Founded in 1949 and headquartered in Strasbourg, the Council of Europe – which today counts every European state except Belarus and Vatican City as a member – is supposed to be a guardian of democracy and human rights. That’s its official raison d’être. It is separate from the European Union, and its court, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), whose judges are elected by the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (a legislative body whose 324 members are drawn from Europe’s national parliaments), should not be confused with the EU’s European Court of Justice (ECJ). It began hearing cases and handing down verdicts in 1959.
How many Europeans are even aware of the Council of Europe’s existence – or, if they are, could explain what it does? How many know the difference between the ECHR and the ECJ? Relatively few, I suspect. But this is par for the course in Europe, where the elected governments, in the decades since World War II, have built up a network of international bodies that wield considerable power while operating in the shadows with little or no accountability to the people. Guardian of democracy, indeed.
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