Estonia and the Council of Europe
History of Relations
The Council of Europe (CoE) was established in 1949 in Strasbourg, France. The Council of Europe currently has 47 member states.
Estonia acquired special guest status in the Council of Europe in 1991, becoming a full-fledged member on 14 May 1993. However, Estonia’s relationship with the Council can be traced back to 1960 when, on the 20th anniversary of the forced incorporation of the Baltic states into the Soviet Union, the Council’s Consultative Assembly (later renamed the Parliamentary Assembly) passed a resolution condemning this act.
Since joining the organisation, the Council of Europe has significantly influenced Estonian legislation. CoE experts were involved in the development of Estonian legal regulations in order to ensure conformity to Council of Europe norms. In January 1997, Estonia was the first of the Central and Eastern European states to complete the process of compliance monitoring by the CoE Parliamentary Assembly. CoE Parliamentary Assembly monitoring, established in the 1990s, refers to the observation of new member states to ensure that they fulfil the commitments they have undertaken upon joining the organisation. Monitoring was followed by dialogue, which in Estonia’s case focused on three fields: 1) the treatment of refugees and the reform of prisons; 2) the campaign against the death penalty; and 3) the improvement of teaching Estonian as a foreign language. In December 2000, the monitoring committee recommended to the Parliamentary Assembly that it should consider the dialogue with Estonia concluded.
Ratifying the Council of Europe conventions and completing the subsequent monitoring were also an important part of the preparations for joining the European Union because they helped Estonia to fulfil various EU criteria in the field of democracy and human rights. Thanks to the Council of Europe, Estonia’s legal order has developed more rapidly and in greater conformity with international agreements and norms.
Estonia held the presidency of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe from May to November 1996. During this time, Estonia was instrumental in organising the Committee of Ministers’ monitoring procedure. By facilitating the dialogue between the Council and the three Trans-Caucasian states of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, Estonia also led the initiative for the integration of these countries into European legal structures.
During its presidency, Estonia gave a gift to the Council of Europe: a white “Estonia” piano which can still be found in the foyer of the Committee of Ministers and is often used during the events organised there. Estonia’s next presidency will be from May to November 2016.
Objectives and Activities
The aim of the Council of Europe is to achieve a greater unity among its members for the purpose of realising and safeguarding the ideals and principles that form Europe’s common democratic heritage. Its main role is to strengthen democracy, human rights and the rule of law throughout its member states. The defence and promotion of these fundamental values is no longer simply an internal matter for national governments, but has become a shared responsibility of all the countries concerned. The cornerstones of the CoE system are the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights. The implementation of the judgements of the Court is overseen by the Committee of Ministers.
The CoE also acts as a forum for examining a whole range of social issues, such as social exclusion, intolerance, the integration of immigrants, the threat to private life posed by new technology, bioethics issues, terrorism, drug trafficking and criminal activities. Finally, the CoE is active in enhancing Europe's cultural heritage in all its diversity.
Above all, Estonia values the Council of Europe as a normative organisation - one that creates legal norms and monitors their fulfilment. Increasing the observance of the principles of human rights, democracy and the rule of law, as well as the development of international law, is one of Estonia’s five foreign policy objectives.
As a member of the Council of Europe, Estonia’s priorities are:
- to uphold the authority of the European Convention on Human Rights and of the Court’s judgements;
- to develop international law with a particular focus on freedom of expression and media including on the internet, cybercrime, and issues related to gender equality, the rights of women, and LGBTI persons.
Conventions are the essential instruments used by the Council of Europe to promote democracy and the rule of law, with the European Convention on Human Rights (full name; European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms) being the most important one. Estonia acceded to the Convention on 16 April 1996 and since 1993 has ratified more than eighty CoE treaties.
Currently, Estonia is represented in the Council of Europe by H.E. the Ambassador Ms Gea Rennel
European Court of Human Rights
The European Court of Human Rights is the body of last judicial resort in ensuring the implementation of the responsibilities of Council of Europe members as regards the European Convention on Human Rights. Information about the cases related to Estonia and instructions on how to file an application to the Court are available on the Estonian Foreign Ministry’s website (in Estonian only).
Ms Julia Laffranque is currently, the Judge at the Court elected with respect to Estonia.