1. Opening of the meeting by the President, Annelise Oeschger
By way of introduction, the President said that the main item on the agenda was the reorganisation of the INGO Conference and that the memorandum she was submitting [OING Conf (2008) INF 1] was based on all the preparatory work that had been done, the first document dated 20 December 2007 and the meetings held during the January 2008 session. A consensus seemed to be emerging on the main substantive issues relating to structural reorganisation and on the fact that the decisions concerning thematic work should be taken at the June 2008 session at the latest.
In the case of the new rules of procedure, the proposal was to have a single text and the working group would look at the matter in greater depth at its meeting on 16 April on the basis of today’s discussions. The proposed new rules of procedure would be posted on the INGO Conference website on 25 April 2008 (ie 60 days before the meeting at which they were to be discussed, in accordance with the current rules of procedure) and the INGOs would have until 3 June to submit any proposed amendments. The chairs and vice-chairs of the new committees would be elected at the autumn session (1-3 October 2008) and it was necessary to prepare for the elections now; candidatures could be put forward through the INGO website and also at the meetings during the October 2008 session. The elections for the presidency and the Bureau of the INGO Conference would be held in January 2009.
2. Adoption of the agenda [OING Conf (2008) OJ2]
Annelise Oeschger proposed that an item concerning the draft motion on the food crisis and hunger in the world be added after item 9.
The agenda was adopted.
3. Approval of the report on the meeting held on 22 January 2008 [OING Conf (2008) CR1]
The report was approved, subject to an amendment requested by Christophe Spreng (Initiatives of Change International) who, in his comments following the presentation of the Liaison Committee’s 2007 activity report, had regretted the fact that the adoption of the White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue, which had initially been due in January 2008 (not May 2008 as indicated in the report), had been postponed.
4. Draft memorandum of partnership on relations between NGOs and local and regional authorities in Council of Europe member states
Jean-Marie Heydt (Vice-President of the INGO Conference) welcomed the successful outcome of the lengthy preparatory work by the INGO Conference and the Congress. He thanked Michel Senimon (EUROPA Association) and Malou Weirich (International Office of Allotments and Leisure Garden Societies) for their contribution to the preparation of the draft memorandum, voicing particular praise for the dual expertise of Michel Senimon, who was a member both of an NGO and a local authority.
He briefly presented the draft memorandum, which was the first text drafted in co-operation with the Congress. However, the document was not intended to govern the relations between the two pillars of the Council of Europe but those between local and regional authorities and NGOs in Council of Europe member states.
Annelise Oeschger also praised the approach advocated by Michel Senimon, who, from the outset, had recognised the great benefit of having a written text on relations between local and regional authorities and NGOs. She had been invited to address the plenary session of the Congress on 29 May 2008, which demonstrated that the draft memorandum had forged closer ties between the Congress and the INGO Conference.
Gaston de la Haye (Education International) referred to a provision in the memorandum that “local and regional authorities will freely determine the criteria for representativeness on the basis of which NGOs may be involved in the management of local affairs.” This was a weak point in the document. Moreover, in the third section of the document, which dealt with decentralised co-operation, there did not seem to be any real role for NGOs to play. Lastly, it was necessary to be able to review the memorandum.
Further to Jean-Marie Heydt’s reply that it was a more flexible and consensual version of the draft memorandum, which INGOs now had to put into practice at their level, Annelise Oeschger proposed that the INGO Conference adopt the draft, which would have to be reviewed in three years.
5. Co-operation between the INGO Conference and the EU Fundamental Rights Agency Platform
By way of introduction, Annelise Oeschger said that Marie-José Schmitt (Vice-Chair of the European Social Charter and Social Policies Grouping) had taken a particular interest in this matter in the INGO Conference.
Marie-José Schmitt presented the draft terms of reference submitted for adoption by the INGO Conference, which instructed the Bureau to take the necessary steps so as to ensure permanent representation of the INGO Conference in the EU Fundamental Rights Agency Platform [Contribution by Marie-José Schmitt]. The Fundamental Rights Agency was due to set up the platform shortly in order to expand its co-operation with civil society. It should comprise NGOs, trade unions, employers’ and professional organisations, churches, religious, philosophical and non-religious organisations, universities and experts from European and international bodies and organisations.
In the ensuing debate, several members praised the contribution by Marie-José Schmitt and the efforts made by the INGO Conference to establish co-operation with the new agency and also said that partnership with it was an excellent means of moving organised civil society closer to the European Union. It was important to develop a constructive approach here, in line with the memorandum of understanding between the Council of Europe and the European Union, and to enlist the efforts of the INGOs present in both Brussels and Strasbourg.
In conclusion, Annelise Oeschger read out the draft terms of reference, which the INGO Conference adopted unanimously.
6. Reorganisation of the structures and working methods of the Conference of INGOs
Building on her opening remarks, Annelise Oeschger said that the Liaison Committee had held an exchange of views on the matter at its meeting on 14 April, in the course of which she had noted consensus on the first section of the document [OING Conf (2008) INF 1], which dealt with the reform of the governing bodies and would see the establishment within the INGO Conference of a Standing Committee, a Bureau and a number of thematic committees and cross-sectoral or transversal groups. She then opened the discussion.
Marie Liling (International Council of Jewish Women) believed that the membership of the Bureau and the Standing Committee would be too limited and that it would be the individuals who would matter, which raised an issue of democracy. She wondered what could be done to avoid concentrating power in the hands of too small a number of people.
Annelise Oeschger replied that, under the current arrangements, a large number of powers were concentrated in the presidency of the INGO Conference and the aim of the proposed reorganisation was to assign clear powers to each individual body. Irene Donadio (Vice-Chair of the Health Grouping) added that the Bureau was precisely a Bureau elected by the INGO Conference as a whole and was therefore more democratic than the existing Bureau.
Giovanni Rigone (Lions Clubs International, European Districts) raised the question of whether INGOs’ activities should be evaluated.
Gaston de la Haye said that the frequency of Bureau meetings was not indicated, nor were the respective roles of the Standing Committee and the Bureau regarding international relations, where there was a risk of duplication of responsibility. In addition, any draft declarations would have to be “endorsed” by the Plenary Conference.
In reply to a question by Elisabeth Scurfield (Quaker Council) regarding the role of the co-ordinators within the Bureau, the President explained that the intention was to make the most of the expertise available in the INGO Conference and therefore assign two members of the Bureau the task of ensuring that each INGO and its representatives were able to play an effective part in the activities. Annelise Oeschger then asked Claude-Laurent Genty (Liaison Committee Honorary Founding Chair) to comment on the latest discussions concerning reform of the governing bodies.
Claude-Laurent Genty briefly went over the thinking behind the proposed reform. The Bureau would be an implementing body and the Standing Committee would comprise the chairs and vice-chairs of the committees, which should give it greater political weight. In his view, the concept of the evaluation or assessment of INGOs’ activities should not be included in the new rules of procedure. Elections were the real assessments. He took due note of the need to clarify the respective responsibilities of the Bureau and the Standing Committee regarding international relations.
With regard to the second section of the document [OING Conf (2008) INF 1], which dealt with reform of the thematic work, the President stressed that the working themes of the committees (“human rights”, “social cohesion”, “sustainable development”, “education and culture”, “civil society and democracy” and “gender equality”) mentioned in the document were only guides and that it would be up to the committees to define their themes more clearly, with the Standing Committee being responsible for overall balance.
Jean-Claude Gonon (Bureau member) believed that the reorganisation of the INGO Conference should be just as ambitious for the thematic work as it already was for the governing bodies. In his view, there seemed to be some difficulties in terms of agreeing the committees’ thematic fields. He proposed that there should be three committees corresponding to three global approaches: a human rights committee (covering civil, political and social rights), a sustainable development committee (covering the environmental, economic, social and cultural dimensions of sustainable development) and a committee on Europe and globalisation. There should also be two further committees: a committee on gender equality and parity and a committee on extreme poverty. Lastly, the Standing Committee should set up two cross-sectoral or transversal groups on NGOs’ role in the development of democracy and on NGOs’ role in education.
Jean-Claude Gonon’s approach was supported by Jenny Schuler (Federation of Catholic Family Associations in Europe) and Edith Wenger (European Environmental Bureau).
Alain Mouchoux (Chair of the Education and Culture Grouping), supported by Edouard Jagodnik (European Federation of Schools) and Gérard Greneron (Vice-President of the INGO Conference), said that reducing the number of committees too far could also reduce INGOs’ interest in taking part in the various activities, as well as the representativeness of the INGO Conference. Gabriel Nissim (Chair of the Human Rights Grouping) added that the various committees would have to work with their counterparts in the other Council of Europe organs and that the civil society and democracy dimension should form a committee in its own right.
In conclusion, Annelise Oeschger said that the INGO Conference would be required to take a decision on the reorganisation of its thematic work during the June 2008 session.
7. Update on INGO-Service
Michel Muller (Vice-Chair and acting Chair of INGO-Service) presented the conclusions of the INGO-Service board meeting held the previous day. In February 2008, an anonymous survey had been sent out to all members. To date, he had received only 63 replies, some of which were particularly interesting, and he would have the opportunity to present them at a later date. Nevertheless, he welcomed the increase in the average level of contributions in 2008 (from €125 to €130) and thanked those who had paid up. While he wished to achieve the figure of 85% of the INGOs contributing to INGO-Service, he had also established contacts with the private sector with a view to increasing the level of resources.
8. 2008 Council of Europe Exchange on the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue (Strasbourg, 8 April 2008): information on the contribution of the INGO Conference and the events organised by INGOs holding participatory status
Annelise Oeschger briefly went over the background to the event initiated by the Committee of Ministers, referring to the INGO Conference’s very close involvement in it. She believed that it would be important to set up a cross-sectoral group on intercultural dialogue. She gave the floor to the participating INGOs and the INGOs which had held events on the subject.
Gaston de la Haye said that the first Council of Europe Exchange, which had focused on teaching religious and convictional facts, had been marked by tolerance and openness. The participants had recognised that the theme of interfaith dialogue was fully in line with the Council of Europe’s principles and consensus had emerged around the idea that the teaching of religious and convictional facts should be done by education professionals. The following had been identified as the areas on which the Council of Europe could focus in future: teacher training, the provision of appropriate teaching material and the ethics of the teaching of religious facts.
Victor Kamyshanov (International Federation for Peace and Conciliation) described the recent activities promoted by his organisation, in particular a conference on the role of religions in contemporary society held in St Petersburg on 8 April 2008.
In conclusion, Annelise Oeschger reminded members that she intended holding a study day on intercultural dialogue and the rule of law on 26 June during the INGOs’ summer session.
9. Joint commemoration of the “Righteous” of Europe
At the invitation of the President, Francis Rosenstiel (European Democracy Forum) presented the project, which he said would do justice to the founding values of the Council of Europe and would involve a ceremony at Council headquarters in Strasbourg to pay a collective and solemn tribute to the “Righteous” of Europe, both in memory of what they had done and also looking to the future. In his view, the spirit of resistance, one of the pillars in the construction of a unified Europe, was a constant value and therefore also had to prevail in peacetime. He asked the INGO Conference to support the initiative, which had already received support from Parliamentary Assembly members and various leading figures and could, for instance, be carried out as part of the celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the Council of Europe.
Victor Linnik (Russian Peace Foundation) said that it was also important to pay tribute to all the nations which had played a positive role in this area.
Annelise Oeschger proposed that the INGO Conference support the project, which was approved with two abstentions.
Francis Rosenstiel announced that a task force would be set up with representatives of the Parliamentary Assembly, the Congress and the member states and that he would seek the participation of volunteers from the INGO Conference.
Maritchu Rall (Chair of the Extreme Poverty and Social Cohesion Grouping) presented the motion, which the INGO Conference adopted unanimously.
11. INGO Conference activities in the member states
Annelise Oeschger drew attention to the seminar to be held shortly in Bratislava (25-26 April 2008) with and for Slovakian NGOs as part of the Slovakian Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers and the preparation, as part of the Swedish chairmanship, of a round table on civic participation in connection with the scheduled preparation of a draft code of good practice on the subject, pursuant to the conclusions of the Forum for the Future of Democracy, Stockholm/Sigtuna (June 2007), in particular, point 35.
12. Other business
Salomon Levy (B’Nai B’Rith International) referred to the World Conference against Racism due to be held in Durban (South Africa) in 2009. He said that the first Durban conference (World Conference against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance) in September 2001 had been anti-Semitic and racist in tone and therefore called on the INGO Conference and Council of Europe leaders to do everything they could to prevent a repeat of the 2001 conference. He read out a corresponding draft motion and Annelise Oeschger proposed that the INGO Conference submit it to the Human Rights Grouping for consideration of the action to be taken.
13. Date of the next meeting
The next meeting of the INGO Conference would take place on Wednesday 25 June 2008 (9.30 am to 1 pm).