What role for non-governmental organisations (NGOS) in the work of the Council of Europe?
International non-governmental organisations (INGOs) can apply for participatory status with the Council of Europe and once accepted become members of the Conference of INGOs – information on the requirements can be found below.
While INGOs can work with the Council of Europe through the Conference of INGOs, there are also opportunities for local, national and regional NGOs to get involved with the Council of Europe in both formal and informal ways. The contribution of civil society is invaluable, for example, in exchanging information related to human rights monitoring, where NGOs can participate in consultations at national level, propose solutions to rights violations, contribute to the development of standards and provide information throughout the monitoring cycle.
Participatory status with the Council of Europe
Independent NGOs are a vital component of European society, guaranteeing freedom of expression and association, both of which are fundamental to democracy. Recognising their influence, the Council of Europe provides international INGOs with the opportunity to acquire participatory status.
The Council of Europe has had working relations with NGOs since 1952 when it introduced consultative status. In 2003, in recognition of the increasingly active role played by INGOS, the Council of Europe decided to change this to participatory status.
A revision of the guidelines on participatory status was carried out in consultation with the Conference of INGOs in 2015 and in July 2016 the Committee of Ministers adopted resolution (2016)3, which sets out the rules for granting participatory status, gives more information on the background of the status, what it represents, the conditions to be met and the possibilities it gives to INGOs to co-operate with the Council of Europe.
More than 300 INGOs currently have participatory status, making them an active part of the Conference of INGOs. In turn, the Conference of INGOs has participatory status in various Council of Europe bodies and participates in numerous intergovernmental committees. For instance, members of the Conference of INGOs can ask for accreditation to lodge collective complaints under the additional protocol of the European Social Charter (ESC) adopted in 1995. They can also contribute to the European Social Charter’s reporting procedure. More information is provided in the relevant sections of the handbook.
NGOs can also become involved in intergovernmental committees so that they can contribute to the policy- making process (article 8 of CM/Res(2021)3). This role is strengthened in the terms of reference for 2022-2025, which asked for all committees to enhance the role of civil society in their work wherever relevant.
If your INGO would like to apply for participatory status, please read the resolution closely and refer to the section below “How to apply” (these criteria may undergo further changes in the future).
When an INGOs is granted participatory status it joins the Conference of INGOs. The Conference represents organised civil society at the Council of Europe and works to promote participatory democracy. It holds two annual plenary sessions and organises events linked to Council of Europe priorities, such as visits to member states, where it focuses on how civic space is protected. Its ensuing report is then sent for comment to the member state concerned and debated in plenary with the member state and NGO representatives invited.
How to apply
Participatory status is for international NGOs that are represented at European level and that have working relations with the Council of Europe. Before submitting an application please check whether your INGO fulfils all the following conditions:
Participatory status may be granted to INGOs:
- which respect and defend the values and principles of the Council of Europe;
- which are able, through their work, to support the achievement of closer unity mentioned in Article 1 of the Council of Europe’s statute;
- which are created based on a constitutive act adopted according to democratic principles;
- which have a democratic structure and governance;
- which are particularly representative in the field(s) of their competence and the fields of action shared by the Council of Europe;
- which are represented at European level and which have members in at least five member states of the Council of Europe;
- which were created and have implemented activities at least two years before the moment of applying for participatory status;
- which already have working relations with the Council of Europe;
- which can contribute to and participate actively in Council of Europe deliberations and activities;
- which can make known the work of the Council of Europe to society.
Applications for participatory status must be submitted on the official form and must be accompanied by the following documents in French or English, and preferably in both official languages of the Council of Europe:
- completed application form;
- the INGO’s statute;
- a list of its member organisations;
- an activity and financial report covering the previous two years;
- a declaration to the effect that it accepts the principles set out in the preamble and in article 1 of the Council of Europe statute.
Participatory status is granted once a year. If your INGO fulfils all the conditions listed above and would like to apply, please send your completed application form and supporting documents to [email protected] The application form and article 1 of the Council of Europe statute are available here.
Conference of INGOs
The Conference of INGOs includes the over 300 NGOs that have gained participatory status. It engages directly with its members through its thematic work, issue-specific consultations, public events and two annual general assembly sessions. Since 2018 the Conference has marked World NGO Day with public events highlighting the role of NGOs in democratic society.
The Conference engages with member states and with civil society in those member states during the several country visits it carries out each year. It draws the Organisation’s attention to civil society concerns by adopt- ing resolutions, communicating with the Secretary General and the Commissioner for Human Rights and informing the Committee of Ministers, the Parliamentary Assembly and the Congress. It has representatives on intergovernmental steering committees and is a member of the governing body of the North-South Centre. The Conference runs an expert council on NGO Law which provides legal expertise and carries out studies on issues connected to freedom of assembly and association.
The bulk of work on thematic topics is undertaken in committees which are set up for a limited period, nor- mally limited to two years. They provide a focus for discussion and research on issues relevant to the work of the Council of Europe and prepare reports, draft declarations, recommendations and resolutions that are then discussed at the INGO general assembly.
Presidents are elected every three years and can be re-elected once. The president is supported by two vice- presidents and eight elected members of the standing committee.
Through the work of the Conference of INGOs, the Council of Europe ensures civil society has its place in intergovernmental activities and the means to connect with members of parliament and local and regional authorities on challenges facing society. The Conference of INGOs is an important partner to the other Council of Europe institutions.
Expert council on NGO law
The Expert Council carries out thematic and country studies on specific aspects of NGO legislation and its conformity with international standards, especially the European Convention on Human Rights and recommendation (2007)14 on the legal status of NGOs in Europe.
It was set up in January 2008 by the Conference of INGOs with the aim of creating an enabling environ- ment through examining national NGO legislation and its implementation and providing advice on how to bring national law and practice into line with Council of Europe standards and European good practice.
It is composed of 15 members with expertise in different areas, such as the law, human rights and good practice. Members are appointed by the Conference of INGOs for a three-year term and serve in their personal capacity.
It carries out the following types of work:
- monitoring the legal and regulatory frameworks affecting NGOs throughout Europe and how those frameworks are implemented, including country visits and thematic consultations;
- preparing opinions and studies on whether national laws and regulations affecting the status and operation of NGOs are compatible with international standards;
- producing thematic studies analysing legal, regulatory and policy issues affecting NGOs;
- providing advice and training and carrying out awareness-raising activities about the standards applicable to the status and operation of NGOs.
Other work includes contributing to Council of Europe inter-governmental standard-setting work and supporting the president of the Conference of the INGOs
The Expert Council prepares opinions and thematic studies either on its own initiative or at the request of the Conference of INGOs, NGOs, national authorities or Council of Europe bodies. Once adopted, these are presented to the Conference of INGOs, which decides on the follow-up required and ensures that they are shared. Make contact with the Expert Council using this form.