Monday 22 June 2009

Is the Council of Europe dying? - Dispute over election of Secretary General continues

The oldest post-war European international organisation, the mother of the European flag and anthem - the Council of Europe - looks like it is dying.

Chronically under-financed by its member states who either think the organisation is too critical or unnecessary beside the ever expanding European Union, disturbed by the membership of Russia, freezing in the shadow of its extremely successful but not-yet-reformed European Court of Human Rights, burdened by internal bureaucracy, it is now facing a serious institutional crisis over the election procedure of the Secretary General.

I have already reported about this problematic process before, here and here, and apparently no solution has been found until now, since in his speech the Slovenian foreign minister who is holding the rotating presidency of the Council of Europe deplored that the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) decided not put the election of a new Secretary General on the Agenda of their summer session.

This means that the intergovernmental and the interparliamentary sides of the institution are unable to communicate, they are lack the professionalism to find together and to define themselves as parts of a joint institution. They want the fight, but the question is just who will lose the most.

It is sad to the the Council of Europe in this bad shape, but sooner or later the latent internal crisis had to be followed by more visible problems - and here we are now.

Maybe the CoE is not yet dying in the 60th year of its existence, but all these are signs that it will not really get back to life...


Andreas said...

"Demokratie lebt vom Streit, von der Diskussion um den richtigen Weg."

This quote by Richard von Weizsäcker, former German President who contends that democracy is nurtured by discourse, shows an alternative interpretation of the situation that differs entirely from your point of view:

In my humble opinion, the Council of Europe is just coming alive. This argument, which momentarily seems like a deadlock but will be resolved eventually, takes the organisation out of the dubious shadows of diplomacy and brings to light a conflict that the Council shares with the Union: the disproportionate share of power that national governments continue to hold.

I, for my part, congratulate the Parliamentary Assembly.

Julien Frisch said...

I congratulate PACE for opposing the member states but if it will win it will be a phyrric victory.

Because this is not a fight for content but a fight for the form. From both sides.

It's not even a fight for a better SG, it is a fight for the fight itself, an opposition of PACE against its own governments, an opposition against a budgetary policy killing the CoE that they only fight for in Strasbourg, never in their home budgetary committees.

I would be happy if this conflict would be a sign of the vitality of the Council of Europe, believe me, but it isn't.

Andreas said...

Well I guess the future will tell...

In an intergovernmental organisation, a fight for form is often inseparably a fight for content. In diplomacy, procedures are highly regarded.

In the case at hand, the selection of the Secretary General, the governments have screwed up. They overstretched their muscles, overlooking with the arrogance of power that they had negotiated their plot badly within their own arena, and even less successfully with the democratic representations in their countries.

Independent of that it may well be that members of the Parliamentary Assembly do not stick up the fights in their national parliaments as much as their loud voices in Strasbourg may suggest. I wouldn't know, but am optimistically assuming that there might be exceptions.

What I certainly do know is that all the international non-governmental organisations associated with the Council of Europe have also not been very active in calling for sufficient financing of the older and economically less successful sister of the EU...

Julien Frisch said...

The governments have not so much screwed up up that it would deserve such a fight.

PACE is complaining the selection made by the member states is based on the the so-called Juncker criteria which include a certain profile of the position in order to give more authority and visibility to the CoE.

If I recall correctly, the Committee of Ministers has taken this decision in May 2007 or not so long afterwards. Why weren't our parliamentarians capable of sorting things out since then?

And regarding content: Thorbjorn Jagland ( sounds like a perfect candidate for the post. He has profile and he comes from a country that is playing an excellent role in the Council of Europe, a broker between the European Union countries and the 19 other players. Their previous ambassador to the CoE for Norway, Torbjorn Froysnest, is now Special Representative of the SG to the European Union (

Most of the SGs work is related to working with the member states, diplomatically moderating, lobbying for human rights, the rule of law, and democracy while promoting the CoE against all odds it faces on the continent.

Making this a fight over power in a weak institution (a fight that goes on for years) is just weakening the CoE because it makes the organisation deal with itself for too long, wasting needed resources and time on looking inside instead of focusing energy on where the problems are on this continent...

Julien Frisch said...

By the way: The division also goes through PACE, which voted just 98-90-6 in favour of the agenda...

(Voting records: here)

Andreas said...

The Council of Europe's current Presidency of Slovenia expressed "deep disappointment and concern at decision to withdraw the Secretary General's election from Assembly agenda", says Samuel ŽBOGAR, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Slovenia and current Chairperson of the Committee of Ministers.

In his speech, Žbogar outlines a package of proposals on enhanced co-operation between the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly.

Things are moving, and they should.

His speech, via @councilofeurope on Twitter, is available in full here: