Intergouvernemental European Success

Central Commission for Navigation on the Rhine. Photo: Wikipedia.

One of the outcomes of the Congress of Vienna was a diplomatic conference of the Rhine riparian states and, in the Final Act, the principle of freedom of navigation on international waterways.

The provisions concerning the river Rhine held the creation of a Central Commission ‘in order to ensure a precise control of the enforcement of common rules as well as to provide an authority used as a means of communication between riparian states with regards to all aspects of navigation’.

The Central Commission had a long and interesting history and if ‘1914’ marks the breakdown of the Congress of Vienna, this result of the Congress is often overlooked.

The first session of the Rhine Commission took place in 1816 in Mainz and in 1868 the signing of the Mannheim Convention established the principles for navigation on the Rhine (signatories were France, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium and The Netherlands).

The main principles, still valid today, are the freedom of navigation, equal treatment of ships, absence of physical or administrative obstacles to navigation and the commitment to maintain the navigability.

The Commission moved in 1861 to Mainz, the Treaty of Versailles set new rules for the Commission and the Commission moved to Strasbourg in 1919, where is still the  seat.

The Convention adopted new regulations, requirements and regulations for transport of corrosive and toxic substances, safety rules for barges, transport of petroleum and its distillation products, radar rules, transport of dangerous goods, waste disposal and other issues related to safety of navigation and its environment.

No rule without enforcement and already in 1868 the Member States agreed on the means of legal address to be provided in the event of infringement of the police rules on navigation or in the event of a dispute in connection with damage caused in the course of navigation.

The Member States designate the courts of first instance and the appeal courts, but an alternative was provided for and the appeal may be taken directly to the Central Commission.

There are two courts of appeal, what is a unique situation. In fact, however, the decisions of the Commission are taken unanimously by all Member States in a plenary session and as such the Commission can not be regarded as a court.

It was after the Strasbourg Convention of 1963, which came into force in 1967, that a European court was set up.

The first decision was delivered on 23 June 1970. The case law and precedent are available on internet. The Chamber of Appeal is a specialised European Court with five professional judges, appointed for a period of six years.

As a direct result of the Congress of Vienna the system established and confirmed in the Mannheim Convention functioned rather well and is the basis of a European Court (source: