Set up in 1949, the Council of Europe is a purely intergovernmental organisation whose main aims include the protection of human rights and the promotion of democracy and the rule of law. It also promotes Europe’s cultural identity and addresses problems facing European society such as racism and xenophobia. It also issues recommendations and guidelines on themes such as health, education, culture and sport. Unlike EU legislation, its treaties are not directly binding in national law, unless ratified by the normal parliamentary procedures of the member state concerned.
«The aim of the Council of Europe is to achieve a greater unity between its members...»
Article 1 - Statute of the Council of Europe
The Council of Europe is also well known for the European Convention on Human Rights, which was signed in 1950 and, through the European Court of Human Rights ensures that human rights are respected in practice and not just on paper. The European Court of Human Rights is the only Court in Europe before which any European citizen can present a complaint directly against one of the 47 Council of Europe member states, thereby becoming a sort of guarantor of human rights, even for countries without a written constitution or a supreme court.
The European Court of Human Rights should not be confused with the EU’s European Court of Justice which is based in Luxembourg. The latter's role is to make sure that EU legislation is interpreted and applied in the same way in all EU countries; it ensures, for example, that national courts do not give different rulings on the same issue.
In general, the Council of Europe and the European Union work in parallel and on a complementary basis. For instance, for a country to join the EU, it must also show a high level of respect of human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
Council of Europe Anthem and Flag
The European flag and anthem were chosen and adopted by the Council of Europe before also becoming symbols of the European Union. They are now the emblems par excellence of a shared European identity.