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Historical Background

The Conference of European Constitutional Courts

The first Conference took place in Dubrovnik, 1972, at the initiative of the presidents of the constitutional courts from Germany, Austria, Italy and the former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Essentially, it was meant to provide a regular basis for the exchange of experience in constitutional practice and jurisprudence in a general, European context, with due regard for the principle of judicial independence.

Even in the absence of a formal statute, such regular meetings continued under the aegis of the "Conference of the European Constitutional Courts", being hosted by other constitutional courts once they had acceded: at first, in 1978, the Swiss Federal Tribunal, then the constitutional courts of Spain in 1981 and Portugal in 1984. At the Lausanne Conference of 1981, the European Court of Human Rights and the Court of Justice of the European Communities were co-opted as observers, followed by the European Commission for Democracy through Law ("The Venice Commission" of the Council of Europe") in 1996.

Membership increased with the accession of the French Constitutional Council and the Turkish Constitutional Court (in 1987); nonetheless, it was only the '90s that brought an unparalleled enlargement to the Conference, as a result of so many constitutional courts having been established in Central and Eastern Europe, but also due to the growing interest shown by some other national courts from "traditional, long-established democracies. One after the other, admission was granted to constitutional courts and similar jurisdictional bodies from Belgium and Poland (1990), Hungary (1992), Croatia, Cyprus, Romania, Slovenia (1994), Andorra, the Russian Federation (1996), the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Malta, Liechtenstein (1997), the Republic of Macedonia (1999), Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Georgia, Latvia, the Republic of Moldova, Ukraine (2000), Luxembourg (2002), Estonia, Ireland, Norway (2003), Denmark, Montenegro, Serbia (2006), and finally, Monaco (2008), so that the Conference has now reached an almost "pan-European dimension".

Apart from its full-fledged members, the Conference also includes an associate member (Belarus), and a number of observers and guests (courts from non-European countries, such as Israel, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and others).

Considering the many organizational, but also technical questions posed by such increased participation, it became all the more necessary to establish a formalized framework and statutory rules for the Conference to attain its objectives: at present, its running is based on a Statute (adopted at the XIth Conference, Warsaw, 1999) and Regulations (Brussels, 2002).

Among other things, the Statute of the Conference sets forth a number of fundamental criteria which have to be met to obtain full membership:

"The status of a full member may be granted only to European Constitutional Courts and similar European institutions which exercise constitutional jurisdiction, in particular reviewing the conformity of legislation, and which conduct their judicial activities in accordance with the principle of judicial independence, being bound by the fundamental principles of democracy and the rule of law and the duty to respect human rights. In this respect the Conference shall follow the practice established in previous conferences and by the Council of Europe" (Article 6).

The aims pursued by the Conference of European Constitutional Courts are set out in Article 3 of the Statute, in that

"[it] shall hold at regular intervals a Congress. It shall promote the exchange of information on the working methods and constitutional case-law of member courts together with the exchange of opinions on institutional, structural and operational issues as regards public-law and constitutional jurisdiction. In addition, it shall take steps to enhance the independence of constitutional courts as an essential factor in guaranteeing and implementing democracy and the rule of law, in particular with a view to securing protection of human rights. It shall support efforts to maintain regular contacts between the European Constitutional Courts and similar institutions."

In conformity with the statutory norms, the bodies of the Conference are 1. the "Circle of Presidents", the central decision-making body composed of the Presidents of the Courts and the institutions with full member status; and 2. the Congress, which is held every three years, attended by full members, associate members, but also observers, such as supranational European courts, commissions and institutions of the Council of Europe and the European Union dealing with issues of constitutional jurisdiction, (non-)European constitutional courts, and guests.

The chair of the Conference (and of the "Circle of Presidents") is held by the President of the Court which is to host the next Congress; the same court will also provide the Secretariat of the Conference.

At the XVth Congress in Bucharest in 2009, the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Austria was elected to organize the next Congress in Vienna and therefore held the chair until 2014.

Themes of the Conference of European Constitutional Courts