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Six months, three priorities: German Presidency of the Council of Europe ends with handover on 21 May

Logo des deutschen Vorsitzes beim Europarat

Logo des deutschen Vorsitzes beim Europarat, © AA

20.05.2021 - Article

Germany’s six-month Presidency of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe ends on 21 May 2021. Germany had taken over the Presidency from Greece last November. Now it is the turn of Foreign Minister Heiko Maas to pass on the baton, or in this case, the “Presidency key” to Hungary.

Six months and three priorities sums up the work of the German Presidency of the Council of Europe, a group of 47 member states, notwithstanding all the extra challenges posed by the pandemic.

  • Heiko Maas: Our goal is more coherent protection of human rights throughout Europe.
    Foreign Minister Heiko Maas© Thomas Trutschel/photothek.de
    Strengthening the law:
    What exactly did it mean when we said that we aimed to strengthen the Council of Europe as a central pillar of multilateral cooperation and the rules-based order in Europe? We feel it is important to repeatedly put the implementation of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights on the agenda of the relevant committees and bodies. This is also a matter of credibility. Bringing experts and politicians together at high-level conferences, as we did to mark the 70th anniversary of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) is particularly vital at this time of enforced distancing, in order to keep the dialogue going and to develop new ideas. And, last but not least, Germany is to give the European Court of Human Rights an extra one million euro to help it deal with its increasing workload better and more quickly. Foreign Minister Maas underscored the importance of the rule of law and strengthening human rights: “Our goal is the consistent protection of human rights throughout Europe. All member states are obliged to uphold the legally binding decisions of the European Court of Human Rights.”
  • Minister of State for Europe Michael Roth: We want to involve young people more in our work because we want to win them over in favor of human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
    Minister of State for Europe Michael Roth© AA
    Shaping the future:
    How can the human rights enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights be protected and built on given the spread of hate speech on the internet and the rapid developments in the field of artificial intelligence (AI)? The Council of Europe is a standard-setter in this context and thus has a key role to play. Germany was able to build on the work of previous Presidencies in the Ad hoc Committee on Artificial Intelligence and the Steering Committee on Anti-Discrimination, Diversity and Inclusion. It also led discussions on the use of AI to safeguard human rights, democracy and the rule of law at a conference organised by the Federal Foreign Office, the Federal Justice Ministry and the Council of Europe on human rights in the era of AI (more details at www.germanycoe.de). In addition, a multi-stakeholder conference organised together with the Federal Justice Ministry and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation explored the cross-border phenomenon of hate speech on the internet, in response to the growing threat this poses (more details at here, in German). Addressing some 20,000 online participants, Foreign Minister Maas said: “In a digitised world, we must do far more to address the question of what it means in concrete terms to ensure that human rights are also upheld online. (…) And that is why it is so important that we in the Council of Europe now have a Committee of Experts to draw up proposals on this subject.”
  • Bringing Europe closer to the people: The 3rd European Youth Work Convention, held during Germany’s Presidency, was the biggest online event to strengthen youth work (more details here). In addition, we organised a workshop entitled “Roma Youth – Together for Emancipation and Empowerment” as well as other seminars, exhibitions and concerts with the aim of involving Europe’s largest minority and raising awareness of their concerns. Minister of State Roth described this key priority of our Presidency as follows: “We want to involve young people more in our work, because we would like to encourage them to become more politically engaged and to join the fight for human rights, democracy and the rule of law.”

The shared values and convictions of 800 million citizens in the Council of Europe countries have been enshrined in a total of 220 conventions. When Germany took over the Presidency of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, it still had several weeks to go of its Presidency of the Council of the European Union. This was no mere overlap on the calendar. For regardless of the institutional and substantive differences, there was one common goal that united these two German Presidencies: strengthening the rule of law in Europe. While the EU Presidency focused on “rule‑of‑law conditionality” and “rule-of-law dialogue”, the Council of Europe Presidency was concerned above all with public and financial support for the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights. Negotiations on the accession of the European Union to the European Convention on Human Rights were also resumed during this German “dual presidency”. These long-term negotiations provided an opportunity to further intensify the vital collaboration between the two organisations to protect law and human rights in Europe.

“Exchange also across ideological divides”

Germany’s six-month Presidency of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe ends on 21 May, but work on our three priority areas (strengthening the law, shaping the future, and bringing Europe closer to the people) will continue.

As Foreign Minister Maas said in a speech to the Parliamentary Assembly in January:

The Council of Europe has always stood for exchange also across ideological divides. That also means openly expressing criticism – and tolerating it. (...) Only if we maintain frank exchange with one another will we be able to preserve what in 1949 was viewed at best as a faraway goal: a Europe of peace, cooperation and human rights.

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