Text Box: Council of Europe neighbourhood policy and the Arab Spring

Council of Europe neighbourhood policy and the Arab Spring

Ever since a desperate man in Tunisia burned himself to death in December 2010, the revolutionary wave of demonstrations in countries around the Southern rim of the Mediterranean continues to raise headlines and hopes that democracy can replace dictatorship.

The “Arab Spring” revealed the full relevance of the Council of Europe’s policy towards its neighbours, since developments in Tunisia and other countries raise the fundamental issues of human rights, the rule of law and democracy, which lie at the heart of the Council of Europe’s mandate. It is in this context that Tunisia and Morocco have manifested their interest in strengthening co-operation with the Council of Europe, by identifying priority lines of co-operation and setting-up joint activity programmes.

These developments reinforce the need for a review of existing Council of Europe relations and policies with its neighbours – and for the definition of clear strategic priorities about how these relations should develop in the future.

For a number of years already, the Council of Europe has worked with countries now in the sway of the Arab Spring. In view of its longstanding relationships with this region, a brand new partnership with the European Union had been announced this past January to strengthen democratic reform in the Southern Mediterranean Region.

Project to strengthen democracy in the Southern Mediterranean Region

Agreed in January 2012, this €4.8m, 3-year project – to last until the end of 2014 – will focus on four specific objectives:

  1. To enhance independence and efficiency of the judiciary by improving Courts' performance and by facilitating judicial reform, using as a reference relevant Council of Europe standards.
  2. To promote good governance through increased prevention of corruption and money laundering on the basis of the relevant Council of Europe standards, mechanisms and instruments, and to improve the basic framework for regional co-operation.
  3. To strengthen and protect human rights, in particular through the prevention and control of trafficking in human beings in line with the provisions of the Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings and other international standards.
  4. To promote democratic values in the region, building on Council of Europe existing networks such as those developed by the North-South Centre, the Youth Directorate, the Pompidou Group, the Venice Commission and Schools of Political Studies.

This co-operation is entirely governed by the Council of Europe’s principles and standards. Areas of co-operation with these countries are decided in accordance with the specific needs expressed by each country, with reference to shared values of human rights, the rule of law and democracy.

This €4.8 million 3-year programme supports co-operation priorities with Morocco and Tunisia (and probably Jordan) in the fields of the independence and efficiency of the judiciary, fight against corruption and human trafficking and promotion of democratic values. The programme’s implementation has started in Morocco and Tunisia; some initiatives will be implemented over three years throughout the region.

Current high levels of co-operation between the Council of Europe and Morocco (Partner for democracy status granted, regular contacts with the Council of Europe) and Tunisia (high level Council of Europe missions, request for Partner for Democracy status to follow shortly) will allow activities in these countries to start without delay. But activities under this proposed programme are open to other partner countries in the region engaged in a process of democratic transformation.

Promoting good governance

In two recent resolutions the Parliamentary Assembly has called on Tunisian authorities to “take resolute steps to curb corruption and to implement urgent social and economic reforms with a view to creating normal and equitable conditions for all those involved in the economy”. Morocco has also been called upon to fight corruption.

One way the Council of Europe will help – in both Morocco and Tunisia – is through the use of methodologies worked out by the its Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO) and its Committee of Experts on the Evaluation of Anti-Money Laundering Measures and the Financing of Terrorism (MONEYVAL). Both will identify priority areas for further prevention and law enforcement reform, to enhance institutional capacities and to prevent and combat corruption, money-laundering. Terrorist financing offenses will be identified.  

Judiciary independence

As the debate on a new Tunisian constitution continues among deputies elected last year in the country’s first-ever Constituent Assembly, Tunisia faces the challenge of implementing a new conception of the state. It should be ruled by law and be fully accountable to its people. Once the constitution is adopted, it will be possible to move to drafting statutory and sub-statutory legislation and review of the legislation in line with international standards.

The Council of Europe already had assisted Tunisia with electoral expertise to elect the Constituent Assembly.

Morocco was the first country in the region to begin drawing up a national justice reform strategy, which it began in late 2010.  However, this has not yet resulted in a detailed reform plan.  The new constitution, adopted in July 2011 consolidated the principle of the separation of powers, with broadened competencies entrusted to the legislative and executive, and gave prominence to human rights and freedoms. On the basis of a detailed analysis of the efficiency of justice, this programme seeks to support Morocco in its judicial reform efforts, one of the current government’s priorities. 

Focus on Women’s Rights

The Council of Europe stresses women’s rights in the Arab Spring. “It is important for all of us to recognise the contribution of women in driving progress and reform, and it is essential that women’s voices are now heard in building new Arab societies, and in fighting discrimination and stereotypes,” said Secretary General Jagland on the occasion of Woman’s Day on 8 March 2012. “If women are again left out, the promising Arab Spring could become a new winter."

The aforementioned project will support gender equality, as called for in such recent Council of Europe events as a conference featuring women’s rights leaders from Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt on the occasion of Woman’s Day.   

The Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly will debate the Arab Spring in the forthcoming April 2012 session. Fatiha Saïdi (Belgium, SOC), a member of the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination of the Parliamentary Assembly, made fact-finding visits to Casablanca and Rabat (15-18 February) and Tunis (19-21 February), in connection with the preparation of her report on "Gender equality and the status of women in the Council of Europe southern neighbourhood" to be debated during the April session.

Promoting human rights and democratic values

The Council of Europe has developed co-operation with the countries of the region and established links and networks at a regional level, involving both civil society and authorities, in particular the Venice Commission, the North-South Centre, the Pompidou Group (MedNet in particular) and Schools of Political Studies.

Such existing networks will promote exchanges at a regional level and will become “hubs” to organise regional activities and networks with other neighbouring countries, yet enlarging the impact and influence of the different means the Council of Europe uses to promote its values and expertise.

The Venice Commission

As members of the Council of Europe’s advisory body on constitutional matters (Venice Commission), Morocco and Tunisia benefit from direct access to constitutional, electoral and legislative expertise. They participate in events allowing for the exchange of experience organised in the countries themselves and in other member states of the Commission.

The Constitutional Council of Algeria is an active member of the Bureau of the World Conference on Constitutional Justice and contributes to the Venice Commission’s publications.                                                                                    

Regarding Egypt, the Venice Commission has participated in Cairo in a Conference on the process of drafting of the Constitution. The Supreme Constitutional Court of Egypt participates in the Bureau of the World Conference on Constitutional Justice of the Venice Commission.

Jordan and Lebanon are members of the Union of Arab Constitutional Courts and Councils, with which the Venice Commission has a co-operation agreement. In this framework, the Constitutional Council of Lebanon participates in the World Conference on Constitutional Justice of the Venice Commission. In addition, the Constitutional Council of Lebanon has appointed a liaison officer and has started to contribute to the Venice Commission’s CODICES database.

Finally, in May 2008, the Committee of Ministers agreed to authorise co-operation between the Venice Commission and the Palestinian National Authority (PNA). This enables the PNA to request opinions from the Venice Commission.

Parliamentary Assembly

Following the adoption of an Assembly Resolution in 2008 on Strengthening co-operation with the Maghreb countries, delegations from the Parliament of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia have been regularly invited to attend plenary sessions of the Assembly.

A “Partner for Democracy” status, granted to the parliament of Morocco by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in June 2011, provides a particularly relevant framework for enhanced co-operation between the Moroccan parliament and the Assembly in areas at the heart of the reforms undertaken by Morocco. The Assembly observed recent elections in Morocco.

The Partner for Democracy status was also granted to the Palestinian National Council in October 2011.

As of January 2011, the Assembly has adopted two resolutions and one recommendation on Tunisia and paid several visits to the country.

Furthermore, on the basis of a 2011 resolution on co-operation between the Council of Europe and the emerging democracies in the Arab world, other fact finding missions have been planned or recently carried out, including one to Egypt.

North South Centre

The North-South Centre provides a political platform for co-operation at governmental, parliamentary, local and regional authorities and civil society levels. As way of example, in 2010 it organised in Tripoli a youth summit with partner youth organisations and the European Commission, which was attended by a hundred leaders of youth organisations from both continents. Future action in the southern Mediterranean region will continue focusing on civil society and youth co-operation.

Pompidou Group


The Council of Europe’s “Pompidou Group” is developing an assessment of regional co-operation against cross-border drug trafficking. It is assessing the creation of a regional network on anti-drug law enforcement while respecting human rights. Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria have been participating in the Mediterranean Network (MedNET) of the Pompidou Group since 2006. Jordan has also been doing so since 2010. Egypt also co-operates with the Pompidou Group on a regular basis and Libya has participated in conferences of the Pompidou Group. In Egypt, a new project on gender oriented care of substance dependent women in Egypt will focus on the needs of female victims of drug abuse.


Since 2006 the Council of Europe has developed co-operation in the youth field with civil society partners and public authorities in the North African region, mainly in Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt.

One of the main goals in the coming years will be to promote exchanges of experience among young civil-servants working in public administration, parliament and other specialised public institutions and civil society organisations.