Parliamentary Assembly Session : 24-28 June 2002 

Communication on the activities of the Committee of Ministers

Speech by Lydie POLFER,

Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg
Chair of the Committee of Ministers

(Strasbourg, 25 June 2002)

Mr President,
ladies and gentlemen of the Assembly,
your excellencies,
ladies and gentlemen,

After a first frank and substantial exchange of views with your Assembly’s Political Affairs Committee in Luxembourg on 7 May, I am happy to have this opportunity of addressing the parliamentarians of Greater Europe in plenary session here today.

My task is to tell you about the main developments in the Committee of Ministers’ work since your second part-session, and also to look at the future. The fact that I have made dialogue and intra-institutional co-operation two of my main priorities - to which I shall be returning – makes me even happier to do this.

First of all, I should like to remind you of the chief conclusions reached at the 110th ministerial Session in Vilnius on 2-3 May 2002, which you yourself attended, Mr President, and which gave us a number of crucial pointers for the development of our Organisation’s activities in the short and medium term.

I am primarily thinking of the Council of Europe’s contribution to the international campaign against terrorism, which we are pursuing on the basis of a way stage report by the Multidisciplinary Group on International Action against Terrorism (GMT). With its body of conventions, above all on the European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism of 1977, the Council of Europe is an ideal partner when it comes to the legal aspects of anti-terrorist action and to co-operation and mutual legal aid in this field.

Extrapolating to the future, I should like to draw your attention to the European Conference which I shall be organising with the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, in Luxembourg on 20-21 September, on the part which local authorities can play in the battle which we are all waging against terrorism. We hope that this conference will make a contribution very close to the immediate concerns of Europeans, and all those directly involved in managing their everyday environment in today’s complex urban context.

The conference will be focusing on various practical issues, and exchanging opinions and comparing good practices for the updating of emergency plans, civil defence, supervision of sensitive sites, and also preventive action based on multicultural dialogue and action to combat exclusion.

Our Organisation’s basic precepts mean that all anti-terrorist measures must strictly respect human rights - otherwise we run the risk of compromising our fundamental values. You know as well as I do, Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, that the Steering Committee for Human Rights (CDDH) is holding its plenary session at this very moment and will, at the end of this week, be giving us guidelines to help member states to ensure that the action they take against terrorism respects human rights and fundamental freedoms. Once the Committee of Ministers has adopted these guidelines in July, the Secretary General and I have agreed to give them maximum publicity and bring them to the attention of our member and observer states, and also our partner organisations, as part of our drive to promote inter-institutional co-operation and ensure that our action stays consistent overall.

The Vilnius Session decided that the Committee of Ministers should also focus on promoting dialogue between cultures and religions, within our societies and also with the major regions which surround the Council of Europe’s own area. The Chair sees this as a fundamental aspect, and an exchange of views in Vilnius with the Secretary General of the Arab League lent new force to this conviction. A recent visit to Iran, on which I was accompanied by the Director General of Education, Culture Youth and Sport, among others, gave me a chance to discuss this question with President Khatami, whom I have invited to the Council of Europe. We should not forget that it was on Iran’s initiative that the United Nations launched its Year of Dialogue between Civilisations.

We are fully behind the Secretary General’s efforts to promote this fundamental dialogue, which the Ministers' Deputies are also considering in a special working party. We should be able to draw more practical conclusions at the ministerial Session which marks the end of Luxembourg’s term in the Chair. With Walter Schwimmer, I am looking into the possibility of organising a major multicultural event to coincide with the 111th ministerial Session in November. The Luxembourg authorities are also preparing an interreligious colloquy, in co-operation with a Luxembourg-based foundation which works in that field.

Finally, Vilnius gave the Ministers an opportunity to underline the importance of the contribution which regional co-operation can make to stability and unity in Greater Europe. In consultation with our Lithuanian predecessors - who made this one of their priorities – and also with the member states and the Council’s other statutory bodies, we shall be considering practical follow-up action on this insight. If sub-regional organisations can promote European values in the broad sense, and if the Council of Europe can – by forging effective partnerships between them – get them to work together towards the same goals, then this seems to me very much in line with the increasingly interactive, coherent Europe we all want.

Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the Parliamentary Assembly is consistent in facing up to its responsibilities, with regard to politically sensitive situations in member and candidate states.

Thanks to the concerted action taken by your Assembly and the Committee of Ministers, we have recently been able to welcome Bosnia and Herzegovina to the family. We must now help it to press ahead with its reforms, so that it can honour the commitments it has given us. The Committee of Ministers has launched a co-operation programme, as part of a special post-accession strategy for that purpose. A first Secretariat information mission will be going to the country in July, and the Rapporteur Group for Democratic Stability (GR-EDS) will be assessing the situation there not later than September.

Since you will be welcoming President Trajkovski during your session, I would like to confirm that the Chair and the whole Committee will continue to support the positive developments which have taken place in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in the wake of the Ohrid agreements of August 2001.

Concerning the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, I would like to mention, first of all, the excellent discussion which we held in the Political Affairs Committee, on the basis of the work done by Mr Frey, whose dedication and commitment I salute. I have been told of the further discussions which your Assembly has held in the committees chiefly concerned with this question. The Chair will wait until the parliamentary part of the process has been concluded, before visiting the FRY to discuss with it the conditions it will have to satisfy to join, and the assistance programmes it will need to integrate as effectively as possible within our Organisation.

Concerning the Council’s activities for south-east Europe, I would emphasise the importance of sustained commitment to the aims of the Stability Pact in support of UN Security Council Resolution 1244 on Kosovo. The Committee of Ministers has had a useful exchange of views on the Pact with Mr Busek, the Special Co-ordinator, and I am pleased to be able to tell you that, at its recent meeting in Istanbul, Working Table No. 1 confirmed the Council’s continuing involvement as a major partner in refocusing activities, with special emphasis on its expertise in the fields of local democracy and decentralisation. As for Kosovo, the Committee of Ministers has responded favourably to the request by UNMIK and OSCE to direct monitoring of the October elections. The Council’s observer mission (MOCEE III) will be going to Kosovo in mid-July, led by Ambassador Carlo Civiletti of Italy.

I would like to take this opportunity of appealing to the member states to make long-term observers (the main requirement at the moment) available for this important mission, and short-term observers from the very end of September. As it has in the past, Luxembourg will be doing its part.

I know that the Assembly always responds favourably when asked to monitor elections. Who, after all, could be better placed than parliamentarians to decide if they obey the rules?

The Committee of Ministers has considered the problems and needs of our new members, Armenia and Azerbaijan, in full consultation with the Assembly. From the very beginning, its monitoring group has followed the situation closely. Its last visit, led by the Permanent Representative of Italy, produced an excellent report, which gives a clear picture of the progress made – but also the delays and setbacks on the way. You have received this document. Its conclusions deserve our full attention. In this connection, I should tell you that I intend to visit the countries of the southern Caucasus, including Georgia, in the third week of July. I am convinced that this visit will allow us to bring up all the vital issues, take a hard look at the most intractable, and pinpoint ways of consolidating the progress we have made and finding answers to the problems which still need solving. The report on this visit will be sent to you.

Mr President, I know how seriously your Assembly takes the situation in the Chechen Republic of the Russian Federation; its commitment is reflected in the work of Lord Judd and your joint committee with the Russian State Duma. I am also very conscious of the valuable work which the Commissioner for Human Rights has done to secure normalisation and reconciliation. The Council’s contribution to restoring the rule of law, respect for human rights and democracy in Chechnya will continue to receive the Committee of Ministers’ full attention. The initiatives taken by the various sections of our organisation are crucial, both separately and in their combined effects. At this stage, I can tell you that the contacts which have taken place, and the letters which have been exchanged, between the Russian Foreign Minister, Igor Ivanov, and the Secretary General, Walter Schwimmer, have enabled the Deputies to extend the Council experts’ mandate in Chechnya until January 2003.

Given the structural changes which have been made in the Office of the Russian President’s Special Representative, and Mr Kalamanov’s departure to take up other duties, the experts’ work - and the planned extension of that work - obviously depend on a new Special Representative’s being appointed. We are confident that President Putin will choose a successor capable of shouldering the major responsibilities attaching to this structure, which is directly answerable to the President himself. The experts’ work, and the Secretary General’s interim reports, have done much to give us a clearer picture of the situation in Chechnya and the problems which need solving there.

Please remember, too, ladies and gentlemen, that the Committee of Ministers also has - like the Assembly and the Congress - an assistance policy for Moldova. Apart from its own merits, this forms part of a concerted programme launched by the Council as a whole – always remembering that Moldova will be chairing the Committee of Ministers in 2003. After a mission led by the Deputy Secretary General in April, and against the background of the Secretary General’s decision to apply Article 52 of the European Convention on Human Rights, a very recent Secretariat mission to Chisinau (17-18 June) served to verify the usefulness of a targeted co-operation programme, which will be refined and implemented in the light of a forthcoming Secretariat mission report. I am happy to say that this mission coincided with a meeting of the Steering Committee on the Joint Council of Europe/European Commission programme for Moldova. This kind of practical co-operation, and more of it, is very much in line with the priorities set out in my programme.

Finally, the Committee of Ministers has not lost sight of other situations in its member States and continues to implement assistance programmes, such as the action plan for the media and the consolidation of parliamentarianism in Ukraine or assistance to the Russian Federation in connection with federalism, which is another joint programme co-funded with the European Commission.

The Council of Europe has not only the capacity but also the self-imposed duty to sound out the institutional and political health of all its members. You do so, Ladies and Gentlemen, through your procedures, the Congress does so in line with its prerogatives and the Committee of Ministers does so in its own way too. I would like to see more synergy in these parallel undertakings, even if contact and complementarity between statutory bodies have already improved. In my Chairmanship programme, I have referred to the monitoring of commitments as a cross-sectoral activity which is key to the progressive achievement of good governance at pan-European level and to backing the fundamental aims of our common Institution. A joint initiative from the chairmanships of the four "Ls" among our member States, aimed at streamlining Committee of Ministers’ monitoring procedures, is being examined. The response has been broadly favourable. I hope that this overhaul can be completed in the coming days.

In the human rights field, the most noteworthy event in recent months was the opening for signature, in Vilnius, of Protocol no. 13 to the European Convention on Human Rights concerning abolition of the death penalty in all circumstances. At the end of May, the Committee held the first of the six-monthly exchanges of views which it agreed to organise on a regular basis until the death penalty is abolished in all the member States. It noted information from the delegations of Armenia, the Russian Federation and Turkey on the steps taken in their respective countries towards "de jure" abolition. The Committee also replied to Recommendation 1522 (2001) of your Assembly on abolition of the death penalty in Council of Europe observer States. We stressed our determination to pursue dialogue with the observer States concerned, in concert with the Assembly, to foster progress towards accession with the universal abolition of the death penalty in mind.

In the light of discussion in the Joint Committee, between the Assembly and the Committee of Ministers, last April, I can only confirm that our Committee will continue to exercise its collective responsibility in supervising the application of European Court of Human Rights judgments, bearing in mind the need to safeguard the credibility of the control system. As difficult and complex as the exercise of that responsibility as an organ of the Convention might be, I continue to believe in the commitment and good faith shown at intergovernmental level.

Still in the human rights field but with the emphasis on Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the Chair is organising a European conference in Luxembourg, on 30 September and 1 October, on the freedom of the press, in which you, Mr President, have already confirmed your expert participation. The Assembly's contribution to this debate, like that of the President of the European Court of Human Rights and the support of the Commissioner for Human Rights, not to mention the participation of the OSCE Representative for media freedom and that of the European Commission, will be most valuable to us.

Mr President,
Ladies and Gentlemen of the Assembly,

One of the Council of Europe's strengths is to have developed, since its inception, a broad common legal area founded on 185 conventions (many stemming from pioneering initiatives of the Assembly) and a great many recommendations drawn up, with the backing of specialised Ministerial Conferences, within the tremendous network of intergovernmental expertise concentrated in the Steering Committees. That area perfectly complements the area of freedom, security and justice that the European Union decided to create at the European Council meeting in Tampere and the standard-setting activities developed under the 1st and 3rd pillars of the EU. This alone shows – if it were still necessary – to what extent the Council of Europe and the EU are such natural institutional partners.

And on the subject of relations between institutions and organisations active in Europe and the institutional questions they raise, let me confirm that the Luxembourg Chairmanship wishes to create or develop synergy, be it with the EU, in many spheres of common interest to the two institutions, or with the OSCE, as part of post-crisis rehabilitation efforts, or indeed with the UN, in the interests of global coherency on the issues requiring our attention. Europe would be strengthened in this way, while maximising the resources we make available to these different forums. The Chair will make use of the existing procedures and the institutional partnership meetings planned to secure progress towards this key objective.

If there is one institutional issue currently of concern to the Assembly, it is the future relationship between the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Union's Charter of Fundamental Rights, and the question of the European Community's accession to our European Convention. Mr van der Linden's report, now before the Assembly, is a clear illustration. The Committee of Ministers is well aware of the complexity of the issue too. To help resolve this question, the Chair is organising a symposium in Luxembourg, on 16 September, bringing together judges from the two Courts to discuss, informally and without committing the high courts they represent, possible ways and means of preserving the uniqueness and coherency of human rights protection in Europe and avoiding any jurisdictional divergence or even competition that could lead to fresh divisions in Europe.

I am fully aware of the ideas for a possible 3rd Council of Europe Summit, on which no consensus has yet been reached. The position of the Assembly – and its President – is clear. The backdrop for such an event might be the notion of enlargement, a process about to be completed for the Council of Europe and shortly to be embarked upon by the EU. Many in this institution are calling on it to signal its availability and complementarity to its sister institution, which is now exploring the future, through the Convention chaired by Mr Giscard d'Estaing, a future that will then be enshrined in an intergovernmental conference. The Chair has been given the task, come the Ministerial session in November, to examine the details of this Summit proposal. Personally, I have no particular misgivings, but the Chair will have to weigh up the arguments, with the help of the Chairman of the Working Party on Institutional Reforms, in the person of the Permanent Representative of Germany.

The 109th session of the Committee of Ministers in November 2001 placed the Luxembourg Chair under an obligation to achieve results as regards the reform of the European Court of Human Rights, aimed at guaranteeing its effectiveness in the medium term. You will see from my programme that I set great store by this. Both the findings of an Evaluation Group chaired by the Permanent Representative of Ireland and the work of the Steering Committee for Human Rights (CDDH), which will reach us by the end of the week following the committee's annual plenary session, will have to be taken fully into account, as will the Secretariat's administrative and budgetary considerations and the related budget proposals of the Secretary General.

Political determination to guarantee the Court's long-term effectiveness emerged back in November 2000 at the European Conference on Human Rights in Rome (the ECHR's 50th anniversary) and was confirmed at the Committee of Ministers' 109th session. Hence the Chair's current efforts, at the level of the Ministers' Deputies, to determine not only the ordinary budget for 2003 but also to secure sufficient extra funding so that the Court can catch up its backlog and move on to reformulate its procedures and working methods, where necessary based on proposals to adapt the Convention itself.

So you can see, Mr President, Ladies and Gentlemen, the importance and also the complexity of the approach, given that budget discussions where the Court is concerned are to define a three-year period granted to the Court for its reform. It is important to properly define the total budgetary package, not least in the interests of good management and budget planning.

All that to say that the total amount of member State contributions to the 2003 budget is not yet fixed. However, on the basis of numerous informal talks, I can tell you that a general understanding is emerging and I remain confident that consensus can be reached very shortly.

Mr President,

My programme also points to Luxembourg's belief in developing the cultural dimension of European construction. We have proposed that the Council of Europe's cultural routes programme be enlarged, where necessary in the form of a new – style – partial agreement open not only to member States but associating – in a manner to be defined – the Parliamentary Assembly and the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe, as well as the territorial authorities concerned, competent private institutions and possibly high-quality tour operators. Along similar lines, we back the Council of Europe's efforts to foster reconciliation and mutual understanding through education, culture, heritage and youth policies, realising that the potential of a transversal approach in these sectors so vital to the future is considerable and, in our view, not fully tapped.

We also favour the development of multilingualism and the promotion of cultural diversity. It is in this specific context and in view of the ever-increasing freedom of movement of Europeans and growing mobility on the European labour market that the Chair is organising a European seminar to promote the "Languages portfolio" at the Mondorf-les-Bains spa centre from 17 to 19 October.

* * *

Having said this much, I would refer you to my written statement, which further develops certain ideas and provides additional information that you might find of interest

* * *

To conclude, I would say, Mr President, Ladies and Gentlemen of the Assembly, that I am deeply convinced that the Council of Europe makes a vital contribution to Europe's 21st-century architecture, on the basis of its achievements of fifty years of actively serving the values underlying its existence and the capacity of integration which it demonstrated, after the fall of the Berlin wall, by taking in 21 new member States to build a new, stable and democratic Europe.

The Luxembourg Chair is determined to pursue this drive for the unity of the continent and will spare no effort to give our Institution the means to assume its responsibilities, for the benefit of 800 million Europeans.

Thank you.
I will be happy to take questions from the honourable members.