A considerable number of studies on the history of the Central Commission are available on its site (see Documents regarding the history of the CCNR).
Here we shall merely run through the main stages in the Commission’s evolution.
The Central Commission was formally constituted in 1815, but at an earlier stage two occurrences that are fundamental features of the organisation and which it has inherited directly took place:
The Treaty of 15 October 1804 governing the “octroi” or toll levied for using the Rhine, concluded by the French Empire and the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation in performance of the General Rescript of 25 February 1803 by the Empire’s deputation and abolishing the various tolls in existence on the Rhine in favour of the institution of a Rhine toll, created in Mainz a first international administration with responsibility for centralising the tolls levied on vessels using the Rhine so that these could be used to improve navigability and the state of the towpaths. The organisation also had the function of settling disputes arising out of the prescription of the “octrois”.
The Treaty of Paris of 30 May 1814 laid down the principle of the freedom of navigation on the major international rivers of Europe.
Appendix 16 B of 24 March 1815 of the Final Document of the Congress of Vienna created the Central Commission. Its members were representatives of the States bordering the Rhine, and its headquarters were in Mainz (the Commission inherited the administration created by the Treaty governing the “octroi” for using the Rhine).
This text confirms the principle of the freedom of navigation on the Rhine and makes the Central Commission responsible for drawing up a convention specifically intended to implement this principle. The work took fifteen years, eventually resulting in the Mainz Convention of 31 March 1831.
The Central Commission played an important part in coordinating work on regulating the Rhine, gradually reducing tolls, setting up rules for navigation, and promoting navigation on the Rhine.
During this period, however, it functioned as a standing diplomatic conference, meeting once a year and proposing to its members provisions that required ratification by the Member States. (For example, an additional Article was adopted in 1838 on the transport of dangerous substances on the Rhine).
The Commission’s headquarters were transferred to Mannheim in 1860.
The Mannheim Act of 17 October 1868 upheld both the principle of the absence of tolls levied for navigation on the Rhine and the possibility for those States that were members of the Central Commission to adopt common regulations (subject to a veto by any State). The Central Commission’s sphere of competence expanded to include every aspect involving the “prosperity” of navigation on the Rhine. Detailed regulations were developed to provide a precise organisation of navigation on the Rhine and were transposed into the national law of the Member States for boatmen’s licences (Protocol of 4 June 1898), the transport of dangerous goods (1868), police regulations (1869), etc. These texts have since been updated regularly.
On a more political front, the Central Commission mainly played the role of a bilateral organ between Germany and the Netherlands, as France ceased to be a member after the Treaty of Frankfurt (1871).
The Treaty of Versailles of 28 June 1919 reorganised the Central Commission substantially, and transferred its headquarters to Strasbourg. In addition to the return of France, Switzerland, Belgium, the United Kingdom and Italy became members. The Commission was involved in the work to canalise the Upper Rhine. It monitored the economic situation of navigation on the Rhine. Work was carried out on revising the Mannheim Convention, resulting in a modus vivendi which did not however achieve the status of a treaty ratified by all the Members. As the Second World War loomed closer, Germany and Italy formally withdrew their participation in 1936. In fact, the German authorities continued to contribute to the revision of the police and inspection regulations.
During the war, the Secretariat was transferred to Grenoble, and ceased to be active in 1940.
The Central Commission resumes its work on 20 November 1945, with American, Belgian, British, French, Dutch and Swiss delegations.
The German delegation did not resume its place until 1950. The Central Commission developed a very dynamic activity, contributing to the return to activity of the Rhine corridor. A number of committees were set up by the Central Commission, which also established a “boatman’s passport” and a rationing card. A large number of experts were involved in the Commission’s work. The Secretariat’s role developed.
The Commission also concerned itself with simplifying Customs formalities. It intervened with the military authorities for the removal of military bridges that were hindering navigation. Collaboration with other international organisations developed, particularly with the High Authority of the ECSC and subsequently with the European Commission. Specific agreements were concluded regarding the working conditions and social security arrangements for boatmen on the Rhine.
The Central Commission entered the contemporary period, featuring increasing European integration. This provides solutions to many long-standing issues (Customs, etc). Gradually, the principles and the rules governing navigation on the Rhine are being taken up, according to various procedures, and extended to inland navigation throughout Europe. The Rhine is an integral part of the European network of inland waterways, but it remains the most active and the most highly evolved section. The Central Commission is working increasingly on matters that concern not only the Rhine but also inland navigation in Europe as a whole. Cooperation with the European Union is increasingly close. The United Kingdom withdrew in 1993, but the Central Commission welcomes a number of “observer States”, mainly from the Danube basin.