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The Council of Europe (CoE) was established in 1949, to promote democracy and protect human rights and the rule of law in Europe.


Ten member states, including the UK, were founding signatories of the CoE statute in 1949. The CoE expanded following the end of Communism in Central and Eastern Europe in the 1990s. It currently comprises 46 Member States. Its membership was reduced by one in March 2022 when Russia was expelled following its invasion of Ukraine (see below).

Council of Europe conventions and bodies

The CoE promotes democracy and human rights through a range of international treaties and conventions. It has adopted more than 200 treaties, conventions and protocols, many of which are open to non-member states. Its best-known convention is the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The European Court of Human Rights oversees how the Convention is implemented.

The CoE also monitors Member States’ progress in upholding its human rights standards and specific conventions through independent expert monitoring bodies, which undertake country visits and issue recommendations. 

The Committee of Ministers

The Committee of Ministers (CM) is the Council of Europe’s statutory decision-making body. It is made up of the Ministers for Foreign Affairs of member states. The Committee meets at ministerial level once a year and at Deputies’ level (Permanent Representatives to the Council of Europe) weekly.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) is composed of 324 representatives (with an equal number of substitutes) appointed by the national parliaments of the CoE’s 46 member States.

PACE meets four times a year for a week-long plenary session in Strasbourg. It adopts non-binding opinions and recommendations, relating to developments in specific countries or the member states as a whole. 

The UK Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly comprises 36 Members of the House of Commons and House of Lords (18 Representatives and 18 Substitutes). MPs comprise around 70% of the Delegation, and Peers around 30%.

The UK and the Council of Europe

The UK was instrumental in establishing the Council of Europe in 1949, and continues to play an active role in all parts of the organisation.

The UK and the ECHR

Some MPs have raised concerns about the impact of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), and interpretations by British courts since the Human Rights Act 1998 incorporated the rights set out in the Convention into UK law.  The UK Government has previously sought changes to the role of the European Court of Human Rights, and its relationship with domestic courts. Theses resulted in some reform proposals being adopted by the CoE in 2012.

The Government launched an independent review of the Human Rights Act in December 2020. Following the review, the Government said it would introduce a new UK Bill of Rights, which would “continue to respect the UK’s international obligations as a party to the Convention”.  It also said it would continue to support further reforms to the European Court of Human Rights, as well as to the wider system of the Convention. The Government confirmed its intention to proceed with this plan in the Queen’s Speech on 10 May 2022.

Expulsion of Russia

On 25 February 2022, the day after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Committee of Ministers met and agreed to suspend Russia from its rights to representation in the CoE. This was under Article 8 of the Statute of the Council of Europe providing for suspension and exclusion of member states.

On 15 March, the Parliamentary Assembly issued an opinion that the Committee of Ministers should request Russia immediately withdraw from the Council of Europe, and that it should otherwise expel it. On the same day the Russian Government said it would be withdrawing from the CoE. It would also be withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights.  However, the Committee of Ministers decision on 16 March 2022 provided that Russia would cease to be a member of the Council of Europe from that day.

Russia will cease to be a party to the ECHR  on 16 September 2022. This is in accordance with the six months’ notice period for denunciation set out in Article 58 of the Convention (pdf).

The Russian delegation had previously been suspended from PACE in 2014, following the Russian occupation of the Crimea. Russia subsequently halted its membership payments and threatened to leave the CoE altogether, before returning to the Assembly in 2019.

Suspension of cooperation with Belarus

A Committee of Ministers decision on 17 March also suspended Council of Europe cooperation with Belarus. Belarus has never been a member of the Council of Europe, partly because its continuing use of the death penalty would breach a condition of membership. However, Belarus has joined some Council of Europe agreements and participated in some CoE bodies.

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