Today Athens is hosting the 130th Session of the Committee of Ministers, albeit in unwonted and unprecedented circumstances. As a result of the global pandemic, this digital reunion of the foreign ministers of the 47 Council of Europe member states comes some six months later than initially envisaged. The public health crisis which now ensues us and the response the Council of Europe shall serve as the focus of the meeting’s agenda. The European Union is of course actively participating.
The annual session of the Committee of Ministers is both a chance to discuss the achievements of the past and an opportunity to plan for the challenges lying ahead. Within the context of the Ministerial session, an event will be held to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the European Convention on Human Rights. This will be the final virtual celebration organised during the Greek Chairmanship, which comes to an end later this month. There will also be discussions on the recent Annual report by Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Marija Pejčinović Burić, on Multilateralism in 2020 as well as the Council of Europe’s engagement with its neighbourhood regions. The most significant moment on the agenda is a political declaration by the Chairmanship, supported by 44 members states, on responding to the public health crisis in full respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Europe.
All Council of Europe member states, its observers, as well as the European Union, recognise the devastating impact the coronavirus has had and continues to have on the institution’s fundamental role and principles. In the words of the Greek Chairmanship: “since the beginning of the crisis, we have witnessed restrictions on our fundamental liberties, all in the name of public health”. As such, the declaration most importantly calls for states to ensure responses in full respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Any derogations must be justified, time-limited and proportionate.
The European Union wholeheartedly supports the Council of Europe’s response to the crisis and the Athens Declaration. High Representative Josep Borrell, as well as Presidents Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel have already made clear that global problems require multilateral solutions. The European Union values and places a great deal of respect in the rules-based order. Respect for European human rights conventions is more important than ever before. This is especially pertinent from a European Union perspective as the Union has recently resumed negotiations to accede to the European Convention on Human Rights.
Looking beyond the pandemic, we expect the Athens session of the Committee of Ministers will provide a moment for the European Union and each of its member states to renew its support for Council of Europe principles. In this light, we look forward to the upcoming German Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers which will coincide with the German Presidency of the Council of the European Union. We hope this will provide a unique platform to ensure that EU member states can deliver upon the EU priorities for cooperation with the Council of Europe 2020-2022. Both during this pandemic and going forward afterwards, artificial intelligence, environmental and cyber policies, to name a few, will remain key to ensuring we can effectively uphold Council of Europe principles. Through this crisis, through the recovery, and onwards through the future, the EU will remain a staunch supporter of the Council of Europe.