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Working structures

  1. Parliamentary representation
  2. Political groups
  3. The Bureau
  4. The Standing Committee
  5. The Joint Committee
  6. Assembly Committees
  7. Composition and working methods of committees

1. Parliamentary representation 

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) consists of a number of individual representatives from each member State, with a President elected each year from among them for a maximum period of three sessions. The present President is René van der Linden (Netherlands, EPP/CD) a Member of the Dutch parliament. He was elected in January 2005. 

Whilst in the Committee of Ministers each member State has one vote, in the Parliamentary Assembly the number of representatives and consequently of votes is determined by the size of the country. The biggest number is eighteen, the smallest two. As there are an equal number of representatives and substitutes, the total number of members of the Assembly is therefore 630, plus 18 Observers. 

They are appointed to the PACE in a manner, which is left to be decided by each member state, as long as they are elected within their national or federal Parliament, or appointed from amongst the members of that parliament. The balance of political parties within each national delegation must ensure a fair representation of the political parties or groups in their national parliaments. 

2. Political groups

In order to develop a non-national European outlook, the formation of political groups in the Parliamentary Assembly has been promoted and from 1964 onwards they were granted certain rights within the Rules of Procedure. At present the Assembly counts five political groups: the Socialist Group (SOC); the Group of the European People's Party (EPP/CD); Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE); the European Democrat Group (EDG) and the Group of the Unified European Left (UEL). Political Groups have to commit themselves to respect the promotion of the values of the Council of Europe, notably political pluralism, human rights and the rule of law. To form a Group, at least twenty members of at least six different delegations have to decide to do so. Members of the Assembly are entirely free to choose the Group they wish to join. Before deciding they can attend meetings of one or several groups and should not be bound by their national party label but choose the group which best suits their political affinities. The President of the Assembly and the leaders of the groups form the Presidential Committee of the PACE.

3. The Bureau

The President, twenty Vice-Presidents, the Chairpersons of the political groups or their representatives as well as the Chairpersons of the general PACE Committees or their substitutes make up the Bureau of the Assembly. The big countries have a permanent seat in the Bureau; the smaller countries take turns. The duties of the Bureau are manifold: preparation of the Assembly's agenda, reference of documents to committees, arrangement of day-to-day business, relations with other international bodies, etc. 

4. The Standing Committee

The Standing Committee consists of the Bureau, the Chairpersons of national delegations and the Chairpersons of the general committees. It is generally convened at least twice a year and its major task is to act on behalf of the PACE when the latter is not in session. Each year one of the Standing Committee meetings, together with a number of other committees, takes place normally in one of the member states. 

5. The Joint Committee

The Joint Committee is the forum set up to co-ordinate the activities of, and maintain good relations between, the Committee of Ministers and the Assembly. 

It is composed of a representative of each member Government and a corresponding number of representatives of the Assembly (the members of the Bureau and one representative of each parliamentary delegation of member States not represented on the Bureau). 

6. Assembly Committees

According to its Rules of Procedure, the PACE has 10 committees with either 83 or 51 seats : 

  • Political Affairs: 83
  • Legal Affairs and Human Rights: 83
  • Economic Affairs and Development: 83
  • Social, Health and Family Affairs: 83
  • Migration, Refugees and Population: 83
  • Culture, Science and Education: 83
  • Environment, Agriculture and Local and Regional Affairs: 83
  • Equal Opportunities for Women and Men: 83
  • Rules of Procedure and Immunities: 51
  • Honouring of Obligations and Commitments by member states of the Council of Europe (Monitoring Committee): 83

The Bureau and the Standing Committee do not count in this list. At times there are also ad hoc committees directly responsible to the Bureau. In the interest of its work, a committee may also appoint one or more standing or ad hoc sub-committees, of which it shall determine the exact composition and competence at the time of their appointment. Membership must not be more than one third of the total number of members of the parent committee. Sub-committees do not adopt reports. Their decisions are submitted to the plenary committee, which appointed it. 

7. Composition and working methods of Committees

Committees are composed of representatives or substitutes of the Assembly. All committees (with the exception of the Committee on the Honouring of obligations and commitments by member states, known as the Monitoring Committee) have an equal number of Alternates of the same nationality who have the same rights although they may not be elected chairperson of that committee. Other members of the same nationality can replace absent members of the committee.

 Nominations to committees are proposed by national delegations and ratified by the PACE, the Committee on the Honouring of obligations and commitments by member States of the Council of Europe (Monitoring Committee) being an exception. 

At the beginning of each session, i.e. in January of each year, the committees are reconstituted and elect their chairperson and three vice-chairpersons. The chairperson can be re-elected twice, i.e. remain in office for a maximum of three sessions only. 

In general, a committee can work when one third of its members are present.

Its discussions are held in camera, but the committee is free to admit anybody to its meeting whom it wishes. Secretaries to national delegations may attend the meetings of committees, except for those of the Monitoring Committee.

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