What is Council of Europe?

In this section you will find out what is Council of Europe, its origins, aims and membership

Origins and membership

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

  • groups together 47 countries, including 21 countries from Central and Eastern Europe,
  • has application from 1 more country (Belarus),
  • has granted observer status to 5 more countries (the Holy See, the United States, Canada, Japan and Mexico),
  • is distinct from the 27-nation European Union, but no country has ever joined the Union without first belonging to the Council of Europe,
  • has its headquarters in Strasbourg, in eastern France.



The Council was set up to:

  • defend human rights, parliamentary democracy and the rule of law,
  • develop continent-wide agreements to standardise member countries' social and legal practices,
  • promote awareness of a European identity based on shared values and cutting across different cultures.

Since 1989, the main tasks have been:

  • acting as a political anchor and human rights watchdog for Europe's post-communist democracies,
  • assisting the countries of central and eastern Europe in carrying out and consolidating political, legal and constitutional reform in parallel with economic reform,
  • providing know-how in areas such as human rights, local democracy, education, culture and the environment.
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