Non-Governmental Organisations



Strasbourg, 14 January 2009



The chair, Silvia Geise opened the session.
The report of the 26th of June 2008 and the agenda were approved


Ms Irene Donadio, candidate for the presidency, stressed in her speech that she would like to focus on two key issues that are at the core of democracy and human rights: the participation of the poors and the people at the margins in decision making and universal access to socio economic rights and a dignified life for all. Ms Donadio also illustrated how she saw the role and mission of the new Committee on poverty and social cohesion within the INGO family as well as in relation to the other pillars of the Council of Europe.

Ms Antonina Dashkina, candidate for the Vice-Presidency, underlined her longstanding expertise on poverty eradication strategies and social change as the president of the Russian federation of social workers. Furthermore she pointed out that she was particularly fit for the job because of her professional and personal background: as social worker, activist and as a person that suffered deprivation and poverty in the past she knows well the issues and challenges of social cohesion. Furthermore she has experience with the Council of Europe since she took part in meetings in Strasbourg where she brought representatives of the community of the poor in Russia.

Mr Christiaan Colpaert, candidate for the Vice Presidency, stressed his achievements in the field of dental health, education and human rights and his experience with developing countries. He affirmed his commitment to advance the access to good health for all. He mentioned his leading role in the working group on health prevention that led to a parliamentary report on the subject and stressed his long standing participation in the Conference of INGOs

The results of the election are: Ms Irene Donadio has been elected as President and Ms Antonina Dashkina as Vice-President.

Speech of the President

Ms Irene Donadio thanked the chairs and the members of the three grouping which have merged into the new Committee on Social Cohesion and Eradication of Poverty : namely the ‘Extreme Poverty and Social Cohesion’ Grouping, the ‘Health’ Grouping and on the ‘European Social Charter and European policies’ Grouping. She congratulated the Groupings for the great work done in the past and stressed that it will be taken into account and continued by the new Committee. She added that having such a diverse and stimulating constituency is exciting and challenging. Ms Donadio was pleased to have a vice president that represents a region in Europe which is particularly afflicted by the problem of poverty and social exclusion. She thanked Mr Colpaert for his interest in and commitment to the Committee and expressed her wishes for a good cooperation with the members of the working group on health prevention.

Then the President specified the meaning she gave to the definition of “Social Cohesion”: this implies promoting the rights of the poorest in the society and supporting the work of the Council of Europe High Level Task Force on Social Cohesion in the 21st century. The Council of Europe has had a very important role in advancing the fight for social cohesion and has produced a strategic framework following an assessment of the situation in Europe. The strategic framework indicates the needs and challenges for the future. The new Committee aims to complement and support the actions of the other pillars of the Council of Europe active in the field.

The Chair stressed that the members of the Committee should reflect and decide on the aspects and areas where the INGOs can bring the highest added value and contribute in a constructive way (link to the report of the Task Force). Civil Society has a peculiar role and responsibility with regard to establishing a fair and transparent decision making process at every level (local, national and European) that ensure that the voice of the primary stakeholders is taken into account. She stressed that our experience in the field and ability to represent the views and needs of the poors and excluded is our key strength.

Ms Donadio proposed four key areas for the work ahead:

    1. Participation in decision-making and a right-based approach
    2. Migration (including refugees asylum seekers and illegal migrants)
    3. Access to Health for all (including disability and MDGs)
    4. New and urgent developments (e.g. financial crises)

The chair stressed that there are many issues that are horizontal and therefore the Committee will be delighted to work with the transversal groups and other Committees on specific matters. A particular and close relationship will be created with the Human Rights Committee with regard to the cooperation on the implementation of the Social Charter and of socio –economic rights. In particular, given the specific importance of the Social Charter it was proposed to devote ten minutes at every meeting to discuss progress and problems in the implementation of the Social Charter.

She also illustrated how she envisaged the future working methods of the committee:

    · The working languages will be English and French.
    · Members of the Committee can use their favorite language but must provide short summary of their contribution that can be easily read, understood and translated.
    · Electronic communication should be increased.
    · Proposals for interventions and actions should be brief, strategic, documented and related to Council of Europe work and introduced by a ten-line executive summary
    · Cooperation with the other Committees on cross-cutting issues is welcomed
    · Cooperation with the other pillars of the Council of Europe active on social cohesion (Parliamentary Assembly, Committee of Ministers and Congress of Local and Regional Authorities) will be strengthened.

The Debate

A debate followed the presentation of the proposals of the chair. The main points raised are as follows :

    · Mr Guy Schlaeder, on behalf of the working group on health prevention, stressed the linkages between health inequalities and social cohesion. The World Health Organisation defines health as the physical, mental and social wellbeing. Health is one of the first human rights. The group on prevention requested that health be set as one of the priorities of the Committee in the forthcoming years.
    · The former chair of the grouping on Great Poverty, Maritchu Rall, pointed out the importance of preparing for 2010 as it will be ‘the European Union year to fight against Poverty” and of having some actions devoted to this.
    · The relations with the European Union and in particular the debate on social cohesion and the proposal for a new anti-discrimination directive that would complement the EU framework on anti-discrimination were also mentioned.
    · An important debate is taking place at UN level on Human Rights and poverty, how can we contribute and continue the work that was done by the grouping on poverty in the framework of the Council of Europe ?

Further issues that were mentioned are :

    · The Millennium Development Goals and the fight against poverty at global level
    · The tragic situation of street children and the Roma community
    · The difficulties of families in Europe, especially poor families and families in deprived areas

Useful references: Anje Wiersinga gave the references of the reports on Poverty which is:
AS/MIG/WP (2008)05 January 17th 2008
Report list 1995-2005 AS/MIG June 22nd 2008

Marie-José Schmitt in her capacity of expert on the Social Charter stressed that a particular emphasis must be put on :

    · The follow-up of the Social Charter (e.g. new ratifications)
    · The European Committee of Social Rights’ work needs to get more visibility.
    · Member States have to send every year a report on the implementation of the Social Charter and Civil Society has the opportunity and the responsibility to make a contribution that can complete the information provided by the States and alert about shortcomings and problems in the field.

Furthermore she stressed that there are two levels of action that the INGO can have:

    1. Follow up of the articles concerning health : since the reports on the advancement of Social Rights of each member State have to be returned and published by the end of October, NGOs can check which States haven’t answered yet and make sure of the truth of the reports especially as health and poverty are on the agenda.
    2. Collective claims : if a country violates the Charter it signed, NGOs can present a collective claim for the progress of the jurisprudence.

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
Director of the Private Office of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe
Director of External Relations
Director of the Strategic planning
Director of Communication
Director of the Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights