The Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE, formerly known as the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), was set up in 1991 by the parliamentary leaders of the signatories to the Helsinki Act of 1975, in line with the terms of the Charter of Paris for a New Europe (1990).
This Charter was signed by the heads of state and government of the 34 member countries of the CSCE when they met in Paris in November 1990 and calls for «greater parliamentary involvement in the CSCE, in particular through the creation of a CSCE parliamentary assembly, involving members of parliaments from all participating States».
On the invitation of the Cortes Generales, representatives of the parliaments of all the CSCE member states met in Madrid at the beginning of April 1991 to discuss setting up the parliamentary assembly. At this meeting debates covered the application of the rule of consensus that was in force within the ministerial organs of the CSCE to the new assembly, the frequency with which the assembly was to meet, the role and number of its committees and the number of seats attributed to each national parliament.
At the end of the meeting the participants adopted the Declaration of Madrid, which set out regulations, working methods, the composition of the delegations, the mandate and the distribution of seats for the first official meeting of the CSCE Assembly, which was held in Budapest in July 1992. The Declaration also stipulated that the Assembly was to meet once a year, at a time when most of the national parliaments are normally not sitting (beginning of July).
The aims of the Parliamentary Assembly
The main aim of the Assembly is to facilitate dialogue between different parliaments, an increasingly important aspect in view of the challenges faced by democracy within the OSCE zone. The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly also has other important objectives that are set out in the preamble to its aims:
- to evaluate the implementation of the OSCE’s objectives;
- to debate issues addressed by the Ministerial Council and in meetings of heads of state or government;
- to devise and promote mechanisms for preventing and solving conflicts;
- to encourage the strengthening and consolidation of democratic institutions in the OSCE member states;
- to help develop the OSCE’s institutional structures and relations between the existing OSCE institutions.
The Assembly uses a broad variety of means to achieve these objectives. Each year the general meeting adopts a final declaration and a number of resolutions and recommendations. The committees address the important international issues of the day. Different programmes, including the important task of observing elections, have been put in place to develop and strengthen democracy. In addition, special teams are sent to latent or active crisis zones.
Structure and decision-making
The Assembly meets once a year in July for the annual session. Two additional smaller meetings take place in winter and in autumn. The main organs of the Assembly are the Permanent Committee of heads of delegations, the Office, the Extended Office, the three General committees, the Presidency, the General Secretariat and the International Secretariat.
The Permanent Committee and the Office prepare the Assembly’s work between the sessions, enabling the Assembly to work more efficiently.
The Permanent Committee takes its decisions according to the principle of a «consensus minus one», whereby in order to safeguard human rights, democracy and the rule of law, a decision may be taken against the will of the country concerned in cases of clear, patent and persistant breaches of the OSCE agreements. The Office, the general committees and the annual general meetings of the Assembly take decisions by majority. This enables the Assembly to adopt recommendations concerning controversial issues and to submit proposals for reforming the institutions of the OSCE.
At each annual meeting, the Assembly elects a President, who is the highest authority of the Assembly and chairs its meetings. The President is assisted by the Secretary General, who is elected by the Permanent Committee on the recommendation of the Office. Mr. Roberto Montella will enter in function beginning 2016. He will replace Mr. R. Spencer Oliver (United States) who has held this post since the creation of the Parliamentary Assembly.
The Committee for Political Affairs and Security, also known as the «first committee», is responsible for issues concerning political relations between different countries and military security, including security measures, disarmament, peace-keeping, the prevention of conflicts, crisis management and the peaceful solution of differences.
The «second committee» deals with questions related to the second dimension of the Helsinki Final Act and goes by the name of the General committee for Economic Affairs, Science, Technology and the Environment. Economic cooperation and the development of market economies in countries which did not have such a system before are of growing importance for the Parliamentary Assembly.
Human rights have been at the core of the OSCE’s activities since the start of the Helsinki Process. Reflecting the development of the situation in Europe, the «third committee» is officially called the General committee for Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Issues. This committee addresses the sensitive humanitarian issues that are included in the third dimension of the Helsinki Final Act. A large part of the problems that arise in this area are dealt with by the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) in Warsaw, as well as by the High Commission for National Minorities and the OSCE representative for free media.