Founded on 5 May 1949, the Council of Europe was the first of Europe’s major new post‑war organisations. It is based in Strasbourg, France. The Federal Republic of Germany was admitted as an associate member on 13 July 1950 and as a full member on 2 May 1951.
“It is of great significance for the political development of Europe that here, in the organs of the Council of Europe, we have a platform on which the representatives of Europe meet regularly, discuss their worries and anxieties, their desires and their hopes, a platform where they try to establish common criteria for evaluating their requirements, and where, in general, they cooperate with one another in a spirit of fairness and of good neighbourliness. In other words, here we find an expression of the European conscience.” [Konrad Adenauer (Strasbourg, 10 December 1951)].
When the Council of Europe was founded, the wounds from the Second World War were still fresh in people’s minds. With the Council of Europe, the pioneers of European cooperation therefore created what Adenauer called a “European conscience”. This conscience sought to promote the protection of human rights, the rule of law and democracy, to foster them and to call out any violations of established fundamental principles. The aim was to create a more peaceful and stronger Europe that stands up for the rights of all Europeans.
The European Court of Human Rights was founded and the position of the Commissioner for Human Rights was established with these goals in mind. The Council of Europe also has a number of independent monitoring bodies. Important issues include freedom of opinion, the protection of minorities, the protection of children and women, cybercrime and tackling corruption.
The Council of Europe currently has 47 members – including all European territorial states with the exception of Belarus and Kosovo. In addition, the Holy See, Israel, Japan, Canada, Mexico and the United States have observer status.
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 law and democracy. To date, there are over 200 Council of Europe conventions and protocols. These include fundamental legal instruments such as the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR), the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and the European Social Charter.
The member states can also accede to partial agreements as a special form of thematic cooperation. In most cases, third countries may also accede to them. An example of a partial agreement is the European Commission for Democracy through Law (also known as the Venice Commission), which advises states on matters of constitutional law.
Germany’s role in the Council of Europe
The Federal Government considers the Council of Europe to be an indispensable institution for the promotion of human rights, the rule of law and democracy throughout Europe and as a forum for the creation of a uniform European legal area.
Germany is working intensively on the Council of Europe’s programmes at all levels and is also supporting efforts to reform the organisation. Germany has 18 seats in both the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities. Germany is one of the main contributors alongside France, the UK, Italy and Russia. Germany also makes voluntary contributions, for example to promote human rights projects.
The Council of Europe and the EU
The EU and the Council of Europe have developed an intensive cooperative partnership. 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 states as well as in Europe’s southern and eastern neighbourhood.
The Treaty on European Union provides for the accession of the EU to the European Convention on Human Rights, which is to be concluded in the near future.