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The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe is a vital forum for countries to work together to uphold democracy and human rights

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe is a vital forum for countries to work together to uphold democracy and human rights
4 min read

I look forward to working with colleagues across both Houses to further deepen understanding of PACE and to ensure the UK continues to play its part in this vital intergovernmental organisation.

But I thought we’d left the EU?

It is a question that’s often raised when we talk about the work of the Council of Europe. However, it is important to stress that the Council of Europe is not and has never been part of the European Union. It is an organisation in which the UK remains an active member.

The Council of Europe was set up in 1949, in the aftermath of World War 2 and the UK was one of its founding states. Its remit is to uphold human rights, democracy and the rule of law across Europe. I am a great believer in the work of the Council of Europe and in the key role played by its Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) and by the Committee of Ministers.

It is an important player in election monitoring, ensuring citizens across Europe can enjoy free and fair elections

I’ve been proud to be the leader of the UK’s delegation to PACE, the organisation’s deliberative body and driving force since the beginning of the year. The UK delegation is made up of 36 MPs and Peers on a cross-party basis. As leader of the delegation, it is incumbent upon me to stay above party politics and speak on behalf of the delegation as a whole.

It is heartening that UK members play such an active role in the work of PACE, contributing fully to the organisation’s aims, participating regularly in debates and committee work and being involved in the drafting of reports. UK delegation members speak many times in the Assembly’s plenary sessions and participate fully in its committee structure.

For my part, I sit on the Bureau of PACE and its Standing Committee. I am also one of the Assembly’s vice-presidents and am the co-rapporteur (report author) for the Monitoring Committee on Turkey, a role that sees me heavily involved in the issues around the vitally important Istanbul Convention on combating violence against women and girls.

But why is it so important to be involved with PACE?

The Council of Europe is almost twice the size of the EU with 47 member states, including countries such as Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine. These are countries with a proud history and with a great role to play in Europe, but they are also countries where contentious issues often come to the fore.

It is so important, therefore, that there is a forum for all the countries to come together and discuss and scrutinise key issues around democracy and human rights. It does not, however, currently include Belarus, a country that has been in the spotlight recently for all the wrong reasons.

As a major multinational organisation, PACE has access to key figures in global governance. For example, we recently had a session with the Director General of the World Health Organisation, and we’ve also been able to question a range of European leaders, such as, President Macron and Chancellor Merkel. It is also an important player in election monitoring, ensuring citizens across Europe can enjoy free and fair elections.

I see my role as leader of the delegation to ensure the work of PACE, and indeed of the Council of Europe as a whole, is better understood, not least by my colleagues in Parliament. After every session I produce a short report to show the breadth of its activities and I also table written parliamentary questions to Ministers to establish a UK view.

I look forward to working with colleagues across both Houses to further deepen understanding of PACE and to ensure the UK continues to play its part in this vital intergovernmental organisation.

 

John Howell is the Conservative MP for Henley and chair of the UK Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).

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