The Conference of INGOs of the Council of Europe
CONF/PRES/SPEECH(2009)1

“Organised civil society remains the last bastion of social cohesion …”

The Conference of International Non-Governmental Organisations (INGOs) of the Council of Europe elects a new President, 28 January 2009

The changeover comes at a crucial moment in the development of our societies. During her term, the outgoing President, Annelise Oeschger, was instrumental in ensuring that one of the four pillars of the Council of Europe – the INGO Conference – achieved a high level of recognition for the real know-how and ability displayed by organised civil society in its action on the international arena. It is also thanks to the determination of its Founding President, Claude-Laurent Genty, and then Daniel Zielinski – both of whom are Honorary Presidents – that the INGO Conference has been able to establish its position within the Council of Europe and be legitimated by the political authorities of the Council’s 47 member states.

At the Council of Europe on Wednesday 28 January 2009, the plenary session of the Conference of INGOs holding participatory status elected Jean-Marie HEYDT as its new President for a three-year term.

In his introductory speech, he said that “(…) against the background of a global situation marked by growing economic concerns, where trust between political institutions is breaking down, where poverty and exclusion are to be found in all families, where injustices and acts of racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and xenophobia are becoming daily occurrences, where the rejection of minorities of all kinds is spreading hand in hand with heightened ethnocentrism, where intolerance has, unfortunately, all too readily become a form of “normality” and where despair and pervading despondency are occupying minds and dominating exchanges between Europeans, (…) organised civil society remains the last bastion of social cohesion (…).”

“(…) Our constructive role in building democracy means we are justified in lobbying decision-makers, not on a competitive basis but in an entirely complementary manner, and offering them our advice and grassroots know-how backed up by our ability to listen to the views of European citizens and also to act practically and directly through our networks (420 non-profit INGOs throughout Europe currently hold participatory status with the Council of Europe) and the many experts we can call on in the widest range of areas (…).

“(…) Who then can voice the concerns of Europe’s ordinary citizens more effectively than the voluntary sector and the INGO Conference? (…) We have a major responsibility to bear here (…).”

Given the various infringements of human rights, the defence of which is the keystone of our action in Europe, “(…) the Conference should be present on each and every occasion when human rights are flouted or omitted from our laws and official texts, and where the support of civil society is needed (…)” added Jean-Marie Heydt.

-------------
Jean-Marie Heydt, representative of the European Association of Training Centres for Socio-Educational Care Work (FESET), was elected President of the INGO Conference for a three-year term.

Mr Heydt, who was previously 1st Vice-President of the Conference, has longstanding experience of the Council of Europe, in particular in his role as expert on issues such as “the role of European cities in combating extreme poverty”, “Human dignity and social exclusion” and “Education for democratic citizenship”. He succeeds Annelise Oeschger, President of the INGO Conference from 2003 to 2008, who has been elected Honorary President.