The Council of Europe is an international organisation of European nations. It is not to be confused with the European Union, with which its membership substantially overlaps. It has 47 member states and one applicant country (Belarus). Belarus and the Holy See are the only European nations not to be members; the latter has special observer status, along with the USA, Canada, Mexico and Japan.
- to develop common and democratic principles based on the European Convention on Human Rights;
- to protect human rights, pluralist democracy and the rule of law;
- to encourage development of Europe's cultural identity and diversity;
- to find common solutions to the challenges facing European society: such as discrimination against minorities, xenophobia, intolerance, bioethics and cloning, terrorism, trafficking in human beings, organised crime and corruption, cybercrime, violence against children;
- to consolidate democratic stability in Europe by backing political, legislative and constitutional reform.
The ruling body is the Council of Minsters, comprising the foreign ministers (or ambassadors deputed to the CoE) of the 47 member states. In addition the CoE works through a Parliamentary Assembly (618 members drawn from national parliaments) and the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities. It also has an 1800-strong secretariat.