Council of Europe
The Council of Europe (French: Conseil de l'Europe) is an international organisation working towards European integration. It was founded in 1949 and places 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, which comprises the foreign ministers of each member state, the Parliamentary Assembly composed of MPs from each member state's parliament, and the Secretary General heading the secretariat of the Council of Europe. The Commissioner for Human Rights is an independent institution within the Council of Europe; its mandate is to promote the awareness of and respect for human rights in the member states.
The most well-known bodies of the Council of Europe are the European Court of Human Rights, which enforces the European Convention on Human Rights, and the European Pharmacopoeia Commission, which sets the quality standards for pharmaceutical products in Europe. The Council'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, with English and French as its two official languages. The Committee of Ministers, the Parliamentary Assembly and the Congress also use German, Italian, and Russian for some of their work.
At the end of the Second World War, Europe was marked by unprecedented devastation and human suffering. It faced new political challenges, in particular that of reconciling the peoples of Europe. In this context, the idea of European integration arose, which was to be implemented through the creation of common institutions.
In his famous speech at the University of Zurich on 19 September 1946, Sir Winston Churchill called for a "kind of United States of Europe" and the creation of a Council of Europe. He had spoken of a Council of Europe as early as in 1943 during a broadcast to the nation.
The future structure of the Council of Europe was discussed at a specific congress with several hundred leading politicians and government representatives in The Hague, the Netherlands, in 1948. There were two competing schools of thought: some favoured a classical international organisation with representatives of governments, while others preferred a political forum with parliamentary representatives. 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.
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. The Council of Europe now includes all European states except Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Vatican City.
Goals and achievements
Article 1(a) of the Statute states that "The aim of the Council of Europe is to achieve greater unity between its members for the purpose of safeguarding and realising the ideals and principles which are their common heritage and facilitating their economic and social progress." Therefore, membership is open to all European states which seek European integration, accept the principle of the rule of law, and are able and willing to guarantee democracy, fundamental human rights and freedoms.
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, 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 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.
The wide activities and achievements of the Council of Europe can be found in detail on its official website.
Austria and the Council of Europe
After the signing of the Austrian treaty of independence, it was a great opportunity for Austria to actively participate in the process of European integration with other democratic European states.
Austria always interpreted its perpetual neutrality as a military one only and never applied it to the fight for Human Rights and the principles of a pluralistic democracy.
By actively co-operating within the framework of the Council of Europe, e.g. by contributing to numerous European agreements/conventions/treaties, Austria was able to lay the foundation for its European integration.
Therefore, active participation in the Council of Europe has always been of high importance for Austria, with a special - still ongoing - emphasis on Human Rights, cultural activities, education, and social matters, such as children’s rights, women’s rights, freedom from violence, and the international fight against terrorism.
The Council of Europe’s centre for modern languages in Graz was created through an agreement in 1994. Up to this date, 33 states have joined this treaty. The centre provides a meeting hub for teachers, trainers, program-organisers, authors and experts who work in the field of education, evaluation, and language instruction.
As far as the Council of Europe is concerned, Austria has thus far provided three Secretary-Generals (Lujo Toncic-Sorinj 1969 - 1974, Franz Karasek 1979- 1984, Walter Schwimmer 1999-2004), two presidents of the Parliamentary Assembly (Peter Schieder 2002-2005, Karl Czernetz 1975-1978) and one President of the Congresses of Local and Regional Authorities (Herwig van Staa 2002-2004).