|Council of EuropeConseil de l'Europe|
|Headquarters||Palace of Europe, Strasbourg, France|
|Official languages||English, French|
|Type||Regional intergovernmental organisation|
|• Secretary General||Marija Pejčinović Burić|
|• Deputy Secretary General||Bjørn Berge|
|• President of the Parliamentary Assembly||Tiny Kox|
|• President of the Committee of Ministers||Dominique Hasler|
|• President of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities||Leen Verbeek|
|• Treaty of London||5 May 1949 (1949-05-05)|
The Council of Europe (CoE; French: Conseil de l'Europe, CdE) is an international organisation established in the wake of World War II to uphold human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Europe. Founded in 1949, as of 2023 it brings together 46 member states, with a population of approximately 675 million; it operates with an annual budget of approximately 500 million euros.
The organisation is distinct from the European Union (EU), although people sometimes confuse the two organisations – partly because the EU has adopted the original European flag, designed for the Council of Europe in 1955, as well as the European anthem. No country has ever joined the EU without first belonging to the Council of Europe. The Council of Europe is an official United Nations Observer.
As an international organisation, the Council of Europe cannot make laws, but it does have the ability to push for the enforcement of select international agreements reached by member states on various topics. The best-known body of the Council of Europe is the European Court of Human Rights, which functions on the basis of the European Convention on Human Rights of 1953.
The council's two statutory bodies are the Committee of Ministers, which comprises the foreign ministers of each member state, and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), which is composed of members of the national parliaments of each member state. The Commissioner for Human Rights is an institution within the Council of Europe, mandated to promote awareness of and respect for human rights within the member states. The secretary general presides over the secretariat of the organisation. Other major CoE bodies include the European Directorate for the Quality of Medicines & HealthCare (EDQM) and the European Audiovisual Observatory.
The headquarters of the Council of Europe, as well as its Court of Human Rights, are situated in Strasbourg, France. The Council uses English and French as its two official languages. The Committee of Ministers, the PACE, and the Congress of the Council of Europe also use German and Italian for some of their work.
In a speech in 1929, French Foreign Minister Aristide Briand floated the idea of an organisation which would gather European nations together in a "federal union" to resolve common problems. The United Kingdom's wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill first publicly suggested the creation of a "Council of Europe" in a BBC radio broadcast on 21 March 1943, while the Second World War was still raging. In his own words, he tried to "peer through the mists of the future to the end of the war", and think about how to rebuild and maintain peace on a shattered continent. Given that Europe had been at the origin of two world wars, the creation of such a body would be, he suggested, "a stupendous business". He returned to the idea during a well-known speech at the University of Zurich on 19 September 1946, throwing the full weight of his considerable post-war prestige behind it.
Additionally, there were also many other statesmen and politicians across the continent, many of them members of the European Movement, who were quietly working towards the creation of the council. Some regarded it as a guarantee that the horrors of war – or the human rights violations of the Nazi regime – could never again be visited on the continent, others came to see it as a "club of democracies", built around a set of common values that could stand as a bulwark against totalitarian states belonging to the Eastern Bloc. Others again saw it as a nascent "United States of Europe", the resonant phrase that Churchill had reached for at Zurich in 1946.Session of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary 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 the Congress of Europe, which brought together several hundred leading politicians, government representatives and members of civil society in The Hague, Netherlands, in 1948. Responding to the conclusions of the Congress of Europe, the Consultative Council of the Treaty of Brussels convened a Committee for the Study of European Unity, which met eight times from November 1948 to January 1949 to draw up the blueprint of a new broad-based European organisation.
There were two competing schools of thought: 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 a Committee of Ministers (in which governments were represented) and a Consultative Assembly (in which parliaments were represented), the two main bodies mentioned in the Statute of the Council of Europe. This dual intergovernmental and inter-parliamentary structure was later copied for the European Communities, NATO and OSCE.
The Council of Europe was signed into existence on 5 May 1949 by the Treaty of London, the organisation's founding Statute which set out the three basic values that should guide its work: democracy, human rights and the rule of law. It was signed in London on that day by ten states: Belgium, Denmark, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom, though Turkey and Greece joined three months later. On 10 August 1949, 100 members of the council's Consultative Assembly, parliamentarians drawn from the twelve member nations, met in Strasbourg for its first plenary session, held over 18 sittings and lasting nearly a month. They debated how to reconcile and reconstruct a continent still reeling from war, yet already facing a new East–West divide, launched the radical concept of a trans-national court to protect the basic human rights of every citizen, and took the first steps in a process that would eventually lead to the creation of an offshoot organisation, the European Union.
In August 1949, Paul-Henri Spaak resigned as Belgium's foreign minister in order to be elected as the first president of the assembly. Behind the scenes, he too had been quietly working towards the creation of the council, and played a key role in steering its early work. However, in December 1951, after nearly three years in the role, Spaak resigned in disappointment after the Assembly rejected proposals for a "European political authority". Convinced that the Council of Europe was never going to be in a position to achieve his long-term goal of a unified Europe, he soon tried again in a new and more promising format, based this time on economic integration, becoming one of the founders of the European Union.
There was huge enthusiasm for the Council of Europe in its early years, as its pioneers set about drafting what was to become the European Convention on Human Rights, a charter of individual rights which – it was hoped – no member government could ever again violate. They drew, in part, on the tenets of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, signed only a few months earlier in Paris. But crucially, where the Universal Declaration was essentially aspirational, the European Convention from the beginning featured an enforcement mechanism – an international Court – which was to adjudicate on alleged violations of its articles and to hold governments to account, a dramatic leap forward for international justice. Today, this is the European Court of Human Rights, whose rulings are binding on 46 European nations, the most far-reaching system of international justice anywhere in the world.
One of the council's first acts was to welcome West Germany into its fold on 2 May 1951, setting a pattern of post-war reconciliation that was to become a hallmark of the council, and beginning a long process of "enlargement" which was to see the organisation grow from its original ten founding member states to the 46 nations that make up the Council of Europe today. Iceland had already joined in 1950, followed in 1956 by Austria, Cyprus in 1961, Switzerland in 1963 and Malta in 1965.
In 2018, an archive of all speeches made to the PACE by heads of state or government since the Council of Europe's creation in 1949 appeared online, the fruit of a two-year project entitled "Voices of Europe". At the time of its launch, the archive comprised 263 speeches delivered over a 70-year period by some 216 presidents, prime ministers, monarchs and religious leaders from 45 countries – though it continues to expand, as new speeches are added every few months.
Some very early speeches by individuals considered to be "founding figures" of the European institutions, even if they were not heads of state or government at the time, are also included (such as Sir Winston Churchill or Robert Schuman). Addresses by eight monarchs appear in the list (such as King Juan Carlos I of Spain, King Albert II of Belgium and Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg) as well as the speeches given by religious figures (such as Pope John Paul II, and Pope Francis) and several leaders from countries in the Middle East and North Africa (such as Shimon Peres, Yasser Arafat, Hosni Mubarak, Léopold Sédar Senghor or King Hussein of Jordan).
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." 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.
Whereas 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 organisations function as concentric circles around the common foundations for European cooperation 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." 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 PACE, and followed on from the United Nations 'Universal Declaration of Human Rights' (UDHR). 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:
|Politics of the Council of Europe|
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The institutions of the Council of Europe are:
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:
|Date||Host country||Host city|
|8–9 October 1993||Austria||Vienna|
|10–11 October 1997||France||Strasbourg|
|16–17 May 2005||Poland||Warsaw|
|16–17 May 2023||Iceland||Reykjavik|
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. 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 EDQM and the Agora Building are in the Robertsau district. The Agora building has been voted "best international business centre real estate project of 2007" on 13 March 2008, at the MIPIM 2008. 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.
The Council of Europe has external offices all over the European continent and beyond. There are four 'Programme Offices', namely in Ankara, Podgorica, Skopje, and Venice. There are also 'Council of Europe Offices' in Baku, Belgrade, Chisinau, Kyiv, Paris, Pristina, Sarajevo, Tbilisi, Tirana, and Yerevan. Bucharest has a Council of Europe Office on Cybercrime. There are also Council of Europe Offices in non-European capital cities like Rabat and Tunis.
Additionally, there are 4 "Council of Europe Liaison Offices", this includes:
There are two main criteria for membership: geographic (Article 4 of the Council of Europe Statute specifies that membership is open to any "European" State) and political (Article 3 of the Statute states applying for membership must accept democratic values—"Every member of the Council of Europe must accept the principles of the rule of law and the enjoyment by all persons within its jurisdiction of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and collaborate sincerely and effectively in the realisation of the aim of the Council as specified in Chapter I").
Since "Europe" is not defined in international law, the definition of "Europe" has been a question that has recurred during the CoE's history. Turkey was admitted in 1950, although it is a transcontinental state that lies mostly in Asia, with a smaller portion in Europe. In 1994, the PACE adopted Recommendation 1247, which said that admission to the CoE should be "in principle open only to states whose national territory lies wholly or partly in Europe"; later, however, the Assembly extended eligibility to apply and be admitted to Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia.
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. Iceland, West Germany and Saarland Protectorate joined the Council of Europe as associate members in 1950. West Germany became a full member in 1951, and the Saar withdrew its application after it joined West Germany following the 1955 Saar Statute referendum. Joining later were Austria (1956), Cyprus (1961), Switzerland (1963), Malta (1965), and Portugal (1976). Spain joined in 1977, two years after the death of its dictator Francisco Franco and the Spanish transition to democracy. Next to join were Liechtenstein (1978), San Marino (1988) and Finland (1989). After the fall of Communism with the Revolutions of 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the following countries in Europe joined: Hungary (1990), Poland (1991), Bulgaria (1992), Estonia (1993), Lithuania (1993), Slovenia (1993), the Czech Republic (1993), Slovakia (1993), Romania (1993), Andorra (1994), Latvia (1995), Moldova (1995), Albania (1995), Ukraine (1995), the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (1995) (later renamed North Macedonia), Russia (1996, expelled 2022), Croatia (1996), Georgia (1999), Armenia (2001), Azerbaijan (2001), Bosnia and Herzegovina (2002), Serbia and Montenegro (later Serbia) (2003) and Monaco (2004). The Council now has 46 member states, with Montenegro (2007) being the latest to join.
The CoE has granted some countries a status that allows them to participate in CoE activities without being full members. There are three types of nonmember status: associate member, special guest and observer. Associate member status was created for former Axis states which had not yet regained their sovereignty since their defeat in the Second World War; as such, it is no longer used, although there have been proposals to reactivate it to permit enhanced participation by the current observer states. "Special guest" status was used as a transitional status for post-Soviet countries that wished to join the council after the fall of the Berlin Wall and is no longer commonly used. "Observer" status is for non-European nations who accept democracy, rule of law, and human rights, and wish to participate in Council initiatives. The United States became an observer state in 1995. Currently, Canada, the Holy See, Japan, Mexico, and the United States are observer states, while Israel is an observer to the PACE.
The Statute of the Council of Europe provides for the voluntary suspension, involuntary suspension, and exclusion of members. Article 8 of the Statute provides that any member who has "seriously violated" Article 3 may be suspended from its rights of representation, and that the Committee of Ministers may request that such a member withdraws from the Council under Article 7. (The Statute does not define the "serious violation" phrase. Under Article 8 of the Statute, if a member state fails to withdraw upon request, the Committee may terminate its membership, in consultation with the PACE.
Russia became a member of the Council of Europe in 1996. In 2014, after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine and supported separatists in eastern Ukraine, precipitating a conflict, the Council stripped Russia of its voting rights in the PACE. In response, Russia began to boycott the Assembly in 2016, and beginning from 2017 ceased paying its annual membership dues of 32.6 million euros (US$37.1 million) to the Council placing the institution under financial strain.
Russia stated that its suspension by the council was unfair, and demanded the restoration of its voting rights. Russia had threatened to withdraw from the Council unless its voting rights were restored in time for the election of a new secretary general. European Council secretary-general Thorbjørn Jagland organized a special committee to find a compromise with Russia in early 2018, a move that was criticized by some as giving in to alleged Russian pressure by Council members and academic observers, especially if voting sanctions were lifted. In June 2019, an approximately two-thirds majority of the Council voted (on a 118–62 vote, with 10 abstentions) to restore Russia's voting rights in the council. Opponents of lifting the suspension included Ukraine and other post-Soviet countries, such as the Baltic states, who argued that readmission amounted to normalizing Russia's malign activity. Supporters of restoring Russia's council rights included France and Germany, which argued that a Russian withdrawal from the council would be harmful because it would deprive Russian citizens of their ability to initiate cases in the European Court of Human Rights.
On 3 March 2022, after Russia launched a full-scale military invasion of Ukraine, the council suspended Russia for violations of the council's statute and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The suspension blocked Russia from participation in the council's ministerial council, the PACE, and the Council of the Baltic Sea States, but still left Russia obligated to follow the ECHR. On 15 March 2022, hours before the vote to expel the country, Russia initiated a voluntary withdrawal procedure from the council. The Russian delegation planned to deliver its formal withdrawal on 31 December 2022, and announced its intent to denounce the ECHR. However, on the same day, the council's Committee of Ministers decided Russia's membership in the council would be terminated immediately, and determined that Russia had been excluded from the Council instead under its exclusion mechanism rather than the withdrawal mechanism. After being excluded from the Council of Europe, Russia's former president and prime minister Dmitry Medvedev endorsed restoring the death penalty in Russia.
The Council of Europe works mainly through international treaties, usually called conventions in its system. By drafting conventions or international treaties, common legal standards are set for its member states. The conventions are collected in the European Treaty Series.
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.
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 since they both work for European integration. Nor is the Council of Europe to be confused with the European Union itself.
Cooperation between the European Union and the Council of Europe was reinforced in the mid-2000s, notably on culture and education as well as on the international enforcement of justice and Human Rights.
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.
The Council of Europe Schools of Political Studies were established to train future generations of political, economic, social and cultural leaders in countries in transition. With the participation of national and international experts, they run annual series of seminars and conferences on topics such as European integration, democracy, human rights, the rule of law and globalisation. The first School of Political Studies was created in Moscow in 1992. By 2020, 20 other schools had been set up along the same lines, forming an association; a network covering the whole of Eastern and South-Eastern Europe and the Caucasus, as well as some countries in the Southern Mediterranean region. The schools are part of the Education Department, which is part of the Directorate of Democratic Participation within the Directorate General of Democracy ("DGII") of the Council of Europe.
Cooperation between the CoE and the UN started with the agreement signed by the Secretariats of these institutions on 15 December 1951. On 17 October 1989, the General Assembly of the United Nations approved a resolution on granting observer status to the Council of Europe which was proposed by several member states of the CoE. Currently, the Council of Europe holds observer status with the United Nations and is regularly represented in the UN General Assembly. It has organised the regional UN conferences against racism and on women. It co-operates with the United Nations at many levels, in particular in the areas of human rights, minorities, migration and counter-terrorism. In November 2016, the UN General Assembly adopted by consensus Resolution (A/Res/71/17) on Cooperation between the United Nations and the Council of Europe whereby it acknowledged the contribution of the Council of Europe to the protection and strengthening of human rights and fundamental freedoms, democracy and the rule of law, welcomed the ongoing co-operation in a variety of fields.
Non-governmental organisations (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 Organisations 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 organisations", 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 organisations (INGOs) in the Organisation's policy and work programme".
The Council of Europe also signed an agreement with FIFA in which the two agreed to strengthen future cooperation in areas of common interests. The deal which included cooperation between member states in the sport of football and safety and security at football matches was finalized in October 2018.
The working conditions of staff are governed by the council's staff regulations, which are public. 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.
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.
On 5 May 1964, the 15th anniversary of its founding, the Council of Europe established 5 May as Europe Day.
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 are referred to as the "Council of Europe Logo".
The Council of Europe has been accused of not having any meaningful purpose, being superfluous in its aims to other pan-European bodies, including the European Union and OSCE. In 2013 The Economist agreed, saying that the "Council of Europe's credibility is on the line". 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".
In October 2022, a new and different Pan-European meeting of 44 states was held, as the "inaugural summit of the European Political Community", a new forum largely organized by French President Emmanuel Macron. The Council of Europe, sidelined, reportedly was "perplexed" with this development, with a spokesperson stating "In the field of human rights, democracy and the rule of law, such a pan-European community already exists: it is the Council of Europe." A feature of the new forum is that Russia and Belarus are deliberately excluded, which was not seen as explaining the need for a different entity, given that at the time, Russia was no longer a member of the Council of Europe and Belarus only participated partially, as a non-member.
After Azerbaijan joined the CoE in 2001, both the Council and its Parliamentary Assembly were criticized for having a weak response to election rigging and human rights violations in Azerbaijan. The Human Rights Watch criticized the Council of Europe in 2014 for allowing Azerbaijan to assume the six-month rotating chairmanship of the council's Committee of Ministers, writing that the Azeri government's repression of human rights defenders, dissidents, and journalists "shows sheer contempt for its commitments to the Council of Europe". An internal inquiry was set up in 2017 amid allegations of bribery by Azerbaijan government officials and criticism of "caviar diplomacy at the Council. A 219-page report was issued in 2018 after a ten-month investigation. It concluded that several members of the Parliamentary Assembly broke CoE ethical rules and were "strongly suspected" of corruption; it strongly criticized former Parliamentary Assembly president Pedro Agramunt and suggested that he had engaged in "corruptive activities" before his resignation under pressure in 2017. The inquiry also named Italian member Luca Volontè as a suspect in "activities of a corruptive nature". Volontè was investigated by Italian police and accused by Italian prosecutors in 2017 of receiving over 2.39 million euros in bribes in exchange for working for Azerbaijan in the parliamentary assembly, and that in 2013 he played a key role in orchestrating the defeat of a highly critical report on the abuse of political prisoners in Azerbaijan. In 2021, Volontè was convicted of accepting bribes from Azerbaijani officials to water down critiques of the nation's human rights record, and he was sentenced by a court in Milan to four years in prison.
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