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Link to the Rules of Procedure of the Assembly

. Committee meetings

Although committees deal in particular with reports, they have great freedom to discuss any matter within their competence when they agree to do so. They organise hearings, colloquies or conferences on particular subjects, the findings of which can then be used for the preparation of reports to the Assembly.

Committees meet either in Strasbourg or Paris, possibly in Brussels when a joint meeting with a body of the European Parliament is envisaged or in Budapest at the European Youth Centre. The meetings generally last one day. Each committee normally holds one meeting combined with a visit to a member state. It serves the purpose of informing the committee on the particular situation in that country.

Sub-committees can also meet once a year outside Strasbourg and Paris. However, in order to participate in meetings or hearings organised by intergovernmental bodies of the Council of Europe, as well as in conferences of Specialised Ministers, they can hold supplementary meetings after having been authorised by the Bureau of the Assembly.

2. Sessions and sittings

The sessions of the Parliamentary Assembly are divided into four part-sessions, each lasting for about a week at the end of January, April, June and the beginning of October. Taking into account the system of representatives and substitutes to the Assembly, it has become standing practice that morning and afternoon sittings are considered separate sittings. This enables Representatives to be replaced by a Substitute at either sitting.

3. Seating

Seats allocated to members in the Chamber are arranged in the shape of a horseshoe and allocated in alphabetical order. Consequently members do not sit in national delegations or in political groups. Speaking-time being short, a system of white and red lights indicates to speakers when their speaking-time is running out or when it is over.

4. Languages

According to the Statute, the official languages of the Council of Europe are English and French. However, the Assembly provides interpretation in German, Italian and Russian as additional working languages at the expense of the Council of Europe's budget. Several other languages have been added, in particular for the plenary debates, at the expense of the delegations that request it. All documents are drawn up simultaneously in English and French.

5. The Table Office

The Table Office advises members of the Assembly, secretaries of delegations, of political groups and other officials on how best to achieve their objectives within the Rules of Procedure and serves as custodian of these rules. It also submits opinions to the President of the Assembly whenever a procedural difficulty arises. It has specific responsibilities for the credentials of members, for convening the Assembly and for keeping the Assembly's Order of Business up to date. Motions, amendments, questions, written declarations and committee reports are submitted through the Table Office. Nominations for membership of committees or for the election to the posts of President, Vice-President and other posts are handed in to the Table Office. The register of speakers is also kept and drawn up there.

6. Debates

The Assembly's plenary debates are held in public while committees meet generally in camera. The debates are conducted according to the principles observed in national parliaments. The number of representatives who may take part in a debate is not limited, except in specific cases such as debates on requests for urgent procedure or on procedural motions. Due to the general shortage of debating time available, the Bureau proposes to the Assembly a programme and a timetable for each specific debate. That timetable is adopted at the same time as the order of business. In practice this means that a general debate is interrupted as soon as time runs out in order to allow time for consideration of amendments and voting. In general, speakers are able to speak for five minutes. If the debate has to be terminated before the list of speakers has come to an end, those speakers concerned may hand in their speeches to the Table Office. They will then be published in the official report, provided their length does not exceed the speaking time allowed.

Under specific circumstances urgent procedure may allow a debate to be held on an item which had not been on the Agenda of the Assembly. The adoption of urgent procedure requires a two-third majority of the votes cast. The Committee of Ministers, the committee concerned or at least 20 members must have made the request. Similar regulations apply to the Standing Committee.

A current affairs debate, at the end of which the Assembly or the Standing Committee does not adopt a text, can also be introduced using a similar procedure.

7. Voting

Only members duly designated by the national delegation and who have signed the register of attendance for the specific sitting shall be entitled to vote. The Assembly normally votes by using the electronic voting system. A vote by roll call is only applied if at least one sixth of the Representatives belonging to at least five national delegations express their desire to do so. In the case of appointments, voting shall take place by secret ballot.

8. Majorities

A two-thirds majority is required for questions such as a draft recommendation or draft opinion to the Committee of Ministers or the adoption of urgent procedure. In respect of a draft resolution and any other decision, a majority of the votes cast is required.

9. Quorum

The Assembly may deliberate and decide a certain number of questions, whatever the number of representatives present, unless before voting, the President has been requested to ascertain the number of those present. At least one sixth of the Representatives authorised to vote belonging to at least five national delegations have to vote in favour of such a request.

The quorum is one third of the number of Representatives of the Assembly authorised to vote.

10. Prerogatives with regard to elections

Whilst it is normal that the Assembly elects its President and Vice-Presidents, it also carries out a series of other elections, a characteristic that reinforces its role as parliamentary organ of the Council of Europe.

The Assembly elects the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, the Deputy Secretary General as well as the Secretary General of the Assembly. All three are elected by secret ballot for a period of 5 years.

The Assembly also elects members of the European Court of Human Rights. In particular, since the setting up of the single Court, this procedure has been developed and hearings of the candidates are organised by the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights before the secret ballot vote takes place in the Assembly.

Members of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment are elected by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe from a list of three names drawn up by the Bureau of the Assembly.

The Assembly also elects the Commissioner for Human Rights. This Commissioner, who has a non-judicial function, is responsible for furthering human rights in member States and ensuring full and effective respect of Council of Europe texts.

11. Assembly texts

The Assembly can adopt three different types of texts: recommendations, resolutions and opinions.

  • Recommendations contain proposals addressed to the Committee of Ministers, the implementation of which is within the competence of governments.
  • Resolutions embody decisions by the Assembly on questions, which it is empowered to put into effect or expressions of view for, which it alone is responsible.
  • The Assembly mostly expresses opinions on questions put to it by the Committee of Ministers, such as the admission of new member states to the Council of Europe, but also on draft conventions, the budget, the implementation of the Social Charter.

12. Drafting of reports

In general, a motion for a recommendation or resolution generates reports. This motion has to be tabled by ten or more members of the Assembly belonging to at least five national delegations. It is then referred to a committee for report and possibly to other committees for opinion. The main committee then appoints a Rapporteur who drafts, with the help of the Assembly secretariat, his national delegation, his own expertise or some specially recruited expert, a report which is divided into two parts: the operational draft resolution, recommendation or opinion and the explanatory memorandum.

Both parts are discussed in committee, but only the operational part is voted on. Although the explanatory memorandum is drafted in the name of the Rapporteur, he has to take into account dissenting opinions voiced in the committee. When a report has been adopted in the committee it is tabled for discussion by the Assembly either at a part-session or at a meeting of the Standing Committee.

Furthermore, written declarations allow members of the Assembly to give formal expression to their views on matters of European interest. At least twenty representatives or substitutes of four nationalities and two political parties must sign a written declaration. It must not exceed 200 words. If judged by the President to be in order, it is printed as an Assembly document and distributed. If a written declaration receives new signatures before the opening of the next part-session is redistributed.

13. Assembly records

The Rules of Procedure of the Parliamentary Assembly list the following official documents: Orders of the Day, Minutes of the Proceedings, Official Reports of Sittings, Reports, Communications, Requests for opinion transmitted by the Committee of Ministers, Questions to and answers from the Committee of Ministers, Communications from the Secretary General, Motions tabled by members, Reports by committees and amendments thereto, Reports of international organisations, Written Declarations and Adopted Texts.

The Orders of the Day are published in a printed-paper known as the Notice (Bulletin in French), circulated before each sitting. It also contains all other relevant information for members.

The Minutes of Proceedings are the record of decisions taken by the Assembly.

Reports of Debates contain the verbatim speeches in English or in French in the report compiled in that language and a summary of its simultaneous interpretation in the other official language. Thus the English report contains in extenso the speeches made in English, together with a summary in English of the speeches made in French or any other language.

Recommendations, opinions and resolutions are published in a provisional edition after their adoption. A final version is published in a part-volume after each part-session in the officiel languages.

Assembly documents are also reprinted in a collected edition at the end of a part session. Printed volumes of Assembly records are sent automatically to the secretariats of national delegations as soon as they are published. They are sent to members on request.

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