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Council of Europe

The Council of Europe contributes to safeguarding human rights.

The Council of Europe was established in 1949 as a European international organisation based in Strasbourg. Its main objectives were and will continue to be the defence, protection and promotion of human rights, pluralistic democracy and the rule of law on the European continent. Konrad Adenauer therefore said that the Council of Europe was ‘an expression of the European conscience’.

The Council of Europe is thus a European organisation in its own right, which is independent of the EU. In particular, it is not to be confused with the European Council, which is an EU institution, bringing together the heads of state and government of the EU member states. However, the EU and the Council of Europe cooperate intensively. The EU also provides substantial financial resources to the Council of Europe for the implementation of joint projects.

Currently, the Council of Europe has 46 member States. Germany acceded to the Council of Europe in 1950. The member States include all European non-city states with the exception of Belarus, Kosovo and Russia. Russia was excluded from the Council of Europe due to its war of aggression against Ukraine in March 2022. In addition to the member States, there are also some observer states (e.g. the USA, Japan and Mexico). The 46 member States send parliamentarians to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. It elects different bodies of the Council of Europe, such as the Secretary General, and it is a democratic forum for discussion and examines important issues in various committees.

A key focus of the Council of Europe’s work is the further development of human rights protection. In order to achieve these objectives, the foundation of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and the establishment of the post of independent Commissioner for Human Rights were of key importance.

In the context of human rights protection, the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs attaches particular importance to social human rights. These are mainly enshrined in the European Social Charter of 1961. Germany ratified the ESC on 27 January 1965. It complements the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in the area of fundamental social rights. These include, for example, the right to work, to just, safe and healthy working conditions and occupational safety and health, vocational training, the right to organise in trade unions or the right to social security.

Member States’ compliance with these standards is monitored through reporting by member States by a high-level committee of experts as well as by the Government Committee composed of representatives from the member States. In turn, the Committee of Ministers, as the supreme decision-making body of the Council of Europe, may propose necessary recommendations to the governments concerned.

In this context, the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs considers a constructive and ongoing dialogue with the ESC monitoring bodies important, also in order to create the conditions for the signing and ratification of any further agreements complementing the Social Charter.

The revised European Social Charter (RESC) of 1996, which further develops the Charter as to a number of social and economic rights (such as longer minimum paid annual leave or better maternity protection) and includes additional social human rights (such as a comprehensive prohibition of discrimination and special measures for the long-term unemployed), was signed by Germany on 29 June 2007. For many years, the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs accompanied the ratification of the RESC in an extensive coordination process. Ratification then took place in the framework of the German Presidency of the Council of Europe on 29 March 2021; the RESC therefore entered into force for Germany on 1 May 2021.

Other important social policy issues addressed in specialised bodies of the Council of Europe include migration and social cohesion, children’s rights, gender equality and the fight against trafficking in human beings.

Further Information