B-H and the Council of Europe
by Sonja Moser-Starrach
I have decided to write this article for the benefit of the B-H public – my hope is to provide concrete and useful information about the Council of Europe, one of the first organization of European integration that B-H is to join. I am aware that many are confused about what stage of the accession B-H finds itself at, what post-conditions were recently signed up to by the B-H government, and what the Council of Europe really is and stands for.
I will start by stating that the Council of Europe is an intergovernmental organization, which aims to protect human rights, pluralist democracy and the rule of law. It also strives to promote awareness and encourage the development of Europe’s cultural identity and diversity. Since 1989, the Council of Europe has integrated most of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, and has supported them in their efforts to implement and consolidate their political, legal and administrative reforms. Over the years, the Council has responded to the growing concerns of European citizens in the areas of children’s rights, drug abuse, racism and intolerance, protection of minorities, bio-ethics, and expansion of educational opportunities for young people.
It is our belief that these values and concerns constitute the bases of a civilized society. Furthermore, that they are indispensable for European stability, economic growth and social welfare. The Council, in short, is the democratic conscience of Europe.
This organization should not be confused with the European Union – as it often is. The two organizations are quite distinct. However, the fifteen states who are members of the European Union are all members also of the Council of Europe. The Council of Europe was founded on 5 May 1949, making it the oldest European organization of its kind.
Our activities are carried out within four major bodies:
the Council or Committee of Ministers is the Council of Europe’s decision-making body, composed of the foreign-affairs ministers of all the member states;
the Parliamentary Assembly is the Council’s deliberative body, whose members are appointed by the national parliaments of member states;
the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe is a consultative body representing local and regional authorities;
lastly the Secretariat employs around 1,700 officials drawn from all the member states. It operates in two official languages, English and French, and is headed by a Secretary General – currently Walter Schwimmer from Austria, who is elected for a five-year term by the Parliamentary Assembly and who coordinates and directs the Council’s activities. The Council is financed by the member states in proportion to their population and resources. The 2001 budget was approximately 234 million Euro.
The Council of Europe’s wide range of initiatives often take the form of conventions designed to bring national legal practices into line with one another and with the Council’s standards. These agreements are supplemented by many resolutions and recommendations, which the Council of Ministers addresses to member states and which play a decisive role in finding solutions to common problems. The European Convention on Human Rights, the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture, the European Social Charter, the European Charter of Local Self-Government, the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and the European Cultural Convention are just a few examples of our major achievements. It should be noted that some conventions and agreements are also open for adoption by non-member states. The results of studies and activities are available to all governments, in order to foster cooperation and social progress in Europe.
By granting consultative status to over 400 non-governmental organizations, the Council is building a real partnership with those who represent ordinary people. Through various consultation arrangements – including discussions and colloquies – it brings NGO’s into intergovernmental activities and encourages dialogue between members of parliament and associations on major social issues.
Any European state can become a member of the Council of Europe, provided it accepts the principle of the rule of law and guarantees human rights and fundamental freedoms to everyone under its jurisdiction. Having said that, it is important to note that each application for membership is judged on an individual basis and specific accession conditions are set for each country.
On 27 September of this year, the Political Affairs Committee gave a positive recommendation for the accession of Bosnia-Herzegovina to this organization. This is a crucial step in a now over six-years long process of B-H application for membership in the Council of Europe, and is in itself a triumph for Bosnia-Herzegovina’s common institutions. We anxiously awaited and indeed witnessed the signing of the post-accession conditions by the highest authorities of Bosnia-Herzegovina and its entities, and hope that this was one of the final steps for Bosnia on the road to official membership, which should be confirmed first by the Parliamentary Assembly in January and soon after that by the Council of Ministers. The successful completion of this process will make Bosnia-Herzegovina the 44th member state.
The very fact that the Council of Europe demands the signing of post-accession conditions should lead us to conclude that membership is only a step in an ongoing process. The very first conditions posed by the Council of Europe included the strengthening of common institutions, human rights and an independent judiciary and the harmonizing of education curricula. We all know that these conditions are still, unfortunately, far from being completely fulfilled; but important progress has been made, and we are deeply involved in various projects that aim to further develop and implement these points. What tipped the balance in favor of Bosnia-Herzegovina was the adoption of a permanent B-H electoral law, as well as the work dedicated to implementation of the B-H Constitutional Court ruling that ‘everybody everywhere’ must enjoy constituent status.
The post-accession conditions document picks up the thread of progress already made in above-mentioned areas. In other words, the document and its signing are a promise by Bosnia-Herzegovina fully to honour the commitments defined both six years ago and today. I propose to do no more than briefly illustrate what these include:
full and effective cooperation in the implementation of the Dayton Peace Agreements;
full co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia, and active assistance that includes handing over to the Tribunal persons accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity and crimes of genocide without delay and with the active cooperation of both entities;
the signing and ratifying of a number of European and international conventions and charters, including the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms;
further development of domestic legislation, including the adoption and implementation, within one year after its accession, of the constitutional and legislative amendments necessary to comply with the June-July 2000 decision of the Constitutional Court on the ‘constituent peoples of Bosnia-Herzegovina’; review, within one year and with the assistance of the European Commission for Democracy through Law ("Venice Commission"), of the electoral legislation in the light of Council of Europe standards, and its revision where necessary; adoption, within six months after B-H’s accession, if it has not yet been done, of the laws that have been temporarily imposed by the High Representative;
adoption and implementation of a number of laws including, for example, the Criminal Code and Criminal Procedure Code and the Law on the Civil Service in the Governmental Institutions of B-H;
fulfillment of a number of commitments in the field of human rights, including - again to give just one example - full implementation of the property laws and, in particular, full acceptance of the decisions of the Commission for Real Property Claims;
full cooperation in the setting up of an Council of Europe Assembly committee on the honouring of obligations and commitments by member states of the Council of Europe, in other words the setting up of a Council of Europe Monitoring Committee in Bosnia-Herzegovina;
and lastly - something much debated in regard to the proper functioning of state institutions -
strengthening cooperation between armed forces on the basis of common defence policy, and
restructuring the B-H armed forces with the aim of achieving compatibility with international standards and procedures, in particular with regard to the principles of democratic control of defence forces and transparency in defence planning and budgeting procedures.
We have come a long way. I shall see you in Strasbourg.
Special Representative of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe in B-H
26 November 2001
[note: Bosnia-Herzegovina became a full member of the Council of Europe on 23 April 2002]