The OSCE has a unique status. On the one hand, it has no legal status under international law and all its decisions are politically but not legally binding. Nevertheless, it possesses most of the normal attributes of an international organization: standing decision-making bodies, permanent headquarters and institutions, permanent staff, regular financial resources and field offices. The OSCE headquarters are located in Vienna, Austria. The Organization also has offices and institutions located in Copenhagen, Geneva, The Hague, Prague and Warsaw.
Negotiating and decision-making bodies
The Permanent Council – the main regular decision-making body of the Organization, convenes weekly in Vienna to discuss current developments in the OSCE area and to make appropriate decisions.
Forum for Security Cooperation (FSC) – meets weekly in Vienna to discuss and make decisions regarding military aspects of security in the OSCE area, in particular confidence- and security-building measures.
Economic and Environmental Forum – convenes once a year to focus on economic and environmental factors that affect security in the OSCE area.
Summits – OSCE Heads of State or Government meet periodically to set priorities and provide orientation at the highest political level. Each Summit is preceded by a review conference, where the implementation of OSCE commitments is reviewed and Summit documents are negotiated. The most recent Summits were held in Astana (2010), Istanbul (1999), Lisbon (1996), Budapest (1994), Helsinki (1992) and Paris (1990).
Ministerial Council (MC) – a meeting of OSCE Foreign Ministers is convened in those years when no Summit takes place to review OSCE activities and to make appropriate decisions. The last Ministerial Council was held virtually by the Albanian Chairmanship in December 2020.
Operational structures and institutions
The Organization has also developed several structures and institutions to follow-up on the political decisions negotiated by the participating States:
Chairperson-in-Office (CiO) – bears overall responsibility for executive action and coordination of OSCE activities. Sweden holds the OSCE Chairmanship in 2021. The Chairperson-in-Office, Sweden’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Ann Linde, is assisted by the Ministerial Troika and supported by the Secretary General. The Troika, which is composed of the present, past and future CiOs, currently includes the Foreign Ministers of Albania, Sweden, and Poland.
Secretary General – acts as the representative of the Chairman-in-Office and as the OSCE’s Chief Administrative Officer. Helga Maria Schmid was appointed to the post of Secretary General of the OSCE in December 2020 for a three-year term.
Secretariat – under the direction of the Secretary General, provides operational support to the Organization. The Secretariat’s mandate involves: supporting OSCE field activities; maintaining contacts with international and non-governmental organizations; coordinating OSCE economic and environmental activities; OSCE activities in the politico-military field; administrative, financial and personnel services; conference and language services; information technology and press and public information.
Parliamentary Assembly (PA) – gathers over 300 parliamentarians from OSCE participating States, with the aim of promoting parliamentary involvement in the activities of the Organization.
Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) – is the principal institution responsible for the promotion of human rights and democracy in the OSCE area.
High Commissioner on National Minorities (HCNM) – plays a key role in conflict prevention and early warning and seeks early resolution of ethnic tensions that might endanger peace, stability or friendly relations between OSCE participating States.
Representative on Freedom of the Media (RFOM) – observes media development in OSCE participating States and provides early warning on violations of freedom of expression.
Court of Conciliation and Arbitration – created to settle disputes among OSCE participating States that are parties to the Convention on Conciliation and Arbitration within the OSCE.