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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Parliament cannot keep PACE with the Council of Europe

Parliament cannot keep PACE with the Council of Europe

Ministers’ Deputies

CM Documents

CM/AS(2011)6 28 June 2011

Communication on the activities of the Committee of Ministers

Address by Mr Kostyantyn Gryshchenko, Chairman of the Committee of Ministers, to the Parliamentary Assembly (Strasbourg, 20 June 2011)

Mr President, members of the Parliamentary Assembly, ladies and gentlemen, at the outset, allow me to say what a great honour it is for me to address your Assembly today to report on the activities of the Committee of Ministers. This is not the first time that I have addressed the Assembly, but it is the first time I have done so in the capacity of Chairman of the Committee of Ministers.

At the end of last month, I had the pleasure of welcoming some of you in Kyiv and of presenting the priorities of our chairmanship to the meeting of your Standing Committee. Today, I am addressing the plenary session of the Parliamentary Assembly. This is a very important moment for my country, which is chairing the Committee of Ministers for the first time in its history.

I should like to begin by stating the importance that the Committee of Ministers, and our chairmanship in particular, attaches to the development of constructive co-operation with your Assembly. The reason for this is simple since the deliverable target on which we are working is the same: tolerant, open and mutually supportive societies based on respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law, thriving all over Europe.

Indeed, mutual support is vital to make our activities successful. It is hence my hope that interaction between the intergovernmental and parliamentary branches of the Council of Europe will be continued in the spirit of our chairmanship’s slogan: “Common values – joint efforts”. In that context, I appreciate the fact that you yourself, Mr President, recently mentioned, as you have just done in your statement, that the three main priorities of the Ukrainian chairmanship coincided exactly with those of your Assembly. I wish to explain today how we intend to fulfil them.

First, however, I should emphasise that a chairmanship does not start from scratch. It builds on the achievements of its predecessors as well as needing to ensure coherence and continuity in the activities of chairmanships. My country thus intends to continue the work done by the previous chairmanships, particularly the Turkish one, with which our co-operation was excellent. Ukraine also looks forward to working with the forthcoming United Kingdom and Albanian chairmanships on our shared priorities. Allow me to underscore that, for the first time ever, we have managed to reach agreement on the priorities among the three successive chairs. This allows us to suggest that the activities of this chairmanship will go on beyond its
six-month tenure.

As far as reform of the Council of Europe is concerned, the Ukrainian chairmanship will continue to offer its support to the Secretary General’s efforts. The Ministers’ Deputies have already approved a new structure for the intergovernmental committees as well as crucial changes to the structure of the Secretariat. Both transformations were introduced with the aim of streamlining the work of our Organisation and making it more efficient.

Let me turn more specifically to the priorities of the Ukrainian chairmanship. The protection of children’s rights tops our list and we have already started working in this field. On 24 and 25 May, Ukraine organised an international conference in Kyiv. More than 150 high-level experts participated in the event, which provided the member states with an opportunity to collect and exchange good practices in the implementation of integrated national strategies to safeguard children’s rights and eliminate violence against children. It also produced a number of highly practical recommendations addressed to local, national and international players. During our chairmanship, we will also organise some other events focusing particularly on health care for children. We will play an active part in starting a consultation process to prepare a new Council of Europe strategy on the rights of the child for 2012 to 2015.

As you may know, our second priority area is the promotion of human rights and the rule of law in the context of democracy and stability in Europe. In a declaration issued by me and Mr Davutoğlu, the outgoing Chairman of the Committee of Ministers, at the end of the ministerial session held in Istanbul on 11 May this year, we pointed out that there could be no lasting peace and stability in our countries without respect for the values that are the foundation of the Council of Europe. In order to help achieve this vital objective, my country intends to emphasise the prevention of human rights violations and the role of higher courts in the protection of human rights.

The strengthening of democratic processes at local and regional levels in Europe is the third and the last of the Ukrainian chairmanship’s main priorities. Here, preparations are well under way for a key event – the 17th session of the Council of Europe Conference of Ministers responsible for Local and Regional Government, to be held in Kyiv this November.

The recent ministerial session in Istanbul was a landmark event for our Organisation. The agenda for the session included a number of subjects that I know are of particular interest to the Assembly. The first was the future of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Undoubtedly, the Strasbourg Court is a vital part of the human rights protection system in Europe. Its reform is a difficult endeavour but we all need to contribute to it.

In Istanbul, the Committee of Ministers welcomed the first measures taken by the Court to change its procedures in the light of the new provisions of the Convention as amended by Protocol No. 14. However, the Committee of Ministers also noted that that would not solve all the problems facing the Convention system.

The Committee of Ministers endorsed the declaration and follow-up plan adopted at the high-level conference on the future of the Court, which took place in Izmir at the end of April. It expressed its determination to give priority to implementing these documents and instructed its Deputies to make the necessary decisions to this end. The subject will continue to be given priority on the political schedule of the Committee of Ministers until its next session in May 2012. At that session, it will consider whether additional measures are required, inter alia, through possible amendments to the Convention in order to guarantee the long-term effectiveness of the supervisory mechanism of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Another important issue for all of us is accession by the European Union to the European Convention on Human Rights. The Ministers’ Deputies extended to 31 December 2011 the ad hoc terms of reference given to the Steering Committee for Human Rights with a view to preparation of a legal instrument setting out the arrangements for European Union accession to the Convention. At the same time, they pointed to the importance of finishing this work as soon as possible. The Ukrainian chairmanship will follow this question attentively, and is ready to provide assistance as this major effort is brought to fruition.

The European Union and the Council of Europe have always maintained a long-standing and strategic partnership in promoting shared values of democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. I therefore look forward to having a productive discussion with the European Commission’s Vice-President, Baroness Ashton, in the first days of July on these issues.

The report by the Group of Eminent Persons entitled “‘Living Together’: Combining diversity and freedom in 21st-century”, was another highlight of our recent ministerial session. That report, which advocates the values of respect and mutual understanding as responses to the growing intolerance in our societies, was the subject of rich and lively debate at an informal dinner on the evening before the session. I am sure that your debate on this issue will be very informative for, as elected representatives in your constituencies, you deal daily with the complex and sensitive issues raised in the report. Your conclusions will fuel the debate at the level of Ministers’ Deputies, who are to hold an initial discussion next week on the action to be taken to follow up on the report.

The third major issue on the agenda for the ministerial session was the Council of Europe’s neighbourhood policy. That, of course, was a topical and particularly important matter in light of the upheavals caused since the beginning of the year by the new democratic movements in north Africa and the Middle East. In that context, the Committee of Ministers took note of the Secretary General’s proposals to strengthen relations with the immediate European neighbourhood on the basis of the values of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. The Secretary General was invited to develop action plans for the implementation of that policy with a view to their approval by the Committee of Ministers. Clearly, that is an area in which close links should be maintained with your Assembly, particularly bearing in mind the discussions that you will have on this issue in the next few days, including on the request for “partner of democracy” status submitted by the Parliament of Morocco.

Other major political issues will also be given full attention by the Committee of Ministers over the months ahead. The first that I should like to mention concerns Belarus, a subject on which the Parliamentary Assembly and the Committee of Ministers think alike. Both agree that support should continue to be given to a rapprochement between the Council of Europe and Belarus, but – it is a big “but” – that engagement can evolve only on the basis of respect for European values and principles. The first criterion to be met by Belarus is the release of persons detained following the December 2010 events.

Like the Parliamentary Assembly, the Committee of Ministers has been endeavouring since last spring to give greater support to civil society in Belarus. It is important for us to continue working together so as to enable the people of Belarus to benefit from closer relations with the Council of Europe. Ukraine stands ready to offer its good services and facilitate contacts with the authorities in Belarus. In our national capacity, we put an emphasis on quiet diplomacy, sparing no effort to convince the leadership of that country to get back on the democratic track.

As regards the Transnistrian issue, the Council of Europe is implementing a number of projects to increase the confidence between the communities living on the two banks of the Dniester River through activities in the areas of the media, higher education and the development of civil society. In February 2011, the Committee of Ministers approved proposals for new activities, which include, in addition to the three areas already mentioned, activities to be conducted with human rights protection institutions.

Ukraine, as a mediator and guarantor in the Transnistrian conflict settlement within the framework of the existing “5 + 2” format, will actively promote implementation of the Council of Europe programmes on Moldova concerning confidence-building measures between Chişinău and Tiraspol.

The lack of real progress in forming a central state for Bosnia and Herzegovina unfortunately reminds us that more efforts are needed to ensure that the country sets up effective and credible democratic institutions, and continues to implement urgent reforms. Last month, the political situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina was the subject of a highly instructive exchange of views between the Rapporteur Group on Democracy, the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, the European Union’s special representative, and the head of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In the context of supervision of the execution of the judgment delivered by the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Sejdić and Finci, the Committee of Ministers yet again had to express regret that no political consensus had been found on the substance of the constitutional and legislative amendments necessary for the execution of the judgment, despite repeated calls for that to be done having been made by the committee for more than a year.

Those are just the main areas of work currently on the agenda of the Committee of Ministers, in respect of which the Ukrainian chairmanship, with the support of all the member states, intends to achieve tangible results. To that end, we strive to maintain a constructive dialogue with your Assembly over the period that lies ahead. Thank you for your attention. I am at your disposal if you have any questions.

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