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According to Avina near the very beginning of Mass Effect 1,

"In recognition of their work to expand interstellar trade and establish a standardized galactic economy, the Volus were granted an embassy here on the Citadel."

And that was after being the 3rd most populous race in the galaxy (again per Avina), and specifically petitioning for a greater role in galactic affairs. It clearly takes a lot to get an embassy on the Citadel, let alone get a seat on the Council.

Meanwhile, Humanity only made first contact a mere 26 years before (and fought a senseless war in the process), and yet the Humans got the nicest embassy offices on the Presidium (as the Elcor ambassador insists), and according to Anderson, "everyone knows Humanity will be joining the Council, some just think it should happen sooner rather than later."

Avina mentions that "some species feel that humanity has been given preferential treatment", and frankly I agree. The opinions of many aliens, that Humans were impatient and pushy about advancing their role in galactic politics, seem pretty well-founded. Normally it takes centuries to get an embassy, but we get one in 26 years and our ambassador is still throwing tantrums about human interests being neglected? Seriously?

However, Avina goes on to say...

"...the Council gave a great deal of thought to this matter. In the end, they decided that Humanity's impact on Citadel space was significant enough to warrant an embassy."

Why? It had literally been two decades since Humanity even made first contact with ANY alien races, and when it happened we started an accidental war with the Turians, a Council race. That seems like it should be a hindrance to galactic leadership, not a boon.

So, before the events of Shepard and the Reaper War, what "impact" did Humanity have on Citadel space that would justify getting an embassy so quickly and having an assumed forthcoming seat on the Council?

  • I can't comment on the council seat, but as far as the embassy, I would say this: You seem to be tacitly saying that the impact a species had must be positive and therefore an embassy is given as a reward. But that doesn't have to be the case. Fighting a war would most definitely have an impact, albeit a negative one. Maybe the embassy was a means to prevent further misunderstandings? – Alarion Jun 3 '15 at 21:40
  • @Alarion I thought of that, but it doesn't seem to match up to the presentation in-game. Aliens are grumbling about Humanity getting preferential treatment, not that Humans are dangerous and need hand-holding. The Human embassy is an especially nice one, and the Alliance is jockeying for more influence. They don't seem to be the doghouse, or under the watchful eye of the Council, they seem to be getting treated uncommonly well. – Nerrolken Jun 3 '15 at 21:44
  • The Turians actually started the war when they opened fire on the human fleet without making contact first. The Humans tried to reactivate a relay - which is forbidden under Council law - and the Turians observing this kind of decided to shoot first and ask questions later. Leading up to the occupation of Shanxi and the vicious counter attack by the Systems Alliance. This gave Humans a certain reputation but they actually just didn't know better. – Sebastian_H Jun 3 '15 at 21:50
  • @Sebastian_H True, but it doesn't change things: Humanity's first appearance was breaking the rules and fighting a war against a Council race. Understandable, since they didn't know any better, but hardly a reason to give them gifts and greater power. – Nerrolken Jun 3 '15 at 22:08
  • @Nerrolken You need to consider that the Council races are not ruled by the Council although the Council rules Citadel Space. They can act independently and against the will of the Council. It was made clear several times that not all Turians were in favor of the war, including the Turian Councillor. Even if this would not have been the case, the Salarians and Asari thought that what the Turians did was wrong (hence the reparations they had to pay) and thus the majority of the Council thought so (2 against 1). They might have favored the humans to make up for the bad start with the Turians. – Sebastian_H Jun 7 '15 at 8:30
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Edit: Because of Thomas Jacobs comment I took my copy of the Mass Effect: Revelation novel and found a few quotes to improve my answer.

Short:
Humans were a quickly growing military and economic power which were too valuable an ally to ignore even if that disgruntled a few of the existing member races.

Long:
To clear something up first. The Turians started the First Contact War / Relay 314 Incident. When they encountered the human explorers trying to reactivate the dormant Mass Relay 314, they started shooting instead of making contact and explaining that it was forbidden by Council decree.
The Council eventually intervened and ended the war and the Turians had to pay reparations. In short: Humanity was actually the victim, even if sometimes they are made out to be the bad guys.
So if anything, this would have helped to start a good relationship with the council, even if they Turians didn't like it one bit.

As to what Humanity's accomplishments really are, the lore is a little vague. This was of course a necessary element for the story. They had to set the Humans up as an up-and-coming race that was in an ideal position to rise to the role of protector.

The mentioned contribution seems to be how quickly and successfully mankind integrated itself with the galactic community. Humans quickly started to turn up everywhere. Some of their companies managed to successfully push into the galactic market. Humans started to colonize lots of planets, founding new outposts everywhere. They pushed into the Skyllian Verge (which lead to the falling out with the Batarians) and were not afraid to colonize planets thought to be dangerous (mostly because of their closeness to the Terminus systems or Geth space). And they managed all this in just a few decades.

In short, Humans began to quickly contribute to the galactic economy and they increased the sphere of influence of the Citadel. Was their contribution bigger or more important then say the contribution of the Volus to intergalactic trade - we have no way of knowing. But it seems the Council was more impressed with what they managed to accomplish in said short amount of time.

In addition, Humans have apparently the only decently sized war fleet aside from the Batarians (and they broke off relationships) and the Council races. The Volus completely rely on the Turians for protection. Hanar are mostly pacifist. Drell are actually more of a minor race. The Elcor also have no large fleets.

All these point are supported by passages from the novel Mass Effect: Revelation. In the story Saren Arterius has informed the Council of Mankind's illegal AI research and the Council confronts Ambassador Goyle about it, threatening heavy sanctions and penalties. Goyle tells them, that this would cripple Humanity and they would never accept it - even fight a war over it, if necessary. She then continues however, to explain to them why a war is in no ones interest.

All quotes are from page 230.

"Do you really think humanity can defy the Council?" the turian asked, incredulous. [...]
"No," Goyle freely admitted. "But we wouldn't go down easy.[...]The cost would be too high.[...]"

On the Systems Alliance role as a driving force she has the following to say:

"Not to mention the impact it would have on all other species. We're the dominant force in the Skyllian Verge and the Attican Traverse. Alliance expansion drives the economies of those regions; Alliance ships and soldiers help maintain order out there."

And this is what she says about the economic consequences:

"Humanity is a major trade partner with half a dozen other species in Citadel Space, including each of your races. We make up over fifteen percent of the population here on the Cidatel, and there are thousands of humans working in C-Sec and Citadel Control. We've been part of the galactic community for less than a decade and we're already too important - too essential - for you to simply force us out!"

Another major point is Humanity's drive. Apparently none of the other races have the same drive as the Humans. Humans in the Mass Effect universe have the reputation of pushing ever forward. Many of the other races in Citadel space are much slower or not as focused on pushing forward. Because of this trait Humanity's influence and power grew really fast by comparison.

It's not only about the embassy either. Even before the attack on the Citadel there was talk about Humans being on the fast track to become a Council member - the first new one after the Turians.
I think everyone saw that the Humans very quickly developed into a major galactic player and that their rise could not be stopped.

The Council could have stopped them if they wanted, but they had no real grounds to do so because Humanity by and large did not cause harm. So their best option was really to embrace the newcomers and make sure to build a good relationship with them, before they turned into a rogue power like the Batarians.

The attack on the Citadel actually proved them right. In the aftermath no one but Humanity was able to step up and take the additional responsibility.
By slowly feeding them more and more privileges they kept Humanity close and made them into a valuable ally. The disgruntlement of some other member races was a small price to pay for that.

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    I recall that humans did something prior to the events of the games that would have had them sanctioned to hell and back, but the then-ambassador threatened with withdrawing from the Citadel races and possibly even go to war with them: something that Humanity would lose after mauling the Citadel races badly. Also, they started to mass produce carriers after being limited in how many dreadnoughts they could own. Humanity really is a military force to be reckoned with in the galaxy. – Thomas Jacobs Jun 4 '15 at 11:34
  • Some source material for this would make the answer perfect. Even without that, this is a very neat and comprehensive answer. – Stark07 Jun 4 '15 at 13:05
  • @ThomasJacobs You probably mean the events of Mass Effect: Revelation, the first novel. Saren Arterius discovers that Humans conduct AI research which has been strictly forbidden since the Awakening of the Geth. The Council confronts Ambassador Goyle which in turn manages to talk the Council down. Although she later realized that the Council had anticipated her reaction all along and had themselves already planed how they wanted to deal with the situation. Incidentally, by looking this up in my copy of the novel I found a few quotes for my answer. – Sebastian_H Jun 4 '15 at 17:49

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