THE COUNCIL OF EUROPE
The Council of Europe (CoE) is an Intergovernmental Organisation based in the Palace of Europe in Strasbourg (France). It was established by the Treaty of London of 5 May 1949 by 10 founding States (Belgium, France, Luxembourg, Netherlands, United Kingdom, Denmark, Norway, Ireland, Italy and Sweden) with the aim of creating a common democratic and legal space in Europe, guaranteeing respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
The Organisation has a pan-European dimension, currently comprising 47 States (among the European States, Belarus has been excluded). The Holy See, the United States, Canada, Japan and Mexico have observer status.
Based on these values, the Organisation has successfully progressed in the achievement of its objectives, responding to the great political and social changes in Europe and addressing the emergence of new threats to the human rights of people in Europe.
The Council of Europe (not to be confused with the European Council, regular meeting of the Heads of State and Government of the 27 Member States of the European Union) deals with a wide range of relevant issues to European society, with the exception of defence. Its work programme includes the following areas: Human rights, Mass media, Legal cooperation, Social cohesion, Health, Education, Culture, Heritage, Sport, Youth, Local democracy and cross-border cooperation, Environment and Local government.
The initiatives promoted by the Council of Europe often take the form of conventions, aimed at harmonizing the laws of the member States consistently with the standards of the Council. To date, more than 200 Conventions have been adopted; the best known is the European Convention on Human Rights, which outlines the fundamental rights and freedoms that member States are required to guarantee to all individuals within their jurisdiction, providing for an advanced protection system centered on the role of European Court of Human Rights. In addition to the conventions, there are also numerous resolutions and recommendations addressed to the Member States.
The main bodies of the Council of Europe
– The Secretary General: He is responsible for the strategic management of the Council of Europe’s work programme and its budget, as well as for the control of the functioning of the Organisation and the Secretariat. The Secretary General is elected every 5 years by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, on the basis of a recommendation from the Committee of Ministers. The Office is currently held by Marija Pejčinović Burić, elected in 2019.
– The Committee of Ministers: It is the decision-making body of the Council of Europe. It determines the political priorities and approves the budget and the programme of activities of the Organisation, representing the 47 member States. The Committee of Ministers meets once a year at the level of Ministers of Foreign Affairs and once at the level of delegates of Ministers (Permanent Representatives in Strasbourg). The Presidency of the Committee of Ministers is held in turn by the Member States for six months, following the English names of the States. Italy will assume the Presidency in November 2021 (until May 2022).
– The Parliamentary Assembly (PACE): The Assembly elects the Secretary General, the Commissioner for Human Rights and the judges of the European Court of Human Rights. It is also a democratic forum for debate and election observation. The Parliamentary Assembly comprises 648 members (including representatives and alternate members) from the Parliaments of the 47 member States. The Parliamentary Assembly should not be confused with the European Parliament (universal parliamentary body of the European Union comprising 736 deputies elected by suffrage in the 27 EU member States).
– European Court of Human Rights: International court competent to rule on respect for the rights and freedoms set forth in the European Convention on Human Rights, signed in Rome on 4 November 1950 and entered into force on 3 September 1953. The Court, based in Strasbourg, is made up of 47 judges (equal to the number of member States), elected for nine years by the Parliamentary Assembly. They cannot be re-elected and their mandate ends once they reach the age of seventy years old. Judges sit in the Court on an individual basis, not representing any State. They are bound by an obligation of independence and impartiality in the exercise of their functions. Since 18 May 2020, the President of the Court is the Icelandic judge Robert Spano. The European Court of Human Rights should not be confused with the International Court of Justice (United Nations judicial body, based in The Hague), nor with the Court of Justice of the European Union (based in Luxembourg, which ensures compliance with EU law and rules on the interpretation and application of the founding Treaties of the European Union).
– The Commissioner for Human Rights: It is an independent institution responsible for promoting education, awareness and respect for human rights in the member States of the Council of Europe, through dialogue with governments and institutional visits, recommendations and collaboration with national institutions for the protection of human rights. The position is currently held by Dunja Mijatovic ‘, who began her six-year term in 2018.
– The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities: It is a Pan-European political assembly made up of 648 members holding elective positions (regional or municipal councilors, mayors or presidents of regions). It represents more than 150,000 local and regional authorities of the 47 member States of the Council of Europe. The Congress promotes democracy at local and regional level, local and regional governance and the strengthening of the autonomy of local authorities. It also encourages decentralization and regionalization processes, as well as cross-border cooperation between cities and regions.
– The Conference of International Non-Governmental Organisations: It represents civil society in the Council of Europe, associating more than 300 international NGOs in the decision-making process and implementation of the Council of Europe programmes, through various methods of consultation.