Doc. 9549

20 September 2002

Participation of immigrants and foreign residents in political life in the Council of Europe member states

Recommendation 1500 (2001)

Reply from the Committee of Ministers

adopted at the 808th meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies (18 September 2002)

1.       The Committee of Ministers has studied with interest Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation 1500 (2001) on the participation of immigrants and foreign residents in political life in the Council of Europe member states.

2.       The measures advocated in this recommendation are in many ways in line with the activities being carried out by the Committee of Ministers to meet the present-day challenges of multicultural society. The Committee of Ministers has indeed recognised, in the participation of immigrants and foreign residents in public life and politics, a useful means by which to foster integration and the principle of non-discrimination as well as to combat racism and xenophobia.

3.       The work undertaken in this field is based on the standard-setting framework provided by the Council of Europe's basic legal instruments: the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Social Charter, as well as on the case-law of the organs of these instruments. This framework has been supplemented by specific conventions : the European Convention on Nationality and the European Convention on the Participation of Foreigners in Public Life at Local Level, to which the Assembly refers in its recommendation.

4.       The Committee of Ministers joins the Assembly in appealing to the member states to ratify these two conventions if they have not already done so. It notes the usefulness of reappraising the minimum standards laid down by these instruments in order to adapt them to the requirements of European society. In fact, the Committee of Experts on Nationality (CJ-NA) is currently drafting a report on conditions for the acquisition and loss of nationality, in order to determine whether present standards are adequate.

5.       However, before contemplating widening the scope of these two conventions, the Committee of Ministers believes it is necessary to promote their ratification. With this in mind, the Steering Committee on Local and Regional Democracy (CDLR) has set about identifying obstacles, including constitutional ones, to ratification of the European Convention on the Participation of Foreigners in Public Life at Local Level, for the purpose of suggesting measures to overcome them, if appropriate.

6.       The Committee of Ministers notes with interest the Assembly's recommendation to organise exchanges of information and experience concerning foreigners' participation in political life. It emphasises the wide variety of aspects to be taken into account in this field: right to vote and stand for election; naturalisation; civil, social and economic rights. These subjects are regularly addressed in the reports compiled by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) and are among the core concerns of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe.

7.       The integrated project “Making democratic institutions work”, in its endeavour to strengthen democratic institutions so that they are even more representative, transparent and accessible to all, devotes an important chapter of its activity to the participation of foreigners in public life at local level. Some of the main activities IP1 is supporting in this domain are:

      - the preparation of a manual on local advisory councils for foreign residents and the establishment of a European network of these councils (joint activity with CLRAE, ECRI, CDMG, and CDLR), which will contribute to the implementation of CLRAE Recommendation 73 (2000) on the participation of foreign residents in local public life and Recommendation 115 (2002) on the participation of foreign residents in local public life: advisory councils;

      - a study on the implementation in member states of the Council of Europe Convention on the Participation of Foreigners in Public Life at Local Level (ETS No. 159).

      - the revision of the European Charter on Participation of Young People in Local and Regional life, which puts forward specific recommendations on how to involve young migrants in local public life.

8.        The work of the European Committee on Migration (CDMG) on integration and, in particular, preparation for political participation are also relevant. Two seminars, attended by representatives of immigrant communities, and an exchange of views within the CDMG have dealt with the question of increasing non-nationals' involvement in political life and social relations between immigrants and their host society. These debates focussed on the machinery of political consultation, with special reference to the right to vote. They also helped identify political participation as a key element in a social integration strategy. Consequently, a section on political participation of persons admitted for family reunification was included in Recommendation Rec(2002)4 on the legal status of persons admitted for family reunification, adopted by the Committee of Ministers in March 2002. Furthermore, full and active participation by all in the life of society will be one of the topics at the forthcoming Conference of Ministers responsible for Migration Affairs, in Helsinki in September 2002.

9.       Lastly, the Committee of Ministers would remind the Assembly of the provisions of Recommendation Rec(2001)19 on the participation of citizens in local public life, drawn up by the Steering Committee on Local and Regional Democracy (CDLR). In this recommendation, the notion of citizens embraces everyone (including foreigners) belonging to a local community, which implies the existence of a stable link between the individual and the community. The CDLR is in the process of taking stock of member states' policies and measures designed to implement this recommendation. Its aim is, in the light of the results of the survey, to propose specific activities that might, where appropriate, be along the lines indicated by the Assembly.

10.       The establishment of societies in whose functioning all their members can take an active part remains an important priority for the Committee of Ministers. The process of reflection already under way in various sectors of the Organisation, based on recognition of the fact that a healthy democracy requires full participation by everyone present on its territory, is continuing. The Committee of Ministers is mindful of the fact that the success of integration policies entails an unfailing ability to review and adapt society's laws, institutions and practices, in order to accommodate diversity.