The core mandate of the Council of Europe is the protection of human rights and the promotion of pluralistic democracy and the rule of law. The Council’s sphere of work covers all aspects of European society except defence. Thus the Council’s working programme includes human rights, the media, cooperation in the field of law, social cohesion, health, education, culture, the maintenance of common heritage such as historic buildings, sports, youth, local democracy and cross-border cooperation, environment and regional planning.
Special priorities the Council of Europe has set itself in its current work include the reform of the protection system of the European Convention on Human Rights (while preserving the right of individual petition), the promotion of democratisation in the new democracies and providing assistance to help them achieve full freedom of opinion and information. It contributes to the actual realization of these essential aims by maintaining a local presence (e.g. offices established by the Council of Europe headed by representatives of the Secretary General and information centres) and monitoring compliance with the terms of accession through the Parliamentary Assembly, the Committee of Ministers and missions by members of the Parliamentary Assembly, as well as through visits by experts. This is supplemented by high-level visits by the Secretary General and the President of the Parliamentary Assembly.
The underlying idea behind the work undertaken by the Council of Europe is still to help establish general respect for its fundamental values by elaborating the relevant uniform legal basis. The European Conventions and Agreements worked out by the Council (more than 200) thus serve each Member State as a basis for harmonising and amending their own legislation. In its capacity as a source of legal instruments the Council of Europe is thus highly useful to the European Union, too. Currently, the accession of the European Union to the European Convention on Human Rights is being prepared. Some conventions and agreements are also open for adoption by non-member states. Moreover, the results of studies and activities are made available to governments and thus foster co-operation and social progress in Europe.
The Council of Europe also adopts Partial Agreements, a form of "variable geometry" co-operation, which allow the interested states to carry out a specific activity of common interest with the consent of other members.
The Council is financed by the governments of member states whose contributions to the organisation's budget are calculated in relation to their population and wealth. The 2013 budget is approximately EUR 244 million. The Austrian contribution for 2013 amounts to approximately EUR 4.17 million, which is equivalent to 1.75% of the organisation’s overall budget.