings, imposing on delegations a presence in meetings even with weak agendas.
6.1 Free time to work is needed
● Mondays and Fridays should be meeting-free days. ●GR meetings should only take place in the mornings, this will give delegations and Secretariat the afternoons to report and prepare meetings. Morning meetings could start at 09.30 if needed.
● Meetings should be no longer than 3 hours. ●The GR-J and GR-H should not take place during the same week, due to the fact that the same people in almost all delegations cover these meetings. ● Other meetings (e.g. enlarged bureau) could take place in the afternoon and should be finished by 17.30. ●The CM and DH are the only meetings that could feasibly spill over into the afternoon.
6.2 The current list of GRs should be adjusted and reduced.
Delegations favour the following suggestions:
a) GR-EDS could be renamed GR-DEM (Democracy). Maintaining the same structure it would act as the umbrella group to GT-SUIVI.AGO, RAP-CBM/NGO and RAP-LARC. Given that we often repeat the discussion in GR-EDS at CM (usually the same people attend) we should consider an institutional change to allow GR-DEM to take some decisions e.g. taking note of reports. The recognised importance of GREDS merits a meeting every 3 weeks.
b) GR-EXT would handle relations with the UN, EU, OSCE and OECD.
Thematic coordinators for some of these issues could be appointed. GR-EXT will also be the umbrella group to the RAP-MED.
c) GR-SOC will continue to handle social cohesion issues and act as umbrella to RAP-EG.
d) GR-H and GR-J should remain unchanged.
e) GR-C following Culture, Education, Youth, Sustainable development and Sport.
f) GR-AB will be the umbrella group to RAP-PROG, RAP-INF, GT-REF.INST. and GT-BS.
Apart from GR-DEM the other groups should hold meetings every 6 weeks.
6.3 We should consider renaming rapporteurs e.g. thematic co-ordinators.
They are appointed to follow certain areas of importance to the organisation. Nevertheless they should not be confused with GR Chairs. Their work should be conducted, as much as possible, without convening meetings. If a meeting is required thematic co-ordinators should request a timeslot within a GR e.g. a RAP-PROG item within a GR-AB meeting. The same idea should apply to GTs. The mandate of GTs should be time limited e.g. six months.
7 - Ministers´ Deputies meetings (CM)
Rather than just following an institutional routine, the convening of meetings of the Ministers' Deputies should be dictated by substantial agendas. Ministers' Deputies should also be ready to react to major political events.
In recent years the number and duration of Deputies' meetings have increased considerably. The number of points on the agenda has also increased without justification (sometimes with agendas with more than 34 items !!). There are still too few items in the box.
It is worth to recalling that the CM is the CoE's supreme decision making body. Its meetings and agendas should be meticulously prepared. The Bureau also plays here an important advisory role. Members of the Bureau have a common responsibility regarding agendas to be approved by all Member States. It is the Chair's role to ensure that delegations, Secretariat and others respect these rules.
The Secretariat should ensure that agendas contain substantial items for decision, at the same time avoiding the addition of items that are not urgent or have not been discussed at the GR level. The CM's agendas should be shorter. Hence the Bureau could and should play an important role in cooperation with the Presidency in identifying adequate agendas.
Delegations consulted made some of the following suggestions, keeping however some flexibility:
· 3 Ministers' Deputies meeting per month.
· The morning session should be devoted to political issues. The afternoon session, which should not exceed 3 hours, should be devoted to the remaining items. Set time slots for every chapter on the agenda. Brief report from SG or in his absence from Deputy SG.
· Invited guests (not more than one per meeting) should, in principle, speak in beginning of the afternoon. Guests should be invited only when their stature warrants it and there is a sufficiently high level of interest from delegations. Otherwise, full use of Enlarged Bureau meetings is recommended for guests.
· A speaking time limit could be considered like in the PACE, allowing 3 minutes for the first intervention and 1 minute for subsequent interventions. The use of the same system as the PACE (lights flashing) or others should be encouraged at the level of the CM.
· Long interventions from delegations, should be actively discouraged. These statements should be distributed in written form allowing then the delegation to only refer to some important points. Statements on items in the box should be distributed in written form and should not constitute reason for taking an item out of the box.
· The practice of CM statements on major events should be encouraged.
· Silent procedures/ad referendum agreements should be used more often.
The normal length of time given for such a procedure should be three working days. If a silent procedure is broken, the item should revert to the GR.
The Chair will ensure that the rules are respected. In particular he/she will try to resist the removal of items from the box or their addition on the agenda without good justification. Delegations wishing to do so should be obliged to state their reasons clearly 3 days before the meeting.
Delegations should avoid opening drafting exercises during the CM meetings. If the issue is complex the Chair should postpone the item. If the item concerns only a number of delegations the Chair could invite them, with the assistance of the Secretariat and a mediator, as appropriate, to resolve the question in the margins of the meeting.
8 - The impact of PACE “ ideas” in the work of the CM
One of the most problematic issues raised by delegations was how to handle the increased number of PACE recommendations and questions. Recent experience has shown some difficulties in handling some questions in the CM, at both the Deputies´ and GR levels. Certain questions deal with complex bilateral issues which are often difficult to reply to at the Deputies' level. The Ministers' Deputies should take into account the consultative nature of the PACE and concentrate on recommendations. We could envisage inviting the PACE to consider reducing the number of questions, particularly those from individuals, presented to the CM in order to allow the CM to prepare better and timely answers to the PACE.
Therefore, the CM should give priority to questions tabled by groups of Parliamentarians and on subjects relevant to the CoE ´s activities and priorities.
9 - Balance between working and family life
The day on which the Ministers' Deputies meet was regularly raised by delegations. It goes against the CoE's principles of work life balance to hold a full day meeting on the only day when French schools are closed. A clear majority of delegations felt that it would be preferable to hold the CM on another day e.g. Tuesdays or Thursdays giving those parents in delegations and the Secretariat more flexibility.