Doc. 8286

23 December 1998

"Building Greater Europe without dividing lines" (opinion on the report by the Committee of Wise Persons)

Report

Political Affairs Committee

Rapporteur : Mr Peter Schieder, Austria, Socialist Group

Summary

The Assembly supports the conclusions of the report of the Committee of Wise Persons for the structural reforms needed to adapt the Council of Europe to its new tasks and its enlarged membership, in accordance with the priorities defined at the 1st and 2nd Summits of the Council of Europe.

The Assembly recommends that the Committee of Ministers endorse the report of the Committee of Wise Persons and start implementing the proposed reforms as soon as possible. In addition, the Assembly resolves to adapt its own priorities and structures to the new challenges facing the Organisation in a multi-institutional Europe.

I.       Draft opinion

1.       The Assembly notes that the 1st and 2nd Summits of Heads of State and Government of the Council of Europe clearly defined the priorities of the Organisation.

2. The Assembly welcomes the instruction given to the Committee of Ministers to carry out the structural reforms needed to adapt the Organisation to its new tasks and its enlarged membership and to improve its decision-making process.

3.       The Assembly notes that its President was involved in the activities of the Committee of Wise Persons (CWP), set up by the Committee of Ministers, to draw up proposals for these structural reforms.

4.       The Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly are the two statutory organs of the Organisation. As the two main partners within the Council of Europe, their relationship should be clarified by a statutory resolution.

5.       The Assembly supports the conclusions of the report of the CWP, some of which are based on its own recommendations, but wishes to make several additional proposals for the implementation of the reforms.

6.       The Assembly shares the conclusion of the CWP that the Council of Europe is, as set out in its Statute, at the same time a political organisation, a standard-setting institution and a framework structure for intergovernmental co-operation.

7.       The Assembly considers that at present, the most important task for the Council of Europe is to consolidate its role as a political pan-European organisation of general competence, responsible for peaceful unification and democratic stability.

8.       The Assembly welcomes, in particular, the recognition by the CWP of its increasingly important political role, notably since the beginning of the enlargement process. This recognition must be reflected in its budgetary and administrative powers.

9.       Accordingly, the Organisation's intergovernmental structures and working methods must be reformed in order to increase its flexibility and effectiveness and to introduce new approaches, such as enhanced field presence.

10.       After the enlargement of the Council of Europe, the monitoring of respect of obligations and commitments by its member states has become an overriding priority for the Organisation and an essential element of its credibility.

11.       In this context, the monitoring procedures of both the Assembly and the Committee of Ministers must be reinforced and accompanied by measures to be taken in cases of non-compliance. At the same time, there must be an increased co-operation with member states with a view to helping them to fulfil their obligations and commitments.

12.       The Assembly considers that the European Union is the natural partner of the Council of Europe as both share the same values.

13.       The Assembly also considers that the reform of the Organisation must be accompanied by the conclusion of a general memorandum of understanding with the OSCE and by an intensification of co-operation with the United Nations and NATO in full respect of the Council of Europe's fields of competence.

14.        The Assembly believes that the existence of a permanent and independent secretariat is, compared to other organisations, a major advantage of the Council of Europe which must be preserved.

15.       The Assembly recommends that the Committee of Ministers endorse the report of the CWP and start implementing the proposed reforms as soon as possible. Before its 105th meeting in November 1999, the Committee of Ministers should, in particular:

i.       as regards its own procedure:

a.       develop a real political dialogue corresponding to its pan-European dimension;

b.       improve its decision-making process in order to make it more suited for rapid action, in particular in crisis situations;

c.       give more political responsibility to its Chairman;

d.       introduce majority voting as a general rule and apply it systematically;

ii.       as regards the Assembly:

a.       agree with the Assembly on the contents of a statutory resolution clarifying the relationship of the two statutory organs, taking into account their respective role and independence and formally confirming the change of the name of the Assembly from "consultative" to "parliamentary";

b.       consult the Assembly before fixing the ceiling for the Council of Europe's overall budget;

c.       set up a mechanism for direct discussion with the Assembly as regards its own budget in order to reach agreement on the total appropriations allocated;

d.       grant autonomy to the Assembly in the management of budgetary and administrative matters;

e.       reflect the specific features of the Office of the Clerk in the regulations of the Organisation;

f.       adopt a statutory resolution to introduce a co-decision procedure by the Assembly before the adoption of any draft convention, agreement and protocol;

g.       invite the President of the Assembly to address the Committee of Ministers at the beginning of each ministerial meeting;

iii.       as regards monitoring obligations and commitments:

a.       reinforce its monitoring activities and reconsider the necessity of maintaining the absolute confidentiality of its documents;

b.       improve the follow-up to Assembly's recommendations on the respect of obligations and commitments (including measures in case of non-compliance);

c.       strengthen co-operation with the Assembly and inform it regularly on the results of its monitoring procedures;

iv.       as regards institutional reforms:

a.       simplify and rationalise the activities, structures and working methods of the intergovernmental co-operation according to the priorities defined at the 1st and 2nd Summits;

b.       allocate the organisation's budgetary resources and staff according to the priorities fixed at these Summits in order to cope with the consequences of the enlargement, and look for new forms of funding;

c.       establish a medium and long-term presence of Council of Europe representatives in countries which need increased and long-term activities for the development and consolidation of their democratic stability;

d.       respect the principle of a permanent and independent secretariat as an essential element of the Council of Europe's functioning;

e.       suspend the voting rights of any member state one year behind with the payment of its contributions;

v.       as regards other international institutions:

a. make full use of its observer status with the United Nations;

b.       conclude a framework agreement with the European Union;

c.       conclude a general memorandum of understanding with the OSCE and intensify co-operation with NATO and Western European Union;

d.        closely associate the Assembly with all high-level contacts;

e.       ask its Chairmanship to present, in other international institutions, Council of Europe positions on issues falling within its fields of competence;

vi.       as regards the Council of Europe’s visibility:

a. adopt a policy of taking public political positions on current developments, notably by its Chairman;

b.       ensure more active presence of its representatives in the field, by means of visits, fact-finding missions, participation in conferences and meetings, etc;

c.       improve contacts with the media, non-governmental organisations, youth organisations and national authorities;

d.       develop more actively the network of the Council of Europe documentation centres, both in new and old member states.

16.       The Assembly calls on the Committee of Ministers to show firm political will in implementing the reforms of the Organisation in order to make the Council of Europe fully capable of assuming its leading role in the field of human rights, rule of law and pluralist democracy in Europe in the 21st century.

II.       Draft resolution

1.       The Assembly refers to its Opinion ... (1999) on the report of the Committee of Wise Persons, "Building Greater Europe without dividing lines".

2.       The Committee of Wise Persons, set up by the Committee of Ministers to draw up proposals for structural reforms, concluded that intergovernmental co-operation should be simplified and rationalised in order to maximise the efficient use of human resources and facilitate co-ordination in the light of the new priorities defined by the first and second Summits.

3.       The Assembly considers that it should also adapt its own priorities and structures to the new challenges facing the Organisation in a multi-institutional Europe, taking into account the concerns of certain national delegations as regards the Assembly’s visibility and working methods.

4.       The Assembly fully agrees with the opinion of the CWP that the European Union must be considered the natural partner of the Council of Europe, both sharing the same values.

5.       The Assembly, therefore, resolves:

i.       to re-assess priorities according to the new challenges facing the Organisation;

ii. to re-consider the structure, composition and functioning of its committees and to examine, in the light of its enlargement, the question of its size and the number of seats allocated to national delegations;

iii.       to reinforce its relations with national parliaments and invite those who do not already do so, to hold once a year a debate on Council of Europe activities;

iv.       to strengthen its co-operation with the European Parliament;

v.       make full use of its status of associate member with the Inter-Parliamentary Union;

vi.       to strengthen its co-operation with other international Assemblies, such as the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE, the Assembly of Western European Union, the Interparliamentary Assembly of the Commonwealth of Independent States and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Black Sea Economic Co-operation;

vii.       to take the necessary measures to increase its own visibility;

viii.       to invite the Secretary General to present an annual report to the Assembly on "the state of the Council of Europe".

III.       Explanatory memorandum by Mr Schieder

Contents

I. Introduction

II. The Council of Europe as a whole

C.       Visibility of the Council of Europe

III. The Committee of Ministers

IV.       The Parliamentary Assembly

A.       Recognition of the Assembly's political role

V.       Other Council of Europe bodies

VI. Conclusions

I. Introduction

1.       At the Council of Europe 's Second Summit (10-11 October 1997), the Heads of States and Government instructed "the Committee of Ministers to carry out the structural reforms needed to adapt the Organisation to its next tasks and its enlarged membership and to improve its decision-making process" .

2.       On 6 November 1997, the Committee of Ministers decided to set up a "Committee of Wise Persons", made up of ten leading Europeans1, responsible for drawing up proposals for these structural reforms, and reporting back to the Committee of Ministers. The membership and terms of reference of the Committee were agreed by the Ministers' deputies in December 1997.

3.       The questions raised in the terms of reference were organised under four main themes:

—       relations between the Council of Europe, the European Union and other international organisations;

—       decision-making within the Organisation and relations between the organs of the Organisation;

—       Council of Europe's activities and programmes;

—       Council of Europe's internal organisation and visibility, funding system and budget procedure.

4.       The Committee, chaired by Mr Mario Soares, met seven times between January and October 1998. The Clerk of the Assembly acted as co-secretary of the Committee. The leaders of the Parliamentary Assembly's political groups were invited to an exchange of views with the Committee. The Committee created four Working groups to deal with the above four main themes.

5.       On several occasions, the Assembly directly contributed to the work of the Committee of Wise Persons and submitted documents expressing the position of the Assembly on the subjects under consideration.

6.       On 12 October 1998, the Committee of Wise Persons finalised its report entitled "Building Greater Europe without dividing lines" and then submitted it to the Committee of Ministers. The report contains a range of recommendations for a more efficient Council of Europe. On 4 November 1998, the report (Doc. 8261) was officially transmitted to the Assembly for opinion.

7.       The Rapporteur will concentrate on the political aspects of the report of the Wise Persons and, in the light of previous Assembly recommendations and proposals, will try to formulate proposals for its more effective implementation.

II. The Council of Europe as a whole

A.       A political responsibility

8.       The Wise Persons have concluded that the Council of Europe has a "general political responsibility for peaceful unification and democratic stability based on its key role of defending human rights, the rule of law and democracy".

9.       The Assembly has, on several occasions, insisted on the preservation and reinforcement of the character of a political organisation of general competence. The Rapporteur therefore fully supports the recommendation of the Wise Persons calling for "a clearer affirmation of the Organisation's responsibility for democratic stability" and "its function as a pan-European political forum" (para.. 20 ) and believes that the statutory organs of the Organisation must give priority to the reinforcement of the political action of the Council of Europe.

B.       Monitoring as overriding priority

10.       The Committee of Wise Persons has concluded that the "Council of Europe's overriding priority" is to ensure the compliance of "all member states with the Organisation's standards and to assist the new members in their transformation" (para.. 8).

11.       The Rapporteur considers that respect of obligations and commitments by member states is indeed a question of credibility for the Organisation and, must therefore, be its priority.

12.       The Assembly has instructed its Monitoring Committee to report to it once a year on the general progress of the monitoring procedures, and at least once every two years on each country being monitored2. Furthermore, it has decided that, with a view to reinforcing transparency, written opinions of this Committee on whether to open monitoring procedures should be published as attachments to the progress report of the Bureau and the Standing Committee3.

13.       Rapporteurs of the Monitoring Committee have also already established contacts with the European Parliament in this field.

14.       The Assembly has already stressed the need for stronger co-operation and dialogue with the Committee of Ministers in the field of monitoring of commitments and recommended to that effect that this issue be included on the agenda of Joint Committees and that the Committee of Ministers adopt replies to Assembly recommendations on monitoring as a matter of priority and make information available to the Monitoring Committee's Rapporteurs.4

15.       As far as transparency is concerned, the Assembly has also recommended that the Committee of Ministers reconsider its decision concerning the absolute confidentiality of its monitoring documents 5.

16.       It seems necessary to the Rapporteur that the existing monitoring procedures, in particular at the Committee of Ministers' level, should be substantially reinforced. Thus, besides giving them more political weight and more financial means, a ground presence of Council of Europe representatives should be envisaged in the countries where the problems of compliance are most serious. The Rapporteur also supports the proposal of the Wise Persons to reinforce direct co-operation with national institutions of the judiciary (para..70).

17.       The Rapporteur is also concerned about the follow-up given by the Committee of Ministers to the Assembly Recommendations emanating from the Monitoring Committee. In cases of non-compliance procedures to be applied must be established and gradual sanctions foreseen. These could comprise, for example, texts adopted by the Committee of Ministers specifically to the attention of the country in question, inviting it to comply within a fixed deadline, or inviting the country's Foreign Minister to Strasbourg to take position on the concerns expressed by the Assembly.

C .       Visibility of the Council of Europe

18. Reinforcement of the political role of the Organisation and its stronger presence on the ground, i.e. of its representatives by means of visits, fact-finding missions, participation in conferences and meetings, would naturally enhance the visibility of the Council of Europe.

19. The policy of taking public positions on current political developments, both by the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers and other bodies, would also contribute to enhancing the visibility of the Organisation.

20.       Besides, the Wise Persons have proposed, inter alia, that the Assembly consider giving an increased role to national parliaments (i.e. the possibility for a national Parliament to address resolutions to the Assembly and the adoption, by the Assembly, of a special resolution once a year to be debated in national parliaments (para.. 78))

21.       The Rapporteur supports those proposals and insists on the natural role of the national delegations, which is to inform the national parliaments and increase their awareness.

22.       The Rapporteur also endorses the proposal of the Committee of Wise Persons to reinforce the role of the Information and Documentation Centres of the Council of Europe (para.. 77). For the time being, these Centres only exist in new Council of Europe's member states. The Rapporteur suggests that the network of the Documentation Centres be developed more actively, both in new and old member states.

D.       Institutional structures

23.       The Committee of Wise Persons has considered that while the existing institutional structure of the Organisation is "fundamentally sound", its different branches should be strengthened and the relations between them clarified (para..24). It has also made some proposals aiming at simplifying and rationalising the structures of the secretariat dealing with intergovernmental co-operation, in the light of the new priorities defined by the First and the Second Summits 6.

E.       Field presence

24.       The Rapporteur considers that the enlargement of the Organisation requires its regular presence on the ground, especially in the countries facing the biggest problems in the field of democratic institutions building.

25.       Such a presence would provide day-to-day guidance to the authorities of these countries adapted to their specific needs. In many new member states the main problem is not the knowledge of the Council of Europe's principles in itself, but their practical implementation in a sometimes difficult political, economic and social environment.

26.       Furthermore, in the absence of the Council of Europe on the ground, other international organisations tend to assume tasks which are within the Council's traditional fields of competence.

F.       Co-operation with international organisations

27.       The report of the Committee of Wise Persons has underlined the importance of co-ordination and co-operation in national capitals between those responsible for allocating tasks to the different European organisations, in order to ensure complementarity and to avoid unnecessary duplication and overlap (para. 28).

28.       The European Union's Amsterdam Treaty has given increased competence to the Union in areas in which the Council of Europe has been active for many years and in which it has established a considerable acquis. Consequently, the European Union should be considered as a special partner. Co-operation between both institutions should therefore be intensified.

29.       The report of the Committee of Wise Persons has proposed, inter alia, that a framework Agreement be concluded between the European Community and the Council of Europe (para.. 34).

30.       The Rapporteur considers that the conclusion of such an Agreement would benefit both Organisations. The Wise Persons' proposal to make results of the Council of Europe's monitoring available to the European Commission represents a concrete example of possible co-operation between the two organisations.

31.       In its last Recommendation on relations with the European Union7, the Assembly resolved to increase its co-operation with the European Parliament regarding the promotion of human rights, democracy and the rule of law, including its monitoring procedures and assistance programmes, and the observation of elections.

32.       In this text, the Assembly also recommended that the Committee of Ministers:

i. promote actively the accession of the European Community (Union) to all Council of Europe conventions which foresee this possibility as well as to the European Convention on Human Rights, the European Social Charter and the European Cultural Convention;

ii. create the possibility for the European Union, once it acquires international legal personality, to adhere to the Council of Europe conventions regarding co-operation police in criminal matters;

iii. re-examine the question of accession by the European Community (Union) to the Council of Europe;

iv. take the necessary steps to ensure the participation of the Council of Europe in the European Conference;

v. propose that the presidents of the Assembly and the European Parliament be invited to the next quadripartite meeting;

vi. establish regular contacts, at Deputies' level, with the High Representative for

33.       The Assembly should insist that the Committee of Ministers pursue its efforts towards their implementation.

34.       In order to improve relations with the OSCE, the report of the Committee of Wise Persons has proposed that a General Memorandum of understanding be concluded between the two organisations, providing for co-operation and co-ordination of activities on an equal footing, practical and results-oriented (para.. 36-7).

35.       Some of the Assembly’s recommendations have been taken into account by the Wise Persons such as invitation to the Presidents of the two Assemblies to "2+2" meetings, further development of co-operation between the Assemblies of both Organisations and the establishment of a mechanism for the pooling and exchange of information, communication in emergency situations and co-operation in planning and action.

36.       The Rapporteur, however, recalls that in September 1998 the Assembly8 further asked the Committee of Ministers to:

i.       include questions of immediate political importance and urgency in its meetings at ministerial level and increase the frequency of these meetings if necessary;

ii.       call on Member states to improve co-ordination and exchange of information on Council of Europe and OSCE activities, at both national and international levels, with a view to insuring optimal distribution of tasks and more efficient allocation of resources between the two organisations;

iii.       implement the proposals on future relations put forward at the seminar held in The Hague on 5 June 1998 and, in particular, to:

- establish regular contacts between the two organisations at high official level to prepare "2 + 2" meetings and ensure their follow up;

- enable the OSCE to make better and more efficient use of the Council of Europe's unique expertise in the field of human rights, democratic institutions and the rule of law;

- establish a mechanism for co-operation between the relevant structures of the Council of Europe and OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities and the OSCE Special Representative on the Freedom of the Media;

- explore, on the basis of reciprocity, the possibility of a continuous Council of Europe presence at OSCE meetings in the person of the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers.

37.       Nevertheless, it should also be stressed that both organisations have specific fields of competence, i.e. human rights for the Council of Europe and conflict prevention for the OSCE. Both organisations should avoid unnecessary duplication of efforts and overlap.

38.       There is no reference to the United Nations in the report of the Wise Persons. The Rapporteur, however, recalls that in its Recommendation 1367 (1998) on the Reform of the United Nations adopted in April 1998, the Assembly recommended that the Committee of Ministers :

-       recognise that the Council of Europe is a regional organisation within the meaning of Chapter VIII of the United Nations Charter, on the basis of its contribution to democratic security in Europe and the observer status it enjoys in the United Nations General Assembly;

-       examine practical possibilities for the Council of Europe, including the Parliamentary Assembly, to be effectively present at the United Nations General Assembly's sessions in New York;

-       discuss, as part of its political dialogue, items which will be dealt with by the General Assembly of the United Nations and are of direct concern to the Council of Europe, with a view to presenting a common Council of Europe position in New York to be presented by the delegation, or representative, of the state holding the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers;

- develop further dialogue with the United Nations;

- invite the Parliamentary Assembly to be represented at all high-level tripartite meetings with the United Nations and the OSCE.

39.       The Committee of Ministers has not yet replied to this Recommendation. But the Rapporteur considers that the above-mentioned proposals must be an integral part of the efforts to increase the Council of Europe's political role.

40.       In the meantime, and in accordance with Order 500 (1994), members of the Political Affairs Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly met high officials of the United Nations in New York in October 1998 on the occasion of the 53rd General Assembly. The Parliamentary Assembly will discuss a new report on relations with the United Nations in the near future.

41.       Although the Wise Persons did not mention NATO, the Rapporteur is of the opinion that a specific co-operation with NATO should be considered in countries where NATO would be called upon to play a role in the field of military stability. Council of Europe activities to promote the democratic stability of these countries could benefit from a co-operation with NATO.

42.       On 26 November 1998, Mr Bársony, Chairman of the Political Affairs and Co-Rapporteur on Kosovo, visited the NATO headquarters in Brussels. In this meeting with NATO High Officials, it was stressed that NATO would welcome partner organisations and, in particular, Council of Europe participation in the ground component of OSCE's Kosovo Verification Mission.

III.       The Committee of Ministers

A. Political role and decision-making

43.       The Rapporteur considers that the Committee of Ministers should engage more effectively in political dialogue in order to play a genuine political role on the continent. Its meetings should be attended by the Ministers themselves and focus on events and issues of concern to member states governments. It should also improve its decision-making system to make it more suited to the need for rapid action, particularly in crisis situation9.

44.       In this regard, the Assembly welcomes the proposals of the Wise Persons aiming at intensifying the political dialogue at the level of the Committee of Ministers (para.. 17) and also at Deputies' level. The proposal to introduce a majority vote and to give more responsibility to the Chairperson of the Committee of Ministers, is of particular importance in this respect and deserves the Assembly's full support.

B.       Budget

45.       The Rapporteur considers that the existing resources are not sufficient. He urges the Committee of Ministers to implement the proposals of the Wise Persons concerning the Budget of the Organisation (para.. 80-83) since the Assembly has repeatedly recommended to the Committee of Ministers that the necessary financial resources and staff be allocated in order to cope with the consequences of the enlargement and the Organisation's new tasks and seek new forms of funding. The Assembly has also requested that a specific Council of Europe entry be included in national budgets.

46.       The existing and future budgetary resources should be allocated according to the political priorities set up by the Summits. If budgetary increases are not sufficient, which may be the case, a re-distribution of the resources within the existing budget towards priority areas will be necessary.

47.       In addition, the Assembly considers that the voting right of any state which is one year in arrears with the payment of its contribution should be automatically suspended10.

C.       Intergovernmental co-operation

48.       The Committee of Wise Persons has recommended the reorganisation of intergovernmental co-operation in accordance with the fundamental objectives of the Organisation and with current priorities (concentration, co-ordination and coherence). It has further recommended that the Committee of Ministers approve an annual plan for the Organisation and establish clear priorities in each field and sector in the line of the main priorities for the Organisation as a whole. (para.. 63).

49.       The Rapporteur supports these proposals and suggests that the Assembly be associated with the drafting of the annual plan.

50.       Concerning assistance and co-operation programmes, the Assembly has recommended to the Committee of Ministers that, in future, the Organisation respond better to the concrete needs of its Member states and develop accordingly its assistance and co-operation programmes. The Assembly has, in particular, requested to " substantially reinforce these programmes and aim them more specifically at the democratic reforms, which are the most necessary and the most relevant for the protection of human rights" 11.

51.       The Rapporteur believes that the secretariat structures dealing with intergovernmental co-operation should be simplified and rationalised, according to the priorities defined at the Second Summit (para.. 26).

IV. The Parliamentary Assembly

A. Recognition of the Assembly's political role

52.       According to the report of the Wise Persons, the Assembly, in particular since the beginning of the enlargement process, has assumed an increasingly important political role (para.. 22).

53.       Thanks to the Assembly, important political commitments (such as ratification of the European Convention on Human Rights) have been added to the statutory conditions for accession to the Organisation. The Assembly has also created a "special guest status" for the Parliaments of emerging democracies and set up the concept of monitoring of commitments and obligations of member states.

54.       In the context of examining eligibility for special guest status and, subsequently, in the context of accession and monitoring procedures, the observation of elections has become an important part of the Assembly's activities.

55.       Moreover, the Assembly has traditionally provided a forum for political dialogue between different political forces in crisis situations, organising hearings and publicly debating controversial political issues. It has not hesitated to be active on the ground when a crisis has emerged, as in Albania.

56.       The Rapporteur welcomes the recognition by the Wise Persons of the Assembly's political role and the proposals to formally change its name from Consultative to "Parliamentary Assembly" (para.. 52), and to associate it with all high-level co-ordinating meetings with the European Union, the OSCE and the United Nations (para.. 50).

B.       Relations with the Committee of Ministers

i.       General Co-operation

57.       With a view to making the Council of Europe more efficient, the Wise Persons have proposed that the Committee of Ministers and the Assembly agree on a statutory resolution clarifying their relationship as the two main partners within the Organisation (para.. 41), and that the President of the Assembly address the Committee of Ministers at the opening of each ministerial meeting (para.. 51). They have also suggested that "mutual consultation arrangements be strengthened between the Parliamentary Assembly committees and the intergovernmental co-operation sector" (appendix II).

58.       The Rapporteur fully supports these proposals which would undoubtedly contribute to a better co-operation between the two organs and improve the efficiency of the Organisation.

59.       The Assembly currently holds a Joint Committee meeting during each part session in order to promote dialogue with the Committee of Ministers, allow for open discussion on sensitive issues and, in some cases, adopt a common position on specific subjects. It should be noted that up to now hardly any use has been made of paragraph 1 c of Statutory resolution (51) according to which the Joint Committee may make proposals for the agendas of the Assembly and the Committee of Ministers. The Rapporteur considers that this provision should be applied.

ii.       Budgetary and administrative competences

60.       The Assembly's de facto weight in the Organisation is at present at variance with its powers in the budgetary and the administrative fields, which are unsatisfactory and do not correspond to normal prerogatives of a parliamentary body.

61.       The Assembly has therefore recommended to the Committee of Ministers12 that it be consulted before the overall ceiling of the Organisation's budget is fixed, and, with regard to the Budget of the Assembly, that a mechanism be set up for direct discussion with the Assembly so as to reach agreement on the total appropriations allocated to the Assembly each year.

62.       The Rapporteur notes with satisfaction that those elements are among the main recommendations of the Committee of Wise Persons (para.. 49), but regrets that it falls short of granting budgetary and administrative autonomy to the Assembly as continuously requested.

63.       Within the Assembly, budgetary resources should be allocated according to the priorities defined at the Summits, as should be the case for the Organisation as a whole.

64.       With regard to its own secretariat (the Office of the Clerk) it is clear that the Organisation's staff regulations apply to it. However, the Assembly's powers in this regard should be brought into line with its political role taking into account the fact that the Clerk is elected by the Assembly and accountable to its Bureau. As proposed in the report of the Committee of Wise persons, it would be advisable to better reflect the specific features of the Office of the Clerk in the regulations of the Organisation.

65.       As already recommended by the Assembly13, the Committee of Ministers should adopt a statutory resolution according to which it would systematically submit, prior to their adoption, all draft conventions, agreements, and protocols to the Assembly for co-decision.

66.       Co-decision in adopting texts of conventions is a fundamental right of a parliamentary body. This would furthermore enhance the democratic character of decision-making within the Organisation.

67.       The Rapporteur, however, welcomes the Wise Persons' proposal to set up a working party of the Joint Committee to try to find a solution in cases of disagreement (para.. 48) between the Assembly and the Committee of Ministers.

C. Proposals on the Assembly's Committee structure

68.       The proposals of the Committee of Wise Persons concerning the reorganisation of the structure of the secretariat dealing with intergovernmental co-operation should also lead to further reflection on the structure of the Assembly.

69.       The Rapporteur considers that the Assembly should reorganise its committee structure with a view to simplifying it, rationalising it and improving its efficiency. Such a reform should take into account the concerns of certain national delegations, which consider that the proliferation of meetings make it difficult for their members to attend regularly and which cannot always bear the expense of a regular attendance.

70.       Indeed, the Assembly now has a total of 572 members, plus twenty special guests and twelve observers and the number of members will increase again after a possible further enlargement of the Organisation. The Assembly has 14 committees with a varying number of seats, from 45 to 65.

71.       The Rapporteur is in favour of merging committees in the light of the priorities defined by the Council of Europe's Summits. This would further favour a greater parallelism with the intergovernmental sector and would facilitate co-operation with the latter.

72.       Some other issues, such as the size of the Assembly and the number of seats allocated to national delegations, the representation of national delegations in committees, the committees' size, the number of sub-committees and ad hoc committees, the duration and number of committee meetings and the precise terms of reference of the various committees need also to be reconsidered.

V.       Other Council of Europe's bodies

73.       All the existing bodies of the Council of Europe must be associated with the reforms and their mutual co-operation must be reinforced. They have to review, in the same way as the Committee of Ministers and the Assembly, their activities, structures and working methods with a view to direct them towards the priority objectives of the Organisation. At their level and within their competencies, they should apply the principles contained in Chapter II of this report concerning the Council of Europe as a whole.

74.       In this respect, the Rapporteur supports the proposals made by the Wise Persons with respect to the :

- Secretary General, who should present an annual rapport to the Assembly on "the state of the Council of Europe" (para.. 57) and be given more responsibilities in the field on monitoring (para.. 58);

- Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe, which should be more widely consulted by the Committee of Ministers on issues falling within its field of competence.(para. 54);

- Commission for Democracy through Law (the Venice Commission), which should be asked to give non-binding opinions by the statutory organs and the Secretary General on matters of constitutional importance or of fundamental legal interest for the Council of Europe, and by the Committee of Ministers on the interpretation of Conventions and other legal instruments of the Council of Europe devoid of specific interpretation mechanisms (para.. 59).

- Social Development Fund, whose activities need to be strengthened.

VI.       Conclusions

75.       The Report of the Committee of Wise Persons constitutes a good basis for the structural reform of the Organisation. The Rapporteur welcomes, in particular, the fact that several Assembly proposals have been incorporated in it and that, in general, there has been political will to associate the Assembly with the preparation of this report.

76.       Nevertheless, the crucial stage of the reforms - their implementation - is still ahead. The Wise Persons have suggested that the Committee of Ministers, in close co-operation with the Secretary General, be responsible for the follow-up action and monitor the implementation of the recommendations (para.. 88). The Rapporteur considers that the Assembly must closely follow this process and be associated with it. The commitment of the political groups of the Assembly to support the Wise Persons's proposals will be essential for the implementation of decisions requiring a strong political will. Morevover, the support of the national delegations will be fundamental, in particular, for budgetary decisions and ratification of conventions.

77.       It is ultimately the political will to defend and develop the values of the Organisation through the Committee of Ministers and its Governments on the one hand, and through the Parliamentary Assembly and its national parliaments on the other hand, which will determine the final success of the initiative taken at the Second Summit. The Rapporteur hopes that the proposals contained in the report of the Committee of Wise Persons will further enhance the effectiveness of the forthcoming reforms with a view of making the Council of Europe fully adapted to the needs of the European continent in the 21st century.

Reporting committee : Political Affairs Committee

Budgetary implications for the Assembly : None

Reference to committee : Doc. 8261 and Reference No. 2343 of 4 November 1998

Draft opinion and draft resolution unanimously adopted by the committee on 16 December 1998

Members of the committee : Mr Bársony (Chairman), Mrs Ojuland (Vice-Chairperson), MM Antretter, Arzilli, Atkinson, Mrs Belohorská, MM Bergqvist, Björck, Blaauw (alternate: Mrs Gelderblom-Lankhout), Bloetzer, Chircop, Chornovil, Daly, Davis, Dokle, Domljan, Gjellerod (alternate: Mrs Severinsen), Glotov, Gül (alternate: Akçali), Hadjidemetriou (alternate : Demetriou), Hornhues (alternate: Bühler), Mrs Iotti, MM. Irmer, Iwinski, Mrs Kautto, MM Kirilov, Krzaklewski, Kuzmickas, Mrs Lentz-Cornette, MM Lopez Henares, Lupu (alternate: Kelemen), van der Maelen (alternate: Clerfayt), Maginas (alternate: Micheloyiannis), Martinez, Medeiros Ferreira, Meier, Mota Amaral, Mühlemann (alternate:

Gross), Mutman, Nallet, Nedelciuc, Mrs Nemkova, MM Oliynyk, Pahor, Palmitjavilo Ribo, Popovski, Prusak, Mrs Ragnarsdottir, Mrs Roudy, MM Schieder, Schwimmer, Seguin (alternate: Baumel, Vice-Chairman), Selva, Sinka, Mrs Smith (alternate: Mr Taylor), Mrs Stanoiu, Mrs Stepová (alternate: Mr Skopal), MM Surjan, Thoresen (alternate: Simonsen), Timmermans, Toshev, Urbain (alternate: Staes), Volcic, Ziuganov.

N.B. The names of members who took part in the vote are printed in italics

Secretaries of the committee : Mr Kleijssen, Mr Sich, Mr Gruden


1 Membership : Mr Mario Soares, Chairman (former President of the Republic, Portugal); Mrs Gret Haller, Ombudsperson for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Switzerland; Mrs Tarja Halonen, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Finland; Mr Laszlo Kovacs, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Hungary; Mr Vladimir Shustov, Ambassador at Large, Russian Federation.

The following authorities and representatives were also fully involved in the activities of the Committee of Wise Persons : The President of the Parliamentary Assembly (Mrs Leni Fischer); the President of the Venice Commission (Mr Antonio La Pergola); a representative of the European Union Presidency (Mrs Audrey Glover); a representative of the OSCE Chairmanship-in-Office (Mrs Hanna Suchocka); a representative of the host country's authorities (Mrs Joëlle Timsit).

2 Resolution 1115 (1997) on the setting up of an Assembly committee on the honouring of obligations and commitments by member states of the Council of Europe (Monitoring Committee)

3

Resolution 1155 (1998) Evolution of the Assembly's monitoring procedures (April 1997 - April 1998)

4 Recommendation 1366 (1998) Evolution of the Assembly's monitoring procedures (April 1997 - April 1998)

5 idem

6

Democracy and human rights, social cohesion, security of citizens, democratic values and cultural diversity.

7 Recommendation 1365 (1998) Relations with the European Union (follow-up to the European Union's Amsterdam Summit)

8 Recommendation 1381 (1998) General Policy : Council of Europe and the OSCE

9 Recommendation 1342(1997) on the Parliamentary Assembly contribution to the 2nd Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Council of Europe

10

Recommendation 1250 (1994) on the enlargement of the Council of Europe and the budgetary prospects

11

Recommendation 1267 (1995) on the general policy of the Council of Europe

12 Recommendation 1344 (1997) on the enlargement of the Council of Europe : the budgetary and administrative powers of the Assembly

13

Recommendation 1361 (1998) modification of the procedure for adoption of Council of Europe conventions