Ministers’ Deputies

Information documents

CM/Inf(2014)12 2 May 2014



Stocktaking of the Austrian Chairmanship
of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe
(14 November 2013 – 14 May 2014)



The Austrian Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe will conclude on 14 May 2014 when the handover of the chairmanship to Azerbaijan will take effect.

By then, Austria will have chaired the Committee of Ministers for exactly six months, since the Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian handed over the chairmanship to Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger on 14 November 2013 in Strasbourg. The time of our chairmanship has been marked by important developments, not all of which were to be expected when Austria took the helm of the Organisation in mid-November 2013.

The situation in Ukraine certainly became the political focus of the Council of Europe over the last few months. It has been discussed at every meeting of Ministers’ Deputies since the beginning of the year. It was also chosen as the topic of the informal working session for the 124th Session of the Committee of Ministers on 6 May in Vienna.

Since the beginning of the crisis, the Committee of Ministers has repeatedly called for a peaceful solution of the current crisis through dialogue and negotiation and has called for respect of international law, of the United Nations’ Charter and of the Statute of the Council of Europe, and the full respect of the territorial integrity, unity and independence of Ukraine. It was also underlined that the illegal referendum held in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol on 16 March 2014 and the subsequent illegal annexation by the Russian Federation cannot form the basis for any alteration of the status of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol.

Minister Sebastian Kurz twice visited Ukraine as Chairman of the Committee of Ministers together with the Secretary General. The Committee of Ministers and the Secretary General offered concrete and tailor-made assistance to Ukraine, which includes an International Advisory Panel to promote confidence through an independent investigation of acts of violence, as well as a tripartite working party involving the Parliament, the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine and the Council of Europe to bring forward the legislative reforms, which the Council of Europe stands ready to support, including regarding constitutional reform through its Venice Commission.

Furthermore, following a request made by the Ukrainian authorities, the Committee of Ministers instructed the Advisory Committee of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities to review the situation of national minorities in Ukraine. Following a visit of the Advisory Committee and the submission of the Advisory Committee’s report, the Ministers’ Deputies noted the concerns raised therein and called on the parties concerned to effectively follow up on all the report’s conclusions. The Committee also invited the Advisory Committee to continue to monitor the situation of national minorities throughout Ukraine, including in Crimea, using all available means and welcomed in this context the launching of the third monitoring cycle regarding the implementation by Ukraine of the provisions of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages and the fourth monitoring cycle regarding the implementation by Ukraine of the provisions of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, under which an assessment regarding the protection of the rights of persons belonging to national minorities, including regional or minority languages, will be provided throughout Ukraine, including in Crimea.

In the context of the Council of Europe’s assistance package for Ukraine, the Ministers’ Deputies welcomed the immediate assistance measures for Ukraine presented by the Secretary General, including the important tasks assigned to the Venice Commission in assisting Ukraine in various areas of reform, encouraged their rapid implementation and invited member States to urgently consider granting voluntary contributions for their financing.

The Ministers’ Deputies also firmly recalled the duty of all member States to comply with the commitments undertaken under the Statute of the Council of Europe and the relevant instruments of the Organisation and stressed in this context the importance of the interim measure granted by the European Court of Human Rights following the Inter-State application lodged by Ukraine and called on the two Parties concerned to comply with this measure without delay. They urged the Russian Federation to enter into a direct dialogue with the Government of Ukraine.

The acting Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, Mr Andrii Deshchytsia, addressed a meeting of Ministers’ Deputies, in which the commitment of the Ukrainian authorities -reiterated by Minister Deshchytsia on this occasion- to effectively implement reforms aimed at strengthening human rights protection, the functioning of democratic institutions and the rule of law in line with the Council of Europe’s values, was welcomed.

As set out in the presentation of the priorities of the Austrian Chairmanship at its start in November 2013, our priorities had been defined in response to challenges in all three areas of the Council of Europe’s core mission – human rights, democracy and the rule of law – and on the basis of the common priorities agreed upon by Andorra, Armenia and Austria.

The chairmanship has continuously worked on the implementation of its priorities during the last six months and is pleased to be able to report on initiatives and events held in this context (a list of events is appended):

Respect for freedom of expression and the safety of journalists, whose watchdog function has repeatedly been highlighted by the European Court of Human Rights, remain primary concerns of Austria. The Chairmanship thus welcomes that the Thematic Debate on “Safety of Journalists”, which was held in December 2013 upon the proposal by Austria, has led to the creation of a Task Force chaired by the Deputy Secretary General, consisting of representatives of the relevant Secretariat departments. This Task Force has taken stock of work already under way for a better protection of journalists and identified areas for further consideration and concrete action. The Ministers’ Deputies have taken note of these follow-up proposals made by the Secretary General and invited him to implement these proposals and to report in due course.

Moreover, the Committee of Ministers has adopted a declaration on the protection of journalism and safety of journalists and other media actors in which it alerted member States of the increasing number of reports of attacks on journalists and other media actors in several parts of Europe. It decided to facilitate the development of an Internet-based platform drawing on information supplied by interested media freedom organisations to record and publicise possible infringements of the rights guaranteed by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Committee of Ministers also urged member States to fulfil their positive obligations to protect journalists and other media actors from any form of attack, and to end impunity in compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights and in the light of the case law of the European Court of Human Rights and invited member States to review at least once every two years the conformity of domestic laws and practices with these obligations on the part of member States. In the declaration, the Committee of Ministers also encouraged member States to contribute to the concerted international efforts to enhance the protection of journalists and other media actors by ensuring that legal frameworks and law-enforcement practices are fully in accord with international human rights standards. The implementation of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity is deemed an urgent and vital necessity in this context.

Furthermore, the Committee of Ministers agreed to intensify its standard-setting and co-operation activities for the protection of journalism and the safety of journalists and other media actors as a priority and to contribute expertise to other international organisations with regard to the particular competence of the Council of Europe. It will consider further measures to ensure the protection of journalists from threats and acts of violence, as well as measures to eradicate impunity, and the alignment of laws and practices concerning defamation, anti-terrorism and protection of journalists’ sources with the European Convention on Human Rights. It also will address the specific challenges and threats that women journalists are confronted with in the course of their work.

The Internet as a vital tool for connecting people and for participation in democratic processes was another focus of the Austrian Chairmanship. At the Conference “Shaping the Digital Environment – Ensuring our Rights on the Internet” held in Graz in March this year, over 150 participants from 37 countries, representing governments, international organisations, civil society and industry, addressed the impact of the Internet on human rights, the rule of law, and democracy. The conference featured on its agenda issues such as privacy on the internet, public interest content and industry responses to user rights. Participants also assessed the progress made on the Council of Europe's Internet Governance Strategy 2012-2015 and identified strategic priorities beyond 2015. As the conclusions of the Conference show, the Council of Europe’s Internet Governance Strategy has delivered many tangible results and more progress is expected. The coming two years will focus on the delivery of appropriate legal and political instruments and other tools, such as key instruments and tools on net neutrality, transparency, free flow of Internet content, through relevant bodies and actors of the Council of Europe as well as by co-operation arrangements between governments, the private sector, civil society and relevant technical communities.

In April this year, the Committee of Ministers adopted a Guide to human rights for Internet users to help them better understand their human rights online and what they can do when these rights are challenged. The Guide is based on the rights and freedoms contained in the European Convention on Human Rights, as interpreted by the European Court of Human Rights, and on other Council of Europe conventions and legal texts. It focuses on the human rights on which the internet has most impact: access and non-discrimination, freedom of expression and information, freedom of assembly, association and participation, privacy and data protection, education and literacy, protection of children and young people, and the right to effective remedies for violations of human rights.

The fight against trafficking in human beings has been a further priority of the Austrian Chairmanship. In February this year, the conference “Not for Sale – Joining Forces Against Trafficking in Human Beings”, jointly organised with the Swiss Chairmanship of the OSCE, was held in Vienna. With over 450 participants, this conference received a high level of attention from interested stakeholders as well as media representatives. The aim of the conference was to take stock of the progress made so far and to discuss the challenges in the implementation of the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Human Trafficking. It also provided an opportunity for exchanges on how legally binding standards, monitoring mechanisms and political strategies can mutually reinforce each other and lead to effective action to counter trafficking in human beings. Following the conference, a “Framework for Joint Action” was drafted with the aim of making concrete proposals for follow-up to the conference. It was circulated among Delegations who were given the opportunity to comment on it. The Austrian Chairmanship is in close contact with the Swiss Chairmanship of the OSCE as well as experts from the Secretariats of the two organisations regarding the implementation of these proposals. Austria considers this cooperation with the OSCE as an excellent example for strengthened synergies between both organisations and stands ready to support the continuation of such a close cooperation with the OSCE and other international organisations.

A conference on strengthening the capacity of parliamentarians, judges and prosecutors to prevent corruption in their own ranks held at the International Anti-Corruption Academy in Laxenburg, Austria in April this year brought together around 70 participants from GRECO member States, as well as from international organisations and other relevant stakeholders. In addition to taking stock of national experience and main findings in the prevention of corruption in respect of members of parliament, judges and prosecutors, it also provided an opportunity to review policies, exchange information on good practices and to identify future action in the light of GRECO’s Fourth Evaluation Round. The conference opened with a high-level segment with several Ministers and high-level officials. In the following expert sessions, GRECO delegates of all member States worked together with experts and representatives from the different sectors concerned to highlight achievements on prevention of corruption in respect of members of parliament as well as judges and prosecutors.

At the conference “Human Rights and Disability”, organised by the Austrian Chairmanship in April this year in Vienna, the political perspectives and the legal instruments on human rights of the Council of Europe and the United Nations and their importance for persons with disabilities were discussed, introduced by high level keynote speakers.

The protection of women against violence, including domestic violence was another priority area for our Chairmanship. Austria constantly highlighted the importance of the Council of Europe’s pioneer work in this field. The Istanbul Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence will enter into force on 1 August 2014. This treaty, for the first time in Europe, sets legally binding standards to prevent violence against women, to protect its victims and punish perpetrators.

Having actively promoted among member states the ratification of the Istanbul Convention in multilateral fora as well as on bilateral level together with Turkey in order to allow for an early entry into force, Austria is particularly pleased that this goal was assured during our Chairmanship. Austria expresses its appreciation to Andorra, Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Denmark, Italy, Montenegro, Portugal, Serbia, Spain and Turkey whose ratifications next to our own made it possible to surpass the number of ratifications necessary to achieve this. At the same time, Austria continues to encourage all member states that have not yet done so to sign and ratify this key convention.

Against the background of an ageing society, the sustainability of pension systems and issues regarding the fight against poverty were discussed by experts in the conference “Old-age pensions for women – entitlement and poverty avoidance“ organised by the Austrian Chairmanship in Vienna in April this year.

With a view to the commemoration of the outbreak of the First World War, Austria together with Hungary organised the conference “The First World War in Central European Memory: Trans/national perspectives, European contexts” from 20-22 April in Vienna. The aim of the conference was to discuss the various national historical narratives of the events from 1914-1918 and to link them in order to develop a transnational perspective on these different narratives.

The importance the Austrian Chairmanship attributes to interinstitutional relations was highlighted through the high level participation of Austrian representatives at the sessions of the Parliamentary Assembly and the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities. Next to the two oral communications by Austria’s Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, Chairman of the Committee of Ministers, to the Parliamentary Assembly, both Austrian Federal President Heinz Fischer and Austrian Federal Chancellor Werner Faymann addressed the Assembly. The Austrian Federal Minister for Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water, Andrä Rupprechter, representing the Austrian Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers, addressed the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities at its March Session, during which the Congress also celebrated its 20th anniversary.

Visits of the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers and of the Austrian Federal President to the European Court of Human Rights underlined the importance Austria attaches to the protection system set up under the European Convention on Human Rights and to the right to individual application as well as the respect for the Court.

On internal issues of the Council of Europe, the chairmanship is pleased to note that the Organisation’s reform process was further pursued over the last semester. The adoption of the biennial Programme and Budget for 2014-2015 took place during the Austrian Chairmanship. It comprises 31 operational programmes, covering the intergovernmental sector, the institutions, the partial agreements and the independent mechanisms, all of which allows the Organisation to further streamline and focus its activities in line with its mandate. Austria is looking forward to a continuation of the reform process.

During the Austrian Chairmanship, the Committee of Ministers also fulfilled its statutory obligations regarding the election process for the post of Secretary General, with effect from 1 October 2014. It decided in accordance with the rules of procedure and the joint interpretative statement to submit to the Parliamentary Assembly the candidatures of Mr Thorbjørn Jagland (Norway) and Mrs Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger (Germany), with a view to the election of the next Secretary General by the Assembly during its June session.

The Austrian Chairmanship avails itself of this opportunity to thank representatives of member and observer States, of the organs of the Council of Europe and the Secretariat and all partners for their co-operation.

Appendix 1

Events during the Austrian Chairmanship of the Council of Europe 2013/2014

Date, Venue

Event

14 November 2013, Strasbourg

Chairmanship handover

15 November 2013, Vienna

“Working together for Europe.

Interrelations between the Council of Europe, European Union and member States”

16-24 November 2013, throughout Austria

Global Education Week

19 November 2013, Strasbourg

Joint ECRI/UNHCR/ODIHR Round table: “Combating racism, xenophobia, discrimination and intolerance against asylum-seekers and refugees in Europe”

20 November 2013, Vienna

Global Diversity (Pestalozzi) Seminar

21-22 November 2013, Vienna

Bureau and Standing Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly

21-22 November 2013, Innsbruck

Europe Cultural Routes Advisory Forum

3-4 December 2013, Graz

Expert Conference: “Integration policy on a regional and local level” - Best practice examples from Europe

12-13 December 2013, Vienna

Compendium of Cultural Policies and Trends in Europe, Assembly of Compendium Experts

17-19 December 2013, Vienna

Meeting of the European Cinema Support Fund EURIMAGES

19 December 2013, Vienna

Meeting of the Open-ended Expert Group on “E-Voting”

27 January-8 February, Strasbourg

Exhibition “Desiring the Real” presented in the Foyer of the Committee of Minister’s

6-7 February 2014, Salzburg

“Communities and Regions as the Foundation of a Modern Civil Society”

17-18 February 2014, Vienna

Joint CoE/OSCE Conference: “Not For Sale – Joining Forces Against Trafficking in Human Beings”

28 February 2014, Eisenstadt

“20 Years of Congress and the Committee of the Regions – The Representation of Regions and Cities in Europe and the European Union”

6-7 March 2014, Vienna

Session of the Parliamentary Network “Women Free from Violence“ and Session of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly-Committee for Equal Treatment and Non-Discrimination

10 March 2014, New York

Side Event to the 58th Meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW): “Trafficking in Women and Girls for the Purpose of Domestic Work”

13-14 March 2014, Graz

Conference on the Rule of Law and the Internet

17 March 2014, Vienna

“1914 – The Collapse of a Peace Order: Is Democratic Peace an Alternative?”

Date, Venue

Event

20-21 March 2014, Graz

High-level Conference: “Quality Education and language competences for the 21st Century: Traditions, Challenges and Visions”

20-22 March 2014, Vienna

The First World War in Central European Memory: Trans/national perspectives, European contexts”

31 March – 1 April 2014, Klagenfurt

“Investing in our Youth: Education is Key”

3-4 April 2014, Vienna

“Old-age Pensions for Women – Entitlement and Poverty Avoidance”

3-4 April 2014, Innsbruck

“Strengthening the Rule of Law in Europe”

6-10 April 2014, Schloss Hartheim, Linz

“The value of Life” (Pestalozzi Seminar)

10-11 April 2014, Vienna

“Human Rights and Disability”

9-11 April 2014, Vienna

“Shared Histories for a Europe without dividing Lines”

10-11 April 2014, Laxenburg (International Anti-Corruption Academy – IACA)

"Strengthening the capacity of parliamentarians, judges and prosecutors to prevent corruption in their own ranks: Emerging trends from two years of GRECO Round IV evaluations"

23 April – 9 May 2014, throughout Austria

Action Days on Political Education: “Europe: Yesterday | Today | Tomorrow”

25. April, Novi Sad

IRE Expert Conference “Regional Media in Southeast Europe”

5-6 May 2014, Strasbourg

Conference on European Democracy “EuDEM 2014”

6 May, Vienna

124th Session of the Committee of Ministers

8-9 May 2014, Innsbruck

“Combating Corruption – Preventive and Repressive Measures on European, National and Regional Level”

12 May 2014, Strasbourg

Presentation: “Guide on decision-making Processes regarding medical treatment in end-of-life situations”

12-14 May 2014, Vienna

16th Congress of the Conference of European Constitutional Courts

7 May 2014 (Opening)- 25 May, Strasbourg

Roma art project “TRIN ALAVA/TRIN LAFJA/TRIN VORBA”

14 May 2014

End of the Austrian Chairmanship



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