On Monday, 14 December, the EU Delegation to the Council of Europe brought to an end its online event series on EU – Council of Europe cooperation. The three-part series came on the heals of the launch of the EU Priorities for Cooperation with the Council of Europe 2020-2022 and explored the implementation of these priorities in light of three new EU action plans. The three action plans and related events respectively explored gender equality, global human rights and democracy promotion and ensuring resilient European democracies, and brought to the fore our deepening cooperation with the Council of Europe in these fields.
Our first event focused on the new EU Action Plan on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in External Relations for 2021-2025 (GAP III). Finnish Ambassador Nina Nordström; EEAS Principal Advisor on Gender Issues, Ambassador Mara Marinaki and Head of Human Dignity and Gender Equality Department at the Council of Europe, Mr Daniele Cangemi joined EU Ambassador Meglena Kuneva for a panel discussion. The panel focused on the ambitious five pillars approach of the GAP III: gender mainstreaming monitoring; member state and partner cooperation; thematic engagement; leadership; and the measuring of results.
Panellists also reflected on efforts to redouble support for the Istanbul Convention on Preventing and Combatting Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence. Ambassador Nordström, who is also the Chair of the Committee of the Parties to the Istanbul Convention stressed that the EU and Council of Europe must continue to ensure the protection of gender equality standards in our member states if we aspire to export these standards globally. Ambassador Marinaki reaffirmed the EU’s commitment to accede to the Istanbul Convention and called on all of its member states to finalise their ratifications.
On 7 December, our attention turned to the new EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy for 2020-2024 and we welcomed EU Special Representative for Human Rights Eamon Gilmore and Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Dunja Mijatović, to share their views on this ambitious strategy. Mr Gilmore introduced the new Action Plan as both a continuation of the EU’s longstanding work to eradicate persistent human rights violations, and an innovative blueprint to face the rising challenges of our times. To build resilient, inclusive and democratic societies, it will be paramount to link the preservation of the environment with human rights, and to ensure that the digital transformation is human-centred and respectful of fundamental freedoms.
Ms Mijatović welcomed the Action Plan as a key instrument to promote democracy and human rights throughout Europe and beyond its borders. Nevertheless, she insisted that European countries need to lead by example to maintain credibility as standard setters. In that respect, she called out the worrisome criticisms of the Istanbul Convention, which demonstrate the central place of gender issues in the broader protection of human rights and the need to uphold the highest standards in that field. This objective can only benefit from stronger synergies between the EU and the Council of Europe, and Mr Gilmore highlighted that their cooperation could be deepened through the EU accession to the European Convention on Human Rights.
The final of event of the series, saw Head of Cabinet of Commissioner for Values and Transparency, Renate Nikolay and President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Mr Rik Daems join Ambassador Kuneva for a discussion on the European Democracy Action Plan. The Action Plan was drawn up with the intention to empower citizens and build more resilient democracies through promoting free and fair elections, strengthening media freedom and pluralism and countering disinformation.
Unsurprisingly, disinformation dominated discussions, with both sides offering their approach to balancing the facts with freedom of expression. Ms Nikolay stressed that countering disinformation will prove to be an inter-generational challenge and that our responsibility now lies in setting up long term sustainable solutions such as media literacy education. Mr Daems added that the Council of Europe would be very supportive of short-term efforts as well, especially with respect to fact-checking and protecting what he describes as “the new right to know the truth”. He, like Mr Gilmore, has high hopes that the EU accession to the European Convention on Human Rights will provide a platform for deeper cooperation between the two organisations and ensure a more cohesive protection of human rights across the continent.
Ambassador Kuneva warmly welcomed positive signs of fruitful cooperation on all three topics. Promising that these panel discussions are only the beginning of longer and deeper conversations, she thanked Council of Europe officials for their “steadfast support for common values”.