Parliamentary Assembly session : 23 – 27 September 2002 

Communication on the activities of the Committee of Ministers presented by Lydie POLFER

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Luxembourg, Chairman-in-office of the Committee of Ministers – 24 September 2002

Mr President, Mr Secretary General, Honourable Members, Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

Since May, I have had several opportunities to address the Parliamentary Assembly, and various Assembly bodies. The experience has invariably been an enriching one, allowing me to consider and discuss the latest developments – both the disturbing ones and the gratifying ones - with parliamentarians from the four corners of our continent.

You already have the written communication from the Chair of the Committee of Ministers to the Assembly, summarisng all the activities which deserve your attention, and so I prefer to focus today on the main issues which concern all of us.

You are also familiar with the programme which the Luxembourg Chair set itself when it entered on its six-month stint at the helm of the Committee of Ministers. I shall not therefore revert to it in detail, but shall merely refer to it by implication, as I run through the things we have done, and the things we still mean to do.

You will hardly be surprised to hear that my thoughts - and those of the whole Committee of Ministers - are already turning to preparation of the 111th ministerial session, which will be taking place on 6-7 November next.

There will be a number of important questions on the agenda.

For one thing, my colleagues and I will be looking at the work which the Council has done on international action against terrorism. Following a direct line from our 109th and 110th meetings, we shall be discussing follow-up action on the work of the Multidisciplinary Group against Terrorism (GMT), in the light of its second interim report, which we shall be getting in October. More particularly, we shall be discussing the legal aspects of the fight against terrorism, relying on the Council of Europe’s potential for this question, in terms of its extensive range of relevant conventions, and of its co-operation with other institutions and organisations in this area.

One aspect of anti-terrorist action which struck me as crucial from the outset was the need to ensure that such action was always entirely consistent with our fundamental values. The Steering Committee for Human Rights (CDDH) moved fast in preparing its “guidelines” on this question, and so the Secretary General and I were able to start arranging for their broad circulation in the member states and to our partner organisations, before the summer begun. I take this opportunity of thanking those colleagues who have confirmed that the guidelines have been widely distributed on all levels of government.

I continue to believe in the validity of a policy which insists on the importance of multicultural and inter-religious dialogue, and can only support our Secretary General’s commitment to inter-disciplinary projects for that purpose.

Here, I should like to mention the conference on “the role and responsibilities of local authorities in tackling terrorism”, which was jointly organised in Luxembourg, on Friday and Saturday of last week, by the Chair and the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe. It attracted over 200 participants, including mayors and local elected representatives from all parts of Europe, as well as many experts and specialists, and gave us a chance to consider some very practical aspects of the fight against terrorism, with a direct bearing on the everyday lives of people in our countries.

We looked, for example, at some very down-to-earth questions of civil defence, emergency services, sensitive site protection, contingency planning, prevention policy and awareness-raising. We also spent some of the time on the efforts we need to make to combat exclusion and promote tolerance and respect for others in urban contexts where mobility is increasingly the norm, and the cheek-by-jowl presence of various communities can generate friction and rejection. As the country chairing the conference, we set out to encourage open discussion of all these issues. I think I can say we were rewarded with two days of full and fruitful discussion, which will help to fuel the work done in future by the Council of Europe, and also – on all levels – by the member states themselves. Once the Committee of Ministers receives the conclusions of the conference, it will lose no time in sharing them with you.

At its 111th session, the Committee of Ministers will also be discussing various things which the member states can do to ensure long-term effectiveness of the European Court of Human Rights. It will be relying here on the excellent review prepared by the Evaluation Group, chaired by the Permanent Representative of Ireland, Ambassador Harman, of the work at present being done by the CDDH (some of whose conclusions are expected in October) and of the Court’s own discussion of reform of its procedures. The importance of this whole question was emphasised as far back as the Rome Ministerial Conference in November 2000, and I am happy to tell you that the member states have agreed to increase their budget contributions with effect from 2003, thus opening the way to reforms which will ensure that the unique human rights protection machinery, to which Strasbourg owes its reputation, continues to function effectively.

Since all of this has an indirect bearing on the questions raised concerning our Convention’s future by the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, I should like – again briefly – to say something about the symposium of judges from the Court of Justice of the Communities and the European Court of Human Rights, at the Château de Bourglinster on Monday 16 September.

This was attended by a number of eminent judges, jurists and other specialists, and set out to highlight all aspects of the present and future relationship between the two texts, and between the two international courts - including questions raised by the possibility of the EU’s acceding to the Strasbourg Convention.

The plenary session in the morning looked at various aspects of this highly complex issue. The afternoon session, which was limited to a few judges from both Courts and members of their registries, focused on the ins and outs of accession, and on questions which would arise if the EU Charter became legally binding and thus judicially enforceable. The participants agreed on the wisdom of working on ways in which the two systems could complement each other, and not wasting time on rivalries. The judges present could not speak officially for their courts or institutions, but unanimously declared that finding objective solutions should have absolute priority. The Chair is now preparing an informal summary of the arguments put forward. This will be made available to all interested parties, including the Working Party on the “Convention on the Future of Europe”, which is working on the EU Charter and on the question of EU accession to the European Convention.

The Committee of Ministers’ 111th session will also give us a chance to see how close we are getting to a decision on the holding of a third Summit. I know the Assembly attaches great importance to this question, and can tell you that the Working Party, led by the Permanent Representative of Germany, Ambassador Wegener, is hard at work and has already held frank and constructive discussions on many aspects of this proposal. At the moments, it does look as if national positions on the Summit are evolving.

I make no secret of the fact that the Chair’s own position is completely unequivocal. Europe’s institutional landscape is changing so far and so fast that we need to take a long, hard look at it, with a view to ensuring that it develops in the right way, and that no fresh divisions open up in our continent.

This was the light in which we viewed the message embodied in Mr van der Linden’s report, which became Assembly Resolution 1290 – and this is the light in which you will be examining Mr Prisacaru’s report this afternoon. Given the basic importance of present and future relations between the Council of Europe and the European Union - which are, I repeat, natural partners - the Chair was only too pleased to communicate the Secretary General’s declaration to the Convention on the Future of Europe.

The Chairmanship is at present examining the possibilities with a view to a discussion which Walter Schwimmer and I could have – on the relationship between the Council of Europe and the European Union - with President Giscard d’Estaing in the coming weeks. In the meantime, we shall have another opportunity to discuss the partnership’s practical development at the 18th quadripartite meeting, which will be taking place tomorrow at the Council of Europe, in the presence of my Danish counterpart, Per Stig Möller, and the Commissioner for External Relations, Chris Patten.

The day on which the Committee of Ministers holds its 111th session will also see a meeting of the Joint Committee with the Assembly – which will certainly allow us to say more about some of these important questions, and also other matters of mutual interest.

Without prejudging the Ministers’ final agenda, I think I can usefully tell you that I mean to consult my colleagues on the desirability of concluding a new political agreement on cultural routes and landscapes, with which the Assembly and the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities would be associated in one way or another, as a way of giving the work done to promote and enhance Europe’s cultural heritage maximum Council of Europe support.

Other questions meriting the Ministers’ attention on 7 November will be singled out in October, in the light of later developments.

I am thinking, for example, of the question of Council membership for the FRY (Serbia-Montenegro). Like all my colleagues in the Committee of Ministers, I have followed the various stages in the Assembly’s examination of the FRY’s application for membership with the greatest interest. In the past, I have had occasion to discuss this whole question with the rapporteur, Mr Frey, whom I congratulate warmly. Today, I should like to tell President Schieder how much I have appreciated the clear, resolute views he has expressed in this complex and highly-charged context. Having taken note of the list of requirements which the Assembly sent Belgrade, and its confirmation of those requirements, the Committee of Ministers will be looking closely and carefully at its opinion, before making up its own mind.

I would remind you here that, without trespassing on the Assembly’s powers in the matter of accession, I made a public statement on the legislative developments in Montenegro on 31 July, and wrote to President Kostunica on the Committee of Ministers’ behalf on 9 September, drawing his attention to certain aspects which we considered crucial. I would insist particularly on the importance of securing agreement on the Constitutional Charter, and of co-operating fully with the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague. Concerning the Charter, I understand from the Assembly’s opinion that it will be asking the Committee of Ministers to verify compliance with this essential condition. You can rest assured that the Committee will not take its responsibilities lightly in the weeks ahead, and that it will take due account of the preparatory work done on a constitution for the future state of Serbia-Montenegro, of the presidential elections in Serbia on 29 September, and of the parliamentary elections in Montenegro on 20 October. Both will give the federal authorities, and also Serbia and Montenegro, decisive opportunities to demonstrate maturity on the democratic path they have chosen towards becoming part of Europe.

I welcome the interim results achieved by Bosnia and Herzegovina six months after joining the Council. The post- accession strategy is now being implemented, on the basis of assistance programmes adopted by the Committee of Ministers. The Secretariat carried out a first fact-finding and information mission in July; a second is to follow, after the parliamentary elections on 5 October, which will themselves be a full-scale test of this new member state’s maturity. When the new government takes over, the Committee of Ministers will consider whether it is appropriate, in accordance with its earlier decision, to send for the first time a group of Permanent Representatives to the country, to make a political assessment of the progress made and the problems awaiting solution.

Still on the question of developments in south-east Europe, I welcome the successful holding of elections in "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia", and confirm that the Council of Europe will continue to support implementation of the Ohrid agreements in close consultation with the country’s new authorities.

Finally, I should like to say once again how pleased the Committee of Ministers is that Albania has overcome its internal political divisions, and secured the agreement of all the country’s political forces to the appointment of President Moisu.

Mr President,

On 3 September, I discussed the outcome of my visit to the southern Caucasus with the Assembly’s Standing Committee and shared my impressions with its members. Since you now have the written report, I shall simply make the point here that these three new member states deserve the Council’s full support in carrying out their planned democratic reforms. There are still numerous difficulties, but their authorities are determined to push ahead, relying on the expert guidance and practical assistance which our organisation can give them.

I should like to say once again how anxious the Committee of Ministers is that Armenia and Azerbaijan should move towards settling their differences over Nagorno-Karabakh, as they promised to do when they joined the Council.

I would also encourage the Monitoring Group (GT-SUIVI.AGO), which is providing clear political added value for Armenia and Azerbaijan, to continue its work, which perfectly complements your own parliamentary monitoring process.

In my report after visiting Georgia, which clearly needs our help too, I noted that it did not have the benefit of any institutionalised monitoring of this kind, and that its co-operative links with the Council should thus be stepped up across the board, to help it to complete the reforms it had begun, and launch the ones which were still needed. Having examined my report, the Committee of Ministers asked the Secretary General, under paragraph 4 of its 1994 Declaration on compliance with commitments, to establish the necessary contacts and collect information on the situation in Georgia, decide what action should be taken on my report and that of the Secretariat assistance mission of December 2001, and report back to it. I accordingly welcome the Secretary General’s intention to appoint a Special Representative in Tbilissi in the very near future.

I am convinced that the Council has not paid Georgia sufficient attention since it joined in spring 1999, and putting it more in the political spotlight is certain to prove beneficial.

This feeling is confirmed by the concern caused me and the whole Committee of Ministers by the recent tensions between the Russian Federation and Georgia, reflected first in the dispute on the issuing of Russian passports in secessionist parts of Georgia, and more recently in the declarations made by both sides on the situation in the Pankisi Gorge. I was therefore pleased to hear that discussions at last Friday’s meeting between the Committee of Ministers’ Rapporteur Group on Democratic Stability (GR-EDS) and the Georgian Special Affairs Minister, Mr Kakabadze, was essentially constructive.

In this particular context, it is important that the two states concerned should be able to turn to the Council of Europe for help in introducing confidence-building measures and settling their differences peacefully - as members of the Council should.

I feel that the OSCE could also contribute by despatching a verification mission. Any pooling of effort by the Council and the OSCE is necessarily a good thing. A joint mission, comprising representatives of both organisations, might be useful, and is certainly worth considering.

In view of all this, the Committee of Ministers will be paying close attention to your debates on the situation in Georgia, and on honouring of their commitments by Armenia and Azerbaijan, at this part-session.

Your Assembly - like the Committee of Ministers - takes great interest in developments concerning Chechnya and the Russian Federation. The Assembly covers this issue in its joint Working Group with the State Duma. The Committee of Ministers discusses it with reference to the Secretary General’s regular reports, and to the work of the Council of Europe experts attached to the office of the Special Representative for Human Rights and Civil Liberties in the Chechen Republic, appointed by the President of the Russian Federation.

This work was interrupted in the spring, as a result of Mr Kalamanov’s departure and the time taken to appoint a successor. In the meantime, the Committee of Ministers extended the terms of reference of the experts, who have now started work again, in consultation with the new Special Representative, Mr Sultygov, who was appointed in July.

Mr Sultygov is in Strasbourg this week, for talks with you and with the Deputies. It will be useful to find out how he sees his own role - and that of the experts, which is closely connected with his own - and the expansion of the experts’ activities discussed in the letters exchanged by Foreign Minister Ivanov and Secretary General Schwimmer.

On the subject of letters, I should also say something about my correspondence with the President of Moldova, Mr Voronin - particularly as your Assembly will be discussing the situation in Moldova this week. Over and above the reply which the Committee of Ministers adopted to your Recommendation 1554 on 18 September, I should like to say how important I feel it is that the Council as a whole should support this young state on the path of democratic reform - and also with a view to its chairing the Committee of Ministers from May 2003, and to the responsibilities which that entails. President Voronin answered my first letter, but has not so far answered the second one, in which I urged the need for more, and more definite, action.

I still believe that the Moldovan authorities are serious about their reforms; but I would emphasise that, to comply fully with the Council’s standards, they will have to make a more determined effort to implement some of them. I am thinking, more particularly, of the law on public broadcasting, of the whole question of freedom of worship, and of local and regional democracy. The report by Mrs Durrieu and Mr Vhatre on their very recent visit will be of the greatest interest to the Committee of Ministers.

For the sake of the Moldovan authorities and people, I also hope that the OSCE’s plan for settlement of the Transdnistrian conflict will succeed and help the country to move towards a more peaceful future.

Mr President, honourable members,

I can confirm that the Committee of Ministers has now, – thanks to an initiative by the four “L” countries which chaired it successively - reformed and streamlined its monitoring procedures, focusing on a few essential questions in areas which will be looked at closely.

You know how much importance I attach to the monitoring procedures, which must remain a central part of the Council of Europe’s work – in the Assembly, in the Congress and in the Committee of Ministers.

There is room for improvement in all our member states, and the work we all do here together is valuable precisely because it recognises that democracy and the rule of law are dynamic concepts, which are not ends in themselves, and can never be fully and finally defined. There are other more specialised instruments and structures which supplement our monitoring machinery, and help to reinforce this permanent effort to improve our standards.

Concerning the execution of judgments given by the European Court of Human Rights, and over and above the Committee of Ministers’ regular examination of cases involving all the member states at its “Human Rights” meetings, I have not forgotten that I owe the Assembly an answer, since I promised, when I last answered questions, to raise the question of execution of the Court’s judgment in the “Sadak, Zana and others v. Turkey” case personally with my Turkish colleague.

I can tell you at this stage that, when I met my Turkish colleague informally on 11 September, during the opening week of the United Nations General Assembly, this was the first question which I raised with him. I strongly urged the need to consider each case on its merits, since the reform package adopted by the Turkish Grand National Assembly in August - and universally hailed by the international community as marking a considerable step forward – introduces no retrospective effects, of the kind which would have benefited the applicants in this case.

This is why action is urgently required. The Turkish Minister made it clear that he grasped the full importance of the question, and promised to think it over and take it up with the relevant authorities. At present, we are all waiting for something to happen. I venture to hope that the Committee of Ministers will soon be able to record a success in this case, which has already gone on far too long - in the interests of the Strasbourg human rights machinery, of the applicants, and obviously of Turkey itself.

Mr President,

Before I conclude, I should like to say once again how interesting I always find these discussions with the Assembly. And I should also like to say how much we are already looking forward to your expert presence at the forthcoming Conference on media freedom in Europe.

That conference will be held in Mondorf-les-Bains on 30 September and 1 October, and will - at least I hope – allow us to discuss in depth one of the freedoms most basic to the establishment and survival of our democratic societies.

Like my predecessor, and following a recent recommendation of your Assembly, I would like to tell you, Mr President, that I intend to invite you to the formal session of the Committee of Ministers on 7 November as a tangible expression of my wish to see the partnership reinforced between the two statutory organs of the Council of Europe, which we represent.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Apart from the Joint Committee’s meeting on the morning of 7 November, before the Committee of Ministers’ 111th formal session, this will be my last chance to address to you. Believe me when I say that talking to you has always been a real pleasure. And believe me when I say, too, that the Council of Europe’s work will remain vitally important to my country, whether or not it is chairing the Committee of Ministers. Thanks to its profoundly humanist approach and its own intrinsic value, the Council of Europe and its basic aims deserve - quite simply – all the support, all the commitment we can give them.