A dedicated mission to investigate exoplanetary atmospheres represents a major milestone in our quest to understand our place in the universe by placing our Solar System in context and by addressing the suitability of planets for the presence of life. EChO -the Exoplanet Characterisation Observatory- is a mission concept specifically geared for this purpose. EChO will provide simultaneous, multi-wavelength spectroscopic observations on a stable platform that will allow very long exposures. EChO will build on observations by Hubble, Spitzer and groundbased telescopes, which discovered the first molecules and atoms in exoplanetary atmospheres. EChO will simultaneously observe a broad enough spectral region -from the visible to the mid-IR- to constrain from one single spectrum the temperature structure of the atmosphere and the abundances of the major molecular species. The spectral range and resolution are tailored to separate bands belonging to up to 30 molecules to retrieve the composition and temperature structure of planetary atmospheres. The target list for EChO includes planets ranging from Jupiter-sized with equilibrium temperatures Teq up to 2000 K, to those of a few Earth masses, with Teq ~300 K. We have baselined a dispersive spectrograph design covering continuously the 0.4-16 micron spectral range in 6 channels (1 in the VIS, 5 in the IR), which allows the spectral resolution to be adapted from several tens to several hundreds, depending on the target brightness. The instrument will be mounted behind a 1.5 m class telescope, passively cooled to 50 K, with the instrument structure and optics passively cooled to ~45 K. EChO will be placed in a grand halo orbit around L2. We have also undertaken a first-order cost and development plan analysis and find that EChO is easily compatible with the ESA M-class mission framework.