Britain's wartime leader Sir words, he tried to "peer through the mists of the future to the end of the war," once victory had been achieved, and think about how to re-build and maintain peace on a shattered continent. Given that Europe had been at the origin of two world wars, the creation of such a body would be, he suggested, "a stupendous business". He returned to the idea during a well-known speech at the University of Zurich on 19 September 1946, throwing the full weight of his considerable post-war prestige behind it.
The future structure of the Council of Europe was discussed at a specific congress of several hundred leading politicians, government representatives and civil society in The Hague, Netherlands, in 1948. There were two schools of thought competing: some favoured a classical international organisation with representatives of governments, while others preferred a political forum with parliamentarians. Both approaches were finally combined through the creation of a Committee of Ministers (in which governments were represented) and a Consultative Assembly (in which parliaments were represented), the two main bodies mentioned in the Statute of the Council of Europe. This dual intergovernmental and inter-parliamentary structure was later copied for the European Communities, North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
The Council of Europe was founded on 5 May 1949 by the Treaty of London. The Statute was signed in London on that day by ten states: Belgium, Denmark, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Three months later, on 10 August 1949, 100 members of the Council's Consultative Assembly, parliamentarians drawn from twelve nations (Turkey and Greece had by then joined the original ten founding members), met in Strasbourg for its first plenary session, held over 18 sittings and lasting nearly a month. They debated how to reconcile and reconstruct a continent still reeling from war, yet already facing a new East-West divide, launched the concept of a trans-national court to protect the basic human rights of every European citizen, and took the first steps towards what would in time become the European Union.
In August 1949, Paul-Henri Spaak of Belgium was elected president of the first session of the assembly. Spaak helped develop a network of intergovernmental contacts in many fields, such as human rights, local government, education, culture, sports, and youth policy. However, the organization only played an advisory role, and was not nearly strong enough to achieve Spaak's long-term goals of European unification.
Historic speeches at the Council of Europe
In 2018 an archive of all speeches made to the launch, the archive comprised 263 speeches delivered over a 70-year period by some 216 Presidents, Prime Ministers, monarchs and religious leaders from 45 countries - though it continues to expand, as new speeches are added every few months.
Some very early speeches by individuals considered to be "founding figures" of the European institutions, even if they were not heads of state or government at the time, are also included (such as Sir Winston Churchill or Robert Schuman). Addresses by eight monarchs appear in the list (such as King Juan Carlos I of Spain, King Albert II of Belgium and Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg) as well as the speeches given by religious figures (such as Pope John Paul II) and several leaders from countries in the Middle East and North Africa (such as Shimon Peres, Yasser Arafat, Hosni Mubarak, Léopold Sédar Senghor or King Hussein of Jordan).
The full text of the speeches is given in both English and French, regardless of the original language used. The archive is searchable by country, by name, and chronologically.