Structure of the Council of Europe

Secretary General – Ms Marija Pejčinović Burić

Ms Marija Pejčinović Burić
Ms Marija Pejčinović Burić. Image credit: Council of Europe

The Secretary General is elected by the Parliamentary Assembly for a five-year term at the head of the Organisation. She is responsible for the strategic planning and direction of the Council's work programme and budget. She leads and represents the Organisation.

The current Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Marija Pejčinović Burić, took up office in September 2019, having been elected by PACE the previous June. She was formerly Croatia's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign and European Affairs. Read more on the Council of Europe website.

“Ireland is a founding and much-valued member of the Council of Europe. It assumes the Presidency of our Committee of Ministers at a difficult moment for our continent: a time in which our values are under attack. So, I welcome the priorities that Ireland has chosen for its Presidency. These will help ensure our further impact for the benefit of our 46 member states.”

Committee of Ministers

Minister sitting in circular structure for the Committee of Ministers
Committee of Ministers. Image credit: Council of Europe

The Committee of Ministers is the Council's decision-making body. Comprising the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of each member state, it meets once a year, typically in May.

The day-to-day functioning of the Council is carried out by the Committee of Ministers' Deputies (CM), made up of each member state's Permanent Representative (Ambassador) in Strasbourg.

The CM holds a meeting in Strasbourg most Wednesdays, and its duties include deciding on Council of Europe policy and approving its budget and programme of activities. In collaboration with the Parliamentary Assembly, it is the guardian of the Council's fundamental values, and monitors Member States' compliance with their undertakings.

Budget contributions are calculated according to an agreed formula that considers national income and population. Ireland will contribute at least €4.1m to the roughly €500m budget in 2022. This includes an additional allocation of €440,000 that was committed in May 2022 to ensure that the Council’s 2022 budget will not be negatively affected by Russia’s exclusion. Ireland will voluntarily contribute an additional €935,000 this year to its priority projects, including support for democratic and judicial institutions in Ukraine.

Four times a year the CM convenes a special meeting on Human Rights - les réunions Droits de l'homme du Comité des Ministres - or CMDH. Ireland chaired the CMDH in the six months leading up to its Presidency.

These rigorous, three-day meetings examine judgments handed down by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) that have not yet been implemented by the respondent states. The CMDH takes action, as required, to ensure that judgments are implemented.

Read more on the Council of Europe website.

Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe
Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Image credit: Council of Europe

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) is composed of parliamentarians from each member state. It holds plenary sessions four times per year, normally in January, April, June and October, where it discusses reports prepared by its nine committees. The plenary sessions are also the democratic forums for debates on topical issues, presentations on monitoring missions to Member States and votes stemming from the findings of its reports.

The PACE also elects the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, the Human Rights Commissioner and the judges on the European Court of Human Rights. National delegations must conform to the proportion of elected representatives in their national assemblies, and consider gender balance. The Irish national delegation may be appointed for the duration of a Dáil, or on an annual basis.

The current Irish delegation consists of four members - Senator Fiona O’Loughlin (Chair), Deputy Dara Calleary, Senator Paul Gavan and Senator Joe O’Reilly – and four substitute representatives – Senator Lynn Boylan, Senator Róisín Garvey, Deputy Emer Higgins and Deputy Thomas Pringle. Read more on the PACE website.

Head of PACE Delegation Senator Fiona O'Loughlin
Head of PACE Delegation Senator Fiona O'Loughlin. Image credit: Conor McCabe
“Ireland is proud to be a founder member of the Council of Europe, and through our Presidency we will reaffirm our commitment to the European spirit of inclusivity, shared values and respect. Democratic values cannot be taken for granted. They must be protected and defended- this is a cornerstone of our presidential priorities. Ní neart go cur le chéile (there is no strength without unity)” - Head of PACE Delegation Senator Fiona O'Loughlin

Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe

Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe
Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe. Image credit: Council of Europe

The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe is a pan-European political assembly responsible for strengthening local democracy in the Council's 46 member states. Composed of two chambers – the Chamber of Local Authorities and the Chamber of Regions – and three committees, it brings together over 600 elected officials representing more than 150 000 local and regional authorities over 46 Member States. Its main activities are the monitoring of local elections and promotion of the Council of Europe’s conventions at a local level.

Its role is to promote local and regional democracy, improve local and regional governance and strengthen authorities' self-government. It pays particular attention to application of the principles laid down in the European Charter of Local Self-Government. It encourages the devolution and regionalisation processes, as well as cross-border co-operation between cities and regions.

Representatives are appointed for a five-year term in accordance with each Member State's own procedure. Like PACE, Ireland is represented at Congress by four representatives - Councillors Jimmy Maloney (Head of Delegation), Gobnait Ni Mhuimneacain, Anne Colgan and John Crowe - and four substitute representatives – Councillors Alan Cheevers, Aisling Moran, Deirdre O’Donovan and Tom Welby. Read more on the Congress website.

"I am delighted to reinforce Ireland’s strong identification with the European values of democracy and the rule of law. Such characteristics essential to a civilised society are lived out every day in the service of local authority elected members throughout the member states of the Congress. The Irish delegation with its particular perspective from the western periphery of the continent is determined to play its part in supporting Ireland’s Presidency of the Council of Europe at a time when champions of European values were never more needed." - Head of the Irish Delegation to the Congress of Local & Regional Authorities Councillor Jimmy Moloney

European Court of Human Rights

European Court of Human Rights
European Court of Human Rights. Image credit: Council of Europe

The European Court of Human Rights hears applications from both individuals and Member States on alleged breaches of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR). This is the permanent judicial body of the Council of Europe which guarantees for all Europeans the rights safeguarded by the ECHR. It is open to states and individuals regardless of nationality.

Since 1998 it has sat as a full-time court and individuals can apply to it directly. In almost fifty years the Court has delivered more than 10,000 judgments. These are binding on the countries concerned and have led governments to alter their legislation and administrative practice across a wide range of areas.

The Court has faced challenges in recent years, notably due to the enormous increase in the number of pending cases, after membership of the Council of Europe doubled following the accession of a large number of formerly Communist States in the 1990s.

Vice-President of the European Court of Human Rights, Judge Siofra O'Leary
Vice-President of the European Court of Human Rights, Judge Siofra O'Leary

Throughout this process Ireland has been supportive of measures to improve the functioning of the Court, whilst ensuring that its ultimate authority and independence are safeguarded and the rule of law upheld. Former Chief Justice John Murray acted as Chair of an Advisory Panel on the appointment of judges to the Court until 2017 and Ireland has funded the webcasting of proceedings for a number of years.

The backlog of cases reached a peak of 150,000 in 2012 before reducing to the current number of 50,000 following the adoption of mechanisms such as pilot judgments, where systematic failings are dealt with by determining a single case.

These remedial measures commenced in the context of a series of declarations on the reform of the Court and Convention system signed by Member States, beginning with the Interlaken Declaration in 2010 and continuing through Brighton, Izmir, Brussels and Copenhagen in 2018.

In addition to managing the backlog of cases, the reform process has sought to ensure high quality judgments, improve the execution of judgments and clarify the role that subsidiarity plays in the justice system. Read more on the Council of Europe website.

Commissioner for Human Rights – Ms Dunja Mijatović

Commissioner for Human Rights – Ms Dunja Mijatović
Commissioner for Human Rights – Ms Dunja Mijatović

The Commissioner for Human Rights promotes human rights reform and protection in Council of Europe member states. Dunja Mijatović, a national of Bosnia-Herzegovina, who twice held the position of OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, was elected as Commissioner for a six-year term in January 2018. Read more on the Commissioner website.

Conference of International Non-Governmental Organisations

Conference of International Non-Governmental Organisations
Conference of International Non-Governmental Organisations. Image credit: Council of Europe

The Conference of International Non-Governmental Organisations (INGOs) of the Council of Europe is the representative body of the international Non-Governmental Organisations enjoying participatory status with the Council of Europe.

It includes some 400 INGOs and provides vital links between politicians and the public and brings the voice of civil society to the Council. Read more on the INGOs website.