The Venice Commission, officially known as the European Commission for Democracy through Law, is an advisory body of the Council of Europe, facilitating dialogue between countries on different continents. It is a consultative body which co-operates with member states of the Council of Europe and with non-member states. The commission was created in 1990 after the fall of the Berlin Wall, at a time of urgent need for constitutional assistance in Central and Eastern Europe, pursuant to a Partial Agreement of the Council of Europe. It was later converted from partial agreement to an enlarged agreement allowing non-European states as full members of the Commission.
The idea for the creation of a commission in the field of constitutional law was expressed by Minister of European Community policy of Italy, Mr. La Pergola, President of the Constitutional Court of Italy. He believed that a sustainable democracy can only be built in a sound constitutional framework based on the rule of law.
The Commission has 61 member states: the 46 Council of Europe member states and 15 other countries. Its individual members are university professors of public and international law, supreme and constitutional court judges, members of national parliaments and civil servants. They are designated for four years by the member states but does act in their individual capacity. 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).
The Commission's primary mandate is to provide constitutional and legal assistance to States, mainly, but not exclusively, those which participate in its activities. 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.
The aim of the assistance given by the Venice Commission is to provide a thorough, precise, detailed and objective analysis not only of compatibility with European and international standards, but also of the practicality and viability of the solutions envisaged by the States concerned. The Commission reaches its conclusions after extensive dialogue with the authorities, the opposition, state institutions, relevant stakeholders including civil society. The Commission’s recommendations and suggestions are largely based on common European experience in this sphere.
The Commission works in three areas:
- Democratic institutions and fundamental rights
- Constitutional justice and ordinary justice
- Elections, referendums and political parties.
It is composed of independent experts in the fields of law and political science whose main tasks are the following:
- To help new Central and Eastern Europe democracies to set up new political and legal infrastructures;
- To reinforce existing democratic structures
- To promote and strengthen principles and institutions which represent the bases of true democracy.
The three pillars of the Council of Europe are the Human Rights, Democracy and Rule of Law. The others are often debated and comprehended most often while the core element of the Rule of law are not much articulated and now given much emphasis and it can be studied on the matters where -
- The law must be certain and easily understanding.
- The legal system must prevent abuse or misuse of powers and safeguard against arbitrariness.
- Should be non-discriminating and equal before the law.
- Access to justice with impartial judiciary and right to fair trial.
According to the statute, the members states and organ of the council of Europe can ask the Venice commission for opinion and also from constitutional courts and Ombudsman.
Two forms of major activity of the commission:
- Constitutional cooperation with individual countries giving advice on draft constitutions, amendments, as well as para constitutional legislation for e.g. Laws on ombudsman, laws on government, minority legislation.
- Transnational opinion or studies, which often gave the commission the opportunity to identify standards of Common constitutional heritage.
Some of the significant views expressed:
- Opinion on possible groups of persons to which the frame work convention for the Protection of national minorities, could be applied in Belgium.
- Opinion to the amendments to the constitution of Liechtenstein.
- Opinion on the constitution of Finland.
- Interim opinion on the Constitutional draft of Luxembourg.
- Opinion on the amendments on the constitution of Croatia.
- Opinion on the reform of the judiciary in Bulgaria.
- Opinion on the Constitutional aspects of Death Penalty in Ukraine.
- Seminars on Inter-regional and Trans frontier cooperation: Promoting democratic stability and development.
- Seminars on the Protection of the fundamental rights of irregular migrants.
- Seminars on the independence of the Judicial system from the executive and the Legislative power.