Since being formed in 1965, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly has provided a forum for parliamentarians from the NATO Member States to promote debate on key security challenges, facilitate mutual understanding and support national parliamentary oversight of defence matters. The Assembly also helps to strengthen the transatlantic relationship and provides many opportunities for North American and European parliamentarians to discuss their concerns, interests and differences.
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NATO Parliamentary Assembly in brief
65 years ago – on the 18 July 1955 – 158 parliamentarians from 14 NATO nations attended a six-day meeting at NATO headquarters in Paris. This first “Conference of Members of Parliament from the NATO Countries” soon became the “NATO Parliamentarians’ Conference”.
In 1966 delegates at the 12th Conference unanimously agreed to rename the organisation the “North Atlantic Assembly”. Meanwhile, with France withdrawing from NATO’s military structure that year, NATO moved its headquarters from Paris to Brussels. The Assembly headquarters moved to Brussels two years later.
The North Atlantic Assembly was renamed the “NATO Parliamentary Assembly” (NATO PA) in 1999.
That NATO PA website has detailed information on the Assembly’s history.
The NATO Parliamentary Assembly consists of 269 delegates from the 30 NATO Member States. Each delegation is based on the country’s size and the UK has 18 seats in the Assembly.
In addition to delegations from NATO Member States, delegates from associate countries and parliamentary observer delegations take part in Assembly activities and bring the total number of delegates to approximately 360.
The Assembly’s government body is the Standing Committee, which is comprised of the Head of each member delegation, the President and Vice-Presidents of the NATO PA, the Treasurer and the Secretary General.
Seven UK delegates have served as President since the organisation was founded.
The Assembly has five Committees – the Committee on the Civil Dimension of Security; Defence and Security Committee; Economics and Security Committee; Political Committee; and the Science and Technology Committee – and eight sub-committees. Much of the Assembly’s work is carried out by these committees, whose remit is to examine the major security and policy challenges confronting the Alliance. The Sub-committees explore policy issues in more detail.
The Assembly meets as a whole twice a year: a Spring Session and an Annual Session in the autumn.
There are some 40 other activities held each year, with most of the Assembly’s substantive work carried out by its five committees and eight sub-committees. These committees produce reports on critical issues affecting the Alliance and, to inform their discussions, receive briefings from experts and senior officials from government and international organisations, as well as attending fact-finding missions.
The NATO PA also has an extensive outreach programme with non-member parliaments and activities such as election monitoring.
Relations with NATO
Although institutionally separate from NATO, the Assembly is an essential link between NATO and the parliaments of NATO Member States.
The Assembly’s decision-making body – the Standing Committee – holds annual meetings at NATO headquarters with NATO’s Secretary General and the Permanent Representatives to the North Atlantic Council.
The NATO Secretary General addresses members of the Assembly at the Spring and Annual Sessions and the NATO PA President addresses Summit meetings of NATO Heads of State and Government.
The UK Delegation
The NATO Parliamentary Assembly is one of three interparliamentary assemblies to which the UK Parliament sends delegations.
The UK has 18 seats in the NATO PA and delegation members are formally appointed in a Written Statement by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. One member is also appointed to be leader of the UK delegation.
The delegation is cross-party and filled with members from both Houses of Parliament, with membership reflecting the political party balance in the House of Commons at the time of the most recent General Election.
Delegates must be backbenchers and, consequently, some have gaps in their service to the Assembly as they held Ministerial posts in the interim.
One UK delegate – Harold Wilson MP – later went on to be the Prime Minister and five delegates have served on the Assembly from both Houses of Parliament.
The UK delegation represents the UK Parliament, not the Government, and plays an active role in the activities of the Assembly, through membership of its Committees and groups and participation in plenary meetings.
The UK has hosted several sessions of the NATO PA, most recently welcoming the Assembly for its 2019 Annual Session that took place in London during October of that year. On occasions where the UK hosts sessions, members of both Houses have opportunities to attend some meetings while not official delegates, but as members of relevant Select Committees, for example.