For the past six months Fianna Fáil Senator Fiona O’Loughlin, head of the Irish delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly at the Council of Europe, has been working on behalf of the 46 member states to ensure a Summit of Heads of Government and State for the fourth time in the 73-year history of the Council of Europe.
Responding to the today’s historic decision that this summit will be held in Iceland next May, Senator O`Loughlin – speaking from Strasbourg – welcomed the announcement saying: “Europe is going through a time of uncertainty and reversals. Catastrophes such as climate change, the Covid-19 pandemic, a brutal war of aggression at the heart of the continent, and the risk of its further escalation, have heightened the sentiment of insecurity and vulnerability amongst the public.
“While there is no easy fix, it is safe to say that values, standards and multilateralism are part of the solution. The solidity and the resilience of European democracies, their respect for human rights and their adherence to the rule of law are the best guarantees for each other’s security and peaceful future. The Heads of State and Government of Council of Europe member States, gathered in the Organisation’s fourth Summit, should reaffirm their unity around these values and their unfaltering commitment to multilateralism based on international law.”
The Kildare politician said the Summit should reiterate full support for the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine, call for financial support towards its reconstruction and “demand that the Russian Federation be held accountable for violating international law and the damage it has caused.”
She went on to state that the aggression against Ukraine “has been defined as a watershed moment and as a point of no return. It is our responsibility to learn from our own failures and ensure that this war also becomes the starting point for a renewed, improved and reinforced Council of Europe.
“While Ukrainians are victims of barbaric violence in their own land, all Europeans have started to pay the price of the war: higher energy costs, shortages of food and other basic products, and the impact of the economic recession are engulfing their everyday lives.”
Senator O’Loughlin said the Heads of State and Government must reaffirm their commitment to protect, respect and promote democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
“Faced with the brutality of this war of aggression, they should reiterate that the pursuit of peace based upon justice and international co-operation is a vital precondition for the preservation of human society and civilisation,” she remarked. “The Summit should reiterate full support for the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine whilst also demanding that a comprehensive system is set up to ensure that the Russian Federation be held accountable for violating international law and the damage it has caused.
“The Council of Europe should be closer to citizens and more responsive to their expectations in terms of openness, transparency and active engagement. Major societal changes have occurred in the past decades which demand greater access to public institutions, including international organisations. Opportunities for holding public consultations on key issues should be established.
“New channels should be created for civil society, non-governmental organisations and national human rights institutions to provide a greater input into the work of the Organisation in its dimensions of standard-setting, monitoring and co-operation.
“The Summit should provide political support for strengthening Council of Europe tools and mechanisms, whilst also looking at new legal instruments establishing the right to a safe, healthy and sustainable environment and to regulate artificial intelligence should be added to the Council of Europe’s corpus of law.
“It is also necessary to address the backsliding of democracy while addressing its root causes, for instance by enhancing citizens’ trust in democratic processes, putting an emphasis on democratic participation, good governance, protecting social rights and tackling inequalities. To counter democratic backsliding, particular attention should be paid to enhancing the quality and professionalism of the public administration and strengthening local democracy, two sectors which play a decisive role in shaping people’s trust in public authorities.’”
Senator O`Loughlin concluded by paying tribute to former President Mary Robinson who chaired a high-level reflection group on the need for a 4th summit, and also Ministers Thomas Byrne and Simon Coveney who ‘very much supported’ the need for such a summit during the six-month Irish Presidency.
The Fianna Fáil Senator believes that the next six months are crucial in terms of preparing for the Summit. The public administration is citizens’ most direct interface with public institutions. Its efficiency, responsiveness, professionalism, ethical conduct, fairness and respect of the law are crucial for member States’ democratic resilience.