At a debate in Rome on 5th April Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, had this to say,
“Too many politicians are listening exclusively to their national opinion. And if you are listening to your national opinion you are not developing what should be a common European sense and a feeling of the need to put together efforts. We have too many part-time Europeans.”
This confuses, deliberately, the European Union with Europe. Some voters in Britain are reluctant to voice criticism of the EU in case they seem to be slighting Europe. They may dislike the EU but are reluctant to vote for Brexit.
But Europe and the EU are not equivalent. There is another, older, European organisation that includes many more countries of Europe and operates with respect for Europe’s democracies, without seeking supra-national authority. This is the Council of Europe (CoE). It is responsible for much that the EU takes credit for.
There are helpful articles on the CoE in the Concise Encyclopedia of the European Union (http://www.euro-know.org/europages/dictionary/) and in Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Council_of_Europe). Here is a summary.
Membership of the CoE comprises not only the 28 EU countries but also the EFTA states, various European islands and mini-states and the majority of the former communist countries of Eastern Europe. Founded in 1949, it has 47 member states and covers approximately 820 million people. The CoE focuses on promoting democracy, the rule of law, human rights, economic development and integration of some regulatory functions in Europe. It is responsible for the European Convention on Human Rights, the European Social Charter and the Convention on Data Protection.
Article 1(a) of the Statute of the Council of Europe states that “The aim of the Council of Europe is to achieve a greater unity between its members for the purpose of safeguarding and realising the ideals and principles which are their common heritage and facilitating their economic and social progress.” Membership is open to all European states which: seek harmony, cooperation, good governance and human rights; accept the principle of the rule of law; and are able and willing to guarantee democracy, fundamental human rights and freedoms.
Council of Europe member states maintain their sovereignty but commit themselves through conventions or treaties. They co-operate on the basis of common values and common political decisions. Those conventions and decisions are developed by the member states working together at the Council. When its members reach agreement, the CoE issues conventions or charters rather than laws or directives; it is up to member governments to decide whether to convert these into legislation.
The Council of Europe is easily confused with the European Council (the summit meetings of the member states of the EU). After leaving the EU, Britain will remain a member of the CoE.