The Council of Europe, based in Strasbourg (France), now covers virtually the entire European continent, with its 46 member countries. Founded on 5 May 1949 by 10 countries, the Council of Europe seeks to develop throughout Europe common and democratic principles based on the European Convention on Human Rights and other reference texts on the protection of individuals.
Origins and membership
The Council of Europe is the continent's oldest political organisation, founded in 1949. It:
- groups together 46 countries, including 20 countries from Central and Eastern Europe,
- has granted observer status to 5 more countries (the Holy See, the United States, Canada, Japan and Mexico),
- is distinct from the 27-nation European Union, but no country has ever joined the Union without first belonging to the Council of Europe,
- has its headquarters in Strasbourg, in north-eastern France.
The Council was set up to:
- defend human rights, parliamentary democracy, and the rule of law,
- develop continent-wide agreements to standardise member countries' social and legal practices,
- promote awareness of a European identity based on shared values and cutting across different cultures.
Since 1989, its main job has become:
- acting as a political anchor and human rights watchdog for Europe's post-communist democracies,
- assisting the countries of central and eastern Europe in carrying out and consolidating political, legal and constitutional reform in parallel with economic reform,
- providing know-how in areas such as human rights, local democracy, education, culture and the environment.
The Council of Europe's Vienna Summit in October 1993 set out new political aims. The Heads of State and Government cast the Council of Europe as the guardian of democratic security - founded on human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Democratic security is an essential complement to military security and is a pre-requisite for the continent's stability and peace.
During the Second Summit in Strasbourg in October 1997, the Heads of State and Government adopted an action plan to strengthen the Council of Europe's work in four areas: democracy and human rights, social cohesion, the security of citizens and democratic values and cultural diversity.
The Council of Europe's third Summit of Heads of State and Government, held in Warsaw on 16 and 17 May 2005, concluded by adopting a political declaration and an action plan laying down the principal tasks of the Council of Europe in the coming years:
- promoting the common fundamental values of human rights, the rule of law and democracy;
- strengthening the security of European citizens, in particular by combating terrorism, organised crime and trafficking in human beings;
- fostering co-operation with other international and European organisations.
Today, the Organisation prepares to the Fourth Summit of Heads of Member-State and Government.
How it works
The main component parts of the Council of Europe are:
- the Committee of Ministers, composed of the 46 Foreign ministers or their Strasbourg-based deputies (ambassadors/permanent representatives), which is the Organisation's decision-making body. The Secretary General has the overall responsibility for the strategic management of the Organization. Ms Maria Pejcinovic Buric (Croatia) was elected in June 2019.
- the Parliamentary Assembly, grouping 612 members plus 30 Observers and 30 Partners for democracy. They are appointed to PACE in a manner which is left to be decided by each member state, if they are elected within their national or federal Parliament or appointed from amongst the members of that parliament. The balance of political parties within each national delegation must ensure a fair representation of the political parties or groups in their national parliaments. Its current President is Tiny Kox (Netherlands). From 2007 till 2022 he was a chairperson of the Unified European Left (UEL) group in PACE
- the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, composed of a Chamber of Local Authorities and a Chamber of Regions. The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities is an institution of the Council of Europe, responsible for strengthening local and regional democracy in its 46 member states and assessing the application of the European Charter of Local Self-Government. As the voice of Europe’s municipalities and regions, it works to foster consultation and political dialogue between national governments and local and regional authorities, through cooperation with the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers. The Congress is made up of two chambers: the Chamber of Local Authorities and the Chamber of Regions. It has 306 representatives and 306 substitutes, all appointed for five years, representing over 130,000 local and regional authorities in the Council of Europe’s 46 member states. Its current President is Leendert Verbeek (The Netherlands, SOC/G/PD). He was elected on 23 March 2021 for a mandate of two years and a half.
Ordinary budget In 2022, 477 M Euros.
Some practical achievements
- 224 legally binding European treaties or conventions many of which are open to non-member states on topics ranging from human rights to the fight against organised crime and from the prevention of torture to data protection or cultural co-operation.
- Recommendations to governments setting out policy guidelines on such issues as legal matters, health, education, culture, and sport.
The pan-European dimension
- Since November 1990, the accession of 21 countries of central and eastern Europe has given the Council of Europe a genuine pan-European dimension, so that it is now the organisation that represents Greater Europe.
- The Committee of Ministers approved on 16 March 2022 at the 1428-th meeting the Resolution (2022)2 on the cessation of the membership of the russian federation to the Council of Europe, reaffirming that the aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine constitutes a serious violation by the Russian Federation of its obligations under Article 3 of the Statute of the Council of Europe. The Committee of Ministers Decides, in the context of the procedure launched under Article 8 of the Statute of the Council of Europe, that the Russian Federation ceases to be a member of the Council of Europe as from 16 March 2022.