Non-Governmental Organisations



    Strasbourg, 20 August 2009



    The Social Cohesion and Eradication of Poverty Committee, meeting on 24 June 2009 with Irene Donadio in the chair:

    1. Adopted the agenda

    2. Adopted the Synopsis of the meeting of the Committee held on 28 April without modification [CONF/SOC(2009)SYN2]

    3. European Committee for Social Cohesion (CDCS), 25-27 May 2009

    Antonina Dashkina (Vice-Chair) reported on this meeting which she had attended on behalf of the Conference of INGOs and which provided a valuable opportunity to meet a wide range of significant actors in the social cohesion field. It was regrettable that, owing to budget cuts, the CDCS could now meet only once a year.

    Good reports were presented on recent and current activities under the responsibility of the CDCS, e.g. situation of low-income workers, family and children, social services.

    The work on intercultural competences in the social services was just finishing. The Social Cohesion and Eradication of Poverty Committee of the Conference of INGOs was invited to a closing conference in December 2009.

    Following the Moscow Conference of Ministers responsible for social cohesion (February 2009), a first draft of a revised version of the Social Cohesion Strategy was presented and discussed in detail. A draft plan of action for social cohesion was also examined.

    A number of future activities in the broad field of social cohesion was presented:
    - Protecting the human rights and dignity of vulnerable migrants (CDMG, 2009-2012);
    - Health care for children (CDSP, 2009-11);
    - Europe of shared social responsibilities (roles of citizens and public authorities);
    - Iimproving the quality of life of people with disabilities (Plan of Action 2010-2015);
    - Empowering migrants (CDMG, 2009-2012);
    - Social mobility as a condition for social cohesion (2009-2010);
    - Children and violence (2009-2011).

    The Social Cohesion and Eradication of Poverty Committee would be welcome to contribute to some of these activities.

    Irene Donadio, the Chair, concluded that the Committee should consider which of these activities it would be in a position to make a worthwhile contribution to. She invited members to write and tell her what they would like to contribute on any of the above-mentioned topics. It was agreed that the Committee would, at its next meeting, select the activities it would like to take part in.

    The Committee was reminded that there are two different forms of INGO participation in intergovernmental committees:

      - Participation as a representative of the Conference of INGOs with the right to speak. This applies to the majority of steering committees and sub-committees in which we express an interest to participate. Within the limits of the relevant budget, expenses of participation may be covered by the Conference of INGOs.
      - NGO’s invited directly by the committee concerned to attend its meetings as observers, provided that this form of representation is mentioned in the terms of reference of the steering committee in question. In this case, the NGO represents itself rather than the Conference as a whole. Expenses are not paid by the Conference of INGOs.

    The Chair pointed out that INGOs participating in committees under the first category should take steps to consult the Social Cohesion and Eradication of Poverty Committee or at least its Chair, so as to ascertain the views of a range of interested INGO’s. They should prepare brief written reports so as to keep the Committee informed. INGOs participating as the second category as observers are not under an obligation to report to the Committee, but the Committee would welcome being informed about such cases too.

    4. Council of Europe Conference of Ministers responsible for Family Affairs, 16 and 17 June 2009, Vienna

    John Murray (Conference of European Churches) reported on this Conference which he, Jean-Marie Heydt and Irene Donadio had taken part in as representatives of the Conference of INGOs.

    The Conference was devoted to the following theme: Public policies supporting the wish to have children : societal, economic and personal factors.

    The delegation had prepared a position paper which was included as part of the very slim Conference file, thus having high visibility for all participants. Jean-Marie Heydt based his opening statement mainly on the content of the position paper.

    The theme of the Conference was based on the observation that on average Europeans end up having fewer children than they say they wish to have. It is therefore a legitimate aim for the State to seek to reduce the obstacles that seem to be preventing people from realising their desired family size. It was generally agreed that this involved:

      - Respecting individual choices with regard to the number, spacing and timing of children;
      - Any policy aiming at supporting the choice of individuals in relation to their fertility, child bearing and family issues policies should be based on international human rights standards;
      - Family patterns have changed throughout time and vulnerable groups of families, children, parents and people wishing to become parents should protected against any type of discrimination;
      - Attention should be devoted to promote gender equality in the labour market, at home and in the family. Men should be encouraged to take more responsibility for the care of children and dependent/elderly members of the family. This is a crucial element for policies in reconciliation of work and family responsibilities;
      - Ensuring adequate financial support for families with children, especially the most vulnerable ones (large families, migrant, socially excluded, disabled..);
      - Providing support for positive parenting;
      - Helping couples in general and young people in particular who face many difficulties in starting a family.

    It was, in John Murray’s view, disappointing that the Conference made no real commitment to further work by the Council of Europe on family issues as such (apart from the Programme on building a Europe for and with children). Clearly there was a problem of limited budgetary and staff resources, but the position paper of the Conference of INGOs recommends that it would be useful to make an inventory of existing work on family questions across the Organisation as a whole as a basis for considering whether to develop a multidisciplinary approach to family questions.

    The Committee adopted a Recommendation [CONF/SOC(2009)REC1] along these lines

    The question was raised whether it was appropriate for European countries to seek to raise fertility levels in a world context of overpopulation. In response, it was pointed out that the persistence in many European countries of fertility rates far below replacement level did indeed raise serious problems for the future, and that the Conference was all about enabling people to exercise freedom of choice of family size, not about introducing pro-natalist policies.

    5. Intercultural competences in social services

    In the absence of the representative of the Social Cohesion Development and Research Division, the Committee noted that this project was now in its final stages and that the Committee was invited to attend the closing conference in December.

    6. Plan for action for the European Union 2010 Year for combating poverty and social exclusion and campaign actions for the year 2009/2010

    The Committee viewed a PowerPoint presentation on the plans for the European Year.

    7. Outcome of the meeting of the Fundamental Rights Platform of the Fundamental Rights Agency of the European Union

    It was not possible to deal with this matter at the present meeting because the rapporteur, Taras Poljanec, was unable to attend.

    8. Disability conference, Moscow, 17-18 June 2009

    Antonina Dashkina reported that Taras Poljanec had represented the Conference of INGOs at this event. He spoke in the plenary about the Social Charter and in a workshop about the work of his NGO in Slovenia.
    9. Meeting of the Working Group on Poverty, Human Rights and Economic Crises (23 June from 13:00 to 14:30)
    Marie-José Schmitt (Rapporteur) reported on the meeting of this working group, a joint activity of the Social Cohesion and Eradication of Poverty Committee and the Human Rights Committee. The aim is to prepare the Conference of INGOs’ contribution to the European Year for combating poverty and social exclusion (2010) and to clarify more in general our position on poverty. The Working Group had decided to start from the concepts of precarity and extreme poverty and see how the dignity of poor people can be rebuilt. This should be illustrated by examples of good practice from the NGO sector.

    The Committee decided that members would send short descriptions of good practice (maximum 2/3 pages) to Marie-José Schmitt by the end of August. She would then combine these into a single document.

    10. Working Group on Health Prevention

    The work is going on so as to send recommendations to the Parliamentary Assembly with a view to improving European health prevention policies.

    11. Any other business

    11.1. Governmental Committee of the Social Charter

      Gabriel Nissim (Chair of the Human Rights Committee) informed the Committee that, for the first time ever, the Conference of INGOs had been invited to meet the Governmental Committee of the European Social Charter (ESC). The representatives of the Conference of INGOs made a presentation, followed by a short discussion. This was a very welcome development despite the continuing uneasiness among government experts that INGO's might embarrass them by alleging Charter violations.

      Marie-José Schmitt added that the representatives of the Conference of iNGOs had suggested that governments translate their reports into their national language(s) so that NGOs could more easily react to them.

      It was suggested that the Conference of INGOs should write to encourage its members to make greater use of the possibility of making collective complaints (against countries which have accepted this procedure).

      The Committee decided to invite Régis Brillat to speak about the Charter at its next meeting.

    11.2. International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, 17 October

    The Committee appointed Marie-Eve Fischer as its representative to prepare a suitable action to mark 17 October 2009.

      "This is an unadopted draft document.

Under no circumstances shall it be considered binding on the persons referred to therein.”.

    Cc: President of the Conference of INGOs
    Members of the Standing Committee
    Secretary General of the Parliamentary Assembly
    Secretary General of the Congress
    Secretary to the Committee of Ministers
    Directors General
    Registrar of the European Court of Human Rights
    Acting Director of the Private Office of the Acting Secretary General
    Director of External Relations
    Director of Strategic Planning
    Director of Communication
    Director a.i. of the Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights