From Zurich to The Hague
Even before the war ended, politicians, idealists, writers and former members of the French Resistance were envisaging a fresh political start for Post-war Europe.
Their aspirations were magnetically voiced by Winston Churchill, who had just left office, in his historic speech to Zurich students on 19 September 1946. Franco-German reconciliation and unification of the “European Family” were his primary demands. “We must create something like a Unite States of Europe”, he declared. His words struck a chord in the hearts of countless war-traumatized Europeans, and many of them helped to found the International Co-coordinating Committee of Movements for European Unity in 1947. This symbolic coming-together was the first step, and the next came when the various pro-European movements organized a huge congress in the Hague (Netherlands) from 7 to 10 May 1948, to promote unity and lay the foundations of the future Europe.
The Hague Congress
Chaired by Winston Churchill, the congress was attended by 800 leading Europeans and delegates from 30 countries, including the 10 founder members of the future Council of Europe, as well as Germany, Austria, Greece, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Switzerland and Turkey. There were also observers from Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Yugoslavia and even the United States and Canada. All Europe was represented, and coverage by 250 journalists maximized the meeting’s media impact.
But a split soon developed between the “federalists” , who wanted a federal Europe , and the “Unionists”, who were determined to preserve state sovereignty.
The congress ended by recommending three things: Establishment of an economic and political union to ensure security and social progress; convening of a deliberative assembly; and preparation of a human rights charter with a European Court of justice to enforce it.
From London to Strasbourg
France and Belgium wanted a federal Europe while the United Kingdom saw intergovernmental co-operation as the answer. The second opinion carried the day and, on 5 May, 1949, the Council of Europe was brought into being by the Treaty of London, signed by 10 countries: Belgium, Denmark, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom
The Committee of Ministers met for the first time in Strasbourg on 8 August, and immediately invited Greece, Turkey and Iceland to join the new organization. Greece and Turkey did so the next day, and Iceland followed suit on 7 March 1950.
It was Ernest Bevin, British Foreign Secretary from 1945 to 1951, who suggested putting the Council in Strasbourg. He saw the Alsatian capital as a symbol of Franco-German reconciliation, essential to a peaceful future for the continent