The EU/Council of Europe joint programme “Ensuring sustainable democratic governance and human rights in the Southern Mediterranean”, known as the South Programme III (2018-2020), held its Regional Steering Committee meeting in Brussels on 16 and 17 September 2019. The programme is funded by the European Union, and co-funded and implemented by the Council of Europe.
Since 2012, the Council of Europe and the European Union have been working in close partnership, in the context of the South Programme, with beneficiaries from the Southern Mediterranean region, to help advance democratic reforms in the region.
In particular, the South Programme III (2018-2020) aims at reinforcing human rights, the rule of law and democracy in the Southern Mediterranean region in line with European standards.
The Regional Steering Committee meeting brought together more than 70 participants, including government officials, parliamentarians and representatives of the judiciary and civil society organisations from the Southern Mediterranean region, as well as representatives of the European Union and Council of Europe.
During the opening session, Verena Taylor, Director of the Council of Europe’s Office of the Directorate General of Programmes, highlighted the added value of the partnership between the Council of Europe and the European Union in advancing democratic reforms in the region, as demonstrated by the concrete results achieved so far.
This notably includes significant progress in the creation of a common legal space between the Southern Mediterranean region and Europe.
Henrike Trautmann, Head of the “Regional Co-operation Neighbourhood South” Unit in the EU Commission’s Directorate General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR), underlined the importance of developing beneficiaries’ and governments’ ownership for sustainable progress and democratic reforms, and stressed the added value of the regional dimension at the heart of South Programme III.
Participants took stock of success stories and lessons learned from the implementation of the programme, and also exchanged views on new prospects for co-operation.
Since its launch in March 2018, the programme has helped national authorities in the region work towards acceding to certain Council of Europe conventions and partial agreements, using a demand-driven approach.
Inter-parliamentary co-operation and exchanges among constitutional courts, electoral bodies, Ombudsmen, civil society organisations, human rights and governance bodies have brought together a large number of beneficiaries from the region, encouraging sustainable networking and the exchange of good practices based on European standards.
The fight against violence against women, which is a priority of the joint programme, was a key focus of the meeting. Participants concluded that this topic remains of crucial importance and that efforts to promote the Council of Europe’s “Istanbul Convention” on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence should continue to be a priority in future work.
Participants from the region also discussed training opportunities created by the extension of the Council of Europe’s HELP Programme to the region, particularly in the areas of violence against women, child-friendly justice, trafficking in human beings and data protection.
The South Programme III is a joint programme of the Council of Europe and the European Union, financed by the European Union and the Council of Europe and implemented by the Council of Europe.