• Council of Europe
  • About

About the Council of Europe

The Council of Europe, based in Strasbourg (France), now covers virtually the entire European continent, with its 47 member countries. Founded on 5 May 1949 by 10 countries, the Council of Europe seeks to develop throughout Europe common and democratic principles based on the European Convention on Human Rights and other reference texts on the protection of individuals.

Our objectives

The primary aim of the Council of Europe is to create a common democratic and legal area throughout the whole of the continent, ensuring respect for its fundamental values: human rights, democracy and the rule of law.


- 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;
- 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.

The Council of Europe's symbols

The European flag and the European anthem were chosen and adopted by the Council of Europe before also becoming symbols of the European Union. They are now the emblems of a shared European identity.

The European flag

Against the background of blue sky, the stars form a circle, symbolising union. The number of stars is fixed, twelve being the symbol of perfection and completeness and bringing to mind the apostles, the sons of Jacob, the labours of Hercules, the months in the year, etc.

From its foundation in 1949 the Council of Europe was aware of the need to give Europe a symbol with which its inhabitants could identify. On 25 October 1955 the Parliamentary Assembly unanimously approved the emblem of a circle of gold stars on a blue background. On 9 December 1955 the organisation's Committee of Ministers adopted the star-studded flag, which was launched officially on 13 December of the same year in Paris.

A symbol for the whole of Europe

In 1983 the European Parliament in turn adopted the flag devised by the Council of Europe and recommended that it become the European Communities' emblem. The European Council gave its approval in June 1985. The European Union’s institutions began to use the flag in 1986.

The European flag has since become synonymous with a shared political project which unites all Europeans, transcending their diversity.

How we work ?

The Committee of Ministers

This is the Council’s decision-making body and is made up of the ministers of foreign affairs of each member state or their permanent diplomatic representatives in Strasbourg. The Committee of Ministers decides Council of Europe policy and approves its budget and programme of activities.

The Parliamentary Assembly (PACE)

This is the deliberative body and the driving force of the Council of Europe. The Assembly has initiated many international treaties, helping to create a Europe-wide system of legislation. Its members are appointed by the national parliaments of each member state.

The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities

The Congress is the voice of Europe’s 200 000 regions and municipalities and provides a forum where elected representatives can discuss common problems, pool their experiences and develop policies. It works to strengthen democracy and improve services at local and regional level.

The European Court of Human Rights

This is the permanent judicial body which garantees for all Europeans the rights safeguarded by the European Convention on Human Rights. It is open to states and individuals regardless of nationality. The 47 member states of the Council of Europe are parties to the Convention.

Commissioner for Human Rights

The Commissioner is an independent body responsible for promoting education, awareness and respect for human rights in member states. The Commissioner plays an essentially preventive role.

The Conference of INGOs

The Conference includes some 400 international Non Governmental Organisations (INGOs). It provides vital links between politicians and the public and brings the voice of civil society to the Council. The Council’s work benefi ts extensively from the INGOs’ expertise and their outreach to European citizens.

The Secretary General

The Secretary General is elected by the Parliamentary Assembly for a five-year term at the head of the Organisation. He is responsible for the strategic planning and direction of the Council’s work programme and budget and oversees the day-to-day management of the Organisation.

The Deputy Secretary General

The Deputy Secretary General is also elected for a five-year term by the Parliamentary Assembly, in an election separate to the one held for the Secretary General.

The Secretariat

Coming from all 47 member states, over 2,000 permanent staff work mainly in Strasbourg, France, but also in other offices throughout Europe, joined by temporary employees.

Official languages

English and French are the Council of Europe's two official languages. German, Italian and Russian are also working languages. Various documents are also published in other European languages.

Do not get confused

Council of Europe

An international organisation in Strasbourg which comprises 47 countries of Europe. It was set up to promote democracy and protect human rights and the rule of law in Europe.

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.

European Union (EU)

The EU currently has 27 members that have delegated some of their sovereignty so that decisions on specific matters of joint interest can be made democratically at European level. No country has ever joined the EU without first belonging to the Council of Europe.

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 785 European Members of Parliament of the 27 European Union countries, elected by universal suffrage.

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 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 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.

International Court of Justice

Judicial body of the United Nations, which is based in The Hague.

Court of Justice of the European Communities

Based in Luxembourg and ensures compliance with the law in the interpretation and application of the European Treaties of the European Union.

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 at international level.