Despite their close cooperation, it should be pointed out, however, that the EU and the Council of Europe are two separate institutions with different, but complementary functions and impact. Find out more on the difference between the EU and the Council of Europe here.
The relation between the two organisations started with the creation of the European Economic Community in 1957 and the first exchange of letters in 1959. The first joint programme was launched in 1993 and the relations between the two institutions have evolved immensely since then. In 2005, our cooperation reached new heights when the then Prime Minister of Luxembourg Jean-Claude Juncker was tasked with producing a Report on the EU-Council of Europe relations. This report, which would serve as a basis for future cooperation between the two organisations, led to the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the EU and the Council of Europe in 2007. The Memorandum of Understanding defined EU-Council of Europe cooperation as one based on complementarity and coherence and these principles have retained a central place in our dialogue. The signing of the Statement of Intent between the European Commission and the Council of Europe in 2014 gave the cooperation new geographic impetus by laying the groundwork for concerted action in the EU enlargement and neighbourhood regions.
These documents have laid the foundations of a successful, strategic and structured cooperation between the EU and the Council of Europe. Today the political dialogue, joint programmes and technical cooperation are at their highest level in quality and intensity, and continue to be underpinned by strongly shared values and objectives.
The strategic partnership between the EU and Council of Europe is based on three pillars:
In order to coordinate positions and policies on geographical and thematic issues, high-level consultations between the two organisations are organised with the participation of the President of the European Commission, the First Vice-President, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission and other Members of the European Commission, the President of the Council of the European Union and the President and other Members of the European Parliament representing the European Union. During these meetings, the Council of Europe is often represented by the Secretary General of the Council of Europe and the Chair of the Committee of Ministers.
Legal cooperation between the EU and the monitoring and advisory bodies of the Council of Europe is a crucial aspect of the inter-institutional contacts between the two organisations. The cooperation has developed considerably in recent years, with a heavy emphasis on the unique role and solid expertise of bodies and institutions such as the Venice Commission and the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO). The positive outcomes of the legal cooperation are also important for EU’s enlargement and neighbourhood policy, where the Union calls upon partner countries to draw on Council of Europe’s expertise. The fight against cybercrime is another field where the EU and the Council of Europe work together, while the EU continues to promote the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime and its additional protocols as a framework for international cooperation and capacity-building. The EU and the Council of Europe also work together in the promotion of strong, global data protection standards, based on the Convention for the Protection of Individuals with Regard to the Processing of Personal Data (also known as the Convention 108+).
A large number of joint programmes aim to promote respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law. These joint programmes represent the largest source of funding sustaining Council of Europe’s technical assistance and cooperation in support of democratic stability. The EU funds these programmes and the Council of Europe implements them. See our projects section to find out more.
Every two years, the Council of the European Union adopts EU priorities for cooperation with the Council of Europe. Our priorities for the next biennium, 2020-2022, can be found here. Our general lines of cooperation cover the three fundamental dimensions: human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
The EU is founded on the values of human dignity, equality and respect for human rights. These values are found both in the Treaty on the European Union and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. Promoting human rights is a central feature of EU policy, both internally and in its external relations. Today’s human rights promotion is relevant for nearly all fields, including contemporary issues such as artificial intelligence and the environment.
The EU continues to support the Council of Europe, the European Court of Human Rights and the Council of Europe Conventions system as the principal instruments for defending human rights in Europe. The EU is fully committed to accede to the European Convention on Human Rights as this would strengthen the protection of human rights through the creation of a single European legal space. The EU is also actively promoting the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combatting violence against women and domestic violence (also known as the Istanbul Convention), the international benchmark in this area, that was signed by the EU in 2017. The EU further cooperates with the Council of Europe in promoting global standards of strong data protection.
One of the fundamental aims of the EU is to nurture, protect and strengthen democracy. Today we are living in a world where democracy is being increasingly challenged. While democracy stands strong in many countries, others are falling victim to growing trends towards authoritarianism. The current challenges are multifold and we need to counter them in a swift, well-targeted and comprehensive manner. The more democratic its system of government, the more inclusive and equal a society will be. Therefore, the EU benefits greatly from the Venice Commission's expertise on democracy through law, in particular with regards to the improvement and reform of constitutional standards both within the EU and in the enlargement areas and European Neighbourhood Policy countries. The EU holds regular exchanges with the Venice Commission, for instance to ensure that the Venice Commission's legal opinions and the recommendations of the EU Election Observation Missions are mutually reinforcing. In addition, the EU and the Council of Europe are cooperating closely to increase the participation and representation of women and young people in public and political life, in line with the principles of modern inclusive democracies.
Rule of Law
The rule of law is a prerequisite for the fulfilment and consolidation of the other fundamental values of human rights and democracy. Therefore, the EU has redoubled its commitment to upholding the rule of law. In this context, the EU has strengthened its cooperation with the Council of Europe's Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) and in July 2019 became an observer to the group. The EU’s participation in GRECO as an observer facilitates our joint work on capacity-building and the implementation of standards and norms intended to strengthen the rule of law and the fight against corruption, such as the protection of whistle-blowers.
Meeting between EU Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders and Council of Europe Secretary General Marija Pejčinović Burić in Brussels, February 2020
The EU's commitment to fostering the rule of law extends to the enlargement countries and the EU’s neighbourhood, where it is cooperating with the Council of Europe to support states in carrying out essential judicial reforms, for instance through the Dashboard Western Balkans, which is provided under the aegis of the joint programme Horizontal Facility for the Western Balkans and Turkey 2019-2022
Furthermore, the EU draws on the Council of Europe’s standards and methodology when producing the EU Justice Scoreboard which provides comparable data on the independence, quality and efficiency of national justice systems in order to help the EU achieve and provide more effective justice.