Council of Europe
The Council was set up to defend human rights, parliamentary democracy and the rule of law within Europe and the world, which includes developing continent-wide agreements to standardise member countries' social and legal practices. The European Court of Human Rights is based in Strasbourg, and was established by the Council through the European Convention on Human Rights. It is composed of one Judge for each State party to the Convention and ensures, in the final instance, that contracting states observe their obligations under the Convention. Since November 1998, the Court has operated on a full-time basis.
The Council is interested in the concept of a 'European identity' based on shared values and cutting across different cultures. The European Cultural Convention is the framework for the Council of Europe's work on education, culture, heritage, sport and youth. To date 48 European states have acceded to it and share in the Council's work in these fields. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the re-configuring of Europe the Council has acted as a political anchor and human rights watchdog for Europe's post-communist democracies. It carries out a number of project and programmes to assist the countries of central and eastern Europe in carrying out and consolidating political, legal and constitutional reform in parallel with economic reform. The Council of Europe has also carried out a number of cultural policy reviews of former communist countries as an exercise in preparing them for closer integration and eventual membership of pan-European mechanisms such as the European Union. Other reviews are carried out in the fields of human rights, local democracy, education and the environment.
It does not have large budget for funding and development (the total budget in 2004 was 180.5 million Euros), however its expertise and overview is extremely important in European political terms and its borders are much wider than the traditional 'geographical' borders of Europe. The Council's culture website is extremely informative.