Structure of the Council of Europe Structure of the Council of Europe

The Committee of Ministers is the Council of Europe’s decision-making body. It comprises the Foreign Affairs Ministers of all the member states, or their permanent diplomatic representatives in Strasbourg. It is both a governmental body, where national approaches to problems facing European society can be discussed on an equal footing, and a collective forum, where Europe-wide responses to such challenges are formulated. In collaboration with the Parliamentary Assembly, it is the guardian of the Council’s fundamental values, and monitors member states’ compliance with their undertakings. The work and activities of the Committee of Ministers include: political dialogue, interacting with the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, admitting new member states, monitoring respect of commitments by member states, concluding conventions and agreements, adopting recommendations to member states, adopting the budget, adopting and supervising the Programme of the Council of Europe, implementing cooperation and assistance programmes.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which held its first session on 10 August 1949, can be considered the oldest international parliamentary assembly with a pluralist composition of democratically elected members of parliament established on the basis of an intergovernmental treaty. The Parliamentary Assembly, together with the Committee of Ministers, is one of the two statutory organs of the Council of Europe. The statutory aim of the Council of Europe, which started with ten member states and now has 46, is to achieve greater unity among its members through common action, agreements and debates. The conditions for membership are pluralistic democracy, the rule of law and respect of human rights. Only those countries, which fulfil these criteria, can accede. Consequently some countries were able to join the Organisation at a subsequent stage; i.e. Portugal in 1976, Spain in 1977. Greece was obliged to withdraw from the Council of Europe in 1970 for a period of four years. The Knesset of Israel participates in the work of the Parliamentary Assembly as an Observer since 1957, the Parliament of Canada since May 1997 and the Parliament of Mexico since November 1999.

The United States of America were granted Observer status with the Council of Europe on 10 January, Canada on 29 May, Japan on 21 November 1996 and Mexico on 7 December 1999. The democratisation process in Central and Eastern Europe led to Hungary’s accession in 1990, Poland’s in 1991, Bulgaria’s in 1992 and Estonia, Lithuania, Slovenia and Romania in 1993. That of the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic replaced Czechoslovakia’s accession from 1991 in 1993. Latvia joined the Council of Europe on 10 February, Moldova and Albania on 13 July and Ukraine and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia on 9 November 1995. The Russian Federation acceded on 28 February, Croatia on 6 November, Georgia on 27 April 1999, Armenia and Azerbaijan on 25 January 2001, Bosnia and Herzegovina on 24 April 2002, Serbia and Montenegro on 3 April 2003 and Monaco on 5 October 2004. The accession process usually begins with a request to the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, who transmits it to the Committee of Ministers for consideration. The latter consults the Parliamentary Assembly, which in turn examines whether the candidate fulfils all the necessary requirements. This is done by an on-the-spot visit by parliamentary committees and also, since the 1990s, by fact finding missions by eminent jurists. Although not a statutory provision, it has also become customary to require the acceptance of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms by any new candidate. The Opinion adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly determines the invitation from the Committee of Ministers to the State to become a full member. 

In 1994, the Council of Europe established the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe as a consultative body to replace the former Standing Conference of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe. It works on the basis of Statutory Resolution (2000) 1 of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.
The Congress:

- is the voice of Europe’s regions and municipalities in the Council of Europe,
- provides a forum where local and regional elected representatives can discuss common problems, pool their experience and express their views to governments,
- advises the Committee of Ministers of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on all aspects of local and regional policy,
- cooperates closely with national and international organisations representing local and regional government,
- organises hearings and conferences at local and regional levels to reach a wider public whose involvement is essential to a working democracy,
- prepares regular country-by-country reports on the state of local and regional democracy in all the Council’s member states and in candidate states and monitors in particular the implementation of the European Charter of Local Self-Government,
- helps new member states with the practical aspects of their progress towards establishing effective local and regional self-government.

The Secretary General is appointed by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on the recommendation of the Committee of Ministers for a period of five years. He or she is entrusted with the responsibility of meeting the aim for which the Council of Europe was set up in London on 5 May 1949, namely to achieve greater unity between member states for the purpose of safeguarding and realising the ideals and principles which are their common heritage and facilitating their economic and social progress.  
The Secretary General has the overall responsibility for strategic management of the Council of Europe’s work programme and budget and oversees the day-to-day running of the Organisation and Secretariat