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The Council of Europe - promoting democracy and human rights

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Since 1949, the Council of Europe has been working to promote the rule of law and protect human rights and democracy throughout Europe.

Founded on 5 May 1949, the Council of Europe was the first of Europe’s major new post-war organisations and has its headquarters 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 hold observer status in the Council of Europe: Canada, the Holy See, Israel, Japan, Mexico and the United States.

What the Council of Europe does.

Flags of the member states in front of the Council of Europe
Flags of the member states in front of the Council of Europe© dpa/picture alliance

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). Its core mission is to protect and promote human rights, as well as the rule of law and democracy throughout Europe.

Background information: organs and institutions of the Council of Europe

Human rights protection in the Council of Europe

The European Court of Human Rights and the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights are at the heart of the system to protect and promote human rights.

European Court of Human Rights

The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights

Germany’s role in the Council of Europe

The German 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. The Council of Europe Development Bank (CEB) has, moreover, been directed by a German Governor since 2011.

As one of the six main contributors alongside Britain, France, Italy, Russia and Turkey, Germany provides some eleven percent of the Council of Europe budget (total volume of the Council of Europe regular budget in 2017: approx. 253 million euros). Germany also makes voluntary contributions, for example to promote human rights projects.

The Federal Government maintains an intensive dialogue with the Council of Europe at the political level. In October 2016, then Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited the Council of Europe in Strasbourg and addressed the Parliamentary Assembly.

Conventions

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. 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 Convention as 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

Partial agreements are a special form of close thematic cooperation by some or all member states. Usually also third countries may accede to them. An example of a partial agreement is the renowned European Commission for Democracy through Law, which is familiar to most as the Venice Commission, an institution of the Council of Europe that advises states on matters of constitutional law.

Council of Europe partial agreements

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 states as well as in Europe’s southern and eastern neighbourhood.

The Lisbon Treaty provides for the accession of the EU to the European Convention on Human Rights. Work to this end is ongoing.

Council of Europe website

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