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Council of Europe



                  A Brief History of the Council of Europe

             The Europe that awoke in the days following the Liberation was
      in a sorry state, torn apart by five years of war. States were
      determined to build up their shattered economies, recover their
      influence and, above all, ensure that such a tragedy could never
      happen again. Winston Churchill was the first to point to the
      solution, in his speech of 19 September 1946 in Zurich. According to
      him, what was needed was "a remedy which, as if by miracle, would
      transform the whole scene and in a few years make all Europe as free
      and happy as Switzerland is today. We must build a kind of United
      States of Europe".
      Movements of various persuasions, but all dedicated to European unity,
      were springing up everywhere at the time. All these organisations were
      to combine to form the International Committee of  the  Movements  for
      European Unity. Its first act was to organise the Hague Congress, on 7
      May 1948, remembered as "The Congress of Europe".

      A thousand delegates at The Hague

      More than a thousand delegates from some  twenty  countries,  together
      with a large number of observers, among them political  and  religious
      figures, academics, writers and journalists,  attended  the  Congress.
      Its purpose was to demonstrate the breadth of the movements in  favour
      of European unification, and to determine the objectives which must be
      met in order to achieve such a union.
      A series of resolutions was  adopted  at  the  end  of  the  Congress,
      calling, amongst other things, for the creation  of  an  economic  and
      political union  to  guarantee  security,  economic  independence  and
      social progress, the establishment of a consultative assembly  elected
      by national parliaments, the drafting of a European charter  of  human
      rights and the setting up of a court to enforce its decisions. All the
      themes around which Europe was to be built were already  sketched  out
      in this initial project. The Congress also  revealed  the  divergences
      which were soon to  divide  unconditional  supporters  of  a  European
      federation (France and Belgium) from those who favoured simple  inter-
      governmental co-operation, such as  Great  Britain,  Ireland  and  the
      Scandinavian countries.

      Compromise

      On the international scene, the sharp East-West tensions marked by the
      Prague coup and the Berlin blockade were to impart a sense of  urgency
      to the need to take action and devote serious  thought  to  a  genuine
      inter-state association. Two months  after  the  Congress  of  Europe,
      Georges Bidault, the French Minister for Foreign  Affairs,  issued  an
      invitation to his Brussels Treaty partners, the United Kingdom and the
      Benelux countries, and to all those who wished to  give  substance  to
      The Hague proposals. Robert Schuman,  who  replaced  him  a  few  days
      later, confirmed the invitation. France, supported by Belgium, in  the
      person of its Prime Minister Paul Henri Spaak, called for the creation
      of a European Assembly, with wide-ranging powers, composed of  members
      of parliament from the various states and deciding by a majority vote.
      This plan, assigning a fundamental role to the Assembly  seemed  quite
      revolutionary  in  an  international  order  hitherto  the   exclusive
      preserve of governments. But Great Britain, which favoured a  form  of
      intergovernmental co-operation in which  the  Assembly  would  have  a
      purely consultative function, rejected this approach.
      It only softened its stance after lengthy negotiations. Finally, on 27
      and 28 January 1949 the five ministers  for  foreign  affairs  of  the
      Brussels Treaty countries, meeting in the Belgian capital,  reached  a
      compromise: a Council of Europe consisting of a ministerial committee,
      to meet in private; and a consultative body, to  meet  in  public.  In
      order to satisfy the  supporters  of  co-operation  the  Assembly  was
      purely consultative in nature, with decision-making powers  vested  in
      the Committee of Ministers. In order to  meet  the  demands  of  those
      partisans of a Europe-wide federation, members of  the  Assembly  were
      independent of their governments, with full voting freedom. The United
      Kingdom demanded that they be appointed  by  their  governments.  This
      important aspect of the compromise was soon to be reviewed  and,  from
      1951 onwards, parliaments alone were to choose their representatives.

      "Greater" and "Smaller" Europe

      On 5 May 1949, in St James's Palace, London, the  treaty  constituting
      the Statute of the Council of Europe  was  signed  by  ten  countries:
      Belgium, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and the  United  Kingdom,
      accompanied by Ireland, Italy, Denmark, Norway and Sweden. The Council
      of Europe was now able to start work. Its first sessions were held  in
      Strasbourg, which was to become its permanent  seat.  In  the  initial
      flush of enthusiasm, the first major  convention  was  drawn  up:  the
      European Convention on Human Rights, signed in Rome on 4 November 1950
      and coming into force on 3 September 1953.
      The new organisation satisfied a very wide range  of  public  opinion,
      which saw in it an instrument  through  which  the  various  political
      tendencies, and the essential aspirations of the  peoples  of  Europe,
      could be expressed. This was indeed  the  purpose  for  which  it  was
      founded, as clearly stated in Chapter I of its Statute:  "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."
      In order to achieve its objectives, certain means were made  available
      to the Council and were listed in the Statute, which  specified  that:
      "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."  In  accordance  with  the
      compromise reached, the Statute  made  no  mention  of  drawing  up  a
      constitution, or of pooling national sovereignty, in order to  achieve
      the "economic and political union" called for by The Hague delegates.
      Consequently, the need was soon felt to  set  up  separate  bodies  to
      address the urgent questions arising on  the  political  and  economic
      fronts. Shortly  after  the  accession  of  the  Federal  Republic  of
      Germany, Robert Schuman approached all the Council of Europe countries
      with a proposal for  a  European  Coal  and  Steel  Community,  to  be
      provided with very different political and budgetary means.
      The six countries most attached to the ideal of integration - Belgium,
      France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and the Federal Republic of
      Germany - joined, and on 9 May 1951 signed the  very  first  Community
      treaty. Strengthened  by  the  experience  and  commitment  which  had
      brought the "Greater Europe" into existence, the "Smaller Europe"  was
      now making its own "leap into the unknown" of European construction.

      Early developments

      In the years between 1949 and 1970, eight  new  countries  joined  the
      founder members:  in  order  of  accession  Greece,  Iceland,  Turkey,
      Germany, Austria, Cyprus, Switzerland and Malta. In this  period,  the
      organisation  gradually  developed  its  structure   and   its   major
      institutions. Thus, the first public hearing of the European Court  of
      Human Rights took place in 1960. These years also saw the introduction
      of the first specialized ministerial conferences; by the  early  1970s
      they had been extended to cover a wide range of areas. The  first,  in
      1959, brought together European ministers responsible for  social  and
      family affairs. On 18 October 1961, the European  Social  Charter  was
      signed in Rome: a text which the Council sees as  the  counterpart  of
      the European Convention on Human Rights in the social domain.
      The Charter came into force on  26  February  1965.  It  sets  out  19
      rights, including  the  right  to  strike  and  the  right  to  social
      protection, but does not have such effective machinery  as  the  Human
      Rights Convention. Nevertheless, it is  gradually  developing  into  a
      common body of social rights that apply right across Europe.
      The same era saw the institution  of  the  Council  for  Cultural  Co-
      operation in 1961, which non-Council  of  Europe  member  states  were
      allowed to join from the outset. One example was Finland,  which  only
      joined the Council itself 28  years  later.  Similarly,  the  European
      Pharmacopoeia was founded in 1964 and the  European  Youth  Centre  in
      1967.

      Crises strengthen democracy

      The Council of Europe's first major political crisis came in 1967 when
      the Greek  colonels  overthrew  the  legally  elected  government  and
      installed  an  authoritarian  regime  which  openly  contravened   the
      democratic principles defended by the  organisation.  On  12  December
      1969, just a few hours before a decision  would  have  been  taken  to
      exclude Greece, the colonels' regime anticipated matters by denouncing
      the European Convention on  Human  Rights  and  withdrawing  from  the
      Council of Europe. It did not return until five  years  later,  on  28
      November 1974 after the fall of the dictatorship and  the  restoration
      of democracy. In the meantime, the Cypriot crisis, which broke out  in
      the summer of 1974 and culminated in the partitioning  of  the  island
      after Turkish military intervention,  represented  a  fairly  negative
      experience for the Council of Europe, whose discreet efforts to broker
      a solution, alongside those of the United Nations' Secretary  General,
      were not crowned with success.
      A new crisis arose in 1981 when the  Parliamentary  Assembly  withdrew
      the  Turkish  parliamentary  delegation's  right  to  their  seats  in
      response to the military coup d'йtat a few weeks earlier. The  Turkish
      delegation only resumed its place in 1984 after the  holding  of  free
      elections.
      Greece's return marked the disappearance  of  the  last  authoritarian
      regime in western Europe. Portugal had  made  its  Council  of  Europe
      debut on 22 September 1976, two years after its peaceful revolution of
      April 1974, bringing an end to 48 years  of  Salazarist  dictatorship,
      while the death of General Franco in 1975 eventually  led  to  Spain's
      accession on 24 November 1977.
      The Council of Europe's permanent role on the European  political  and
      institutional scene was sealed on 28 January 1977 with its  move  from
      its provisional premises to the Palais de l'Europe,  designed  by  the
      French architect Bernard.
      Liechtenstein's accession on 23 November  1978,  San  Marino's  on  16
      November 1988 and Finland's on 5 May 1989 more or less  completed  the
      absorption of west European states while the  Council  of  Europe  was
      already laying the foundations for a rapprochement with the  countries
      of central and eastern Europe.
      A further, critical stage in the Council of Europe's life  started  in
      1985 with the first movements to introduce democracy  to  central  and
      eastern Europe.  In  January  of  that  year  Hans-Dietrich  Genscher,
      Chairman of the Committee of Ministers, invited his colleagues to take
      part  in  an  extraordinary  session  devoted  entirely  to  East-West
      relations. This process of reflection, that took account of the  trend
      emerging in Eastern Europe - in Romania and Poland, and in the  Soviet
      Union, where Mikhail Gorbachov had just come to power - gave  rise  to
      the notion of a European cultural identity, which became  the  subject
      of a resolution in April 1985. Convinced that unity in  diversity  was
      the basis of the wealth of Europe's heritage, the  Council  of  Europe
      noted that their common tradition and European identity did  not  stop
      at the boundaries between the various political systems; it  stressed,
      in the light of the CSCE Final Act,  the  advantage  of  consolidating
      cultural co-operation as a means of promoting a lasting  understanding
      between  peoples  and  between  governments.  The   Eastern   European
      countries grasped this outstretched hand with enthusiasm.
      Rapprochement had at last become not only possible but necessary.  The
      Council  of  Europe  was  naturally  delighted  by  the   process   of
      democratisation set in motion in the East, together with the  economic
      and social reforms introduced in the name of perestroika. It  was  the
      Council's role and purpose to support this  trend,  to  help  make  it
      irreversible, and to fulfil the expectations of the countries  calling
      upon it for assistance. Not of course  by  renouncing  its  principles
      but, on the contrary, by making them a precondition for any form of co-
      operation.



      An antechamber

      This became the Council of Europe's guiding principle, as reflected in
      the  Committee  of  Ministers'  change  of  course  set  out  in   its
      declaration of 5 May 1989.  The  new  direction  represented  both  an
      achievement and a first step, and was  the  outcome  of  a  number  of
      exchanges (the Secretary General's visit to Hungary, then Poland;  the
      visits by the President of the Parliamentary Assembly to Budapest  and
      Warsaw, and the visits to Strasbourg of delegations and  experts  from
      the USSR and other East European countries). This new  departure  gave
      momentum to a process that was to continue  to  accelerate,  exceeding
      even the most optimistic expectations.
      Eastern European countries were now knocking impatiently at  the  door
      of  the  Council  of  Europe,  that  guardian  of  human  rights;  the
      organisation  became  a  kind  of  antechamber  for  negotiating   the
      transition from dictatorship and democracy, as had previously been the
      case with Portugal and Spain.
      It is no coincidence that the first address by a Soviet leader  to  an
      assembly of Western European parliamentarians should have taken  place
      at the Council of Europe.  Mikhail  Gorbachov  chose  this  particular
      chamber - on 6 July 1989 - to put forward a new  disarmament  proposal
      (unilateral reduction of short-range nuclear missiles), to promote the
      idea of a Common European Home (non-use of force, renunciation of  the
      Brezhnev doctrine and maintenance of socialism), and to discuss  human
      rights (albeit without referring to the European Convention!).
      The Council of Europe started to open its  gates  very  carefully.  In
      1989,  the  Parliamentary  Assembly  established  the  very  selective
      special guest status for the national assemblies of countries  willing
      to apply the Helsinki final act and the  United  Nations  Covenant  on
      Human Rights. The status was immediately granted to the assemblies  of
      Hungary, Poland, USSR and Yugoslavia and opened the way  to  the  full
      accession of the former Soviet bloc countries.
      Four months after Mikhail Gorbachov's address the Berlin wall fall  on
      9 September 1989. This provided the opportunity  for  the  Council  of
      Europe's Secretary General to state, on 23 November, that the  Council
      was the only organisation capable of encompassing all the countries of
      Europe, once they had adopted democratic rules. This marked the  start
      of the organisation's new political role.

      From the fall of the Berlin wall to the Vienna summit

      Referring to his country's accession to the Council  of  Europe  on  6
      November 1990, the Hungarian Minister for Foreign  Affairs  said  that
      the event marked the first step in the re-establishment of  the  unity
      of the continent.
      Special programmes were rapidly introduced to meet the  most  pressing
      needs and allow the new European partners, both before and after their
      accession, to draw on a shared fund of  knowledge  and  experience  to
      enable them to complete their democratic transition. These  programmes
      were dubbed Demosthenes, Themis and Lode and focused on the key  areas
      of reform: how to design new constitutions, bring domestic legislation
      into line with the European Convention on Human Rights, reorganise the
      civil service, establish an independent judiciary and  an  independent
      media, encourage local democracy. In other words, how to become a full
      member of the European democratic and legal community.
      On  4  May  1992,  Franзois  Mitterrand  addressed  the  Parliamentary
      Assembly in a session largely devoted to integrating the countries  of
      central and eastern Europe in the building of a new  Europe.  Why,  he
      asked, should all the heads of state and government of the Council  of
      Europe's member countries not meet every two years,  alternating  with
      meetings of the CSCE? The proposal was adopted at least  in  part  and
      Austria, which chaired the Committee  of  Ministers  between  May  and
      November 1993, offered to organise and host the summit.
      The summit was held in Vienna on 8 and 9 October  1993  and  confirmed
      and extended the  policy  of  opening  up  and  enlargement.  It  also
      identified three priorities, starting with the reforme of the European
      Convention on Human Rights machinery to make it more  expeditious  and
      effective. This is the subject of the Convention's Protocol no 11. The
      Vienna summit also laid great emphasis on the protection  of  national
      minorities,  which  was  to  lead  to  the  adoption  of  a  framework
      convention less than two years later, and combating intolerance.
      Thus with its new-found role of offering a home to all  the  countries
      of Europe  willing  to  opt  for  democracy,  thereby  establishing  a
      continent-wide democratic security area, the  Council  of  Europe  has
      used the years since Vienna to develop  and  refine  the  undertakings
      which any applicant country for membership must be willing to accept.

      The Council of Europe in an enlarged Europe

      The arrival of the Russian Federation in February 1996 meant that  the
      institution had finally become fully  pan-European.  Henceforth,  more
      than 700 million citizens would  be  concerned  in  building  the  new
      Europe. The Council's  activities  are  now  having  to  adapt  to  an
      environment that is not only wider and  more  diverse  but  also  more
      complex and less stable. This  is  changing  the  nature  of  its  co-
      operation programmes.
      Support  and  monitoring  activities  are  being  strengthened.   More
      attention is being paid to what happens on the ground, for example via
      confidence measures or campaigns to combat intolerance. New priorities
      are emerging such as migration, corruption, the right  to  be  granted
      nationality, social exclusion and minorities. The dual  machinery  for
      protecting human rights will be replaced  on  1  Novembre  1998  by  a
      single Court, housed in the Human  Rights  Building  designed  by  the
      British architect Richard Rogers and inaugurated in June 1995.
      At the same time several other European or North Atlantic institutions
      have been increasing their co-operation with the countries of  central
      and eastern Europe, offering the prospect of closer  integration.  The
      work under the auspices of the  intergovernmental  conference  of  the
      European Union and NATO summit held in Madrid, show that European  co-
      operation will continue to develop.
      As it approaches its fiftieth anniversary, the Council of Europe, with
      its 41 members, will also be required  to  clarify  how  it  sees  its
      future role as a focus for democratic security and the proponent of  a
      European model of society. A second summit was held for  this  purpose
      on 10 and 11 October 1997. The Strasbourg Summit, held at the  Council
      of Europe headquarters and hosted by the French Presidency,  gave  the
      40 Heads of State and Government an opportunity to assess the positive
      contribution which the Council had made  to  stability  in  Europe  by
      admitting new countries, running programmes  to  help  them  make  the
      transition to democracy and monitoring  all  its  members'  compliance
      with their obligations. The Summit adopted a Final Declaration and  an
      Action Plan, fixing the Organisation's priorities in the years  ahead,
      and gave reform of its structures the green light.



                       How the Council of Europe works

      The Council of Europe comprises:
         . a decision making body: the Committee of Ministers
         . a deliberative body: the Parliamentary Assembly
         . a voice for local democracy: the Congress of Local and  Regional
           Authorities of Europe
      Each of these three bodies, whose function is briefly described below,
      has its own Internet site.
      In exceptional circumstances, political impetus for  the  organisation
      may come from a summit of its member countries'  heads  of  state  and
      government. This occurred with the  Vienna  summit  in  1993  and  the
      Strasbourg Summit in 1997.
      The various bodies are assisted by  an  International  Secretariat  of
      some 1500 officials from all the member countries. They are headed  by
      a Secretary General whose is elected by the Parliamentary Assembly for
      a five year term.

           The Committee of Ministers

    The Committee of Ministers is the decision-making body of  the  Council
    of Europe. It directly represents the governments of the member States.
    It is composed of the Minister  for  foreign  affairs  of  each  member
    State. The Minister may be represented by an alternate who is either  a
    member of government or a senior diplomat.
    The chairmanship of the Committee changes with each six-month  session,
    in the English alphabetical order of the member States.

    The Committee meets twice a year at ministerial level, once in April or
    May and again in November. The day-to-day  work  of  the  Committee  is
    conducted by the Ministers' Deputies. Each minister appoints a  Deputy,
    who usually also acts as the Permanent  Representative  of  the  member
    State.
    The Ministers' Deputies meet in plenary two to  three  times  a  month.
    Their decisions have the same authority as the Committee of Ministers.
    The conduct of meetings of the Ministers and their Deputies is governed
    by the Statute and rules of procedure.
    The Deputies are assisted by a Bureau, Rapporteur  Groups  and  ad  hoc
    groups.
    The Committee of Ministers performs a triple role:
    - firstly as the emanation of the governments  which  enables  them  to
    express on equal  terms  their  national  approaches  to  the  problems
    confronting Europe's societies;
    - secondly as the collective forum where European  responses  to  these
    challenges are worked out;
    - thirdly as guardian, alongside the  Parliamentary  Assembly,  of  the
    values for which the Council of Europe exists; as such,  it  is  vested
    with a monitoring function in respect of the  commitments  accepted  by
    the member States.
    The work and activities of the Committee of Ministers include :
    *    political dialogue
    *    interacting with the Parliamentary Assembly
    *    interacting with the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of
    Europe (CLRAE)
    *   follow-up to respect of commitments by member States
    *    admission of new member States
    *    concluding conventions and agreements
    *    adopting recommendations to member States
    *    adopting the budget
    *     adopting  and  monitoring  the  Intergovernmental  Programme   of
    Activities
    *    implementing cooperation and assistance programmes for central and
    eastern Europe
    *    supervising the execution of judgments of the European  Convention
    on Human Rights by the member States
    *    contributing to Conferences of Specialised Ministers
    The Committee of Ministers is made up  of  the  ministers  for  foreign
    affairs of the 41 member states. It meets  twice  a  year  in  ordinary
    sessions and may hold special or informal meetings. Its  Chair  changes
    every six months according to the member countries' alphabetical order.
    The Ministers' Deputies meet at least once a month. They  draw  up  the
    Council of Europe's activities programme and adopt  its  budget,  which
    today amounts to some 1 300 million French francs. It also decides what
    follow-up should be given to proposals of the  Parliamentary  Assembly,
    the Congress of Local  and  Regional  Authorities  and  the  specialist
    ministerial conferences that the Council of Europe regularly organises.

    The Parliamentary Assembly

    The Parliamentary Assembly is the parliamentary organ of the Council of
    Europe consisting of a number of individual representatives  from  each
    member State, with a President elected each year from among them for  a
    maximum period of three sessions. The present President is Lord Russell-
    Johnston, a British Liberal Democrat  (LDR)  member  of  the  House  of
    Lords.
    Whilst in the Committee of Ministers each member state has one vote, in
    the  Parliamentary  Assembly  the   number   of   representatives   and
    consequently of votes is determined by the size  of  the  country.  The
    biggest number is eighteen, the smallest two. As  there  are  an  equal
    number of representatives and substitutes, the total number of  members
    of the Assembly is  therefore  582,  plus  15  special  guests  and  15
    Observers.
    They are appointed to the Parliamentary Assembly in a manner  which  is
    left to be decided by each member state as long  as  they  are  elected
    within their national or federal Parliament, or appointed from  amongst
    the members of that parliament. The balance of political parties within
    each national delegation must  ensure  a  fair  representation  of  the
    political parties or groups in their national parliaments.
    Political groups
    In order to develop a non-national European outlook, the  formation  of
    political groups in the Parliamentary Assembly has  been  promoted  and
    from 1964 onwards they were granted certain rights within the Rules  of
    Procedure. At present the Assembly counts five  political  groups:  the
    Socialist Group  (SOC);  the  Group  of  the  European  People's  Party
    (EPP/CD); the European Democratic Group (EDG); the Liberal,  Democratic
    and Reformers Group (LDR) and the Group of the  Unified  European  Left
    (UEL). Political Groups  have  to  commit  themselves  to  respect  the
    promotion of the values of the Council  of  Europe,  notably  political
    pluralism, human rights and the rule of law. To form a Group, at  least
    twenty members of at least six different delegations have to decide  to
    do so. Members of the Assembly are entirely free to  choose  the  Group
    they wish to join. Before deciding they can attend meetings of  one  or
    several groups and should not be bound by their  national  party  label
    but choose the group which best suits their political  affinities.  The
    President of the Assembly and the Leaders of the Groups form the Ad hoc
    Committee of Chairpersons of Political Groups.
    The Bureau
    The President, eighteen Vice-Presidents and  the  Chairpersons  of  the
    political groups or their representatives make up  the  Bureau  of  the
    Assembly. The big countries have a permanent seat in  the  Bureau;  the
    smaller countries take turns. The duties of the  Bureau  are  manifold:
    preparation  of  the  Assembly's  agenda,  reference  of  documents  to
    committees, arrangement of day-to-day business,  relations  with  other
    international  bodies,  authorisations   for   meetings   by   Assembly
    committees, etc.
    The Standing Committee
    The Standing Committee consists of  the  Bureau,  the  Chairpersons  of
    national delegations and the Chairpersons of the general committees. It
    is generally convened at least twice a year and its major  task  is  to
    act on behalf of the Assembly when the latter is not in  session.  Each
    year one of the Standing Committee meetings, together with a number  of
    other committees, takes place normally in one of the member states.
    The Joint Committee
    The Joint Committee is the forum set up to co-ordinate  the  activities
    of, and maintain good relations between, the Committee of Ministers and
    the Assembly.
    It is composed of a representative of  each  member  Government  and  a
    corresponding number of representatives of the Assembly (the members of
    the Bureau and one representative of each parliamentary  delegation  of
    member States not represented on the Bureau).

    The Secretariat of the Assembly
    The secretariat of the Assembly is headed by Mr Bruno Haller, Secretary
    General of the Assembly who is elected by  it  for  a  period  of  five
    years.
    Its staff is divided into the Private  Office  of  the  President,  the
    Secretariat of the Bureau and the Joint Committee, the Table Office and
    Inter-parliamentary   Relations,   the   Administration   and   Finance
    Department and the Political and Legal Affairs Department  including  a
    number of operational Divisions to cover the work of the committees.
    The Council of Europe's  Parliamentary  Assembly  is  made  up  of  286
    representatives and the same number of substitutes from the parliaments
    of the member states. Each delegation's composition  reflects  that  of
    its parliament of origin.
    The Parliamentary Assembly hold  four  plenary  sessions  a  year.  Its
    debates on a wide range of social issues and its recommendations to the
    Committee of Ministers have been at the root of many of the Council  of
    Europe's achievements.
    The Parliamentary Assembly has instituted a special guest status, which
    has enabled it to play host to representatives of  the  parliaments  of
    non-member states in central and eastern  Europe,  paving  the  way  to
    these countries' eventual accession.
    The Assembly plays a key role in the accession process for new  members
    and in monitoring compliance with undertakings entered into.

    The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe

    The Congress of Local and Regional  Authorities  of  Europe,  like  the
    Parliamentary Assembly, has 286 representatives and 286 substitutes. It
    is composed of two chambers, one representing local authorities and the
    other regions. Its function is to strengthen democratic institutions at
    the local level, and in particular to assist the new democracies.



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