Raad van Europa bespreekt nauwere politieke dialoog met EU (en)
Under the chairmanship of the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Portugal, Mr Diogo Freitas do Amaral, the 115th Committee of Ministers session, six months on from Warsaw, had follow-up to the Third Council of Europe Summit as its central theme.
In considering the question on the basis of a report prepared by their Deputies, the Ministers concentrated on the following four political priorities:
-consolidating the Council of Europe human-rights protection system
-reinforcing Council of Europe action on behalf of democracy
-building a more humane Europe
-intensifying co-operation between the Council of Europe, the European Union and the OSCE.
They also discussed prospects for implementing Chapter V of the Action Plan, on the process of Council of Europe structural reform, concerning which a detailed report will be submitted to them at their next session, in May 2006.
The Ministers' decisions and conclusions on these matters are reproduced in the session Communiqué.
The question of relations between the Council of Europe and the European Union was prominent in the discussions. The exchange of views with the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Mr Jean Claude Juncker, at the informal ministerial meeting that same evening, advanced the process launched at the Warsaw summit of achieving closer co-operation and more intensive political dialogue between the Council of Europe and the European Union. The Ministers noted that the opening of the negotiations for the future memorandum of understanding between the two organisations might take place before the end of the year, on the basis of the guidelines agreed in Warsaw. They noted that the European Union would shortly be submitted proposals in this connection.
Just before the Session, in the afternoon of 16 November, a ceremony was held to launch the joint Council of Europe and European Union campaign commemorating the 50th anniversary of the European flag. It was attended, on the European Union side, by the President of the European Commission, Mr Barroso, and the President of the European Parliament, Mr Borell, and on the Council of Europe side by the Secretary General, Mr Davis, the President of the Parliamentary Assembly, Mr van der Linden, and the Chairman of the Ministers' Deputies, Ambassador Duarte. The aim of this campaign is to draw public attention to the progress made in building a united, peaceful and prosperous Europe, symbolised by the flag which was designed in 1955 by the Council of Europe (and adopted in 1986 by the European Union).
Another question of major importance was the future of the system of human-rights protection in Europe as guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights. In addition to the work by the Group of Wise Persons responsible for considering the long-term future of the Convention, a crucial issue in this connection is speedy, effective implementation of the reforms approved in May 2004, in particular bringing Protocol No.14 to the Convention into force in the next six months. On the occasion of the 115th Session, 3 additional member states ratified the Protocol, bringing the total number of ratifications to 20. 25 member states have signed the Protocol but not yet ratified it. A report on implementation of all the decisions taken at the 114th session, including measures to be taken at national level, will be drawn up for the 116th Committee of Ministers session (May 2006).
In this context the Ministers stressed the individual and collective responsibility of the Council of Europe member states for guaranteeing full execution of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, which is an indispensable prerequisite for the credibility of the system of Convention supervision. They referred in particular to the two interim resolutions which the Committee of Ministers had adopted, on 22 April and 13 July 2005, concerning the case "Ilaşcu and Others v. Moldova and the Russian Federation".
The Ministers likewise reviewed signatures and ratifications to date of the three conventions opened for signature at Warsaw:
-the Convention for the Prevention of Terrorism
-the revised Convention on Laundering, Search, Seizure and Confiscation of the Proceeds from Crime and on the Financing of Terrorism
-the Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings.
6, 3 and 7 new signatures were registered respectively. This brings the number of signatures to 26 in the case of the Convention for the Prevention of Terrorism, 16 in the case of the revised Convention on Laundering, Search, Seizure and Confiscation of the Proceeds of Crime and on the Financing of Terrorism, and 23 in the case of the Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings.
The Ministers reasserted these conventions' importance in international action to combat terrorism and trafficking in human beings. They pointed out that such action was more relevant than ever in view of the attacks which had again struck a number of Council of Europe member countries, in particular the bombings in London in July and the attacks at Naltchik in October. They consequently encouraged member states which had not yet signed or ratified the conventions to do so as soon as possible.
Another legal instrument highlighted during the Session was the Council of Europe Framework Convention on the Value of Cultural Heritage for Society, opened for signature at the Conference of European Ministers of Culture at Faro on 27-28 October. In this connection the Ministers stressed the importance which they attached to speedily and effectively implementing the Council of Europe strategy on development of intercultural dialogue, as adopted at Faro, in the interests both of increased cohesiveness in European societies and of greater mutual understanding, dialogue and co-operation between Europe and the rest of the world. They noted with satisfaction that specific instruments had been set up for this purpose, in particular the multi-institutional platform between the Council of Europe and UNESCO, which is open to other international and regional partners.
Another question in which great interest was taken was the situation regarding democracy in Europe, and the Council of Europe contribution to action in that connection at international, national and local level. The Ministers were informed by their Polish colleague of the conclusions of the meeting to launch the Forum on the Future of Democracy, at Warsaw on 3 and 4 November. They noted with interest that a consolidated document on civic participation in Europe was to be produced with a view to putting forward proposals for reinforcing such participation by means of various joint action by the four types of democratic actor - governments, parliaments, local and regional authorities and civil society.
In this context, the Ministers also paid special attention to the situation in the Caucasus further to the general election in Azerbaijan on 6 November and with an eye to the referendum in Armenia and the parliamentary elections in the Chechen Republic of the Russian Federation, scheduled for late November. They joined the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers' appeal, made in his declaration on 10 October 2005, calling upon the Armenians to participate in the referendum on the draft Constitution which should allow the latter to be brought into conformity with European norms. Furthermore, they noted with concern that according to the preliminary conclusions of the international observation mission, the 6 November parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan did not meet a number of OSCE commitments and Council of Europe standards for democratic elections, despite some improvements. The Ministers recalled that the holding of regular and fully democratic elections is a basic condition of Council of Europe membership for each member state. They noted that the Azerbaijani authorities declared that they would take all necessary measures to remedy the violations which have occurred during the elections. This will be closely followed by the Committee of Ministers.
Several Ministers expressed their deep concern regarding the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Belarus. The Chair is convinced that Belarus has a rightful place in the construction of Europe and therefore calls on the authorities of Belarus to take all measures to comply with international human rights instruments and to secure the full enjoyment of rights and freedoms. It expects that the Presidential elections, due to take place in Belarus in 2006, will be free and democratic and that the Council of Europe will continue to assist civil society and the independent media in that country.
Several Ministers also invited the Council of Europe, in cooperation with the European Union, to implement the provisions of the Summit Action Plan which aim to promote the exchange of good practices as far as free movement of persons is concerned, with a view to further improving contacts and exchanges between Europeans throughout the continent.
The Chair noted the decision of the Libyan Supreme Court on 15 November to delay its ruling on the death sentences on the Bulgarian and Palestinian medical staff in Libya. It remains concerned about the plight of the medical staff, and expresses sympathy for the Libyan families involved in this humanitarian tragedy. The Chair urges efforts to continue to find a solution which is satisfactory to all parties.
During their discussions the Ministers noted with interest the position and intentions of the Committee of Ministers' institutional partners within the Council of Europe, particularly the Parliamentary Assembly and the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, concerning follow-up to the summit. On the last occasion on which he will attend a ministerial session, they paid tribute to the work done by the Council of Europe's first Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr Alvaro Gil-Robles, who in the previous six years had been won wide recognition of the post's importance. They gave their full support to the new elected Commissioner, Mr Thomas Hammarberg, who would be taking up the post in 2006.
Lastly, the Ministers welcomed the emphasis which the Portuguese chairmanship had placed in the last six months on legal co-operation, social cohesion and cultural dimension. In particular, in addition to the Faro conference, they noted with satisfaction the results of the seminar on protecting the rights of the child, the workshop on balanced participation of women and men in political and economic decision-making, and the conference on the 20th anniversary of the European Charter of Local Self-Government (Lisbon, 1 and 2 June, 16 and 17 June and 8 July respectively), together with the conclusions of the conference at Cascais on 30 September on combating economic crime, which was part of the Council of Europe-European Commission joint programme on combating corruption and organised crime in transition countries (Octopus).
At the close of the session the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Romania, Mr Mihai Răzvan Ungureanu, presented to his colleagues the priorities of the new Romanian chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers for the six months to come. Mr Freitas do Amaral officially handed over to Mr Ungureanu immediately afterwards.
The 116th Committee of Ministers session will be held in Strasbourg on 18 and 19 May 2006.
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