What on earth is the Council of Europe?

What on earth is the Council of Europe?

Every reader of The World of English has heard of the United Nations (UN), the European Union (EU), the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). Perhaps also of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the Council of Europe (CE) and maybe one or two more. These names are mentioned in television news bulletins and appear in the press, so it' s quite difficult not to hear about them. But, as far as European structures are concerned, I' d wager that not too many readers would know what exactly the above organisations do and what the difference is between the EU and the WEU (Western European Union). And probably, many wouldn' t care to learn.

Many of today' s young people view the various European institutions and organisations as little more than bureaucratic structures. Hordes of briefcase-toting 'Eurocrats' travelling down corridors on their way to offices and conference rooms tucked away in the nooks and crannies of huge office buildings. There they sit glued to their computers or attend an endless round of meetings, conferences, symposia, assemblies and other such gatherings. They listen to or deliver boring speeches and lectures, churn out tonnes of resolutions, reports, analyses, communiques, news releases and memoranda telling when the next meeting, conference or other deliberations are to be held, what reports will be presented, which resolutions will be voted on, etc., etc.

There' s a lot of truth to the above description. And if you were to visit Strasbourg, France, where important European structures are headquartered, you might be in for even more confusion. Let us imagine that you were interested in a debate which might directly affect you and your friends. Let us say it had to do with lowering the price you normally pay for original Western CDs or raising the legal drinking age across Europe to 21. Someone might inform you that the debate was being held in the building of the Council of Europe' s Parliamentary Assembly. When you found the large semicircular amphitheatre where a debate was going on, you might suddenly realise that a session of the European Parliament was taking place. And if you headed to the press office for a news conference of European Parliament deputies, you might find a meeting with the chairman of the European Court of Human Rights happening there.

But the whole thing can also be approached another way. Wouldn' t you like to live in a Europe where you could pick up your things and go to live in London, Paris, Madrid, Rome or Vienna without any formal obstacles? Or find a rewarding job in the field that interests you most in the country of your choice?

You might be interested to know that the deputy chairman of the CE' s Assembly Bureau is a Pole named Wojciech Sawicki. And the word circulating in the corridors of the Palace of Europe is that the Polish Justice Minister (and former prime minister) Hanna Suchocka stands a good chance of being elected Secretary General of the Council of Europe in elections this coming June. More and more Sejm deputies are serving in the CE' s committees and subcommittees. If you' re still at school, the very thought might sound outlandish, but every bright and ambitious young man or woman has a chance of finding a good, high-paying job in the CE' s 1,300-member Secretariat. In a few years' time, you could be among them.

On condition, of course, that you become really good in your field, are fluent in English and have at least a good working knowledge of one other Western language, especially French or German. And you should also have a good orientation in the workings of the Council of Europe and other European structures.

The CE' s most important field of endeavour is the creation of uniform European law. At first glance, this may seem like drafting more rules, regulations, statutes and conventions, i.e. more paper-work to fill filing-cabinets and computer memories with. But what the CE is actually doing is streamlining the European legislative process. The more than 170 European conventions negotiated and adopted by the CE have replaced the some 130,000 bilateral treaties that would have had to be concluded to achieve similar results.

Although today' s pop culture tries hard to deepen the generation gap (because that makes it easier to sell off-the-wall music, fashions, movies and fads to unsuspecting teenagers), there are plenty of bright young people able to see through all the hard-sell gimmicks and crazes. Rather than espousing the primitive 'hurray for our side' attitude typical of soccer hooligans, anarchists, skinheads and other subculture groups or housing-estate gangs, thinking people are able to put themselves in the shoes of other generations. They have enough imagination to know that those of their parents' generation and older were once young and that they themselves will be old some day. With that in mind, we would like to present to you on pages 8, 9, 10 and 11 two people who have had interesting careers in the Council of Europe.

Based on "Rada na Europę"

by Wacław Kaczmarczyk