After having held the rotating Presidency of the Council of the European Union in the first six months of 2017, Malta is now poised to take over the rotating Presidency of the statutory decision-making body of another European organisation of which it is an active member: the Council of Europe.
Malta, that became the Strasbourg-based Council’s 18th Member State on 29th April 1965, shortly after having achieved Independence, is scheduled to assume the Presidency of the organisation’s Committee of Ministers in May 2025, a tenure that will extend through November of the same year. Hence, preparations by the Ministry for Foreign and European Affairs and Trade, in particular through Malta’s Permanent Representation to the Council of Europe, are now intensifying. The Presidency is transferred every six months, in mid-May and mid-November, from one Member State to the next in English alphabetical order.
The Council of Europe was founded by ten Member States in 1949, in the aftermath of the Second World War, becoming the first European political body. Today, it encompasses 46 European nations. Dedicated to fostering democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, it is home to – among others – the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights.
Speaking with The Journal, Minister for Foreign and European Affairs and Trade Ian Borg noted that this will be the fourth time that Malta will assume this leadership role in the Council of Europe. He added that the upcoming Presidency comes at a rather symbolic time as it will coincide with its 60th anniversary as member of this oldest European political organisation.
Malta’s vision for the Presidency
Minister Borg said that Malta’s vision for this Presidency is based on the strategic pillars of participatory democracy, gender equality, the protection of vulnerable persons and those at heightened risk of violence, and enhancing the system of the European Convention on Human Rights, which forms the cornerstone of the Council of Europe.
“We aim to continue building on the ongoing important work towards ensuring justice for Ukraine and accountability of the aggressors while pursuing a lasting and sustainable peace on the continent. We will be promoting the Council of Europe’s tools, values, and standards, including the protection of cultural heritage,” said Malta’s top diplomat.
He added: “We are committed to making a difference and contributing tangibly to further the Council of Europe’s core values of human rights, democracy, and the rule of law which, in today’s turbulent times, are more pertinent than ever. I am confident that Malta will once again punch above its weight and fulfil its leadership role in yet another multilateral forum. We will run the Presidency effectively and successfully, in spite of our size and limited resources.”
What does the Presidency entail?
To learn more about Malta’s role once it takes the Presidency seat, The Journal caught up with Ambassador Francesca Camilleri Vettiger, Malta’s Permanent Representative to the Council of Europe, in her office in Strasbourg.
She explained that, in essence, this role will place on Malta the responsibility of establishing the main priorities of the Committee of Ministers, setting the agenda and chairing the different meetings, conferences, and events it will be organising during those six months around the chosen priorities.
The Committee, which is made up of the Ministers for Foreign Affairs of Member States, discusses political issues, decides Council of Europe policy, and approves its budget and programme of activities. It meets at ministerial level once a year, in May, while the Member States’ permanent diplomatic representatives to the Council of Europe convene weekly.
The Presidency of the Committee of Ministers maintains impartiality and upholds the adherence to established rules and procedures. It steers discussions, submits proposals for adoption, and declares decisions.
This week, Malta entered the Bureau of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe as an incoming Presidency, as Liechtenstein took over the Presidency of the Committee of Ministers from Latvia on 15th November. Only Lithuania and Luxembourg remain as incoming Presidencies before the baton is passed on to Malta.
Ambassador Camilleri Vettiger pointed out that history has demonstrated the need for adaptability during the Presidency, as unforeseen events can arise. As evident with the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and the ongoing Russian war of aggression against Ukraine since 2022, the country holding the Committee of Ministers Presidency must be prepared to adjust its agenda to reflect evolving priorities.
Permanent Representation in Strasbourg to be beefed up
In order to be able to manage the Presidency, Malta’s Permanent Representation to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, which is currently made up of the Permanent Representative and the Deputy Permanent Representative, will be beefed up with additional staff in the coming months. For sure, they will have their hands full prior to and during the Presidency.
High-level ministerial and experts’ meetings will be held, some in Malta and others in Strasbourg. Given that the Council of Europe’s main areas of competence – human rights, democracy, and rule of law – are closely related to the Justice portfolio, it is expected that one of the main Ministerial meetings to be held in Malta will be the one bringing together the Justice Ministers. Other ministries concerned with policy areas falling under the Council of Europe’s remit include the Ministry for Home Affairs, Security, Reforms, and Equality, as well as the Ministry for Education, Sport, Youth, Research and Innovation, the Ministry for Social Policy and Children’s Rights, and the Ministry for National Heritage, the Arts, and Local Government. In the run up to, and during the Presidency, the Permanent Representation in Strasbourg will be directly liaising with these Ministries as it prepares for the several meetings that need to take place.
The Permanent Representation of the country holding the Presidency also organises a cultural programme in Strasbourg. Accordingly, Malta intends to host at least ten events throughout the six-month term. These will encompass art exhibitions and other cultural events showcasing Maltese talent.
The Council of Europe, in short
Apart from the Committee of Ministers, the main structure of the Council of Europe is made up of:
- The Parliamentary Assembly (PACE), consisting of 306 Members of Parliament from the 46 Member States;
- The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, which is responsible for strengthening local and regional democracy in the Member States;
- The European Court of Human Rights, which is the permanent judicial body guaranteeing for all Europeans the rights safeguarded by the European Convention on Human Rights;
- The Commissioner for Human Rights, who independently addresseses and draws attention to human rights violations;
- The Conference of International Non-Governmental Organisations, which provides vital links between politicians and the public and brings the voice of civil society to the Council.
The Council of Europe endeavours to support Member States in achieving the shared European standards through the expertise of its dedicated monitoring and advisory mechanisms. These include:
- The Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT),
- The Group of States against Corruption (GRECO), and
- The European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission).
- In addition (i) the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) tracks developments in the realms of racism, discrimination, and hate speech, and provides guidance to Member States, (ii) the Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (GREVIO)monitors implementation of the Istanbul Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence by states that ratified it, and (iii) the European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice (CEPEJ) assists Member States through tools, reports, and guidelines in strengthening the quality, efficiency, and accessibility of their justice systems.
The Council of Europe nurtures a close partnership with the European Union and cooperates with the United Nations, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), and partner countries in its neighbourhoods and internationally.