Jurisdictional wars – the clash between the European Union and the Council of Europe over human rights

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Event details


Date & time

Tuesday 04 August 2015


Seminar Room 3, Hedley Bull Centre #130, ANU
ANU Canberra


Professor Gerard Quinn


+61 2 6125 1513

The European Union (EU) and the Council of Europe are two regional organizations with overlapping competencies and jurisdiction in Europe.

There is no doubt that the EU is in the ascendant. Charged initially with driving economic integration, the EU has accreted to itself the task of achieving further political integration. The steady ‘constitutionalisation’ of the EU inevitably means it is acquiring both the responsibility and the power over human rights issues not only in its external relations but also internally.

There is equally no doubt that the Council of Europe remains the primary source of human rights norms in Europe. Because of its much larger number of Member States which sweeps in countries like Russia and Turkey it is a useful platform within which to explore human rights, democracy and rule of law issues with non-EU Member States.

The boundaries between the two organisations are complex and often overlapping. There has been high level political agreement for at least 20 years that the EU (alongside its Member States) should itself ratify the Council of Europe’s main treaty on human rights. Recently, the EU made a valiant attempt to ratify the European Convention on Human Rights in 2014 (draft Accession Agreement). The convention is probably the most famous of treaties concluded by the Council of Europe. Successful ratification would have enabled the legal acts of the EU to be reviewable by the main organ of the convention – the European Court of Human Rights (Strasbourg).

After finally agreeing a draft Accession Agreement with the Council of Europe the EU Institutions sent the same for a (binding) Opinion from the Court of Justice of the EU which is the EU’s court based in Luxembourg. In a robust and forthright Opinion the Court of Justice of the European ruled in December 2014 that the draft Accession Agreement violated the intrinsic autonomy of EU law in several respects - and so the convention could not be ratified.

The ongoing tussle reveals much about the differences between these two regional organisations, their distinctive value base, their powers and their focus. It reveals some of the dilemmas of the EU as it ‘constitutionalises.’ And it brings into sharp focus the inherent difficulties in making the rulings of one court in one organisation (the Court of Justice of the European Union) subject to possible review in an ‘external’ court like the European Court of Human Rights which is the creature of another organization (the Council of Europe).

This talk will try to capture the dynamics of the evolving story and peer ahead to look at future options for both organisations. It should be of intrinsic interest to researchers involved with international relations, international organisations (and their complex relationships especially at regional level) and human rights.

About the Speaker

Gerard Quinn is currently visiting UNSW Law School as a distinguished visiting professor. He is a professor of law at the National University of Ireland (Galway campus). He holds degrees in political science and law from the National University, is a qualified barrister-at-law (Kings’ Inns) and a graduate of Harvard Law School (LL.M., S.J.D.).

He has had a varied career in public service. He was a former Director of Research at the Irish Government’s Law Reform Commission and has served two terms on the Irish Human Rights Commission. He has served on other Government bodies such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Joint Committee on human rights and the Government’s Commission on the Status of Persons with Disabilities. He is currently a Presidential appointee to the Council of State which provides constitutional law advice to the President of Ireland.

He currently sits on the scientific committee (advisory board) of the European Union Fundamental Rights Agency (Vienna). He has worked as a temporary civil servant in the European Commission (EU) on equality policy and also rose to be First Vice President of the Council of Europe’s Social Rights Committee (a treaty monitoring body on economic and social rights in Europe). He has directed large studies for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and led the delegation of Rehabilitation International during the drafting of the new UN treaty on the rights of persons with disabilities. Because he has led several large scale EU-funded research projects and PhD networks he has been declared a ‘Champion of EU Research’ by the Irish Government. He has been honoured by bodies such as the United States International Council on Disability and Rehabilitation International. He directs a Centre on International Disability Law & Policy at the university and is on sabbatical in 2015 (at Nalsar Law school, Hyderabad India, the University of Haifa, Israel, and UNSW in Australia).

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