North-South Centre - European Centre for Global Interdependence and Solidarity



In setting-up the European Centre for Global Interdependence and Solidarity (more commonly known as the "North-South Centre"), in November 1989, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe – and more specifically the Centre's ten founder States1 – took a visionary decision. At a time when the Berlin wall was falling down and all eyes in Strasbourg were turned to the east, retaining a global dimension and a southern perspective was inevitably a medium- and long-term concern.

In May 1990, the North-South Centre was set up in Lisbon2. From the start, it has built on what, until today, still constitutes its fundamentally pioneering dimension and development potential:

    - its objectives, both broad and ambitious: to provide a framework for European co-operation designed to heighten public awareness of global interdependence issues, and to promote policies of solidarity complying with the Council of Europe’s aims and principles - respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law;

    - an open house: as an enlarged Partial Agreement of the North-South Centre, the Centre is open not only to the Council of Europe's member States and the other Parties to the European Cultural Convention3, but also to any other interested State and the European Community4;

    - its decision-making process: unlike the other partial agreements (and the Council of Europe itself), the decisions – including those on the programme and budget - are not taken by the member States alone. The Executive Council, the NSC's decision-making body, reflects a balance between the four components of the Centre's action (governments, parliamentarians, local and regional authorities and civil society). This "quadrilogue"  composition gives the NSC not only its originality but also real credibility in a field of action where non-state actors are heavily involved;

    - its functioning and working methods: the practical implementation, unique at the Council of Europe, of the "quadrilogue" concept also has a direct impact on the NSC's functioning and working methods, which are more open, more transparent and more inclusive than those of a classic intergovernmental organisation. At the same time, the fact that the Centre is an offshoot of the Council of Europe is a major asset, giving it access to the intellectual and operational resources of the "parent institution" as well as the partnerships forged between the Council of Europe and the other European or international organisations relevant to the Centre's work5.

Almost 20 years after the break of the Berlin wall, Europe – and the world – have gone through profound changes. Indeed, a new paradigm - often called the “post-9/11” era - has gradually imposed itself in the field of international relations, leading to:

    - increasingly acute awareness that the fundamental strategic challenges for world stability now lie in the south rather than in the east;

    - growing evidence that many of the issues to which modern societies are confronted are not only of global nature but also put at stake the future of humanity as a whole;

    - ever growing complexity of the international relations sphere, where many actors have emerged in addition to / competition with the traditional “players” (the states and the international organisations), and where basic notions such as multilateral action, the rule of (international) law and universally shared values are more necessary but also more contested than ever;

    - renewed priority attached to an already old concept with revised contours: intercultural dialogue (as a response to the diagnosis of a "clash of civilisations" formulated back in 1993 by the American political scientist Samuel Huntington).

In this new area, the North-South Centre’s capacity of acting in different dimensions and mobilizing all relevant actors, together with its expertise in the fields of education, youth co-operation and intercultural dialogue, are strong added values. Having concentrated its action, in recent years, on two priority areas (Africa and the Mediterranean), and promoted synergies with the main actors involved, it also has a better chance to “make a difference”. The political processes implemented both within the Council of Europe (the “White Paper on intercultural dialogue”) and the European Union (the joint EU-Africa strategy and the “Union for the Mediterranean”) offer opportunities to be seized in this respect.


1 Cyprus, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, San Marino and Spain.

2 Lisbon was chosen following an initiative of the Portuguese government, which had proposed (after the European public campaign on North-South interdependence and solidarity organised in 1988 by the Council of Europe in co-operation with the European Community) that a centre be set up to follow up the proposals generated by the campaign, in the form of an enlarged partial agreement of the Council of Europe.

3 Subject to a favourable decision of the Committee of Ministers taken by the majority provided for in the Statute of the Council of Europe and unanimously by the member States of both the CoE and the NSC.

4 In anticipation of the European Community’s accession to the NSC (which has still not taken place), the European Commission is entitled to sit on the Centre's Executive Council and the European Parliament is entitled to appoint two representatives to it.

5 The North-South Centre places its work in particular in the framework of the implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding signed in May 2007 between the Council of Europe and the European Union, and focuses on the Co-operation Agreements signed between the Council of Europe and key partners such as the OSCE, the Alliance of Civilisations, UNESCO, ALECSO, OIF and the Anna Lindh Foundation.