CM(2001)72 / 108th Session / Summary of Committee of Ministers' reflections on institutional matters


Ministers' Deputies
CM Documents

CM(2001)72 7 May 2001
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108th Session
Strasbourg, 10-11 May 2001

Summary of Committee of Ministers' reflections on institutional matters


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Introduction

 

1.         Following the recommendations made in the final report of the Committee of Wise Persons, the Committee of Ministers has, over the last two-and-a-half years, held thorough discussions on its operation, its relations with its institutional partners within the Council of Europe and its working methods. These discussions started in the GT-SAGES, focussing mainly on ways of improving the functioning of the Committee of Ministers in its most operational manifestation, viz the Ministers' Deputies. This led to the adoption of a new calendar of Deputies' meetings, a substantial reduction in the number of rapporteur groups and the appointment of rapporteurs for a number of areas, based on the principle of “individual work – collective decision”.

 

2.         Further discussions led by the Icelandic and Irish chairs then addressed ways of enhancing the political interest and media appeal of ministerial sessions, and thereby increasing ministerial attendance. This led to guidelines for the re-organisation of ministerial sessions, which were successfully tried out at the 105th (3-4 November 1999), 106th (10-11 May 2000) and 107th (8-9 November 2000) sessions.

 

3.         Subsequently, a number of proposals were put forward by the Italian chair for larger-scale institutional reform; these proposals were examined in an ad hoc working group set up for the purpose, the GT-REF.INST. At the same time, more specific discussions were held on ways of enhancing co-operation between the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly, in a joint working party whose conclusions were approved by both the Ministers' Deputies and the Bureau of the Parliamentary Assembly.

 

4.         The present document takes stock of the work done under the Icelandic, Irish and Italian chairmanships.  It brings together in a coherent form a set of reforms which were already agreed in practice or on which there is a consensus among member states. 

 

I.          ORGANISATION OF MINISTERIAL SESSIONS

 

5.         It is first agreed that the positive developments of recent years concerning sessions of the Committee of Ministers be made permanent features, viz:

 

-           organisation on the previous evening, at the dinner given for Ministers by the Secretary General, of an informal ministerial meeting on a major topical issue of European interest, introduced by a leading figure directly involved in the question;

 

-           giving priority to member states represented at ministerial level, allotting speaking time only to delegations led by a member of the government (or at least a political figure) and encouraging the other delegations to make written contributions;

 

-           maximising media coverage and public interest by adapting the Organisation's calendar so that the accession of new member states, the adoption or opening for signature of new conventions, the signing or ratification of existing conventions, the adoption of texts or decisions of major importance, etc, coincide with ministerial sessions;

 

-           presentation, on the day of the session, of the incoming Chair's programme, with an exchange of views on this subject between the new Chairman of the Committee of Ministers and the Ministers' Deputies[1].

 

6.         It is also agreed that the guidelines defined under the Icelandic and Irish chairs be confirmed, in the light of experience at the last three sessions, viz:

 

-           to focus the session agenda (or at least the part on which Ministers are invited to speak) on a very limited number of topics directly related to major topical issues of Council of Europe policy. Ideally, one main theme would be chosen as the focus for all the events organised around the session;

 

-           to target communication to the media and the public more precisely, by means of two parallel and complementary texts: the Final Communiqué (which is a statement of the Committee of Ministers' political position on the main theme of the session) and the “Conclusions from the Chair” (which addresses more broadly the other session themes and events and the Council of Europe's achievements over the previous six months);

 

-           to 'exploit' the Ministers' presence in Strasbourg to the full, in particular by clearly defining their timetable, (including within the formal sittings), ensuring that they are allotted maximum speaking time, and by developing ways of encouraging bilateral contacts with their colleagues and with Council of Europe officials. In this regard, the experience of the 106th and 107th sessions, when a provisional order of speakers was issued by the Chair several days beforehand and the restriction of speaking time to delegations represented at political level was strictly observed, might be taken as an example by future Chairs[2]

 

7.         Lastly, it is agreed to make sure that the ministerial sessions enjoy full input from the Committee of Ministers' main partners, both within and outside the Council of Europe and accordingly:

 

-           to encourage the Secretary General to continue to invite the President of the Parliamentary Assembly to the informal ministerial meetings the day before the formal sessions, while noting the latter's intention to exercise more systematically his right to make a written contribution to the session;

 

-           to extend the possibility of making written contributions to the session, provided that one or more session items fall within their remit, to the other institutional partners of the Committee of Ministers in the Council of Europe, viz the Presidents of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights, as well as the Human Rights Commissioner;

 

-           to entrust the Secretary General with the task of inviting, at the appropriate level, the European Commission and the OSCE to participate in the sessions[3]. 

 

II.        ADAPTATION OF THE COMMITTEE OF MINISTERS' CALENDAR, STRUCTURES AND WORKING METHODS

 

8.         Discussions in the GT-REF.INST have shown that there is no consensus for changing the present duration of the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers, nor for reviewing or adapting the order of rotation adopted in 1949, based on English alphabetical order. It is therefore agreed to confirm that the duration of the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers is six months and that the chairmanship is held by the Council of Europe member states by rotation in English alphabetical order. 

 

9.         Whilst confirming the system of six-month chairmanships, the Committee of Ministers has envisaged the reduction of the number of formal ministerial sessions to one per year[4]. While the idea received considerable support, the Committee of Ministers believes it is necessary to continue to discuss the modalities of its possible implementation.

 

10.       Institutionalisation, in addition to the ministerial sessions, of Summits of Heads of State and Government does not enjoy a consensus. During their preliminary discussion of the proposal for a third Council of Europe Summit of Heads of State and Government in 2002, the Deputies emphasised the importance of the Vienna and Strasbourg summits for the Council of Europe and agreed that a Third Summit should be organised if there was felt to be a need for a further top-level meeting, without reference to institutional considerations.

 

11.       The growing responsibility taken by the successive chairs of the Committee of Ministers in relation to the Council of Europe, which shows a greater involvement than in the past, was welcomed. This tendency, reflected in the drawing up by recent Chairs of a set of priorities, or even a “chairmanship programme[5], has led the countries concerned to devote much more effort than in the past to preparing for their chairmanship and resulted in informal contacts seeking to ensure continuity between successive chairmanships. It has also brought about greater mobilisation of the diplomatic machinery of the state holding the chairmanship and hence an increased Council of Europe presence on the ground (cf the very active role played during the Italian chairmanship by the Italian embassies in certain non-member countries such as Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus, and by Italy's diplomatic mission to the United Nations).

 

12.       In this respect, the positive nature of recent developments which have brought about greater continuity between successive Chairs of the Committee of Ministers and a greater Council of Europe presence on the ground was underlined. These two elements – continuity and presence on the ground – will be further enhanced by the following measures:

 

-           using the Bureau of the Ministers' Deputies as a discussion forum to coordinate action under successive chairmanships, particularly concerning the drawing up and implementation of their programmes. For this purpose, the Bureau will be enlarged to six members, so as to include the Permanent Representative of the country due to take the chair in n+3, and a specific responsibility for ensuring continuity between successive chairmanships and programmes will be entrusted to the Vice-Chairman of the Deputies in co-operation with the Secretariat of the Committee of Ministers;

 

-           encouraging member states holding the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers to perform a role of representation and co-ordination on the ground on behalf of the Council of Europe, using the logistic and diplomatic resources at their disposal in relation to the main international organisations (particularly the OSCE and the United Nations) and in European states where the Council of Europe has no representation of its own. This might lead the current Chair of the Committee of Ministers also to rely on the diplomatic missions of the countries which had previously held the Chair or are due to hold it next.

 

Emphasis on continuity and co-ordination between successive chairmanships and on greater Committee of Ministers presence on the ground could lead the Chair also to involve the preceding and following chairs – or the members of the Bureau - in the performance of his/her tasks of external representation, according to circumstances and having regard to the interest, in certain cases, of more collegiate representation. Whether or not to make use of such representation should be left to the discretion of the Chair of the Committee of Ministers. 

 

III.      CO-OPERATION WITH THE COMMITTEE OF MINISTERS' INSTITUTIONAL PARTNERS WITHIN THE COUNCIL OF EUROPE

 

13.       In its institutional discussions, the Committee of Ministers has attached great importance to enhancing co-operation with its institutional partners within the Council of Europe. While not forgetting that the Secretary General – and the Secretariat as a whole – is its key partner in relation to all items on its agenda and makes an indispensable contribution to its work, the Committee of Ministers has focussed its attention on ways of further improving co-operation with the Parliamentary Assembly, which is the Council of Europe's other organ with general competence (see Appendix).

 

14.       Since the establishment of the new European Court of Human Rights in November 1998, the Committee of Ministers has also attached great importance to enhancing co-operation with the Court. In addition to a number of working parties set up to address the needs of the Court taking into account its increasing case-load, a Liaison Committee has been set up in 2000, on the proposal of the Irish Chair, to foster dialogue and communication between the Committee of Ministers and the Court on the future of human rights protection in Europe and on questions affecting the European Court of Human Rights. More recently, an evaluation group was set up to examine matters concerning the observed and expected growth in the number of applications to the European Court of Human Rights and the Court's capacity to deal with this growth, and to consider all potential means of guaranteeing the continued effectiveness of the Court with a view, if appropriate, to making proposals concerning the need for reform and report thereon to the Committee of Ministers[6].

 

15.       Where the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe (CLRAE) is concerned, the Committee of Ministers has affirmed its intention of enhancing both the status of the Congress and co-operation with it by adopting, on 15 March 2000, Statutory Resolution (2000) 1 on the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe and by upgrading the post of Head of the CLRAE Secretariat to the rank of Director General (A7).  The dialogue between the Committee of Ministers and the Congress will continue through the annual exchange of views between the Deputies and the Chairs of the Congress and its two Chambers, the communication by the Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers to the plenary session of the Congress and the participation of its Executive Director to the work of the Ministers' Deputies, in so far as the field of competence of the Congress is concerned.

 

16.       Since the creation of the post of Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner at the 104th session of the Committee of Ministers (Budapest, 7 May 1999) and the Parliamentary Assembly's election of Mr Alvaro Gil-Robles (Spain) as its first incumbent, the Committee of Ministers has also taken great care to provide the Commissioner with the resources necessary for the performance of his duties and to establish close co-operation with him. Apart from establishing the Commissioner's office, headed - under the Commissioner's authority - by a senior official with the rank of Director (A6), the Committee of Ministers has given its support to the initiatives of the new Commissioner, who has – sometimes at the actual invitation of the Committee of Ministers – played a very important role on major political issues such as the situation in Chechnya or democratic stability in Georgia and Moldova.  It encourages the Commissioner to pursue his action along these lines, and invites him to bring to the attention of the Committee of Ministers any matter related to its activities, within the framework of his mandate.[7]

 

17.       The Committee of Ministers' efforts to enhance co-operation with its main partners within the Council of Europe have met with remarkable success in a sphere where it is especially important to mobilise all the Organisation's resources, ie information policy.  After wide consultation carried out by the Rapporteur on information policy, in April 2000 the Committee of Ministers adopted Resolution (2000) 2 on the Council of Europe's information strategy. Since then, many initiatives have been put in hand – in partnership with the other Council of Europe bodies – to put into effect the policies contained in this fundamental text.

 

18.       The Committee of Ministers notes all these positive developments and encourages the Deputies to continue enhancing co-operation with the Committee of Ministers' main institutional partners within the Council of Europe, with a view to achieving the common strategic objective of improving Council of Europe presence, visibility and efficiency. 

 


Appendix[8]

 

Three key ideas for reinforcing cooperation between the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly:

 

a. Improve communication and the exchange of information between the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly by:

 

-           pursuing efforts to focus the statutory communication from the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers to the Parliamentary Assembly on essentials.  In this connection it is proposed that the recent practice of circulating, in advance of the oral statement, a substantial written report by the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers covering all the Committee of Ministers' activities since the previous part-session, supplemented by a shorter oral statement focusing on the latest news and developments, should be perpetuated.  Conversely, the statutory reports in their traditional form – which contain information essentially of an administrative nature – would henceforth be produced in electronic form only, and copies of such chapters as specially interested particular Assembly members could then be printed as and when required (nonetheless, a digest of the various reports prepared for each part of the previous year's session could continue to be published in early January, should there be a need for it).  If at all possible, it would also be desirable to have a set day for the communication from the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers (the Thursday afternoon, for instance) and to allow the Chairmanship and Secretariat more time to prepare replies to parliamentarians' questions (the deadline for tabling such questions might be set at 48 hours before the presentation of the communication by the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers);

 

-           extending contacts between the Chair of the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly beyond the four statutory communications per year.  In this context, the now well-established practice of an exchange of views – within a month of the start of each new Chairmanship – between the new Chairman of the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly's Political Affairs Committee has proved its usefulness, and the experimental meetings with the outgoing Chairmanship (which are also an opportunity for taking stock of the preceding six months) held last year in Dublin in May and in Riga in December could be encouraged.  Similarly, official visits to Strasbourg by the Head of State or Government of the country holding the Chair of the Committee of Ministers (cf. the visits by the President of Italy in September 2000 and the President of Latvia in January 2001) are an unquestionable “bonus”.  Lastly, the German Chairmanship's example in November 1997, on the occasion of the Ministerial Session, of presenting its programme both to the Ministers' Deputies and to the Assembly's Standing Committee might also be followed by other chairmanships in the future;

 

-           encouraging the regular participation of the Secretary General of the Parliamentary Assembly in meetings of the Ministers' Deputies, in particular through his communications on part-sessions and other Assembly activities;

 

-           pursuing current efforts to ensure that Committee of Ministers' replies to Parliamentary Assembly recommendations are not only speedy (cf the “nine-month rule” established under the Greek Chairmanship, Decision 615/1.3) but also substantial.

 

b. Promote informal dialogue, transparency and understanding of each other's views through:

 

-           the development of informal contacts, along the lines of those which exist in the budget and monitoring fields, through flexible, informal discussion groups with limited membership and specific agendas, notably on certain topical political questions which might require the Committee of Ministers and Parliamentary Assembly to compare their views speedily and informally.  In this connection the Secretary General and/or the Chairman and President of the two organs could be encouraged to take any initiative(s) which might be necessary and helpful;

 

-           a substantial reduction of the number of formal meetings (systematic meetings of the Joint Committee might, for instance, be confined to those at Ministerial level; other meetings of the Joint Committee, namely those traditionally held at Deputies' level on the Thursday evenings of session weeks, would be arranged only if specifically requested by one of the two sides);

 

-           cross-participation in Parliamentary Assembly committees (whose meetings the Deputies can attend) and in rapporteur groups/working parties (which might more systematically involve the Chair of the relevant Assembly committee in their work) or even in meetings of the Committee of Ministers and its Enlarged Bureau (cf. the practice in 2000 with regard to Belarus and the elections in Azerbaijan);

 

-           the contribution of the President of the Parliamentary Assembly to the Ministerial Sessions with his participation to the informal meetings convened by the Secretary General on the eve of such Sessions and through systematic use of the possibility, for the President, of sending the Ministers a written contribution.

 

c. Develop synergies between the Committee of Ministers, the Parliamentary Assembly and the Secretary General to heighten the credibility and profile of the Council of Europe as a whole, by

-           establishing a clearer definition of procedures for expressing views in the Council of Europe.  Such procedures should respect and enhance the standing of the opinions and activities of each body, while at the same time ensuring the consistency of the Organisation's media image.  In this context, the Committee of Ministers underlined, in its Resolution (2000) 2 on the Council of Europe's information strategy, the Secretary General's role as spokesperson for the Organisation as a whole and the need for him to be able to voice the Organisation's official reactions to events in Europe and the world.  For their part, the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers and the President of the Parliamentary Assembly express the positions of their respective organs on topical European issues or on subjects for which one or other of them may have a particular view to assert;

-           making full use of the framework established by the above-mentioned Resolution (2000) 2 to implement an ambitious information, communication and public relations policy based on the principle of decentralisation and priority use of the new information technologies.  In this connection, and since the principle of transparency is already applicable to Parliamentary Assembly documents, the Committee of Ministers' recent decisions concerning access to its own documents must be welcomed, as must the determination to extend this new policy of greater openness and transparency to the whole of the Organisation;

 

-           promoting the concept of the shared responsibility of the Committee of Ministers and Parliamentary Assembly to the Council of Europe.  This shared responsibility is already a reality for questions as fundamental as the admission of new member states, possible sanctions against member states, appointments to high-level posts or the composition of the supervisory bodies of the main human rights conventions.  It is also implicit in the budgetary field and as regards the adoption of conventions, matters on which the Assembly's opinion is systematically sought.  Shared responsibility could be extended to other of the Organisation's fields of activity, in particular the fields of clear common interest (such as monitoring of compliance with commitments and implementation of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights) where the means to reinforce existing synergies between the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly could be explored.

 

 


 

[1] In this connection, it is suggested that the incoming chairmanship communicates its programme sufficiently in advance of the session to ensure that the exchange of views is as profitable as possible for both the chairmanship and the delegations.

[2] At the 107th session, this was taken a step further, with delegations' speaking time being modulated according to whether they were represented by the Foreign Minister, another member of the government or a lower-ranking political figure.

[3] The existing practice is to invite the President of the European Commission and the Secretary General of the OSCE, on the basis of ad hoc decisions taken in the context of preparations for the sessions. 

[4] It has been proposed that a ministerial session should be held annually in Strasbourg, in principle in November (the precise date would require to be determined in the light of a number of factors, including the scheduled time-table of high-level meetings of other international organisations). The annual joint committee between the Committee of Ministers and members of the Parliamentary Assembly would take place at that session, which would be chaired by the country holding the Chair at that period. The following Chair would have the possibility of organising a special session in its country in the spring; this session would allow for a 'hand-over' between the outgoing and incoming chairs and/or an additional opportunity for contacts between the ministers and members of the Parliamentary Assembly (in conjunction with the traditional spring meeting of the Assembly's Standing Committee).  In any case, the full respect of the fundamental principle of equality between member states will be ensured in this new practice, if it is to be implemented.

[5] This practice was started by the German Chair (November 1997-May 1998), who selected 12 priorities among the 19 measures just adopted by the Heads of State and Government in the Strasbourg Summit's Action Plan (10-11 October 1997). It was continued and accentuated under the Greek, Hungarian, Icelandic, Irish and Italian chairmanships, culminating in the definition of a real programme which the incoming Chair proposes to carry out during the 6 months of his term.

[6] This Group, composed of the Chair of the Liaison Committee, the President of the European Court of Human Rights and the Deputy Secretary General, will report to the Committee of Ministers by 30 September 2001.

[7] The Commissioner for Human Rights, who is regularly informed of the agenda of the Deputies' meeting, is invited to attend such meetings in so far he may find it useful/appropriate to the exercise of his mandate.

[8] In this appendix the conclusions of the Joint Working Group set up between the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly are reproduced, as they appear in the report – see document AS/CM/Mix/WorkingGroup(2001)1 – which was adopted by the Bureau of the Parliamentary Assembly and by the Ministers' Deputies (respectively on 21 and 31 January 2001).



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