By Elena Chobanian,

Journalist, MA in International Relations (UAM, Poland)

This article does not intend to cover all inner conflicts and the whole history of the mentioned European institutions due to the space and time, but it will be explaining their main differences and functions, clarifying the spread confusion mainly between three institutions: the Council of Europe, the European Council and the Council of the European Union.


The Council of Europe

The Council of Europe (CoE), is an international organization located in Strasbourg, using French and English as official languages.  Since 1955 it has used the European Flag with 12 golden stars arranged in a circle on a blue background as its official symbol, and since 1972 it has used the “European Anthem“, based on the “Ode to Joy” theme from Ludwig van Beethoven‘s Ninth symphony.

The Council of Europe is separate from the European Union, but both have the same European flag and anthem since the 1980’s, and both work for European integration, democracy and human rights. Founded on 5 May 1949 by the Treaty of London (signed in London by 10 states (BelgiumDenmarkFranceIrelandItalyLuxembourg, the NetherlandsNorwaySweden and the United Kingdom), it is an official United Nations Observer (the beginning of co-operation between the CoE and the UN started with the agreement signed by the Secretariats of these institutions on 15 December 1951).

It comprises 47 states of Europe (Albania, Armenia, Andorra, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria,  Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Gerogia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxemburg, Malta, Republic of Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherland, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russian Federation, San Marino, Sebia,  Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, “The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, Turkey, Ukraine, UK), covering about 820 million people and operating with an annual budget of almost half a billion euros.

The CoE is different from the 28-nation European Union. Without belonging to the Council of Europe, no state joins the EU. CoE was set up to promote democracy, protect human rights and the rule of law in Europe, and it cannot make binding laws, but has the power to enforce select international agreements reached by European states on different issues (e.g. the European Court of Human Rights of CoE enforces the European Convention on Human Rights).

The Council of Europe’s main bodies are the Committee of Ministers (a decision-making body, comprising the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of all the member states, or their permanent diplomatic representatives in Strasbourg, collaborating with the Parliamentary Assembly); the Parliamentary Assembly (monitors the way member states honour their commitments and the compliance of national policies, comprising parliamentary representatives of the 45 member states of CoE, elected by national parliaments); the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe (created in 1994, is a pan-European political assembly, the 636 members of which hold elective office representing over 200,000 authorities in 47 European states); the European Court of Human Rights (an international court set up in 1959, and since 1998 as a full-time court both for individual or state applications alleging violations of the civil and political rights. The current President of the Court is Guido Raimondi from Italy); the Commissioner for Human Rights (an independent institution within CoE, promotes awareness for human rights at national and local level in the member states, inspires cooperation between countries and people. Since April 2012, it was held by Nils Muižnieks from Latvia); the Conference of INGOs (CoE has the task to strengthen NGOs and civil society for developing democracy. For instance, the Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights protects the right to freedom of association, being a fundamental norm for NGOs). CoE has a Secretary General, who heads the secretariat of the organisation. Other major CoE bodies include the European Directorate for the Quality of Medicines and the European Audiovisual Observatory.


Small fragments of the CoE history and structure


The Council of Europe’s work is based on conventions/treaties, which are open for signature to non-member states as well, facilitating equal co-operation. CoE’s well-known achievement is the European Convention on Human Rights, adopted in 1950 following a report by the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly, and followed on from the United Nations “Universal Declaration of Human Rights”.


Hence, the Council of Europe[1] works for:


Among the Council of Europe’s headquarters is, for instance, the CoE’s Agora building. CoE also has offices in AlbaniaArmeniaAzerbaijanBosnia and HerzegovinaGeorgiaMontenegroSerbia, Ukraine, BulgariaEstonia, Czech RepublicHungaryLatviaLithuania, Romania, Moldova, PolandRussian FederationSlovakiaSlovenia, the Republic of Macedonia, and a project office in Turkey.

CoE system also includes semi-autonomous structures, some of them open to non-member states, such as: the Council of Europe Development Bank in Paris; the European Directorate for the Quality of Medicines with its European Pharmacopoeia; the European Audiovisual Observatory; the European Support Fund Eurimages for the co-production and distribution of films; the Enlarged Partial Agreement on Cultural Routes, which awards the certification “Cultural Route of the Council of Europe” to transnational networks promoting European heritage and intercultural dialogue (Luxembourg); the Pompidou Group, a Cooperation Group to Combat Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking in Drugs; the European Commission for Democracy through Law, better known as the Venice Commission; the Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO); the European and Mediterranean Major Hazards Agreement (EUR-OPA) which is a platform for co-operation between European and Southern Mediterranean countries in the field of major natural and technological disasters; the Enlarged Partial Agreement on Sport, which is open to accession by states and sport associations; the North-South Centre of the Council of Europe in Lisbon (Portugal); the Centre for Modern Languages in Graz (Austria).

Invitations to sign and ratify relevant conventions of the Council of Europe are sent to three groups of non-member entities, such as:  Non-European states (Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Bahamas, Bolivia, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras, South Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Mauritius, Morocco, New Zealand, Panama, Peru, Philippines, Senegal, South Africa, Syria, Tajikistan, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Uruguay, Venezuela and the observers Canada, Israel, Japan, Mexico, United States); European states (Kosovo, Kazakhstan, Belarus and the observer Vatican City); the European Community and later the European Union after its legal personality was established by the ratification of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty.

The Council of Europe met criticism for not doing much, and that it must undertake tangible actions to prove it is able to protect and ensure human rights.

There were cases when CoE could not handle on fulfilling its initial mission. One case refers to Azerbaijan‘s relationship to the Council of Europe, including allegations that Azerbaijan (joined CoE in 2001) has provided bribes to Council members to vote down criticism of the authoritarian rule of the Aliyev regime and support motions advantageous to Azerbaijan. Or the case when, since 2014 Russia’s voting rights have been suspended by the Council due to Moscow’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. Russia has started to withhold its annual membership dues in the amount of 33 million euros, placing the institution under financial strain. Russia claims that its suspension by the Council is unfair and demands the restoration of voting rights. European Council secretary-general Thorbjørn Jagland organized a special committee to find a compromise with Russia in early 2018, that has been criticized as giving in to Russian pressure by Council members, if voting sanctions were lifted.

The Council of the European Union

The role of the Council of the European Union, located in Brussels (Belgium) and established in 1958, is the voice of EU member governments, adopting EU laws and coordinating policies. Its members are Government ministers from each EU country, and each EU country holds the presidency on a 6-month rotating basis.

In the Council, government ministers from each EU country meet to amend and adopt laws, also coordinate policies. The Council of the European Union negotiates and adopts EU laws, together with the European Parliament, based on proposals from the European Commission; coordinates EU countries’ policies; develops the EU’s foreign and security policy, based on European Council guidelines; concludes agreements between the EU and other countries or international organizations; adopts the annual EU budget – jointly with the European Parliament.

There are no fixed members of the EU Council. It meets in 10 different configurations, each corresponding to the policy area being discussed. Each country sends their minister responsible for that policy area. The Foreign Affairs Council has a permanent chairperson (the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy). Other Council meetings are chaired by the relevant minister of the country holding the rotating EU presidency.

Overall consistency is ensured by the General Affairs Council, supported by the Permanent Representatives Committee and composed of EU countries’ Permanent Representatives to the EU, who are national ambassadors to the EU.


Don’t confuse the European Council and the Council of the EU:

Fig 1. EU institutions and main bodies, within it’s the European Council


The European Council and the Council of the EU are key actors in the EU’s decision-making process. Each of them have own roles in the EU’s institution, both gather representatives of the member states. The European Council defines the EU’s political direction, influences justice planning, the composition of the Commission, but it is not a legislating institution of the EU.

Established as an informal summit in 1975, the European Council was formalised as an institution in 2009 upon the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon (signed the Treaty of Lisbon in 2007). Its current President is Donald Tusk, former Prime Minister of Poland. The President of the European Council is elected by the European Council by a qualified majority for a once-renewable term of two and a half years. The President must report to the European Parliament after each European Council meeting. The negotiations involve a large number of other people working behind the scenes. Most of those people, however, are not allowed to the conference room, except for two delegates per state to relay messages.

The European Court of Justice (in Luxembourg) is treating the Convention as part of the legal system of all EU member states in order to prevent disputes between its judgements and those of the European Court of Human Rights. The EU Treaty of Lisbon contains a protocol binding the EU to join, being subject to its human rights law.

The members of the European Council are the heads of state or government of the 28 EU member states, the European Council President and the President of the European Commission. The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy take part in European Council meetings as well.


In conclusion, let’s not confuse:

  • The Council of Europe with the European Council(quarterly summits, where EU leaders meet to set the broad direction of EU policy making), and the Council of the European Union.
  • The Parliamentary Assembly (a deliberative body of the Council of Europe, composed of 318 representatives appointed by the 47 member states’ national parliaments), with the European Parliament (a body of the EU comprised 766 European Members of Parliament of the 28 EU countries, elected by universal suffrage).
  • The European Court of Human Rights (based in Strasbourg, is the only judicial organ established by the European Convention on Human Rights. It is composed of 1 Judge for each State party to the Convention and ensures), with the International Court of Justice (a judicial body of the United Nations, which is based in Hague), and the Court of Justice of the European Union (based in Luxembourg, ensures compliance with the law in the interpretation and application of the European Treaties of the EU).

*    The European Convention on Human Rights (Council of Europe treaty securing civil and political rights.  It oversees the implementation of the Convention), with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (adopted by the UN in 1948 in order to strengthen the protection of human rights at international level), and the Charter of Fundamental Rights (EU text on human rights and fundamental freedoms, adopted in 2000).

[1], Council of Europe, Avenue de l’Europe F-67075 Strasbourg Cedex, France, Disclaimer – © Council of Europe 2018 – © photo credit – Contact – RSS

[2] Council of Europe, From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, This page was last edited on 31 December 2018, at 14:16 (UTC).



Posted by on Jan 8 2019. Filed under Armenia / Diaspora, News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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