Parliamentary Assembly (PACE)
The parliamentarians who make up PACE come from the national parliaments of the Organisation's 47 member states. They meet four times a year to discuss topical issues and ask European governments to take initiatives and report back. These parliamentarians speak for the 800 million Europeans who elected them. They broach the issues of their choice, and the governments of European countries - which are represented at the Council of Europe by the Committee of Ministers - are obliged to respond. They are Greater Europe's democratic conscience.
Since 1949, PACE, which is sometimes said to be the driving force of the Council of Europe, has been behind many of the Organisation's major initiatives (the European Convention on Human Rights, for instance). It must be consulted about all international treaties drawn up at the Council of Europe. It elects the judges of the European Court of Human Rights and the Commissioner for Human Rights, as well as the Secretary General and Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe and its own Secretary General.
To what extent do countries honour their commitments? The Assembly monitors the situation and endeavours to help states to honour their obligations. If a state persistently fails to do so, the Assembly may refuse to ratify, or may withdraw, the credentials of that country's national delegation. As a last resort, it may recommend that the country's membership of the Organisation be suspended.
PACE representatives make periodic field visits throughout Europe to collect information from which to draft Assembly reports. They also make trips to monitor elections. PACE is constantly developing parliamentary diplomacy and promoting the active involvement of parliamentarians in international relations.
PACE co-operates with the European Parliament, the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE and other international parliamentary bodies to strengthen the influence of parliamentarians in European and international affairs. It also serves as a parliamentary platform for the OECD and has close links with several United Nations specialised agencies.
The texts adopted by PACE - recommendations, resolutions and opinions - serve as guidelines for the Committee of Ministers, national governments, parliaments and political parties. Eventually, through legislation and practice, these texts influence and improve Europeans' lives.
How it works
PACE meets four times a year for a week-long plenary session in the Palais de l'Europe in Strasbourg. The 318 representatives and 318 substitutes are appointed by national parliaments from among their members. Each country, depending on its population, has between two and eighteen representatives, who provide a balanced reflection of the political forces represented in the national parliament.
In addition to English and French, which are the Council of Europe's official languages, PACE uses German, Italian and Russian as working languages.
The Assembly's work is prepared by ten committees and a Bureau comprising the President of the Assembly, the 20 Vice-Presidents, the chairs of the five political groups and the committee Chairpersons. The Assembly adopts three types of texts: recommendations (to the Committee of Ministers), resolutions (which express its own viewpoint) and opinions (on membership applications, draft treaties and other texts submitted by the Committee of Ministers).
Issues currently being considered include:
· Protection and promotion of human rights and democracy
· Honouring of member states' obligations and commitments
· Combating terrorism while respecting human rights · Regional crises
· The situation of refugees and migrants · Intercultural and inter-religious dialogue
· Social cohesion
Further information on the functioning of PACE and its structures is available here: http://assembly.coe.int/default.asp