Back 32nd meeting of the Executive Committee of the North-South Centre

As delivered by Bjørn Berge, Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe


Dear Chair of the Executive Committee of the North-South Centre, dear Francesca,

Dear members,

Dear Director of the Centre, dear Pilar,

Dear colleagues,


It is a pleasure to speak at your Committee –

Twelve months on from the Reykjavík Summit of Heads of State and Government –

Where European leaders made clear that the Council of Europe’s role should be strengthened within our continent’s multilateral architecture, and its global outreach –

I quote:

“By enhancing its external dimension, through its liaison offices, and through a new engagement –

Based on its core values –

With democracies in the world and its Southern neighbourhood” – end quote.

This ambition was also very much reflected in the conclusions of last week’s Ministerial Session in Strasbourg –

At the same time, the key aims of your new medium-term strategy could be useful and central to achieving it.

By widening the North-South Centre’s circle of members, including Council of Europe member states, but also other countries outside Europe.

By refocusing its strategic priorities in alignment with the Council of Europe’s priorities –

And last but not least, by positioning the North South Centre as a vector of our Organisation’s values and standards –

Particularly in the South Neighbourhood –

Where five countries have so far acceded to 22 Council of Europe conventions –

Across a range of areas –

As the building of a common legal space takes greater shape –

And to which we hope that sub-Saharan Africa will also contribute progressively over time.

Dear friends,

All of this is important –

And it contributes to our collective determination to bolster our Neighbourhood Policy, and here I believe the work of the North-South Centre can be important.

Given the current geopolitical situation –

Including the Russian Federation’s appalling war of aggression against Ukraine –

And current events in the Middle East –

It is more important than ever that there should be an active and comprehensive political dialogue between the two shores of the Mediterranean – between South and North.

This is vital for shaping a common understanding –

On which co-operation can be built –

So that we can all move forward together.

I believe that the North-South Centre has positioned itself to play a very crucial role in this.

Yesterday, for example, it held its first “North-South Dialogues” roundtable event –

Bringing together a range of countries to discuss the “prospects and interregional co-operation for the abolition of the death penalty”.

Of course, co-operation also continues based on the established “ad hoc” principle –

Where countries that share our values and want to benefit from our expertise have the practical opportunities to do so.

New projects at the bilateral level include the finalisation of a co-operation programme in Morocco to support justice reform –

And a new anti-corruption project in Tunisia –

And at the regional level, I welcome last month’s launch of Cybersouth+ and the ongoing negotiations for a new phase of the EU – Council of Europe South Programme –

With eight partners from the Southern Mediterranean region.

The North-South Centre’s strategy also includes a range of measures that complement the Council of Europe’s Neighbourhood Policy to deliver on key areas, and often involving civil society and youth participants.

Take for example the workshop “Acting Together: journalists for human rights and the rule of law” –

With participants from across the region looking at what freedom of expression means and how to uphold it.

There was also the launch in Tunis of the “Rule of Law Youth Network” in March –

Which is addressing the relationship between corruption and the environment –

And which draws together young people from
20 youth organisations in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa to raise awareness of Council of Europe standards.

And in October, there will be an expert conference in Montenegro on “Digital Resilience” –

Looking at youth strategies to combat racist and xenophobic crime on-line –

With a particular focus on the value of the First Protocol to our Budapest Convention on Cybercrime.

Other activities have similarly brought authorities and organisations together to look at specific challenges through a human rights lens and exchange ideas, share good practice, and put practical tools to use –

On access to information, preventing human trafficking and much more.

It is most helpful that countries outside the Council of Europe benefit from these kinds of standards and co-operation. Let me stress that they can also make use of other important tools, such as the Quick Response Mechanism introduced by the EU/CoE South Programme V.

The QRM is a tool designed to provide national authorities, upon their request, with the expertise that can help bring their legal and institutional structures into line with the highest international standards. Such requests can be directed to the Venice Commission or any other relevant Council of Europe expert advisory body.

I know that Lebanon made good use of this very recently –

Receiving an opinion on the country’s draft law on its administrative judiciary.

It is very encouraging to note our partners’ growing interest in this and other resources and I very much hope that this very positive trend will continue.

Dear friends,

Taken together, what we see is that the North-South Centre’s new strategy is already delivering on its stated aims –

To the benefit of many countries. And I am confident in the potential of this new Strategy and that there will be more and more of them taking advantage of this opportunity, in the years to come.

Lastly, on this point, it is good news that Lebanon became an Associate Member of the North-South Centre just a few weeks ago, in April of this year –

A clear example of the growing interest in our work.

I hope that other countries will make use of this new possibility in the years ahead –

And that we can build on the current membership of four African countries and co-operate with others from the great African continent.

I understand that the parameters of exactly that co-operation are a subject for discussion on your agenda at this Executive Committee meeting –

And I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this and many other matters –

And to experience the important progress that the North‑South Centre will make in the months and years ahead.

The opportunities are real – and our success will, no doubt, be very important for many.

Thank you for your attention.

Lisbon 21 May 2024
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