However, as many even European tourists find out, the various institutions based here are not necessarily all part of the same body.
Let’s start with the easy one – the European Parliament Building
This is the giant White Elephant that is used for just 12 weeks of the year because the European Union has it written into treaties that the Parliament (that’s where your local MEP ends up) must sit in Strasbourg 12 times a year for symbolic reasons, and any attempt to remove that clause would just be vetoed by the French on the spot.
This is part of the European Union (or just “Brussels” as the British Press like to portray it). This part of the EU is the most democratic being entirely elected by 400 Million odd eligible voters of the EU. This is also the place where Britain sends the people it likes to get rid of for a while (Robert Kilroy-Silk being the obvious example)
Next up is the European Court of Human Rights
This is the bizarre but strangely elegant lopsided cylinders building just down from the Parliament. This is a noble institution, founded after the Second World War to ensure the human rights of every citizen on the continent is respected by members. Anyone who has exhausted their home court system can take their case to the ECHR (or as the British Press describe it “Strasbourg” or when a case goes against what the press want – “unelected Euro-judges in Strasbourg imposing their Justice on Britain” – not that British judges are elected, by why let that stand in the way of righteous indignation) to seek a final, binding, ruling – The most recent example in the UK being the blanket ban on prisoners voting being ruled unlawful (it should be noted it’s not unlawful to ban prisoners from voting, just not all prisoners – the rights or wrongs of allowing those people who are likely to be back in society before the end of the next parliament the right to decide their elected representative possibly a vital part of reintegrating people into society – or as certain papers would describe it – woolly liberalism)
Finally we have the Council of Europe
The politest that could be said about the building is that it is distinctive. I think quite a bit of the design may have been base on, or inspired the design of, Darth Vader’s helmet.
Despite the fact it fly’s the 12 star flag of the EU, it’s not part of the European Union. In fact it’s a much wider group encompassing some 47 member states including EU refusniks Switzerland and Norway, the minnows of Liechtenstein, San Marino and Andorra (though notably not the Vatican City) and many of the former Soviet nations including Russia, Ukraine and Georgia.
And it’s this institution whose membership comes with the obligation to submit to the European Court of Human Rights.
Confused, you should be!
Perhaps it might be easier to explain the differences between Britain and the UK, then again…