European Union – Council of Europe cooperation and joint programmes

Briefing 28-09-2018

The Council of Europe (CoE) and the European Union (EU) are to a significant extent based on shared values, and have overlapping membership. This has led them over time to develop a strategic partnership and joint actions beyond the EU's and, more recently, the CoE's borders, making use of the latter's longstanding technical expertise on human rights, the rule of law and democracy. For the EU, the CoE convention system and the European Court of Human Rights remain central instruments for defending human rights in Europe, as stated in the EU's 2017 Annual Report on Human Rights and Democracy in the World. The relationship between the CoE and the EU is generally seen as mutually beneficial and thriving, each partner contributing according to its own strengths and capabilities. In 2011 the CoE launched a new approach towards the EU's neighbourhood regions, endorsed by the EU. Cooperation has become more structured, with the Council of the EU agreeing and adopting the EU's priorities for cooperation with the Council of Europe on a biannual basis, in cooperation with the CoE. The EU-CoE relationship has not escaped some criticism, however, namely that the CoE acts as a political consultancy or a junior partner to the EU owing to the latter's budgetary clout and its disproportionate and larger contribution to joint activities. There is arguably room to improve the partnership. According to some, the EU countries (which are all CoE members) need to develop a strategic and long-term vision regarding future cooperation with the CoE.