In 1959 the council established a European Court of Human Rights to protect the rights of individuals in member nations against arbitrary government action. The court has heard cases involving corporal punishment; the protection of minorities, immigrants, suspects, prisoners, and the mentally ill; and the infringement of rights of speech, the press, religion, privacy, and sexuality. Member countries have been censured and risk expulsion if they fail to abide by the rulings. Britain (one of the founders) has, for instance, been upbraided for actions involving the IRA and the jailing of minors, and British representatives have bridled at the court's intervention in Britain's justice system. In the early 21st cent., the large number of cases brought by Russian citizens and the judgments handed down in favor of Russian claimants have led to tensions with Russia and Russian blockage of a package of court reforms.
The Council of Europe (Conseil de l'Europe) is the oldest international organisation working towards European integration, being founded in 1949. It has a particular emphasis on legal standards, human rights, democratic development, the rule of law and cultural co-operation. It has 47 member states with some 800 million citizens.
Its statutory institutions are the Committee of Ministers comprising the foreign ministers of each member state, the Parliamentary Assembly composed of MPs from the Parliament of each member state, and the Secretary General heading the secretariat of the Council of Europe.
The most famous conventional bodies of the Council of Europe are the European Court of Human Rights which enforces the European Convention on Human Rights as well as the European Pharmacopoeia Commission which sets the quality standards for pharmaceutical products in Europe. The Council of Europe's work has resulted in standards, charters and conventions to facilitate cooperation between European countries and further integration.
The seat of the Council of Europe is in Strasbourg, France and English and French are its two official languages. The Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly also work in German, Italian and Russian.
In his famous speech at the University of Zurich in 1946, Sir Winston Churchill called for a United States of Europe and the creation of a Council of Europe. The future structure of the Council of Europe was discussed at a specific congress of several hundred leading politicians, government representatives and civil society in The Hague, Netherlands in 1948. There were two schools of thought competing: some favoured a classical international organisation with representatives of governments, while others preferred a political forum with parliamentarians. Both approaches were finally combined through the creation of the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly under the Statute of the Council of Europe. This dual intergovernmental and inter-parliamentary structure was later copied for the European Communities, NATO and the OSCE.
The Council of Europe was founded on 5 May 1949 by the Treaty of London. The Treaty of London or the Statute of the Council of Europe was signed in London on that day by ten states: Belgium, Denmark, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Many states followed, especially after the democratic transitions in central and eastern Europe during the early 1990s, and the Council of Europe now integrates nearly all states of Europe.
While the member states of the European Union transfer national legislative and executive powers to the European Commission and the European Parliament in specific areas under European Community law, Council of Europe member states maintain their sovereignty but commit themselves through conventions (i.e. public international law) and co-operate on the basis of common values and common political decisions. Those conventions and decisions are developed by the member states working together at the Council of Europe, whereas secondary European Community law is set by the organs of the European Union. Both organisations function as concentric circles around the common foundations for European integration, with the Council of Europe being the geographically wider circle. The European Union could be seen as the smaller circle with a much higher level of integration through the transfer of powers from the national to the EU level. Being part of public international law, Council of Europe conventions could also be opened for signature to non-member states thus facilitating equal co-operation with countries outside Europe (see chapter below).
The Council of Europe's most famous achievement is the European Convention on Human Rights, which was adopted in 1950 following a report by the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly. The Convention created the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The Court supervises compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights and thus functions as the highest European court for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It is to this court that Europeans can bring cases if they believe that a member country has violated their fundamental rights.
The wide activities and achievements of the Council of Europe can be found in detail on its official website. In a nutshell, the Council of Europe works in the following areas:
The institutions of the Council of Europe are:
The CoE system also includes a number of semi-autonomous structures known as "Partial Agreements", some of which are also open to non-member states:
The seat of the Council of Europe is in Strasbourg, France. First meetings were held in Strasbourg's University Palace in 1949, but the Council of Europe moved soon into its own buildings. The Council of Europe's eight main buildings are situated in the Quartier européen, an area in the north-west of Strasbourg spread over the three districts Le Wacken, La Robertsau and Quartier de l'Orangerie, that also features the four buildings of the seat of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, the Arte headquarters and the seat of the International Institute of Human Rights.
Building in the area started in 1949 with the predecessor of the Palais de l'Europe, the House of Europe (torn down in 1977) and came to a provisional end in 2007 with the opening of the New General Office Building in 2008. The Palais de l'Europe (Palace of Europe) as well as the Art Nouveau Villa Schutzenberger (seat of the European Audiovisual Observatory) are located in the Orangerie district, the European Court of Human Rights, the European Directorate for the Quality of Medicines and the Agora Building are situated in the Robertsau district. The Agora building has been voted "best international business center real estate project of 2007" on March 13, 2008, at the MIPIM 2008. The European Youth Centre is located in the Wacken district.
Besides its headquarters in Strasbourg, the Council of Europe is also present in other cities and countries. The Council of Europe Development Bank has its seat in Paris, the North-South Centre of the Council of Europe is established in Lisbon, Portugal, and the Centre for Modern Languages is in Graz, Austria. There are European Youth Centres in Budapest, Hungary and Strasbourg. The new European Resource Centre on education for intercultural dialogue, human rights and democratic citizenship will be set up in Oslo, Norway in autumn 2008.
The Council of Europe has offices in Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Moldova, Montenegro, Serbia, Kosovo, Ukraine and information offices in Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Russian Federation, Slovakia, Slovenia, "The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia", and Ukraine.
The Council of Europe created and uses as its official symbols the famous European Flag with 12 golden stars arranged in a circle on a blue background since 1955, and the European anthem based on the Ode to Joy in the final movement of Ludwig van Beethoven's Ninth symphony since 1972.
Although protected by copyright, the wide private and public use of the European Flag is encouraged to symbolise a European dimension. To avoid confusion with the European Union which subsequently adopted the same flag in the 1980s, as well as other European institutions, the Council of Europe often uses a modified version with a lower-case 'e' in the centre of the stars which is referred to as the "Council of Europe Logo".
As a result, nearly all European states have acceded to the Council, with the exception of Belarus (dictatorship), Kazakhstan (dictatorship), Kosovo (partly unrecognised), Abkhazia (recognised only by two countries), South Ossetia (recognised only by two countries), Northern Cyprus (recognised only by one country), Nagorno-Karabakh (unrecognised), Pridnestrovie (unrecognised) and the Holy See (unique status). The latter is however an observer.
| Notes on table;|
aAlso considered as a founder of the organization.
bIn 1950, the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), est. 23 May 1949, and then French-occupied Saar (protectorate) became associate members. (West) Germany became a full member in 1951, while the Saarland withdrew from its associate membership in 1956 after acceding to the Federal Republic after a referendum in 1955. The Soviet-occupied eastern part of Germany and later East German Democratic Republic never became a member of the Council of Europe. Through German reunification in 1990, the five Länder (i.e. states/regions) of East Germany acceeded to the Federal Republic of Germany and thus gained representation in the Council of Europe.
c Joined under the provisional reference "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" (including quotation marks). Majority of countries recognise the country with its constitutional name.
d Originally joined as Serbia and Montenegro.
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||2002-04-24|
Following its declaration of independence on 3 June 2006, Montenegro submitted a request to accede to the Council of Europe. The Committee of Ministers transmitted the request to the Parliamentary Assembly for opinion, in accordance with the usual procedure. Eleven days later, on 14 June 2006, the Committee of Ministers declared that the Republic of Serbia would continue the membership of the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro. On 11 May 2007, Montenegro joined the Council of Europe as 47th member state.
Kazakhstan applied for the Special Guest status with the Parliamentary Assembly in 1999. The Assembly found that Kazakhstan could apply for full membership, because it is partially located in Europe, but granting Special Guest status would require improvements in the fields of democracy and human rights. Kazakhstan signed a co-operation agreement with the Assembly.
The parliaments of Canada, Israel, Mexico and Morocco have observer status with the Parliamentary Assembly and their delegations can participate in Assembly sessions and committee meetings. Representatives of the Palestinian Legislative Council may participate in Assembly debates concerning the Middle East as well as Turkish representatives from Northern Cyprus concerning this island.
There has been criticism concerning the observer status of Japan and the US because both countries apply the death penalty.
Cooperation between the European Union and the Council of Europe has recently been reinforced, notably on culture and education as well as on the international enforcement of justice and Human Rights.
The European Union is expected to accede to the European Convention on Human Rights (the Convention). At their Warsaw Summit in 2005, the Heads of State and Government of all Council of Europe member states reiterated their desire for the EU to accede without delay to ensure consistent human rights protection across Europe. There are also concerns about consistency in case law - the European Court of Justice (the EU's court in Luxembourg) is treating the Convention as part of the legal system of all EU member states in order to prevent conflict between its judgements and those of the European Court of Human Rights (the court in Strasbourg interpreting the Convention). Protocol No.14 of the Convention is designed to allow the EU to accede to it and the EU Reform Treaty contains a protocol binding the EU to join. The EU would thus be subject to its human rights law and external monitoring as its member states currently are. It is further proposed that the EU join as a member of the Council of Europe once it has attained its legal personality in the Reform Treaty, possibly in 2010.
The European Commission and the Council of Europe provide joint funding for the programme, and the Council of Europe is responsible for its implementation. In most cases funding is shared on a 50-50 basis but on some occasions the European Commission has contributed with proportionally more resources. A large number of Joint Programmes have been concluded with the EC's European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR).
Programmes have also been concluded with the European Commission's TACIS and CARDS programmes. In 2002 a major Joint Programme for Turkey became operational, with resources from the EU enlargement funds and the Council of Europe. In 2001 two Joint Programmes were established with the European Agency for Reconstruction (EAR), a decentralised agency of the European Union that deals with assistance to Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo, and FYROM.