Vice President of FECRIS, delegate to the INGO Conference of the Council of Europe
The Council of Europe “how it works”
Some historical reminders – key dates
Founded by the Treaty of London, the 5th of May 1949, the Council of Europe has been first signed by 10 European states: Belgium, Denmark, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxemburg, Norway, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Sweden.
November 1950, signature of the Treaty of Rome, establishing the Convention for the protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of the Council of Europe, first international legal instrument safeguarding the protection of Human Rights.
1953, the ECHR, European Convention of Human Rights becomes effective.
In September 1959 the European Court of Human Rights is created by the Council of Europe in Strasbourg to ensure the observance of the Convention of HR signed by the contracting states.
In October 1961 the European Social Charter is signed in Turin, as economical and social counterpart of European Convention of the Human Rights.
N.B: today, not all European countries have signed the Social Charter, few have ratified it.
The major vocation of the Council of Europe is to ensure the respect of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms as well as that of the European Social Charter establishing fundamental social rights including housing for the European citizen.
The respect of the Convention of Human Rights, the respect of the Social Charter are the main instruments for the respect of European democracy, and your part, as ONG member of an INGO with participative status is to watch if your country has signed the Social Charter, ratified it, and respects its rules.
I now want to quote Terry Davis, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, in the foreword of the booklet:
“The Council of Europe, 800 million Europeans”
“The Council of Europe’s primary goal is to achieve a greater unity between its 46 member States in safeguarding individual freedom, political liberty and the rule of law, principles which form the basis of all genuine democracy.”
…. « All member States are under obligation to base Government action on these principles…To-day the Council of Europe embodies the shared commitment of some 800 million Europeans to human rights, democracy and the rule of law.”
These major issues are of particular interest for us representatives of civil society.
The main achievement of the CoE has been consisting and still consists in elaborating international treaties in the Human Rights field, setting out a list of obligations for the contracting states. It is a normative body harmonizing judicial systems of the different states…
With the fall of Berlin wall in 1989, the CoE becomes the official framework to help Eastern and central European Countries implement the necessary basis for the establishment of democratic principles. Programmes of cooperation with the states candidates to membership are launched to help them adapt their ancient judicial system to democratic European standards.
Helping ex-communist countries to implement democracy is still one of the most important dedications of The High Commissioner of Human Rights Mr. Hammarberg as well as of the INGO’s President Mrs. Annelise Oeschger.
In this respect summit meetings are periodically organized with heads of States or Government since October 1993 when the 1st meeting took place in Vienna, Austria.
The 2nd summit met only 4 years later in Strasbourg, 1997 with 40 member States.
The 3rd summit was held in May 2005 in Warsaw, Poland. It was particularly interesting because it opened a new era for the representatives of civil society: for the first time members of the Conference of the INGO were not only physically present, but our President Annelise Oeschger spoke in front of State authorities marking a new challenge for the new century.
How does the CoE work and what are the possible actions and interactions for the member States?
The CoE consists in 4 bodies, called the four pillars:
The Committee of Ministers. It is the voice of the governments, the decision maker, acting and dialoguing at all political levels except defence.
The Parliamentary Assembly. It is one of the main Coe’s two statutory bodies and represents the major political tendencies of the member States. It is the Europe’s democratic conscience, has delegations from the 46 national parliaments, and is composed of 315 members and 315 substitutes.
The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the CoE.
It is the voice of Europe’s regions and municipalities, discussing common problems, pooling their experience and expresses their views to governments.
The Conference of INGO of the Council of Europe is made up of 400 International Non-governmental Organizations, INGO, with participatory status. Through this status the CoE includes INGO in intergovernmental activities and encourages the dialogue with the other pillars.
That is where FECRIS which I represent is situated.
The President of INGO of the Council of Europe, Mrs. Annelise Oeschger travels all through Europe to represent and support the INGO, discuss with the local authorities and local NGO the issues she has been made aware of.
As your representative delegate, I am in Strasbourg at least four times a year to attend the regular CoE sessions. I represent FECRIS in several “Regroupings”: Human Rights, Education and Culture, Health, European Social Charter and Social Cohesion.
We are debating of crux problems of our society such as the Rights of Migrants, the cancer problem in Romania etc.
Intercultural and inter-religious dialogue is one of the topics on the agenda. A “White book” will be issued to illustrate “European year of Intercultural dialogue” in 2008. FECRIS is one of the 53 INGO having already answered the questionnaire.
In 2006 a summit was organized in Moscow and Mrs. Oeschger met with our FECRIS representative professor Alexander Dvorkin, the next “Forum for Democracy” will take place in Sigtuna, Sweden. Anne Edelstam will represent FECRIS, if elected.
I highly recommend visiting regularly the CoE’s website which is available in French and English: www.coe.int .
How to act in your own country?
Prepare reports on the malfunctioning or non respect of democratic principles in your State regarding Human Rights or the Social Charter.
Contact the appropriate person at political level: Ministers, Parliamentarians and Regional Deputies to make them aware of your problem. They will contact the Parliamentarians representative of your country in the sessions of the CoE.
Contact FECRIS who may have the opportunity to discuss your situation in Strasbourg, and possibly could propose a Resolution as was recently been the case for Romania.
I should also mention that the High Commissioner for Human Rights is regularly visiting the member States to evaluate the state of respect of Democracy and Human Rights in the different European member States. On these occasions he visits the local INGO, the best way to have an idea of the situation he says.
As a conclusion, I would like to mention that on 28th of June, Mrs. Oeschger, President of the INGO Conference of the Council of Europe has organized a study day on the theme “Sectarian deviances, a challenge to Democracy and Human Rights”. FECRIS personalities of will be among the main speakers, for my part I will be the adviser. M. Dick Marty, deputy in the European Parliament will honour us with his presence. We also try to have the presence of some judges of the European Court.