RAP-INF(2000)3 revised


 

Ministers' Deputies
Rapporteur documents

RAP-INF(2000)3 revised (restricted) 22 November 2000

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Rapporteur on Information Policy (RAP-INF)

 

Information Policy of the Committee of Ministers



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Introduction

 

Under the strategic guidelines set by Resolution (2000) 2 on the Council of Europe's information policy, the Committee of Ministers' information policy has the following aims:

 

- internally, to provide the Committee of Ministers with the means to carry out its responsibilities under the Statute of the Council of Europe as efficiently as possible and to engage in constructive dialogue with the other bodies of the organisation to this end, particularly the Parliamentary Assembly;

 

- externally, to highlight the contribution of governments to the process of integration in the greater Europe and emphasise the role played in this process by the Council of Europe in general and the Committee of Ministers in particular.

 

 

1.         The three main aspects of the Committee of Ministers' information policy

 

Internal dimension

 

The Committee of Ministers serves primarily as the keystone for a vast process of intergovernmental co-operation involving the Ministries for Foreign Affairs of the member States, specialist ministries, representatives of the member States in Strasbourg, and members of the Council of Europe Secretariat. It also acts as the decision-making body on budgets and administration, a role in which it works in close co-operation with the Secretary General of the Council of Europe and the Ministers of Finance of the member States as well as the bodies set up as part of the system of Co-ordinated Organisations– on certain matters such as salaries and pensions. With regard to this first aspect of the Committee of Ministers' information policy, the main objective is to ensure that, prior to the decision-making process,  properly-functioning systems for the exchange of information are set up, making it possible on the one hand for national positions to be formed and expressed with full knowledge of the facts and on the other for solutions to be arrived at and adopted which are in keeping with European interests while respecting the diversity of the member States. Therefore, the first aspect of the Committee of Ministers' information policy relates to the ties which link it – and its “hard core” made up of the Permanent Representatives and the Secretariat of the Committee of Ministers – to the ministries of the member States on the one hand (particularly the  ministries for foreign affairs) and the Council of Europe Secretariat on the other.

 


Institutional dimension

 

Secondly, the Committee of Ministers forms part of an institutional whole which also includes the Secretary General – who performs a dual function of internal co-ordination and managing the Secretariat -, the other Council of Europe body with a general remit, namely the Parliamentary Assembly, and the specialist institutions, the European Court of Human Rights, the CLRAE and the Human Rights Commissioner. In respect of this second aspect of its information policy, the Committee of Ministers – in its role as the organ which acts on behalf of the Council of Europe[1] - must ensure that the aforementioned exchanges of information are enriched with the fruits of institutional dialogue engaged in on a formal and informal level so that the opinions expressed and the decisions taken are, in so far as possible, a reflection of the institutional wealth of the Council of Europe and not just the product of the co-operation between the governments of its member States. Therefore the second aspect of the Committee of Ministers' information policy relates to its links with its institutional partners within the Council of Europe and, beyond this, the relationship between the governments of the member States and the parliamentarians, local and regional elected representatives, judicial bodies and members of civil society (trade unions, employers' organisations and NGOs)  whose contribution helps the Council of Europe to achieve its statutory aims.

 

External dimension

 

Finally, the Committee of Ministers embodies, among interested circles and the public in general, the contribution of governments to the process of unifying greater Europe to which the Council of Europe contributes by virtue of the statutory missions assigned to it by its member States. This contribution is made either collectively, through the activities and decisions of the Committee of Ministers, or individually, through the impetus that can be provided by the activities of one or more member States; it takes account of the roles and activities of other international organisations, be they the United Nations or the Council of Europe's main European partners (in particular the European Union and the OSCE). Therefore the third aspect of the Committee of Ministers' information policy relates to its links with the “outside world”, either with other international organisations (with a view to co-ordination and complementarity) or the media and the general public (with a view to highlighting the Council of Europe's achievements as well as the major part played by the governments of the member States in these).

 


2.         The principles

 

The Committee of Ministers' information policy is based on the five following principles:

 

Transparency

 

- preparing information and documents in a clear attractive format;

 

- informing the public as to what is available (including through summaries, outlines, guides for access to documents) and how to obtain it;

 

- providing full details of forthcoming meetings and past decisions on Websites;

 

- publishing the agenda of Ministers' Deputies' meetings one week in advance and ensuring that the appropriate information is provided, including – where necessary – press briefings by the Chair (1999 decision – 661/1.8);

 

- constantly evaluating the principles and procedures for access to documents;

 

Availability

 

- ensuring that all documents are referenced;

 

- publishing documents as soon as possible;

 

- adding documents to Websites within 24 hours;

 

- publishing decisions within three days and producing records of proceedings (in their final form) within one month;

 

- declassifying restricted documents after one year (1994 decision - 519bis/1.3);

 

- considering individual requests for classified documents (1998 decision - 641/1.3);

 

Relevance

 

- classifying documents consistently (public/ restricted/ confidential/ secret);

 

- ensuring that information provided is up-to-date, reliable and relevant, implying that:

 

            -           the relevant departments should be made responsible for handling their own documents;

 

            -           neither too little nor too much information should be provided;

 

- identifying information gaps and developing new products accordingly;


Interactivity

 

- giving clear, punctual replies to Assembly Recommendations (cf. the "six commandments"), as well as to those of the Congress;

 

- encouraging feedback from users, in particular;

-           from Permanent Representations and the Secretariat;

-           from Website users;

 

- responding quickly and effectively to requests for information;

 

Efficiency

 

- encouraging short, concise expression;

 

- promote synergies with a view in particular to avoid any duplication of work;

 

- respecting deadlines for issuing documents to facilitate decision-making;

 

- identifying the main users of Committee of Ministers' information and ensuring that their needs are met.

 

 

3.         Priorities and instruments

 

Among the three aspects of the Committee of Ministers' information policy outlined above, priority will be given to the first two, i.e. the internal and institutional dimensions: the absolute priority is to provide the Committee of Ministers with the means to carry out fully the crucial responsibilities assigned to it for the proper functioning of the Council of Europe. An active information policy towards the outside world will only be pursued within the limits of available resources. Bearing in mind the present situation, a pragmatic approach will be adopted in this area, focusing on efforts to create synergies with the Chair-in-Office of the Committee of Ministers and pooling the resources that the Secretariat already has at its disposal, through the action of the information unit created within the Committee of Ministers Secretariat.

 

This reorganisation of resources requires for a clear division of responsibilities between the Secretariat of the Committee of Ministers and other Council of Europe departments.  In addition, where necessary, the working methods of the Secretariat of the Committee of Ministers and the Deputies must be adapted to the structural reforms which have taken place within the Organisation.  Accordingly, since spring 2000, a process of rationalisation has been initiated (with the adoption of a new nomenclature for Committee of Ministers' documentation, the updating of the agenda of Deputies' meetings and the prioritisation of SECCM activities), which will take full effect from 1 January 2001.

 

The Committee of Ministers' websites are its main information policy tools. Their first purpose is to meet the requirement of the Permanent Representations of the member States and their capitals for a modern and efficient means of ensuring that the information process which is supposed to enable the Committee of Ministers to take decisions in complete knowledge of the facts were entirely adapted to its specific responsibilities and the constraints of multilateral diplomacy. Over and above this, the sites are intended to act as the spearhead of the information policy of the Committee of Ministers itself and an integral part of the information strategy of the Council of Europe as a whole. To this effect, close working relations have been established with the newly created Directorate for Communication and Research and with the Council of Europe Web sites Coordinator who has been set up within this Directorate.

 

As a result, preference is given to the use of new technologies and electronic transmission of information. Other forms of information (paper, spoken word) will continue to be used according to requirements.

 

 

4.         Activities

 

The activity of the Committee of Ministers and its Secretariat consists entirely of collecting information, processing it so that it becomes knowledge and enables decisions to be taken, and disseminating it so that these decisions have the maximum effect. This makes it impossible to paint a complete picture of activities meaning that the following list is merely an indication:

 

Permanent Representations, Capitals and the Secretariat

 

- information notes to Representations;

 

- Web site with password access;

 

- briefings;

 

- basic documents for Permanent Representatives and delegation members.

 

- presentations of the Committee of Ministers Secretariat on staff training courses;

 

 

Parliamentary Assembly and CLRAE

 

- Communications (written and oral) by the Chairman to the Assembly and the Congress;

 

- Statutory reports for each part session of the Assembly, supplemented with the yearly summary report;

 

- Joint Committee;

 

- Replies to Assembly Recommendations (new principles adopted in 1998 - 615/1.3);

 

- Informal joint meetings between the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly, at the level of the rapporteur or working groups of the Ministers' Deputies and the committees or the Bureau of the Parliamentary Assembly.

 

Press/Media

 

From time to time the Committee of Ministers (or its Chairman or the Secretary General on its behalf) issues communiqués on important political issues.

 

Preliminary draft final communiqués for the CM sessions are prepared for the Deputies in advance of sessions, adopted at the end of the session by the Ministers and presented to the press by the Chairman.

 

The Chair's conclusions, published on the Chair's own responsibility, are added to the final communiqué produced at the end of each session.

 

The Press Service is in close contact with the SECCM before meetings of the Deputies for the preparation of press releases. It also contributes to examine with the Chair the advisability of meetings with the Press (by the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers or the Chairman of the Deputies).

 

Electronic archives

 

The main aim of the Committee of Ministers' Electronic Archives is to provide a simple on-line filing system, listing documents chronologically by document type with full text guaranteed from the year 2000 onwards.

 

It also aims to provide an index of all working documents of the Committee of Ministers and adopted texts of the Council of Europe so as to list documents by subject and by member State. 

 

The key to the new system is a database created specifically for the Committee of Ministers and which came into operation in 1999.  It serves not only as an archiving tool (recording and indexing documents) but also to feed the Committee of Ministers' Websites, as once indexed documents are automatically displayed on all the relevant Web pages immediately. 

 

Such multifunctional archiving system also opens up extensive possibilities for arranging, organising and managing information.

 

Publications

 

- texts adopted, which had been issued as an annual publication, were replaced from January 1999 onwards by the “Committee of Ministers” part-volume of the Council of Europe official Gazette;

 

- since 1998 the decisions of Deputies' meetings (which have been public since 1994) have been issued separately from the Records, which are confidential, to render them more accessible;

 

- the statutory report to the Assembly, published four times a year before each part-session of the Assembly, gives details of the Committee of Ministers' activities in the fields of the intergovernmental sector, its relations with the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe (CLRAE), partial agreements and conferences of specialised ministers. The version available on the Website is extensively hyperlinked to provide access to relevant decisions in full text. Since 1999 a consolidated version has been published at the beginning of every year;

 

- occasional publications are also produced, depending on prevailing circumstances and the means available. The most significant examples are as follows:  “The Council of Europe (1989-1999), a decade that made history” (published in 1999); “The Committee of Ministers in 100 sessions” (published in 1997), and “the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe” (published in 1994).

 

 

5.         The bodies involved

 

The information policy of the Committee of Ministers is implemented by the Secretariat of the Committee of Ministers under the authority of the Chair. The general role of the latter is to co-ordinate the work of the Committee of Ministers (through the Bureau) and represent the Committee of Ministers in its relations with other Council of Europe bodies and the outside world. It also acts with a view to promoting the positions and achievements of the Council of Europe, particularly in relation to other international organisations.

 

Following the example of the Office of the Clerk of the Assembly, the Registry of the European Court of Human Rights and the Secretariat of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe, an information unit has been set up within the Secretariat of the Committee of Ministers to ensure the necessary co-ordination within the Secretariat of the Council of Europe and assist the Chair in carrying out its tasks. The simultaneous creation of information units in the four main bodies of the organisation will make it possible to foster interaction between them, improving the efficiency and the public profile of the Council of Europe as a whole.

 

6.         Current developments

 

The following ideas or projects are planned or already in progress:

 

Permanent Representations, Capitals and the Secretariat

 

- promote knowledge and use of the Committee of Ministers' Intranet site (cf. the targeted presentations at regular intervals for the Deputies and/or the Secretariat, as well as the setting-up of two Internet terminals near the delegations' offices);

 

- provide packaged information for capitals (working documents could be E-mailed directly to relevant ministries);

 

- improve training and induction courses for Administrators and Representations (cf. the induction course on diplomacy, Internet and the New Information Technologies which was held on 3-5 July 2000);

 

- improve interaction between the Secretariat of the Committee of Ministers and the Chair (cf. the project, initiated with the Irish Chair, for a special page on the Council of Europe Internet site for the Chair of the Committee of Ministers.)

 

Media

 

To improve the Committee of Ministers' relations with the media, the Secretariat of the Committee of Ministers could:

 

- ensure that press releases and statements are issued in a form which can be used by the press and within time limits acceptable to journalists (this may involve adopting some political decisions before the end of the meeting);

 

- examine the role that delegations might play in liaising with national media and look at ways of providing delegations with strategic support in this role;

 

- explore the means to make use of the potential of the Web sites for specific users, in particular the medias;

 

Publications

 

- a booklet for the general public on the role and history of the Committee of Ministers;

 

- an annual publication (“The Committee of Ministers in …”) which would appear in January of each year in conjunction with the consolidated version of the statutory report and take stock of the activities and achievements of the Committee of Ministers over the preceding year;

 

- develop the potential of electronic publishing.



[1] Under Article 13 of the Statute of the Council of Europe.

 



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