Council of Europe
Not to be confused with European Council or Council of the European Union.
The Council of Europe (CoE; French: Conseil de l'Europe, CdE) is an international organisation founded in the wake of World War II to uphold human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Europe.[3] Founded in 1949, it has 47 member states, with a population of approximately 820 million, and operates with an annual budget of approximately 500 million euros.[4]
Council of Europe
Conseil de l'Europe


FormationTreaty of London (1949)
TypeRegional​intergovernmental organisation
HeadquartersStrasbourg, France
Official languages
English, French
Other working languages: German, Italian, Russian[1][2]
Secretary General
Marija Pejčinović Burić
Deputy Secretary General
Gabriella Battaini-Dragoni
President of the Parliamentary Assembly
Rik Daems
President of the Committee of Ministers
Heiko Maas
President of the Congress
Anders Knape
The organisation is distinct from the 27-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,[5] as well as the European Anthem.[6] No country has ever joined the EU without first belonging to the Council of Europe.[7] The Council of Europe is an official United Nations Observer.[8]
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 and the European Audiovisual Observatory.
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 of the Council of Europe also use German, Italian, and Russian for some of their work.
Plaque commemorating the first session of the Council of Europe Assembly at Strasbourg University
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.[9] But it was Britain's wartime leader Sir Winston Churchill who first publicly suggested the creation of a “Council of Europe” in a BBC radio broadcast on 21 March 1943,[10] while the Second World War was still raging. In his own words,[11] he tried to "peer through the mists of the future to the end of the war”, and think about how to re-build 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,[12][13] throwing the full weight of his considerable post-war prestige behind it. But there were 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 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. 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, North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
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 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 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”.[14] Convinced that the Council of Europe was never going to be in a position to achieve his long-term goal of a unified Europe,[15] 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.[16]
Early years
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 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 47 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,[17] 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 47 nations that make up the Council of Europe today.[18] Iceland had already joined in 1950, followed in 1956 by Austria, Cyprus in 1961, Switzerland in 1963 and Malta in 1965.
Historic speeches at the Council of Europe
Winston Churchill's inaugurational speech of the Council of Europe in The Hague
In 2018 an archive of all speeches made to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe 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".[19] At the time of its launch,[20] 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).
The full text of the speeches is given in both English and French, regardless of the original language used. The archive is searchable by country, by name, and chronologically.[21]
Aims and achievements
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."[22] 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 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."[23] 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).[24] 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:
Support for intercultural integration through the Intercultural Cities (ICC) program. This program offers information and advice for local authorities on the integration of minorities and the prevention of discrimination.[33]
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The institutions of the Council of Europe are:
Council's Parliamentary Assembly hemicycle
European Directorate for the Quality of Medicines.
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
See also: European Institutions in Strasbourg
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.[46] 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.[47] 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.[48]
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, North Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Russian Federation, Slovakia, Slovenia, 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.
Member states, observers, partners
Main article: Member states of the Council of Europe
The Council of Europe was founded on 5 May 1949 by Belgium, Denmark, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom.[49] Greece[50][51] joined three months later, and Iceland,[52][53] Turkey[54][55] and West Germany[56][57] 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.[58] This has been interpreted liberally from the beginning, when Turkey was admitted, to include transcontinental states (such as Georgia and Azerbaijan) and states that are geographically Asian but socio-politically European (such as Armenia and Cyprus).
Nearly all European states have acceded to the Council of Europe, with the exceptions of Belarus (human rights concerns including active use of the death penalty), 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
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:[59]
European Union
Main article: Council of Europe–European Union relations
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 since they both work for European integration. Nor is the Council of Europe to be confused with the European Union itself.
The Council of Europe is an entirely separate body[60] 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.[61]
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.[62][63]
Schools of Political Studies
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. Since then, 20 other schools have been set up along the same lines and now form an Association;[64] a genuine network now covering the whole of Eastern and South-Eastern Europe and the Caucasus, as well as some countries in the Southern Mediterranean region. The Council of Europe Schools of political studies is 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.[65]
United Nations
The beginning of co-operation 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.[66] 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 and 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 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
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".[67]
On 30 May 2018, the Council of Europe signed a memorandum of understanding with the European football confederation UEFA.[68]
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.[69]
Privileges and immunities
The General Agreement on Privileges and Immunities of the Council of Europe grants the organisation certain privileges and immunities.[70]
The working conditions of staff are governed by the Council's staff regulations, which are public.[71] 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.[70]
Symbol and anthem
Main articles: Symbols of Europe and Flag 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.
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.[72]
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".[72][73]
Criticism and controversies
The Council of Europe has been accused of institutional corruption[74][75] and of not having any meaningful purpose, being superfluous in its aims to other pan-European bodies, including the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).[76][75] In 2013 The Economist agreed, saying that the "Council of Europe's credibility is on the line".[77] 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".[78]
Issues have been raised regarding Azerbaijan's relationship to the Council of Europe, including allegations that Azerbaijan has, over a sustained period, provided bribes to Council members to vote down criticism of the authoritarian rule of the Aliyev regime and support motions advantageous to Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan joined the Council of Europe in 2001. Since September 2014 Human Rights Watch said 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".[79]
In 2017 Council member and Italian politician Luca Volontè was accused by Italian prosecutors of receiving over 2.3 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.[80][81] The money was paid to Volontè in monthly instalments of 100,000 euros, starting in 2013, via four anonymous offshore companies. The payments stopped in 2014 when Volontè's bank reported them as suspicious transactions to the Milan prosecutor's office.[82] Arif Mammadov, former head of the Azerbaijan representation at the Council of Europe, has stated that Azerbaijan's delegation at the Council had 25 million dollars available to "bribe members of the delegations and PACE generally".[citation needed]
From 2014, Russia's voting rights were temporarily suspended by the Council due to the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation from Ukraine. In response, Russia withheld its annual membership dues in the amount of 33 million euros,[83] placing the institution under financial strain.[84] Russia claimed that its suspension by the Council was unfair, and demanded the restoration of voting rights.[85] European Council secretary-general Thorbjørn Jagland organized a special committee to find a compromise with Russia in early 2018, a move that was criticized as giving in to alleged Russian pressure by Council members and academic observers, especially if voting sanctions were lifted.[84][85][86] In May 2019, Russia's voting rights were restored after members of the human rights watchdog reached agreement to resolve dispute and the overwhelming majority of the Council voted in favour of the restoration.[87]
See also
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