Non-Governmental Organisations

Strategy for a concerted and consistent action by the Conference of INGOs of the Council of Europe in the Mediterranean neighbourhood countries

Whether they concern co-operation with countries in the Council of Europe's neighbourhood, as included among the Priorities for 2012-2014 in the fields of human rights, rule of law and democracy especially in respect of Tunisia (DGProg/Inf(2012)3rev) and Morocco (DGProg/Inf(2012)4rev), or the "Partner for democracy" status granted by the Parliamentary Assembly to the parliament of Morocco, the Conference of INGOs fully supports the policy directions taken and intends to make an active contribution to them.

Given the situation at present, we can but note that what was referred to as the "Arab spring" – opening up new horizons for populations at last freed from dictatorship – has now all too often fallen into the clutches of new dogmatic groups whose concept of society is very different from the ideal of universal human rights aspired to during these uprisings. For this reason, the sole bastion against the emergence of new forms of tyranny is greater democracy and participation by citizens. However, that is not something that can be achieved on the spur of the moment and the countries of Europe indeed took many years to get there.

We also know, however, that democratic citizenship can take root and flourish only if citizens develop a greater awareness of and attachment to their rights and responsibilities. To achieve this, we must help to further the key role played by education, in particular education in human rights and in active citizenship within a democratic, inclusive environment, which constitutes both a breeding ground and a means of social change. An organised civil society cannot be improvised or decreed, but is something that is experienced, shaped and structured through knowledge and use of the tools essential to its existence.

That is why we need to decide on an action strategy that will enable us to ensure proper coordination of our activities and clarify in this way what our specific approaches entail.

To this end, we need not only to lay the foundations for our action but also to consider the contributions we can make in partnership with the national authorities and NGOs in fields such as the reinforcement of democratic forces in civil society, which is key to establishing democracy on a lasting footing in the countries engaged in a transition process.

Mention must be made here of the fact that the policy approaches currently being pursued in certain countries are aimed more at reducing the range of action of a possible organised civil society. Furthermore, as can all too often be observed, the outcome of these approaches is to discourage the local population from seeking to revolutionise things to any significant extent. This puts people off, when we should in fact be aiming to motivate the populations of these countries and to help them train and educate themselves and take their future into their own hands. It is true that, on the spot, in Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria there are still many civil society players who are quite capable of looking after their own affairs (training of staff, development of projects, etc.). The problem they encounter is first and foremost a lack of democratic political "maturity" (the "old demons" of their countries' politics are still managing to play for time, dragging out the changes so as to hold on to power).

To guide our thinking, a clear distinction first needs to be drawn between our goals and our objectives.

Our goals are to provide effective support and assistance to national NGOs in the southern Mediterranean so as to improve the living conditions and well-being of these countries' populations within an environment where human rights, democracy and good governance come together in harmony. Another aspect is speaking for civil society with a concerted, representative voice in dealings with the political decision-makers of states in the region and of Council of Europe member states.

Our objectives concern the development of tangible initiatives which can have a direct impact on local players in the countries of the southern rim of the Mediterranean and, where necessary, ensure coordination of the activities implemented by the various INGOs involved. Nonetheless, it has not been decided so far that we should develop specific programmes. Since the Conference of INGOs is one of the pillars of the Council of Europe quadrilogue, its action must be consistent with the spirit and agreed framework of the neighbourhood policy in respect of the southern and eastern Mediterranean regions. What is more, the Conference of INGOs cannot replace the forms of varied action already being implemented by national NGOs or INGOs.

These objectives would accordingly translate into a number of lines of action aimed at:

    Reinforcing civil society in these countries, notably by supporting more capacity building for NGOs in a spirit of "sharing rather than teaching", on the basis of the same values and universal rights;

    Establishing a dialogue with the authorities drawing on the unique experience amassed through the effective tools at the disposal of the Conference of INGOs, such as the Code of Good Practice for Civil Participation in the Decision-Making Process (which has been translated into 19 languages, including Arabic) and the tool for conducting an intercultural dialogue;

    Accentuating our role as a debating forum – along with the participation of civil society representatives in our meetings and discussions - and fostering exchanges and expression of our skills and know-how;

    Expressing clear political support for and aiding democratic action aimed at permitting good governance by public institutions (an example being the texts we adopt in our plenary sessions);

    Expanding our activities and better coordinating our efforts, in a concerted and constructive manner, with:

    - Local players, members of the Conference of INGOs in these regions, or other civil society players who are already well involved;

    - Other Council of Europe bodies, in the context of an active quadrilogue approach with the Parliamentary Assembly, the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, the Youth Directorate, and so on. In this context, we would like to see the North-South Centre of the Council of Europe assume a genuine role in linking together all the players, to ensure that each participant's specific characteristics are taken into account in joint activities;

    Expressing resolute support for equality between women and men, the human rights of women with equal enjoyment of rights, as well as a reinforced role of women in political and public life, in partnership with the North-South Centre and the "Euro-Med women network". In this field we not only have experience but can also access a number of INGOs with proven proficiency in these matters and in the forms of action to be taken;

    Placing special emphasis on promotion of youth co-operation, so that policies are devised from the outset in order to ensure genuine inclusion of intergenerational considerations in the concept of society and guarantee the necessary succession process, in partnership with the youth sector of the Council of Europe. Here, we regard all aspects of education as a wellspring and catalyst for change;

    Establishing a "watch unit" of the Conference of INGOs with a view to considering the launch of certain operations in these countries. Within the context of this unit the Conference could organise a series of sector-based meetings in cross-cutting areas such as social issues, education, etc. A link with our committees should also be fostered.

Lastly, this action strategy can take concrete form only if we succeed in finding appropriate specific funding for it.

24/01/2013, Jean-Marie Heydt, President of the Conference of INGOs