Ministers’ Deputies / Rapporteur Groups
GR-EXT
Rapporteur Group on External Relations

GR-EXT(2008)CB2 20 February 20081
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Synopsis
Meeting of 13 February 2008

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1. The Rapporteur Group, chaired by Ambassador Daryal Batibay, Permanent Representative of Turkey, dealt with matters pursuant to convocation GR-EXT(2008)OJ2.

1. Co-operation with the European Union: Follow-up to the Juncker report

a. Implementation of Recommendation No. 13

2. By way of introduction, the Chairman explained that following the Group’s last meeting on 7 February 2008, he had organised, in liaison with the Chair and the Vice-Chair of the Committee of Ministers, new informal consultations concerning the draft guidelines on the organisation of ministerial sessions with those delegations which had submitted written proposals for amendments. He had sent a revised memorandum to delegations the day preceding the meeting, taking account of the results of the Group’s last meeting as well as these consultations. He had subsequently received further comments from delegations which were taken into account in a document distributed in the meeting room (GR-EXT(2008)6rev). The Chairman concluded by thanking delegations for their spirit of compromise. He recalled that this exercise aimed to lay down broad guidelines for the outgoing and incoming chairs for the organisation of ministerial sessions, with the purpose of encouraging more Ministers to attend, as proposed by Prime Minister Juncker in his Recommendation No. 13. He informed delegations that the Slovak Chair would meet the incoming Swedish Chair the following week to discuss the organisation of the 118th Session and to prepare a joint invitation to their counterparts from all the Coucil of Europe member states for the Session.

3. A number of delegations thanked the Chair for his efforts to find a compromise solution and expressed their support for the proposal on the table. While endorsing the proposal, one delegation noted the very general character of the text and indicated that it favoured an inclusive rather than an exclusive approach as regards the organisation of informal discussions. It considered that each member state should find a place in one form or the other during these discussions. The same delegation suggested that a document be prepared following the meeting between the Slovak and Swedish Ministers of Foreign Affairs, indicating how they were planning to organise the Session in May so that ministers of all member states could be informed as soon as possible. Another delegation welcomed the fact that the document provided a possibility for the Minister of each member state to address general or specific topics during a limited period of time, which it considered particularly important. It recalled that the draft guidelines indicated that the outgoing and incoming chairs would consult the other member states on the choice of topic for the session, as well as on its organisation and format. This delegation also considered that when forwarding the draft guidelines to the Deputies for adoption the following week, a draft decision should be included indicating that the implementation of the guidelines should be evaluated in due course. The value of all member states being present at important gatherings of the Council of Europe was underlined by one delegation, stating that this was necessary if they were to find any ownership of the outcome of such meetings.

4. The Chairman of the Deputies confirmed that during the 118th Ministerial Session, the Ministers of all member states would have the possibility of taking the floor to address issues of importance to them. There would be no decision-making in the absence of some member states. The Chair would continue consultations with other delegations on the organisation of the Session. The new guidelines would be an important tool for these preparations. An item on the preparation of the Session would be on the agenda of the 1021st meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies (12 March 2008).

5. Following a discussion, during which a minor modification was made to the text, the Group agreed to endorse the Chairman’s memorandum as contained in document CM(2008)34 and to transmit it to the Deputies for approval at their 1018th meeting (20 February 2008). They also agreed to propose a decision to evaluate the results of the implementation of of the new guidelines in due course.

b. Implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding

6. The Chairman recalled that the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Council of Europe and the European Union had been concluded in order "to establish a new framework for enhanced co-operation and political dialogue". It should give co-operation between the Council of Europe and the European Union a qualitative (at the political level) and quantitative (at the programme level) boost. With this in mind, the Secretariat has prepared a document containing a “Proposal for the implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding between the Council of Europe and European Union of 11 May 2007” (cf. DER/PR/Inf(2008)1).

7. The Director for External Relations explained that this was a future-oriented document taking stock of ideas that had been voiced in various documents such as the Juncker report and within the Secretariat on possible ways of implementing the MoU. The purpose was not to diminish in any way the achievements that had already been made in this respect. The MoU being a solid basis on which to build future co-operation with the EU, the discussion in the Group would show against which background the Council of Europe should pursue its implementation. The document was not an exclusive document; a number of ongoing or future initiatives were mentioned. This did not mean that they were not important or relevant, just the contrary. The Director for External Relations also mentioned that an annual report on the external relations of the Council of Europe would be presented to the Committee of Ministers before the May Ministerial Session. It would be a comprehensive overview on the basis of which a long term reflection process on the Organisation’s external relations could be based.

8. One delegation recalled the importance which it attached to increased political dialogue between the two Organisations, in line with the proposals made in the bullet points on page 4 of the document. It underlined that paragraph 45 of the MoU referred also to meetings at ambassadors’ level, which was not reflected in the document, and considered that this line of action should be put into practice as soon as possible. With respect to paragraph 52 of the MoU, providing for better co-ordination of all project funds to promote democracy, human rights and the rule of law, in particular in more recent member states, this delegation considered that progress had been made, but that there was still great potential for better co-ordination. This could result in identifying sources of financing from member states for Council of Europe projects that were currently under-financed. In this respect, it referred to the last sentence of paragraph 52 providing for the presence of member countries that are donors in co-ordination meetings between the European Commission and the Council of Europe.

9. The delegation representing the Presidency of the European Union made, on behalf of the Union, the statement contained in the Appendix to this synopsis.

10. With respect to the proposals for increased political dialogue, another delegation considered that efforts should concentrate on specific action with a high political connotation. It referred to the need for efficient co-ordination on Joint Programmes, in particular those within the European Neighbourhood Policy, in order that priorities would be adequately defined. For this to be possible, member states benefiting from the programmes should also be involved. This delegation indicated its support for the proposals made in the Secretariat’s document on further co-operation as regards human rights and legal affairs, education and inter-cultural dialogue. It would have liked to see some proposals in the field of social cohesion, for example as regards the implementation of the recommendations of the High-Level Task Force on Social Cohesion.

11. One delegation referred to a letter which it had addressed to the Chair (cf. document DD(2008)53), asking that a reference be made in paragraph 3.1 of the document (p. 10) to the “2008 Exchange on inter-religious dialogue”. Another delegation requested that the expression “relevant third countries” on page 6 of the Secretariat document should be modified in order to clarify its meaning.

12. A further delegation indicated that it did not consider that the MoU made a distinction between co-operation in the field of human rights, the rule of law and democracy and co-operation in other fields, as indicated on page 3 of the Secretariat document. It would therefore have preferred to receive concrete proposals for co-operation in all areas of common interest. As regards co-operation in the field of human rights and the rule of law, what was stated in the document on EU accession to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and on the European Union Fundamental Rights Agency, was strongly supported. The delegation also supported the implementation in EU law of Council of Europe standards and considered that the Secretariat should be asked to elaborate a framework indicating which standards could be of relevance. With respect to democracy and good governance, the ideas in the document on co-operation in the framework of the Forum for the Future of Democracy were supported. More information was requested on the possibilities for the Council of Europe to be associated with the European Commission’s Justice Forum. The same delegation preferred the language of the MoU for the description of regional and transfrontier co-operation as well as co-operation in the countries participating in the ENP or the Enlargement Process. The role of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe and of the Committee of Regions of the European Union as well as the Centre of Expertise for Local Government Reform, should be referred to in the document. As regards inter-cultural dialogue, a reference to interreligious dialogue should be included. The key role of the Committee of Ministers should be underlined with respect to enhanced political dialogue. Finally, the contribution of the Parliamentary Assembly and the European Parliament should also be referred to in the document.

13. The Director of Standard-setting underlined that direct contacts had been established by the Directorate General of Human Rights and Legal Affairs with the European Commission in the legal and human rights fields at Director General level. At a technical level, all staff in the Directorate General had been requested that for any project, contacts should be made with their counterparts in the European Commission or the European Council in order to ensure co-ordination. He finally referred to the 2002 study of the Steering Committee for Human Rights (CDDH) on the technical/legal aspects of EU accession to the ECHR, mentioned on page 5 of the document, and suggested that the Group proposes to the Deputies to invite the CDDH to review and, if necessary, update this study. He recalled that the 2002 study concerned, in particular, the arrangements that would need to be made within the Council of Europe to enable the European Union to accede to the Convention. Inviting the CDDH to review its study would be useful since that would allow the Council of Europe to have an up-to-date picture of adaptations to be made to its own legal instruments and to be prepared for future negotiations within the EU.

14. A couple of delegations were hesitant to accept the proposal to ask the CDDH to update the aforementioned study and indicated that they needed to consult their capitals.

15. The Chairman noted that some delegations had referred to the implementation of the MoU and recalled that a report on that subject was to be prepared for the May Ministerial Session. He therefore suggested that the Group asks the Secretariat to prepare a stock-taking of the implementation of the MoU for discussion at its next meeting on 19 March 2008. This was agreed, on the understanding that this document would be an inventory on the basis of which delegations would give guidelines to the Secretariat to prepare the aforementioned report.

16. The Chairman concluded that the Group agreed to submit a proposal for a decision to the Deputies inviting the CDDH to re-examine its 2002 "Study of technical and legal issues of a possible EC/EU accession to the European Convention on Human Rights" and to update it as necessary in the light of subsequent developments. The delegations wishing to consult their capitals with respect to the proposed decision were invited to do so and to indicate their final position at the Deputies’ meeting.

17. Finally, one delegation underlined the importance of the next Quadripartite meeting between the Council of Europe and the European Union for the development of co-operation between the two organisations and enquired about when the Committee of Ministers would be informed of the preparations made for this meeting. In response, the Chair indicated that the matter would be on the agenda of the 1019th meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies (27-28 February 2008). He also informed the Group that, following an invitation sent by the Slovak Chair of the Committee of Ministers, the EU Commissioner Jan Figel would meet the Deputies on 22 April 2008 for an exchange of views on possible future co-operation between the Council of Europe and the European Union in the area of intercultural dialogue.

2. Co-operation with the International Organisation of La Francophonie: draft Joint Declaration

18. The Head of Department in the Directorate of External Relations introduced the draft Joint Declaration as contained in document GR-EXT(2008)3, recalling that a decision with a view to concluding an agreement on increased co-operation between the two organisations had been taken at the 116th Session of the Committee of Ministers. The draft Joint Declaration followed from an earlier agreement of 1983 between the Council of Europe and the organisation that preceded La Francophonie, the “Agence de coopération culturelle et technique” (ACCT). At that time, the remit of this Organisation was limited to education and cultural issues, whereas the mandate of La Francophonie has now been extended to matters such as democracy, human rights, conflict prevention and inter-cultural dialogue. The draft Joint Declaration has been structured in a way similar to the Joint Declaration adopted by the Council of Europe and UNICEF in 2007.

19. During the discussion that followed, a large number of delegations indicated their support for increased co-operation between the Council of Europe and La Francophonie and for the draft Joint Declaration, stressing the shared values of the two organisations and the increased outreach for the Council of Europe that could follow from such co-operation. While not objecting to the draft Joint Declaration, one delegation underlined that co-operation with the OIF should not develop to the detriment of the priorities fixed by the Committee of Ministers. Delegations also indicated their general support for the proposals concerning specific co-operation contained in Appendix II to document GR-EXT(2008)3. At the same time, some delegations considered that this Appendix should include a chapter on the media, as this sector was mentioned in the draft Joint Declaration as such. The representative of the Directorate of External Relations indicated that this, and any other proposals which delegations may wish to make, would be reflected during the implementation of the document once signed. In response to a question by some delegations, he also confirmed that the implementation of the Joint Declaration would not entail additional expenses for the Council of Europe.

20. At the close of the discussion, the Group agreed to endorse the draft Joint Declaration and to propose to the Deputies to authorise the Secretary General to sign it.

3. Any other business

21. One delegation referred to document DD(2008)66 distributed on behalf of the member states of the Organisation for Democracy and Economic Development (GUAM), which suggests the development of closer co-operation between the Council of Europe and GUAM, and recalled the proposal that high level representatives of GUAM be invited to a forthcoming meeting of the GR-EXT to discuss the prospects for such co-operation. This proposal was supported by several other delegations.

22. The Chairman concluded that he would keep this request in mind when preparing the Group’s forthcoming meetings.

23. The Chairman of the Deputies informed the Group that Mr Sampaio, High Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations for the Alliance of Civilizations, had accepted an invitation for an exchange of views with the Deputies at their 1019th meeting (27 and 28 February 2008), which would inter alia allow delegations to prepare the discussion on the draft Memorandum between the Council of Europe and the Alliance which would take place at the next meeting of the Group.

4. Date of the next meeting

24. The next meeting would be held on Wednesday 19 March 2008 at 10 am.

Appendix

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.


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