Europe and Democracy
Grafted upon the European Parliament, our association – the European Energy Forum – advances in a particularly special environment in which the mention of democracy opens the door to controversy concerning the seat of this Parliament: Strasbourg, as it currently stands, or perhaps Brussels as a number of members of Parliament would like it to be. This Institution, demonstrating democracy par excellence, regularly sees its powers increasing…but not the choice of where it is based.
The founding European Treaties, which established the European Coal and Steel Community (signed in 1951) as well as the European Atomic Energy Community and the European Economic Community (both signed in 1957) each provide for the following in the same formulation: “The seat of the institutions of the Community shall be determined by common accord of the governments”. So, these State governments, constitutionally democratic in nature, selected Strasbourg as the seat of the European Parliament.
The controversy presents us with a dilemma: democracy against democracy. For those readers who are interested in this subject, a historical outline can be found in the appendix discussing the selection of Strasbourg for its symbolic value. Various developments in Europe relating democracy are also discussed, including, most recently those concerning the Mediterranean region.
Editorial Appendix to “Europe and Democracy”
Overlaps between the European Union and the Council of Europe
Why was Strasbourg chosen as the seat of the European Parliament? Because this city had already been selected as the seat of another institutional entity: the Council of Europe. This entity already had a Parliamentary Assembly with an appropriate infrastructure. The selection dates back to 1949, the year in which the Council of Europe was created.
The idea for an organisation of this sort had been made public in 1942 by Winston Churchill, looking ahead to the end of World War II. It was the same person who delivered a message to the young people of Europe, on 19 September 1946 in Zurich, reiterating his idea to create a united and democratic Europe. Preparatory work into the Constitution of the Council of Europe ran from autumn 1948 to spring 1949. This politically focussed organisation was born on 5 May in London and on the suggestion of Ernest Bevin, British Foreign Secretary at the time, its headquarters were established in Strasbourg. This city, which was fought over in three bloody Franco-German wars in the space of just 75 years, would from now on become the symbol of renewed reconciliation between the two countries and democratic pacification in the whole of Europe.
Ten States signed the Treaty of London: Belgium, Denmark, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
On 10 August 1949, the first session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe elected the Belgian, Paul Henri Spaak, as its president.
The coexistence of the two European institutional systems has always been peaceful despite there being on both sides the temptation to overstep into the other’s domain, which has gradually become a reality. The fall of the iron curtain in 1989 quickly activated the Council of Europe in its role of instituting or in some cases re-instituting democracy to the States of former communist bloc. The accession of a substantial number of these States to the European Union only started to take place in 2004 and is slowly continuing. But since then the question of duplication between the two systems has been raised.
In 2006, the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Jean-Claude Junker, presented to heads of State and Governments of the Member States of the Council of Europe a report on the relationship between the Council of Europe and the European Union. This report recommended the retention of the two institutional systems, the reinforcement of their synergy, the elimination of duplications and more effective cooperation between them. (I mentioned this situation in my editorial of May 2006)
The current Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Norwegian Thorbjorn Jagland, former prime minister of his nation and President of the Nobel Prize Committee – elected to his new role on 30 September 2009 – is now implementing the aforementioned recommendations. For the most part, it’s a question of refocusing the actions of his institution on its fundamental objectives: human rights and the principle of the rule of law on the one hand and democracy on the other.
The combined actions of the European Union and the Council of Europe apply particularly to countries to the south of the Mediterranean in terms of simultaneously developing democracy and prosperity in those States.
The European Union is preparing a strategy to assist in the significant changes which are taking place in these countries, with an appropriate budget.
The partnership for combined democracy and prosperity is constructed on three major themes:
– Targeted support in democratic transformation and in the strengthening of institutions, by particularly focusing on human rights, constitutional and judicial reforms and anti-corruption initiatives
– Close rapprochement with the population, notably in supporting civil society and increasing opportunities for interpersonal relationships, particularly for young people
– Stimulation of economic growth, development and the creation of jobs, with particular support for small and medium-sized enterprises
For its part, the Council of Europe through its Parliamentary Assembly has created the status of ” Partner for democracy “, for the institutional cooperation with the Parliaments of States in question. To date, this status has been awarded to the Moroccan Parliament and the procedure with regard to Tunisia is in the process of development. Indeed, the Council of Europe has unique experience and expertise in the transition to democracy and the creation of new institutions within fledgling democracies in Europe and is equipped to put this skill set to the use in neighbouring countries.
Finally, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe is pleased to note that the European Union is involved with countries in the Mediterranean region in a partnership initiative with the aim of contributing to the prosperity and stability of the region. The “Barcelona Process”, launched in 1995, has been supplemented with the “European Neighbourhood Policy” (2004) and institutionalised with the creation of the Union for the Mediterranean in 2008.
Energy is one of the major objectives for the Union for the Mediterranean, and the European Energy Forum has anticipated a “parliamentary conference” on energy cooperation in the Mediterranean region.
I have covered this subject in two editorials: March 2009 and February 2011 and preliminary contacts have been made with the Observatoire méditerranéen de l’énergie [Mediterranean Energy Observatory] with a view to setting up a partnership for this purpose.
The European Parliament, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Union for the Mediterranean will be the first bodies invited to be represented at this event. The objective will be to allow interested members to obtain information directly from the representatives of public bodies and industry on the nature of cooperation.
Country Year of accession to the European Union Year of accession to the Council of Europe
Austria 1995 1956
Belgium 1951 1949
Bulgaria 2007 1992
Cyprus 2004 1961
Czech Republic 2004 1993
Denmark 1973 1949
Estonia 2004 1993
Finland 1995 1989
France 1951 1949
Germany 1951 1950
Greece 1981 1949
Hungary 2004 1990
Ireland 1973 1949
Italy 1951 1949
Latvia 2004 1995
Lithuania 2004 1993
Luxembourg 1951 1949
Malta 2004 1965
Netherlands 1951 1949
Poland 2004 1991
Portugal 1986 1976
Romania 2007 1993
San Marino 1988
Slovakia 2004 1993
Slovenia 2004 1993
Spain 1986 1977
Sweden 1995 1949
United Kingdom 1973 1949