Committee of Ministers
The Committee of Ministers is the Council of Europe’s decision-making body. It comprises the foreign ministers of all member states, or their permanent diplomatic representatives in Strasbourg. It is both a governmental body, where national approaches to European problems are discussed on an equal footing, and a forum to find collective responses, to these challenges. In collaboration with the Parliamentary Assembly, it is the guardian of the Council’s fundamental values, and monitors member states’ compliance with their undertakings.
Voice of the governments
Decisions and action
The Committee of Ministers decides the Council’s activities. It also determines the action to be taken on recommendations of the Parliamentary Assembly and the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, and on the proposals from various intergovernmental committees and conferences of specialised ministers. It approves the Council’s programme of activities and budget.
Ministers’ discussions cover all questions of common political interest except defence: these include the political aspects of European integration, extending co-operation, safeguarding democratic institutions and protecting human rights – in other words, all problems which require concerted pan-European solutions.
An active body
Member states’ foreign ministers meet once a year to review political issues and European co-operation and to give the necessary political impetus to the Council’s activities. Their permanent representatives (ambassadors) meet once a week and rapporteur and working groups meet to study certain issues in depth before decisions are taken.
Each minister chairs the Committee for six-months with a handover of chairmanship in May and November.
When projects are not supported by all member states, the Committee of Ministers may launch them under partial agreements which allow some members to pursue joint activities in specific areas.
On the other hand, enlarged agreements enable some or all member states to work with non-member states, giving them the benefit of the Council’s permanent structure.
The Committee’s decisions reach governments in the form of recommendations, or are embodied in European conventions and agreements which are legally binding on states that ratify them.
The Committee also adopts declarations and resolutions on current political issues.
Over 190 conventions have been drawn up to date. They mainly concern human rights but cover other areas which affirm and Europe’s democratic, social and cultural cohesion.
Most of the Committee of Ministers’ decisions require a two-thirds majority of votes cast but a simple majority is sufficient for procedural questions.
Conventions and recommendations are drafted by government experts responsible to the Committee of Ministers, harmonizing political interests with technical and sectoral considerations. Many political initiatives are also taken at regular conferences of specialised ministers.
Democracy and solidarity
The Council of Europe has co-operation and assistance programmes for new member states to allow them to draw on the Council’s experience. These are based on the results of intergovernmental collaboration at the Council – reference texts, networks of experts and co-operation structures. Their purpose is to consolidate, strengthen and accelerate democratic reform in these countries so that they can integrate gradually and harmoniously into the processes and structures of European co-operation, above all the Council of Europe. The Confidence-Building Measures Programme supports civil social initiatives to improve reciprocal knowledge and co-operation between majority and minority communities.
Guardian of values
Defending the Statute
Countries joining the Council undertake to accept the principles of the rule of law and their people’s prerogative to basic human rights and fundamental freedoms. They also undertake to collaborate sincerely and effectively to achieve greater unity, and to facilitate their economic and social progress. Each member state must honour these commitments and the Committee of Ministers ensures that they do so.
If a member state is in serious violation of its obligations under the Statute, the Committee of Ministers can suspend its right of representation, ask it to withdraw or even suspend its membership.
The Committee of Ministers also ensures that conventions and agreements between member states are implemented. This is crucial in the case of human rights texts, the most important of which (the European Convention on Human Rights, the European Social Charter Revised, the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities) have their own supervisory machinery.
The Committee of Ministers’ responsibilities with regard to the European Convention on Human Rights reflect the importance of this convention; it is the cornerstone of Europe’s human rights protection system. In supervising member states’ execution of the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, the Committee of Ministers plays an essential role in maintaining the credibility of a system without precedent in the world.
The Committee of Ministers has exercised its responsibilities in an impartial and constructive spirit, in accordance with the policy governing the Council’s enlargement since the fall of the Berlin Wall, emphasizing dialogue and the gradual establishment of political and material conditions conducive to positive development. To this end it has introduced a monitoring system ensuring that all member states respect their obligations. It offers all members the conditions and resources needed to nurture the Council’s founding values.
The enlargement of the Council of Europe has led to significant changes in the organisation and role of the Committee of Ministers, extending the political aspect of its work considerably.
Dialogue and complementarity
The Council of Europe has strengthened its dialogue with Europe’s elected representatives nationally and locally and extended its political discussions to non-member states, including a number of non-European states with observer status (the United States, Holy See, Canada, Japan and Mexico). It has intensified its co-operation with other European organisations, particularly the European Union and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), and with the United Nations.
Summits of Heads of State and Government
The Council of Europe has so far held three summits of Heads of State and Government of all its member states. The first took place in Vienna in 1993, following the fall of communism and the development of new democracies in central and eastern Europe. It confirmed the Council’s policy of openness and enlargement and also launched the reform of the European Convention on Human Rights to make it more effective. The second was held in Strasbourg in 1997 to give new impetus to human rights protection; the summit decided to appoint a Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner.
In 2005, the Council of Europe Heads of State and Government Summit was held on May 16 and 17 in the Polish capital, Warsaw – a city with a symbolic importance in the history of Europe. The Summit, chaired by Poland, aimed to ensure that the Council of Europe’s activities were relevant to the 800 million citizens of its 46 member states and that it addresses the challenges they face in the new century. It established the Council’s future goals and priorities in a new political mandate.