Monday 27 April 2009

Parliamentary Assembly debates next Secretary General of the Council of Europe and celebrates the CoE's 60th anniversary

Update (29. April 2009)

Parliamentary Assembly rejects shortlisting of only two candidates for the post of Secretary General by the governmental side.

No, the Council of Europe is not the Council of the European Union, the Council of Europe is an independent international organisation with 47 member states from all over the European continent.

The Council of Europe is a European Union light, it is like the intelligent older brother who was expected to become the pride of the family, but the younger brother studied business, became rich (steel and coal business), was able to buy presents for everyone, and thus became the preferred child of the family. The older brother studied philosophy, he always had more true friends, wrote the better books, new the better answers and was respected among his colleagues and everyone who knew him personally.

This older brother, the Council of Europe celebrates its 60th anniversary this year.

This week, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) - a body that is similar to the Consultative Assembly, the predecessor of the European Parliament - meets for the second of four annual sessions. Parliamentarians from the 47 member states' parliaments discuss issues of relevance and urgency.

For sure, the anniversary of the Council of Europe plays an important role at this session. In his speech on these last 60 years - a history summarised in this video, Lluís Maria de Puig, the President of the Parliamentary Assembly, summarised the work of the Council of Europe like this:
"The Council of Europe is primarily a moral force. This force is exercised in manifold ways to the same end, through the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights which is celebrating its 50 years of existence this year, the Committee of Ministers representing the governments, the institution of the Commissioner for Human Rights, the Venice Commission and the European Youth Centre to name but a few, and of course through this Assembly which conveys the voice of 800 million Europeans via their elected representatives."
The important topics of this week will be the three urgent debates on
  • the situation in Moldova;
  • the non-ratification of Protocol 14 to the European Convention for Human Rights; and
  • the election of the next Secretary General of the Council of Europe.
For frequent readers of this blog, the reason for the first topic is very clear (see for example here and here).

The second topic is an "old" history, ongoing for four years already: 46 out of 47 member states (and thus signatories to the European Convention for Human Rights (ECHR)) have signed and ratified Protocol 14 to the ECHR, for years already. Only Russia, which has signed it, refuses to ratify this Protocol that would change and ease the working procedures of the European Court of Human Rights, which is overloaded with cases and which needs better and quicker working methods to fulfil its functions. But since Russia would not benefit from more cases (against it) at the European Court for Human Rights, it is blocking the reform that can only enter into force after all 47 members have ratified the Protocol.

The third topic might have been unnoticed by most of you. This year, the Council of Europe will get a new Secretary General. The old one, Terry Davis, is not allowed to be re-elected, and so member states were asked to present candidates.

According to several sources (like this one and this one), there were four candidates (the deadline for submission of proposals was closed in March) of which, after an internal vote (unconfirmed results published here) at diplomatic level last week, only the first two have been shortlisted and will be proposed to the Assembly at its next session in June for a final vote.

The candidates are (and were):
According to the final agenda, the debate on the next Secretary General will start on Wednesday at 3 p.m.; the debate on Moldova will follow this agenda item. Protocol 14 will be discussed on Thursday. The full sessions are broadcasted via livestream.

This seems to become an interesting week, which will include speeches by Mrs Tarja Halonen, President of Finland, and Mr José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, President of the Government of Spain.

So I have a pledge: I know that the Council of Europe is ignored by most and disregarded by some, but the topics it discusses and the range of country it covers, makes it one of the three main European organisations, besides the European Union and the OSCE, and I can only recommend noticing what is going on in its institutions, because the political impact might not always be visible - but in many cases, especially in eastern and south-eastern Europe, and whenever the Court of Human Rights issues a judgement, it plays a central role for the core values of this continent, especially regarding the protection of human rights.

I therefore wish you happy birthday, old brother Council of Europe, and good luck for the future!

(This is the 500th post of this blog. I think it is only consequent to dedicate it to a pan-European organisation older than the European Union, mother of the European flag and the European anthem, reaching out to almost all parts of this continent, and dedicated to the values that guide my personal, political, and professional work: Human rights, democracy, and the rule of law.)