EU Ambassador to the Council of Europe, Meglena Kuneva, and Venice Commission President Gianni Buquicchio, at the Annual EU Ambassadors’ Retreat on January 17, 2020
This week, European Commission for Democracy through Law, also known as the Venice Commission, should have commemorated its 30th anniversary. Established in 1990, the Venice Commission is an advisory body of the Council of the Europe, which aims to bring member states’ legal and institutional structures into line with European standards in the fields of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Now with 62 member states, the Venice Commission is widely recognised for its role in promoting standards and best practices both within all 47 Council of Europe and around the world. The European Union is proud to participate with special status at the Venice Commission and it joins the Council of Europe in celebrating the Commission’s three decades of ensuring a common European constitutional heritage.
The work of the Venice Commission has been and continues to be of high relevance to the work of the EU. To that end, the EU recognises the Venice Commission as a mutually reinforcing partner. As noted in the recent EU Priorities for Cooperation with the Council of Europe 2020-2022, the EU benefits greatly from the expertise of the Venice Commission. When it comes to the EU’s external action, in particular its relationship with candidate countries and those in the European Neighbourhood Policy (many of whom are also members of the Venice Commission), the EU relies heavily on the Venice Commission’s insights on judicial and governance reform. For example, current candidate countries, such as Albania and North Macedonia have drafted amendments to their constitutions in close consultation with the Venice Commission, paving the way for potential future EU membership. Likewise, EU Election Observation Missions and the Venice Commission cooperate in North Africa and Latin America.
One of the most recent and significant developments in this regard has been the European Commission’s publication of its first annual rule of law report. The rule of law is one of the three fundamental tenets of the Council of Europe and is also a major focus of the Venice Commission’s work. Many of the findings in the report are based on rule of law recommendations from Council of Europe bodies such as the Venice Commission – a fine illustration of the structured cooperation between the EU and the Council of Europe based on their different yet complementary roles.
The Rule of Law Report has been recognised by many EU officials as a potential opportunity to develop new avenues of cooperation between the EU and the Venice Commission. EU Ambassador to the Council of Europe, Meglena Kuneva acknowledged that the Venice Commission “remains the predominant source of high-level legal advice for all European nations” and that: “the European Commission has recognised the Venice Commission’s important role and expertise in its recent Rule of Law Report and has identified new paths for additional future synergies”. Moreover, upon the Report’s publication, Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders welcomed any further advice from the Venice Commission on how the Report can be used to strengthen legal & constitutional safeguards in member states and open up new channels for civil society participation and scrutiny over public and political processes.
While this week’s commemorations may have been postponed, we still wish to highlight the successes of the Venice Commission over the past 30 years. The pandemic reminds us, in the words of Venice Commission President Gianni Buquicchio, that: “progress is never irreversible”. As we look to the challenges that lie ahead, we take this anniversary as an opportunity to remind ourselves of our shared values and to reaffirm the EU’s commitment to its partnership with the Venice Commission for the next 30 years, and beyond.