Council of Europe Summit from 16 to 17 May 2023, in Reykjavik, Iceland

The Fourth Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Council of Europe (also known as the Council of Europe Summit) will take place from 16 to 17 May 2023 in Reykjavik. This summit, agreed by the Committee of Ministers, will be chaired by Iceland.

This is the fourth summit of the Council of Europe since its creation in 1949. It meets exceptionally when the Council’s key mission of safeguarding and promoting human rights, democracy and the rule of law needs to be strengthened. A report of the high-level reflection group of the Council of Europe (October 2022), written in reaction to the aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine, recommended the holding of a fourth summit as soon as possible. The report also recalls the need to strengthen the coherence and effectiveness of the Council of Europe’s human rights protection system, to strengthen pan-European cooperation with the United Nations, and finally with Ukraine, to strengthen relations with Russian and Belarusian civil society and finally to prevent and combat violence against women and domestic violence.

This fourth summit of the Council of Europe is, therefore, an opportunity for civil society and member countries to address other essential issues for the respect of European rights.

In 2021, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted a resolution to enshrine the “right to a healthy environment” in an Additional Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights. To this day, the European Union is the only regional human rights system that does not recognize the right to a healthy environment in its Convention, as recently highlighted  by David BOYD, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment. The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, calls in her Observations ahead of the 4th Council of Europe summit to put “stronger emphasis on the human rights dimension of environmental degradation, including climate change, backed by the necessary legal underpinnings and by any useful additional instruments.” This summit will therefore be an important opportunity to strengthen the right to a healthy environment by requesting that this Additional Protocol inscribe this right in the European Convention.

The Council of Europe’s mission is to ensure that the commitments undertaken by the signatory States of the European Convention on Human Rights are respected. To this end, it has established the European Court of Human Rights, which is responsible for ensuring compliance with the Convention. Any person can sue one of the 46 signatory States for violation of his or her human rights before the Court after having exploited all possibilities at the national level. The Court’s decisions have considerable influence.

On March 29, two public hearings will be held before the Grand Chamber, which are important for the environment in Europe. In the case of Verein KlimaSeniorinnen Schweiz v. Switzerland, the ECtHR will hold a public hearing in Strasbourg for the first time on the extent to which a State such as Switzerland must reduce greenhouse gas emissions more drastically to protect the rights of its population. The case is one of three climate cases currently pending before the Grand Chamber. There will also be a public hearing in the case of Carême v. France. This application was filed by the former environmentalist mayor of Grande-Synthe Damien Carême, who accuses France of insufficient action against global warming. Finally, the third public hearing before the Grand Chamber in the case of Humpert and others v. Germany has been postponed until the autumn.