Democratic institutions and fundamental rights
The Venice Commission’s key tasks is to assist states in the constitutional and legislative field so as to ensure the democratic functioning of their institutions and respect for fundamental rights.
In this field the Commission’s opinions, conferences, studies and publications concern overall constitutional reforms and/or specific constitutional issues such as:
- balance and relations between the different branches of power;
- inter-institutional co-operation;
- rule of law issues;
- judicial reforms;
- protection of fundamental rights;
- minority protection;
- emergency powers;
- parliamentary immunity;
- ombudsman institutions;
- role of extra-institutional powers;
- federalism and regionalisation;
- international law issues.
Constitutional reforms relating to the foundations of a democratic state remain at the core of the Venice Commission’s activities, and providing assistance to states in relation to such reforms one of the Commission’s main functions.
Such assistance takes the form of opinions prepared by the Commission at the request not only of states, but also of organs of the Council of Europe, more specifically the Parliamentary Assembly, Committee of Ministers, Congress of Local and Regional Authorities and Secretary General, as well as of other international organisations or bodies which participate in its activities. These opinions relate to draft constitutions or constitutional amendments, or to other (draft) legislation in the field of constitutional law. The Commission has thus made an often crucial contribution to the development of constitutional law, mainly, although not exclusively, in the new democracies of central and eastern Europe.
The Commission has also been closely involved in the states’ efforts to provide and enhance constitutional and legal guarantees for the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms, in line with the applicable European and International standards, in particular the European Convention on Fundamental Rights and Freedoms and the case law of the European Court of Human Rights. The Commission examined inter alia legal and constitutional provisions on freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedom of expression and freedom to receive and impart information, freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, the right to respect for private life, as well as minority rights and discrimination-related issues.
In addition to providing advice to individual states on their national legislation, the Commission has also elaborated studies on human rights issues and adopted comprehensive Guidelines on legislation and practices regulating specific fundamental rights (elaborated jointly with the OSCE/ODIHR) as an additional tool for legislators, public authorities, the judiciary, legal practitioners and others stakeholders involved in the protection and the implementation of fundamental rights.
In the institutional field, the Venice Commission’s opinions and reports focus on the functioning of political institutions, the balance of powers between the main state organs, their responsibilities, co-operation and mutual control.
The Commission’s work on democratic institutions also includes the assistance provided to state authorities in relation to the legal and institutional framework pertaining to the national judicial systems and related reforms.
The work of Venice Commission has also extended to issues related to the legal framework pertaining to the operation of Ombudsman institutions. The Commission constantly and consistently promoted the creation of Ombudsman institutions, and their strengthening notably by giving them a firm constitutional basis, by endowing them with full independence and by vesting in them broad competences.
Rule of Law
After drafting a report on the Rule of Law which addressed inter alia the origins of the concept of Rule of Law, Etat de droit and Rechtsstaat, its enshrinement in positive law and its main elements, the Commission adopted in March 2016 the Rule of Law Checklist – a comprehensive list of criteria describing this complex notion. The Checklist aims at enabling an objective, thorough, transparent and equal assessment of the Rule of law in a given country. It is proposed as a tool at the disposal of various stakeholders, such as parliaments and other State authorities, the civil society and international organisations. The Checklist has become a reference document of the Council of Europe: the Committee of Ministers endorsed it in September 2016 and it was discussed at several international fora.