Non-Governmental Organisations

WINTER SESSION

CONFERENCE OF INGOs
CONF/PLE(2010)SYN1

                    Strasbourg, 1 March 2010

SYNOPSIS

FOR THE ATTENTION OF THE MEMBERS OF THE INGO CONFERENCE

The Conference of INGOs, meeting in Strasbourg on 27 January 2010 (from 9.30 am to 1 pm), with Jean-Marie Heydt in the chair:

1. Address by Thorbjørn Jagland, Secretary General of the Council of Europe and exchange of views

    · took note of the President’s opening remarks underlining the special attention the Conference of INGOs gives to the draft reform of the organisation being undertaken by the Secretary General, agreeing with the latter on the priority that should be given to promoting peace, stability and human rights and expressing the hope that the “civil society” pillar would be strengthened by the reform;

    · took note of the Secretary General’s address acknowledging in particular the historical role played by civil society in Europe in re-establishing democracy after the Second World War and pointing out that his mandate was to give fresh impetus to the Council of Europe so that it could anticipate challenges, introduce new ideas, improve the quality of its activities and make the Organisation more flexible;

    · held an exchange of views with the Secretary General, during which members of the Conference of INGOs raised questions concerning the low budget of the Conference, the ways in which it could be given more impact within the quadrilogue and the role of INGOs in preventing conflicts; the Secretary General’s replies underlined the independent nature of the NGOs and the need to give priority to the Council of Europe’s key values.

2. 2009 activity report of the Conference of INGOs

    · took note of the President’s introductory remarks on the Conference of INGOs’ activities in 2009, which had been carried out with a strong sense of responsibility and solidarity, on the recent cutbacks in staff in the NGO and Civil Society Division and the efforts required in adapting to these new circumstances, while paying close attention to any possible threats to the activities of the Conference of INGOs;

    · took note of the presentation by Iamvi Totsi, Vice-Chair of the Conference of INGOs, of the main thrusts of the 2009 activity report and of the extra information provided by the President regarding reference to the activities of the Bureau members in this document;

    · held an exchange of views on the need to avoid duplication in the activities of the committees and the transversal groups, a task for which the Standing Committee was responsible, on the value of highlighting certain themes (such as human rights education and human rights defenders) and on the need to ensure the continuity of activities between the sessions of the Conference of INGOs;

    · also took note of the statement by Jean-Louis Laurens, Director General of Democracy and Political Affairs, who also underlined the importance of the theme of human rights defenders and raised the more general question of how the INGOs might, through their national branches, provide more information to the Council of Europe on the actual grassroots situation to help strengthen democratic stability. With regard to the question of the resources allocated to the Secretariat of the Conference of INGOs, the Director General said that the matter was being discussed in the context of the re-organisation of the DGDAP;

    · unanimously adopted the 2009 activity report of the Conference of INGOs;

3. Priorities of the Conference of INGOs

    · took note of the President’s introduction of the document on the orientations and priorities of the Conference of INGOs, examined by the Standing Committee on 1 October 2009; at its meeting on 25 January 2010, the Standing Committee had said it thought that this document should provide a basis for the committees and transversal groups in organising their own orientations and priorities and their work programmes;

    · held an exchange of views, during which particular emphasis was placed on the following points: the date of validity of the document, its presentation (it could be divided into three new chapters: mission, vision and strategy), the failure to take sufficient account of the concerns of the cultural sector and of the environment, the place to be given to the European Year of Volunteering (decreed by the European Union for 2011), the universality of human rights and INGOs’ action to encourage Council of Europe member states to honour their commitments;

    · decided that the members of the Conference of INGOs would have until 15 February 2010 to submit their proposals for amendments to this document, with a view to its subsequent reconsideration by the Bureau and the Standing Committee.

4. Draft co-operation agreement between the Conference of INGOs and the Council of Europe North-South Centre

    · took note of the statement by Denis Huber, Executive Director of the North-South Centre, concerning the current situation of the Centre (Morocco’s recent accession, the forthcoming accession of Cap-Verde and the plan to draft a new statutory resolution for the Centre, on which the Conference of INGOs would be consulted) and the benefit of signing with the Conference of INGOs a co-operation agreement similar to the agreements already signed with the North-South Centre, the Parliamentary Assembly and the Congress;

    · held an exchange of views, underlining the advisability of signing such an agreement, given the priority accorded by the Conference of INGOs to North-South co-operation in general and to the promotion of civil society and human rights in the Euro-Mediterranean and Euro-African area in particular;

    · adopted the draft co-operation agreement between the Conference of INGOs and the North-South Centre; the agreement was then signed by the President of the Conference of INGOs and the Executive Director of the North-South Centre (on behalf of the Chair of the Executive Council of the Centre).

5. The internal governance of NGOs: draft Recommendation arising from the second report of the Council of Experts on NGO legislation

    · took note of the presentation of the draft Recommendation by Cyril Ritchie, Chair of the Council of Experts on NGO legislation, pointing out that the report on which the draft Recommendation was based mainly concerned the following fields: self-governance, supervision and intervention by the authorities, responsibility and transparency, management and decision-making processes, all items which were mentioned in fifteen articles of Recommendation (2007)14 on the legal status of NGOs in Europe, adopted by the Committee of Ministers in October 2007;

    · also took note of the points underlined by Cyril Ritchie relating to:

      o the impact of the Council of Experts’ texts on NGO legislation and its application,
      o the fact that the Council of Experts’ mandate did not only entail carrying out thematic studies but also monitoring the legislation and regulations governing NGOs in Europe,
      o the forthcoming evaluation of the Council of Experts, provided for in its terms of reference, which should determine whether this body should become a permanent body of the Conference of INGOs.

    · unanimously adopted the draft Recommendation on the internal governance of NGOs.

6. Three-year framework programme in the Russian Federation (2008-2011): mid-term assessment and perspectives

    · took note of the presentation by Annelise Oeschger, Honorary President of the Conference of INGOs, on this three-year programme (2008-2011), based on an agreement with the Russian authorities and NGOs, and its mid-term assessment, particularly with regard to activities with NGOs sometimes working on sensitive subjects, in direct contact with populations and with few resources; thanks to this programme, the Russian authorities had agreed to a joint Council of Europe programme on national minorities; the three-year framework programme would shortly be extended, for example through the organisation of a conference on gender equality, giving special attention to the difficulties of people in detention;

    · held an exchange of views, in the presence of Daria Miloslavskaya, Chair of the Board of “Lawyers for Civil Society” (Russian Federation), who welcomed the work of the Conference of INGOs to promote the positive development of NGO legislation in the Russian Federation (relaxation of the measures relating to NGO accounting requirements so that they would be monitored by the Ministry of Justice once every three years instead of once a year; easier registration of foreign NGOs; support from the authorities for NGOs with a social mission);

7. Rules of Procedure of the Conference of INGOs

    · took note of the statement by Rémi Berthier, Chair of the Verification and Dispute Committee and head of the Working Group on the Conference Rules of Procedure, concerning the discussion on the adjustments that should be made to the Rules of Procedure, particularly with regard to election procedures within the Conference of INGOs; Rémi Berthier called on all the INGOs for written contributions, if possible before the end of February 2010, giving them the opportunity to give their point of view on:

      o the aspects of the Rules of Procedure which they would like to see changed, irrespective of whether or not they concerned elections;
      o the motivations underlying these wishes;
      o any corresponding proposals.

    After abstracting and analysing these contributions and following any individual consultations that might appear useful, official proposals for the revision of the Rules of Procedure would be submitted in late 2010, with a view to their final adoption by the Conference of INGOs in April 2011, thereby ensuring that the revision was completed before the next elections.

8. Activities of the Conference of INGOs in 2010

    · took note of the President’s statement, particularly with regard to the holding of the 4th Regional Congress of NGOs in Vilnius (Lithuania) in 2010 and of the Forum for the Future of Democracy in Yerevan (Armenia) on 19 and 20 October 2010.

9. Other business

    · took note of the statement by Michel Muller, Chair of INGOs-Service, concerning the questionnaire he had sent to the INGOs and the replies received (only 20) underlining the value they attached to participatory status, the recognition of the usefulness of the subscription paid to INGOs-Service (which might even be made compulsory), the agreement in principle that INGOs-Service needed to be remodelled and the need for more communication on the subject of the Conference of INGOs. Concrete proposals should be made at the June 2010 session;

    · took note of the fact that Renée Gérard (University Women of Europe) had been made a Knight of the Legion of Honour and Maritchu Rall (International Association of Charities) a Knight of the National Order of Merit and of the congratulations extended to them by President of the Conference of INGOs;

    · took note of the statement by Christoph Spreng (Initiatives of Change International) in favour of a Conference of INGOs activity to promote intercultural understanding, tolerance and social cohesion in a context in which certain categories of the population in Europe were excluded, marginalised or stigmatised, and also took note of the President’s proposal that the preliminary stage of this activity should be entrusted to the Human Rights Committee;

10. Date of the next meeting: Thursday 24 June 2010 (date adopted by the Conference of INGOs with two abstentions to replace the meeting scheduled for 28 April 2010).