Kox: “Convention-based system interesting alternative to current European Union”

25 September 2017

Kox: “Convention-based system interesting alternative to current European Union”

SP Senate Leader Tiny Kox, who also serves as leader of the United Left Group in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), sees the Council of Europe’s convention-based system as an alternative to what he describes as the European Union’s ‘one-size–fits all’ approach. Apparently, colleagues across the political spectrum in PACE feel the same: last week they voted unanimously to support Senator Kox’s proposal to put the evaluation of the Council of Europe’s unique system high on the agenda of the coming summit of heads of state and government. “The political leaders from the forty-seven member states need to consider whether they agree with my report when I say that the convention system on which the Council of Europe rests remains worthwhile,” says Kox. “If so, then they must invest a great deal more time, effort and resources in the making and implementation of conventions, and in monitoring them once they are in force.”

My proposal to put the evaluation of the Council of Europe’s unique treaty-based system high on the agenda of the coming summit of heads of state and government of the organisation’s forty-seven member states was accepted unanimously at a recent meeting of the organisation’s Parliamentary Assembly in Paris. The summit will probably be held in 2019, the year that marks the Council of Europe’s seventieth anniversary.

At a time when the EU seems to be stuck in its one size fits all mentality, and a system which reflects this, the more flexible convention system offers the space and adaptability we need if we are to make a success of cooperation at the European level. Under the system which I would favour, each member state would determine for itself which conventions it would ratify. There would continue to be exceptions. As now, the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture would be obligatory for all member states.

In recent decades a total of more than two hundred treaties have been ratified, the aim of which is in one way or another to promote European unity, as was called for in Article 1 of the Statute of the Council of Europe, its founding document signed in 1949, four years after one of history’s most destructive wars reduced much of Europe to a pile of rubble. The organisation’s purpose, Article 1 states. Is “to achieve a greater unity between its members for the purpose of safeguarding and realising the ideals and principles which are (the member states’) common heritage” as well as “facilitating their economic and social progress.”

In addition to fundamental treaties such as the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which is binding throughout Europe, the European Social Charter (which lays down basic social rights) and the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture, there are many important treaties which are far less well-known. These cover matters such as judicial cooperation, cybercrime, the fight against terrorism, social security, minority rights, the protection of women and children, and cultural rights. Together, these conventions, however well or poorly known, contribute greatly to the promotion of the rule of law, the protection of human rights and the development of democratic institutions across Europe, from Nuuk in Greenland to Vladivostok on the east coast of Siberia.

At the same time, there are still a lot of things happening which are far from desirable. The creation, signing and ratification of treaties is generally a very long process and their implementation in national legislation is often flawed. The support of member states in the implementation and monitoring of compliance could also be improved. And for that, more resources and more personnel are needed. As things stand, to finance all of its work the Council of Europe is given the same sum per year as the European Union gets through in a day.

This is precisely why it’s important that the convention system should be thoroughly evaluated and, where necessary, extended and improved. This is of particular importance at a time when the tightening corset of the European Union is showing itself to be less and less attractive. All EU member states are also member states of the Council of Europe. Far from all of them are happy with the way the EU works. A more flexible system based on conventions, under which each country is free to specify whether and when it will participate, might provide an exceptionally interesting alternative.

During the last year I have been able to conduct painstaking research into the European convention system. I have studied documents, attended hearings with international experts, paid visits to member states and discussed the issues with colleagues. The result was the report which last week won unanimous and enthusiastic support from PACE’s Institutional Affairs Committee. It still has to be considered by the PACE plenary: this will happen next month when I will have the chance to defend it in Strasbourg, where I am confident it will be passed by a clear majority. If so, then our heads of state and government will be obliged to take the proposal very seriously. They may not be so keen to do so, given that all of these conventions are designed to give more and stronger rights to the 835 million inhabitants of the forty-seven member states. Yet these countries’ parliaments have, after all, approved these treaties, meaning that their governments must act. This is what’s known as democracy, and civilization.

I am counting on support from the Dutch government. After all, our country was one of the founding members of the Council of Europe. Our parliament hosted the European Congress in 1948 which led directly to its founding. This is something to be proud of, but surely something also that creates obligations.

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