Council of Europe Secretary General reveals secret of fostering European unity

12 January 2012

The Former Secretary General of the Council of Europe (CoE) Terry Davis divulged some of the secrets of European member state cooperation and norm compliance in the face of competing pressures of national sovereignty at a FLJS-sponsored conference held at Wolfson College on 11 January.

The conference, entitled 'The Evolution of International Norms & Norm Entrepreneurship: The Council of Europe in Comparative Perspective', was convened by Professor Anne Deighton and Dr Gwendolyn Sasse from the Department of Politics at Oxford University. It sought to assess the emergence and institutionalization of international norms, using the Council of Europe, which encompasses 47 countries and 800 million citizens, as a useful and timely focus for such a discussion at a time of increasing strains on European unity.

"The conference sought to assess the emergence of international norms, using the Council of Europe, which encompasses 47 countries and 800 million citizens, as a useful focus at a time of increasing strains on European unity.

The conference began with academics from the UK, US, and France defining what is meant by 'norm entrepreneurship' and how it can be a useful frame of analysis for studying the workings of the Council of Europe and other transnational policy actors.

Professor Denis Galligan from FLJS chaired the subsequent panel, at which conference co-convener Professor Anne Deighton laid out the historical context of the Cold War against which the CoE founding convention - the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) - was developed, as well as the relationship of the ECHR to the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which has thus far received little academic scrutiny.

She was followed by Manuel Lezertua, Director of Legal Advice at the CoE, who charted the subsequent adoption of over 200 conventions by the CoE, and the recent critical review of these commissioned by the Secretary General, to improve the visibility, impact, and number of parties to these conventions. Dr Gwendolyn Sasse then explored the momentum behind the CoE's norm production, describing its ability to foster normative coherence through an innovative and flexible approach, as well as the challenges inherent in the voluntary nature of member state ratification of conventions.

After lunch, Dr Kundai Sithole from Wolfson College described her research into the CoE in relation to the death penalty, questioning whether moves towards the international norm of abolishment was originating from the Parliamentary Assembly within the CoE, or from within the member states themselves.

Professor Rainer Hofmann then gave an insight into his role at the CoE in the implementation of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, which emerged in 1993 in reaction to the war in the then Yugoslavia. He described the aims of managing majority/minority relations in member states in order to avoid similar regional instability in future. In closing, he noted the challenges posed by the increasing reluctance of member states to submit to scrutiny and monitoring by the CoE, citing the objections to interventions on prisoner voting rights in the UK as one prominent recent example.

Another account of international norm production was given by Dr Daniel Smilov, who drew on his experience helping to draft the Venice Commission guidelines on the regulation of political parties to paint a picture of growing conflict between political and judicial actors in the face of aggressive majoritarianism and concentrations of powers, particularly evident in central and Eastern Europe.  

The concluding session featured a panel in which experts explored the ambivalent relationship of both competition and cooperation between the CoE and the EU in the field of criminal justice; the conditions necessary to raise regulatory standards in the development of the Common European Asylum System; and a comparative perspective on the UN Responsibilities to Protect (R2P) and to Rebuild. In this latter, Professor Richard Caplan gave a rich account of then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's role in the creation of R2P and the moves at the World Summit in 2005 to reframe the debate from one of military interventionism to the rhetoric of protection against the recurrence of conflict, which facilitated norm adoption by an international community chastened by the invasion of Iraq.

The conference was brought to a fitting close by former CoE Secretary General Terry Davis's address, in which he shed light on the respective roles of the European Court of Human Rights, the Parliamentary Assembly, and the Commissioner for Human Rights in standard setting and compliance. Particular successes during his time at the helm of the CoE included the establishment of the Committee on the Prevention of Torture and measures to combat people trafficking - a pan-European problem affecting countries of origin, transit, and destination that the CoE was able to tackle particularly effectively by facilitating cooperation across its extended network of member states.