Ministers' Deputies / Rapporteur documents
RAP-CBM/NGO
Rapporteur on confidence building measures and co-operation with NGOs

RAP-CBM/NGO(2005)2 10 March 20051
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Co-operation between the Council of Europe and the Conference of European Churches (KEK)

Item to be considered at the RAP-CBM/NGO meeting on 21 March 2005

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I. Background information

1.1 The Conference of European Churches (KEK) was created in 1959. It is an ecumenical organisation representing 126 churches (Orthodox, Protestant, Old Catholic Churches) and associated organisations from all over Europe.

1.2 The Conference of European Churches was granted participatory status with the Council of Europe in 1994 and since merging in 1999 with the European Ecumenical Commission for Church and Society has become the representative body for non-Catholic Churches in Europe. This fusion was seen as an effort by the KEK to become more structured and representative in order to fully co-operate with the Council of Europe. Although the Catholic Church is not a member, the KEK maintains strong relations with the Holy See.

1.3 The main concern of the KEK is ecumenicalism in Europe but it also works in a variety of fields including migrants, refugees, poverty, women, youth, bioethics and European integration.

II. Co-operation with the Council of Europe

2.1 The Conference of European Churches has had close working relations with the Council of Europe for many years. It has observer status with the Steering Committee on Bioethics (CDBI) since 1997 and is eligible to submit collective complaints under the European Social Charter. The KEK's Churches' Commission for Migrants in Europe has observer status with the European Committee on Migration.

2.2 The KEK is in regular contact with the Commissioner for Human Rights, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, the Committee for the Prevention of Torture, various Assembly Committees, the Congress and with relevant sectors of the Council of Europe Secretariat.

2.3 Various approaches have been considered to develop further cooperation with the KEK i.e.:

● the proposal made in 1998 by the Greek Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of holding an open meeting with the KEK (CM/Bur/Del(98)20);

● the proposals made at a working meeting between the Council of Europe Secretariat and the KEK, in September 1999, concluding that “there was scope for future co-operation and consultation particularly in the fields of human rights and bioethics.” In this framework, the KEK expressed the wish to be granted observer status with the Steering Committee on Human Rights (CDDH) and for regular contacts with the Committee of Ministers' Presidency for an exchange of views on respective aims and achievements. In addition, it was suggested that contacts could take place on a more regular basis, for example in the form of meetings between the Secretariat and KEK delegations. Contacts between the KEK and the Committee of Ministers could also be envisaged.

2.4 In 2004, since neither of these proposals led to concrete action, the KEK revived the dialogue by holding meetings, in June 2004, with the Deputy Secretary General, the Director General of Human Rights and the Director General of Political Affairs in order to discuss the possibilities of increasing cooperation and opening up political dialogue with the Council of Europe. This issue was discussed further at a meeting, held in July 2004, between the Rapporteur on confidence building measures and co-operation with NGOs and the Director General of Political Affairs.

2.5 In view of the rather encouraging conclusions reached at the above-mentioned meetings, the KEK presented on 4 October 2004 its request to the Secretary General to obtain observer status with the Steering Committee on Human Rights (CDDH). It also followed on the question of political dialogue with the Ministers' Deputies at a meeting with the Rapporteur on confidence building measures and co-operation with NGOs, held on 28 October 2004.

2.6 On 26 November 2004, at its 59th meeting, the CDDH considered the request for observer status by the KEK and “felt that the KEK should not be granted this status but that it should be invited to certain meetings, depending on the themes to be discussed” (CM(2004)229) (see also Appendix – paragraphs 78 and 79 of the meeting report of the CDDH).

III. Current rules governing the granting of observer status with Steering Committees

3.1 The granting of observer status with steering committees is governed by Resolution (76) 3 on Committee structures, terms of reference and working methods. Paragraph 5 states :

    “5. Any steering committee may, by a unanimous decision, admit or admit to any committee answerable to it, observers from non-member states of the Council of Europe, or from intergovernmental or non-governmental international organisations, provided that :

    i. any request for admission as an observer shall be forwarded without delay by the Secretary General both to the Permanent Representatives of member states and to the members of the steering committee concerned;

    ii. any government so notified may inform the Secretary General within four weeks of its intention to refer the matter to the Committee of Ministers for decision. This decision shall be taken by a two-thirds majority of all the Representatives entitled to sit on the committee”.

3.2 A message to the steering and ad hoc committees adopted in May 1982 by the Committee of Ministers concerning the admission of observers lays down certain criteria for the admission of observers. It states:

    “When examining requests for admission as an observer to committees of experts, two criteria are essential:

a. the presence of the observers should be in the interests of the committee
b. the presence of the observers should not hinder the committee's work.

    In weighing these two criteria, account must be taken of the committee's work and the applicant's expertise.”

3.3 Paragraph 4 of the Appendix to Resolution (2003) 8 of the Committee of Ministers on participatory status for international NGOs states that

    “The steering committees, committees of governmental experts and other bodies of the Committee of Ministers, may involve the INGOs enjoying participatory status in the definition of Council of Europe policies, programmes and actions in particular by granting observer status to the Liaison Committee and to the INGO thematic groupings, in accordance with the terms of Committee of Ministers' Resolution (76) 3”.

IV. Additional considerations

4.1 In addition to the rules in place regarding the granting of observer status with steering committees, certain other aspects could be considered important.

4.2 The Committee of Ministers could consider setting as additional criteria for granting observer status:

● that an NGO has to prove its competence and capacity to contribute regularly to the Council of Europe through long-standing relations and co-operation;

● that such an NGO be asked to adhere to the standards of the Council of Europe as is already the practice regarding the granting of participatory status to international NGOs.

4.3 In this respect, it should be pointed out that the KEK has been co-operating with the Council of Europe for over 10 years and has shown that it can make a positive contribution to the work of the CDDH to which it has been regularly invited. In particular, the KEK sent a contribution to the European Ministerial Conference on Human Rights (Rome, 3-4 November 2000).

Appendix

Excerpt of the 59th report of the Steering Committee on Human Rights (CDDH)
(document CDDH(2004)30)

“78. "The CDDH noted that the Conference for European Churches (KEK) had addressed a letter to the Secretary General expressing its interest in obtaining observer status with the CDDH. The experts took note with interest of the information document on the activities of this body and particularly its commitment to human rights. The CDDH considered that it would be very useful if the KEK could be invited, in the future, to participate in its work, in the light of the items which are placed on the agenda. It asked its Bureau to examine the possibility of inviting the KEK to be represented at its next plenary meeting (June 2005). On the other hand, it did not consider it appropriate to grant observer status, so as not to create a precedent which would encourage other organisations, notably representing religious faiths or philosophies, to request the same status. The CDDH considered that there were more appropriate ways for such organisations to be able to participate usefully in the work of intergovernmental co-operation in the field of human rights.

79. Consequently, the CDDH was of the opinion not to grant observer status to this organisation, but rather to invite it to meetings in the light of the topics to be dealt with. It recalled that, according to the decision taken by the Ministers' Deputies during its 442nd meeting (18-22 June 1990, item 11), “all requests by international non-governmental organisations for observer status with the Steering Committee for Human Rights (CDDH) shall be subject to prior examination by the CDDH; nonetheless, whatever opinion the CDDH may give, the Committee of Ministers shall, in any case, be required to pronounce upon the matter in the final instance”.”

Note 1 This document has been classified restricted at the date of issue. Unless the Committee of Ministers decides otherwise, it will be declassified according to the rules set up in Resolution Res(2001)6 on access to Council of Europe documents.


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