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The framework

  1. An Assembly for the whole of Europe
  2. Statutory provisions and membership
  3. Special guest status
  4. Inter-parliamentary co-operation
  5. External relations
  6. Outlook

 

1. An Assembly for the whole of Europe 

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), which held its first session on 10 August 1949, can be considered the oldest international parliamentary Assembly with a pluralistic composition of democratically elected members of parliament established on the basis of an intergovernmental treaty. The Assembly is one of the two statutory organs of the Council of Europe, which is composed of a Committee of Ministers (the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, meeting usually at the level of their deputies) and an Assembly representing the political forces in its member states. 

2. Statutory provisions and membership 

The statutory aim of the Council of Europe, which started with ten member states and now has 46, is to achieve greater unity among its members through common action, agreements and debates. The conditions for membership are pluralistic democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights. Only those countries, which fulfill these criteria, can accede. Consequently some countries were only able to join the Organisation at a subsequent stage; i.e. Portugal in 1976, Spain in 1977. Greece was obliged to withdraw from the Council of Europe in 1970 for a period of four years.

The Knesset of Israel participates in the work of the Parliamentary Assembly as an Observer since 1957, the Parliament of Canada since May 1997 and the Parliament of Mexico since November 1999. 

The United States of America were granted Observer status with the Council of Europe on 10 January, Canada on 29 May, Japan on 21 November 1996 and Mexico on 7 December 1999. 

The democratisation process in Central and Eastern Europe led to Hungary's accession in 1990, Poland's in 1991, Bulgaria's in 1992 and Estonia, Lithuania, Slovenia and Romania in 1993. That of the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic replaced Czechoslovakia's accession from 1991 in 1993. Latvia joined the Council of Europe on 10 February, Moldova and Albania on 13 July and Ukraine and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia on 9 November 1995. The Russian Federation acceded on 28 February, Croatia on 6 November 1996, Georgia on 27 April 1999, Armenia and Azerbaijan on 25 January 2001,  Bosnia and Herzegovina on 24 April 2002 and Serbia and Montenegro on 3 April 2003.

The accession process usually begins with a request to the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, who transmits it to the Committee of Ministers for consideration. The latter consults the Parliamentary Assembly, which in turn examines whether the candidate fulfils all the necessary requirements. This is done by an on-the-spot visit by parliamentary committees and also, since the 90s, by fact-finding missions by eminent jurists. Although not a statutory provision, it has also become customary to require the acceptance of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms by any new candidate. The Opinion adopted by the PACE then determines the invitation from the Committee of Ministers to the State to become a full member. 

3. Special guest status 

In order to facilitate the process of accession of the countries from Central and Eastern Europe, the Assembly introduced in 1989 a so-called special guest status, applicable to all national legislative assemblies of European non-member states, which have signed the Helsinki Final Act and the Charter of Paris for a New Europe. The decision to grant special guest status is taken by the Bureau of the PACE. 

The National Assembly of Belarus obtained the status on 16 September 1992 but it was suspended on 13 January 1997 by a decision of the Bureau. The number of seats allocated to each special guest delegation is the same (although without substitutes) as that likely to be attributed when becoming a full member.

Special guests have many rights in the Assembly and in committees (except in the Joint Committee, the Monitoring Commitee  and the Committee on Rules of Procedure and Immunities), with the exception of the right to vote or to stand for election.

4. Interparliamentary co-operation 

The Pan-European Programme for Inter-Parliamentary Co-operation and Assistance of the Parliamentary Assembly (DEMOPARL) is open to member states as well as to those enjoying special guest status. The programme covers in particular three fields: information and training for parliamentarians and parliamentary staff; multilateral and bilateral co-operation in the legislative field; assistance with documentation and the organisation of meetings.

5. External relations 

External relations of the Assembly cover national parliaments of member states, of non-member states, international parliamentary assemblies and international intergovernmental organisations and are governed by decisions of the Bureau of the Assembly. 

Whilst relations with national parliaments are covered by the provisions of membership, special guest or observer status, the PACE has developed its contacts with other international parliamentary assemblies such as the European Parliament, the Western European Union, the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, Benelux, the Nordic Council, PABSEC, CIS and others. 

For many years the Assembly has also been operational as parliamentary forum for a certain number of intergovernmental organisations, in particular the OECD, and has developed close relations with specific organisations such as the EBRD and many of the specialised agencies of the United Nations.

6. Outlook 

In more than fifty years of existence, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has shown its great flexibility and adaptability as an international inter-parliamentary body to the developments in Europe, and in particular to the dramatic historic changes which have taken place over the last years. No other international parliamentary forum was so well equipped as the Parliamentary Assembly to integrate the new democracies of Central and Eastern Europe into the family of the other European democracies. The tremendous advantage of its members also being members of their national parliaments enables the Assembly to keep in close contact with national politics.

Its contribution in preparing candidate countries for membership and supporting their democratic development was also underlined in the Final Declaration adopted by the Heads of State and Government of the member states of the Council of Europe meeting in Strasbourg on 10-11 October 1997 for the Organisation's Second Summit. There is no doubt that the Parliamentary Assembly, which covers the whole of geographical Europe remains the best tool for European co-operation on the broadest possible scale, fostering democratic security, respecting the fundamental criteria of pluralistic democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights.

 

 
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