The Council of Europe, based in Strasbourg, was founded in 1949 and is the oldest intergovernmental organisation in Europe with the largest number of members. Its focus is the protection and promotion of human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
Today, the Council of Europe has 47 member states – including Switzerland – with a total population of over 800 million people. Within its multilateral framework, intergovernmental agreements aimed at protecting human rights and promoting social and economic progress, such as the European Convention on Human Rights ECHR, are concluded. The Council of Europe also deals with the impact of digitalisation on human rights (in particular freedom of expression and information and data protection), as well as with issues of the changing media landscape and democratic opinion forming.
Importance for Switzerland
Switzerland became the seventeenth member of the Council of Europe in 1963. The Council of Europe is a very important organisation for Switzerland, as it defines central principles in the fundamentals of human rights, the rule of law and democracy on which national legislation is based. These fundamentals can be binding agreements (such as the Data Protection Convention or the Cyber Convention) as well as non-binding soft law instruments to which the European Court of Human Rights also refers in its case law. Switzerland actively participates in the work of the Council of Europe.
Switzerland has ratified more than half of the more than 200 Council of Europe conventions so far. One of the most important conventions is the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). It allows individuals to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
OFCOM is an active member of the Council of Europe’s Steering Committee on Media and Information Society (CDMSI). The task of the CDMSI is to draw up intergovernmental standards for the media and the democratic public sphere, the information society and data protection, and to advise the Committee of Ministers on all matters relating to its area of competence. The CDMSI prepares recommendations and best practices (such as recommendations on strengthening a democratically controlled and pluralistic media system, on the role of online media or on the accountability of internet intermediaries) and organises conferences and meetings to exchange information and experience. The CDMSI includes experts from the various member states of the Council of Europe and observers from various non-member states as well as interested intergovernmental organisations, companies and NGOs.
OFCOM has played a significant role in shaping the work of the CDMSI (and its predecessor committees, the CDMM and the CDMC) over many years. It held the chairmanship of the CDMSI from 2018 to 2019, and the vice-chairmanship in 2014 and from 2020 to 2021. In addition, OFCOM is represented in various CDMSI expert groups and has chaired several of them. OFCOM also takes an active part in the negotiations on the results of the CDMSI ministerial conferences, which set the direction for the work of the CDMSI in the coming years.
Since 2019, OFCOM – in cooperation with the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs’ Directorate of International Law and the Federal Office of Justice – has also represented Switzerland in the Ad Hoc Committee on Artificial Intelligence (CAHAI), as a member of its Bureau. The mandate of CAHAI is to examine the feasibility of a legal framework for artificial intelligence within the framework of the Council of Europe and to propose potential elements for binding and non-binding instruments. Negotiations on such a legal framework are then to be conducted from 2022.
Finally, Switzerland has been working closely with the Council of Europe for years to appropriately introduce the topics of human rights, the rule of law and democracy in international forums on the internet and digital governance (UN IGF, EuroDIG, etc.).
Last modification 12.04.2011