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Canadian Delegation to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Parliamentary Assembly

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Established by theHelsinki Final Act in 1975 as the “Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe” (CSCE),1 the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) was given its current name at the Budapest Summit in December 1994. The OSCE participating States, currently 57 in number, are the European states, the United States, Canada, as well as the states that made up the former Soviet Union and Mongolia. The OSCE maintains special relations with 11 other states from the Mediterranean area and Asia-Pacific, referred to as “Partners for Cooperation.” The organization is a primary instrument for early warning, conflict prevention and crisis management. The OSCE is also recognized as a regional arrangement under Chapter VIII of the Charter of the United Nations, which requires that participating UN Member States “make every effort to achieve pacific settlement of local disputes through such regional arrangements or by such regional agencies before referring them to the Security Council.”2 However, the OSCE is not an international organization in the strict sense of international law.


The OSCE’s unique character derives from its composition, which enables Canada to participate as full members in an organization that addresses European issues. The OSCE favours inclusiveness and dialogue over selective admission. This enables it to keep communication channels open on key security issues between Western democracies and countries with less exemplary democratic records. Whereas the key goals of the Council of Europe are to promote and defend democratic development and human rights, and to hold member governments accountable for their performance in these areas, the OSCE aims to foster the development of an expansive, conflict-free geographic area – from Vancouver to Vladivostok. In this context, the OSCE also aims to foster democratic principles in participating States.

The OSCE’s commitments, decisions and activities stem from a comprehensive understanding of security that extends beyond the political–military model. In the Charter for European Security, adopted at the November 1999 Istanbul Summit, the heads of state and of government of the participating countries agreed to “address the human, economic, political and military dimensions of security as an integral whole.”3 All forms of peaceful cooperation between the participating countries are considered as having the potential to reduce the risks of conflict in the region. The OSCE’s cooperative approach is confirmed by the fact that all 57 states have equal status. All decisions and commitments are made by consensus rather than majority vote.4

Under the auspices of the OSCE, participating States have undertaken a variety of commitments, which are contained in the Helsinki Final Actand in other decisions of the OSCE Ministerial Council. The Ministerial Council is made up of the foreign ministers of the participating States. OSCE commitments are not legally binding on the participating States under international law; on the other hand, because they are undertaken by consensus, there is a political imperative for participating States to live up to the commitments they have made.


After the end of the Cold War, the OSCE developed its institutions and operational capacities in response to particular and often urgent needs, and not as a long-term strategic plan. The 1990 Charter of Paris for a New Europe laid the foundations for the OSCE’s institutional framework.

Approximately 60% of the OSCE budget is devoted to its field missions, which are located in South-Eastern Europe (the Balkans), Eastern Europe, the South Caucasus and Central Asia.5 The six OSCE missions in South-Eastern Europe account for 56% of the field mission budget and just over one third of the organization’s total budget. The fact that the OSCE has no missions in Western Europe or North America is a point frequently raised by the Commonwealth of Independent States6 to argue that, although it claims to be cooperative and egalitarian, the OSCE applies a double standard in its relations with the participating countries. The OSCE’s response is that its operations stem from commitments made in a consensual manner and at the invitation of the countries themselves.

The OSCE is led by a rotating “Chairperson-in-Office” selected to serve a one-year term from among the foreign ministers of the participating countries. As the organization’s senior diplomat, the Chairperson-in-Office is supported by the Secretariat and its Secretary General who are based in Vienna.

On 1 January 2016, Germany succeeded Serbia as the chair of the organization. Mr. Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German Foreign Minister, is serving as Chairman-in-Office. Austria will succeed Germany as chair of the organization on 1 January 2017.

Italy’s Lamberto Zannier has served as OSCE Secretary General since 1 July 2011. He succeeded France’s Marc Perrin de Brichambaut who served as OSCE Secretary General from 2005 until 2011.

THE Organization for Security and Co-operation
in Europe Parliamentary Assembly

The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) is the parliamentary dimension of the OSCE. It was created by the OSCE (at that time the CSCE) in 1991, following the call set out by the participating States in the 1990 Charter of Paris for a New Europe. Its primary purpose is to facilitate inter‑parliamentary dialogue on issues facing the participating States and to issue recommendations for the OSCE and for the governments of the participating States, parliaments and citizens concerning the OSCE’s three spheres of action (outlined in more detail below). Among the OSCE PA’s objectives are to:

  • assess the implementation of OSCE objectives by participating States;
  • discuss subjects addressed during meetings of the OSCE;
  • develop and promote mechanisms for the prevention and resolution of conflicts;
  • support the strengthening and consolidation of democratic institutions in OSCE participating States; and
  • contribute to the development of OSCE institutional structures and of relations between existing OSCE Institutions.

A. Structure and Division of Responsibilities

The OSCE PA is organized according to three General Committees representing the three “baskets” of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act and the areas of focus of the OSCE: the First General Committee on Political Affairs and Security, the Second General Committee on Economic Affairs, Science, Technology and Environment, and the Third General Committee on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions.7 Its work is also carried out by way of ad hoc committees, working groups, and special representatives and envoys. The Parliamentary Assembly also plays a key role in observing elections in the OSCE region and regularly sends parliamentary delegations on field missions.

The OSCE PA is managed by a Bureau and a Standing Committee. The Bureau comprises a president, nine vice-presidents, a treasurer, and the president emeritus, as well as the chair, the vice-chair and rapporteur for each of the three General Committees. The Bureau is responsible for ensuring that the decisions of the Standing Committee are carried out and takes decisions by majority vote. The Standing Committee comprises the members of the Bureau and the 57 heads of delegation of the participating States. The Standing Committee guides the work of the Assembly, approves its budget and appoints the Secretary General. It uses the “consensus minus one” rule when voting on decisions, except in the case of the appointment of the Secretary General, which is done by a majority vote.

The Secretary-General and the Secretariat located in Copenhagen provide administrative support to the OSCE PA. These support structures were established and became operational in January 1993 soon after the creation of the OSCE PA.

Today, the OSCE PA comprises more than 300 parliamentarians who are appointed by their respective parliaments. Observers of the Assembly include parliamentarians from the OSCE’s Mediterranean Partners for Co-operation (Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia), Asia-Pacific Partners for Co‑operation (Japan, Korea, Thailand, Afghanistan and Australia), as well as representatives from other parliamentary assemblies and security organizations.

B. Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Parliamentary Assembly Meetings

Since its first Annual Meeting in Budapest in July 1992, members of the OSCE PA and representatives of the Partners for Co-operation have convened several times a year to carry out the mandate of the Assembly.

The General Committees convene jointly and separately at the Winter Meeting in February in Vienna, where the OSCE’s headquarters are located, to discuss and debate issues of importance, receive briefings by senior OSCE officials, and hear presentations by the committee Rapporteurs on their draft resolutions for the upcoming Annual Session.

The Annual Session held in July is hosted by the parliament of a participating state. The Annual Session is the most important event in the OSCE PA calendar. At this meeting, the Assembly debates a number of OSCE matters and resolutions, receives reports, adopts the Session’s declaration, and elects its officers.

At the Autumn Meetings, also hosted by the parliament of a participating state, the Assembly in plenary holds a conference on a topical issue.

The Bureau meets at the Annual Session as well as in April and December. The Standing Committee meets at the Annual Session, the Autumn Meeting, and at the Winter Meeting.

The OSCE PA also convenes to discuss more specific topics either on the margins of these regular annual meetings or at other times. For instance, the Parliamentary Forum on the Mediterranean is held during the Autumn Meetings, and the Economic Conference is hosted by the parliament of a participating state, typically every second spring.

C. Election Monitoring

The OSCE PA is highly active in election monitoring, having observed over 130 presidential and parliamentary elections in the OSCE region since 1993. It cooperates with the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights in its election observation missions. Canadian parliamentarians have participated in many of the OSCE PA election observation missions, including most recently the 2014 and 2009 parliamentary elections in Moldova, the 2014 and 2010 presidential elections in Ukraine, as well as Ukraine’s 2014 and 2012 parliamentary elections, the 2010 parliamentary election in Azerbaijan, and the 2009 presidential election in Kyrgyzstan.

D. Budget

The Assembly’s budget covers most of the organizational expenses related to the Annual Session, Winter Meeting, Autumn Meetings, Standing Committee and Bureau Meetings, official visits, the election observation programme, as well as the costs of the International Secretariat. Host parliaments of the Annual Sessions contribute significantly by providing considerable support. The Secretariat’s office facilities are provided free of charge by the Danish Folketing (parliament).

The PA’s budget is approved at the Annual Session for a fiscal year that runs from 1 October to 30 September of the following year. The draft budget is circulated by the Treasurer at least 30 days prior to the beginning of the Annual Session. At the 2015 Annual Session in Helsinki, the Standing Committee unanimously approved the 2015–2016 budget in the amount of €3,102,000. For 2015–2016, Canada’s budgeted contribution is €171,541. National contributions to the OSCE PA are apportioned according to the same formula that is used to set the membership dues of the participating States at the inter-governmental level of the OSCE. The OSCE PA’s accounts are audited annually and the results are presented to the Standing Committee.

E. Leadership

Mr. Ilkka Kanerva (Finland) was elected President of the Assembly at the 2014 Annual Session in Baku and acclaimed for a second one-year term at the Annual Session in Helsinki in 2015. Former President Ranko Krivokapic (Montenegro) continues to serve on the Bureau as President Emeritus. Mr. Spencer Oliver (United States) served as Secretary General from January 1993–December 2015. He was replaced by Mr. Roberto Montella (Italy), who was elected at the 2015 OSCE PA Annual Session in Helsinki. Mr. Montella assumed his duties as Secretary General on 1 January 2016. Dr. Hedy Fry (Canada) was appointed by the OSCE PA President in October 2010 as the Special Representative on Gender Issues and was most recently re-appointed by President Kanerva after her re-election in October 2015.

1     Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe Final Act, Helsinki, 1975 [Helsinki Final Act].

2     United Nations, Charter of the United Nations, c. VIII, Art. 52, para. 2. The Security Council may also use such regional arrangements to implement coercive measures it has adopted.

3     “Charter for European Security,” para. 9, in Istanbul Document 1999, Istanbul Summit, 1999.

4     In extreme cases, the “consensus minus one” rule may be invoked, for instance when a serious violation of the Organization’s principles occurs. However, this rule has been used only once, in 1992, against the former Yugoslavia, which was readmitted as Serbia and Montenegro after the elections in the fall of 2000.

5     The 2016 Unified Budget (2016).

6     The Commonwealth of Independent States performs a coordinating role for its members (all formerly part of the Soviet Union) in various policy areas including the economy and foreign relations. Current member countries are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Turkmenistan and Ukraine are also involved but not full members.