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Cooperation between the European Union and the Council of Europe is based on the shared values of Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law, and the mission to spread these values throughout Europe and beyond.
In the past few years, the two organisations have been able to achieve greater efficiency while avoiding unnecessary overlap by combining their means of action through joint programmes.
Even though the relations between both organisations exist since the creation of the European Economic Community (ECC) in 1957 – the forerunner of the European Union – the start of a real cooperation effort dates back to 1992, the date upon which the first joint programmes were created.
In 2005, the cooperation between the European Union and the Council of Europe reached a new stage. At this date, during the third Summit of the Council of Europe in Warsaw, Prime Minister of Luxembourg and former President of the Eurogroup Jean-Claude Juncker was asked to write a report on the relationship between the European Union and the Council of Europe. This report, A sole Ambition for the European Continent, was published in 2006 and is now considered as the basis for cooperation between the two organisations. Indeed, it led to the signature of the Memorandum of Understanding in May 2007. The latter defines the cooperation between both organisations, on the basis of complementarity and coherence.
"The Council of Europe and the European Union were products of the same idea, the same spirit and the same ambition. They mobilised the energy and commitment of the same founding fathers of Europe."
Jean-Claude Juncker, A sole Ambition for the European Continent
In 2017, the EU and the Council of Europe celebrated 10 years of cooperation on the basis of the Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2007.
The strategic partnership, which has developed in recent years, is based on three pillars:
With a view to coordinating positions and policies on geographical and thematic issues, high-level consultations are organised with, in particular, 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.
Inter-institutional contacts are maintained with a view to furthering synergies between the EU and Council of Europe monitoring and advisory bodies, and between Council of Europe standards and EU legislation. This also applies to EU candidate and potential candidate countries, as well as to the EU’s European Neighbourhood Policy countries, upon which the EU calls upon to draw on Council of Europe expertise.
Numerous joint programmes to promote respect for human rights and the rule of law, and to address education, youth issues, and social affairs, are implemented. These Joint Programmes represent the largest source of funding sustaining Council of Europe technical assistance and cooperation projects in support of democratic stability. The Cumulative Budgetary Envelope being implemented in 2017 reached € 146.5 million (€ 145.9 million in 2016) of which the EU’s contribution amounted to € 124.3 million (84.8%), and that of the Council of Europe to € 22.2 million (15.2%).
Each year since 2012, the European Union publishes a document defining its annual priorities for the cooperation with the Council of Europe. The priorities defined for the year 2018-2019 are the following:
- Geographic cooperation
- Thematic cooperation (Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law)
- Cross-cutting issues
The complete document can be found here.
The future accession of the EU to the European Convention of Human Rights will improve consistency in the protection of human rights across the continent. However, the Court of Justice issued an opinion on 18 December 2014 on the draft agreement on the EU’s accession to the ECHR, and declared that it was incompatible with EU law. Nevertheless, the EU’s accession to the ECHR remains an obligation under the Lisbon Treaty. The EU is also strongly committed to the Council of Europe’s convention system, and the EU will therefore strengthen its commitment to accede to a number of selected CoE conventions – the subject matter of which will relate to the areas of priority listed above.
In the year to come (2018-2019), the EU will continue to focus on a limited number of non-exclusive geographic and thematic areas. Flexibility will underpin our ever-deepening political, legal and technical cooperation in order to respond better to emerging crises.
The partnership also builds on the ‘Statement of Intent’ for cooperation in the EU enlargement region, the Eastern Partnership, and Southern Mediterranean countries (EU Neighbourhood region) signed between the European Commission and the Council of Europe in April 2014.
In addition, as set out in the EU Strategic Framework on Human Rights and Democracy, the EU will work closely together with the Council of Europe on areas of common interest.
The EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy 2015-2019 identifies many priority areas where the Council of Europe is already working intensively. The Action Plan calls for an increase in cooperation with regional organisations – especially on working to ensure the best practice on human rights and democracy.
The EU will also continue to promote a strategic, focused and structured cooperation in Council of Europe forums.