Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Strasbourg - an international centre

Strasbourg is home to several international organizations. At the Robertsau, Wacken and Orangerie areas you find The Council of Europe, The European Court of Human Rights, and the European Parliament. Alsace has been partly German and partly French during the centuries and its location between two of the most important powers in the Union, has made it into a natural centre of European cooperation. The first institutions settled here nearly a hundred years ago, but its international role grew after World War II.

The Central Commission for Navigation of the Rhine was set up after the Vienna Congress in 1815 and is the oldest international organization in the world. The Central Commission made Strasbourg its home in 1920, but when the Council of Europe chose the city as its location in 1949 a new era started for Strasbourg.

The Council of Europe

The Council of Europe is located in several buildings in the Robertsau area, the largest being Le Palais de l'Europe. The Council is the oldest body working for European integration and cooperation. The Council has 47 member countries with a population of 800 million citizens.

My knowledge of the Council of Europe goes back 30 years. I attended a political seminar as a high school student with fellow students from Norway, Denmark and Germany in 1978 at Jugendhof Scheersberg in Schleswig-Holstein in Germany. First we had classes at the centre before travelling to Strasbourg to visit the European institutions. It was strange to arrive there again visit my good friend Øivind Grimsmo that works as a HR coordinator in the CoE.

Read Øivind Grimsmos articles on Enjoy Food & Travel here

The current Palais was brand new when I visited the Council as a high school student, as it was inaugurated the year before on January 28th 1977. It contains 64000 square metres of meeting rooms and offices for the large CoE staff.

The European Court of Human Rights

The history of the European Court of Human Rights goes back to 1950. The European Convention for the protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms was adopted by the Council of Europe and a European Court was set up to monitor the compliance of the member states. Today 47 countries has signed this convention and are obliged to grant their citizens the fundamental rights secured in the Convention.

The court was instituted as a court with full time judges in 1998. Today you find its headquarter, designed by the Richard Rogers Partnership in 1998 close to the Palais d'Europe.

European Parliament (Louise Weiss building)

Whereas most of the work of the main European institutions takes place either in Luxemburg or Brussels, European parliamentarians meet 12 times a year in the Louise Weiss building in Strasbourg. Strasbourg once was the only seat of the EP, but a large new building (l'Espace Leopold) was opened close to the HQ of the European Commission and the Council of Ministers in Brussels.

Still the French government insisted that the parliament should continue to convene in Strasbourg and a new impressive building was opened in 1999 named after the Alsatian activist and politician Louise Weiss.

The Louise Weiss building is located further down the waterways that criss cross the European Quarters of Strasbourg. It is an extraordinary, yet architecturally controversial building. It is inspired by a Roman amphitheatre with a round shape, large glass surfaces broken by wooden frames.

All these institutions is easily accessible by tram E from Strasbourg city centre, and worth while visiting when you are in the city. A visit to the buildings may be combined with a walk in the beautiful parc Orangerie near by.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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