Council of Europe advisor: Reform in Arab Spring states will take time

  

The Council of Europe has unveiled a three-year, €4.8-million initiative aimed at strengthening democracy and human rights in the southern Mediterranean. The project by the continent’s oldest political body will attempt to assist Morocco and Tunisia in their post-Arab Spring democratic transition, by offering its experience and expertise, gleaned from over 60 years driving political reform in Europe, Pilar Morales told EurActiv in an exclusive interview.

Pilar Morales is the Council of Europe's head of strategic planning and resource mobilisation, and responsible for cooperation with southern Mediterranean countries. She spoke to EurActiv.com’s Marc Hall.

What was discussed today [7 September]?

The main purpose of today’s meeting was to present a programme which was launched in January 2012 with the European Union with a view to supporting the democratic transition in southern Mediterranean countries, in particular Morocco and Tunisia. But there’s also a regional component in the programme involving other countries in the region. The purpose of today’s meeting was to present the programme in particular to a number of countries that so far have not been involved in this - we’ve already had discussions in depth with Morocco and Tunisia - and to officially launch the programme, even though a number of activities have already taken place, in particular in Morocco and Tunisia.

Is there a sense of starting off with relatively unproblematic countries, at least in terms of foreign policy? You also said other countries will be involved. Could you elaborate on this?

With Morocco and Tunisia we have discussed how the programme can accompany the reform processes underway. I think that is very important. I think it is very important to underline several things about this programme. First of all, it is funded 100% by the EU but it implemented by the Council of Europe. The Council of Europe has a number of tools in several fields which are at the moment tools that can really support the reform process underway.

Concerning the other countries, it was decided that this programme would remain open to reinforce cooperation with other countries of the region, and also to involve a dimension of reinforcement of south-south cooperation which is an area which is very important to us. Other countries should be involved. But these concerns are a very specific component, with a purpose of promoting regional cooperation on human rights and democratic citizenship.

So that would mean multilateral cooperation, encouraging these countries to cooperate with each other, instead of dealing directly with, say, Egypt, Israel, Palestine, and perhaps even Syria?

Syria is excluded for the moment from this cooperation because cooperation between Syria and the European Union was suspended one year ago. So for the moment they have not been invited to this meeting. So the Council of Europe has not had any specific cooperation with Syria, except certain very punctual things. No global cooperation I would say.

So it’s a €4.8-million programme. Where exactly is the money going, into what areas? Could you break it down?

We still have to take decisions by the end of the year about the exact of amounts to be allocated to the different components of the programme and the different countries. We're still in a process of identifying the needs and assessing, on the basis of the needs assessment, what will be the concrete activities that will be implemented in the different countries.

I’d like to say that the added value of the Council of Europe is intervening, and this has been going on in member states for many years, in particular in democracies in transition in Eastern Europe and southeastern Europe. The added value of the Council of Europe is its expertise, its networking of experts in a wide-range of fields, its original and unique tools it has developed in certain issues such as to improve efficiency of justice, to fight corruption, money-laundering. It’s more a question of expertise than of amounts, big amounts.

Part of it will go towards reforming the judicial system in these two countries, also accompanying the process of setting up the appropriate institutions and the right policies in fighting corruption and money-laundering in Morocco and Tunisia. And we have a component of fighting against the trafficking of human beings which will be implemented in Morocco, and then we will have this regional component which is about €1 million for the moment. We organise a number of events to support the objectives of the programme by exchanging on democratic values and human rights with the countries in the regions so it will be more awareness-raising activities with a number of networks that already exist through the Council of Europe.

You mention corruption and human trafficking. Are they still a major problem in Morocco and Tunisia?

I think these issues, justice reform and the fight against corruption, are high on the political agenda. These are priorities of the governments of Morocco and Tunisia and these are areas where the Council of Europe can bring added value through its expertise. I think I have to mention at this stage that one of the principles on which our cooperation with these countries is based is that anything we do is based on demand, it’s really demand-driven. We don’t do anything that is not something that the government wants, so that’s it.

So do they come to you with proposals?

I would say this was an interactive process where we initially, as part of this programme together with the EU, identified a number of very general priorities on which we would work to the benefit these countries and then we didn’t start before validating these priorities with them.

The Council of Europe has also prepared - in very close consultation with these countries - neighbourhood cooperation priorities, a kind of action plan, where we listed all the priorities, the issues on which we want to work with the different countries. We have done so with Morocco, Tunisia and Jordan for the moment. This list of priorities has been validated by national authorities, the Council of Europe, the committee of ministers in the Council of Europe, so we really have agreed on what to work.

Have these countries seen many improvements since the Arab Spring in matters such as corruption and human rights?

I think the improvements have to be highlighted because I think these countries are on the right track. What we can see in working with them is that there is a lot of effort put in the right direction, setting up the institutions. There’s new laws in Morocco and Tunisia as well, new institutions, for example in the field of corruption.

In Tunisia a new institution has been created with larger competencies than the institution that existed before. Also in terms of harmonisation with international standards I would say there’s an effort being made and very significant steps. I would mention in the case of Morocco, the ratification five months or so ago of the Palermo Protocol of the United Nations convention on trafficking. There is still a lot of work to do because these are complex processes. I think these countries will need years to do all the reforms they need to do and we are there to accompany them as they do.

Have you been working closely with Ennahda, the party that won the first democratic election in Tunisia? How is it working with them compared to working with the previous ruler Zine el Abidine Ben Ali?

Ennahda is there because it has been elected in a democratic election in October 2011. Some work has already been done by the Council of Europe with the national constitutional assembly of Tunisia and in particular I’d like to mention an important event which took place at the end of July, which was an exchange of views between members of the national constitutional assembly and members of the various commissions for assisting and providing legal expertise and advice on constitutional and electoral matters - in this case constitutional.

There was a very fruitful exchange of views in Tunis with around 100 members of the national constitutional assembly and members of the Venice Commission [a Council of Europe advisory body for constitutional law] to discuss one of the crucial issues which is to be decided in Tunisia for the new constitution, which is what type of regime there should be; what are the pros and cons of choosing a presidential or parliamentary regime, and so on.

So I think this shows that the Council of Europe’s expertise can really be useful for the authorities - for this case for the parliament - and in [our development] of a relation of confidence, I would say, which has been built over years. I’d like to point out that Tunisia is a member of the Venice Commission. Also the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which is also working as part of this programme in Tunisia, is currently in contact wit the national constitutional assembly to support the process underway.

Will there be such discussions for what the best type of regime is for Morocco, which has a longstanding monarchy?

I don’t think this is a question under discussion in Morocco at the moment.

Both Tunisia and Morocco have extremely high levels of unemployment. What will be doing to help?

We know that unemployment is an important problem in Tunisia and Morocco. I think we have to bear in mind, in working this out, that the EU and Council of Europe are looking for complementarity. The EU has more means to address this issue, because they have more resources, also more expertise in such fields. So taking this into consideration would be a subject on which the Council of Europe would focus in its cooperation with the EU in the region.

Nevertheless, through the actions which we will implement in these countries in order to accompany the reform processes I think we will, indirectly in a way, also help solve this situation; because if you fight corruption and you have the appropriate processes to fight corruption and money laundering then you’re also helping, for example, enterprises to more easily settle in the country and in that way you are also contributing to higher employment. So I think there’s confidence in justice - that’s one of the purposes we pursue with our project on justice reform - and if we contribute to its efficiency of course we contribute also to a situation favouring external and national investors.

Let’s talk about dates. When will things really get underway with the plans in Tunisia and Morocco? What are the next steps?

Concerning the implementation of the programme, it covers the period 2012 [to] 2014, so of course we intend to achieve results by the end of 2014.

We’ve already made concrete steps in certain projects in Morocco and Tunisia. Our purpose really is to have concrete results. Of course these are long processes. We may need to refocus. I take the example of the fight against corruption. We’ll need to do a fact-finding mission to do an assessment of the situation in the different countries. Then we can propose how we can help with the tools available at the Council of Europe.

We may need at a later stage to focus more on sectoral corruption, for example in the field of health, education and so on. So this is a process. So a few, maybe three, years is not enough to cover all the relevant issues but we hope, maybe by the end of 2014, that we have made already significant steps. So far we have worked with very good collaboration with the countries concerned and they are committed. We really hope to achieve some concrete results and then maybe to go a bit further.

Are there any other initiatives with other countries on the horizon?

We haven’t discussed that for the moment. I don’t think our action will stop in 2014 because there’s a problem. It’s the beginning of a process that will last longer.

So you’ll do a fact-finding mission and then offer your expertise, your suggestions and a sort of roadmap for structural changes?

Yes, in fact they are very involved in this, the preparation of recommendations, for example, in the field of corruption or justice. We do that on a peer basis so we always have experts in the counties concerned involved in the preparation of recommendations which is very important for the ownership of the project. There will be capacity building actions, training of trainers, instructive things.

You mention training of trainers. What other initiatives will be happening on the ground?

I can give you a few examples. In key fields like justice or the fight against corruption and money laundering, trafficking in human beings, we will try to identify the key actors, playing a role in these areas at the national level and then in certain cases provide some training.

I can give an example. One of the things the Council of Europe has done in its member states could also be replicated in these countries. It is still to be validated but it could be providing training in the field of [combating] human trafficking to professionals dealing with women, or persons, who have been victims of trafficking. Any training we undertake we will try to make sustainable - also training of trainers.

So you’ll be working with victims?

It’s more with the professionals than dealing with victims. The Council of Europe convention on human trafficking partly - it’s not the only purpose of the convention - deals with the situation of victims and how victims are treated.

Part of your work is resource mobilisation. Does that refer just to money or to these human resources as well?

It’s above all money, but we are trying also to gather resources for the financial resources beyond this programme with the EU to implement our priorities in these countries.

I must mention now that we already have an operational presence in Morocco and Tunisia so that the persons coordinating the work on the Council of Europe over there are already in contact with many international donors in the region, potential donors. Of course one of the main purposes of our action is to avoid overlap so we keep in close contact with other international organisations in the field in particular because there are many actors in the region at the moment dealing with different subjects. So we, as well as other donors, try to make sure that there is complementarity in our action. 

We are also trying to attract other funds to implement some of our activities. I can give an example: we have funding from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for a conference that will take place in Rabat 24-25 of September on violence against women, which is another field of expertise for the Council of Europe. You may know there’s a convention in this area which was opened last year, so the Council of Europe has developed standards in this area. We are aware this is a problem in the countries concerned. In Morocco in particular the authorities were very happy to raise awareness on this issue. This will be the first event in a series of events in this area. We are trying to attract more funds in order to be able to be more efficient in the region.

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