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The Council of Europe

Council of Europe turns 65

The Council of Europe founded on 5 May 1949 was the first of Europe’s major new post-war organisations. In 2014 it celebrates its 65th anniversary. It is based in Strasbourg, France.

The Federal Republic of Germany joined the Council of Europe initially as an associate member on 13 July 1950 and became a full member on 2 May 1951.

Its currently 47 members include every country in Europe except Belarus and Kosovo. Six other countries – Canada, the Holy See, Israel, Japan, Mexico and the United States – have observer status.

Promoting shared values

The aim of the Council of Europe is to achieve a greater unity between its members for the purpose of safeguarding and realising the ideals and principles which are their common heritage and facilitating their economic and social progress (Article 1 of the Statute of the Council of Europe). From the start the Council of Europe has worked steadily to promote human rights, the rule of law and democracy throughout Europe.

An important part of this work is monitoring member countries’ compliance with the obligations of membership. Serious violations of these obligations may incur sanctions, including even termination of membership.

Organisation

The institutions of the Council of Europe are

  • the Committee of Ministers
  • the Parliamentary Assembly
  • the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities
  • the European Court of Human Rights.

The Committee of Ministers is the Council of Europe’s decision-making body and comprises the foreign ministers of all member countries, or their permanent diplomatic representatives in Strasbourg.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) is a forum for parliamentary debate. It is entitled to make recommendations and has a number of important decision-making powers. The PACE also elects e.g. the Secretary General from a list of nominees drawn up by the Committee of Ministers. Its 318 seats are distributed among the national delegations of the Council of Europe’s member countries. Germany’s delegation is made up of 18 national parliamentarians and 18 substitutes.

The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities (CLRA), which also has 318 seats, serves as the voice of the member countries’ regional and local politicians. Its mission is to promote local and regional democracy and strengthen local self-government and transfrontier cooperation. It also provides observers to monitor regional and local elections in member countries.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) is considered the Council of Europe’s flagship with direct relevance to Europe’s citizens. Individuals in Council of Europe member countries can appeal directly to the ECHR if they believe their country has violated their rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.

The institutions of the Council of Europe are assisted by the Secretariat. Since 1 October 2009 it has been headed by Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland, a Norwegian national, who was elected for another five-year term by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on 24 June 2014. On assuming office, Secretary General Jagland introduced extensive reforms that are now bearing fruit. These include refocusing the Council of Europe on its core competences, i.e. protecting and promoting human rights, the rule of law and democracy throughout Europe.

Conventions of the Council of Europe

The Council of Europe has played a trailblazing role in creating a binding pan-European legal framework for the protection of human rights, the rule of lawand democracy. The more than 200 Council of Europe conventions and protocols now in effect include such groundbreaking instruments as the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Anti-Torture Convention), the European Social Charter, the European Charter of Local Self-Government, the European Cultural Conventionas well as the Conventions on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, on the Protection of Children and on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women. The Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and the European Charter for Minority or Regional Languages are milestones in improving protection for minorities.

Overview of all Council of Europe conventions

Partial agreements of the Council of Europe

Partial agreements are a special form of close thematic cooperation by some or all member countries.Usually also third countries may accede to them.

The Council of Europe and the EU

The EU and the Council of Europe work closely together and continue to expand their cooperation. The EU provides the Council of Europe with considerable funds to implement joint projects aimed at protecting and promoting human rights, the rule of law and democracy in Council of Europe member countries as well as in Europe’s southern and eastern neighbourhood.

The Treaty of Lisbon, which envisages the EU’s accession to the European Convention on Human Rights, offers new opportunities for even closer cooperation between the Council of Europe and the EU. The accession process made important headway in 2013 and further headway is expected this year.


Last updated 09.07.2014