Health care and bioethics
Since 1954, the Council of Europe has had a Steering Committee for Health and Medical Affairs, which works to strengthen co-operation between countries, give everyone equal access to health care and strengthen the individual’s rights and influence in health and medical care issues. The Council of Europe’s largest efforts in health care include the development of quality standards for medicinal substances and certain finished medicines, for both animals and humans. They are collected in a list, a so-called pharmacopoeia, which came out in a first edition in 1967.
A convention on the European Pharmacopoeia entered into force in the mid-1970’s when Sweden also joined. When the seventh edition of the pharmacopoeia entered into force on 1 January 2011, 36 Member States and the EU had joined. The World Health Organization WHO had observer states, as well as 22 countries, most of which were outside Europe. There is an ongoing exchange of pharmacopoeias in the United States and Japan.
The European Pharmacopoeia is administered by a directorate, EDQM, which is also responsible for issues related to blood transfusions and organ transplants. In 1968, a blood bank for rare blood groups was established in Amsterdam. Frozen blood is stored there from the inhabitants of the member countries for use by the needy in the different countries. The Council has also set up a computerized network between institutions that perform liver transplants in order to enable patients with liver disease in the Member States to have a new liver as quickly as possible.
During the 1980’s, bioethics emerged as an important issue for the Council of Europe, and from 1992 there is a separate steering committee for bioethics. The Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine was opened in 1997 (but had not been ratified by Sweden in April 2012). The Convention is intended to protect individuals from being exploited and abused for the purposes of biological and medical research. Several additions have followed: on bans on human cloning (1998), on organ transplantation (2002), biomedical research (2005) and genetic sampling (2008).
A special cooperation body for drugs, the so-called Pompidou Group, was set up in 1971 on the initiative of French President Georges Pompidou. It was part of the Council of Europe in 1980 and included 36 Member States in 2012. The Pompidou Group also cooperates with states outside Europe, such as the United States and Canada.
Regional planning and environmental protection
Abbreviated as COE by Abbreviationfinder, the Council of Europe was one of the first regional organizations to address environmental issues in Europe. A convention on the protection of European fauna and flora, the so-called Bern Convention, was opened in 1979. The aim is not least to draw attention to endangered species. The Berne Convention is overseen by a special committee.
The Council of Europe has also adopted a charter on regional planning which, among other things, prescribes how the land is to be used efficiently and how different regions can be developed in balance with nature.
A landscape convention from 2000 aims to protect and work for responsible management of the landscape. Sustainable development and a good balance between social needs, economic activities and the environment are key concepts.
At an early stage, the Council of Europe set up two steering committees for purely legal matters: one for criminal matters (CDPC, established in 1958) and one for general legal matters (CDCJ, 1963). Their main task is to draw up Council of Europe conventions and agreements. The aim is to modernize and coordinate legislation in the Member States.
In the work on criminal issues, several important conventions have been adopted by the Committee of Ministers, such as conventions on the extradition of criminal suspects (1957), mutual legal assistance in criminal cases (1959, with additions) and IT-related crimes (2001). A 1977 convention on terrorism was supplemented in 2005 with two new conventions: against terrorism and organized crime. A convention against human trafficking was also opened in 2005 and a monitoring body, Greta, was set up.
In the general legal field, issues such as custody of children, citizenship, environmental protection, gender discrimination and the voting rights of foreigners have been addressed. The right to asylum and the processing times for asylum cases are also important issues.
The Venice Commission is the Council of Europe’s expert group on constitutional issues. It was established in 1990 to offer the states of Eastern and Central Europe legal assistance with democratization and constitutional issues. The Commission consists of a number of experts in law and political science and acts as a think tank and research institute. It also organizes courses for judges and lawyers.
In 2002, the Venice Commission’s mandate was extended to non-European countries. Ten years later, in addition to the 47 member states, almost 20 other countries had full membership or observer status. The Commission meets four times a year in Venice.
The group of states against corruption, Greco, works to fight corruption in the member states, through surveillance and pressure. Since 2002, there has been a special judicial streamlining commission, Cepej, which reviews the judiciary of the Member States and compiles reports.
Relations with non-member countries
The Council of Europe has both formal and informal contacts with many non-member countries. Most conventions are also open to non-member countries. Six countries have observer status in the organization.
Canada, Israel and Mexico have special status as observers in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and may attend its meetings. The Vatican City State, Canada, the United States, Mexico and Japan have observer status in the Committee of Ministers.
A special guest status for candidate countries was established in 1989. Belarus received guest status in 1992, but it was withdrawn in 1997 due to the undemocratic development of the country. All other former candidate countries have become members.