The Council of Europe: an overview
A statute built on human rights
Any European state can become a member of the Council of Europe if it accepts the rule of law and guarantees human rights and fundamental freedoms to everyone under its jurisdiction .
The Council of Europe is an intergovernmental organisation which aims:
- to protect human rights, pluralist democracy and the rule of law;
- to promote awareness and encourage the development of Europe’s cultural identity and diversity;
- to find common solutions to the challenges facing European society: discrimination against minorities, xenophobia, intolerance, bioethics and cloning, terrorism, trafficking in human beings, organised crime and corruption, cybercrime, violence against children, etc;
- to consolidate democratic stability in Europe by backing political, legislative and constitutional reform.
47 member states
The Council of Europe was set up on 5 May 1949 by 10 countries (Belgium, Denmark, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, United Kingdom), joined by Greece and Turkey in August 1949. It now has 47 member states : Iceland and Germany (1950), Austria (1956), Cyprus (1961), Switzerland (1963), Malta (1965), Portugal (1976), Spain (1977), Liechtenstein (1978), San Marino (1988), Finland (1989), Hungary (1990), Poland (1991), Bulgaria (1992), Estonia, Lithuania, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania (1993), Andorra (1994), Latvia, Albania, Moldova, Ukraine, “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia“(1995), Russian Federation and Croatia (1996), Georgia (1999), Armenia and Azerbaijan (2001), Bosnia and Herzegovina (2002), Serbia (2003), Monaco (2004), Montenegro (2007).
The Council of Europe is not the European Union. The two organisations are quite distinct, but the 27 European Union states are all members of the Council of Europe.
Applicant state **
Belarus has been an applicant state since 12 March 1993.
Canada, the Holy See, Japan, the United States of America and Mexico enjoy observer status with the Council of Europe’s intergovernmental bodies.
Palais de l’Europe
The Palais de l’Europe in Strasbourg (France) is the Council of Europe’s headquarters.
The Council of Europe covers all major issues facing European society other than defence. Its work programme includes the following: human rights, media, legal co-operation, social cohesion, health, education, culture, heritage, sport, youth, local democracy and transfrontier co-operation, the environment and regional planning.
A framework for co-operation
- The Committee of Ministers is the Council of Europe’s decision-making body, comprising the foreign ministers of all 47 member states (or their Permanent Representatives).
- The Parliamentary Assembly is the Organisation’s deliberative body; members are appointed by national parliaments (318 members and 318 substitutes).
- The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe is a consultative body representing local and regional authorities.
Governments, national parliaments and local and regional authorities are thus represented separately.
- The Conference of INGOs of the Council of Europe comprises some 400 international NGOs which enjoy participatory status with the Council of Europe.
An elected Secretary General
Thorbjørn Jagland (Norway) was elected Secretary General by the Parliamentary Assembly in 2009 for a five-year term. He directs and co-ordinates the organisation’s activities.
Summits give fresh impetus
After the fall of communist regimes, the Council of Europe gained fresh political impetus at the highest level through summit meetings of heads of state and government. Three summits have been held to date.
In Vienna in 1993, the political leaders of the then 32 member states responded to the challenge by determining a course of action for enlargement.
In Strasbourg in 1997, with 40 member states, political leaders adopted a Plan of Action based on four themes: democracy and human rights, social cohesion, citizens’ security and education for democracy and cultural diversity.
A third summit was held on 16 and 17 May 2005 in Warsaw (Poland) to define the Council’s future goals and priorities in a new political mandate, reaffirming its core values and standards in response to the challenges of the new century
Conferences of specialised ministers
The Council of Europe periodically organises specialised ministerial conferences (justice, education, family affairs, health, environment, local authorities, migration, equality between women and men, labour, mass media, culture, sport, youth, etc.).
The conferences analyse major problems in these sectors and foster contact between counterpart ministries in other member states. They work out projects to be implemented jointly, and propose activities for the Council’s work programme
Building Europe day by day
The Council of Europe’s work leads to European conventions and agreements and member states may harmonise and amend their own legislation to comply with them.
Some conventions and agreements are also open for signature by non-member states. The results of studies and activities are available to governments in order to encourage co-operation and social progress in Europe.
The Council of Europe also adopts partial agreements, a form of ”variable geometry“ co-operation, which allow a number of states to carry out specific activities of common interest with the consent of other members.
An international staff
The Secretary-General heads a staff of 2000 international civil servants recruited from member states.
The Council is financed by member states’ governments. Contributions are based on population and wealth. The Council’s total budget for the year 2010 amounts to 218 million euros.
The official languages are English and French, but German, Italian and Russian are also used as working languages. A number of texts exist in several languages on the website: www.coe.int
*As of March 2009.
**As of March 2009.