Council of Europe

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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