European broad-based intergovernmental institutions

The World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe: The WHO Regional Office for Europe supports the 53 member states in the WHO European region in developing national policies and programmes for health and in contributing to global health improvement. Representatives of each member state meet in the WHO Regional Committee for Europe to develop regional policies and programmes and to supervise the work and budget of the Regional Office. The Regional Office examined its role and relationship with other global health actors in Europe during 2006-2007, recognizing that while the many different actors, such as those described here, have different perspectives and contributions to make, they are most powerful when they recognize their common values for health and work together. It has, therefore, taken steps to forge closer links with the key actors in this field and to work together on programmes of special interest to Europe, including global health. In particular, it has developed ongoing dialogue with the Council of Europe, the European Union, and Commission, OECD, the European Centre for Disease Control, UNAIDS and the World Bank. The Regional Office for Europe plays a special role in providing a voice for professional leadership in public health and other fields of health, in providing an authoritative source of knowledge and advice, and in linking regional and global issues in health. It also provides an important bridge between the countries of the European Union and its member states in central and eastern Europe, several of which face very significant health challenges.

The Regional Office for Europe supports the global sharing of knowledge on health systems and policies through the Health Evidence Network, the European Health for All database and its support for the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies.

Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights: The Council of Europe both predates the European Union and has a wider regional membership, with 47 member states. It has taken the lead in developing international law that protects public health as a human right, not only as an issue for the European region, but as a global imperative. The European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms was introduced in 1953, the European Commission on Human Rights started work in 1954, and the European Court of Human Rights was established in 1959. Any state wishing to become a member of the European Union must first sign and ratify the European Convention on Human Rights and accept the jurisdiction of its court. The court assumed a greater role in relation to health issues when individuals were granted leave to take petitions and cases to the court in 1998. The convention deals with civil and political rights; it recognizes a fundamental right to life but does not go further in specifying rights of access to health and care services. These rights are specified in the European Social Charter, which was first adopted by the Council of Europe in 1961 and revised and reaffirmed in 1996.

The charter is also embedded in the constitution of the EU-proposed Treaty of Lisbon, which has not yet been adopted. This requires agreement by all member states, several of which held referendums on this issue. It is important to note that ratification of these conventions and charters requires the adoption of state laws giving recognition and precedence to international laws and courts.


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