Council of Europe

The Council of Europe is a treaty, intergovernmental organization with 47 Member States, mainly European. The Council’s most important task is to protect human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

This is done, among other things, through agreements and conventions. Under the auspices of the Council of Europe, 221 conventions and protocols have been negotiated with their own control mechanisms for assessing how the parties comply with the obligations.

With the exception of Belarus and Kosovo, all European countries are members of the Council of Europe. Check here to find all countries in the European continent. The Vatican City is not a member either.

Since 2019, Marija Pejčinović Burić from Croatia is the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, as the second woman and first from a country outside Western Europe. She succeeded Norwegian Thorbjørn Jagland, who was Secretary General from 2009 to 2019.


The Council of Europe was established in Strasbourg by ten western European states in 1949. The creation came on the back of the Cold War. Developments in Eastern Europe went in an anti-democratic direction, and the countries of Western Europe found it necessary to organize themselves against Soviet expansionism.

However, the Council of Europe received no supranational powers. Also security policy and economic cooperation was omitted. In parallel with the Council of Europe, therefore, Western European economic and security cooperation also developed.

The evolution of the number of member countries since its establishment in 1949 illustrates the political changes in Europe from the late 1980s, as more and more countries have met the Council of Europe’s strict requirements for the protection of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Achieving membership in the Council of Europe has been an important milestone for many of the former communist states.

In 1990, Hungary became the first of these countries to join. Ukraine joined in 1995 and Russia in 1996. Montenegro was admitted in 2007, as the last country to date.

As the only non-European country, Georgia joined in 1999 and Armenia and Azerbaijan in 2001.

Applicant countries and observers

Belarus applied for membership in 1993, but did not fulfill the obligations of participation, partly because the death penalty is still practiced, which is contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights. The Council of Europe has repeatedly called on the Belarusian government to introduce a moratorium on the death penalty as a first step towards dismantling the system of capital punishment.

Kosovo has not applied for membership because the country is not recognized by neither Russia nor Serbia.

The Vatican City has observer status. It also has Canada, Japan, Mexico and the United States. Israel only has observer status in the parliamentary assembly.


Committee of Ministers

The ministerial committee, which is the organization’s political body, holds an annual meeting at the foreign minister level and can otherwise come together at political level as needed. Through the Permanent Representatives of the Member States, the Committee of Ministers meets at ambassador level every week.

The issues in the ministerial committee are prepared by a number of thematic reporting groups, with representatives of the permanent delegations of the member states participating. Expert groups are established in a number of disciplines.

The chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers goes on a tour of the member states every six months in alphabetical order according to the English alphabet, every May and November.

Also important are the Ministerial Conferences organized by the Council of Europe.

Secretary General

Thorbjørn Jagland from Norway was the Secretary General of the Council of Europe from 2009 to 2019.

Parliamentary Assembly

The Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) has four sessions a year, each one week. The assembly includes 324 representatives, with just as many deputy representatives.

The Parliamentary Assembly plays an active role in the Council of Europe and contributes to providing guidance for the cooperation through various recommendations.

On the basis of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the Parliamentary Assembly on April 10, 2014, decided to deprive the Russian delegation of the right to vote in assembly sessions, as well as the right to participate in the Assembly’s governing bodies and to participate in monitoring delegations in elections to the member countries of the Council of Europe. The resolution applied to the January session of the Parliamentary Assembly in 2015. At that time, the Parliamentary Assembly decided that it should initiate a dialogue with the Russian delegation, which, however, still could not participate in voting and be represented in the Assembly’s governing bodies.

At the opening of the January session of 2016, the Deputy President of the Parliamentary Assembly, Anne Brasseur of Luxembourg, announced that she had received a letter from the President of the Russian National Assembly that Russia would not participate in the parliamentary assembly’s work in 2016. Russia also did not participate in the Assembly’s sessions in 2017 and 2018. Of the Declaration adopted at the Helsinki Foreign Minister’s Meeting 16.-17. May 2019, it was agreed that all member states can participate in the ministerial committee and the parliamentary assembly. This meant that Russia could participate in the work of the parliamentary assembly and have the same rights as other member states. This was confirmed by the Parliamentary Assembly on June 24, 2019 after the opening of its summer session, in which Russia participated. Thus, this case is a closed chapter.

Rik Daems from Belgium is president of the parliamentary assembly.

Since 1975, Parliamentary Presidents of the Council of Europe Member States, as well as from several neighboring and observer countries, have held biannual meetings within the framework of the European Conference of Presidents of the European Parliament (ECPP). The conference takes place alternately in Strasbourg and in one of the member countries.

Congress of local and regional authorities

Another important forum is the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, which was established in 1994. The congress, which includes 318 representatives and 318 deputy representatives, represents the over 200,000 regions and municipalities in the 47 member states.

The congress, which has two plenary sessions per year, works to promote local and regional democracy and self-government on the basis of, among other things, the European Charter of Local Self-Government. In addition to plenary meetings, the work takes place in two chambers, one for local and one for regional authorities.

Anders Knape from Sweden was elected President of Congress in November 2018 for a term of two years.

The European Court of Human Rights (EMD)

The European Court of Human Rights is a central body of the Council of Europe. Here, all the 830 million inhabitants of the 47 member states can have their case tried, if they believe that the domestic court has made decisions that violate the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Court of Justice in Strasbourg settles complaints with binding effect on the states. Member States may also appeal to other courts before the Court, although this is rare.

Since its establishment in 1959, it has delivered over 18,000 judgments on violations of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The Court is responsible for significantly developing this Convention since it came into force in 1953.

The Court consists of 47 judges, one from each Member State, elected by the Parliamentary Assembly. However, the judges are not representatives of any state, but independent. The mandate of a judge is nine years and is not renewable.

Linos-Alexandre Sicilianos from Greece was elected President of the Court in 2019.

Commissioner for Human Rights

The Commissioner position was established in 1999 to strengthen human rights work in the member states. The Commissioner is elected by the Parliamentary Assembly for a term of six years.

Dunja Mijatović from Bosnia and Herzegovina took over as Human Rights Commissioner in April 2018. She is the first woman to hold this position.

Venice Commission

The European Commission for Democracy through Legislation, also called the Venice Commission, was established in 1990 to support the process of democratization in the Central and Eastern European countries by providing legal assistance in drafting the Constitution and other central laws.

The Commission has 61 member countries. It consists of all 47 countries that are members of the Council of Europe, as well as the following 14 countries: Algeria, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Israel, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Kosovo, Morocco, Mexico, Peru, South Korea, Tunisia and the United States. Belarus is an associated member. The following states are observers: Argentina, Canada, Japan, Uruguay and the Vatican City.

The Venice Commission provides legal assistance to both member and observer countries in the commission. In total, the Commission has provided legal assistance to 80 countries. President of the Venice Commission is Gianni Buquicchio from Italy.

Development Bank

In 1956, the Council of Europe established its own European social development bank based in Paris. This is the only financial institution in Europe with a purely social purpose. The bank has 41 member countries: 40 of the Council of Europe members and Kosovo. In 2016, the bank provided loans totaling EUR 3.451 billion for 35 projects. Many of the projects were a result of the flow of refugees to European countries. Rolf Wenzel from Germany has been the bank’s governor since 2011.

Youth Centers

In 1972, a separate European youth center was established in Strasbourg and a youth fund aimed at promoting youth work in Europe. In 1995, a youth center was also established in Budapest.

Conference of NGOs

In 2005, the Conference of International Non-Governmental Organizations (INGO) was established. The conference, which includes more than 400 non-governmental organizations in the member states, holds two annual meetings. The aim is to promote the values ​​that the Council of Europe stands for and to strengthen civil society in the member states.


The secretariat of nearly 2,500 employees is chaired by a secretary general elected by the parliamentary assembly. Thorbjørn Jagland from Norway was Secretary General from October 1, 2009 to September 18, 2019. On June 25, 2019, Marija Pejčinović Burić from Croatia was elected new Secretary General. She joined on September 18, 2019.


The Council of Europe has held three summits at the head of state and government: in Vienna in 1993, in Strasbourg in 1997 and in Warsaw in 2005.


In particular, the Council of Europe has strengthened European cooperation in the cultural, social and legal areas.

The most important convention concluded within the framework of cooperation in the Council of Europe is the European Convention on Human Rights. Other conventions may be mentioned

  • The Cultural Convention, which aims to develop national contributions to the common cultural heritage
  • The European Social Pact, which aims to implement equal social rights in Europe
  • The Convention for Social Security
  • Convention against terrorism
  • Convention for the Protection of National Minorities

Conventions have also been entered into in the fields of education, health, the fight against corruption, the fight against human trafficking, drugs and doping. In the latter field, the Council of Europe is cooperating with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) – the World Anti-Doping Agency. To this end, the Council of Europe has its own ad hoc European Expert Group (CAHAMA – Ad Hoc European Committee for the World Anti-Doping Agency), which meets twice a year.

The Parliamentary Assembly and the Congress of local and regional authorities monitor parliamentary and municipal and regional elections in the member states, respectively.

Following the so-called Shasmin revolution, the Council of Europe was engaged in 2011 in aid to Tunisia in connection with the conduct of free and independent elections in the country. The organization is also working to promote democratic development in other North African countries.

After the Ukrainian parliament deposed Viktor Yanukovych as the country’s president on February 22, 2014, the Council of Europe has been particularly involved in the work on new constitution and new electoral law for Ukraine.

Following the attempted coup d’état in Turkey in July 2016, former Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland visited the country several times, stressing that the arrested must be treated fairly and that the Turkish regime must comply with the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Venice Commission has stated that the proposal for amendments to the Turkish Constitution, which was voted majority on the April 16, 2017 referendum, represents “a dangerous setback for democracy”. On April 25, 2017, the Parliamentary Assembly decided to launch an investigation into Turkey’s democratic institutions.

Norway and the Council of Europe

Norway was one of the ten countries that founded the Council of Europe in 1949, and became a member of the Council of Europe’s Development Bank in 1978.

Norway’s contribution to the Council of Europe’s budget for 2019 was NOK 38.91 million. Since 2017, Elisabeth Walaas has been Norway’s ambassador to the Council of Europe, and Norway was the last chair of the Committee of Ministers in the period from November 2004 to May 2005.

Norway has five representatives and five deputy representatives in the Parliamentary Assembly (PACE). For the parliamentary term 2017–2021, the Norwegian delegation consists of: Ingjerd Schou (Right – Leader), Lise Christoffersen (Labor Party), Deputy Leader, Espen Barth Eide (Labor Party), Emilie Enger Mehl (Center Party) and Morten Wold (Progress Party).

Norway has five representatives and five deputy representatives in the Congress for local and regional authorities. Halvdan Skard was President of Congress from 2006-2008.

Supreme Court Judge Arnfinn Bårdsen has been the Norwegian judge in the European Court of Human Rights since January 2019.

Council of Europe under Thorbjørn Jagland

Thorbjørn Jagland was elected Secretary-General of the Council of Europe on September 29, 2009 for a term of five years, and he took office on October 1, 2009. He was re-elected on June 24, 2014 for a new term of five years from October 1, 2014 and is the first the Secretary-General who has been re-elected. He passed away on September 18, 2019.

As Secretary General in the period 2009–2019, Thorbjørn Jagland implemented reforms in the Council of Europe with the aim of making the organization more effective in its efforts to develop democratic security and stability in Europe. Jagland also took the initiative to step up the legal assistance of several member states, including Ukraine, to revise national legislation in line with the Council of Europe’s mission to protect human rights, democracy and the rule of law. The waiting list for complaints in the European Court of Human Rights was reduced from almost 140,000 in 2009 to just over 56,000 as of 1 January 2019. However, Jagland’s time as secretary general was not entirely uncontroversial, and he received criticism from certain teams in 2019 for his proposal to give Russia the right to vote in the parliamentary assembly.

Flags and official languages

The Council of Europe flag, used in 1955, is twelve gold stars in a circle on a blue base. The circle of the twelve stars is a symbol of European unity. In 1985, the Council of Europe also allowed the EU to use this flag, which began in 1986.

European Union Flag and Map

The official languages ​​of the organization are English and French.

Member State of the Council of Europe

Original members

  • Belgium
  • Denmark
  • France
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Luxembourg
  • Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Great Britain
  • Sweden

Later members

  • Greece(1949)
  • Iceland(1950)
  • Turkey(1950)
  • West Germany(1950)
  • Austria(1956)
  • Cyprus(1961)
  • Switzerland(1963)
  • Malta(1965)
  • Portugal(1976)
  • Spain(1977)
  • Liechtenstein(1978)
  • San Marino(1988)
  • Finland(1989)
  • Hungary(1990)
  • Poland(1991)
  • Bulgaria(1992)
  • Estonia(1993)
  • Lithuania(1993)
  • Czech Republic(1993)
  • Slovakia(1993)
  • Slovenia(1993)
  • Romania(1993)
  • Andorra(1994)
  • Latvia(1995)
  • Moldova(1995)
  • Albania(1995)
  • Ukraine(1995)
  • Northern Macedonia(1995)
  • Russia(1996)
  • Croatia(1996)
  • Georgia(1999)
  • Armenia(2001)
  • Azerbaijan(2001)
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina(2002)
  • Serbia(2003)
  • Monaco(2004)
  • Montenegro(2007)

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