Organs and institutions of the OSCE

OSCE Secretariat in Vienna

OSCE Secretariat in Vienna, © OSCE

13.07.2021 - Article

The remit of the OSCE has expanded in the last ten years due to many domestic and inter‑ethnic conflicts and now includes new functions in the field of early warning, conflict prevention and post‑conflict peacebuilding.

The OSCE has four decision-making bodies that operate at different political levels. The Ministerial Council meets once a year in the country that holds the annual OSCE Chairmanship. The 2016 Ministerial Council accordingly took place in Hamburg. In 2021, it is to meet in Stockholm. The Permanent Council consists of the states’ permanent representatives (ambassadors) to the OSCE and meets weekly. The Forum for Security Co-operation is a special body that also meets once a week, and has its own decision-making competence on politico-military matters. The last Summit of Heads of State and Government took place in Astana in 2010.

All 57 participating States enjoy equal rights in all the bodies. The current Chair (Sweden in 2021) bears overall responsibility for executive action. Assistance is provided by the preceding and future Chairmanships (Albania in 2020 and Poland in 2022), which together with the current Chairmanship form the Troika. The order in which countries hold the Chairmanship is not predetermined but is based on voluntary offers.

The Secretary General of the OSCE (a post held since December 2020 by Helga Schmid of Germany) supports the Chairperson-in-Office and heads the OSCE Secretariat, which has some 400 members of staff. The OSCE’s budget for 2020 totals around 142 million euro, financed by contributions from the 57 participating States. The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine has a separate budget of almost 109 million euro. The OSCE’s work is conducted with support from further institutions, above all in what is known as the third or human dimension.

  • The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR, www.osce.org/odihr) is the largest OSCE institution within the remit of the human dimension. Since December 2020, the Office has been headed by Matteo Mecacci of Italy. One of its jobs is organising election observation missions throughout the entire OSCE area. It also works on building up and advising institutions and promoting democracy, the rule of law, tolerance and non-discrimination. Compliance with human dimension commitments is discussed at annual Implementation Meetings, which are also attended by civil society. The last such meeting took place in Warsaw in September 2019. No meeting was held in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The High Commissioner on National Minorities is based in The Hague (www.osce.org/hcnm) and fulfils an early-warning function with respect to ethnic tensions and conflicts in the OSCE area. The post has been held by Kairat Abdrakhmanov of Kazakhstan since December 2020.
  • The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media in Vienna (www.osce.org/representative-on-freedom-of-media) monitors freedom of expression and freedom of the media and promotes the implementation of relevant OSCE commitments in the participating States. The Representative also organises annual regional media conferences, at which journalists meet with government and civil society representatives and academics to discuss topical issues relating to freedom of the media. The post was created at Germany’s suggestion in 1997 and was first held by Freimut Duve, a former Member of the German Bundestag, who served as OSCE Representative until 2003.  Since December 2020, the post has been held by Teresa Ribeiro (Portugal).

OSCE missions

In order to perform its conflict prevention and post-conflict peacebuilding tasks, the OSCE conducts what it calls field operations or field missions. These are intended to strengthen cooperation between the OSCE and host countries and to support the host countries in implementing their OSCE commitments. The OSCE is currently conducting field missions in 14 participating States, whose governments have invited it to do so. At present, the biggest mission is the Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) in Ukraine.

The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly

The Parliamentary Assembly was established in 1991 to strengthen parliamentary exchange and intensify the participation of elected representatives in OSCE activities. The parliaments of all participating States send delegations to the Parliamentary Assembly, which comprises 323 members. It convenes for sessions three times a year at different locations in the OSCE area. The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly has its own Secretariat based in Copenhagen.

OSCE Parliamentary Assembly

From the IDEAS Initiative to an academic network

Together with France, Poland and Russia, Germany announced the establishment of IDEAS: Initiative for the Development of a Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian Security Community, with a view to strengthening the participation of academic institutions in the OSCE’s security policy discussions. In 2013, IDEAS was expanded to include a number of additional scientific institutes from different OSCE participating countries. The new network is called the OSCE Network of Think Tanks and Academic Institutions. It is currently headed by Cornelius Friesendorf from the Centre for OSCE Research in Hamburg.


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