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Europe: Assembly Urges Second Council of Europe Summit Next Year

Strasbourg, 25 September 1996 (RFE/RL) -- The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has urged the organization to hold a second summit meeting next year at it headquarters in Strasbourg.

The assembly, a consultative but nonetheless highly influential body, says the summit is needed to define the council's future role in a rapidly changing Europe.

The council has admitted seven new member states since 1993, when it held its first summit meeting in Vienna. In a resolution passed yesterday by a large majority, the assembly stresses the council's pan-European ambitions. It notes that 15 of its 39 member states are from Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. It also notes that six additional states from the area are associated with the Council and have applied for full membership.

The six with Special Guest Status at the Parliamentary Assembly are: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia and Georgia. With their entry, the assembly says, "the process of enlargement of the Council of Europe would draw to a close." It noted, however, that rump Yugoslavia -- Serbia and Montenegro -- remains outside the council's framework.

In a report appended to the resolution, the assembly declares that the Council of Europe is still operating, in the report's words: "on the basis of a founding treaty clearly designed for another era." Yet, the report says, other multilateral organizations such as the 53-state OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) and the 15-nation European Union have already adopted to what it called "the new Europe" by effecting institutional changes.

"It is high time to clearly define and decide at the highest political level the place and role of the Council of Europe in the European institutional landscape. Only heads of government and state can break persisting internal deadlocks and provide the political guidance and impetus necessary to adopt the Council to its changing environment," the report concludes.

The assembly says that, with the end of the council's expansion to the east now foreseeable, the organization should function as more than an agency for promoting democratic values, the rule of law and human rights, as its 1949 founding document prescribed.

"The council should also be a forum for political dialogue, treating difficult, conflict-ridden problems such as Cyprus and Chechnya," the assembly reported.

In addition, the assembly urges more systematic monitoring of commitments to democratic reform made by new member states, particularly former communist states, at the time of their admission.

If the council is to retain its credibility, as what British Liberal Democrat Sir Russell Johnston called yesterday "the conscience of Europe," then political monitoring must be expanded and linked to cooperation with, and assistance from, the council. In the assembly's blunt phrase: "If monitoring is to be effective, a system of sanctions must also be introduced."

To support this and other expanded council activities, the assembly calls for a substantial increase in the organization's budget. That budget now totals about $200 million a year and is derived mostly from member-state contributions. The assembly says that enlargement has created "pressing funding needs for aid and assistance programs as well as for increased staffing requirements."

The assembly proposes that the summit meeting to deal with these and other vital Council of Europe problems be held in the second half of 1997. That would mean, the assembly notes, that it would take place after already scheduled summits by the OSCE (December of this year) and by the 16-nation NATO alliance (late Spring or early Summer, 1997).

It would also mean that the summit would be held after the conclusion of the EU's current Inter-Governmental Conference (IGC). The IGC is expected to end by the middle of next year, and until then will surely preoccupy EU members who are all also council members. Finally, the date suggested means that the summit would take place during the French presidency of the Council of Europe, a tribute to the organization's host country.

The assembly's resolution now goes to the council's Committee of Ministers, its chief executive organ which, incidentally, the assembly proposes strengthening and renaming "Council of Ministers." It is there that the organization's member states will decide, probably early next year, on whether or not to endorse the assembly's proposal.

Council officials tell our correspondent that most new Eastern member states, as well as both France and Germany, strongly support the idea. But, the officials emphasize, decisions on such important matters within the Committee of Ministers are taken only by consensus. That means that all members will have to agree, which in turn suggests there will be some modifications in the assembly's proposals before the summit is officially scheduled.