Parliamentary Assembly

The Council of Europe and the Convention on the Future of Europe
Recommendation 1613 (2003)

Doc. 10040
24 January 2004

Reply from the Committee of Ministers
adopted at the 869th meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies (21 January 2004)

1.         The Committee of Ministers has taken note with interest of Recommendation 1613 on the Council of Europe and the Convention on the Future of Europe adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly on 26 June 2003, and of Resolution 1339 adopted at the same time and on the same subject.

2.         The Committee of Ministers underlines that the issues raised in these two texts received serious attention and that it has continued, through its Rapporteur Group on relations with the EU (GR-EU), to follow developments in the Convention on the future of Europe and the subsequent Intergovernmental Conference.

3.         At the 19th Quadripartite meeting on 17 June 2003 the participants held an exchange of views on the draft text prepared by the Convention.  On the Council of Europe side, the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers and the Secretary General particularly welcomed the fact that the text provided a legal basis for accession of the European Union to the European Convention on Human Rights.  They also welcomed the inclusion of a general provision concerning the establishment of appropriate co-operation between the Union and the Council of Europe.  They drew attention to the various contributions to the discussion within the Convention on the relations between the enlarged EU and its European neighbours, all of which are members of the Council of Europe or candidates for membership.  They recalled the strong support expressed by many members of the Convention to a specific reference to the role of the Council of Europe in this respect.

4.         Co-operation between the Council of Europe and the European Union was one of the main subjects discussed at the 113th Session of the Committee of Ministers (Chisinau, 6 November 2003).  On that occasion the Secretary General presented to the Ministers his thoughts on the medium-term prospects for a new partnership between the Council of Europe and the European Union, as set out in his memorandum “A Europe of Partners” (SG/Inf(2003)35).

5.         In the Communiqué of the Session, the Ministers reiterated the need to maintain a coherent approach to the protection of fundamental rights in the whole of Europe and noted that the draft constitutional treaty provides that the European Union shall seek accession to the European Convention on Human Rights.  The Committee of Ministers expressed its readiness to open negotiations as soon as a positive decision has been taken by the European Union and agreed that the discussion on future co-operation between the Council of Europe and the enlarged European Union should be developed in the light of the results of the Intergovernmental Conference.

6.         In response to the Secretary General’s memorandum, Mr. Chris Patten has underlined on behalf of the Commission that the future of the Union is under discussion in the Inter-Governmental Conference, while the development of the Council of Europe is the object of an in-depth reflection in preparation for the Third Summit.  According to the Commission it is therefore very difficult for the Union now to consider particular forms or modalities its future relations with the Council of Europe may take on. In the meanwhile, the Commission will continue to develop its co-operation with the Council of Europe notably in the Western Balkans.

7.         As the Parliamentary Assembly is well aware, the Intergovernmental Conference was adjourned on 13 December 2003 without reaching an overall agreement. Ireland, which took over the rotating EU Presidency from Italy on 1 January is currently making – on the basis of consultations – an assessment of the prospect for progress and will report to the European Council in March.  The Committee of Ministers will continue to follow actively developments in this respect.  It wishes, to draw the attention of the Assembly to the formulation of the latest version of article I-7.2 of the draft constitutional treaty, as proposed by the outgoing Italian Presidency of the European Union, which reads:  “The Union shall accede to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms …”.

8.         In this context, the Committee of Ministers also refers to the Declaration “Guaranteeing the long-term effectiveness of the European Court of Human Rights” adopted in May 2003 at its 112th Session where it stated its intention to consider, with a view to adopting them, a draft amending protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights and other relevant instruments at its 114th Session in May 2004.  Accordingly, the Deputies issued terms of reference to the Steering Committee for Human Rights (CDDH) to proceed with its work to implement the above-mentioned declaration.  In the interim activity report submitted to the Committee of Ministers in November 2003, in addition to measures relating to the Court, the CDDH presented various options to allow for the accession of the EU to the ECHR.  It continues its examination of this issue with a view to the adoption of a final report in April 2004.

9.         Concerning a possible accession of the EU to the European Cultural Convention, the Committee of Ministers recalls its reply to Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation 1566 (2002) on European cultural co-operation and the future role of the Assembly, in which it states that it is disposed to consider the Assembly’s suggestion to “take the necessary steps so that the European Union becomes Party to the European Cultural Convention”.  It notes that the Secretary General has also put forward this proposal in his memorandum, whilst recalling the relevant Articles of the Community Treaties concerning co-operation between the Council of Europe and the EU in the fields of education and culture (Articles 149 and 151 of the EC Treaty).  The matter may be examined further in the envisaged review of the Cultural Convention and raised, in due time, with the relevant services of the European Commission.

10.       As far as the discussion on EU association status proposed by the Secretary General is concerned, a number of member states felt that it was premature to consider such a far-reaching proposal at a moment where the institutional framework of the European Union was in the process of being modified. Nonetheless, further to preliminary discussions which have taken place on this subject, the Dutch Presidency of the Committee of Ministers has stated its intention to put this question on the Agenda of the next Quadripartite meeting between the Council of Europe and the EU, which should take place on 23 March 2004 in Brussels.

11.       As regards the institutional presence of the EU in the Council of Europe, the Committee of Ministers shares the view of the Assembly on the importance of such a presence.  It highlights in particular the effectiveness which would arise from a permanent representation of the Commission in the Council of Europe, whilst noting that the latter has stated that it is not in a position to open a permanent office in Strasbourg for the time being, due to a lack of resources.

12.       The Committee of Ministers is aware that the impact of the new institutional framework of the EU would call in due time for a review of the relations between the two organisations. It nevertheless stresses the fact that this would necessarily be a medium-term process.  In effect, the EU needs first to acquire international legal personality, which will in any case only be effective once the new constitutional treaty enters into force.

13.       In the meantime the Council of Europe on its part shall be an active partner in strengthening further its co-operation with the EU through the existing means, on the basis of the conclusions of the 113th Session of the Committee of Ministers.  Co-operation is already developing in many areas, in particular in the field of justice and home affairs. Moreover, within the framework of the Joint Declaration on Co-operation and Partnership, co-operation with the European Commission is growing in practical ways, notably through the definition of new Joint Programmes and strategic initiatives which cover priority areas of both organisations. This process will be pursued, where the complementary nature of efforts can bring added value to the pursuit of common aims, in particular with regard to the protection of democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law.

14.       Finally the Committee of Ministers would also like to point out that the relations between the Council of Europe and the enlarged and reformed European Union were proposed to be one of the main themes of the Third Summit.  The Committee of Ministers is examining all proposals in this respect in its Working Group (GT-SOM3), expecting that the member states as well as the European Commission would make substantial contributions to the discussion of this important issue.