Walter Schwimmer was born on June 16, 1942 in Vienna, Austria where he also grew up and attended primary and secondary school. He studied law at Vienna University where he graduated doctor of law in 1964. He engaged himself in the movement of Young Christian Workers (YCW) and in the Austrian Federation of Workers and Employees (ÖAAB, branch of Austrian People’s Party – ÖVP). He started his professional career in the legal department of the Union of Private Employees. He did his military service in the Austrian Federal Army from 1965 to 1966.
In 1971 he was elected as the at this time youngest member of the Austrian Parliament (Nationalrat). He was re-elected seven times to the parliament. He served as Vice-Chairman of the parliamentary group of the Austrian People's Party from 1986 to 1994, Vice-Chairman of the Committee on Social Affairs from 1978 to 1989, Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Health from 1989 to 1994, Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Justice in 1995 and Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Housing and Construction from 1995 to 1999.
He was also the Chairman of the Inter-Parliamentary Union friendship group Austria-Israel of the Austrian Parliament from 1976 to 1999, Member of the National Board of the Austria-Israel Association from 1973 to 1999, Vice-President from 1977 to 1981, Acting President (after the assassination of the former President, Heinz Nittel) from 1981 to 1982 and President from 1982 to August 1999.
When the Berlin Wall fell and the division of Europe into West and East came to an end, Walter Schwimmer started to work for the integration of the new democracies as equal partners into Pan-European structures. He became Member of the Austrian delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in 1991. He was one of the leading members of the Assembly, Chairman of the Group of the European People's Party-Christian Democrats since 1996, Member of the Bureau, President of the Sub-Committee on International Economic Relations, Vice-President of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, Vice-President of the Assembly in 1996 and rapporteur on various issues including monitoring of member states (Romania, Slovakia, Turkey).
In June 1999, he was elected Secretary General of the Council of Europe (September 1999 - August 2004). During his term of office the Council of Europe grew through the admission of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia-Montenegro and the membership of Monaco was prepared. One of his political priorities was the inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue. He established close relations with the League of Arab States and was the first Secretary General of the Council of Europe to attend a ministerial conference and a summit of heads of state of the Organisation of the Islamic Cooperation.
In 2005, after his mandate in the Council of Europe was ended, Walter Schwimmer was invited by Vladimir I. Yakunin, the president and founder of WPFDC, to join the World Public Forum – Dialogue of Civilizations and chair its International Coordination Committee. In October 2013, during the 11th annual Rhodes Forum of WPFDC he was appointed at the meeting of the founders Co-Chairman of the organization.
Walter Schwimmer is the author of several books and articles, in particular of “The European Dream”, published also in German (“Der Traum Europa”), Italian (“Sognare Europa”), Russian (“Мечты O Европе”) and Serbian (“San Evropa”).