The legal framework of the OSCE
The OSCE has "participating States" and not "member States" – a distinction that is more than just a matter of words. Born as a conference, renamed in 1994 as an organization following the creation of several institutions, the OSCE is still not a full-fledged international organization lacking a uniform legal status. Unlike the United Nations, the Council of Europe or NATO, the OSCE has no international legal personality.
The ambiguity thrown up by this can have implications at a political, institutional and individual level. Legal questions arise when co-operating on projects with other international partners, when dealing with the host governments of OSCE missions and institutions, or when assessing risks to OSCE officials and their responsibilities when carrying out their work.
There have been various attempts to address the legal status of the OSCE over the years but these have so far not led to an agreement. Some States fear that this could hamper the flexibility of OSCE operations and its ability to react quickly without overly bureaucratic procedures, seen as one of the OSCE’s strengths. On the other hand, the clarity and consistency provided by a common set of legal provisions could help the operational efficacy of the Organization.
In 2007 a draft Convention on the International Legal Personality, Legal Capacity, and Privileges and Immunities of the OSCE was proposed by an informal working group, although consensus on a final text has yet to be achieved.
Although States are increasingly coming to the conclusion that the OSCE’s legal status needs to be enhanced, there is a spectrum of views on the extent of this enhancement and how best to go about it.