History of Relations
The Council of Europe (CE) was established in 1949 in Strasbourg (France). The Council of Europe currently consists of 47 member states.
Estonia acquired special guest status in the Council of Europe in 1991. On 14 May 1993 Estonia became a full-fledged member of the Council of Europe. 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.
The Council of Europe opened an Information Office in Tallinn in March 1995. The Office was closed in the beginning of 2011.
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 are their common heritage, as well as facilitating the members’ economic and social progress.
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 and collective responsibility of all the countries concerned. The Council of Europe is also active in enhancing Europe's cultural heritage in all its diversity.
Finally, it acts as a forum for examining a whole range of social problems, 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.
The Council of Europe is in the process of developing from an organisation that creates standards to a more political body. More attention is being devoted to developing assessment criteria in various fields and ensuring that they are being complied with, i.e. monitoring in member states. The focus is no longer restricted to providing recommendations to member states for adopting laws. The actual implementation of these laws is also being observed.
Estonia firmly supports the opinion that all the member states must meet their obligations on an equal basis.
Conventions are the essential instruments of the Council of Europe for the promotion of democracy and the rule of law, with the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms being the most important one. Estonia acceded to it on 16 April 1996.
Estonia’s progressive integration into the network of European conventions has been, and continues to be, effective. At this point Estonia has ratified 67 CE treaties and signed 13. The legal expertise provided by the Council has helped ensure that Estonia's legislation is in keeping with European law, as well as with the spirit of democratic thinking embodied by the Council of Europe.
Since 2003 Estonia has signed:
European Convention on the Compensation of Victims of Violent Crimes
Additional Protocol to the Convention on cybercrime, concerning the criminalisation of acts of a racist and xenophobic nature committed through computer systems
- Protocol amending the European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism
Since 2003 entering into force in Estonia:
European Convention on Spectator Violence and Misbehaviour at Sports Events and in particular at Football Matches
Civil Law Convention on Corruption
Convention on Cybercrime (1/07/2004)
- Protocol No. 13 to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, concerning the abolition of the death penalty in all circumstances (1/06/2004)
Membership of Partial Agreements:
European Audiovisual Observatory (December, 1992)
European Commission for Democracy through Law- (April, 1995)
Enlarged partial Agreement establishing the European Centre for Modern Languages (March, 1995)
Council of Europe Development Bank (April, 1998)
Partial Agreement in the Social and Public Health Field (June, 1998* observer)
European Pharmacopoeia (April, 2002)
Co-operation Group to Combat Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking in Drugs (Pompidou) (July, 1998)
- Agreement establishing the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) (May, 1999).
The Structure of the Council of Europe
The Committee of Ministers
The Committee is the decision-making body of the Council of Europe, consisting of the foreign ministers of each member state. The chairman of the Committee is the foreign minister of the presiding country.
Main responsibilities of the presiding country:
The presidency declares a programme (priorities) that reflects the CE’s current priorities and the scope of its activities during its concrete term. The foreign minister becomes the chairman of the Committee of Ministers and heads the summit at the conclusion of the presidency, as well as answers the questions of representatives at the Parliamentary Assembly and visits candidate states and problem regions.
Estonia chaired the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe from May to November 1996. Estonia’s contribution to the Council during this period proved that Estonia could be a successful leader in international co-operation. During its presidency, Estonia was instrumental in organising the Committee of Ministers’ self-monitoring procedure. Estonia also led the initiative for the integration of the three Trans-Caucasian states into European legal structures, thereby increasing the dialogue between the Council and these three states.
The Committee meets twice a year at the ministerial level (Estonian Minister of Foreign Affairs is Ms. Kristiina Ojuland). The day-to-day work of the Committee is conducted by the ministers’ deputies or ambassadors accredited to Strasbourg. Currently, Estonia is represented in the Council of Europe by H.E. the Ambassador Mr. Alar Streimann.
The Assembly is where the debates take place. The Assembly is free to choose its own agenda; it deals with topics of current or future importance, including problems of contemporary society and aspects of international politics.
The Assembly’s 313 members and their 313 substitutes are elected or appointed by the national parliaments of the 45 Council of Europe member states. The parliaments of Canada, Israel and Mexico enjoy observer status.
National delegations are composed in such a way as to correspond to a fair representation of the political parties or groups in their parliaments. Mr. Marko Mihkelson (Res Publica Party) heads the Estonian delegation at the Parliamentary Assembly.
Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe (CLRAE)
CLRAE is a consultative institution that represents local and regional authorities. The Union of Estonian Association of Local Authorities represents Estonia at the CLRAE.
European Court of Human Rights
The European Court of Human Rights is a Council of Europe judicial institution that was established in accordance with the European Convention on Human Rights and is situated in Strasbourg. It is the body of last judicial instance, ensuring the implementation of responsibilities of the Council of Europe members as regards the European Convention on Human Rights. Mr. Rait Maruste is one of the judges at the European Court of Human Rights.