Conference of International Non-Governmental Organizations
The Council of Europe’s work benefits extensively from contacts and co-operation with the dynamic elements of society, as represented by NGOs. One of the main challenges currently facing the Organisation is to strengthen NGOs and civil society in the new member states and to develop participatory democracy on a pan-European basis. The Council of Europe’s co-operation programmes rely on partner NGOs and focus on democratic reform.
The Conference of INGOs of the Council of Europe
The Council of Europe’s Conference of International Non-governmental Organisations (INGOs) is made up of INGOs with participatory status at the Council of Europe. Through this status, the Council of Europe includes INGOs in intergovernmental activities and encourages dialogue of members of parliament and local and regional authorities with associations on major social issues.
Consultative and participatory status
INGOs have been able to acquire consultative status with the organisation since 1952. In November 2003, this was upgraded to participatory status for international NGOs, recognising their significance in Council of Europe policy making. This status is governed by Committee of Ministers’ Resolution (2003)8. INGOs wishing to obtain such status must be particularly representative in their field(s); they must share the Council’s objectives for Europe and contribute actively to its work. To date, approximately 370 INGOs hold such status. They form the Conference of INGOs of the Council of Europe, which meets once a year to decide on general lines of action.
A Liaison Committee elected by the Conference, meets regularly, promoting permanent dialogue and co-operation between the Council’s Secretariat and the INGOs. It maintains close contact with the Council’s political bodies – the Committee of Ministers, the Parliamentary Assembly, the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities and the Commissioner for Human Rights.
INGOs with participatory status have set up ten thematic Groupings which meet three times a year during the sessions of the Parliamentary Assembly (Human Rights, Gender Equality, European Social Charter and Social Policies, Extreme Poverty and Social Cohesion, Education and Culture, Civil Society and Democracy in Europe, Health, Countryside and Environment, Towns, North-South Dialogue and Solidarity). The Groupings maintain a regular dialogue with Council of Europe representatives, receiving first hand information on the Council’s activities and contributing their collective know-how to their implementation.
Different forms of co-operation
Co-operation with INGOs takes many forms, from simple consultation to full-scale co-operation on specific projects. INGO experts may participate in various projects as consultants; they may contribute to the work of intergovernmental committees on an institutionalized or ad-hoc basis, prepare memoranda for the Secretary General, make oral or written statements to the committees of the Parliamentary Assembly and the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities and address seminars and other meetings organised by the Council of Europe.
INGOs enjoying participatory status also disseminate information about the Council of Europe’s aims and activities among their constituencies.
In November 2003, the participatory status for international NGOs was supplemented by a partnership between the Council of Europe and national NGOs (Resolution (2003)9) reflecting their vital role in strengthening a democratic and open society in all member states, and their active and constructive contribution to the Council of Europe’s work programme.