Tuesday, 4 May 2010

My Europe Week: Trivium of European integration: Council of Europe at 61

In the 5th century the seven liberal arts were set as the basis for the new school curriculum. First came Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric (later known as the Trivium). (Source: Keith Sidwell: Reading Medieval Latin; Cambridge University Press)

Council of Europe

The Council of Europe was established on 5 May 1949 by Belgium, Denmark, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

According to the Statute of the Council of Europe, every member of the Council of Europe must accept the principles of the rule of law and of the enjoyment by all persons within its jurisdiction of human rights and fundamental freedoms (Article 3).

Each member must collaborate sincerely and effectively in the realisation of the aim of the Council:

Article 1

a. The aim of the Council of Europe is to achieve a 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.
b. This aim shall be pursued through the organs of the Council by discussion of questions of common concern and by agreements and common action in economic, social, cultural, scientific, legal and administrative matters and in the maintenance and further realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
c. Participation in the Council of Europe shall not affect the collaboration of its members in the work of the United Nations and of other international organisations or unions to which they are parties.
d. Matters relating to national defence do not fall within the scope of the Council of Europe.

The United Kingdom and the Nordic countries fended off attempts to endow the Council of Europe with supranational powers, so it remained an expression of primary level international cooperation, an intergovernmental organisation.

The Committee of Ministers makes the decisions, regarding all important matters by unanimity.

The Consultative Assembly, nowadays called the Parliamentary Assembly, is allowed to discuss matters and to make recommendations to the Committee of Ministers. The members of the Parliamentary Assembly are elected indirectly, by the national parliaments among their members.

In the area of human rights, the Council of Europe has become a pioneer internationally. The groundbreaking 1950 Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR) has been developed further by amending protocols, and especially the establishment in 1959 of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), now issuing binding judgments, has offered Europeans an important and evolving instrument for the protection of the rule of law.

The CoE has widened into a pan-European organisation, with 47 members hosting about 800 million people. Some of the members were admitted on fairly optimistic assumptions about future progress. The ECtHR has become the victim of deep-rooted structural human rights problems in a number of CoE member states, leading to a huge backlog of cases.

A great number of treaties have been concluded within the European Council.

There are reasons to take note of the Council of Europe during My Europe Week. Tomorrow, 5 May 2010, the Council of Europe turns 61. It is worthy of our respect and felicitations, but the limits of intergovernmental cooperation have left its academic achievements at primary level.

My European vision is on the lookout for more: Is there a Quadrivium out there?

Ralf Grahn

P.S. I noticed that the website of the European Council had succumbed to multimedia temptations, making it harder to find solid and useable material without being dragged into picture shows.