Council of Europe

Image of the Palais de l’Europe in Strasbourg
The Palais de l’Europe in Strasbourg © CC-BY 3.0 CC-BY 3.0

The Council of Europe is a forum for debates on general European questions. Under its auspices intergovernmental binding agreements governed by international law, such as the European Convention on Human Rights, are concluded with the aim of safeguarding and realising the common heritage of European ideals and principles and facilitating economic and social progress. Switzerland became the 17th member of the Council of Europe on 6 May 1963.

The Council of Europe was founded in 1949 and is based in Strasbourg.  It is the largest and oldest interstate organization in Europe and is concerned with promotion of human rights, democracy, and the rule of law.  Today, it has 47 member states with a population of over 800 million in total. 

Out of the more than 200 Council of Europe agreements, Switzerland has thus far ratified about half.  The conventions form the basis for amending and harmonising laws in the member countries.

One of the most important agreements is the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which enables individuals to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.  Victims of a violation of the rights and guarantees enshrined in the convention or one of its protocols may appeal to the European Court of Justice. The violation must have been committed by a state bound by the convention.

In addition to the European Court of Human Rights, the Council of Europe has the following organs:

  • the Committee of Ministers, comprising the Foreign ministers of the 47 Member States
  • the Parliamentary Assembly, whose members which are appointed by the national parliaments
  • the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, which is comprising representatives of the local and regional authorities of the member countries
  • the Conference of International Non-Governmental Organizations, which consists of delegates from organizations that satisfy the accreditation criteria of the Council of Europe

Switzerland is represented in the Parliamentary Assembly by six members and their deputies and in the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities by six local and municipal authority representatives and six cantonal representatives.  In addition, like every country, it appoints a judge to the Court of Human Rights.  Switzerland’s Permanent Representation at the Council of Europe maintains, monitors events in Strasbourg and regularly reports on the latest developments.