CONF/REFORM(2011)2

Supporting text for the reflection to be conducted during the Standing Committee + Committees and Transversal Groups + Plenary Session.
Supplementing the scheme of reform presented by the Standing Committee

This document is not new material, but has the purpose of focusing on the Conference of INGOs in its present structure, the one that generates tangible work, its productiveness and its representativeness of organised civil society as a whole, etc…
I am convinced that, rather than approach the issue via what we have to safeguard, we should conceive our reform creatively. I therefore propose this backup, devised on the basis of the “why” (function of a committee) and the “how” (a plausible reasoned implementation) of reforming in order to build our capacity to deliver conceptual, operational and strategic responses (as a Conference = a unifier of the European networks) bringing out our representativeness, the relevance of the impact made by our choices, the legibility of our actions, our reactivity, our contributory civil capability, and finally our resolve to make all the vital forces of organised civil society work together. We must move from thought to action!
Why maintain committees? What are they to be used for?
I believe that the committee’s objective should be to reach agreement, to establish choices, or to determine positions and actions. To exist on those terms, it needs forward planning and retrospective monitoring. The implication is that all the information will be conveyed electronically throughout the entire period separating two formal committees. Thematic forums will initiate the exchanges, differentiated approaches and lines of argument. Then when the committee is convened, the members will hold a debate (live) on the matter. This will be a real debate leading either to a consensus or to divergent (majority or minority) positions or tendencies whereby, however, the committee will leave the subject of discussion with a clear position of its component INGOs which it will always need to have validated, depending on the importance of the subject, either in the Standing Committee or in plenary session. Some subjects will prompt a major annual event extended to numerous NGOs, members or non-members of the Conference. Certain of them will develop tested instruments/tools as the case may be.
The Conference will thus be an arena of debates and decisions which will accordingly answer the perennial question of evaluation and visibility. The reason for meeting is known, as is the subject to be discussed, and one takes away a content for subsequent steps.
Another big advantage is that members will no longer meet in committee with the sole possibility of speaking on their own account (unable to question their networks while in committee), but will have debated the subject beforehand in their own INGO and will thus bring a distinctly more representative voice to the committee debate.
Accordingly, the number of sessions can be limited to two per year. This year 2011, the new arrangement should be introduced and tried out, which would entail setting-up in June and a full trial in October. An evaluation procedure will need to be planned as from the beginning of this trial period.
The number of committees will be limited to 3 thematic committees:
Committee on rights to combine the following themes:
Human rights; Social Charter; CoE Conventions, all subjects including combating varieties of exclusion, poverty and discrimination, particularly for vulnerable persons; etc.
Committee on living together to combine the following themes:
Democracy; “gender” (note that this dimension, though placed in the ambit of this committee, necessarily remains a political issue cutting across all the work that we do); all subjects embodying aspects of citizenship, participation and governance; sustainable environment and territory; combating discrimination and xenophobia; intercultural dialogue; Europe and worldwide concerns; etc.
Committee on education to combine the following themes:
Formal and non-formal education; culture; all subjects bearing on the prevention of all forms of violence; new technologies and their uses; etc.
These 3 committees will meet formally twice a year. Their proceedings will have generated the major theme(s) to be discussed during the Extended European Civil Debate (actually a 3rd annual gathering). They will be accessible only to INGOs enjoying participative status.
The thematic content borne by these three committees embodies the basic characteristics of community life in a democratic, participative society. We shall need to develop a strong, clear communication that advertises not only our work but also our role as the Conference of INGOs within the Council of Europe. To enhance its visibility, the Conference will publish by e mail a quarterly Newsletter intended for the INGOs belonging to the Conference.
A digital platform, managed by the CoE, which will provide additional input for the subjects, particularly those of immediate concern. All NGOs or INGOs contributing to the work of the Council of Europe, whether or not members of the Conference of INGOs, will be able to have access to it after registration and assignment of a code.
An operational cell will be assigned the necessary surveillance of current events. It will work with the designated representatives of the quadrilogue (member states, Parliamentary Assembly and Congress) and of the Council of Europe Secretariat. It may be composed of members of the Bureau of the Conference. It will be capacitated, not just empowered, to take decisions on behalf of the Conference.
An extended European civil debate convened annually to deal with major societal issues, whose outcomes will be such as to further the construction of a Europe founded on the fundamental values and principles of democracy, human rights observance and rule of law. This event will be open to all NGOs and INGOs and representatives of organised civil society.

Once again, I wish to point out that this is not a contractual document, a document “settled” in its drafting, but truly a supporting document to be amplified during the committees of the current session.

Strasbourg, 23 January 2011
Jean-Marie HEYDT