(To be checked against delivered speech)

Address by Terry Davis, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe

Extraordinary meeting of the Liaison Committee of International Non-Governmental Organisations (INGOs) enjoying participatory status with the Council of Europe

Warsaw University, 14 May 2005

President of the Conference of International NGOs,
Members of the Liaison Committee,
Representatives of national NGOs

I am delighted to begin my stay in Warsaw which will be quite eventful, as you can imagine – by addressing representatives of civil society. Throughout my service as a Member of Parliament in the United Kingdom for 28 years, I found exchanges with citizens and members of NGOs particularly invigorating, and I always appreciated NGO activists for their frankness, sense of reality and genuine commitment to the values and causes they embrace.

I understand that this particular meeting of the Liaison Committee of International NGOs enjoying participatory status with the Council of Europe is exceptional both in terms of its agenda and in its composition. I believe that the time and location you have chosen make it special too. Meeting in Warsaw – a modern city erected from the ashes of war - and meeting on the eve of the Summit of Heads and State and Government of the Council of Europe member states demonstrates your commitment to building a peaceful, united, democratic Europe and underlines your support for the Council of Europe in general and for this important event in particular.

You have already expressed this support in your written contribution to the Summit. You will have another opportunity to have your voice heard when your Chairperson, Annelise Oeschger, brings your message to the attention of the Heads of State and Government during the Summit. The fact that NGOs will be given the floor at the Summit, a first in the history of Council of Europe summits, is not only extraordinary in itself but also proves that the participatory status has changed the way in which NGOs are perceived and treated in the Council of Europe context.

The theme of this particular meeting of the Liaison Committee is a clear statement of your priorities and motivation “A Europe without Dividing Lines, A Europe of Solidarity”. I fully share these principles which are themselves the basis of the Action Plan which will be adopted by the Heads of State and Government. We all expect this Action Plan to propose concrete measures to promote our core values, to build a more humane and inclusive Europe and to reinforce the Council of Europe’s position as a keystone of European architecture in the 21st century.

I expect NGOs to be specifically mentioned as partners in the Action Plan. Indeed, NGOs will be indispensable for translating into reality much of what this Action Plan sets out, in particular as concerns action in the field, the implementation of standards and performance assessment or monitoring.

Your support will be crucial for the success of the Council of Europe in fulfilling its mission as a guardian of human rights, democracy, the rule of law and cultural diversity.

We will expect much from you, and I realise that the institutions of the Council of Europe could do more to facilitate your task. Today, I am told, your main concern is how to strengthen recognition of the political role of the Conference of international NGOs within the Council of Europe and how to enhance your outreach to European citizens.

I should therefore like to share with you some thoughts on how I would like to develop our partnership, and I shall take three examples from the many areas where closer co-operation between the Council of Europe and NGOs could help us to achieve our common goals:

1. Shaping European democracy,
2. Promoting social justice,
3. Building a united Europe without dividing lines.

1. Shaping European democracy

The draft Action Plan prepared for adoption by the Summit foresees the establishment of a Council of Europe Forum for the Future of Democracy which should help strengthen democracy, political freedoms and citizens’ participation. The Forum will enable the exchange of ideas and examples of ways to enhance the responsiveness, transparency and accountability of democratic institutions. Most certainly, the Forum will deal with participatory democracy as a way of involving citizens more deeply in public decision-making.

Many of the NGOs you represent have a rich experience in fostering participatory democracy: as campaigners on behalf of those whose voice is all too often not heard by politicians. I am referring to the children, the old, the minorities, the poor and the marginalised. And you also have experience as the advocates of a balanced participation of both women and men in political and public life.

I encourage you to contribute your experience to the Forum on the Future of Democracy in order to enrich the reflection and provide insights on how NGOs already do and could further facilitate the participation of ordinary citizens in democratic processes.

2. Promoting social justice

NGOs have a long-standing tradition of co-operating with the Council of Europe in the field of social policy. Two of your thematic groupings deal with these matters, focusing, on the one hand, on the European Social Charter, and on the other hand, on one of the major challenges to European societies, the eradication of poverty. It is quite significant, that only INGOs enjoying participatory status with the Council of Europe can lodge collective complaints under the revised European Social Charter: this is a great opportunity, but also a great responsibility.

In your written contribution to the Summit you advocate the incorporation of Article 30 of the revised European Social Charter, concerning the right to protection against poverty and social exclusion, into the core provisions from which States must choose the six articles by which they are bound. The Committee of Ministers confirmed, in reply to a Recommendation of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, that it does support this endeavour.

Here I see a major role for NGOs.

The representatives of the Social Charter and Poverty Groupings in the European Committee on Social Cohesion can follow up this point because the Committee has been asked by our Committee of Ministers to take the recommendation into account in its activities linked to access to social rights.

Individually, you can become even more active in the capital cities of Europe. Only 19 member States have ratified the revised Social Charter, and only 10 out of these 19 have accepted Article 30. Therefore, I appeal to you to lobby in the capitals of our member States for the ratification of the revised European Social Charter and to encourage them to agree to be bound by Article 30. This also requires awareness-raising activities geared to the general public.

3. Building a united Europe without dividing lines

The Summit will emphasise the Council of Europe’s essential role in the European process and its specific contribution to a united Europe without dividing lines.

I attach great importance to your contribution to this goal. For some years now, you have organised working visits of NGO representatives from Central and Eastern Europe to the Council of Europe. Today’s meeting is an enlarged meeting, also involving representatives of national NGOs from a large cross-section of member States.

Frankly, comparing the countries of origin of the NGO representatives attending today’s meeting in Warsaw with the list of members of the Liaison Committee of international NGOs, it is evident that today’s group is much more representative of European civil society than the Liaison Committee. I should therefore like to encourage you to make the Liaison Committee a pan-European body by asking the headquarters of international NGOs to send members from their Central and Eastern European branches to the sessions in Strasbourg and by inviting those international NGOs which do have their headquarters in that part of Europe to put forward candidates for the next elections of the Liaison Committee in January 2006.

Building a Europe without dividing lines also means that the same Human Rights standards, notably the European Convention on Human Rights, are applied in all Council of Europe member States, regardless whether or not they are also members of the European Union.

I therefore invite you to join forces with the Council of Europe to speed up the accession of the European Union to the European Convention on Human Rights after the Constitutional Treaty has entered into force. I should also be grateful for your co-operation to make sure that the future Fundamental Rights Agency of the European Union will contribute to greater coherence in Human Rights standards and their application.

I know that many international NGOs have offices in Brussels. Therefore, I appeal to you to support the Council of Europe’s efforts in the Human Rights field by working with your counterparts in Brussels.

Finally, I hope that your meeting here in Warsaw will identify the main elements of your multi-annual work programme so that your working methods will enable you to achieve your goals, and I look forward to continuing our discussions back in Strasbourg. Indeed, if it is possible, I should like to meet you during the June Session to exchange views on your individual and collective contribution to the implementation of Action Plan which will be approved at the Summit.

There is much to be done. Together we can do it.