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Speech by Gabriella Battaini-Dragoni, Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe, on the future of the North-South Centre
2012 has been a challenging year for the European Centre for Global Interdependence and Solidarity (North-South Centre)?
An evaluation of the Centre's current activities was carried out last spring and summer upon a request from its Executive Committee. The report confirmed the added value and relevance of the Centre's activities, but also found that some clear strategic choices had to be made about its future undertakings.
This year, five Council of Europe member States have decided to withdraw from the Centre, with effect from 1 January 2013. This brings the number of member States below the threshold required for partial agreements of the Council of Europe and puts the Centre in a situation of institutional instability. What is more, it leads to a lack of critical political and financial mass.
The Centre's Executive Committee therefore proposed to the Committee of Ministers to hold a strategic reflection on the future of the Centre within the framework of an ad hoc working party set up by the Committee of Ministers. This working party was set up yesterday with a view to making proposals for the future of the Centre and to consider the question of the required minimum number of participants, by 31 May 2013.
The working party is open to the member States of the North-South Centre, to all member States of Council of Europe, to the European Union and to observer States, as well as to the North-South Centre quadrilogue partners: the Parliamentary Assembly, European Parliament, Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, the EU Committee of Regions, and the INGO Conference.
In yesterday's discussions in the Committee of Ministers, the Deputies underlined the need for an enhanced focus of the North-South Centre. Its role in the neighbourhood, in particular in the South Mediterranean, was also emphasized. However, some member States which are not members of the Centre made the point that they would like to be able to take part in all aspects of the Organisation's Neighbourhood Policy.
In response to the evaluation report's call for a refocusing of the Centre's activities, the Secretary General has made a concrete and constructive proposal which will now be used for the working party's strategic reflection on the future of the Centre.
What are the areas of added value of the North-South Centre? How do we refocus its activities to enhance their impact?
Let me start with the Arab Spring, which opened new opportunities for the Centre. The motivation and the message of this revolution were clear: the populations of our neighbourhood in the Southern Mediterranean demanded the universal values of democracy, human rights, social justice and the rule of law.
In response to this demand, the Secretary General launched a new policy towards our neighbouring regions as one of the main priorities of the Council of Europe. This is a policy of genuine co-operation and assistance, not interference. We aim to achieve three main objectives:
• to facilitate democratic political transition, notably through the constitutional process, electoral legislation, organisation and observation of elections;
• to help to promote good governance within countries in the Council of Europe neighbourhood on the basis of the relevant Council of Europe standards, mechanisms and instruments, in areas such as the independence and functioning of the judiciary, fight against corruption, money laundering, and others;
• and to reinforce and enlarge the Council of Europe regional action in combating trans-border and global threats such as trafficking in human beings, cybercrime, organised crime, and terrorism.
The Venice Commission has proved to be an extremely efficient tool for this neighbourhood policy as it plays an important role in the elaboration of new constitutions inspired by the standards of Europe's constitutional heritage.
I would argue that the North-South Centre could play a similar role in its areas of activity. Its aims are to promote human rights, democracy and the rule of law through intercultural dialogue and education, to promote policies of solidarity by fostering dialogue and co-operation, as well as to provide a framework for
co-operation for the purpose of increasing public awareness of global interdependence and solidarity issues. These are aims that directly address the demands of the Arab Spring.
The Secretary General and myself share the view that the Centre could provide added value and become a tool for this policy, but it is evident that this will require a clearer role and focus. The guiding principle should be that the Centre must provide something which is not provided by other parts of the Council of Europe, or by other organisations, and that its activities must have a distinct impact.
In light of the crucial role of youth and young adults in the Arab Spring, it is important to reach out to these groups to help enhance the on-going democratic processes. Such a targeted focus of the Council of Europe's work in the region could be combined with a focus on young women and women's networks in the Southern Mediterranean.
In his proposal for a clearer focus of the Centre's activities, the Secretary General therefore proposed to further develop its existing focus on youth and young adults, including young women, and Europe's neighbouring regions. Such refocusing can take place within the aims already stated in the Centre's Statute which was adopted last year, in 2011.
Some will point to the fact that also other parts of the Council of Europe are active in this field. The intergovernmental youth sector run from Headquarters in Strasbourg, with its antennas in the Strasbourg and Budapest Youth Centres, represents all 47 member States, in addition to the 14 which are also members of the North-South Centre. Furthermore, all 47 would like to retain their influence on the implementation of the Organisation's neighbourhood policy, including in the field of youth and young women.
What is specific to the North-South Centre is its quadripartite set-up, which will allow it to reach out not only to the government structures of the countries in our neighbourhood, but also to communicate and co-operate with parliamentarians, local and regional authorities and non-governmental organisations. This provides an indispensable framework for the proposed enhanced focus, which is specific to the Centre.
The Centre also provides the countries of the neighbourhood with a platform for multilateral co-operation on an equal footing, provided they become members, of course, as is already the case with Morocco.
How can the Parliamentary Assembly contribute to the activities of a more focused North-South Centre?
The answer lies in the quadripartite set-up. I do not have to explain to you the fundamental role of parliamentarians in ensuring sustainable democratic change, respect of human rights, social justice and the rule of law. The Assembly's active contribution to the work of the Centre is needed to reach out to parliamentarians in the new democracies of our neighbourhood and include them in our European space of democratic values.
The strategic choices to be made about the Centre should not be made without the Assembly. It is therefore of the utmost importance that the Assembly now takes an active part in the work of the ad hoc working party set up by the Committee of Ministers and thereby helps to ensure the Centre's continued relevance in the Council of Europe institutional set-up.