Council of Europe

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Council of Europe
Conseil de l'Europe
Council of Europe logo (2013 revised version).png
Council of Europe (orthographic projection).svg
Abbreviation CoE
Formation Treaty of London 1949
Type Regional intergovernmental organization
Headquarters Strasbourg, France
Official languages
English, French
Other working languages: German, Italian, Russian, and Turkish[1]
Secretary General
Thorbjørn Jagland
Deputy Secretary General
Gabriella Battaini-Dragoni
President of the Parliamentary Assembly
Anne Brasseur
President of the Committee of Ministers
Edmond Panariti
President of the Congress
Jean-Claude Frécon

European Flag Flag of Europe.svg
European Anthem "Ode to Joy" (orchestral)

The Council of Europe (CoE; French: Conseil de l'Europe) is an international organisation focused on promoting human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Europe. Founded in 1949, it has 47 member states, covers approximately 820 million people and operates with an annual budget of approximately half a billion euros.[2]

The organisation is distinct from the 28-nation European Union (EU), although it is sometimes confused with it, partly because the EU has adopted the original European Flag which was created by the Council of Europe in 1955,[3] as well as the European Anthem.[4] No country has ever joined the EU without first belonging to the Council of Europe.[5]

Unlike the EU, the Council of Europe cannot make binding laws, but it does have the power to enforce select international agreements reached by European states on various topics. The best known body of the Council of Europe is the European Court of Human Rights, which enforces the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Council's two statutory bodies are the Committee of Ministers, comprising the foreign ministers of each member state, and the Parliamentary Assembly, composed of members of the national parliaments of each member state. The Commissioner for Human Rights is an independent institution within the Council of Europe, mandated to promote awareness of and respect for human rights in the member states. The Secretary General heads the secretariat of the organisation. Other major CoE bodies include the European Directorate for the Quality of Medicines.

The headquarters of the Council of Europe are in Strasbourg, France. English and French are its two official languages. The Committee of Ministers, the Parliamentary Assembly and the Congress also use German, Italian, Russian, and Turkish for some of their work.


Plaque commemorating the first session of the Council of Europe Assembly at Strasbourg University

In a speech at the University of Zurich on 19 September 1946, Sir Winston Churchill called for a "kind of United States of Europe" and for the creation of a Council of Europe.[6][7] He had spoken of a Council of Europe as early as 1943 in a radio broadcast.[8]

Session of the Council of Europe's Assembly in the former House of Europe in Strasbourg in 1967. Willy Brandt, German minister for Foreign Affairs, is speaking.

The future structure of the Council of Europe was discussed at a specific congress of several hundred leading politicians, government representatives and civil society in The Hague, Netherlands, in 1948. There were two schools of thought competing: some favoured a classical international organisation with representatives of governments, while others preferred a political forum with parliamentarians. Both approaches were finally combined through the creation of the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly under the Statute of the Council of Europe. This dual intergovernmental and inter-parliamentary structure was later copied for the European Communities, North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

The Council of Europe was founded on 5 May 1949 by the Treaty of London. The Treaty of London or the Statute of the Council of Europe was signed in London on that day by ten states: Belgium, Denmark, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Many other states followed, especially after the democratic transitions in central and eastern Europe during the early 1990s, and the Council of Europe now includes all European states except Belarus,[9] Kazakhstan,[9] Vatican City[10] and European territories with limited recognition such as the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Northern Cyprus, Transnistria, and Kosovo.

Aims and achievements[edit]

Article 1(a) of the Statute states that "The aim of the Council of Europe is to achieve a greater unity between its members for the purpose of safeguarding and realising the ideals and principles which are their common heritage and facilitating their economic and social progress."[11] Membership is open to all European states who seek harmony, cooperation, good governance and human rights, accepting the principle of the rule of law and are able and willing to guarantee democracy, fundamental human rights and freedoms.

While the member states of the European Union transfer part of their national legislative and executive powers to the European Commission and the European Parliament, Council of Europe member states maintain their sovereignty but commit themselves through conventions/treaties (international law) and co-operate on the basis of common values and common political decisions. Those conventions and decisions are developed by the member states working together at the Council of Europe. Both organizations function as concentric circles around the common foundations for European co-operation and harmony, with the Council of Europe being the geographically wider circle. The European Union could be seen as the smaller circle with a much higher level of integration through the transfer of powers from the national to the EU level. "The Council of Europe and the European Union: different roles, shared values."[12] Council of Europe conventions/treaties are also open for signature to non-member states, thus facilitating equal co-operation with countries outside Europe.

The Council of Europe's most famous achievement is the European Convention on Human Rights, which was adopted in 1950 following a report by the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly, and followed on from the United Nations 'Universal Declaration of Human Rights' (UDHR).[13] The Convention created the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The Court supervises compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights and thus functions as the highest European court. It is to this court that Europeans can bring cases if they believe that a member country has violated their fundamental rights and freedoms.

The various activities and achievements of the Council of Europe can be found in detail on its official website. The Council of Europe works in the following areas:


In recent years, the Council of Europe has been criticized for doing too little to stand up to the transgressions of some of its members. Human Rights Watch, for example, argued in September 2014 that Azerbaijan's "systematic crackdown on human rights defenders and other perceived government critics shows sheer contempt for its commitments to the Council of Europe".[23] Similarly, the European Stability Initiative has documented how the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in January 2013 voted down a resolution on political prisoners in Azerbaijan, providing a result largely favorable to the authoritarian government of Ilham Aliyev.[24] In 2013 The Economist agreed, saying that the "Council of Europe's credibility is on the line".[25]

Both Human Rights Watch and the European Stability Initiative have called on the Council of Europe to undertake concrete actions to show that it is willing and able to return to its "original mission to protect and ensure human rights".[26]


The institutions of the Council of Europe are:

  • The Secretary General, who is elected for a term of five years by the Parliamentary Assembly and heads the Secretariat of the Council of Europe. Mr Thorbjørn Jagland, the former Prime Minister of Norway was elected Secretary General of the Council of Europe in September 2009. In June 2014, he was re-elected, and his second term in office commenced on 1 October 2014.
  • The Committee of Ministers, comprising the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of all 47 member states who are represented by their Permanent Representatives and Ambassadors accredited to the Council of Europe. Committee of Ministers' presidencies are held in alphabetical order for six months following the English alphabet: Turkey 11/2010-05/2011, Ukraine 05/2011-11/2011, the United Kingdom 11/2011-05/2012, Albania 05/2012-11/2012, Andorra 11/2012-05/2013, Armenia 05/2013-11/2013, Austria 11/2013-05/2014, and so on.
  • The Parliamentary Assembly (PACE), which comprises national parliamentarians from all member states. It elects its President for a year with the possibility of being re-elected for another year. In January 2016, Pedro Agramunt from Spain was elected President of the Parliamentary Assembly. National parliamentary delegations to the Assembly must reflect the political spectrum of their national parliament, i.e. comprise government and opposition parties. The Assembly appoints members as rapporteurs with the mandate to prepare parliamentary reports on specific subjects. The British MP Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe was rapporteur for the drafting of the European Convention on Human Rights. Dick Marty's reports on secret CIA detentions and rendition flights in Europe became quite famous in 2006 and 2007. Other Assembly reports were instrumental in, for example, the abolition of the death penalty in Europe, highlighting the political and human rights situation in Chechnya, identifying who was responsible for disappeared persons in Belarus, chronicling threats to freedom of expression in the media and many other subjects.
  • The Congress of the Council of Europe (Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe), which was created in 1994 and comprises political representatives from local and regional authorities in all member states. The most influential instruments of the Council of Europe in this field are the European Charter of Local Self-Government of 1985 and the European Outline Convention on Transfrontier Co-operation between Territorial Communities or Authorities of 1980.
  • The European Court of Human Rights, created under the European Convention on Human Rights of 1950, is composed of a judge from each member state elected for a single, non-renewable term of nine years by the Parliamentary Assembly and is headed by the elected President of the Court. The current President of the Court is Guido Raimondi from Italy. Under the recent Protocol No. 14 to the European Convention on Human Rights, the Court's case-processing was reformed and streamlined. Ratification of Protocol No. 14 was delayed by Russia for a number of years, but won support to be passed in January 2010.
  • The Commissioner for Human Rights is elected by the Parliamentary Assembly for a non-renewable term of six years since the creation of this position in 1999. Since April 2012, this position has been held by Nils Muižnieks from Latvia.
  • The Conference of INGOs. NGOs can participate in the INGOs Conference of the Council of Europe. Since the [Resolution (2003)8] adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 19 November 2003, they are given a "participatory status".
  • Information Offices of the Council of Europe in many member states.

The CoE system also includes a number of semi-autonomous structures known as "Partial Agreements", some of which are also open to non-member states:

Headquarters and buildings[edit]

Aerial shot of the Palais de l'Europe in Strasbourg
Council of Europe's Agora building

The seat of the Council of Europe is in Strasbourg, France. First meetings were held in Strasbourg's University Palace in 1949, but the Council of Europe soon moved into its own buildings. The Council of Europe's eight main buildings are situated in the Quartier européen, an area in the northeast of Strasbourg spread over the three districts of Le Wacken, La Robertsau and Quartier de l'Orangerie, where are also located the four buildings of the seat of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, the Arte headquarters and the seat of the International Institute of Human Rights.

Building in the area started in 1949 with the predecessor of the Palais de l'Europe, the House of Europe (demolished in 1977), and came to a provisional end in 2007 with the opening of the New General Office Building, later named "Agora", in 2008.[28] The Palais de l'Europe (Palace of Europe) and the Art Nouveau Villa Schutzenberger (seat of the European Audiovisual Observatory) are in the Orangerie district, and the European Court of Human Rights, the European Directorate for the Quality of Medicines and the Agora Building are in the Robertsau district. The Agora building has been voted "best international business center real estate project of 2007" on 13 March 2008, at the MIPIM 2008.[29] The European Youth Centre is located in the Wacken district.

Besides its headquarters in Strasbourg, the Council of Europe is also present in other cities and countries. The Council of Europe Development Bank has its seat in Paris, the North-South Centre of the Council of Europe is established in Lisbon, Portugal, and the Centre for Modern Languages is in Graz, Austria. There are European Youth Centres in Budapest, Hungary, and in Strasbourg. The European Wergeland Centre, a new Resource Centre on education for intercultural dialogue, human rights and democratic citizenship, operated in cooperation with the Norwegian Government, opened in Oslo, Norway, in February 2009.[30]

The Council of Europe has offices in Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Moldova, Montenegro, Serbia, and Ukraine; information offices in Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Russian Federation, Slovakia, Slovenia, the Republic of Macedonia, and Ukraine; and a projects office in Turkey. All these offices are establishments of the Council of Europe and they share its juridical personality with privileges and immunities.

Due to persistent budgetary shortages, the Council of Europe is expected to cut down significantly the number of its activities, and thus the number of its employees, from 2011 on. This will notably affect the economy of the city of Strasbourg, where a total of 2,321 people (on 1 January 2010) are doing salaried work for the CoE. Most offices in foreign countries are expected to be closed as well.[31]

Symbol and anthem[edit]

The Council of Europe created, and has since 1955 used as its official symbol, the European Flag with 12 golden stars arranged in a circle on a blue background.

Its musical anthem since 1972, the "European Anthem", is based on the "Ode to Joy" theme from Ludwig van Beethoven's Ninth symphony.

On 5 May 1964, the 15th anniversary of its founding, the Council of Europe established 5 May as Europe Day.[32]

The wide private and public use of the European Flag is encouraged to symbolise a European dimension. To avoid confusion with the European Union which subsequently adopted the same flag in the 1980s, as well as other European institutions, the Council of Europe often uses a modified version with a lower-case "e" surrounding the stars which is referred to as the "Council of Europe Logo".[32][33]

Membership, observers, partners[edit]

The Council of Europe was founded on 5 May 1949 by Belgium, Denmark, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Greece and Turkey joined three months later, and Iceland and West Germany the next year. It now has 47 member states, with Montenegro being the latest to join.

Article 4 of the Council of Europe Statute specifies that membership is open to any "European" State. This has been interpreted liberally from the beginning (when Turkey was admitted) to include any transcontinental states, such as Russia.

Nearly all European states have acceded to the Council of Europe, with the exception of Belarus (human rights concerns), Kazakhstan (human rights concerns), and the Vatican City (a theocracy), as well as some of the territories with limited recognition.

Besides the status as a full member, the Council of Europe has established other instruments for cooperation and participation of non-member states: observer, applicant, special guest, and partner for democracy.


Non-member states[edit]

The Council of Europe works mainly through conventions. By drafting conventions or international treaties, common legal standards are set for its member states. However, several conventions have also been opened for signature to non-member states. Important examples are the Convention on Cybercrime (signed for example, by Canada, Japan, South Africa and the United States), the Lisbon Recognition Convention on the recognition of study periods and degrees (signed for example, by Australia, Belarus, Canada, the Holy See, Israel, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, New Zealand and the United States), the Anti-doping Convention (signed, for example, by Australia, Belarus, Canada and Tunisia) and the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (signed for example, by Burkina Faso, Morocco, Tunisia and Senegal as well as the European Community). Non-member states also participate in several partial agreements, such as the Venice Commission, the Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO), the European Pharmacopoeia Commission and the North-South Centre.

Invitations to sign and ratify relevant conventions of the Council of Europe on a case-by-case basis are sent to three groups of non-member entities:[34]

  • Non-European states: Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Bahamas, Bolivia, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras, South Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Mauritius, Morocco, New Zealand, Panama, Peru, Philippines, Senegal, South Africa, Syria, Tajikistan, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Uruguay, Venezuela and the observers Canada, Israel, Japan, Mexico, United States.
  • European states: Kazakhstan, Belarus and the observer Vatican City.
  • the European Community and later the European Union after its legal personality was established by the ratification of the EU's Lisbon Treaty.

European Union[edit]

Council of Europe Schengen Area European Free Trade Association European Economic Area Eurozone European Union European Union Customs Union Agreement with EU to mint euros GUAM Central European Free Trade Agreement Nordic Council Baltic Assembly Benelux Visegrád Group Common Travel Area Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Union State Switzerland Iceland Norway Liechtenstein Sweden Denmark Finland Poland Czech Republic Hungary Slovakia Greece Estonia Latvia Lithuania Belgium Netherlands Luxembourg Italy France Spain Austria Germany Portugal Slovenia Malta Cyprus Ireland United Kingdom Croatia Romania Bulgaria Turkey Monaco Andorra San Marino Vatican City Georgia Ukraine Azerbaijan Moldova Armenia Russia Belarus Serbia Albania Montenegro Macedonia Bosnia and Herzegovina Kosovo (UNMIK) Kazakhstan
A clickable Euler diagram showing the relationships between various multinational European organisations and agreements.

The Council of Europe is not to be confused with the Council of the European Union (the "Council of Ministers") or the European Council. These belong to the European Union, which is separate from the Council of Europe, although they have shared the same European flag and anthem since the 1980s because they both work for European integration. The Council of Europe is not to be confused with the European Union itself.

The Council of Europe is an entirely separate body[35] from the European Union. It is not controlled by it.

Cooperation between the European Union and the Council of Europe has recently been reinforced, notably on culture and education as well as on the international enforcement of justice and Human Rights.[36]

The European Union is expected to accede to the European Convention on Human Rights (the Convention). There are also concerns about consistency in case law – the European Court of Justice (the EU's court in Luxembourg) is treating the Convention as part of the legal system of all EU member states in order to prevent conflict between its judgements and those of the European Court of Human Rights (the court in Strasbourg interpreting the Convention). Protocol No. 14 of the Convention is designed to allow the EU to accede to it and the EU Treaty of Lisbon contains a protocol binding the EU to join. The EU would thus be subject to its human rights law and external monitoring as its member states currently are.[37][38]

United Nations[edit]

The Council of Europe holds observer status with the United Nations and is regularly represented in the UN General Assembly. It has organized the regional UN conferences against racism and on women and co-operates with the United Nations at many levels, in particular in the areas of human rights, minorities, migration and counter-terrorism.

Non-governmental organizations[edit]

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) can participate in the INGOs Conference of the Council of Europe and become observers to inter-governmental committees of experts. The Council of Europe drafted the European Convention on the Recognition of the Legal Personality of International Non-Governmental Organizations in 1986, which sets the legal basis for the existence and work of NGOs in Europe. Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights protects the right to freedom of association, which is also a fundamental norm for NGOs. The rules for Consultative Status for INGOs appended to the resolution (93)38 "On relation between the Council of Europe and non-governmental organizations", adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 18 October 1993 at the 500th meeting of the Ministers' Deputies. On 19 November 2003 the Committee of Ministers changed the consultative status into a participatory status,“considering that it is indispensable that the rules governing the relations between the Council of Europe and NGOs evolve to reflect the active participation of international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) in the Organization's policy and work programme”.[39]

Privileges and immunities[edit]

The General Agreement on Privileges and Immunities of the Council of Europe grants the organisation certain privileges and immunities.[40]

The working conditions of staff are governed by the Council's staff regulations, which are public.[41] Salaries and emoluments paid by the Council of Europe to its officials are tax-exempt on the basis of Article 18 of the General Agreement on Privileges and Immunities of the Council of Europe.[40]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "No". Retrieved 2016-01-26. 
  2. ^ Council of Europe, Budget, Retrieved: 21 April 2016
  3. ^ Council of Europe The European flag, Retrieved: 18 April 2016
  4. ^ Council of Europe The European anthem, Retrieved: 18 April 2016
  5. ^ Council of Europe How to Distinguish Us, Retrieved: 18 April 2016
  6. ^ "Winston Churchill and the Council of Europe". Council of Europe: Archiving and Documentary Resources. Council of Europe. 6 April 2009. Retrieved 18 November 2013. , including audio extracts
  7. ^ "European Navigator (ENA)". Retrieved 4 April 2011.  Including full transcript
  8. ^ "Winston Churchill and the Council of Europe". Council of Europe: Archiving and Documentary Resources. Council of Europe. Retrieved 4 April 2011.  Including audio extracts
  9. ^ a b See Applicants section.
  10. ^ The Holy See is currently observer to the CoE Committee of Ministers.
  11. ^ "Statute of the Council of Europe". Retrieved 19 December 2014.  External link in |website= (help)
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^ "Council of Europe Convention for the protection of Human Rights and dignity of the human being with regard to the application of biology and medicine". 
  19. ^ "Microsoft Word - Convention 197 Trafficking E.doc" (PDF). 
  20. ^ "Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse". 
  21. ^
  22. ^ "Anti-Doping Convention". 
  23. ^ Human Rights Watch (29 September 2014). "Azerbaijan: Government Repression Tarnishes Chairmanship Council of Europe's Leadership Should Take Action". Retrieved 29 September 2014. 
  24. ^ European Stability Initiative. "Azerbaijan debacle: The PACE debate on 23 January 2013". ESIweb. Retrieved 29 September 2014. 
  25. ^ The Economist (23 March 2013). "Azerbaijan and the Council of Europe". Retrieved 29 September 2014. 
  26. ^ European Stability Initiative. "What the 2014 Havel Prize says about the Council of Europe – and what should happen now" (29 September 2014). ESI web. Retrieved 29 September 2014. 
  27. ^ "Enlarged Partial Agreement on Sport". Council of Europe. 
  28. ^ "Inauguration of the Agora Building" (PDF) (Press release) (in French). Council of Europe. 30 January 2008. 
  29. ^ "2008 List of MIPIM winners". 
  30. ^ "European Wergeland Centre". 
  31. ^ "Conseil de l'Europe – Réduction drastique des activités à Strasbourg". L'Alsace. Mulhouse. 19 June 2010. Retrieved 19 June 2010. 
  32. ^ a b "Flag, anthem and logo: the Council of Europe's symbols". Council of Europe. Archived from the original on 31 July 2008. Retrieved 5 August 2008. 
  33. ^ "Logo of the Council of Europe". Council of Europe. Archived from the original on 2011-01-02. Retrieved 5 August 2008. 
  34. ^ "CoE Conventions". 31 December 1998. Retrieved 2012-02-11. 
  35. ^ "Council of the European Union". European Union. Retrieved 2012-05-19. 
  36. ^ "The Council of Europe and the European Union sign an agreement to foster mutual cooperation". Council of Europe. 23 May 2007. Retrieved 5 August 2008. 
  37. ^ Juncker, Jean-Claude (2006). "Council of Europe – European Union: "A sole ambition for the European continent"" (PDF). Council of Europe. Retrieved 5 August 2008. 
  38. ^ "Draft treaty modifying the treaty on the European Union and the treaty establishing the European community" (PDF). Open Europe. 24 July 2007. Retrieved 5 August 2008. 
  39. ^ [1] (Resolution Res (2003)8)
  40. ^ a b General Agreement on Privileges and Immunities of the Council of Europe, Council of Europe
  41. ^ Resolutions on the Council of Europe Staff Regulations, Council of Europe

External links[edit]