Parliamentary Assembly session : 23 – 27 September 2002 

Speech by Peter Schieder, President of the Parliamentary Assembly

On the occasion of the 50 years of international NGOs’ consultative status with the Council of Europe and 25th anniversary of the Liaison Committee

24 September 2002

Madam President of the Committee of Ministers,
Representative of the Secretary General,
Secretary General of the Parliamentary Assembly
President of the NGO Liaison Committee
Representatives of NGOs,
Dear Friends,

When we mark today the 50th anniversary of the consultative status of NGOs and INGOs to the Council of Europe and the 25th year of existence of the Liaison Committee, we do this in the very special context of a slow, but irreversible political change in Europe.

A Change in policy making: from the sole focus on national governments to the management of international relations;
A Change in decision making: from State authority to democracy, to participation and parliamentary diplomacy;
A Change in awareness arising: from domestic, local concerns to global solution finding.

Since its creation, the Council of Europe is part of this change and has since 1952, provided NGOs and INGOs with a forum to actively contribute to protecting human rights, pluralist democracy and the rule of law.

The “N” in NGO or INGO only says what you are NOT. The Council of Europe values, however, what you ARE : the voluntary creator of an interactive and participative connection between individuals, groups and the State and political parties, challenging the political accountability of the State.

You do not separate, you link.

And the importance of NGOs, associations of people, grass root groups, citizens’ organisations, people’s movements, voluntary groups, or international NGOs, is certainly not valued by the number of their members but in what they do. And how.

The involvement of NGOs in this slow but irreversible political process for the last 50 years, has changed tremendously - in the international political landscape and also in the Council of Europe. The role of representation of civil society has developed from purely national and local action, or for instance from specific field oriented humanitarian work into a previously unimaginable influential role-play in international decision making and political advice.

And this is exactly the aim you reaffirm now, after 50 years within our Organisation: you want to consolidate your role and to change “from consultation to participation”.

I encourage you.

I have two further comments to make:

Firstly from the intergovernmental point of view: I welcome the way the NGOs can and do participate through their representatives in the intergovernmental organs of the Council of Europe.

I think that this participation meets very well the intentions of the Committee of Ministers as well as the intentions of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Mr Walter Schwimmer. You have worked out together a Resolution on co-operation between the Council of Europe and International Non-Governmental Organisation which I welcome.

Secondly, from the parliamentary point of view: the Parliamentary Assembly, however, has some supplementary requirements: You know well that the different Committees within our Assembly value position papers, proposals, analyses and background papers made by specialised organisations working in the same area of concern and that they take into account.

I invite you to send us your proposals. I may add, that, from a technical point of view, it would be in our mutual interest if these documents would reach us in the two working languages, English and French.

But concerning representation within the Committees and the right to intervene during our debates, we are also thinking of another way for co-operation.

It is not our aim that all NGOs are present or represented by their hierarchy. We need, for a specific work, direct contact with a specific organisation. I am thinking of European platforms, for example, of certain international organisations, such as Greenpeace, Global 2000, Medecins sans frontières, Reporters sans frontières, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Oxfam, different Refugee Councils, the CIMADE, Caritas, the International Lesbian and Gay association (ILGA)... some of them have consultative status within our Organisation, some of them, unfortunately not.

Within the Assembly, we have to involve those organisations, and we do it well and frequently within our Committees.

This is done, on the one hand, by collaborating with the Secretariat, here in Strasbourg, or more important even, during the numerous field visits, and on the other by directly informing our Parliamentarians during the many hearings that take place, for example, when specific reports are elaborated and discussed.

We have to increase the involvement of those organisations, because they are important players and because we believe that there is a real mutual benefit.

International organisations have the same concern as we Parliamentarians: we are not acting for our own purposes. Our role and values are only met if we manage to represent people and to raise their concerns.

When we talk about participation within the Assembly’s Committees, we should however not undervalue the importance of the small and local NGOs and associations. Each organisation represents people and brings new and fresh ideas into politics.

In the name of the Parliamentary Assembly, I most heartily thank you for what you have been doing for so many years.

It was, and it is, and it will be in the interest of Europe as a whole.