What you need to know about the Council of Europe

Flags of the member states in front of the Council of Europe building in Strasbourg

Flags of the member states in front of the Council of Europe building in Strasbourg, © picture alliance / Frank Rumpenhorst

16.05.2019 - Article

A bastion of human rights from Vladivostok to Lisbon: the Council of Europe is turning 70. 
What makes the organisation, which is independent of the EU, so special?

One of the most important human rights organisations is turning 70: 
Foreign Minister Maas and his counterparts from the 47 member states of the Council of Europe will meet tomorrow in Helsinki to discuss the main challenges facing the organisation as it marks this anniversary. Here’s what you need to know about the Council of Europe:

It is an independent international organisation

The Council of Europe is not an EU institution, but an independent international organisation. It was founded in 1949, the first post-war European organisation, and now has 47 member states: all European territorial states, including Russia and Turkey, with the exception of Belarus and Kosovo. The Council of Europe has its seat in Strasbourg.

It is the guardian of the European Convention on Human Rights.

From the outset, the Council of Europe has worked for human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Its main instrument is the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, better known as the European Convention on Human Rights. A state cannot accede to the Council of Europe unless it signs the Convention. It is thus applicable law in all 47 member states.

It provides legally enforceable protection for every individual citizen

The Council of Europe has created a unique protection mechanisms for all citizens of its member states. Anyone who feels their human rights have been violated can take their case to the European Court of Human Rights. The member states are bound by the Court’s rulings. The Court has therefore been able, on several occasions, to greatly strengthen and protect the position of human rights defenders.

Germany is for a large Council of Europe

In some Council of Europe member states, the human rights situation is problematic. In Germany’s view, it is therefore all the more important that these member states are kept in the organisation. This is the only way to ensure that all citizens from Madrid to Moscow can appeal to the Court for their rights. That is why Foreign Minister Maas advocates that conflicts in the bodies be settled and that the Council of Europe be strengthened to meet new challenges.


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