“We Are a Value-Based Organization” - Council of Europe & Georgia
13 March, 2015
On 24 February 2015 Steering Committee of the Council of Europe (CoE) Action Plan for Georgia 2013-2015 met at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia to discuss progress of its implementation. CoE delegation, led by Ms Verena Taylor, Director of the Office of the Directorate General of Programmes, participated in the event together with representatives of relevant Georgian ministries, state agencies, professional institutions and other stakeholders directly involved in the implementation of projects under the 2013-2015 Action Plan.
had the privilege of talking with Ms Taylor after the meeting, discussing the role and activities of Council of Europe in Georgia.

– What was the scope of your visit to Tbilisi?

Verena Taylor – Director of the Council of Europe Office of the Directorate General of Programmes (ODGPROG):

– The scope of my visit was to meet with the Georgian authorities and various other stakeholders and discuss the ongoing implementation of the Council of Europe Action Plan for Georgia 2013-2015. The action plan was adopted in October 2013 and covers a number of areas including the protection and promotion of human rights, fight against intolerance and discrimination, protection of minorities, penitentiary and police reform, promotion of media freedom, internet governance, data protection, fight against corruption, local democracy, cultural heritage and confidence building measures for people in conflict-affected areas and many more. The Action Plan is the preferred working method of the Council of Europe with several of its Member States and Georgia is one of them. The action plan serves two purposes: to support a domestic reform agenda while at the same time observing the commitments that it took when joining the Council of Europe.

– How would you describe the Council of Europe’s agenda – its objectives and goals in Georgia?

We are striving to help Georgia to prepare for the ratification of the Istanbul Convention on domestic violence.

Alessandro Savaris - Deputy Head of the Council of Europe Office in Georgia:

– Being a leading human rights organization which aims to protect human rights, democracy and the rule of law in all Council of Europe member States, the Council of Europe has spent past years substantially investing into reinforcement of its operational departments, which are in charge of helping states to strengthen their capacities in specific areas where shortcomings have been identified by the monitoring bodies. This has been done, inter alia, through the adoption of ad-hoc co-operation instruments such as Action Plans as well as through the creation of a Directorate General of programmes, headed by Ms. Taylor, which has a co-ordination role of all technical assistance projects and activities implemented by the organization.  

– The action plan covers an extensive range of issues: human rights, media freedom, free and fair elections, good governance, anti-discrimination and so on. How would you assess the implementation of this huge agenda so far?

Verena Taylor:

– Each stage of the action plan is assessed through the prism of the project’s progress. We develop indicators, which allow us to judge the efficiency of various projects. Another thing that is also very important is that there is a trustful relationship between the government and my colleagues working on the implementation of these projects in the Council of Europe Office in Georgia. As for the future Action Plan, to start next year, we will adopt a more sectorial approach, focusing on areas or sectors of co-operation more than on specific projects, which would allow us being more flexible and easily adapt to possible new future priorities and requests. The meeting with the Georgian authorities was therefore two-fold: To assess and discuss the implementation of the onggeotv.geoing Action Plan and to start collecting ideas and proposals for the future Council of Europe Action Plan for Georgia.

– Has there been a smooth cooperation on every issue between the Georgian government and the Council of Europe or have there been cases when the two sides could not agree?

Verena Taylor:

– There has not been a case like this and it’s because the Action Plan was actually drafted in close cooperation with Georgian government and civil society representatives. In this sense, we can call it an agreed and shared document. Most of the projects included in the Action Plan are ongoing or will soon be launched. There are only two major areas for which we are still looking for funding: police reform and local government reform but we are working on it.

– How many projects are funded?

Verena Taylor:

– At present about two thirds of the Action Plan is funded. We secured funding for some of the projects fairly recently. We’re just starting the implementation of nine additional projects. As the Council of Europe finances most of its technical assistance activities through extra-budgetary sources, we are usually receiving support from the EU and from voluntary contributions by our Member States. In this respect, we have signed with the EU, in December 2014, a multi-annual Programmatic Co-operation Framework (PCF) for all Eastern Partnership countries. And this framework has allowed us to move a big step forward with all Action Plan objectives.

Alessandro Savaris:

– As for those nine additional projects, a few weeks ago we launched a project to support the Georgian Bar Association, building and strengthening its geotv.gestructural capacities and improving the domestic application of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). We are also working on a new project on minorities, which will aim at ensuring better integration of minorities in the country in line with the Council of Europe’s European Charter for Regional Minority languages. Its signature and ratification was in fact one of Georgia’s accession commitments when entering our organization. Yet another project is focused on media – to improve the climate, openness and accountability in the field of media, which also includes a component on internet governance. A project on data protection aiming at improving the capacities of state institutions in ensuring the protection of personal data in line with relevant Council of Europe standards and conventions will also be launched in the coming weeks. We will also have a project on the reform of the electoral system, with the Council of Europe Venice Commission involved and two projects centered on the fight against corruption and the fight against money-laundering at both a Georgia-specific and Eastern Partnership level. In the framework of the PCF regional (EaP) component, projects will be implemented in the field of electoral assistance, local democracy, cybercrime and others. We will also launch soon a project to support the Public Defender’s office strengthening its operational capacities, in particular its regional offices.

– Are there any projects on children’s rights and domestic violence? With the recent surge of domestic violence in Georgia, these topics are becoming some of the most acute problems.

Verena Taylor:

The Council of Europe has promoted the basic values that are considered European: human rights, the rule of law and democratic governance from the beginning. We had conventions, which made life in Europe better.

– First of all, I would like to underline that a gender dimension is included in all of our projects and secondly, certain aspects of gender-specific issues are subjects of our projects. We are striving to help Georgia to prepare for the ratification of the Istanbul Convention on domestic violence.

Alessandro Savaris:

– As for violence against children, the Lanzarote Convention on protection of Children against sexual exploitation and sexual abuse entered into force in January 2015. Now we are exploring ways of promoting it in the country and possible work in this field as well in the future.

– Last subject to wrap it up. The Council of Europe with its 47 member states and 820,000 million citizens – how would you assess its political weight?

Verena Taylor:

– This is a key question. Are we a political organization or are we a legal organization? I would say that we are value-based organization. Our role and significance is much bigger than many people are aware of. The Council of Europe has promoted the basic values that are considered European: human rights, the rule of law and democratic governance from the beginning. We had conventions, which made life in Europe better. The fact that judgments of the European Court of Human Rights are implemented by Lichtenstein and by Russia means an amazing amount of respect. It’s quite uniquely universal. Furthermore, the EU uses our standards as accession criteria. There is no doubt that the Council of Europe makes the life of people better. If there is less torture, if there is more freedom of expression and less corruption, it is good for everybody and the Council of Europe is directly involved in it.