History, Role, and Activities of the Council of Europe:

Facts, Figures and Information Sources


by Sophie Lobey

Sophie Lobey holds a Master of International Trade and Finance (Paris, 1992) from "Institut Supérieur de Gestion" (Advanced Institute of Management). She has worked for fifteen years as Sales and Marketing Manager for Council of Europe Publishing, and has been responsible for the commercial website of the Council of Europe since 1997.


The main aim of this article is to assist the reader seeking information about the Council of Europe and to provide sources of information (bibliographic sources, web sites, contacts) for further research.


Published April 2005

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Table of Contents

The Council of Europe in brief

Origins and membership


How it works

Some practical achievements

Council of Europe official web site

Avoid confusion (what’s what)

Council of Europe’s organs and bodies

                  Committee of Ministers

                  Parliamentary Assembly

                  Congress of Local and Regional Authorities

                  European Court of Human Rights

                  Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights

Selection of entities and web sites of the Council of Europe by subject category

                  Human right for everyone

                  Building democracy

                  Social cohesion and social rights

                  Protecting citizens

                  Cultural and natural heritage

                  Education for democratic citizenship

                  Partial agreements

                  Democratic stability programs

                  Priority projects

Contacts for further information

Council of Europe Publishing




The Council of Europe in brief




Origins and membership

The Council of Europe is the continent's oldest political organization, founded in 1949.

It groups together 47 countries[i], including 22 countries from Central and Eastern Europe, has a pending application from one additional country (Belarus), and has granted observer status to five other countries (the Holy See, United States, Canada, Japan and Mexico).


The Council of Europe is distinct from the 25-nation European Union, but no country has ever joined the Union without first belonging to the Council of Europe.


It is headquartered in Strasbourg, in north-eastern France.



The Council was set up:

- to protect human rights, pluralist democracy and the rule of law;
- to promote awareness and encourage the development of Europe's cultural identity and diversity
- to find common solutions to the challenges facing European society: such as discrimination against minorities, xenophobia, intolerance, bioethics and cloning, terrorism, trafficking in human beings, organized crime and corruption, cybercrime, violence against children;
- to consolidate democratic stability in Europe by backing political, legislative and constitutional reform. The current Council of Europe's political mandate was defined by the third Summit of Heads of State and Government, held in Warsaw in May 2005.

How it works

The main component parts of the Council of Europe are:


Ordinary budget : In 2007, 197,214 ,00  euros.


The Intergovernmental program of activities is approved annually by the Committee of Ministers according to the Organization’s political priorities.


The tangible results of co-operation take many forms depending on the topics being dealt with:


Some practical achievements


Council of Europe official web site

The portal of the Council of Europe and the web sites which are linked to it are intended to provide public access to information on the aims, activities and achievements of the Council of Europe in general.



Avoid confusion (what’s what)

Citizens and researchers sometimes confuse the various European institutions whose names are often quite similar. The following definitions intend to clarify the role of the different organizations.


·       Council of Europe:  An international organization in Strasbourg comprising 47 European democracies.


·       European Council:  Regular meeting (at least twice a year) of the heads of state or government from the member states of the European Union for the purpose of planning Union policy.


·       Parliamentary Assembly: The deliberative body of the Council of Europe, composed of 318 representatives (and the same number of substitutes) appointed by the 47 member states’ national parliaments.


·       European Parliament: The parliamentary body of the European Union which comprises 786 European Members of Parliament of the 25 European Union countries, elected by universal suffrage.


·       European Court of Human Rights:  Based in Strasbourg, this is the only truly judicial organ established by the European Convention on Human Rights. It is composed of composed of one Judge for each State party to the Convention and ensures, in the last instance, that contracting states observe their obligations under the Convention. Since November 1998, the Court has operated on a full-time basis.


·       Court of Justice of the European Communities:  Meets in Luxembourg and ensures compliance with the law in the interpretation and application of the European Treaties of the European Union.


·       International Court of Justice:  Judicial body of the United Nations which meets in The Hague.


·       European Commission of Human Rights:  Until November 1998, this international body examined the admissibility of all individual or state applications against a member state in accordance with the European Convention on Human Rights; it expressed an opinion on the violation alleged in applications found to be admissible in cases in which no friendly settlement is reached.


·       European Commission:  The executive organ of the European Union, based in Brussels, which monitors the proper application of the Union treaties and the decisions of the Union institutions.


·       European Convention on Human Rights:  Treaty by which the member states of the Council of Europe undertake to respect fundamental freedoms and rights.


·       Universal Declaration of Human Rights:  Adopted by the United Nations in 1948 in order to strengthen the protection of human rights on the international level.



Council of Europe’s organs and bodies


The Council of Europe is made up of two organs set up under its statute, the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly.



Committee of Ministers

The Committee of Ministers is the Council of Europe's decision-making body. It comprises the Foreign Affairs Ministers of all the member states, or their permanent diplomatic representatives in Strasbourg. It is both a governmental body, where national approaches to problems facing European society can be discussed on an equal footing, and a collective forum, where Europe-wide responses to such challenges are formulated. In collaboration with the Parliamentary Assembly, it is the guardian of the Council's fundamental values, and monitors member states' compliance with their undertakings.


The work and activities of the Committee of Ministers include:


The working documents of the Committee of Ministers and the adopted texts are available on line. The adopted texts gather the treaties and conventions, the declarations and conclusions, the recommendations to member states, the resolutions and decisions.  A selection of these documents is also published in paper format and is available from Council of Europe Publishing.  Most of the activities and news can be consulted on the Committee of Ministers web site.



Parliamentary Assembly

The Parliamentary Assembly is the parliamentary organ of the Council of Europe. The Assembly representing the political forces in its member states consists of a number of individual representatives from each member State, with a President elected each year from among them for a maximum period of three sessions. The current President is René van der Linden (Netherlands, EPP/CD) a Member of the Dutch parliament. He was elected in January 2005.

Whilst in the Committee of Ministers, each member State has one vote; in the Parliamentary Assembly the number of representatives, and consequently votes, is determined by the size of the country. The biggest number is eighteen, the smallest two. As there are an equal number of representatives and substitutes, the total number of members of the Assembly is therefore 636, plus 18 Observers.


The sessions of the Parliamentary Assembly are divided into four part-sessions, each lasting for about a week at the end of January, April, June and September.


The Assembly has ten committees (Political Affairs - Legal Affairs and Human Rights - Economic Affairs and Development - Social, Health and Family Affairs - Migration, Refugees and Population - Culture, Science and Education - Environment, Agriculture and Local and Regional Affairs - Equal Opportunities for Women and Men - Rules of Procedure and Immunities – Monitoring) plus the Bureau and the Standing Committee. In the interest of its work, a committee may also appoint one or more standing or ad hoc sub-committees.


In more than fifty years of existence, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has shown its great flexibility and adaptability as an international inter-parliamentary body to the developments in Europe, and in particular to the dramatic historic changes which have taken place over the last years. No other international parliamentary forum was so well equipped as the Parliamentary Assembly to integrate the new democracies of Central and Eastern Europe into the family of the other European democracies. The tremendous advantage of its members also being members of their national parliaments and, for some of them, full members of Western European Union, the European defense organization, enables the Assembly to keep in close contact with national politics.


Adopted texts

The Assembly can adopt three different types of texts: recommendations, resolutions, and opinions.


Recommendations contain proposals addressed to the Committee of Ministers, the implementation of which is within the competence of governments.


Resolutions embody decisions by the Assembly on questions, which it is empowered to put into effect or expressions of view, for which it alone is responsible.


Opinions are mostly expressed by the Assembly on questions put to it by the Committee of Ministers, such as the admission of new member states to the Council of Europe, but also on draft conventions, the budget, and the implementation of the Social Charter.


Up to the year 2004, the Assembly also adopted texts called Orders (instructions from the Assembly to one or more of its committees). This category of texts was then abolished but some of its characteristics can now form part of Resolutions (see Rule 23 of the Rules of Procedure).

Texts adopted by the Assembly are available on-line in a provisional version as soon as possible after their adoption. The provisional version is replaced by a final version some weeks later. The Adopted texts have been indexed from 1949. Full text versions of the Adopted Texts are online from 1949 onwards.


Documents, Working Papers

The documents and working papers are numbered in series preceded by the reference Doc. -


Some of the main types of documents are:


Other types of document are: communications from the Secretary General, requests for opinion transmitted by the Committee of Ministers, progress reports of the Bureau and the Standing Committee,

statutory report on the activities of the Committee of Ministers

The working papers have been indexed from 1949. Full text versions of the working papers are online from 1992 onwards.


Verbatim Records

Official reports of debates (CRs) contain the verbatim speeches in English or in French in the report compiled in that language and a summary of its simultaneous interpretation in the other official language. Thus the English report contains in extenso the speeches made in English, together with a summary in English of the speeches made in French or any other language.

The assembly records are online from 2000 onwards.


The Adopted texts, Working papers and Assembly records are also available in paper version series and may be ordered via Council of Europe Publishing.


The online newsletter APCE Infos can be consulted online and most activities and news can be found on the Parliamentary Assembly official web site.


Congress of Local and Regional Authorities

The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe was established in 1994 as a consultative body to replace the former Standing Conference of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe. It works on the basis of Statutory Resolution (2000) 1 of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.


The Congress is the voice of Europe’s regions and municipalities in the Council of Europe. It provides a forum where local and regional elected representatives can discuss common problems, pool their experience and express their views to governments. It also advises the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on all aspects of local and regional policy; co-operates closely with national and international organizations representing local and regional government; organizes hearings and conferences at local and regional levels to reach a wider public whose involvement is essential to a working democracy; and prepares regular country-by-country reports on the state of local and regional democracy in all the Council’s member and applicant states and monitors, in particular, how the principles of the European Charter of Local Self-Government are being implemented.


The Congress comprises two chambers: the Chamber of Local Authorities and the Chamber of Regions. The two-chamber assembly has 318 full members and 318 substitute members, each of whom is an elected representative from one of over 200,000 local and regional authorities in the Council’s member states. The Congress elects its President from the members of each Chamber on an alternating basis. The President shall remain in office for two ordinary sessions.


The Congress meets once a year in Strasbourg when it also welcomes delegations from accredited European organizations and some non-member states as special guests or observers. The Standing Committee, drawn from all national delegations, meets between the Congress plenary sessions during the Autumn and Spring Sessions with the different Commissions.


The Congress divides its work up amongst four statutory committees: the Institutional Committee, which has the particular task of preparing reports on the progress of local and regional democracy in Europe and is assisted by a Committee of independent experts; the Committee on Culture and Education, responsible for media, youth, sport and communication; the Committee on Sustainable Development, responsible for environmental affairs and spatial and urban planning; and the Committee on Social Cohesion, responsible for issues concerning employment, citizenship, migration, inter-community relations, equality between women and men, and solidarity.

The Chamber of Regions also has a special Working Group on Regions with Legislative Power.


In the field: support programs

The Congress actively participates in projects aiming at reinforcing local democracy and trans-border co-operation in Europe. That is why it is encouraging the creation of Associations of Local and Regional Authorities such as LDA, NALAS, ENTO or NALAG. These projects are supported by the Congress, with its experience notably in the fields of training.


Monitoring local democracy in all countries

The European Charter of Local Self-Government, one of the Organization's key achievements, was drawn up in 1985 and is the reference instrument that the Council of Europe uses as its basis in this field. Of the 42 member states that have signed it to date, 41 have ratified it.

The Congress has the task of preparing different types of reports to assess the extent to which the Charter is being implemented:

Monitoring reports on local democracy, are drawn up country by country.

Forty-two reports have been prepared since 1995, the aim being to complete the exercise in all the signatory states by 2006/2007. In addition to examining the situation in the new democracies, the Congress has made a point of studying the situation in countries with a longer-standing democratic tradition.


The monitoring exercise provides an important basis on which to enter into a constructive political dialogue with the authorities of member states in connection with local and regional democracy issues. This enables the Congress to familiarize governments, parliaments, associations, elected representatives and the media with its main conventions and legal instruments concerning local and regional institutional issues. Numerous legislative reforms have been set in motion by member states in the light of the conclusions in these reports.


· General reports providing an across-the-board analysis of the application of the European Charter of Local Self-Government in member states and countries applying to join the Council of Europe.


Observation of elections: all reports per country

The Congress regularly observes local and/or regional elections in member and applicant countries, a key factor in its objective of monitoring progress towards and the state of local and regional democracy in the countries concerned.

Such observation always includes an analysis of the election campaign, not just the day of voting and involves discussion at the highest level with representatives of parties and group contesting the elections, election commissions, media and civil rights groups. Reports and proposals are subsequently adopted by the Congress Bureau and made known to the relevant authorities in the countries concerned. On average, the Congress has conducted five or six such observations per year, over the last decade.


The adopted texts of the Congress (recommendations, resolutions, and opinions) are presented online. The Bulletin, the newsletter of the Congress and other news or general information are available on the official web site of the CLRAE


Other documentary resources

LOREG is a database gathering official documents connected to local and regional democracy of the member countries of the Council of Europe. These texts are issued mainly by national authorities or the Council of Europe.

Maintained by the Council of Europe as well as by a network of national government representatives, this activity is part of the Stability Pact framework.

Even if the consultation of this database should not replace that of the official publications LOREG is to allow a quick first approach to the information (international legal instruments, reports and comparative studies, national legislation, regulations…)











European Court of Human Rights

The Court is the judicial body competent to adjudicate complaints brought against a state by individual or associations on grounds of violation of the European Convention of Human Rights (approximately 45,500 new applications lodged in 2005).


Individual complaints concern an ever-broadening range of issues:


Functioning and monitoring

The European Court of Human Rights is now directly accessible to the individual and its jurisdiction is compulsory for all contracting parties. It sits on a permanent basis and deals with all the preliminary stages of a case, as well as giving judgment on the merits. The Court's final judgments are binding on the state concerned.


Monitoring the Court's judgments in which a violation is found is the task of the Committee of Ministers, which ensures that states take any general measures needed to prevent further violations (changing legislation, case-law, rules or practice). It also makes sure that just satisfaction awarded by the Court is paid to the applicant and, in certain cases, that other concrete measures are taken to make sure full compensation is granted (such as reopening procedures, lifting a banning or confiscation order, striking off a police record or granting a residence permit).


HUDOC is a database which contains the case-law of the supervisory organs of the European Convention on Human Rights (the European Court of Human Rights, the former European Commission of Human Rights and the Committee of Ministers).

The judgments, decisions, resolutions and reports of these bodies are held in a database and can be consulted via a search mechanism.


New documents are regularly added to HUDOC (the judgements are available on HUDOC on the same day they are made public) and work is currently under way on introducing the backlog of old cases to the system (from 1959).


The database now includes the reports of visits of the CPT (European Committee for the Prevention of Torture) and the conclusions adopted by the European Committee of Social Rights (also presented in the European Social Charter Database - Collective complaints). It also presents statistical reports and information on the execution of judgements.


The database is also available in CD-ROM format and book format (publisher: Carl Heymanns Verlag)


Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights

The Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights was established in 1999 as an independent institution within the Council of Europe. In accordance with his mandate, the Commissioner focuses his activity on four main areas. These are the promotion of the education in and awareness of human rights, the encouragement for the establishment of national human rights structures where they do not exist and facilitate their activities where they do exist, the identification of short-comings in the law and practice with regards to human rights and, lastly, the promotion of their effective respect and full enjoyment in all the member States of the Council of Europe.

The official web site presents all the official documents and news relating to the activity of the Commissioner for Human Rights.



Selection of entities and web sites of the Council of Europe by subject category


Human rights for everyone

The 1950 European Convention on Human Rights establishes a single, permanent system to control and protect human rights: the European Court of Human Rights. Anyone who claims that his or her rights have been infringed may lodge a complaint if no further legal remedies are available in the national courts.


The European Convention for the Prevention of Torture appoints independent experts to the Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) to make spot checks on the treatment of prisoners in places of detention and to recommend measures to strengthen their protection.


The Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine is the first internationally binding agreement providing protection against the misuse of biological and medical techniques. It aims to safeguard fundamental rights, freedoms and the dignity and identity of individuals. The first Additional Protocol (1998) prohibits human cloning, and the second Additional Protocol (2002) addresses the issue of transplantation of organs and tissues of human origin, and the third the issue of biomedical research.


The Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities is the first legally binding multilateral instrument safeguarding national minorities. Its basic principles include equality before the law, preserving culture, identity, religion, languages and traditions, access to the media, free and peaceful contact with people legally residing in other states and using minority languages.


A Charter for Regional or Minority Languages aims to halt the decline of unofficial languages traditionally used within a state by its nationals and to promote their spoken and written use in public life. It also encourages people to teach and use them.


The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) was formed in 1993 to combat all forms of racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism. It assesses the efficiency of existing national and international measures.


Building democracy

The European Commission for Democracy through Law, better known as the Venice Commission was established in 1990, just after the fall of the Berlin Wall, to provide legal advice on the development and functioning of democratic institutions and constitutional law. It has played a leading role in the adoption, particularly in Eastern Europe, of constitutions that conform to the standards of Europe's constitutional heritage.


Its work involves constitutional engineering (constitutional assistance, co-operation with constitutional courts) and it adopts a comparative approach (collection and dissemination of case-law and legal studies in matters of constitutional law from Constitutional Courts and other courts throughout Europe).


Codices Database

CODICES, like its paper counterpart, the Bulletin on Constitutional Case-Law, regularly reports on the case-law of Constitutional Courts and Courts of equivalent jurisdiction, both in Europe and in other parts of the world. It also presents information on the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights and the Court of Justice of the European Communities.


·       Alphabetical index of more than 1 000 keywords. full texts (5 000 integral texts)


CODICES allows judges and constitutional law specialists in the academic world to be informed about key judgments as quickly as possible, provides assistance to national judges in solving critical questions of law which often arise simultaneously in different countries, and promotes international exchanges.

The CODICES CD-Rom is published three times a year. Each issue contains information on the most important case-law since 1993, and also covers the previous four months’ cases.


The official Web site of the Venice Commission presents its main texts, activities and news.

The Bulletin, monographs and CD-ROMs are available from Council of Europe Publishing.


Social cohesion and social rights

The European Social Charter (together with its additional protocols) is the counterpart of the European Convention on Human Rights. It safeguards fundamental human rights, including the right to work, to professional training, fair pay and working conditions, union membership, social and medical assistance and social security. The revised Charter (1996) strengthens measures for sex equality and recognizes rights in other areas, such as the right to decent housing.


The Directorate General of Social Cohesion (DG III) monitors the Council of Europe’s social cohesion strategy. Its purpose is fourfold: setting standards and monitoring compliance with legal instruments, developing policy, projects in member states, and research and analysis.


Protecting citizens

The European Convention for the Suppression of Terrorism lays down ground rules for extraditing suspected terrorists and aims to make this easier.  Fighting terrorism through international co-operation is a priority for the Council of Europe. Member states are urged to withdraw reservations and to ratify the relevant legal instruments and there is overwhelming support for the Convention for the Suppression of Terrorism and the Convention on Extradition. A plan of action for this new context updates legal instruments and reinforces co-operation, particularly by identifying the financial sources of terrorism, improving investigative methods, adapting judicial systems, updating legal training and supporting the victims of terrorism.


The Council of Europe has adopted the Criminal and Civil Law Conventions on Corruption. The GRECO (Group of States Against Corruption) monitors implementation of the conventions.

A major convention to combat cybercrime is the first international treaty on crimes committed against or using computer networks.


Cultural and natural heritage

The European Cultural Convention, adopted in 1954, is a vast framework convention. It covers schooling, higher education and research, culture, heritage, sport and youth policy and is a basis for dialogue and co-operation for 49 nations, including the 47 member states. A global web site details all these activities.

The Convention for the Protection of the Architectural Heritage of Europe and the European Convention on the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage provide a legal framework for international co-operation.

The Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Heritage (Bern Convention) provides legal protection for many threatened animal and plant species.

The European Landscape Convention aims to encourage public authorities to adopt policies and measures for protecting, managing and planning landscapes throughout Europe.


Education for democratic citizenship

The Council of Europe runs programmes on human rights and citizenship, history and language teaching, teacher training, European-oriented secondary education, access to higher education, student mobility and recognition of qualifications.

The European Youth Centres in Strasbourg and Budapest are residential international training and meeting centres for the leaders of European youth organisations. The European Youth Foundation funds international activities.

As regards sports issues, the European Convention on Spectator Violence and Misbehaviour recommends practical crowd security measures at major football matches.  The Anti-doping Convention enables states to collaborate in doping control programmes.


Partial agreements

The Council of Europe Partial Agreements allow some states to engage in specific activities of common interest with the consent of other members. The most important are:



Democratic stability programmes

To reinforce democratic stability, the Council of Europe intervenes in various ways, including short-term expert missions, assistance and co-operation programmes, seconding experts to international organisations and to its own local offices (Belgrade, Tirana, Sarajevo, Mostar, Pristina, Podgorica, Baku and Yerevan) and to Chechnya (to the Russian President’s Special Representative). Joint Programmes between the Council of Europe and The European Commission are also developed in this field.


Priority projects

A new concept was introduced in 2002 in the form of two integrated projects on “Responses to violence in everyday life in a democratic society” and “Making democratic institutions work”.  The Council of Europe co-operates with member states and civil groups, drawing on past experience in different sectors of the Organisation in order to establish integrated policies around these specific themes.



Contacts for further information



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