For democracy through law -

The Venice Commission of the Council of Europe

The European Commission for Democracy through Law - better known as the Venice Commission as it meets in Venice - is the Council of Europe's advisory body on constitutional matters.

The role of the Venice Commission is to provide legal advice to its member states and, in particular, to help states wishing to bring their legal and institutional structures into line with European standards and international experience in the fields of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

It also helps to ensure the dissemination and consolidation of a common constitutional heritage, playing a unique role in conflict management, and provides “emergency constitutional aid” to states in transition.

The Commission has 59 member states: the 47 Council of Europe member states, plus 12 other countries (Algeria, Brazil, Chile, Israel, Kazakhstan, the Republic of Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Morocco, Mexico, Peru, Tunisia and the USA). The European Commission and OSCE/ODIHR participate in the plenary sessions of the Commission.

Its individual members are university professors of public and international law, supreme and constitutional court judges, members of national parliaments and a number of civil servants. They are designated for four years by the member states, but act in their individual capacity. Gianni Buquicchio has been President of the Commission since December 2009.
 

The Commission works in three areas:

democratic institutions and fundamental rights

constitutional justice and ordinary justice

elections, referendums and political parties.

Its permanent secretariat is located in Strasbourg, France, at the headquarters of the Council of Europe. Its plenary sessions are held in Venice, Italy, at the Scuola Grande di San Giovanni Evangelista, four times a year (March, June, October and December).


Key figures

•          Established in May 1990 by 18 Council of Europe Member States

•          in 2013: 59 member states, including 12 non-European members, with a total population of 1.5 billion people

•          5 observer countries and 1 associate member

•          EU and OSCE – the two international partners participating in the work of the Commission

•          500 opinions on more than 50 countries and 80 studies

•          250 seminars and conferences with dozens of courts and universities

•          Over 3,000 civil servants trained in human rights and administrative law

•          the European Court of Human Rights has referred to Venice Commission opinions in more than 50 cases (since 2002).


The Commission’s activities

Opinions and studies

The Venice Commission’s primary task is to provide states with legal advice in the form of “legal opinions” on draft legislation or legislation already in force which is submitted to it for examination. It also produces studies and reports on topical issues. Groups of members assisted by the secretariat prepare the draft opinions and studies, which are then discussed and adopted at the Committee’s plenary sessions.


Who can request an opinion?

Member states

• parliaments
• governments
• heads of state


Council of Europe

• Secretary General
• Committee of Ministers
• Parliamentary Assembly
• Congress of Local and
Regional Authorities

International organisations

• European Union
• OSCE/ODIHR
• other international organisations involved in the Commission’s work

 

 Amicus curiae opinions

At the request of a constitutional court or the European Court of Human Rights, the Commission may also provide amicus curiae opinions, not on the constitutionality of the act concerned, but on comparative constitutional and international law issues. The Commission also co-operates with ombudspersons through amicus ombud opinions mainly concerning the legislation that governs their work.

How an opinion is prepared?

Reference to the Commission of a (draft) constitutional or legislative text by a national or international body or the Council of Europe [2]

Setting up of a working group of rapporteur
members and experts assisted by the secretariat

Draft opinion on compliance of the text with international standards
and proposed improvements

Visit to the country
for talks with the authorities, civil society and other interested stakeholders

Final draft opinion

Submission of the final draft opinion
to all members of the Commission before the plenary session

Discussion of the draft opinion in a sub-commission and with the national authorities
(if necessary)

Discussion and adoption (*) of the opinion at plenary session

Submission of the opinion to the body which requested it

Publishing of the final text of the opinion on the Commission’s website: www.venice.coe.int
 

_______________________________________
(*) The Commission “endorses” a draft opinion prepared by the rapporteurs when two conditions are fulfilled:

  • it wishes to express its agreement with the draft opinion prepared by the rapporteurs (as in the case of adoption);
  • but there are circumstances which make it appear unnecessary to go into detail, either because the text was already adopted or already abandoned.

Endorsed opinions are public documents just like adopted opinions.

A dialogue-based working method

 The Commission does not seek to impose the solutions set out in its opinions. Rather, it adopts a non-directive approach based on dialogue and shares member states’ experience and practices. For this reason, a working group visits the country concerned to meet the various stakeholders and to assess the situation as objectively as possible. The authorities are also able to submit comments on the draft opinions to the Commission. The opinions prepared are generally heeded by the countries concerned.

International institutions, civil society and the media regularly refer to the Commission’s opinions.


Conferences and seminars

As the quality of democracy depends not only on the quality of laws, but also on their implementation, the Commission holds seminars and conferences in partnership with constitutional courts, parliaments, central electoral commissions and universities.

Co-operation with countries beyond Europe

Without losing sight of its objective in Europe, the Commission is increasingly called upon to act outside the region. Through activities in all its areas of responsibility in countries in the Maghreb, Central Asia and Latin America, the Venice Commission has confirmed its reputation as an independent, impartial, competent and reliable partner of the authorities in the countries concerned and the various international organisations active in those regions.

Useful links:

 

1 Council of Europe has 47 member States: Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, ”The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, Malta, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russian Federation, San Marino, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom.

 

[2] Request for opinion may be sent to the President or the Secretary of the Commission by email / fax / post.