Important media information
Explained in more detail on the main Venice Commission webpage, the Council of Europe’s European Commission for Democracy through Law is known as the Venice Commission, because it holds four plenary sessions per year in Venice: March, June, October and December.
It is the Council of Europe's advisory body on constitutional matters, made up of internationally recognized constitutional law and other legal experts, who act independently of their countries of origin.
30-year anniversary in 2020
The year 2020 marks the Venice Commission’s 30th anniversary. Its foundation dates to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, which led the former satellite states of the Soviet Union to aspire to democratic systems of government and seek advice on how best to adapt their constitutional law to democracy.
Since 1990, Venice Commission membership has grown and developed, today stretching well beyond Europe. In addition to all 47 Council of Europe member states, it includes representatives of 15 other countries: Algeria, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Israel, Kazakhstan, the Republic of Korea, Kosovo*, Kyrgyzstan, Morocco, Mexico, Peru, Tunisia and the U.S. Belarus has a status of an associate member state, while Argentina, Japan, the Holy See and Uruguay are observers. More information here.
Legal opinions that make a difference
The Venice Commission is best known for its opinions on constitutional and legislative drafts and laws of its member states, analysing whether they are in line with international and European standards of constitutional law, including the principle of checks and balances in government. These opinions provide practical legal guidance to its member states in reforming legislation and practices and bringing them in line with the key principles of democracy, rule of law and human rights – the three pillars of the Council of Europe.
Who can request an opinion?
The Venice Commission drafts opinions only when officially solicited. Opinions can be requested by:
- Member state authorities;
- Council of Europe entities (the Secretary General, the Committee of Ministers, the Parliamentary Assembly, the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities);
- Other international entities involved in the Commission’s work, such as the EU and OSCE/ODIHR.
This page permits you to monitor such requests as they are received and provides a schedule of forthcoming opinions. Past adopted opinions can be found here.
How are opinions prepared?
After having received an official request, the Venice Commission forms an expert group of selected members, which gathers information received from government and other relevant sources. It usually visits the country concerned to hold discussions with stakeholders, including government officials, NGOs and parliamentarians. To avoid conflict of interest, Venice Commission members cannot be part of the expert group if the opinion concerns their countries of origin. Once the group agrees on a draft opinion, it is distributed as a restricted document to all Venice Commission members and the requesting authority in preparation of the Plenary Session.
What happens during the plenary session?
Venice Commission plenary sessions are held on Fridays and Saturday mornings four times a year. Before the Venice Commission adopts an opinion during its plenary session – often the Friday of the session – , the more important or controversial draft opinions are discussed and possibly amended at a meeting of the competent sub-commission on the Thursday before the plenary session. Representatives of the countries concerned are invited to the plenary session (not to the sub-commissions) to present their position. During the plenary session, final discussions on possible amendments are held, and the opinion is formally adopted, almost always by consensus. On rare occasions, votes are held. After adoption and once finalised, the Venice Commission opinions become public.
On rare occasions, in the case of urgent requests, urgent opinions are adopted outside the four plenary sessions. For example, if an opinion is needed before an impending referendum or a debate in parliament, it can be issued as “urgent opinion” outside the period of an official plenary session in Venice, so that the authorities in question can make use of Venice Commission legal expertise in time. Such urgent opinions are usually formally “endorsed” at the next plenary session.
Why are opinions normally published only after the plenary session is over?
Because changes to draft opinions can be substantial and the final versions are adopted only on Friday, often in the late afternoon, or Saturday, so these texts of fully-adopted opinions usually are not available to the public before the Monday following the plenary sessions. The Council of Europe’s Department of Communications works with Venice Commission representatives on the ground to issue at least a detailed press release on the day of the adoption to serve as a basis for journalists’ work, even if the full texts are not yet publicly available. This is possible in most of the cases. The Venice Commission seeks transparency and welcomes media coverage, but its priority is accuracy and care in drafting legal opinions. We appreciate the understanding from all media for any delays that may occur between the adoption of an opinion and its subsequent publication, including an eventually delayed publication of a press release.
Leaks of draft opinions
Sometimes information is provided by unauthorised persons to the media about an opinion in draft form before the adoption, thus “leaking” the information. Media should be aware that only the final adopted texts published on the website of the Venice Commission can be considered as official.
What happens after opinions are adopted?
Every opinion by the Venice Commission has a clearly defined time and content scope: it only examines facts and documents available during the time of the preparation of the opinion, i.e. before its adoption and publication. The Venice Commission generally does not formally assess whether or how member states are taking on board Venice Commission opinions and recommendations but the Commission is regularly informed about follow-up to its opinions and this information is subsequently made available on its web site. To issue a new opinion on amended legislation, for instance, a new request is required.
Media welcome in Venice
While all discussions (from Thursday meeting and throughout the plenary sessions) are closed to the public and to the press, journalists often come to Venice anyway during the plenary sessions to talk to Venice Commission representatives on the margins of the session and to interview the rapporteurs or the President of the Commission following the adoption of an opinion. The meeting venue has free Wi-Fi access. For more information, please contact Panos Kakaviatos (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Tatiana Baeva (email@example.com) of the Council of Europe’s Department of Communications.