Friday, 4 May 2007

Council of Europe and European Union II

The origins of the European Union can be sought in the Schuman declaration 9 May 1950, which led to the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community by six countries the following year.

Fifty years ago, in 1957, the European Economic Community and the European Atomic Energy Community were established. The EEC evolved from a customs union and common market into a more political organisation, later becoming the European Community (EC) and, in 1992, the European Union. The EU has undergone two further treaty revisions (1997 and 2001) and a third one was unanimously signed by the member states in 2004, the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe.

The European Union is difficult to classify exactly, since it is an international organisation with strong elements of inter-governmental co-operation, but with unique supra-national decision making powers in certain fields. It has federal traits without being a full-blown federation.

Institutionally, the EU is complicated. The most important institution is still the Council, where the governments of the member states are represented. The Council has both law-making and executive powers. The Commission is an executive in the fields covered by Community law (the so called first pillar). The European Parliament is based on direct elections and has become co-legislator in many fields of Community legislation.

Enlargement has, in successive steps, brought the number of member states from six to 27, with some 450 million inhabitants.

The more the EU has become involved in new fields, and the more its legislation has become binding not only for the member states, but their companies and individual persons, the more it has become important to guarantee these individuals basic rights and judicial review.

Human rights and fundamental freedoms have come to stay on the agenda of the European Union.

The European Union and the EC Court of Justice partially face the same questions as the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights.

The Council of Europe has expressed its concern that the EU might encroach upon its core competencies, namely democracy, human rights and the rule of law. The CoE has pointed out that it has pan-European responsibilities, although EU members form a majority of its membership.

On the other hand, it looks clear that the European Union must enhance its own monitoring of proposed Community legislation and guarantee individuals judicial review.

How should the relationship between the Council of Europe and the European Union developed?

Ralf Grahn