2023 Autumn Session of the Conference of INGOs (CINGO)

This article starts with the comments of EN-RE’s official representative to the Council of Europe, Henk Baars written in an article for Marienburg Magazine:

"The train to Brussels Midi, this time with the Eurostar was very pleasant for a change and arrived nicely on time. Then with my partner Sylvie Kempgens, who also plays a major role in supporting our work on European Network Church on the Move from Belgium, a considerably fuller and slower train to Luxembourg with changes and delays but much cheaper. Public transport there is free. So it can be done. The next day to Strasbourg for the CINGO meeting. These are the more than 400 member NGOs that co-adviser the Council of Europe. That system is unique in the world.

Nowhere else do NGOs have such influence on decision-makers. It is sometimes said; the economy is in Brussels, the conscience in Strasbourg. The Council of Europe is weighed down by considerable ignorance, but so much happens , unfortunately often hidden in all kinds of committees and subcommittees on all subjects that you can also find in the media. The Council seriously faces a visibility problem, despite its revival because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Being back on the floor in Strasbourg for once instead of online is a relief. I make all kinds of contacts.

A handful of Dutch people (who could write for us one day) but also chairs and vice-chairs of various committees. For instance, the Gender Equality Committee that presents itself for a few hours. Is there real equality between women and men? No, of course not. Not to mention LGBTQ AI+. It is bursting with old habits that push men and women into their old roles. I also use the term dominance. A set of unspoken rules that you don't even realise about yourself, but which can turn out unequal. The gender issue affects everything. Not just women, but them most of all. In the European parliament, the balance is 60% men and 40% women broadly speaking. In addition, the differences in Europe when it comes to pay are unequal everywhere. But take India, where far more women work in construction than men. So it can also be the other way around. Incidentally, there is an impression that women are much more aware of climate change than men. But sometimes there is the question of whether everyone wants to be treated equally. A question that is not easily answered. The Gender Commission may continue for another six months after three years of work. All such matters are carefully voted on so that no influence is missed. My partners for EN-RE (the abbreviation of our network) from France and Spain watch online so I know what to vote on.

There are also country reports. There was an official CINGO mission to Bosnia Hercegovina and they are reporting. It is very saddening. Since the Dayton accords, everyone is back to business and there is no focus on the still ongoing conflict area. Everything now goes in threes according to representation of the three ethnic groups. Even in the schools. Each ethnic group is taught by its own teacher in separate classrooms and the youngsters never see each other. All the more so as a school has two or three entrances so the youngsters do not see and meet each other. This is obviously disastrous , but one has to because the Dayton Agreement requires it. The churches too are completely divided by ethnic group. Very locally they do something, but their influence is very small.

The resident rapporteurs present speak of great pessimism, also due to whooping unemployment and poverty. The good thing is that the representative of a Georgian NGO gave them a cheer during the meeting. For now, we see that almost all peoples under long-term oppression explode at x point. Politicians are then surprised by the sudden upsurge in violence, but it develops right under their noses There is pressure to look away for often electoral reasons. But mostly because there seems to be no political stature left that rises above the parties. This is so with Nagorno Karabakh, Israel/Palestine and Ukraine/Russia.

Finally, as Dutch people present, we organise a conversation with Tanja Gonggrijp, the Dutch ambassador to Europe. There are four of us. The conversation is mainly about the effectiveness of CINGO towards European bodies. It is very low, hardly any budget, largely voluntary work and a complicated structure. It is a miracle that everyone keeps it up, but it is actually too crazy for words. How can you neglect such a body that represents Civil Society to the hilt like this. We are not quite sure if the message is getting across"

Henk Baars then described Meeting of the General Assembly of the Conference of INGOs of the Council of Europe on a day by day basis

9-11 October 2023 in Strasbourg

(I am staying with Fernand and Marian Jehl in Strasbourg within walking distance of the Council of Europe buildings. He watched online, as did Hugo Castelli and Luis Ángel Aguilar).

In points:

On Sunday 8 October, there was a meeting at the church of St Maurice with all the Catholic organisations delegated to the CINGO. Unfortunately, only French was spoken. I decided not to sit there all day for bacon and beans because I do not master French. But did go to the Eucharist with my host Fernand Jehl (French delegate from EN-RE) and my partner Sylvie Kempgens. The nuncio and two Dominicans presided. So a mass with three gentlemen and extremely traditional. But before and after I was able to make contacts, including with Alfonso Zardi, General Delegate of Pax Christi. The central figure of Pax Christi in Europe. Only PAX in the Netherlands has dropped the name Christi and has actually become secular and heavily dependent on government subsidies.

Monday 9 October

First session on gender equality. Good presentation of the committee's work. It touches all subjects. You now see more cooperation between committees. The Netherlands is in the minus when it comes to equal rights. In general, women are severely underpaid in many countries in Europe. See article above. Hugo Castelli is a member of this committee. I make an intervention on the role of the police in reporting human trafficking. With that, attention to training more women in the police who should also take up their role in 'decision making'.

Country report on Latvia. A country doing reasonably well in terms of democracy and human rights.

Tuesday 10 October

Second session country report survey on Bosnia Hercegovina (see report) . Impressive conversation following their report. I asked about whether there were any NGOs trying to bring about dialogue and peace( you have to be pretty feisty to speak among so many delegates, by the way, even if I say so myself) Quite a discussion ensued, in which the spokesperson of the Commission for Interreligious and Interconvictional Affairs intervened. The role of churches is also very local. What role does secularism play as an ideology? Great sadness in that country. The representatives were visibly happy to tell their stories.

- Ambassador of Liechtenstein set to chair European commission. He strongly relativised the influence of that presidency.

Next, the human rights committee reported on modern slavery. The NGO Walk Free did an excellent report. They are based in Western Australia and have an office in London. Presentation will be sent to us. The figures are shocking and revealing. Just Google their site. A discussion follows on the idea of setting up a separate committee on human trafficking. EN-RE does have an interest in participating in this because of EN-RE's focus on migrants and especially undocumented migrants. At least 5 NGOs need to participate to form a cie. We will see.

11 October

Presentation of committee on AI regarding education. What I take from it is that whatever you come up with, there must always be a 'legal framework' formed by values and norms. If you don't use that, everything becomes dangerous. How ethical are these developments? A very concerned report has been made by the committee.

A statement on Europe's lax action on Nagorno Karabag was adopted. Text will follow.

Then followed a couple of votes on position and extension of chairpersons and the 6-month continuation of the Gender Commission. All voted in favour.

At the end of the afternoon, a meeting with Dutch ambassador to Europe Tanja Gonggrijp. She represents the Netherlands when the minister is not there. So crucial.

Present were Harry Rogge (European geographers), Simon Matthijsen (Human Rights Committee chair) Harry Hummel (Cure; Campaign to Uphold Rights in Europe). The latter is an expert on how structures work in European affairs. And yours truly as a representative of EN-RE.

I was new there. The others already knew her. I didn't get very optimistic from the conversation. We revealed that our reports often disappear into a black hole. But on the other hand, she had questions about the effectiveness of CINGO, and we noticed that this was broader among her colleagues. We criticised the low budget for CINGO, which after all represents Civil Society. 99 per cent voluntary work, travel costs all have to be met by ourselves and hardly any facilities. No contact with PACE( the representation of parliamentarians in Europe) to name a few, even though they met at the same time. CINGO president Gerhard Ermischer is also concerned about this. We promised to collect a row of arguments to bring back to her.

In the café afterwards, I got a lot of inside information on one thing and another. Now have a very good contact with Simon Matthijsen. We are going to try to get together back in NL to collect new arguments. Harry Rogge has been active for years and is a very good facilitator to bring people together.

Next meeting 8-10 April. Together with Sylvie Kempgens (my partner), we are also trying to interest Marleen Wijdeveld in the work in CINGO. She was the partner of the late Isaac Wust and was always very involved in WAC.To wit.

Henk Baars 14 October 2023

Comments by Fernand Jehl:

I endorse the compliments paid to the team organising the debate between the Gender Equality Committee and other committees. I admire the idea of involving the other committees with a view to contributing from their own work to the work of a committee, in this case the Committee focused on gender equality and women's rights. I was particularly pleased to hear Daniel Guéry and Salomé Brun relay the work of the Migrant Rights Committee. I would have liked to ask a question after Lilia Bensedrine's good summary of the links between certain provisions that are unfavourable to women and that are based on "sacred" texts. What does the Committee on Interreligious and Interconvictional Dialogue think about the unequal access of women to positions of worship and, more broadly, positions of responsibility within some Churches, especially the Catholic Church?

As soon as the official report of the Session is uploaded on the CINGO website in English and French, we will upload it onto this article