The Council of Europe (CoE), which celebrated its 60th birthday last year is an important organization for securing and monitoring human rights as well as preparing the rules that are widely known as “European standards”. The will to live according to these standards means in reality to live in accordance the conventions prepared and adopted by the CoE, in which the Parliamentary dimension plays a significant role. 636 parliamentarians from 47 elected legislatures make up the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). They meet four times a year to express the combined will of the more than 800 million people they represent.
Do we need reform? PACE is not in a crisis that requires quick and radical changes; nevertheless it needs renovations to make it more visible, improve its members’ involvement and participation, and rationalise the use of its operational and budgetary resources.
This will not be the first reform in the decades of our work. The Assembly has revised its working methods and committee structures several times before. Today we have numerous unsolved issues. For example, almost a dozen CoE countries are still being monitored — that is, they are not full democracies. Human rights records in some regions of the world is worse, so the work for a free Europe and the adjacent world is far from being completed. In the current reform, particular attention was given to harmonising the committees’ terms of reference and ensuring that they were consistent. We reduced the number of committees and clarify their tasks and their remit with regard to institutional relations and budgetary resources.
Now the political committee takes into consideration the general policy of the CoE. It will report on urgent political situations and crises in member states. The important issue in this committee was the place of economic issues. Proposals to prepare reports on the activities of the OECD and EBRD was one of the few decisions not overwhelmingly supported by all members. The main idea is that the political decisions and the political evaluation of the economy are primary.
The Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights will deal with all legal and human rights matters. This is exactly what the CoE needs to secure. The creation of the highly flexible Committee of Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development is one of the core reforms. The Committee will consider numerous issues related to social rights and policies, public health, sustainable development, economic co-operation and development, local and regional democracy and good governance, while paying special attention to the situation of the more vulnerable groups in society. This really is a lot of work.
The Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons as well as the modified Committee on Culture, Science and Education are bodies working on matters relating to migration, asylum and displacement, focusing in particular on the people affected by these processes and their rights. As is known, great emphasis is put on non-discrimination in Europe, and the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination is exactly for this focus. It is necessary to explain that member states themselves will decide who from their delegation will work on these committees, so the member states in fact are responsible for their quality.
However, the Council of Europe has two more committees that are organized by specific political groups in the CoE – the European People’s party, socialists, democrats, liberals, the European left and independent members. The Monitoring Committee has to supervise the status of democracy of member states. This is important for Ukraine, as it remains under CoE monitoring procedures. The Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs must ensure that the Assembly’s Rules of Procedure are applied properly.
According to our vision, reform must stimulate co-operation with our partner organizations (there are a dozen of them) as well as non-member states and non-governmental organizations. Recently, we signed agreements on democratic partnerships with Morocco and the Palestinian Authority. There are new possibilities to deal with so-called “deep-security” issues, to have general rapporteurs for important problems.
PACE remains the important venue for issues related to Ukraine. Our wish is to see as many democracies in Europe as possible. Our job is to assist countries that still have to achieve societies meeting European standards. Ukraine is one of them; and Ukraine certainly needs the Council of Europe.