Council of Europe


The Establishment of the Council of Europe and Its Members

The idea of establishing the Council of Europe was  set forth to prevent recurrence of the tragedies that Europe had been through. The primary goal was to replace tensions and conflicts with trust and cooperation. Ten countries – Belgium, Denmark, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom – signed, on 5 May 1949, the treaty establishing the Council of Europe. The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) was signed on 4 November 1950 in Rome.

council-of-europe
Turkey was invited to the Council of Europe together with Greece and Iceland in August 1949 and is regarded as a founding member of the Council of Europe.

 

The Council of Europe has become an international organization with 47 member states with the accessions of Germany (1950), Austria (1956), “Republic of Cyprus” (1961), Switzerland (1963), Malta (1965), Portugal (1976), Spain (1977), Liechtenstein (1978), San Marino (1988), Finland (1989), Hungary (1990), Poland (1991), Bulgaria (1992), Estonia, Lithuania, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania (1993), Andorra (1994), Latvia, Albania, Moldova, Ukraine, Macedonia (1995), Russia and Croatia (1996), Georgia (1999) Azerbaijan and Armenia (2001), Bosnia and Herzegovina (2002), Serbia and Montenegro (2003), Monaco (2004) and finally Republic of Montenegro in 2007.

 

The USA, Japan, Canada, the Holy See and Mexico have been granted observer status by the Committee of Ministers while Israel, Canada and Mexico also enjoy observer status in the Parliamentary Assembly.

 

The Goals of the Council of Europe

 

The goals of the Council of Europe are to defend and reinforce the principles of human rights, pluralist democracy and the rule of law, to find solutions to problems facing European society such as, minorities, racism, intolerance and xenophobia, drug abuse, social exclusion and environmental protection and to contribute to the building of a European cultural identity.

 

The Fields of Activities

 

The Council of Europe covers all major issues facing European society other than defence: Human rights, legal cooperation, media, education, culture, sport, youth, health, local authorities, regional planning, environment, family affairs and social security. Although the work program of the organization includes economic activities according to its statute, its activities in this field are actually limited.

 

The Council of Europe’s work in the above-mentioned fields result in Conventions and Protocols. The organization has  203 conventions and protocols. The aim of the Conventions and Protocols is to bring national legislations in line with one another and thus, to create common norms and establish a pan-European legal order.

 

In order to face the challenges which emerged in Europe following the end of the Cold War, the Council of Europe needed a new direction and it was agreed that this direction could be provided through Summit Meetings in which the Heads of State and Government of the member countries of the Council of Europe would participate.

 

Accordingly, following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the collapse of the Eastern Bloc and the emergence of new democracies in Central and Eastern Europe, the first Council of Europe Summit Meeting was held on 8-9 October 1993 in Vienna. The second Summit Meeting was held on 10-11 October 1997 in Strasbourg.

 

The third Summit Meeting was held in Warsaw on 16-17 May 2005. Turkey patricipated in the meeting with a delegation headed by the Prime Minister.

 

At the end of the Summit Meeting, an Action Plan and a Declaration were adopted. Member states of the organization reiterated through these documents their commitment to promote common values such as human rights, the rule of law and democracy, to build a more humane and inclusive Europe, to strengthen the cooperation between the Council of Europe and other international organizations and to enhance the efficiency of the Council of Europe.

 

The Bodies of the Council of Europe

The fundamental bodies of the Council of Europe are the Committee of Ministers, the main decision making body; the Parliamentary Assembly, deliberative and consultative body and the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities which aims at developing local and regional authorities. The European Court of Human Rights has also become a fundamental body.

 

a) The Committee of Ministers

It is composed of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the member states. Their permanent representatives comprise the Committee of Ministers’ Deputies. Generally, current political issues are discussed and the general policy of the organization is defined in the Committee of Ministers’ meetings.

 

b) The Parliamentary Assembly

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) consists of 318 representatives and 318 substitutes who are elected by national parliaments from among their own members. The number of the representatives of each country depends on its population. The PACE meets quarterly for five days, in January, April, June and September.

 

The reports prepared by various  committees of PACE are presented to the Assembly. The operational sections of reports, i.e. resolutions, recommendations and orders are discussed and put to a vote.

 

There are five political groups in PACE:

 

• the Socialist Group
• the Group of the European People’s Party
• the European Democratic Group
• the Liberal, Democratic and Reformers’ Group
• the Group of the Unified European Left.

 

c) The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe

The main purpose of the Congress is to promote the principles of the Council of Europe at the level of local authorities. The Congress’ most important tasks are strengthening local and regional authorities, examining these authorities from a legal and administrative point of view, promoting transfrontier and inter-regional cooperation. Its members are elected from among the representatives of local and regional authorities of all member states. It is divided into two Chambers, the Chamber of Local Authorities and the Chamber of Regions.

 

Turkey’s Relations with the Council of Europe

 

As a founding member of the Council of Europe, Turkey attaches great importance to its relations with the organization and supports it in its efforts to take its right place in the new architecture of Europe. Turkey also supports the enhancement and the expansion of the activities of the Council of Europe which cover almost all countries within the geographical boundaries of Europe.

 

The Turkish delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly is composed of 12 representatives and 12 substitutes. Turkey participates in the work of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities with a delegation of 12 representatives and 12 substitutes.

 

Monitoring of the Council of Europe and the Responsibilities of the Member States Monitoring procedures in the Council of Europe are carried out in the framework of:

 

• The Committee of Ministers

• The Parliamentary Assembly
• The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities

 

In addition to the above, the “Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms” and the “European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment” have their own monitoring procedures.

 

a) Monitoring Procedure of the Committee of Ministers

The monitoring procedure was launched in 1994. It is based on thematic ground, which means that it monitors the situation of specific issues in member states. This procedure, carried out by Ministers’ Deputies, is confidential. The monitoring procedure was put into operation in 1996. It is equally applied to all member countries on specific issues.

 

b) Monitoring of the Parliamentary Assembly

The Parliamentary Assembly’s monitoring procedure was put in place in 1995 in order to ensure the full compliance of member states with their commitments and obligations. In accordance with the decision adopted in January 1997, a new “Monitoring Commission” was set up for the same purpose. This procedure was first put into operation for the new members of the Council of Europe, i.e. the Central and Eastern European countries. The purpose is to monitor whether the member states have reached the standards of the Council of Europe.

 

If a member state fails to comply with its commitments and obligations arising from its membership to the Council of Europe and with the recommendations put forward during this process, its membership can be suspended or the state in question can be expelled from the Council of Europe. The authorized body to decide upon suspension or expulsion by qualified majority is the Committee of Ministers. The Committee of Ministers can invite the state to withdraw from membership. If the member state does not withdraw from membership within a reasonable timeframe, it can be expelled from the Council of Europe.

 

Only the expulsion of Greece has ever been brought on the agenda. Greece withdrew from membership in 1969 and rejoined the Council of Europe after the establishment of democracy in 1974.

 

c) Monitoring Procedure of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities

The enlargement of the Council of Europe covering Central and Eastern European countries has made transfrontier cooperation more important.

 

The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities (CLRAE) aims at reinforcing local and regional authorities, examining the legal and administrative aspects of these authorities, facilitating transfrontier cooperation and protecting and promoting cultural diversity.

 

By the resolution adopted during the General Assembly meeting of CLRAE, held on 2-4 July 1996, monitoring procedures were launched for the observation of functioning of local and regional democracy in member states.

 

Monitoring Mechanisms of the Council of Europe Conventions Ratified by Turkey

 

a) European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR):

The ECHR, drafted within the framework of the Council of Europe, was signed on 4 November 1950 by 15 States including Turkey and came into force on 3 September 1953. Turkey ratified the ECHR in 1954.

 

The Convention aims at securing fundamental human rights and freedoms.

 

The Convention guarantees fundamental rights and freedoms such as the right to life, the right to freedom and security of person, the right to a fair trial, the freedom of thought, conscience, religion and press, the freedom of assembly and association, the right to form and become a member of trade unions.

 

The Convention also prohibits torture, inhuman treatment or punishment, slavery and forced labour and discrimination.

 

The rights guaranteed by this Convention have been expanded and monitoring procedures have been improved by additional protocols to the Convention. The control machinery of the Convention was composed of the European Commission of Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights. Turkey recognized the right of individual petition to the Commission in 1987 and the compulsory jurisdiction of the Court in 1990.

 

In parallel to the rise in the number of member states, theProtocol No. 11 to the ECHR which was prepared with a view to adapting the control machinery of the Convention to meet current needs and which introduces significant structural amendments came into force on 1 November 1998. The Commission and the Court were abolished and a single “European Court of Human Rights” was introduced in accordance with the Protocol.

 

b) European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment:

It is shortly known as the “European Convention for the Prevention of Torture”. It was opened for signature on 26 November 1987 and came into force on 1 February 1989. Turkey became a party to the Convention in 1988. The Convention is based on Article 3 of the ECHR, which states “no one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”.

 

The implementation of the Convention is monitored by the Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) in conformity with Article 1 of the Convention.

 

CPT is authorized to pay visits to all places where people deprived of their liberty are kept. These visits may be pre-planned periodical visits as well as “ad hoc” ones carried out immediately after notifying the relevant country.

 

CPT is not a judicial body. It examines allegations of torture and ill-treatment. CPT conveys, with a report, its observations, criticisms and recommendations related to its visits to relevant states. The Convention stipulates that this procedure is confidential and that, in case the relevant party state denies cooperation with or refuses to implement the recommendations of the Committee, CPT is authorized to make a public statement concerning that state with the consent of the two thirds of its members.

 

The reports drafted by the CPT are confidential. However, the reports can be made public with the consent of the relevant state party. The Turkish Government has authorized the publication of the CPT reports as of August 2001. The latest report of the CPT’s visit to Turkey in May 2007 and the Turkish Government’s response are made public on 6 March 2008.

 

c) The European Committee on Racism and Intolerance (ECRI):

The duty of the ECRI is to combat racism, xenophobia, anti-semitism and intolerance through the perspective of protection of human rights in Europe.

 

ECRI members are selected from persons who have significant studies in this field by the Council of Europe member states and they work independently from their countries of nationality.

 

ECRI prepares country reports and maintains contacts with the civil society. It has an important role in revealing the level of racism and xenophobia in European countries and determining the necessary measures for preventing these by the reports prepared as a result of country studies.

 

ECRI recommendations are not legally binding. These recommendations aim to guide the governments to comply with international norms while formulating legal regulations.

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