Edward NALBANDIAN, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Armenia Chairperson of the Committee of Ministers
(Strasbourg, 24 June 2013)
Distinguished President Mignon, Deputy Secretary General,
Members of the Parliamentary Assembly,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
President Mignon, thank you for the warm welcome.
It is a great pleasure to address this Assembly and to report on the activities of the Committee of Ministers. I had an opportunity for an exchange of views at the meeting of the Standing Committee, held in Yerevan, on 30 May. For the first time, I am addressing the plenary session of the Parliamentary Assembly and I should say that I am honoured to be here as a Chairman of the Committee of Ministers and to share with you our vision of the Armenian Chairmanship.
Mr. President, the Parliamentary Assembly has received the written communication from the Armenian chairmanship on the major developments that have taken place within the Committee of Ministers since your last part-session. Today, I will highlight a few points which are of particular importance to this Organisation, as well as several topics that have been on the agenda of the Committee of Ministers since the last session of the Parliamentary Assembly. I also will present the priorities of our chairmanship, which have been defined in response to the challenges that we - as member states of this Organisation – are facing today, with a specific focus on some issues.
We will endeavour to bring our contribution also to strengthening the capabilities of the Council of Europe in addressing those challenges. This is an important task and a big responsibility, and Armenia, as a nation, whose European identity has been shaped by common values, ideals and heritage, confidently takes this responsibility.
Our efforts will follow those of previous chairmanships and concentrate on the core objective of the Organisation: to protect and promote human rights, democracy and the rule of law. The expertise of the Council of Europe in the areas of democracy, human rights and the rule of law is a unique and one of the most valuable assets of this Organisation that we should preserve and further strengthen.
While the relevance of the Council of Europe has never been doubted, there is a clear need to increase the responsiveness of this Organisation as new challenges and threats emerge.
Having these challenges in mind, the over-arching theme of our six months in the chair will be combating racism and racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance, and promoting European values through intercultural dialogue.
The Council of Europe, including the Parliamentary Assembly, has been continuously engaged in the fight against hatred, intolerance and racial discrimination through standard setting, monitoring, awareness-raising. We acknowledge that these trends directly challenge our common values and it requires our common political will to counter these threats. In this context, I was particularly encouraged to hear from you, President Mignon, that the Parliamentary Assembly shares and supports the priorities of the Armenian Chairmanship, which are in full harmony with PACE main lines of action.
In connection to our main priority, the Armenian chairmanship definitely supports and will co-ordinate under its umbrella the ongoing activities in the framework of "No Hate Speech" youth campaign, which the Council of Europe launched on the occasion of International Day against Racism and Discrimination. History has repeatedly shown that when not addressed properly and in time hate speech may tear the fabric of society negatively affecting its cohesion and threatening the most basic and fundamental human rights. In the era of new technologies, the hate speech went online, and the virus spreads almost without control through social networks and affects younger generations of Europeans. What is most encouraging is that the No Hate Speech Movement campaign ideas were developed by young people and youth organisations themselves, of course, in close co-operation with the Council of Europe. The campaign is already present in 34 member States of the Council of Europe. One recent example of the official launch of the national campaign was in Italy on 10 June, where it turned into a high-level event. We will have a success story only when the campaign is supported at the national level by public authorities and non-governmental partners and is based on involvement of young activists. The Armenian Chairmanship stands ready to co-operate with the Council of Europe to identify priorities for the follow-up of the campaign, evaluate the achievements and translate the experiences of the campaign into policy measures on how to protect human rights online. In this regard, I am looking forward to the conclusions of the European campaign conference, which will be the major institutional activity of No Hate Speech Movement in 2013, organised within the Armenian Chairmanship.
I would like to inform the esteemed parliamentarians that the Armenian chairmanship will organise a series of events dedicated to fostering intercultural dialogue and mutual understanding between Europeans. Armenia will host the 2013 Exchange of the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue with a view to stepping up action to combat intolerance and religious hatred and guarantee everyone freedom of religion. I count on your active participation in and contribution to that debate.
Under the Armenian Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers and in close co-operation with the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, a Conference on Participatory Democracy at Local Level was held in Yerevan, on 19 June.
Local democracy is one of the priority areas of Armenia’s Chairmanship, since we consider it to be a critical component for the democratic development of society.
The President, Vice-Presidents and members of the Congress, as well as representatives of Armenia’s relevant state structures, local self-government bodies and civil society, as well as international and local experts participated in the Conference.
The Conference addressed issues relating to participatory democracy at local level. The Conference has also been a good opportunity for an exchange of good practice and for the evaluation of the progress achieved in member States of the Council of Europe.
Mr. President, distinguished members of the Assembly,
The European Convention of Human Rights is one of the cornerstones of this Organisation, while its proper implementation is, in wider terms, a safeguard of stability and sustainability in Europe. Armenia attaches great importance to the proper functioning of the European Court of Human Rights, which is a key part of the Council of Europe.
The ministerial session held on 16 May in Strasbourg was a good occasion to reiterate our commitment to strengthening democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Europe and to reflect on the impact of the Council of Europe’s activities. Ministers shared the concerns expressed by Secretary General Jagland, who identified threats to the European political, social and institutional model and proposed as a response to those threats to better use the resources, sharpen the focus on the most important issues and improve the impact of Council of Europe various instruments through more effective assistance to member States. The bottom line is the need for a better coordination of activities and more attention to the follow-up efforts. Ministers encouraged the Secretary General to pursue his efforts aimed at optimising the functioning and coordination of the Council of Europe’s monitoring mechanisms, as well as a better use of their conclusions. The Ministers also invited the Secretary General to present, on a regular basis, to the Committee of Ministers an overview of human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Europe, accompanied by proposals for action to be taken by Organisation.
The Armenian chairmanship gives high priority to strengthening the implementation of the European Convention of Human Rights. We will further reflect on the European standards on the rule of law against the background of the most recent developments in the implementation of the principle of rule of law by the Council of Europe member states.
Effective implementation of the Convention at the national level is a necessary precondition for securing the rights and freedoms of all citizens of the member States of the Council of Europe. In the Brighton Declaration it is explicitly mentioned that to ensure the effective implementation of the Convention at the national level we need to provide “appropriate information and training about the Convention in the study, training and professional development of judges, lawyers and prosecutors”. To this end, the Human Rights Education for Legal Professionals (HELP) Network Conference, which was organised just a week ago in Strasbourg under the auspices of the Armenian Chairmanship, focused on cross-cutting aspects of the issue of capacity building for legal professionals.
To further reflect on the European standards on the rule of law, in continuation of the efforts of the UK Chairmanship of the Council of Europe, in the framework of the Armenian Chairmanship, the Constitutional Court of Armenia will organize with the support of the Venice Commission a Conference in Yerevan on “European Standards on the Rule of Law and the Scope of Discretion of Powers in the Member States of the Council of Europe”. It will focus on the role of public administration, notably, the scope and the limits of the States powers’ discretion in designing, implementing and interpreting laws.
Guaranteeing the long-term efficiency of the European Convention on Human Rights and proper functioning of the Court is among our priorities. I would like to recall that Andorra, Armenia and Austria as successive chairmanships agreed on a set of common priorities, including the follow-up of the Interlaken, Izmir and Brighton Conferences and conclusion of negotiations on the European Union`s accession to the European Convention on Human Rights. I would like to inform the distinguished parliamentarians that during the Ministerial Session we have adopted a decision on securing the long-term effectiveness of the supervisory mechanism of the European Convention on Human Rights. Armenia as a chair of the Committee of Ministers will follow up the efforts of previous Chairmanships aimed at strengthening the application of the Convention, and will pay close attention to related issues and at the same time will support the proposed measures and will encourage necessary actions.
I would also like to mention that within the scope of actions aimed at improving the system of the European Convention on Human Rights the Ministerial Session also adopted the Protocol No 15 and decided to open it for signature today in Strasbourg. This Protocol gives effect to certain provisions of the Brighton Declaration. As you well know, the Protocol was earlier presented to the Parliamentary Assembly for examination and the Assembly approved the draft in the Opinion No. 283 (2013) adopted on 26 April, 2013.
The State Parties to the Convention are invited to take steps in order to sign and ratify the Protocol as soon as possible. I am particularly impressed by a remarkable number of countries – eighteen and Armenia amongst them, who signed the Protocol No 15 half an hour ago. I use this opportunity to call on the members of the Assembly to encourage and support ratification process at national level.
We also attach importance to the draft Protocol 16, which would establish a platform for judicial dialogue and we will follow this process with the aim of finalising it by the end of our chairmanship. As you are well aware of, the Draft optional protocol No. 16 on extending the Court’s jurisdiction to providing advisory opinions is transmitted to your Assembly for opinion during this part-session. In this regard the Committee of Ministers will consider with interest the Assembly`s opinion at the end of this session.
The Committee of Ministers is also closely following the process of the EU accession to the European Convention on Human Rights. Negotiators for the Council of Europe and the European Union finalised the draft instruments, paving the way towards EU accession to the European Convention on Human Rights. The EU Court of Justice in Luxembourg has been asked to give its opinion on the text. EU’s accession to the Convention will contribute to the creation of a single European legal space and strengthen the protection of human rights in Europe.
I could not but underline the importance of partnership between the Council of Europe and the European Union. Co-operation between the two at various levels has developed considerably in a number of areas. Contacts, including through institutional mechanisms, have continued with a view to further ensuring coherence between the EU legislation and the Council of Europe standards and synergies with monitoring mechanisms of the Council of Europe.
The same holds true for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. OSCE remains one of the main partners of the Council of Europe in our efforts to promote respect for democracy, human rights and the rule of law. The level of cooperation between the two organisations with a regular pattern of consultations and high-level meetings, is yet another evidence of that. I had an opportunity to address the OSCE Permanent Council a couple of weeks ago where I particularly stressed the importance of encouraging the two organizations to enhance this co-operation, to exchange information and to coordinate their activities with a view of developing synergies and avoiding duplication. Armenian chairmanship will spare no efforts to further promote targeted and result oriented cooperation between the Council of Europe and the OSCE.
Implementation of the Council of Europe policy towards neighbouring regions is one of the issues on the agenda of the Committee of Ministers. Significant progress has been achieved, particularly, through Neighbourhood Cooperation Dialogue and Neighbourhood Cooperation Priorities, which set out specific activities in the fields of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
The Organisation needs to consolidate and build upon those achievements. With this in mind the Ministers welcomed the progress made in the implementation of the Council of Europe policy towards neighbouring regions and encouraged its further development. However, further cooperation will depend on the interest and needs of the countries concerned, their readiness to engage and capacity to deliver.
Most recently, Ministers` Deputies took a decision to grant Morocco an observer status with the European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice /CEPEJ/. At the same time, discussions continue on the possible creation of a formal status, first and foremost, for countries in democratic political transition and for interested countries in the neighbouring regions, which would qualify for a more structured relationship with the Council of Europe.
I am well aware of the Assembly’s strong interest in these issues. Several items on the agenda of the plenary session and the committees of this part-session clearly reflect that interest. I am glad to inform you that a number of neighbourhood countries who have expressed their interest in longer-term institutional relations at a governmental level see the existing “partner for democracy” status established by the Parliamentary Assembly as a useful instrument. The Council of Europe’s policy on neighbouring regions requires a coherent approach by the Parliamentary Assembly and the Committee of Ministers. With this in mind the Committee of Ministers will follow with particular interest the Assembly`s forthcoming debate on the evaluation of the partnership for democracy with the Parliament of Morocco.
Ladies and gentlemen,
With full confidence in Secretary General, we will continue to strongly support the reform process of the Council of Europe and will endeavour to raise the visibility, responsiveness and political relevance of the Organisation. Much has been done, but further reforms are necessary to better respond to the new realities, particularly, in the times of economic crises. To this end, on 7 May 2013, the Ministers` Deputies decided to apply a zero nominal growth to the Programme and Budget 2014-2015, in view of the difficult budgetary situation in member States. Application of the principle of zero nominal growth to the total of member States’ contributions to the Ordinary Budget is a reasonable approach in these times of austerity and limited resources. We believe that effective use of finances, raising effectiveness of programs through clearly defined and verifiable outcomes, avoiding duplications and decreasing administrative expenditure with a view of reducing bureaucracy and making savings is the optimal way to face major budgetary constraints of the next biennium.
As part of the reform process of the Council of Europe, the Secretary General has presented his guidelines for the review of the contractual policy and a number of proposals for regulatory changes requiring the Committee of Ministers’ decision, in order to ensure the best possible fit between contractual policy and organisational needs. On 19 June, the Committee of Ministers adopted a decision on this matter inviting Secretary General to submit draft regulatory amendments.
The Kosovo situation continues to be of particular interest of the Committee of Ministers. Following Recommendation 2006(2013) on ‘The situation in Kosovo and the role of the Council of Europe” the Committee in its reply reiterated that irrespective of the status of the region, all the people living there should have a European perspective and benefit of European standards for democracy, human rights, the rule of law and good governance. The Committee also encouraged the Secretariat to continue its efforts in helping to enshrine and implement Council of Europe standards in Kosovo.
The chairmanship is firmly convinced that while speaking about the strengthening of the impact of the Council of Europe activities in promoting democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Europe, we have to ensure that rights of individuals are protected everywhere within the area of the Council of Europe responsibility, without prejudice to the status of the territories where those individuals are living. We should consider exploring in close consultation with those entities, the ways of a status-neutral approach in promoting our fundamental values and principles. Whatever is the status of those entities at present or in the future, these societies bear and share European values, aspirations.
In order to be brief and without going into much detail, I will draw your attention to several other issues that have been dealt with by the Committee of Ministers in the present reporting period, which are duly reflected in the written communication of the Chairmanship.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In conclusion, I would like to underline the importance of intra-institutional co-operation between all Council of Europe stakeholders. It is essential that, with due respect to their respective mandates, the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly, work in synergy towards achieving common objectives.
There has been a marked improvement in relations between the Committee of Ministers and the PACE over the last few years. Increased contacts have taken place through various formats, such as cross-participation of Assembly Rapporteurs and Chairs of Rapporteur Groups of the Committee of Ministers in their respective meetings.
I would like to thank the President of the Assembly, Mr Jean-Claude Mignon, for his initiative to regularly meet with the Ministers’ Deputies in order to inform them of the results of the Assembly sessions.
The Armenian Chairmanship is willing and ready to cooperate in good faith and in a cooperative manner with the PACE aimed at contributing to the realization of the objectives of this Organisation and further strengthening of the political dialogue between the Committee of Ministers and the Assembly.