On 4 August 1949, Strasbourg welcomed the first ever Council of Europe meeting, chaired by Belgium’s long-serving Foreign Minister Paul Henri Spaak. The meeting saw the first gathering of the Committee of Ministers and of the Consultative Assembly, the body that would eventually evolve into the Parliamentary Assembly.
That Strasbourg was chosen as the seat of the Council, following a proposal by the British Foreign Minister Ernest Bevin, showed how determined the founding fathers were to keep their promise of building a new kind of Europe. From the Thirty Years War that began the 17th century to the mass destruction of the Second World War, the capital of Alsace had been the focus of conflict and division. Now it was home to an organisation that would work to bring harmony, to safeguard the rule of law and to protect individuals’ human rights. Speaking at the ceremony, the respected French Socialist leader Léon Blum called on the delegates “to show boldness and even temerity”. “I see the creation of the Council of Europe – or I wish to see in it - one of the great beginnings of history,” he told the gathering.